The Dawkins Letters: Challenging Atheist Myths

The Dawkins Letters I’m thoroughly enjoying David Robertson’s The Dawkins Letters: Challenging Atheist Myths.  This book is a chapter-by-chapter response to Richard Dawkins’ well known title, The God Delusion.  I’ll come back and write more on this later; for now, I want to point out the great counter argument Robertson gives to Dawkins’ Darwinian explanation of morality.

Dawkins defines goodness as altruism and says that humans tend to be altruistic towards people of our own kin – that’s how we’ve evolved genetically.  On top of this is a reciprocal aspect – that people are nice to each other so people are nice to them in return.  Dawkins also says that people are sometimes nice because they want to show off.  One other thing he writes is that kindness and sympathy are blessed Darwinian mistakes.

Robertson deconstructs this evolutionary view of morality:

1) First, it does not seem much of a morality.  It is still primarily focused on the Selfish Gene.  It is all about me, me, and mine.  As a Christian I believe that the Bible teaches that human beings are fundamentally selfish and self-centred – however the Bible is not content to leave us there.  There is something better.  Christ came to challenge and to deliver us from the self-centredness which you [Dawkins] glorify as the basis of morality.

2) Second, it is deterministic.  There is no concept of free will, choice, or responsibility.  We are only ‘good’ because we are programmed to be that way.  If my will is not free then you cannot blame me if I only do what I am genetically programmed to do.  The trouble with such an approach is that it legitimises all kinds of behaviour; from the drunkard claiming it is in his genes to the rapist saying that he is only doing what he has been programmed to do.  On the other hand, if I am free and responsible for what I do, then I cannot be genetically programmed.  I do not doubt that there are genetic factors in all aspects of human behavior but I cannot believe that every human being and their actions are governed by such determinism.  A crucial part of being human is having the ability to choose.

3) Third, your [Dawkins’] secular morality is not, as you admit, absolute: ‘fortunately however morals do not have to be absolute.’  As you indicate it is changeable according to the whims of society.  If indeed as we are, as your favourite philosopher Bertrand Russell put it, ‘tiny lumps of impure carbon and water crawling about for a few years, until they are dissolved again into the elements of which they are compounded,’ there seems to be no basis for absolute morality. …If there are no absolutes then there is no absolute standard to judge by.  And if there is no ultimate standard then we are left with anything goes, might is right, or the whims of a changing and confused society.”

4) Finally, your [Dawkins’] absolute Darwinian philosophy cannot logically and consistently argue for morality because, to put it bluntly, there is no good or evil.  As you so brilliantly describe it… “In a universe of blind physical forces and genetic replication, some people are going to get hurt, other people are going to get lucky, and you won’t find any rhyme or reason in it, nor any injustice.  The universe we observe has precisely the properties we should expect if there is at bottom, no design, no purpose, no evil and no good, nothing but blind pitiless indifference.’  That then is the atheist basis of morality – no justice, no rhyme nor reason, no purpose, no evil, no good, just blind pitiless indifference.  Despite the best efforts of atheistic philosophers… this basis is severely lacking, being little more than a utilitarian ‘greatest good for the greatest number’ without ever defining what ‘good is.’

I’ve thought about this before quite a bit, and I think Robertson’s arguments are correct – one glaring weakness of the atheist religion is the lack of basis for morality, good, and evil.  For more info on this, read Dawkins’ discussion of morality in The God Delusion, and then read chapter eight of Robertson’s excellent book, The Dawkins Letters.  

shane lems
hammond, wi



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