As a case-in-point, I’d like to offer Richard Dawkins. Following up on discussing Chris Hallquist’s failure to offer a secular moral theory in the face of the moral argument for God’s existence, I’ll respond to a recent interchange involving Dawkins making the exact same mistake.
And why he needs to learn more about the reason he claims to cherish.
Dawkins was confronted with the issue of a basis for morality in a recent interview. He launched into a series of attacks on religious traditions. And, as one who knows something about Dawkins, this was unsurprising to the point of tediousness. When asked for a secular basis for morality, Dawkins can be counted on to sidestep the issue and launch in to a gripe about (his deeply uninformed understanding of) the Bible and the Koran.
I mention it, however, for two reasons:
First is the fact that it has become so monotonous. Dawkins has had ample time to come up with a more substantial response than cheap mockery. If he wishes to rant about religion, that is his right. But one would expect him to either present an alternative for examination–or admit that he’s simply emoting without any real case to make.
After all, it is remarkably easy to play the critic (particularly against straw men); the difficulty comes in offering something better.
And Dawkins fails completely in this regard. He not only doesn’t do better, he doesn’t even try. He seems to systematically avoid putting his own concept of morality up for consideration–and that’s a little like challenging someone to a boxing match, but only on the condition that he’s not allowed to throw any punches.
Second is the aforementioned fact that he completely misrepresents theism. But I’ll not spend much time on this, because I think the fact is obvious to any who care to look. Rather, I’ll quote Dennis Prager in his response to Dawkins.
“Dawkins and his supporters have a right to atheism. They do not have a right to intellectual dishonesty about atheism.”
And that is what these rants from Dawkins, Hallquist, and the bulk of their fans seem to be: a dodging of the question and a gripe about a version of theism that almost no one actually believes in. And that is exactly the kind of response one would expect to hear out of a group that has trouble understanding the difference between mocking a position and answering its challenges.
What it is not is a rational defense of secular morality.
Nor would it defend Dawkins to say that he’s sincere. Personally, I believe that he is. I’d imagine that he’s so focused on inventing clever and vitriolic statements that he’s personally never noticed that he hasn’t answered the question being asked.
If so, then he’s more interested in what feels true (and making something feel true to others) than in what actually is true.
And this is always where I find myself in considering the New Atheism: for all the bluster about reason, they seem much more interested in mockery and other emotional tactics. The fact that Dawkins can’t offer even a single reason in defense of his moral theory hasn’t slowed him down one bit.
And that leaves me wondering how much he really cares about taking a reasonable view of life in the first place.