Do we need God to dictate our morality?

Over at Spread Rationality I stumbled upon a post titled “Morality Without God” authored by Kemal Eren. Kemal discusses how morality is a feature that was developed because of biological evolutionary reasons as well as cultural evolution. Many scientists are proponents of this idea, including Richard Dawkins (of course, of course).

I really wanted to add some comments on this post, which, as interesting as it is in taking on the subject of evolution-derived morals, I think it left out a couple of important issues. Since comments were disabled for that post, I decided to write one myself.

Instead of defending an evolutionary approach to morals (where Kemal does a pretty good job), I would like to take a different approach and discuss how God and/or religion could never provide us with the moral standards we currently have -and which are of course continuously evolving. So I will take on the three main arguments that religious people like to proudly present in this matter.

  1. Abraham Sacrifice
    Most such arguments implicitly (or explicitly) state that God in whatever form, and the holy scriptures, provide us with a set of moral guidelines that we should follow in order to live a “good” life. But: these scriptures are full of horrible stories of racism, genocides, violence, and many many more. So how are these supposed to be good morals?!?

    For instance, the story that supposedly shows the courage of Abraham and how blind faith is actually rewarded by God: is this terrible story of Abraham and the sacrifice of his son of moral value? [Painting by Rembrandt]

    Of course, here, religious apologetics will say that such stories are not supposed to be taken literally. But then, how do you decide which stories should be taken literally and which not? Obviously you still need some objective moral standards to do this. Therefore, saying that these originate from the holy scriptures is simply unreasonable.

  2. The argument of the Ten Commandments (in case of Christianity, similarly for other religions): do we really need God and his Ten commandments to tell us that it is bad to kill someone? That it is bad to steal from someone? That it is bad to lie? I don’t think so…

    Claiming that these commandments assist in sustaining morality and “good” behaviour is a very, very bad thing in my opinion: when someone refrains from stealing or killing just because God said so or just because he will then burn in Hell this is NOT morality! It is simply one of two cases: fear of punishment, which in no case attaches the property of morality to the person in question, or hypocrisy/sucking up to God so that the person is rewarded in the afterlife. It is like some sort of policing in a way…

  3. The argument that Atheists have caused so much more deaths than religious people: this is a big hit! While true in a sense, it is completely irrelevant! For starters, most bad things that ever happened (and still happen) to humanity stemmed from discrimination and dogma –the main manifestation of which is religion. From the crusades, to religious genocides, to the modern day conflicts, such as the Indian-Pakistani conflicts, the middle-east turmoil and so many, many more.

    Atheism, on the contrary, is not a dogma! It is a lack of belief in God! Usually (but not always) this is accompanied by a large dose of rational thinking and skepticism.

    The argument goes by mentioning that both Hitler and Stalin were atheists and, hey, look how many deaths they have caused. Well, lets see why this is not a valid argument.

    • First of all, there is no strong indication that Hitler was an atheist. And if he was, he was certainly using religion to manipulate his followers. For instance in Mein Kampf he says:

      “[…] I believe that I am acting in accordance with the will of the Almighty Creator: by defending myself against the Jew, I am fighting for the work of the Lord.”

      Then again he had said a number of atheist-sounding quotes so nothing is conclusive. But the point remains that he did exploit the religious beliefs of his followers in order to motivate and manipulate them.

    • Second, the fact that Stalin was an atheist and performed such atrocities is irrelevant when you consider that he was not acting in the name of atheism! Stalin had his own dogmatic beliefs and tried to impose them. This is irrelevant with atheism and indeed a bit in contrast. Atheism should be about the lack of dogma.

    • Finally, of course conflicts involving Hitler and Stalin would have many more casualties since they took place in the 20th century! The technological advancements have enabled weapons of mass destruction and sophisticated machinery that unfortunately make it so much easier to increase the death tolls than, say, using spears, bows, and swords like in the earliest crusades! What kind of comparison is this?

Personally, and I want to believe this is also true for most of my friends and family, I do not need God or the Ten Commandments to lead a moral life. I am happy that these properties are hard-wired in my brain, and I am even happier that I was able to activate and make good use of them. If someone needs God in order to have morals, then so be it. But please do not tell me that we get our morals from God or the scriptures because this is just absurd!