Monday, June 9, 2008

Does a belief God give us morality?

Two of the most common arguments in favor of the existence of God—or against atheism— are: 1. God gives us morality, 2. without religion people would be immoral. These arguments, which are essentially one in the same, are illogical and ill-informed on several counts. Nonetheless, this type of thinking permeates so much of our culture. We can approach, and subsequently debunk, this argument somewhat scientifically:

1)One popular assumption is that the “godless” are less moral than those who believe in God. If we use propensity to commit crime as a measure of moral health, you would expect that there would be a high ratio of atheists in prison. But studies have shown that at least 80% of people in US prisons define themselves as religious: 50% as Baptist or Catholic, and roughly 30% claim to have a religious preference but do not specify a specific religion or denomination. Additionally, if morality was a byproduct of a belief in God, than states with a high number of believers would conceivably have lower rates of crime than those that are comparably more secular. But this is also entirely untrue. SC ,Tenn, Tex, Louisiana and Georgia all rank among the top 10 in terms of crime rates, and these states are the heart of the Bible Belt...but if there are so many believers then why do these places have the highest rates of crime? The point is if we use crime rates as a metric, a high degree of religiosity does not correlate with morality, which is exactly what you would expect if religion or a belief in God were the bedrock of our sense of morality.

2) What about Hitler? Theists just love to point out that the mass murderers of the 20th century (Hitler, Stalin, etc) were all atheists, which proves atheists are evil and cannot be trusted in positions of power. Again, this view is not based in the facts. Hitler's ideology contained both pro- and anti-religious doctrines and dogmas so at the very least his religiosity is inconclusive. On one hand, he speaks about carrying out 'His' (God’s) will in exterminating the Jews and the importance of prayer. On the other hand, he speaks of maintaining the superiority of the state over the church. Beyond that, anyone who has ever read the Bible knows it provides ample anti-Semitic ideology. Not surprisingly, anti-Semitism in Germany was biblically based and these ideas were prevalent in German society well before Hitler ever came to power. My point is that, despite Hitler's religious ambiguity, anti-Semitism would never have been tolerated if not for its biblical roots.

Stalin was a self-affirming atheist but he does not support the conclusion that atheism leads to moral decay since he never killed anyone because of his atheism. Compare that to murderers that are clearly motivated by their religion—Timothy McVeigh, the September 11th martyrs, abortion clinic bombers, etc. Who could dispute that, but for a belief in the afterlife and the ideas of martyrdom, Islamic terrorists would lose most of their destructive motivation? Who could deny that religious ideology has been the root cause of innumerable conflicts in modern times?

3) More recently, scientists have begun studying what underlies morality. They’ve found that regardless of social class, religious upbringing, or country of origin, people have similar basic principals regarding morality. Additionally, specific areas of the brain are activated in response to moral questions. Collectively, these studies suggest that our sense of morality is innate and, therefore, independent of religious background. If our morality is not dependant on religion then where does it come from? Although the jury is still out, there is evidence of morality in animals. One study demonstrated that a chimpanzee will starve itself in order to prevent harm to another chimp and studies from behavioral biology clearly demonstrate that social primate societies are intolerant of rape or theft. This is obvious evidence of morality among creatures that completely lack the capacity to believe in God.

From the examples above, it is clear that being religious and believing in God does not correlate in any way with social health or general morality. Furthermore, scientists are beginning to understand where our morality comes from and it is clear from the work done thus far that our sense of right and wrong has roots in our evolutionary past--not a system of beliefs and ideologies invented merely 2000 years ago.


webmdave said...

Excellent post!

Would you have any objection to having this reposted to ExChristian.Net?

If you grant permission, you of course will receive full attribution.

I can be contacted here: Message Me.

Thanks for your time.

Bayesian Bouffant, FCD said...

I got here by following links from your piece in The Daily Voice. Welcome to Teh InterWebs!

Your piece on morality sticks to an empirical approach. It is also possible to make an excellent case for autonomous (i.e. God-free) morality on a more abstract level. You should check out Matt McCormick's blog, Atheism: Proving the Negative. It's a terrific resource provided by a professor of philosophy.

Sir Breeze said...

I love this article John. Thanks for writing it. I once asked my law professor if the reason why people swear by the bible in court is becuz the BIBLE somehow represents that people are going to have integrity and tell the truth? She couldnt answer it for me. Becuz I mean how many people get on the stand and tell bold faced lies? But the assumption is that religion makes us more moral and inclines us to do "the right thing" haha YEAH RIGHT! Morality doesnt come down to a persons amount of religion. It is mostly that persons "Locus of Control" Locus of Control: The degree to which people believe they control their own fate... People with an internal locus of control (atheists, agnostics, etc) believe they control their own destinies. Those with an external locus of control (christians, muslims, etc) believe that what happens to them is due to religion. How does this infleunce a persons decision to act morally or immorally? Externals (religious) are less likely to take personal responsibility for the consequences of their behavior and are more likely to rely on external forces (The devil made me do it, god blessed me with this house, demons made me kill my children, demons are why i cant keep a husband, demons gave me cancer). Internals (atheist, free thinkers, agnostics) are more likely to take responsibility for consequences and rely on their own internal standards of right and wrong to guide their behavior. So if you are wondering why the most religious states are the ones with the highest crime rates. Its becuz religion too often allows people to pin their actions on the "will of god". Or like people who "pray" when they wanna pass a test instead of just studying for it. People who go to church so they can get over their sex addiction instead of just curbing those desires.

Shirlatude said...

You need to read the Bible and I will pray for you . You are saying a bunch of nothing in this post . First and foremost , with in every person born into this Earth , God has put himself inside of us . In other words their are to forces in this World , good and evil . The evil is free floating with in the World , better known as Satan . The good in the World found in side of us is known as God . Because God is inside of us we have a free will when we are confronted with the devil to make choices of right or wrong . Think about it has man made anything in his like image , no . We take part of the conception process of a child , and we have limited control of this person as time goes on . Futhermore , scientists profess to know the internal workings of human behavior , but yet they can not duplicate life , nor can they create anything with stem cell research . Before you raise these questions you need to read the Bible and you don't question God . Your lack of knowledge is due to your lack of education . Please don't take the path of least resistance and sell your soul to Satin ! May peace be with you !