Pope Francis, speaking on non-believers in a letter he recently wrote, seems to indicate that having faith is not a requirement for possessing and obeying one’s conscious. Addressing a prominent Italian Atheist in a letter, he said that the most important thing for non-believers to do is to follow their conscious in determining right and wrong. His letter states:
Given that — and this is the key point — God’s mercy has no limits, if you go to him with a sincere and repentant heart, the issue for those who do not believe in God is to obey their conscience. Sin, even for those who have no faith, is when one goes against their conscience. To listen and to obey to (one’s conscience) means to decide oneself in relation to what’s perceived as good and evil. And this decision is fundamental to determining the good or evil of our actions.
His statement echoes many Atheists’ assertions that faith and a belief in God are not a requirement for having a strong conscience, a solid means of differentiating between right and wrong, and living an ethical life driven by a code of morals. Many Atheists feel that a belief in God is not necessary for “goodness” not does it enhance one’s propensity to do good works. This is supported by Atheists’ track record for philanthropy, which, according to a 2012 study published in the journal Social Psychological and Personality Science, seems to be driven more by compassion than are the charitable works of their more religious counterparts.
Pope Francis was answering two letters from the founder of a liberal Italian newspaper called La Repubblica , Editor Eugenio Scalfari, who had written to Francis via publishing his inquires in the newspaper. Pope Francis took the time to respond by penning a thoughtful reply.
His reply will undoubtedly be met with great interest by Atheists, who have long asserted that a person’s conscience is not delivered to a person through God or by faith, but rather, springs from within due to the elegant natural process of evolution. It is not the fear of punishment or the promise of a great reward in the afterlife that spurs people onward to do good works and listen to their conscience, but rather an innate instinct that has been put in place by nature in order to form cohesive societies.
In fact, recent studies with rats have shown that even animals have an innate need to do good works and to share. In the study, rats were observed being provided with food while another rat was trapped away from the food. The rat with the food had to figure out a difficult puzzle which involved opening a barrier in order to let the second rat have some of the food provided. Not only did the rats share their food, they actually went out of their way to solve a problem which prevented the other rat from eating.
A similar study was performed with monkeys. In that study, monkeys were given a choice whether or not to share a big pile of their favorite foods. They had to open a door in between themselves and the other monkey in order to share the food. Each time, they chose to share. Other studies have also showed a monkey providing another monkey with a tool to get at food, and counting on the fact that the other monkey will share the food with him once the food is obtained with the tool as seen in the video below:
Certainly rats and monkeys don’t believe in God, at least not that we know of, and yet they are not only just “ok” with sharing, they are actually driven to share. This proves that the inclination to do good works and to have compassion for others exists in the animal kingdom without the need for any sort of a deity at all.
Pope Francis’ remarks are sure to ignite more debate over the issue of faith, non-believers and God. He seems to indicate that belief in God is not necessary for someone to have a strong conscience. What do you think?
By: Rebecca Savastio