Richard Dawkins, God, and Blind Indifference

At the recent atheist rally in Washington, DC, keynote speaker Richard Dawkins was quoted as saying the following:

“The universe 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 blind pitiless indifference.”

Dawkins was also quoted as saying the following later in the same talk:

“There is a logical path from religious faith to evil deeds. There is no logical path from atheism to evil deeds.”

The first problem is the obvious contradiction of at first saying there is no evil then later saying religious faith leads to it. But the second item of note is that Dawkins again reinforces the belief that the universe consists entirely of properties — blind, purposeless, indifferent processes that consist of no evil or good. The clear and logical conclusion of such a system is naturalism, the view that says that all that exists are blind natural forces. No supernatural force, no transcendant law giver who tells us what is good or evil. Yet as Dawkins demonstrates, none of us can keep such a system consistently, and we always sneak in a transcendant moral code somewhere. In this case, Dawkins has brought a universal moral code in through the side door and has let us know that religious people have violated it. Where did such a moral system come from, if all that exists are blind, purposeless, indifferent processes?

The moral argument for the existence of God is again reinforced, since Dawkins here clearly shows that he cannot consistenly hold to a system that says the universe is entirely made up of purposeless natural processes. It appears that even Richard Dawkins, whether he will admit it to himself or not, holds that there is a universal good an evil.

The interesting thing to me is that we Christians must keep reminding the atheists that when they claim that the universe is made up of completely natural processes that have blind pittiless indifference, what this really means is that the foundation of their system is entirely natural processes that have blind indifference to moral situations.


About humblesmith

Christian Apologist & Philosopher
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10 Responses to Richard Dawkins, God, and Blind Indifference

  1. Nate says:

    I agree that Dawkins should not have made those kinds of statements. I understand what he was trying to say, but I think he could have phrased it better.

    However, I don’t think it’s true that God is required for morality. We may disagree on where we receive our concept of good and evil, but it’s obvious that most of us have one. Those who don’t are called psychopaths.

    Just as one example, if our idea of good and evil simply came from God, why do we feel uncomfortable with the passages in the Old Testament where God commanded entire nations be wiped out? Shouldn’t we read those passages and immediately feel satisfied that God was honored? Shouldn’t they automatically seem moral to us? Yet they don’t. I think that indicates that our concept of morality works independently of God. Maybe he does exist — but I don’t think morality helps answer that question one way or the other.


    • Elijah says:

      I’m really glad to hear that you are not being close-minded to the existence of God, and that’s something honorable to see.

      Unfortunately, without going into a deep explanation here, I’d have to say that for there to be evil, (which there is), there has to be a basis of ultimate good that we compare that to. For there to be “good”, there has to be a moral law established. For this moral law to be established, there has to be a supreme being who made the laws of the universe like this. That’s one of the simple ways you can philosophically reason that there must be a God (I mean, other people can argue “gods”, but the debate that shows that the Christian God is the only real God is a completely different ball game).

      The Old Testament passages show that God has no tolerance to sin; that’s just one of many reasons to be so thankful that Christ died for us to wash us of our sins, so that way we can stand before God washed clean. The people who did not make any atonement for their sins, and continued to life in a corrupt, horrid lifestyle, had to endure God’s wrath of the sin they were committing. Thank God (literally) that Christ died for our sins.

      The concept of morality doesn’t work independent of God; we have corrupted moral thinking in that we could just assume that it was right for people to sin against God, and it was “wrong” for God to punish the sin. That is not the case; God is justified in all that He does.

  2. Walt says:

    Hmm, I’ll play the Dawkins’ advocate on this. I think the problem here is imprecise language. It seems very different to me to talk about evil and good at the bottom of the universe versus evil deeds. The former refers to an underlying foundation or principle of the universe whereas the latter refers to practical events and actions. I do think it is consistent to say that there are evil deeds even though there is no good or evil at the bottom of the universe just as it is consistent to say that there is suffering even though there is not suffering at the bottom of the universe. To try to say this in as many different ways as possible, I think that “evil deeds” references the ability of living things to suffer whereas “evil at the bottom of the universe” references a transcendental idea. I’m interested to know what you think.

    • humblesmith says:

      To make a distinction between good and evil “at the bottom of the universe” vs. good or evil that is limited to “practical events and actions” is to say there is no ultimate, transcendant good or evil. If this is the case, then everything else that is called good or evil has a limited scope–it would be some sort of cultural or relativistic good or evil, one which applies in only certain situations, locations, or times. In a relativistic view, we cannot look at another group and say they are wrong. If there is “suffering even though there is not suffering at the bottom of the universe” we either have 1) limited, relativistic suffering, or 2) an equivocation of language, or 3) a contradiction. If 1), then we have lost all ability to look at another group and say they are wrong, for their view of good or evil may differ from ours, but are as equally as valid as ours, since there is no transcendant measure of good that applies to the whole universe. In summary, this option pulls the rug out from under Dawkins’ criticism that religion is evil, for he has no objective, universal ground to judge between atheism and reiligion. If 2), then Dawkins is using evil in two different senses without making the distinction clear. It would then be difficult to determine exactly what he means by religion being evil, if he does not mean evil in the common sense. If 3), Dawkins can be ignored, for he makes no sensible statement.

      In reality, Dawkins is making the same mistake that most atheist are forced to make when they deny an ultimate, objective, transcendant law giver at the bottom of the universe. They cannot bring themselves to say that everything is relative, yet they want to deny an objective standard. They want to have their cake and eat it too, and therefore end up in contradictions. Dawkins does this because he is out of his element; if he would stick to his area of technical expertise (biolgogical science) and avoid making statements about philosophy and religion, of which he has poor training, he would not make such mistakes in public.

      • Nate says:

        Those are some good points. It got me wondering: how do any of us know what is good or bad? When you read the Bible’s teachings about proper behavior, does it resonate anywhere inside you as being *true*, or are they simply teachings that you much follow without any specific feelings of rightness or wrongness attached to them? For instance, when the Bible teaches that murder is wrong, does that somehow feel right to you?

        • humblesmith says:

          Not sure I’m fully grasping your question, but that never stopped me from giving an answer 😉
          First, “true” is distinct from “good.” What is true is that which corresponds to reality (“there is a chair in the next room” is only true if there really is a chair there.) By contrast, “good” is a moral statement.
          If you’re asking whether we can know what is right by whether it feels right, I would respond by saying that there is a universal moral law that gives all men a sense of right and wrong, but we are all flawed humans, and the only way we can know what is right is to get direction from an objective source: God. We do not follow a moral code because it “feels right.” If this were true, everyone could be morally just by doing what was right in their own eyes. Instead, we need an objective moral standard which is separate from all men and governs us all.

        • Nate says:

          Thanks for the reply — I wasn’t sure how clear my question would be. 🙂

          We do not follow a moral code because it “feels right.” If this were true, everyone could be morally just by doing what was right in their own eyes. Instead, we need an objective moral standard which is separate from all men and governs us all.

          If this is true, then anything God commanded would be morally right, correct? In other words, when God commanded Abraham to sacrifice Isaac, sacrificing him would have been the moral thing to do. And when God commanded the Israelites to annihilate the Canaanites, it was morally right for them to do it. Would you agree?

          If you’re asking whether we can know what is right by whether it feels right, I would respond by saying that there is a universal moral law that gives all men a sense of right and wrong…

          See, this is what I believe. I think the basics of morality come naturally to us. Maybe we’re just hard-wired that way by nature because we are social organisms, or maybe we’re that way because God created us with some ingrained sense of morality. But either way, we do seem to have an innate idea of what is moral. The specifics of it may vary from person to person and society to society. In the past, “do not kill” applied mostly just to members of your tribe. A society couldn’t function without some agreement on the rules, so these basics were necessary. As we’ve become more “civilized,” many societies have come to realize that people of other groups should have some innate rights as well, since they’re fellow humans. Many people have begun to feel that way toward animals too — at least the ones we’re capable of sympathizing with. We may differ in regard to things like the specific lines of modesty, or whether or not bribery is allowable. But in broad strokes, we all tend to have the same basic ideas of what morality should be. In my opinion, that’s all we really need to know that genocide is wrong, rape is wrong, mutilation is wrong, etc. So in that regard, I think Dawkins had some grounds for his comment.

          What are your thoughts on that?


          • humblesmith says:

            Your first question is, in essence, what has been called “the euthyphro dilemma” after a character in one of Plato’s writings. The dilemma goes like this: are things right just because god says it, or does god say it because it is right? Option 1 supposedly gives an arbitrary god, and option 2 gives us something larger than god that he has to comply by, making god some sort of servant.
            The answer is that neither option is correct. Things are moral because they are consistent with God’s nature; God gives good commands because He is good, and it is his nature to be good. The universe reflects God’s nature.

            As for your second point, you are right on target. We do indeed have an innate sense of moral good, even though we disagree on the the specifics. I have written on this several times… a search in this blog for “morality” and you’ll see several posts.

            The problem with Dawkins is that he first makes it quite clear that he believes there is nothing in existence but matter and energy, in “blind pitiless indifference” as he describes it. If this is the case, then there is no objective sense of mercy. He can’t have his cake and eat it too, which is what he’s trying to do.

          • Nate says:

            As it turns out, we’re only in slight disagreement here. I think regardless of what Dawkins thinks about existence, he agrees with both of us that mankind has an innate sense of general morality. That being that case, I think he can see that something like torture or genocide is evil. I don’t see any cognitive dissonance in his position that matter and energy are indifferent while we as humans are not.

  3. Pingback: Problem of Evil | Thomistic Bent

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