Saturday, July 20, 2013

Lucifer's Parables

The parables of Jesus comprise a wonderful anthology of wisdom. Usually, he starts them with “The Kingdom of God/Heaven is like …” and then goes on to describe a scenario of how things are.

Just for fun, I thought it might be interesting to attempt an anthology of un-wisdom – anti-parables, if you like - that start with “The Kingdom of Hell is like …” and then go on to describe the absurdity how things are.

Here’s my first attempt

The Parable of the Pygmy

The Kingdom of Hell is like the Pygmy who claimed he was a giant. There was some substance to his claim because he was taller than the other pygmies in his tribe, and he had never seen a giant, let alone measured himself against one. When he was told that there might be giants beyond the world he knew, he reacted indignantly. “Are you questioning my vertical superiority?” he demanded. “If there were giants,” he then claimed, “then I am their chief, because I am a giant.”
This is how I see everyone who claims to possess some kind of moral superiority over others, whilst denying God. Sam Harris seems to fit this role.


The point of this parable is not to argue about who is taller. It’s more about the merits of being tall. In other words, why is being tall a good thing, and how can having it imbue the tall person with authority? If atheism were true, then these qualities and perceptions would be a Darwinian hangover from the time when our hominid ancestors walked the savannah in Africa, and the taller ones were better equipped to see the horizon and thus set a direction for the clan. The result is that tallness qualifies an individual to take authority.

But why apply this to tallness, and not a sense of morality? If atheism were true, the same processes that produced tallness also produced our sense of morality, our other virtues and our intellects. So, if our perceived association of authority with tallness is a Darwinian hiccup, how can we account for our perceived association of truth with morality and why does this give someone who perceives himself as moral the right to define morality? Like the Pygmy's perception of his own tallness, such a person is simply calibrating his moral compass by his own morality.

Harris, and his guild, argue that humans are innately special because of their intellects and morality. Perhaps it’s a coincidence that he is a Berkeley professor with a keen sense of morality. However, if his atheism were true, his intellect and morality would be nothing more than a Darwinian hiccup in much the same way as his tallness (or lack thereof) is. And, what of the humans who are not intellectual, who are not moral? We may not like them (another Darwinian hiccup), but we are essentially the same species, brought into being by the same processes, and destined for the same end. What, then, is the reasonable basis for our claim that we are good and they are bad?

Ultimately, there is none, so we resort to instinct, which naturally tends to confirmation-bias and tells us that we are the good guys, because, hey, we are us, and we keep affirming our own goodness and we have surrounded ourselves with friends and family who tell us that we are good and those that didn't have since been expelled from our clan. Surely it hasn't escaped the Professor of Neuroscience that even our instincts are nothing more than Darwinian hiccups?

So, with that in mind, let’s return to the parable with a post script

Now in the Pygmy’s forest there lived a predatory species of Drop-Bears. The Drop-Bears hung in the trees by their elasticated tails and bungee-jumped down onto their prey below. They were a fine example of evolutionary design because their tails were just the right springiness to get them to within four feet of the ground. Any further, and they would bury their jaws into the ground; any less, and they would miss their prey.

One day, the King Pygmy walked through his forest with his servants, proudly pointing out all he could see because he was taller than they. Unknowingly, he walked below a Drop-Bear that promptly bungee-jumped down from its tree and bit his head clean off. The pygmy-servants, who were only three feet tall (and thus safe from the jaws of the Drop-Bears), ran away in terror, but at least they had their heads.

The Drop-Bears would have rejoiced that night that a Pygmy had developed a smidgen of vertical superiority. But they didn't because the evolutionary process that had equipped them with their fine tails didn't equip them with the intellectual or moral capacity to rejoice.