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    As a lover of Christ and a pursuer of truth, I write down my joys, memories and reflections.

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Refutation on natural selection

In my book Darwinian Evolution, I (Antony Flew) pointed out that natural selection does not positively produce anything. It only eliminates, or tends to eliminate, whatever is not competitive. A variation does not need to bestow any actual competitive advantage in order to avoid elimination; it is sufficient that it does not burden its owner with any competitive disadvantage. To choose a rather silly illustration, suppose I have useless wings tucked away under my suit coat, wings that are too weak to lift my frame off the ground. Useless as they are, these wings do not enable me to escape predators or gather food. But as long as they don’t make me more vulnerable to predators, I will probably survive to reproduce and pass on my wings to my descendants. Darwin’s mistake in drawing too positive an inference with his suggestion that natural selection produces something was perhaps due to his employment of the expressions “natural selection” or “survival of the fittest” rather than his own ultimately preferred alternative, “natural preservation.”

I went on to remark that Richard Dawkins’s The Selfish Gene was a major exercise in popular mystifi cation. As an atheist philosopher, I considered this work of popularization as destructive in its own ways as either The Naked Ape or The Human Zoo by Desmond Morris. In his works, Morris offers as the results of zoological illumination what amounts to a systematic denial of all that is most peculiar to our species contemplated as a biological phenomenon. He ignores or explains away the obvious differences between human beings and other species.

Dawkins, on the other hand, labored to discount or depreciate the upshot of fifty or more years’ work in genetics— the discovery that the observable traits of organisms are for the most part conditioned by the interactions of many genes, while most genes have manifold effects on many such traits. For Dawkins, the main means for producing human behavior is to attribute to genes characteristics that can significantly be attributed only to persons. Then, after insisting that we are all the choiceless creatures of our genes, he infers that we cannot help but share the unlovely personal characteristics of those allcontrolling monads.

Genes, of course, can be neither selfish nor unselfish any more than they or any other nonconscious entities can engage in competition or make selections. (Natural selection is, notoriously, not selection; and it is a somewhat less familiar logical fact that, below the human level, the struggle for existence is not “competitive” in the true sense of the word.) But this did not stop Dawkins from proclaiming that his book “is not science fiction; it is science. . . . We are survival machines—robot vehicles blindly programmed to preserve the selfish molecules known as genes.” Although he later issued occasional disavowals, Dawkins gave no warning in his book against taking him literally. He added, sensationally, that “the argument of this book is that we, and all other animals, are machines created by our genes.”

If any of this were true, it would be no use to go on, as Dawkins does, to preach: “Let us try to teach generosity and altruism, because we are born selfish.” No eloquence can move programmed robots. But in fact none of it is true—or even faintly sensible. Genes, as we have seen, do not and cannot necessitate our conduct. Nor are they capable of the calculation and understanding required to plot a course of either ruthless selfishness or sacrificial compassion.

Excerpts from “There Is a God: How the World’s Most Notorious Atheist Changed His Mind”


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