Friday, March 23, 2007

Moral musing

I’m not sure what it is that makes Richard Dawkins a moral man.

Don’t get me wrong – I’m sure that he is ... I just don’t see how from The God Delusion.

An oft-heard criticism that he seeks to deal with is ‘atheists must be immoral because they reject the supernatural yardstick of morality, so how do we know right and wrong?’ It becomes a flawed argument just by looking at atheists who do somehow manage to be moral: not stealing, not murdering, not raping, not lying ... etc. But Dawkins of course goes a step further and seeks a Darwinian explanation for morality, which frankly never really convinces.

I’m sure he doesn’t believe Hitler was evil only because he failed to meet one of the four Darwinian explanations of morality that Dawkins offers, and he doesn’t believe good things are only good because they can lead to great art like Romeo & Juliet (which he says they do). But I wish I understood what he does base his own morality on; because while most of us, including I expect him, can get by on the gut feeling of knowing it when we see it, that’s not always the most reliable guide and it certainly isn’t scientific.

Uncle Ben’s take: we by and large know what’s moral because that’s how the universe is made in order to function best.

In the last part of the book, Dawkins moves on to the decidedly iffy bits of the Bible that deal with mass genocide etc. in the name of the God of Love. For which, I think, a separate post is needed.

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