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Monday, December 15, 2014

Does atheism undermine morality?


Everyone's empathy fails from time to time. A small percent of people lack empathy entirely. They cannot understand why they should not do whatever they want if they can get away with it. So how can you promote good behavior given these imperfections?

All societies promote it with surveillance and punishment. People tend to behave when they feel they are being watched and will be punished if they break the rules. However, physical surveillance and punishment is expensive and has limits. It turns out that supernatural surveillance and punishment, which requires much less expense, can also promote good behavior.

A study found that college students who were told a classroom was haunted were far less likely to cheat on a test than those who did not hear the ghost story.  

So now we see the main reason why almost all societies have some kind of religion.

But there is a problem: people who voice skepticism of religion undermine its power to promote good. Skeptics counter that they also undermine its power to promote evil. Is religion the noble lie Plato spoke of?

It is true that skepticism undermines the good of religion, but all the good that comes from religion can be had without it. But there are kinds of evil that can only come from religion.

Steven Weinberg said it best: "'Religion is an insult to human dignity. 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."