This month’s New Scientist discusses God and morality. That link is more or less useless, though, unless you have a subscription. You have to buy the magazine to get more than the first few hundred words. (Or read this, written from the smug perspective of someone who can read it all.)
Referring to Dawkins and the many others who dispute that religion is the necessary source of morality:
Their views have recently been bolstered by evidence that morality appears to be hard-wired into our brains. It seems we are born with a sense of right and wrong, and that no amount of religious indoctrination will change our most basic moral instincts.
New Scientist doesn’t want to offend readers- atheists or theists – so the discussion is quite cagey, with a general suggestion that both religion and morality are mentally hardwired.
I followed their link to some 2005 Baltimore research by Gregory Paul that argues that societies with high rates of religious adherence are those that consistently have the worst social morality.
He concluded that countries with higher rates of belief and worship had higher rates of homicide, death among children and young adults, sexually transmitted diseases, teen pregnancy and abortion.
I like this paper so much, I’m going to post the abstract here and put the most salient bits in bold.
Large-scale surveys show dramatic declines in religiosity in favor of secularization in the developed democracies. Popular acceptance of evolutionary science correlates negatively with levels of religiosity, and the United States is the only prosperous nation where the majority absolutely believes in a creator and evolutionary science is unpopular. Abundant data is available on rates of societal dysfunction and health in the first world. Cross-national comparisons of highly differing rates of religiosity and societal conditions form a mass epidemiological experiment that can be used to test whether high rates of belief in and worship of a creator are necessary for high levels of social health. Data correlations show that in almost all regards the highly secular democracies consistently enjoy low rates of societal dysfunction, while pro-religious and antievolution America performs poorly.
Gregory Paul said that “In the United States many conservative theists consider evolutionary science a leading contributor to social dysfunction because it is amoral or worse, and because it inspires disbelief” This is fascinating. Who’d have thought that a scientific theory can be held accountable for people’s morality? “Sorry, Your Honour, but I was acting under the influence of the Second law of Thermodynamics.”
Van Jensen challenged Paul’s conclusions in another study, based on cross-cultural homicide rates research, arguing that dualistic theism – i.e. belief in God AND a Devil – is what you need to make a really murderous society.
There’s nothing really new in the argument that religion fosters immorality, though. Jensen refers to “Durkheimâ€™s hypotheses that religious passion, as a variable characteristic of nations, is a positive correlate of homicide rates.” In English, that means: the more fanatical belief, the more murders. That’s Durkheim, born 1858 – died 1917, by the way. Some messages just don’t get through.
There’s much more interesting information in the New Scientist article. Researchers have looked at the subject from the perspectives of psychology, evolutionary biology, brain chemistry and more. Every piece of research could spark a full-scale post here, with ranting &/or raving at will.
If you are interested in religion and morality, it’s worth getting hold of a copy of New Scientist and following the links to the actual research papers.