Where I hang out in the tubes, there’s usually a chorus exclaiming that a world without religion is a much better place. Firstly, I truly wonder if by comparing populations that are more irreligious to religious populations: you do actually get reduced crime rates – maybe the question doesn’t have to be purely hypothetical. I’ve seen myself the (apparently bogus) statistics about crime rates in America being significantly biased towards the religious.
Well, it’s nice to think that people that lack faith like me also, somehow, have stronger moral values and are more law-abiding. But I have no a priori reason to think so.
Deacon Duncan mentions these data (and points that it is impossible to conclude from the prison survey that atheists/non-religionists are being more “moral” or less “inclined to commit a crime” than any man/woman of faith)
Such surveys notwithstanding, it goes without saying that a person who doesn’t believe in Allah would probably never blow up in a bus full of Israeli children. A man who hasn’t been inoculated with the hateful and popular death cult, Christianity, would never have shot and killed a man of medicine simply for carrying out abortions. This fictional God, of any persuasion, gives you the right to destroy lives and even take them, and not only that, but this fictional homicidal maniac even encourages you to do so by tempting you with unimaginable gifts: such as sex with more beautiful women than you probably ever could have (72 virgins and infinite virgins is probably the same for a poor, undernourished, brain-washed Palestenian), and, of course, life-long, rentless stay in heaven.
So, ceteris paribus, a man who would normally be a suicide-bomber would have no reason to be, and thus would not be, a suicide bomber if he lacked the faith. Of course, in the real world, things are more complicated than that.
At the onset, I want to point out that I don’t believe that a world without religion or without religious faith is going to be Utopian or even remotely crimeless. In a way, it’s like saying that if we caught and locked up all the rapists, then the world is going to be a perfect world, murderers and thieves notwithstanding.
I do, however, think that the world would probably be a better place. I also have reasons to believe that it would be a much better place. But I think that many atheists/secularists sometimes spurn religion as the root of all evil (this is also why I didn’t like Dawkins’ title for his documentary of religion “The Root of All Evil?“, even though I did enjoy and highly endorse the documentary itself. I don’t think religion is the root of all evil).
That said, I wish to say that the root of all evil is, well, human beings. Works such as those by Daniel Dennett explain how it’s possible to conjure up rather intricate natural explanations for religion. Religion, that is, the natural phenomenon of human beings believing, or suffering from the delusion that super-men or super-women or super-beings (usually amalgams of animals, but humans tend to play this character a lot) exist, are playing an active role in their lives, etc.
The root of all evil is nested deeply in the intricacies of the human mind. Even if we give some universal definition of evil (that would probably not be agreed upon by, say, psychopaths), evil will prevail because evil is a natural consequence of being human.
So, to my opinion: Yes, a world without religion, or at least without any religious coercion, is definitely going to be, perhaps greatly, a better place. It would not, however, be a world without evil.
The caveat also confronts a much-used argument by theists who try to advocate for their favourite God character by playing out the “without God, how will you know the difference between good and evil” card. (I’ve heard Muslims, Jews AND Christians use it, and it would be insane to say that they’re all referring to the same God, one of them has a guy called Jesus whom they worship, too)
This could also be a somewhat longer version of Dawkins’ exquisite reply to a pastor who played the very same card:
“Are you telling me that the only reason you don’t kill and rape is because God tells you so?”