Letters


Create new letter

Artificial Selection Through Intolerance

Created on Mar 02 2013
Professor Dawkins,
What sort of role has intolerance, especially religious, played in human evolution through artificial selection? Much akin to that of all domesticated dogs. We as humans chose certain wolves with certain characteristics, ironically enough, in this case those characteristics were less aggressive. Once again, we as humans have alienated, ostracized, and even murdered those who have different characteristics or ideals. One characteristic that separates humans from most, if not all other, species on Earth is our imagination and intellectual capacity. We don't simply believe that if we bark at our owners we will, in return, receive food. We believe in things such as gods, which we have created, that far surpass that which is necessary in our daily lives. It would be folly to believe that there are not genes encoded in our D.N.A. responsible for the structures which produce the emergent consciousness that allows us not only to have, but interpret our beliefs. The process of knowingly selecting those which have desired traits, in hopes that those traits will be passed to their progeny is called artificial selection. Unfortunately, murdering and oppressing those who do not posses these traits is also artificial selection.
A major question about this sort of selection: how have we selected ourselves? There are obvious examples, such as those traits which have arisen from sexual selection, but what about our capacity and necessity for belief in super-natural beings? What about our unfounded allegiance to gods, and the texts that were supposedly written and inspired by them? Do these texts, such as the Bible and the Koran, have not only submissive followers, but those who have been “bred” to follow? These are very important questions in today's cultures and societies, and may play a role in why a large percentage of American's abandon logic and reason for men with wings in the sky and fiery demons from below. Perhaps we have not only bred ourselves to be irrational in the spotlight of religion, but other areas of thinking as well.
I was watching the final episode of David Attenborough's “The Life of Mammals.” It was an episode on our most common relatives, the primates. A clip from the episode demonstrated the brutality that so many species of animals are capable of, but seem very familiar to us within primates. A chimpanzee was brutally beaten to death by other chimp members of his community. It is true that the sociology of chimpanzees is not perfectly understood and seemingly complex, but we see many commonalities to this phenomenon within our own human population. Even today, religious discrimination leads to insurmountable death and destruction. It's often arguable whether or not religion lays at the very heart of these unimaginably “evil” acts of violence, but there are an uncountable number of cases in which organized religions, such as Catholicism and Islam, for instance, were the fuel of the fire.
Suicide bombers, who believe their cause is righteous, and they will be rewarded in the afterlife with virgins and immortality. It is their belief, and most importantly their intolerance of those with different beliefs, which led them to cause such unthinkable and irrational acts of violence. It is stated in many holy books that those who oppose their deity shall be wiped from the face of the Earth and it is their obligation to do so. Intolerance is not just suggested, it is inherent in many religious beliefs. The same quote Sam Harris used in The End of Faith:
“Prophet, make war on the unbelievers and the hypocrites and deal rigorously with them. Hell shall be their home: an evil fate” (Koran 9:73).
Has the intolerance of such irrational people, perhaps even our ancestors which came before us, continued to play a role in our evolution as a species? Have those with wit and reason been ostracized and murdered for standing up against the dogmas organized religions and the consequences of which embedded in our very genes? If this is the case, the reason behind the religious man's delusion and denial of that which science provides him, it will not be going away any time soon. We've progressed far enough as a species that we are not willing to reverse the process which has taken place over 6,000 years. It is almost as though free-thinkers have been the group of individuals who have been subjected to the longest oppression in the existence of humanity. We have been intellectual slaves. Even today, a free-thinking individual who questions the existence of a deity can strike fear and anger in the eyes of a believer, and why is this so? I presume this is partially so, not only because believers have been raised as believers, but because the believers of yesterday selected the believers of today.
The question I ask with the most sincerity: what roles have the Bible and Koran, in their relatively brief existence, played in the belief systems that caused behaviors, fueled by intolerance, which led to the artificial selection of certain characteristics of our species since their conception? Is there something inherent in the genes of radical extremists in the Middle-East that grant them such an affinity for violence and intolerance that was selected and reinforced by their ancestors through their intolerance and extermination of those who do not share such characteristic beliefs? Moreover, there could be a plethora of characteristics of human thought that are attributed to such selection, such as the fear of god, our undying want to give thanks to a creator, our dismissal of that which is as true as anything, such as the fact of evolution, in order to preserve something we not only cannot begin to comprehend, but for which we have no evidence to support it.
To close this letter; I've always felt as though we as humans have somehow lost our touch with nature and absolved ourselves from the forces of evolution, but perhaps we have not. Nothing of what I say here is absolute, or ready for any peer review. It is just a free flowing food for thought letter written by myself.
Chase Robison