Do we need God?

It is not an exaggeration to say that of all the books that comprised the critical response to the initial onslaught of the New Atheism, the most effective was The Irrational Atheist. This was due to the fact that, unlike most of the other books on the subject, it directly addressed the various arguments presented by Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris, Christopher Hitchens, and others. Since then, the New Atheism has largely subsided in the public eye, and yet, if the relevant statistics are to be believed, Western society remains heavily influenced by the inept secular philosophy that provided the foundation for the New Atheist wave, secular humanism.

The first noteworthy thing about C.R. Hallpike’s book, Do We Need God to Be Good, is that the reader is nearly two-thirds the way through the book before he can reasonably ascertain which way the author would be predisposed to answering the titular question. Nevertheless, I must admit that Hallpike’s book is even more effective than TIA, because instead of refuting the atheist arguments used to attack religion, it targets many of the philosophical foundations upon which those arguments are dependent.

Hallpike is an English anthropologist, and if Wikipedia is to be trusted, apparently one of more than a little note. This is unexpectedly relevant to the topic, because, having lived with the primitive tribes of Papua New Guinea for years, Hallpike has amassed, and published, considerable first-hand evidence concerning the way in which pre-civilized societies are actually structured. And it is through the expertise he has acquired that he effortlessly demolishes a vast edifice of pseudo-scholarship that has been erected under the name of “evolutionary psychology”:

Normal science proceeds from the known to the unknown, but evolutionary psychology tries to do it the other way round…. It cannot be sufficiently emphasized, therefore, that our profound ignorance about early humans is quite incompatible with any informed discussion of possible adaptations. Ignoring these drastic limitations on our knowledge has meant that many so-called ‘adaptive explanations’ are merely pseudo-scientific ‘Just So Stories’, often made up without any anthropological knowledge, that have increasingly brought evolutionary psychology into disrepute.

Hallpike provides one devastating example, cited from the Proceedings of the Royal Society, in which it is claimed that humans lost their body hair and took to wearing clothes as the result of sexual preferences expressed over one million years ago. He then points out that while our ignorance of primitive sexual preferences is complete, “at least we know they could not possibly have had clothes, because these have only been around for a few thousand years.”

His critique of secular humanism is even more effective, as the sins of the evo-psych enthusiasts can be reasonably put down to a combination of observable ignorance with a predilection for writing fiction. It is one of the more powerful refutations – to say rebuttal is simply not strong enough – one is likely to encounter in print, as Hallpike not only highlights the philosophical competence of the secular humanists, but casts serious doubt upon their self-professed motivations as well.

Given the importance that Humanists ascribe to science, and the revolutionary claims of modern biology about the nature of Man, it is quite striking that the only interest they seem to have in biology is using it to attack religion, not to reflect on what it has to say about Man. Yet if one takes the claims of evolutionary biologists seriously, especially their denial of consciousness and free will, it is hard to see how the very idea of human agency and moral responsibility could survive at all. Although Humanists prefer to ignore these issues, in the words of Francis Crick, ‘tomorrow’s science is going to knock their culture right out from under them’, and they need to come to terms with the obvious incompatibility between their liberal Western values and a genuinely Darwinian view of Man.

It is remarkable that despite the fact that his critique of evolutionary psychology is well within his professional wheelhouse, Hallpike is at his most effective when criticizing secular humanism by its own professed standards. After tracing its intellectual history back to the 14th Century, Hallpike reviews the foundational work of two influential humanist philosophers, A.C. Grayling and Paul Kurtz, and points out the conclusively damning fact that none of the qualities of the ideal secular humanist nor the detailed program of what all proper secular humanists should believe have anything to do with the principles of science or secular humanism!

We are also given a detailed programme of what all rightthinking people should believe about human rights, sexual morality, abortion, euthanasia, parenting, education, privacy, crime and punishment, vegetarianism, animal rights, separation of church and state, and government. This seems a remarkably detailed set of conclusions to draw from the two simple premises of ‘no supernatural beings’, and ‘thinking for oneself’, but in fact none of it follows from these at all. What we are actually getting here is a highly ethnocentric summary of the fashionable opinions of Western secular liberals in the early twenty-first century, and who in Britain would read the Guardian.

Humanism is a prolonged glorification of Self, success, and the gratification in every possible way of ‘the fat, relentless ego’, which is why it has a particular loathing of religion. 

Having executed the sacred cow of secular humanism in a manner brutal enough to make a Chicago slaughterhouse butcher blanch, Hallpike proceeds to examine other modern belief-systems, including Objectivism, Behavioralism, and Collectivism before proceeding to directly address the question posed in the beginning of the book.

While his answer is a reasonable one, it is not exactly straightforward. His answer is ultimately yes, that Man needs God to be good because the moral significance of God is the provision of a worldview that provides men with objective value and moral unity as God’s children, elevates spiritual values over purely material ones, and justifies personal humility in the place of self-worship.

I highly recommend Do We Need God to Be Good to anyone who appreciated TIA. It’s intelligent, well-written, and highly-accessible; I would have loved to have published it. And I am very pleased to be able to say that Dr. Hallpike will be the guest at the next Open Brainstorm event, which will be Tuesday night at 8 PM Eastern. I will be sending out the initial invitations to Brainstorm members later today, and provide the registration link to everyone else tomorrow.

Brainstorm members, please note that you will be receiving a review copy of the ebook with your invitation to the event.