Religion shows morality is discoverable despite God

I think there is evidence for morality being discoverable by secular methods, in religion. To make this argument, I will call on God’s justice and the fact that religions call on their followers to modulate the behaviour of the heathens. And that’s kind of it. The argument acts to do away with the common challenge of “why would atheists defend any morality at all?” The answer is that there is something, demonstrable in humans, that compels us to care how others act.

Now, I’ve already argued that the standard what behaviours in others we care about can be discovered through further understanding of wellbeing and in contractarian terms (i.e. what would perfectly rational entities who have no idea what position they would take in society write as a contract for behavior?). But I don’t think this is a uniquely secular philosophy.

If you are religious, why do you care if I kill people? Why do you even care if I kill you? “Because killing is wrong!” you may be rushing to type in the comments. But that doesn’t quite get us to the full answer. If killing is wrong, and I kill a lot of people, you believe in a God with a perfectly just safety net, right? I will receive my just punishment, and upon death the victims also will receive their rewards or punishments. Death leads everyone to God’s justice. Is that not the world the religious person believes in?

And yet, that seems insufficient to the religious person. Religious people want to modulate Earthly behaviour and politics. They want to stop abortion and stem cell research and extramarital sex. It matters to them how I behave, even knowing perfect justice is coming. But why? From a religious perspective, it doesn’t really matter how anyone behaves because all behaviour is met with perfect justice: murder doesn’t really matter, because the murderer’s actions are exacted. No matter what happens, the scales are always balanced. It’s an orgy of nihilism where no one need care how others behave.

But this simply isn’t the world religious people live in. The religious people care how others behave. The reason for this is that they care about people, even though there is no need for them to, knowing that justice will always be served in their narrative. (There also seems to be a certain level of implicit acceptance that God’s justice is not perfect, but actually massively an over reaction ― that actually the scales are not balanced, but massively tipped with infinite Hell for any transgressions. But that’s an aside.)

Take Islamic suicide bombing as a weird example of this. What would Allah care whether I die an infidel now or in 70 years? Why is Allah so willing to give such a reward to martyrs who kill me earlier than nature would have, given Allah is meant to be an infinite and omnitemporal being? The exacting of justice is coming either way, so what is 70 years to a God that exists outside time? In any narrative, does the suicide bomber achieve anything?

Despite the promise of exact justice, religious people care about people. And “religious” is not the important word here; “people” is. People care about people, and some of those people are religious. The simple fact that religious people care to modulate other people’s behaviour, given a promise of exacting justice, is evidence that the religion and the promise of justice are exactly not the point. The point is entirely about people.

And that’s where we start to talk about the definition of morality. Finding a sociopath who does not care about other people is irrelevant. Taking a contractarian view, morality is about what perfectly rational entities who have a stake in a civilisation would write as a contract of behaviour. People who don’t care, who are not rational, or exploits their known position in society only act as evidence that ‘morally’ is not the only way to act. Morality, in some way, relates to compassion. And that is not a religious phenomenon, but a human one. Compassion takes precedent over future justice, as compassion is about experience right now. (That’s not to say that human compassion isn’t overridden with anger sometimes, but we tend to be able to recognise that as distinct and different.)

Religion offers good reasons to be an earthly nihilist, knowing that it doesn’t matter what people do on Earth precisely because it will all be met with justice. Despite that, people care about behaviour precisely because they care. It’s a human phenomenon, not a religious one. So, when a religious person ponders why an atheist cares about morality, it’s because both the atheist and the religious person are getting that moral impulse from the same place.

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21 thoughts on “Religion shows morality is discoverable despite God”

  1. Brilliant, mate! I have made this argument but not as well or as elegantly. Well done.

    To have an honest discussion with a theist on such topics, both would have to address each others questions. so, if the question is “Why would an atheist care about morality?” its pair is “Why would a theist care about morality?” Unfortunately, the theist too often retreats into “it is God’s command/will,” and if you ask them where this is stated in scripture, they do not know, that is you end at a cul-de-sac of their knowledge. They know, but they don’t know why, and we are always asking “Why?”

  2. I heartily endorse Steve who, as usual, beats me to the punch: your post is brilliant.

    I have often come across this accusation that atheists should not care about anything – because molecules to man, something from nothing, morality only comes from objective moral laws determined by some god, yada, yada, yada – and so have no basis for moral concerns. Your post clearly articulates why theists who support these arguments are undermining their own claims to moral awareness and concern.

    Well done. I will be using this post as a reference.

  3. Great post.

    From Scott Adams`God’s Debris:

    “Very few people believe in God,” he replied.

    I didn’t see how he could deny the obvious. “Of course they do. Billions of people believe in God.”

    The old man leaned toward me, resting a blanketed elbow on the arm of his rocker. “Four billion people say they believe in God, but few genuinely believe. If people believed in God, they would live every minute of their lives in support of that belief. Rich people would give their wealth to the needy. Everyone would be frantic to determine which religion was the true one. No one could be comfortable in the thought that they might have picked the wrong religion and blundered into eternal damnation, or bad reincarnation, or some other unthinkable consequence. People would dedicate their lives to converting others to their religions. A belief in God would demand one hundred percent obsessive devotion, influencing every waking moment of this brief life on earth. But your four billion so-called believers do not live their lives in that fashion, except for a few. The majority believe in the usefulness of their beliefs—an earthly and practical utility—but they do not believe in the underlying reality.”

    I couldn’t believe what I was hearing. “If you asked them, they’d say they believe.”

    “They say that they believe because pretending to believe is necessary to get the benefits of religion. They tell other people that they believe and they do believer-like things, like praying and reading holy books. But they don’t do the things that a true believer would do, the things a true
    believer would have to do.

  4. Humans are a species of advanced sociality. This biological trait is not a trivial development, for all traits of a given species are the result of an environment requiring said trait to survive. To be clear, exhibiting a trait is never the result of developing something of no practical use.

    Sociality is our primary survival trait. Like many, we as a species of sociality depend on the capabilities of a group to survive. Without this trait, raising a family would be impossible — eliminating our species from existence.

    Advanced sociality in humans exhibits a functional level of sociality higher than the immediate group. Most species have two levels of sociality: immediate (family) and community (colony). However, humans have included higher levels: These are the social interactions of multiple communities as developing a reciprocal structure in achieving something unattainable by a single community. Further, there is the sociality level of a nation, and another as a global civilization.

    With clear evidence of our advanced sociality, much of the behaviour humans exhibit are the result of supporting higher levels of sociality. To this, the trait of morality is a key product of sociality — by those with ‘advanced sociality’ (it’s not a direct product of advanced sociality). Developing this trait is the result of repeated interactions within sociality, and empathy our core intelligence has developed.

    We project a value in the preservation of those in our colony (sociality), and identify each member as comparable to ourselves (empathy). As a result, instinct drives our perceptions in protecting these members above the simple threats of a species with limited sociality. Our instinct is why we identify a situation as morally contingent, because it’s at the empathic level of social perception.

    Written morals from a social construct is subjective at best, rigid and unsustainable — fundamentally incompatible with the dynamic growth of sociality. To employ a rigid social construct would be to categorically prohibit a species use of social dynamism, compulsory to its very survival.

    Your reference to “perfect justice” is an intriguing point. For this implies true adherence to scripture forbids interference of one’s faith in the policies of society. But then again, this reveals a contradiction within scripture — directing offenders to be stoned to death while at the same time God claims “vengeance is mine”.

    As per the ‘modulation’ of people through religion, this is less about people caring for others and more about having people care about specific people — a control. Influence is control without direct instruction: a reservation of what that instruction could be by those with influence.

    Bottom line, atheists get their morality from advanced sociality (just like everyone else). Because this isn’t common knowledge, religion can step in and claim ownership until it too recedes in the shrinking space from the “God of the gaps.”

    1. Religion is thievery; you’ll find everything attributable to the benefits of religion is stolen and then claimed as its cause while the pernicious effects from its exercise are disinherited and/or caused/belong to the Others… usually atheists.

      1. tildeb,

        “Religion is thievery,” is pure gibberish. Ideas don’t steal, people do.

        And a belief central to nearly all religions is that theft is a great moral evil.

        The object of religion is to develop human virtue, to in fact, attenuate the baser nature of man.

        That is why, without religion, civilization is impossible and why without religion, societies devolve in ruthless tyrannies where human life has no more value than a buck of warm spit.

        1. …without religion, societies devolve in ruthless tyrannies where human life has no more value than a buck of warm spit.

          Very astute. That’s why Finland and Sweden and Japan and Iceland and all those countries with the lowest rates of religious belief are cesspools of ruthless tyranny with populations immunized against moral and virtuous behaviour.

          SoM, you’re simply not dealing with reality when it comes to anything religious. It’s like your brain shuts down and this irrational slobbering idiot emerges giving voice to gibberish..

        2. tildeb,

          The European, German and Japanese cultures were bombed back to the Stone Age during World War II.

          And their cultures were resurrected from the dead by the United States of America, one nation under God.

        3. Neither Sweden nor Iceland were bombed in WWII and their irreligious cultures were not ‘resurrected’ by the US – as much as your over-inflated cultural ego and religiously befuddled claims try to reformat history. You – like many historically illiterate Americans – over-estimate US influence (I’ll grant you the bombing of Japan and its reconstruction was an American undertaking) and under-estimate the influence of other allies who had turned the tide of battle in all war theaters of Europe before any US troops graced them with their recalcitrant presence.

          In addition, you seem determined to embrace a revisionist history of your own country and those who led the revolution and created its post-revolution government and simply ignore your founding document, namely, the Constitution (and not the Declaration, which was really a list of common grievances to try to create a single ‘people’ from culturally disparate colonies), that offers us zero founding religiosity – cultural or otherwise.

          As I said, SoM, when you get all religious, you get all idiotic. That’s a clue…

        4. tildeb,

          Like anyone but you and a few other dummies think a the great super power Sweden is a good example of anything positive.

          Europe and Japan are dying.

          Cultural death is yet another gift of atheism.

        5. Yeah, we wouldn’t want to admit that Sweden is model country that ranks second globally in quality of life, first for raising kids, first in most green, second for women, fifth for best countries to live, top ten for education, business HQs, start a career, and so on. Nope. In spite of compelling evidence to the contrary, SoM insists it’s not a country with anything positive but a part of ‘dying’ Europe.

          The more religious a country, SoM, the worse the social outcomes. That’s just an inconvenient fact, I know, but the case nevertheless. So to insist ‘civilization’ is caused by religion is just flat out wrong. The evidence is almost entirely on the other side of this equation no matter what lies and deceit you continue to spew and vent. By the way, your religious doctrine insists that what you’re doing countermands you god’s commandment. How ‘moral’ is that when you intentionally go about casting aspersions and outright falsehoods based on what you know are lies?

        6. Allalt,

          Your bleating for evidence is a sign of ingrained stupidity and ignorance.

          It isn’t my job to educate you or grab you by the leftist ring in your nose and haul you out of intellectual sewer that is atheism.

          Everything I tell you in my comments comes from cream of academia, not the leftist pesthole you inhabit.

  5. That morality is discoverable through reason is irrelevant.

    Why morality is a critical component of civil society is what is relevant.

    Religion is the vector (using a term from science) by which morality and virtue are spread throughout a population of human beings.

    Since atheism is defined as an absence, atheism is in fact a vaccine that immunizes entire populations of their morality and virtue.

      1. Allallt,

        All you have to do is look around you and study a little history.

        The difference between studying and being indoctrinated is that the person who studies can actually see the world for it really is.

        The indoctrinated person, on the other hand, must continually spend prodigious amounts of energy pounding the square peg of reality into his round hole of indoctrinated nonsense.

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