In essence, it proposes a purely physical and purposeless universe, inhabited by evolutionary accidents whose sense of self is probably illusory.
Problem number 1 is that the 'purpose' of the universe, according to theists, is singularly unconvincing. According to the Catholic Encyclopedia, citing Aquinas, God created the universe
in order to manifest his own goodness, power and wisdom.To this mortal this looks very much like the reason a liberal buys a Prius. But everyone needs a hobby, I guess.
God's pleasure is the one supremely perfect model for actionThe technical term for this is 'hedonism'. I'm not knocking hedonism; it's not the most destructive force in the world, by any means, but few people find it a morally uplifting philosophy.
This is accordingly the sufficient reason for the existence of the universe, and even for the suffering which moral evil has introduced into it.Hmmm. "The important thing is I have a Prius. If it runs over your kid, that's unimportant." Purposeless is looking better and better all the time.
Problem number 2 is far more annoying; it's a complete misrepresentation. Evolution is not an accident. It's a very powerful and directed algorithm. Species evolve because they mutate, but then the more favorable mutations survive. The reason evolution so often looks like design is because it is a process of design; it designs things that better propagate themselves. The evidence for evolution is overwhelming, and if you look around the world at all the magnificence evolution has created, 'accident' is not a word that comes to mind. Philosopher Dan Dennett has written a beautiful and highly readable book on the subject; I highly recommend it for your holiday reading.
Problem number 3: why is a sense of self illusory? Obviously, it exists. Moving right along...
And the rope bridges flung across this chasm — the scientific-sounding logic of utilitarianism, the Darwinian justifications for altruism — tend to waft, gently, into a logical abyss.Problem number 4. The above is so muddle-headed. Not all secularists or atheists are utilitarians. I'm not. I think utilitarianism is essentially useless as an ethical system. And altruism is not 'justified' by Darwinism. There are Darwinian explanations for altruism, but Darwinism is not a moral philosophy. More importantly, there is good scientific evidence for an innate moral sense, shared by Christians and non-Christians alike. It is not unreasonable to try to construct an ethical system so as not to conflict with humans' innate moral sense, but it would be the fallacy of naturalism to base an ethical system solely on it, any more than we should base the laws of physics on humans' innate mechanism for computing the trajectories of flying objects.
The only thing wafting into a logical abyss here is Douthat's argument.
Summarizing. This atheist agrees the universe is purposeless. He finds the purposelessness less offensive than the theists' purpose. Evolution is not an accident; it's a directed process that has created incredible natural complexity and beauty. Atheists are not necessarily utilitarians. And whether humans are innately moral or altruistic is a scientific question, and moralizing about it has no evidentiary value whatsoever.