NYT- Religion Not Source of ‘Moral Codes’


By: Warner Todd Huston

The Times sets their premise quite straightforwardly with their very first sentence in a recent discussion of a new theory on the source of morals being promulgated by Harvard biologist, Marc D. Hauser.

Who doesn’t know the difference between right and wrong? Yet that essential knowledge, generally assumed to come from parental teaching or religious or legal instruction, could turn out to have a quite different origin.

What follows is several slaps at religion, the Times asserting that religion has nothing to do with morals short of serving as “social enforcers of instinctive moral behavior”.

But the Times seems not to understand the entire point of morals and the claims religions make about them. Few religions claim to have created morals by their practices and tenets but are merely re-enforcing what God has already given us. So, contrary to what the Times assumes, no religion, Christian ones especially, claims to have somehow invented morals with their religious ideals. They attribute creation of such to God.

But in several instances the Times’ discussion seems to assume that religions are claiming to have created morals.

The proposal, if true, would have far-reaching consequences. It implies that parents and teachers are not teaching children the rules of correct behavior from scratch but are, at best, giving shape to an innate behavior. And it suggests that religions are not the source of moral codes but, rather, social enforcers of instinctive moral behavior.

Both atheists and people belonging to a wide range of faiths make the same moral judgments, Dr. Hauser writes, implying “that the system that unconsciously generates moral judgments is immune to religious doctrine.”

So, in essence, Dr. Hauser is buttressing the argument that a natural sense of right and wrong exists, hard-wired into our brains and that would, of necessity, lead to a set of natural laws and natural rights to accompany them.

This would tend to eliminate the kind of prosaic post-modern, everything is relative thinking upon which so much leftist thought is based as a common refrain from the left is that one man’s morals isn’t necessarily anyone else’s.

Further, this new theory would tend to confirm the claim that man is special and stands at a higher level than the animals which also tends to lay waste to so many assumptions of modern leftism. Don’t tell PETA, for instance, that men have a higher moral code than animals.

Social animals, he believes, possess the rudiments of a moral system in that they can recognize cheating or deviations from expected behavior. But they generally lack the psychological mechanisms on which the pervasive reciprocity of human society is based…

In any case, it is amusing to me that the Times seems to feel it has discovered this “truth” that morals are not created by religions… even as no religion claims they are.

And, still, the point of what is instilled in us by God is not refuted by this theory at all. After all, if this natural moral sense is hard-wired into us, why isn’t it as easy to say God instilled them into us as it is to say evolution did so?

So, as the Times raced to say religion has nothing to do with morals, they did not end up really definitively proving anything despite their claims.

And, it is funny how they mention how religion is laid low by this theory, but ignore how many leftist ideals are similarly destroyed, as well. The Times is ready to declare God dead… but what about leftism?

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