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Faith

Can There Be Morality Without Religion?

It is indeed possible to live a perfectly moral life and be a respectable member of society without any religious faith or belief in God. But is it possible to do so without the existence of God?

It is indeed possible to live a perfectly moral life and be a respectable member of society without any religious faith or belief in God. But is it possible to do so without the existence of God?

It is indeed possible to live a perfectly moral life and be a respectable member of society without any religious faith or belief in God. But is it possible to do so without the existence of God, and if so, how did humans develop innate morality? 

The answer is that morality can exist without divine instruction, but cannot exist without divine engineering.  

Evolution

Atheism

Atheists, who don’t believe in a divine entity or deities, typically align their understanding of human origins with scientific explanations, particularly the theory of evolution. They explain that humans are the product of a long and intricate lineage, beginning from the very first cell that existed billions of years ago.  

From this standpoint, every individual can trace their existence back through a  chain of ancestors, from parents to grandparents, and so on. This line extends far beyond human history, going back to our early primate ancestors, and further still to early mammals, reptiles, amphibians, and fish. The further back in time one goes, the more primitive and different our ancestors become.

Ultimately, according to the principles of evolutionary biology, this lineage reaches the point where life on Earth began as simple, single-celled organisms. Over countless generations, these organisms gradually evolved into the vast array of complex life forms that populate our planet today. Atheists often emphasize that this viewpoint is grounded in empirical evidence and scientific understanding, rather than religion and belief in the unseen. 

This viewpoint, originally put forward by Charles Darwin, is backed by many well-known biologists. This argument seems valid when discussing the physical traits and behavioural similarities of various species. It falters, however, when discussing phenomena such as the origins of morality, human consciousness, the appreciation of beauty, the inception of language, and the nature of emotions like love and empathy.  

Forces of Evolution

There are four factors that disrupt the Hardy-Weinberg equilibrium(1) and drive evolution: mutation(2), gene flow(3), genetic drift(4), and natural selection(5). Together, these four  factors make up the “Forces of Evolution.” For the possibility of morality and other unique human traits to develop, gene flow and genetic drift are removed from the equation first. Both of the two involve the transferral or amplification of already existing genes.

Next, while a single mutation might cause a tiny change in behaviour or character, the chance that sporadic mutations alone, even over long evolutionary timescales, would result in something as intricate as morality is near impossible. 

Finally, the most logical argument atheists will put forward is that morality was driven by natural selection – the idea that those best adapted to their environment survive and reproduce, while those who are weak die and don’t pass on their genes. However, if morality were purely a byproduct of evolution, it would imply that moral behaviours enhance survival and reproductive success.

However, human history is replete with examples of selfless acts, sacrifices, and behaviours that do not necessarily guarantee an individual’s survival or reproductive edge. If evolution were the sole mechanism at play, how then, can one explain acts of altruism where someone might risk their life for another’s? Or why, do we now give charity to people who we don’t know, in countries that we’ve never been to, with absolutely nothing to gain and a valued resource – money – to lose? 

Morality

Morality from Religion

The belief in human evolution from a single cell is misguided, leading us to our next argument: the idea that morality has religious origins. the idea that morality has religious origins. This a common belief among many Christians, as well as adherents of other religions. They believe that moral principles are derived from the teachings of the Bible and the example of Jesus Christ.

But this is automatically false as well, simply because we have moral atheists. If morality came solely from religion, only the faithful would be moral, which is false. There are people who do not follow any religious teachings yet do everything that is described as moral, are happily accepted by society, and live selfless lives. This leaves us with the most logical and simple answer to our question… 

Morality from God

This answer is found in many different religions and is surprisingly consistent across the three major monotheistic religions – Islam, Christianity, and Judaism. All three of these religions are inextricably linked and have a very long intertwined history.  

Judaism and Christianity explain morality to be brought by the “image of God”  (also referred to as Natural Law, Common Grace, Noahide Laws, Innate human conscience, etc.). One foundational belief in Christianity and Judaism is that every human being is created in the “image of God” (Genesis 1:27)(6). This means that certain attributes, such as the capacity for love, reason, morality, etc., are intrinsic to all humans, regardless of religious beliefs. Thus, an atheist, being a human being, possesses these qualities by being made in God’s image. 

فـطرة Fitra

Fitra is the Islamic explanation for innate morality. However, it goes into much more detail.

Fitra can be translated into some of the same translations as the  ‘image of God,’ but that would not explain everything around it. For ease of understanding, especially for those unfamiliar with Islamic terminology, it’s often described as the “innate nature” of human beings. Fitra suggests that every human is born with a belief in God and has a natural inclination toward virtue and morality. (Essentially, every human is born Muslim – Muslim is directly translated  into one who submits his will to God.)

Islam asserts that every child is born pure, free from sin, and upon the natural inclination of fitra. This is also why you will hear the term “Muslim Revert” instead of “Muslim Convert”. In addition, the concept of Fitra also challenges the idea of Original Sin as it states that everyone is a sinner and lost until they find salvation. 

So, what is the role of religion in the concept of morality? Furthermore, why do people assume that morality comes from religion? The answer to this question simply lies in the fact that religion heavily preaches morality.

For example, the Ten Commandments of the Old Testament and the plethora of times that moral acts such as absolute kindness and gratitude to parents are mentioned in the Quran. The fact that religion prescribes punishments and rewards for immoral and moral actions is another layer of motivation for religious people to be moral.  

In conclusion, morality can exist without divine instruction, but cannot exist without divine wiring. As we have explored in this article, morality does not originate from religious teachings or the virtuous examples set by religious figures, but comes from an innate nature in all humans that was given to them by God. The theory that humans evolved from single-celled organisms is also a fallacy and it struggles to account for unique human traits like morality.


References

  1. Hardy-Weinberg equilibrium: https://www.nature.com/scitable/definition/hardy-weinberg equilibrium-122/#:~:text=The Hardy-Weinberg equilibrium is,the absence of disturbing factors.  
  2. Mutation: https://www.nature.com/scitable/knowledge/library/mutations-are-the-raw-materials-of evolution-17395346/  
  3. Gene Flow: https://bio.libretexts.org/Bookshelves/Introductory_and_General_Biology/ Book:_General_Biology_(Boundless)/19:_The_Evolution_of_Populations/19.02:_Population_Genetics/ 19.2C:_Gene_Flow_and_Mutation  
  4. Genetic Drift: https://bio.libretexts.org/Bookshelves/Introductory_and_General_Biology/ Book:_General_Biology_(Boundless)/19:_The_Evolution_of_Populations/19.02:_Population_Genetics/ 19.2B:_Genetic_Drift  
  5. Natural Selection: https://www.amnh.org/exhibitions/darwin/evolution-today/natural-selection-vista  6. Genesis 1:27: https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Genesis 1&version=NIV  

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