Tuesday, May 03, 2005


This is a great article/interview with Richard Dawkins, noted evolutionary biologist and despiser of religion. (Salon.com, so you need to click on "day pass" to see the whole article)

I thought this was a great, though disingenuous and pie-in-the skyish, answer:

How would we be better off without religion?

We'd all be freed to concentrate on the only life we are ever going to have. We'd be free to exult in the privilege -- the remarkable good fortune -- that each one of us enjoys through having been being born. An astronomically overwhelming majority of the people who could be born never will be. You are one of the tiny minority whose number came up. Be thankful that you have a life, and forsake your vain and presumptuous desire for a second one. The world would be a better place if we all had this positive attitude to life. It would also be a better place if morality was all about doing good to others and refraining from hurting them, rather than religion's morbid obsession with private sin and the evils of sexual enjoyment.

Not a bad idea, but call me when people the world over are ready to give up religion to make the most of this world. The following answer of his, in response to why there couldn't be a Divine Creator, taps into the same trouble I have with the idea:

Believing in God is like believing in a teapot orbiting Mars?

Yes. For a long time it seemed clear to just about everybody that the beauty and elegance of the world seemed to be prima facie evidence for a divine creator. But the philosopher David Hume already realized three centuries ago that this was a bad argument. It leads to an infinite regression. You can't statistically explain improbable things like living creatures by saying that they must have been designed because you're still left to explain the designer, who must be, if anything, an even more statistically improbable and elegant thing. Design can never be an ultimate explanation for anything. It can only be a proximate explanation. A plane or a car is explained by a designer but that's because the designer himself, the engineer, is explained by natural selection.

Which raises the question, "If natural selection is the designer, could it not continue to design more and more complicated forms of life, thus giving genesis to an ultimate 'designer'?" You're still left with describing how things started billions of years ago, why the laws of science and physics are the way they are, and what the hell we're doing here.

In the legendary words of Albert Bitterling in Vernon, Florida:

My neighbor told me once that he didn't belive in God. So I asked him how he thought we got here. He looked at me and shrugged his shoulders and said, "It just happened." It just happened. "Well," I said, "Let's take what you call 'it just happened' and give it a name. Let's call it God." So you know, what you're gonna call 'It just happened,' I'm gonna call 'God.'


King Koopa said...

Since Jesus Christ, who is obviously the namesake of Christianity, embodies “love” in every way, I find it interesting that it wasn’t mentioned once in the interview. Who was interviewing him, Terry Gross? It was softball after softball. As far as I’ve read, the concept and experience of love is inexplicable to scientists such as Richard Dawkins (Forgive me that, for a moment, I thought it was Match Gamer/Family Feud host Richard Dawson, that lovable, drunken scamp, who was giving this interview on evolution). Explain how love came out of the big bang and I’ll owe you a beer, Mr. Dawkins. But, making an educated guess from Mr. Dawkins refusing to shake hands with that minister and his oh-so-pleasant greeting, I’d question whether he has any in him or even believes in it.

Mathis said...

His point wasn't to say anything about love, so far as I can decipher, so I don't understand why you're disappointed. I know plenty of scientists that experience "love", and besides, trying to connect love to the big bang is incongruous. That's the same as trying to connect pride or embarassment to the big bang. One is a matter of physics and one is a matter of human emotion. To say the big bang could not have happened because humans feel, experience, and give love is like saying that ice cream can't taste good because I just fell down and scraped my knee.

I think you're getting caught up in trying to discount the messenger because he's not a nice guy instead of examining the message, which is thought provoking and can help us appreciate how amazing this world, and our existence, truly is.

King Koopa said...

Ah, but you're missing my point. I apologize, I can be an oblique fellow from time to time. What I was trying to get at was since love is unique to the human race, where did it come from? Since it is not present in the rest of the animal world, it is unexplainable from evolution. While many other emotions are present in animals, love is not one.

Believing in God and evolution are not mutually exclusive. I believe in evolution and that it's all part of God's plan for our "amazing" world.

I know people who call themselves Christians who aren't nice either, so that had nothing to do with it.

-Father Jim, progressive priest

King Koopa said...

Oh, I forgot to complete that last post and mention that God's/Jesus' love for the human race is the most pure example of what love between humans can be. So, God/Jesus is the basis of love, and that's where it comes from.

Ian said...

My friend's dog loves humping my leg. No really; he loooooooves it.

King Koopa said...

Ian - Haha, Yeah I know, but that kind of love can be taken care of with a little snip-snip. I've had some dark love-sick moments where I might've taken that route to rid myself of the feeling forever.

Mathis said...

I don't understand why you're focusing solely on the idea of love. There are a lot of things that are unique to humans, on this planet at least. Language, calculus, cooking, knitting, an understanding of history - basically anything that is complicated. Where did calculus come from? Love is a complicated emotion and it's no wonder we feel it. You say that love is unexplainable through evolution. That's just not true. Love can be explained through strictly scientific/atheistic pathways, though that's not my job nor am I interested in detailing it or lending my own hypothesis. I like a little mystery in my love. A sprinkle of elusiveness.

I don't seek to refute your claim that God/Jesus is the most pure form of love, but that's not exactly the same as arguing that the earth is incredibly old, that we are for now the end point of a long branch on a very big tree, and that we'll all be dead soon.

We can differ. Also, I think I've met Ian's friend's dog, and I have a small bruise on my calf proving that he does indeed feel love.

King Koopa said...

I don't refute your claim that "the earth is incredibly old, that we are for now the end point of a long branch on a very big tree, and that we'll all be dead soon." As I said, I believe in God and evolution as God's plan for creation. My argument is to make the point that love is evidence of influence from something other than evolution, again, sorry for the obliqueness.

Language = Communication -> Not unique to humans. (Dude, have you forgotten Koko?)

Calculus = High Level Thinking -> Not unique to humans, just present in varying degrees in animals

Cooking = Combining Foods -> Not unique to humans

Knitting = A silly and unnecessary activity for animals

Understanding of History = Good Point -> That is uniquely human ability that is a function of our higher level processing skills and written communication.

We are more advanced than animals, but love is a truly unique human experience that is not simply an evolution of primitive affection.

If love can truly be explained by scientific/atheistic pathways, then why aren't animals capable of love? According to you, it must have been something passed down through evolution, right? That's the core of my point right there, it's all about evolutionary theory. Find me a biologist who thinks animals are capable of love.

We can agree to look at it from different angles, but I believe it IS true that love is unexplainable through evolution, and therefore is evidence of supernatural influence.

T.S. Farmhand said...

Ravens mate for life. Dolphins grieve for the loss of a partner. Honeybees sacrifice their lives to save the hive.

Who are you to say that animals do not feel love? I suppose it is only natural for the predator to dehumanize --pardon the term--his prey.

(And mad props to AM for dropping some serious logic into this little rap.)

Mathis said...

I'm sorry, but nothing in your last comment makes sense because you're just trying to hedge the points I've made into the rationale that you hold that states that "only humans feel love and therefore there is a supernatural power." It simply doesn't make any sense to say that. You are only saying something and then saying, "this viewpoint I hold is correct because I've said that it is." How can you prove that animals don't feel love? How can you prove that love is something that was gifted to humans? Finally, how does that prove the existence of a divine creator? You simply can't prove any of that, but by saying, "this one thing that I believe in that I don't personally believe can proven by evolution proves to me the existence of a supernatural being."

Basically, you seem to be using "love" as a thumbprint that God has left on us as evidence of his existence, but it seems clear that you're trying to fit your religious beliefs into a scientific theory. When you do that, there is no end to the claims that you are allowed to make, because none of them must be verified by anyone else. Which does not make your claims wrong, it only makes them a matter of your personal faith, which excludes them from the realm of scientific inquiry - that which seeks answers to questions we don't know, not absolutes which we are not allowed to explore.

Mathis said...

Here is one of I'm sure many articles about the evolutionary path that explains the presence of various types of love.

Awbnid said...

My difficulty with Dawkins' position regarding religion's deliterious effects on the world is a difficulty I have with atheism generally. He remarks "[The world] would also be a better place if morality was all about doing good to others and refraining from hurting them...".

Well, without some extra-human source from where does his little distillation of the Golden Rule find it's moral authority? Why, from a purely evolutionary biological perspective, would it be wrong for me to murder and steal if I knew I would not be caught? One suspects that Dawkins would suggest either A) It would not be 'wrong' if it was true I would not be caught, or B) It would be wrong because I say it is, and I am assuming the role of Divine moral authority.

This approach is not original, btw. It is all over any serious religious commentary, and one wonders why the question was not posed to him.

Mathis said...

Awbnid: That's definitely my problem with Dawkins as well.

"[The world] would also be a better place if morality was all about doing good to others and refraining from hurting them..."

Well, no shit, Sherlock (in the parlance of our day). I like Dawkins the biologist but not Dawkins the political commentator or moralist, because wars and suffering don't always come about from differences in religion - lately they have come about from land disputes and grabs for energy (one could argue). Also, how many have died at the hands of the communists in the former Soviet Union and China? These weren't religious battles, these were grabs for power. One could argue, as you seem to be doing, that religion plays an integral role in defining social mores that prevent such atrocities.

Koopa: I shouldn't have said, "nothing in your last comment makes sense," because it does indeed make sense. I just disagree with you, I guess, and I didn't mean to get snooty or anything of the sort.


King Koopa said...

I’ve got a lot of respect for the AM’s gifts of logic, reasoning, and debate, so reducing him to backtracking, snootiness and namecalling (however jokingly) should count for something, am I right people? C’mon! If I thought lesser of him, I would accuse him of being defensive.

I’m still wading through the thoroughly interesting article you found, but I did find this already: “Love appears to be an eminently human phenomenon.” The essay also acknowledges that love as a phenomenon of evolution has not really been explored all that much. The case is most definitely not closed on this one.

I thought I based my argument on rational/logical concepts, although I admit, nothing I said is “proven”. And, of course, I’m presupposing things because of the worldview that I have. But, how many things in this world are “proven” beyond debate? We live in a relativistic world, did you really expect me to “prove” anything to you? I’m a civil engineer with too much time on my hands, I’m not writing a book on this and presently, I don’t have much ammo to back up my ideas. But, I think if I spent enough time and energy on it, I could make a more complete and logical argument out of what I laid out. I’m sure I got this love argument/idea from somewhere and maybe there are books that explain it better and more completely than I’m able. But, I think I’m in the minority as a believer in both God and evolution, and there are a lot more readily available sources to counter what I said. Most other Christians wouldn’t even agree with my argument because they won’t accept evolution…So, my work is cut out for me! It’s aaaight though dawg. That’s the way, uh-huh uh-huh, I like it!

I must say, it made my day yesterday to get into a discussion like this (besides going to see VHS or Beta last night). Is that weird? Geez louise I’m under-stimulated…