Thinking With the Wrong Head or, Richard Dawkins on Altruism


As many of you are well aware, the existence of genuine love or altruism is often leveled against the naturalistic worldview as evidence of its implausibility.  But those who buy into such pathetic argumentation simply don’t understand the richness of the Darwinian perspective.   You may be surprised to learn that the New Atheists, especially Richard Dawkins, are actually romantics at heart.  I dare say that the conception of altruism explicated so eloquently in his acclaimed work The God Delusion would move even the hardest of hearts to start composing Shakespearean sonnets! 

Like many great romantics, Dawkins begins his discourse on love with a rousing passage on the ontological foundation of love itself:       
“The most obvious way in which genes ensure their own ‘selfish’ survival relative to other genes is by programming individual organism to be selfish.  There are indeed many circumstances in which survival of the individual organism will favour the survival of the genes that ride inside it.  But different circumstances favour different tactics.  There are circumstances – not particularly rare – in which genes ensure their own selfish survival by influencing organisms to behave altruistically.”
In this stirring piece of prose Dawkins skillfully uncovers the underlying foundations of naturalistic anthropology.  Through it we learn that man is but a passive composition of matter blown and tossed by the mindless and purposeless wind of biology (please note that you should ignore the teleological language he employees; words like “tactics” and the like).  We see that, at its core, altruism is rooted in pre-programmed instincts involuntarily thrust upon us by our “selfish” genes.  From this foundation he weaves a beautiful tapestry of possibilities–sure to make many a fair maiden’s heart pound with passion:     
“We now have four good Darwinian reasons for individuals to be altruistic, generous or ‘moral’ towards each other.  First, there is the special case of genetic kinship.  Second, there is reciprocation:  the repayment of favours given, and the giving of favours in ‘anticipation’ of payback.  Following on from this there is, third, the Darwinian benefit of acquiring a reputation for generosity and kindness.  And fourth . . . there is the particular additional benefit of conspicuous generosity as a way of buying unfakeably authentic advertising.”
In order to fully appreciate the profundity of the kaleidoscope of Darwinian explanations offered here we must pause to consider exactly what kind of love is being presented to us. 

The Four Loves

Classically speaking, there are four kinds of love.  The Greeks distinguished between the different forms of love using four distinct words: agápe, éros, philía, and storgē.  Dawkins’ elaboration on altruism seems to fall within the realm of éros, and storgē–the forms of love that come upon us in waves of emotion entirely outside of our control.  For we undergo these forms of love as mere passive receptors.  They are the product of a diverse range of factors including our environment and, yes, even our biology.  Storgē is quite simply the feeling of affection that we have for our kin—e.g., the “fluttery” warm feeling experienced by a mother holding her child—and éros is the feeling of desire—e.g., a wave of sexual longing, or craving a succulent piece of steak.  While, according to the classical understanding, we can make choices that intentionally direct our lives toward things that engender these types of love, they are ultimately brought on by forces outside of our volition.  Thus, they stand in marked contrast to agápe (self-giving love), and philía (friendship) which are rooted in the will.
 
But Richard Dawkins, in a stroke of poetic genius, turns away from the classical veiw and paints a picture of a world in which true agápe and philía are but an illusion.  For him altruism can only be explained in terms of éros, and storgē: 
         
“What natural selection favours is rules of thumb, which work in practice to promote the genes that built them.  Rules of thumb, by their nature, sometimes misfire.  In a bird’s brain, the rule ‘Look after small squawking things in your nest, and drop food into their red gapes’ typically has the effect of preserving the genes that built the rule, because the squawking, gaping objects in an adult bird’s nest are normally its own offspring  The rule misfires if another baby bird somehow gets into the nest . . .”
He goes on to explain:  
“I am suggesting that the same is true of the urge to kindness – to altruism, to generosity, to empathy, to pity.  In ancestral times, we had the opportunity to be altruistic only towards close kin and potential reciprocators.  Nowadays, that restriction is no longer there, but the rule of thumb persists.  Why would it not?  It is just like sexual desire.  We can no more help ourselves feeling pity when we see a weeping unfortunate (who is unrelated and unable to reciprocate) than we can help ourselves feeling lust for a member of the opposite sex (who may be infertile or otherwise unable to reproduce).  Both are misfirings, Darwinian mistakes:  blessed, precious mistakes.”
In other words, true acts of love are glorious (?) mistakes; accidental properties of nature brought about by instincts and passions mechanically instigated by our genes.  Now, I don’t know about you, but this moves me to tears every time I think about it.  If you don’t feel the same, stick with me and I think you’ll change your mind.    

The Blessedness of Darwinism

Contrary to what some might think it’s clear that Darwinism, with its robust foundation of unintentional self-edifying desire, warm fuzzy feelings, and brute instincts, is a powerful platform upon which to build and explain deep, meaningful, expressions of love.  Take, for example, the Catholic priest in North Africa who is currently harboring nearly 700 Muslims in his church.  He’s literally risking his own life to protect them from an extremist group attempting to eradicate the Muslim population in their country.  Thanks to Dawkins we now understand that he is not intentionally laying down his life for his fellow man because they are made in the image of God and therefore intrinsically valuable.  And he is surely not acting in accordance with the virtues of courage or fortitude.  Rather, and I say this in the most beautiful and uplifting way imaginable, he is undergoing an evolutionary misfire.  Just dwell on that notion for a moment.
You see, in a strange and (to use the adjectives so aptly employed by Dawkins) blessed and precious quirk of fate this priest is mistakenly extending charity to Muslims.  Mind you, this is ultimately a meaningless and quit unintentional happening in the life of the universe–and I really don’t have to explain to you how heartwarming that fact is—but we can all appreciate the beauty of this utterly futile event!
Herein lies the real magic of Darwinism.  No matter how meaningless our actions are, we can make them sound nice by attaching uplifting adjectives like “blessed” or “precious” to them.  This is especially helpful when considering a variety of seemingly “self-less” acts performed my people every day.  Consider the gentleman who cared for and eventually married his invalid fiancé.  We all know the real reason he tenderly cared for her, after she had that unfortunate fall and became paralyzed from the waist down, is because of an irresistible sexual impulse built into him by his “selfish” genes.  You see, his brain mistakenly thought he needed to preserve her to bear children and preserve his genetic code (and possibly do his laundry).  The folk way of viewing love might have mistaken his actions as being actual acts of self-giving and service; sacrifices he intentionally chose because he valued her and recognized her personhood.  The folk way would even have us thinking he was acting in accordance with the virtue of charity.  But, in truth, he was just thinking with “the wrong head”—as my grandfather’s drill sergeant might have described it.  Now this might sound crass but there is really no need to despair because if we close our eyes and click our heels . . . we’ll soon see that this evolutionary misfire is the stuff of poetry.        
     
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A Caution for Every Christian Who Eats Fast Food


I was inspired to write this post after reading Pastor Nathan Rouse’ article, A Caution for Every Christian that Drinks Alcohol.  I don’t think he took his argument far enough  . . .

caught in the act . . .

caught in the act . . .

Something unhealthy has crept into the American church and it’s quite distressing.  Many Christians have allowed themselves to take eating fast food lightly.  Now, before you start throwing your empty hamburger wrappers at me, let me be clear:  I don’t believe eating fast food is a sin (in spite of the fact that doing it might very well send thousands of people into Hell).  Of course, gluttony is a sin; and let’s be clear, obesity is one of the biggest killers in our society and continues to take a destructive toll on marriages and families.

But, there’s an even bigger problem!

The often overlooked sin rearing its ugly head are Christians openly displaying their love and consumption of fast food to those around them in public and on social media, when there are many around them who struggle with this temptation and addiction.

the face of evil . . .

the face of evil . . .

The Apostle Paul addressed this same issue in his day when the Christians in Corinth argued over whether or not they could eat meat sacrificed to idols.  Paul clearly stated that, even though they had the freedom to eat meat sacrificed to idols, they should be sensible enough not to eat it in front of those who struggled with this practice.  Check it out for yourself (there is absolutely no possible way to misinterpret or misapply this passage of scripture):

“Only take care lest this liberty of yours [in our case, eating fast food] somehow become a stumbling block to the weak.  For if any one sees you, a man of knowledge, at table in an idol’s temple [a.k.a McDonalds], might he not be encouraged, if his conscience is weak, to eat food offered to idols [i.e. a Big Mac]?”  (1 Corinthians 8:9-10)

What this means is this: shame on you when you share pictures on Facebook of you enjoying a juicy hamburger!  

Now, before you say you only eat fast food with others that are like minded or with your spouse, let me ask you the following questions:

  1. Do you highlight or joke about your french fries in person or on social media (posting pictures like this one on the world wide web for all to see)?
does this tempt you?

does this tempt you?

2. Do you eat your fast food in public when there’s a good chance you might bump into someone who struggles with gluttony (oh, and believe me, you will)?

Whether you like it or not, people are watching you . . . oh yes, they are always watching you . . . and holding you to the highest possible standard.  Therefore, you should never ever, upon any circumstances, do anything.  The goal of the Christian is to be a people pleaser–we never want anyone to get the wrong idea.  One false step could be fatal!  Eating a french fry could be the straw that breaks the camels back!  Consider this scenario:

Billy (a Christian) orders a value meal from McDonalds and decides to eat it in the restaurant.  Michael (who struggled with gluttony for years, had a gastric bypass, and lost 400 pounds) walks by and sees Billy taking a bite of his hamburger.  This tempts Michael who enters McDonalds, orders a meal, and falls, head long, into the never ending pit of overconsumption.  In three months, Michael finds himself, once again, struggling with obesity . . . and it’s all your fault!  How could you be so heartless?

Do you love fast food so much that you are willing to undermine your Christian witness?  Do you love your “freedom” so much that you could care less how it affects another brother or sister?  Do  you realize that anything you do in public could send someone spiraling out of control?

Be afraid . . . be very afraid . . . and, in the future, order Chinese and have it delivered directly to your home (then, secretly, and privately, consume the food).

If You Disagree With Me . . . You Hate Me


As you read this post please keep in mind that if you disagree with anything I have to say . . . you hate me.  In fact, if you disagree with the statement I just made, you are probably one of the most hateful people on the planet.  I’ll take it one step further:  if you think the statement I just made regarding my first statement is somehow wrong, you’re no different than the KKK.  I can think of nothing more spiteful, more degrading, and more uncivilized than disagreeing with someone.  The sheer audacity and arrogance it takes to suggest that somebody is wrong is just shameful.

It is because of my desire for peace, love, and harmony for all of mankind (and the rest of the animal kingdom) that I have dedicated my life to the fight against hate.  The first point I wish to make clear is that hate is wrong . . . well, not “wrong” wrong; but just, wrong.  Okay, okay, I wouldn’t say it’s wrong because that would be a hateful thing to do.  What I really mean to say is that hate is just not right . . . that is, I strongly disagree with people who hate.  Hold on a second, that’s not right.  Disagreeing with people is hateful, and I disagree with hate; so, I can’t disagree with people who hate because that would be hateful.  Wait a minute, I think I just disagreed with myself!  Oh my goodness!  I hate myself!

As you can see, hate is terribly destructive.  This is why it is important that we seek to include everyone; quite frankly, everyone’s opinion is valid and should be accepted.  After all, to say that someone is wrong, that someone’s opinion is invalid, is no different than saying that person is a worthless pile of dung.  This is why I have a dream!  I envision a society in which everyone is accepted for who they are and everyone is allowed to think or believe whatever they want without the fear of some arrogant bigot saying they are wrong.  In fact, the only people we would not accept in this harmonious society are those who disagree with us.  This society, like Boston, would be on the very cutting edge of inclusion.  I believe we could make this dream a reality—all we have to do is force, by law, everyone who disagrees with our inclusiveness to shut-up; and if they don’t shut up, we’ll just throw them in prison.

Don’t like what I have to say?  It’s because you, my friend, are a hater . . . oh, and please don’t leave any comments because I would consider any feedback about this article a hate crime.