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Being Good Without God
Robert Wright interviews E.O. Wilson, Stephen Pinker, Daniel Dennett, and others on why you don't have to have irrational belief in god to be a good person. E.O. Wilson gets into something I believe as well -- that we are hard-wired for morality. You can call it "reciprocal altruism" or "do unto others," but there seems to be a module in all of us for empathy (an important underpinning of manners and ethics) and a realization as well that others have modules for cheater detection that lead to some punishment being meted out to those who, in some way, take more than their fair share. This is true whether somebody's grabbing a vastly bigger slice of the pie or clocking somebody over the head with a pipe wrench and stealing their wallet.

Posted by aalkon at March 2, 2006 9:38 AM

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I find the insinuation that not being religious indicates some sort of moral weakness utterly insulting.

I've often thought that morality from those who don't follow organized religion means something more because we don't play nice out of some fear we'll go to hell if we don't.

Posted by: Sheila at March 2, 2006 6:52 AM

I think our capacity to care about other human beings, which has nothing to do with religion, is the reason we don't need to believe in God in order to be moral. Even if you don't care about the person you steal from, whose wife you may bed, etc., the person probably has other people who DO care about him. Social censure, even retaliation, can be a strong deterrent. Are you prepared to be utterly shunned by the community at large, who might find your dealings despicable and underhanded, even if you don't.

Take, for instance, the camera thieves that Amy blogged about a week or so ago. They don't seem to think they did anything wrong. But suppose an ad were taken out in their local paper, advising the community what they did. I doubt their neighbors and friends would agree that what they did was so innocuous. Hence we have fear of censure operating. And God doesn't even have to enter the equation.

Posted by: Patrick at March 2, 2006 7:33 AM

Robert Wright is the lefty I love to hate. He prefers five rambling sentences to one graceful one, because he's certain that once you can be made to understand you'll be compelled to agree with him. He can't smile when risking a joke (a distinctively liberal weakness). Worst of all is his obsessive fear about how others perceive us. These things fuel a loathing that's straight out of talkradio conservatism. It's not that he prefers reason to faith... it's his certainty in his personal supreme rationality which rankles. In our better grade schools, teacher's pets of his magnitude have the spirit beaten out of them at recess. I can't stand reading his stuff; when watching him with Kaus on bloggingheads tv, I shout at the computer until spittle moistens the screen and neighbors grow frightened. I rarely miss an episode.

> we are hard-wired for morality.

If so, the circuit is badly designed, cheaply built, imperfectly installed, and weakly powered. Don't bank on it.

Posted by: Crid at March 2, 2006 9:14 AM

By this time, flogging the religious is almost a strawman. I know preaching is available all over but most don't go there. Even in the Bible belt it's a minority mindset - Darwinism and evolutionary "debates" mostly cause yawns.
The problem is that they get out the vote because programming wins out over free will as a motivator. All hail Pavlovian response.

Business seems to support it to tranquilize the masses. That's a dangerous idea anywhere public participation supposedly provides the impetus for rule.

I'm not much impressed by any organization that comes out with a mission statement promoting social comity by imposing a self-referential value set. That's a great way to ignore results while supposedly being driven by them.

The biggest laugh is that any intelligent analysis of Christianity would say it should be anti theology and pro charity. I guess that's why the Salvation Army gets respect while many don't.

Posted by: opit at March 2, 2006 10:31 AM

It's a fallacy to suggest that the irrational belief in God makes people more moral than other groups of people.

The irrational belief in God, for instance, doesn't make one person more moral than another who, quite rationally, doesn't believe in God. ...or more moral than someone who irrationally doesn't believe in God. ...and the irrational belief in God certainly doesn't make someone more moral than another who rationally believes in God. No, that's a fallacy.

Posted by: Ken Shultz at March 2, 2006 8:27 PM

What makes us moral? Merciless physical beatings during childhood, of course.

Posted by: Lena at March 2, 2006 9:35 PM

What kind of god would make those of us who are scientifically minded, burn for all eternity in hell, just because we want proof or evidence before we believe. Jesus died for the gullible?
The 5 levels of responsibility:
1.You follow the rules to keep from being punished.
2.You follow the rules because they are the rules.
3.You follow the rules because you think the rules are good rules.
4.You follow the rules because they are moral.
5.You break the rules because they conflict with your morals.

Posted by: chicknlady at March 2, 2006 10:32 PM

Of course you can lead a "Christian" (moral) life and not be Christian. You just won't get into Heaven.

Chicknlady: I know a lot of PhDs in the physical and life sciences that are religious, so the two aren't mutually exclusive either.

Posted by: nash at March 3, 2006 2:11 AM

"What kind of god would make those of us who are scientifically minded, burn for all eternity in hell, just because we want proof or evidence before we believe."

An incredibly petty, small-minded, jealous, emotionally insecure imbecile of a god who doesn't understand the role of doubt in critical thinking. God obviously needs a brief course of psychotherapy and a psychiatric referral for medication management.

Posted by: Lena "Roasting on the Spit in Hell" Cuisina at March 3, 2006 7:23 AM

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