This post is a continuation and update of some information in my prior post Proof of God From Morality.
Theists and Atheists often debate the question if the world would be better off without religion.
We must ask which religion or perhaps any religion. How to define "better off" ? Even the word world needs to be defined. Who's world ? The world in which period of history or future ? Which country, and which person's world in that country. A witch being burned at the stake would probably say her world would be better off without the religion that causes her torture and death. Or perhaps a devout religious individual can not live without the hope religion gives to her. Without getting bogged down with such important questions and clarifications lets move on.
Most of us are familiar with theists citing the evils perpetuated by a particular atheist or 'atheistic' government and the atheists responding in kind with the evils perpetuated by a particular religious person or religious government.
This post is based off of an article I fortuitously came across while strolling through the magazine section of a library. "Would the World Be Better Off Without Religion" by Lilienfeld and Ammirati in the Skeptical Inquirer July/August 2014. "...the question of whether religion increases or decreases the risk of genocidal and other large-scale violence may never be answered to our satisfaction."
So the article attempts to address a more specific question. If there was no religion would there be less violence, less antisocial behavior, less criminality, and more prosocial (altruistic) behavior. After reviewing academic literature with regard to those and similar issues the article basically concludes WE DON’T KNOW. What follows is synopsis of the article (plus some of my comments) - see the article for full citations and more details.
Hirshci and Stark 1969 - little or no relation between religiosity and crime.
Baier and Wright 2001 - finds a statistically significant weak negative correlation ( r = -.12) religiosity and crime. This finding runs counter to Dennet(2006) and Dawkins (2006) claim that there is no statistical association between religiosity and crime.
The Article then cites many studies suggesting the correlation being qualified by several other variables:
1) Attending places of worship may be playing a role in the correlation found, with frequent attendees have an especially low risk of crime.
2) Diminished risk for aggression and antisocial behavior appears MORE closely related to intrinsic religiosity ( religion personally important for it's own sake to the person) as opposed to extrinsic religiosity (religion for a personal end i.e. to gain relief or protection.) [The Bible often exhorts people to worship in order to gain certain favors from God and sometimes to avoid the wrath God - this I think would qualify as extrinsic]
3) Religiosity is moderately positively associated with self control, especially for people with high intrinsic religiosity.
4) Religious nonbelievers [I am not sure what this means] relative to religious believers. The former report statistically significant slightly higher levels of certain traits relevant to psychopathic personalty.
5) Consistent correlation between religion and prosocial behavior. This again is most marked for those with high levels of intrinsic religiosity ( high levels of private rather than public religious participation.)
6) Most but not all studies find a positive correlation between religiosity and moral reasoning at a more sophisticated level. Although moral reasoning and moral behavior are only moderately correlated.
Notwithstanding the above correlations, correlation does not demonstrate causality (i.e. The evidence does not support religion causes a reduction in crime.) Nor can we generalize from the individual to society as a whole. It is also possible higher levels of moral behavior contribute to higher levels of religiosity. And there is the Galen 2012 study which cites In Group Bias - much of the prosocial behavior of religious people is directed towards other religious people.
Another explanation is religion is acting as a substitute for the true underlying explanatory variables - such as certain personality traits that are related to morality. Examples would include - agreeableness, conscientiousness, self control, (Loudi-Smith and Roberts 2007, McCullough and Willoughby 2009). There is also an hypothesis waiting further research that certain genes may contribute to certain personality traits that boost chances of BOTH religiosity and prosocial behavior.
Another explanation waiting further research is devout adherence to any meaningful world view is the casual factor.
The article asks does one need religion to be moral ? The response is " The correlational data permit as close to a definitive answer as one can probably achieve in social science: No. Many nonreligious people clearly exhibit high levels of moral behavior and thinking."
Some Academic explanations for the link between religion and Morality
1) Fear of God's wrath (I suggested something like this in my prior post)
2) Social Control Theory - religions bind the individual more closely to community, family and others
3) Rational Choice Theory - Religion fosters shame and guilt for unethical actions thus deterring those actions
None of the above three reasons have been falsified nor is there especially compelling evidence for any of the reasons.
Another Hypothesis the article explores is religion attenuates the risk of antisocial behavior among individuals predisposed to antisocial behavior. I.E. comes from high crime area or has impulsiveness or other traits that make the individual high risk. The few studies that have been done suggest religious belief may buffer high risk individuals. But many of the caveats mentioned regarding above regarding causality vs correlation apply and further study is needed.
The article dispels certain myths that are not supported and are in fact refuted by data.
a) There is no morally good atheist
b) It takes religion for good people to do evil
What about Truth for Truth's sake ( my motto). In other words, if there is no valid evidence for religion we should reject it regardless of potential benefits of religion. The article mentions this is an intellectually honest and consistent position, but may entail unknown risks that need to be weighed
[Beside the financial rewards many politicians, religious institutions and theologians receive from religion I think the fear of all hell breaking loose is one key reason why many political leaders, theologians and indeed many people cling to it and try to impose it on others.]
[The article refers to guilt potentially being used to influence people from committing say crimes. But religious guilt is also used to influence people who are not committing crimes. They are simply not following the religion rituals. Consider Orthodox Judaism - the guilt associated with minor infractions of Sabbath laws, Kosher laws, not wiping your butt with the proper hand and on and on. The article fails to address the serious negative physical and psychological repercussions that are often associated with religions. This goes back to my opening comments. Which religion ?]
- Alter Cocker Jewish Atheist
- A fairly accurate, but incomplete INDEX of Posts & good overview of this blog READ SOME REASONS TO REJECT ORTHODOX JUDAISM my April 2014 post or click link above. Highlighted words lead to other posts almost all in my blog. Born into an Orthodox Jewish family (1950's) and went to Orthodox Yeshiva from kindergarten thru High School plus some Beis Medrash.Became an agnostic in my 20's and an atheist later on. My blog will discuss the arguments for god and Orthodox Judaism and will provide counter arguments. I no longer take comments. My blog uses academic sources, the Torah, Talmud and commentators to justify my assertions. The posts get updated. INDEX OF POSTS SEE MAY 2017 or click link above.