Anglican Samizdat

April 28, 2009

Richard Dawkins: the 4 commandments

Filed under: evolution — David Jenkins @ 1:45 pm
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In his book, “River Out of Eden: A Darwinian View of Life” Richard Dawkins maintains:

“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.”

This is an honest, bleak assessment of a universe without God. Dawkins does not manage to live down to his own belief system, however: in “The God Delusion“, in spite of the absence of good or evil, Dawkins maintains that atheists can be “moral”.

What does it mean to be “moral” in Richard Dawkins’ view? Here, we find the 4 commandments, written in naturally selected primeval  soup, fossilised  and handed personally to Richard by Darwin himself:

Richard Dawkins’s Commandments

1. Enjoy your own sex life (so long as it damages nobody else) and leave others to enjoy theirs in private whatever their inclinations, which are none of your business.

2. Do not discriminate or oppress on the basis of sex, race or (as far as possible) species.

3. Do not indoctrinate your children. Teach them how to think for themselves, how to evaluate science, and how to disagree with you.

4. Value the future of things on a timescale longer than your own.

It would be hard for any belief system to come up with a more bumper-sticker-worthy set of banalities.

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12 Comments

  1. “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.”

    If this were true then there’d be no such thing as morality. The values of a Hitler would be as valid as those of a Gandhi, since there are no values — no honour, no pity, no mercy, no compassion — in the natural world.

    That’s the trouble with Dawkins and his ilk. They always claim to be logical, yet they never really think anything through.

    Comment by Ellie M. — April 28, 2009 @ 3:51 pm

  2. “If this were true then there’d be no such thing as morality.”

    Incorrect. There’s no such thing as morality beyond what humans create for themselves.

    And no, they aren’t all valid. We can test different moralities against themselves and determine which are better, depending on what we value.

    Even the Christians don’t believe in any actual morality, at least not according to their scripture. They just do what their god tells them…and if that involves committing genocide, or human sacrifice, or stoning people to death for minor crimes, so be it. The guy with the most power told them to do it, so they have to. That’s not morality. That’s bowing to authority.

    Comment by morsec0de — April 29, 2009 @ 9:06 am

  3. “We can test different moralities against themselves and determine which are better, depending on what we value.”

    This is simply moral relativism, which is the same as no morality at all. “Better” is a wholly subjective judgment. Hitler would have said his way of thinking was “better” than yours. So would a crocodile, if it could talk. In fact the crocodile, in following the law of the jungle which is the only natural law there is, would have the best argument of all for his code of conduct.

    “Even the Christians don’t believe in any actual morality”

    Sigh. I present an argument, you respond with — what? No facts, no stats, just baseless sweeping generalities. You merely reaffirm my belief that atheists are not logical thinkers.

    Comment by Ellie M. — April 29, 2009 @ 9:38 am

  4. ““Better” is a wholly subjective judgment.”

    Only if you have no way of testing such things. Luckily, we have the scientific method and an understanding of harm and benefit.

    Comment by morsec0de — April 29, 2009 @ 10:12 am

  5. There is no such thing as a “scientific” test for morality. Science has no built-in code of ethics as such and no interest in anything outside the realm of the provable.

    One person’s “harm” can be another person’s “benefit”. These too are relative terms only. The crocodile would consider that the harm he does to the animals he eats is mitigated by the nutritional benefit he gets from them. Likewise, there have been human societies where pillage and raids on other tribes were considered not only necessary but honourable activities. It was a way to feed your family.

    If you are arguing that harmonious societies are “better” because people in them live more comfortably, or that they enable trade to flourish, then you are making an argument based on convenience and practicality, not morality at all. True morality is doing something because it is the *right* thing to do, not because it puts bread on the table or makes you prosper financially. True moral behaviour has no expectation of reward.

    Comment by Ellie M. — April 29, 2009 @ 11:09 am

  6. “One person’s “harm” can be another person’s “benefit”.”

    Scientifically, you are incorrect.

    If you take a hammer and break my arm because you dislike me, then that is demonstrably harmful.

    The key to good morality is finding actions that create the most benefit and the least harm.

    “True morality is doing something because it is the *right* thing to do, not because it puts bread on the table or makes you prosper financially. True moral behaviour has no expectation of reward.”

    Which again seems to demonstrate that a huge swath of Christians don’t have morality. They merely do things they think their god wants because they get to go to heaven, and avoid hell.

    Comment by morsec0de — April 29, 2009 @ 12:01 pm

  7. Morsecode: once again you are dealing in generalities. And your argument about the hammer is specious. I said harm “can be” to another person’s benefit, not that it “always is”. Plus, there are many subjective definitions of “harm”.

    “Christians . . . merely do things they think their god wants because they get to go to heaven, and avoid hell.”

    Morse, you don’t know much about Christians, do you?

    At the risk of being offensive, may I ask how old you are? Because your reasoning is very much what I would expect of a young and inexperienced person. Your posts contain no facts, no research, no understanding of the subjects involved, and a great deal of blind prejudice. You need to get out a bit more.

    Comment by Ellie M. — April 29, 2009 @ 12:46 pm

  8. “Morse, you don’t know much about Christians, do you?”

    I know quite a bit, talking to them often and having been one for the majority of my life. And my statement about huge swaths of them stands.

    I have even been told, point blank by a fundamentalist, that if it weren’t for his belief in the Christian god he would steal and rape and kill.

    I quite understandably told him that I hope he keeps his belief.

    “Plus, there are many subjective definitions of “harm”.”

    And I wasn’t talking about those. I’m talking about real, objective, demonstrable harm.

    Comment by morsec0de — April 29, 2009 @ 1:01 pm

  9. Morse, do you know what “anecdotal evidence” is? No reputable researcher would ever rely on it, but that’s exactly what you’re presenting to me as evidence to support your view.

    Not very scientific.

    Comment by Ellie M. — April 29, 2009 @ 5:29 pm

  10. When dealing with things people have told you about their own beliefs, all one has is anecdotal evidence.

    Unless, of course, you can read minds.

    Comment by morsec0de — April 29, 2009 @ 10:47 pm

  11. Right, so, I know this conversation ended about a month ago, and also I’m only 16, so I don’t pretend to know a lot, but I have two things to add. The first is a valid point, in my opinion. The second may or may not be. Like I said, I’m 16, I don’t know that much.

    1. Christianity has nothing to do with rewarding people because they were good or punishing people because they were bad. The Bible preaches salvation by grace. Whether that’s preferable to “good works” or not is up for discussion, and the fact that even many Christians think the “good works” will get them into heaven does make the idea relevant in discussions of Christianity too, I suppose, even if it isn’t Biblical.

    2. “The key to good morality is finding actions that create the most benefit and the least harm.” – Morsec0de

    Why is that how morality should be defined? What scientific method can be used to establish that “more benefit and less harm” is the same as “the right thing to do”? You can try to use the scientific method to establish which system of thought is the best means to an end, but why is that particular end the one you should be working towards?

    It just seems like “the right thing to do” is always a belief. It can’t be defined rationally. You can’t “reason” yourself to it. You have to start with a premis, like “The key to good morality is finding actions that create the most benefit and the least harm”, and that isn’t based on anything. That’s just what “the right thing” means to you. There is no rational argument that says that’s what it should mean to other people. Like morsec0de said himself, “We can test different moralities and determine which are better, depending on what we value.” DEPENDING on what we value. How did we rationally establish what should be valued? We can’t, it seems to me.

    No matter how rational you were after the irrational absolutist statement, which could be “more benefit and less harm is morality” or innumerable other things, the first step, the bit everything else is based on, is always irrational and subjective. So how can there be any claim of science and reason?

    Comment by Marie — June 25, 2009 @ 7:10 pm

  12. Ha, TWO months ago, my bad.

    Comment by Marie — June 25, 2009 @ 7:12 pm


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