Michael Shermer thinks he’s more moral than you

Connor Wood

Portrait of clueless man against red background

Remember how Europeans used to spend practically all their free time roaming around, conquering other people’s countries, and talking about superior how their culture was? Isn’t it great that those days are over? Oh, wait – they’re not. Michael Shermer, atheist extraordinaire and publisher of Skeptic magazine, has recently published a book arguing – literally – that Western societies are more moral than other cultures, because Westerners are better at abstract thinking. Shermer seems like a decent person (really). But history’s tragedies are made possible by decent people, and in his new book Shermer commits all the same sorts of moral fallacies that have powered cultural chauvinism since the days of Rome.  [Read more...]

Religion influences ethics more in low-religiosity countries

Connor Wood

Notre Dame

Are religious folks nicer than nonbelievers? Popular stereotypes would say “yes,” and one line of thinking in psychology concurs. This “religious prosociality hypothesis” claims that religions inspire adaptive, cooperative behavior in their adherents as a matter of course, and that one of religion’s main purposes is to encourage group-oriented morality. But many experts disagree, arguing that nonbelievers are just as moral as the faithful. Into this longstanding fray comes some fascinating new research showing that religion actually does encourage prosocial attitudes – but only in countries where people are free to choose whether or not to believe. [Read more...]

Does religious belief make you a better person?

Jonathan Morgan

Religious guy

When evolutionary psychologists look at religion they tend to highlight the way it could strengthen communities to make them successful. The intuitions behind this theory also spur a large body of research linking religiosity to prosocial behavior. As Robert Putnam famously put it, religious people make better neighbors. They’re more generous, trustworthy, helpful, cooperative, and generally healthier…or so the theory goes. But a recent review of these studies suggest that we may be drawing too simple and hasty conclusions. [Read more...]

How are religious values passed down through families?

Nicholas C. DiDonato

For the most part, it seems that religious parents raise religious kids, who in turn pass down this religion to their kids, and so on. While genetics may very well play a role in facilitating this transmission, the transmission itself must come from social interaction. Focusing specifically on how grandmothers pass on their religious values to their granddaughters, psychologists Denise Lewis, Desiree Seponski (both University of Georgia), and Thomas Camp (Samaritan Counseling Center) found that granddaughters learn religious values from their grandmothers through role modeling, indirect communication, and “just knowing.”

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Why atheist scientists bring their children to church

Nicholas C. DiDonato

The formula seems simple: parents pass down what they believe to their children. Atheist parents don’t believe in God or go to church, therefore…. Yet, a surprisingly large number of atheist scientists from elite universities raise their children in a religious community such as a church. Sociologists Elaine Ecklund (Rice University) and Kristen Lee (University of Buffalo, SUNY) found that these atheist scientists do so because they want to give their children religious choice, have a religious spouse, or think that religious communities will give their children moral bearings and community.

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Does religion make us moral?

Connor Wood


The scriptures of the world’s great religious traditions are chock-full of moral teachings. Believers are encouraged to treat each other as neighbors, to be kind to strangers, and to help the poor. But religious people aren’t always more moral or righteous than nonbelievers – indeed, religions have inspired wars, inquisitions, and seemingly endless prejudice. So is religion morally good or bad? Yale psychologist Paul Bloom thinks the answer is both. And the moral effects of religion stem from what religious people do together…not necessarily what they believe.

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