Selfish Genes, Evil Nature: The Christian Echoes in Neo-Atheism

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In The Selfish Gene, Richard Dawkins’ argues that evolution, being a process of ruthless competition, results in selfish behavior. Human nature is short-sighted and amoral due to our genes. But he also insists humans have a unique capacity for moral behavior: Using reason we can suppress the natural instincts and act against our nature. In this chapter I show that Dawkins view is as old as the theory of evolution itself. It was first advocated by T.H. Huxley and criticized by Peter Kropotkin. Kropotkin’s theory of mutual aid builds upon Darwin and seeks to establish a naturalistic grounding of human morality in the social instincts necessary for all social animals. This avoids the dualism implied in Dawkins’ and Huxley’s theories. It also raises questions of biological essentialism and determinism which the chapter discusses. Finally, the chapter compares the thoughts of Dawkins and Kropotkin with those of Friedrich Nietzsche. Nietzsche would have rejected Dawkins’ version of atheism that retains Christian views of the wickedness of bodily instincts. He was also critical of egalitarian movements which he thought were based in ressentiment. I show that Kropotkin’s views were in some ways quite close to Nietzsche’s as both advocate an affirmation of life.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationUnchaining Solidarity
Subtitle of host publicationOn Mutual Aid and Anarchism with Catherine Malabou
PublisherRowman and Littlefield Publishers, Inc.
ISBN (Print)978-1-5381-5795-4
Publication statusPublished - 2021


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