I have re-watched Dawkins ‘The Genius of Charles Darwin‘ three episode and even taken notes.
I was seriously thinking about writing about how many and conflicting faith statements Dawkins made – and you’ll be relieved to know I may yet indulge this compulsion but in the meantime I thought I’d stick with something that struck me as I re-watched the first episode, subtitled ‘Life, Darwin and Everything’ which was – What has evolution actually helped build in today’s world?
As a note to clear everything up – all quotes which aren’t directly sourced will be of Dawkins and be followed by a roman numeral to denote which episode of this series it refers to – I for the first ‘Life, Darwin and Everything’ II for ‘The Fifth Ape’ and lastly III for ‘God Strikes Back…’ but just to be confusing my notes include two segments which include Dawkins quoting Darwin. They, however, may not be used – we’ll just have to see, dear Reader…
One of the outstanding claims Dawkins makes is that Darwin turned our world upside down – which would be a great achievement in itself if true. However the list of folk held to have turned our world upside down is legion – the mystical and possibly not actually real General Ludd of the Luddite fame, Newton, Brunnel, Kant, Marx, Aristotle, Jesus, Ghandi, Martin Luther King among a long list of which everybody has their own favourites…
Some of these have inspired social changes and even attempts to bring about their social view, some have inspired and designed great industrial masterpieces others have inspired great works or been involved in building temples to their own God/Gods but what has Darwin inspired or evolution been used for…
The main thrust of Dawkins is that he has faith that science can and will explain everything…
… and then I thought, well, if science can explain something so apparently inexplicable as life who knows what the limits might be on what science could explain more generally without any recourse to the supernatural. At that moment I became an atheist and I’ve never looked back. III
So, what Darwin has achieved is to do away with the necessity of the supernatural and that seems to be Dawkins main thrust on how our world has been changed. If only it were so, at least for Dawkins – Plato in his work ‘The Republic’ talks about how we might as well make up a myth to help keep the ideal society working smoothly which shows a mindset that believes that faith in the greek pantheon is purely because we, or rather the ancient greeks, have been told it rather than in being true in and of itself. Hume, a prime mover in The Enlightenment was also a staunch atheist – and as with Plato, lived before Darwin… between these two points there are influential thinkers who were atheists and after Darwin there have continued to be atheist thinkers in prominent positions.
So, the idea that we need evolution to be free from belief in the supernatural is wrong and to put it in Dawkins language that’s just a ‘plain truth…’ III What I find dificult when Dawkins is trying to free our minds is that he seems to have no knowledge of sociological research into status and belief – in Ancient Rome we are told that some Patriarchs had to convince others of their standing to make the sacrifices and attend the ‘holy’ festivals because it keeps the small folk happy – not because they believe in them. This seems crucial – those who feel confident of their own control over their own lives tend to have a lower level of belief in the supernatural.
After Darwin folk still persist in their beliefs in the supernatural – Dawkins dedicates the last programme of his latest series into tackling christians who still hold onto their beliefs despite or in acceptance of evolution.
So the question then becomes what use can evolution be put to?
Basically it boils down to being useful to explain the various forms of life we see around us and how they have developed – including us. Which is problematic as then Dawkins wants to show how that has no recourse into how we should use evolutionary theory in either the business world or the business of states.
While in the second programme Dawkins accepts that businesses could be compared to large biological entities he accepts, and even proffers the view, that businesses don’t and can’t operate on an evolutionary basis. This leaves the horror of eugenics and on this Dawkins has this to say
Eugenics is not Darwinism. Eugenics is not a version of natural selection. Hitler, despite popular legend, was not a Darwinist. Every farmer, horticulturist or pigeon fancier Knew how to breed for desired outcomes. Eugenicists, like Hitler, borrowed from breeders. What Darwin uniquely realized was that nature can play the role of breeder. Darwin has been wrongly tainted. II
Which is all well and good. The problem facing this is that if we say that humans are part of the natural world and then we decide to go and be eugenicists then surely that’s a decision made within the world of nature? Dawkins does argue that the idea of the selfish gene is one we should fight against in how we deal with each other…
Thus evolution cannot, or should not, be applied. So the question becomes what use is evolution outside academia? It’s all very well saying that evolution does away with the necessity of God but that is not, nor was ever, new. Dawkins tries to explain human behaviour from a genetic point of view but that rules out the old, and well established, debate of nature vs nurture as Gross in his rather gargantuan overview of psychological research ‘Psychology‘ argues that the influence is 40/60, not that I can remember which is which but still nurture of either 40% or 60% is still a large chunk. Which means that our behaviour is not completely determined by our genetic make-up.
Apart from statues to Darwin there have been no temples built, Darwinism has not changed our view of the supernatural and any policies based on natural selection are wrong to do so.
So What Use Evolution?