I found this one of the most interesting chapters of the book, despite the fact that I knew much of what was in it already. Dawkins very effectively marshals much of the recent empirical work that has be done on the evolutionary roots of morality in order to refute the silly, but widespread, view that without religion society will quickly degenerate into a seething cesspool of depravity.
Many of the points Dawkins makes here I also make in The War For Children's Minds. He includes some that I don't, and vice verse
For example, I didn't include the Hauser/Singer work, and Dawkins does not attempt to deal with that very popular move - "The only reason Western civilization has not collapsed without religion is that the moral capital has not run out yet." I discuss the "moral capital" move - as used by U.S. neo-cons and the Bishop of Oxford - here.
I suppose I should provide at least one criticism of the chapter, or anticipate one that might be made. So here goes.
At the end, Dawkins says:
The springboard for this discussion of moral philosophy was the hypothetical claim that without a God, morals are relative and arbitrary. (p.267)
In fact, surprisingly, this chapter never deals with the objection that, without God, morals are relative and arbitrary.
Yes, it gives a causal explanation of why we have the moral attitudes and beliefs we do, which I am sure has much truth to it.
But the "springboard" issue - that without God, morals are relative and arbitrary - really turns on the questions: (i) are our moral beliefs are really true (rather than false, or meaningless, or whatever)? (ii), if so, what makes our moral beliefs true? and (ii) what grounds have we for believing them true?
Dawkins's causal story leaves these three questions pretty much unanswered.
It's one thing to explain causally why someone believes killing is wrong, quite another to explain how killing is wrong is or can be true (given, say, a purely naturalistic world view like Dawkins's), yet another to explain what grounds there might be for supposing killing is wrong is true.
Dawkins's critics will insist you need God to explain the latter two things, and that without God, there can be no genuine moral truth or moral knowledge. They will want to see Dawkins provide alternative, non-religious answers.
Trouble is, Dawkins does not bother to supply any such answers. And yet, at the end of the chapter, he seems to think has has (see the above quote). He thinks he is tackling the "springboard" issue.
That's odd (Dawkins may be muddling reasons and causes here [see part two of this essay]).
Note that Dawkins's causal story is actually compatible with a range of answers to these questions, including, I suspect the standard religious one.
What do you think?
POST SCRIPT at 15.53 11.10.08: To put this all into a soundbite: Dawkins answers the question, "Will we be good without God?" whereas the "springboard" challenge is "Can there be good without God?"