In this part of my review of Richard Dawkins’, “The God Delusion” I will continue my look at Dawkins’ speculations on the roots of morality. Dawkins rejection of God and acceptance of evolution forces him to find an evolutionary basis of morality. He admits that “On the face of it, the Darwinian idea that evolution is driven by natural selection seems ill-suited to explain such goodness as we possess, or our feelings of morality, decency, empathy, and pity… Isn’t goodness incompatible with the theory of the ‘selfish gene’?” (pg 214-5)
Dawkins’ goes on to argue that the idea that it is, is a misunderstanding and the evolution is not incompatible with goodness. There are two main problems with Dawkins argument. The first is that it is really very selective and theoretical and amounts to little more than special pleading. The second is that while Dawkins’ see evolution’s ability to account for goodness as a strength, and yet another reason we do not need religion, the special pleading nature of the argument is in reality an indication of a much deeper problem: that as put forward by those like Dawkins it is a tautology .
In logic a tautology is an argument that is always valid. While this sounds like a good thing, the problem with tautologies can been seen in the following example; it will either rain or not rain tomorrow. Now this statement will always be valid, regardless of location or weather. But while always valid, it tells us nothing about whether or not we will need an umbrella. In short it really tells us nothing at all.
What Dawkins explanation really reveals is that evolution is a huge complex tautology. It can explain anything the evolutionist needs it to explain. Soon after Darwin, the theory began to be applied to societies to justify why some people were better off than others, in Social Darwinism. It then became the basis of Eugenics, which effectively argued for selective breeding of people, to produce better people, much the way we selectively breed animals. This culminated in Hitler’s belief in a master race, and the elimination of impure bloodlines.
Following WWII, this was all rejected, and rightly so, as immoral. While we continued to selectively breed animals, people were off limits. Yet Dawkins now argues that he can explain an almost opposite morality also based on evolution. What this means is that evolution can explain either view. Just like the statement it will either rain or not rain tells us nothing about the weather, evolution tells us nothing about morality. It only tells us about the ability to speculate to a particular goal on the part of the scientist.
The problem with the particular answer Dawkins gives is that he cites a number of “good Darwinian reasons for individuals to be altruistic, generous, or ‘moral’ towards each other.” (pg 219) Yet those pushing Social Darwinism, or Eugenics in the 1920s and 30s also had many good Darwinian reasons as well. So a clear question become why Dawkins’ Darwinian reasons should be preferred to these other Darwinian reasons. For most people this is pretty easy to determine as history has shown that the Darwinian reasons for Eugenics leads to some pretty immoral things. But since Dawkins is arguing for the basis for morality, he cannot use morality to make such a choice without falling victim to circular reasoning. Which leaves him with special pleading; his reasons are better than the reasons that led to eugenics because they give him the answer he is seeking.
Yet even if Dawkins were correct, and our sense of morality is what it is because of evolutionary pressures to survive, it still would not follow that this is what morality should be in the twenty-first century. Dawkins acknowledges this when he says that “those rules still influence us today, even where circumstances make them inappropriate to their original function.” (p 222) In short, even if Dawkins’ is correct concerning his view of the evolutionary basis for morality, that says nothing about what morality should be today. In fact the only thing Dawkins would have succeeded in doing it arguing that morality is at best a residue of the evolutionary process, and there is no reason it should hold any automatic power over our actions.
In fact the only principle left would really be “might makes right.” Whoever has the power, would determine right and wrong. Of course the problem here is that had Dawkins view been accepted earlier, for example before much of the progress in civil and human rights over the last couple of hundred years, there would have been no reason to make those changes, and they very likely would never have happened.
The belief in human rights is grounded in the belief that we are all created in the image of God, and what God has given, no one can arbitrarily take away, not even the king. The anti-slavery movement was not grounded in Darwinian reasons, but in religious belief, in particular in the belief that slaves were men with rights. Luckily those views became well entrenched before Darwin put forth his theory, as I am not at all sure that had the ideas of evolution become entrenched first, whether an anti-slavery movement could have ever taken root.
This is Elgin Hushbeck, asking you to Consider Christianity: a Faith Based on Fact.