Essay:Thoughts on human evolution, sex, and the inevitability of religion
FEAR OF FALLING INTO THE NIGHT SKY;
Its origins, prognosticks, and possible remedies,
whether chymical, physical, chirurgical, or dialectical.
A SET OF AXIOMS OF NATURAL PHILOSOPHY,
proven out of the choicest ancient authorities,
shewing that this fear is well grounded in truth.
This is a collection of mostly random thoughts about evolution, religion, and the innate depravity of the human species. Most of these are slightly modified versions of emails I saved or posted elsewhere. So the several sections may come off as a bit disjointed, but I do think they embody my point of view with fair consistency.
- 1 SEX
- 1.1 Social constructionism
- 1.2 Natural law
- 1.3 Real and fake politics
- 1.4 Good tidings of great joy
- 1.5 Equality
- 1.6 Sex roles
- 1.7 Evolved roles will out
- 1.8 The good years pass us by
- 1.9 A Marxist heresy
- 1.10 The feminist betrayal
- 1.11 The feminist problem
- 1.12 "Privilege"
- 1.13 The political importance of evolution
- 1.14 The Righteous Mind
- 1.15 Hunger
- 1.16 The eternal peasant
- 1.17 Ruby....
- 1.18 Nouns have gender. People have sex.
- 1.19 Born that way
- 2 JEEZUS
- 3 GOD
- 4 References
The world predicted by social constructionism would be a creepy world of Stepford Wives. Fortunately, people don't always do what they're told. That, more than anything else, is what makes freedom possible.
If there is natural law, there is a natural lawmaker, and therefore a natural government. Question: does the natural government derive its powers from the consent of the governed?
Real and fake politics
To claim that "the personal is political" is to invite the United States Senate to supervise your sex life. What else could it mean?
Unless your politics includes an agenda you want a government to put into action, it isn't politics. It's just whining. Fortunately, this kind of whining isn't done by politicians, but by "theorists" of various ilks.
Good tidings of great joy
I suppose my deepest political conviction is that we live in an unsustainable and doomed polity, a doomed economy and a doomed way of life. The wisest among us see that all is doomed and that our social problems have no solutions. We should glory in the joy of being alive in such a period, because the culture we create in such a moment will delight and dazzle future generations, if there are any. Lord, give us death or glory. Deliver us from the dailiness of daily life.
I don't believe in equality any more. At least in some versions, it has turned into one of the impossible virtues, like loving your enemies. The point in upholding the virtue is to set a standard you will inevitably fail to meet, and so learn the despair that leads to repentance.
It isn't reasonable to expect people to treat familiar faces and strangers the same. It isn't reasonable to expect governments to treat immigrants the same as citizens. It isn't reasonable to expect societies not to prefer people who share their language and customs over people who don't. And it isn't reasonable to expect human or other primate societies to treat males and females the same. No human society has ever worked that way. And none ever will.
Sex role differentation, just like the obviously innate capacity for language, is not culture: it's innate. Culture will affect it, and make differences around the peripheries, just like culture will determine the first language you actually acquire. The basic problem is human exceptionalism: some people have no problem with accepting evolutionary explanations of animal behavior, but they reject them for human behavior. Any hypothesis that places human minds or behavior above the normal order of nature, or claims that humans have somehow broken free from the instinctual drives we see in other animals, is human exceptionalism and crypto-creationism.
If I thought I could get rid of say, sexual jealousy by persuasion or argument, I'd be all over it. It's quite inconvenient, and the cause of about half of the random crime around here. If I thought some kind of social engineering, a political program, or passing laws would make a difference, I'd do it. I know they won't, and the only result would be to add the misery of the new laws and their victims to the misery already caused by an instinct that won't be argued away.
My goal here is to prevent future social-engineering catastrophes by pointing out that the damfool belief in human malleability and perfectibility that underlies them isn't true.
Evolved roles will out
I'm not even saying that the gender roles demanded by biology are that strict. I'm just saying that they exist.
The clerical celibacy practiced by the Roman Catholic Church is a cultural practice that flies straight in the face of biology: yet, it exists. But the fact that it flies into the face of biology allows us to make several predictions, which are in fact born out by observed facts.
First, it's expensive in terms of effort to maintain: every generation must be freshly indoctrinated, and it historically has been quite a bother to enforce.
Related to that, it requires constant and severe reinforcement: it has to be woven into the ethical structure of the universe, made necessary for the salvation of souls.
Finally, it has hidden costs and perverse incentives: look, you just made your priesthood unusually attractive to people whose sexuality is condemned by a surrounding society. They don't have to hide anything they're not already hiding. This is why it's important to persecute ordinary homosexuals: that's how you recruit the good priests.
It is always possible to get people to refrain from their evolved and expected behaviors and obey the program of behavior that the rational planner says will lead to their greater good. It's just a small matter of how much surveillance you want to use, how much fear you want to instil, and how many of them you are willing to kill. Pour encourager les autres.
What I want, more than anything else, is for people to be easy on themselves and easy on each other. But to pretend that humans don't have evolved sex roles, including a sexual division of labor; or that our sex lives, habits, and possible customs are not constrained by the fact that we're a slow breeding, high investment species -- that much seems to be a claim that Homo sapiens is a special snowflake and the apple of God's eye: creationism, in other words. We can do our own thing without regard to whether it's optimal for our genetic survival. No, we can't. More importantly, we don't want to.
The good years pass us by
In response to Jessica Valenti, about the harm done to children when men postpone fatherhood:
The real problem as I see it is a tyrant economy that has diverted the human race away from allowing nature to take its appropriate course. Not too long ago, it was normal and expected that people of either sex would become parents by their late teens or early twenties. It turns out that's also best for the children as well. And it shouldn't surprise anyone, either; 'twere ever thus, since we climbed down from the baobab trees onto the Serengeti plain. This is just how nature and evolution made us.
Our culture has gone to war with nature here. "Teen pregnancy" is held to be a calamity rather than a predictable consequence of sexual maturity. And if people postpone breeding until the most fertile years have passed them, apparently this puts the children in greater harm, and this is true for both sexes.
This goes beyond mere "sexism"; it is a problem with our bondage to an economic system that is inconsistent with our evolved human nature. If we want the healthiest children possible, we need to relearn to welcome them when she carries them or he sires them at eighteen. And we need to knock down economic, educational, and cultural barriers that stand in the way of welcoming children during the optimal years of human fertility. Culture can change many things, but not that.
A Marxist heresy
A transgendered friend of mine elsewhere was annoyed that a group of people she described as 'radfems' refused to acknowledge people like her as women. By way of background, you should know that she is a firm believer and fluent speaker of the Cant: (patriarchy, male gaze, rape culture, sexual objectification &c. &c.)
One of the core tenets of identity politics seems to me to be that people acquire greater moral worth by being members of oppressed classes. We're dealing with what was originally a Marxist heresy, one that tried to recompensate after the orthodox Marxist class struggle failed to catch on in the US and western Europe. Instead, the social movements that were actually moving at the time were based on race, and somewhat later, sex. Some clever little Commie -- there were probably several -- came up with the idea to swap in race or sex for proletarian status in the Marxist hoodoo, so that they could constitute themselves a revolutionary vanguard. As some Marxists themselves recognize, the doctrines of identity politics and "critical theory" represent a form of "'Marxism' divorced from the working class."
It seemed like a good idea at the time. This breaks Marxism; while revolutionary proletarians were supposed to throw off their proletarian status and become instead the revolutionary vanguard, no one was expected to throw off the chains of their race or sex. But Marxism was pretty broken anyways.
But making race or sex the centerpieces of a political ideology necessarily raises questions of authentication (Who is really Black? Who is a woman?) and authenticity (How should a Black American talk? Is her behavior unbecoming a feminist?) These questions are logically necessary once you make race or sex That Important, the cornerstones of your political belief system. And these 'radfems' have answered these questions that flow from the logic of the doctrine, and some have answered them in ways that exclude you. I'd be peeved at them too.
I'm not trying to formulate an explanation for their making these statements. No doubt there's a quite long explanation in some blog somewhere, or some academic journal about deconstructing the patriarchal phallus, and reading it would just give me a headache. From my perspective it's a battle as indecisive as the war between the hummingbirds and the yellowjackets at the feeder. If all of these radfems gathered en masse and linked arms and tried to block the freeway, I suspect you could still pass in the left lane.
What you have experienced at the hands of these radfems is not much different from the treatment that I as a male have come to expect at the hands of the pop gender feminism that permeates the culture. Rejoice! your own foes are few in number, and nobody pays them much heed.
The feminist betrayal
I start from a value system that says, first, that freedom is good and social control is bad. Second, people deserve slack. They deserve to escape "consequences", a disgusting euphemism for punishment. Everybody gets to play a Get Out of Jail Free card at least once. Punishment tends to make things worse, and many violent criminals are avengers in their own minds.
I am fully behind feminism and civil rights to the extent that they agree with these values, which historically has been almost all of the time. I see these as movements born of a broader movement for which these values are foundational, which also included the anti-war movement, gay rights, and just about everything else associated with the "counterculture" and the 1960s.
We expected opposition from the Westboro Baptists and their ilk. But when feminists start attacking exuberant self-expression, that's something even worse: a betrayal, a stab in the back. They should instead be a part of the common cause for more freedom for everybody. Something went wrong.
The feminist problem
The basic feminist problem stems from the fact that the catastrophe of the Bronze Age agricultural revolution allowed for the creation of larger, less egalitarian, and more hierarchical societies. Then the catastrophe of the early modern industrial revolution made even more hierarchy and inequality possible.
And hierarchies are inherently -- not "gendered" -- but sexed. These are the sorts of societies male humans make for themselves, for the same reasons they're the sorts of societies male chimpanzees make for themselves. Democracy, where winners and losers are decided as the result of public contests for prowess and favor, is inherently sexed and male. Meritocracy, where your pay grade is settled by the results of a game played fair, is inherently sexed and male. Even if there are no formal barriers for women's entry, they will always be at somewhat of a disadvantage, because male and female social groups differ and these are all male structures.
There may not be political solutions for any of this stuff; but I'm fairly certain that democracy and meritocracy can't fix them. The problem is a series of technological developments that have made status hierarchies a much bigger deal than they were for the bands of scavengers who were all our ancestors.
The rule in Nature is always going to be "ladies first". Women are objectively more important than men; women are precious vessels of life, men are disposable drones. Kill off two thirds of the men in the tribe; the remaining third is able to pick up the slack, and they recover in the next generation. Kill off two thirds of the child bearing women, and they've suffered a disaster they may not recover from.
If men are more violent or more aggressive than women, it's their very disposability made them so. If men make hierarchies, it's because it doesn't matter as much if they're injured trying to claw to the top. On the other hand, there is no gain pretending this is a part of the world you can change. The fundamental problem is that the social role of the sexes has been reversed because too much power has been given to hierarchical structures.
Let me put it this way: if it's:
- all about being 'invisible'
- or even more often, 'having your voice unheard' by the 'hegemony' of the 'dominant [insert snarl word] paradigm',
- all about language, imagery, symbolism, and representation;
- all about 'discourse' rather than resources;
you probably ought to take care before tossing the word "privilege" around. These, by definition, are the concerns of well-educated (though mis-educated) and well-fed people in reasonably comfortable chairs. "First World Problems" is a stupid and annoying meme that I hate to perpetuate, but it applies perfectly with an ironic vengeance here.
The political importance of evolution
Change can be good, but more often is not. The laws of evolution mean that life is a game that's rigged against you; the laws of thermodynamics mean that the universe itself is rigged against you. Ginsberg's law: "You can't win, you can't break even, and you can't quit the game." Know it, learn it, clasp it to your heart.
The challenge always is not to squander the little resources, little good will, and little effort we can spare, and instead to direct them to where they will do the most good. There are those things that can be changed over the course of a human lifetime, and others that take far longer.
This is why it's important to me that people understand the constraints that evolved instinct puts on human behavior and the shape of potential societies. It's all about not wasting the little time we have left.
The Righteous Mind
I've been reading a book by Jonathan Haidt called The Righteous Mind: Why Good People Are Divided by Politics and Religion.
Haidt argues that conservatives inhabit a more complex moral world than liberals do. Liberal values center almost exclusively around issues of harm and fairness. Conservatives acknowledge those but do not treat them as exclusive or trump cards. For conservatives, there are also ethical dimensions revolving around authority, the preservation of community solidarity, and purity versus pollution that are muted or absent from liberal value systems.
Since most philosophical ethical systems are devised by liberals, they assume autonomous, rational, individual actors, and devise rule-based systems based almost exclusively around harm and fairness. The other ethical dimensions used by conservatives generally do not factor into those systems. Because all of these are moderated by the human social instincts, they are innate, inherited, and likely have a genetic component.
Haidt is missing at least one factor. Focusing, as he does, on ethics as something that's evolved to preserve your standing in a human community, he misses the chip on the shoulder, the equation of violence and respect, that to me has always been a defining characteristic of the bottom of the genepool. The Jukes and Kallikaks among us tend to believe that your social standing is enhanced by willingness to meet challenges to that standing with violence, and diminished by not doing so. You wonder what is going on inside the heads of the women who seem improbably devoted to convicts and abusers? They didn't take shit from anybody, so they're real men. This is a mark of hereditary taint, as much as the inability to pronounce the diphthong /aɪ/ (eye, fire, sigh &c).
I can't be a good liberal because I don't believe in equality. Thomas Jefferson was full of shit. There are some people out there that aren't entitled to equal political rights: they are less than us, they act more on instinct than on reason, and as such are able to get caught up in these irrational hereditary traits and generally are less capable of examining them critically. Bigots of every sort, moved by a fear of contamination by the Different, are showing themselves to be less developed in the higher brain functions. This holds true whether they're classical racists, homophobes, or anti-smokers.
My problem with the Hunger Games backstory is that it isn't good for Americans to portray the people with culture, fashion, and philosophy as the bad guys. The good guys have woodsy skills, family ties, and live simple lives. That sort of thing appeals to the worst in us.
The eternal peasant
The problem is simple. The peasant mentality does not value diversity in background, and especially not in language, religion, or culture. Give the peasants a political say in important matters, and they will use whatever power they are given to demonize and persecute those who are thought to be unacceptably deviant. They will seek to rally leaders to their cause, and demand sufficient vehemence in their denunciation of the chosen target. And they will pick the deviant more or less at random; what sets them off may be a result of an actual event, or a planted event, for they can be manipulated into these crusades fairly easily.
I tend to see the peasant mentality, moreover, as an anthropological basic. Every sufficiently stratified, settled culture and society is going to be made up of peasants, and they almost certainly will be in the numerical majority. They really don't want power, either: they're happier when someone else is making their decisions for them. They look to the priest to tell them what to think and the man on the horse to tell them what to do.
Peasants are necessary to all human societies. If you want a free and innovative society, they must not be put in charge, or at least must not be given the power to start pogroms or rabbles with pitchforks. They have virtues; but the ability to run things is not one of them. The basic problem with liberalism is that it is committed to a world view that denies that peasants form an identifiable group of people, and dogmatically pretends that they do not exist. This causes cognitive dissonance: most actual liberals know that there are indeed such things as peasants, and can easily identify them as a practical matter. They know the peasants as the enemies of tolerance and diversity: they know they exist, they know they are hostile, but the dogma of universal equality requires them to pretend otherwise.
So they make trouble for themselves any time they have to acknowledge reality, and sound like hypocrites. They imagine that education or something will fix them and make them fit for citizenship; yet, in every generation, they recur in like numbers.
The problem I see is that the dogma of universal equality means that the defenders of our high culture --- like, say, National Public Radio executives --- end up having to fight with one hand tied behind their backs in the political arena.
They hesitate before saying stuff like, "We are the only radio stations in the country that play Brahms and Debussy. And Brahms and Debussy are superior to Billy Ray Cyrus or Lady Gaga. They are part of our high cultural heritage, important to the civilization we want to be. As such it remains just and right that you be taxed to support them even if you do not understand them. If you want to understand them you will need to try harder to better yourselves." They see such statements as veering into dangerous territory; they threaten to contradict the dogma of universal equality, because they do in fact contradict it. So they remain inarticulate in defining their mission.
For at least the past thirty years, politics in the United States has sounded a consistent note of rousing the rabble against their mental betters. Whether it's gays or college professors or city-bred liberals, the refrain is always the same. They're too different, and too tolerant of difference. They don't work with their hands and backs: so they're lazy and have no decency. Reading is for fags. Nobody should study other languages or cultures, except to condemn them for not being us. And because the dogma of universal equality has been drummed into their heads too well, educated people don't have an adequate response to this twaddle.
Ruby, Don't Take Your Love to Town is a mini-masterpiece of sick-mindedness, with its tale of a crippled war veteran fantasizing about his wife's affairs, and wishing he could move so he could murder her. It's evil. I wish I had thought of it.
What makes this so deliciously evil is that from the listener's viewpoint, the narrator is in no position to know whether or not the adulteries he sings of are real or not. We can't be certain whether the woman is actually having these affairs, or whether they are entirely the fancies of a man who's in no condition to investigate them; all that he knows is that she is out of sight in places he cannot follow.
What we do know is that he wants to murder her, and wishes that he were able to move so he could do the deed. That is pretty nasty in itself. Yes, of course, it's sexist, and treats women as property. The audience for which Mel Tillis originally wrote it apparently found nothing unusual about it. Violent sexual jealousy was a fact of life they accepted. (And they may as well; it isn't like there's anything that can be done about it.)
What amuses me is that Kenny Rogers, Mr. Whitebread MOR Pop-Country Christmas Special himself, rose to fame with material like this. Later in his career, Rogers recorded Roger Bowling and Billy Ed Wheeler's Coward of the County, a song that's perhaps even more sick-minded than this one, but with a much more straightforward narrative that lacks Ruby's subtlety. But both pieces are a portrait of a nation whose mainstream tastes are sick in mind and soul, which is why I love them despite myself.
Nouns have gender. People have sex.
Pet peeve. Never use the word 'gender'. It's either a grating euphemism for sex, or it's an ideological statement that says that human sexuality is "socially constructed" rather than something you're born with. If the ideology behind "gender" is true, anti-homosexual reparative therapy ought to work better than the observed results; and so for that matter would gay recruiting. This is a viewpoint I choose not to endorse, and if you use 'gender' as a euphemism for 'sex' you may create the misleading impression that you do endorse it. People aren't French nouns; they don't have genders, they have sexes.
Born that way
You can trust Lady Gaga on this, and as we know she is inerrant in the original autographs. Everybody literally is "born that way."
It's absolutely vital to accept this, because if this is not the case, you might change; you might choose to change, and you could be made to change. Whatever your sexual identity or orientation, fortunately it's wholly unlearned. No one taught or suggested it to you. This is in fact the insight that leads to liberation and respect. It's a happy truth, a gospel, that all of these things are biologically determined. This is the problem with 'gender'.
It's a problem shared by a lot of leftist thinking, and one of the reasons we have no left wing in any meaningful sense in the USA. Social constructionism (SC - not retyping that every time it comes up) got them. To the SC left, it's about 'discourse' rather than 'resources'. Oppression is defined as becoming 'invisible' or even more often, 'having your voice unheard' by the 'hegemony' of the 'dominant patriarchal paradigm'. It's not about access to food, water, medical supplies, education, opportunity, leisure, and the other things that develop human beings and enable human cultures to begin with.
The baleful temptation here is that your struggle becomes purely a war of words. It gives the leisure to imagine that your paper deconstructing the privilege of the patriarchal phallus in Green Eggs and Ham isn't an unintelligible piece of bullshit no one will ever read. It strikes a mighty blow against the dominant paradigm. Here, it says so itself.
Your capitalist masters, and their advertising lackeys, will in fact make a note of your concerns. Soon the stock photos will blossom forth with improbable Diversity. A multicultural rainbow of spokespeople will read the pitches. Every multicultural identity and every socially progressive cause becomes ingredients in a SC entity you can buy into. You can drive a car that saves the earth. You can buy your fair trade coffee. And they sit in the countinghouse and smile. They won, and they know it.
Some of the most radical criticism coming out of the West today is the result of an interested desire to conserve the subject of the West, or the West as Subject. The theory of pluralized 'subject-effects' gives an illusion of undermining subjective sovereignty while providing a cover for this subject of knowledge.
How many mikes does it take for this to start to make sense?
It follows from the teachings of Pat Robertson, that we can identify the part of the United States that God likes the least with one single, scientific test. Where do the tornadoes touch down? Where do the hurricanes go?
Why you should actively despise the notion of free will
Whenever I open my mouth about political philosophy, it's always about dialing down blame, muting calls for scapegoating and punishment, stopping the labelling and namecalling, and listening to people's excuses and taking them seriously. That's my shtick in a nutshell.
I'm against the notion of free will. This seems empirically so true as to be utterly obvious: people are born with not only their sexualities but other large portions of their personalities preset. Life experience really changes them only a little if at all. People generally can't help but become the people they were born to be, whether they are saints, criminals, or somewhere in between.
I dislike the notion of free will because it suggests a wide scope of ways in which you might force your neighbors to change, to compel them to be more like what you'd prefer. They imagine they can change themselves because it feeds their vanity, and despite the contrary evidence that all resolutions are inevitably broken. I'm sure you had perfectly good reasons for breaking them, but break them you surely did. It's OK, really. I believe all your excuses, because I know that your excuses are good enough and satisfying in your own mind. All I ask is that you grant the same grace to everyone else.
Free will is an idea that flows solely from our vain self-regard, and leads to the war of all against all over things that people really are helpless to change. Free will feeds persecutory manias and the naming, blaming, and shaming industry. It encourages people to hate their neighbors. It should disgust everyone like it disgusts me.
The Golden Rule the hard way
Be as lenient on others as you already know you are lenient on yourself.
Why goodness is evil
Goodness is evil. This will startle some, I know. It sounds like a troll out of 1984.
The cultural anthropologist Ernest Becker, in The Denial of Death, held that human culture is a defensive mechanism: human beings seek to invest their lives with heroic meaning because they are aware of, but reject, their own mortality. "Man seeks his own heroism or meaning in the world. To find and sustain an immortality project that transcends one’s own life and lives on forever. In this light, Becker saw all of civilization, family, and religion as vehicles for man’s immortality projects. Yet, all things in the world are conditional, arise, and vanish. We seek to become Gods, to be unconditional…or at least seek someone or something that can be God. Whether it’s science, a lover, a skill, or a religion."
There is a second, a religious dimension for me. Jesus said "judge not, lest ye be judged." This has tended not to work out well, and seems to be one of his least obeyed teachings. Our judgment is corrupted by sin. Our moral judgments are not immune to this corruption, no matter to what extent we imagine that they are founded on holy doctrine. As Bob Dylan says:
“”The preacher was talking, there's a sermon he gave
He said every man's conscience is vile and depraved
You cannot depend on it to be your guide
When it's you who must keep it satisfied.
|—Bob Dylan, "Man in the Long Black Coat"|
One vehicle by which people seek to lend a heroic dimension to their lives is by causes and moralities. By uniting with causes, they seek to give a heroic dimension to their lives that will transcend the fact of their certain death. By affirming the goodness of their chosen cause, they allow themselves to believe that their devotion to it makes up for the wrongs they know they've done. It's all about maintaining the illusion of a virtuous self, one that actively engages the world with great projects that transcend individual lives. By maintaining the illusion of this virtuous self, they deny their own questionable past.
Am I making any sense so far? Probably not.
The problem is, this heroic self based on an illusion of virtue can only be maintained at the expense of our neighbors. Virtue cannot exist in a vacuum; it requires a corresponding vice. And since the illusory heroic self, by definition, manifests virtue instead of vice, vice must exist in some other person. It's a game of pin the tail on the donkey where there is no donkey, only your fellow players.
This is why goodness is evil. I'm better than my neighbor because I recycle. I'm better than my neighbor because I repress my homosexual urges. I've enlisted in a heroic cause by going vegan, and not polluting my body with the unhealthy products of cruelty like my neighbor does. I used to smoke but quit; therefore I have achieved mightily, but those who continue to smoke are weak and self-indulgent.
All this moral bullshit is dangerous and evil. It contributes to human misery. We pin the evil we deny but know is still inside on our neighbor, and cry for his punishment. All the causes that people kill and die for are ultimately about constructing the illusion of a virtuous heroic self.
I say instead: be easy on yourself. Be easy on your neighbor. Stop pretending to be better than you are. This is why the gospel that all men are sinners in need of a redemption they cannot earn by the cultivation of their own virtues is indeed good news.
A cussword. The mantra of the Punishment Club. What's wrong with the lower classes.
If you are confused, there is, as the I Ching says, "no blame".
The inevitability of religion
It's always been bloody obvious to me that Communism is a religion. Sacred texts? Check. Cult of its prophets? Check. Apocalyptic prophecy? Check. Incorrupt bodies? Check. Liturgy? Check.
This is why atheists amuse me. You can tell the people that there is no such thing as a god. If you repeat yourself often enough, some may take it to heart and make it a movement. For atheism must always be a movement; without constant reinforcement of the faith, people will backslide and accept the supernatural the way people always have: our brains are wired to see motive and purpose in things.
But even atheistic faiths end up with sacred totems, liturgy, ritual, public worship, mass rallies, and apocalyptic prophecies. All of the oppressive orthodoxies, all the bullshit they got rid of God to be free from, simply reappeared. It's as if they were meant to be, because they are. Since we're human, we're stuck with that kind of mummery.
Getting rid of God accomplishes none of the goals atheists say it will. It just annoys your neighbors. You're right back to square one, and you don't even get to go to heaven.
Throw a random group of people together on an island, and the first job will be to create a language. The first generation will have a newly minted ones made from bibs and bobs of the mutually unintelligible ones spoken by their parents. The next generation will have a religion, as they greet their newborns and bury their dead. People are programmed to mark these events with ritual and ceremony. They just will.
My problem with The God Delusion
As an atheist polemic, this fails on multiple levels. Dawkins's scientific work, which is full of interest and merit, is in evolutionary biology. While I believe in God, I accept the fact of evolution and human evolution too. In his zeal to condemn religion, he seems to have forgotten some of his biology.
The shock begins with the preface. Dawkins begins with a catalogue of various atrocities perpetrated by humans who cited religion as a motive:
- Imagine, with John Lennon, a world with no religion. Imagine no suicide bombers, no 9/11, no 7/7, no Crusades, no witch-hunts, no Gunpowder Plot, no Indian partition, no Israeli/Palestinian wars, no Serb/Croat/Muslim massacres, no persecution of Jews as 'Christ-killers', no Northern Ireland 'troubles', no 'honour killings', no shiny-suited bouffant-haired televangelists fleecing gullible people of their money ('God wants you to give till it hurts'). Imagine no Taliban to blow up ancient statues, no public beheadings of blasphemers, no flogging of female skin for the crime of showing an inch of it.
He seems to imagine that, were it not for belief in religions, none of these horrors would have happened and we could all hold hands around the campfire and sing "Imagine". Were he a mere atheist, this might be credible. But as an evolutionary biologist, he ought to realize this utopia is unworthy of belief. Were religion entirely absent, humans would still be violent, tribal, xenophobic, and jealous. They evolved those traits. Religion had nothing to do with it. Removing deities from human culture simply makes them need to choose some other symbol to make war over and torture each other over.
This is why evolution and faith reside happily together in my skull. Biology turns a cold and piercing gaze on the human character, as does the apostle Paul. Dawkins knows that the human character is a problem. The flaws he ascribes to religion are in fact flaws in us; they will not vanish by getting rid of the hypothesis of a deity. He rails against religion, as if it was the one thing that separated him from an earthly paradise, which he could enter if the barrier were removed. Which is why Dawkins makes a poor, unconvincing, and rather boring polemicist as well.
A remedy against doubt
As a Christian, I find myself seldom troubled by doubts about the truth of Christ's resurrection, life after death, or Biblical miracles. I already recognize that they seem unlikely, that reasonable people will doubt them, and that no evidence for their truth will be appearing soon.
Change is sickness
Change is sickness, and sickness is change. The laws of thermodynamics guarantee that everything goes from bad to worse: it's a law of nature.
But change also helps to wean our souls from this world. The things we used to enjoy aren't there any more, or if there they aren't the same. But we never did belong here, either. Sickness is a blessing that kills our appetites and helps us move along. Yield to change like you yield to sleep, like you yield to the current that pulls you beneath the sea.
We do have an inherited human nature that was shaped by evolution. We are the product of natural and sexual selection; this means that we were born with brains preprogrammed for stuff like language acquisition, appropriate diet --
-- and choosing sexual partners. We are also capable of remarkable violence against each other, a sexual conflict of interest that is purposefully a source of misery, and the ability to turn against our neighbors the emotional subroutine meant to keep us away from dung, vomit, and rotten flesh. We are fallen things living in a fallen world. We deserve better than this. We all do. We are born with an evil heart which only something outside of nature can overcome.
We also have the capacity to rise above the venal, nettlesome, selfish beings that evolution made us. We have the capacity to be uniquely selfless. To do so requires the repurposing of evolved mental subroutines in ways they were never meant to perform. Something other than natural selection is at work here. That something, I call "the grace of God."