Ironically it is the claims of atheists that best illustrate the point I am trying to make. In the last pages of The Selfish Gene, a book devoted to showing how we are the mechanical products of our selfish genes, Richard Dawkins writes that “we have the power to turn against our creators. . . . Let us understand what our own selfish genes are up to because we may then at least have the chance to upset their designs.” A century ago Thomas Huxley made the same point in regard to the cosmic process of evolutionary survival. “Let us understand, once for all, that the ethical progress of society depends, not on imitating the cosmic process, still less in running away from it, but in combating it.” Now these are very strange demands. If we are, as Dawkins began by telling us, robot vehicles of our selfish genes, then how is it possible for us to rebel against them or upset their designs? Can the mechanical car turn against the man with the remote control? Can software revolt against its programmer? Clearly this is absurd.
Why, then, would Dawkins and Huxley propose a course of action that undermines their own argument and seeks to runs athwart the whole course of evolution? If we stay within the evolutionary framework, there is no answer to this question. There cannot be, because we are trying to understand why dedicated champions of evolution seek to transcend evolution and, in a sense, subvert their own nature. We don’t see anything like this in the animal kingdom: Lions don’t resolve to stop harassing the deer; foxes don’t call upon one another to stop being so sneaky; parasites show no signs of distress about taking advantage of their hosts. Even apes and chimpanzees, despite their genetic proximity to humans, don’t try to rebel against their genes or become something other than what nature programmed them to be.
What then is up with us humans? What makes even the atheist uphold morality in preference to his cherished evolutionary paradigm? Introduce the presupposition of cosmic justice, and the answer becomes obvious. We humans — atheists no less than religious believers — inhabit two worlds. The first is the evolutionary world; let’s call this Realm A. Then there is the next world; let’s call this Realm B. The remarkable fact is that we, who live in Realm A, nevertheless have the standards of Realm B built into our natures. This is the voice of morality, which makes us dissatisfied with our selfish natures and continually hopeful that we can rise above them. Our hypothesis also accounts for the peculiar nature of morality. It cannot coerce us because it is the legislative standard of another world; at the same time, it is inescapable and authoritative for us because our actions in this world will be finally and unavoidably adjudicated in the other world. Finally, the hypothesis also helps us understand why people so often violate morality. The reason is that our interests in this world are right in front of us, while the consequences of our actions in the next world seem so remote, so distant, and thus so forgettable.
When Einstein discovered that his theory of relativity could explain something that Newton couldn’t — the orbital precession of the planet Mercury — he was thrilled. He knew about the “gap,” and he was able to close it not within the old framework but by supplying a revolutionary new one. Now, within the new paradigm, there was no gap at all. In this essay we have identified not a mere gap but a huge chasm in the evolutionary paradigm. This is the conundrum of human morality, the universal voice within us that urges us to act in ways contrary to our nature as evolutionary primates. There have been supreme efforts, within the evolutionary framework, to plug the gap, but, as we have seen, these have proven to be dismal failures. Our rival hypothesis of cosmic justice in a world beyond the world fares vastly better. It provides a way to test our hypothesis of life after death by applying it to human nature and asking whether it helps to illuminate why we are the way we are. In fact, it does. Taken in conjunction with other arguments, this argument provides stunning confirmation that the moral primate is destined for another life whose shape will depend on the character of the life that is now being lived.
– Dinesh D’Souza is the Rishwain fellow at the Hoover Institution. This the third of a three-part adaptation from his just-published Life after Death: The Evidence.