Morality and religion
If a Supreme Being did not exist, say theists, there would be no morality, debauchery would reign
and humans would behave as animals. "Not everything is permissible,
therefore God exists," suggests Russian writer Fyodor Dostoyevsky. Both
opinions are wrong and science is confirming the error. Morality and religion
are separate things.
Ethics–the study of
ideas about what is right or wrong, and morality–the conformity of an action
with the guidelines of ethics–are matters embedded in the human nature. Let us
look at it in this way: It is righter – more moral–to do good and avoid
evil because of the intrinsic goodness
or badness of actions than by the pursuit of a heavenly reward or the fear of
an infernal punishment. "We must be honest because to be honest is the
right thing," said once American civil rights leader Martin Luther King.
According to evolutionary sciences, moral behavior is a cultural development that helps to
the preservation of both the group and its members. "Do no harm to others"
favors the survival of the species–of my clan; "do no harm yourself"
favors the survival of the individual–of my life. According to primatologist
Frans de Waal, the moral behaviors in
our hominid ancestors were the result of empathy and reciprocity; the more
agglutinated and better structured groups had, of course, higher odds to
survive and thrive than isolated individuals. The lonely had fewer
opportunities to both leave offspring and hunt the animal proteins that the
brain of the 'Homo erectus'–the immediate ancestor of ‘Homo sapiens–would
require over thousands of years to increase its size.
In the same order of
ideas, says the American biologist Edward Wilson: "In the course of
evolutionary history, genes predisposing people toward cooperative behavior
would have come to predominate in the human population as a whole; such a
process repeated through thousands of generations inevitably gave birth to the
to morality resulting from natural selection resides, therefore, in the human
condition as such. Specific rules of conduct, of course, are not coded in
genes: the DNA molecule does not dictate commandments. Intrinsic morality is a
visible but blurry beacon that guides our actions.
The observation of a
certain sense of fairness in monkeys and anthropoids has been studied in
numerous investigations. These studies suggest that the moral instincts of some
apes have deep roots that might have developed long before the appearance of man
and that there is also a genetic predisposition toward morality in our animal
relatives, with different characteristics in each species or group. It is not
surprising then that the codes of conduct of humans, despite some similar rules
among them, are different in every culture. The commonality in the codes sits
in the human predisposition to moral behavior, not in the details of the
Frans de Waal argues
that the roots of morality manifest in social animals and, in particular, in
our cousins the chimpanzees and bonobos. Their expressions of empathy and
expectations of reciprocity are equivalent to the moral sense in their human
relatives. According to 'The Economist' magazine, the research work of this
Dutch “provides plenty of evidence that religion is not necessary in order for
animals to display something that looks strikingly like human morality".
Writes Frans de Waal
in "The Bonobo and the Atheist", his most recent book: "Morality
arose first and modern religion latched onto it. Instead of giving us the moral
law, the large religions were invented to bolster it. We are just beginning to
explore how religion does so by banding people together and enforcing good
behavior. It is far from my intention to minimize this role... But religion is
not the wellspring of morality."
Morality is then up
to us and for us, the human race, and does not depend on any celestial judge
who has decreed ethical norms. And, even less, morality does not require
earthly judges, self-nominated or delegated by the organized religions, for
them to act as carriers or interpreters of the divine messages.
Atlanta, February 6, 2015