Remember that morality experiment about the oncoming train and the track workers dying? Dr. Joshua Greene explained how his neuroimaging research shows that making this kind of moral decision draws on a complex combination of emotional and “cognitive” processes in our brains. It seems that studying biology, as well as society, can help us understand how we decide what’s right and wrong.
A recent article in The Economist highlights some other fascinating experiments that wrestle with the issue of how biology and morality may be related. The article focuses on “Explaining Religion,” a European project aimed at exploring how human biology relates to religion—a seemingly uniquely human practice. One big question is whether there are evolutionary advantages to religion. Which leads to another big question…are there biological explanations for believing in God?
These are profound questions. Can brainscans and morality experiments shed light on philosophy and theology? If our morality is somehow wired into our brains, does that make it more or less legitimate? And would we have to rethink our moral instincts if we knew they evolved when our ancestors faced challenges to survival that are very different from the ones most of us face today?