Here is the link to the ServingAtheists.org page with the "mini-poll" on morality:

http://blogs.elon.edu/servingatheists/?p=1350

One of the very first questions in the survey deals with morality:  ”How do you view the morality of religious believers as compared to the morality of atheists?”  To date, there have been over 7600 respondents to the survey and over 3300 have added comments after selecting their response to this question.

Here are a few of the comments, the first two of which summarize the sentiments of many others:

  • “I feel moral behaviour stands independent of religiosity.”
  • “Because bibles says so is a bad answer to a moral question.”
  • “My experienced with those who claim to be deeply religious is that they use religion to justify their prejudices and bigotry.”
  • “Morality can be understood in terms of the impact of laws/actions on the well-being of others. It must be treated like a field of science. Religious believers are generally not bad people, but faith in the moral teachings of a religious doctrine can lead to immoral behavior.”
  • “For the most part, people are just people. However, religion can (and does) give people justification to commit atrocities that a nonreligious person wouldn’t consider.”

The rhetoric surrounding the Newtown tragedy from the religious community has, in large part, both implicitly and explicitly made the argument that we need religion to make us whole, to heal our wounds and, most critically, as a source for moral guidance.  Of all the things that bother many atheists –based on the data from the 2008 surveyand these 2012 data- is is the assumption by believers that atheists lack morals.

The literature within evolutionary psychology specifically and more generally from other areas of scientific research indicates that, as Robert Wright titles his 1994 work, just that, we are “The Moral Animal.”  Wright merely extends what Darwin over 100 years earlier had pointed out in The Expression of the Emotions in Man and Animals (1872).  Sam Harris in his many books, articles and interviews is perhaps one of the most articulate proponents of this viewpoint and provides a wonderfulone-two punch along with Dan Dennett’s offerings.  Interestingly and not coincidentally, they both has a great deal to say about free will as well.

So, here’s a new poll question: (go to http://blogs.elon.edu/servingatheists/?p=1350)

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Tags: Newtown, morality

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Comment by Tom Sarbeck on January 2, 2013 at 11:39pm

Okay, I blew some of what I wanted to say.

Where I wrote "The people who ORIGINALLY ask such questions are religious leaders....", I intended to write "The people who ORIGINALLY make statements such as 'we must turn to God' are religious leaders who intend to raise money."

Comment by Tom Sarbeck on January 2, 2013 at 11:33pm

Tom, I too thank you for providing info about these polls, but I clicked on the none of the above reply to "How do you feel about the 'we must turn to God' reaction after tragic events?"

Who asks such questions?

Note, I'm not asking why pollsters ask such questions.

The people who ORIGINALLY ask such questions are religious leaders who are raising money from their easily-manipulated followers.

Now, if you wish, reply to these questions:

1. "Why do pollsters ask such questions?" and

2. "Why do they so seriously limit the acceptable replies?"

Gee, without intending it, I end this response without saying what I'd wanted to say when I started it.

Shootings such as the one in Newtown cause so much hurt and so much shock that we forget:

We humans are subject to, and cannot escape, the workings of evolution. Yet, so much happens that stirs so much emotion in so many of us.

It seems that only those who seem impervious to emotion aew able to deal with a horror before the rest of us calm down and direct our attention back to where it had been before the horror.

The people who are able to lead efforts to prevent such horrors in the future: what experiences and what attitudes enable them to do so?

I hope I phrased my concern clearly enough to enable replies.

Comment by James Kz on January 2, 2013 at 3:26am
Poll question taken.
Comment by Sentient Biped on January 1, 2013 at 11:58am

Tom, answered your poll, thanks for posting and I hope you get many responses.

It's interesting to step back and look at this tragedy.  Not to downplay, it is a terrible tragedy, and the sympathy, empathy, and grief are profound.

But - taken individually, there are many children killed every year. From New Englan Journal of Medicine,  " In 2010, gun-related injuries accounted for 6570 deaths of children and young people (1 to 24 years of age). That amounts to 7 deaths per day. Gun injuries cause twice as many deaths as cancer, 5 times as many as heart disease, and 15 times as many as infections"  I understand, the all-at-once mass tragedy due to  someone who intentionally went into a school and intentionally wrecked havoc mayhem and murder, catches the interest.  However, it seems to me, people aren't looking for god in all of those other deaths.  Just the splashy tragedy.

The moral issue here is wider than that of the single mass tragedy.  As a society, we should be looking further than that one big news event into the more difficult issue of why so many, thousands, of children, have to die.  I'm sure if the pundits care about that, they will remark it is societal degradation and irreligiosity, without looking at actual data.  I think it's more societal narcissism, paranoia, recklessness, shallowness of thought, and human foibles in the presence of over-available lethal weapons around children.  Which, I think, is immoral regardless of the religious tendencies or not, of the gun owners and people responsible for those childrens' safety.

Comment by Loren Miller on January 1, 2013 at 10:51am

Glad to participate in your new poll, Tom.

Ultimately, it has to be admitted: religious belief in ones and twos may be harmless, but on a mass level, it retards progress and gives rise to behaviors which damage both the individual and the group he or she belongs to, and potentially even those outside that group.  When facts were not fully knowable, that may have been tolerable.

No longer.

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