Science, Religion and Morality – Part 2 : A direct causal link

“Philosophy is about questions that cannot be answered. Religion is about answers that cannot be questioned.”
– Anonymous

Simplicio : Yes. I agree they must take responsibility for their actions and I see a lot of bad in what they do, but I see a lot of bad in pretty much every organization in the world. I dont see why anyone should isolate this particular organization. You might say they do the most damage. But if you simply say that, I cannot take your word for it.

As we have seen our friend Simplicio has finally conceded that institutions like the Catholic Church are not the ultimate word on morality. Yet he raises an issue that the Church is not alone in that respect. But Salviati is far from finished. Let us listen to what he had to say about Simplicio’s objection.

Salviati : Well, you have raised an important issue there. First of all I’m not blaming religion for all the bad things happening in the world. But you must admit that it does more than a fair share of damage. Ultimately, I believe dogmatism is the root cause of all problems. And religion is one of the most virulent forms of dogmatism. Nazism is another. What separates these from science and reason is the lack of necessary evidence to support their claims and the intolerance they exhibit towards people who disagree with them.

Will there ever have been twin tower bombings of 9/11 by militant groups like Al-Queda but for religion?  Or the Mumbai attacks or the mass pogrom in Gujarat? What about  the partition  of India and Pakistan and the consequential struggle for Kashmir?  Can you imagine a fight happening in west Asia between the Israelis and the Palestinians were it not for religion? I mean here we have two Messianic groups   fighting it out for their share of the holy land, a land purportedly given to them by God (in his capacity as an omniscient real estate agent).

Simplicio : First of all militant terrorism was done by extremists who form only a small minority of the religious populace who misconstrued the religious teachings. Speaking of west Asia, I can certainly imagine such fights happening because religion was never an issue there. People would still fight for the land. Even in the absence of religion there would still be a community, with people lacking basic necessities. In a struggle for existence, they wouldn’t mind fighting with people around them because resources would be limited. Speaking of examples, what about the Maoist insurgency in India. Or the military invasion of Iraq and Afghanistan by the US government. You can see the basic reason. People find something wrong with others and they feel in the interest of preservation of whatever the consider ‘our selves’, they fight others; some people fight for ‘religious beliefs’, some for ‘political beliefs’, some for ‘economic beliefs’. The problem is not with these beliefs themselves, but inabliity to accept that others may hold different beliefs but stil have the right to co exist with us. OPEN-MINDEDNESS is the issue.

Salviati : I agree with you on a lot of the points you’ve made. Open mindedness indeed is the issue. I spoke about how dogmatism leads to intolerance. The one thing common with the examples you gave are the that the dominant parties (the US or the Indian government) have some vested interests (oil, mineral resources like bauxite/iron ore, MoUs). And there are dogmatic underpinnings. But we are digressing off topic here. You say that people will fight irrespective of religion. I say religion (among other things) makes people fight because it makes people close-minded and intolerant. Also, you cannot blindly (and wrongly) assume that people are just waiting for a reason to fight and religion is the only thing holding them back. In fact many sacred texts have verses goading their followers to take up arms and kill the infidels. As physicist Weinberg aptly put it : “Good people do good things bad people do bad things, but it takes religion to make good people do bad things.”

Simplicio : There are a lot of places where open-minded hindus, christians, muslims coexist. And to those people, their religion gives them a reason to be moral and an additional reason to love people outside of their family of 3 or 4 people. That is where the ‘GOOD SIDE’ of religion comes from a ‘social perspective’. I believe a lot of people in this world, possibly ‘most’ people in the world are moral to a greater or lesser extent because they have a religious belief that asks them to be that way.

Salviati :  I implore you not to say that we derive our morality from religion.  We do not. I can reason it out to you. The truth is…

Simplicio : Just wait a minute. I want to say something. Then you can explain your reasons.

Salviati : Sorry. Mea culpa. Look who’s intolerant now. 🙂

Simplicio : Yeah, right. :). You say ‘we’ for a certain set of intellectual people      including you and me but we are not all that exists in the world. There are people who can’t reason like this, people who don’t understand all abstract philosophy and morality.

I myself was brought up in a religiously inclined family. I followed the customs and traditions and my parents taught me to be moral. I did all these without knowing why. I wanted to reason out what being moral was and why I need to pray to a god. I started reading the scriptures and on philosophy and then lots of ideas started making sense to me, and appealed to me as a reason of which I believe I have got more answers – more satisfying than anything yet – and I am looking for more answers from everywhere.

Now here is the point. Many times during the past, and even now, I have thought about morality and I don’t see any reason why I need to be moral, outside of religion. Suppose I don’t care about when I will die.  If that fear isn’t there, what can stop me from doing what I want to do? Nothing whatsoever. I can start killing or looting people just depending on my mood (assuming I’m capable). Why should I care if others cry, why should I care if society is hurt? The only thing that would affect me is my own mind and the only external thing that can affect me is if they catch me and jail me. Even then I get enough food. If they hang me, I don’t anyway care about death, so I am still doing fine. Why should I be moral? I can get an answer only from religion.

Similarly , if I am a robber, I steal from someone and i have the choice of killing or not killing someone from whom i robbed. I don’t really care either ways but if I have a religious belief, I might not kill the person and once such act of mercy might stay in my mind, and I might not kill a person in the next such instance. It is not so far fetched as you may think. Our minds work on habits. So that is the point. Now go ahead.

Salviati : You have painted a very grim picture of humanity. It seems to me as if you think we would all be sociopaths and psycopaths but for religion to help us out of our misery. Talk about imagination run amok. Now, there are two claims or two issues (s’il vous plait) to address here which you have made.

(C1) We derive our morality from religion
(C2) If there was no religion to instil morality in us, then we would be doing all sorts of bad things.

Consider a deeply religious person  who most would consider to be good. She (Now that’s a consciousness raiser by the feminists. Most people would expect a ‘he’ there) reads her bible (or qur’an or torah)  daily and in it she sees  verses like love your neighbours, don’t kill, steal, commit adultery or perjury. She then says to herself that this must indeed be the word of God. But then she sees verses that say homosexuality is a sin,  you’ll go to hell if you don’t worship me, or  kill  your unbelieving parents or children in my name, you’re a sinner by virtue of being born, verses condoning slavery, rape, incest, genocide, infanticide, patricide, fratricide  among other wicked things. Then she says to herself. These are indeed bad things. The God I pray to surely could not have said this for he is all kind and loving. People should have taken it out of context or they misunderstood my God or this is not my kind of Christianity(Islam/Hinduism).

NOW, all these passages come from the same book that people hail as the highest authority on moral values but the believer cherry-picked those verses which she liked,  which she thought represented her world better, would lead to good and rejected the bad verses. If I may ask you now how did she know which verses to pick and choose? Surely not from the book because it says things both good and bad. So i put it to you that people have an innate sense of morality which doesn’t derive out of religion. And it is precisely this sense of right and wrong which prevents people from doing bad things.

Simplicio :  I get your point, of course. Well…this is it. There are people who do what you said. Probably they do have an innate sense of morality. There also  are people who just see ‘holy book’ and take it literally and while it does contain  ‘bad’ statements that is not the ‘highlight’. The main theme is doing good. Therefore, these people end up doing good things albeit blindly out of fear or ignorance.

Salviati : Even then it is highly condescending of you to suggest that people  should find their bliss in ignorance as they are  incapable of understanding the truth. They might do better than you think. Also,  I believe that all religions are bad but not equally bad (there’s the shades of grey for you). For example jihad or martyrdom is not a fringe doctrine in Islam. Mass pogroms in the name of God are guaranteed tickets to heaven in Abrahamic religions. God is loving only to those who worship him and no one else. But then again, who has ever heard of a Jain suicide bomber? You don’t see Tibetan Buddhist monks blowing themselves up in Chinese buses or killing abortion doctors. I personally believe truth trumps any fiction. I’d rather swallow the red pill than be stuck in a fairy tale of illusions and magic. Religious faith is the permission people give one another to believe things strongly without evidence. It would be intellectually dishonest if you deny that there is a direct causal linkage between what people believe and what people do.

Simplicio : Yes. “He is loving only those who worship him” that is the logical flaw I see in religion. Which means really rational people cannot follow it. But people who don’t care that much about reason can still believe and do good by its teachings. We can take out the good precepts from the books nonetheless. Conversion is done with the loving interest of bringing them to light as well. But isn’t atheism another form of dogmatism?

Salviati : And ‘not collecting stamps’ is a hobby.  Personally I don’t like the word atheism. It is like calling someone a ‘non-astrologer’. You don’t need religion to teach people the good things. It is like asking you to eat the peel along with the banana. American journalist Christopher Hitchens put this challenge out in one of his debates. He asked people to come up with a good deed which only  a religious person can do which a non-believer cannot. As a corollary  also  to come up with a bad deed which a religious person would do and a non-believer cannot. You can see that whereas the first question really has no answer you need not even think for a second to come up with numerous examples for the second case.

Simplicio : My acknowledging good effects of christianity doesn’t go as far as to say it hasn’t done any bad or that it is in any way logical in its theory.  And you have a valid point. Whatever morality a religious man can have, a non-religious man can also have. But does science and reason give us any answers to moral questions? If not then how does one answer moral questions?

To be continued…


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