Saturday, December 16, 2006

Q & A: Why Are People Moral?

Why are people moral? If it wasn't for religion everyone would go out and murder people, but they don't, therefore God must exist!
-- Anonymous

In my experience, this is the most popular myth that theists use to try and explain why religion "must" exist. The most amazing thing about this myth is, in fact, the exact opposite is true. But before we get into that let me just cut to the chase and answer this question.

People are moral because, on a whole, being moral benefits us. People who are generally moral, have been the fittest. What we call "morality" is simply a set of behaviors that we believe, on a whole, will either benefit our prosperity or impede it. It is very important to understand that most people don't conscientiously think about it in this way. We don't have to conscientiously contemplate whether or not it is going to benefit us, on a whole, to go out and murder everyone we don't like, because our genes have done this for us. Our genes express this knowledge to us using emotion.

You see, people who were born that went on to murder everyone that they didn't like, or even committed lesser offenses, such as becoming thieves, simply did not prosper as well as those who participated in a 'give and take' relationship with those around them. That is not to say that there aren't exceptions. Certainly there are thieves who have prospered very well, murderers who got away with it and prospered, etc... However, on a whole, us 'give and take' folk outdid them.

Generally speaking, if you were a thief who went out and murdered everyone you didn't like, you would have a harder time finding people to help you hunt and get food, you would have a harder time getting laid, you would have a harder time receiving help in a time of need, and a whole host of other problems.

Your 'give and take' counterpart, however, would find it much easier to find a hunting partner, would find it much easier to get laid, would find it much easier finding people willing to help in a time of need, and so on and so forth.

What's to stop me, from coming to your house [and] killing you [and] killing your kids...[and] reproducing with your wife so my genes can get passed on. That's all part of survival [of the fittest].

The problem with that plan is the fact that on a whole, a group or community of individuals who participate in a 'give and take' relationship with one another are going to prosper better than your renegade family. If you've done that to one family, then other families would have a good reason to fear you might try to go after their family in the same way. Your renegade family would become outcast and more importantly you would become isolated. In the end a plan like that is very short sighted. Historically, people who behaved in such a way did not prosper -- at least not as well as their 'give and take' counterparts.

Now most people's genetics are programmed with the knowledge that such antics would be harmful to the prosperity of you and your offspring. So if most people where to seriously contemplate such a thing your brain would be flooded with a series of chemicals making you feel uncomfortable and unhappy in an effort to dissuade you from embarking on a spree like that.

See next Saturday's follow up article: Why are there people that are immoral?

Aside from the other points I've brought up, I find it to be a very self-defeating statement to say, "But for religion, people would not be moral." Are you saying to me that but for your belief in whatever religion you happen to subscribe to at the time, you would go out and murder people and steal stuff? Even taking into consideration a hypothetical world where there aren't laws and jail time for such offenses, you would seriously go out and murder someone you don't like?

Now getting to my earlier statement regarding religion actually causing people to actually be less moral; There are people who would answer "no" to the paragraph above, however, when they believe that a text such as The Bible is the infallible word of God, and God himself instructs readers to kill those who try to convince you of other beliefs (Deuteronomy 13:7–11), you end up with someone whom might have otherwise lived a moral life, but is being told murdering people who try to convince you of other beliefs is moral.

Naturally, the next question is usually, "Well then why isn't everyone moral?" I will be answering that next Saturday's article.


Dan said...

I'm quoting C.S. Lewis here, because I think it's relevant to present a Christian's view on the matter of morality and being good. (also, I quote him because he's more eloquent than I am):

"... the Christian is in a different position from other people who are trying to be good. They [others] hope, by being good, to please God if there is one; or—if they think there is not—at least they hope to deserve the approval of good men. But the Christian thinks any good he does comes from the Christ-life inside him. He does not think God will love us because we are good, but that God will make us good because He loves us; just as the roof of a greenhouse does not attract the sun because it is bright, but becomes bright because the sun shines on it."

Anonymous said...

Excellent article.

10Matt39 said...

...People are moral because, on a whole, being moral benefits us.

Well, let's say most people behave themselves because that kind of behavior has benefits. In my estimation, most are too afraid to act as they would otherwise like to act. But is the moral person the one who has the most fear?


kaotiqua said...

I used to room with a young woman who claimed to be a practicing pagan. She also told me that she had been brought up by a very strict, if hypocritical, Christian mother.

One day, (can't recall how,) we got on the subject of child-rearing, and she, almost huffily, and certainly adamantly, insisted that her children would absolutely go to Sunday School until they were ten, even if she *was* now a pagan. When I asked her why, she said, rather incredulously, "Where else would they get a solid moral foundation?"

I just laughed and changed the subject. But I should point out that in a similarly odd conversation, she told me that she wasn't a Christian anymore, but that she drew the line at the idea that we came from monkeys. That was just ridiculous...

allyh said...

your last paragraph is absolute bull. sorry, but you are taking that passage entirely out of context.(which would be lying. which isn't MORAL) anyway, God hates muder. that'd be why its one of the Ten commandements. not to mention why its on God's top 7 list of things he hates/ abominates. also lets take a look at what people are like without laws/rules. absolute chaos. history has shown us that. so your honestly trying to tell me that we're just gonna do the right thing naturally? whens the last time you taught a two yr old how to lie? or cheat? or steal? or disobey?...the list goes on. naturally we do wrong. and naturally without limits such as rules and laws, our world would be an absolute mess. but rules and religion don't make people moral. religion makes people hypocritical. and God doesn't make people moral. God makes people righteous thru Him. without him, we'd self-destruct ourselves and others.

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