Category Archives: Ethics

Dawkins is Disgusted

The Guardian has provided Richard Dawkins with a platform to explain why he won’t share a platform with Christian apologist William Lane Craig. Dawkins plays what he thinks is a trump card: the real reason he won’t publicly debate Craig is because — drumroll, please — Craig has defended the “genocides ordered by the God of the Old Testament.” It ought to be apparent to anyone who has compared Dawkins’ past debate performances with Craig’s (never mind their respective writings on the rationality of theism) that this explanation is, at best, a feeble rationalization. But that’s not the point I want to make in this post.

Dawkins, Disgusted

Dawkins’ piece reflects his trademark rhetorical devices — condescension, mockery, faux outrage, and a dash or two of genuine wit — but what stuck me most was the complete absence of any moral categories in his criticism of Craig and his views. Dawkins regards Craig’s views as ‘horrific’, ‘revolting’, ‘shocking’, and ‘deplorable’. But none of these descriptors function as objective moral evaluations of Craig or Craig’s God. In reality, they reflect little more than Dawkins’ feelings about Craig and Craig’s God (and the feelings of those who share Dawkins’ jaundiced outlook on the world).

I suppose this shouldn’t be surprising, given Dawkins’ published views on the nature of morality. For example, in The God Delusion he rejected and ridiculed the notion that there are moral absolutes. But if there are no moral absolutes, then there are no moral principles that absolutely rule out genocide. According to Dawkins’ moral outlook, then, genocide could be morally justified in some circumstances — just as late-term abortion is morally justified in some circumstances (as Dawkins apparently believes). Isn’t it therefore an open question whether the Old Testament ‘genocides’ were morally justified given the circumstances? Given Dawkins’ own premises, isn’t that question at least worthy of… debate? (I should state for the record that I don’t believe the destruction of the Canaanites was an instance of genocide; I’m just granting Dawkins’ characterization for the sake of argument.)

In the end, all Dawkins has really told us is that he won’t debate Craig because he finds Craig’s views personally offensive. It’s not that Craig’s views are unethical; it’s not that they’re immoral; it’s certainly not that they’re wicked or evil. It’s just that Dawkins finds them extremely distasteful. Dawkins is disgusted — and that’s all there is to it. Even if that were the real reason for his refusal to debate Craig, it would hardly be a compelling one. The only virtue of Dawkins’ dubious explanation, if it can be called a virtue, is its consistency with his moral nihilism.

Update: Here are some entertaining commentaries on Dawkins’ piece:

You Have a Basic Right to Read This Blog

If you’re looking for a new reductio ad absurdum of the modern conception of human rights, you can find it right here: Tim Berners-Lee, the creator of the World Wide Web, maintains that “access to the Web is now a human right.”

The modern conception of human rights runs along these lines: if a large number of people have X, would hate to have to do without X, and feel guilty about the fact that other people have to do without X, then having X must be a human right and governments across the globe must be enlisted to ensure that everybody gets X.

Of course, rights imply duties: if you have a right to X then someone somewhere must have a duty to ensure that you get X. So whose duty is it to ensure that everyone gets access to the World Wide Web? Presumably those who end up being forced to pay for it. No prizes for guessing who that will be!

In any case, if this is how human rights arise, why stop at access to the Web? Why not a human right to air conditioning, or to freshly ground coffee, or to live classical music? Remember, you heard it here first.

2K or not-2K?

In a previous post I posed some questions about David VanDrunen’s defense of Two-Kingdom (2K) doctrine and raised a general objection to his position (and to similar 2K views). In response to a comment on that thread, I tried to boil down the objection as follows. On my reading, VanDrunen seems to be committed to all of the following claims:

(K1) When living as citizens of the common kingdom, people should observe the moral standard of that kingdom.

(K2) The moral standard for the common kingdom is natural law (and only natural law).

(K3) When living as citizens of the common kingdom, Christians should observe the distinction between the two kingdoms.

(K4) It is not a deliverance of natural law that Christians should observe the distinction between the two kingdoms.

In a nutshell, my objection is that these claims form an inconsistent set: they can’t all be true. So the question is whether 2K advocates really are committed to all four claims, and if not, which do they reject.

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Two Kingdoms, Ten Commandments, One Objection

I recently read David VanDrunen’s A Biblical Case for Natural Law and Living in God’s Two Kingdoms. VanDrunen’s is the most scholarly, articulate, measured, and irenic defense of Two-Kingdom (2K) doctrine I’ve encountered. However, I have some questions about its application and a possible objection to it in principle.

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Against All Tweets

Semi-Serious Warm-Up Argument

(1) Twittering requires communication in 140 characters or less.

(2) Almost nothing of substance can be adequately communicated in 140 characters or less.

(3) Therefore, almost nothing of substance can be adequately communicated by Twittering.

(4) A method of communication is intrinsically flawed if almost nothing of substance can be adequately communicated by it.

(5) Therefore, Twittering is an intrinsically flawed method of communication.

(6) One ought not to act in such a way as to participate in, promote, or legitimize an intrinsically flawed method of communication.

(7) Therefore, one ought not to Twitter.

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Defending Life

My review of Francis Beckwith’s book Defending Life has just been posted over at Discerning Reader.

If you’re wondering what lies behind the review’s opening sentence, check out this article for starters, followed by this article.