Is belief in God socially useful?
Is there not some social utility in having human beings who feel a direction connection to God/Yhwh/the universe/Whoever and to His/Her/its creations? Can we not expect it to deeply influence their behavior in a way more profound than an intellectual acceptance of a systm of morality?Follow the link to read Lizard's response. Here's mine:
Ah, yes, the "Noble Lie" argument. I share [Lizard's] disdain for it. And I agree that science provides us with a more firmly grounded connection to the universe. Here's my favorite: All living creatures on earth are members of the same family. Not some hippie-dippy, "spiritual", abstract kind of "family", but all are literally cousins, albeit very distant ones. To riff on an old exclamation, You WILL be a monkey's uncle (if you're male), indeed you already are.Much has been written on this topic, of course. It is extremely difficult to evaluate the utility of something as widespread, ingrained, and ancient as belief in God (or more broadly, supernatural reinforcement of morality). It's too much a part of much of society. But I don't think the assumption that belief in God will make us better should be accepted automatically. Wouldn't it be better to make people believe in being better people? Why not cut out the spiritual middleman (not hard, since he doesn't exist anyway) and extoll virtue directly?
But my main objection to the "noble lie" argument is that it assumes that belief in God will "deeply influence their behavior" in a positive way. I think this is a very difficult question to answer in the affirmative. God seems to tell some people, "Thou shalt engage in socially useful behavior!" but he seems to tell other people (or even the same people) "Thou shalt vote for [a] pathetic, incurious, narrow-minded jerk who will do enormous harm to your country." And of course, God often seems to say "Go kill person/nation/ethnicity [fill in the blank]" as often as he issues the contrary command.
Certainly there have been studies showing that regular church attendance in the United States is positively correlated a number of socially desireable outcomes, but the causal relationships are by no means easy to tease out.
(Of course, we can have a whole separate universe of debate about what virtue is, but I actually think that many American atheists and believers have a good deal of overlap on that:Many athiests I've talked to (including myself) have a moral system that is recognizably Judeo-Christian in origin, it is the theological accoutrements that we find objectionable. Of course there are Nietzschean and Randian atheists who might claim their morality is derived from a completely different set of ideas.)
And extolling virtue directly might not as easily engage all those parts of the brain that get people all fired up. But maybe that would be a good thing. Certainly, there are parts of the world that would benefit enormously from an epidemic of religious apathy.