Sunday, 11 August 2013

Evolutionary versus Christian reflections on suicide

I have been thinking a lot about suicide over the last week. Not my own, however depressed I am over the slide of western civilisation and the world in general into madness, but reflecting on a few cases in the news and the reaction to them, also there was an item on Today where a couple of experts were discussing the problem of male suicides. More men than women tend to kill themselves in most cultures. I have had more than a fair share of people I knew who killed themselves. In Japan, I understand, it is culturally accepted-even honourable- to kill yourself if you have failed big time.

Growing up in a traditional Christian environment, I was taught that suicide was a mortal sin and if you killed yourself you would definitely go straight to hell. The church tends not to teach this any more, but then again, most churches today have stopped teaching about hell at all, or even sin (apart from the 'sins' of climate change denial and homo phobia). Certainly all the talk about the teen suicides saw them as victims, not sinners.

The experts on Today and their BBC interviewer all started with the premise that we should pity suicides and perhaps look for someone else to blame, or at least re-order society so that people won’t choose to kill themselves. And then, yes inevitably, the ‘expert’ from the Samaritans (for whom I have a lot of respect) said that suicide was due to an evolutionary adaptation. Yep, since everything is due to Evolution then suicide must be as well. 

It will strike anyone with even a nodding familiarity with Darwinian philosophy that there might be a problem with this. Evolution is after all the survival of the fittest and passing on genes. The dead do not pass on their genes.

I did a Google search on (evolution of suicide) and found Jesse Bering, a homosexual and psychologist blogging for Scientific American and found that he had considered suicide as an evolutionary phenomenon. His item, which looked particularly at the suicide of young homosexuals, included the following... 

>>>>McMaster University’s Denys deCatanzaro’s largely forgotten ideas from the early 1980s—indicating that human suicide is an adaptive behavioral strategy that becomes increasingly likely to occur whenever there is a perfect storm of social, ecological, developmental and biological variables factoring into the evolutionary equation. In short, deCatanzaro has posited that human brains are designed by natural selection in such a way as to encourage us to end our own lives when facing certain conditions, because this was best for our suicidal ancestors’ overall genetic interests.

For good-hearted humanitarians, it may sound rather bizarre, perhaps even borderline insensitive, to hear that suicide is “adaptive.” But remember that this word means a very different thing in evolutionary terms than it does when used in clinical settings. Because natural selection operates only on phenotypes, not human values, even the darkest of human emotions may be adaptive if they motivated gene-enhancing behavioral decisions. It’s not that evolution is cruel, but as a mindless mechanism it can neither care nor not care about particular individuals; selection, after all, is not driven by an actual brain harboring any feelings about, well, anything at all.<<<<

The full article can be seen here.

I’m not wanting to pick on Bering, but I find his reasoning and assumptions (which I take to be at least somewhat representative of scientific secularist/materialist thinking on deliberate self slaughter) instructive in that it highlights the fundamental mismatch in the thinking of those who seek to derive an ethic of 'goodness' from a world view (materialism) that insists life is an accident and that the idea of being a living soul is a delusion caused by mutation derived brain chemistry. He writes that For good-hearted humanitarians, it may sound rather bizarre, perhaps even borderline insensitive, to hear that suicide is “adaptive”’

Interesting. One would want to begin analysing this by asking what is a ‘good hearted humanitarian?’  By what measure do we decide what is ‘good’ if we begin by assuming that we are the products of mindless evolutionary chance, temporarily animated lumps of impure carbon on a pointless interlude between the big bang and the heat death of the universe? If evolution is true, why not commit suicide if you feel like it? So what if ‘it gets better later' if I want it NOW? Does not an autonomous being have the right to choose? 

The atheist poet A E Housman had the guts to get straight to the point.

Shot? so quick, so clean an ending?
Oh that was right, lad, that was brave:
Yours was not an ill for mending,
'Twas best to take it to the grave.

Oh you had forethought, you could reason,
And saw your road and where it led,
And early wise and brave in season
Put the pistol to your head.

Oh soon, and better so than later
After long disgrace and scorn,
You shot dead the household traitor,
The soul that should not have been born.

Right you guessed the rising morrow
And scorned to tread the mire you must:
Dust's your wages, son of sorrow,
But men may come to worse than dust.

Souls undone, undoing others,---
Long time since the tale began.
You would not live to wrong your brothers:
Oh lad, you died as fits a man.

Now to your grave shall friend and stranger
With ruth and some with envy come:
Undishonoured, clear of danger,
Clean of guilt, pass hence and home.

Turn safe to rest, no dreams, no waking;
And here, man, here's the wreath I've made:
'Tis not a gift that's worth the taking,
But wear it and it will not fade.


Housman also wrote

If it chance your eye offend you,

  Pluck it out, lad, and be sound:

’Twill hurt, but here are salves to friend you,

  And many a balsam grows on ground.

And if your hand or foot offend you,
  Cut it off, lad, and be whole;

But play the man, stand up and end you,

  When your sickness is your soul.

I do not share Housman’s philosophy or his belief that death is dreamless sleep from which there is no waking, but applaud his directness, honesty and logic given his atheistic world view. I wish today’s atheists would be more honest and tell us why they think that we should try to prevent people choosing to terminate their supposedly accidental and meaningless lives if (A) we are without God (B) there is no afterlife and therefore no coming judgment, and (C) we are autonomous beings with the right to choose our own destiny.

As to evolution being ‘adaptive’, Bering writes

However, as William Hamilton’s famous principle of inclusive fitness elucidated so clearly, it is the proportion of one’s genetic material surviving in subsequent generations that matters; and so if the self’s survival comes at the expense of one’s genetic kin being able to pass on their genes, then sacrificing one’s life for a net genetic gain may have been adaptive ancestrally.’ 

He goes on to give several examples of animals doing a Titus Oates for the benefit of the community.

This takes us back to one of the most fundamental non sequiturs in evolutionary propaganda, the idea that because something would be helpful it will develop. No, no, no. A genetically determined (as opposed to  learned) behaviour will only develop if the specific DNA information that codes for the behaviour is created. In evolution, this can only happen by fortuitous random mutations creating purposeful new genetic information with specified complexity to code for a useful new feature, which as we have seen again and again and again and again, is not observed to occur. As Vij Sodera writes in his excellent book ‘One Small Speck to Man: The Evolution Myth’ ‘What you want, you won’t get’.

Stephen Meyer in his book 'Signature in the Cell' used mathematical arguments to demonstrate that DNA could never have arisen without a Designer. No meaningful information, not even a bad two line poem, has ever been recorded as arising from any unintelligent source, and DNA is the highest level of specified information in the known universe. It therefore goes against everything we know about information to assume that DNA made itself, yet evolutionists routinely take this as axiomatic. No wonder their hypothetical explanations or behaviours like suicide are so tortuous.
Evolution does not give you something because it would be helpful. It has no mind or goal. If, for the sake of argument, suicide would offer benefits to the species or the group by eliminating some individuals, then the behaviour will not develop because it would be helpful but only if random mutations cause it. Captain Oates’ self sacrificing behavior when he walked out into the snow to increase his companions’ chances of survival was the result of intelligent thought and a plan, to say nothing of the ethics and courage that inspired his decision (which I am not sure I would call suicide). Evolution lacks these characteristics, it is mindless. Bering’s line of reasoning as he tries to find an evolutionary explanation for suicide is very tenuous to put it mildly.

A Christian view of suicide is simpler. The depression and self hate that may lead to suicide may in theory be a genetically determined mental health problem due to our fallen nature in the same way that diabetes and cancer are. We may feel so wretched due to circumstances that we would prefer dreamless sleep (if this is indeed the condition of the dead) to a painful present. Or we may (like Judas who killed himself in remorse and self hate after betraying Jesus) be appropriately disgusted with ourselves due to our morally reprehensible behaviour.  However, in the Christian view suicide is never the answer. However bad things are, God is there to hear our prayers and come to our aid. And we can be forgiven and reconciled if we come to Christ in penitence and faith.

It is appropriate to feel loathing at the way things are in this present world. That is nothing new: the Psalms are full of cries of despair and misery. The book of Job says a lot about utter misery and life falling apart, Paul wrote about his misery and trials in 2nd Corinthians. Yet God is still there in the darkness.

However, if God is not there and death really is dreamless sleep, then why not kill yourself as A E Housman advises in several of his poems? Surely this is consistent with an evolutionary/materialist view of life. Perhaps we should help some people to die? Oh, sorry I forgot-there is a well organized movement trying to change the law to allow this on both sides of the Atlantic.

The punk poet John Cooper Clarke wrote the following in his poem TWAT (caution, offensive language and content) which seems to be aimed at a loathed ex-girlfriend

‘You went to a progressive psychiatrist.
He recommended suicide...’

Cooper Clarke has a point. If life is disgusting and pointless, why not deal with it as we would anything else that is a dead loss? After all, we snuff out the lives of millions of inconvenient unborn children every year, don’t we? Some things are very much better explained by the Christian concept of sin than by the bluster and confabulation of Charles Darwin and his Christless followers.

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