Morality Existed Long Before Religion January 17, 2013

Many a theist claims that morality originated, emanates, from religion. My claim, and my claim is shared by many individuals, including many doing work with primates, is that morality came before religion. Religion came along and co-opted pre-existing moral perceptions.

Christianity’s claim to be the originator of morality is laughable in any case as many of those moralities touted within the pages of its guiding tome are hardly moral. Who today would advocate stoning a disobedient child? Islam maybe. Christianity dictates that it must be done. Heretics must be killed. Non-believers must be killed. People who work on the Sabbath must be killed. Should I mention slaves? Jesus proclaimed that you have to hate your family to follow as one of his disciples. How moral is that?

Evidence in prehistoric humans has been found that they cared for sick and injured individuals. In particular a male skeleton was found that exhibited a jaw without teeth. Evidence indicated that the individual had lived for many a year in this condition. The only way this individual could have continued is to have had others pre-chew food for him. (yuck) Other debilitating injuries were found in the bones as well. These injuries having shown signs of healing indicate that despite debilitating injuries, these individuals were able to continue, some for many years. The only way they could do so is if someone cared enough about them to help them.

Some investigators speculate that not only did religion not create morality, most likely, religion is a by-product of human moral reasoning.

There are many Christians that claim that without God there would be no moral reasoning. They claim that there was no morality before God’s Law. However, there is no evidence to support that fable. As a highly social species we have been using social structures like family, clan, and tribe at least 500,000 years.

Writes John Shook of the Center For Inquiry:

“Marc Hauser, professor of evolutionary biology at Harvard University, has just published a paper about additional studies showing that people’s moral intuitions do not vary much across different religions all around the world. From an evolutionary perspective, that means that human morality is very old — old enough to pre-date any religion that exists today. Furthermore, basic morality is highly resistant to religious influence — most people easily reject religious rules that violate their basic moral intuitions. Rather, religions all tend to confirm and support human morality, because that essential morality sustains our schemes of social cooperation.”

Another source points out what is obviously missing. No other primates have religion, only humans. Yet, many of these other primate species form cohesive groups. If these apes did not share compassion and look out for one another there numbers would surely suffer. By working together these animals increase their odds for survival.

Professor Frans B.M. de Waal, a Dutch/American behavioral biologist asserts that empathy comes naturally to a great number of animals.


[ev-i-duh ns] Show IPA noun, verb, ev·i·denced, ev·i·denc·ing.


1.that which tends to prove or disprove something; ground for belief; proof.

2.something that makes plain or clear; an indication or sign

What evidence would prove something to anyone without a doubt if what that evidence was trying to prove was in the deep past. We have evidence for evolution, fossils, which are substantial evidence in support of evolution. Scientists who study these fossils are convinced of evolutions reality, at least, the overwhelming majority of scientists. When genetic evidence came along to provide additional support, it was just icing on an already well substantiated cake.

We can look at bones from the distant past and infer from their structures that individuals had issues with injuries and such. I am sure that bones that healed in humanity’s past, healed in the same ways they do now. I am sure that infirmities encumbered the suffering back then as those that suffer today. 

We can observe those who so closely resemble human beings, the other apes, and deduce from their behavior that we most likely originated in similar fashions. If we do not deny our genetic links, our relation to these present apes, then we must concede that, like them, even when our consciousness was in midst of rising in the deep past, we must have cared for one another.

It is clear to me that religions role in morality is much the same as that effort made by a society’s laws: to set rules of behavior for the members of the social group. It is clear that morality existed long before religion, and religion simply grew to be as yet another arrangement and refinement of already existing moral laws.

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