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Conscience Magazine

Will Atheists Pay Their Dues to a Human Rights Organization?

By Catholics for Choice August 22, 2016

I much appreciated Daniel Dombrowski’s insightful article, “A Post-Religious, Post-Secular View” (Vol. XXXVII, No. 1). Dombrowski writes about atheist evolutionary biologists. He questions if a person who believes that we are “merely accidental by-product” of billions of years of random mutations might “lack the motivation to consistently pay their dues to a human rights organization.”

I am an atheist and an evolutionary biologist who subscribes to Conscience for its excellent essays. My belief in evolution also allows me to be happy and accepting of my own mortality and how I fit in with other organisms with different, but also magnificently complex and successful, variations on the DNA code.  Like the friends I know with similar beliefs, I feel compelled to pay my dues to the rest of humankind.

My belief in evolution strengthens my sense of common purpose with other human beings—and indeed all living things.  After all, my furry, scaly and slimy progenitors were as much my ancestors as my parents and grandparents.  I also know that my emotional satisfactions and my drive for “the good” that Dombrowski underscores are partly the result of evolved behavioral predispositions.

The explosive love I have seen as an obstetrician that a mother can feel for a damp, crying newborn infant, as well as the overwhelming grief  I felt when my previous wife died, are  “accidental by-products” that drive evolution and also affirm the value and reward of a “good” life and the unity of all individuals.

Professor of Public Health
University of California, Berkeley

Berkeley, California

Catholics for Choice

was founded in 1973 to serve as a voice for Catholics who believe that the Catholic tradition supports a woman’s moral and legal right to follow her conscience in matters of sexuality and reproductive health.