Can people who believe in God be moral?

The LA Times looks at an interesting study:

Here’s a discovery that could make secular parents say hallelujah: Children who grow up in nonreligious homes are more generous and altruistic than children from observant families.

A series of experiments involving 1,170 kids from a variety of religious backgrounds found that the non-believers were more likely to share stickers with their classmates and less likely to endorse harsh punishments for people who pushed or bumped into others.

Looking at the actual study, I don’t think it really says all that much. Still it’s fun to tweak the religious, given that 40% of Americans say they would not vote for a candidate that was an atheist and given that some people don’t think atheists can be moral, oh such as this one:

What society loses when it discards Judeo-Christian faith and belief in God is something far more difficult to replace: the value system most likely to promote ethical behavior and sustain a decent society. That is because without God, the difference between good and evil becomes purely subjective. What makes murder inherently wrong is not that it feels wrong,but that a transcendent Creator to whom we are answerable commands: “Thou shalt not murder.” What makes kindness to others inherently right is not that human reason says so, but that God does: “Love thy neighbor as thyself; I am the Lord.”

Obviously this doesn’t mean that religious people are always good, or that religion itself cannot lead to cruelty. Nor does it mean that atheists cannot be beautiful, ethical human beings. Belief in God alone does not guarantee goodness. But belief tethered to clear ethical values — Judeo-Christian monotheism — is society’s best bet for restraining our worst moral impulses and encouraging our best ones.

The atheist alternative is a world in which right and wrong are ultimately matters of opinion, and in which we are finally accountable to no one but ourselves. That is anything but a tiding of comfort and joy.

It’s nice that he allows that atheists could be good people. Oh, and Jeff, it seems that evolution might have made morality innate in people.

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