He Said What? Really?

For those who are interested in the topic of life’s origin and the resulting implications, this is something that’s certainly worth chewing on for a bit. Richard Dawkins—perhaps the world’s most prominent atheist and proponent of purely naturalistic evolution—is on the record as saying that human beings are the earth’s “last, best hope.” So he said in New Scientist/Greenpeace Science debate of 2007 (helpfully documented by Wesley J. Smith over at Secondhand Smoke). Here’s the quote in context, along with some additional Dawkins statements:

If any species in the history of life has the possibility of breaking away from short term selfishness and of long term planning for the distant future, it’s our species. We are earth’s last best hope even if we are, simultaneously, the species most capable of destroying life on the planet. But when it comes to taking the long view, we are literally unique. Because the long view is not a view that has ever been taken before in whole history of life. If we don’t plan for the future, no other species will…
How can I on the one hand say that we are the product of Darwinian selection, which is incorrigibly short sighted and selfish, yet at the same time say that salvation lies in humanity’s capacity for looking far ahead? And the answer lies in the fact that brains–although they are themselves the natural product of natural selection–follow their own rules, which can rise above the rules of natural selection.
We can take decisions which are not based on the ultimate Darwinian value of gene survival, but upon other proximate values, such as hedonistic pleasure, or, such as something more noble–something such as sitting down together with the peoples of the world and trying to plan what would be the best future for the whole of the planet. Totally unique. Totally foreign to our evolutionary past…
I have said that although I am a passionate Darwinian, 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…yet, I am a passionate anti-Darwinian when it comes to human, social, and political affairs and political planning for the world. Nature really is red in tooth and claw. Nature really is ruthless, selfish, greedy. Nature in its Darwinian role of natural selection is not something we should wish to emulate.

These statements lead to a handful of important questions:

1. In what sense is humanity the earth’s “last, best hope”? What is the “salvation” we are to move toward? What is the “best future for the whole of the planet”? Given his commitment to a purely naturalistic worldview, the question is how we can objectively define this hope/future/salvation as good or desirable. What I mean is, if God is not there to provide the standard for what is good, on what can we make such judgments? A burned out planet might not be our preference, but how can we say it’s any better or worse than one on which human life thrives? How is it clear that the universe is better off with us than without us? Likewise, how do we determine if something is “more noble” than something else or “not something we should wish to emulate.” If the universe is nothing more than an impersonal, mechanical system, things aren’t good or bad or noble or the like. They just are.

2. How can Darwinism be “the main ingredient in our understanding of our own existence and that of all life” and yet be so counterproductive for “human, social, and political affairs and political planning”? This appears to be saying that, while Darwinism is crucially important for understanding who we are, it remains irrelevant or even antithetical to vast majority of what we do. Does that really make sense?

To repeat a point that has been made in various ways before here at ESI, Dawkins continually writes ideological checks that his worldview can’t cash—it simply doesn’t have resources to explain the reality we bump up against every day. And fundamentally, that’s because it refuses to admit the existence of a personal, moral Creator who makes sense of everything else.

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