Richard Dawkins, who is best-known for his dogmatic approach to atheism and rejection of religion, has revealed how humans no longer view survival as a main priority. This is not in a conscious sense, more, it is a result of the environment modern humans have built and surrounded themselves in, and the machinations of contemporary life.
The line of argument is typical of the scientist’s frank stance on the natural world.
Ironically, he has built up something of a cult following bordering on quasi-religious, with thousands of followers worldwide across multiple social media platforms.
Eleanor Robertson, in a 2014 Guardian opinion piece, went as far as to accuse him of being “convinced that he possesses God-like powers of omniscience”.
However, Dawkins is keen to remind critics that despite his perceived ceaseless conviction, his arguments are based on fact and science.
In an interview with The Sun last month, he divulged how humans had rid themselves of having to prioritise survival in everyday life.
Giving the example of a pack of hyenas hunting gazelle, he explains how each individual hyena goes through a series of subgoals to achieve the main goal of catching and killing a gazelle.
He said: “All those subgoals are in the service of a global goal which is DNA propagation and survival, reproduction, and feeding your cubs and so on.
“The hierarchy of goals and subgoals and sub subgoals is deep within our brains, within the brains of all animals.
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“Nowadays we fill those goals and subgoals with things that don’t have anything directly to do with survival and reproduction.
“Things like writing a book – writing a book doesn’t actually improve your reproductive success.
“But, the mechanism in the brain to set up goals and subgoals is still there, and is still working away even though we now live in cities surrounded by books and buses and cars computers and things.
“So that survival is not actually one of our major problems, not one of the problems we are solving in our everyday life.
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“We don’t wake up in the morning and say ‘what can I do to ensure my survival today’ we say ‘what can I do to finish the chapter I’m writing’.
“But the mechanism is still there, the brain mechanism that used to be in the service of survival has been commandeered into other services.”
Survival instincts are hardwired into humans, yet we no longer have much use for them since swapping the savannah for villages, towns, and cities.
Although there are still dangers – crossing the road, falling down and injuring ourselves, driving – there are no immediate threats to our existence.
This is not to say we are completely free: broader dangers loom things that are ultimately our own doing, like climate change and artificial intelligence (AI).
Many scientists believe that humans will not be on the list of animals which adapt and survive the climate crisis.
The late Stephen Hawking repeatedly warned that humans will not survive another 1,000 years with the combination of a “fragile planet” and new technologies like AI.
Dawkins himself has acknowledged the major problem global warming presents.
He has supported an initiative in which 56 newspapers from 47 countries simultaneously published a joint editorial expressing their views on climate change in order to promote awareness of the problem.
In it, he wrote: “Whatever you think about global warming and whether humans are responsible, I think we have to salute this remarkable feat of international cooperation.”
He has also previously said that climate change may force us to revert to cannibalism – to grow meat from harvested human cells in a laboratory.
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