On the blog for The Christian Cadre, contributor BK has written a post, Dawkins' Dilemma, in which BK refers to a post by Pastor Dustin S. Segers on Segers' blog Grace in the Triad, which asks, how a materialist atheist like Richard Dawkins can view the god of the Old Testament as a monster. From where does Dawkins derive his standards?
Now, I am no expert on Dawkins; but while I know that he is a self-declared atheist, I do not know that he has declared himself to be a materialist. Actually from BK's quoting of Segers, I can say that Dawkins doesn't quite fit the bill.
BK quotes Segers for the following two syllogisms:
1. Material things are extended in space.
2. Objective moral laws are not extended in space.
3. Therefore, objective moral laws are non-material.
4. Materialism posits that non-material entities do not exist.
5. Therefore, objective moral laws do not exist.
1. Objective moral laws are universal entities that apply to all people, places, and times.
2. Materialism holds that only particular entities have ontological existence.
3. No material thing is a universal entity.
4. Objective moral laws are not material things.
5. Therefore, objective moral laws do not exist.
I can positively say that Dawkins does not adhere to the materialism implicitly defined by these two syllogisms.
On p. 127 of The Blind Watchmaker, Dawkins writes:
DNA gets the best of both worlds. DNA molecules themselves, as physical entities, are like dewdrops. Under the right conditions they come into existence at a great rate, but no one of them has existed for long, and all will be destroyed within a few months. They are not durable like rocks. But the patterns that they bear in their sequences are as durable as the hardest rocks. They have what it takes to exist for millions of years, and that is why they are still here today. The essential difference from dewdrops is that new dewdrops are not begotten by old dewdrops. Dewdrops doubtless resemble other dewdrops, but they don't specifically resemble their own 'parent' dewdrops. Unlike DNA molecules, they don't form lineages, and therefore can't pass on messages. Dewdrops come into existence by spontaneous generation, DNA messages by replication.
That is, while DNA molecules are material, genes = DNA patterns are not, though each concrete instance needs to exist in a material form. Genes therefore violate premise 2 of Segers' Syllogism Two. DNA molecules are particular entities; but DNA patterns are not.
Therefore, Dawkins is not a materialist, at least not according to Segers' definition.
Materialism should be distinguished from naturalism, according to which no supernatural consciousness is actively operating in the universe. Dawkins uses the word meme in analogy to gene, where a meme is a thought pattern, not some assembly of neurons - two persons can share a meme, but they don't share neurons. A meme can be something like 'you shall not cause suffering', which most people accept. Such memes, while not material, can still be completely natural, because they need not be impressed by direct operation by any supernatural, conscious entity, and they can be 'inherited' by social interaction.
Now, the Sixth Commandment (Deuteronomy 5:17) says "You shall not kill". Assume this to be an objective moral law. Then, according to Segers, it "appl[ies] to all people, places, and times". In 1 Samuel 15:1-3 we have this interesting passage:
1Sa 15:1And Samuel said unto Saul, Jehovah sent me to anoint thee to be king over his people, over Israel: now therefore hearken thou unto the voice of the words of Jehovah.
1Sa 15:2Thus saith Jehovah of hosts, I have marked that which Amalek did to Israel, how he set himself against him in the way, when he came up out of Egypt.
1Sa 15:3Now go and smite Amalek, and utterly destroy all that they have, and spare them not; but slay both man and woman, infant and suckling, ox and sheep, camel and ass.
It is the prophet Samuel telling King Saul to slay — that is, kill — all the Amalekites, "both man and woman, infant and suckling, ox and sheep, camel and ass." It is even a divine commandment, Samuel is passing on the words of Yahweh, though not an absolute moral law, because it is specifically addressed to Saul. As reason for this commandment is given that Yahweh "ha[s] marked that which Amalek did to Israel".
But if the Sixth Commandment, "You shall not kill", with Segers' words, "appl[ies] to all people, places, and times", then it applies to Saul and can not be circumvented with any excuse, not even revenge.
That is, even (some) theists allow for exceptions to supposedly objective moral laws, so what's the whole point of such laws? Once you allow for a supernatural, conscious entity to intervene with human affairs, you allow for any specific commandment to preempt the supposedly objective moral laws.
Objective moral laws, if such exist, allow for no exceptions, not even exceptions imposed by the lawgiver. Note that Saul doesn't completely follow the instructions in that he doesn't kill the Amalekite king Agag and also keeps the best of the animals. Samuel then kills Agag; but even that doesn't finish off the Amalekites. They pop up again from time to time.
Possibly God has here been caught by his own laws; the Amalekites cannot be killed because of the Sixth Commandment? No matter how much God tries to finish off the Amalekites, not even he can do it.