21 March 2012

Richard Dawkins on absolute morality

Here is a video of Richard Dawkins' response to a question about absolute morality.

I liked his answer so much that I decided to quote it in full below, along with some relevant quotes from the Bible, Quran, and Hadith.

But first, here was the question from Hamsa Koreshi.

Question: My question is for professor Dawkins. Considering that Atheism cannot possibly have any sense of absolute morality,  would it not then be an irrational leap of faith, which atheists themselves so harshly condemn, for an atheist to decide between right and wrong?

And here is Dawkins' answer:

The absolute morality that a religious person might profess would include what, stoning people for adultery,
And the man that committeth adultery with another man's wife, even he that committeth adultery with his neighbour's wife, the adulterer and the adulteress shall surely be put to death. Leviticus 20.10
The Jew brought to the Prophet a man and a woman from amongst them who have committed (adultery) illegal sexual intercourse. He ordered both of them to be stoned (to death), near the place of offering the funeral prayers beside the mosque. Hadith Sahih Muslim
death for apostasy,
If thy brother ... or thy son, or thy daughter, or the wife of thy bosom, or thy friend, which is as thine own soul, entice thee secretly, saying, Let us go and serve other gods ... Thou shalt not consent unto him ... neither shall thine eye pity him ... But thou shalt surely kill him; thine hand shall be first upon him to put him to death, and afterwards the hand of all the people. Deuteronomy 13.6-10
"Whoever changed his Islamic religion, then kill him." -- Muhammad Sahih al-Bukhari
punishment for breaking the Sabbath?
Whosoever doeth any work in the sabbath day, he shall surely be put to death. Exodus 31.14
Six days shall work be done, but on the seventh day there shall be to you an holy day, a sabbath of rest to the LORD: whosoever doeth work therein shall be put to death. Exodus 35.2
They found a man that gathered sticks upon the sabbath day ... and the LORD said unto Moses, The man shall be surely put to death: all the congregation shall stone him with stones. Numbers 15.32-36  
Ye know of those of you who broke the Sabbath, how We said unto them: Be ye apes, despised and hated! And We made it an example to their own and to succeeding generations. Quran 2.65-66
These are all things which are religiously-based absolute moralities. 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 what you could almost call an intelligent design.

Can we not design our society in such a way to have the sort of morality that we want to live in? If you actually look at the moralities that are accepted among modern people, among 21st century people: we don't believe in slavery anymore, we believe in the equality of women, we believe in being gentle, we believe in being kind to animals. Theses are all things which  are entirely recent. They have very little basis in Biblical or Quranic scripture. They are things that have developed over historical time through a consensus of reasoning, sober discussion, argument, legal theory, political and moral philosophy. They do not come from religion. 

To the extent that you can find the good bits in religious scriptures you have to cherry pick. You search your way through the Bible or the Quran and find the occasional verse that is an acceptable profession of morality and we say, "Look at that! That's religion." You leave out all the horrible bits and you say, "Oh, we don't believe that anymore. We've grown out of it."
(In the SAB there are 1312 cruel passages vs. 503 good ones; the corresponding values for the Quran are  531 and 75.)
Well, of course we've grown out of it! We've grown out of it because of secular, moral philosophy  and rational discussion.

Check out Dawkins' most recent book, The Magic of Reality, a graphic science book written for children 12 and up.


Faisal said...

No we have not grown out of it. We have just chosen things which are preferable to us. We might do away with those too in a few centuries. Murder might be made "good" in the future when populations have risen. Morals always seem subjective to people. Morals are where we find a balance. You are subscribing to them for that reason alone, killing isn't inherently good or bad, it is just a human interpretation, love is just sex of two members of species working underneath, there are no actual morals. You have proven your yourself. You came from dust and will go to dust

Madam G said...

The first time I hear this back in 2013 I was cleaning the house. I started to Richard Dawkins, I Owe to him how I think now.. He opened up my mind and finally leave my religon... The fact that you make it more detailed is very amazing of you... With that I don't need to Write it myself for my book I just copy Yours hehe thanks...