LETTER- It's not religion that creates generosity

The [November 20] essay, Sky Big Brother: Does religion make people nicer? by Ronald Bailey reviews an article by two researchers that found religion encourages generosity and honesty.

The researchers, assert that religion plays a key role in causing people to make sacrifices for the good of unrelated strangers. The researchers' answer as to the reasons that individuals help unrelated or unknown others is due to their belief that "Big Brother" in the sky is watching.

The view that evolutionary biologists have suggested that individuals will make sacrifices for their kin alone is an incorrect one. The evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins states in his book, The God Delusion, that it is the gene, not the organism, group, or species which is selfish. Sometimes genes influence the organism to behave altruistically. Dawkins outlines several reasons for altruism, which are similar to the ones noted by the researchers: genetic kinship; reciprocation– repaying favors and giving favors in anticipation of payback; acquiring a reputation for generosity and kindness.

Thus, there is evidence that our sense of right and wrong has indeed evolved from our Darwinian past.

Additionally, the Harvard biologist Marc Hauser states in his book Moral Minds: How Nature Designed Our Universal Sense of Right and Wrong: "Driving our moral judgments is a universal moral grammar, a faculty of the mind that evolved over millions of years to include a set of principles for building a range of possible moral systems."

Further on, the article cites studies conducted in various settings, religious and secular, and the conclusions which found that the religious environments favored greater cooperation. However, there is no evidence that these experimental results lead to more enduring behaviors.

In the final analysis, does religion make people nicer and do we really need God or religion to do good– or evil?

J.C. Rotunda
Albemarle

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2 comments

Some people are moved to be better moral characters due to their exposure to Religions. Some people go the other direction. Most religions bring people together for a common belief that usaully includes altruistic behavior. This on its face shows some success. There is always a trade off and many would argue that religion has done more harm than good. I personally would argue that there are religions out there who have done significantly more good than harm and vise versa. The assertion in the article seems fair to me. It did not deny the gene factor it simply stated that religion can have a noticeable impact.

In my personal experience the religion of atheism is at least as destructive and maybe worse other religions.

Atheism is not a religion.