In River out of Eden : A Darwinian View of Life Richard Dawkins wrote:
The universe we observe has precisely the properties we should expect if there is, at bottom, no design, no purpose, no evil and no good, nothing but blind, pitiless indifference. As that unhappy poet A.E. Housman put it: ‘For Nature, heartless, witless Nature Will neither care nor know.’ DNA neither cares nor knows. DNA just is. And we dance to its music.
In a 2007 New Scientist/Greenpeace Science debate, Dawkins said:
Far from being the most selfish, exploitative species, Homo sapiens is the only species that has at least the possibility of rebelling against the otherwise universally selfish Darwinian impulse . . . If any species in the history of life has the possibility of breaking away from short term selfishness and of long term planning for the distant future, it’s our species. We are earth’s last best hope even if we are simultaneously, the species most capable of destroying life on the planet. But when it comes to taking the long view, we are literally unique. Because the long view is not a view that has ever been taken before in whole history of life. If we don’t plan for the future, no other species will . . .
Dawkins’ does not seem to understand that he cannot have his cake and eat it too, and that leads the world’s most prominent atheist/evolutionary biologist to make mutually exclusive truth claims that I would expect the average high school freshman to avoid. Let us examine a couple:
1. DNA is all there is, and we dance to its music. Yet it is possible for Homo sapiens to rebel against DNA. But how can DNA rebel against itself? I cannot rise above myself. I cannot reach down, grab my bootstraps, and pull myself off the floor.
2. There is no good and no evil. Yet Homo sapiens has the capability of planning for the future (presumably to avoid an undesired outcome or achieve a desired outcome). But if there is no good and no evil, on what grounds should we desire any particular outcome and plan for it?
UPDATE BELOW THE FOLD
From the comments, it seems that the 1st conclusion above is not as obvious as I thought it was. Let me try to spell it out in small steps.
1. Dawkins is a philosophical materialist.
2. Philosophical materialism compels the conclusion that mind does not exist and that what we call “mind” is an illusion, an epiphenomenon of the chemical processes of the brain.
3. Consequently, to remain logically coherent Dawkins must believe in a pure biological reductionism. And he does. His statement “DNA neither cares nor knows. DNA just is. And we dance to its music” is just another way for Dawkins to say, “Look everyone! I’m a dyed-in-the-wool biological reductionist.” I would have thought that is obvious, but apparently it is not.
4. Biological determinism is an inescapable corollary to biological reductionism. In other words, if every choice we make can be reduced to the chemical processes of the brain, free will is an illusion. This is what Dawkins means when he says we dance to DNA’s music.
5. Then, having said that free will is an illusion, Dawkins sounds like a Cartesian dualist in the Greenpeace debate. He says it is possible for us to “rebel” against the “otherwise universally selfish Darwinian impulse.” If this is not special pleading, I do not know what is.
6. The selfish Darwinian impulse is universal, Dawkins says. We dance to DNA’s music. Our every choice is utterly determined. Free will is an illusion. No, wait, Dawkins replies. The Darwinian impulse is only nearly universal. “I” can rebel against it. Here’s the problem. If we accept Dawkins’ initial premises, the conclusion that “I” can rebel against biological determinism is pure gibberish for the simple reason that the “I” in that statement does not exist. There is only matter in motion, and matter in motion cannot “rebel” against itself. Indeed, the concept of matter in motion rebelling against matter in motion is logically incoherent. If Dawkins’ initial premises are correct, my body is nothing but a complex biological machine, and the self-awareness I feel is an illusion. Therefore, the very idea that “I” have a “choice” about whether to follow selfish Darwinian impulses is meaningless.
So we see that Dawkins is not just any sort of fool. He is a simpering gutless fool. He wants to have his atheism with its concomitant materialism, but he does not have the courage to face the earth shattering metaphysical conclusions that follow ineluctability from his premises. Instead, he tries to smuggle foundational ethics (of a particularly Christian variety at that!) in through the back door. He shirks not only in ethics but also in politics. See here.
Give me Nietzsche over Dawkins any day. One can disagree with Nietzsche, yet still come away with a sort of respect for his courage. Nietzsche never simpered nor shirked. He faced the terrifying conclusions of his premises head on. In our time Will Provine follows in Nietzsche’s footsteps and takes his atheism seriously: “Naturalistic evolution has clear consequences that Charles Darwin understood perfectly. 1) No gods worth having exist; 2) no life after death exists; 3) no ultimate foundation for ethics exists; 4) no ultimate meaning in life exists; and 5) human free will is nonexistent.” Evolution: Free Will and Punishment and Meaning in Life, Second Annual Darwin Day Celebration Keynote Address.