Dawkins is illustrating that the concept of a first person is incoherent. It is interesting to set this against the creationist views, in which the first man, Adam, is set against the 'new Adam' Jesus Christ, with the salvation brought by Christ understood as repairing the damage caused by Adam and Eve.
How does creationism persist? Some scientists and atheists have a rather superficial psychological appreciation of why this would be. The problem is, to paraphrase Jesus at Matthew 4:4, that man does not live by facts alone, but by every value that proceeds from cultural identity. Creationism provides a comforting sense of identity, with the story of Adam standing at the foundation of a whole moral system.
We have to understand creationism against the psychological and emotional needs that it serves. There is little point debating about facts when their beliefs are embedded in deeply attractive moral teachings and unconscious psychological frameworks.
Belonging to a community is essential to human identity. The modern urban lifestyle of rational individualism is foreign to how humans have lived for 99% of our genetic evolution. In a clan or tribe, people learn to accept authority as the basis of personal security, and consider loyalty and faith to be central virtues. Loneliness and isolation cause depression and anxiety. Belonging provides a sense of meaning and purpose. Churchgoers find that worship and praise generate positive feeling, and these feelings are grounded in an imagined personal relationship with Jesus.
If you think belonging is important, then anything that questions your sense of belonging is very low on your radar screen, and is readily ignored. From the perspective of faith, atheism appears cynical and destructive. But even in secular life, belonging remains important, and we see proxy for tribal belonging in the emotional commitment people make to communal activities such as sport.
If you think that Jesus Christ is your Lord and Saviour, meaning that “God so loved the world blerg blerg… whosoever believeth in Him shall have eternal life”, young earth creationism flows almost as a necessary consequence. This is an important point. Belief in heaven is just as absurd as opposition to evolution, and flows equally from the false belief in the first man. But far more people believe in afterlife than actively reject science. The creationists are simply drawing the logical inference from the absurd premise of the existence of heaven.
The reason for this connection between theories of creation and salvation turns on how Jesus Saves, and this turns on the creationist theory of the First Man. Saint Paul explains in Romans 5 http://niv.scripturetext.com/romans/5.htm
that we shall be saved from God’s wrath through Christ. Paul explains that sin entered the world through Adam, the first man, and death reigned from the time of Adam. Consequently, if you can follow the logic, just as one sin resulted in condemnation for all, so also one righteous act (the death of Christ) resulted in justification and life for all people.
This stuff continues elsewhere in Paul, especially http://bible.cc/1_corinthians/15.htm
with the lines “since by a man came death, by a man also came the resurrection of the dead. For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ all will be made alive. So also it is written, “The first man, Adam, became a living soul.”
The last Adam became a life-giving spirit. The first man is from the earth, earthy; the second man is from heaven. “Death is swallowed up in victory.”
What does all this mean? Basically, believing in Jesus sends you to heaven because Jesus cancelled Adam’s error. And logically, (by witch duck standards), Jesus cannot save unless Adam and Eve brought the fall from grace as described in Genesis.
Here we find the citadel of faith, grounded in a fantasy of the First Man. If you believe in Jesus (and in Adam), you are going to heaven. Debate with evolutionists occurs only on the outer ramparts of the castle of faith, barely seen from the high tower where questions of evidence and reason are simply and sublimely ignored.
The reason this rubbish persists is that it is ethically effective at the tribal level. Within a church/sect, fervent belief in Jesus produces mutual care. Such brotherly love is impervious to reason.
And creationism cannot be dismissed as the belief of isolated loonies. As Mao Tse Tung said
, the fish swims in the sea. Gallup Polls consistently show that over 40% of Americans believe the world was made by God within the last ten thousand years.
Creationism is a far more serious evil than just the whackadoodle cultists who try to claim it is consistent. There is a pervasive cultural ignorance which validates human alienation from nature. And it is getting worse: Gallup polling shows that YECism has become 15% more popular since 2011, up from 40% to 46% of Americans.
Why worry about climate, population, extinction, reality, poverty, war, economics, evidence, reason or ethics if God created humans ten thousand years ago and science is just entirely wrong?
The false belief in Jesus of Nazareth is an extension of creationism. Believing untrue things is evil.
We speak of natural evils, such as earthquakes and hurricanes, extending the concept of evil beyond malevolent intent. In this way, ignorance and lack of education are social evils. Low literacy rates are an evil, although not one that the illiterate can generally be blamed for. Ignorance can be compared to the concept of a sin of omission.
Willful evasion of facts is much worse, a sin of commission. If you have access to information and you ignore, deny or suppress it without good reason, you are committing an evil sin. For creationists to campaign against scientific truth is monstrous, like witch burning.
I do not agree with the public/private distinction with its 'out of sight out of mind' implication. What a church group do in secret does have a ripple effect through the community they live in, often spreading a subtle aura of irrational stupidity and hostility. A creationist can be a nice person, but for many people who know them, just the knowledge that this person believes such farcical idiocy promotes an acceptance of crippling stupidity, an evil influence.
Private false belief can legitimise error, especially when it is aggressive. Society has a moral responsibility to teach people the truth.
Even this discussion forum is like a private group, even though it occurs in public, since the discussions here affect how people think and have broader influence than is immediately seen.
I personally believe that it is valuable for people who are committed to rational philosophy to reclaim moral concepts, such as sin and evil, which have been appropriated by mad creationists and emptied of real meaning. There are many theological concepts which could produce a powerful scientific morality if they were not corrupted by long false usage within the creationist paradigm of supernatural belief. For example, salvation, atonement, hypostasis, heaven, apocalypse, love and grace can be repurposed to fit within the scientific paradigm of natural reason.
But the debate is far from simple. True scientific knowledge about evolution easily elides into the false scientific belief that religion as such is bad and stupid. Humans are genetically hard-wired to be religious, so scientists should get used to it and work out a scientific religion. The point is that religion has to evolve and adapt, grounding itself in knowledge rather than belief. Much existing belief can be retained as allegory, as we really cannot tell from a superficial understanding whether it is junk or coding within our social DNA.
We routinely go against our hardwiring. Modern society presents an environment so different from where we evolved that our natural incentives are screwed up. For example we ruin our physical health by eating too much fat and sugar and not getting enough exercise. It seems equally plausible that we ruin our mental health by suppressing natural religious instincts, partly because those instincts are routinely embedded in a cultural idea set that is pre-scientific and which seems obsolete.
Writers such as Robert Wright and Jared Diamond have done interesting research on the evolution of religion which arguably suggests a natural religious impulse in human neural genetics.
It is superficial to assume that atheism and religion are incompatible. Pure Buddhism is atheist. You can have a sense of the numinous and ineffable and even the value of ritual, symbol and worship without leaping to the conclusion that religion postulates the existence of supernatural entities. Even Feuerbach’s The Essence of Christianity
is not necessarily anti-religious in his observation that God is a projection of human imagination. It is more about rebasing religion on science than abolishing religion.
Locke’s tabula rasa (blank slate) ignores the whole problem of instinctive reaction, which is where an innate religious impulse seems to exist. Dawkins’ The Magic of Reality
includes a discussion of reverence in a way that appears to accept a natural religious sentiment, while of course observing that this sentiment has been generally misunderstood as referencing a supernatural entity.
Most people think that religion is a positive ethical force. Are they completely wrong? Just because much religion is malignant does not mean we can jump to the conclusion that faith is a vice.
Dawkins argues that faith is intrinsically blind. I have faith that the sun will rise tomorrow, and that is neither blind nor arbitrary. Dawkins makes valid criticisms of the pervasive practice of religion, but not of its intrinsic nature. In fact, the Gospels provide extensive critique of this sort of blind faith, for example Mark 8. Perhaps religion itself contains self-corrective measures to limit such tendencies? We should watch out for straw man arguments in this context, assuming the worst is typical.
The parable of the wheat and the tares presents the idea that good and bad grow together but can ultimately be separated. Abrahamic faith references the tree of knowledge of good and evil, but it is far from simple to assert that the absurdity of this myth means that faith is inevitably in conflict with knowledge. Again, this is complex material, and crude stereotypes inevitably distort. I prefer to argue that faith has a true core that is encrusted by error.
Natural evil - http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Natural_evil
- encompasses part of the evil of false belief. Atheists generally think that the concept of sin is strictly meaningless, since God does not exist. I prefer to argue that we can sin against nature. And this in fact is what the Bible argues at Revelation 11:18 where it says the wrath of God is against those who destroy the earth.
The point of this 'first man' idea in Christianity is that it is the foundation of a whole ethical system, and that is why creationism is so resistant to science. The ethical ideas within creationism are often socially important and useful, but without the magical idea that Christ repaired Adam's sin, conventional faith loses its coherence and meaning.