Wednesday, January 18, 2006


What does Dawkins mean by 'evil'?

Richard Dawkins says that religion is 'the root of all evil', but what does he mean by 'evil' and how does this fit with his worldview? Dawkins actually ends up explaining away morality rather than explaining it - because his explanation requires us to translate all talk about things being actually and objectively wrong into talk about certain members of our species having the feeling that something is wrong because they just happen to have evolved that way through a process of unintended and blind evolution.

Hence Dawkins claims to have 'seen through' morality in precisely the same way in which his explanation of religion - that it is nothing but an activity that happens to aids group survival (interesting that he doesn't explain the group activity of science like this!) - 'sees through' religion.

Our evolutionary history might account for us having certain moral feelings about actions (although even this is questionable), but it can't objectively prescribe that we ought to pay attention to those feelings, or objectively obligate us to pay attention to them, because only persons can prescribe and obligate behaviour, whilst a naturalistic evolutionary history is not a person! So when Dawkins says that religion is 'the root of all evil' what he really means by 'evil' is 'things that a blind material process happens to have caused me to feel bad about'! If he meant objectively evil he would contradict himself when he failed to acknowledge the necessity of explaining morality with reference to a personal source.

Moreover, if Dawkins' evolutionary 'explanation' of morality allows for the diversification of different 'social norms' (evolving in different environmental conditions say), then what's to stop religious people explaining to Dawkins that they just happen to have a different 'social norm' concerning what things count as 'evil' than he does, and that since his explanation of morality leaves no room for making truth claims about any such 'norm' being objectively better than any other, he can't criticize their 'norm' without adding 'but of course, I'm not saying that their norm is actually wrong, just that its a different norm than mine happens to be'.

You can read a more detailed analysis and critique of Dawkins' views on morality (and other matters) by purchasing a copy of my book I Wish I Could Believe In Meaning (Damaris, 2004) from or from the Damaris web-shop @ My book also presents the moral argument, as does this paper by Professor William Lane Craig, ‘The Indispensability of Theological Meta-Ethical Foundations for morality’, @

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