In his famous work of fiction, The Brothers Karamazov, Dostoyevsky observed, through his character Smerdyakov, “For if there’s no everlasting God, there’s no such thing as virtue, and there’s no need of it.”
That seems to be an accurate reading of things. Without God and immortality, the case for an objective, transcendent moral order is awfully hard to make. And therefore the case for moral obligation is difficult to sustain as well.
If life is simply about survival, and the replication of genes, then things like morality in general and truth-telling in particular seem quite out of place. As an example, atheist Richard Dawkins has been fairly candid about life without God. As he wrote in his 1995 volume, River Out of Eden: A Darwinian View of Life:
“Theologians worry away at the ‘problem of evil’ and a related ‘problem of suffering.’ … On the contrary, if the universe were just electrons and selfish genes, meaningless tragedies… are exactly what we should expect, along with equally meaningless good fortune. Such a universe would be neither evil nor good in intention. It would manifest no intentions of any kind. In a universe of blind physical forces and genetic replication, some people are going to get hurt, other people are going to get lucky, and you won’t find any rhyme or reason in it, nor any justice. 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. As that unhappy poet A.E. Housman put it: ‘For Nature, heartless, witless Nature. Will neither care nor know.’ DNA neither cares nor knows. DNA just is. And we dance to its music.”
Presumably in such a world truth means very little as well. After all, if humans are nothing but a bunch of selfish genes, then why should truth matter at all? If life is simply a purposeless struggle for survival, then why would it show any interest in truth or falsehood?
Such a reductionistic worldview may help to explain why some atheists seem so cavalier with the truth. Indeed, Richard Dawkins has had a bit of a history of stretching the truth and pushing misleading information. The many criticisms of his The God Delusion, even by fellow unbelievers, are a testimony to this.
But it seems poor Richard has been caught out yet again with a bad case of truth decay. The full story is told by English commentator Melanie Phillips: www.spectator.co.uk/melaniephillips/3571996/the-truth-delusion-of-richard-dawkins.thtml#comments
Phillips does a great job of demolishing Dawkins here. She begins with these words: “The most famous atheist in the world, biologist Professor Richard Dawkins, poses as the arch-apostle of reason, a scientist who stands for empirical truth in opposition to obscurantism and lies. What follows suggests that in fact he is sloppy and cavalier with both facts and reasoning to a disturbing degree.”
And she ends with these words: “Unfortunately, he fell flat on his face. From this attempt to tarnish his opponents with the charge of dishonesty, we learn instead that for Richard Dawkins truth is a delusion. Who other than the similarly deluded can ever take him seriously again?”
Please have a read of her entire article, and then come back here for the rest of the story. Mind you, the rest of the story simply gets worse. The part I play in this is two-fold. First, at one point in a recent public presentation Dawkins claims to be quoting from Phillips when in fact he is quoting from me. What he attributes to Phillips comes from an earlier article I wrote about both Dawkins and Phillips: billmuehlenberg.com/2008/10/30/dawkins-deism-and-jesus/#comment-136168
Second, not only can he not even get the authorship question right here, but he has deliberately misquoted me as well. He has done this by sneakily taking two separate remarks of mine and joining them into one paragraph, resulting in a quite misleading statement.
This is the paragraph in question as presented by Dawkins, (but wrongly attributed to Phillips): “Arch-atheist Richard Dawkins is an evolutionist. But many are now asking whether the dyed-in-the-wool critic of religion may be, well, evolving in his views about God. You see, in a recent debate with theist and Christian John Lennox, he let slip what many would regard as a major blooper: he actually admitted that there might be a case for theism of sorts. This was a worldview change of seismic proportions. It was a most remarkable turnaround. For someone who had spent over five decades championing the atheist cause to all of a sudden renounce it was an incredible achievement.”
But if you go to my original article, you will see that he took the first paragraph (which is speaking specifically about Dawkins), and then added my eighth paragraph to it (which is specifically referring to former atheist Antony Flew).
So he selectively cut and pasted from my article, in order to misrepresent me (or Phillips, as he sought to do). In part he can only make his trumped-up charges against Phillips by pulling quotes apart and re-pasting them together for his own disingenuous purposes.
When I spoke of a “worldview change of seismic proportions” in my original article I of course was referring to Flew, not to Dawkins. So Dawkins uses this cutting and pasting in an effort to discredit Phillips, when in fact all he has done is discredit himself.
Indeed, we are left with only two possible explanations for all this. He is either incompetent as a writer and researcher, or he has deliberately set out to misinform and deceive his audience. Either option is not very pretty. Considering that this guy actually calls himself a “Bright”, he does not seem so bright after all. He is either quite a dolt who cannot even do the most basic of quotations and referencing, or he has deliberately and maliciously made these gross misrepresentations and distortions in order to promote himself while he seeks to demonise Phillips.
So much for integrity and truth-telling Mr Dawkins. To paraphrase Dostoyevsky, “For if there’s no everlasting God, there’s no such thing as truth, and there’s no need of it.” Thanks for being such a good illustration of this Richard.