Thursday, 4 November 2010

Love vs Atheism?

(May 2009)

In my last year at school, Richard Dawkins came to give a talk. I don’t recall the subject of his talk but it was illuminating and got the intellectual juices flowing nonetheless. Question time approached and I had the perfect question to challenge this brilliant, albeit arrogant, mind. If we are simply the sum of our chemical parts - the DNA that wants only to propagate its existence indefinitely - then why does love exist? Animals and human beings have proved since the days of Caligula and before that love is not required to get sperm to egg (or otherwise), so what can Dawkins’ explanation be for this elusive four letter word? Alas, I crumbled under the pressure of addressing this prestigious figure and my question was left unanswered.

Love is undoubtedly one of the most sought after and ethereal things in our world if one is to go by painting, poetry, prose and the hoards of internet dating sites promising the stuff. It is the thing which keeps us from despairing and keeps us persisting, a thing of comfort or of immense pain. Love comes in many forms – Eros (romantic, passionate), Ludus (one played as a game), Storge (friendship), Pragma (undemonstrative), Mania (obsessive), Agape (motherly). Anyone reading this will have experienced at least one type, although it is Eros that is the most idolised.

 I must make a distinction between love and lust for the two are quite different. Lust has us beautifying, slimming, pumping iron, flirting, drinking, networking – in short anything that will ultimately end in the exchange of bodily fluids. Love makes us want to do the above but then also makes us want to stay for time afterwards to talk, listen, comfort and enjoy time with that person we have chosen.

I have always wondered about Dawkins’ wife - both of them, for he got divorced from the first one. If your husband firmly believes that we are only here as a result of our genes’ insatiable drive to persist and that the whole purpose of our existence is to produce offspring, then that does not leave much room for any fanciful notions such as romance and reasons for spending a fulfilling life with someone.

It is something I wonder, too, about atheists. I am referring to the hardcore, nihilistic types and not agnostics who have not decided either way. How are these atheists able to bring themselves to do anything, find purpose in anything, get up in the morning if we are indeed nothing and will eventually be even less after we die. Why bother at all?

I was raised a Catholic and so I have a sort of ‘instinct’, which has been instilled in me by my parents, that there is something greater at work, something going on behind the scenes. Or perhaps it is arrogance on my part and I refuse to accept that I am only flesh and bones and blood and a few chemicals that are released at convenient times to make me believe I am angry, sad, and joyful or in love.

Scientists have come up with a molecular mechanism for “falling in love” (actually falling in lust) which identifies hormones, pheromones and dopamine as some of the factors which bring about that heady rush of passion. Is that all it is –our body, driven by our genes, deciding it wants to sow/receive a seed and then tricking our minds into thinking something greater is at work? Indeed, there is little doubt about chemical changes that occur in the body when our senses behold the one we love, but why should a scientific explanation extinguish any possibility that something deeper and unexplainable is going on?

The gradual shift from having God as the basis of our faith to Science as our faith (certainly among many in the western world) has brought about a general consensus that it is either or and that there can be no symbiosis between the two.

Falling in love, even if there is more to it than dopamine, may not be an indication or proof of God, but if you can not believe that you are with your love because of something more profound and special than as a by-product of innate biology then it makes the notion of love a rather dismal and futile one. Perhaps the reason behind the end of Richard’s first marriage is more obvious now.

1 comment:

  1. Further to my last comment, I've just seen this entry and I'm shocked at what I just read.

    Firstly, I don't believe Richard Dawkins ever said he didn't believe in or feel, love, whether for his wife or anybody else. For you to assume that, along with the reasons for the breakdown of his first marriage speaks of far more arrogance on your part than Richard Dawkins has ever displayed.

    Secondly, you make the obvious argument every vaguely religious person makes when confronted with a passionate atheist; what is the point in life? Richard Dawkins' famous answer is, quite simply, life. That is the point, to live, to love, to enjoy. Why should anybody need anything beyond that? Living your life in the vague hope of something more beyond it is arrogant, selfish, insulting, etc....

    Finally, your other 'point', about chemical reasons behind the emotion of love is akin to Keats' whining about unweaving the rainbow, an argument Dawkins' replies to in his book, "Unweaving the Rainbow". You wouldn't have made most of these points if you had read any of the man's work. Perhaps it would behoove you to do some basic research before you criticise someone you know nothing about.