Wednesday, 13 August 2008

The Selfish Gene

I have recently been watching the new tv series presented by Richard Dawkins about Charles Darwin's theory of evolution. The first programme in the series was excellent and Richard Dawkins did a splendid job of explaining the work of Charles Darwin in clear and accessible language.

This week, however, Richard Dawkins talked largely about his own best selling book The Selfish Gene which I haven't read yet, though will make a point of doing so in the near future. He talked about the selfish gene also being a subtle gene and that altruism exists in human nature only to make ourselves more acceptable and liked by our social groups. I found this a rather bleak but credible view.

Questions quickly surface however, what about the majesty of the universe and humankind's struggle to articulate its place within the Great Order? What about the astonishing art, architecture, literature, music, medicine and scientific achievements that have come from the species of animal called Man? What about the fragile balance of our own beautiful blue planet Earth? Can all this be rationalised away as just the accident of evolution.

I personally don't hold any particular religious belief except for a great appreciation, verging on reverence, for Nature, especially Spring when the world comes back to life. I feel as though Richard Dawkins, as much as I respect him as an academic, has missed something essential to the human condition.

One of my favourite mystical writers is an Irishman named George Russell, also known as AE. I am fortunate to own a little book of his poetry called 'Homeward Songs by the Way' and the first poem in it is called The Unknown God.

Far up the dim twilight fluttered
Moth-wings of vapour and flame:
The lights danced over the mountains,
Star and after star they came.

The lights grew thicker unheeded,
For silent and still were we;
Our hearts were drunk with a beauty
Our eyes could never see.
(AE 1867 - 1935)

To also quote him from The Candle of Vision.
For some years my heart was proud, for as beauty sank into memory it seemed to become a personal possession, and I said "I imagined this" when I should humbly have said "The curtain was a little lifted that I might see"

I don't have any answers and as I grow older, the questions don't seem to matter that much either. But I do know there is more to the universe than just that which is visible and provable. That the world works on evolution cannot be denied (not by me anyway). Neither would I deny the existence of the unseen, the mysterious and the mystical. Something that cannot be seen and cannot be touched but sometimes it touches you.

(musings by June Jackson)