In Darwin’s Pious Idea, Conor Cunningham highlights the Cartesian dualism underlining the thought of Dawkins and Co. Frankly, I find it fascinating to believe that there are still people out there, apparently even scientists, who assume a mind/body distinction, and the existence of something as vacuous and elusive as “matter” or a soul locked inside a body. It seems that there are still many who have yet to consider Wittgenstein’s quip: “The human body is the best picture of the human soul.”

So where does this mistaken belief come from? Cunningham writes about the genealogy of this assumption:

We can better understand this if we begin to realize that the notion of mere matter – that something is nothing but an aggregation of the Darwinina ‘swamp’ of pure becoming (our ever-contemporary origin, as it were) – is itself a product of a ‘Cartesian presumption,’ namely the dualism of res extensa/res cogitans (matter and mind). In this way Dawkins and his followers reproduce a quasi-Cartesianism in their strict division between genotype (res extensa) and phenotype (res cogitans). Therefore the materialist, operating in quasi-Cartesian terms, generate what can be called a homunculus fundamentalism: they presume that the soul is like a little person inside the human, but when they don’t find such an entity, they deny the soul existence…the smirk of the ultra-Darwinist (or eliminative materialist) is fueled and held captive by the picture of a mind inside the brain, or a soul inside or outside the body. Ultra-Darwinist keep pulling up our skirts, raising the curtains to reveal an absence – the missing homunculus. But if we take a closer look, we notice that there is something decidedly old-fashioned about this approach (65).

Cunningham goes on to argue that underpinning this outdated mode of Cartesian dualism is yet another philosophical assumption; namely, Zwinglian metaphysics. More on this later.