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.        
     

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).

Bovine Haters, Gospel Loving Chicken Crusaders, and the Fight for Same Sex Marriage


Earlier this week, the president of Chick-fil-A, Dan Cathy, announced in an interview with Baptist Press that he believed in the Biblical  definition of marriage.  Naturally, his comments generated a media frenzy and all out social assault on those proud producers of the most tasty chicken sandwich on the planet.  As a result of his statements, many people are now boycotting Chick-fil-A and some groups are even staging protests.  To make matters worse, the Jim Henson Company announced today that they would no longer partner with Chick-fil-A; therefore, depriving millions of children the joy of purchasing a chicken meal with pictures of creatures form Jim Henson’s Creature Shop.

This is truly a strange turn of events for a company known throughout the world for its staunch support of Bovine Rights.  Yet, in spite of years of stalwart support for one of the most under-appreciated species in our country . . . the cow! . . . Chick-fil-A is now being accused of supporting the suppression of human rights.  On top of this, the mayor of Boston, in response to Mr. Cathy’s revelation,  tragically stated that, “Chick-fil-A doesn’t belong in Boston” . . . can you imagine how depressed the people of Boston are going to be?  They shall never know the joy of ordering food from a place in which the employee’s say with a huge smile on their face, “it’s my pleasure,” after serving you one of the most flavorful chicken sandwiches ever invented,  next to a massive mound of waffle fries, and a giant cup of ice cold sweet tea!  Nevertheless, one can understand the mayor’s position.  As he further noted in his statement to the press:  “we’re an open city, we’re a city that’s at the forefront of inclusion.”  Considering Boston’s status as being an open and inclusive city, it is only natural that its mayor would seek to exclude Chick-fil-A.

I must confess I’m a little baffled at the level of outrage Mr. Cathy’s comments (which he made to a Southern Baptist news agency) have generated.  I mean, let’s be honest — was anybody truly surprised to learn that the Baptist president and chief operating officer of a company which closes on Sunday’s and has the phrase, “to glorify God by being a faithful steward of all that is entrusted to us,” in its corporate purpose statement, is not a supporter of Gay Marriage?  Why is it that everyone is now up-in-arms over something which, in my mind, was already clear?  The reason, I think, is because everyone (no-matter their age, race, gender, or sexual orientation) loves a good chicken sandwich.  No one wants to boycott a place with such great service and yummy food; but now that the “cats out of the bag” people are being forced to chose between the food they love and their political activism.

For now it seems the majority of people are suppressing their love for great food in favor of their stance on Gay marriage.  However, I wonder how long this will last?  Every day, as people head over to McDonald’s on their lunch break, only to be greeted by a menacing overweight cashier who snaps at you for taking too long to order, a seed of doubt will take root in their mind.  Every time an activist sinks his/her/it’s teeth into one of those greasy, bland, burgers on the value menu or takes a big bite out of a cheap imitation chicken sandwich, a sense of longing will begin to grow in their heart.  Every parent whose child discovers a three-day-old diaper or razor blade in the ball pit will experience an existential crisis.  Soon questions will enter their head: “why . . . why did the cashier blow her nose on her shirt sleeve before handing me my order?” . . . “why are these french fries so skinny and mushy?” . . . “why are their lumps of lard in my ice cream?”

Meanwhile, while Gay Rights advocates come to terms with a world devoid of safe, clean, healthy fast food, Christian activists are rallying together to defend the rights of gospel preaching chicken sandwich lovers around the country.  At the forefront of spreading the good news of Chick-fil-A is Gov. Mike Huckabee who is calling for Christian’s everywhere to order a chicken sandwich on the first of August!  When Jesus Christ, the eternal Word of God, suffered and died on the cross for the redemption and restoration of creation, I’m sure He had in mind this day–the day when thousands of His followers would come together and take a stand for good chicken sandwiches.  Just the thought of this brings a tear to my eye.

Finally, evangelicals have found a way to reach out with love to the Gay and Lesbian community and demonstrate the humility and sacrifice of the cross–and the best part is, they get to do it while slurping down a pepper-mint milk shake.  Admittedly it’s been hard to get Christians to rally together and tackle such problems as Human Sex Trafficking and Homelessness; so, it’s good to see so many devout followers of Jesus joining hands and saying with one loud voice, “we love Chick-fil-A!”  I’m certain this massive effort to show their love and appreciation for fast food will go far in helping conservative Christians connect with the Gay and Lesbian community.

Nietzsche and a Pastor


In the forward to his attack on Christianity, The Anti-Christ, Fredrick Nietzsche wrote the following:

“This book belongs to the very few.  Perhaps none of them is even living yet.  Possibly they are the readers who understand my Zarathustra: how could I confound myself with those for whom there are ears listening today? — Only the day after tomorrow belongs to me.  Some are born posthumously.

The conditions under which one understands me and then necessarily understands — I know them all too well.  One must be honest in intellectual matters to the point of harshness to so much as endure my seriousness, my passion.  One must be accustomed to living on mountains — to seeing the wretched ephemeral chatter of politics and national egoism beneath one.  One must have become indifferent, one must never ask whether truth is useful or fatality . . . . Strength which prefers questions for which no one today is sufficiently daring; courage for the forbidden; predestination for the labyrinth.  An experience out of seven solitudes.  New ears for new music.  New eyes for the most distant things.  A new conscience for truths which have hitherto remained dumb.  And the will to economy in the grand style:  to keeping one’s energy, one’s enthusiasm in bounds . . . . Reverence for oneself; love for oneself; unconditional freedom with respect to oneself . . .

Very well!  These alone are my readers, my rightful readers, my predestined readers:  what do the rest matter? — The rest are merely mankind. — One must be superior to mankind in force, in loftiness of soul — in contempt . . .”

In the coming months, I, a lowly pastor, will attempt to scale the lofty mountaintops of Nietzsche’s thought; to brave the questions, “for which no one today is sufficiently daring,” to find the courage to ponder that which is forbidden.  I invite you to walk with me as I wrestle with the philosophical ravings of the “Anti-Christ” — perhaps, we will discover that we, indeed, are his “rightful” readers; or, perhaps, we will discover something altogether unexpected: a way out of the labyrinth . . .

Click here to read part two.

So You’ve Been Left Behind™: A Survival Guide


Just as a banana is an atheist's greatest fear, Kirk Cameron is the Tribulation's greatest fear. Here we see Cameron stare the Tribulation into submission.

(A note: This is all meant in good fun, with a bit of serious reflection at the end. Also, this isn’t directed at those who were duped, but at Harold Camping who did the duping and made a fortune off of it.)

As we all know, the rapture occurred yesterday, May 21, 2011. After all, what else could explain the absolute silence of Harold Camping in the absence of earthquakes at 6pm in every timezone? Perhaps they were spiritual earthquakes. Who knows.

But since you, like me, are left behind™, perhaps we should consider what to do now. If you see Kirk Cameron or Brad Johnson, keep in mind that it’s all in the script. What should we expect now? After all, now that the rapture has occurred, there’s going to be massive amounts of judgment hurled our way until it all goes *BOOM* on October 21, 2011, or thereabouts.

Thankfully, before Camping slipped the surly bonds of earth to go up to the Spirit in the sky, he imparted some of his knowledge to moi. Having studied Revelation and coming to an absolutely perfect knowledge of what the writer intended – since I’m now in tight with God and all – here’s what we can expect, or at least here’s a rough timeline:

  • June 1 – The One World Government will be established. To show how evil such a government is, Quebec will break away from Canada prior to the establishment of this government and then become the lead nation of the One World Government; there’s nothing more evil than French-Canadians.
  • June 1 – July 1 – There will be relative peace during this time. Wars will cease, armies will give up their weapons, and Philadelphia will lose all their sports teams in order to secure a greater peace.
  • July 4 – There will be a famine of epic proportions when the Johnson family runs out of hot dogs for their 4th of July cookout. The Johnson’s will attempt to buy more from their neighbor Mr. Blackwell, but he will respond, “$15 for a bun and $20 for one hotdog!” (Revelation 6:5-6)
  • July 9 – Lady Gaga releases a new album featuring Katy Perry. The vapid nature of such music is enough that multiple people’s brains simply stop functioning after hearing the song. (Revelation 6:7-8)
  • July 10 – The two witnesses – Ray Comfort and Kirk Cameron – will begin to preach that we are in the Tribulation. The message will begin, “A lot of you doubt we’re in the Tribulation. But let me show you the ultimate defeater to your argument, your worst enemy. Here we have the banana…” (Revelation 11:3-6)
  • August 10 – A third of the earth will be destroyed, the oceans will dry up, and a giant mountain will be thrown to earth when it’s revealed that the OWN Network is moving up Rosie O’Donell’s show to the late summer. This is why the angel cries out, “Woe, woe, woe to those who dwell on the earth.” (Revelation 8:7-13)
  • August 23 – the Antichrist (note: Camping wasn’t clear on who the Antichrist is, merely that he is possibly a New York Yankee, and of course this makes perfect sense) will be put down and appear to be dead, but to the chagrin of all who love the good and holy will raise back again (further proof that the Antichrist is possibly a New York Yankee). (Revelation 13:3)
  • September 3 – the Abomination of Desolation occurs when the Ohio St administration accidentally allows Jim Tressell to coach his team to victory against mighty Akron. Tressell will later say that he was unaware that he was, in fact, suspended from coaching, but later emails will show that he knew he was suspended all along. (Daniel 9:27)
  • September 17 – The False Prophet arrives in order to speak of how great the Antichrist (New York Yankee(s)) is/are. Again, Camping isn’t clear, but he suspects that it will be an ESPN analyst as they tend to show love to the Yankees through thick and thin. (Revelation 13:11-15)
  • September 30 – Shortly before the start of the NBA 2011-2012 season, the Heat will increase their roster to include Blake Griffin, Kevin Durant, and Kobe Bryant. Lebron James will be quoted as saying, “We’re not going to win 2, 3, 4, or 7 championships. We’re going to win, like, infinity.” (Revelation 16:8)
  • October 8 – The final Battle of Armageddon is waged when God leads the forces of good (University of Oklahoma Sooners) against the forces of evil (University of Texas Longhorns). This will fulfill a double prophecy based on a minority Septuagint manuscript of Psalm 75:10, which reads, “And I shall saw off the horns of the wicked, but the schooner of the righteous shall be lifted up.” It will also fulfill the prophecy of Armageddon.
  • October 21 – The Cleveland Indians will jump to 2-0 over the St. Louis Cardinals in the World Series. However, after Cleveland enjoys their second straight shut out, God will consume the earth in fire and end the world as we know it, thus preventing Cleveland from bringing home a championship that they were almost a shoe-in to win. This event will go down in Cleveland as, “The Burn.”

What you need to be aware of is that there are actually more events that will occur; these are simply the biggest signs to look for. Chumbawamba will release a single, Glenn Beck and Keith Olberman will co-host their own show titled, “I’m Sorry, We Were Wrong,” Congress will pass a law (nothing specific, just that a law will actually pass), and George Lucas will opt not to ruin the “Star Wars” movie series anymore than he already has. Gary Busey will actually begin to make a lot of sense. We ought to be prepared for these things to happen, as it is all on the horizon.

___________________________________________

On a more serious note, just as many predicted yesterday there was no rapture, no judgment, nothing; the world simply kept rotating. This isn’t because God is a liar or because God doesn’t exist, but because sometimes humans have a tendency to get ahead of themselves. This is especially true when it comes to the “End Times.”

While there is nothing wrong in studying our ultimate end or in hoping for the resurrection – in fact, we are called to do this as the resurrection gives purpose to all that we do – we must never forget that we still live in the here-and-now. For every debate we have over whether or not Jesus will come before the Tribulation or after the Tribulation (or if there is a Tribulation), how many children go hungry, how many men cheat on their wives, and how many souls are lost forever? While some debates are worth having, how or when the end will happen just isn’t one of them.

We shouldn’t obsess over the end, but simply accept that it will one day occur and we should prepare for that day. We should prepare by helping those around us now and working to bring them a taste of God’s coming kingdom while we still live in the now. Perhaps we should reflect on these words:

“The time of the kingdom is secret…Thus, we should live everyday as if we will be judged” – Bede

“He indeed said that he will come, but he did not define when, so all generations and ages thirst for him” – Ephrem of Syrian