Discussion by: catphil
One recurrent theme in the debate between atheists and believers is whether deists/religious people tend have better morals or ethics than non-believers. “Arguments” from one side include Steven Weinberg’s famous “for good people to do bad things, it takes religion.” Several (including RD, as I understand it) suggest that each person’s position on moral issues can/should be derived from first principles (common sense?) in the light of evolving current societal norms, and without reference to precepts in any ancient sacred text) . Sam Harris, for his part, holds the (rather tenuous, I think) view that the right thing to do can be derived from facts-Moore’s “naturalistic fallacy” being itself a fallacy.
The argument tends to be inconclusive, in the absence-as far as I know- of proper scientific testing, and even of agreed definitions of “good/bad”, “moral/immoral”.
Although I have not seen this argument developed in debates, the strongest reason, IMO, which would favor God-fearing persons to act more ethically, is the fact that they believe they are being watched at all times by God(s). Under the circumstances, they are less likely to succumb to the temptation of, say, theft, or not reporting an accident, than a non-believer, whenever conditions are such that chances of being found out by mortals are considered very small. This has, in particular, definite practical advantages in rearing children in the fear of God (or being frowned upon by Santa or similar), thus lessening the probability that they will indulge in some mischievous- or possibly dangerous- activity behind the minder’s back. Similarly, it is quite rational for religious people to give “generously” to faith-based charities or zakat since a reward in the after-life may be expected-a motivation not available to non believers.
Is this line of argument to the effect that believers act more morally/altruistically developed somewhere? what is wrong with it ? and what could be a counter-argument?