The Tale of a Trump

Jonathan Swift’s, Tale of a Tub, is an apparent attack on religious practises that vary from his own High Anglicanism.  But as he makes clear quite early in the book, religion merely provides the allegory, for  where the real power is held – in political structures and practises. Or as he picturesquely puts it, it is the empty tub thrown to distract a whale that might otherwise sink the whole ship.

 

tubwhale-gillray-1806

A Tub for the Whale  James Gilray  1806

 

In section ix, a Digression concerning Madness, a chapter where the real object of his tale is more explicit than most, Swift links the gift of, ‘being  well deceived,’ as a characteristic of both the insane and the successful politician. He recommends that influential patriots should set up a commission to inspect Bedlam, an infamous mental hospital, with a view to selecting inmates to fill the various offices of state..

He justifies this by the following argument.

For the Brain, in its natural Position and State of Serenity, disposeth its Owner to pass his Life in the Common Forms, without any Thoughts of subduing Multitudes to his own Power, his Reasons or his Visions…….. But when a Man’s Fancy gets a stride on his  Reason, when Imagination is at Cuffs with the Senses, and common Understanding, as well as common Sense is Kickt out of Doors; the first Proselyte he makes, is Himself, and when that is once compass’d , the Difficulty is not so great in bringing over others;  A strong Delusion always operating from without, as vigorously as from within.

Jonathan Swift A Tale of a Tub 1710

Now dear reader, lest you be in any doubt, that the target of Swift’s tale is new American President, Donald Trump, I urge you to look carefully at the following illustration taken from the said book.

in-bedlam

 

Observe the mad man  at the forefront of the picture.  Note the peculiar nature of the hands, and the delicacy of the ears.

The Æolists, windbag clergy, described in the Tale, have long been understood to represent the Scottish reformer John Knox and his followers.  Swift tells us that the reason  they wore their hair short, with their ears on show, was because these provide a guide to the size of the male protuberance.

Now it would be natural to jump to the conclusion that Swift, in his depiction of Trump, is once again showing his bias against those of Scottish ancestry, or is  displaying  blatant anti-Americanism. It was after all an American whom he alleged, in his A Modest Proposal,’  to have recommended a young healthy child, as a delicious meal.

This is to miss the point.  Swift does not argue that there is anything wrong with the practises he is describing. In the latter case, quite the reverse.

In fact it is quite clear from the following quote, that Swift is actually using his skills as a master propagandist, in support of Trump.  Who, but a genius, could put so clearly the case for alternative facts.

And so the Question is only this; Whether things that have Place in the Imagination, may not as properly be said to Exist, as those that are seated in the Memory; which may be justly held in the affirmative, and very much to the Advantage of the former, since this is acknowledged to be the Womb of Things, and the other allowed to be no more than the Grave.

Jonathan Swift A Tale of a Tub 1710

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Born to Believe

We understand and interpret the world through language. This of itself has the potential to bias the way we understand reality. Language right from our first words, ‘Mama, Dada, No!’ has inherent meaning, and frequently purpose.

reach for the moonIt should be no surprise to find that this is how  many of us interpret the world – a place with meaning and purpose.

We take life personally. And of course sometimes it is. Some of that which happens is a deliberate act by a conscious being.  Someone who if they had wanted too, could have behaved otherwise.

It is this feeling that life is, or ought to be, purposeful and meaningful, that creates within us the ecological niche, that is the habitat for religious memes.

I’m coming to think the really interesting thing about theology is not what any of it says about God, but how people try to verbalize their belief, and what the attempt tells us about the person and the culture in which said person operates.

Wendy Dackson  Two Entirely Random unrelated reflections 2016

Theology understood  not as the study of God, but as the study of how people incorporate this feeling that reality has purpose and meaning into their belief systems, has the potential to be a very fruitful discipline.

The study of God is a little more problematic.

The existence of an Omnipotent, Omniscient and Omnibenevolent God, is as the Scottish Philosopher, David Hume pointed out inconsistent with the existence of suffering in the world.

This is something that Bertrand Russell also referred to in his, ‘Is There a God?’ essay  of 1952, the one that introduced the world to the Celestial Teapot.

If I were to suggest that between the Earth and Mars there is a china teapot revolving about the sun in an elliptical orbit, nobody would be able to disprove my assertion provided I were careful to add that the teapot is too small to be revealed even by our most powerful telescopes.

Bertrand Russell  Is there a God ? (commissioned by, but never published in, Illustrated Magazine, in 1952)

Bertrand Russell is frequently understood to be implying that belief in God is the logical equivalent to belief in an orbiting teapot; there is no reason to believe in the existence of either, and this is a good reason not to believe.

This is how Richard Dawkins understood him, and  argued in, ‘The God Delusion,’ published 2006, that he could do better than this, by making a probability argument. The existence of God, is like the existence of a Celestial Teapot, so improbable that believing in either is unreasonable.

Of course they aren’t actually comparable. We know what teapots are; human artefacts, intended for the brewing of tea. We also know, or at least think we know, that there was no way in 1952, that one of these artefacts could have gotten into space.

There is no reason to believe that the Celestial Teapot existed, and good reason to believe that it did not.  But all that would be required for it to have existed, was for there to have been something going on, that we don’t know about. (I am assuming that even if it had existed in 1952, the fact that it was made of china, makes it highly probable that it would no longer be in existence.)

The same is not true of the Omnipotent, Omniscient and Omnibenevolent God, of traditional Western theology.  A mere something going on that we do not know about cannot turn this God into a possible reality.

A God who is Omnipotent and Omniscient, is one who could do anything that is logically possible, including achieving His ends, without the need for suffering.  Suffering exists and therefore, given a normal understanding of goodness, observed reality is incompatible with the existence of an Omnipotent, Omniscient, and Omnibenevolent God.

There is zero probability that the Triple O exists.

The same is not necessarily true of the Celestial Teapot.

Knowing that the Triple O does not exist, does not rule out the possibility that this universe is the result of conscious creation.

We know what a china teapot is, and its existence or otherwise in any given place, is open to direct verification.  The same is not true of consciousness. We experience consciousness in ourselves, and extrapolate this outwards. The existence of other minds is a theory that is not open to direct verification.

All the provable facts on earth, including things such as The Complete Works of William Shakespeare, the Taj Mahal, and the Mona Lisa, can potentially be explained, as the outworking of  materialistic processes. There is no need  to introduce the notion of conscious agency.

Science is sometimes understood to be pushing the notion of a conscious, purposeful Creator into smaller and smaller gaps, as more and more phenomena fall to materialistic explanations.

It is argued that everything that has been recognised in past times as an act of conscious creation can already be, or will at some time in the future be explainable in materialistic terms.  The trouble with this is that it doesn’t just apply to so-called acts of God, it also applies to among other things, Michelangelo’s David, and Leonardo Da Vinci’s Mona Lisa. I am reasonably certain that the immediate creation of these items is explainable in entirely materialistic term, the firing of synapses, and contraction of muscles, and the effect that this had on materials external to the body of the artists.

I don’t regard this as evidence that these acknowledged masterpieces are not the work of conscious creators. Likewise materialistic explanations for the structures of the universe, do not provide evidence that they are not works of conscious creation.

There is good solid evidence that the Triple O does not exist.  There is good reason to believe that the Celestial Teapot does not exist. There is no reason not to believe in a Conscious Creator.

Our human tendency to see meaning and purpose, where we see structure and function combined, makes belief in a Conscious Other easy for many of us.  However as David Hume pointed out way back in the 18th Century, this does not give us sufficient reason to believe.  Since that time, Darwin’s Theory of Evolution has been propounded, with its demonstration, that it is possible to explain the existence of structure and function without need to invoke a deity. This proves just how right Hume was. It is unsound to argue from the existence of structure and function to a purposeful Creator, but it does not demonstrate that such a Creator does not exist.

The Protestant claim is that proof of God lies in his inspired word, the Bible.  We can know that God exists because he has revealed his existence to us.

It is sometimes claimed that the remarkable degree of consistency shown in doctrine, teaching and prophecy throughout the Bible demonstrates its divine authorship. This is a belief that although held fervently by some, is like belief in the Triple O, held despite the evidence not because it.

The author of Gulliver’s Travels, Jonathan Swift, frequently wrote in a voice not his own.  The opinions expressed by his narrator, which in the case of Gulliver’s Travels, was of course Gulliver, were frequently although not necessarily at odds with the opinion held by Swift.  It is possible that the entire Bible is inspired by a consistent Creator, but if so then the Bible needs to be read like the works of Jonathan Swift.  The opinion of the narrator is not necessarily, the opinion of the Ultimate Author. And as with Jonathan Swift there is room to interpret the Author in different ways.

There is one major flaw in this analogy.  Gulliver is a work of fiction, he didn’t exist, therefore we know, that he was not the author of Gulliver’s Travels. It is reasonable to believe that there was an actual author, Jonathan Swift, who was trying to communicate something different, something frequently at odds with what his fictional narrator was saying. Swift was after all a satirist.

The case with the Bible is different.  The narrators of the Bible did exist.  There is no a priori reason to conclude that they were not working under the influence of an Ultimate Author. But no reason not to believe is not sufficient grounds to believe. This is the point being made by Albert Einstein in the following quote:

The word God is for me nothing more than the expression and product of human weakness, the Bible a collection of honorable, but still purely primitive, legends which are nevertheless pretty childish. No interpretation, no matter how subtle, can change this for me. For me the Jewish religion like all other religions is an incarnation of the most childish superstition.

Albert Einstein Letter to Erik Gutkind 1954

Subtle interpretations provide evidence, not for  the Mind of God, but the mind of the interpreter.

Among the allegedly primitive legends of the Old Testament, is a story which has been written in such a way that it can be interpreted fairly literally, without any need for subtlety, in at least two different ways.  There is the surface level account, which reads like a fairy tale, and serves to disguise the much more historical  account that is also there. Both accounts describe that historians and archaeologists tell us really did happen, the origin of agriculture.

The double interpretation relies on a very simple trick, giving one of the characters a proper name   that has a meaning.  Anyone who has ever at a personal level run across the legend of Adam and Eve and Pinch Me Tight, will know just how unsubtle this trick can be.

The name Adam, like Pinch Me Tight, is a name with a meaning. In Hebrew the word Adam means man. Man not in the sense of the male of the species, but of humankind. It doesn’t take too much subtlety of interpretation to figure out that any story where the main character is called humankind is likely to bear hidden meaning.

The Garden of Eden story starts off with no humankind to till the ground.  It is quite literally humankind that is told not to eat from the Tree of Knowledge.  It is humankind that  is told that the consequences of eating of the Tree of Knowledge will be death. The immediate consequence of eating of the Tree of Knowledge was not death, but the difficulties of primitive agriculture; the tilling of a soil that became increasingly infertile. It is an agricultural origin story.

We are presently in what some scientists have labelled the sixth extinction.  Species are disappearing faster than at any time since the extinction of the dinosaurs.  The cause of this extinction is not an asteroid hitting the earth, it is us.  For most of the 500 thousand or so years that our species has been in existence, we were mostly harmless.  It was the agricultural revolution, that changed that.  It was the triggering factor that made our modern world possible.  The event, that enabled us to become death the destroyer of this world; the likely bringer of our own extinction. Eating from the Tree of Knowledge has put us in the pathway to accelerated extinction.

The Adam and Eve story is a work of ancient human genius. At one level it is a simple children’s story, advising of the dangers of not doing what you are told.  At another level it is an account that is compatible with our modern knowledge about the history of the earth.

But there went up a mist from the earth, and watered the whole face of the ground.

Genesis 2:6

In our modern scientific version of origins, evolution, the process that resulted eventually in the formation of humankind, began after this initial watering of the earth, in the primitive ocean. The same time zone where the Bible describes God as initiating the formation of Adam.

In the Biblical account the river names identify the Garden East of Eden, where God places humankind, with the fertile crescent. In our modern accounts too humankind arose outside, the fertile crescent.  Human Beings moved into that area during the last ice age.

And the Lord God planted a garden eastward in Eden; and there he put the man whom he had formed. And out of the ground made the Lord God to grow every tree that is pleasant to the sight, and good for food; the tree of life also in the midst of the garden, and the tree of knowledge of good and evil.

Genesis 2:8,9

And yes, our modern science tells us that as the climate became warmer the tundra type landscape changed to one where tree growth was no longer stunted. So trees did grow up, after human beings entered the fertile crescent.

Eating from the Tree of Knowledge strikes me as an excellent metaphor for eating of the fruits of agriculture.

Given the different roles of men and in hunter-gatherer society, it is likely that it was women who were the first farmers. Or metaphorically speaking it was they who first picked the fruit from the, ‘Tree of Knowledge.’

The King James version of the Bible provides a literal, not idiomatic, translation of the effects that eating of the Tree of Knowledge had on the woman.

Unto the woman he said, I will greatly multiply thy sorrow and thy conception; in sorrow thou shalt bring forth children; and thy desire shall be to thy husband, and he shall rule over thee.

Genesis 3:16

An increase in the number of conceptions, and an increase in male dominance are known to be consequences on women of the move from hunter-gatherer society, to subsistence farming.

And for men considerably more work was required of a subsistence farmer than of a hunter-gatherer. The diet of the first farmers was inferior to that of hunter-gatherers, and without understanding of the need for crop rotation and fertilizer the ground would have become increasingly infertile.

And unto Adam he said, Because thou hast hearkened unto the voice of thy wife, and hast eaten of the tree, of which I commanded thee, saying, Thou shalt not eat of it: cursed is the ground for thy sake; in sorrow shalt thou eat of it all the days of thy life;  Thorns also and thistles shall it bring forth to thee; and thou shalt eat the herb of the field; In the sweat of thy face shalt thou eat bread, till thou return unto the ground; for out of it wast thou taken: for dust thou art, and unto dust shalt thou return.

Genesis 3:17-19

There is good reason to believe that the Omnipotent, Omniscient and Omnibenevolent God of traditional Western theology does not exist.  The same is not true of a Conscious Creator. There is no reason not to believe that such a Conscious Other Exists.

Once men argued that the structure of the universe proved that God the Triple O, must exist. History has shown that Hume was right, there can be other reasons for structure than a Conscious Creator.  Massive improbabilities are possible in infinities.

The question I need to ask is, does the co-incidence between events related in this story and the findings of modern research, stretch the laws of probability to the degree, that requires introducing the concept of infinities into the equation; or could ancient human genius, and a bit of coincidence, provide sufficient explanation.

My opinion is that the latter explanation is sufficient.  The co-incidences mentioned are consistent with the reality of a Conscious Other, but do not provide proof.

The co-incidences do not prove that even this bit of scripture is divinely inspired.  But they do show that even as great a human genius as Einstein was, can sometimes be mistaken.

The word God is for me nothing more than the expression and product of human weakness, the Bible a collection of honorable, but still purely primitive, legends which are nevertheless pretty childish.

Albert Einstein Letter to Erik Gutkind 1954

 

 

 

 

 

How Satan Became King

Satan

Human Beings bond on shared beliefs.  Factionalist type beliefs, i.e. those that say we are the good guys, and the evil lies in the other, are particularly good at producing within group social cohesion. They are also likely to operate in such a way as to maintain within group hierarchies.  Those who oppose the powerful within their own group are more liable to find themselves outed as traitors, than to overturn the status quo.

This remains true as long as the people in power, maintain their stance in denouncing the evil of the other.  Any softening of their position towards, the teapotted group,  those evil awful people over there, leaves them vulnerable to being overthrown by more staunch defenders of the faith.

So to be the prince in a world, where this is the dominant belief system, one must be an accuser.

The in-built paranoia of this hierarchical type of social organisation, is in the best interests of none, and it can result in horrific cruelty towards those on whom the evil is projected.  Yet because it operates as a vicious circle, its clutches are difficult to escape.

The early Christian movement, as described by St Paul, can be understood as a direct attack not on the people operating it , but on the system itself.

27 For as many of you as have been baptized into Christ have put on Christ.

28 There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither bond nor free, there is neither male nor female: for ye are all one in Christ Jesus.

29 And if ye be Christ’s, then are ye Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise.

Galatians 23:27-29

Those within the belief system, were to be joint co-heirs submitting to one another rather than attempting to dominate. And rather than demonising the outsider they were called to love them.

At the heart of this ancient belief system lay the truth of an innocent man brutally killed. The likely outcome of any social system driven by the notion that as the evil lies in the other, it can be overcome killing its carriers.

22 For the Jews require a sign, and the Greeks seek after wisdom:

23 But we preach Christ crucified, unto the Jews a stumbling block, and unto the Greeks foolishness;

24 But unto them which are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God, and the wisdom of God.

 1 Corinthians 1:22-24

Quite quickly after Christianity originated its teachings became conformed to the wisdom of the world in which it found itself.  As Tom Wright claims I think correctly in his 2012 book, ‘How God became King – Getting to the Heart of the Gospels,’ the four gospels, which were written after Paul’s letters,  really are telling the story of how Jesus of Nazareth, was the long expected Jewish Messiah.  And all the signs that the Jews expected from their Messiah were there.

Now Tom Wright’s position is that, the Gospels tell it this way, because this is what really happened. Other theologians, such as Dominic Crossan  and John Spong, take the view that the Gospel authors understood what they were writing to be myth or parable, telling a truth beyond the literal. While New Atheists are inclined to the view that they just made it up.

Regardless of why the gospel writers recorded the story as they did, the Jesus of Nazareth story is tied to an Ancient Hebrew notion of theocracy.

Christ's Entry into Jerusalem by Hippolyte Flandrin c. 1842

Painting by Hippolyte Flandrin 1842

Jesus ride into Jerusalem, recorded as occurring just the week before his death in all four gospels, ties with a Messianic prophesy, from the Book of Zechariah.

Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion; shout, O daughter of Jerusalem: behold, thy King cometh unto thee: he is just, and having salvation; lowly, and riding upon an ass, and upon a colt the foal of an ass.

10 And I will cut off the chariot from Ephraim, and the horse from Jerusalem, and the battle bow shall be cut off: and he shall speak peace unto the heathen: and his dominion shall be from sea even to sea, and from the river even to the ends of the earth.

Zechariah 9:9,10

This Jewish image of theocracy has a king, who though he is triumphant and victorious, comes humbly to serve his people, not to laud it over them. A ruler who operates as a servant of the servants of God.

This is not the type of leader who emerges in the paranoid social systems that arise as a consequence of the desire of the presently powerful, to maintain their status.

In the rest of nature the hierarchies that exist are pecking orders.  They are maintained through combat, or through the use of ‘symbols’ that denote actual fitness, for instance the antlers of a deer.

In human societies one of the traditional functions of the notion of an omnipotent god, has been to shore up the position of the presently powerful.  It is the notion that whatever is, is the will of God, and therefore right.  The  view that might is right, is more appealing to those who are currently the beneficiaries of power, than those who are suffering from it.

The theology that Christendom inherited from Rome, had Christ embedded in it. It took a considerable degree of theological ingenuity to make Christ a willing servant of power. Something that St Anselm, achieved in ‘Cur Deus Homo.’ An account of the crucifixion, that explained that Christ’s death was not paid, as the majority view of the time was, to ransom us from Satan, but to satisfy God’s honour and dignity, which had been offended by our disobedience.

In his theology St Anselm recast God, as a prince of  the ancient world.  These princes had to maintain their place in the pecking order by ensuring that appropriate tribute was paid to them.  Otherwise they left themselves vulnerable to hostile takeover.

Now princes did not operate alone they had lieutenants to do the work for them. People like Pontius Pilate, who needed to look as though they were maintaining order, and collecting rightful tributes. And where looking as though one is maintaining order outweighs actually doing it, then innocent victims of what is purported to be justice are a highly probable consequence.

Thus in St Anselm’s theology, the God of heaven, was demoted to an earthly king, the Prince of this World. Someone whose powerbase was so insecure that his honour and dignity needed to be defended.

Karen Armstrong in her 2009 book, ‘The Case for God,’ argued that modern religious fundamentalism is driven by fear. And she is partly right. Fear driven factionalism is a powerful bonding tool, for creating cohesive groups.  Without an initial cause for fear it is unlikely that such groups would form.  Once formed leaders within these groups can acquire a great deal of in, and sometimes even out of, group power, by whipping up hysteria against the other.  This hysteria might reasonably be construed by the singled out group as a threat.  And defensive moves by this perceived other will be understood as offensive, by the fundamentalist group, thus further ratchetting tensions.

These fear based systems are invasive. They enforce an us and them mentality within, and encourage a similar mentality in those groups that are targeted as the evil other. As Jonathan Swift noted in his ‘Argument Against the Abolishing of Christianity,’ the problem lies in factionalism.

Are party and faction rooted in men’s hearts no deeper than phrases borrowed from religion, or founded upon no firmer principles? And is our language so poor that we cannot find other terms to express them? Are _envy, pride, avarice_ and_ambition_ such ill nomenclators, that they cannot furnish appellations for their owners? Will not_heydukes_ and _mamalukes, mandarins_ and patshaws_, or any other words formed at pleasure, serve to distinguish those who are in the ministry from others who would be in it if they could? …………………. And therefore I think, there is little force in this objection against Christianity, or prospect of so great an advantage as is proposed in the abolishing of it.

 Jonathan Swift  An Argument Against Abolishing Christianity  1708

Jonathan Swift was a satirist, and the case that he was making , was that there was no point abolishing nominal Christianity*, because it wasn’t making the slightest bit of difference. All the world’s evils would exist even without it.  The same being true for any belief system. Get rid of one and a vacancy is left.  Any random difference can be used to justify a faction. The problem isn’t the belief, but the way of the world.

Christendom was not distinguished by its lack of barbarity. It too followed the Prince of this World.  The desire and respect for power and status  is a  cancer . Use power to speak peace and you end up with more violence.

This is the way that makes Satan the King of the World.

Footnote:

*Jonathan Swift at the start of his essay made the claim that he wasn’t arguing against the abolition of real Christianity, which it was once claimed had the power to change human behaviour.

 

 

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The Way of the Pasta Fairy

The Flying Spaghetti Monster meme originated in a satirical open letter, written by Bobby Henderson to the Kansas School Board in 2005, protesting  against a proposal to teach Intelligent Design as an alternative scientific theory to evolution by natural selection.

Based as it is on the justifications that Scientific Creationists present as evidence that their beliefs are scientifically endorsed, it is an intuitively brilliant personification of a human instinct  – confirmation bias.

Confirmation bias is the instinct that, to paraphrase Voltaire, gives us  humans the wonderful power of being able to find reasons for believing exactly what we want to believe. The instinct that enables creationists to find their own arguments for the literal truth of both Genesis 1 and 2   entirely convincing.

It is a mistake to think that this instinct is limited only to the religious.  Confirmation bias enables us to form strong social bonds including pair bonds. It enables us to see the members of our community through rose tinted spectacles, and hence to value, the people in the group  and our membership of it. It enables us to commit to the shared values and beliefs of our community. It  is involved in creation of the kinds of committed social bonds that are conducive to an average increase in the reproductive fitness of those who successfully form them.

However these gifts come at a price, the price of factionalism. The price of judging those within our group as better than they really are, is that the other  can appear odious by comparison.

Religious beliefs can be used as faction markers. But as Jonathan Swift pointed out, In his satirical essay of 1708, An Argument Against Abolishing Christianityfactions can be formed on much simple identifiers than religion. Anything that allows one group of people to identify themselves as an us, different from another group of people can act as a faction marker

And we in Ireland have reason, now as when Swift was writing, to know only too well that factionalism can have very nasty consequences.

The tendency to judge the actions of our own faction as good, decent, etc.,and those of the other, as morally dubious, can lead to the conclusion that the evil lies exclusively, or almost so, on the other side. It is conducive to violent interaction, because it is obvious to both sides that it is the immorality  of the other that is driving the situation.

Belfast peace wall

Belfast’s Peace Walls – Protecting Those Evil Awful People Over There, from Ordinary Decent People since 1969.

The creationism versus evolution dichotomy that inspired Bobby Henderson’s letter has not, yet at any rate, led to violent conflict between the factions.

Bobby Henderson’s satire on the confirmation bias driven rationality of  scientific creationists is to my mind spot on.  But in the same letter he provides evidence that he too may be a victim of the noodly appendage.

What these people don’t understand is that He built the world to make us think the earth is older than it really is. For example, a scientist may perform a carbon-dating process on an artifact. He finds that approximately 75% of the Carbon-14 has decayed by electron emission to Nitrogen-14, and infers that this artifact is approximately 10,000 years old, as the half-life of Carbon-14 appears to be 5,730 years. But what our scientist does not realize is that every time he makes a measurement, the Flying Spaghetti Monster is there changing the results with His Noodly Appendage.

Open Letter to Kansas School Board   Bobby Henderson 2005

The most that the carbon dating has proved is that the  material, from which the artefact was made, probably came from an organism that died approximately 10.000 years ago.

This totally unnecessary bigging up of the power of science, is consistent with its author being himself blinded by confirmation bias.  He has unintentionally in his very funny letter, provided evidence that his opponents may see as further evidence of the irrational nature of the theory of evolution.  They would only be entitled to see it as the irrational nature of this one claim, but they too fluff up their evidence.

As the Bible almost says, “First take the noodly appendage from your own eye, before attempting to correct the vision of the other.”

Coming from the source that it does, it should perhaps be no surprise that the American prophet of anti-religion Sam Harris ignored this advice, when in a recent exchange of e-mails he attempted to enlighten the philosopher Noam Chomsky on the true nature of morality.

Sam Harris enters the fray with all the enthusiasm of a Dr Seuss character, convinced that he will be able to demonstrate to Noam Chomsky  the merits of green eggs and ham; or rather of the merits of his belief that even where America does wrong, that it has the moral high ground, because its intentions are good. And Sam Harris does admit that America is not only capable of doing wrong, but has in fact done so, as shown in this quote from his book, “The End of Faith,” which is part of the material he e-mailed.

There is no doubt that the United States has much to atone for, both domestically and abroad. In this respect, we can more or less swallow Chomsky’s thesis whole. To produce this horrible confection at home, start with our genocidal treatment of the Native Americans, add a couple hundred years of slavery, along with our denial of entry to Jewish refugees fleeing the death camps of the Third Reich, stir in our collusion with a long list of modern despots and our subsequent disregard for their appalling human rights records, add our bombing of Cambodia and the Pentagon Papers to taste, and then top with our recent refusals to sign the Kyoto protocol for greenhouse emissions, to support any ban on land mines, and to submit ourselves to the rulings of the International Criminal Court. The result should smell of death, hypocrisy, and fresh brimstone.

Sam Harris   e-mail exchange with Noam Chomsky  2015

Despite all these acknowledgements of American wrong doing Harris  believes that Chomsky is in error in comparing, what Harris considers the real good intentions behind apparent atrocities carried out by the American state, with the delusional beliefs of  for instance Hitler and Japan in World War II, that the atrocities they committed were driven by good intentions.

He sets out to demonstrate the genuine exceptionalism of America, by discussing the American  bombing of the  Al-Shifa Pharmaceutical plant in Sudan in August 1998, an act which may have resulted in the deaths of thousands of people, by cutting off their access to medication.

He accepts that the death toll of this act was as Chomsky claimed comparable to that of the “horrendous crime” of 9-11.

He understands Chomsky to be claiming that because the death rates are similar, the two acts are morally equivalent.  He therefore decides to defend his thesis, of moral superiority by proving that the bombing of Al-Shifa was more moral than 9-11.

In an attempt to achieve his aim he initiates the following protocol.

  1. Find a salient difference, between the apparently similar acts carried out by our side, and the other side.
  2. We know that our side are the good guys, and therefore this salient difference, whatever it is, will  demonstrate to all right thinking people, the clear moral superiority of our side.
  3. Suggest/claim that anyone who doesn’t recognize the aforementioned salient difference as clear evidence of our moral superiority, is ethically unsound.

This is the way of confirmation bias, and it is the technique that Sam Harris uses to no effect, on Noam Chomsky at any rate, in this e-mail exchange.

He finds his salient difference, and argues  that deliberately aiming to kill people is intrinsically more evil, than knowingly killing them as collateral damage. And if you didn’t know that you were going to kill them, because you didn’t even consider the possibility, before cutting off vast numbers of people from their only access to medication, that makes you less evil still.

Noam Chomsky argues that this denigrates the value of African lives. It does more than that. It also denigrates the value of the lives lost in 9-11.  The most important factor isn’t that thousands of people have had their lives stolen, but the goal of the perpetrators.

Ethically speaking, intention is (nearly) the whole story. The difference between intending to harm someone and accidentally harming them is enormous—if for no other reason than that the presence of harmful intent tells us a lot about what a person or group is likely to do in the future.

Sam Harris  e-mail exchange with Noam Chomsky  2015

In this e-mail exchange, Sam Harris demonstrates one other technique, frequently used in those following the way of the Pasta Fairy.  He starts off making a very large claim, and then defends a lesser claim. He set out to demonstrate the goodness of American intentions.  Note the thesis that he is actually defending here:

Perhaps we can rank order the callousness and cruelty here:

1. al-Qaeda wanted and intended to kill thousands of innocent people—and did so.

2. Clinton (as you imagine him to be) did not want or intend to kill thousands of innocent people. He simply wanted to destroy a valuable pharmaceutical plant. But he knew that he would be killing thousands of people, and he simply didn’t care.

3. Clinton (as I imagine him to be) did not want or intend to kill anyone at all, necessarily. He simply wanted to destroy what he believed to be a chemical weapons factory. But he did wind up killing innocent people, and we don’t really know how he felt about it.

Is it safe to assume that you view these three cases, as I do, as demonstrating descending degrees of evil?

Sam Harris  e-mail exchange with Noam Chomsky  2015

Being less evil than al-Qaeda is nothing to boast about, something that Harris seems cheerfully oblivious of. Something in fact that he is so unaware of that he regrets that Chomsky’s hostile attitude to him,  means that he has been unable to explore with him the evidence that America is in fact morally superior to Nazi Germany and World War II, Japan.

Sam Harris is, I think,  genuinely hurt by what he understands as Noam Chomsky’s unreasonable hostility towards him. He is discussing an intellectual problem, that has for him no more emotional resonance than the problem in the children’s nursery rhyme:

If all the world were apple pie,
And all the sea were Ink;
If all the trees were bread and cheese,
How should we doe for drink.

Mother Goose Rhymes

He has rationalized the problem as one about intentions, one that has nothing to do with the horrific reality of thousands of human beings deprived of their lives.

He doesn’t see himself as Chomsky does, as an apologist for mass homicide.

He is also extremely irritated by Chomsky’s  use of the words, “as you know.”

I am also sorry that you evade the fact that your charge of “moral equivalence” was flatly false, as you know. 

Noam Chomsky  e-mail exchange with Sam Harris  2015

Noam Chomsky seems to be of the opinion that having access to sufficient evidence, means that a normally intelligent person should be able to recognize the truth.  He therefore judges Harris as being deliberately perverse.

On the evidence of this e-mail, I would suggest that it is probable that Sam Harris doesn’t know that he is misrepresenting Chomsky, or that he has failed to provide an argument showing how the bombing of Al Shifa was an act of good intention.  Arguing that America’s action is less evil, than the action of a terrorist group is not exactly high praise.

But that he has been blinded by a human instinct – confirmation bias.  The gift that makes us, like Douglas Adams’ electric monk, able to believe things that are contrary to all available evidence. Or as a comment on a post from noted atheist blogger P.Z. Myers has it:

Sam Harris’ moral compass reminds me less of a real compass and more of the one from Pirates of the Caribbean, pointing not to true north but rather to whatever his heart desires, in this case whatever conclusion paints him and the US as morally superior.

The Mad Tapper commenting on A Classic Mismatch @ Pharyngula 2015

P.Z. Myers noted in 2009 the operation of confirmation bias in the writings of the religious apologist Karen Armstrong.   He finished an accurate take down of what Karen Armstrong said with the following  intentionally funny quote.

Bleh. What a mess of goo and vapor. I don’t doubt that Armstrong is an intelligent woman, but she’s giving us another reason why religion is bad for people and for nations: it turns good brains to mush. And that’s a condition that can only make toothless zombies happy.

P.Z.Myers The Zombies will Sup on Karen Armstrong with a Straw 2009

I think that the Sam Harris e-mail exchange with Noam Chomsky provides strong evidence that it is not just  religious people that can have their brain turned to mush, by the operation of the noodly appendage.

The inability to see the reality of your own side, compounded by the ability to see only evil in the other is an extremely dangerous instinct, in a world where weapons of mass destruction are extremely real.  And where it is entirely possible that those in charge of those weapons, are operating instinctively under the control of the mythically inebriated Flying Spaghetti Monster.

Related Posts:

Hanlon’s Razor and the Flying Spaghetti monster

The Father of Lies

p.s. I discovered the zombies Karen Armstrong quote when following through allegations made by my fellow islander, Michael Nugent, in the post where Atheist Ireland publicly dissociated itself from the harmful and hateful rhetoric of P.Z. Myers.

P.Z. Myers in his post “The  Brine Shrimp Gambit,” does indeed claim to despise a lot of people, but it is their arguments, that he is targeting. I understand that it is very easy to become angry with people,  when they appear to be justifying, the unjustifiable. So I empathize with both participants in this contretemps, but suspect that Michael Nugent is playing host to the Flying Spaghetti Monster.  While P.Z. Myers is being driven by by his anger.

This is his introduction to The Brine Shrimp Gambit.

How adorable! A dodgy fellow has invented what he thinks is a new get-out-of-jail-free card, called the brine shrimp gambit.

P.Z. Myers The  Brine Shrimp Gambit 2012

The brine shrimp gambit is a way of displacing the criticism to something other than its original target, so you can accuse your opponent of being unreasonable.  He is quite right not to give the dodgy fellow the credit of being the first to invent it.  It is used so ubiquitously, by the sophisticated and unsophisticated, that it is rational to treat it as product of a human instinct, that which I like to think of as the Pasta Fairy.

Neolithic Engraving from Carrowkeel, Co Sligo

An engraving from the neolithic passage tomb at Carrowkeel, Co. Sligo

There is no reason to think, that this was not a basic human instinct, even when the passage tombs of Ireland, which are older than the pyramids of Egypt were being built. There is however no reason to believe that the many noodly engravings found therein are  a direct reference to it, or that the first people to settle in Ireland were in fact Ancient Noodlians.

So therefore as the  Book of the Ancient Noodlian, definitely doesn’t say:

If you would resist the Pasta Fairy you must first recognize it.

The British God

British_lion_and_Union_flag

The British Empire was the most extensive empire the world has ever seen, but by 1952 when Bertrand Russell wrote the famous essay which introduced the Celestial  Teapot to the world, it was on its last legs.

The following argument, taken from that essay, although it purports to be a discussion on the truth of monotheism, is not one that was likely ever to have been used as proof of the existence of Almighty God.

But, if the truth of a religion is to be judged by its worldly success, the argument in favor of monotheism is a very strong one, since it possessed the largest armies, the largest navies, and the greatest accumulation of wealth. In our own day this argument is growing less decisive. It is true that the un-Christian menace of Japan was defeated. But the Christian is now faced with the menace of atheistic Muscovite hordes, and it is not so certain as one could wish that atomic bombs will provide a conclusive argument on the side of theism.

Bertrand Russell Is there a God? Commissioned, but not published by Illustrated Magazine in 1952

But if the existence of an Omnipotent, Omniscient God is accepted, then it  follows, that this god has the power to determine who will have the largest armies, the largest navies, and the greatest accumulation of wealth.

By the time, ‘Is there a God?’ was written, that was no longer the British.

The God of  Status Quo

The hymn All Things Bright and Beautiful, written by the Irish, Anglican clergy wife Mrs Alexander in 1848 contained the following much derided verse.

The rich man in his castle,
The poor man at his gate,
He made them, high or lowly,
And ordered their estate.

Mrs Cecil Frances Humphreys Alexander

I am not certain what Mrs Alexander meant, but it is possible to understand this as meaning that the present status quo is the will of God, and therefore should not be opposed.  Whatever is, is right, and one should accept one’s divinely appointed position in the class system.

This is how the Stuart kings Charles I, and James II, had understood their position, as divinely appointed rulers.  As their fate shows, Charles I was beheaded in 1649 and James II was forced into exile in 1690 after being defeated at the Battle of the Boyne, this was not a view that was universally held by their subjects, nor by any God who actually exists.

The position of the Stuart kings was similar to that of the kings of Lilliput in Swift’s Tale.

In like manner, the disbelief of a divine providence renders a man uncapable of holding any publick station: for, since kings avow themselves to be deputies of Providence, the Lilliputians think nothing can be more absurd, than for a prince to employ such men as disown the authority under which he acteth.

Jonathan Swift Gulliver’s Travels  Part One:  A Voyage to Lilliput 1726

The fictional threat to the Lilliputian King, and the real threat to the Stuarts came not from those who didn’t believe in Providence, but those who held that the rulers were not doing the Will of Providence.

Providence is like Gulliver, an unreliable ally to those in power.  ‘The rich man in his castle,’ verse isn’t the problem with Mrs Alexander’s hymn. It could as easily be understood as a threat against those in higher position, who fail to act as the Deity, or His spiritual representatives – the clergy and their wives, think they should. Their higher status can be rescinded.

The problem is the concept of Almighty God.  A concept that lends itself too easily to might is right, and that whatever is, is good.  With Christianity seen as a way of controlling the masses and making them more amenable to the interests of those in power.

An interpretation that as the fate of the Stuart kings demonstrates was capable of having nasty consequences, and not just for those at the bottom of the pecking order.

The God of Empire

It might seem obvious that those with the largest armies, largest navies and greatest accumulation of wealth have the most power, and the greatest personal security.

As the young George Orwell discovered during the time he spent in the Imperial Police in Burma (1922-1927), the wielders of power are very far from free themselves; forced into role of Power’s earthly representative, by those whom the pecking order of empire demands they must have the respect of.

And it was at this moment, as I stood there with the rifle in my hands, that I first grasped the hollowness, the futility of the white man’s dominion in the East. Here was I, the white man with his gun, standing in front of the unarmed native crowd – seemingly the leading actor of the piece; but in reality I was only an absurd puppet pushed to and fro by the will of those yellow faces behind. I perceived in this moment that when the white man turns tyrant it is his own freedom that he destroys. He becomes a sort of hollow, posing dummy, the conventionalized figure of a sahib. For it is the condition of his rule that he shall spend his life in trying to impress the “natives,” and so in every crisis he has got to do what the “natives” expect of him.

George Orwell Shooting an Elephant  1936

Those who wish to be Omnipotence’s earthly representatives, pay a  high price.  The maintenance of power is a constant struggle.

Charles Darwin was very much a child of Empire, born in 1809 during the rise of the second British Empire.  The first had been lost with the American War of Independence in 1783.  This theology of constant struggle was encapsulated into his theory of evolution, and given voice most memorably in Herbert Spencer‘s phrase, “survival of the fittest.”

Survival of the fittest, should be understood, as survival of those that are best fitted to their environment. A principle that Jonathan Swift, over eighty years before Darwin was born, put into the mouth of the fictional scientists called in to provide a scientific explanation for Gulliver’s existence by the King of Brobdingnag – the land of the giants.

They all agreed, that I could not be produced according to the regular laws of nature: because I was not framed with a capacity of preserving my life, either by swiftness, or climbing trees, or digging holes in the earth.  They observed by my teeth, which they viewed with great exactness, that I was a carnivorous animal;  yet most quadrupeds being an over-match for me;  and field-mice, with some others, too nimble, they could not imagine how I should be able to support myself, unless I fed upon snails and other insects; which they offered by many learned arguments to evince, that I could not possibly do.

Jonathan Swift Gulliver’s Travels  Part Two:  A Voyage to Brobdingnag 1726

The enhanced survival and reproductive fitness of those that are best adapted to their environment, is a very mundane explanation for the complexity and wonder of life.  It is no wonder that Spencer’s phrase is frequently misunderstood, even by those who should know better, as meaning survival of the powerful.   Evolutionary success to those who defeat their rivals.

The philosophy of might is right, and to the victor belongs the spoils was re-imagined as scientifically endorsed truth, and science rather than religion became the endorser of the righteousness of power.

Richard Dawkins is very much a child of empire, born in the British Colony of Kenya, as the Empire was nearing its death throes.  His religious views can be understood as a rant against the faithless god of empire. The god who gives power only to those who can take it.

The theory of natural selection itself seems calculated to foster selfishness at the expense of public good, violence, callous indifference to suffering, short term greed at the expense of long term foresight. If scientific theories could vote, evolution would surely vote Republican.

Richard Dawkins Atheists for Jesus 2006

As you can see he doesn’t speak highly of evolution either.  This despite the fact that one of the brute facts that the theory has to explain is the existence of altruistic behaviour in the natural world.

The Religion of Empire

Karl Marx had this in common with many of the British ruling class, he regarded religion as the opium of the people.  The difference being that he didn’t think this was a good thing. Richard Dawkins still thinks opiating the people is a good idea.  To the extent that in this 2006 article he contemplates, for the post – religious world he envisions as the ideal, the origination of non-religious memes that would encourage people to act against their own Darwinian interests.

Let’s put it even more bluntly. From a rational choice point of view, or from a Darwinian point of view, human super niceness is just plain dumb. And yes, it is the kind of dumb that should be encouraged – which is the purpose of my article. How can we do it? How shall we take the minority of super nice humans that we all know, and increase their number, perhaps until they even become a majority in the population? Could super niceness be induced to spread like an epidemic? Could super niceness be packaged in such a form that it passes down the generations in swelling traditions of longitudinal propagation?

Richard Dawkins Atheists for Jesus 2006

The Right Honourable The Earl Russell, otherwise known as Bertrand Russell was so taken up with the notion that the purpose of religion  is the control of the masses, in the name of a God of Power, that he was unable to understand the argument in favour of belief, made by the American philosopher and psychologist William James.

There is a moralistic argument for belief in God, which was popularized by William James. According to this argument, we ought to believe in God because, if we do not, we shall not behave well. The first and greatest objection to this argument is that, at its best, it cannot prove that there is a God but only that politicians and educators ought to try to make people think there is one. Whether this ought to be done or not is not a theological question but a political one.

Bertrand Russell Is there a God? Commissioned, but not published by Illustrated Magazine in 1952

What William James Really Said

For William James the God that really existed, was not the god of power, but the God of Love.  His belief that behind all that is lay the Power of Love, freed him to act as though it was true.  Belief in this God freed him to be the man he wanted to be.

William James was a psychologist as well as a philosopher, and he understood the power of nudge.  We conform to social expectations.  It was shown, for instance, that Asian women, reminded just before a maths test that they were women did worse than in the control situation, while if they are reminded that they were Asian they did better.

To see why this might be so consider the following quote.

 We all know people (is it significant that the ones I can think of are mostly women?) to whom we can sincerely say: “If only everybody were like you, the world’s troubles would melt away.” The milk of human kindness is only a metaphor but, naïve as it sounds, I contemplate some of my friends and I feel like trying to bottle whatever it is that makes them so kind, so selfless, so apparently un-Darwinian.

Richard Dawkins Atheists for Jesus 2006

This sounds very female friendly, but it is in fact setting a norm for female behaviour – nicer than men.

When people do not act according to the expected norm, they can be subjected to hostility. This attitude that women should be nicer than men, may explain Richard Dawkins  Dear Muslima letter; an attack on atheist blogger Rebecca Watson, whom he clearly felt had somehow transgressed expected standards of behaviour, by suggesting that male atheists should refrain from harassing women in lifts.

Conforming to stereotype is instinctive. The fact that people may feel threatened when human elements within their world do not act as expected, and respond with hostility, may explain why this is so.

The good news here is that we can get to pick our own stereotype, the Being in whose Image we wish to be moulded. The bad news is that others may fail to recognize our right to do so and react with hostility

William James chose the God of Love, over the god of power.

Richard Dawkins talks a good game, but the fact that he sees standards as something to be imposed on other people, rather than lived by himself, does suggest that he is still the servant of the god of power.

These standards can be understood, in the way William James did as personal, or they can be understood in the abstract. We pick them up from the society around us as implicit guides to behaviour.

It is only when we become explicitly aware of them, that we can reject or embrace their claim upon us.

And yes dear scientific rationalist, in this sense you too have a god.

Science herself consults her heart when she lays it down that the infinite ascertainment of fact and correction of false belief are the supreme goods for man. Challenge the statement, and science can only repeat it oracularly, or else prove it by showing that such ascertainment and correction bring man all sorts of other goods which man’s heart in turn declares.

William James The Will to Believe : and Other Essays in Popular Philosophy 1897

The Will to Power

The philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche (1844–1900) regarded the Will to Power as a standard that the superior human, the Übermensch  would embrace.

It was the open embrace of power by the fascists  of mid – twentieth century Europe that perhaps convinced George Orwell that the empires that replaced the British would be worse.

I was young and ill-educated and I had had to think out my problems in the utter silence that is imposed on every Englishman in the East. I did not even know that the British Empire is dying, still less did I know that it is a great deal better than the younger empires that are going to supplant it. All I knew was that I was stuck between my hatred of the empire I served and my rage against the evil-spirited little beasts who tried to make my job impossible.

George Orwell Shooting an Elephant  1936

The following passage  from Gulliver’s Travels, Jonathan Swift’s mock sincere eulogy about the wondrous labour of disinterested virtue that was the first British Empire  roused George Orwell’s ire against him, and at least in part inspired his piece of vitriolic confirmation bias: Politics vs. Literature — An examination of Gulliver’s travels 1946

But this description, I confess, doth by no means affect the British nation, who may be an example to the whole world for their wisdom, care, and justice in planting colonies; the liberal endowments for the advancement of religion and learning;  their choice of devout and able pastors to propagate Christianity: their caution in stocking their provinces with people of sober lives and conversation from this the mother kingdom; their strict regard to the distribution of justice, in supplying the civil administration through all their colonies with officers of the greatest abilities, utter strangers to corruption: and to crown all, by sending the most vigilant and virtuous governors who have no other views than the happiness of the people over whom they preside , and the honour of the king their master.

Jonathan Swift Gulliver’s Travels  Part Four:  A Voyage to the Country of the Houyhnhnms  1726

George Orwell both knew the evils of the power of empire and was in denial about it.  The empire was for him what theologian Peter Rollins identifies as the sacred object.  Both knowing that it has failed and being in denial, he projects the blame unto the ungrateful subjects, firstly the Burmese and then Jonathan Swift, a man who like Richard Dawkins was born of English parents in a British colony, although in his case the colony was Ireland. (Ireland didn’t become part of the United Kingdom until the Act of Union of 1800.)

Evidently Swift’s animus is, in the first place, against England. It is ‘your Natives’ (i.e. Gulliver’s fellow-countrymen) whom the King of Brob-dingnag considers to be ‘the most pernicious Race of little odious vermin that Nature ever suffered to crawl upon the surface of the Earth’, and the long passage at the end, denouncing colonization and foreign conquest, is plainly aimed at England, although the contrary is elaborately stated. The Dutch, England’s allies and target of one of Swift’s most famous pamphlets, are also more or less wantonly attacked in Part III. There is even what sounds like a personal note in the passage in which Gulliver records his satisfaction that the various countries he has discovered cannot be made colonies of the British Crown:

George Orwell  Politics vs. Literature — An examination of Gulliver’s travels 1946

Swift, as he was entitled to, identified as both English and Irish, and if he had been able to get a post within the Church of England, would have remained there.  There is not the least reason to think that he hated England.

Paranoia and finding scapegoats, is as Peter Rollins points out in, “You’d better give me what I’ve never had. Some thoughts on nostalgia paranoia and ontic shock.” is a lot nastier than nostalgia for the sacred object, that was never what you thought it was.  However if you must do it picking on someone who has been dead over 200 years is at least not likely to cause much distress of your target.

The doctrine of the Übermensch, where the over-man is understood as the stereotype that superior people are aiming to conform to, is not conducive to forming empires.  As Swift pointed out the successful running of empires requires men willing to subvert their best interests to the interests of the ultimate power, that that was in Swift’s day represented by the king .  To regard the power of the empire rather than their personal power  as paramount, is inconsistent with the idea of the Übermensch.  Realizing this I suddenly think a lot more highly of  Nietzsche than I had previously.

The Real Fundamentalist

Peter Rollins in The Divine Magician tells the story of the Englishman, the Scotsman and the Irishman auditioning to join the Special Forces.

They are interviewed separately and each given a gun and told to go into the next room and kill whoever is there.

The Englishman walks in and finds his best friend in the room and refuses to shoot.  The Scotsman  finds the same, but reasons that the bullets in his gun must be blanks and shoots anyway. (He is fortunately right.)

The Irishman when he realizes that the gun is shooting blanks, is forced to beat his friend to death with a chair.

The story is better told in The Divine Magician.

Peter Rollins identifies the Scotsman as the real fundamentalist, one who at least at a certain level is aware that a deception is being practiced. I would however argue that all three were fundamentalists, valuing the voice of power, and its value system  above the human.  Even the Englishman behaved as  a fundamentalist;  one who had a crises of faith, yet still accepted the values of the system he was operating in.

I think that Richard Dawkins in “Atheists for Jesus,” misrepresented the teachings of Judaism. References to both the God of Love and the God of Power can be found in the Old Testament.  But one of the things that he has got right is that the original Christian message was a revolt against fundamentalism and the valuing of religious and political systems more highly than the people they are there to serve. (Niceness had nothing to do with it.  It may get you walked on, it doesn’t get you crucified.)

To those steeped in the Sharia-like cruelties of Leviticus and Deuteronomy; to those brought up to fear the vindictive, Ayatollah-like God of Abraham and Isaac, a charismatic young preacher who advocated generous forgiveness must have seemed radical to the point of subversion. No wonder they nailed him.

Richard Dawkins Atheists for Jesus 2006

The Selfish Gene Illusion

Richard Dawkins with a 3D model of a Necker Cube.

Richard Dawkins with a 3D model of a Necker Cube. Royal Institute Christmas Lectures 1991

Richard Dawkins regards evolution as a process which is driven by and operates for the benefit of  genes. He expressed this fairly clearly in The Extended Phenotype.

The thesis that I shall support is this. It is legitimate to speak of adaptation as being ‘for the benefit of’ something, but that something is best not seen as the individual organism.  It is the smaller unit which I call the active germ-line replicator.  The most important kind of replicator is the ‘gene’ or small genetic fragment.  

Richard Dawkins The Extended Phenotype Chapter 1 1982

Evolution is like the water cycle,  a natural process, and it is no more rational to speak of its effects being for the benefit of genes, than it is to speak of the effects of the water cycle as being for the benefit of raindrops. This is true even if you put the claim in speech marks. Both processes operate in a way that causes reproduction, in one case of  genes in the other raindrops. But to describe either raindrops or genes as the beneficiaries of the processes which produce them is to take quite a lot of poetic license, the kind of license which is more appropriate for an Enid Blyton tale than a work of science.

Richard Dawkins has illustrated his argument by referencing the Necker Cube.Necker_cube.svg

There is a well -known visual illusion called the Necker Cube. It consists of a line drawing which the brain interprets as a three-dimensional cube. But there are two possible orientations of the perceived cube, and both are equally compatible with the two-dimensional image on the paper. We usually begin by seeing one of the two orientations, but if we look for several seconds the cube “flips over” in the mind, and we see the other apparent orientation. After a few more seconds the mental image flips back and it continues to alternate as long as we look at the picture. The point is that neither of the two perceptions of the cube is the correct or “true” one. They are equally correct. 

Richard Dawkins The Extended Phenotype Chapter 1 1982

What I find interesting here is that neither of the two perceptions is correct.They are both illusions, as is the notion that adaptations are “for the benefit” of either the individual organism or the gene.

A successful adaptation increases the probability that the organism which bares it will reproduce, and therefore propagate the genes which are part of the cycle necessary for this adaptation to exist. If you consider reproduction as a benefit, a successful  adaptation works for the benefit of both the genes that are part of its chain of generation, and the individual organism that carries it.  And it similarly works for the benefit of the species; successful adaptations within a species work to decrease the probability of a species becoming extinct. There is however nothing operating within the system that makes it rational to claim that adaptations exist “for the benefit” of  any of those things: they are a part of the cycle of life, which like the rain cycle is a consequence of the blindly operating forces of nature.

 What Richard Dawkins should be saying, is that it is genes rather than organisms which have a chance of surviving through time, and they are therefore the units on which natural selection works. If they code for successful adaptations they remain constant or increase proportionally within the species gene pool. If they are less successful they decrease or even get wiped from the gene pool. Their roll is passive.  Rather than selfish manipulators, they are the poor bloody infantry.  They are only selected for if they are part of the cycle that results in the production of successful adaptations, for example, legs, kidneys, or the fight or flight instinct.

And  this is  in fact what he is saying, except when it comes to setting out the position he is advocating or drawing conclusions, when suddenly the gene becomes, instead of the passive victim of natural selection, a selfish manipulator working to ensure its own survival.

The following passage is the conclusion to the final chapter of The Extended Phenotype – Rediscovering the Organism.  Note how the gene (replicator) changes from the passive object of natural selection, to an active agent acting to ensure its own survival by selfishly behaving cooperatively.

The integrated multicellular organism is a phenomenon which has emerged as a result of natural selection on primitively independent selfish replicators.  It has paid replicators to behave gregariously.  The phenotypic power by which they ensure their survival is in principle extended and unbounded. In practice the organism has arisen as a partially bounded local concentration, a shared knot of replicator power.  

Richard Dawkins The Extended Phenotype Chapter 14 Rediscovering the Organism 1982

In The God Delusion Richard Dawkins links misapplied intentional stance with religious belief.

The design stance and the intentional stance are useful brain mechanisms, important for speeding up the second-guessing of entities that really matter for survival, such as predators or potential mates.  But, like other brain mechanisms, these stances can misfire. Children and primitive peoples, impute intentions to the weather, to waves and currents, to falling rocks.  

Richard Dawkins The God Delusion 2006

He in his own writing imputes intentions to Selfish DNA.

The story that he is telling of how selfish replicators working for their own ends overcame the forces of ancient chaos, has parallels in ancient mythologies, notably the Enuma  Elish, the scripture of ancient Babylon.

In this scripture Marduk, the god of ancient Babylon, achieved chief place in the pantheon of the gods, by right of conquest.  He slew the mother of all gods, Tiamat, ancient chaos.

Richard Dawkins Selfish Gene is a reworking of the tale that theologian Walter Wink has described as the myth of redemptive violence.

This Selfish Gene Myth has a characteristic that Richard Dawkins associates with the early stages of a religion’s evolution.

In the early stages of a religion’s evolution, before it becomes organized simple memes survive by virtue of their universal appeal to human psychology.

Richard Dawkins The God Delusion 2006

At the top of this post there is a picture of Richard Dawkins with a wire framed cube.  Despite the labelling this is not a Necker cube.  If you look at the cube the flip will occur, but only one of the shapes seen looks like a cube.  The other does not.

The point I want to make here is that only one of these perceptions is correct, and so it is with the Selfish Gene. It appears to be a scientific theory, but the reality is otherwise.

Richard Dawkins by his own account lost his belief in the existence of God at the age of 15, because of his exposure to the theory of evolution. While I would very much like to say, “See irrational beliefs aren’t just a religious phenomenon,” I don’t think Richard Dawkins’ case can be used to argue that.  He has replaced belief in a single creator acting intentionally and intelligently, with belief in lots of selfish little creators acting intentionally but without foresight.  For him evolution has completely filled the role of religion,  including  giving purpose, and rather than being an atheist, he is a polytheist, admittedly one who  is arguing for revolt against the selfish but stupid little creators, who have made us to serve their interests, but a polytheist nonetheless.

The term, survival of the fittest, was coined by Herbert Spencer, not Darwin, and is misleading.  It allowed evolutionary success to be understood as survival of the powerful, with victory going to the alpha male, the Übermensch.  It allowed people to interpret the theory of evolution as scientific vindication for the myth of redemptive violence. (The more accurate description, survival of those best fitted to their environment, just doesn’t have the same myth building appeal.)

It is this idea of successfully  competing individuals that Richard Dawkins incorporated into new synthesis biology, as  Selfish Genes; the little Übergensch that overcame the primal chaos, and brought organisms into being, to serve their lust for survival, their will to power.

Within his belief system, our role as humans, is to use the gift of clear thinking and intelligence which the Übergenes have made the mistake of gifting us with, to overcome the selfish goal-seeking mechanisms, which they have put in place to further their own interests.  See Richard Dawkins Atheists for Jesus 2006 That is we, some of us anyway, have the intellectual power to defeat our genes and become  Übermensch and Überwensch.

The Real Replicator

 eye balls in hands  animation

I hope I have managed to convince you that Richard Dawkins is not quite as clear-sighted as he thinks he is.  Up until very recently I would have argued that Richard Dawkins was the victim of  a, metaphorically speaking, prank  performed by a deceptor gene. A gene operating to deceive us, in  a way that has worked to increase the average reproductive fitness of those carrying it in times past.

I had accepted that genes were what survived the natural selection process, and that therefore genes were the unit of selection, the individuals that appeared time after time. It is the  information in the following passage that over the course of producing this post  has caused me to change my mind.

 The thesis that I shall support is this. It is legitimate to speak of adaptation as being ‘for the benefit of’ something, but that something is best not seen as the individual organism.  It is the smaller unit which I call the active germ-line replicator.  The most important kind of replicator is the ‘gene’ or small genetic fragment.  

Richard Dawkins The Extended Phenotype Chapter 1 1982

It occurred to me that it isn’t just the genes that live across many generations of lots of different organisms, the adaptations do as well.  Adaptations like eyes, kidneys and hind legs are reproduced time after time.  The unit of selection isn’t the gene, but the whole cycle of interconnections that lead from fertilized egg to successful adaptation and back again. It is this unit that is the replicator, and it is this unit that Dr Dawkins’ use of the Necker Cube illustration managed to hide from him.  The story of how eyeballs and hind legs have manipulated us in their selfish pursuit of survival, just doesn’t have the same mythic resonance as the Selfish gene.

It is ridiculous to imagine kidneys and hind legs manipulating us to further their own selfish ends, this  doesn’t mean that the same  is true of all adaptations. Instincts work by manipulating organisms in ways that have at least in times past increased the average reproductive fitnesses of the manipulated organisms.  Note the use of the word average here, it is entirely possible for an adaptation to lower the reproductive fitnesses of the majority of the organisms affected by it, and yet increase over time in the general population; so that an instinct for risk taking for instance could succeed if the reproductive payback for the successful organism was great enough to compensate for the failure of the unsuccessful. Even before taking into account the fact that the conditions under which the adaptation developed are likely to be significantly different from the conditions now in operation, it is dangerously naive to assume that instincts operate for the good of the person manipulated by them.

Richard Dawkins’  behaviour is consistent with what theologian Peter Rollins identifies as belief in the Big Other. This Big Other seems to be, at least in part, an anthropomorphic representation of the drive for social conformity.  We develop an image of what is socially expected of us and then act so as to conform ourselves to that image. So that if you are in a nightclub you are supposed to be enjoying yourself and that is the way you will act regardless of your feelings.  If you don’t conform to expectations then those around you are likely to remind you of your social responsibility, to behave appropriately, e.g. “Cheer up love.”

Richard Dawkins views himself as a scientist and has therefore worked to conform himself to his image of a scientist – a rational atheist.  The trouble with this view is that we humans are not that rational and as he acknowledges we have a strong and probably adaptive tendency to see purpose where there is none. The rational position would be to say yes, I do instinctively believe that events have purpose external to the human will, but I know that this instinct is not rationally based. It is this part of the real nature of being human and being an atheist, that  the  very intelligent, funny and irreverent Irish comedian Dave Allen sent up in his joke, “I’m an atheist, thank God,” and his discussion about why God prefers atheists.

But to acknowledge that one is from time to time irrational is to deviate from the self-image of a rational scientist.  Richard Dawkins has solved the problem a different way, he has placed purpose within the natural world – we exist to reproduce our genes.  Right at the heart of Richard Dawkins’  belief system there is this major irrationality, this stunning piece of unacknowledged magic thinking,  the attribution of intention, to little bits of DNA.

Similar self-image confirming mechanisms can be found in the more conventionally religious.

In a light-hearted but personal interview in front of hundreds of people in Bristol cathedral last weekend, Justin Welby said: “There are moments, sure, where you think ‘Is there a God? Where is God?'”Welby quickly added that, as the leader of the world’s 80 million-strong Anglican community, this was “probably not what the archbishop of Canterbury should say.”

Matthew Weaver  Archbishop of Canterbury admits doubts about existence of God 18th September 2014  

Within just three minutes in this interview  you can observe Justin Welby twice deny the reality of his doubt, in a way that makes  what he says a better fit with the social expectations that his audience, and the young woman, interviewing him would be expected to have of an evangelical archbishop.

As Peter Rollins has pointed out this could be interpreted as intellectual dishonesty, or a desire to fool some Big Other.  But it is also consistent with an empirically demonstrable human behaviour pattern, a drive to conform to social expectations or stereotype. An instinctive behaviour pattern that operates  largely at the level of the unconscious.

In response to the interviewers question about whether he ever had doubts, Justin Welby said  “There are moments, sure, where you think ‘Is there a God? Where is God?'”

When he made this statement Justin Welby was being given the my hero treatment by a gushing interviewer and speaking in a situation where it would be reasonable to expect the audience to be believers i.e. a situation that would have put him under social pressure to conform to stereotype. It is in that situation that he redefines the nature of his doubt to something  that it is not.  He relates his doubt to the feelings expressed  in Psalms 88, 44, and 22, and treats it as consistent with the feelings expressed there.  Only these Psalms are not about rational doubt of the existence of God, they are hymns expressing the feelings of abandonment or even persecution by God, of those whose lives have become hell on earth..  Rather than acknowledge the true nature of the doubt he has just expressed, he is identifying it not as rational doubt, about the existence of God, but as a feeling that is not inconsistent with certainty that God exists.

Please note that I am not saying that Justin Welby was being intentionally dishonest. Just that he was in the type of situation that is likely to kick off a social status preserving instinct, an instinct that has increased its own reproductive fitness in times past by ensuring that people don’t let their search for truth undermine their social status.

After that he went into a story about praying while going for a morning run with his dog. He related how he found himself saying to God, “Isn’t it time you did something, if your’e there?”  Straight after this he reminded himself of his social role,

 “probably not what the archbishop of Canterbury should say.”

 At this stage the interviewer, Lucy Tegg, broke in, with what appears to be an attempt, to  reassure him that he was still her hero and that his honesty was an inspiration  to other lesser Christians.

“But it’s  quite reassuring to people who think to themselves I don’t feel a presence, or at least I don’t feel it all the time.”

This is Justin Welby’s response..

“It’s not about feelings. Its about the fact that God is faithful, and the extraordinary thing about being a Christian is that God is faithful even when we are not.”

.Reminding himself that he is the Archbishop of Canterbury has had an extraordinary affect. Dog walker Justin Welby  had doubts about the existence of God, but  Archbishop Justin Welby has certainty about not only the existence of God but His Nature as well.

As the Archbishop he is able to ignore his rational doubts as mere feelings, and this would be funny if his own rational doubt was the only doubt that he was dismissing.  However as he linked his rational doubts with the real human suffering of people who because of the horrendous situations they are in have felt abandoned by God, he is also dismissing their doubts. And is like one of Job’s comforters encouraging the victims to feel guilt, for not being faithful to God.

I suspect that confronted with someone who was experiencing a horrendous life situation, Justin Welby would conform not to his image of archbishop, but of decent human being, and therefore  wouldn’t try to load them with guilt.  But in a situation where he is not being confronted by immediate human reality, he is happy to express the values of magic pixie land, those which he feels match the stereotype that is socially expected of the Archbishop of Canterbury.

The very intelligent, very funny, and very irreverent  Dr Jonathan Swift recognized the dangers of conforming to stereotype, and he was especially incensed by the stereotype of man as a rational animal. The following satirical passage is taken from a letter he wrote to his friend Alexander Pope, in which he expresses his disgust with stereotypes.

  I have ever hated all nations, professions, and communities, and all my love is toward individuals: for instance, I hate the tribe of lawyers, but I love Counsellor Such-a-one, and Judge Such-a-one: so with physicians—I will not speak of my own trade—soldiers, English, Scotch, French, and the rest. But principally I hate and detest that animal called man, although I heartily love John, Peter, Thomas, and so forth. This is the system upon which I have governed myself many years, but do not tell, and so I shall go on till I have done with them. I have got materials toward a treatise, proving the falsity of that definition animal rationale, and to show it would be only rationis capax. Upon this great foundation of misanthropy, though not in Timon’s manner, the whole building of my Travels is erected; and I never will have peace of mind till all honest men are of my opinion.

Jonathan Swift  A Letter to Alexander Pope September 29th 1725

Swift died without achieving peace of mind, and nearly 300 years after this was written, honest men, and I have no doubt that both Richard Dawkins and Justin Welby are honest men, who thought they were telling the truth, can have their brains noodled with and be made fools of at the behest of an instinct for social conformity.

Cracking the Teapot

Yellow Dragon Teapot by ShyriaDracnoir The Celestial Teapot is frequently understood as an analogy for belief in a god or gods. This is to do Bertrand Russell an injustice.  His attack was much wider than that. Russell opposed all dogmatic beliefs, classifying any system of thought that used strongly held beliefs to justify the silencing of opposing voices as religion.

Cruel persecutions have been commoner in Christendom than anywhere else. What appears to justify persecution is dogmatic belief. Kindliness and tolerance only prevail in proportion as dogmatic belief decays. In our day, a new dogmatic religion, namely, communism, has arisen. To this, as to other systems of dogma, the agnostic is opposed.

Bertrand Russell What is an Agnostic 1953

If you accept Russell’s definition of religion then the Northern Ireland conflict is, as Richard Dawkins alleges, although not in the way he means; a religious conflict, with two similar but opposing dogmas.

There is the Unionist / Loyalist dogma – Northern Ireland is British;

and

The Nationalist / Republican dogma – Ireland is one nation.

These strongly held differences of opinion are heavily implicated in the recurring cycles of violence that afflict my native land.  They themselves do not provide a sufficient cause for the violence, in that they are also held in the periods of peace interspersing the violence.

I think Richard Dawkins, in the following passage, provides an insight into the driving force that ties difference of opinion to persecution and violence.

American polls suggest that atheists and agnostics far outnumber Jews, and even outnumber most other particular religious groups.  Unlike Jews, however, who are notoriously one of the most effective political lobbies in the United States, and unlike evangelical Christians, who wield even greater political power, atheists and agnostics are not organized and therefore exert almost zero influence.  Indeed organizing atheists has been compared to herding cats, because they tend to think independently and will not conform to authority.

Richard  Dawkins Preface to The God Delusion Black Swan Edition 2007 

Dogma acts as a human herding tool.  Those who direct the herd acquire a great deal of power. This they can maintain by direct persecution of opposing voices within the herd.  Or they can persuade the herd that they are under threat from malignant forces and the herd will do the work for them.

Herding People – A Fictional Example 

Our way of life is under attack by fundamentalist Teabaggians.  They have disrespected the Teapot of Rationality; revealed to us first through the wisdom of the Ancient Philosopher. They will smash our china teapots and force us to embrace their vile custom of  teabag dunking.

We must stand together, and support the chosen ones, in opposing this evil tyranny.

A real example of this kind of call can be found at the CAIN website, an  archive of materials related to conflict in Northern Ireland. dup and uup leaflet dup and uup leaflet This leaflet was distributed throughout loyalist (working class unionist)  areas of east Belfast, by the two main Unionist parties when, because they had lost their majority in Belfast City Council, they were unable to ensure that the symbolic representation of their dogma, the Union Flag  remained flying constantly above City Hall, by normal political methods.

Given the nature of this call, the distinct whiff of, “They’re coming to take us away!” and your culture is being disrespected; it should be no surprise  that the people who were targeted by the propaganda were enflamed. Nor that when the vote was taken and the Alliance Party, a  group not aligned to either of the main  political dogmas, and the holders of the balance of power, stuck to their party policy  that the union flag  should only fly on designated days, that riots ensued.

The police managed to contain the violence without any major casualties, and at present around 700 people, mainly young working class men, have been charged with  related offences. No action has been taken against those who put out the leaflet. Nor has there been any public acknowledgement by the the leaders of our main Unionist Parties, that they know that the claims made in this leaflet were untrue and that maybe there should have been a little more care taken in the exercise of free speech. (There is no reason to assume that either party leader knew about this leaflet before it was distributed.)

Bertrand Russell’s definition of  religion as any thought system that holds dogmatic opinions, and seeks to impose them, by force if necessary, means that the Northern Ireland conflict was and is  by definition a religious conflict. This definition is misleading.

Dogmatism is related to power politics, and it is therefore primarily, even if it is a traditionally religious dogma that is being enforced, a political position. And in my country in recent times it has been political dogmatists, with in many cases the full support  of religious dogmatists, that have undermined the peace. Encouraging members of our different political  and religious communities, to identify those with differing views as Those Evil Awful People Over There. T.E.A.P.O.T. 

It is this teapotting of the other that can turn ordinary decent individuals into angry and cohesive herds of people, ripe for milking by power seekers.

Belfast peace wall

Belfast’s Peace Walls – Protecting Those Evil Awful People Over There, from Ordinary Decent People since 1969.

Michael Ruse, professor of philosophy at Florida State University, in an article discussing how  Richard Dawkins’ Humanism is unlike his own humanism, in that it has ended up acting like a religion, made the following claim.

…..  rival religions tend to say awful things about each other, putting down the doctrines and the practitioners. Think of evangelicals on the subject of Mitt Romney’s Mormonism, or of Northern Irish Protestants on the subject of the Pope.

Michael Ruse  Curb Your Enthusiasm  Aeon Magazine October 2012

In reality, what a Northern Ireland Protestant will tell you about the Pope, depends on which of us you ask. Some within our community for instance think that the present pope, Pope Francis, is a really decent bloke; and are therefore inclined to wonder how long before the Vatican gets round to assassinating him.

There is a tendency for people, including Northern Irish people, to regard  the Protestant paranoia over Catholic intentions, found within my community, as primal. This is not so.

In the United Irishmen Rebellion of 1798, Irish Catholics and Protestants united against English colonialism, and the Anglo-Irish ascendancy.  When this rising was quashed the victors adopted a policy of divide and rule in, the area that is now, Northern Ireland. Propaganda was used to whip up paranoia in the majority Protestant community, about the intentions of the Catholic Church

The teapotting behaviour of the authorities was deliberate and rational. They were ensuring that Ulster Protestants were too afraid to rise against them, and would support the authorities against their Catholic neighbours. That is the authorities were aware of what they were doing.

Not  all of those who use teapotting to label others, as those evil awful people over there, are this self- aware.

Michael Ruse is a case in point.  In his article, Curb Your Enthusiasm, he notes similarities in the behaviour of  Richard Dawkins and the New Atheists, with the “squabbles” of the Reformation.

In the caricaturing of ‘faith’ as murderous fundamentalism, one hears echoes of the bloody and interminable Reformation squabbles between Protestants and Catholics. One also sees contempt for fellow human beings, many of whom are educated, thinking members of society. 

Michael Ruse  Curb Your Enthusiasm  Aeon Magazine October 2012

It turns out however that Professor Ruse’s objection isn’t in the teapotting of other people as inherently contemptible.  It is that they have teapotted the wrong people, decent human beings like himself, “many of whom are educated, thinking members of society.”   The professor thinks that they should be showing contempt for a different group of people.

It is also, of course, to help the real enemy, those who turn their backs fully on science as they follow their religion. Instead of making allies of those believers who hate intolerance as much as do you, everyone is at war and no proper defence is mounted against the really dangerous, the genuinely fanatical and fundamentalist.

 Michael Ruse  Curb Your Enthusiasm  Aeon Magazine October 2012

Because of course, the fanaticism that Michael Ruse has noted in what he refers to as Humanists or New Atheists cannot be real fanaticism, because they are like him; non-religious, science- respecting, educated, thinking members of society.  And as everyone knows the evil lies only in the other.

“And  the more things change the more they are the same.”

The very prescient Jonathan Swift in a satirical essay arguing, at the time unnecessarily, against the abolition of Christianity; identified what I am calling teapotting, as factionalism, and argued that it was a consequence, not  of religious belief but of human nature, i.e. instinctive. And that therefore abolishing Christianity, would not be sufficient to rid the world of factions.

Are party and faction rooted in men’s hearts no deeper than phrases borrowed from religion, or founded upon no firmer principles? And is our language so poor that we cannot find other terms to express them? Are _envy, pride, avarice_ and_ambition_ such ill nomenclators, that they cannot furnish appellations for their owners? Will not_heydukes_ and _mamalukes, mandarins_ and patshaws_, or any other words formed at pleasure, serve to distinguish those who are in the ministry* from others who would be in it if they could? …………………. And therefore I think, there is little force in this objection against Christianity, or prospect of so great an advantage as is proposed in the abolishing of it.

 Jonathan Swift  An Argument Against Abolishing Christianity  1708

N.B. The ministry* referred to above is government ministry, not religious ministry, and Jonathan Swift is making a direct link between power seeking and factionalism.

Jonathan Swift wrote this essay, more than one hundred years before the birth of Charles Darwin, and longer still before the birth of the father of genetics Gregor Mendel, and therefore was not in a position to speculate about the forces that created this drive for factionalism – the teapotic instinct.

He certainly never had the opportunity to read Richard Dawkins’  book – The Selfish Gene.  And it is the central idea in this book, gene selection, that can explain the teapotic drive.

Factionalism creates small ponds in which big fish can have a disproportionate amount of influence. Making people afraid means that they are easier to control.  Using  direct coercion means that the would be big fish, would have to be genuinely more powerful, than those they set out to coerce. Creating paranoia within the pond about Those Evil Awful People Over There, those not in our faction, does not require the same degree of power from the would be leaders.  It also creates  conditions favourable for paranoia in the labelled people, making them vulnerable to Teapotters within their community.

If there is a genetic component to the behaviour of the Teapotters, and if acquiring power  increased in times past, their relative reproductive fitness, then the teapotic gene would have increased  in the gene pool. This is so even if, as  doesn’t seem unlikely, the overall genetic fitness of everyone in afflicted communities was lowered.

That so many of those displaying teapotic behaviour, seem to be totally without self-awareness, believing that what they are claiming is empirical truth; is consistent with it being the result of what Richard Dawkins has referred to as the Selfish Gene.  Instinct geared  not to the good of the organism displaying the behaviour, but to promoting the behaviour that enabled the gene to become predominate in the gene pool in the first place.

Richard Dawkins’ and Michael Ruse show every sign of being the victims of a practical joke, inflicted on them by their DNA.  I would be laughing if I didn’t have an inkling just how much damage the particular bits of deoxyribonucleic acid that code for this behaviour, can influence people living in unstable political situations, to inflict on each other.(1) Or the strong suspicion that the most likely victims of this behaviour are going to be those, with the least ability to defend themselves.(2)

Related Articles

  1. Andrew Brown If religion doesn’t start wars, it’s clear it can make some conflicts harder to solve  May 2014  theguardian.com
  2. Giles Fraser Yes, the church is bloody angry about these attacks on the poor, and rightly so February 2014  theguardian.com