Thursday, 9 July 2009

The Darwin-Dawkins Curse (or A Blessing In Disguise?)

Let's get one thing straight before we start: if you saw the title and came here expecting to see me do some vicious Darwin/Dawkins bashing you came to the wrong place! Why? Well, because I am fully in agreement with them. Darwin's theories have been proven beyond any doubt already, and I also think that Dawkins is onto something with his "selfish gene" stuff, too, even if it may take a little while yet to be sure.

So, you may ask, why the curse then?

Well, if you really take the teachings of the two men to heart, and especially if you're a recent convert, and even more especially if you are (were?) religious, you may find some of the implications quite a bit disturbing. Namely, the whole question of "why are we here?" suddenly acquires a brand new dimension, and it can be quite a chilly one, too.

If you believe(d) in some sort of deity, you most likely have a convenient crutch to lean on whenever a difficult existential question is asked. Why, it's neither your business, nor you have (or had) much say in it. What a shock to think that your life apparently has no other purpose whatsoever, but to make sure your genes get to live, and fight, another day, and in somebody else, too! You may suddenly start feeling very lonely and (ab)used, and you can't even put your finger onto the one(s) who did it to you. Quite literally. Most of the places you can touch on your own body, would be either dead skin, or at least two membranes away from those pesky, and selfish, genes!

So, maybe not a curse at all, but a wake up call?

Waking up can often be unpleasant, too, so this seems to be a good replacement. And same as with waking up from sleep this waking up from a delusion poses it's own, unpleasant, question: what next?

So, what next?

What now, that we know there's no higher or noble(r) purpose to us being here (or there, or anywhere)? I don't think the question is all that difficult. A really facetious answer, even if a very good one, would be: nothing! Or at least, nothing much that you haven't been doing so far, for the reasons you (thought you) had. For a bit longer answer let's look into what genes we carry, and who do we share some or most of them with.

You, obviously, share the greatest ratio of your genes with your parents and siblings, especially if the latter are your identical twin(s). The further you go up, down, or along your family tree the less genes you'll find shared, the number roughly halving with each step. If you're good at maths (or even if you aren't, maths is unforgiving of ignorance) you'll find that you share next to nothing even with people to whom you can trace ancestry in an unbroken line. Ten times removed is less than a thousandth, twenty times a millionth. Nothing!

Right? Wrong!

For one, and for all intents and purposes, if we didn't share majority of the same genes with other humans we'd very likely be dead, or worse. How come? Well, some things regulated by your genes are so very basic and important that you'd never even be born if it weren't for a correct copy. Just think of the basic bodily functions we all need to survive, and you'll see where I'm coming from on this one.

In fact, when we think of genes shared with our close relatives, we mostly think of peripheral stuff, like hair and eye colour, height, basic body shape, that sort of stuff. While certainly important, not least for enhancing (or otherwise) of chances of procreation, these are mostly fairly irrelevant in the big scheme of things, or at least when it comes to basic survival.

Now, having commited horrible crimes against science and logic, what may be the point I am trying to make here? Do I have any right to make one after all the rubbish I piled up high, above. I think I do, and it wasn't all rubbish. I was just avoiding some gruesome details so I can arrive at my point quicker.

And what IS the point?

The point is, and I know I am stretching things here a bit, is that since we share majority of our genes with the majority of our species, our responsibility, and drive to preserve and make them thrive extends far beyond our immediate family, beyond our dear friends, or even our hallowed nation(s).

Please note that I am not invoking that contentious issue of group or species selection. Not at all.

It is my considered opinion that being (self) aware AND being inevitably ruled by that Darwin-Dawkins curse of selfish genes, we can now improve on it, by making sure we extend any action we believe is of benefit to each and every member of our species. Every single one on the planet. Because we're bound to share a gene or three with them. Who is to say that in some distant future (however distant or improbable) there won't be an individual with similar enough genetic make-up so as not to differ from your good self as you are now, having acquired close enough gene combination? You can help preserve all those genes if not in your offspring then in others. And even if you do procreate profusely, does it not increase the probabilities making sure that some of the same genes flourish in others, too?

And, if you want to stretch this point even further, it is also a fact that certain genes are shared across the species, too. And genes do jump species as well. What better reason do you need to at least not hamper the evolution of other species?

In final analysis then, what I have labelled a curse, is in fact a blessing. Provided of course everyone realises that at least Darwin, if not Dawkins as well, is right, and follow that realisation to the same conclusion as I have above.

Will you?