The Raving Theist

Dedicated to Jesus Christ, Now and Forever

Who’s Driving?

October 9, 2006 | 44 Comments

Does religion dictate moral beliefs, or vice versa?

On the one hand, there’s the argument that people take a moral position because it is required by scriptures or otherwise derivable from the logic of the religion’s doctrines. Those who view a particular religion as dangerous (whether from the perspective of atheism or from that of a different faith) may reason that the peril stems from the fact that the underlying theological premises are false. Accordingly, they contend that the best way to lead humanity to a moral utopia is to attempt to refute the particular belief.

On the other hand, there’s the view that people embrace (or create) a faith to reflect their pre-existing moral inclinations. A related argument holds that some people (particularly politicians) don’t really believe in their religion, but are merely using it to justify the particular position they wish to promote. Whichever is the case, attacking the religion won’t do much good — it’s either just a by-product of, or cover for, the moral agenda which is driving it.

Which scenario do you believe is most common — one in which a person derives morality from religion, or religion from morality? Do you think that atheism is ever the creator (or consequence) of moral views?


44 Responses to “Who’s Driving?”

  1. Jeff P
    October 9th, 2006 @ 8:22 pm

    Well, codified morality predates monotheism, and while those codes often had political underpinnings, they usually included things like prohibiting murder and theft. The first sets of laws (albeit primative) also included these prohibitions.

  2. The Unbrainwashed
    October 9th, 2006 @ 8:58 pm

    To the Boring Thiest: Can you sotp asking questions so much and actually do what you used to, which was make a fucking point?

  3. Axolotl
    October 9th, 2006 @ 9:35 pm

    I doubt if most atheists derive their ideas of morality from atheism. After all, atheism just identifies someone who doesn’t believe in god(s). Most of the atheists I know derive their morality from other sources i.e. materialism, secular humanism, rock & roll, pastafarianism, etc.

  4. defanatic
    October 9th, 2006 @ 10:02 pm

    Um… I believe that while some theists derive their morality from religion, their morality is usually a very twisted form. More moderate believers believe what they always have, but they twist their beliefs to fit their morals.

    Atheists don’t derive their morality from “I don’t believe in a God”. More likely, they follow the moral standards (slightly better or worse) of their time.

  5. atheist
    October 9th, 2006 @ 10:29 pm

    “Which scenario do you believe is most common — one in which a person derives morality from religion, or religion from morality? Do you think that atheism is ever the creator (or consequence) of moral views?”

    I believe it is most common for theists to derive their morality from their religion. I think that most atheists are atheists as a consequence of rational thought.

  6. Godthorn
    October 9th, 2006 @ 10:37 pm

    I think defanatic and atheist are right, but I’d also put a little credit on hiphop and sitcoms.

  7. qedpro
    October 9th, 2006 @ 11:52 pm

    all my morals came from star trek. does that count as a religion?

  8. Alucardbsm
    October 10th, 2006 @ 2:39 am

    Personally I believe that morals aren’t derived from “nurture” (gods, religion) but instead comes from “nature” (instincts) that evolved through human history. Humans evolved with an understanding of what’s right and wrong because people that were rotten apples ended up in jail/dead and didn’t reproduce.
    If you were to follow this line of thought it kinda (

  9. a different tim
    October 10th, 2006 @ 3:30 am

    I think a lot of people would like some kind of moral certainty, and this leads them to seize on religious moral codes – any religious moral codes that are handy – to justify this inclination.

    I’m not just thinking of the fundies here, although they obviously spring to mind – people, at heart, like to believe they’re doing the right thing, and I think this is something that religion taps into.

    Hijacks, if you like.

    Of course, what “people would like” and what is actually the case have little to do with each other.

  10. V
    October 10th, 2006 @ 7:08 am

    It’s variable to a huge degree. Only recently did people have the choice to bounce from religion to religion so easily, so they could actually pick one to suit their own morality.

    The Norse (as an example) seem to have invented a religion that reflects their needs and desires as a people. They had a need and desire to pillage and loot, therefore their gods wanted them to do these things.

  11. Professor Chaos
    October 10th, 2006 @ 8:01 am

    The (im)morality of the Bible had a great deal of influence on my atheism. Contrary to the teachings of Jesus, I love my family very much, and wouldn’t dream of putting them second to Christ.

    And, of course, there’s the whole Old Testament, Leviticus thing, as well.

  12. Erik
    October 10th, 2006 @ 8:02 am

    Atheism can most definitely lead to morality. This is because atheism does not postulate some Ultimate Truth. This is turn allows the atheist to decide on evidentiary grounds what morality is and how best to follow it. The atheist is therefore not trapped in beliefs that run counter to the actual evidence.

  13. severalspeciesof
    October 10th, 2006 @ 8:24 am


    Is this false dichotomy derived from immorality, or is immorality driving this false dichotomy?

  14. noah nywno
    October 10th, 2006 @ 9:04 am

    I think the two feed off each other. Regardless of where morals human morals came from initially (a product of faith, an evolved sense, or some other way) I think we ALL form our initial moral beliefs as a product of our environment (which usually has some religious component, even if we don’t recognize it.) After that, our education, personal preferences and maybe even other factors help us change and/or develop those moral beliefs further.

    This question is a bit like asking “What came first, the chicken or the egg?”

    Personally, I subscribe to the idea that rudimentary morals evolved, led to societal traditions and explainations (philosophy/religion), and continue to develop as time goes on.

  15. noah nywno
    October 10th, 2006 @ 9:06 am

    And no, Atheism doesn’t lead to morality because it isn’t a moral philosophy. But I don’t know any atheists who are meerly atheists. Most have some moral philosophy to go with it.

  16. nix
    October 10th, 2006 @ 9:11 am

    I believe they come from parents and, more generally, upbringing. I agree with qedpro too (was it intended as a joke?). I think I some of mine came from Star Trek, some from Kung Fu, or just TV in general, much from parents, one of which was Catholic, the other not religious. A lot of my morals changed in my late teens in college. They settled on a basis of “do unto others” and how much “positive” or “negative” effect (from my perspective) my actions have on others.

  17. baron_thredkil
    October 10th, 2006 @ 9:14 am

    Personally I think the most important moral laws come from Leviticus and the Old Testament. I mean, who in their right frickin’ mind would eat SHELLFISH????


  18. ocmpoma
    October 10th, 2006 @ 9:23 am

    “Which scenario do you believe is most common — one in which a person derives morality from religion, or religion from morality? Do you think that atheism is ever the creator (or consequence) of moral views?”

    Category error.

  19. Thorngod
    October 10th, 2006 @ 10:48 am

    “…the chicken or the egg?” The egg, of course. A chicken will never go first.

    Actually, there’s a perfectly logical answer to this question. All true (insoluble) paradoxes result from human confusion or human emotion.

    As you say, morality is a mixed product, but the question of moral origins is also answerable. A close look at the social interactions of cats, dogs, elephants and chimpanzees will provide good clues.

  20. severalspeciesof
    October 10th, 2006 @ 10:55 am

    The chicken or the egg question was brilliantly answered by my 8 year old son. Answer: “the egg of course, since birds are descendants of reptiles, and reptiles are egg layers”.

    Seems like my young son is thinking more clearly than RA of late.

  21. Thorngod
    October 10th, 2006 @ 12:55 pm

    People’s brains seem to go out of gear when they’re presented with something that seems paradoxical–or else it seems to them too frivolous to think about. Stephen Hawking used the chicken/egg question at the open and close of a book to illustrate a cosmological quandary. He obviously just hadn’t bothered to think about it.

    During the year of the faux millennium, a couple of area college profs asked me to explain the matter to the news staff and get them to stop promoting the dawn of the year 2000 as the advent of the new century and the new millennium. I told them I’d already tried, to no avail. I’d also remonstrated with a number of national news outlets, with no results. One of the guys shook his head and said, “It’s just like the chicken and egg thing. You obviously have to have a chicken before you get an egg, but nobody wants to think about it.”

    In April of 2000 I was tuned to CNN one morning and the woman anchor opened a story with, “Well, now that we’re a quarter of the way into the new millennium….”

    It’s hopeless. Hopeless!

  22. youneedmercy
    October 10th, 2006 @ 1:06 pm

    I believe atheism to be at fault for all the evil that has ever happened or ever will happen.

    Atheist push theists into corners where they lash out because their weak faith was put into question so they do things that are wrong.

    Chris, you are the reason for the this site. You have done a very evil thing while you are under the control of satan.

    How can I convince you that satan is causing you to believe lies and act on them? You are destroying yourself and countless others. Satan can use someone even if they don’t believe in satan. You need to fight satan.

    Pray to God, He will set you free!

    There is always an atheist behind the scene when bad things happen.

  23. youneedmercy
    October 10th, 2006 @ 2:05 pm

    The thing is, most of you know me, just not this me. You have known me for years. I was once someone else, an atheist as yourselves.

    I had my heart ripped from me and my soul fell out. I was lost with a gun in my mouth. None of you tried to save me. None of you cared a thing about me, though you caused my misery.

    Without God, the trigger would have been pulled.

    October 10th, 2006 @ 2:26 pm

    Pity. Would have been one less crazy person on the planet.

  25. noah nywno
    October 10th, 2006 @ 3:12 pm

    I know the “chicken and egg” question can be answered in a literal sense; I was just useing an old analogy to point out some flaws in the question.

  26. bob barker
    October 10th, 2006 @ 4:43 pm

    Does religion dictate moral beliefs, or vice versa?

    Regardless of which one is correct there are more questions to be asked.

    a) If religion dictates moral beliefs then what dictates religion?
    b) If moral beliefs dictate religion then what dictates moral beliefs?

    From there you can keep asking the same question until you get an infinite regress headache. The “chicken and egg” question has the same problem.

  27. Godthorn
    October 10th, 2006 @ 9:19 pm

    Bob, eggs were prior to first chickens. What qualifies as a chicken is determined by the ornithologist, but, whatever the stipulations, the first bird that qualified was hatched from an egg, and it was certainly not a chicken egg.

    Your a & b quandary is justified if you’re referring to the state of affairs in most current societies, but if the question regards origins, then the answer is that religion was first of all a means of currying favor from gods. As religion evolved, it usurped morality and became the dictator of the moral code, under the pretext (reasonable enough, if you accept the god premise) that God is the author of all and the authority in all things. But morality was prior to religion–unless you can demonstrate that cats, dogs, elephants and apes are religious.

  28. Ron
    October 10th, 2006 @ 11:25 pm

    This question presupposes things that are incorrect, and as such, is an invalid question.

    First – morals are concepts that have a material basis (existents).

    Second – Religions are belief systems.

    Calling a system or an agenda moral, does not make it so. For a system to be moral it has to reflect the nature of the existent it pertains to.

    “I had my heart ripped from me and my soul fell out. I was lost with a gun in my mouth. None of you tried to save me. None of you cared a thing about me, though you caused my misery.

    Without God, the trigger would have been pulled.”

    No one could have saved you, because only YOU can find a reason for existing. A mission, a goal. Your misery is caused by your confusion. Believing in magical beings will not fix this. At best, it is a distraction.

  29. bob barker
    October 11th, 2006 @ 1:29 pm

    The point of my comment was to say that if everything requires a cause then the result is an infinite regress headache. A big headache.

    If there are an infinite number of prior temporal moments (causes) then doesn’t that mean the past is infinitely long? But the past can’t be infinitely long because here we are!

    And around and around we go. I’ve got a headache.

  30. Godthorn
    October 11th, 2006 @ 2:37 pm

    Take an asperin, Bob. I don’t get headaches, but others assure me it’s a truer miracle than the more celebrated ones.

    Infinite regress and infinite repetition are not necessarily the same. Chickens erupt from eggs and eggs from chickens, but there was a point at which the first chicken erupted, and a point far farther back when the first “egg” appeared. The fact that something other had to come before to produce either does not affect the solution to the supposed paradox.

  31. bob barker
    October 11th, 2006 @ 3:10 pm

    We’ve gone way, way off topic but who cares. My comment goes beyond when the first egg appeared. Go back to what caused the thing that caused the big bang, that caused something else, that eventually caused the first egg. Then keep going backward in time.

    The infinite number of temporal moments going backward is the mystery, or perhaps the impossibility of it all. I don’t know which. As I said before, the past can’t be infinitely old because we are here today.

    Oh boy, I feel another headache coming on.

  32. Godthorn
    October 11th, 2006 @ 4:40 pm

    “This world, which is the same for all, no one of gods or men has made, but it is, was, and always will be an ever-living fire, with measures kindling and measures going out.” -Democritus

  33. Rational_Human
    October 11th, 2006 @ 5:15 pm

    There is no relation between being moral and the belief (or the disbelief) in God.
    The ethics of a person is dependent on how much he/she understands the need for social form of living and the understanding of the consequences of actions on self and others in the society.
    If there is no society, there are no ethics.
    About the concept of god – It is some kind of crutches which lame people use for support. Use/disuse of the concept is no guarantee of the social responsibility of the person concerned.
    Any one can be moral or immoral in one way or the other.

  34. Marcus
    October 12th, 2006 @ 1:04 pm

    If the first chicken became one through a post-birth mutation, then the first chicken preceded the first chicken egg.

  35. Marcus
    October 12th, 2006 @ 1:08 pm

    I guess the real paradox, though, is supposed to be based on whether you define a chicken egg as the egg laid by a chicken or an egg that produces a chicken.

  36. Marcus
    October 12th, 2006 @ 1:24 pm

    To answer the question, though, I think morality comes much more from religion than vice versa, in the sense that religions are created, and then influence the moral views of people for years to come. People later adjust their religious according to other views, including morality, but rarely could you say that a person’s independent morality was the driving force in creating his religion.

  37. Thorngod
    October 12th, 2006 @ 2:01 pm

    You have conflated origin of religion with religious heritage. Your conclusion in regard to personal morality is correct, but religion did not create morality, nor morality religion.

  38. Thorngod
    October 12th, 2006 @ 2:03 pm

    And the question is not, Which came first, the chicken or the chicken-egg.

  39. noah nywno
    October 13th, 2006 @ 12:05 am

    O.K., lets try to agree to make this the last post in what has to be the stupidest discussion ever. The original “chicken or egg” question was a lesson in infinite regress. It was formulated before natural selection was discoverd. A modern equivalent would be to ask, “What came first, eggs or egg laying creatures”. Now, can we stop nitpicking over chickens and eggs.
    (I’m sorry I ever brought it up.)

  40. Marcus
    October 13th, 2006 @ 9:06 am


    I see you felt the need to offer your opinion on the riddle as well, though…


    I’m a firm believer in the rule of riddle interpretation that if a particular interpretation makes the riddle totally lame, then that interpretation should be foreclosed.

  41. noah nywno
    October 13th, 2006 @ 12:35 pm


    Fair enough.

  42. Godthorn
    October 14th, 2006 @ 3:05 am

    I’m not a firm believer. And I don’t think it’s a riddle. The question is asked and received as a paradox, and it is assumed that there is no answer. I have demonstrated that it is not a paradox. Elsewhere, I have devastated a few others. The chicken/egg question was presented here as a corollary of the religion/morality question. I think I have also illuminated that false dichotomy. They are two separate things, neither dependent for existence on the other. Any further arguments on that?

  43. Annie Banno
    October 18th, 2006 @ 4:15 pm

    Just briefly skimming by…

    youneedmercy, you are very wrong to say “There is always an atheist behind the scene when bad things happen.”

    I can think of a few nonatheists (I won’t call them Christians though they probably called themselves that) who thought it ok to maim/kill abortion clinic workers, for a few examples right off the bat.

    I’d say my answer to TRA’s question is that I believe it is more common that people derive morality from religion, but I wish it were not so, 1) because it is sad that most of us “need” religion to teach us something that I believed was and should be part of all our human natures, and 2) because too many immoral and/or left-leaning folks use that unfortunate “common occurrence” to dismiss anyone in public life (political or otherwise) who might stand up for their morals by displaying them in all their actions. (Think: what would have happened to John Kerry if he had truly stood by his Catholic “faith” in being against abortion. No, he wanted the White House so much more than he wanted his so-called morals).

    That said, I thought this quote helpful to reflect what I believe is true, regardless of the noisy, squawking minority shouting out that all we’re trying to do is “foist our religion” on them:

    “The search for and defense of moral truths is the ‘right and duty’ of all citizens. ‘The fact that some of these truths may also be taught by the Church does not lessen the political legitimacy or the rightful autonomy of the contribution of those citizens who are committed to them’ ….While there is a proper distinction between the ‘political or civil sphere’ and ‘that of the church,’ the exercise of one’s conscience in recognizing moral truth and in promoting the common good is not ‘confessionalism’ or an improper intrusion of the Church into the secular domain….The ‘ethical precepts’ that form the moral teaching of the church are ‘rooted in human nature itself and belong to the natural moral law.’ One does not have to profess the …faith to know these truths; natural reason can and should discover them on its own.”

    TRA, can you guess where that quote is from? Without googling it?

  44. Brian
    November 7th, 2006 @ 1:30 pm

    uaruuamxx feoeauvvtes

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