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Why is Richard Dawkins a “passionate anti-Darwinian when it comes to politics”

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Possibly because Darwinism need not be internally consistent or make sense?

Starting our religion coverage for the week, we will give the first word to famous atheist, Richard Dawkins. Dawkins is an anti-Darwinist where social issues are concerned.

A friend writes to say, that Dawkins did not come to this view recently:

Paul Copan and Matthew Flannagan quote Dawkins’s 2003 book A Devil’s Chaplain (p. 10-11): “But at the same time as I support Darwinism as a scientist, I am a passionate anti-Darwinian when it comes to politics and how we should conduct our human affairs.”

But what is the basis of anti-Darwinism if what he otherwise believes is true? Most people worldwide who advocate justice and charity believe that these qualities and resulting practices accord with the real ultimate nature of the universe.

If the qualities and practices did not accord with the real ultimate nature of the universe, why would it be a good thing to believe and practise them? Do they have a higher survival value than Darwinism? And if so, …

Also, there is this:

There have in the past been attempts to base a morality on evolution. I don’t want to have anything to do with that. The kind of world that a Darwinian, going back to survival of the fittest now, and nature red in tooth and claw, I think nature really is red in tooth and claw.

I think if you look out at the way wild nature is, out there in the bush, in the prairie, it is extremely ruthless, extremely unpleasant, it’s exactly the kind of world that I would not wish to live in. And so any kind of politics that is based upon Darwinism for me would be bad politics, it would be immoral.

Putting it another way, I’m a passionate Darwinian when it comes to science, when it comes to explaining the world, but I’m a passionate anti-Darwinian when it comes to morality and politics. – DAWKINS, Richard (2000) The Descent of Man (Episode 1: The Moral Animal) (a series of radio shows, broadcast in Jan. and February 2000 by the Australian Broadcasting Corporation, produced by Tom Morton) More.

Cameron Wybrow explores the tension in Dawkins’s thinking on ethics in an article in Salvo 18 about 3 years ago, riffing off the X-men:

How there can be ethics in a world where the ultimate reality is dog-eat-dog competition, and in which the idea of the “nature” of anything—including a “human nature” that binds us to obey certain moral precepts in our behavior toward each other—is highly problematic?

I myself side with Professor X, and with Dawkins and Arnhart, on the reality of ethical obligations; but unlike them, I do not accept the Darwinian premise that creates the contradiction in their thought. If pure Darwinism is the ultimate truth about human nature, then Magneto is right: Xavier’s case for humanity does not have a leg to stand on (no pun intended), and the moral sentimentality of Dawkins and the political conservatism of Arnhart are indefensible.

Also, full text of note 2 from the Introduction to Paul Copan and Matthew Flannagan, Did God Really Command Genocide? (Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 2014), 319:

Dawkins spells out the contradiction: “As an academic scientist, I am a passionate Darwinian, believing that natural selection is, if not the only driving force in evolution, certainly the only known force capable of producing the illusion of purpose which so strikes all who contemplate nature. “But at the same time as I support Darwinism as a scientist, I am a passionate anti-Darwinian when it comes to politics and how we should conduct our human affairs.” A Devil’s Chaplain: Reflections on Hope, Lies, Science, and Love (New York: Houghton Mifflin, 2003), 10-11.

In 2006, he also wrote in Edge magazine:

But doesn’t a truly scientific, mechanistic view of the nervous system make nonsense of the very idea of responsibility, whether diminished or not? Any crime, however heinous, is in principle to be blamed on antecedent conditions acting through the accused’s physiology, heredity and environment. Don’t judicial hearings to decide questions of blame or diminished responsibility make as little sense for a faulty man as for a Fawlty car? [“Fawlty car” refers to a skit on the British show Fawlty Towers in which a man beats his car for not working properly.]

Why is it that we humans find it almost impossible to accept such conclusions? Why do we vent such visceral hatred on child murderers, or on thuggish vandals, when we should simply regard them as faulty units that need fixing or replacing? Presumably because mental constructs like blame and responsibility, indeed evil and good, are built into our brains by millennia of Darwinian evolution. Assigning blame and responsibility is an aspect of the useful fiction of intentional agents that we construct in our brains as a means of short-cutting a truer analysis of what is going on in the world in which we have to live. My dangerous idea is that we shall eventually grow out of all this and even learn to laugh at it, just as we laugh at Basil Fawlty when he beats his car. But I fear it is unlikely that I shall ever reach that level of enlightenment.

Actually, it isn’t a form of enlightenment at all. It always turns tyrannous. That’s because, once one thinks that people have no free, rational reasons for thinking or choosing what they do, it is reasonable to overrule them for their own or the public good. That’s why we commit mental patients.

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7 Replies to “Why is Richard Dawkins a “passionate anti-Darwinian when it comes to politics”

  1. 1
    Seversky says:

    Possibly because Darwinism need not be internally consistent or make sense?

    No, because you cannot logically derive ‘ought’ from ‘is’. The fact the the world of living things might be shaped along Darwinian lines is does not mean that human societies should be so organized.

    But what is the basis of anti-Darwinism if what he otherwise believes is true?

    Good question. Why should people be so against the world being the way that it is – especially if it was created by their God?

    Cameron Wybrow explores the tension in Dawkins’s thinking on ethics in an article in Salvo 18 about 3 years ago, riffing off the X-men:

    How there can be ethics in a world where the ultimate reality is dog-eat-dog competition, and in which the idea of the “nature” of anything—including a “human nature” that binds us to obey certain moral precepts in our behavior toward each other—is highly problematic?

    This is such a dumb question. I don’t understand why it keeps coming up. What is to prevent us from working out our own moral and ethical systems? If Christians believe that their God is the only authoritative source of morals then how did He derive them? Were they created on a whim, by the toss of a divine coin? If so, what possible value can they have? And if they were created by a rational process then what is to prevent us, as (sometimes) rational creatures from doing the same?

    And of those who feel that morality must have some ultimate rock-solid grounding, I would ask what is the basis of yours?

  2. 2
    humbled says:

    You’re still missing the point. Regardless of how much you protest and argue, if God doesn’t exist, neither do we. You of course will agree as your high priests have declared it so. Without God, conciousness does not exist. The illusion of “me” is simply random materialistic forces firing away in your noggin. You don’t actually exist. Therefore, there is no morality.. Why should there be? Why should we trust anything we think?

  3. 3
    Henry Crun says:

    It is nonsense to claim that if God doesn’t exist then neither do we. The evidence that we exist is very strong; the evidence that God exists is nonexistent. And there is no logical reason why our existence is dependent upon God’s.

  4. 4
    JDH says:

    Henry Crun,

    I don’t think you understand the argument. The strong evidence that “WE” exist IS part of the strong evidence that “GOD” exists.

    “WE” existing, and all its implications, argues for a concept of self. A concept of self, and a concept of the SHOULD or OUGHT which we readily apply to ourselves and other, are strong arguments for the existence of God.

    IF you doubt this just look at all the failures of materialists to consistently follow ( as Dawkins is high-lighted above ) the results of their own arguments.

  5. 5
    Mung says:

    “And there is no logical reason why our existence is dependent upon God’s.”

    What have logic and reason got to do with it?

  6. 6
    Seversky says:

    I see assertions that our existence necessarily implies the existence of God but I don’t see any explanation of why that should be the case.

    The nature of our sense of ‘self’ is indeed a difficult problem. I have a sense of ‘me’ that appears to extend decades back in time in an unbroken line. Yet I also know that the ‘me’ that existed at age 5 is very different from the ‘me’ several decades later. Not only have I changed physically almost out of all recognition but I have changed psychologically. In fact, so much do we change over time that it becomes reasonable to ask what, if anything, remains the same? Is there only continuity not identity?

  7. 7
    Henry Crun says:

    JDH,

    That is nonsense. This is not about our existence being evidence for God’s, dubious though that argument is. Let me remind you what humbled said -he said, and I quote: “if God doesn’t exist, neither do we”. I merely pointed out that humbled’s argument is totally fallacious: The evidence that we exist is strong, and it is likely that we do exist. Our existence does not depend on there being a God at all, it stands or falls on the actual evidence for our existence.

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