The Republic of T.

Black. Gay. Father. Vegetarian. Buddhist. Liberal.

Religion Does NOT Equal Morality

PZ Meyers makes an excellent point about this horrific story.

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A young girl was found caged and attempting to eat herself in a mobile home in Virginia, and cops say her parents are responsible.

The malnourished girl, believed to be either 5 or 6, was discovered in a crib that was converted into a makeshift cage after police arrived at the home in Gloucester County to investigate a burglary last week.

The girl’s parents, Brian and Shannon Gore, were arrested and charged with felony child abuse. The mother was also charged with attempted capital murder.

However, the gruesome twosome now faces first-degree murder charges after the remains of what authorities believe to be another child were found buried outside their mobile home

Towards the end of the story we hear from the husband’s ex-girlfriend.

“He was really a nice guy,” Brian Gore’s ex-girlfriend, Sandy, told WTKR 3 News in Norfolk. “He went to church and everything.”

To which PZ says:

I don’t consider every Christian to be a child-torturing murderer, but one thing I wish we could get across is that church attendance has nothing to do with morality or ethical behavior or goodness of any kind. So why do so many people consider a weekly session with a deranged, delusional ranter in a pulpit to be a seal of approval?

Well, I’d go one better and ask why people assume that religion equals morality.  Better yet, why do people assume that a religious person is almost by default more moral than a non-religious person?

Of course we can be moral without religion.

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Here’s a handy guide, c/o WikiHow.

How to Determine Moral Principles Without Religion

from wikiHow – The How to Manual That You Can Edit

Ethics is the branch of philosophy which encompasses the analysis and proposition of moral principles and the conduct of a just life. Many theists argue that a higher power is the only possible source for moral principles. Modern ethicists categorically deny that this is the case. This, however, does not discount the role of religious writings as sources for moral ideas. If the ideas proposed by a religious text are good, they are good independent of the speaker. Morals derive from logic. Thus, a logical person with sound moral reasoning who abides his or her reasoning is inherently moral.


  1. Understand that this life is the only one we have. Morality should not prescribe how we live in this life in order that we obtain better position in a possible afterlife. Instead, morality should maximize utility in this life, while we are alive and after we are gone (should these be the goals of our moral code). One can imagine a moral code with different goals, but it remains that this life is the only one we have.
  2. Notice that morality does not come from religion. Morality comes from a variety of sources, but a supernatural god is not one of those sources. If a modern human were to stone to death an adolescent for not honoring his/her father and mother, we would certainly think him/her amoral. Yet, these are the prescribed punishments for such acts, according to Abrahamic texts. Since modern humans do not follow their religious texts to the letter, they must have some method for determining which prescriptions to follow and which to discard. The reasoning behind this sieve is the same reasoning from which morals come. Aside from this intuitive denial of a divine moral source, contemporary ethicists tend to point to Plato’s Euthrypo for an excellent problem that all divine command theorists find difficult to overcome. In this dialogue, we are encouraged to question whether something is good because God tells us it is OR is it good regardless of God’s commands. If you answer with the latter, then religion is irrelevant to morality and if you answer with the former, then morality is arbitrary (i.e., if God commanded that everyone be serial killers, this killing would be moral) and that seems wrong.
  3. Understand the biological motivation for ethics. Populations change as preexisting variation allows specimens with certain favorable characteristics to produce more offspring than those with less favorable characteristics. This makes the favorable characteristics more common in the population and tends to eliminate unfavorable characteristics. Throughout most of human evolution, people lived in small bands where the members were closely related and likely to remain in contact with each other throughout their lives. Being altruistic to other members of the band strengthened the community, allowing its members to produce more offspring. The closeness of the community also put other members in a position to reciprocate, which directly aids the altruist. A cursory examination of the idea would suggest that members maximize their offspring potential by selfishly acquiring as much resources as possible. In fact, members actually maximize their offspring potential by sharing their resources within a limited community. This is called a non-zero sum game, that is the net benefit of all persons involved in the exchange is greater than the benefits of either person alone in the absence of the exchange. Colloquially, one might call this a win-win situation. Evolutionary biology literature is rife with further details and more thorough explanations.
  4. Consider the most certain principles of your ethic (a term for a complete set of moral principles), that is principles that you never violate. What are these principles and why are they important? For most people, aggressive violence falls into this category. All cultures and peoples have this moral, regardless of the influence of any religion on their society.
  5. Consider the existence of amoral (according to your ethic) persons. If evolution favors the altruistic, then why are there violent people or those that purport ideas and actions that do not maximize value in the world? The answer to this is two-fold.
    • Evolution favors only the ability to produce offspring. In some cases violence increases the amount of offspring that one produces. For example, over 16 million living males share Genghis Kahn’s Y chromosome. His power enabled him to father many children, who went on to bear their own children, making his genetic material common in the population. The main reason for fathering a larger number of children was his power, and, hence, his ability to choose mates. However, he came to power through violence. Not to imply that those descended from Genghis Kahn are violent, such people also descend from a large number of other, probably much less violent people. They simply share a lineage through their fathers that eventually leads to Genghis Kahn. For this reason, one can consider Genghis Kahn evolutionarily successful. On the other hand, other violent people, such as Adolf Hitler, have no living descendants and should be considered evolutionary failures. These are large scale examples which people can relate to. They do not give much evidence by themselves. However, there are many examples throughout history where a violent male (usually) could produce many offspring, thus increasing the potential for violence in his offspring. The question is, should a person construct his or her moral principles such that violence is encouraged? Logical persons might see the risk of living a violent lifestyle as too great (prison, reciprocate violence, lack of acceptance in a community), and, thus, conclude that in order to maximize their life-value, one should live life without violence.
    • If a behavior or characteristic does not prevent an organism from producing offspring, natural selection may not act strongly enough upon it to remove it from the population with the speed at which favorable characteristics spread throughout the population. In addition, there will always be variability within a population. Consider the human appendix. Its only function appears to be to become inflamed in the event of infection, with the potential for causing death or sterility (which eliminates the organism from participation in the evolutionary “game”). This is a selective pressure against the appendix, but the original author still has his appendix, as do many others. The small loss of life due to the appendix is insignificant compared to the total population. A behavior like stealing is an example of this type. Though the metaphor is incomplete, stealing is not strongly selected against, like violence can be, and in fact can be beneficial (like the phrase “stealing bread to feed one’s family”) for the individual. In addition, personal ownership may be a uniquely human construct and is relatively new. Thus, natural selection has had little time to act upon it.
  6. Consider moral principles that you do not always follow. Most people would argue that stealing is wrong, but is stealing wrong if it is necessary to feed your family? Why do you hold moral principles that you do not follow in all instances? Consider lying. When is it wrong to lie? If someone asks, “Does this make me look fat?”, and it does make them look fat, is it morally wrong to lie to them? Would you be doing them a disservice (by insulting them and possibly damaging your relationship) or a service (by helping them appear better to other members of the community).
  7. Read and consider the moral writings of philosophers and religious thinkers. While the reader may consider many parts of religious (and philosophical) texts amoral and lack a belief in any deity, that does not discount the positive ideas of those writers. The writers of such texts were definitely human (alleged divine inspiration aside), and their ideas can be valid outside of the context of religion.
  8. Examine the overlap of ideas between cultures. In a scientific sense, an ethical goal could be to determine an absolute set of rules, of which no other set of rules is superior, which maximize the happiness in a society while minimizing the suffering (Utilitarianism). Independent cultural overlap suggests the validity of a moral principle. For example, the Golden Rule (“Do unto others as you would have them do unto you”) is not uniquely Christian and is, indeed, echoed throughout ethical philosophy. The Golden Rule could be an aphoristic method for maximizing utility. Most scholars would argue that this a very sound moral principle.
  9. Consider modern ethical ideas, such as the prevention of cruelty to other forms of life, vegetarianism, and human euthanasia. Such ideas are novel in human society, and there are not yet any obvious guiding principles for their consistent application. Modern medicine is not yet able to cure all disease. However, it is able, with almost 100% accuracy, to determine the course of certain diseases which will end only with suffering and death (known as terminal illnesses). Physicians know that there is little that they can do to prevent the subject’s death due to these illnesses. In fact, there may even be little that they can do to alleviate the suffering of these individuals. In such instances, is it acceptable to withdraw life prolonging treatment, or even to provide treatment which encourages death? The answer is not as apparent as the previous questions posed in this article. With respect to cruelty to animals, the original author enjoys keeping fish in his aquarium. Some of his fish are predators. In their natural environment, such animals would solely eat other living creatures and providing only dead food could be considered a form of cruelty to these animals, as this is not in their nature. If one chooses to remove an animal from its natural environment (which some also consider a form of cruelty), one may have the obligation to replicate the animals natural environment as closely as possible, including providing live foods. Vegetarianism could be a method for both preventing cruelty to animals and maximizing utility in the world (by consuming fewer resources), but consider the anecdotal example of a vegan who imposes his or her veganism on a domesticated cat. Cats, unlike humans, are obligate carnivores and lack the ability to extract the necessary nutrients from plant foods. In effect, although their intentions are pure, such individuals are torturing their animal companions to a slow, painful death by malnutrition.
  10. Attempt to construct your ethic in such a way that it is consistent. That is, thorough examination of its statutes does not allow for examples that are suggested by some principles and discouraged by others. This is a continuing task and one’s moral principles must be updated as society progresses and new ideas and situations are discovered.
  11. Do not live in ignorance of your moral code. Think about your morals and follow them, whatever they may be. It doesn’t make sense to have a set of moral principles which one does not abide by. Likewise, despite the authors assertions above, it makes little sense to say someone is amoral. Such an individual simply has a different moral code (which may or may not be superior to your own). In order to maximize one’s own happiness, and, if part of one’s code, that of others, we should all construct a moral code by which we abide. We should remain aware of this code and its rationale.
  12. Understand that the human intellect is the greatest tool that we yet know and that your rationale is important. Understand that the presence or absence of a higher power has no effect on your moral code, unless he or she were to provide a code that is superior to one that you can deduce on your own. In this case, a moral and logical atheist would accept such a code without question. However, despite its godly origin, such an atheist would still recognize the value in questioning this divine moral code in order to potentially obtain even greater moral right. If such as divine code is perfect, then questioning it only serves to support its greatness. As such, one should never fear questioning any moral code.


  • Consider reading the moral writings of atheistic thinkers, modern ethicists, and theologians, such as Dawkins, Rand, Aristotle, Epicurus, Mill, Confucius, Kant, Nietzsche, Hume, and the various authors of the Abrahamic and Buddhist texts, to list some of the original author’s favorites. Such readings can be dense and can be inaccessible to those outside of certain communities, but the communal knowledge provided by the internet can be incredibly useful for aiding in interpretation and understanding if taken in context. Lack of inclusion of many moral writings is not intended to impugn those writings.
  • Read, think, and discuss. These abilities are uniquely human, and the fact that we posses them requires that we use them in order to better conduct ourselves.
  • Steven Pinker wrote an interesting article about morality for the New York Times.


  • This article does not attempt to impose a specific moral code on the reader. Instead, it attempts to aid those seeking to live a moral life in finding a set of moral principles that the reader finds best. This is not moral relativism (saying that all moral codes are equal). The reader’s moral code can be better or worse than the author’s by objective criteria.
  • The original author is not a contributor to the academic pursuit of ethics but considers his lack of belief in a god or gods as a sufficient condition for a thorough examination of his personal ethical principles.
  • Ethicists suggest that ethics is not simply a matter of opinion and that there exists a set of moral principles that are better than any other. In striving to find these principles, humans are destined to make mistakes. It is important to acknowledge this and rise above it by refining one’s moral principles to suit this new information.
  • To determine one’s moral principles without religion, one must accept the thesis of Ethicism, that there is in fact, a “correct” set of moral principles. However this brings to light the revelation that what one believes to be “correct” is largely based on how they were raised. You may choose to ignore this fact for your own sanity’s sake.

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Article provided by wikiHow, a wiki how-to manual. Please edit this article and find author credits at the original wikiHow article on How to Determine Moral Principles Without Religion. All content on wikiHow can be shared under a Creative Commons license.

I’m sure some people will say that these parents can’t really be Christians and do what they allegedly did to their children, but parents have done all kinds terrible things to their children, some of them in the name of religion. Since none of us can look into their hearts or minds and determine the sincerity of their beliefs, maybe it’s better not to make assumptions about people’s morality based on their church attendance, religious beliefs, or non-religious status.

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