After having been a Dawkinsian atheist for many a long year, I was powerfully touched by the love of God on April 12th 2008.
There have been many changes in my life since that date, but I am perplexed by a question which has been intriguing me, and which won't go away.
"How can we have out-evolved evolution?"
Let me try to explain. I have Googled the contents of this question until my cordless mouse crept under the keyboard and begged for mercy.
I have Googled in English, French, Welsh and Brazilian Portuguese, wishing to cast my net as widely as possible.
But I have found nothing.
At least nothing satisfying.
So here's hoping you can help me out.
Perhaps this question could be a subject of discussion, debate, or even an award-winning article in the category "Natural theology for the under-fives."
My problem is that either I am seeing something that isn't there (in which case I will immediately reduce my coffee intake) or I am seeing something that others don't deem worthy of comment – which I would find surprising, and I need to know why.
As a card-carrying RDNet atheist I had successfully acquired almost all the necessary "blind spots" (intellectual and emotional) in order to join in the merry but merciless sport of "believer-bashing".
The blind spots, of course, concerned such questions as "Why is there something rather than nothing" (Our answer, naturally, being "Who are you to decide that "nothing" is the default state?") and the Pinker "hard problem" concerning the nature of consciousness (our answer being "We don't fully understand yet but we will one day soon. In the meantime just keep buying the DVD's and get on with being rude to theists! What is wrong with you?)
Today I am in the totally thrilling position of rediscovering everything in the light of the love of God, but I have the impression that one of the Dawkinsian blind spots seems to pass unnoticed by Christian authors.
I am probably mistaken.
I would love to be shown that I am mistaken.
(The last time I was shown to be in the wrong, it changed my life.)
Allow me to sketch out a summarised time-line of Life, the Universe and Everything as seen by Atkins, Dawkins and my postman. (French postmen can be very talkative, and very opinionated. They have also been known to deliver the mail. The Quantum Delivery Service - both my neighbour and I receive my letters.)
In the beginning there was nothing. (An RDNet mathematician once tried to explain to me that mathematical nothing, or zero, was "unstable" and bound to become something sooner or later. Well, that reasoning didn't work with my bank manager, so it won't work with me either.)
Then there was a Bang and it was very Big. (We don't know why, but that doesn't matter. Get yourself a life.)
Perhaps three minutes later there was a generalised baryon, invitation-only knees-up which led to the appearance of helium and hydrogen.
The grand cosmic Dance of the Particles continued, yielding atoms, molecules, galaxies, stars and eventually – perhaps ten billion years later - life.
When life was only beginning to flex its muscles, it was just a question of some complex molecules accidentally acquiring the capacity for self-replication which required their eating each other from time to time then going to pieces and falling apart.
Simultaneously, evolutionary mechanisms kicked in, and it was just a matter of time (about 3.5 billion years, give or take a few nano-seconds, but who's counting?) before the appearance of Manchester United supporters, Dawkins and me.
So far so good.
Evolution explains everything about Life.
Whatever shows up, if it favours survival and replication, Evolution invites it to the party.
Sooner or later.
Usually several magnitudes of later.
Except for the occasional surprise, open-air concert given by The Saltation Army.
(Sorry - I digress. Normal service will be resumed as soon as probable.)
The human being is an example of evolution in its most staggeringly complex, tax-paying form.
The human brain evolved leaving the brawn with flat feet, inguinal hernias, and chronic back pains (none of which apparently hinder reproduction. Well, that's what they say in the books.)
Ah, the human brain.
That's where things start to get messy for the Dawkinsian atheist.
In RD's own words:
"The brain exists originally as a device to aid gene survival; the ultimate rationale for the brain’s existence and very large size in our own species is, like everything else in the living world, gene survival, which tends to imply short-term selfishness. "
as part of this the human brain has been equipped by the natural selection of genes with the power to make its own decisions, which can override the ultimate goals which were originally used to programme it."
(Keep your Prozac handy.)
Elsewhere Dawkins has said:
“Our brains are flexible enough to be reprogrammed away from the goals that are directly concerned with gene survival, and toward a new and competent purpose, led by a religion, by patriotism, or a sense of duty or loyalty to a party or faith.”
Well, hallelujah, brother!
Er, no, not exactly.
"We need to rise above our Darwinian heritage," he says.
In what way? "Well, we devote our lives to writing books, composing music, creating poetry — all higher functions of the brain. If we were following Darwinian dictates, we males would be spending all our time fighting other males to get females, and screwing them all over the place in order to have lots of children and grandchildren. I'm very glad we have risen above all of that."
Hang on a sec, what is going on here?
Evolutionary forces have allowed us to rise above.....evolutionary forces?
OK. Let's accept that for a moment.
We'll move into our "Willing suspension of disbelief Happy-Hour."
What do we get when our brain has out-evolved evolution?
Books, music and poetry.
Patriotism, a sense of duty, loyalty to a party or faith.
Religion and God.
And a whole truck-load of other non-essential stuff.
(I sense myself reaching for my coffee at this point – my disbelief suspenders are being stretched to their limits.)
Do our evolutionary gurus have an explanation for any of this noble silliness?
Well, yes, actually.
Things like brotherly love, symphonies, a sense of humour, condoms, child adoption and God are:
and more recently "neo-purposes "
or "neo-goals" as an accidental extension of "archi-purposes".
I'll bet that makes you feel better, mate!
(Just don't make the same mistake as I did last Valentine's Day. I sent my significant other a card with the message:
"My evolutionary survival mechanisms are powerfully misfiring in your direction.
You are the spandrel of my dreams.
Let us exapt together forever"
She put salt in my coffee.)
As I consider all this, I am tempted to paraphrase Shakespeare and say, "There is something mad-bad-or-stupid in the kingdom of Dawkins."
Humankind's finest aspirations are simply evolution gone wrong? (including Dawkins himself, who shamelessly cherry-picks his exaptations, his ability to exercise this choice being another exaptation of course. Like the legendary turtles, it's exaptations all the way down.)
"I am a passionate Darwinian," he tells us, " in the academic sense that I believe that Darwinism is the main ingredient in our understanding of our own existence and that of all life, I am a passionate Darwinian in that sense, yet I am a passionate anti-Darwinian when it comes to human social and political affairs and political planning for the world."
So, Darwinianism got us into all this mess, and it will take anti-Darwinianism to get us out.
Darwinian in order to make a living and sell books.
Anti-Darwinian when he gets the chance to rule the world.
One of Dawkins' chums, the biologist and blogger, P Z Myers, in a lecture to the Minnesota Atheists on the brain said, "It is not idiotic to be religious".
He also devotes a lot of his time to calling religious people "idiots" and proving his superior intelligence by doing clever things like stealing communion bread and doing silly things with it.
That must be misfiring in spades!
So - has the blind watchmaker's watch stopped telling the time?
Has the selfish gene become the accidentally repentant gene?
Have Dawkins and his pals arrived at the summit of Mount Improbable and fallen over the edge?
Dear reader – this has been a long letter because I tend to get carried away and anyway I am Welsh (never use three words when thirty will do).
But I would appreciate your feed-back.
Or a nomination for the 2009 LHC (Large Hermeneutic Collider) Literary Award in the category, "Evolutionary Cordon-bleu Cuisine : things are seldom what they meme."
(You will remember that last year it was won by the MIT chef for his best-selling: "A hundred ways to prepare tasty unicellular kebabs: beyond the primordial broth.")
So, did Evolution score an own goal when it allowed the human brain to get up to non-survival-friendly tricks like condoms and God?
Or is there something else going on?
Thank you for patiently reading this letter. I look forward to your reply.
Have a great spandrel today,
PS I notice that Steven Pinker (The Moral Instinct) is also rejoicing that evolution has out-evolved evolution : "Far from debunking morality, then, the science of the moral sense can advance it, by allowing us
God's love will show you what you are like.