Over the weekend, we the “Man vs. God” piece on the front page of the Weekend Journal of the Wall Street Journal, the subtitle of which ran “Two prominent thinkers debate evolution, science and the role of religion.” There were two columns. One was by Richard Dawkins, the author of The Selfish Gene and a tireless defender of evolution against the creationists. The other was by Karen Armstrong, author of a variety of books on theology.
Evolution, as we’ve noted, boosts the absurd view of the world as indifferent and our existence as without meaning. Oddly, it is the theological Armstrong who states the case clearly in the beginning of her piece:
“Richard Dawkins has been right all along, of course—at least in one important respect. Evolution has indeed dealt a blow to the idea of a benign creator, literally conceived. It tells us that there is no Intelligence controlling the cosmos, and that life itself is the result of a blind process of natural selection, in which innumerable species failed to survive. The fossil record reveals a natural history of pain, death and racial extinction, so if there was a divine plan, it was cruel, callously prodigal and wasteful. Human beings were not the pinnacle of a purposeful creation; like everything else, they evolved by trial and error and God had no direct hand in their making.”
The rest of Armstrong’s piece was weak beer. It seemed a gooey effort to try and make religion like painting or music, and therefore an art form and somehow beyond reason. But these opening lines are a pretty good start on the absurd path as it admits life is essentially an accident, a result of a blind process. From there, you are only a few steps from absurdity.
Dawkins’ essay made a good point near the end, which also touches on the absurd, in particular those who acknowledge the absurd, but insist on creating meaning anyway. I’ll quote from Dawkins here, as this is worth thinking about:
“Now, there is a certain class of sophisticated modern theologian who will say something like this: "Good heavens, of course we are not so naive or simplistic as to care whether God exists. Existence is such a 19th-century preoccupation! It doesn't matter whether God exists in a scientific sense. What matters is whether he exists for you or for me. If God is real for you, who cares whether science has made him redundant? Such arrogance! Such elitism."
Well, if that's what floats your canoe, you'll be paddling it up a very lonely creek. The mainstream belief of the world's peoples is very clear. They believe in God, and that means they believe he exists in objective reality, just as surely as the Rock of Gibraltar exists. If sophisticated theologians or postmodern relativists think they are rescuing God from the redundancy scrap-heap by downplaying the importance of existence, they should think again. Tell the congregation of a church or mosque that existence is too vulgar an attribute to fasten onto their God, and they will brand you an atheist. They'll be right.”
On this blog, we’ve had comments whereby people admit that the life has no meaning, but then go on to say that that insight is not important. What is important is whether meaning exists on a personal level, echoing Dawkins’ theologian. “If meaning is real for you, who cares whether there is or isn’t meaning on an objective level.”
We’ve long maintained that is a very slippery slope, at best, and flat out contradictory and wrong, at worst. It seems to us if you accept the absurd premise that life is essentially meaningless, then you can’t pretend that you can carve out an exception for yourself. That is the equivalent of recognizing evolution as true, but then insisting in some way that God did create you.
Anyway, these are just a few reactions to the columns. You can find the whole of Armstrong and Dawkins here.