Tag Archives: Selfish Gene

Paul Copan challenges Richard Dawkins on determinism and rationality

This is from Parchment & Pen. There is an MP3 file linked in the post. (H/T Apologetics 315)


Last week, Richard Dawkins spoke here in Ft. Lauderdale at Nova Southeastern University on “The Fact of Evolution.” The following week, I spoke on “The Fact of God”—also delivered at Nova Southeastern.

[…]I asked Dawkins how he could claim that the naturalist id rationally superior to the theist since, according to his book River Out of Eden, all of us are dancing to the music of our DNA. Our beliefs are the product of non-rational, deterministic physical forces beyond our control—whether we’re theists or naturalists. In fact, if the naturalist is right, it’s only by accident—not because he’s more intellectually virtuous than the theist. That is, the naturalist has accidental true belief (which is not knowledge) rather than warranted true belief (which is knowledge).

Dawkins gave the odd reply that it’s kind of like Republicans and Democrats—with each group thinking they’re right and the other group wrong. But on what grounds could either side think they are more rational than the other? Dawkins then added that he supposed that whatever view “works” the correct one to hold. But here’s the problem: what “works” is logically distinct from “true” or “matching up with reality”—since we may hold to a lot of false beliefs that help us survive and reproduce, even if they are false. Indeed, naturalistic evolution is interested in survival and reproduction—the “four F’s” (fighting, feeding, fleeing, and reproducing). Truth, the naturalist philosopher Patricia Churchland argues, is secondary to these pursuits According to another such naturalist, the late Richard Rorty, truth is “utterly unDarwinian.”

[…]…how can Dawkins condemn “religious” people who fly planes into buildings since they are just dancing to their DNA—just like the naturalist is? They’re just doing what nature has programed them to do. We can further ask: Why isn’t Dawkins denouncing atrocities done in the name of atheism—like those of Stalin, Pol Pot, or Mao Tse-tung? Dawkins gives the impression that it’s only people of “religion” who carry out horrendous evils. Of course, if Dawkins is right, these mass murderers could not justly be condemned since they too were wired by nature to act as they did.

Paul then excerpts a segment from an interview with Dawkins:

Dawkins:….What I do know is that what it feels like to me, and I think to all of us, we don’t feel determined. We feel like blaming people for what they do or giving people the credit for what they do. We feel like admiring people for what they do. None of us ever actually as a matter of fact says, “Oh well he couldn’t help doing it, he was determined by his molecules.” Maybe we should… I sometimes… Um… You probably remember many of you would have seen Fawlty Towers. The episode where Basil where his car won’t start and he gives it fair warning, counts up to three, and then gets out of the car and picks up a tree branch and thrashes it within an edge of his life. Maybe that’s what we all ought to… Maybe the way we laugh at Basil Fawlty, we ought to laugh in the same way at people who blame humans. I mean when we punish people for doing the most horrible murders, maybe the attitude we should take is “Oh they were just determined by their molecules.” It’s stupid to punish them. What we should do is say “This unit has a faulty motherboard which needs to be replaced.” I can’t bring myself to do that. I actually do respond in an emotional way and I blame people, I give people credit, or I might be more charitable and say this individual who has committed murders or child abuse of whatever it is was really abused in his own childhood. ….

Manzari: But do you personally see that as an inconsistency in your views?

Dawkins: I sort of do. Yes. But it is an inconsistency that we sort of have to live with otherwise life would be intolerable. But it has nothing to do with my views on religion it is an entirely separate issue.

There’s a fuller explanation in the post – I just pulled out some parts to give you the idea.

This is something Christians need to get used to. Atheism should not smuggle in Christian beliefs. Atheism has to stand and fall on materialism, determinism, life ending at the grave, and moral subjectivism. There is no free will on atheism. There are no moral values or moral obligations on atheism. There is no rationality on atheism. There is no meaning in life on atheism. There is no purpose to life on atheism. There is no accountability for sin on atheism. There is no self-sacrificial love on atheism. There is no reward for virtue and self-sacrifice on atheism. It is a worldview