Dylan Ratigan Show   |  May 14, 2012

Morality: what’s God got to do with it?

Michael Shermer, founding publisher of Skeptic Magazine, discusses the link between religion and morality, and says that religious people’s tendency to be more moral actually has nothing to do with God.

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This content comes from Closed Captioning that was broadcast along with this program.

>>> well, our resident skeptic back today talking about the link between religion and healthy choices, mainly the belief that religious people tend to make better choices. our skeptic claims it has nothing to do with god. michael shurmur is the writer of skeptic magazine . so you don't dispute that those who live inside some religious practice do tend to have health benefits , do tend to have a variety of social benefits . you just say that the reason they have those benefits has nothing to do with god. explain.

>> so for about 20 years now, we've been encountering data that shows religious people are happier, they live longer by about seven years, they have fewer diseases, generally healthier. but we have to operationally define what it means to be religious. is it the helping hand of god reaching down in your dna or fixing your cholesterol or helping your kidneys? what is it that's actually happening? it turns out it doesn't matter whether you believe in this god or that god, it's belonging to a social community of some kind that gives you what we call social capital , that gives you a sense of belonging, or more importantly, that somebody cares about you and is watching, that is helping you get some feedback on what we call self-control or willpower. so whether you eat the cheesecake or not may depend on whether you have someone sitting tl there saying, dylan, remember you were going to lose x pounds? just having someone there to remind you. we know that simple experiments, for example, in an office where they have a basket of donuts, if you take one, put a buck in the bucket. it's voluntary. so if you put a pair of eyes above it, people are more likely to give the dollar for the donut.

>> just the image of an eyeball.

>> or a mirror. oh, that's right, i better -- just having something to remind you increases our morality.

>> what about a member of the pit bull association of america or the organic gardening club? does it matter? where is the line?

>> the pit bull club or the gardening club, all of that is good social capital . religion has a 4,000-year head start on the gardening club. they have it down pretty good on reminding people every week. one of the reasons to go to church services and not to just hear some story is the community. don't forget, be good, don't forget to vote, don't forget to care for each other, don't forget our loved ones. it's just reminders of self-control. the study a got just the other day published in psychological science , one of the most prestigious psych journals, kevin round and his colleagues did a study where they primed subjects to be reminded of god, religion, spirituality, whatever, on these scrambled sentences. they had the word god, spirit or religion in there or they didn't. those that did were primed to think about god were more likely to be able to endure some uncomfortable task. they were better able to delay gratification. if you come back tomorrow and pick up your $5 for doing the experiment or come back next week and get $6. so people will then delay gratification if they're reminded of god. so god believes belonging to religion reminds us there is a long-term goal in life, that being healthy is good --

>> and creates a tolerance for frustrating and disruptive things which is easier to navigate when you have a strong community around you.

>> that's right. that's why when we exercise, it's always good to meet somebody at the gym at a time, because you'll delay it otherwise.

>> as i have. nice to see you. the latest issue of skeptic magazine is out. you said -- what were you going to put on the cover?

>> we should put a breast-feeding woman on there.

>> it's selling, right?

>> i didn't realize it. that's cold compared to breast feeding .

>> check it out.