Morality not reserved for religion

In his article for Forbes Magazine, the infamous fundamentalist Christian preacher, Ken Ham, declares “that if we continue to subject generations of students to an educational system that teaches them they are just animals and the result of natural process,” we will “see a growing moral collapse in society as this worldview is applied to life.”

As Ham puts it, if “we can hunt animals” and euthanize unwanted cats at pet shelters, why not kill humans if we wanted to? According to Ham, if we are taught that we are merely animals, then we may discard unwanted humans just as we do unwanted pets. Ham believes this educational system, one of evolution, draws dangerous parallels between humans and animals and reduces the value of human life.

I understand this concern when viewed through the fundamentalist Christian perspective. Ham ultimately implies that the true nature of man, if left to his own devices, is evil.

For Ham and others like him, the good Christian obeys the morals dictated by God, because refusing to do so will result in eternal hellfire. If man resists his true desire to commit sinful acts, such as murder and rape, he will be rewarded with eternal paradise.

I have two counter points for Mr. Ham and anyone who agrees with his perception of humanity. Using his own logic, Ham resists the urge to commit sinful acts simply out of fear of eternal hellfire. For Ham and other fundamentalists, morality is absolute and derived from an external source, something outside of one’s self.

For atheists, people don’t kill other people simply because it is a horrible thing to do. Rather than stemming from an external source, morality, for atheists, is a biologically originated reality. It is an intrinsic part of the human animal to have a sense of right and wrong.

Do I believe that Ham and friends would murder people if the threat of Hell were lifted from their shoulders? No. I am sure Ham has the same intrinsic morals as most people. He just doesn’t seem to know it.

The need to be a good person is analogous to the need to eat food. We do not choose to eat because we’ve rationally decided that we would die without proper nutrition. We eat because we instinctively become hungry. Similarly, we do not refrain from murdering one another for selfish reasons or because we recognize its evilness rationally. We refrain from murder because the idea of killing automatically disgusts us.

We live in a world of nearly seven billion people, and no one religion dominates the majority of the population of this planet. Although the news media may paint a different picture, even those in the most war-torn countries generally refrain from outright murder and rape. Those who do commit such atrocities come from all backgrounds, religious fundamentalists and atheists included.

While we may disagree on the source of this guiding compass, we must never allow our personal convictions to keep us from believing that it is intrinsic to the human being.

The guiding compass of morality exists independently of faith and transcends all religious and scientific conviction.

 

Reach the columnist at Jacob.evans@asu.edu.