Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Turning Weinberg on His Head

I wouldn't say morality has no basis without God, because we are still social beings. But there do seem to be cases and situations in which having a God to which one must account provides a basis for much moral conduct. In fact, I am inclined to turn Weinberg on his head: Good people will always do good things, but getting bad people to do good things, that takes religion.


Syllabus said...

Didn't Dyson say something to much the same effect?

BeingItself said...

Oh Jesus, this is silly. Both Reppert and Weinberg.

There are no essentially good people or essentially bad people, just people who do various degrees good and bad things.

And of course false beliefs can both motivate people to do good or bad things.

Jeffery Jay Lowder said...

Hi Victor --

I think there is truth in both what you and Weinberg are saying. It seems to me that religion can provide an extra type of motivation or reason for taking action, above and beyond secular motives or reasons. Depending upon what a religious person takes to be their moral obligations, their religious beliefs can provide them with extra motivation to do things which "the rest of us" would say is either good or bad.

I'm going to oversimplify, but here goes. Imagine two Afghans. One is a Muslim who joins Al Qaeda. The other is an atheist. It's easy to imagine the Al Qaeda member, qua religious person, believing they have a duty to God to kill infidels. Meanwhile the atheist Afghan feels he has no such duty and has no desire to perform such an act.

On the flip side. Imagine two Australians. One is an Anglican and the other is an atheist. It's easy to imagine the Anglican feeling extra motivation to donate to charity, volunteer, etc., whereas the atheist either doesn't feel such a motivation at all or, if he does feel such a motivation, feels it in a weaker way than the Anglican.

One could come up with scenarios like these all day. At the end of the day, what's needed is not armchair speculation. What's needed is empirical data about what actually happens. Statistically reliable data about this is very hard to come by, however.

unkleE said...

Why don't we go back to CS Lewis: "when Christianity does not make a man very much better, it makes him very much worse".

Victor Reppert said...

Well, there is this:

Anonymous said...


The authors mentioned that one of the causes for high religiosity was strong involvement of the parents, how did they control for this variable?

Jeffery Jay Lowder said...

Victor -- I'm not sure if that link was directed to me. If it was, I'm not following your point: I'm not sure how that is supposed to relate to what I wrote.

Anonymous said...


Start reading at paragraph seven.

Jeffery Jay Lowder said...

cc -- Thanks for the pointer. I now see the relevance.

I hadn't heard of the OUP book referenced in the article before. Based on what the article says about it, the book appears very significant.

I wonder what portion of the book's "disengaged" category were nontheists.

Papalinton said...

I think the somewhat rose-coloured interpretation of the results of the survey that was undertaken referred to in thearticle you cite is a deal more problematical than is credited.

The results of that survey, "Soul Searching: The Religious and Spiritual Eyes of American Teenagers", have been interpreted quite differently by Albert Mohler in the HERE. In summary it observes:

"We now face the challenge of evangelizing a nation that largely considers itself Christian, overwhelmingly believes in some deity, considers itself fervently religious, but has virtually no connection to historic Christianity. Christian Smith and his colleagues have performed an enormous service for the church of the Lord Jesus Christ in identifying Moralistic Therapeutic Deism as the dominant religion of this American age. Our responsibility is to prepare the church to respond to this new religion, understanding that it represents the greatest competitor to biblical Christianity. More urgently, this study should warn us all that our failure to teach this generation of teenagers the realities and convictions of biblical Christianity will mean that their children will know even less and will be even more readily seduced by this new form of paganism. This study offers irrefutable evidence of the challenge we now face. As the motto reminds us, "Knowledge is power.""

Mohler has his work cut out. Little does Mohler and Sophisticated Theologians of the christian variety appreciate that the vast majority of the young have voted with their feet eschewing the christian mythos in droves and gravitating towards Moralistic Therapeutic Deism today, more as a half-way house on their transit to a post-christian world, rather than an end game in and of itself. The great challenge for Christianity is how a tired, trite and mundane tradition can turn the herd and head them back into the corrals of ancient superstition. I think at base, the horses have bolted, and the evangelical crusaders haven't been told yet.

Jim S. said...

I've always thought it was obvious that it's not religion that can make people act against their general character but ideology. Unfortunately, ideology is unavoidable: one cannot reject all ideologies from an ideology-free standpoint.