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In Uncategorized on June 10, 2010 at 1:42 pm

Richard Dorkins: The Voice of Reason

Yesterday my little daughter Thalia came up to me and said: ‘Daddy, can I have a new bike for my birthday?’

Biting back tears of burning love, tempered with terrible anguish, I took her on my knee, and tenderly asked her:

‘Thalia, why do you think that so many parents buy presents for their children once a year?’

‘Because that’s when their birthdays are, daddy,’ she replied.

‘But,’ I rejoined gently, ‘what about those parents who do not buy presents for their children once a year? Do you think that those parents do not love their children?’

This quite reasonable question gave Thalia some pause for thought. I waited patiently, marvelling silently at the everyday miracle of rational reflection in the young mind.

‘Lauren got a new bike for her birthday,’ she eventually rejoined. ‘Her daddy got her one.’

As any loving parent would, I at once called Thalia’s attention to the false syllogism in her logic.

‘But,’ I explained patiently, ‘perhaps Lauren’s daddy is wrong. Thalia, what do you think a birthday is?’

She gazed at me wonderingly.

‘A birthday is the day on which we are born,’ I told her. ‘Now, many people – many well-meaning, misguided people, who love their children just as much as I love you – wickedly teach them that this day, the day of our birth, comes back again, not just once, but many times. But, of course, a day cannot come back twice. Not even a birthday. We are only born once, after all! And some babies are even born at night.

‘But many people have been taught to believe in a thing called a calendar, which is a way of measuring time by the rotation of the earth around the sun. The calendar tells them that the day of their birth happens once every year, and they believe it, because they are told to, and they are afraid to question their belief, in case they miss dentists’ appointments and wedding anniversaries, and things like that.

‘But it is all a lie, too stupid and wicked for words. Really, the calendar is only a figment of the imagination. Time does not run backwards simply because our tiny speck of a planet is whirling inexorably round the great celestial furnace of the sun – which is really only a very ordinary little star. Indeed, one day, millions of years from now, the earth’s orbit will slow down, disrupting the calendar completely, and gravity will suck the entire planet into the heart of the sun, where it will be instantly vaporised.

‘Isn’t it wonderful?

‘And when you stop to think about it, even days and nights are only figments of our imagination too! We say it is “daytime” when our little segment of the earth is facing towards the sun, and we say it is “night-time” when our little segment is facing away. But daytime and night-time are really just the same thing. When it seems to be daytime in England, it seems to be night in Australia – at the very same moment. So, really, there are no real days or nights at all. And if there are no days, how can there be any birthdays?’

I was still reflecting on my own words long after Thalia, clearly deeply concerned, had run off to discuss the matter with her mother – not least since her final words to me had, as I distinctly heard, been: For Christ’s sake, daddy.

I really must have a word with her teachers about what they’re telling her at that school.

Those who choose not to buy birthday presents for children are frequently accused of cruelty. What utter, absurd nonsense. The real cruelty is surely rather the pernicious custom of teaching our children that the space-time continuum – that vast, impersonal matrix of the universe – knows or cares anything at all about the progress towards maturity which we as humans quite unavoidably undergo. The real cruelty lies in telling our children that – through no fault of their own – they remain unworthy of presents for 364 days of every year (except a leap year, when the total is, of course, approximately 365 days). The real cruelty lies in enslaving children born in leap years to the sadistic delusion that they can only have 25% of the birthdays allotted to other children, and the patently absurd belief that they will be eight years old on their so-called ‘second birthday.’

It is time to dispense with this brutal and primitive twaddle. The universe cares nothing about us. There are no birthdays. There are no days. There are only births: vital, bloody, agonising births, sublime testaments to nature’s remorseless fecundity, throbbing with the ecstatic torment of generation, through which we enter the world to confront the pitiless destiny of our genetic inheritance. Through reason and science we have the ability to face this cold fact, hoping to rise above the fetid surface of the blind, bubbling sewer of existence and scale the dizzying heights of the full potential of the human spirit. That – as I hope to tell Thalia when she comes back downstairs from her room – is the only real cause for celebration.

Professor Richard Dorkins is a very clever man.


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