Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Study Confirms: Atheists Just as Ethical as Churchgoers

The old canard that people who do not believe in a "Supreme Being" are untrustworthy, without morals, and unethical has received yet another rebuke.

According to a new study published in the journal Trends in Cognitive Sciences, Atheists are "just as ethical as churchgoers," and religion is only one way through which people can manifest a moral code.

Dr. Marc Hauser of Harvard University reported that his research team was investigating the foundations of moral behavior and religion.

"The research suggests that intuitive judgments of right and wrong seem to operate independently of explicit religious commitments," said Hauser.

Dr. Ed Buckner, President of American Atheists, said that the study should help dispel one of the many great lies about non-religious Americans.

"Nearly 13% of the US population, according to surveys, have 'no religion'; that's about 40 million people," said Buckner. "Surveys indicate, however, that a near-majority of people would not support an otherwise qualified Atheist candidate for public office and falsely believe that 'there are no Atheists in foxholes.'"

Both perceptions are incorrect. "At least a few TV preachers and other demagogues almost certainly and knowingly encourage these misunderstandings, intentionally lying to shore up their own power and prestige. Atheists are already serving in government, the armed forces,and the professions (even in the clergy); most just don't openly advertise the fact that they have no religious beliefs," added Buckner.

The study is available at http://www.cell.com/trends/cognitive-sciences.


G said...

Old canard? Why have I never heard anyone make that claim?


I believe the way it has been explained to me is that atheists have no moral compass. I know this not to be true, but I keep hearing it. Maybe you haven't heard of such things because it doesn't directly affect you. As an atheist, I have been told of my ethical inferiority and it can get frustrating even though I know this thinking is based in stupidity.

csm said...

Actually, I've had a conversation like this with you, G. Not that you said I was not ethical, but you said something like this to me: "Without god telling me what is right or wrong I have no basis for claiming that something is right or wrong." I'm sure you'll correct me if I got the gist of that wrong.

At any rate, atheists need no mythical being to confer morality and ethics upon us.

G said...

There is a huge difference between what I had said before and the way you began this post ("... that people who do not believe in a 'Supreme Being' are untrustworthy, without morals, and unethical..."). I have never heard anyone claim that because a person is an atheist or agnostic that they are unethical, untrustworthy, or without morals.

The argument that I had previously made was that the problem (as I see it) is in the basis by which one determines morality. If there is no immutability to morality, then any sense of morality becomes an issue of mere relativism. So we lose any ability to objectively judge right and wrong, other than popular opinion.

csm said...

Yes, it is not the same. But it reminded me of it (on the fringe somewhat).

And as Bawdy stated, you probably haven't heard it because you are not an atheist who has to listen to that kind of crap all the time.

Bottom line, everything is relative. Some men wrote the bible and put words into a god's mouth and that does not make those words moral. If god existed and wanted us to follow certain morals he'd show up and tell us... all the time... not just on a mountain top thousands of years ago or to Adam and Eve in a garden...