This article, “The Hypocrisy of an Atheist’s Morality,” was set to appear in the Wall Street Journal April 21, 2010, but was bumped from the opinion pages when a national disaster occurred and dominated the headlines for weeks to come: the BP oil spill. The article instead appeared in the Birmingham News the following month.
Richard Dawkins, the world’s most infamous atheist, is once again making headlines. The author of “The God Delusion,” Dawkins has earned an international reputation as a polemicist, the religious receiving the brunt of his attacks. Now Dawkins has set his sights on the pope. Joining the wave of anti-Catholic fervor, Dawkins’s legal team is preparing a case to arrest Pope Benedict XVI during his state visit to Britain later this year. (Apparently, God, Dawkins’s preferred target, has no such plans to visit that country.)
The pope’s guilt or innocence in the matter of child-abusing priests is a question that I shall leave to others. Nevertheless, that Dawkins should call for his arrest for, of all things, “crimes against humanity,” is rich with contradictions that seem lost on none more than Dawkins himself. (His partner in this endeavor, fellow atheist Christopher Hitchens, knows very well the inconsistency and undoubtedly embraces it with a wry smile.)
In recent years, Dawkins has managed to establish a megachurch of unbelief. His website has played host to the largest atheist community outside of North Korea, boasting a forum membership some 85,000-plus strong. The site has served to promote all things Richard Dawkins: books, videos, conferences, trinkets and, of course, atheism—or, more precisely, Dawkins’s version of atheism. It has become the basis of a movement. A publicity hound, he mobilized his godless congregation last year and captured headlines when he plastered London buses with the message:
“There’s probably no God. Now stop worrying and enjoy your life.”
Therein lies the contradiction.
With the publication of “The God Delusion,” Dawkins pledged himself to the eradication of belief in God and, by extension, to the annihilation of moral absolutes. One of the self-proclaimed enlightened, Dawkins maintains that theism is a straitjacket on a potentially fulfilling life. At his home in Oxford some years ago, I recall asking Richard if he believed man to be born good, evil or tabula rasa. Given the moral tenor of his anti-religious campaigning then as now, this seemed a valid question. Predictably, he deemed notions of good and evil to be mere artificial human constructs, opting instead to speak of “genetic predispositions.”
A year later, he said something very similar, if more bluntly, in a debate that I moderated at the University of Oxford’s Museum of Natural History. When Professor John Lennox, an Oxford mathematician, Christian and silver-tongued Irishman, pressed Dawkins on the meaninglessness of his worldview, Dawkins replied:
“Okay, suppose there is no hope. Suppose there is no justice. Suppose there’s nothing but misery and darkness and bleakness. Suppose there’s nothing that we would wish for, nothing that we would hope for. Too bad!”
All of these—the do-whatever-you-want, bendy-bus messages, the acknowledgment that good and evil cannot exist in a world without God, and the hopelessness—are consistent with atheism.
Moral crusades, however, are not.
On the contrary, the greatest crimes ever committed against humanity were perpetrated by those who had “stopped worrying” that there might be a God to judge in the next world acts committed in this one. Indeed, it may well be that some priests took Dawkins at his word and decided to stop worrying, too. Last autumn, Dennis and Flora Milner, an atheist couple in Britain, did just that and gassed themselves. (According to The Daily Telegraph, Milner had been reading Dawkins before he signed off.)
Atheists like Dawkins often speak of “the glory of life” in the evolutionary model, but this is just so much whistling through the graveyard. Instead of glorying in life, this worldview necessarily leads to a devaluation of it. It cannot do otherwise. It is evident in Dawkins’s remark in his debate with Lennox; in the Milners’ suicides; and in the hundreds of millions murdered by atheistic regimes around the world.
The great reform movements—the abolition of slavery, the civil rights movement and, yes, even the condemnation of sexual abuse within the Catholic Church—began with the notion that there are laws which supersede those of men. Without higher laws, there is no rational basis for appeal when one is abused by his fellow man. Truth becomes, as Dawkins put it in the same Oxford debate, “just what happens.” And that, as we all know, is often a very different thing from justice.
In his classic novel The Brothers Karamazov, Fyodor Dostoevsky, himself a former atheist, wrote, “If there is no immortality, there can be no virtue, and all things are permissible.”
That’s a very Russian way of saying, without God, it is every man for himself. (Russians know something about that.) The logic is sound, and the implications reverberate throughout human history. The irony is that Dawkins, like the Grand Inquisitor in the same novel, endeavors to banish God from public life and replace him with a kind of secular fundamentalism.
Which is to be preferred? Given the choice of being judged by God or men, King David’s response was unequivocal:
“Let us fall into the hands of the Lord, for His mercy is great; but do not let me fall into the hands of men.” (2 Samuel 24:14)
Certainly not men like Richard Dawkins, who dismiss all received wisdom and regard morality as an island that they alone occupy.
Perhaps the buses should have read, “There is probably no God; but there is certainly a Richard Dawkins — start worrying.”
Larry Alex Taunton is the Executive Director of the Fixed Point Foundation and a freelance columnist contributing to USA Today, Fox News, First Things, The Atlantic, CNN, Daily Caller, and The American Spectator. He is also the author of The Grace Effect, The Gospel Coalition Book of the Year The Faith of Christopher Hitchens, Around the World in (More Than) 80 Days. (Available to order now) You can subscribe to his blog at larryalextaunton.com and find him on Twitter @larrytaunton.
Do you appreciate the content of this website?
We are a nonprofit. That means that our work is made possible and our staff is paid by your contributions. We ask you to consider supporting this important work in an ongoing basis or, if you prefer, perhaps you will drop a few bucks in our “tip jar.”
All contributions are tax-deductible