We are going to die, and
that makes us the lucky ones. Most people are never going to die because they
are never going to be born. The potential people who could have been here in my
place but who will in fact never see the light of day outnumber the sand grains
of Arabia. Certainly those unborn ghosts include greater poets than Keats,
scientists greater than Newton. We know this because the set of possible people
allowed by our DNA so massively exceeds the set of actual people. In the teeth
of these stupefying odds it is you and I, in our ordinariness, that are here.We
privileged few, who won the lottery of birth against all odds, how dare we
whine at our inevitable return to that prior state from which the vast majority
have never stirred?
While acknowledging the beauty and power of this sentiment,
If we stripped away the lyrical writing, what would
we be left with? To be more precise, what kind of argument would we be left
almost laughed aloud at my computer as I read this. The beauty in language for
human beings is often in the language itself; stripped of its beauty, if there
is an argument to be made (and there is here, of course), that can be examined,
and Danaher is right to do so—but lyricism
, what would religion, or even science, or anything, be left with?
But let us examined the kernel of argument in this flowering
It is rather amusing to see atheists accused of having no sense of humor
, then taken so literally when they joke or employ a
colloquialism. I did not see Dawkins’ use of the word “lucky” as an argument
strictly championing existence over nonexistence—he is merely stating that the
latter is far more likely than the former. We are “privileged” by the mere fact
of being the less likely ones, the elite, as it were. Dawkins is making an
observation, not a judgment, for the real focus of his quote is not
nonexistence, but the ordeal, and consciousness of, our impending deaths.
It is death that gives teeth to the statement of our
fortune. My evidence for this is, would Dawkins have made this statement if we,
the lucky living, were to live forever? The obvious answer is, of course not.
Dawkins is not really concerned with being “grateful” for existing, but with
putting death, much as it looms over our lives, into proper perspective.
Danaher has missed the point.
Moreover, it is not against the fear of death against which
Dawkins warns. When interviewed by physicist Brian Greene
, who admitted
speaking to his dead father despite knowing that no ear heard him, Dawkins is
hardly surprised. I see no evidence of any exhortation to “quit whining.”
Rather, it is against the construction of
a fantasy afterlife
which motivated Richard Dawkins to make this statement.
The response to the reality of death does not have to be “gratitude,”
and for Danaher to cast it as such leads us perilously toward another tiresome
design argument (to whom, or to what, shall we show “gratitude?”). Be grateful,
or not; be angry, or not; feel the fear, acknowledge the fear, but the point
one reacts to death, no cri de coeur
should ever result in a
denial of death’s reality and the subsequent exploitation of our natural human
fears by those who pretend to be travel agents for the “next world.” (As Susan
Sontag once said, “This world! As if there were any other.”)
Dawkins is, as always, arguing not against human feeling,
but against fraud.