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Thursday, January 18, 2007

The Richard Dawkins Delusion

Life is short, nasty, brutish, and tough. Naturally, in any environment and in any age, you have to use your wits to survive, and the language you use to describe all this self serving striving for self preservation (can you say that rapidly five times?) is invariably a metaphorical sign of your times. So, looked at unadorned by philosophy, the act of living is not a sentimental, moral, or enlightening thing, but rather is a royal pain where might makes right, and only the fittest survive. Thus, in spite of the common Disneyfication of the facts of life, we pretty much know that times are tough all over and that the world is not a nice place. It is therefore not a great stretch to expand this metaphor of meanness to presumably the life and times of homo-sapiens and indeed of all life. So it is no surprise that the metaphors we use to describe life and its vicissitudes are about the same that Darwin used to describe the whole record of life.

As social creatures who are gifted with large cerebral noggins who uniquely reflect on their reflections and are painfully self-conscious about it, there is however a trick or two to ameliorate all this mean spiritedness. Since we are buggered by the fact that we have consciousness, and don't know how the darn thing survives, evolves, or just moves about after we die, a whole new set of metaphors has 'evolved' that answers these timeless questions and as a bonus keep us in line. Thus the metaphors of natural selection are supplemented by the metaphors of super-natural selection. These metaphors are called religion. So if you want to survive not only in this world but the next, and not devolve into an insect (bad karma) or be perpetually squashed like one (such as in the 8th circle of hell), it pays to be kind to kittens and little old ladies.

So we embrace religion, but end up acting like selfish assholes in any event. In fact, religion can easily be used to rationalize all sorts of awful behavior. The problem arises when some armchair pundit believes this deception, and assumed that religion is not used as a general rationalization for bad behavior, but is the actual reason for that behavior. In his latest book, 'The God Delusion', the evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins rants and rages about the endless stupidities and cruelties of religion, but forgets that if you're acting stupid and cruel, it ain't God who is behind your behavior, but rather your selfish genes. After all, if you are a Crusader, business tycoon, or just an everyday guy who instinctively loves to rape and pillage, what better way to rationalize the whole thing than by saying that God made me do it? Overall, the philosopher Nietzsche was closest to the mark when he said the last Christian died on the cross. For Dawkins, Christianity just makes him cross. Perhaps there is some poetic justice in this.

1 comment:

Martti said...

Dawkins is an excellent PITA. Well-read, brutally dry, witty and logical. Fortunately (for him) that's not the whole story. He seems to have a compassion for the homo-not-as-sapiens-as he-thinks. If not, why would he have gone through the bother of vivisecting the God Delusion the way he did?

He has done a marvellous job in translating Darwinism to everyday language. Awe and wonder are not alien to him and I do sympathise with the way he marvels the wonders of the universe as they are revealed in the light of science.

You did get his point, though.
It is not God who tells us to hate, kill and destroy even if he serves as an excellent motivator. Neither is it God who tells us to sympathize, care and love -or take responsibility.

In both instances it is our "selfish genes".
To possess selfish genes does not mean that the phenotype has to be selfish without end.

Genes are the written history of the processes of evolution, its ebbs and flowa, its bottlenecks and near-extinctions. The survival strategy of the human being has everything to do with being social.

Social intelligence, when looked at with anthropomorphing eyes easily takes the form of a deity. And deities again, they seem to be taking all the vices antd virtues of their creators.

Dawkins tries to shoot this junk tp pieces and I think he is doing a good job. But, then again, I am not the one he needs to convice....