Sandy Hook Revisited: Something Gun Rampages Should Teach Us (and Richard Dawkins)
One year after the Sandy Hook Elementary School shootings, we still struggle with how the shooter, Adam Lanza, could butcher so many innocents, including children, in cold blood. Thankfully, we have had a brief respite in such shootings. But, I am afraid there is no moral reason now why more won't happen. Why?
Consider Richard Dawkins, who tells us we live in a world that has come about by Darwinian evolution. If we take that view seriously, as Dawkins claims to do, then there are some stark moral facts with which we simply must come to terms. For instance, there are no real, objectively valid moral truths. Surely there is no God, either. All that is real is physical or biological stuff that we treat, or conceive of, as good or evil, or right or wrong. But (and this is important), there are no intrinsically (or objectively real) good or evil actions, or people. Simply put, morality ends up being up to us; it's relative to our preferences or constructs.
But, with Sandy Hook, look at the victims' families, survivors, onlookers, and others immediately affected. They didn't espouse a relativistic attitude. The governor of Connecticut even said evil visited Sandy Hook that fateful day. Others were in shock; how could anyone do such a horrifically wrong act?
These gut-reactions should tell us something we should know deep down: these cold-blooded, mass murders are morally wrong, even evil, in themselves. Moreover, they aren't just a matter of someone's preferences.
But, if we take Dawkins and the Darwinian story seriously, these shooting rampages couldn't have been really evil in themselves. But, just try telling that to the survivors and loved ones.
Moreover, in The God Delusion, Dawkins rails against Christians because, he claims, their God commanded evil actions like genocide. But Dawkins cannot have it both ways. Since on Darwinian evolution, there cannot exist any objectively valid moral norms, he is left without any room to complain morally against Christianity.
Still, for many, such experiences up close with evil drive them away from God, whom they are told is all good, all-powerful, and all-knowing. So, due to evil, God mustn't exist. Now, people who experience real suffering deserve much compassion. But the reality of evil acts and people like Lanza who go on shooting rampages should speak loudly to us about God. Why?
Because evil presupposes a standard of goodness that isn't created by us; without real goodness, there can't be evil. Evil is the absence of goodness. Now, there are truly evil acts, like these mass shootings, so there must be real, objective goodness.
While some evolutionary philosophers like Michael Martin try to appeal to objectively real morals, nonetheless there's no basis in reality for this, for morals on this view still are just how we conceive of the physical. Basically, then, there are two main options for grounding (explaining) what objective morals are: 1) they exist as brute, abstract, moral principles or virtues (like justice), like Plato thought, or 2) they are grounded in God, and God's character. But in Plato's case, why should these morals have anything to do with us? And, who cares if we "violate" some impersonal moral standard? Instead, the best explanation I know is that morals, including goodness, is grounded in God's nature; as Israel's king David observed, taste and see that the Lord is good (Ps. 34:8).
Sandy Hook is important, for it reminds us that there are really evil acts. But that fact should tell us that Dawkins and Darwinian evolution cannot be correct, at least in terms of morals and having a healthy society.
R. Scott Smith, PhD is Associate Professor of Philosophy and Ethics at Biola University.