There is an inherent question on the basis of morality and whether or not it is a man-made, almost religious invention or if it is intrinsic to our beings as humans. I think that the rope that is the argument between is too complicated and tightly knotted to have a short conversation about, but by fraying the ends of the rope we can inevitably decide that morality is innate and that religion may have a part in building upon it, but not in creating it. The curiosity behind the topic of morality is normally fashioned by religious arguments for the assumption that a deity endowed us as humans with some sort of moral compass.
However, by searching the brain for its different functions and activities during moral dilemmas and religious interactions, along with historical clues and a little knowledge of sociology, determining that morality is not created, only built upon, is inevitable. Morality is defined as normatively to refer to a code of conduct that, given specified conditions, would be put forward by all rational persons (Stanford). With this as a definition, the first question to rises is the following: What is one moral action that a believer can do that a non-believer cannot do?
There are few answers to the inverse, if any, but non-believers do not pose that they have any stronger of a moral compass than believers, while believers do. It is incredibly important to think about an answer to this question because if there truly is no answer to this challenge, then a road has been paved toward an objective that we can already see, which is that being ethical and moral is not necessarily a religious view, so such claims can immediately be cast off and the topic can stay on a strictly scientific road.
Now the consideration lies upon what is deemed as an ethical person. Is the president ethical in his decisions? Is a doctor ethical in his decisions? Of course, there is an ethical code in these circles, but does that immediately mean that any decisions outside of the codes are immoral? A moral person is normally described as somebody who takes into account the possible consequences of his or her actions and rationally decides on a choice based on how it may affect those around him.
We call these people morally good because their contributions to whomever they are around are normally well thought-out, harmless contributions to the topic. However, this is simply a definition, and the person is simply his or her self. Take into account the thoughts of those around the subject. A religiously-convicted man would say that his religion is the reason for his good nature, while one not necessarily supporting religion would say that he is simply a good person.
As an aside, there are multiple people who would take the chance to point out many historically immoral figures, such as Mao Zedong, Stalin, Pol Pot, who were atheistic. While it is true that these figures were indeed non-believers, it is important to distinguish the reasons for their immorality. It was not based on religion, but rather by social constructs and a greed for power that caused them to act out. Some may cite Hitler as an atheist as well, but they’d be digging their own grave. Hitler, in Mein Kampf, even gives credit to the Christian god, and had religious inscriptions on every Nazi-uniform belt.
To get back to the previous point, it is important to take into account what those around the subject would perceive, and although the religiously-convicted man might have millions of people around the world following his train of thought, research done Dr. Pyssiainen and Dr. Hauser from the departments of Psychology and Human Evolutionary Biology at Harvard University offers an interesting perspective on the topic: “…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. ” Pyssiainen’s and Hauser’s study grants us that although religious backgrounds may indeed build upon moral constructs, as good religion is only positively influential to a good person, a complete lack of religious background is perfectly plausible if an individual wishes to be moral because moral judgments are not linked to religious commitments.
This finding is absolutely crucial to determining whether or not morality is man-made or inherent to humans because it breaks the perceived bond between belief and morality. So their contribution to the topic has been seen through and accepted as a welcome source of reference. However, it is essential to look at the other side of the argument. Which studies show that seem to show that religion is a key factor in morality? Unfortunately, they are found few and far between. As a matter of fact, there are literally no scientific studies that show religion is crucial in the formation of morality.
It’s widely granted that religion, in some aspects, can further construct upon morality and cause others to be exceedingly altruistic and generous, and that is conceded by Paul Bloom of Yale University, but it is not a formative agent. In his paper, “Religion, Morality, Evolution,” he accepts that religion can be a guiding influence on a positive path. However, he points out that it is by no means the reason for morality, and that religion itself may just be an accident by which humans needed an answer to questions that they couldn’t fathom without the help of a deity.
Necessity dictates that there should be some rather fueled individuals on a topic as flammable as the topic of morality and religion. Speaking as an outsider looking in, I cannot very well use the words of Christopher Hitchens, though I would love to dearly, because he was so against religion. While he was indeed logical in most of his claims, he was a self-described anti-theist, meaning that he was against a spectating deity who watched over each individual. Thus, his words would seem rather biased.
However, Richard Dawkins, an evolutionary biologist, and Sam Harris, a well-known neuroscientist, are individuals who speak strictly through logical and provable means. Richard Dawkins posed the same point as Paul Bloom that religion is most likely an accident through evolution that was used as a possible answer to the world’s greatest questions, and Harris poses multiple reasonable points. The most relevant, though, is that if the bible were the only book in the world, it would be rational to use it as a basis for morality.
However, because the bible is not the only book in the world and society is far more civilized now than it was when the bible was conceived, it is reasonable to assume that the bible is not the best book for building a moral compass. To end on a rather short note, there are few, if any, scientific studies arguing that religion is the factory that builds moral compasses. However, there are studies being conducted which follow Pyssiainen’s and Hauser’s and should end up corroborating their finds that morality works independently of religious constructs and confines.
Thus, it is both rational and reasonable to assume that, after looking through history at the reasons for extreme wrongdoings and the social situations that facilitated them, and the evidence against opposing claims, morality is indeed intrinsic to our human nature and that it is simply augmented by outside forces, such as good religion. References Bloom, Paul, Religion, Morality, Evolution (January 2012). Annual Review of Psychology, Vol. 63, pp. 179-199, 2012. Available at SSRN: http://ssrn. com/abstract=1982949 or http://dx. doi. org/10. 1146/annurev-psych-120710-100334 Cell Press (2010, February 9).
Morality research sheds light on the origins of religion. ScienceDaily. Retrieved May 12, 2013, from http://www. sciencedaily. com /releases/2010/02/100208123625. htm Harris, Sam. Letter to a Christian Nation. New York: Random House, Print. Harris, Sam. The End of Faith: Religion, Terror, and the Future of Reason. New York: W. W. Norton, Print. Pyysiainen, Hauser et al. The origins of religion Q1 : evolved adaptation or by-product? Trends in Cognitive Sciences, February 8, 2010 “The Nature of Morality and Moral Theories. ” Morality and Moral Theories. University of San Diego. Web. 12 May 2013. .
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