Atheists are 'good' people.

Psychology Today has a hit job on religious beliefs, which is not surprising given their love for Darwin and all things atheistic.(1)

Despite a widespread perception that religious people should behave more ethically in general, researchers find little evidence that religious people either think or behave more ethically (1). One study, found that atheists were significantly less likely than religious students to cheat on an exam (2).

Psychologists find that religious belief stunts moral development, because it commits people to a dogma, or formula, rather than working out ethical solutions for themselves (the highest stage of moral development known as post-conventional morality).

Fundamentalist religions may undermine moral reasoning. People who “know” that they are saved, may be relatively unconcerned about who is hurt by their actions in this world. A Roper survey found that after being “born again,” people are more likely to drive drunk, use illegal drugs, and engage in illicit sex (3).

I’m not much on comparing people morally, because the Bible teaches that the notion of a good person is a myth. However, one must consider the agenda of the atheist writing this article on Psychology Today. Yes, I make that prediction even though the author did not state his position on God. The author engages in cherry picking–picking out only that research which supports his position. He did not even consider that governmental systems based on atheist philosophy have resulted in the most catastrophic loss of human life in history.(2)

What the author is trying to do is to say that religious folk are psychologically immature and don’t know how to engage in moral reasoning, whereas, atheists are more developed, psychologically and intellectually. I’ll just briefly include some research that is counter to the claims of Dr. Barber:

1). Religious beliefs is associated with lower levels of delinquency and drug/alcohol use in adolescents
2). Religious beliefs are associated with increased self-control. This is a comprehensive review article on decades of research. Other notable findings included are that religious beliefs result in increased lifespan (25-30%), less likely to use drugs/alcohol at all ages and engage in more health promoting behavior, have higher levels of psychological well-being, more likely to stay married and be more satisfied with the marital relationship, and is associated with higher grade point averages.

Does this sound like psychological immaturity or stunted moral development? Not in the least. Here’s to hoping that Dr. Barber will do a little more homework the next time he decides to write a hit job on religion.

(1). Are religious people more ethical in their conduct? Psychology Today, N. Barber, 4/09


4 Responses

  1. Interesting stuff, Country Shrink!

    Two other avenues of attack that are worth considering:

    1) What is the status of “evolutionary psychology”? Evolutionary psychology, it’s easy to see, has got to be the Achilles’ heel of ultra-Darwinism. Evo-psych ‘explanations’ are intuitively plausible (to some), consistent with what’s known about selection and evolution, and completely untestable. I mention this because Barber advertises himself as an evolutionary psychologist.

    2) The bit about “post-conventional morality” set off a five-alarm fire. Here Barber is explicitly, and uncritically, taking on board Lawrence Kohlberg’s theory of moral development. It doesn’t take much to see that Kohlberg’s “post-conventional stage” is based off of Kant’s theory of morality as autonomy (where ‘autonomy’ = ‘rational self-determination’).

    I think that this concept of morality can be critically examined, and more specifically, I think that one should at least notice that Barber, by leaning on Kohlberg and implicitly on Kant, is assuming the priority of the Enlightenment in his ideals, values, norms, and so forth. I certainly don’t think that there’s a fundamental conflict between the Enlightenment and “religion”, however that term is understood, but I can very easily see Barber as casting himself in the position of someone who thinks that there is.

  2. Good points Carl on 1 & 2. As to your last paragraph, it’s difficult for me to look at anything other than Barber’s possible motivations. He cites an article from the Freedom From Religion Foundation as being research evidence.

    I would also add with regard to point 1, that evo-psych is an easy target, but I don’t find it to be much worse than imagining things about abiogenesis, cosmological beginnings, and so forth.

  3. A Roper survey found that after being “born again,” people are more likely to drive drunk, use illegal drugs, and engage in illicit sex (3).

    I did some minimal research on this and didn’t find any mention of being “born again” in that issue of “Free Thought Today.” It seems to me like a very odd finding given that the pattern of being “born again” is not exclusively Christian and the results are typically “seeing the light” and not falling back into drugs, etc. Pagans like Plato recognized this and recommended coming out of the cave, etc., while twelve step programs like alcoholics anonymous make use of similar psychological dynamics.

    Given that the findings of this survey supposedly refute a universal pattern I’m interested in it but “a Roper survey” isn’t much to go on. In fact, the research the article traces back to has the tone of a group of atheists gathering together and gossiping to each other, “Did you hear this about theists… oh my!” Etc. I.e. it’s more about the sociology of their little groups than the truth of things. Is Psychology Today actually a peer reviewed journal of some sort?

    Two points:
    A 1960 questionnaire study found that belief in God was only slightly related to altruism. Attendance at religious services was completely unrelated to altruism.

    Altruism is relative but clearly those who believe that altruism prevents progress and while its inversion has generally created biological progress as we know it may be less likely to be altruistic. A study of religious believers and “free thinkers” who think about and know more about religion than most religious believers do does not show what happens when people believe that altruism has no basis in biology and biology is all that is. That is not a comparison of the altruism at the root of Christianity and the scientism or Darwinism typically at the root of atheism. It’s clear that many “free thinkers” have learned Christian ethics by osmosis. Now they tend to use the hypothetical goo of “evolution” in order to justify what just happen to be Christian ethics like love your neighbor as yourself but that was not always the case historically. Note how “evolution,” whatever it may mean, can typically comport with all possible positions.

    The racist war against altruism that the “enlightened” declared on that ethic has generally been lost in the West, that is all. Yet it’s probably not even over.

    People who rescued Jews in Nazi Germany were not any more religious than non rescuers.

    In so far as altruism is linked to religion (And there is evidence that it is “slightly related” as even this charlatan admitted.) it played a role in mitigating the way that Darwinism undermined altruism in Nazi Germany. Even on his own terms, if altruism is “slightly related” to religion then religion would then “slightly” mitigate the Darwinian views of the Nazis, naturally.

  4. “Is Psychology Today actually a peer reviewed journal of some sort?”

    No. It’s more of a popular press periodical. You’re right to point out AA. There are millions upon millions of folks out there that credit God with helping them beat their addictions. The whole article is bunk, and he ignores a wealth of research that I only lightly touched on. Unfortunately, he is not alone in his approach. I would say a sizeable minority to a majority of psychologists would resonate with his beliefs. As for racism, these studies tend to be based on instruments that are of questionable validity.

    As an example the following might be taken as indicating racism.

    I believe my country is better than most other countries. True
    There is only one acceptable standard of right and wrong, which should apply to all people. True
    People from other religions would be better off if they believed the same way I do. True

    Those are not exact questions, but they are fairly similar to some. I remember taking one of these tests on internship, and I was given the feedback that I should be more tolerant as a psychologist. This was just an exercise by an academic psychologist that came to give us a talk on multicultural psychology and had us take the survey. Anyway, I just found it amusing how the psychologist twisted concepts to promote a particular social agenda. Unlike Carl, I don’t see psychology as being worse than biology or cosmology in this regard.

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