/ David Wallace Croft
The Virtue of Selfish Genes
David Wallace Croft
A sermon presented to the
Humanist Fellowship of North Texas
2005 Oct 29 Sat
I am on a quest for a new religion. As recorded in my earlier sermon,
Founding of the Humanist Church and the History of Religious Humanism”,
I was specifically looking for a flavor of religious atheism that was
democratic. I discovered the
American Religious Humanism movement, almost
forgotten now, and due for a revival. I have eagerly read a number of books
on this subject and I look forward to spending the next few years searching
for some of the out of print books from the peak decade of this movement,
In the 1930's, many Religious Humanists were also socialists. I recently
learned that my great-grandfather, in addition to being a socialist, was
also an atheist. Perhaps atheism and socialism were synonymous during this
period. It certainly seems to be so from reading the
1933 Humanist Manifesto.
To some extent, it still seems to be that way today, based on
articles I read in modern day humanist literature.
I am not a socialist. I believe that socialism is slavery. I feel I can
excuse the Religious Humanists of the 1930's somewhat, for they had not yet
had the historical perspective of what the National Socialists of Germany,
more commonly known as the Nazis, and the Soviet Union would do to
individual rights. The Nazis and the Soviet Union are no more, yet American
Humanist leadership continues to advocate this misguided position.
I also came to realize that my other disagreement with Humanism is what I
Transhumanists believe that humans will achieve natural
miracles in the future, including immortality, through the progress of our
sciences. Humanists, on the other hand, preach an acceptance of death as an
inevitable event and even question whether one should accept the gift of
immortality if medical science makes it possible. In my opinion, the
Humanists make little distinction between the promise of immortality through
supernatural or natural means and reject both as equally impossible.
While not mortalists, many Transhumanists are supernaturalists and
socialists. In order to come up with my perfect combination, tailored
specifically to me, I was going to need to follow some advice I received
many years ago and create something new. Inspired by the Humanist Manifesto
I authored the
Optihumanist Principles last
year, defining a new religion based on a blend of Religious Humanism,
Transhumanism, and Individualism. Making your principles explicit by
writing them down in black and white is quite rewarding and I highly
recommend it. It is my hope that I can update the Optihumanist Principles
once each year as I refine my beliefs over the course of my lifetime.
Even more recently I have discovered the philosophy of
Objectivism. I am
very excited by Objectivism and I have been digging into books from the
1960's with the same enthusiasm that I dedicated to the earlier works on
Religious Humanism. Objectivism appeals to me because it combines Atheism
and Individualism, something that appears to be quite rare these days. When
I next update my Optihumanist Principles, I suspect it will become a
religion based on Religious Humanism, Transhumanism, and Objectivism.
Objectivism is a rejection of subjectivism. Objectivism states that there
is a material reality which exists independent of our minds. This reality
follows naturals laws which can be explored and mastered through our senses
and our human reasoning ability. Self-interest is the highest ethic and
capitalism is the preferred political theory.
When Ayn Rand, the author of Objectivism, speaks of self-interest as an
ethic, she talks about survival in a rational universe. I am very
interested in the idea of survival as an ultimate objective as I see from
evolution that what continues to survive continues to exist and everything
else does not. Survival is its own reward. Persistence persists.
Not long ago, I was told of a new philosophy that stated that pain was the
ultimate evil and that eliminating pain for all life on Earth was the
ultimate good. As a student of neuroscience, I rejected this philosophy
immediately as I understand how critical pain is to our survival. If pain
is the ultimate evil, then why not eliminate all life on Earth as an act of
My wife and I watched the movie
of the Penguins” with our children.
This was a mistake. Many of the penguins were frozen, starved, or eaten.
Later that night, one of my children started crying while recalling images
of dead chicks. I now call this movie “The Trail of Tears for Penguins”.
The penguins evolved over thousands of years to engage in intricate
behaviors in order to reproduce in a climate that gradually became
increasingly hostile to life. From the movie, it is apparent that their
lives are full of pain. Yet you are inspired by their survival. I
recommend that you see this movie. Just don't bring the children.
When Ayn Rand speaks of survival, she speaks of survival of Man qua Man, or
Man as Man. I take this to mean survival as a producer rather than as a
parasite or a cannibal. In digging through the dictionary for terms that
she frequently uses such as Altruism, Collectivism, Communitarianism,
Individualism, Selfishness, Selflessness, and Socialism, I see from context
that her definitions are sometimes a bit different. It reminds me of a
recent conversation that I had with a Unitarian minister where the
definition of the term “materialism” was in question.
Rand speaks of collectivism as cannibalism. The altruist sacrifices himself
for others. The cannibal preaches altruism in order to sacrifice others to
I had wondered whether parasitism was a better term for what Rand describes
when she refers to the evils of altruism. But then I realized that
parasites merely feed off of the host without necessarily destroying it.
Cannibalism is a better description for what happens with humans. Humans
must survive as humans simply because they are smart enough to know when
they are being treated as prey by other humans. When this happens, they
simply quit participating and productive society comes to a stop. I am
reminded of the saying in the last days of the Soviet Union, “They pretend
to pay us more and we pretend to work harder.” Atlas shrugs.
Ayn Rand rejects altruism, the “Unselfish concern for the welfare of
others”, as suicidal and impractical. She states that self-sacrificial
altruism is a conscious irrational human concept alien to animals. When I
look at the second definition of altruism in my “American Heritage College
Dictionary”, however, I read that altruism as applied to the animal kingdom
is “Instinctive cooperative behavior that is detrimental to the individual
but contributes to the survival of the species”. I am reminded of my sermon
“Why We Love Our Children (And Cats)” in which I stated that humanity is
inherently good because it has evolved to be so. I cited within that sermon
an example from the book
Selfish Gene” by Richard Dawkins in which a
mother bird risks her life to lead a predator away from the chicks in her
nest. In my opinion, this is a clear case of genetic altruism. Ayn Rand
embraces this kind of altruism as well although she prefers to call it
self-interest, perhaps because the mother has a personal interest in
preserving the lives of her own chicks but not necessarily the lives of
other chicks in other nests.
The first chapter in her book
Virtue of Selfishness”
“Objectivist Ethics” which is what I was originally planned as the title for
this sermon. I am fascinated, however, by this connection between Rand and
Dawkins on the selfishness of the individual for self-preservation and
survival. Dawkins makes it clear that the individual unit of survival is
not an individual human being, but rather the individual genes that comprise
a human being. These genes are shared with our children, our kin, our
species, and, to some extent, all of life on Earth. In this respect,
Religious Naturalists are closer to the truth than Religious
Humanists. Out of “The Virtue of Selfishness” by Rand and “Selfish Genes”
by Dawkins, I entitle this sermon “The Virtue of Selfish Genes”.
Last weekend I was interviewed for a student film entitled
“Life.Faith.Doubt”. One of the questions dealt with the role of science and
reason in my faith in Humanity. I answered that while science and reason
were significant elements of my faith, I also recognized that evolved
instincts played a dominant role. I cited as examples my emotional
responses upon seeing the face of a newborn or hearing of inhuman atrocities
Conscious reflection upon the source of these emotions leads me to believe
that I am part of the Human Race and not just an automaton. I acknowledge
that these instincts are a form of knowledge about survival in an objective
reality achieved through evolution rather than reason. The children of
parents that do not possess these instincts do not survive -- for objective
reality demands that parents love their children as they would love
I encourage you to embrace Ayn Rand's philosophy of Objectivism by first
reading her fiction novels such as “Anthem”
Shrugged”. I then
recommend that you explore her non-fiction works such as “The
Virtue of Selfishness” and “Capitalism:
The Unknown Ideal”. Finally I would
recommend that you study the works of her critics such as “With
Toward None: An Analysis of Ayn Rand's Philosophy” by William F.
“With Charity Toward None” is particularly interesting in that the author
provides a fair, concise, and thorough description of Objectivist Philosophy
in Part I of his book before tearing it apart in Part II. And, as always, I
strongly recommend that you read “The
Selfish Gene” by Richard Dawkins if
you have not already done so.
Although I will continue to explore Objectivism as a participant in the
discussion and reading groups of the
North Texas Objectivist Society,
completed this sermon I now redirect my focus to Transhumanism, the third
branch of the hybrid personal religion I call Optihumanism. I recently
purchased the book
Singularity is Near: When Humans Transcend Biology”
by the scientist, inventor, and futurist Ray Kurzweil. In flipping through
the pages, I see dozens of topics that appeal to my faith in the future of
Humanity to transcend the tragedy of the Human Condition. Until my next
sermon, my love and respect.
© 2005 David Wallace Croft
This work is licensed under the
Creative Commons Attribution License 2.5.