February 2008
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Elgin’s Books


  • Christianity and Secularism

  • Evidence for the Bible


  • A Review of Richard Dawkins’ The God Delusion Part XVI

     Listen to the MP3  

    In the last installment of my review of Richard Dawkins’, “The God Delusion” I looked at Dawkins’ arguments for why we can’t use the Bible as the basis for our morality. But if we cannot use the Bible then where should we get our morals?

    For Dawkins, the answer to this question is the Moral Zeitgeist, which Dawkins sees as “a consensus about what we do as a matter of fact consider right and wrong: a consensus that prevails surprisingly widely.” (pg 262).

    Now there is some truth to this statement.  Certainly there is a Moral Zeitgeist, a general consensus about right and wrong, and Dawkins easily shows this by pointing out a whole list of historical examples of things that were acceptable during their time, but which would be condemned today. 

    In fact as I have frequently argued, to properly understand people in the past one must understand the general consensus of the times.  While very common, it is grossly unfair to condemn those in the past who broke with the conventions of their day to move society forward, simply because they did not quite meet our current standards.

    So when it comes to the existence of a Moral Zeitgeist, Dawkins is on solid ground. Where he runs into problems is when he goes beyond the existence of the Moral Zeitgeist and argues that this should be the foundation for our morality, something it cannot be. His claim that it is, is simply irrational.

    To see this consider the following statement by Dawkins, “The Zeitgeist may move, and move in a generally progressive direction, but as I have said it is a sawtooth not a smooth improvement, and there have been some appalling reversals.” (pg 272)

    While a seemingly innocuous statement, it actually completely undermines Dawkins claim. If Dawkins were correct and the Zeitgeist did in fact define our morality, then there could be no concept of progress or reversal.  Whatever the Zeitgeist said was good, would be good, and whatever the Zeitgeist said was evil would be evil. In those areas today where the Moral Zeitgeist allow slavery, slavery would be good. In those areas where family members should kill a daughter who was raped to so as to end the dishonor to the family, then it would be a good thing to kill a daughter who was raped.  That would be the moral Zeitgeist.

    If slavery were to be reintroduced, or honor killing introduced into 21st century America, and sadly both honor killing and slavery, though thankfully rare are beginning to occur here, it could not be seen as a step backward, but merely a change, for again it would be the moral Zeitgeist that ultimately determined right and wrong, and thus there would be no way to say that one Moral Zeitgeist was any better than any other Moral Zeitgeist. 

    The very fact that Dawkins talks of a “generally progressive direction” and “appalling reversals,” shows that there must be something beyond the Moral Zeitgeist that is actually the foundation for morality. 

    In fact without such a foundation, there would be no reason to even change the Zeitgeist.  Slavery was ended when Christians argued that it was immoral, regardless of what the Zeitgeist said.  In fact most of the improvements Dawkins cites were brought about by people, often with Christians in the lead, arguing that these things were wrong, thereby changing the Moral Zeitgeist of their time.

    Ultimately, Dawkins view is completely unworkable, for if it were true, how could anyone argue anything it terms of morality?  In fact all of Dawkins arguments discussed earlier about the immorality of the Bible would be meaningless. They would not be things to condemn as Dawkins attempts to do, they would simply be a different moral Zeitgeist and again there would be no way to say that our current Zeitgeist is any better or worse than any other Zeitgeist.

    In short, Dawkins wants to have it both ways. His view of morality is firmly grounded and should be accepted, so much so that he condemns those who disagree with his view.  Yet if we subject his moral views to the same scrutiny, they fall apart.

    Whether one agrees with Christian morality or not, at least Christians have a foundation upon which to base their moral views. At least Christians have a basis to say that Society has improved, and not just changed.  At least Christians have a track record that puts them in the forefront of the moral advances that society has made. Christianity does not by any means have a perfect record, but it is a good one that on the whole Christians should be proud of.  The strongest criticism that can be mounted against Christian morality is that Christians have not always lived up to the teaching of Jesus.

    In place of this Dawkins proposes a muddled view that is at best logically inconsistent, and one that conflict with his own claims. It is a view that places the greatest good on the same level as the greatest evil, with no means of saying one is any better than the other, except that one may happens to be part of the general outlook of the time.

    The most amazing thing about Dawkins’ claim is that he really believes he is the one with the rational position.

    This is Elgin Hushbeck, asking you to Consider Christianity: a Faith Based on Fact.  

    3 comments on “A Review of Richard Dawkins’ The God Delusion Part XVI

    1. Dishonor killings are not indigenous to the USA. The ones that have occurred here in recent times have been imported.

      Ellen R. Sheeley, Author
      “Reclaiming Honor in Jordan”

    2. Pingback: A Review of Richard Dawkins’ The God Delusion - Summary

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