Thursday, June 18, 2009

From selfish genes in to selfless people...

"Faith is the ability to see ourselves as joined to others by God's love... religion the miracle of religion which turns selfish genes in to selfless people".

Søren Kierkegaard captures something of selflessness - "To love one's neighbour means ... essentially to will to exist equally for every human being without exception."

I enjoyed reading an article in the Times recently where Jonathan Sacks makes an interesting point. There is an irony that while disciples of Darwin are anti religious, that whether he knew it or not, Darwin put forward what Sacks calls one of the great arguments for religion. Darwin observed a paradox at the heart of his system - that society values altruism and self sacrifice, which does not make sense in the light of natural selection and the struggle to survive.

While selfishness may be advantageous to individuals it fragments communities. Sacks draws attention to the choice that faces us all; self -regard or concern for others, egoism or altruism, yet it is only in community that we can survive at all.

Sacks reminds us:
"God is the voice of the other within the self. It is God who taught us to love our neighbours as ourselves, to welcome the stranger, care for the poor, the widow and the orphan, heed the unheeded, feed the hungry, give shelter to the homeless, and temper justice with compassion."
There is a third way of getting 'individuals to act in a way beneficial to the group'. Helping people to capture the freedom of seeing the welfare of others succeeds to overcome selfishness where power and wealth fails. The paradox that 'selfishness is good for me and my genes but bad for us and therefore bad for my descendants' did not escape Darwin. No system captures the essence of selflessness more effectively than religion - "Faith is the ability to see ourselves as joined to others by God's love... religion the miracle of religion which turns selfish genes in to selfless people".

Jonathan Sacks Times March 28 2009

1 comment:

IanH said...

Hi Gordon - I have often thought the same thing but there is an argument from the world of evolutionary ethics which tries to show that altruism is not inconsistent with Darwinian theories of natural selection. The basic argument is that the human species found that it was better able to survive by mutual co-operation than by survival of the fittest individuals. This theory is advanced enough that someone has put together a forumula to predict the amount of altruistic influence given other paramaters used to describe the society in question. Although I have looked for it, I have yet to come across a simple decription of this altruism.

My point is this...I think we need to give up on looking for the 'God of the gaps' and develop a new type of apologetics by asking questions about what it means to be human. I think humanity has the ability to circumvent the forces of natural selection by making decisions at government, community and personal levels which allows our species to become the ultimate of humanity - people who are full of love and grace. However, to achieve this we need to know what we are aiming (Jesus) and know how to get there (Spirit) and live humble until we do (reflection on the Father).

That is what it will say in the inside of my book but may need to wait for the rest of the book.

Love to all.
Ian