Saturday, 14 April 2012

Evolution is Not Great

Some of my family have been having a heated Facebook argument (as you do) sparked by recent troubles in the support base for Catherine Hamlin's Fistula Hospital in Ethiopia.  Sadly, there appears to be a dispute about the religious affiliations of supporters which is interfering with funding for this important work.  This charity is dear to the hearts of a number of family members and they are shocked.  I don't really understand the dispute and the ABC report of it is not all that enlightening.

Still, my favourite and much-loved atheist relative's instant emotional reaction was to blame the Christian faith for the problem.  Religion poisons everything, as Christopher Hitchens would have said.  Of course Hamlin herself is also a Christian, but what are such details before the power of confirmation bias?

Anyway I know I shouldn't let my caustic wit get the better of me, but here goes.  Our current crop of New Atheists like to view religion as a product of evolution.  Daniel Dennett describes how religion evolved from primitive beginnings in ancestor worship to the elaborate theological systems we have today. He describes these ideas and systems (which he calls "memes") as much like parasites, self-replicating beasties which damage their hosts to ensure their own survival.  He, and even more so his friend Sam Harris, believe that this nasty parasite has now become so dangerous that it is time to eradicate it.

However, they haven't really understood the implications of their findings.  If religion is nothing more than a product of evolution, then it is evolution, not religion, which is to blame for the atrocities and horrors of the world.  How can we blame Islam for the crimes of the Taliban and Al Qaeda?  After all these poor innocent believers were only doing what they evolved to do.  Evolution is to blame.  How can we blame Yahweh for the genocide of the Canaanites if he doesn't even exist?  Clearly we must blame evolution for deluding those poor innocent Hebrews.  Nor must we blame the hideous nationalistic ideology of the Nazis for the Holocaust.  They believed in the ultimate destiny of the Volk because evolution made them that way.

While we're at it I have a few other bones to pick with evolution.  Who can we hold responsible for the massive extinctions of Silurian, Carboniferous, Triassic and Tertiary eras?  Who will take responsibility for the catastrophic loss of millions of species?  Clearly, this is an evolutionary crime of massive proportions.  What had those innocent molluscs and reptiles done to deserve such a hideous fate?

Clearly we have got to the point where evolution is much too dangerous to have around.  Sure, some good things have come out of it, like opposable thumbs and crimson rosellas, but our powers of reason and technology are now at the point where we can produce such things without the need for evolution.  The bad far outweighs the good.  I know lovers of the beauties of Darwin's analysis will mourn, but they will still be free to read the Origin of Species as a work of literature and appreciate its beauty and intricacy.  They will just no longer be permitted to believe it.

I'll be explaining these views in more detail in my forthcoming book The End of Evolution: Science, Terror and the Future of Reason.  Watch out for it in a bookshop near you.


Brad McCoy said...

You've here put words to thoughts I've often had. Far more eloquently than I could have.

Luke Isham said...

Very droll, very sharp. Good work Ted.