Sunday, May 01, 2005

In this article from Salon, Richard Dawkins eloquently addresses the "debate" about evolution. I respect anyone who will insult an academic adversary to his face. It's putting in place Miss Manners' advice that there should be less thoughtless rudeness around, so that insults can be restored to their proper function of expressing contempt. I also love the way he addresses the question of how to find meaning in life without recourse to supernatural beliefs. The idea that we should treasure life because of its statistical improbability is something that the Buddha said--but in Buddhism there are all these different streams of thought and practice, some of which put great emphasis on reincarnation. (I'm not sure about this, but I think that the argument can be made that the Buddha used past and future lives as a metaphor for cause and effect, and that folk-Buddhism latched onto the concept of rebirth as a way of avoiding having death be The End.)

"Unweaving the Rainbow" specifically attacks the idea that a materialist, mechanist, naturalistic worldview makes life seem meaningless. Quite the contrary, the scientific worldview is a poetic worldview, it is almost a transcendental worldview. We are amazingly privileged to be born at all and to be granted a few decades -- before we die forever -- in which we can understand, appreciate and enjoy the universe. And those of us fortunate enough to be living today are even more privileged than those of earlier times. We have the benefit of those earlier centuries of scientific exploration. Through no talent of our own, we have the privilege of knowing far more than past centuries. Aristotle would be blown away by what any schoolchild could tell him today. That's the kind of privileged century in which we live. That's what gives my life meaning. And the fact that my life is finite, and that it's the only life I've got, makes me all the more eager to get up each morning and set about the business of understanding more about the world into which I am so privileged to have been born.

1 comment:

sideshow bob said...

Jolly good blog!
I totally agree, concour, and any other thing that means "right on!". Life has meaning...whatever meaning you assign to it, which, if you think about it, is really profund and empowering.
Also agree about the whole reincarnation thing...I've read that the previous/future lives thing was put into place to help people understand the concept of karma; that doing good just so you can benefit yourself really doen't help you in the long run karma-wise, so they said that your actions in this life will affect your karma in the next life, thus keeping people from wondering things like, "I gave money to the poor, so why did my house burn down?" or stuff like that.