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He said it: “[t]he universe that 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 pitiless indifference” — professor Richard Dawkins’ cynical manipulation of our moral sensibilities


In recent days, UD contributor Dr V J Torley has rightly taken atheism advocate, professor Richard Dawkins to task for cynical manipulation of our moral sensibilities in his public accusations against Christian philosopher-theologian, Dr William Lane Craig. And that, patently to avoid having to account through a public debate for his many acid fulminations against theism and the Christian faith in particular over the years.

(ADDED, Nov 2/3, NB: it may help to cf. a thought-provoking video here. [NB: This video documents that professor Dawkins is on record that he evidently cannot find a basis for moral objection to infanticide, and that he evidently cannot find a moral basis for objecting to Hitler’s genocide. His projection of moral outrage against Craig etc is therefore credibly manipulative rather than genuine. This is consistent with the long since documented inherent amorality of materialism that is further discussed below.] In case it is needed, this clip documents Dr Craig’s actual view on moral issues, obviously including on genocide. Craig directly responds here, from about 8:15 on, explicitly that the genocide accusation “is a misrepresentation of my position” [8:50], c.9:20 on he clarifies: “dispossess [a debauched culture]” as opposed to “genocide,”  though I still think he has not adequately appreciated the evident non-literal war rhetoric context nor does he address the eternal blood feud issue that nearly 1,000 years later Israel faced while in captivity under Persia. Cf comment here below for more. )

Professor Dawkins now seems to have beaten a hasty retreat behind the poisonously polarised cloud stirred up by his knowingly false accusation of support for genocide.

(And if you think that “knowingly false” is inaccurate, you can rest assured that no sane,  sensible, informed person in our civilisation can seriously entertain the notion that Bible-believing Christians and Christian leaders in particular, support genocide. The accusation plainly was rhetorical  “red meat” tossed out to stir up a distractive, atmosphere-poisoning controversy.)

But that leads to some serious issues.

First, the utter cynicism and turnabout rhetorical tactic manipulation behind Dawkins’ rhetoric can be seen from his 1995 Scientific American Article, “God’s Utility Function” [pp. 80 – 85]:

Nature is not cruel, only pitilessly indifferent. This lesson is one of the hardest for humans to learn. We cannot accept that things might be neither good nor evil, neither cruel nor kind, but simply callous: indifferent to all suffering, lacking all purpose.

We humans have purpose on the brain. We find it difficult to look at anything without wondering what it is “for,” what the motive for it or the purpose behind it might be. The desire to see purpose everywhere is natural in an animal that lives surrounded by machines, works of art, tools and other designed artifacts – an animal whose waking thoughts are dominated by its own goals and aims . . . .

Somewhere between windscreen wipers and tin openers on the one hand, and rocks and the universe on the other, lie living creatures. Living bodies and their organs are objects that, unlike rocks, seem to have purpose written all over them . . . . The true process that has endowed wings, eyes, beaks, nesting instincts and everything else about life with the strong illusion of purposeful design is now well understood.

It is Darwinian natural selection . . . . The true utility function of life, that which is being maximized in the natural world, is DNA survival. But DNA is not floating free; it is locked up in living bodies, and it has to make the most of the levers of power at its disposal. Genetic sequences that find themselves in cheetah bodies maximize their survival by causing those bodies to kill gazelles. Sequences that find themselves in gazelle bodies increase their chance of survival by promoting opposite ends. But the same utility function-the survival of DNA-explains the “purpose” of both the cheetah [–> i.e. predator]  and the gazelle [–> i.e. prey] . . . .

The total amount of suffering per year in the natural world is beyond all decent contemplation. During the minute that it takes me to compose this sentence, thousands of animals are being eaten alive, many others are running for their lives, whimpering with fear, others are being slowly devoured from within by rasping parasites, thousands of all kinds are dying of starvation, thirst and disease. It must be so. If there is ever a time of plenty, this very fact will automatically lead to an increase in population until the natural state of starvation and misery is restored.

In a universe of electrons and selfish genes, blind physical forces and genetic replication, some people are going to get hurt, other people are going to get lucky, and you won’t find any rhyme or reason in it, nor any justice. The universe that 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 pitiless indifference . . . . DNA neither cares nor knows. DNA just is. And we dance to its music.

[NB: This article raises the issue of the problem of evil, here emphasising the problem of natural evil; probably the strongest argument in the atheists’ arsenal, but one that only works by implicitly assuming that good and evil, thus moral obligation, are real; while ducking the implication that the only valid worldview in a world in which OUGHT is real, is one that has a foundational IS that adequately grounds ought. And materialism — scientific atheism today, has no such is. So, the objecting atheist actually has no grounds to stand on to make the argument; his argument, in the end is self-defeating, and so the proper response is to insist that such an atheist face that issue before proceeding further. (Cf here for a preliminary discussion of the problem of evil from a Christian perspective.)]

Of course, much of Dawkins’ aura of assurance about his views stems from the sort of a priori materialism imposed on the science that Lewontin documented in his infamous 1997 NYRB article, and — while it is often persuasive for a great any people — it is in fact little more than materialist question-begging dressed up in a lab coat. (And, I don’t know of any expensive lab coats.)

Philip Johnson’s rebuke to such a priorism flying the false colours of science and practically certain knowledge is apt:

For scientific materialists the materialism comes first; the science comes thereafter. [[Emphasis original, colour added] We might more accurately term them “materialists employing science.” And if materialism is true, then some materialistic theory of evolution has to be true simply as a matter of logical deduction, regardless of the evidence. That theory will necessarily be at least roughly like neo-Darwinism, in that it will have to involve some combination of random changes and law-like processes capable of producing complicated organisms that (in Dawkins’ words) “give the appearance of having been designed for a purpose.”
. . . .   The debate about creation and evolution is not deadlocked . . . Biblical literalism is not the issue. The issue is whether materialism and rationality are the same thing. Darwinism is based on an a priori commitment to materialism, not on a philosophically neutral assessment of the evidence. Separate the philosophy from the science, and the proud tower collapses. [[Emphasis added.] [[The Unraveling of Scientific Materialism, First Things, 77 (Nov. 1997), pp. 22 – 25.]

In short, Dawkins’ confident manner about the presumed truth of the grand powers of Darwinian natural selection to fashion cheetahs and gazelles — and whales and us etc. —  from ultimately pond scum, should not overawe us.

Also, given this additional perspective from Dawkins’ 1995 article on the moral implications of his selfish gene thesis, we can now see that for Dawkins, appeal to moral sensibilities ends up being little more than a cynical means to persuade by manipulating emotions.  For (as we have just seen above) in his more frank and straightforward moments in more accommodating contexts like Scientific American, he openly admits that, on his materialistic worldview, there is “no evil and no good.” 

In short, evolutionary materialism is utterly amoral.

Which we should take as a grim warning.

And so, we understand how he has mistreated Dr Craig: he acts as one who holds power to manipulate to advance his perceived interests: if the public’s feelings can be so twisted by a false but persuasive accusation against one of those “ignorant, stupid, insane or wicked” backward, anti-science “fundamentalists,” that you are repelled by the dominant idea of God we see in our civilisation, the Judaeo-Christian, Bible-based view, then that is pulling us away from fairy tales to get us to accept Science as the fount of practically all knowledge and truth.

Which to him is as close to good and purpose  — there is no good and no purpose! — as he gets.

“The end justifies the means,” “might makes right,” and “all is fair in love and [culture] war,” etc.

If that is his real underlying view (and the evidence we can see points that way), then the willingness to smear, snip out of context and knowingly falsely accuse make a lot of saddening sense.

It is an effective means to a desired end, and one Dawkins expects to get away with in the major media.

Which, he knows, are in his corner.  As, are many of the elite opinion-influencers and decision-makers of our civilisation.

This cite also underscores the utter moral bankruptcy of materialism as a worldview that has in it no foundational IS capable of bearing the weight of OUGHT. This is a point that should be no surprise. It was long since emphasised by Plato in his The Laws, Bk X, 2350 years ago in 360 BC, when he grimly warned in the voice of the Athenian Stranger:

Ath. [[The avant garde philosophers, teachers and artists c. 400 BC] say that the greatest and fairest things are the work of nature and of chance, the lesser of art [[ i.e. techne], which, receiving from nature the greater and primeval creations, moulds and fashions all those lesser works which are generally termed artificial . . . They say that fire and water, and earth and air [[i.e the classical “material” elements of the cosmos], all exist by nature and chance, and none of them by art, and that as to the bodies which come next in order-earth, and sun, and moon, and stars-they have been created by means of these absolutely inanimate existences. The elements are severally moved by chance and some inherent force according to certain affinities among them-of hot with cold, or of dry with moist, or of soft with hard, and according to all the other accidental admixtures of opposites which have been formed by necessity. After this fashion and in this manner the whole heaven has been created, and all that is in the heaven, as well as animals and all plants, and all the seasons come from these elements, not by the action of mind, as they say, or of any God, or from art, but as I was saying, by nature and chance only . . . .

[[T]hese people would say that the Gods exist not by nature, but by art, and by the laws of states, which are different in different places, according to the agreement of those who make them; and that the honourable is one thing by nature and another thing by law, and that the principles of justice have no existence at all in nature, but that mankind are always disputing about them and altering them; and that the alterations which are made by art and by law have no basis in nature, but are of authority for the moment and at the time at which they are made.– [[Relativism, too, is not new; complete with its radical amorality rooted in a worldview that has no foundational IS that can ground OUGHT. (Cf. here for Locke’s views and sources on a very different base for grounding liberty as opposed to license and resulting anarchistic “every man does what is right in his own eyes” chaos leading to tyranny.)] These, my friends, are the sayings of wise men, poets and prose writers, which find a way into the minds of youth. They are told by them that the highest right is might [[ Evolutionary materialism leads to the promotion of amorality], and in this way the young fall into impieties, under the idea that the Gods are not such as the law bids them imagine; and hence arise factions [[Evolutionary materialism-motivated amorality “naturally” leads to continual contentions and power struggles; cf. dramatisation here],  these philosophers inviting them to lead a true life according to nature, that is, to live in real dominion over others [[such amoral factions, if they gain power, “naturally” tend towards ruthless tyranny; here, too, Plato hints at the career of Alcibiades], and not in legal subjection to them . . .[Jowett translation. Emphases and explanatory parentheses added.]

I’ll bet you never heard this passage in school or college.

Someone will object, that atheists can be decent, upright moral people.

Indeed; only, their worldview has no foundation capable of bearing the weight of ought, so they are left to rely on moral instincts and principles borrowed from other views (often without acknowledgement and sometimes set up in dangerous isolation from balancing principles . . . ) sustained by the feeling that this is right in the face of cynical manipulations and a general tendency — present in every culture and every era — of morality to decline in the face of the corrupting influences of power and dissipation.

And, of course, those who have agendas to promote popular or politically correct sins simply selectively appeal to the underlying amorality of evolutionary materialistic scientism, to chip away at whatever shreds of moral consensus remains from past eras.

It is not for no reason that Will Hawthorne warns us:

Assume (per impossibile) that atheistic naturalism [[= evolutionary materialism] is true. Assume, furthermore, that one can’t infer an ‘ought’ from an ‘is’ [[the ‘is’ being in this context physicalist: matter-energy, space- time, chance and mechanical forces].  (Richard Dawkins and many other atheists should grant both of these assumptions.)

Given our second assumption, there is no description of anything in the natural world from which we can infer an ‘ought’. And given our first assumption, there is nothing that exists over and above the natural world; the natural world is all that there is. It follows logically that, for any action you care to pick, there’s no description of anything in the natural world from which we can infer that one ought to refrain from performing that action.

Add a further uncontroversial assumption: an action is permissible if and only if it’s not the case that one ought to refrain from performing that action . . . [[We see] therefore, for any action you care to pick, it’s permissible to perform that action. If you’d like, you can take this as the meat behind the slogan ‘if atheism is true, all things are permitted’.

For example if atheism is true, every action Hitler performed was permissible. Many atheists don’t like this consequence of their worldview. But they cannot escape it and insist that they are being logical at the same time.

Now, we all know that at least some actions are really not permissible (for example, racist actions). Since the conclusion of the argument denies this, there must be a problem somewhere in the argument. Could the argument be invalid? No. The argument has not violated a single rule of logic and all inferences were made explicit.

Thus we are forced to deny the truth of one of the assumptions we started out with. That means we either deny atheistic naturalism or (the more intuitively appealing) principle that one can’t infer ‘ought’ from [[a material] ‘is’. [[Emphases and paragraphing added.]

We need to think, very soberly indeed, about where a priori materialistic evolutionary materialism dressed in the holy lab coat, is taking our civilisation. END