Hauser conducted a study with Peter Singer to test whether atheists differ in their moral intuitions from religious believers. The expectation was that if people need religion to give them their moral values then there should be a significant difference between the moral values of atheists and the religious.
Three hypothetical dilemmas were the focus of the comparison:
1. Denise’s dilemma: A trolley is running down a railway line out of control threatening to kill 5 people trapped on the line ahead. Denise is standing by a set of points. If she pulls the lever she can redirect the trolley to a siding. But in so doing the trolley will kill one man trapped there. 90% of respondents agree that Denise should pull the lever thus killing the one man to save the 5. There is no significant difference between atheist and religious participants in the test. (The same dilemma was presented, with cultural modifications, to a Central American tribe with very little contact with Westerners. Crocodiles swimming towards canoes were substituted for trolleys on rail lines. This tribe, the Kuna, displayed the same moral values as the Westerners.)
2. A child is drowning in a pool and you are the only person around who can save her. But to do so means you will ruin your trousers in the attempt. 97% agree you should save the child. (As Dawkins notes, presumably 3% think one should prefer to save one’s trousers!) There is no significant difference between atheist and religious participants in the test.
3. Five patients are dying for want of organ transplants. Each needs a different organ. There are no donors. But the surgeons see a healthy man in a waiting room who has all 5 needed organs in perfect order. Are they justified in seizing that one healthy man to save the five? 97% of respondents believe they are not justified. There is no significant difference between atheist and religious participants in the test.
Our moral sense or “moral grammar” is as much a part of what it means to be human as is our faculty for language, our sexual instinct, our fear of heights, etc. (p.223)
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