Is religion good even if it’s not true?: A deceptive piece in the Daily Beast

Reader Saul called my attention to a Daily Beast article called “Can you be good without God?” (subtitle: “New research raises questions about whether people can be truly good or truly bad without religion”) by Brandon Withrow, who teaches religious studies at the University of Findlay.

I call the article “deceptive” in the sense that both the tile and subtitle, designed to draw attention to the piece, imply that it will try to actually answer the two questions posed. But it doesn’t even deal with those; rather, it describes work on (and gives comments about) worldwide attitudes towards atheists and their ability to be moral.

The article is actually about the findings reported in a new paper on worldwide attitudes towards atheists in Nature Human Behavior (itself a new journal) by Will M. Gervais and others. (Reference below; free access.) Here’s the study’s abstract, which pretty much tells you what you need to know:

Mounting evidence supports long-standing claims that religions can extend cooperative networks. However, religious prosociality may have a strongly parochial component . Moreover, aspects of religion may promote or exacerbate conflict with those outside a given religious group, promoting regional violence, intergroup conflict and tacit prejudice against non-believers . Anti-atheist prejudice—a growing concern in increasingly secular societies—affects employment, elections, family life and broader social inclusion. Preliminary work in the United States suggests that anti-atheist prejudice stems, in part, from deeply rooted intuitions about religion’s putatively necessary role in morality. However, the cross-cultural prevalence and magnitude—as well as intracultural demographic stability—of such intuitions, as manifested in intuitive associations of immorality with atheists, remain unclear. Here, we quantify moral distrust of atheists by applying well-tested measures in a large global sample (N = 3,256; 13 diverse countries). Consistent with cultural evolutionary theories of religion and morality, people in most—but not all— of these countries viewed extreme moral violations as representative of atheists. Notably, anti-atheist prejudice was even evident among atheist participants around the world. The results contrast with recent polls that do not find self-reported moral prejudice against atheists in highly secular countries, and imply that the recent rise in secularism in Western countries has not overwritten intuitive anti-atheist prejudice. Entrenched moral suspicion of atheists suggests that religion’s powerful influence on moral judgements persists, even among non-believers in secular societies.

They assessed the degree of prejudice by asking people this question:

. . . participants read a description of a man who tortures animals as a child then as an adult exhibits escalating violence culminating with the murder and mutilation of five homeless people. Then, participants are judged whether it is more probable that the villain is (A) a teacher or (B) a teacher who either (manipulated between subjects) is a religious believer or does not believe in god(s).

Since the correct answer must be “A” (there are more “A”s than “B”s, no matter whether Bs are believers are atheists), the relative frequency of the two “B” answers give an idea of the degree of moral prejudice against either believers or atheists. (The idea that “B”s are more probable than “A”s despite their relative paucity is known as “the conjunction fallacy.”) As you might expect, the authors found universal prejudice against atheists. As they note, ” . . . people overall are roughly twice as likely to view extreme immorality as representative of atheists, relative to believers. Importantly, the effects hold even after adjusting for country variability in the strength of intuitive moral prejudice and individual-level variability in demographics.” And this holds whether the countries are mostly Christian, Hindu, Buddhist, Muslim, or even secular! People just don’t like the godless. But that’s old news.

So the Gervais et al. study tells us something we already know: people are prejudiced against atheists. But that doesn’t answer the question posed, which is “how likely is it that atheists are immoral compared to believers?” That question requires empirical study, and not just college psychology experiments that show how much people cheat on a test after reading either religious or secular passages.

What we need are studies of the per capita rate of criminal behavior by believers versus nonbelievers, somehow controlled for the fact that believers may, for instance, come from milieus that, for different reasons, inculcate them with religiosity and promote moral behavior—a correlation without causation. (It would be much harder to measure general immorality, which is want we really want, versus criminal behavior unless you used answers on psychology tests, a dubious procedure at best.) I’ve heard of studies showing a much lower percentage of atheists in prison than in the general populace, but that is contaminated by both prison “conversions” to faith as well as any correlative factors promoting both religion and immorality.

And we just don’t have those data. We know that whole societies that are nonreligious, like those of northern Europe, can certainly be “good”, so the title question is answered in general. You can be good without God. The empirical question of whether on average you’re less good without God remains unanswered, though as a heathen I’m biased to think that we’re just as good as the faithful, if not better, and certainly have better motives for being moral. (I won’t mention the Euthyphro argument here as it’s not relevant: even if people are wrong in thinking they get their morality from God’s dictates, they could still become more moral simply as a consequence of religiosity.)

The authors recognize that their work isn’t relevant to what the Daily Beast asks:

Our results highlight a stark divergence between lay and scientific perceptions of the relationship between religion and morality. Although religion probably influences many moral outcomes and judgements, core moral instincts appear to emerge largely independent of religion. Additionally, highly secular societies are among the most stable and cooperative on Earth. Nonetheless, our findings reveal widespread suspicion that morality requires belief in a god. For many people, including many atheists, the answer to Dostoevsky’s question “Without God … It means everything is permitted now, one can do anything?” is “Yes”, inasmuch as ‘everything’ refers to acts of extreme immorality.

But a “widespread suspicion” isn’t the same thing as answering the Beast’s title question, and secular humanist James Croft worries that the last sentence could be used to smear atheists as immoral.  Read that sentence on its own, and see if you don’t think it makes a conclusion about real morality rather than perceptions of morality.

The Nature paper’s authors are aware of this issue; as the Beast reports,

When asked about Croft’s concerns, Gervais reiterates that the study is only descriptive of individual intuitions.

“It’s really important to note that our paper focuses on people’s perceptions of a religion-morality link,” he says. “Perhaps most people on Earth intuitively feel that morality requires belief in a god or gods. But at the end of the day, morality is a really complicated beast, built upon various prosocial intuitions and cultural processes, including—perhaps, in some cases—religions.”

. . . “Morality is 100% possible without religious belief,” Gervais clarifies. “Just look at Scandinavia, where you see some of the least religious, most peaceful, most cooperative societies in the history of humankind.” “And yet,” he adds, there is still a paradox. “The intuition that moral evildoers must be atheists seems to persist, even among atheists in largely secular countries.”

But even the last sentence of the second paragraph (“But at the end of the day. . . “) sort of implies that religion has a positive effect on morality. But never mind: the lesson is that a liberal magazine has misled its readers (after all, one decides to read based largely on a title, and readers may not read carefully) by giving this article a title and subtitle that are completely deceptive.

To be fair, the Beast does quote some atheists trying to answer the title question (the question that the Nature study didn’t ask!). Maggie Ardiente, for instance, says this:

“Even though we shouldn’t have to prove ourselves to anyone, it’s important to demonstrate that atheists can be good, just like religious people can be good. And atheists can be bad, just like religious people can be bad. It’s as simple as that, and we should call out prejudice against atheists wherever we see it.”

Monette Richards of  Secular Woman adds:

“People are, in general, good,” insists Richards, who sees the motivation as something shared by all humans regardless of where they stand on religion.

“It’s how we have managed to have civilizations. Most people don’t want to hurt others, regardless of their religious faith. I have worked with non-religious, religious, converts and de-converts, all of them wanting to make the world a better place, not because it will get them into heaven, but because it is, simply put, the right thing to do.”

Clearly, you needn’t be religious to be good, and atheists have and can articulate their reasons for doing good. But that still doesn’t answer the question whether, on average, atheists are as “good”, or moral, as believers.  That question remains unanswered. But even if the answer is “no, believers are better”, the fact that there’s no evidence for the truth of religious claims promotes the patronizing attitude that we should promote a falsehood if it makes people behave better.

And if it does, should we?

Gervais, W. M. et al. 2017. Global evidence of extreme intuitive moral prejudice against atheists. Nature Human Behavior 1, Article number: 0151 (2017); doi:10.1038/s41562-017-0151


  1. Danny Kodicek
    Posted September 4, 2017 at 12:40 pm | Permalink

    The methodology of the study bothers the hell out of me. They’re not measuring the proportion of people prejudiced against atheists, they’re measuring the proportion of people *who get probability questions wrong* who are prejudiced against atheists! Surely that’s likely to skew the data.

    No doubt there are ways to correct for that effect but it still seems like a very roundabout approach to me.

    • Paul Matthews
      Posted September 4, 2017 at 12:58 pm | Permalink

      Yes that was my reaction too. Or am I missing something? I’m interpreting the question as: is it more probable that the villain is A) in the set of teachers or B) in a subset of the set of teachers? Well …

    • Posted September 4, 2017 at 1:30 pm | Permalink

      Indeed, but we already knew that the general public is biased against atheists, and less so than against religious people. This is a weird way to assess that, but it gives a familiar result.

      • Danny Kodicek
        Posted September 4, 2017 at 1:32 pm | Permalink

        True, but I can’t help thinking ‘we get the answer we expected even if we use shoddy methodology’ is hardly first-rate science!

        • Danny Kodicek
          Posted September 4, 2017 at 1:33 pm | Permalink

          (Not to imply you suggested it was)

    • Posted September 4, 2017 at 2:00 pm | Permalink

      There are numerous problems with that type of question. It all depends on how it is interpreted and which probability mistake a respondent makes. As you and Jerry pointed out, some respondents can make the conjunction fallacy. But there is a second likely mistake that respondents can make: the probability statements can be interpreted as conditionals on different sets.

      This is a common mistake that I see students make. They interpret the likelihood that the person is “a teacher who does not believe in god(s)”, given the person is a murderer, not as Pr(teacher and godless given murderer), but as Pr(teacher given godless and murderer) or Pr(godless given teacher and murderer). The NHB article compares this probability to Pr(teacher given murderer), which can easily be *less than* the latter (incorrect) probability of the previous sentence. People constantly confuse conditional information with unconditional statements in probability problems like this. If you think that most murderers are godless heathens, and you make this mistake of interpretation, then you’re going to report the answer as (B) by a long shot.

    • rickflick
      Posted September 4, 2017 at 3:02 pm | Permalink

      That was my immediate thought too. They should do a study to find out how many people get the probabilities wrong with a very neutral question unrelated to religion.

    • Heather Hastie
      Posted September 4, 2017 at 3:36 pm | Permalink

      What if the question was asked the other way around too.

      If the killer had just killed five people in an abortion clinic, is he more likely atheist or religious?

      Further, there are a lot of religious people who wouldn’t shoot up an abortion clinic themselves, but will justify it when someone else does.

      What about shooting up a gay night club? I bet most would assume it was a religious person who did that.

      And look how many people used the “but” word when it came to murdering cartoonists.

      Someone who grew up murdering animals then moves on to people is likely a psychopath. Do psychopaths believe in anything? Believing in nothing isn’t necessarily the same thing as making the conscious decision that you’re an atheist, but many believe it is.

      Also, the binary choice is a problem. Atheist or believer. There are different types of atheist and believer. An abortion clinic shooting takes someone who is far more obsessive than your average believer.

    • darrelle
      Posted September 5, 2017 at 7:59 am | Permalink

      I agree. I’m really skeptical about this study for just the reason you explain.

      Another thing that stuck out to me is the claim that even a significant percentage of atheists believe that atheists are more likely to commit immoral acts. I have trouble accepting that based on my personal experiences of atheists throughout my life. I admit I could have a biased view. But I need a lot more convincing evidence of that than this study.

      Perhaps there are more atheists of the “the poor masses need religion to help them get by in life, but I personally don’t need it” type than I thought.

  2. Posted September 4, 2017 at 12:47 pm | Permalink

    Re “Without God … It means everything is permitted now, one can do anything?” This wasn’t Dostoevsky, but a character in one of his books who says this. Sheesh.

    Is everything permitted? Gosh, apparently this guy never heard of the rule of law. If you survey our current laws, you will find that most are not based upon Biblical principles. And, one cannot claim that “Thou shalt not steal” is a Biblical principle when it was written into every code prior to the writing of the Bible. I suspect that this rule was incorporated into every family and tribe of humans since there have been humans.

    Christians are prone to hijacking things. They seem to be in the process of hijacking morality, claiming it cannot exist outside of their religion. It does, therefore it can. (Wow, that was Cartesian!)

    • paultopping
      Posted September 4, 2017 at 1:15 pm | Permalink

      All religions are attempts to institutionalize ideas that help humans do good as opposed to evil. They aren’t 100% successful at it, of course, and the devil is in the details as to what constitutes good or evil. Still, it seems a bit harsh to say that they hijacked these ideas. Instead, if they are being honest, that was their main goal. AFAIK, religions don’t claim to have invented these ideas and most readily recognize that other religions incorporate them also. It is the layer of crap they put on top of these good ideas where they run into trouble and get into pissing contests with other religions.

      • ploubere
        Posted September 4, 2017 at 1:56 pm | Permalink

        Try telling that to Evangelicals or Church of Christ people, or Catholics, at least here in the U.S. They claim to have invented everything—the foundations of morality, law and science—and insist that none of these would hold up without their brand of religion.

        And I don’t even think that their motivation is to make a better society. They only care about two things, getting more power and influence, and getting themselves free passes into heaven. That’s why the Catholics didn’t care about child sexual abuse, and the Evangelicals wholeheartedly support Trump.

        • Heather Hastie
          Posted September 4, 2017 at 3:45 pm | Permalink


  3. JonLynnHarvey
    Posted September 4, 2017 at 12:53 pm | Permalink

    My experience is that atheists involved with atheist activism are especially inclined to be moral. But I cannot speak of atheists out of the activists loop.


    I’ve seen two contrasting (but not necessarily conflicting) opinions among Catholics.

    Aquinas holds that some morality is easily accessible to non-believers, but the importance of other virtues is only clear and accessible to Christians.

    But ex-Catholic Charles Davis wrote a delightful and woefully neglected book entitled “Temptations of Religion” which argues that that there are certain vices to which only religious people are inclined!! (The books 4 chapters are “Lust for Certitude”, “Pride of History”, “Cosmic Vanity” and “Anger of Morality”.
    Davis was a very influential British Catholic who helped draft some of the Vatican II documents so his leaving the RCC In 1968 was a big deal.)

  4. Randy schenck
    Posted September 4, 2017 at 12:56 pm | Permalink

    If you had hard evidence and a stack of studies that showed atheists are just as moral as the religious, it would not matter. It would be discarded just as they discard all the lack of evidence for their religion. It would be thrown in the trash bin along with global warming and causes or that praying does absolutely no good.

    • DiscoveredJoys
      Posted September 4, 2017 at 1:22 pm | Permalink

      I’ve read that there are fewer atheists in prison than in the population generally. Which either means that atheists are more moral, or they are caught less often, or that level of education is another factor. Or something(s) else.

      All of these surveys have a basic problem in asking the correct questions to reveal the fundamental issues. Mind you the latest survey from the National Centre for Social Research in the UK puts the number of non-religious in the UK at 53% – but non-religious doesn’t necessarily mean atheist…

      • Randy schenck
        Posted September 4, 2017 at 1:30 pm | Permalink

        One thing we can always be sure of…It is the religious who think they are the moral characters in this play and we are the evil. They are 100 percent sure of it and that is why we do not believe it.

      • ploubere
        Posted September 4, 2017 at 2:03 pm | Permalink

        The question would be whether the ratio of religious to atheist is different than in the general population, since open atheists are a single digit percentage of the latter. And it might be downright dangerous in prison to admit being atheist, although it can be risky in free society as well. In fact, we don’t even know how many actual atheists are out there, since few will publicly admit it. So again, no good data.

      • loren russell
        Posted September 4, 2017 at 3:34 pm | Permalink

        ‘Jail conversions’ surely play a role here. Whether it’s lack of anything better to do, or grooming toward a parole recommendation is hard to say.

      • Harrison
        Posted September 4, 2017 at 4:54 pm | Permalink

        Keep in mind plenty of people who end up in prison “find Jesus” because they think it makes them look better in the eyes of parole boards and might get them out the doors a bit sooner.

  5. FB
    Posted September 4, 2017 at 1:06 pm | Permalink

    No, we shouldn’t because we don’t know the long-term consequences. But everything changes in cases of present danger: it could be immoral no to lie.

    • FB
      Posted September 4, 2017 at 1:11 pm | Permalink

      Immoral not to lie to your dying mother or to the SS officer knocking on your door.

      • GBJames
        Posted September 4, 2017 at 1:21 pm | Permalink

        The dying mother argument strikes me as particularly contrived. I have a hard time imagining my mother on her death bed asking me “is there a god?” or “will I see Jesus?”. By the time she was on her death bed she knew perfectly well what I thought and, what she thought about death and the hereafter. It would have been immoral for me to concealed my atheism from her during her life.

        As for lying to that SS officer… I suppose it would have much to do with what the question was.

        • eric
          Posted September 4, 2017 at 1:43 pm | Permalink

          The dying mother argument strikes me as particularly contrived.

          As someone who has had a parent (in my case, father) on death’s door, it is absolutely not contrived…for a slightly different version of the question. The situation where your dying mother asks you, atheist child, whether you think she will go to heaven does and can happen.

          Having said that, I’m not convinced even that version is a good example of the ‘immoral not to lie’ scenario. I certainly didn’t feel morally compelled to lie, though I did feel some social/family pressure to do so. IMO let’s stick with the “SS knocks on your door” example; it makes the point about sometimes lying being the best moral choice much better.

  6. Posted September 4, 2017 at 1:14 pm | Permalink

    Psalm 14 says we non-believers are corrupt and vile. What more proof do you need?

  7. ThyroidPlanet
    Posted September 4, 2017 at 1:20 pm | Permalink


  8. Posted September 4, 2017 at 1:26 pm | Permalink

    I can’t see how any reasonable and observant person could doubt that atheists can be moral, nor would I be surprised if data showed that they are more moral than religious folks. The more difficult question regards the philosophical basis for morality without a belief in some sort of absolute. This can be and has been addressed, of course, but the attempts always strike me a bit tortured. I suppose the question could be put: if morality comes down to mere personal preference for behaving one way rather than another, can it be considered morality at all?

  9. eric
    Posted September 4, 2017 at 1:30 pm | Permalink

    I find myself slowing down on the highway whenever I pass a “speed monitored by airplane” sign…even though I am fairly certain they’re lies. My sincere belief doesn’t seem to be required in order for the warning to have an effect on my behavior.

    If religion had the effect of causing people to behave more morally (I’m skeptical of that), I suspect the same would be true of it; one would not need to sincerely convince people of the existence of God for “God is watching you” to have an effect on their behavior.

    Or to put it another way, between the choices of deceiving people about being watched by God and not deceiving them, is another choice where you lie to them without deceiving them (about the existence of God).

  10. Mike Anderson
    Posted September 4, 2017 at 1:53 pm | Permalink

    Propagandizing against atheism would be a fitness characteristic of religion, wouldn’t it?

    Could a religion survive and grow with only promises of reward (e.g. virgins to have sex with after death)? My guess is that it couldn’t, that successful irrational dogmas need multipronged strategies (reward promise + social acceptance + appeal to morality + ?).

  11. Posted September 4, 2017 at 2:24 pm | Permalink

    I expect Atheists in tendency (on population level), to be above average anti-social or caustic, or low on agreeableness. Two reasons:

    (1) nonbelief itself is silent. You don’t need to bother anyone with what you don’t believe. Therefore nonbelief tends to reveal itself in contrast or conflict with believers, when the atheist needs to make their rejection known. This is because atheism exists as a concept in contrast to societies that have been overwhelmingly religious and where belief is seen as the common standard.

    (2) in religious countries, religion serves an important social function. If people want to participate in various community activities, or want to be liked and accepted, they have to at least “fake it”. In consequence, people with low agreeableness, the anti-social, outsiders and lone wolfs will, in tendency, more likely come out as atheists, than nice well-adjusted people.

    Both of these things require a “climate” like the USA, and would decrease the more non-religious the society is overall.

    Hence it can be both true that atheists are perfectly normal people, as in Northern Europe, and somewhat caustic and anti-social as is the common impression of US atheists (yes, mine as well, sorry about that, thank Freethought Blogs etc for setting the tone).

    I’d like to add that actually, monotheists cannot be good people, following their logic. Since however you turn it, “good” is what God wants and rewards, religious people ultimately cannot do good as far as they are concerned, since everything good is rewarded handsomely in their moral system (with divine approval and afterlife perks).

    Religious people, in order to establish that they really do something “because it is the good, and right thing to do” must show that they do this at some cost or personal risk, which must be despite divine order, not with it. That’s impossible under such religious system.

    Of course, this assumes their own framework. In reality, they act on the same evolved intuitions as everyone else, just rationalize theirs differently. My argument here is that their rationalisation renders them logically impossible to be good people.

    • Ken Pidcock
      Posted September 4, 2017 at 6:52 pm | Permalink

      in religious countries, religion serves an important social function. If people want to participate in various community activities, or want to be liked and accepted, they have to at least “fake it”. In consequence, people with low agreeableness, the anti-social, outsiders and lone wolfs will, in tendency, more likely come out as atheists, than nice well-adjusted people.

      Well said. You really can’t compare the morality of believers and nonbelievers in a society where you’ve already said that morality is founded on belief.

  12. Ben Curtis
    Posted September 4, 2017 at 3:26 pm | Permalink

    This one is too easy. According to Betteridge’s Law of Headlines,(” “Any headline that ends in a question mark can be answered by the word no.” So it’s not really deceptive, just click bait.

  13. harrync
    Posted September 4, 2017 at 3:44 pm | Permalink

    A religious person steals money, asks god for forgiveness, feels OK. An atheist steals money …. is racked with guilt [unless they are just a sociopath – not a large per cent.] Which one is least likely to steal? A religious person steals money, gives it to a church, says it is OK because they did it for the glory of god [I have seen this happen in my family.] An atheist steals money gives it to American Atheists, says it’s OK – really, do you think that has ever happened?

  14. Posted September 4, 2017 at 3:54 pm | Permalink

    Not to go all Bill Clinton, but a big part of the question is what the meaning of, “moral,” is.

    Pretty much every religion has its own short list of requirements for moral behavior. Most of them are well known — the Ten Commandments, the Five Pillars, the Eightfold Path, and so on.

    And, in pretty much all of them…they either outright demand subjugation to the favored divinity, or they dictate certain “moral” practices that are unique to that religion.

    For example, you can’t be a moral person, as far as Islam is concerned, unless you have faith that there is no god but Allah, pray five times daily, donate to Islamic charities, fast at certain times, and go to Mecca at the right time of year. Doesn’t matter how wonderful a person you are in all other contexts; fail even one of those pillars and you’re immoral.

    And, of course, if you’re not Muslim, the Five Pillars are entirely irrelevant to questions of morality. They don’t even tangentially enter the equation.

    So if we can’t even agree on what morality is supposed to be, is it any surprise that we can’t agree on who is and isn’t moral?



    • nicky
      Posted September 4, 2017 at 5:26 pm | Permalink

      Yes Ben, a pertinent point. We tend to think there is a kind of ‘general morality’ since about all of us -religious or not- tend to have this kind of social, moral instinct.
      A thing to keep in mind though is that our ‘moral instinct’, if I may call it that, evolved within groups of a very social species (this is ‘broadly speaking’, of course, but not inaccurate).
      Morality is a group/tribal thing, hence all that enhances the ‘us’, group cohesion, etc. should be considered moral. That would explain the importance of, say, the Five Pillars.
      Note that outside the group, morality is a different beast. It is, eg., not immoral at all -perfectly moral indeed- for a Muslim male to rape a kaffir woman (just to limit myself to one example).

    • Leigh
      Posted September 4, 2017 at 8:33 pm | Permalink

      Asking can someone be good without God is getting things backwards. We should be asking how can one be good with god. For me religious morality is an oxymoron. It is impossible for someone who accepts a religious point of view to be moral. If one follows what most religions view as moral, then one will be led to engage in immoral activities at some point and cause harm to another individual. If one cherry picks to avoid acting in the immoral ways required of religions, then ones morality does not stem from religion, but is in despite of religion.

      I fail to understand why we continue to allow religions to claim ownership of morality and goodness.

    • somer
      Posted September 5, 2017 at 3:46 am | Permalink

      In Islam as you say all but one of the 5 pillars has to do with faith and include the declaration “there is no god but god and Muhummad is his prophet”. Also considered core to the religion are the 6 articles of faith
      Belief in Allah, The Only God
      Belief in the Angels
      Belief in Holy Books (Quran)[9][10]
      Belief in the Prophets
      Belief in the Day of Judgement
      Belief in God’s predestination

      and Ihsan which is (from wikipedia)
      It is a matter of taking one’s inner faith (iman) and showing it in both deed and action, a sense of social responsibility borne from religious convictions.[1] (There is also a similar word “Ihsan”, إحصان – with a different Arabic “s”, which means “a state of being married” and a married person is called muhsan.) In Islam, ihsan is the Muslim responsibility to obtain perfection, or excellence, in worship. This is in links under Hadith of Gabriel on Wikilcnks but identical stuff can also be found in the Shaafi School manual “The Reliance of the Traveller” the Chapter entitled “The Gabriel Hadith” The Archangel was the only source of hadith other than Mohammed himself or (occasionally) his Companions, and his hadith are found in the hadith collections of Bukhari and Muslim (cannonical) and are said to be core to the faith.

      • somer
        Posted September 5, 2017 at 3:57 am | Permalink

        PS In Reliance of the Traveller “Belief in Allah’s Inspired Books (Holy Books)” section 3.4 counts out Jewish and Christian versions of anything. because it says “The obligation of belief applies to the original [supposedly Islamic] revelations, not the various scriptures in the hands of non-Muslims , which are textually corrupt in their present form.
        Abu Dawood in his introduction to the Penguin edition of his translation of the Quran says the same – the followers of non Muslim Abrahamic faiths corrupted the scriptures that the prophets gave them and the Islamic scriptures are the actual message. The true Torah Gospel and Psalms are therefore assumed to be included within islamic scriptures.

  15. Charles Sawicki
    Posted September 4, 2017 at 7:02 pm | Permalink

    The percent of people in prison who admit atheism is very much lower (more than a factor of 10) than the percentage in the general population. The problem with this data is that it is probably dangerous to admit atheism in prison. You would have to trust in the confidentiality of the survey. In that situation, I would not have that sort of possibly foolish trust.

  16. Lee
    Posted September 4, 2017 at 10:56 pm | Permalink

    My questions to those who think it is impossible to live a moral life without God are 1- “Is God good?”, and 2- “If God behaved differently than He does, would He still be good?”

    The idea is that, deep down, religionists typically have the idea that some standard of goodness exists apart from God, and that God is good precisely because he meets that standard perfectly (perfect justice, perfect mercy etc) Without such a standard, the statement “God is good” becomes pretty much a tautology- God is good by definition. But if some standard of goodness exists in some sense, and if people can apprehend the concept and importance of that standard, why can’t they seek to rise to that standard without the concept of God?

    Their standard answer to *that*, of course, is that mankind is fallen and depraved, and only begins to rise to that standard when God helps them do so.

    To which I reply “You’ve never known a deeply moral, loving, just atheist, have you?” They typically haven’t.

  17. peepuk
    Posted September 5, 2017 at 2:48 am | Permalink

    People who make logical mistakes tend to have a negative attitude towards atheism.

    Wouldn’t be surprised if this is true.

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