The Dawkins Delusion - Chapter 6 - The Roots of Morality: Why are we Good?

Richard Dawkins is up to his usual tricks in chapter six. He starts off by showing how hateful Christians are who write to him and other atheists. Does he really mean to convince people of "christian" hatred because he picked the most extreme demonstrations of it? Should we use Stalin and Hitler as representatives of all atheists? Richard is deliberately trying to make Christians look bad.

Dawkins' purpose is to show that people can be moral without God. He argues that there are four good Darwinian reasons for individuals to be altruistic, genetic kingship, reciprocation, reputation, conspicuous generosity (pg. 219). Whether these reasons are true or not is not really of interest to me, since this is not the objections that people have with regards to morality.

The question is not whether people can be moral without God, it is whether there is any morality at all. Richard finally talks about this at the close of the chapter, but spends most of the time beating down a straw man that most people do not defend. Atheists can live moral lives, but they cannot define morality. Any "morals" that have come about by Darwinian natural selection are relative to one's ability to pass on their genetic information. That is the only "moral" that atheists can logically affirm, which does not seem to restrict most of human behaviour. For example, there is no obvious reason why killing would be immoral according to natural selection. If you could kill and get away with it then it may be useful. However, most people rightly consider it immoral regardless of how natural selection works. Morality only makes sense if there is a Law Giver who will judge those who do right and those who do wrong, namely, God.

Although Richard starts off stating the problem of morality accurately (pg. 230), he subtly shifts the question to, "only religion can provide a basis for deciding what is good (pg. 231)." This argument is completely different then stating that God is required for morals to exist at all. Religions can be right or wrong. Only if the religion in question matches the Moral Law Giver does it make sense to state the question in that way. If you think there are absolute morals, then inevitably God must exist even if all religions fail in their description of His Morals. Unfortunately, Richard has missed the main point.

There is one interesting point that he made that deserves further consideration. He says, "Sexual desire is sexual desire and its force, in an individual's psychology, is independent of the ultimate Darwinian pressure that drove it. It is a strong urge which exists independently of its ultimate rationale (pg. 221)." How does a dependent quality become independent or dependent on some other quality?  How can you determine the original evolutionary driving force of a specific quality? In this particular case it does not look like the gene is selfish, it looks like the organism is selfish because it has managed to separate the cause and effect of the sexual desire gene. This contradicts his earlier statement, which says, "the unit of natural selection is not the selfish organism, nor the selfish group or selfish species or selfish ecosystem, but the selfish gene (pg. 215)." This is rather confusing and makes you wonder about the explanatory power of Darwin.

Chapter 6 did not deal with the more difficult questions of morality, instead it only dealt with arguments that mostly atheists talk about.


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