Saturday, July 28, 2007

A Commenter and My Response: Religion and Morality?

A while back Adam commented to my Blog Against Theocracy post. He referred to a WaPo article by Gerson here.

Basically, I think the argument in the article a red herring. His point is that we need God because without a deity to whose rules we attempt to adhere, we won't be moral. Or at least that's what I get his point to be.

And I say hogwash. Let's assume there is a god. I don't believe humanity has shown any overall tendency to become better or more moral. Truly, civilizations have evolved, technology has advanced, and our physical form has changed. But do we kill each other at a lower rate, or over more noble causes? Do we steal from each other less? Heck, an argument can probably be made that the level of exploitation has risen as civilizations has "progressed". Correlating improvements in human morality (if there are any) with the existence of a deity seems just as much a leap of faith as assuming the deity exists. It's rather question begging.

Now, on the other hand, assume God doesn't exist. How do humans evolve social niceties? I suggest it can be possible for the very reasons Gerson poo-poos: societal demands. Dworkin's selfish gene captures this nicely at one level (it's not "smart" for a creature to kill its kin folk) and common sense catptures it at another (what society is going to host a rude person -- other than a society where that rude person has all the power?).

So I can see how the existence of a deity is a useful tool for steering the evolution of morality, but I can't see how it's necessary or even likely.

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