Thursday, 28 February 2008

Good without God? (2)

Continuing from where we left off....

Now we're trying to enter an atheistic universe. We need to drop all of our pre-conceived ideas - the ideas about right and wrong God stamped upon us in creation - and ask what idea of morality is logically consistent with atheism. Just what, in an atheistic universe, is morality?

British atheologian Richard Dawkins says "Atheists and humanists tend to define good and bad deeds in terms of the welfare and suffering of others. Murder, torture, and cruelty are bad because they cause people to suffer."

Defining good and bad in terms of welfare and suffering sounds reasonable - pretty close to the Christian commandment to love our neighbour. Hurting them is bad, helping them is good. Problem with that? Yes - huge problems. The thing to look at though in Dawkins' first sentence isn't actually the latter half, but the former. "Atheists and humanists tend to define good and bad..."

Actually, there's no reason to read anything that comes after that point. Whether choosing to define good and bad in terms of helping society, or in terms of crushing it with an iron fist, makes no difference at this point. If good and bad are merely what atheists, humanists or anyone else chooses to define them as, then good and bad are merely a construction of the human brain. They have no binding moral authority over us, any more than any other mere construction of the human brain has. They exist only within our cerebral chemistry, and nowhere outside of it. Like opinions on the best England football XI, or on the finest vintage of South African wine, morality is no more than one of the moveable feasts in our intellectual landscape. With no external, transcendent source of values, Richard Dawkins' opinion on what is good or bad has no more authority or objective basis than my preference for classical music over grunge. Both have precisely the same foundation - the transient activities of the human brain: it's the way I like it. Dawkins likes the idea of defining morality in terms of not causing suffering; rapists like to define morality in terms of maximising their personal sexual pleasure - and there's no authority we can appeal to to ask which is better. Both are equal: human brain activity, without any ultimate reference point of right or wrong to evaluate it by.

Morality, though, is a matter of authority - you "ought" or "ought not" to do this or that. It's very essence depends upon transcendence. It is bigger than you, and tells you what to do. Dawkins' morality is not morality at all - it's a personal preference. The professor wants to tell us that this is rational thought? Please!

No comments: