“In a universe of electrons and selfish genes, blind physical forces and genetic replication, some people are going to get hurt, other people are going to get lucky, and you won’t find any rhyme or reason in it, nor any justice. The universe that we observe has precisely the properties we should expect if there is, at bottom, no design, no purpose, no evil, no good, nothing but pitiless indifference.” -Richard Dawkins
I hope you’ll forgive me, but atheists just tend to spark my gallows humor. I do things backwards sometimes, so the surest way to get me giggling is a close encounter with all the angst, misery, and woe of complete nihilism. Comedy and tragedy so often go hand in hand.
“Alas, I am just a bit of meaningless biological goo, trapped on a hostile planet, staring into the abyss and having a good and proper existential crisis.” Somebody smart once said, “I think I am just one epiphany short of a paradigm shift.” Yep.
I love humor, especially self depreciating humor because it’s a gentle way to humble yourself. If you can laugh at yourself, enough pride has left the building that there is now room for some wisdom to move in. “Fear of the Lord is the beginning of all wisdom.” One reason that is so true is because fear of the Lord is an acknowledgment that there is Someone out there so much bigger and badder than we are. And by “bad” I mean, strong powerful, smart, omnipotent. We ourselves are not the beginning and end of all things, so how we perceive the universe does not really define the universe.
This Dawkins quote sparked my fancy because of all the emotional, subjective, moralizing and judgmental words that popped up. “Selfish, hurt, lucky, blind, justice, evil, good, pitiless indifference.”
By Who’s measure? By Who’s standard? In comparison to What? In the process of attempting to deny the existence of God, he is using God’s own ruler to judge “good and evil, selfishness and justice.” He is also using his own subjective opinion and emotions as if they alone define moral values.
Are electrons and genes selfish? Are physical forces blind? Are inanimate, non sentient things, even capable of pitiless indifference? If a tree fell on your house would you accuse it of being selfish, inconsiderate, having no pity? Well, you could if you like, but that would be downright silly. Most of us can see the humor in attempting to yell at something like a table leg that was disrespectful and abusive enough to get in our way.
What is “justice?” Is it unjust for a spider to eat a fly? Why does one empathize with the fly and not the spider? Does a spider suffer from “pitiless indifference” towards flies? Is a spider selfish, unjust, and blind if it simply eats it’s dinner? I do believe that those who empathize so deeply with the plight of flies are projecting their own selves into the equation. Self identifying as a fly, so to speak.
Dawkins is right about one thing however, outside the context of God the universe often does feel as if it has no rhyme or reason, as if it is just a world ruled by selfishness and chaos. That really is the natural order of much of the world around us, but feelings about such things just don’t tell the whole story. It is not the “pitiless indifference” of the world around us that is so surprising. It is actually the random acts of kindness that are out-of-place, that do not fit in the narrative. It is the crazy things, the acts of sacrificial love, the generosity of people, the way some will give up their very lives protecting others.
Why do we even care? Why does goodness matter to us? Why do we even try to make the world a better place? These are the things that are irrational, (or perhaps supernatural) things that defy the natural order, that poke holes in the entire notion of the “selfish gene.” It is not surprising that people are selfish at all, it is surprising when they are not. It catches our attention, it takes our breath away, because it is not even of this world.
John 15:13 says, “Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends.” Love, sacrifice, honor, hope, virtue, these are the things that just fly in the face of nature’s so-called pitiless indifference.
Also, not to put too fine of a point on it, but Dawkins must have survived his infancy as a helpless and totally dependent…clump of meaningless cells that just randomly sprung forth from nothingness. If the universe really was ruled by nothing but pitiless indifference, then he would never have survived long enough to lament the meaningless of his own existence.