Saturday, April 14, 2012

M is for Morality and Religion

One of the arguments I often hear from the faithful is that without religion where would get morality.  People need religion to act good.

I have thought about this for a while, and something about this argument never really made sense to me.

The bible is under the best of circumstances only a few thousand years old.  Or rather the texts that lead to the modern bible which it self is less than 2,600 years old.  What governed morality for the 2+ million other years before that?
Simple. Religion does govern morality.  It may codify it, but it did create it.

Today M is for Morality and Religion.

This is a topic I have wanted to investigate.
So instead of talking to religious experts I instead have been talking sociologists, social psychologists and trying to find some evolutionary biologists.

It seems (and please keep in mind I am only in the Research phase) that morality was a system that developed around the same time as civilization.  As we learned to live in groups, we learned to live together.  Behaviors that were positive to society were rewarded, behaviors that were not, well were not.

We know the Code of Hammurabi comes from around 1770 BCE, the earliest parts of the Bible, the Torah, from only around 600 BCE. So that gives us1,000 years of coded morality before the Bible was even written.
Then that is not even counting the civilizations since 3500 BCE.

So where did morality come from in the 2,000 years humans were living together and writing about it before the Bible was written? Or the nearly 2 million before recorded history?

We can observe tribal cultures around the world now, especially ones that do not have easy access to modern humans. Thee cultures have behaviors that are considered moral, but they don't read the bible or have access to the christian religion.

What of these earliest humans? We can't observe their behavior.  They are long since dead and left very few traces behind. We can however observe chimps, our closest biological relative, and especially Bonobos which a complex system of governing their sexual behavior.

This leads to a probable hypothesis, that morality evolved along with humans as a means of social interaction.  Put Freud aside we can say humans are predominately good and gravitate towards socially acceptable behaviors.  Altruism and socially accepted behaviors then have a genetic base, where the humans that had these genes were give more chances to breed and pass their genes on to the next generation.  Something we can see today, right now in Bonobos.

Richard Dawkins covers this a bit in his book, The God Delusion.  But I think I should read more on it.  Another name for me to check out is Matt J. Rossano and his book "Supernatural Selection: How Religion Evolved".

Afterall, secular morality tells us that slavery (even sexual slavery, Exodus 21:7) and beating your wife or children are all wrong, but the Christian Bible tells you these things are ok.