Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Kraynak's Nietzschean Attack on Darwinian Naturalism

The New Atlantis has published an article ("Justice without Foundations") by Robert Kraynak attacking Darwinian naturalism as failing to provide the "foundations" for justice.  Apparently, I am one of the targets for his attack, although his reference to me consists of only one sentence: "Some argue that Darwinism provides a coherent theory of 'natural right' that resembles Aristotle's theory (but without the natural teleology); Larry Arnhart, for example, has developed such a theory, which he calls (in the title of his 2005 book) Darwinian Conservatism" (109).  Even this one sentence is mistaken, because I have argued that Darwinian natural right really is rooted in a natural teleology, although it's the "immanent teleology" of evolutionary adaptation to species-specific ends rather than the "cosmic teleology" of an intelligently designed universe.

Kraynak says he wants to explain the "strangeness of our day":
What is so strange about our age is that demands for respecting human rights and human dignity are increasing even as the foundations for those demands are disappearing.  In particular, beliefs in man as a creature made in the image of God, or an animal with a rational soul, are being replaced by a scientific materialism that undermines what is noble and special about man, and by doctrines of relativism that deny the objective morality required to undergird human dignity.  How do we account for the widening gap between metaphysics and morals today?  How do we explain "justice without foundations"--a virtue that seems to exist like a table without legs, suspended in mid-air?  What is holding up the central moral beliefs of our times? (103-104)
Kraynak surveys some of the writings of Richard Rorty, Daniel Dennett, and Steven Pinker as illustrating this modern strangeness of "justice without foundations."  He then indicates that to explain this modern predicament we need to adopt the "insights" of Frederich Nietzsche.
The modern Western world is no longer openly Christian and religious, but nor is it free of all Christian and religious influences.  Rather, modernity is a secularized form of Christianity in which the religious faith of the Middle Ages has been transformed by the Enlightenment into a worldly form of humanitarianism: the original spiritual notions of Christian charity and equality before God were transformed into a political movement of equal rights and dignity before man, which led to the French Revolution and the democratic ideals of liberty, equality, and fraternity.  Nietzsche states this point succinctly when he discusses modern politics in Beyond Good and Evil, arguing that "the democratic movement is the heir of the Christian movement."  What he means is that modern democracy arose from the secularization of Christian values, producing a feeling of pity for the suffering of humanity and a morality of equal rights, which seeks to overthrow aristocratic orders by revolutionary movements and to create a more just and compassionate world.
Another formulation that Nietzsche uses to capture the moral psychology of the modern world is that modern man wants the Christian morality without the Christian God.  In Twilight of the Idols, he sarcastically criticizes the English people for preserving Christian morality despite their rejection of Christian faith. (114)
Kraynak admits that Darwinian naturalists--like me--do provide a "foundation" for moral order in "an objective idea of human nature" that does not depend upon religious belief.  But this Darwinian appeal to nature is confused, he insists, because it ignores the "logical implication" of Darwinian naturalism, which is Social Darwinism--"a view of politics in which the strong inevitably and even legitimately dominate and exploit the weak for their own purposes, and democracy, dignity, justice, and compassion are sentimental relics of Christianity, or, more accurately, prejudices of democratic culture" (108-109).

The modern morality of human rights depends on the concept of equal human dignity, Kraynak insists, and the only secure "foundation" for this idea of human dignity is Biblical religion, and especially the Biblical teaching that all human beings are created in the image of God.  We need a "reasonable faith," and "such a reasonable faith is what the Bible offers us."  "And it is a faith that shows us that the Judeo-Christian conception of man provides the most plausible account of human dignity--and that divine love is the ultimate foundation of human justice" (120).

There are lots of problems with Kraynak's reasoning.  First of all, it's not clear that the Bible supports modern liberal humanism as based on universal human dignity and equal human rights.  The only Biblical verse that Kraynak cites as supporting the equal dignity of all human beings as created in God's image is in Psalm 8: "For thou has made him a little lower than the angels, and hast crowned him with glory and honor" (119).  But Kraynak does not notice that in the immediately following Psalm 9, the psalmist thanks God for destroying his enemies: "the enemy is wiped out--mere ruins forever--you have annihilated their cities, their memory has perished" (9:6).  Of course, the Bible is full of such bloody violence as God annihilates Israel's enemies in the most brutal ways.  Speaking to Moses, God commands the "curse of destruction" in which every living being in a town must be killed--men, women, and children (Deuteronomy 20:10-20)--although the young women who are still virgins should be kept alive so that they can be raped by the Hebrew men (Numbers 31).  Enemies can also be enslaved.  And, indeed, the Bible generally supports slavery. 

Moreover, the violence commanded by God is directed not just to external enemies but also to Hebrews who displease God.  A long list of crimes--including children cursing their parents, homosexuality, and blasphemy--are to be punished with death.

This doesn't sound like a Biblical defense of human rights and liberal democracy.

In fact, Kraynak recognizes this in his book Christian Faith and Modern Democracy, where he stresses the point that "a Christian argument for liberal democracy cannot be found in the Bible, in either the Old or the New Testaments" (54).  Moreover, "the biblical conception of human dignity, based on the Imago Dei, is not the same as the liberal democratic conception of human dignity based on autonomous self-determination; and it does not necessarily support human rights" (55).

In his book, Kraynak explains: "Herein lies the fundamental difference between the biblical and the contemporary understanding of human dignity.  In the biblical view, dignity is hierarchical and comparative; in the modern, it is democratic and absolute" (60).  This difference is evident, he believes, in the biblical "acceptance of the patriarchal household and of social inequalities," in which wives are commanded to obey their husbands, and slaves are commanded to obey their masters (60-61).

Although many modern Christians have embraced liberal democracy and human rights, Kraynak explains this as a consequence of Christians giving up the biblical doctrines of authoritarian hierarchy and theocracy under the influence of Enlightenment liberalism.  In particular, Kraynak argues, "a specific strand of Enlightenment liberalism--namely, Immanuel Kant's philosophy of freedom and his notion of the human person as a possessor of inalienable rights--has been the decisive factor in changing Christian politics" (109).  So, for example, Kraynak shows how the Kantian Enlightenment idea of a "democracy of the person" was transmitted through Catholic philosophers like Jacques Maritain, so that finally, in the Second Vatican Council of the early 1960s, the Catholic Church for the first time in its history endorsed religious liberty and liberal democracy as rooted in the inherent dignity of the human person (146-147).

So while the argument of Kraynak's article is that modern liberal humanism is the "secularization" of Christian values, the argument of his book is that modern Christian humanism is the "sacralization" of an Enlightenment humanism that has overturned the biblical teaching.

There also are problems with Kraynak's use of Nietzsche.  He appeals to Nietzsche's "insights" without explaining why we should take Nietzsche as authoritative.  Moreover, he does not point out to his reader that what Nietzsche says about these issues in his later writings contradicts what he says in his middle writings--Human, All Too Human, Dawn, and the first four books of The Gay Science.  In those middle writings, Nietzsche accepts Darwinian science as supporting an Enlightenment conception of liberal democracy rooted in an evolved human nature that does not require transcendental or religious conceptions.  In these middle works, when Nietzsche was most favorable to Darwinian science, he offers a moderate and sensible endorsement of liberal democracy and humanitarian morality.  But in the later works--those favored by Kraynak--Nietzsche shows an extremism that manifests his religious longings for ecstatic transcendence through "will to power" and the "Overman," and its this version of Nietzsche that was adopted by the Nazis.  By contrast, Nietzsche's middle writings show how a sensible conception of the moral and intellectual excellence of human beings can be rooted in evolved human nature without any need for a transcendent moral cosmology.

We can see this evolutionary ethics in the history of the modern human rights movement.  The Universal Declaration of Human Rights of 1948 never refers to God and never uses the word "sacred."  The drafters of the Universal Declaration debated whether they should include language about human beings as created in God's image, and they rejected this language because they saw it as appealing to religious beliefs that were not universal and not compatible with modern human rights.  They believed that the "inherent dignity" of humanity could stand on its own without any reliance on the "sacred."  Moreover, in speaking about how "barbarous acts . . . have outraged the conscience of mankind," the Universal Declaration invoked the sort of moral sentiments of sympathy that provide the foundation for the Darwinian moral tradition that embraces the thought of David Hume and Adam Smith.

The "Universal Declaration on the Human Genome and Human Rights" (ratified by the UN in 1998) declares that "the human genome underlies the fundamental unity of all members of the human family, as well as the recognition of their inherent dignity and diversity," and it identifies this human genome as a product of natural evolution.  So here it is clearly indicated that the inherent dignity of humanity arises not from divine creation but from natural evolution.

One product of human evolution is sympathy and the moral emotions of approval and disapproval.  We can try to ground our morality in metaphysical principles--God, Nature, or Reason; and we can argue, as Kraynak does, that without such metaphysical foundations, morality is unjustified.  But such purely metaphysical principles cannot sustain morality--including the morality of human rights--without the motivational power of moral emotions.

The behavior of human rights activists confirms this.  Groups like Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch don't invoke the metaphysical order of the cosmos.  They elicit support for their human rights campaigns through a rhetoric of emotional persuasion.  They tell stories or show us pictures of human cruelty.  The more disturbing and vivid the stories and the pictures of cruelty, the more likely we are to feel some identification and thus sympathy with the victims.  We then feel outrage against the perpetrators of such cruelty, and we want them to be stopped and perhaps punished.

William Schulz is the former Executive Director of Amnesty International USA.  In his book In Our Own Best Interest: How Defending Human Rights Benefits Us All, he dismisses appeals to God or Nature or Reason as insufficient to sustain the morality of human rights.  Instead, he agrees with David Hume's and Charles Darwin's argument that morality depends on sympathy and the moral emotions that incline us to care for our fellow human beings.

Drawing from his own experience as a human rights campaigner, Schulz tells some stories of the cruelty against which he has fought.  From this, he concludes:
Robert Frost once observed that poems begin with a lump in the throat, and I think human rights do too. . . . for better than by appeals to God or Nature, is to point to the capacity to identify with others, the capacity for human empathy or solidarity.  This is a capacity of such richness and complexity that something like it, at least concerning mothers and children, is required for the propagation of the species.  Children in our culture as young as one have been known to evidence it, and some ethologists even believe it can be identified in animals.  It is a phenomenon so widespread, it not universal, that we can hardly imagine a society without it. (24)
There is a foundation for human dignity, but it's not a transcendent or transhuman foundation--God, Nature, or Reason--but the empirical foundation of evolved human nature as the source of sympathy and the moral sense.  We see this in the practical arguments over human rights when the proponents of human rights employ not metaphysical reasoning about cosmic principles but rhetorical persuasion to evoke moral emotions.  The history of the expansion of human rights is therefore to be understood as what Hume and Darwin called "a progress of sentiments" as human beings have been persuaded to extend their sympathetic concern to ever wider circles of humanity.

Darwin identifies the Golden Rule as "the foundation of morality" (Descent of Man, Penguin Classics, p. 151).  He sees this as a moral conception that human beings had to learn over a long history of moral experience by which they learned to extend their humanitarian sympathy to ever wider communities.  "As man advances in civilization, and small tribes are united into larger communities, the simplest reason would tell each individual that he ought to extend his social instincts and sympathies to all the members of the same nation, though personally unknown to him.  This point being reached, there is only an artifical barrier to prevent his sympathies extending to the men of all nations and races" (p. 147).

This quotation from Darwin is the epigram for Robert Wrights book Nonzero.  Wright argues that the moral and political history of human civilization is a history of cultural evolution in which human beings discover ways of expanding the range of tit-for-tat reciprocity (the basis of the Golden Rule) to resolve "prisoner's dilemma" problems.  Learning how to cooperate with those who are trustworthy while punishing those who are not trustworthy will be favored by both natural selection and cultural evolution.

Steven Pinker uses this same quotation from Darwin as the epigram for the final chapter of his book Better Angels of Our Nature (p. 671), because it captures the evolutionary moral psychology underlying the historical trend towards declining violence, as people have discovered ever better ways to foster peaceful cooperation and avoid violent conflict.  The modern humanism of human rights and liberal democracy is the consummation of this progressive history. 

And contrary to Kraynak's argument, this does not depend on religious belief.  In fact, just the opposite is true: the historical progress towards declining violence has required a taming of the religious fanaticism responsible for so much violence in the past.  So successful has this been, that now even the Catholic Popes have recently begun to ask forgiveness for the legacy of violence promoted by biblical religion.

And yet it should be said that the moral persuasion favoring humanitarian morality does not always work.  It does not work with those abnormal human beings--like psychopaths--who lack the moral emotions of sympathy, guilt, and shame.  Nor does it work when people are so caught up in their fanatical moral and religious commitments that they cannot recognize those outside their moral community as full human beings who evoke moral concern.  Such situations create tragic moral conflicts that are settled not by persuasion but by force.

The American Civil War is a dramatic illustration of such tragic moral conflict.  The dispute over slavery could not be settled by metaphysical appeals to God, Nature, or Reason.  The Bible did not resolve the debate, because it was invoked by both sides in the debate.  As Abraham Lincoln observed in his Second Inaugural Address, both sides read the same Bible and prayed to the same God, and each invoked His aid against the other.

In such tragic conflicts, universal love does not work.  Instead, we settle the disagreement by force of arms.  That's why human rights ultimately rest upon the right to revolution.  If human rights are not protected, as the Universal Declaration of Human Rights states, then human beings have recourse, as a last resort, to "rebellion against tyranny and oppression."

Elaboration of all of these points can be found in some previous posts here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, and here


Troy Camplin said...

Maybe he ought to get away from his 19th century Newtonian-based concept of science and the subsequent view of the world that comes with it and join us in the 21st century, where complexity, emergence, etc. show us a meaningful world full of values. You cannot come to right conclusions with wrong foundations.

Empedocles said...

But doesn't this just push it back a step? Aren't the current moral emotions just the result of a secularized form of Christianity? I can't see Ghengis Khan being concerned with people's inherent dignity, or feeling shocked by barbarous acts.

Scott Fruehwald said...

Larry, I basically agree with you. There are no rights or morality "out there" because there is no source for them. Rather, rights and morality are inside us; they evolved as a means to help individuals survive. Based on Jonatham Haidt's notion of anthropocentric truths, I call these anthropocentric rights and anthropocentric morality. These truths, rights, and morality are not unassailable in the universe, but they are truths, rights, and morality shared with all mankind. The fundamentals of these truths, rights, and morality derived from how our brains evolved with the their details arising from how a particular culture reacted to how differing geography, ecology, and social conditions affected survival. See my book, Law and Human Behavior: A Study in Behavioral Biology, Neuroscience, and the Law (Vandeplas 2011)

Domics said...

In the Ancient Near East, in the Greek and Roman world, in ancient China, in the Incas and Aztec world, the slavery was normal;the subjugation of women was usual; the wars were regular, etc etc...And I suppose also that Homini sapiens fought each other and against Neandertal...

And all this depends on the 'fanatical moral and religious commitments'?
If sympathy is a product of the natural evolution how is it that for so long it did not work?

Rob S said...

Empedocles --

If the current "moral emotions" were "just the result of a secularized form of Christianity," then we would expect non-Christian cultures to have fundamentally different moral emotions. We would also expect cultures that are becoming highly secular (Sweden, Norway, Denmark, Japan, England, etc...) to show diminishing or changing moral emotions.

But in fact we don't see large differences in moral emotions among cultures, as Professor Arnhart argues consistently well on this page.

Furthermore, more secularized cultures tend to be more charitable, have less violent crime, extend more rights to ethnic and racial minorities, have higher literacy rates, score more highly on the WHO's rating for quality health-care, score higher on the UN's Human Development index, recognize the rights of women at deeper levels, and so on. The evidence for this can be found in Phil Zuckerman's peer-reviewed sociological research, published in Sociology Compass, entitled, "Atheism and Well-Being."

So the facts don't really fit your statement. In fact, moral emotions seem to be less ubiquitous in more religious cultures.

Empedocles said...

How can you say "we don't see large differences in moral emotions among cultures" and then say "secularized cultures tend to be more charitable, have less violent crime, extend more rights to ethnic and racial minorities, have higher literacy rates, score more highly on the WHO's rating for quality health-care, score higher on the UN's Human Development index, recognize the rights of women at deeper levels".
Sounds like there are large differences in moral emotions between cultures, which was my point.

Rob S said...


First, you regurgitate (in a less-sophisticated fashion) Kraynak's position, completely ignoring Professor Arnhart's rebuttal. Might I suggest you respond to Professor Arnhart's points?

Secondly, your point was that "Aren't the current moral emotions just the result of a secularized form of Christianity?" Professor Arnhart demonstrates why this isn't true philosophically or politically. I'm demonstrating that it isn't true sociologically.

Do you have any evidence for your claim? How do you respond to Professor Arnhart's criticisms? How do you respond to the sociological evidence?

Empedocles said...

My original post, as well as Domics, was a response to Professor Arnhart's point. The history of the variety of things that can provoke moral approval or disapproval, censure, outrage, or sympathy shows that the moral emotions can attach to a wide variety of phenomena. This shows that the moral theory comes first and that the moral emotions then attach to what ones theory declares to be good or evil. The theories of what is good or bad in turn can vary from place to place and time to time. At least to some extent. There are certain things like family affections as a result of kin selection that I do think are more or less innate.

I take Dr. Arnhart to be saying (please correct me if I'm wrong!) not only that our moral emotions are the result of our evolved human nature, but that it is a part of this evolved nature to react in the way we do to the specific things we do. I deny the second part. I think that even if the moral emotions are a result of evolved nature, it is a matter of culture or learning as to what they get attached to (excluding some things like nepotism).

One could claim that in the past people's moral emotions were connected to the wrong things, and that now we've finally got it right. Then you would need a theory of what makes something wrong and right, and you can't appeal to the moral emotions here as a judge here since whether they are connected to the right or wrong things is the question at hand.

I take you to be saying that we've got it right since secular society does all those things you list so well. But this presupposes that the point of morality is to "have less violent crime, extend more rights to ethnic and racial minorities, have higher literacy rates, score more highly on the WHO's rating for quality health-care, score higher on the UN's Human Development index, recognize the rights of women at deeper levels, and so on." Liberalism is quite open about the fact that its goal is to do all these things, so we shouldn't be surprised that it does indeed do them, but compare this with, say, the Taleban who believe that the point of morality has nothing to do with any of these things.

Domics said...

I just read Phil Zuckerman's "Atheism and Well-Being."
I find very amusing to read that if somenthing is wrong in a more religious country it depends on the religion; but if something is wrong in a secular or atheist country like former USSR the blame is not in the atheism but in ecomic and political matters as if the religious countries at the last places in UN rankes there were no economic and political problems as well...
A very double standard!

Rob S said...


I don't think you're reading Zuckerman fairly. Zuckerman is not claiming that there is a direct, causal relationship between secularism or atheism and various social factors (as you claim, and as Empedocles claims here and on his own blog consistently). Rather, Zuckerman is simply reviewing the large compilation of peer-reviewed sociological research to show that we can't simply dismiss secularism as breeding "evil", as it tends to correlate with certain positive social outcomes. That's all.

I think Zuckerman's evidence weighs heavily for Professor's Arnhart's claim that we do not need a Christian or transcendent worldview to behave morally or create political and social policy in accordance with natural right. All we need is an immanent teleology or a sufficient understanding of our evolved human nature.

Domics said...

Zuckerman cites the Economist Intelligence Unit’s quality-of-life index, 2005.
If we read this index we found at the first place the Ireland; among the first ten we found Italy and Spain. I do not think that those countries are the least religious or more secularized in the world.

What Zuckerman seems to forget is that the countries at the last places in the well being rankes are such not because of their hight religiosity but because they are poor... And it is not a coincidence that in the last places there are countries that have suffered the colonization of many of the countries that are at the top positions.
Qatar is one of the most religious country in the world with 94.5% of the population considering the religion an important factor; Quatar is 41 at the Economist index just 11 positions after UK.
What differentiates Qatar from Somalia or Congo at the last positions? the money and not the religiosity.

Empedocles said...

What I wonder about is whether secular liberalism violates Empedocles' patented Law of Acceptable Moral and Political Theory, which states that no moral or political theory can inevitably lead to the followers' death (no "thou shalt not eat" allowed), or lead to the extinction of the followers of the theory.

I wonder why the birth rates in secular countries all seem to inevitably drop below replacement levels. Someday someone is going to write a great book called something like "A Darwinian Appraisal of Liberalism" evaluating the tenets of secular liberalism as a Darwinian survival strategy. It would be history's greatest irony if not believing Darwinism is a better survival strategy than believing it, as worldwide birth rates seem to suggest.

Is there something inherent in liberalism that leads to this outcome? I don't know, but I have a few ideas that I'm trying to work up into a post. I am struck how many religious commands to follow God's will seem to be commands to follow good Darwinian strategies. Whereas liberalism can only motivate one to seek self-fulfillment, of which many seem to think children will only get in the way. What I am leaning towards is the idea that the tenets of religion are a guidebook on how to get by and thrive in a Darwinian world (although the creators of the religions didn't know that that was what they were doing).

Rob S said...


Because, as well all know, natural selection is only about having more children, and never about how well we take care of those children or how well we take care of their environment. Right.

If religion is such a good guidebook on surviving, then why does it correlate so well with violence? Why does the emergence of rational, enlightenment values correlate with the reduction of violence?

Empedocles said...

Good questions I wished I had the answers to. I do believe that I've read that religious countries reproduce at a higher rate, so if you're suggesting that they are also more violent, then we can ask do more violent countries reproduce more? Why would this be? I don't know. Maybe because survival and spread of their people is something they are concerned about and either have to or are willing to struggle for? Why are less violent countries falling below replacement levels? I suggested because they're more concerned with self-fulfillment rather than having children. I'm open to other ideas, but the collapsing birth rates in secular countries needs explanation. Whatever is the cause, it's not a good strategy to follow for long.

So non-violence doesn't inevitably lead to reproductive success, and violence doesn't necessarily lead to lowered reproductive rates.

I never claimed natural selection isn't concerned with caring for children (as mentioned briefly above when I talked about kin-selection). Quite the opposite.

Domics said...

The decrease of birth rates is concomitant with the increase of the assisted reproduction.
For example in Finland the assisted reproductio is grown by 19% over the past ten years whereas the birth rate is still below the threshold on population's renewal (although immigrants and assisted reproduction). Let's also remember that Finlad is at the top of the suicide rates in the world.
This is something that darwinism or natural selection should explain.

Rob S said...

The WHO reports Finland at 15th in rates of suicide. But I have no idea what any of this has to do with natural selection or Professor Arnhart's arguments?

Domics said...

Rob S,
the question is simple: why in the most secular countries that for someone should be the example to follow, there are problems such as declining of birth rates and in the Finland case there is also the suicide problem?

Finland is the fifteenth in WHO statistic? true, but which countries precede the Finland? it is preceded by most developed, advanced and democratic countries? except Japan, it seems not.

Domics said...

Rob S,
how could you write that religion is correlate with higher violence?
are you again citing the flawed Zuckerman's study?
According Zuckerman "murder rates are actually lower in more secular nations and higher in more religious nations where beliefe in God is deep widespread"...
Let's see:
Except Turkey it seems that at the top there are many past Communist/atheist and today's secularist countries.
I hope that nobody will say that high rates in Turkey depend on the high religiosity whereas high rates in ex USSR countries depend on economic, political, criminal factors...

A look also at the rape statistics:
except Lesotho I see at the first places many advanced countries...

Rob S said...

First of all, you're not interpreting your data very well. Notice that, according to Nationmaster, most of the top-ten countries in rapes-per-capita are more religious nations, such as Lesotho, New Zealand, Israel, Chile, Mongolia, and Ireland. And none of the top-ten countries in murders-per-capita are highly secular nations.

Furthermore, you don't have your facts straight, anyway. According to the Mercer Study (, nearly all of the top-50 safest cities in the world are in the more secular countries. Eight of those cities are in the United States, all within the more secular states.

According to the U.S. Census Bureau’s study of 2006, rates of most violent tend to be lower in more secular states and higher in more religious states.

In the 2006 “Religious Cosmologies and Homicide Rates Among Nations,” from The Journal of Religion and Society, G.F. Jensen shows that Homicide rates are lower in secular nations, and higher in religious nations.

This is confirmed by Gregory Paul, in “‘Cross-National Correlations of Quantifiable Societal Health With Popular Religiosity and
Secularism in the Prosperous Democracies,” also from The Journal of Religion and Society, as well as by Fajnzylber, Oablo, Lederman, and Loatza in their 2002 Journal of Law and Economics article, “Inequality and Violent Crime.”

James Fox and Jack Levin also wrote a book on this, called The Will To Kill, published in 2000 by Allyn and Bacon.

What is true internationally is also true within the United States on violent crime and religion. States with the highest murder rates tend to be the most religious, while states with the lowest murder rates tend to be the least religious. That comes from Ellison, Burr, and McCall’s 2003 article in Homicide Studies, entitled, “The Enduring Puzzle of Southern Homicide.”

This isn’t even to mention that secular countries tend to be safer for children and mothers, and also have lower rates of infant mortality, which strikes another blow against your “Darwinian” argument.

Religion correlates with higher levels of violence, and secularity correlates with lower levels of violence, both worldwide and in the United States.

Domics said...

it seems that you are not interpreting very well me (this is my fault of course); about the rapes I wrote about 'advanced countries' and not about more or less religious countries. At the top places there are countries both religious (e.g. Chile) and secular (e.g. Finland) but all rich and democratic (save Lesotho and Mongolia); it is up to you to explain why most secular nations as Finland (28%), Norway (20.5%), New Zealand (33%) are in the top-ten with more religious nations.
Are the more secularized countries better or not according your opinion?
And do not forget that Sweden (16,5%), the most secularized country in the world after Estonia, is at the top for the rapes in Europe.

Regarding murder rates at the top we find Belarus (33%), Lithuania (41%); Albania (32.5%), Estonia (16%), Ukraine (45%), Latvia (39%).
Again we find secularized countries and religious countries (e.g. Turkey and Croatia).
Are secularized countries better or not?

(the percentages refer to the Gallup poll on importance of the religion and at the answer 'yes, it is important').

Domics said...

concerning all the studies and books you quoted it seems to me that you did not yet understand that if there are problems in some countries these do not depend on more or less religiosity but on economic and political reasons.
In Africa or Asia infant mortality is high not because the countries are religious but because they are poor, and their poverty depends precisely on those nations that now are rich and advanced and that in the past (and today) exploited them. If you look at the infant mortality rate by countries at the first place you'll find Singapore (70% in Gallup poll)!
In 'Darwinian' terms I see some countries better adapted at the expense of others.

Do you realize that you cited Fajnzylber, Oablo, Lederman, and Loatza, “Inequality and Violent Crime.”?
How could you quote an article that writes about 'income inequalities' explaining the violent crime in order to blame the religion?

Do you know that Jensen wrote his article in order to reply and criticize Gregory Paul's study and that Jensen argues for a correlation suicide/disbelief in God?

Do you know that Gregory Paul's study was criticized in the same journal in Gerson Moreno-Riaño, Mark Caleb Smith, Thomas Mach, "Religiosity, Secularism, and Social Health" concluding:
"What one can state with certainty is that one cannot in any way be certain as to the effects of religiosity and secularism upon prosperous democracies at least as based upon the methods and data of
Paul’s study. ".

Rob S said...

First, let’s talk about your nationmaster data. Notice that the data on homicides only covers 36 countries. But there are 196 countries in the world. Look at the countries that are missing from that data. They are predominately 3rd world, highly religious countries, such as Iran, Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, etc. So that data is so extraordinarily skewed as to be meaningless in this debate.

The same is somewhat true for the nationmaster rape statistics. At least there are 116 countries represented there. But suffice it to say that reports of rape – even definitions of rape – vary widely among countries. We know through a plethora of reports, for example, that many African and Muslim cultures look upon rape as justified in certain circumstances, and so I would argue that these stats are always going to be skewed for lack of reporting. I think that’s a fair criticism.

Sure, Paul’s study was criticized – we could get into the methodology there, but I think it was solid. And I’m not relying on his work alone, in any case.
Fajnzylber’s evidence isn’t simply about income inequality – it speaks also about other variables. And they say specifically that belief in God correlates with higher level of violence.

Let’s remember also that non-believers are highly under-represented in U.S. prisons (at .2 %), and conversely religious believers are highly over-represented. I agree that Jensen does show a (small) correlation between suicide and secularism. I’m also willing to grant that non-believers show a (small) dip in mental-health statistics, and they also tend to use drugs, alcohol, and pornography in greater numbers.
However, the evidence is definitive that religious belief correlates with violence. We could talk about more studies, such as Selengut’s, which shows a correlation between violence and people’s adherence to religious textual justifications for violence, or Wulff’s work on prejudice and religion. Ganzevoort does a good job of summarizing some more of the research in his paper on “Violence and Religion,” for the IAPR in 2006 (available online at But Zuckerman does a really nice job of summing the best of the evidence, and I’ll stand by his article. There’s just far too much work done in social science to dismiss over your nationmaster interpretation, which is very far from comprehensive, given that it represents few countries, and only two statistics, neither of which show any kind of strong correlations either way.

There are other correlations other than violence, like significant social factors, such as lower levels of infant mortality (which is correlated with secularism, absolutely, in addition with other variables like wealth, sure), greater levels of education and literacy, better treatment of children, mothers, and ethnic and racial minorities, greater altruism toward the needy, etc. I think all of these really directly contradict your notion that somehow there's a darwinian disadvantage in secularism. Secular nations take care of their people, and people of other nations, better than religious nations in many important social factors. The UN recognizes this, the WHO recognizes this, so why can't you?

Anonymous said...

This is Robert Kraynak speaking. The main point of my article, "Justice without Foundations," was to argue on philosophical grounds that post-modern relativists like Rorty and Darwinians like Dennett and Pinker have committments to social justice,understood as democracy, human rights, and respect for human dignity that are completely inconsistent with their philosphical and scientific views. Darwinian evolution does not support democracy and human rights or the inherent dignity the individual -- if it supports any kind moral code, it would be a code of the strong dominating the weak or one 'tribal' gene pool dominating or exterminating another tribal gene pool. Strict Darwinians should look upon, for example, the victims of the Haitain earthquake in cold rational fashion as losers in the struggle for survival, not as objects of compassion or as eliciting aid for the suffering stranger. The attachment of Darwinians to democratic values or to Christian values of universal charity is completely contradictory and irrational. Their claims to the contrary seem to reflect the secularized values of the surrounding Christian culture and a kind of Lamarckian belief that we can inherit culturally aquired values from the non-Darwinian cultures that developed through religion, philosophy, and high culture. None of the above comments are really addressing the main point -- that Darwinian evolution as a 'metaphysical doctrine' does not support democracy, human rights, and universal human dignity. When Dawrwinians refer to "evolved human nature" that includes democracy and human rights, they are sneaking in cultural values not inherited traits -- "memes" rather than "genes" as Dawkins like to say, also quite inconsistently.

Domics said...

Paul, again you missed my points.
Rape: just because there are problems with reporting in third world countries I made comparisons between most advanced countries. It seems to me, again, that you have not answered my question. If secular countries are better than more religious, why in rape statistics more religious and more secular countries are mixed at the first places?
Murders: a very fair criticism would be that in advanced countries there are less murders because there is a better medicine and better hospitals than in the third world.
But how could you criticize Nationmaster statistics and me for having compared "only 36 countries" when Fajnzylber'study cited by Zuckerman covers 39 countries and Gregory Paul compares only Western countries?

As for the infant mortality: should we say that first place for Singapore depends on his hight religiosity and that the last place for Angola depends on the same reason? Do you really think that Baghdad is the less safe city in the world (Mercer survey) because of his high religiosity or because there was (there is) a war (wanted by others)?

You cite Ganzevoort who is a theologian and I cite a professor of sociology as Bradley Wright who after comparing 60 previous studies in '“If you love me, keep my commandments”:A meta-analysis of the effect of religion on crime' concludes that religion is a deterrent for the crime.

A last word regarding imprisonment. Zuckerman writes "0.2 percent of prisoners in the USA are atheist". The 0.2% is composed by atheists and not by 'non-believers'. For 'atheist' is intented someone who explicitly defines himself as such. It is different from agnostics or non interessed in the religion or even unsure.
In the United States in 2001 the not believing in a religion in general were 14.1% but those explicitly atheists were 0.4% (see Aris American Religious Identification Survey 2008). Zuckerman is citing a 1997'study. If in 2001 there were in US 0.4% of atheists in 1997 a 0.2% of presence of atheists in prison is exactly what someone would expect: none under-representation only an other example of the flawed Zuckerman's paper.