In this first chapter, John Gray presents the main thesis that are going to be developed in the book, and gives some arguments to support them.
Here is my own rendering of those main thesis:
1) Humans are not special. They are not masters of their own destiny, but just another animal, with the same problems and irrational behavior that other animals show. “The upshot of scientific inquiry is that humans cannot be other than irrational. ”
2) Humanism is not a rational view of the world, but superstition based on Christian faith.
3) When Darwinism is properly understood, we can understand that there is no hope for human salvation. As the author states in the preface to the paperback edition: “A truly naturalistic view of the world Leaves no room for secular hope”
4) Science serves two main human interests: hope in a better future and being able to censor those people that do not think like the majority. It is the only unquestioned source for such beliefs in our humanistic world nowadays.
5) Technology is not a source for good, but a way for humans to look for what is more pressing now, without caring about moral issues or consequences in the long run. “Pogroms are as old as christendom, but without railroads, telegraphs and poison gas there could have been no holocaust. […] humanity’s worst crimes were made possible only by modern technologies.”
So far, the book doesn’t sound than other nostalgic for an ancient regime of shared beliefs and social norms. This chapter gives us powerful insights. Let me point out the ones I found more relevant:
-It is very difficult to establish the effect that a technology is going to have in humans beforehand.
– Technology is not something humans do. It has its own separated existence and inner laws. We can find technology in insects as well.
– the distinction between artificial and natural doesn’t make ultimate sense: “Cities are no more artificial than hives of bees”
– Green humanism, despite their luddite pretensions considering technology harmful ,share with technological humanism the Christian superstition of humans being something special, with free will and the ultimate capacity to save themselves.
– Religious fundamentalism is not the answer to the problems that technological humanism gives us. “Religious fundamentalists see themselves as having remedies for the maladies of the modern world. In reality they are symptoms of the disease they want to cure.
– Any fantasies about returning to a former time in which we share common views of existence, a common faith and so on, are doomed. “We cannot believe as we please. Our beliefs are traces left by our unchosen lives.”
And then, some other parts I don’t find them that good:
Arguments based on philosophy of science are not that impressive. When he quotes Feyerabend at the ultimate reference about Galileo he is forgetting decades of further research of history and philosophy of science that shows that there is more to the debate on Heliocentrism than being good with rhetoric and writing in Italian. Similarly, when he says that Popper philosophy of science can’t explain real developments in science, he chooses Einstein, which is a very bad choice indeed. One of the main case studies in favor of Popper’s falsifiability is the famous crucial experiment during a solar eclipse in 1919 that showed -in a very Popperian fashion- that Einstein’s General Theory of Relativity was -provisionally- right.
Plus, even if Gray is right stating that Popper got wrong how science works -an statement that most philosophers of science would agree nowadays- that will only show that Popper was wrong, not that science is irrational.
Also, throwing quantum mechanics in the discussion to show that the world is irrational is quite cheap. Unfortunately it seems like a common resource for people that want to show that science is irrational. I am planning to get signatures to approve a law that anyone that uses in a book quantum mechanics in a oblique way related to some metaphysical debate should give 10% of their royalties to the “Leave Quantum Mechanics Alone Foundation”.
A great deal of the argumentation from this chapter is based on Lovelock’s hypothesis on Gaia: the Earth as a sort of superorganism, to show that humans instead of being the kings of the creation and masters of their own destiny are just a disease on the Planet, which the Earth will sooner or late wipe out completely. The tone is dark and pessimistic. This sentence from the preface to the paperback edition says it all:
happily humans will never live in a world of his own making