By Ryan Sutter
On Wednesday, March 4th, Richard Dawkins delivered a lecture at the Northrup Auditorium in Minneapolis. The title of his lecture was The Purpose of Purpose. The main questions he addressed were:
- Why Darwinian natural selection would create a mind that sees purpose and goals everywhere, and
- What it is about our minds that cause us to subvert our basic biological gene-survival purpose?
The concepts are actually pretty deep if you think about it. If we exist because evolution has shaped us to be this way, and evolution only truly rewards the survival of genes, what possible explanation could there be for using birth control, for example. The answer was interesting. His illustration was a goalseeking missile. A selfguided missile flexibly adapts its behavior in pursuit of the goal of striking a moving target. This ability to flexibly adapt to goals is a strength that allows it to do its job. However, flexibility and adaptation is a double-edged sword. If the missile falls into the wrong hands, it can be given a new goal and, its strengths intact, be used to attack the one who made it in the first place.
Now, our minds are not created artifacts in quite the same way that the missile is, but they have been shaped by million of years of evolution to be flexible in the pursuit of goals, altering course intelligently, creating sub-goals, etc. Those are the very strengths that allowed us to survive and pass on our genes. However, the invention of advanced language and civilization changes our environment allowing other people (and sometimes ourselves) to subvert those evolved goals for other reasons that are actually contrary to our evolved goals.
Sex gets subverted, filial devotion gets subverted, tribal and family allegiances get subverted. We take a perfectly valid genetic goal and redirect it into religions, raising pets, all sorts of things that make no sense in light of the evolutionary imperative to propagate our own genes. Our very power and flexibility make us susceptible to goal subversion quite unlike that which happens in nature.
Dawkins concluded with a Q&A period during which he handily responded to inquiries both interesting and bizarre.
By Tom Riddering
Quick! What do eggs, flowers, the East, maidens dancing around phallic symbols, the vernal equinox, fecund rabbits, chicks, flowers, Mardi Gras, estrus cycles, and Christianity all have in common? SEX!
Well, Christians actually call it Easter, named after Eastre, the Germanic fertility goddess, which comes from the same origin as the word "east." Why east? That's where the sun rises! The same spring sun that shines on those brightly colored chicken ova and brings new life to the earth -- flowers, chicks, bunnies, and the occasional god. Jesus wasn't the only god allegedly reborn around the vernal equinox. There was also Adonis, Osiris, Perseus, and Orpheus.
Spring is when we have the licentious festivals of Mardi Gras, Carnival, and the ancient Roman fertility festival of Lupercalia. It's when the Kanamara Matsuri (Festival of the Steel Phallus) is celebrated in Japan. Nothing subtle about those Buddhists and Shinto! It's when pre-Christian pagans all over the earth celebrated the return of life after the dark death of winter and propitiated their gods for a successful growing season by celebrating their fertility. The early Christian church couldn't eradicate this popular festival, so they hijacked it and assigned new theological meaning to it. But under all that sanctimonious piety, Easter is nothing but the spring fertility rites. Now that's something even atheists can celebrate!
By Bjorn Watland
makes Minnesota Atheists different? In the Twin Cities alone,
there are many groups which could fall under the "Freethought"
banner. There is a student group - the Campus Atheists,
Skeptics and Humanists of the University of Minnesota - and
non-student groups like the Humanists of Minnesota, Atheists for
Human Rights, and Minneapolis Skeptics. As I wrote last month,
Minnesota Atheists' slogan is, "Positive Atheism in Action."
What does that say about these other groups? Are they
negative? Hardly. We are a diverse group, with many
different political opinions and different thoughts about how to
dialog with religious people, but the organization as a whole acts in
a certain way, which I believe attracts curious atheists.
By Vic Tanner
There are many good, rational reasons for not believing in gods. Logically, the existence of one is very low, and scientifically there just isn't any real evidence. But, for some reason, I always gravitate toward the really stupid reasons. Like religious clothing.
According to the Judeo-Christian myths, God created mankind naked. It was Adam and Eve's idea to invent clothes, not God's. God didn't even seem to be real keen on the idea of clothes at first, but once the ball started rolling, God caught on pretty quickly.