Fairly decent blog post. Just copying a few select paragraphs below. - Dallas
By now, the decline of violence should be clear (if you’re not sold, read Pinker’s book). What’s uncertain are its causes. This brings me back to religion and its claim that it provides a necessary moral foundation for the individual and the society. It’s my contention that considering the data Pinker assimilated there is little evidence to support this assertion. That is, religion is not responsible for the moral progress of the last few centuries and for humanity pulling itself out of its former Hobbesian state. As Pinker himself asserts, “the theory that religion is a force for peace, often heard among the religious right and its allies today, does not fit the facts of history.”
The fourth is the “escalator of reason.” Pinker says it best: “As literacy and education and the intensity of public discourse increase, people are encouraged to think more abstractly and more universally. That will inevitably push in the direction of a reduction of violence. People will be tempted to rise about their parochial vantage points – that makes it harder to privilege one’s own interest over others. It replaces a morality based on tribalism, authority and puritanism with a morality based on fairness and universal rules. It encourages people to recognize the utility of cycles of violence and to see it as a problem rather than a contest to be won.” It shouldn’t come as a surprise then, that the rise of published books and literacy rates preceded the Enlightenment, an era that was vital in the rise of human rights.
These are the four pacifying forces the favor our “better angels.” Reviewing them again puts into question the claim that religion is a necessary moral foundation and the world is better because of religion. If these two claims are true than it would be difficult to explain why the decline of violence and the rise of humanitarian rights occurred so many years after the inception of the Abrahamic religions. Religion was late to the game if it does bring out our better angels. While apologists were busy trying to prove the existence of God and justify scriptures that preach “genocide, rape, slavery and the execution of nonconformists,” the age of reason allowed Europeans to realize that understanding what was morally right and what contributed to human flourishing the most did not require religious texts.
This is not to ignore the fact that good things happened on behalf of religion. The Quakers, to their credit, supported the abolition of slavery in the United States long before most, figures like Desmond Tutu have been instrumental in reducing global and nation conflicts and positive psychology research tells us that religion is a significant source of personal happiness. But it is to deny the claim that religion is a necessary moral foundation and the claim that the world would fall into moral anarchy without religion. People assume that a moral sense or code, an understanding of right and wrong, requires religion. Is this true? In reviewing data outlined in The Better Nature of Our Nature it is apparent that religion played at best a minimal role. It seems more plausible to explain the decline of violence through other historical circumstances and events, which I’ve outlined here.
Taken together, then, it’s probably most accurate to say that religion has been along for the ride but it certainly hasn’t been in the drivers seat. Waves of violence have come and gone – thankfully most of them have gone – and humanitarian rights are at an all times high at the hand of other historical forces. People who believe that religion provides a necessary moral foundation are merely paying “lip service [to the bible] as a symbol of morality, while getting their actual morality from more modern principles.”