Monday, 5 March 2012

Dawkins, determinism and dominoes

I listened to Richard Dawkins' dialogue with the Archbishop of Canterbury recently.  The most interesting thing about the whole exchange was Dawkins admitting that his atheistic, materialistic worldview provides no grounding for believing in free will.

Now this is something that seems entirely obvious to me, but at least Dawkins is now biting the bullet and admitting it.

If there is nothing but matter (as Dawkins believes) then of course we don't have free will.  We are just chemicals reacting, matter moving, doing what our particular collection of elements do at these temperatures and in these conditions.

It is just like a massive line of dominoes, although bear in mind that Richard Dawkins cannot tell you where the dominoes came from, who set them up, and who knocked the first one down, and science will never, and can never give the answers to those questions because the dominoes represent the universe!  But anyway, these dominoes are just falling in sequence, and cannot do otherwise.  So when the rain falls, it doesn't decide to do it, that's just what happens in those conditions, likewise, when the volcano erupts or the earth quakes they don't choose to do so - they are just reacting in a purely determined and predictable way.  And likewise, when one person is kind to their neighbour and another kills their neighbour, they are just doing what their chemicals and genes dictate they do.

Dawkins admits that there is the illusion of choice and freedom, but being a committed materialist, the reality is that on his worldview these things are determined.

This makes his moral indignation of certain behaviours and beliefs really strange!  It's like being cross at the milk on the floor for spilling, or, in an illustration he used himself on another occasion (see here) he likens the criminal to a car that has broken down, and the idea of punishing the criminal is just as ridiculous as Basil Fawlty lashing his car for not working properly.  True!  The criminal, on Dawkins' view is just doing what is dictated by the laws of nature, and cannot do anything else.  But why then does Dawkins get so annoyed and angry over the actions and attitudes of certain people?  His answer - because he's genetically determined to react that way - he has no choice!  Real answer - he knows what he's saying is not true!  He knows that people are responsible for their behaviour.  However, if Richard Dawkins is right, then the reality is he could never know it, or rationally justify it - he doesn't hold his views because he's thought about them, he holds them because he is determined to believe what he believes.  His view completely undermines not only morality but rationality.

Another internal contradiction in his thinking is that he says that just as the car shouldn't be punished, but rather fixed, so the criminal shouldn't be punished, but fixed.  But hold on, why should the car be fixed?  Well, the car should be fixed because it is not serving the purpose for its design - it isn't doing what it is meant to do.  So on Dawkins' view of the world, was that criminal designed for a purpose?  In raping, killing or stealing is that criminal not doing what he was meant to do?  Dawkins is the one who has told us there is no design or purpose in the universe, he is the one who says we dance to our DNA, so how can he say the criminal needs fixed - on atheism there is nothing "wrong" with him!  What makes Dawkins' DNA right and the criminal's faulty? 

The car was made for a purpose, and the owner of the car expects the car to work according to its designed purpose.  If it doesn't work then the owner can get it fixed.  Dawkins seems to assume what he elsewhere vigorously denies - that we have been designed for a purpose, but he also seems to think that the criminal is society's property, and society has the right to "fix" him if he goes "wrong".

Is it not much more honest to good sense and intuition, not even mentioning the overwhelming evidence, to say that we feel moral indignation because we know people are responsible for their actions, and what they have done is  wrong, and governments have a God-given right to punish evil-doers. 

Let no one be fooled by the foolishness of atheism - we are responsible agents who have failed in our moral duties and broken God's law.  He will judge us for our actions, and that is why we need a Saviour and require a Substitute.  One, and only one, has been provided - it is God's Son, Jesus Christ, who died for our sins and rose again - He is able to save and forgive.