Friday, March 20, 2009

The Despair of "The Selfish Gene"

For some reason, I felt inspired to look up Richard Dawkins’ book, The Selfish Gene on the website.

In a previous blog post, I had mentioned The Selfish Gene as one of the books I read during my teenage years that reinforced my atheism and my overall pessimistic outlook on life.

As I scrolled down the page, I found this “reader review” by Michael Edwards of Australia, and the 49 comments that followed it.

Fascinating stuff…

“I wish I could rate this book at 5 stars and 0 stars at the same time. It is a fascinating book, very well-written, and it conveys a real sense of how life works on the biological level.”

“On one level, I can share in the sense of wonder Dawkins so evidently sees in the workings-out of such complex processes, often made up of quite simple elemental mechanisms, but interacting so complexly to produce the incredibly complex world we live in.

But at the same time, I largely blame ‘The Selfish Gene’ for a series of bouts of depression I suffered from for more than a decade, and part of me wants to rate the book at zero stars for its effect on my life. Never sure of my spiritual outlook on life, but trying to find something deeper - trying to believe, but not quite being able to - I found that this book just about blew away any vague ideas I had along these lines, and prevented them from coalescing any further. This created quite a strong personal crisis for me some years ago.

The book renders a God or supreme power of any sort quite superfluous for the purpose of accounting for the way the world is, and the way life is. It accounts for the nature of life, and for human nature, only too well, whereas most religions or spiritual outlooks raise problems that have to be got around. It presents an appallingly pessimistic view of human nature, and makes life seem utterly pointless; yet I cannot present any arguments to refute its point of view. I still try to have some kind of spiritual outlook, but it is definitely battered, and I have not yet overcome the effects of this book on me.”

“If there is nothing beyond death, no spiritual dimension to anything, and everything is just a blind dance of atoms, I fail to see how this by itself can give one a real sense of purpose, however fascinating the dance that Dawkins describes - and it *is* fascinating; let there be no mistake about that.

Because of this, I have the curious feeling of dichotomy about Dawkins' book that it is certainly fascinating on one level, but that I cannot give even qualified emotional commitment to the outlook on life that seems to lie behind it. I would in the end rather have the hope of something wonderful and purposeful that only some spiritual outlook can offer, even though it may be a deluded fantasy, than the certainty of a scientific vision that eliminates any possibility of long-term hope, that condemns us to an empty, eternal death of nothingness in the end. This scientific view may be completely rational; but rationality is not the only important consideration to shape our outlook on life.”

“In my more depressed moments, I have desperately wished I could unread the book, and continue life from where I left off.

It has been said that each of us has a God-shaped hole inside, and that we spend most of our lives trying to fill it with the wrong things. I firmly believe that God-shaped hole is there, that we have inner longings of a wonderful sort almost impossible to describe in words. Whether a God exists to fill it, I do not yet know. But what I am sure of is that, as wonderful as Dawkins' view of nature and of life may be on its own level, it will not fill that God-shaped hole.”

I can relate to a lot to what Mr. Edwards is saying, although, luckily for me, I’ve “grown” beyond The Selfish Gene. I can only hope that Mr. Edwards does the same.

**UPDATE: APRIL 2, 2009**

While reading through the archives of Denyse O'Leary's Post-Darwinist blog, I found a few nuggets of information that relate to this post: namely, that Darwinist dogma - when allowed to seep into the minds of young people without giving the other side to make a counterargument - can lead to devastating consequences.

First of all, with the 10-year anniversary of the Columbine shootings coming up in a few weeks, it's useful to read David Arrington's blog post, Darwin and Columbine...

As the attorney for the families of six of the students killed at Columbine, I read through every single page of Eric Harris’ jounals; I listened to all of the audio tapes and watched the videotapes, including the infamous “basement tapes.” There cannot be the slightest doubt that Harris was a worshiper of Darwin and saw himself as acting on Darwinian principles. For example, he wrote: “YOU KNOW WHAT I LOVE??? Natural SELECTION! It’s the best thing that ever happened to the Earth. Getting rid of all the stupid and weak organisms . . . but it’s all natural! YES!”

Elsewhere he wrote: “NATURAL SELECTION. Kill the retards.” I could multiply examples, but you get the picture.

It was no coincidence that on the day of the shootings Harris wore a shirt with two words written on it: “Natural Selection.”

But there's more...

In 2007, a Finnish high school student who killed 8 people was apparently motivated by Social Darwinism...

In the rambling text posted on the site, Auvinen said that he is "a cynical existentialist, anti-human humanist, anti-social social-Darwinist, realistic idealist and god-like atheist.
"I am prepared to fight and die for my cause," he wrote. "I, as a natural selector, will eliminate all who I see unfit, disgraces of human race and failures of natural selection."

But the most poignant story is the one about Jesse Kilgore...

Jesse Kilgore, a college student whose loss of faith and subsequent suicide has been linked to his biology class and Richard Dawkins' The God Delusion. After his professor challenged him to read the anti-theistic book and rule out the possibility of God’s existence in light of the evidence for evolution, Jesse experienced a crisis of faith. Now his father is arguing for academic freedom for intelligent design and critiques of Darwin’s theory.

A podcast with Jesse's father can be found here.

**UPDATE, JUN. 10, 2009**

Barry Arrington, who represents the families of 6 Columbine victims, says...

"The moral implications of Darwin’s theory are there for all to see. Eric Harris was a brilliant young man (Dylan Klebold was a follower, more or less along for the ride). Harris paid attention in class and he learned both Darwin and Nietzsche (and wrote about both in his journal). He put two and two together and got 'kill everyone whom I deem to be inferior.' In our public school system Harris was steeped in the moral darkness and nihilism of Darwin and Nietzsche. Tragically, he was not exposed to any countervailing influences, He took what he learned and, however misguided his actions were, he acted upon his lessons.

This is the lesson of Columbine at least insofar as our schools are concerned: It is very dangerous to spout untempered nihilism in class, because someone just might take you seriously and act on your lesson."


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