Friday, April 28, 2006

The Myth of Secular Moral Chaos

Sam Harris wrote an interesting article entitled, The Myth of Secular Moral Chaos. Harris answers the common claim that, without the Bible, moral chaos would ensue. Harris shows that this is not true, for the Bible is far from the best moral guide. Further, there is no good evidence that Christianity produces better morals, and there is indeed a solid basis for morals from a secular starting point. Harris states:

According to the United Nations Human Development Report (2005), the most atheistic societies countries like Norway, Iceland, Australia, Canada, Sweden, Switzerland, Belgium, Japan, the Netherlands, Denmark, and the United Kingdom are actually the healthiest, as indicated by measures of life expectancy, adult literacy, per-capita income, educational attainment, gender equality, homicide rate, and infant mortality. Conversely, the fifty nations now ranked lowest by the UN in terms of human development are unwaveringly religious.

Harris is quick to point out that such correlational data does not prove that atheism is better, but it does show that it is indeed possible to build moral societies without relying on faith.

This article is a good response to the claim of Jeffrey Wilson in the debate I had with him. Wilson criticized my claim that secular humanists have good priniciples. Wilson wrote:

Good principles?!? You’re not even fooling the humanists here. Even they say that the Christian religion has a purpose in curbing total moral chaos in that if everyone believed that they were accountable to no one then everyone would do whatever it took to “get yours” and take and do whatever it is to maintain that fleeting high of happiness, such as, drugs, rape, murder, theft, etc.

But, of course, Wilson did not mention one humanist who believed that Christianity is necessary to curb moral chaos. We humanists teach that our message is a message of hope.

1 comment:

SpeirM said...

Religions usually pack a lot of wisdom. I doubt many of us unbelievers would have much trouble with Christianity if it consisted only of the better parts of Jesus' teachings.

Problem is, religion packs a lot more than wisdom. It's like a glob of rock moving through a protoplanetary disk--it tends to grab whatever's out there. It sucks in the good and the bad and attributes it all to the Divine. Thus, even the bad can become morally imperative.

Of course, it doesn't necessarily work that way in practice. Even Christians, at some level, know parts of the morality the Bible has imposed is not good. They tend to ignore these and weave sophistries for so doing that, they would like to think, leaves their religion intact and still believable.

Having said that, I don't have quite the categorically negative view of religion some in the skeptical/agnostic/atheist community do. We need something to bind us together in a common cause. (It'd be nice if it could be a good cause. Alas, religion seems to go in for bad causes a lot.) Our vision is limited. Sometimes what lies beyond the horizon is important. At least, we need to be able to come to some agreement about what the reality out there might be. Consequently, we all have to take some things "by faith." It doesn't take long before we're nearing the definition of religion again. Not sure what to do about that.