The Right Coast

August 04, 2004
First things first
By Tom Smith

I'm thoroughly enjoying my new subscription to First Things. It's one of those rare magazines worth getting in hard copy. Several notable items in this month's issue.

First, a pretty devastating review of Richard Dawkin's latest screed by a particle physicist. Dawkins is an evolutionary biologist and science populizer most famous for his book The Selfish Gene. In his review, Barr makes the point that Dawkins is extremely careless with his scientific facts, consumed by his hatred of religion, and seems not to have been genetically programmed to do philosophy. I think the "selfish gene" is one of those memes that is now doing more harm than good, rather like Dawkins says of religion. Genes aren't little guys; they don't have intentions. They aren't really selfish. The fact that genes are replicators and natural selection works the way it does, doesn't raise any special moral questions beyond those already on the plate thanks to questions of materialism and free will. If we were silicon based robot fellows, who never replicated at all, but were completely determined by our hardware and software, we would face exactly the same issues of the status of morality, the meaning of life, and so forth, as we do with biological equipment. It follows that Dawkins has no special qualifications for speaking about these moral issues, a fact he has amply demonstrated. He should stick to explicating biology. Are we free, moral beings? Good question. Let's move on.

Bob Bork has a typically hard hitting essay in this issue about anti-gay marriage amendment to the Constitution. He says that the Court is going to impose gay marriage on the country, and the only way to stop them is with a constitutional amendment. If the former is true, I agree with the latter. The Court should not be allowed to legislate a national gay marriage regime just because their clerks can come up with some risible rationale that a right to gay marriage flows from a Civil War amendment. What I'm not sure I believe is that the Court would really be that stupid. Famous last words, I know. It would be a lot more divisive than abortion, and would undermine the legitimacy of the Court with a solid third or more of the population. There is something very wrong with a procedure that would let Kennedy and O'Connor wreak extreme and novel social policy from on high. I don't want national debates preempted by fond memories of how Auntie Em and Delilah lived in that old shack up in Rattlesnake Gulch, and by gum, everyone knew they was married, that's the only word fer it, by cracky, done married! But if Bork is right, and the Court is determined to nationalize gay marriage, then they should be stopped, if possible, which it may not be. The sensible way out, which no doubt wise heads have noticed, is not to force Texas to recognize Massachusetts gay marriages under full faith and credit.