Judith Lautner (judith) wrote,
Judith Lautner

The Blind Watchmaker

I am about 3/4 through Richard Dawkins' The Blind Watchmaker. This book "simplifies" the science of evolution for those of us who are not scientists or mathematicians. It is well-written and carefully constructed to explain more aspects of natural selection than I had even thought existed. Dawkins boldly states at the outset that he is about to show that not only is evolution a good way to explain all the facts we know, but it is the only way.

I wouldn't say it's an easy read. The language is not complicated and if you take the time you can certainly follow the reasoning and move from step to step. But I suspect that those of us who are willing and interested enough to do so are in the minority, even of those who read. Thus, unfortunately, its message will not reach those it most needs to reach. But even so, I feel it will change and has changed the way many of us see the world, in a sense to an astonishing degree.

For much of my life I have left religion behind yet persisted in a sense of "fate". For example, I have believed that I will live to a ripe old age. I have believed that I have been "meant" to meet certain people or to do certain things or to be in certain places. Dawkins takes on this sense of fate along with the rest of natural selection, and shows how humans need to see the world in a certain way to further their own evolutionary ends. In other words, we see miracles because we can't comprehend the vast sense of probability that exists in a universe that is billions of years old. There is no cause for us to develop this kind of comprehension because it doesn't help us. Thus we lean - in an evolutionary sense - to believe in miracles or in a god or in a designer, although the evidence says otherwise.

I think about this business of "evidence" and the "scientific method" because I am aware of the abuse of the method and the limitations of it in much of our everyday world. In the world of drug testing, for example. Yet I cannot deny that we process most of our life experiences through our perception of what is possible and what is not. We rely on our own need for verification of the facts. Even those who believe in higher beings rely on evidence in their everyday lives. If we make every effort to untaint our perceptions, to remove our prejudices from them, we can get closer and closer to what is real, what is our world. And this is what Dawkins tries to do.

I now think about my life in a fashion that is, I think,  more realistic. I understand and believe that I could die now or tomorrow or next week. I continue to live as if I won't! But that isn't because I don't believe it's possible.

I also wonder more and more about my intelligent, sane, religious friends. I have several who belong to the Episcopal church, who are active in the church, who make it their community, and who obviously believe in a god. I want to ask them why. But I think it would be unwise to do so. They are good people who gain good from their lives and give good to others, who apparently gain from their association with a church. They factor reality into their beliefs and do not hold beliefs that would harm others, meaning they ignore parts of the bible that no longer make sense to them. Still I want to know why they have not questioned this belief in a higher being. I assume that they have not. Is it because they grew up "in the church"? Is it because it never occurred to them to ask the question? Is it like being born female or male or with brown hair or black?

I think about it because religion is so pervasive in our society that I cannot get away from it. At times I am deeply distressed by this, am tired of "accommodating" it and am tired of pretending and stepping around it to do my job or live my life without controversy. For example, if I were to run for office I would see myself pledging allegiance to a piece of cloth and bowing my head when some religious personage leads a prayer. I would prefer not to do either, but if I refrained I would not last in the job. I deeply believe in one thing among others: religious freedom. Meaning my absolute freedom to be without it. It is becoming increasingly difficult to embrace this freedom for those of us who do not believe in a god.

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