The Futility of Atheistic Ethics

Folks such as Richard Dawkins try to convince us that there is no God and there is no need for God. We can do just fine on our own, letting science guide us to the good life.

The problems with that view are many. One problem is that science is fickle, changing from generation to generation. I own a book published in 1831, called “A New Family Encyclopedia; or Compendium of Universal Knowledge.” In its section on Man, it points out that “there can be no doubt that the white man exhibits the greatest marks of ingenuity and intelligence. . .[F]ew, perhaps, are so sunken as some portions of the Negro race.” That was the best science of the day and it lent support to racism and slavery. Now our science tells us otherwise. And tomorrow it will tell us yet another view.

Building ethics on science is like building a house on quicksand.

Today’s vocal atheists feel very superior to Christians and other believers. Their scientific atheism leads them to rank humans in quality (and perhaps even intelligence) on a scale of value. That cannot lead to healthy ethical considerations.

One wonders if Dawkins ever met his fellow Englishman John Stott, a strong, gentle, Evangelical gentleman with a mind at least the equal to that of Dawkins. Or if he has studied the life and work of Dietrich Bonhoeffer or Karl Barth. These were men of the highest character and certainly no less intelligent than Dawkins.

The truth is that Dawkins and others like him gain great mileage from criticizing the worst examples of Christians. Compare a Dawkins to a Jerry Falwell and you too will want to say they are no where near equal in intelligence. Dawkins is smart enough to pick easy targets in his criticisms but not honest enough to address the Stott’s and the Bonhoeffer’s and the Barth’s.

If Richard Dawkins is the best example of an enlightened atheist, we must all hope atheism gains no more foothold in our day. One John Stott, who ministered for justice and grace throughout the globe, has done far, far more to better humanity than a thousand of Dawkin’s kind. Stott, of course, sought no publicity. He was simply a quiet servant who touched the lives of thousands of people around the planet.

It’s not that I don’t like Richard Dawkins. Unlike fellow atheist, the late Christopher Hitchens, I think Dawkins would be a very pleasnat fellow to know. It’s just that he uses his good mind for such small goals. . .


About mthayes42

I am a retired pastor, interested in the Bible, cross-cultural ministries, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, and the current and past history of western civilization.
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6 Responses to The Futility of Atheistic Ethics

  1. “Building ethics on science is like building a house on quicksand.”

    No. It’s like building a house while you constantly learn better ways to build a house.

    • mthayes42 says:

      Building a house while in the process of learning how to build a house. That’s an intriguing image but – forgive me if I push the image a bit too far — I worked as a carpenter for my father for several summers in high school and college. I know how much trouble was caused when architects changed the plans after the construction was started. While I agree with your general idea that science is constantly learning (and in fact I think this is the great strength of science) it means that we cannot build much on the ever-changing scientific views. The question is, Can there be any understanding of “good living” that is fundamental, i.e., solid enough to build a good life on? Whacha’ think?

      • Forgive me for the poor analogy.

        I should have said it’s like building a city, and each time you build a new house you know more and know better than the last time.

        We can certainly build off ever-changing scientific views. We just can’t shirk at going back and renovating our old views, or even knocking them down and rebuilding from scratch where need be.

      • mthayes42 says:

        I completely agree. Unfortunately, there are many “conservatives” who don’t seem to ask much about what they are conserving. Conservative politics, for instance, seems to want to conserve the America that existed before the Civil War. Conservative theology seems to want to conserve American fundamentalism as shaped in the first quarter of the 20th century. So my first question to the conservative (even the conservative in me) is, What are you trying to conserve? My second question would be, What kind of fresh light needs to be brought to bear on your ideas?

  2. makagutu says:

    There are no atheist leaders and you should know this. Dawkins is popular because he is accomplished in his field and there are many more like him. That he hasn’t responded to whoever you wish him to doesn’t make him any less an atheist. Most believers are unaware of such names too and that doesn’t disqualify their beliefs.

    • mthayes42 says:

      Yes, I do know that atheism is not an organized movement with specific leaders. Thank you for the reminder. But if we think of a leader in the very simplest of terms — that is, a leader is one who has followers — then there is a kind of leadership being offered by Dawkins. His boldness has emboldened others to speak out boldly against God. When I mentioned the others, I wasn’t thinking of Dawkins merely responding to them but knowing them. They and many others are outstanding gentlemen and faithful gentlemen. Dawkins always speaks of God on the basis of his impressions gained from thoughtless Christians and a surprisingly shallow reading of Scripture. He sets up “straw men” and picks them apart, thinking he has somehow discredited God in the process. In truth, he hardly knows what he is talking about.

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