Richard Dawkins has been challenged on his recent comments that the idea that morality is tied to religion is "horrible" by radio talk show host and author Dennis Prager, who argued that without God, there is no real good or evil.
World-famous atheist and evolutionary biologist Dawkins answered several CNN readers' questions on Friday while promoting his new book, An Appetite for Wonder, and addressed the assertion that without religion, people would be left without a moral compass.
"The very idea that we get a moral compass from religion is horrible. Not only should we not get our moral compass from religion, as a matter of fact we don't," Dawkins began his argument, and referenced both the Bible and the Quran, suggesting that they condone stoning people to death.
"Now of course we don't do that anymore, but the reason we don't do it is that we pick out those verses of the Bible that we like, and reject those verses we don't like. What criteria do we use to pick out the good ones and reject the bad ones? Non-biblical criteria, non-religious criteria. The same criteria as guide any modern person in their moral compass that has nothing to do with religion," Dawkins continued.
"We are now much less racist than they were, much less sexist than they were. We are much kinder than non-human animals than they were – all sorts of respects in which we are labeled with a moral compass. So something has changed, and it certainly has nothing to do with religion."
Prager, who has often spoken out in defense of Judeo-Christian values in books such as Still the Best Hope: Why the World Needs American Values to Triumph, has debated other world-famous atheists such as Sam Harris, Lawrence Krauss, Daniel Dennett, and the late Christopher Hitchens – but noted that Dawkins has so far refused to come onto his program for a discussion.
In a lengthy response piece published on Tuesday, he said that Dawkins' argument can be proven wrong both for rational and empirical reasons.
"If there is no God, the labels 'good' and 'evil' are merely opinions. They are substitutes for 'I like it' and 'I don't like it.' They are not objective realities," Prager began.
"Atheists such as Dawkins who refuse to acknowledge that without God there are only opinions about good and evil are not being intellectually honest," he continued. "None of this means that only believers in God can be good or that atheists cannot be good. There are bad believers and there are good atheists. But this fact is irrelevant to whether good and evil are real."
He added that although a number of people and societies may agree on some basic principles like "murder is wrong," many others have engaged in practices that strongly go against it. The talk show host brought up the apartheid, Nazi Germany and their genocide of Jewish people, and other things such as honor killings and slavery that was acceptable throughout most of human history.
As for the empirical argument, Prager said: "Perhaps the most powerful proof of the moral decay that follows the death of God is the Western university and its secular intellectuals. Their moral record has been loathsome. Nowhere were Stalin and Mao as venerated as they were at the most anti-religious and secular institutions in Western society, the universities. Nowhere in the West today is anti-Americanism and Israel-hatred as widespread as it is at universities."
Prager concluded: "Dawkins and his supporters have a right to their atheism. They do not have a right to intellectual dishonesty about atheism."