Thursday, September 15, 2005

Baby Jesus gets terrible press

One of my pet little hobbyhorses in life is the largely uncritical acceptance of the Theory of Evolution in mainstream culture.

Pop a few lagers in me and I can drone another about the subject for hours. And frequently do.

I frequently get drawn into online discussions about the subject. These discussions are invariably lengthy and follow an almost ritualistic pattern. People who believe that Darwinism is ‘true’ first question my credentials. I establish them. They then cite proofs of Darwinism such a finches, peppered moths and horses. I then explain why those supposed proofs are deceits.

Sooner or later, my Darwinist debating partners always get round to dropping their bombshell…

I am clearly a fundamentalist Christian, probably extremely right wing and insane.

Their response interests me. It interests me because of the peculiar association people with liberal, left wing viewpoints have made between right wing politics and religious belief.

And it really is a very peculiar association.

Neoconservative fundamentalist Christians are just about the least Christian people on the face of this planet.

  • Jesus would have died before resorting to military force in any situation whatsoever. Actually, come to think of it, he did.
  • The early Christians were persecuted by the Romans not because of their religious beliefs but because they refused to serve in the military. They chose to die rather than shed other human being's blood.
  • Jesus made a particular point of seeking the company the social outcasts of his day. There’s no doubt that if he were alive today he’d spend a lot more time hanging around black ghettos and gay bars than cocktail parties.

I could go on and on. And frequently do.

And then there’s the whole Neoconservative rejection of Darwinism thing.

They fucking love Darwinism. Survival of the fittest is a mantra of right wing politics; certainly when it comes to supporting the capitalist notion of screwing individuals over and the sanctity of the free market.

As it happens, the idea that Darwinism applies meaningfully to the world of business is as flawed as believing it works in the natural world but that’s not important right now. The point is that Neocons think and behave like Darwin is their saviour, not Jesus.

However, people on the left of politics are no less full of bullshit…

There are essentially two ways of viewing Life and the world around us

  1. We are here as the result of blind chance
  2. We are part of a designed system

To be honest, no-one has yet demonstrated which is the case. Maybe no-one ever will. Either explanation is an assumption and which assumption you choose to make is dictated by your upbringing and if you were interfered with by a priest as a kid.

Almost all religions start with the assumption that we are part of a cosmic design. They then attempt to tease out and explain each individual’s purpose as part of that design. Existence is a machine and Holy books and teachings are essential user manuals.

This is a rational and reasonable approach. Notions such a ‘good’ and ‘bad’ fall easily from it. If, as most religions do, you assume that the cosmic machine has a benevolent purpose, doing the ‘right thing’ by other people and learning from our failures and temptations makes perfect sense. That is what we were made to do.

However, if you start with the assumption that we are here as a result of blind chance, it is virtually impossible to come up with a moral code that makes any logical sense. You could try, but it’s all a bit lame…

Humans are more effective when they work as groups rather than as individuals. Moral codes, such as the idea that murder is wrong, protect the group and every individual in the group benefits from that.

There are about half a dozen ways to demonstrate that this is bullshit but my favourites are

If we’re here by chance and have no soul or purpose why should anyone give a flying fuck about anything?


Mongo strong. Mongo take your hamburger. Mongo take your lady friend. Mongo have more children. Mongo children strong. World filled with strong Mongo children.

Whichever way you look at them, concepts such as equality of race, human rights and compassion towards the weak are fundamentally religious not scientific concepts.

Check out the American Declaration of Independence. The guys who put this together were not stupid…

When in the Course of human events, it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another, and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature's God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation.

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. -That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed

Snappy, clear, to the point, and religiously based.

Now, is someone out there going to demonstrate to me how equal rights for all can be at all consistent with the notion of survival of the fittest without some serious intellectual dishonesty?

So, how does the anti-religious left deal with the paradox of its secularist belief in individual rights?

The short answer is that usually it doesn’t.

Instead, it trots out tired old cliches about religion being the cause of all wars, how it is the opium of the people and prattles on about how much fairer the world will be once we get round to ditching primitive superstitions.

It's just not true.

Now I’m not suggesting that there aren’t some clever secular left wingers out there who haven’t dealt with these questions. What I am suggesting is that there aren’t many of them out there.

The harsh truth is that the bulk of secular left-wingers are just as deluded and as full of contradictory bullshit as any Neocon.

In fact, they are playing right into the Neocon’s hands. By accepting the notion that religious belief is delusional and that fundamentalist extremists somehow typify religious thinking, people on the Left are participating in a process that is stripping the world of morale courage. After all, if we are here by accident what’s the point in believing in anything? Look at the underlying moral decay, sense of despair and downright unhappiness that’s corroding the developed world. Where do people think that is coming from?

Imagine, for a moment, a world with no movements or figureheads who believe that there is such a thing as right or wrong and that there is a purpose to doing the right thing. No Martin Luther Kings. No Ghandis. Actually, you don’t have to imagine very hard.

The war against Islam is part of the process of moral corruption. It’s not about them ‘hating us for our freedoms’ or oppressed women with blankets on their heads. It’s about a large chunk of the global population owing more allegiance to a strong moral code than empty, soul-destroying consumerism. Even if there were no Mad Mullahs the powers that control us would invent them.


zeliphias said...

strange, i read most of it , it was kinda long though haha and its 2am :)

Stef said...

sometimes long things are pleasurable, sometimes not

Sparkling said...

I still think the egg came before the chicken.

de said...

While I am a Dawkins atheist, my favourite difficult case animal is the giraffe.

If the giraffe has the right length neck now, why did it not die out when it had evolved to only half the height and couldn't reach the right leaves? If it didn't have long enough legs, it would fall over. So it must have evolved a neck and legs at the same rate. How did it survive through this process? Where are the short giraffe ancestors?

Frankly its easier to believe in god given design. The designer was just heavily into variation. 5 million different insect species at last count - maybe a designer with attention deficit syndrome?

Principled attack on Darwinism has not been helped by Literal Christian rejection. Not many people want to stand shoulder to shoulder with these guys. However, scientists are too keen to repeat that life started in deepest Africa - they know how that titilates. The theory of evolution is exactly that, a theory. Its doing well; but probably needs another century to mature.

There is no reason for Darwinism to effect religious faith whatsoever - Darwin was of course god fearing. When religious texts are taken as factual reports, then faith becomes more entrenched.

It would appear that survival of the fittest is a horrible moral code. So humanity needs religious faith to enshrine superior moral doctrines. But then science never did care about the consequences. Thats for others to work out.

Stef said...

sparkling: :)

de: A long post and thanks for getting to the end of it. Thank you also for not behaving like Richard Dawkins. The man has things to say that are worth listening to but his arrogance is sometimes just beggging for a good pinching.

I'm a platypus man myself.

Of course you're totally correct, Darwinism doesn't preclude relgious faith one little bit. It could simply be the mechanism chosen by the Creator.

I liked your lines

'It would appear that survival of the fittest is a horrible moral code. So humanity needs religious faith to enshrine superior moral doctrines. But then science never did care about the consequences. Thats for others to work out.'

particularly the last part. I shall steal it one of these days.

James said...

de: I don't think the giraffe is that difficult a case; if anything, you're making it difficult for yourself by assuming that its niche is deep and sharp-edged.

You're thinking in terms of "short giraffes die, tall giraffes live"; but I'd suggest that it's more the case that "taller giraffes do slightly better than shorter ones". After all, giraffes seem to get through childhood just fine...

(There may also have been an arms race between the giraffes and the trees they like to eat, driving them both to greater heights?)

stef: the problem is not that "neoconservative fundamentalist Christians are just about the least Christian people on the planet"; the problem is that they believe they're the most Christian people in the planet and then use that belief to cherrypick only those passages in the Bible that support their worldview.

I'd argue, too, that "Mongo strong, Mongo take your hamburger" is still very much in force today; only today it's "George rich. George powerful. George take your money. George children privileged. George children grow up protected. George children run world."

Survival of the fittest, in this society, is less about physical power, more about fiscal and political power; if you're poor and powerless, your children are less likely to survive to adulthood.

Hmm, that came out bleaker than I intended.

Finally, yes: while I'm a firm Darwinist, I too often find Dawkins an insufferably arrogant ass.

Dom said...

I'm finding more and more that it's less about proving you are right or changing people's minds than it is about the arguement. On a different note, would you think of yourself as right wing at all?

Northun Munki in Oxford Circus said...

As a humanist I think your views on morality without the need for a supreme being (real or imagined) are a little wide of the mark.

Most 'rules of social engagement' (i.e. the 10 commandments, etc.) come down to the same thing - do unto others as you would have them do unto you. You don't need god(s) or some perverse view of 'good' and 'evil' to explain this.

As for a design or random universe I personally believe that we are here due to the phyiscal laws which determine the reactions of matter and energy. These are not random.

As for Darwins theory - it neatly describes genetic selection and without it I'd have never been able to apply Genetic Algorithm design in computing - which is a very handy tool. It doesn't explain creation, only selection which is where I fear, your argument looses traction.

Stef said...


Not looking to displease anyone with the post and I think that those who've read this understand that.

And I'm defintely not trying to be a smart arse on this subject. It's too important.

You cite 'do unto others as you would have them do unto you' as being a code that does not need to be anchored in concepts such as good and evil.

How's that?

A code like that is in total opposition to Darwinism. That actually was the point I was trying to get at.

If living things followed that 'do unto others' stuff competition and evolution would stop. It's, in Darwinist terms, an unnatural law.

I you disagree with that observation I genuinely would like to know how/why?

I agree that evolution and the generation/creation of life are two completely separate processes. Some creationists are even happy to live with the concept of some form of evolution. However, evolution absolutely requires some, as yet unproven, mechanism to deliver that first spark of life to work on. A naturalist explanation for the origin of live is a key assumption underlying evolutionary theory.

But, anyway, in the nicest possible way I think you've missed my point. Whatever the details may be, there really are only two views of the universe

- It was made deliberately
- It just happened

If it just happened there really is no purpose to anything. If it were amde deliberately there presumably is a purpose and all religions represent crude attempts to divine that purpose.

So I'm not sure how my argument loses traction. Again, if you could explain why/how I'm genuinely keen to hear back from you

Stef said...

@dom: With stuff like this I don't believe anyone's going to prove anyone else 'right' or 'wrong'. The debate is the important part and the more open minded and less hysterical the better. That's what makes the nature of the debate in America so depressing

Right Wing? Left Wing? Those notions are history. It's about Them and Us. Them, representing something like 0.1% of humanity