Question from Edward:
First of all I am an atheist as well, but what I can’t figure out is: is a pure human selfish, or generous? I mean some people are asses some are good. My theory is every pure human is actually an evil selfish bastard, but conscience and ego makes most people good. I mean since we don’t have a feeling that bugs us when we do something good, conscience bugs us when we act like an ass. I’d like to know your thoughts about this.
Answer by Andrea:
That’s a really good question, and I recently found out the answer since I’ve been researching evolutionary biology, which also encompasses the science of human behavior.
Apparently, there are genes that guide just about everything, including our behaviors, and compassion, fear, ambiguity, moods, etc., can all be traced to genetics. This is not to say you are a victim of your DNA, but it is to say that you may be geared to behave in a certain way, so that the environment during your formative years can help wire your brain and help produce the chemical processes that activate certain genes. For example, mothers who were distant with their infants were more apt to produce children who lacked impulse control and empathy, since the nurturing from moms that form these connections in the frontal lobe were absent. And the environment theory blends in with my own experience. My mom raised me to be (too) empathetic, so I lose sleep nights or get depressed thinking about marine oil spills or the plight of circus animals.
I think it’s evolutionarily conducive to be selfish, and we’re programmed to be as such — to an extent — but since we are social beings, it’s also conducive to cooperate with one another.
This leads me to believe that everyone is a mix of angel or asshole, the ratios are determined by a variety of factors. And as an atheist, I just try to set a good example so I can represent atheists accurately. Counter to all the negative stereotypes, atheists actually have the lowest peer capita rates of imprisonment as well as divorce. In “Atheism, Secularity, and Well-Being: How the Findings of Social Science Counter Negative Stereotypes and Assumptions” (Sociology Compass, 2009), Phil Zuckerman compares the values and beliefs of religious people with those of the secular, and the latter were markedly less prejudiced, anti-Semitic, racist, dogmatic closed-minded and authoritarian. They were are also less supportive of the death penalty, less likely to favor harsh sentencing and the least supportive of torture.
I hope that helps, otherwise, I might lose sleep over my failing to answer your question properly. 😉
“This leads me to believe that everyone is a mix of angel or asshole, the ratios are determined by a variety of factors.”
Question from Edward: