Human Exceptionalism

Debunking Dawkins’ Imagine Fantasy

John Lennon asked us to “imagine “ there is no religion, no countries, indeed, no beliefs. Do that and the world could “live as one.” It was all pap, but we Boomers ate it up because we thought that would do away with right and wrong, meaning by definition we could define ourselves as good people. I do love the tune, though.

Back in the world as it is, contrary to Imagine, human beings are hard wired–whether by evolution, creation, or design–to believe. It is one of the aspects of our natures that make us exceptional. A good column in the Guardian by Andrew Brown shows the folly of Richard Dawkins call to embrace “ethics,” but reject religion and “authority”–wait, doesn’t he present himself as an authority?–as a way of figuring it all out from scratch. From, “Richard Dawkins and the Dali Lama Are Both Wrong About Religion:”

Dawkins…described how he wanted a post-religion ethics worked out without reference to tradition, authority or revelation. Uninfluenced by these things, people could get together and discuss from first principles what sort of morals were needed to ensure a good society.

But Brown shows it’s nonsense:

This idea is of course completely impossible. It has never happened in history. It could never happen and it never will. Everyone grows up inside some tradition, under some authority and given some revelation – those are three things that every parent provides for their children, and which children will always find, even if they have to create it. When a rationalist tell his daughter not to trust authority, she believes him because he’s her father and she loves him.

Ha! Back to Brown:

And if we make believe a little more, and imagine that there should ever be a community of adults all in their separate ways entirely liberated from tradition, authority and revelation, how could they possibly reason together about morality? What stories would they have in common? What language would they have?

Of course Dawkins’s idea is attractive; of course we know what it means so long as we don’t stop to think about it. But it is not actually true. It is an imaginary story whose truth is assumed because it seems to make morality possible. In the hard and narrow sense of myth, it is a myth just like Adam and Eve. We can play with it, and make use of it. But it is quite as “religious” as the rival stories it is meant to displace. That is inevitable. Religion is not something imposed on us by priests any more than economics is imposed on us by bankers. Both grow out of the nature of human societies.

More to the point, they grow out of the nature of human societies because they are intrinsic to our exceptional human natures. We are believers!



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