Religion, Scripture, and the Source of Morality

It is a common argument now from the so-called new atheists that we don’t get our morality from scripture. I am not sure that many religious people, even biblical literalists, would defend such a claim…so in a way it really is a strawman. Francis Collins, following CS Lewis, place morality front and center in their justification for their belief in God, but at no time do they say that it comes from scripture. They claim that morality is, in essence, programmed into us as a gift from the divine creator. The universality of altruism is used in an argument from Collins for a behavior that cannot be selected for, and is thus an indication of a supernatural, moral creator. He never once says that the morality comes from scripture. Seen in this way, then scripture forms a guide which may need to be interpreted for the changing times, even if you are a literalist. I think it would be wiser for the new atheists to ask if scripture can even be a good guide for behavior, without hammering the (strawman) point that scripture is not the source of morality.

Perhaps they should poll their audience on the question of where they believe morality comes from. If a significant fraction states that it comes from scripture, then it no longer is a strawman. I just don’t think it would come out that way.


About brianblais

I am a professor of Science and Technology at Bryant University in Smithfield, RI, and a research professor in the Institute for Brain and Neural Systems, Brown University. My research is in computational neuroscience and statistics. I teach physics, meteorology, astonomy, theoretical neuroscience, systems dynamics, artificial intelligence and robotics. My book, "Theory of Cortical Plasticity" (World Scientific, 2004), details a theory of learning and memory in the cortex, and presents the consequences and predictions of the theory. I am an avid python enthusiast, and a Bayesian (a la E. T. Jaynes), and love music.
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One Response to Religion, Scripture, and the Source of Morality

  1. kasia says:

    I agree with you Brian. Some of the tactics of the so called new atheists seem to be based on demonstrating the stupidity of believers. I'm not religious by any means but I also don't believe that those people who are don't see the good arguments made by atheists. Setting up a straw man argument to easily knock over easily seems to frame the whole subject like a middle school debating contest. It would be good to poll people to see how many actually believe the straw man. It would at least be more scientific in assuming religious people are just blind followers.

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