You probably have heard the quip, “He who does not believe in God will believe in anything.”1 The unfortunate truth resonating in this wisdom finds a clear exponent in the Oxford-sanctioned senselessness of Richard Dawkins. What is this atheist’s great burden of our generation?
Human rights? No.
Actually, it is Gorillas’ Rights. Don’t believe it? Watch it here.
The moral emergency, Dawkins tells, is “speciesism”—the modern equivalent of racism or sexism. Since “Humans beings are not just like great apes, they are great apes,” the atheist figures that our rules forbidding discrimination against other humans should logically extend to other species, in this case gorillas.
Let us embark on a journey following the atheist’s logic. If, after all, we are great apes, then the brotherhood of man in reality is the brotherhood of all primates. But why stop there? If the alleged evolutionary tree extends not just through apes, but other animals as well, then why not have a brotherhood of all animals? Sound too extreme? I actually saw one responder on Dawkins’ site admit that the logic of it all had driven him to vegetarianism—and he was proud of it.
The logical question arises as to where do we draw the line? Since the evolutionary tree supposedly extends all the way back to plants, algae, and protozoa, then should not kill or eat those things either? Never kill a fly? Never chlorinate a pool? Never sanitize drinking water (that would kill trillions of living organisms—our living kin!)? Never stop streptococcus, salmonella, or influenza (these are not infections, but family. Be a nice host, now—put out some cookies!)? Is this the great atheist commandment: never harm another living being, even if you starve or succumb to microbial infestation?
Dawkins is no dummy: He tackles the absurd argument for cabbages’ rights, too. He reasons, “We have kind of a continuum. There’s a sliding scale from gorillas and chimpanzees, being very close to us, and cabbages being a very long way away; and there’s no reason why we should erect a wall—we should erect a fence—at any particular place.”
Forgive me if I missed something obvious, but did he not just refute his own position? If the charge is that there is no rationale for not including all species—beast, broccoli and bacteria alike—in this morality called “speciesism,” and Dawkins answers this by saying there is no reason why we should draw a line at any given place in the evolutionary tree, then hasn’t he conceded the argument, not answered it?
Nothing left but pure emotion
Yes he has, and he realizes this. He just pulled the rug of reason out from under himself, banged his head on the floor of reality, and he leaves all of our heads spinning with the explanation that follows. His now reasonless rationale relies purely on emotions: “There are some animals that there is some reason to think can suffer—can think, can reason, can suffer emotion—which deserve, and must have, a greater moral consideration from us than other animals.” Note this well: Dawkins has admitted that the atheist’s case for morality is based purely on emotions. Moral rules must, therefore, extend to those animals which we deem capable of suffering emotionally.
For one thing, we have very little ability to tell where to draw this new line—for example, it may not be too difficult to accept a gorilla emotionally suffering, but what about a cow, sheep, pig, or cat? What about an alligator or snake? A Chinchilla? A squirrel? Fish? Worm? Do these have emotions? Do they suffer emotionally, or just physically?
As well, the idea of emotional suffering forming the basis of morality itself has fundamental problems. Does this mean that if a majority of people are angry (emotional enough) at a certain species then it is acceptable to exterminate that species? Or if a member of a lower sentient species becomes so “emotional” and attacks a human, can we defend ourselves? Are we obligated to respect a predator’s emotions? It’s not clear. I recall a news story in which an elderly hiker was attacked by a mountain lion: his wife literally beat the big cat off with a log. Was she in the wrong for causing the animal suffering?
Dawkins’s worldview of leveling the moral playing field does not elevate apes or other animals to the level of humans; it debases human rights to the level of apes. It makes the sanctity of life a purely pragmatic issue, and worse, emotionally pragmatic at that. More to the point philosophically, it is entirely arbitrary. Why should anyone, given that they believe in no Supreme Judge or Higher Law, morally respect anything about anyone else, let alone an ape. Who says? Dawkins? The ape? If I am an atheist, I have no ruler but me. I decide, not some emotional celebrity scientist.
On the practical side, the “emotional” test fails just a miserably. In an atheist world, there is no authoritative reason to respect emotions or anything else. In a godless universe, a human is nothing more than a means to your ends, and an ape is food, clothing, merchandise, sport, or whatever you want it to be, regardless of how it my suffer emotionally in the process. It may suit us to protect an ape, or it may not; and that may change tomorrow. Why should we care if a sheep bleats when being sheared, or when being slaughtered? Why care when the gorilla falls lifeless, and its baby is sold for a zoo pet? One less gorilla, true; but thousands more happy consumers. The gorilla suffers only briefly, but many consumers enjoy the entertainment for years to come. So the emotions in this scenario actually come out greatly in the positive. The only reason we may feel pity when a mother gorilla is killed and her baby gorilla is stripped from her dead arms is because we project our own emotions and imagine what it would be like if the same thing happened to us; but this brings up an issue very uncomfortable to the atheist worldview.
Borrowing Christian morality
By “emotions,” I believe Dawkins means something like sympathy or empathy. As a moral rule, this could best be formulated like this: “In everything, therefore, treat people the same way you want them to treat you.” The atheist’s discomfort with this language comes from the fact that it is simply straight from the Bible. These are the very words of Christ in Matthew 7:12. Dawkins actually believes in this system of morals, but dares not mention its source, as it would reveal him as a thief of religious ideas. But he has to assume Christian morality in order to have any morality in his version of atheistic Darwinism.
Jesus concludes the passage, however, not by relying on emotions or by speaking of the interconnectedness of all species, but by saying, “for this is the Law and the Prophets.” The love of neighbor is part of the summation of God’s law which was revealed and given to man. Our respect for one another and the empathy that we feel comes from our being created in God’s image. We project that image onto others, even animals, because it is part of our moral conscience. We do not empathize with carrots or cabbages, because we cannot even begin to project the image of God onto those species. Unlike Dawkins, whose atheism and Darwinism force him to draw arbitrary lines between living things, the Christian system of morality stems from being created in God’s image, revealed in Scripture, and our innate ability to project those revelations onto others.
With this, the Christian system gives an objective basis for morality. Dawkins’s worldview can explain none. He admits this moral bankruptcy: “It’s very hard to make a purely scientific case for conserving any particular species. . . . The only case I can make is an emotional case; and what’s wrong with that? We are emotional beings. I feel emotional about it.”
I have shown what is wrong with that. If Dawkins gets his wish to change the course of humanity with his 400-page screed against Christianity, and by making moral appeals for all of humanity on the basis of “I feel emotional about it,” then global turmoil and mass upheaval cannot be far off. When a generation of leaders, governments, armies, fingers on nuclear buttons, criminals, and maybe even gorillas learns that the phrase “I feel emotional about it” can justify their actions, then terrorists will crawl this globe like ants on an anthill. Fear will be the emotion of the day. Civilization will disappear, and so will gorillas.
A case in point
Dawkins’ “speciesism” argument was meant to help support the Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund. Fossey was a Jane Goodall type who left civilization to live among the mountain Gorillas in what is now the Democratic Republic of the Congo. She earned the trust of the apes, and they accepted her into their band. When one of her favorite apes was shot by poachers, Fossey began her foundation to raise money for protecting gorillas. Seven years after she began fighting poachers, Fossey was found murdered in her cabin.
A tragedy like this is instructive. To the “speciesist” world, the killing of a gorilla is a tragedy on par with murdering a human. But, as we have seen, when the foundations of Darwinist morality are exposed as non-existent, and the line erased between man and beast, then the tables turn: the killing of a human is just one more instance of natural animal behavior. Someone “felt emotional about” Fossey’s obstruction of their efforts, and they gratified that emotion. Without borrowing moral rules from the Christian worldview, the atheist has no valid moral complaint. Christians can be outraged by such a murder, and they can demand justice based on the law of God. Dawkins can say nothing except about what he feels.
The atheist can only conclude with Dawkins some rationale like this: “On strictly scientific grounds, there’s no reason why the earth shouldn’t simply blow itself up now. . . . You can’t prove scientifically that that’s wrong. Wrong and right are not things that you can prove scientifically.”
I am delighted that Dawkins admits the failure of atheism and science alone to provide any foundation for morals at all, or even prevent immorality on the grandest scale. But since he has automatically refused God and religion as sources of moral and ethical knowledge, he is forced to fall back on his emotions. We have seen the failure, relativism, and utter pointlessness of using emotions as a basis of morality. Dawkins should be ashamed of doing so; and I wonder if he feels very emotional about that.
In all of this, Dawkins’s vicious circle of moral reasoning never ceases to devour itself. It is with the very charge of wishful thinking, he critiques religious believers in his book The God Delusion: “Admittedly, people of a theological bent are often chronically incapable of distinguishing what is true from what they’d like to be true.”2
Yet, while this may be true of some believers, perhaps they just “feel emotional about it.” And thanks to Dawkins, now we can see that not only people of a “theological bent” are prone to such emotional wonderlands—celebrity atheists are, too. Except, for the atheist, he has no place else to go.
[Originally published June 27, 2008.]
- The full quote actually has yet to be found anywhere in Chesterton’s writings. Some researchers at the American Chesterton Society have traced the error to a conglomeration of two quotes poorly typeset in Emile Cammaerts, The Laughing Prophet: The Seven Virtues of G. K. Chesterton (London: Methuen, 1937). Cammaerts’ line, “The first effect of not believing in God is to believe in anything,” was probably misquoted as above by Christopher Hollis in The Mind of Chesterton (Coral Gables, FL: Univ. of Miami Press, 1970).(↩)
- Richard Dawkins, The God Delusion (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 2006) 108.(↩)