From Nature’s news section, Philip Ball reports on research showing Dog bites man Morals don’t come from God:
[In] a new paper by psychologists Ilkka PyysiÃ¤inen of the University of Helsinki and Marc Hauser of Harvard University â¦ individuals presented with unfamiliar moral dilemmas show no difference in their responses if they have a religious background or not.
The study draws on tests of moral judgements using versions of the web-based Moral Sense Test â¦ These tests present dilemmas ranging from how to handle freeloaders at ‘bring a dish’ dinner parties to the justification of killing someone to save others. Few, if any, of the answers can be looked up in holy books.
Thousands of people â varying widely in social background, age, education, religious affiliation and ethnicity â have taken the tests. PyysiÃ¤inen and Hauser say the results (mainly still in the publication pipeline) indicate that “moral intuitions operate independently of religious background”, although religion may influence responses in a few highly specific cases.
In other words, morality is independent of religion or religiosity. Religion may be a means to pass down certain cultural norms about moral behavior, but there are plenty of other ways to do the same thing. As one theologian of my acquaintance put it, there are many paths to the top of the mountain.
Theists can take comfort in that notion, secure in the thought that their god(s) shaped the world so that everyone was led to moral behavior. Atheists can take this finding as further proof against the refrain of certain religious people that erosion of religious faith will result in erosion of morality. And the rest of us can take comfort in the notion that we’re behaving well, and the reasons why we behave well aren’t that important.