The Biological Imperative : or argument I get into

  • March 24, 2007
  • James Skemp
  • article

The following article was written by Robert Wood, and is reprinted here with his permission. As such, Robert Wood retains all copyrights on this piece. Comments to Robert about this article can be left below (no registration required).

Pink mice and Hank

I frequently find myself in an argument that to many appears to be one of splitting hairs. That is the discussion of atheism, that I am atheist, not AN atheist.

This is important. To be AN atheist is to suggest that there is an atheist philosophy. But there isn't. Atheism is simply one of two possible positions on the existence or not of god(s). The other position is THEIST. It is, as we all are aware, ridiculous to say that there is a theistic philosophy because the theists have a wide variety of, even competing, god(s) and philosophies concerning those god(s). The theists can even believe in the same god(s), for example that of Abraham, and still be at daggers drawn with each other.

No, atheism is simply a philosophical position of no god(s). For me, it is simply the first step towards a rational, scientific, philosophy. Religion is philosophy without science; it is belief, even though constructs may be built rationally from the basic premise.

Another argument I get into, normally with agnostics, is whether the atheist position is not simply the contrary position to the theist position, both being equally valid due to the fact that we can know nothing of the truth in the matter of the existence of god(s). For the theist, it is a question of faith. Surely, argues the agnostic, the contrary position also demands an act of faith. Well, now, I am walking down the street, breathing, blood flowing through my veins, lusting and enjoying the view. A stranger walks up to me and says "pink mice control the universe" or, as a North American atheist may say "Kiss Hank's arse".My response is not denial, as the agnostics would have it, but skepticism. "Show me these mice" is my response, because they sound very interesting. But there is no obligation on my behalf, until I am shown the mice. After many mice, and arses, I may reasonably think that perhaps there are no pink mice; I could never be completely certain, but nothing is 100%,. It is possible to toss a coin 100 million times and it always land heads up, even though Highly Unlikely. This uncertainty is the source of the hedge-betting of the agnostics and the lever of fear for the theists. For me, it is a question of the possible and the probable.

I have enough things to concern me, without the distraction of the existence of undemonstrated entities. Therefore, I can ignore the whole issue. It just is not important. I still live and breath, clearly these pink mice, or Hank, are not that important, if they exist, of which I am skeptical as previously stated.

There simply is no need to invoke god(s). Apply Occam's razor.

Nihilism and religion

Now having adopted the atheist position, theists will ask if I believe in anything. They assume that if you do not believe in gods, then you believe in nothing. In fact, they do have a point if we look at the socialist left on the political spectrum There is a definite tendency to nihilism amongst these atheists, although many will espouse a "humanist philosophy" which to me seems to be more of a limpid, touch-feely, Christianity without the Christ. These people do not have a metaphysical system, a construction, a mythology, to fill the existential void.

The theists have this metaphysical edifice, their religion, which provides them with ready answers to the great existential questions, fills the void and provides reassurance. Although it is quite possible to have a philosophy without metaphysics, the theists' criticism is to a certain extent, not true, but telling. How many times have I had to insist that it is quite possible to have a code of ethics and ability to distinguish between right and wrong, without religion.

The theists have an advantage in so far as they do provide nourishment to those who wake at three in the morning with the cold dread of the existential void of night.

To fill this void, we must look again to our human, animalistic nature. Most theists ignore our animalistic nature, our "natural" nature as much as socialist idealogues do. In the former case, this often revolves around strictures against sex and greed; for the socialists, this results in failed attempts to change human behaviour, to perfect man.

The Biological Imperative

We are animals, life forms, living entities. Just like all other life forms, we need to supply ourselves with nourishment, compete for resources, reproduce and thus we grow and develop; we feed, fight and fuck. By looking at the living world, we can deduce some general principals which can assist us in our construction of a metaphysical edifice. Here are a couple of observations that are universally applicable:

1. All living things feed, grow, develop and reproduce.

2. Life expands to fill the space available.

Number 1 justifies our use of resources, explains our continual development of knowledge and technology and says sex is A-OK. This removes the guilt from these activities with which both the theists and the eco-theists try to cow humanity.

Number 2 explains some considerable miracles, such as fish, anaerobic bacteria deep in rocks, birds, aeroplanes. It also justifies, in an incredibly powerful way, our literal launch into space.

I call these items The Biological Imperative. Acknowledging this imperative provides a foundation upon which, I am sure, a thousand philosophical edifices can be built.