Does Morality Require Belief In

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There is a strategic reason why Richard Dawkins and the other new atheists want readers to think that faith in God functions for believers as a necessary sanction for rules oi conduct. II one begins w ith this broad premise, then an easy way to invalidate theism is to show that morality has a purely natural explanation, If we can be good without God, then a major stone in the pillar of faith is removed, and complete collapse follows. In two of the more revealing chapters (6 and 7) of The God Delusion, Dawkins tries as hard as he can to convince readers that the main point of the Bible should be, to use A, N. Whitehead's words* the ' insistence upon rules of conduct." Apparently Dawkins thinks that this is fundamentally what the Good Book is for, and he assumes rhe rest of us should too. The Bible, Dawkins must have decided long ago, is intended to be essentially a compendium of 'rules for living, either by direct instruction, as in the Ten Commandments, or by providing "role models" for our own behavior (237-627), It has failed on both accounts, he argues. Hltchens agrees with Dawkins and has nothing else to add, so my focus here is primarily on the Oxford evolutionist.

As regards direct instructions for conduct, Dawkins himself, with the help of several of his favorite Web sites, can come up with a better ser of commandments than Yahwch gave us, including: "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" (263-64). As for ethical role models, the Bible has no good ones to offer either, starting with God. God comes off as "arguably the most unpleasant character in all fiction; jealous and proud of it; a petty, unjust, unforgiving control-freak; a vindictive, bloodthirsty ethnic cleanser; a misogynistic, homophobic, racist, infantieidah genocidal, fiiicidah pestilential, megalomaniacal, sadomasochistic, capriciously malevolent bully*' (31). No wonder Abraham, Noah, and Moses are such shady characters also. Just consider their role model.

Jesus is a ''huge improvement, ' but his ethnocentrism is still a scandal, and his critical posture toward his own mother and siblings is not one to promote family values (250). Furthermore, the entire Christian drama of redemption is morally perverse: "If God wanted to forgive our stns, why not just forgive them, without having himself tortured and executed in payment—thereby, incidentally, condemning remote future generations of Jews to pogroms and persecution as Christ-killers: did that hereditary sin pass down in the semen too?" (253). Whyi then, would anyone call the Bible a.good book?

So, having first tried to convince us that the main point of biblical religion is to provide moral edification, and, second, having demonstrated that it has failed miserably in doing so, Dawkins s third and main task is to point out that in fact most of us do nor stoop so low as to make the Bible the source and inspiration of our moral lives anyway. In this w ay he intends to emancipate morality completely from religion, in fact, however, Dawkins strays off course on all three counts, starting with his opening premise. Even though many theists may agree with Dawkins that morality is the main point of biblical religion, it is not. The main point is to have faith, trust, and hope in God. Morality is secondary, and the principle underlying biblical ethics is that our conduct should be shaped with respect to others by the trust that Gods promise of ultimate liberation will eventually come to pass. When we fail to trust in a compelling and noble vision of human and cosmic destiny, we then make conduct the main point of religion. The result is hypocrisy, self-salvation, perfectionism, and the crushing of life out of people. These attitudes and actions come under severe criticism by the prophets, Jesus, Paul, and most Christian theologians.

Because he is wrong on the first claim in his argument, Dawkins cannot defend his second and third points either. Having acquired his most striking theological comments from the likes of comedian George Carlim humorist writer Douglas Adams, and The Skeptic Magazine, Dawkinss discussion of morality and the Bible is a remarkable display of ignorance and foolish sarcasm. I do not enjoy speaking in such a blunt manner about any writer, but not to do so here would be evasive, What is most lamentable about Dawkinss discussion is that it completely misses the moral core of Judaism and Christianity the emphasis on justice and what has come to be known as God s preferential option for the poor and disadvantaged. To maintain that we can understand modern and contemporary social justice, civil rights, and liberation movements without any reference to Amos, Hosea, Isaiah, Micah, Jesus, and other biblical prophets makes Dawkins $ treatment of morality and foith almost unworthy of comment.

What does deserve comment, however, is Dawkinss attempt to explain morality as a purely natural phenomenon, if morality does not depend on religious faith, then how is one to explain it? Why are we moral beings at all? Although there are older psychological and sociological theories available, today the figure of Charles Darwin stands ready once again to provide the needed explanation. Dawkins seems quite certain that the modern biological synthesis of Darwins notion of selection with the more recent field of genetics can demonstrate that human morality, no less than the behavior of other animals, is the product of impersonal evolutionary invention rather than a tree human response to an eternal goodness. Briefly, his argument is that we humans are moral beings at this time in natural history not because of any direct or indirect revelation by God of moral absolutes, but because our genes long ago fashioned human organisms whose virtuous behavior increased the probability that their genes would survive into future generations. In this way Darwinian biology provides the ultimate explanation of morality.

As wre saw7 in the previous chapter, Dawrkins and many other evolutionists have concluded that natural selection applies more precisely to the population of genes shared by members of a species than to individual organisms.1 Biology indicates that we are moral because being good has contributed to human gene survival. Thus, no need i or theological accounts exists.4 According to the major religious traditions, altruism is the high point of moral existence, and selfless love especially convinces believers of the divine origin of human ethics. But evolutionists today think they can trace the origin of such precious virtues to unintended, accidental genetic occurrences that programmed some of our ancestors to be more cooperative and altruistic than others. Ancestral populations in which plenty of genes for cooperative and generous behavior were spread around had a better chance of surviving and reproducing than those not so enriched. Gene survival, not God, is the ultimate source of our moral instincts.

Altruism emerged at least faintly much earlier in evolution than humans did, and something like morality is already present in the mutual "cooperation observable, for example, in ant colonies, Technically 'altruism' in evolutionary biology means putting ones own genetic future at risk for the sake of the survival oí the larger population of genes one shares with ones kin. For example, in ant colonies the workers' w ill nor pass on their own genes since they are sterile, but their self-sacrifice contributes to the survival of the whole colony and thus to inclusive fitness. ilA single ant or honey bee/1 Matt Ridley notes, L*is as feeble and doomed as a severed finger. Attached to its colony, though, it is as useful as a thumb. It serves the greater good of its colony, sacrificing its reproduction and risking its life oil behalf of the coionv. ^

Instances of this kind of altruism abound in the animal kingdom where it is a purely natural evolutionary development, So the fact that altruism and self-sacrifice occur also ¡n the human species does not require a theological underpinning any more than does cooperation in the world o( social insects. If ants don't need God to he dutiful, why should we? Morality is purely natural, so even our highest moral ideals have not descended from on high. Religious believers are under the illusion that moral imperatives have their origin in the mind of a divine lawgiver, and this gives our precepts a fictitious aura of authority, but from a Darwinian point of view human morality is a purely natural outcome of our genes' need for immortality. It may seem that when we are virtuous we are motivated by eternal values, but Dawkins knows better. It is not God* but genes that are orchestrating the entire drama of ethical existence.

Dawkins realizes» of course, that moral life is much more complicated than animal behavior and that cultural factors are also important in shaping ethical life, Stilh he remains adamant that morality is ultimately natural rather than divine in origin. At this point, however, his argument suddenly falls apart. As in his evolutionary ^explanation" of religion, Dawkins begins by promising a fully naturalistic theory, but then he proceeds to modulate his promise of Darwinian elucidation to a point where in the end biology has very little to do with human virtue either. Dawrkins eventually admits—in a colossal understatement—that evolutionists should not "mis-state the reach of natural selection (220). All of a sudden he confesses that human characteristics that at one time served the cause of gene survival 'sometimes misfire, in which case they may no longer promote gene survival (220), For example, an intelligent couple may engage in sexual activity even though they realize that, if the woman is taking the birth control pill, it will not lead to procreation. Their exercise of sexual instinct is an evolutionary "misfiring/5 a * by-product," a "mistake/1 For Dawkins, these terms have no pejorative connotations for there are a host of "blessed" Darwinian mishrings or mistakes in human behavior. Indeed, one of these is "the urge to kindness—to altruism, to generosity, to empathy, to pity* (221), In other words> natural selection at this juncture in Hawkins's exposition turns out to have little or nothing to do with virtue except to have guaran-

so, as no red above, he has thereby in effect abandoned the project of naturalistic justification of morality and is faced with the even more daunting task of showing how one kind of misfiring is better than another For at the stage of misfiring, Dawkins watches the rockets of morality and religion suddenly jettison their evolutionary booster and separate themselves cleanly from natural history. Here in effect Dawkins unconsciously falls back into the very dualism of nature and human existence that naturalism deliberately tries to disown. As long as he formally insists that all virtue can be accounted for ultimately in a purely natural and specifically Darwinian manner, the question remains as to where along the way the values he appeals to in his attack on religion acquired their authority. Ir does not help matters to claim subsequently that purely human creativity determines our moral values, since their cultural relativity7 still raises questions about how these values can avoid the aura of arbitrariness.

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