Tuesday, August 28, 2007

An Atheist Notion of Evil?

I just finished watching this interview (about an hour and 10 minutes long) between Christian theologian and apologist Alister McGrath and atheist Richard Dawkins (author of The God Delusion). One of the things I was struck by in Dawkins’ responses was his reference to morality, good, right and evil. In fact, this interchange was originally shot for Dawkins BBC documentary, which was entitled The Root of All Evil, although it was not included in the final edit. At one point, Dawkins speaks of something he considered to be “deeply evil.”

To speak of morality, of course, implies that there is also immorality. Talk of what is right implies that there is also that which is wrong. And Dawkins, in the course of this piece, spoke of both good and evil.

What strikes me about all this is that Dawkins is an atheist. That is, he believes that there is no God; that the universe has no personal creator, that it is all nothing more than a matter of … well, matter.

So where does the idea of morality/immorality, good/evil and right/wrong come from? If the universe is nothing more than a material conglomeration, then all that exists simply exists. It is what it is, neither good nor evil, moral nor immoral, right nor wrong. To say that something is moral or immoral requires a standard that goes beyond the material world. Such distinctions as good and evil do not arise from the world itself.

In short, all talk about good and evil, etc., implies the existence of an arbiter which transcends the natural realm, a lawgiver, the dictates of which must be followed, even a judge to whom we owe accountability. Such an entity sounds very much like what we would call God.

It seems that Dawkins wants to have it both ways. On the one hand, he wishes to be an atheist, denying the existence of such a being as God to whom he must be accountable. On the other hand, he wants to hold on to the notion of good and evil, which implies an accountability that the material universe does not and cannot require. Of course, inasmuch as Dawkins does speak of good and evil, and even of morality, it would appear that he reserves the role of arbitration to himself, in effect, making himself his own god.

That is the ancient deception offered by the serpent in the Garden of Eden. He tempted Adam and Eve to eat of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil, promising that they would be like God (Genesis 3:6). There were a number of problems with that, or course. For one thing, God specifically commanded them not to. For another thing, they were trying to be like God all on their own, quite apart from God — which was quite ironic because God created them to be like Him (Genesis 1:26-28), but it could only work in relationship with Him. Likewise, they were trying to know good and evil apart from relationship with God, instead of in relationship with Him, and that is always a disaster.

That is the Dawkins delusion.


  1. Anonymous1:02 PM

    I'd love to tell you why what you say is wrong and insulting to Atheists, but I've tackled this issue too many times. Please, visit http://atheocracy.wordpress.com and contribute to the discussion. You'll find several posts talking about this very subject, and you'll also find Christian commenters who provide balance. You're welcome to join in if you choose. Have a good afternoon, Jeff.

  2. No one should take my comments as an insult to atheists. I do not in any way mean that atheists cannot live good, decent and moral lives. I'm sure that there are many atheists who do. Rather, my point is that such does not result as a natural, logical consequence of atheism.

    When Dawkins speaks about morality, good, right and things which are "deeply evil," he is not being consistent with the atheistic position he espouses. Atheism has no basis to suppose anything is moral or immoral, good or evil, right or wrong. If the universe is nothing more than physical matter, the categories of goodness and morality are irrelevant. Everything is simply what it is, with no reason for making evaluative distinctions.

    That atheists can and do take moral positions, seek after good and are grieved by evil--as, no doubt, many are--is simply an indicator that they are borrowing categories of goodness and morality from other places, and not from their own declared belief that there is no God.

    So it should not be taken as an insult for me to point out the inconsistencies between what atheists profess and how they actually live. I greatly appreciate that many, or most, atheists, do good and live morally. That they do so is totally irrelevant to the premise of atheism. They are living better than their premise requires.