Thursday, July 01, 2010

Dignity, Death, Darwinism, and Bottle Deposits

A Google search of dignity and death in the year of our Lord 2010 produces over 21 million hits.  A search of dignity and "the dead" produces more than a million.  The human sense of dignity does just apply to life. It also applies to death.

Darwinism accounts for the sense of dignity humans have in terms of its alleged "survival benefit". Presumably this means dignity causes us to be nice to each other. But wouldn't this sense of obligation end upon death?  Yet, we instinctively cover the face of the dead. We provide dignified burial for the dead. We have stern laws against committing an indignity against a dead body (you can look them up).   Dignity extended to the dead is at the base of many of our beliefs and rituals.

Enter Darwinism.

I like the term that Christopher Hitchens applied to the body of Jerry Falwell -- his "carcass".  I admired him for this. I wrote a letter that was published in the National Post praising him for it.  Because, under atheistic, darwinian lights, that is exactly what the human body is -- a carcass, and nothing more.  Let's not go all sentimental here.  Have the courage of your convictions.

How do darwinists square how we treat the dead with darwinism and survival benefit -- the sole arrow in their mighty quiver?  Perhaps they can argue that evolution, being a mindless process, got sloppy, and when it painted dignity on the canvas of our psyche, it spilled over into matters pertaining to death.  A sloppy evolution defense.  I suppose you have to give a mindless process some slack.

Or, perhaps the argument would go something like this, "you treat the dead with respect so that when it's your turn you will be treated with respect" -- kind of a darwinian do-unto-othersism.   But, according to darwinism, there is no "you" at that point.  There's just a container you used to be in (or, alternatively, the container was "you").

In many states and provinces you can return a container for a deposit.  Deposits provide tangible survival benefits. Shouldn't we at least try to get some survival benefit out of a dead body?  Shouldn't darwinian evolution have made us eat our dead instead of burying them?  I mean, if you want to talk about survival benefit, come on, what could be better than an "eat your neighbor" ethic.  Had we been wired this way, I can already hear the darwinian defense:  "Are you so lacking in imagination that you cannot see how being wired to eat the dead would provide a survival advantage? Why is that so hard to get?"

Not hard at all. It makes perfect sense.

And that's the way the Ball bounces.


佩春 said...


P@J said...

You sure are investing a lot of blog posts on a word you cannot define.

It's rather like a small child covering his years and yelling random words...Really, try to show some dignity.

P@J said...

Wait a minute, don’t you have that backwards?

Materialists would argue all you are is a body. A groaning, wheezing, farting collection of misadjusted systems that barely manages to maintain enough collected metabolic function for something less than 100 years to support a healthy population of single-cellular parasites.
It is the Theists who draw the distinction between the corporal and the fantasy world of sprits and ghosts.

Also counter to your claim, it is the Theists who see a dead body as something significant, and create these rituals around adorning the carcass. But like most things in religion, there is a significant profit margin to be found in this particular cognitive dissonance, so it is glossed over. This would probably be the most compelling Natural Selection argument for the way we treat our dead.

As for your “recycling the dead” argument, it falls short on two counts. Since one of the primary causes of death is pathogenic disease, eating the deceased would significantly increase the spread of infections through a population, this would likely offset and survival advantage provided by the cheap protein. Second, you are sounding rather eurocentric and sapiens-centric. Cannibalism has happened so often in so many human cultures in so many different places, that it can hardly be considered unusual. The Catholics have ritualized it into the centrepiece of their religion! As for our larger primate family, chimpanzees are known to cannibalize members of opposing tribes after battles. Notably, they don’t cannibalize their own, or the sick or dead, only healthy enemies defeated in battle (see disease, above). What does that do for your primate dignity?

"... nothing intellectually compelling or challenging.. bald assertions coupled to superstition... woefully pathetic"