Recently I watched a YouTube video wherein Dr. John Lennox debated Dr. Richard Dawkins on his book The God Delusion. In that debate, Dr. Dawkins expressed his incredulity that anyone could believe that atheism would lead someone to commit murder or any other kind of crime. Because I am just that kind of guy, I thought I might take a few minutes to lend Dr. Dawkins a helping hand in seeing how such a thing might come to be.
Let us imagine that you are a subsistence farmer and you and your family depend on a certain crop. Recently, an infestation of some pests, let us say they are ants, has begun to destroy next season’s crop. What would you do? Would you destroy the pests? Or would you just let your family die? After many days of agonizing over the decision, you finally make the only decision that you can. You decide that you and your family must die that the ants may live . . .
This is the answer that the great saints of atheism Richard Dawkins and Neil deGrasse Tyson give us when they rant about human speciesism and the horrific sin of hubris that is committed by human beings who elevate mankind over “lesser” forms of life. (See my essay, “Atheism with a Smiling Face“) While I laud their sincere love of all life forms and the fact that they are willing to pay any price for their convictions, I myself think that the “morality” that they preach is idiotic, self-contradictory and amoral. If all life forms are assumed to have the same value as a human being, this is indistinguishable from saying that all life is valueless. Those of us of lesser character than Dr. Dawkins and Dr. Tyson, therefore, would elect to destroy the pests and save our families.
So now let us imagine that a weakling atheist is put in a different quandary. Let us imagine that it is not a group of ants that is threatening his livelihood, but a group of people of a different ethnicity. They have been displaced by some disaster, for example, and they need food and shelter and they are taking available jobs. On what principle does such an atheist not exterminate his competition?
An atheist like Christopher Hitchens might argue that science would here come to the rescue. “A genetic survey done on your family and the immigrant population would indicate that we are members of the same species.”, he might have said, “Therefore you should not kill the immigrants.”
But what difference does this genetic survey make? Granting that the immigrants are members of my species, why should I not kill members of my own species? When I turn to the natural world, I find that members of a species kill each other all the time. Male bears, for example, will often kill cubs from other males so that their own offspring have a greater chance for survival. Speaking in terms of evolution, our most fierce competitors are likely to be members of our own species whose habitat, nutritional and reproductive needs are identical to our own and with whom we are most likely to be in evolutionary competition for scarce resources.
Dr. Dawkins is here making a classic mistake that I see many people make. People tend to think they are moral because they cannot see anything wrong with what they want to do. “I want to smoke a little weed, have a little sex, play my music and do what I want to do. What is wrong with that? I am a good person.” But the true test of morality does not come from the things that you want to do, but in how you choose to behave when the things that you want collide with the welfare of other human beings.
It is true that, historically speaking, Christians have often failed this test of morality. Think of the history of slavery in the American South, for example, and you will see that economic expediency overrode any concerns about loving our neighbor. But in the choice between following our principles and following the path of economic expedience at least Christianity gives you a basis for having a dilemma. Atheism cannot give you any grounds for choosing the path of economic privation except the personal preferences of Saint Dawkins and Saint Tyson. The way that atheism could lead someone to murder or other crimes, therefore, is by not providing a cogent reason not to commit certain acts.