I’m preparing for a class I’m teaching on Richard Dawkins’s new bestseller “The God Delusion” in which this Oxford professor of evolution argues stridently that Darwin’s theory undermines the rationality of belief in God.
He seeks to demonstrate that a scientifically-informed atheism affirms life. In other word, it’s positive:
“As many atheists have said better than me, the knowledge that we have only one life should make it all the more positive. The atheist view is correspondingly life-affirming and life-enhancing, while at the same time never being tainted with self-delusion [read here: like a religious view], wishful thinking, or the whingering self-pity of those who feel that life owes them something.”
Does that work? In this entry, I’ll just set these words in contrast with another of his works, “River Out of Eden” where he reflects on the bus crash of some Catholic schoolchildren.
"If the universe were just electrons and selfish genes, meaningless tragedies like the crashing of a bus are exactly what we should expect, along with equally meaningless good fortune. Such a universe would be neither evil nor good in intention. It would manifest no intentions of any kind. In a universe of blind physical forces and genetic replication, some people are going to get hurt, other people are going to get lucky, and you won’t find any rhyme or reason in it, nor any justice. The universe that we observe has precisely the properties we should expect if there is, at bottom, no design, no purpose, no evil and no good, nothing but blind, pitiless indifference.
As the unhappy poet A. E. Housman put it:
For Nature, heartless, witless Nature
Will neither know nor care.
DNA neither knows nor cares. DNA just is. And we dance to its music."