... it is amazingly improbable that we should exist at all ...
But in what sense is that true? Are you identifying yourself with your DNA? Yes, it’s a low probability that precisely that genetic pattern turned up. (That is what I take Dawkins to mean; he’s said as much). But you aren’t identical to your DNA anyway, so the analogy doesn’t go through. And the low probability of a particular genetic pattern is banal.
In what other sense is this true—the sense that doesn’t make it banal?
I understand that one might say: “I am more than just my DNA, I’m a person with that DNA and this history.” And the probability of someone being born with just your DNA and your history is even lower. OK. So what?
The thought experiment as I see it is to say, basically, (and as I recall Dawkins has done), “Think of all those poor people who never get born, and how unlucky they are compared to you!”
But that’s just nonsense talk. Something nonexistent can’t be lucky or unlucky.
Doug, of course he isnt saying literally that nonexistent entities are unlucky, any more than a nihilist saying it is luckier to never have been born in the first place would mean the never-existing would be literally lucky (a line supposedly from Asclepius if I remember).
Dawkins’ is obviously a more poetical point, and I take it as having great meaning. To be a literalist with Dawkins in the way you seem to be seems especially ungenerous and contrarian.
Look, we are exceedingly rare (on many counts) as far as we know. Dawkins is saying what Paul Kurtz, Sagan and others have said movingly: that in our rarity there is preciousness, and building on that, we should suck life dry for all its worth, be grateful, and not be bored with this fleeting life.
This is PK’s “exuberance” and Sagan’s “preciousness” of life. Thoreau, Marcus Aurelius and so many others also make this anti-nihilist point, and I find Dawkins’s flourish the best of the bunch.
To dismiss this kind of appreciation of the brute facticity of our existence as being “banal” because you are asking in what literal sense we’re “lucky” to be alive when those who have never been born are “unlucky” is to miss the point impressively—to imagine Dawkins saying things he clearly didnt say (that we are just our DNA, that nonexistent being have rights not to be insulted by our ingratitude at our actually living etc) misses the opportunity at the wonder and awe at our life that he, Sagan and others advocate.