The evolution of gratitude

It was a shame Richard Dawkins only spoke for an hour at his Wellington event last night.

richard-dawkinsHe was only able to get halfway through his lecture before having to break off for a Q&A sessions which was handled superbly by local writer Bernard Beckett. But he repeated his familiar message that we should take wonder in our very existence because it is such a fluke.

“The fact of your own existence is the most astonishing fact you’ll ever have to confront, don’t dare ever see your life as boring, monotonous or joyless.”

This Dominion Post article covers the content of Dawkin’s lecture well, from his description of the evolution of eyes to the role of enzymes in shaping DNA.

Along the way he paid tribute to New Zealand scientist David Penny, who he said had been able to identify “trees” of evolution common to species by comparing their genetics at a molecular level, in the same way Darwin had been able to identify evolutionary traits by comparing anatomy.

Dawkins finished by suggesting that humans are in such awe at their own existence that they have to show gratitude to someone for it. Traditionally we have thanked God. Or as Dawkins puts it:

“When you feel just plain grateful [to be alive] then who are you being grateful to? You have to invent a God or pixies or something to be grateful to.”

Dawkins view – just be happy to be alive! There’s enough to wonder at in the world without inventing a creator to pay tribute to. Well, that’s my interpretation of what he said anyway…

Recording the lecture at the Michael Fowler Centre was strictly prohibited so I left my recorder turned off. But here’s a recording of Dawkin’s talk (via telelink from London) at the Readers and Writers’ festival in Auckland last year.

One Comment

  1. Brendan Moyle

    I like the ‘just plain grateful’ argument.

    And Penny is definitely worth a mention. But it also makes one appreciate the work of early biologists who without DNA technology, worked largely off a much less complete fossil record and morphological similarities to deduce phylogenetic trees.

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