"If you don't believe in God, then why believe in morality?"
This question was once asked by a stampmaker who has since deactivated their account here on deviantART. To this person, it seemed that morality was something that required faith
. Faith, in the sense of the word that the religious use in reference to their relationship with their particular god, and not in the other sense that is used when someone speaks of trust or confidence in someone or something, based off of previous experiences.
I have always been of the opinion that we do not need god to be a good person. Some have asked me, where does the concept of good come from, but from God? It's an interesting and thought-provoking question. Where does the concept of good come from? Is it something that is learned? And if not learned, is it something that we are born with?
I feel that the solution to these questions can be found by viewing our behavior in the same way that we view the physical advantages that we gained as a species through evolution, such as walking upright. Now, I'm not any sort of a professional or specialist in any of these fields of study, just someone who enjoys a good thought once in a while.
Some have argued that our belief in religion is possibly a result of us evolving to be, in essence, paranoid. The Error Management Theory suggests that "decision-making under uncertainty often results in erroneous inference, but that some errors are more costly in their consequences than others. Evolution should therefore favor an inference system that minimizes, not the total number of errors, but their total costs."
In an article
, Satoshi Kanazawa puts forth the following scenario:
Imagine you are our ancestor living on the African savanna 100,000 years ago, and you encounter some ambiguous situation. For example, you heard some rustling noises nearby at night. Or you were walking in the forest, and a large fruit falling from a tree branch hits you on the head. What’s going on?
In an ambiguous situation like this, you can either attribute the phenomenon to impersonal, inanimate, and unintentional forces (for example, wind blowing gently to make the rustling noises among the bushes and leaves, or a mature fruit falling by the force of gravity and hitting you on the head purely by accident) or to personal, animate, and intentional forces (for example, a predator hiding in the dark and getting ready to attack you, or an enemy hiding in the tree branches and throwing fruits at your head). The question is, which is it?
Once again, Error Management Theory suggests that, in your inference, you can make a “Type I” error of false positive or “Type II” error of false negative, and these two types of error carry vastly different consequences and costs. The cost of a false-positive error is that you become paranoid. You are always looking around and behind your back for predators and enemies that don’t exist. The cost of a false-negative error is that you are dead, being killed by a predator or an enemy when you least expect them. Obviously, it’s better to be paranoid than dead, so evolution should have designed a mind that overinfers personal, animate, and intentional forces even when none exist.
Later, he adds:
"You see a bush on fire. It could have been caused by an impersonal, inanimate, and unintentional force (lightning striking the bush and setting it on fire), or it could have been caused by a personal, animate, and intentional force (God trying to communicate with you). The “animistic bias” or “agency-detector mechanism” predisposes you to opt for the latter explanation rather than the former. It predisposes you to see the hands of God at work behind natural, physical phenomena whose exact causes are unknown."
So if this is a likely theory, then it's not very far-fetched to imagine that evolution has deeply affected our sense of 'morality' as well. As humans, we are social animals. We thrive because we depend upon each other to play integral roles in our society. But how do you do that? Some could argue that religion plays a large role in the concept of morality because religion, in effect, builds groups. It brings people together, and while it does so by convincing others that there are omnipresent entities involved in the situation, in the end it does its job.
So the question goes from, "Can you have morals without God," to, "What came first, Morality or God?"
A quick search on Youtube will bring you videos of monkeys cooperating to achieve a goal
. Experiments with rats have shown that they will not take food if they know their actions will cause pain to another rat. Knuckles, a chimpanzee from the Centre for Great Apes in Florida, is the only known captive chimpanzee to suffer from cerebral palsy, which leaves him physically and mentally handicapped. It's been found that other chimpanzees in his group treat him differently, and he is rarely subjected to intimidating displays of aggression from older males.
So what does this mean? Morality being witnessed in creatures that clearly cannot have the capacity to believe in gods or goddesses, behavior that is often attributed to those who accept whichever god is the flavor of the century being seen in creatures that can only be described as agnostic or atheistic in nature? If animals can show morality without God, where does this leave us? Where does it leave the religious, who view our concepts of "good" and "bad" as wholly religious in origin?
If evolution is in fact the reason why our species is moral, that our social need for interaction is behind our cooperation and general need not to kill, rape, or otherwise harm people, what does that say about "God's moral measuring stick?" I'd wager it never existed in the first place.