Atheists are just as ethical and have as strong a moral compass as churchgoers, new research shows.
Published: 7:30AM GMT 09 Feb 2010
People who have no religion know right from wrong just as well as regular worshippers, according to the study.
The team behind the research found that most religions were similar and had a moral code which helped to organise society.
But people who did not have a religious background still appeared to have intuitive judgements of right and wrong in common with believers, according to the findings, published in the journal Trends in Cognitive Sciences.
Dr Marc Hauser, from Harvard University, one of the co-authors of the research, said that he and his colleagues were interested in the roots of religion and morality.
“For some, there is no morality without religion, while others see religion as merely one way of expressing one’s moral intuitions,” he said.
The team looked at several psychological studies which were designed to test an individual’s morality.
Dr Hauser added: “The research suggests that intuitive judgements of right and wrong seem to operate independently of explicit religious commitments.
“However, although it appears as if co-operation is made possible by mental mechanisms that are not specific to religion, religion can play a role in facilitating and stabilising co-operation between groups.”
He added that the findings could help to explain the complex relationship between morality and religion.
“It seems that in many cultures religious concepts and beliefs have become the standard way of conceptualising moral intuitions,” he said.
“Although, as we discuss in our paper, 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.”