What’s the Link Between Morality and Religion?

We already knew this was true, but it’s nice to have some numbers behind it.

An article in the journal Trends in Cognitive Sciences suggests, among other things, that morality and religion are not linked up as the Christian Right would have you believe.

Citing several studies in moral psychology, the authors highlight the finding that despite differences in, or even an absence of, religious backgrounds, individuals show no difference in moral judgments for unfamiliar moral dilemmas. The research suggests that intuitive judgments of right and wrong seem to operate independently of explicit religious commitments.

You can indeed be good without a god.

But we already knew that.

How are fundamentalists going to spin this one…?

(via Believe It or Not)

Incidentally, the new study prompted a Fox affiliate in Texas to do a brief story on how atheists cannot hold public office in the state. They quote the founder of SECULAR Center USA, Noelle George:

America’s President is black, Houston’s Mayor is gay and Texas’ Attorney General gets around in a wheelchair.

Each is shielded by law from government bigotry.

But there is no such protection for atheists. On the contrary, here’s the tortured logic of the Texas Constitution, Article 1, Section 4:

“…nor shall any one be excluded from holding office on account of his religious sentiments, provided he acknowledge the existence of a Supreme Being.”

“It’s sometimes a real challenge to know that that kind of discrimination still exists,” said Noelle George, who doesn’t believe God exists.

“They always say atheists don’t believe in anything, but that’s not true,” said Noelle George. “We believe in people and we believe that people are good and we try to be good.”

In fact, George and a group of her fellow atheists and free-thinkers spent Tuesday night raising money and showing support for an Iowa woman seeking treatment in Houston for a brain tumor.

(Thanks to Bart for the link!)

  • Claudia

    Citing several studies in moral psychology, the authors highlight the finding that despite differences in, or even an absence of, religious backgrounds, individuals show no difference in moral judgments for unfamiliar moral dilemmas.

    I acknowledge this is a little word-police-ish of me, but I could really do without that “even”. It presupposes that somehow finding nonbelievers to be just as likely to be moral as believers is a surprising result.

    The article seems quite even-handed overall and I in no way wish to imply that the authors have some sort of bias against nonbelievers (being science writers they’re fairly likely to be atheists themselves) but I still think its an unfortunate turn of phrase.

  • http://religiouscomics.net Jeff P

    Interestingly, some Christians hold the position that good atheists are being good because God is instilling morality in them even though they themselves don’t beleive in God. They also say that bad atheists are being bad because they are rejecting God. So good atheists are unwittingly letting the goodness of God penetrate them but bad atheists are successful in blocking out the goodness of God and therefore they have bad behavior.

    The theory goes that as a general rule if something is good it is because of God. If something is bad, it because of a willful blocking out of God.

    This isn’t what I think. I’m just passing on what some Christians have told me.

  • http://sesoron.blogspot.com/ Sesoron

    “I acknowledge the existence of a supreme being: ME!!! Mwahahahahaaaa!” That guy would totally get elected.

  • mkb

    Well for situations where people rely on intuition, religious people and nonreligious people should react the same. It is where people make decisions based on beleif that you would expect a difference.

  • Alan E.

    Read the comments on the story page for a good laugh. There are only a few, but they are very stereotypical.

    But that said, I say good- Texas still has its morals. Now if we could only get rid of that lesbian mayor chick we’d be just fine.

    for example.

  • http://hoverfrog.wordpress.com hoverFrog

    I’m surprised that god belief isn’t demonstrated as interfering in moral decision making. It seems logical that having to consider what a third party would think of as moral would confuse a person’s moral decisions.

    Maybe the gods compensate for that and bring them up to a normal human level. ;)

  • Kyle

    For some reason, I’m thinking about all those so-called God-fearing moral Christians who say “How can you be good without God? If I found out there was no God, I’d be killing all kinds of people, stealing stuff, etc.”

    Hmm, I’ve been an atheist for a while now. I haven’t murdered anyone. I haven’t stolen anything. I did, however, kill a spider last week that was in my bathroom. I must be a bad person since I’m an atheist, though.

    *eyeroll*

  • qwertyuiop

    They also say that bad atheists are being bad because they are rejecting God. So good atheists are unwittingly letting the goodness of God penetrate them but bad atheists are successful in blocking out the goodness of God and therefore they have bad behavior.

    So God is not all powerful after all since puny mortals can resist his power.

  • ckitching

    That faint sound you hear in the background is the goalposts being moved. Rest assured that you still cannot be good without believing in whatever religion is “True” today. After all, the holy books say so!

  • Derek

    I’ve actually never understood the whole “You can’t be good without God” argument. Biblically, everyone has a knowledge of what is right and wrong whether they know God or not. People choose one or the other regardless of their faith, or lack thereof.

  • Ron in Houston

    Marc Hauser (the author of the journal article) is a leader in this area. If you want to read more from a mass audience perspective you may want to check out his book Moral Minds.

  • JD

    Why so much wrangling over dead letter laws? Texas is not going to gain anything by trying to enforce a crufty old law that has been nullified. If they try to stop someone, they’ll just be wasting Texan tax payer dollars, because they will ultimately fail. The only thing to be gained is to give lawyers money and maybe the delays due to the obstructionism.

  • http://www.jennybphotography.com Jenny B.

    “…nor shall any one be excluded from holding office on account of his religious sentiments, provided he acknowledge the existence of a Supreme Being.”

    A female atheist should challenge this law because apparently it only applies to men.

  • Mike

    “…nor shall any one be excluded from holding office on account of his religious sentiments, provided he acknowledge the existence of a Supreme Being.”

    Most Texans I know think that Tony Romo is a supreme being. Hard to believe they would fail to acknowledge his existence…

  • Donna

    We need more articles like this period. Just state the facts in an unargumentive way. It’s about time.

    Claudia, baby steps. I understand your point but baby steps. I was too busy appreciating absence instead of lack and silently cheering because calling it a lack really pisses me off to notice but, yeah, you’re right. We’ve got them to the point where they aren’t saying we lack what doesn’t exist. Next stop, remove the even.

  • marsmar

    I’d probably mess with those laws. I’d say that the “supreme being” is some alien race. They can’t argue without looking like the fools. Especially when they won’t want me to point out that their precious law is a violation of the first amendment.

  • AKellly

    Morality and the difference between right and wrong is up to the individual. There are not society wide morals. I think the article is dealing more with social norms and the fact that deviance from said norms in our society has little to do with religion. As far as the Texas law that is ridiculous, maybe if we lived in 17th century Puritan New England that would make sense.

  • Derek

    Ooop, I used lack earlier. Sorry Donna. Though truthfully in context it still seems to fit. I was using it to describe faith, which most certainly does exist (whether or not it’s misplaced). And the quote in question was referring to religious background (which also exists, whether or not said religion is accurate). But, I certainly wasn’t attempting to offend anyone. Incidentally, I did actually find the word “even” to be unfortunate as well.

    On a side note, I really did enjoy the article. Does anyone know if the actual numbers are available anywhere online, or is it only found in a hard copy of the Journal?

    And on a side side note, I found some of the related articles listed to the right of the article highly amusing:

    -Most Physicians Believe That Religion Influences Patients’ Health
    -Religion And Medicine: Sometimes A Healing Prescription
    -Growth In Number Of Americans Citing No Religion May Be Slower Than Previously Reported
    -Religion And Healthcare Should Mix, Study Says

    Cheers and Excelsior!

  • http://marsrisingnetwork.com Mars Rising

    In the philosophical world it is long known that the father or fathers of morality and ethics come from the Greeks, moreover Aristotle, Plato, and Socrates. It has been passed throughout western civilization for many centuries. It is historically inaccurate for religion to take all the credit since it didn’t start in the west but the middle east. In the eastern philosophy morality and ethics are older than western or middle eastern culture. I think the article shows what many of us know to be true already. In fact in all historical evidence morality and ethics were discussed as to ensure survival of mankind and to establish modern civilization and society. There are many books out there that confirm the same facts and none of them is the bible. F Texas

  • http://hoverfrog.wordpress.com hoverfrog

    I notice that Ron recommended a book and in the interests of leaping on the bandwagon I’d like to recommend Godless Morality by Richard Holloway. He’s a former Bishop and assumes that God exists but makes a compelling argument as to why morality should always be considered in secular terms.

  • Claudia

    @Donna, you’re right of course. Like I said, its just one of those things that vaguely bothers me, but considering where we are at this point we have about 2398232 bigger fish to fry, and we don’t need to shoot ourselves in the foot by jumping down the throat of probable allies.

  • Benoit

    “…nor shall any one be excluded from holding office on account of his religious sentiments, provided he acknowledge the existence of a Supreme Being.”

    If atheists are their own Gods, what’s the problem? ;-)

  • Liz

    Read the book The Principles of Moral Philosophy, Ch.4, by Stuart Rachels. It gives an excellent argument as to why Religion and morality are not linked.


CLOSE | X

HIDE | X