Morality and Newtown

One of the very first questions in the survey deals with morality:  “How do you view the morality of religious believers as compared to the morality of atheists?”  To date, there have been over 7600 respondents to the survey and over 3300 have added comments after selecting their response to this question.

Here are a few of the comments, the first two of which summarize the sentiments of many others:

  • “I feel moral behaviour stands independent of religiosity.”
  • “Because bibles says so is a bad answer to a moral question.”
  • “My experienced with those who claim to be deeply religious is that they use religion to justify their prejudices and bigotry.”
  • “Morality can be understood in terms of the impact of laws/actions on the well-being of others. It must be treated like a field of science. Religious believers are generally not bad people, but faith in the moral teachings of a religious doctrine can lead to immoral behavior.”
  • “For the most part, people are just people. However, religion can (and does) give people justification to commit atrocities that a nonreligious person wouldn’t consider.”

The rhetoric surrounding the Newtown tragedy from the religious community has, in large part, both implicitly and explicitly made the argument that we need religion to make us whole, to heal our wounds and, most critically, as a source for moral guidance.  Of all the things that bother many atheists –based on the data from the 2008 survey and these 2012 data- is is the assumption by believers that atheists lack morals.

The literature within evolutionary psychology specifically and more generally from other areas of scientific research indicates that, as Robert Wright titles his 1994 work, just that, we are “The Moral Animal.”  Wright merely extends what Darwin over 100 years earlier had pointed out in The Expression of the Emotions in Man and Animals (1872).  Sam Harris in his many books, articles and interviews is perhaps one of the most articulate proponents of this viewpoint and provides a wonderful one-two punch along with Dan Dennett’s offerings.  Interestingly and not coincidentally, they both have a great deal to say about free will as well.

So, here’s a new poll question:

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