If you haven’t been following the Ashes over the past few days, you may not have heard about the mini furore created by Stuart Broad last week. Broad is a batsman for England who was caught out fairly and squarely, but refused to ‘walk’, leaving the decision down to the umpire. There has been a storm in an internet-cup about this – some siding with Broad, and others… not so much.
Richard Dawkins fell down in the ‘not so much’ camp. This is what he put on Twitter on Friday night:
For Dawkins, it was a non-issue. Ethics is ethics, cheating is cheating. There is no grey area.
He posted up subsequently:
He closed off by saying:
I’m sorry for quoting at length here, but I’d just like to pose the question: is Richard Dawkins being consistent here? Is it consistent on the one hand to say that we are basically gene reproduction machines with everything formed from within an evolutionary framework, and then to say we need to “rise above” Darwinism? What are the logical steps? I believe he has said in an interview that he is a passionate Darwinian when it comes to science, but passionately not Darwinian when it comes to ethics. I just can’t see how that follows.
In an interview with Peter Singer, it seems to me that the discussion on ethics is rooted around how humans are essentially animals. They may be a particularly advanced kind of animal, but basically humans are animals. That is our evolutionary heritage, therefore this is how we should be. Where this gets interesting is his views on infanticide (starting at 24:11). Dawkins states, unequivocally, that in certain circumstances he could see no moral objection to infanticide (if, for example, the child had an incurable disease and was going to die in pain).
So it seems that Dawkins likes to talk evolutionary ethics when it suits him, but when it doesn’t we need to “rise above” Darwinism. I just cannot comprehend the mindset of someone who, when faced with the question of infanticide says “I can see no moral objection”, but when faced with the question of a cheating cricketer thumps his hand on the table and says, “Come on, we have STANDARDS here people!!!”
I’m not sure what the evolutionary ethical perspective on what Stuart Broad did actually is, but Dawkins seems to be seeing ‘cheating’ as an absolute whereas human life is not.
I should make clear at this point (after learning from a discussion had on Twitter a few weeks ago) that I am not making the accusation that someone “can’t be good without God”. I’d just question whether it’s possible to define ‘good’ in a meaningful way without God.
If you enjoyed this post you might also like my post on Godless Ethics and Egoism.