Islam Under Scrutiny by Ex-Muslims

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A Meaning of Life Available to Us

According to the Selfish Gene theory, there is no meaning to life beyond the meaningless reproduction of genes: We are just survival machines for our genes.  

Here, I suggest that the Selfish Gene theory, notwithstanding the initial unpromising impression, is liberating and it can lend itself to constructing a meaning or purpose of life that bring about peace, prosperity, and care for environment, as well as harmonious social coexistence.

Main Premises:

Our main characteristic is creativity: the capacity to acquire, transmit and apply knowledge propositions (in short knowledge processing). This capacity allows us, if we will, to create our resources and resolve our interpersonal conflicts of interests creatively without the need to resort to predation or parasitism.

Indeed, some humans, at least, have been applying this ability, which resulted in inventing science, technology, and liberal democracy as an institution of resolving the conflict of interests creatively (see ‘Knowledge Processing, Creativity and Politics’).  

Part of the capacity for creativity is embodied in the aesthetic sense that we enjoy, along, of course, with many other animals.  In this perspective, Aesthetics is viewed as a rule of thumb for detecting what is beneficial or propitious for survival and it must be useful when the alternative, collating data, is not feasible. No doubt, aesthetic sense is biologically given, though modified by culture, in the human case, at least. However, I would conjecture, that the role of aesthetic sense has, in the human case, expanded to involve aesthetic attachment to patterns and ideas that can capture a phenomenon succinctly (M. Gazzaniga (1998) argues that our brains possess what he terms as interpreter’s mechanism it is a sustained interests to uncover patterns in what we perceive). Considering that we act in conjunction with emotions, we can assume therefore, that the aesthetic sense must also be a kind of emotion or emotional complex that constitutes or are associated with a drive. We can therefore, suggest that we may be enjoying an emotional attachment to construct ideas – Edward Wilson also observed the sense of beauty in discovering good ideas.

Now let us consider the above in the light of the implication of the Selfish Gene. The life of individuals is not central to Life. Human beings are just survival machines of their genes. This can imply that all our values and feelings (sex, pleasure or happiness, none of them last and all end in the misery and pain of senescence and death) are means of manipulation installed in us either by our own genes or by the survival machines of others’ genes, and aim at nothing but to reproduce the genes. Indeed, the Selfish Gene undermines even commitment to our individual interests, considering we can extrapolate that this commitment aims usually at propagating our genes. This can bring us despondency, considering that the whole business of reproduction of genes is itself meaningless. However, the Selfish Gene does not only undermine the concepts that we may cherish, some of them perhaps unwarrantably, it can also cast doubt over some concepts in our lives that can have clear undesirable effects. Among these concepts are the commitments to nationalism or racism. Underlining the genetic underpinning of such concepts and considering the detachment that we can have in regard to the propagation of our genes we can also detach ourselves from nationalism or racism. We can detach ourselves or try to control our jealousy which is emphatically a major factor in many antisocial acts and crimes. We can also subject many religious practices to analyses in the light of Selfish Gene and can provide explanations to our religious interlocutors about the sources of their religious practices. For instance, we can see the sexual jealousy of male over female as having taken a religious guise, particularly true of Islam, in the form of demand for modesty and separation from males which is translated to wearing veils and keeping to home and obedience to men. Many other Islamic practices can be seen as promoting the propagation of the worrier males’ gene. The worrier is given the right to use his advantage as a person capable of extreme violence. Thus he is allowed to quash intellectual objection by force. He is allowed polygamy. He was also allowed taking female prisoners of war as wives or sex slave girls, a practice that continued many centuries afterwards, and it may arguably be reenacted again in Algiers and perhaps in Iraq.

However, there is one thought that may escape this meaninglessness. As indicated above, it is true that the theory of Selfish Gene has resulted in forcing people, who are familiar with it, to rethink the status of human existence and also human feelings, and indeed, it should also make us rethink all the values that we used to adhere to before considering the implications of the Selfish Gene, since many of our values may be suitable for propagating of the selfish gene. Yet, the Selfish gene would not diminish humans’, or at least some humans’, admiration and fascination for life and nature – clearly based on our aesthetic faculty. This admiration can be transferred to evolution and natural selection considering that they made life in its current forms possible.

This wonderment increases if we further consider that life is a manifestation of knowledge, as Plotkins argues systematically, discovered by means of natural selection. We can even expand the sphere of admiration to involve humans. Not necessarily on the account that they possess ends and goals. Rather on the account that humans represent the tip of an extension of the genetic mass of the earth that resulted in having an organism who is passionately attracted to knowledge processing. This capacity is manifested in civilization and the impressive knowledge that has already been gain. The passion is so strong that defies risks and fears as represented, among numerous other examples, in the manned space missions.

So the meaning that I suggest is that we can consider ourselves as a part of nature and product of natural selection. We have been equipped with capacity to discover knowledge systematically and consciously alongside evolution itself. We can further the cause of evolution by gaining more knowledge, and this can only happen by allowing greatest opportunity for creativity in social life. This aim should also bring about peace, because it is only when we pursue creative lifestyles among ourselves that we can also achieve greater knowledge and preserve the beauty of nature. Moreover, adopting this aim for life would also bring about prosperity, because creative lifestyles mean also greater opportunity for inventions and provision of conditions in which the fruit of creativity will not be destroyed by violence. Of course, this is subjective. However, it is the best that we can have and anything else cannot even come close to be good enough.

Here an objection may arise against the implication of this ground for respecting human beings, which may interpreted as setting less value on other living beings and some humans who are less fortunate in knowledge processing. The respect for the various permutations of natural selection involves respect for all creatures. However, we should also appreciate that we are a part of the over all food chain we ourselves and our resources are attacked by other living organisms for this we should use our best means to prevent that attack without causing unnecessary damage.

Likewise, we should also realize that the whole human evolution has also taken place in the course of the conflict between conflicting lifestyles. Particularly between predatory and parasitic lifestyle, on the one hand, and a lifestyle reliant of creativity, on the other hand. The opening or the niche into which humans have been evolving favored the creative beings. The advantage of the creative being is not only manifest in being able to create their resources creatively but also their capacity to cooperate as cooperation does not conflict with their lifestyles. This the reason that we are more docile and indeed we have a preference for the creative individuals. It must also be one of the, if not the most, important reasons that human evolved a brain size that is four times as big as their earliest hominids. This evolution towards more creative is bound to continue. Perhaps, one day human become completely peaceful and gentle. However, until then many will suffer. It is possible that many peaceful and creative people suffer at the hand of aggressors or those who have greater propensity to using violence. It is also possible that many with great physical and mental advantages for using violence may suffer as they restrain themselves not to use violence against some intelligent but selfish people. In any case, knowing the nature of conflicts that we will face and knowing that we are vehicles of genes that are competing against their alleles, we can effect in ourselves an attitude of detachment and spectatorship, whereby monitoring ourselves and others, allowing the rule “let the best gene win”, without falling into a consuming ill-feeling and resentment.

As the discussions above shows, setting this meaning for life would not just be an idle exercise of contemplation. Nor is it just setting an arbitrary goal for society to follow. It is rather of a great moral import. It is almost obvious that almost all people, at least in some points of their lives, depend on their own or others’ creativity for their survival. Creative lifestyles are manifest, in agriculture, animal husbandry, manufacturing, researches and services. So promoting creativity and adopting it as the aim of life means promoting the well being and prosperity of the greatest number of people. So we can say that the whole point of morality is to bring creative lifestyle about. Because, if morality is not possible without creativity then we can also assume that the best morality may be what brings about the best condition for creativity. This implies that even the good morality requires us to be creative and by setting the goal of being the creative process of nature we are only linking up to more global or universal scheme that also benefit environment.

Showan Khurshid is the author of : "Knowledge Processing, Creativity and Politics: A Political Theory based on the Evolutionary Theory" which can be purchased here
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