…may be found @ Benjamin Myers’ blog Faith and Theology; @ PodBlack Cat (which includes a setlist of the songs that accompanied speakers to the stage); and of course @ Your ABC, whose commitment to Atheistic Communism & Homosexuality is being cleverly disguised, thank G*d, by a plethora of religious programming.
Anyway, one additional thing I learned by way of attending the Convention on Sunday was the fact that His Eminence Cardinal George Pell debated former Christian preacher turned atheist Dan Barker in Sydney last week on the proposition ‘Without God we are nothing’. Naturally, this brought to mind nineteenth-century anarchist Mikhail Bakunin: “I reverse the phrase of Voltaire, and say that if God really existed, it would be necessary to abolish him”. Pell originally debated Drink-Soaked Ex-Trotskyite For War Christopher Hitchens on the subject in October last year, but given that Pell appears not to have quit his post in the interim, I can only assume Hitchens wasn’t very convincing.
I also forgot to mention that Peter Singer’s rejection of the moral injunction, generally associated with Christianity, to turn your cheek was interesting, as it opens up a whole series of other questions regarding moral reciprocity. (Of course, a quick glance over the history of Christianity reveals some few problems putting all the cheek-turning and cloak-giving-awaying into practice.)
And oh yeah. The summaries I made of the speeches made on Sunday don’t do them justice. Better summaries are provided by Chris Mulherin and Margaret Coffey: Being good without God? (Singer); Sunday – being good, and spiritual (Bechman and Robinson); and Giving thanks in a vacuum – Richard Dawkins. Regarding Dawkins, I seem to remember the title of his speech as being ‘Gratitude for evolution and the evolution of gratitude’ which, given that this was the title of his speech in Aotearoa/New Zealand last week, now appears to be correct.
In any case, Dawkins “concluded that indeed we should be grateful to be alive, and indeed that [we] have probably evolved to “lust” to be grateful (which in part explains the human desire for religion)”. Which case I found fairly unconvincing as, indeed, I find his earlier writings on The Selfish Gene (1976), at least or perhaps especially insofar as the same arguments have been applied to social evolution.
What are the evolutionary roots of gratitude and of religion? The fact that such characteristics of humans seem to be universal demands an explanation. Dawkins suggested that religion might be a by-product of another predisposition. For example, the child mind is predisposed to obey authority, a characteristic which has strong survival value. But a by-product of this predisposition might be vulnerability to “mental viruses such as religion,” just as a computer is vulnerable to viruses because it has no way of knowing whether a program is good or bad.
As for gratitude, Dawkins suggested it might be the by-product of the need, prior to the use of money, to keep mental accounts of what is owed and owing. Children early on develop a sense of fairness and in some cases it operates without a real target, for example, “it’s not fair that it is raining on my birthday.” Sexual lust too still operates although its original reproductive benefit is no longer ‘the target.’
Dawkins suggests “we have a similar lust to calculate debt, gratitude, fairness and it’s so powerful that it goes off in a vacuum.” Such psychological dispositions might also lead us to postulate God, he said. In a pastoral moment Dawkins assured us that “this sort of vacuum activity is nothing to be ashamed of” and that the first part of his talk gave sufficient reason for gratitude to be alive even though it is “gratitude in a vacuum.”
Or something like that anyway. That said — or written, by an Anglican minister named Chris — I’m not aware that “the child mind is predisposed to obey authority”, or that this is “a characteristic which has strong survival value”. I mean, it’s an interesting speculation, but I would expect anyone, especially a scientist, to be able to provide some evidence to support it. In fact, given the claim is a strong one, and concerns ‘human nature’, I’d expect quite a lot. Along with a demonstrated understanding of infant and child psychology, cultural history, anthropology and sociology — a working knowledge of the history of political economy and the emergence of marketised social relations probably wouldn’t hurt — and the various debates within and across these disciplines concerning what is at the centre of Étienne de La Boétie sixteenth century tract the Discours de la servitude volontaire (Discourse on Voluntary Servitude).
Which, in a political context in which atheism has been decoupled from anarchism, is another story (as Fred put it: “The limits of tyrants are prescribed by the endurance of those whom they oppress”).
Blah blah blah.
- This Be The Verse
They fuck you up, your mum and dad.
They may not mean to, but they do.
They fill you with the faults they had
And add some extra, just for you.
But they were fucked up in their turn
By fools in old-style hats and coats,
Who half the time were soppy-stern
And half at one another’s throats.
Man hands on misery to man.
It deepens like a coastal shelf.
Get out as early as you can,
And don’t have any kids yourself.
~ Phillip Larkin
See also : Michel Onfray : Militant Atheist (December 18, 2006) | Mysterious ways… Or: Down with atheism! (October 21, 2009) | God Hates Haiti (January 14, 2010) | God Hates Haiti (II) (January 16, 2010) | The Rise of Atheism : 2010 Global Atheist Convention (March 14, 2010).
See also : Wittgenstein.