We no longer have to resort to superstition when faced with the deep problems: Is there a meaning to life? What are we for? What is man? After posing the last of these questions, the eminent zoologist G. G. Simpson put it thus: ‘The point I want to make now is that all attempts to answer that question before 1859 are worthless and that we will be better off if we ignore them completely.

attempts to answer that question before 1859 are worthless. . .

Some people, even non-religious people, have taken offence at the quotation from Simpson. I agree that, when you first read it, it sounds terribly philistine and gauche and intolerant, a bit like Henry Ford’s ‘History is more or less bunk’. But, religious answers apart (I am familiar with them; save your stamp), when you are actually challenged to think of pre-Darwinian answers to the questions ‘What is man?’ ‘Is there a meaning to life?’ ‘What are we for?’, can you, as a matter of fact, think of any that are not now worthless except for their (considerable) historic interest? There is such a thing as being just plain wrong, and that is what, before 1859, all answers to those questions were.

Richard Dawkins, The Selfish Gene, 30th Anniversary Edition, 2006

Footnotes (1989 edition) are doubly indented.

Added to diary 27 June 2018