Dawkins: Religion no moral compass

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GPS digital producer Jason Miks sits down with renowned evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins, author of the Selfish Gene and An Appetite for Wonder, to discuss readers’ questions on religion, its role in society and whether children can be described as “Christian.”

A number of readers noting your skepticism over religion’s role in society ask whether an absence of religion would leave us without a moral compass?

The very idea that we get a moral compass from religion is horrible. Not only should we not get our moral compass from religion, as a matter of fact we don’t. We shouldn’t, because if you actually look at the bible or the Koran, and get your moral compass from there, it’s horrible – stoning people to death, stoning people for breaking the Sabbath.

Now of course we don’t do that anymore, but the reason we don’t do it is that we pick out those verses of the bible that we like, and reject those verses we don’t like. What criteria do we use to pick out the good ones and reject the bad ones? Non-biblical criteria, non-religious criteria. The same criteria as guide any modern person in their moral compass that has nothing to do with religion.

So the moral compass of any person is very much a part of the century or even the decade in which they happen to live, regardless of their religion. So we live in the early 21st century, and our moral compass in the early 21st century is quite different from 100 years ago, or 200 years ago. We are now much less racist than they were, much less sexist than they were. We are much kinder than non-human animals than they were – all sorts of respects in which we are labeled with a moral compass. So something has changed, and it certainly has nothing to do with religion.

Written By: Jason Miks
continue to source article at globalpublicsquare.blogs.cnn.com

19 COMMENTS

  1. Re moral compass:
    Indeed Richard, you know that, I know that, but even the educated (and I use that term lightly) in much of the western world to this very day insist our morality and freedoms are based on Christian values. No amount of telling them about the “nasty” bits of the Old and New Testament will change their mind.

    They close their ears and minds and point out the short comings of other religions. It’s nigh on impossible to have a rational discussion with people with such juvenile attitudes. Also, a sincere thank you for having the patience and keeping up the good fight. jcw

  2. I’m more interested in the comment section that the article :) In a way, as much as the article is merely a re-statement of RD’s position, the comments get equally circular. But still, I find myself grabbing the popcorn.

    • In reply to #2 by obzen:

      I’m more interested in the comment section that the article :) In a way, as much as the article is merely a re-statement of RD’s position, the comments get equally circular. But still, I find myself grabbing the popcorn.

      I was amused at a comment to the effect that it is as wrong for Richard to talk about religion as it would be for clergy to talk about science. This shows the writer completely misses the evidence based nature of science v. the faith base of religion. Any member of the clergy is welcome to submit scientific papers if the evidence backs them up, whereas nothing but opinion backs up theology. If Richard is saying something objectively wrong about religion, let them bring the evidence to show it. That is why I always ask them:

      Got evidence?

  3. What moral compass does Christianity provide?

    1. the most important thing is to ignore all other gods. You must remain ignorant of the religious beliefs of others.
    2. don’t draw pictures or make sculpture
    3. there is a long list of things you must not eat, including shrimp and owl
    4. Women menstruating are ritually unclean.
    5. You should stone to death suspected adulterers or gay people.
    6. If you rape a woman, you have first dibs on her
    7. genocide is not only good, it is mandatory, even including children, women and livestock.
    8. slaves should do what their owners tell them.
    9. black people are cursed.
    10. the cause of mental illness is demons. The cure, exorcism.
    11. do not steal.
    12. you should kill children who sass their parents.
    13. parents should beat their children
    14. You should not wish your TV were as nice as your neighbours (anti-capitalism)
    15. animals have so souls, so beat them all you like.
    16. Women are the property of males.
    17. Masturbation is wicked.
    18. Being horny is wicked whether you act on it or not.
    19. You must have as many babies as possible.

    I could do much better composing a moral code off the top of my head. I think all of those above but one are ridiculous or actively evil.

    1. do not kill people unless they attack you with lethal force first.
    2. do not steal, cheat or in any way dishonestly deprive others of goods and services.
    3. do not discriminate against people of different races, genders, sexual orientations, national origins
    4. do not cause suffering to animals.
    5. protect the earth so that future generations have as much opportunity as you did to enjoy it.
    6. tell the truth. This includes business dealings.
    7. you may not use force to get people to do what you want, especially perform sexual acts.
  4. Part of the problem is the fact that we have a crop of cringing opportunistic vote junky polticians in the saddle who dare not link gross attrocities with their religious motivations for fear of loosing endorsements from those religiously based constituencies.

    David – “Dave” – Cameron, our “Prime Minister” said, “These appalling terrorist attacks that take place where the perpetrators claim they do it in the name of religion – they don’t. They do it in the name of terror, violence and extremism and their warped view of the world. They don’t represent Islam or Muslims in Britain or anywhere else in the world.”

    There speaks a true vote junky.

  5. I’ve said it before, but I’ll say it again and continue saying, that it is impossible to reason with religion.

    Being a well travelled linguist is good, but, if those attributes are encumbered by blind faith, that is to say religion, they can be, and almost invariably are, rendered worthless.

  6. Looked like a promising start to a good interview. Sadly, it’s just twice as long as the teaser posted here. However, if you have 15 hours to kill and are in for a laugh, go to the original article and read the comments down there.

    That community feels like RDFRS’s evil twin.

  7. This is my favourite:

    “Buddy

    Atheists have been responsible for the deaths of over 250 million people in the past 100 years via atheists such as Pol Pot, Mao, Stalin, Lenin, and a dozen lesser known atheist tyrants. Far more than all other religions combined in all of recorded history,.

    Theists tend to have fewer mental disorders, to commit suicide less often, be more charitable, and have better relationships with their fathers.

    Studies link atheism more with anger towards God than with any rational rejection of the concept of God.

    Officially atheist nations have always been a cesspool of murder and denial of the most basic of human rights.”

  8. Seriously, I have to say I have a hard time comprehending how an otherwise rational person can actually state that the morality of the Western world has nothing to do with christianity, when there are works of authors such as Max Weber that even link, say, protestantism to the development of capitalism. It’s as absurd as to say, for example, that Confucianism, with all of its different schools of thoughts and interpretation, didn’t play a major role in shaping chinese societies for a long time. It’s as absurd as to say that the works of Tolstoy haven’t actually affected anyone or anything important. I must admit there is a strange tendency I see amongst atheists that seem to view religion in an almost metaphysical manner: like it’s some unthinkable evil that dropped from the sky or sprawled from the ground and is infecting humanity ever since.

    GOD hasn’t played a role in the development of morals in the West, because it doesn’t exist. Christianity exists and has played a major role; the fact that morals develop and evolve and are not set in stone just shows that christianity is not “Truth” revealed to us by an inerrant and immoveable deity but merely a human societal construct that was created by humans and adopted and exercised by humans, many times divided into groups that had different interpretations of their source texts, and exactly like all the rest human constructs, affects and is being affected and interacts, with a continuous feedback mechanism, with all the other forces that shape what we call the “western world” and its views about anything under the sun.

    • In reply to #14 by JoxerTheMighty:

      Seriously, I have to say I have a hard time comprehending how an otherwise rational person can actually state that the morality of the Western world has nothing to do with christianity,…

      Only those bad bits being advocated by scriptures, and said scriptures being used to advocate those bad bits, subjectively speaking that is…it didn’t need scripture for the good bits as they were already being practiced by humans prior, and outside, the alleged works of Abraham, Moses and Jesus. Not that those three really existed.

      • In reply to #16 by Ignorant Amos:

        In reply to #14 by JoxerTheMighty:

        Seriously, I have to say I have a hard time comprehending how an otherwise rational person can actually state that the morality of the Western world has nothing to do with christianity,…

        Only those bad bits being advocated by scriptures, and said scriptures bei…

        I don’t even know what to say to that.

        Is this supposed to be a rational approach?

        That the only “novel” things religion introduced and perpetrated are the “bad” ones, while the “good” ones where just there in human nature since we branched of our ape ancestors 6 million years ago? The “bad” bits somehow didn’t exist prior to christianity? The set of views that christianity, or any other philosophy or system of ideas, influenced, aren’t even divided into strictly “good” or “bad”. When there are two different ways to view the world or society and those act as forces that influence humans, it doesn’t necessarily mean one is “good” and the other is “bad”! Just because the “golden rule” existed as a notion, in some form, prior to christianity, that doesn’t mean that, with christianity out of the picture, its spread and influence in the western world would be more or less the same. There could be a million different ways things could have been unfolded, that doesn’t mean they would lead to a situation that would be indisputably “worse” or “better”. We live in the world we live, and the world we live was shaped by the forces and events that took place. We don’t study history with “what ifs”.

        I’m sorry, this isn’t objectively looking at history, or the history of the “western world” and evaluating the mechanisms and forces that played a role in its shaping, this is arbitrarily deciding that one specific “school of thought”, so to speak, only influenced societies towards one direction, and what seems as influence towards the other direction is just an illusion; it would happen anyway.

        I don’t think this is a reasoned argument, and I have to say just because some people like repeating “we are the voice of reason” like a punchline doesn’t always make it so.

        • In reply to #17 by JoxerTheMighty:

          You appear to have misunderstood what I was attempting to say, and I must have been trying to say it very badly by all accounts, but that is hardly unusual for me and for that I apologize. I was not disagreeing with your comment, only trying to add to it in context to the OP. Capitalism, for example is either good or bad, right or wrong depending on who or where one happens to be and it is not morally religious dependant.

          The point I think being made in the OP by Richard Dawkins is that becoming better people, morally, has been shown not to require a particular religion, but in spite of those religions, in most cases, people have become more moral.

          My point is that with religion, things that were probably once thought of as bad, get excused because of some interpretation or other of said religion…see “New study raises questions about religion as deterrent against criminal behaviour”

          So, people were good and bad before religion. After religion, people were good and bad. The difference, people used religious texts to make an excuse for them being bad, but did the same religious texts make some people become good that were intrinsically bad? I don’t think so. Of course it’s just an opinion.

          The “bad” bits somehow didn’t exist prior to christianity? The set of views that christianity, or any other philosophy or system of ideas, influenced, aren’t even divided into strictly “good” or “bad”. When there are two different ways to view the world or society and those act as forces that influence humans, it doesn’t necessarily mean one is “good” and the other is “bad”!

          Why the hang-up with Christianity? I was talking about religion in general, though the veiled reference to a particular three from a similar source was unfortunate.

          It seems we have been talking at cross purposes. I think. I am talking about the morality inferred by RD and the challenge from the religious fraternity that it was the invention of gods that makes us all better people. You appear to be discussing a broader term of social psychology or group dynamics, which is a far more comprehensive and complicated debate.

          I’m a bit simple and I’m defining morality in the narrower definition that the extent to which an action is right or wrong.

          “Social Influence is a factor in every individual’s life. Social influence takes place when one’s thoughts, actions and feelings are affected by other people. It is a way of interaction that has an impact on individual behavior and can occur within groups and between groups. It is a fundamental process that affects ways of socialization, conformity, leadership and social change”

          The Social Psychology of Religion: Current. Research Themes

          I’m a bit simple and I’m defining morality in the narrower definition that the extent to which an action is right or wrong.

          Just because the “golden rule” existed as a notion, in some form, prior to christianity, that doesn’t mean that, with christianity out of the picture, its spread and influence in the western world would be more or less the same. There could be a million different ways things could have been unfolded, that doesn’t mean they would lead to a situation that would be indisputably “worse” or “better”. We live in the world we live, and the world we live was shaped by the forces and events that took place. We don’t study history with “what ifs”.

          Yes, man made history. The Golden Rule is a good example of doing it arse about face. A rule, that of all the religions that came up with it, or plagiarized it, nevertheless, failed to invoke it. The Platinum Rule is far superior. Although not without criticism. Anyway…words are not synonymous with actions.

          I’m sorry, this isn’t objectively looking at history, or the history of the “western world” and evaluating the mechanisms and forces that played a role in its shaping, this is arbitrarily deciding that one specific “school of thought”, so to speak, only influenced societies towards one direction, and what seems as influence towards the other direction is just an illusion; it would happen anyway.

          By one specific school of thought I take it you mean faith? Religious folk have an ulterior motive which make their actions morally dubious.

          I don’t think this is a reasoned argument,…

          Perhaps not, for that I apologize.

          But I’ll take a moment to quote some scholars, Bertrand Russell.

          “You find this curious fact, that the more intense has been the religion of any period and the more profound has been the dogmatic belief, the greater has been the cruelty and the worse has been the state of affairs….You find as you look around the world that every single bit of progress in humane feeling, every improvement in the criminal law, every step toward the dimunition of war, every step toward better treatment of the colored races, or every mitigation of slavery, every moral progress that there has been in the world, has been consistently opposed by the organized churches of the world” ~ Bertrand Russel

          “Either one’s motives for following the moral word of God are moral motives, or they are not. If they are, then one is already equipped with moral motivations, and the introduction of God adds nothing extra. But if they are not moral motives, then they will be motives of such a kind that they cannot appropriately motivate morality at all … we reach the conclusion that any appeal to God in this connection either adds to nothing at all, or it adds the wrong sort of thing.” ~ Bernard Williams

          “A man’s ethical behavior should be based effectually on sympathy, education, and social ties and needs; no religious basis is necessary. Man would indeed be in a poor way if he had to be restrained by fear of punishment and hopes of reward after death.” ~ Albert Einstein

          “With or without it you would have good people doing good things and evil people doing evil things. But for good people to do evil things, that takes religion.” ~ Steven Weinberg

          …and I have to say just because some people like repeating “we are the voice of reason” like a punchline doesn’t always make it so.

          Very true. That is why we debate on these boards. I for one like the education I get.

    • In reply to #14 by JoxerTheMighty:

      Seriously, I have to say I have a hard time comprehending how an otherwise rational person can actually state that the morality of the Western world has nothing to do with christianity, when there are works of authors such as Max Weber that even link, say, protestantism to the development of capitalism. It’s as absurd as to say, for example, that Confucianism, with all of its different schools of thoughts and interpretation, didn’t play a major role in shaping chinese societies for a long time.

      Exactly. To not understand the influence (for both good and bad) that religions such as Judaism and Christianity have had on Western Thought in areas such as human ethics displays ignorance that I would have thought only people in the US Tea Party would have. To me it’s at about the same level of ignorance of western literature as saying the Earth is 6,000 years old shows a fundamental ignorance of science. A while back I listed (in response to Joxer on another question) some of the great atheist thinkers. People like Nietzsche and David Hume. Those guys weren’t writing what they wrote on a whim. They were writing to respond to a much longer list of philosophers, theologians, novelists, who were highly influenced by Christianity and other religions.

      Tolstoy, Thomas Aquinas, Augustine, Kierkegaard, Dostoevsky, Milton, Dante, Melville, Berkely, Kant… the list could go on much longer, all were leading thinkers in Western Thought and Literature and all highly influenced by Christianity. Of course I think the parts influenced by Christianity were mostly wrong and could have been even better without the dogma but to pretend the influence isn’t there and isn’t still deeply ingrained into Western thought and culture is to be at the same intellectual level as a Young Earther is with science.

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