This past Wednesday I had the opportunity to listen to Richard Dawkins. He was delivering a lecture at the Holland Center on The Purpose of Purpose. Dawkins is an avowed scientist and atheist who has written The Selfish Gene, The Blind Watchmaker and The God Delusion. He has been nicknamed Darwin’s Rottweiler.
I went to the event with Tim Perry, Gavin Johnson and Tim Anstead. A ticket opened up for me the day of the event, and since Lost was a rerun that night I was available to go. (Yes, Lost dictated whether or not I was going. Hey, it’s a great show and it’s a little bit of joy Jana and I share in each Wednesday when it’s a new show. I first turned down an opportunity to go because of the conflict with the show, thinking it’d be a new episode.)
Tim Perry and I have recently discussed matters of science and faith. This is mainly due to him facilitating the Cosmic Fingerprints event at Christ Community Church. With Dawkins coming in to lecture we thought it would be good to listen to what he had to say. Why? Well, for a number of people you aren’t going to be able to convince them about God because of what the Bible says. These people will laugh at you if you try and quote Genesis 1 at them as the basis for God. They want facts, reason, science that shows God. Dawkins is the cheerleader on this front, considering faith in God a delusion. How do you engage someone in conversation about God who has the mindset of Dawkins?
When we arrived we saw a handful of protesters outside the Holland, holding signs quoting scripture saying “the fool has said in his heart, ‘There is no God'”. There were also atheists handing out cards promoting their local chapter. A number of people attending the event would pose for photos with the protesters. The event was sold-out and for the most part attended by atheists who were clamoring for recognition it seemed.
The event was sponsored by the First Unitarian Church. I found that ironic. Part of the introduction included, if my notes are correct here, “a supporter of science and reason against clamor of ignorance”.
Dawkins came out and the first part of his lecture mocked Christians and Republicans, some of it fairly. He showed a video that has made the rounds in Christian circles for its unintentional comedy. The alleged Atheist’s Nightmare.
Everyone was laughing in the audience at the video, while our little crew was just shaking our heads and muttering things about Ray Comfort and Kirk Cameron. It was a great support video for his lecture, furthering a stereotype that Christians are imbeciles when it comes to science and God. There are a great number of Christians that take science quite seriously, and many who are well-respected for their research, but referring to them would undermine Dawkins’ message.
He also mocked Ben Stein in a video parody. At the end of it he called Stein an ignorant fool. This is due to the film Expelled, which Stein wrote and starred, where he gets Dawkins to admit to the possibility of an intelligent designer.
After this he really delved into his lecture, The Purpose of Purpose. He discussed how science can answer the “how” question, but not the “why” question. Humans are consumed with why. He considered the why question a silly question. It’s not sensible, like wondering what is the color of jealousy. There is an obsession with purpose. The only purpose, though, is preservation and procreation. Continuing on that vein he said we are survival machines since in our genes are the survival of our ancestors of natural selection. Animals don’t self-indulge in self-centered, hedonistic activities, they don’t waste time. Humans appear to be exception to Darwinian Law.
I will say he was consistent in his thinking, for the most part. While trying not to offend, he clearly was not in favor of adoption and didn’t think it was Darwinian. Unless an animal is coaxed, cajoled or fooled, no animal adopts another’s offspring. The offspring must fend for itself. Humans adopting children, or even having pets, subverts natural selection.
Why aren’t our goals related to preservation and propagation? We’ve achieved these goals, so we look for new goals. These new goals subvert the original goals. Instead of eating food for survival we look to indulge ourselves with pop, candy, junk food. Instead of procreation we use sex for favors, porn and contraception has no virtue. Leaders can be subverted where people are following ideologues like Ted Haggard and Ayatollah Khomeini. (This was one of the spots where he used Nazi imagery with religion.)
Going on he said the rise of language brought about shared goals. Generations built upon previous generations. There is a cultural evolution.
“Darwinian Evolution can be our salvation.” And then he stopped.
I’m wondering, “That’s it? That’s the denouement?” Apparently so. He had a scattershot of ideas that didn’t flow well together. If he was going to hit home about Darwinian Evolution being our salvation I thought he would spend more time on it. Instead, he just spent time on the subversion of our natural selection goals. Perhaps he was thinking in presenting those subversions that we’d rectify them on our own. Still, he didn’t spend a lot of time on how to bring us back to our Darwinian goals.
The Q&A was up next and I was surprised by how tame it was. Of course, the crowd was in his corner so you weren’t going to have anyone antagonizing him.
- He thought humans could be a plague to civilization since we don’t like to restrain ourselves.
- Someone asked about evolution and he said not to worry about the word “theory” with it.
- Someone also asked if a delusion in God is a useful one, much like love? He explained away love as acceptable, even though it is due to bio-chemistry and that doesn’t diminish love. Belief in God is a factual position. Loving God is different than the truth. Believing a lie can be therapeutic. Just because you believe in something doesn’t make it true. You don’t tell someone there favorite football team won when they actually lost.
- Religious ideas spread in an epidemic type way, in a virus like way, he noted.
- One of the more intriguing questions was whether as a species we are getting weaker due to medical advancement. He said that when we lived in our wild state we died younger and those genes did not pass on. The human gene pool suffers from deleterious genes now. He is pleased with medical science and what it can do, but the weakening of the gene pool is a price for it.
- Will we be extinct by 2100? Another interesting question which he speculated was possible due to advancement in technologies and how it will take only one nut case to get their hands on a nuclear weapon and destory life. This led to one of the funnier lines of the night, “They want sexual delights in heaven since they aren’t getting any here.”
- He does not favor group selection, but rather individual selection.
And then the night was done. The four of us shuffled out of the Holland wanting to process what we had just heard. We headed over to Blue Line Coffee next to Slowdown where we talked for over an hour. We discussed our issues with his lecture, but more importantly how do we engage people like that with Christianity?
I found the evening to be fascinating, and Dawkins is a good presenter. Still, his presuppositions assume the outcomes on some of the things he presented. For instance, how in Madagascar there is a certain moth that pollenates an orchid only found there. This was an example of natural selection where a Christian would say that is the sign of intelligent design.
I also was interested how he didn’t push aside love as a delusion when he did with God. He called adoption one of the subversions of our goals of preservation and procreation. Another would say it’s because we have the capacity to love which differentiates us from animals, thus we adopt and take in those who have been abandoned. We stay with our loved ones even when they are weak, sick or terminally ill.
Most of the crowd agreed en masse with the lecture, which is interesting considering Dawkins aversion to groupthink and group selection.
Dawkins did say he was an optimist, even though the data is trending downward. He is hopefully that a better future awaits us. I would concur with that sentiment.