28 November 2006

Dawkins and Nietzsche

Dawkins tells us that God is dead, but he is a little late. Nietzsche said this over a century ago, seeing that traditional religious and metaphysical ways of thinking were on the wane - leaving a void that science could not fill, and endangering civilisation.
In the early 1880s, when he wrote Thus Spake Zarathustra, Nietzsche arrived at a conception of human life and possibility – and with it, of value and meaning – that he believed could overcome the Schopenhauerian pessimism and nihilism that he saw as outcomes of the collapse of traditional modes of religious and philosophical interpretation. He prophesied a period of nihilism in the aftermath of their decline and fall; but this prospect deeply distressed him. He was convinced of the untenability of the “God hypothesis”, and indeed of all the religious and metaphysical interpretations of the world and ourselves; and yet he was well aware that the very possibility of the affirmation of life was at stake, and required more than the mere abandonment of all such “lies” and “fictions”. He took the basic challenge of philosophy now to be to reinterpret life and the world along more tenable lines that would also overcome nihilism. (Cambridge Dictionary of Philosophy)

Civilisation has destroyed itself in giving birth to the new religion of socialist materialism for which Dawkins speaks. Dawkins is, of course, attacking a straw man in criticising those who still entertain an unsophisticated kind of God and a creationist myth.

In reality, Dawkins is attacking something subtler and more profound than Christianity. He is attacking the individualism that still presumes to relate itself to reality rather than to other people, or to society.