Wednesday, July 27, 2011

"Because I dread the loss of heaven and the fires of hell"

The fun thing about the Irish Times is that opinion pieces spill over onto the letters page and sometimes the discussions go on for weeks. We are still getting reaction to the World Atheist convention that was held in Dublin shortly before our arrival in June. Richard Dawkins was the most prominent participant.

In an opinion piece this past week, the eminent theologian James Mackey took Dawkins, et. al. implicitly to task for proffering evolution as a basis for morality. "The favored ones propagate and survive, while the unfavored and weaker go to the wall; giving the natural rule for limitless success in life is that of survival of the fittest," says Mackey of natural selection.

Of Dawkins he adds: "That is then the rule that human beings should adopt as their moral principle; with a codicil that helping the weak ones is wrong, since such senseless bonhomie serves only to dilute the fitness of the race by helping he unfit."

What a sorry old canard this is. We hear it all the time in the States from Bible Belt televangelists: There is no morality without a God who reveals instructions, with the implication that atheist evolutionists wander in a selfishly amoral wilderness. But to get it from a professor of theology at Trinity College Dublin and the University of Edinburgh is rather disappointing.

Never mind that Dawkins has on many occasions explicitly rejected natural selection as a basis for human morality. At the beginning of The Selfish Gene he writes: "I am not advocating a morality based on evolution. I am saying how things have evolved. I am not saying how we humans morally ought to behave. I stress this, because I know I am in danger of being misunderstood by those people, all too numerous, who cannot distinguish a statement of belief in what is the case from an advocacy of what ought to be the case. My own feeling is that a human society based simply on the gene's law of universal ruthless selfishness would be a very nasty society in which to live."

Yesterday I found a wallet fat with cash on the ground outside the village post office (true!). I also managed to find the owner so I could return it. I didn't return the wallet because a "morality-friendly divinity" (Mackey's phrase) told me to do so, or because I feared the fires of hell. I returned the wallet because I knew that if someone found my wallet I'd want him or her to do the same. It's called the Golden Rule, and it is pretty much universal amongst humans of all religions and none, so much so that I wouldn't be surprised if natural selection hasn't tipped us in that direction. I'd be just as happy for Richard Dawkins to find my wallet as for it to be picked up by Professor Mackey.

So let's lay to rest the stale notion that evolutionists offer "nature red in tooth and claw" as a basis for human relationships. I don't personally know a single evolutionist who believes any such thing, and the theists -- red-neck preachers or learned dons -- who keep banging that dreary old drum are just being mischievous or misinformed.