Beware of Dawkins’ “Common Sense”
Due to Richard Dawkins’ atheistic assumptions, he has the impossible task of trying to arrive at a legitimate set of ethical judgments. He robustly denies that the idea of God offers any real morality, but as he attempts to contrive morality without a divine standard, he quickly loses his way and makes self-contradictory statements.
For instance, in chapter 9 of his book The God Delusion, Dawkins argues that teaching a child to be religious is a form of mental child abuse. Of course, he lumps all religious practices together (which is a logical fallacy in the first place; e.g., Butt, 2007) and chooses an example that is inconsistent with truth. He correctly states that it is wrong to think that sprinkling a little water on an infant has any ability to “totally change a child’s life” (e.g., Colley, 2004). But, to arrive at his conclusion, Dawkins says that the implications of infant baptism fly in the face of “everything that ordinary common sense and human feeling see as important” (2006, p. 213, emp. added).
Notice one of Dawkins’ reasons for claiming that the practice is wrong—because it goes against “common sense.” Of course, the next question to be asked is, “How reliable of a guide is common sense?” Should we always trust our “common sense” when making moral decisions? Dawkins answers that question himself, although probably unwittingly. In his discussion of tiny quantum particles, Dawkins claims that the human brain has not really evolved the ability to understand many physical realities on a quantum scale. He states that much that we have learned about quantum mechanics goes against our “common-sense” notions. Thus, he concluded: “Common sense lets us down, because common sense evolved in a world where nothing moves very fast, and nothing is very small or very large” (2006, p. 364).
Putting the pieces together, then, Dawkins believes that moral decisions should be based on what the general population determines to be moral (Dawkins, 2006, pp. 237-278). Basically, he states that the combined “common sense” of humanity serves as a good indicator of morally correct behavior. But then he suggests that “common sense” is nothing more than an evolved entity that can “let us down.” If common sense can “let us down” in our judgments about the physical world, does it not also follow that it can do the same in moral determinations?
With such inconsistent statements, Dawkins forces himself and his fellow atheists back to the drawing board to concoct some facsimile of moral oughtness. In the end, all he can really conclude is that there are no moral absolutes and we cannot be certain that anything is really right or wrong. He said as much himself when he stated: “Fortunately, however, morals do not have to be absolute” (2006, p. 232). And, whereas one could easily argue that Dawkins’ idea of constant moral fluctuation goes against “common sense,” that is not why his idea is wrong. It is wrong because it violates the self-evident rules of logic, dismisses the powerful and irrefutable evidence that a divine Creator exists, and contradicts the Truth revealed by that Creator.
Butt, Kyle (2007), “All Religion Is Bad Because Some Is?,” [On-line], URL: http://www.apologeticspress.org/articles/3546.
Colley, Caleb (2004), “Did Jesus Command Infant Baptism?,” [On-line], URL: http://www.apologeticspress.org/articles/2638.
Dawkins, Richard (2006), The God Delusion (Boston: Houghton Mifflin).