You don’t need religion to have morals…

Religion MoralsFrom Global Awakening

“Perhaps it is just me, but I’d be wary of anyone whose belief system is the only thing standing between them and repulsive behavior. Why not assume that our humanity, including the self-control needed for a livable society, is built into us? Does anyone truly believe that our ancestors lacked rules of right and wrong before they had religion? Did they never assist others in need, or complain about an unfair deal?

Human morality must be quite a bit older than religion and civilization. It may, in fact, be older than humanity itself. Other primates live in highly structured social groups in which rules and inhibitions apply and mutual aid is a daily occurrence. Acts of genuine kindness do occur in animals as they do in humans. Altruistic behavior serves a cooperative group life, which benefits the actors of such behavior, yet the behavior is fueled by its own autonomous motivations, which vary from self-serving to other-regarding.

The animal kingdom offers so many examples that I surely cannot summarize them here (see my new book, The Age of Empathy), but the interesting part is not so much whether animals have empathy and compassion, but how it works.

In one experiment, we placed two capuchin monkeys side by side: separate, but in full view. One of them needed to barter with us with small plastic tokens. The critical test came when we offered a choice between two differently colored tokens with different meaning: one token was “selfish,” the other “prosocial.” If the bartering monkey picked the selfish token, it received a small piece of apple for returning it, but its partner got nothing. The prosocial token, on the other hand, rewarded both monkeys equally at the same time. The monkeys gradually began to prefer the prosocial token. The procedures were repeated many times with different pairs of monkeys and different sets of tokens, and the monkeys kept picking the prosocial option showing how much they care about each other’s welfare.

A flourishing new field of evolutionary ethics focuses on how humans solve moral dilemmas (usually not in a rational Kantian way), which parts of the brain are involved (often old “emotional” parts), why moral tendencies evolved in the human species (probably to promote cooperation), what kind of animal parallels can be found (from prosocial tendencies to obeying social rules), how empathy evolved out of mammalian maternal care (which explains why in human adults the hormone oxytocin stimulates trust and empathy), and how religion piggy-backs on moral sentiments to promote a cohesive society. The sequence of how various tendencies came into being is: first social instincts and empathy, then morality, and finally religion…

If human morality is part of the larger scheme of nature, there is neither a good reason to look at evolutionary theory as undermining morality nor to look at God as a requirement for it. … I have never seen convincing evidence that a belief in God keeps people from immoral behavior. Those who think that without God humanity would lack a moral compass totally underestimate the antiquity of our moral sense.”

From Morals Without God

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45 thoughts on “You don’t need religion to have morals…

  1. Thank you for sharing…Moral beings we are and religions and gods are mankind’s control—like government? May your day be filled with wonder and joy!

  2. ladyofhope says:

    I agree. A true love of God is quite the opposite, isn’t it? God repeatedly had to convict, correct and redirect His people because of their shortcomings and altogether failure to love. He doesn’t come with the power to do everything right or selflessly, His presence and being is about forgiveness (which none of us would be in need of if we were so morally RIGHT). Props on the animal experiments, (although their life is a bit more simple we could all learn something from them), they do not live everyday in the world of survival among peers of questionable integrity with the temptations and obstacles that humans face. One chip, one choice could never fully define human characteristics in any one individual. 😀 Thanks for sharing such a wonderful article.

  3. yourothermotherhere says:

    I agree that you don’t need religion to have morals, but that’s because I believe religion (man made to control other humans) and God are two different things.

    Knowing right from wrong IS innate, but how did it become so?

    • Otrazhenie says:

      I like Frans de Waal’s evolutionary approach. As a group of humans without any moral values would have a less chance to survive, evolution probably favoured humans with stronger moral values and empathy. Thus the key moral values could get ‘hard-wired’ in us during the process of evolution. I have not seen a better explanation onthat than the one offered by Frans de Waal.

      Reading and exchanging experiences in writing might have helped to further facilitate that process by helping people to develop empathy and compassion required for strong moral values: see an interesting view on that at https://otrazhenie.wordpress.com/2012/11/01/reading-empathy-and-compassion/

      • yourothermotherhere says:

        That’s logical. The traits for survival are re-bred back into the species.

    • stoicatheist says:

      What does it matter how it became so. The human obsession with attributing agency to everything truly astounds me to no end. Will we ever get beyond applying a “?” to everything and actively seek to change what we can for the better and accept what we can’t change.

      SHEEEEESH!!!

  4. melanietoulouse says:

    Great post, congrats! I do agree 100%! 🙂 I’ve met Christians who had no morals and wonderful agnostics or atheists…

  5. risinghawk says:

    A superb and thought-provoking post. I can’t believe in any way that morality and empathy are offshoots from a religious root – if anything, some variation of the opposite. Namaste . . .

  6. I fully agreed with this from a philosophical viewpoint before I read all of this, but wow, after reading that study! That’s really cool stuff.

  7. Reblogged this on obstructedbynone and commented:
    I agreed with this on a philosophical viewpoint beforehand, but it’s really mind-blowing for me that there’s solid scientific evidence for it.

  8. Great article and point of view!

  9. Ajaytao2010 says:

    Another beautiful blessing from dear Otrazhenie
    wonderful dear very beautiful

    Love Ajay

    • Otrazhenie says:

      Glad that you liked it, Ajay. Thanks for your kind words.

      • Ajaytao2010 says:

        oh dear you know what you are
        perhaps not, you are a rebel

        I love you

      • Ajaytao2010 says:

        you are a positive rebel

      • Otrazhenie says:

        Positive rebel. Hm, I think you are right. I was brought up in an environment where I was constantly told that “I’m not allowed to have my own opinion until I get married and leave the house”. I found that environment very oppressive. It did not stop me from thinking and critically analysing everything I saw in life. I simply stopped expressing my thoughts and once I grew up I ‘rebelled’ against everything I experienced as a child and found my own way of living.

        Someone once said, “When writing the story of your life, don’t let anyone else hold the pen.” Taking full control over that ‘pen’ and full responsibility for ‘writing my own life story’ was the most important decision in my life – decision, that I’ve never regretted.

      • Ajaytao2010 says:

        yes I do understand you with my heart I know how a woman feels but you dont think in a regular way, you think differently because you analyze thing by yourself and dont believe what traditions say or majority of the people believe and there comes the rebel within you in the picture.And you are ready and take full responsibility of what you write. I love that very much and I feel myself extremely close to what you write.

        thank you for being your true self and a great friend

        love you Ajay

  10. Ajaytao2010 says:

    Reblogged this on Ajaytao 2010 and commented:
    Another beautiful blessing from dear Otrazhenie
    wonderful dear very beautiful

    Love Ajay

  11. Ajaytao2010 says:

    Dear you have a very beautiful heart and you are always ready to take the world head on and their beliefs of fear

    for me you are really a blessed soul
    Love

    • Otrazhenie says:

      Thanks, Ajay. I was very delighted to come across that image, video and article that I’ve used in this post. It was something I was feeling/thinking for years, but could not put into words. I’m glad that there are other people in the world who do not follow ‘old beliefs’ blindly and are prepared to critically analyse them and provide new theories and alternative explanations.

      • Ajaytao2010 says:

        yes indeed if I would write that it would be very harsh and hard to digest but you wrote it absolutely beautifully like a woman would very beautiful and suttle in your expression with hurting anybody’s belief

        you are indeed a blessed soul dear

        love

  12. Bravo! I couldn’t have said it better myself!

  13. The first sentence is spot on: ““Perhaps it is just me, but I’d be wary of anyone whose belief system is the only thing standing between them and repulsive behavior.” Thank you for this.

  14. lidipiri says:

    A lack of empathy a sociopath makes (at least it is one of the signs.) Very good observations.

  15. […] post, You Don’t Need Religion To Have Morals, is another that can’t rightfully be ignored, either. […]

  16. Amen! Have you read Pope Francis’s recent comments about atheism? For what is likely the first time in history, it appears that the Catholic church has a pope who has the breadth of soul that one would hope to find in a pope . . .

    • Otrazhenie says:

      Totally agree with you on that. He is the only Pope whose comments I read – first time in the history 🙂 Though don’t say too soon: Vatican says Pope Francis got it wrong, atheists do go to hell, no matter all their good deeds 🙂

      It won’t be easy for Pope Francis to get through the centuries of Catholic church’s narrow-mindedness and hypocrisy. I’m not sure even whether Jesus Christ himself would be able to ‘clean’ the Catholic church to the original Christian values. 😦

  17. JodyO says:

    Excellent post! I concur that morality is a feature built in to our species as well as others, but what remains a mystery to me is that there also appears to be a need for many of us to continuously hone that morality throughout a lifetime. Apart from simple cooperation, what purpose does an ever advancing level of moral maturity (or what may be called “enlightment”) serve?

    • Otrazhenie says:

      Interesting question. May be, ‘honing’ morality over lifetime helps in passing it to the future generations. Also, morality might be getting honed from generation to generation as well, which might explain the decline in violence observed by Steven Pinker (see his talk at https://otrazhenie.wordpress.com/2012/11/01/the-decline-of-violence-in-history/) . If in the past humans tended to have different ‘moral’ rules for the members of their group and for outsiders, now people start applying the same moral rules to all humans due to globalisation and more opportunities for cross-cultural interactions.

  18. dadbabes says:

    Pope Francis is of course right, but the alleged Vatican rebuttal links perfectly to your original post: if we have an “endowment insurance” view of religion where we go to heaven as our terminal bonus for regular payments of our weekly or daily premiums, then saying everyone gets that bonus knocks the whole system for six. Christianity has always been marketed as a panacea for death, but all the evidence suggests that those who follow it to the letter first get crucified, which has limited appeal. Thanks for the post.

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