On religion and morality


Resident iGent
I was going to make this about how religion inhibits the development of a humanist moral system...which it does...but that, I think, shifts the responsibility unfairly.

Anectdotally, the religious/spiritual people I've met tend to be a little more morally responsible than those who are more secular in nature (regardless of whether they attend church). Growing up in the United States, it took me a little bit of time to separate religion from morality...even after becoming an atheist, I felt that morality derived from religion (Western morality certainly does, at least directly, from Christianity). I later understood that the morality of religion then derived from the values of the culture within which the religion developed. East Asia made this very clear to me, as they function with a moral system stemming from basically a humanist construct.

Religion attracts people that are fundamentally moral. I don't think it necessarily encourages immoral people to be moral, but it (or the lack of it) can definitely influence people in one direction or the other. These people, when raising their children, place greater emphasis on morality (nominally or otherwise), thus these children are more likely to be more moral themselves in addition to having been raised within a particular faith.

Religion pulls in those morally inclined because the West, or at least the United States, lacks a strong humanist moral tradition. In part this is the fault of organized religion, but it is its fault in the same sense that it is the rain's fault one gets wet. Religion does what it does, just as the rain. Ultimately, it is silly to blame the rain when we are the ones who forgot to bring the umbrella. That's really the issue here: atheism, militant or otherwise, has neglected to emphasize a moral system, instead choosing to be reactionary.

On a person note: I was lucky. I was raised a Quaker...a very humanist form of Christianity...by a Quaker mother and an atheist father. Both my parents are highly moral, but is it my father that is the most vocal about right, wrong, and social duty. I intend on raising my children in very much the same vein. They will understand why I don't believe in God. But they will also understand why we will attend Quaker church. The wonderful thing about Quakers is that they will understand too.
Perhaps, but Western atheists do need to acknowledge that they live in a society whose morality derives from Christianity (which of course derives from earlier sources, and eventually the stuff that evolutionary psychology goes on about). And I think most will agree that some sort of moral system sharing similar core values is a good thing.

Hrmmmm...just realized that I'm approaching this from the stance that more religion is a bad thing. One of the assumptions involved in providing an alternative moral core to that provided by religion is that an alternative is needed. You could take the libertarian approach to morality....you'll raise your kids the way you want to raise them, I'll raise my kids. But our kids play together. Regardless, I appear to be advocating atheism (or humanism firmly rooted in atheism) as a replacement to religion...suggesting I think it would be an improvement to religion...which means I think something is wrong with religion. Interesting...

...and by and large I really don't see much wrong with religion. In many cases...perhaps the majority of cases...organizations affiliated with religion work to improve their community. But I can't help but feel religion holds us back as a society, both nationally and internationally. However this would only be true should there be a moral replacement to religion, regardless of how diverse or eclectic the values may be.
Perhaps I could have been clearer. I wasn't suggesting that this was the only, or even primary, reason that people are attracted to religion. I also probably should have clarified that I meant a religious organization/community. Such communities hold both morality and the answer to (for now) unanswerable questions as their core reason for existence. Should I feel the need to involve myself or my family in a community focused on morality, I have little choice outside of a religious community.
I am a Heathen, I practice Asatru, it's is very different than the big well known religions and much older as well. The people I know who follow the same path as myself I've found to have better morals and values than anyone I knew growing up in the Catholic faith. But it is early and I have to get Little Miss Canuker ready for school so I will leave this for another time.

I hope I haven't just killed this thread as I find the topic to be very interesting and full of potential

Christianity is the proximal source, the ultimate being evolved reciprocal and empathic instincts (the latter being very much my opinion...not sure if evolutionary psychology is every really going to be able to do much with that empirically).

I'm not sure that the desire to have real world moral thinking disappear is mutually exclusive with the desire and willingness to allow morality to play a large role in one's life. If anything, that religion functions as such (if it indeed does) justifies the need for a non-religious morality which has tackled...and continues to tackle...the same moral ambiguities that organized religion shies away from. Regardless, my focus was on more on community than belief.

I disagree. I do see that we have a duty...perhaps not a duty as atheists but as humanists. So perhaps I don't disagree. But I'm not sure a strong and effective humanist movement is possible without the involvement of atheists.
I'm an atheist too and I like to act according to ethics than morality. As far as I understand they are very different. Most of my family are Catholics, but sometimes I have seen the way they act and I wonder, assuming a their God exists, what would he thinks about it? I would like to mention a few examples:

- When the new Pope was elected, a girl from the office, when he came out, she said and I quote "Good thing he is not black, cause that would have been the end of the world". Are you serious? I had to go out of the office a few minutes to avoid telling her some bad comments.

- This second one it's something that seriously I don't understand. One day I went with my uncle to the Supermarket. He is very Catholic. And in here it's very common to that in parking lots you see a guy trying to help you to put the stuff you buy in the trunk of your car or just simply stopng a bit of traffic so you can get out of the parking spot. Plus they watch your car while you are not there. You usually tip them with a few pesos (1 or 5) whatever you want. So this guy helped us to put all the stuff we bought in the car and stopped the traffic so my uncle can get out easily of the parking spot and he didn't tipped the guy and told me "I never tip these guys, they should get a real job". Then in the next traffic light a homeless guy just reaches to the car, only extends his hand and my uncle gave him $10 pesos. I didn't understand that. Morality from mexican society tells you that you should help homeless guys, which is very well-known that sometimes they win even more money than a guy working at a supermarket, just by extenidng their hand and asking for money. The other guy, we called them "franeleros" he is doing a job, he is below the sunlight, helping you to accomodate your stuff in your car, but you say that not a real job but you gave money to the guy that only extends his hand to ask you for money?

I don't understand this way of thinking, of course there are some others that really try to help, but they let pity make the decisions for them, when they should think of compassion.

At the end of the day I rather appeal to ethics than morality
Oy vey! I know. I've said it a couple of times along the way. :lulz:

Western morality certainly does, at least directly, from Christianity

whose morality derives from Christianity (which of course derives from earlier sources, and eventually the stuff that evolutionary psychology goes on about)

Christianity is the proximal source

It's all good though ^_^

I agree about an innate morality. This is where evolutionary psychology has some interesting speculation to offer.
Agree with your first point, but it's also somewhat meaningless...at least in this context...as I imagine (and perhaps I really am only imagining) most if not all understood I referred to Christianity in the broadest of terms.

Agree with your second, as well.

But the focus of the thread wasn't intended to be on Christianity. I brought it up as I see non-religious morality (and by this I mean morality which is not commonly associated with a religion...not necessarily morality which derives both proximally and ultimately from that religion) being particularly lacking in an organized sense or a community.

Would the world, and the United States in particular, benefit from a strong non-theistic morality-centered community? And if so, do atheists have a duty to work towards it (and this duty would stem not from being atheists but from being human)?
Well I don't know that atheism should emphasize a moral system. Atheists are only united in our disbelief (or nonbelief, however you'd like to put it) in religion. Atheists can still have a great many divergent moral views and still agree on that basic premise.

Correction - Athiesm is a belief in the disbelief of a god. Or gods. It only follows that without a god, there wouldn't be religion.
You ain't even thinking clear, because if you are an atheist, you don't believe there's a God to thank! It's called logic.

(Part of my new online shtick here is going to involve failing to recognize levels of meaning.)

Sorry if I don't get this, but for the phrase Imhoff said, I would say, "There is one thing that believers and atheists would have in common according to God. God is unbelievable". If you know the meaning of unbelievable that might lead to the "Thanks God, I'm an atheist". Don't know if I explained my self.
Yes, you explained yourself well. What Imhoff was saying (unless I misunderstood him) was that he was happy he was an atheist. In English, we typically say "Thank God that x" to mean "I am happy that x." Of course that produces funny results when x = "I am an atheist." I was just pretending not to understand his meaning so I could viciously attack his reasoning abilities and establish myself as an alpha male on this new forum. :cat:

Oh, then I apologize, I thought it was intended this way, but waned to double check.

Around here people use a lot the "Thank God x" that is "Gracias a Dios" but in my personal opinion, that why Mexicans sometimes are f**ked up, because they leave everything to their deity, and hope that miraculously things are going to go as they want without moving a finger.
god damn that was elegant.

unfortunately, i have no idea what any of that means. or who any of those people are.
I'd been wondering about this subject in light of SCOTUS granting "freedom of religion" protections to atheists, who by definition don't believe in God, and therefore I have trouble considering them a "religion" meriting freedom of such.

Someone I spoke with said that religion depended upon belief in a divine Creator, but I don't think that takes Buddhism or Shinto into account (as per my admittedly limited knowledge of both).

Then I started working on the idea that religion = collective cultural belief attempting to reconcile the physical and the spiritual. Often a Divine is incorporated into this definition, although not necessarily. I also think that Religion as often defined now is closer to the Greek "ekklesia".
Does Freedom of X always also equal Freedom of 1/x?

Lets protect Marrieds, therefore lets protects singles (the absence of marriage)?

Lets protect a right to contraception. Is there also then a protection afforded non-contraception?

Not the best example, but do I convey my point?

I don't think a protected right automatically protects the inverse as well.
Does Freedom of X always also equal Freedom of 1/x?

Lets protect Marrieds, therefore lets protects singles (the absence of marriage)?

Lets protect a right to contraception. Is there also then a protection afforded non-contraception?

Not the best example, but do I convey my point?

I don't think a protected right automatically protects the inverse as well.

No, not really. We don't "protect" marrieds. We give them certain benefits and status. But they're not a protected group.

Similar logic with contraception. We allow for the availability of it. It, in and of itself, comes under no specific protection.
No, I know they're not protected groups, just trying to make a point.

I'm saying freedom of X doesn't guarantee freedom of its inverse, hence Atheism =/= Religion.
No, I know they're not protected groups, just trying to make a point.

I'm saying freedom of X doesn't guarantee freedom of its inverse, hence Atheism =/= Religion.

I know you were trying to make a point, but your examples weren't the best. There are very few freedom's that need an inverse, and most aren't covered in the same document/law/etc anyway. The 1st and 5th for example. Being free with your religion, by its very nature, allows one to be absent of a religion.
Can someone more edumacated than me provide a brief explanation of common law and natural law and their dependence upon a divine creator? Ever since I heard a rather astute Constitutionalist point out that the Declaration of Independence hinges on rights endowed by a creator, I've delighted in rubbing that in atheists' faces.
Also, please correct me if my understanding of humanism is wrong. What I've always been told is that it boils down to "I am God" or "We are all God." In my mind, morality is essentially incompatible, as all decisions will eventually become Machiavellian and self-serving. If everyone's king, then nobody is king and there is a power vacuum. I dunno, this egalitarian commune stuff never seems to work because it fails to accept human nature.
As far as morality and Humanism is more like: morality, society, and values existed before religion. As a religion forms in a culture, it adopts the morality and values of that culture. We've been moral creatures far longer than we've been religious....certainly far longer than religion has been tied up with morality (and relatively recent event in the history of religion).

As far as why we are moral creatures--we need to be in order to have survived as a species. We are a social animal, and a sense of right and wrong is necessary for the proper function of a society. You could argue, as evolutionary psychologists do, that we have this sense inherently (and there is a decent amount of experimental evidence that we do). You could take the safer route that such values evolved socially/culturally. Early parents learned these things through experience and passed them on to their children, who then passed them on to their children, eventually becomes values associated with culture.

It's tough for Westerners, even atheists, to separate the idea of morality and religion because so much of the "proximal cause" of our morality is Abrahamic. Come to Asia, and you'll find people confused that morality without religion can cause cognitive dissonance even among atheists, as the basis for their moral system is entirely humanist.
I feel I'm dumbing down the thread a bit, but how's this analogy?
Humanist moralism is the parent that tries to reason with a child why it shouldn't run into the street or should eat vegetables. Religion is the stern parent that needs not explain beyond "because I said so." The latter is effective in the short term, and the former may be effective if it makes it to the long term.

The problem that I have with morality as being pure social contract necessary to escape the 'state of nature' and live in civilization, is that any child quickly learns the game theory that any one player not abiding by the rules wins (at least in the short term...which is all there is to a child).
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Cross posting this because its rather relevant with this thread:

New meta-analysis checks the correlation between intelligence and faith
First systematic analysis of its kind even proposes reasons for the negative correlation.
by Akshat Rathi - Aug 11 2013, 6:30pm EDT

More than 400 years before the birth of Jesus of Nazareth, Greek playwright Euripides wrote in his play Bellerophon, “Doth some one say that there be gods above? There are not; no, there are not. Let no fool, led by the old false fable, thus deceive you.”

Euripides was not an atheist and only used the word “fool” to provoke his audience. But, if you look at the studies conducted over the past century, you will find that those with religious beliefs will, on the whole, score lower on tests of intelligence. That is the conclusion of psychologists Miron Zuckerman and Jordan Silberman of the University of Rochester and Judith Hall of Northeastern University who have published a meta-analysis in Personality and Social Psychology Review.

This is the first systematic meta-analysis of 63 studies conducted between 1928 and 2012. In such an analysis, the authors look at each study’s sample size, quality of data collection, and analysis methods and then account for biases that may have inadvertently crept into the work. This data is next refracted through the prism of statistical theory to draw an overarching conclusion of what scholars in this field find. “Our conclusion,” as Zuckerman puts it, “is not new.”

“If you count the number of studies which find a positive correlation against those that find a negative correlation, you can draw the same conclusion because most studies find a negative correlation,” added Zuckerman. But that conclusion would be qualitative, because the studies’ methods vary. “What we have done is to draw that conclusion more accurately through statistical analysis.”

Setting the boundaries
Out of 63 studies, 53 showed a negative correlation between intelligence and religiosity, while 10 showed a positive one. Significant negative correlations were seen in 35 studies, whereas only two studies showed significant positive correlations.

The three psychologists have defined intelligence as the “ability to reason, plan, solve problems, think abstractly, comprehend complex ideas, learn quickly, and learn from experience.” In short this is analytic intelligence, not the newly identified forms of creative and emotional intelligence, which are still subjects of dispute. In the various studies being examined, analytic intelligence has been measured in many different ways, including GPA (grade point average), UEE (university entrance exams), Mensa membership, and Intelligence Quotient (IQ) tests, among others.

Religiosity is defined as involvement in some (or all) facets of religion, which includes belief in the supernatural, offering gifts to this supernatural, and performing rituals affirming their beliefs. Other signs of religiosity were measured using surveys, church attendance, and membership in religious organizations.

Among the thousands of people involved in these studies, the authors found that gender or education made no difference to the correlation between religiosity and intelligence; however, age mattered. The negative correlation between religiosity and intelligence was found to be the weakest among the pre-college population. That may be because of the uniqueness of the college experience, where most teenagers leave home for the first time, get exposed to new ideas, and are given a higher degree of freedom to act on them. Instead, in pre-college years, religious beliefs may largely reflect those of the family.

The gifted, the atheists
Is there a chance that higher intelligence makes people less religious? Two sets of large-scale studies tried to answer this question.

The first are based on the Terman cohort of the gifted, started in 1921 by Lewis Terman, a psychologist at Stanford University. (The cohort is still being followed.) In the study, Terman recruited more than 1,500 children whose IQ exceeded 135 at the age of 10. Two studies used this data, one conducted by Robin Sears at Columbia University in 1995 and the other by Michael McCullough at the University of Miami in 2005, and they found that “Termites,” as the gifted are called, were less religious when compared to the general public.

What makes these results remarkable is not just that these gifted folks were less religious, something that is seen among elite scientists as well, but that 60 percent of the Termites reported receiving “very strict” or “considerable” religious training while 33 percent received little training. Thus, almost all of the gifted Termites grew up to be less religious.

The second set of studies is based on students of New York’s Hunter College Elementary School for the intellectually gifted. This school selects its students based on a test given at a young age. To study their religiosity, graduates of this school were queried when they were between the ages of 38 and 50. They all had IQs that exceeded 140, and the study found that only 16 percent of them derived personal satisfaction from religion (about the same number as the Termites).

So while the Hunter study did not control for factors such as socioeconomic status or occupation, it did find that high intelligence at a young age preceded lower belief in religion many years later.

Other studies on the topic have been ambiguous. A 2009 study, led by Richard Lynn of the University of Ulster, compared religious beliefs and average national IQs of 137 countries. In their sample, only 23 countries had more than 20 percent atheists, which constituted, according to Lynn, "virtually all higher IQ countries." The positive correlation between intelligence and atheism was a strong one, but the study came under criticism from Gordon Lynch of Birkbeck College, because it did not account for complex social, economical, and historical factors.

/ The relationship between countries' belief in a god and national average IQ.
Richard Lynn
It’s the beliefs, stupid
Overall, Zuckerman, Silberman, and Hall conclude that, according to their meta-analysis, there is little doubt a significant negative correlation exists (i.e. people who are more religious score worse on varying measures of intelligence). The correlation is more negative when religiosity measures beliefs rather than behavior. That may be because religious behavior may be used to help someone appear to be part of a group even though they may not believe in the supernatural.

So why do more intelligent people appear to be less religious? There are three possible explanations. One possibility is that more intelligent people are less likely to conform and, thus, are more likely to resist religious dogma. A 1992 meta-analysis of seven studies found that intelligent people may be more likely to become atheists when they live in religious societies, because intelligent people tend to be nonconformists.

The most common explanation is that intelligent people don’t like to accept any beliefs that are not subject to empirical tests or logical reasoning. Zuckerman writes in the review that intelligent people may think more analytically, which is “controlled, systematic, and slow”, as opposed to intuitively, which is “heuristic-based, mostly non-conscious, and fast." That analytical thinking leads to lower religiosity.

The final explanation is that intelligence provides whatever functions religion does for believers. There are four such functions as proposed by Zuckerman, Silberman, and Hall.

First, religion provides people a sense of control. This was demonstrated in a series of studies conducted between 2008 and 2010, which showed that threatening volunteers’ sense of personal control increased their belief in God. This may be because people believe that God makes the world more predictable and thus less threatening. Much like believing in God, higher intelligence has been shown to grant people more “self-efficacy,” which is the belief in one’s ability to achieve goals. So, if intelligent people have more control, then perhaps they don’t need religion in the same way that others do.

Second, religion provides self-regulation. In a 2009 study, it was shown that religion was associated with better well-being. This was interpreted as an indication that religious people were more disciplined in pursuing goals and deferring small rewards for large ones. Separately, a 2008 meta-analysis noted that intelligent people were less impulsive. Delayed gratification may require better working memory, which intelligent people have. So, just like before, intelligence is acting as a substitute for religion, helping people delay gratification without needing divine interventions.

Third, religion provides self-enhancement. A 1997 meta-analysis compared the intrinsically religious, who privately believe in the supernatural, to the extrinsically religious, where people are merely part of a religious group without believing in God. The intrinsically religious felt better about themselves than the general public. Similarly, intelligent people have been shown to have a sense of higher self-worth. Again, intelligence may be providing something that religion does.

Last, and possibly the most intriguing, is that religion provides attachment. Religious people often claim to have a personal relationship with God. They use God as an “anchor” when faced with the loss of a loved one or a broken relationship. Turns out intelligent people find their “anchor” in people by building relationships. Studies have found that those who score highly on measures of intelligence are more likely to be married and less likely to get divorced. Thus, intelligent people have less need to seek religion as a substitute for companionship.

Give me the caveats
This meta-analysis only targets analytic intelligence, which surely is not the full measure of human intelligence despite the ongoing debate about how to define the rest of it. Also, although the review encompasses all studies conducted from 1928 to 2012, it only does so for studies written in the English language (two foreign language studies were considered only because a translation was available). The authors believe there are similar studies conducted in Japan and Latin America, but they did not have the time or resources to include them.

Zuckerman also warns that, despite there being thousands of participants overall, ranging among all ages, almost all of them belong to Western society. More than 87 percent of the participants were from the US, the UK, and Canada. So after controlling for other factors, they can only confidently show strong negative correlation between intelligence and religiosity among American Protestants. For Catholicism and Judaism, the correlation may be less negative.

There are some complications to the explanations too. For example, the non-conformist theory of atheism cannot apply to societies where the majority are atheists, like Scandinavian countries. The possible explanations are also currently just that—possible. They need to be empirically studied.

Finally, not all studies reviewed are of equal quality, and some of them have been criticized by other researchers. But that is exactly why meta-analyses are performed. They help overcome limitations of sample size, poor data, and questionable analyses of individual studies.

As always, the word “correlation” is important. It hasn’t been shown that higher intelligence causes someone to be less religious. So, it wouldn’t be right to call someone a dimwit just because of their religious beliefs. Unless, of course, you are an ancient playwright looking to provoke your audience.
I find nothing in that surprising, but I'd also like to point out that though they measure religiosity, none of the cited studied accounts for the motives behind that religiosity. I dislike that many, if not all, these studies treated religiosity as homogenous. I would have been interested to see something which explored how intelligence correlated trends in religiosity (growing up in a religious household, ceasing to practice as a young adult, returning in the late 20s).

On a personal note, and I think I may have posted about this before, I first started doubting religion when I was either 5 or 7...it was one of the two. My dad shared a diary entry of his from that time. I had gone up to him and asked if different people have different gods (family friends that we basically grew up with were Jewish). He confirmed that yes, different people believe in different gods. I then asked if that could mean that there weren't any gods (which he, as an atheist, confirmed as a possibility). I continued considering myself Christian--I was way too young to understand what religion was--but I had definitely started doubting (if ignorant of the significance of those doubts).

Most measurements of intelligence measure critical thinking ability; kids who excel at critical thinking are probably going to start questioning religion earlier, meaning that during their most crucial developmental stages, religious belief--even for those, like myself, raised going to church every Sunday--plays a less important role in the development of our psyches. But there are a lot of flaws with the idea that critical thinking ability = intelligence. This presents a rather limited view, and I think society tends to place IQ on some sort of podium. An equally important question to the one answered by the article is: so what if they are?
Having read about many of these studies compared with my personal experiences, I'm of a mind to think that there is a stop gap between low-level thinking religionists, atheists and critical thinkers, and then eventually capped by intelligent religionists. If we're just going on sheer intellectual capacity.
Another issue I have with this any connection between religion and some measure of intelligence: how could such findings be applied to a culture without any significant spiritual/religious presence (e.g. Korea or China)?
I dislike militant atheists more than I do the Mormons that knock on my door (er, metaphorically). And I have a feeling that any number of those studies were done to not necessarily with the express purpose of pissing someone off but to prove some point. Which is an issue when we are talking about academic studies.

But there is a lot to be said of knowledge for knowledge's sake. I'm a giant nerd.
Because of the correlation between atheism anybody who thinks their approach is superior to another's and arrogance?:thinking:

Or really anybody trying to frame something as complex as faith and its impact on society in black and white terms. Regardless of which side of the pew they're on.
Agree 100%, though the reports of ancestor worship are grossly exaggerated. The reports of everyone being attractive plastic surgery patients are not.

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