Friday, April 2, 2010

Religion Versus Morality

The details surrounding the emergence and evolution of religion have not been clearly established and remain a source of much debate among scholars. In view of the Vatican's current clergy crisis, a new understanding is required to this long-standing discussion; and there's no better place to start than by exploring the fascinating link between morality and religion.

There is no doubt that spiritual experiences and religion, which are ubiquitous across cultures and time and associated exclusively with humans, are ultimately based in the brain. However, there are many unanswered questions about how and why these behaviors originated and how they may have been shaped during evolution.

Some scholars claim that religion evolved as an adaptation to solve the problem of cooperation among genetically unrelated individuals, while others propose that religion emerged as a by-product of pre-existing cognitive capacities. Although there is some support for both, these alternative proposals have proven difficult to investigate. For some, there is no morality without religion, while others see religion as merely one way of expressing one's moral intuitions.

Despite differences in, or even an absence of, religious backgrounds; most surveyed individuals show no difference in moral judgments for unfamiliar moral dilemmas. The research suggests that intuitive judgments of right and wrong seem to operate independently of explicit religious commitments.

This supports the theory that religion did not originally emerge as a biological adaptation for cooperation, but evolved as a separate by-product of pre-existing cognitive functions that evolved from non-religious functions. However, although it appears as if cooperation is made possible by mental mechanisms that are not specific to religion; religion can play a role in facilitating and stabilizing cooperation between groups.

Perhaps this may help to explain the complex association between morality and religion. It seems that in many cultures religious concepts and beliefs have become the standard way of conceptualizing moral intuitions. Although this link is not a necessary one, many people have become so accustomed to using it; that criticism targeted at religion is experienced as a fundamental threat to our moral existence.