The God Delusion - an Appraisal  - Chapter 6

Return to Main Contents Page



This is the Chapter 61 Page for the appraisal of the contents of Richard Dawkins' book, The God Delusion.



Page Contents:









Chapter 6 Overview


"The roots of morality: why are we good?"


Chapter 6 is divided into:




Chapter 6: Content & Comments





Quote 1: p.241


Moral outrage



HATE MAIL: The whole of the four pages of the preamble of this chapter are given over to terrible examples of hate mail that Richard has received. When you start to think about this it is not such a telling indictment as one might think. Consider:


1. No one would question that the examples given are terrible and the writers should be thoroughly ashamed of themselves.

2. They appear to come from the Christian camp but the disconcerting thing about Christianity is that the borders are often unclear and so there may be those who apparently espouse so-called Christian values, but who, otherwise, would not be considered to be Christians by the bulk of the Christian population who would in no way condone the language or the sentiments in these letters.

3. The reality is that Richard has followers who are equally vociferous in denouncing Christians. David Robertson, pastor of a Free Church of Scotland, has received just the same sort of abusive responses from Richard's followers as recorded in his book, The Dawkins Letters.

4. The implication of putting these letters in this present book appears mischievous and underhand, failing to realise the truths here noted, and therefore being used to inflame his own followers.


Return to top of page



Part 1: Does our Moral Sense have a Darwinian Origin



Quote 2: p.245


our sense of right and wrong can be derived from our Darwinian past



MANY VIEWS: This is Richard laying down the direction here, citing first other atheistic authors and then declaring, “This section is my own version of the argument. There are obviously different views and as we have noted before, we are therefore on speculative or philosophical grounds rather than scientific. Let's just be aware of that.

LINK to Appendix 7 - Science or Philosophy



Quote 3: p.245


the Darwinian idea that evolution is driven by natural selection seems ill-suited to explain such goodness



GENES & FREEDOM OF WILL: The ensuing paragraph acknowledges that it appears rather a mystery. The question of the selfish gene is raised and it is explained that there is a lot of difference between genes and group activity. The linkage between genes and behaviour is highly speculative and the most that can be usually said, is that genes may suggest a disposition or leaning towards a certain sort of behaviour. Freedom of will and choice still seems to operate although some would wish to deny that to avoid personal responsibility.



Quote 4: p.247


There are circumstances – not particularly rare – in which genes ensure their own selfish survival by influencing organisms to behave altruistically



REASONS FOR DOING GOOD: The argument is about to open out to show various reasons why animals at least (and the jump is made to people, but I suggest that is a questionable jump) act apparently for good:

  •  genetic kin – you look after you own (p.247)
  •  reciprocal altruism – you scratch my back and I'll scratch yours (p.247,248)
  •  reputation for generosity and kindness (p.249)
  •  conspicuous generosity as a means of self-advertising (p.250,251)



Quote 5: p.249


for there will always be cheats



SIN IN THE BACKGROUND: This seems to undermine his general thesis, for there may be self-serving reasons why people do good acts, but there equal numbers, if not more, when people do bad, but this doesn't get much of a mention because it runs contrary to what Richard wants to show, namely that you can be good without God



Quote 6: p.252


Genetic tendencies towards altruism would have been favoured in early humans



UNCERTAIN EARLY GOODNESS: This really seems such a specious argument, because a) we don't know, and b) this form of goodness that is being spoken about is purely self-serving and not true goodness, and c) ignores all the bad actions and motives that equally exist.


The argument that Richard takes on is that he recognises these might have been early civilisation tendencies when surrounded by kin, but now we mostly live apart from family it raises a question mark over what has been said. He overcomes this by reverting back to using his ‘mistake' or ‘by-product' idea that he uses elsewhere, and says it now occurs because of early civilisation conditioning.


LINK to Appendix 7 - Science or Philosophy



Quote 7: p.253


Do not, for one moment, think of such Darwnizing as demeaning or reductive of the noble emotions of compassion and generosity.



TWO-FACED BELIEFS: This is Richard at his two-faced best. He wants us, on one hand, (because it suits his mechanical approach to exclude God-design) to accept the mechanics of Darwinian natural selection, and earlier even used the phrase “we can no more help ourselves” and then the next moment saying that this doesn't in any way take away from the great emotions. Of course it does; you can't have it both ways. You can't say one moment we are helpless products of the selfish gene, and the next minute speak of ‘noble' emotions.


SELFISH NOBILITY: ‘Noble' refers to freely expressed characteristics of high moral calibre. When they are the outcomes of the selfish gene, a pure mechanical outworking, you can't use the word ‘noble'. It has no meaning when the action or emotion is purely a by-product, mistake or misfiring! (which is how he describes these things!) Trying to separate out the selfish gene from selfish actions, doesn't work, as hard as he tries to make it so.



Quote 8: p.254


us-versus-them vendetta



SIN IS THERE AGAIN: This romantic reference to Romeo and Juliet is the nearest that Richard comes, at the end of this Part to accepting there is pain and upset between human beings, which he otherwise conveniently forgets.


The biggest problem of goodness is not, as he has been suggesting, questions over its primeval origins, but the presence in even greater measure of evil, which we will see later. He avoids this completely in his endeavour to mechanically explain good acts which so far he can only explain as self-serving acts. Not a good picture of goodness!


Return to top of page



Part 2: A Case Study in the Roots of Morality



Quote 9: p.254


we should expect the research on the human mind would reveal some moral universals




MORAL UNIVERSALS: The failure of this section in an argument for the exclusion of God, is that the general recognition that we have the capability to be good and to take moral decisions, would be equally true if it was God-design, as much as if it were mechanical selection. Of course Richard includes it to try to justify its possibility if we are purely products of mechanical (or organic, if you don't like the connotations of ‘mechanical') evolution.



Quote 10: p.255


Hauser's moral dilemmas




EXAMPLES OF MORAL FUNCTIONS: The following three pages are given over to examples of ‘teasing moral conundrums' and concludes that atheists and religious people both have this moral function. Of course they do, they are both made in the image of God and both have this capacity, as we have noted in previous chapters. There is no surprise in this!



Quote 11: p.258


we do not need God in order to be good – or evil




DARWINIAN SELF-SERVING: Whoever said we did! This is his final conclusion to this part. He puts the ability to do good acts down to Darwinian selection but all he has shown is that such acts are purely self-serving if seen from this perspective. The God-design basis is indeed more noble because it allows us to make the choice to do something good for others out of no self-serving inner pressure where we cannot help ourselves (to quote him from earlier).


However he may wish to dress it up, all Richard has managed to do here is show the possibility (which cannot be proved) of a cold, mechanistic, genetic-driven behaviour. He'll probably have to write another book to show that this wasn't what he really meant because it doesn't leave us in a very good light.


Return to top of page



Part 3: If there is no God, why be Good?



Quote 12: p.259


Do you really mean to tell me the only reason you try to be good is to gain God's approval and reward or to avoid his disapproval and punishment




MISUNDERSTANDING CHRISTIAN DOCTRINE: We are back to those times when Richard reveals his complete lack of understanding of Biblical Christianity at least. Although there may be Christians who are confused about Christian doctrine and do ‘try to be good' to please God and get God on their side, let's take what the Biblical doctrine says rather than human misunderstanding.


The Christian teaching as found in the Bible makes the following points:


1. You cannot please God by ‘doing good' because, even as Richard has inadvertently shown, such behaviour is still self-centred and self-seeking and, we would add, godless, and often wrong.


2. Jesus Christ came to take our guilt and shame and to impart forgiveness for whoever would receive it from God, not to blame and shame.


3. When we realise that God's loving intentions are to release us from guilt and shame, and we begin to realise something of the wonder of His love for us, it is that love that motivates us towards goodness, in rather the same way that my love for my wife motivates me to acts of love towards her.


4. Acts of goodness that are not motivated by love are, as previously indicated, acts of self-serving and it is arguable whether they are indeed acts of goodness.

LINK to Appendix 2- Basic Christian Beliefs



Quote 13: p.259


It seems to me to require quite a low self-regard to think that, should belief in God suddenly vanish from the world, we would all become callous and selfish hedonists, with no kindness, no charity no generosity, nothing that would deserve the name of goodness.




ARGUING BY EXTREMES: This is now Richard using one of the bad methods of arguing – to set up extremes that no one is saying – to prove a point. You actually can be a callous and selfish hedonist and still show acts of kindness when it suits you. The worst drug baron is still able to be kind to those he has a disposition of kindness towards, even if it may have a self-pleasing element possibly discernable.


SIN LET LOOSE: Nevertheless, as William Golding's Lord of the Flies shows, when the restraints are lifted off, we do have the capability of being thoroughly evil. As my Law students used to tell me, year after year, we need rules or laws to protect the weak because ‘mankind is nasty'. That's the verdict from the classroom – but not Richard's classroom. It's not low self-regard. It is pure realism as the history of the last two hundred years has shown (If not the history of mankind!). The millions who died did not die because of Christian convictions but because of godless thinking.



Quote 14: p.260


Do we really need policing – whether by God or by each other – in order to stop us from behaving in a selfish and criminal manner?




THE NEED FOR RESTRAINT: What world is Richard living in? The whole invasion of the countryside by speed cameras and the city landscape by CCTV camera's is the answer to his utterly naïve question. The vast majority of people avoid criminal behaviour simply because of the fear of getting caught. If Richard does not know this, it is time he started mixing with ordinary people.



Quote 15: p.261


the majority of the population of Montreal presumably believed in God




IMITATION BELIEF IN GOD: Lack of understanding here! He has been giving examples of where people have broken loose and makes this naïve comment. The fact is that in surveys, somewhere between 70 and 80% of the population, say they believe in God - but never turn up in church on a Sunday morning (only 5% in the UK do), which suggests that their ‘belief' is purely a cerebral thing which has no tangible or practical outworking.


In a naïve and indeed spurious argument, he goes on to acknowledge the comment often made that “there are no atheists in foxholes”, meaning that when you are facing death you suddenly become alert to possibilities you had not considered before. He then proceeds to suggest that “there are very few atheists in prison” and goes on to suggest that atheistic humanism increases morality and this goes with better education. Now the reality is that nothing could be further from the truth.


First, yes, there are people who come to ‘religious belief' in prison. There is a lot of social work with prisoners by Christians. Whereas I suspect a case can be made for linking poor education with some criminal activities, if I was a betting man I would place large sums on the bet that in practice the vast majority of criminals are atheists.


ATHEISM IN PRACTICE: This is where Richard is on a winner and a loser at the same time. He is on a winner in that his constituency is without doubt far larger in practice – and this is where he fails to observe the distinction. He is on a loser because the signs are that society is waking up to the fact that life doesn't work with a godless, humanistic outlook and the fruit of this outlook over the past thirty years is becoming so obvious that many are beginning to reject it. Perhaps that is why this book has been written – perhaps he has been starting to realise that the atheistic lifestyle that has in practice been dominant for much of our lifetimes, is a crumbling edifice.



Quote 16: p.262


Such research evidence as there is certainly doesn't support the common view that religiosity is positively correlated with morality




CONFUSED SOCIOLOGY: With this comment Richard opens this section, starting with a quote about crime in Republican or Democratic states in America, with the observation that Republicans are largely that because of “overwhelming political influence of conservative Christians,” yet of 25 cities with the lowest rates of violent crime, 62% are Democratic and 38% Republican.


I believe that the quote, "There are three kinds of lies:  lies, damned lies, and statistics," is attributed to Disraeli. It was also a certain William W. Watt who said, “Do not put your faith in what statistics say until you have carefully considered what they do not say.”


REALITY: In the first paragraph above, what the statistical generalities say, if I may call them that, may be correct, and I haven't got a problem with that. What they don't tell us is the detail behind the big figures. For instance, in London in the early part of 2007 there have been a large number of black (if by the time you read this, PC has changed it to ‘coloured' again, forgive me, change it!) teenagers who have been killed in what have not been described as racist attacks. In other words they have been within the black community, where there are a lot of disaffected young men, who move into gangs and violent behaviour ensues. (Sorry that may be over simplistic). However, what is also noticeable is that the black churches in London are some of the most vibrant and also sometimes, the largest. Put all this together, this simply says that the black population is often the most religious and the most violent, simply because of cultural pressures. To somehow put forward an argument demeaning the Christian population because of violence in the overall population is ingenuous or even unthinking. This reaches its peak in the following quote.



Quote 17: p.263


‘higher rates of belief in and worship of a creator correlates with higher rates of homicide, juvenile and early mortality, STD infection rates, teen pregnancy and abortion in the prosperous democracies




ECONOMIC & SOCIAL REALITIES: I guess this would be good subject matter for economist and author Steven D. Levitt, who with Stephen J. Dubner wrote Freakonomics, which “studies the riddles of everyday life” and comes up with some very different conclusions, contrary to what most of us believe about life. If Richard was an economist he would know that there are figures that run parallel to one another but do not cause one another. Thus the key word in the quote above is ‘correlates'.


Christians who try to deny these correlations, as hinted at in the next big quote on this page, are unwise because there are so very obvious points that need to be made in such studies:


  • “in the prosperous democracies” – for the reasons given in the main paragraph with quote 16 above, it is quite likely that you can find a lot of religious people in violent places all round the world. One doesn't cause the other, although if there was a link it is more likely to be religious faith growing in a violent society as people turn to God for help.
  • What is rarely picked up by atheistic researchers, because it is uncomfortable to their cause, is that Western democracies that are developed and affluent, are also those countries in the world that have had a Christian foundation and way of thinking, (there are some obvious reasons for their prosperity growing out of this), even if they are now largely abandoning that Christian heritage that helped them grow and prosper.


  • The growth of all of the things listed in the quote, have come about since there has been a general abandoning of the Christian faith, and I would suggest the two things are directly related.
  • As Richard himself goes on to acknowledge, you can't have absolutes without God. Therefore as God has been removed from Western thinking, boundaries have been removed and the list of things in the quote ensue – despite there still being a sizeable Christian population.


  • In America in particular, in areas of conservative Christianity, there has been a tendency for the Christian community to separate off from the community, instead of being the salt and light its founder called them to be. This has meant that they have tended to have little impact on the culture and have squandered their potential cultural impact, relying instead on the political might of Christian TV personalities.


  • In the UK, a recent major trend among conservative Christians has been to regain their impact of a hundred and fifty years ago by social and community involvement in a most significant way.



Quote 18: p.264


If you don't believe in God, you don't believe there are any absolute standards of morality.




ABSOLUTES: Richard is using an imaginary Christian apologist and what seems funny is that he seems almost on the verge of accepting it – because it is after all the truth. He'll try and put up an alternative but this point does really need to be taken on board in these discussions.


As I have spoken about elsewhere on this site, when I taught Law for seventeen years to mature construction, surveying, civil engineering and architectural students, I always started off with an exercise asking them to imagine a post-holocaust society with them needing to restore civilisation.


The first exercise was to consider, a) Do you need rules? (laws) and b) who should decide those laws?


They always came up with, “Yes, we need law to protect the week because mankind is nasty,” and then went through the possibilities of decisions being made by i) a dictator, ii) a committee of clever people, or iii) by democratically elected representatives (despite the modern tendency of pressure groups unbalancing the equation.) What was interesting was that every year they were quite unhappy with the alternatives here. I usually left them to wonder, “IF there was a designer-Creator, wouldn't ‘he' be the best one to decide how we best work?” It IS the logical solution.



Quote 19: p.264/265


Some philosophers, notably Kant




CONFUSED COP-OUT: This starts a short discussion about philosophers, but again Richard finds himself almost siding with absolutists, but just manages to veer away. He ends with a rather incomplete, “Fortunately, however, morals do not have to be absolute.” Sadly that is a cop-out or half truth. Murder is always wrong. Rape is always wrong – and Richard will, I'm sure, agree with that. In fact, I suspect, there are a lot of things that we will all agree are wrong in any circumstance.


CHRISTIAN REALITY: The Christian's stance is far more realistic than that which the atheist finds himself stuck with. As I commented earlier, this chapter is largely devoid of references to the much bigger area of worry about why people are nasty, bad or evil. If people were not like this, we wouldn't have to worry about these issues, but the fact that we do have to discuss them, only confirms the fact that this is how we are – all of us, you, me, and Richard, included.


The Christian's stance is that there is wrong, and we need to face up to it. Yet, there are also areas where it is shades of grey, and not black or white. The shades of grey are attested to by the long philosophical discussions about whether something is wrong. Christians accept that:

  •  in some areas there is uncertainty and
  •  some times we will have to choose the lesser of two evils, and
  •  sometimes, even though we spend much time in thought (and maybe even in prayer), we are still vulnerable human beings and we may still get it wrong.


It is because life is not always clear cut and because we sometimes get it wrong, that Jesus Christ died, as the Bible says to take our guilt and punishment. 



Quote 20: p.265/266


the modern divide is between ‘deontologists' … and ‘consequentialists




IS PATRIOTISM AN ABSOLUTE?: At the end of the chapter is a brief discussion about the differences. What is amazing is Richard's honesty as he says, “It is pretty hard to defend absolutist morality on grounds other than religious ones.”  He seems to shy away from this though by talking in a rather woolly way about patriotism which he maintains has been held as an absolute. I think if it was, it was a cultural thing of early last century and the further the century went, the less it was. In the light of Iraq I wonder if there would be a general revolution if conscription was revived to go into a twenty-first century war. It's a moot point anyway.


Quote 21: p.267


Indeed adherents of scriptural authority show distressingly little curiosity about the (normally highly dubious) historical origins of their holy books




PREPARING THE WAY: We'll allow him this comment as he prepares the way to dig himself a hole in the next chapter. It does provoke some comments:


  •   Yes, he's probably right about ‘little curiosity'. I'd be the first to want to shake up Christians to see the good and valid reasons why they can believe in the Bible, as much of the rest of this site shows.


  • normally highly dubious” – interesting! That suggests that some aren't. Surely he doesn't believe this in the light of what he's already said?


Return to top of page




NB. In what follows Q stand for ‘Quote'




The preamble merely reveals there are some silly and nasty people around, even those who dare to call themselves part of the Christian community.


Along the way I have pointed out that:

  • Christianity doesn't have tight boundaries, so any fringe idiot can call themselves a Christian, while the bulk of us condemn their attitudes and language, which are also echoed in Richard's followers as well. (Q.1)


Part 1: Does our moral sense have a Darwinian origin?


Within this Part, Richard seeks to provide four reasons why “good” acts are inherited from our ancestors and are part of natural selection.


Along the way I have pointed out that:

  • The fact that Richard acknowledges that there are lots of different ideas and views, indicates there is no open and shut case. (Q.2)
  • The linkage between genes and behaviour is highly speculative and apparent freedom of choice in life indicates we are not tied to genes. (Q.3)
  • The link between why animals act as they do, and why we do, is tenuous and questionable (Q.4)
  • Richard shies away from why people are bad, in his thesis on good. (Q.5)
  • A genetic tendency towards good through evolution cannot be proved and is purely speculation. (The ‘nature' versus ‘nurture' debate is still on.) It is even more difficult when balanced with the tendency towards selfishness and bad. (Q.6)
  • Richard is two faced, wanting to exclude God on a mechanical basis but not wanting to exclude meaningful emotions which are also purely mechanical. (Q.7)
  • Again he still avoids the presence of evil in mankind and can only explain good as self-serving. (Q.8)


Part 2: A Case Study in the Roots of Morality


This Part seeks to show that if evolution has built in a sense of goodness, then it would be true whether or not you believe in God. All this does is give a rationale for goodness coming out of evolution and in no way disposes of God as the cause of Good.


Along the way I have pointed out that:

  • Richard includes this section to give respectability to evolution (Q.9)
  • The use of teasing moral conundrums to explain that all mankind has a moral sense simply confirms the Biblical teaching that all mankind is made in the image of God with moral understanding. (Q.10)
  • Darwinian evolution explains goodness in coldly, mechanistic, gene-driven terms that are inbuilt. Good according to Richard's writing is simply gene activity. The God-thesis gives man the opportunity to be noble in making his own decisions to do acts of good. (Q.11)


Part 3: If there is no God, why be Good?


This largest and last Part derides people being good only to avoid punishment and denies that we need laws to restrict us. Yet contradictorily it gives illustrations of where law was removed and lawlessness broke out. Some confused thinking follows about Christians being linked to violent crime! It concludes with the recognition that absolutes can only exist if there is a God, so absolutes can't exist!


Along the way I have pointed out that:

  • Richard clearly doesn't understand the doctrine of salvation removing fear of doing wrong and replacing it with love of God as a motivation for doing good. (Q.12)
  • Richard doesn't like the idea of speaking about lawlessness breaking out if you remove God yet The Lord of the Flies shows exactly that happening, as has recent history. (Q.13)
  • Richard seems completely out of touch with reality to suggest we don't need restraints to keep us on the moral straight and narrow. (Q.14)
  • Richard can't see the difference between a token acknowledgement of God's existence and living in the reality of that belief. He also shows an immense naivety in applying this. (Q.15)
  • Richard's use of statistics to link religion and crime is naïve in the extreme. (Q.16)
  • Richard should take courses in sociology and economics to understand the dynamics of modern societies. (Q.17)
  • Richard acknowledges absolutes only come with God, but doesn't like it. (Q.18)
  • Richard again fails to acknowledge wrong in the world. (Q.19)
  • Richard's tangent on patriotism is outdated and irrelevant. (Q.20)
  • His final snide shot about the Bible simply prepares the way for the next chapter. (Q.21)



Overall Comment:


I am led to believe by others that Richard is hot stuff in his own area – and his writings indicate that this is so. However this chapter reveals him as a man apparently shut away from the world in an ivory tower where he is completely out of touch with much modern life. He again reveals his ignorance of Christianity.


This was obviously a difficult chapter for him because he verges again and again on accepting absolutes and even a recognition of the good of religion, as well as the lawlessness of mankind, yet each of these three things run contrary to his beliefs and so he tries to ignore their significance. It seemed almost like a man who hates trees but being forced to say, oh look at these lovely leaves. It really is a strange chapter.


Return to top of page