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Richard Dawkins’ Gibberish on ‘Absolute Morality’

May 3, 2010

What all religions embrace is not moral absolutism, but moral relativism. All religionists- all those who accept things on faith- are moral relativists.

The following is my reply to a Facebook friend who asked me to explain why I said Richard Dawkins is merely speaking gibberish in the video below:

Dawkins does not believe in moral absolutism, but in moral relativism, which means that morality exists in man’s consciousness, independent of reality. We derive our morality from reality and man’s nature. I believe in absolute morality. Dawkins merely spoke about scientific consensus, discussion, or some kind of compromise, which reveals his pathetic, mystical understanding that morality depends upon the compromise or understanding of a so-called scientific community. This reveals Dawkin’s moral relativism. He thinks that morality exists in man’s consciousness, apart from reality, and that it has no relation to man’s nature. Like Immanuel Kant, Dawkins is a mystic. All the so-called New Atheists like Dawkins and Hitchins have mystical understanding of morality. I think they’re all advocates of anti-reason ideas disguised as science.

In my blog entitled Absolutism Versus Relativism, I stated the following:

Ethnicity, traditions, religion, and social thoughts are merely a product of man’s relativist premises. Most ethnic and religious societies regard the concepts of morality, political system and economics as relative. In my opinion, under any relativist society, the definition or concepts of the good, the moral, and the practical are determined by society, the most dominant social group, or anyone who wields absolute political power. This is essentially the case of all collectivist or statist societies like China, North Korea, Cuba, Venezuela, and Iran wherein the dictator or the supreme leader determines the truth, the moral and the practical.

I believe in absolutism—the acceptance of or belief in absolute principles, whether it be in the area of ethics, politics, metaphysics, epistemology, and other special sciences. Absolutism is the opposite of relativism, which is the doctrine that holds that knowledge, truth, and morality are determined by society, culture, or historical context and are not absolute. Epistemological absolutism is the view that there is a universal standard of truth, while ethical or moral absolutism holds that there is a universal standard of right or wrong, good or bad, practical or impractical.

Like most of his fellow New Atheists, Dawkins believes in moral relativism, which means morality is determined by society, a particular community, culture, or a group of scientific individuals. Dawkins said explicitly in this video:

“I don’t think I want an absolute morality. I think I want a morality that is thought-out, reasoned, argued, discussed, and based upon… I almost say intelligent design. Can we not design, which has the sort of morality that we want to live in.”

Dawkins’ understanding of morality is fatally flawed. There is an absolute morality. Moral absolutism as we know it is not hijacked by religions. In fact, if we try to look closely at the basis or foundation of ‘religious morality,’ we would be able to grasp and conclude that what the religionists declare as ‘absolute morality’ is, in fact, a lie. The morality of all religions is, in truth and in reality, a mystical morality. All religions or religious sects in the world have their own distinct view on morality, but they have only one thing in common, which is the foundation of their code of ethics: Altruism, which means selfless concern for the welfare of others. The claim of the religionists that what they embrace is an absolute morality, because it was designed by their Gods, is not true.

Atheists can have their own code of morality depending on their understanding of reason and the relation of man’s nature to existence. Ethical or moral absolutism holds that there is a universal standard of right or wrong, good or bad, practical or impractical. Yes, there is such a thing as a universal standard of right or wrong, and only those who reject faith and embrace reason could understand the concept of moral absolutism.

But the question is: where do we derive our morality? The answer is reality and its relation to man’s nature. Reality and man’s nature tell us that man is an end in himself and not the means to the ends of others. He is not a sacrificial animal to be offered or immolated to others, to society, or to any dictator. Since man is a rational animal, his only means of survival is his mind. And since man does not have the physical power of an elephant, he has to learn how to grow his own food in order to survive. Animals were equipped by nature with their own physical attributes or weapons in order to survive. Man has to use his mind, and his only means of gaining knowledge and of understanding reality is reason. Reason is man’s only means of survival; it is the faculty that identifies and integrates the material provided by man’s senses (Ayn Rand, “The Objectivist Ethics,” The Virtue of Selfishness, 20). Man’s senses are infallible. They are valid and they are our only direct cognitive intercourse with reality and our source of information (Ayn Rand, The Objectivist Ethics,” The Virtue of Selfishness, 19.)

There are only two codes of morality: Rational self-interest and altruism. If man wants to live as a human being, he had to choose the right code of ethics. Reality and man’s nature dictate that rational self-interest is the only code of ethics appropriate for man. In order to live properly, man must discover and practice the principles required for his own survival, as he cannot survive by whims or any random caprices. Throughout his life, a man who embraced the morality of self-interest must be guided by rational principles.

What does it mean when there is no such a thing as an absolute morality? It means that the concept of right and wrong is invalid. It means that a “right” or a “wrong” is determined by any given society, culture, historical or political contexts, or tradition. This is why I argued that what all religions embrace is moral relativism, not moral absolutism. For example, it is moral for Muslims to kill the infidels and apostates, while the same act is not moral to other religions, particularly Christianity, Buddhism, or Hinduism. The act of killing infidels is only accepted in the Muslim faith.

In my blog entitled On Ethics and Politics, I stated:

Where do we derive our code of morality? The answer is from reality and its relation to man’s nature. This process establishes the primacy of existence over consciousness. If you want to live on earth as a human being, you need to have a code of morality that must not contradict reality, your nature and rights. So what I’m saying now is that Ethics comes after these two branches of philosophy: metaphysics and epistemology. Man’s code of morality should not contradict his metaphysics and epistemology.

What comes after ethics? The answer is politics, which determines the relationship among men and defines a proper social system for man. This branch of philosophy is founded on metaphysics, epistemology and ethics. This symbiotic relationship between these three branches is based on the theory of man’s nature and of man’s relationship to existence.

Ethics is very important because it determines the survival of man on earth. I repeat, if one wants to live as a rational human being he had to consciously define his philosophy  and establish a set of code of values that should not contradict metaphysical reality and his own existence.

However, there’s one moral code that the New Atheists and the religionists have in common: Altruism. Like his fellow New Atheists, Dawkins believes in the morality of altruism: that it is the duty of man to live for others. This is essentially the religious code of ethics, as the Bible, the Koran, or any other kind of holy scripture commands all the faithful to offer their lives to others or to an unknowable entity they call God. Altruism is the moral opposite of rational self-interest. The morality of altruism is evil in either political or social context, as it cannot be practiced properly by man.

In his article entitled The Mystical Ethics of the New Atheists, Alan Germani states:

Why do these alleged men of reason join men of faith in appealing to mysticism as a basis for morality? The reason is simple: The morality they seek to defend, altruism, cannot be grounded in reason or reality. There are no facts that give rise to the principle that a person should sacrifice himself for the sake of others. Those who maintain that being moral consists in being altruistic have no alternative but to base that belief on some form of mysticism—whether “innate ideas,” or “intuition,” or a “mysterious consensus,” or religious faith. The New Atheists may have omitted God from their ethics, but their ethics remains essentially the same as that of the religions they condemn: a mystical call to self-sacrifice.

In today’s predominantly religious world, it takes some measure of courage to criticize faith and challenge the existence of God—and Hitchens, Harris, Dennett, and Dawkins deserve some measure of credit for doing so. But it takes greater courage to challenge the even more widespread belief that being moral consists in self-sacrificially serving others. If the New Atheists are serious about convincing people to abandon religion and adopt a rational secular worldview, then they must find the courage to follow reason wherever it leads—even if it leads them, as it will, to challenge the validity of altruism.

Fortunately for those who do have the courage to follow reason and challenge the validity of altruism, Ayn Rand has already discovered, demonstrated, and codified a morality based on and derived from the demonstrable requirements of human life, happiness, and coexistence: rational egoism. By first asking the question “Why does man need morality?” she proceeded to discover that man, as a being who must make choices, needs morality as a guide to life-promoting action. She discovered that man’s life is the standard of moral value—which means that actions that advance man’s life are moral and that those that retard or destroy man’s life are immoral.

Unlike religion and secular altruism, rational egoism neither entails nor permits any claim on the lives of other men. It holds that each man should act in his own best interest and that each man is the proper beneficiary of his own thought and action. And because egoism recognizes that it is right for a man to think and act in his self-interest, it also recognizes that it is wrong for others to violate this right through physical force or fraud. Rational egoism not only serves to guide an individual’s actions; it also serves as the foundation for a rights-respecting, civilized society.

It is beyond the purpose of this article to elaborate the ethics of rational egoism. But those who see the glaring need for a rational (i.e., non-mystical), life-serving (i.e., non-sacrificial) morality—a morality for living and achieving happiness on Earth—will find it elaborated in the works of Ayn Rand.42

Related Articles:

The Mystical Ethics of the New Atheists by Alan Germani published on The Objectivist Standard.

On Ethics and Politics

Absolutism Versus Relativism

16 Comments leave one →
  1. John permalink
    May 4, 2010 3:38

    If you check Dawkins’ [and his followers’] view of perception [see Dawkins’ Christmas lectures] you will find that he locates the form of perception inside the head [ie he is a representationalist – like virtually all scientists.]
    It therefore follows that he would argue in defence of scepticism.
    I don'[t think Dawkins’ is a bad man, he just lacks the philosophical depth to understand that the FORM

    • May 4, 2010 3:38

      Yes, Dawkins is undeniably a good scientist, but his ethics is dangerous to man’s nature and existence.

      • John permalink
        May 4, 2010 3:38

        “Yes, Dawkins is undeniably a good scientist, but his ethics is dangerous to man’s nature and existence.”

        Yes, it’s a shame.

  2. John permalink
    May 4, 2010 3:38

    If you check Dawkins’ [and his followers’] view of perception [see Dawkins’ Christmas lectures] you will find that he locates the form of perception inside the head [i.e. he is a representationalist – like virtually all scientists.]
    It therefore follows that he would argue in defence of scepticism.
    I don’t think Dawkins’ is a bad man, however, he just lacks the philosophical depth to understand that the FORM of perception cannot be isolated – neither in the subject nor the object [ nor at any point in between.]

    It’s a shame that the overall effect of his poor philosophy will serve to undermine his scientific achievements but I tend to blame philosophers for that failure, not the scientists.

  3. May 27, 2010 3:38

    If I had a dime for every time I came to fvdb.wordpress.com.. Superb read!

  4. May 29, 2010 3:38

    If only I had a quarter for each time I came to fvdb.wordpress.com… Amazing writing!

  5. May 30, 2010 3:38

    Haha am I really the only comment to your amazing writing?!?

  6. May 30, 2010 3:38

    You’ve done it once more. Amazing writing.

  7. May 31, 2010 3:38

    Super awesome article. Honestly..

  8. May 31, 2010 3:38

    If only more people could hear about this..

  9. Warren permalink
    August 19, 2010 3:38

    Late reply to thread but great points. I think we must also keep in mind that like any science, ideas and understandings evolve and certainly Dawkins’ are as well.

  10. Javier permalink
    August 24, 2010 3:38

    In this video Dawkins talks about altruism as a derivate of our genes:

    I think that, for what you said in this articule (and some reading in wikipedia, I leave this clear here, i haven’t read Rand work’s), how Ayn Rand position or ideas are less “dangerous to man’s nature and existence” (as some people has commented before me).
    In fact, leave everything to Reason, means that it depends of a choice. A choice that doesn’t go with our selfishness? Just wondering this now. But are humans capable of that, because we fail all the time, even the most religuios people that follow his values in a strong way (and that’s a choice) usually fail once and again to his moral or ethics.
    I think is more logical search a genetic cause of behavior, and maybe Dawkins theory about this is wrong, but the place where he is looking for the answer, looks to me, is more real than any philosophical explanation, including the “darwinian” of Ayn Rand. Dawnkis is looking in nature, not in “man’s consciousness”, even less is a “mystical understanding that morality”.
    I also think that nature show us diferent place to look, as the ants behavior, they don’t make rational choices, they just act as its nature indicates, just like us.

    PS: I’m sorry about my english, im still learning😉

  11. John Galdo permalink
    March 20, 2011 3:38

    How moral relativism leads to altruism?

    • March 21, 2011 3:38

      Look at the morality of the moral relativists like Dawkins, Hitchens and their ilk. Moral relativism, being socially structurured, definitely leads to altruism. Whatever is good to society or to the common good is to be regarded as the best ethical system. This premise makes MR inherently altruistic.

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