Okay. Let's say I am a true believer in some religion which rejects all science as the beguiling work of the devil, and refuses to adjust one iota its medieval teachings that the world is the center of all creation, that all heavenly objects revolve around it, and that all species simultaneously emerged on its surface in their present forms. My religion is thus a cult of ignorance to which I happily subscribe.
Let's also assume that I've been instructed by this religion that the doors of heaven are open only to those who do all they can to relieve temporal human suffering. In the expectation of reaping the promised posthumous reward of a joyous life eternal, I spend my earthly existence working tirelessly, and at great sacrifice to my own safety and comfort, to improving the lots of the ill, the hungry and the impoverished. I achieve some significant success in these efforts. Without the promise of divine reward, however, I would have been content to allow the world's unfortunates to go on wallowing in their miseries. My good deeds are thus motivated solely by self-interest.
Do I get two in the head and dumped in a ditch for being willfully ignorant and selfish? It seems to me this would be counter-productive from the perspective of utilitarian pragmatism.
I think it would be up to the meritocratic council, but given that a) humans are mortal and b) your actions are in fact self-sacrificing however they are motivated, I think we'd be willing to let you get on with your work. So long, of course, as you were willing to let everyone else do the same. "Do as thou wilt though it harm none."
There is a difference between self-interest and willful selfishness, and the fruits of your work have value. Besides, the wonderful thing about time is that it heals all wounds... bad or foolish people will die off, and their children are likely to be a little less bad/foolish. In the long run, I have confidence that reason will win over faith because all reason and science ask are that you open your eyes and see for yourself.
Implicit here is the notion that the development of life capable of abstract reasoning is the "purpose" of evolution and its apparent corollary that human beings, the only organisms known to be capable of this activity, represent the pinnacle of evolution. The engine of biological evolution, however, is the promulgation of capacities which permit organisms to survive in their environments long enough to pass on their genetic material through some form of reproduction. Since cockroaches appear at least as qualified in this respect as theoretical physicists, the underlying premises smack more of quasi-religious faith than of reason. Indeed, they seem to run counter to the last 500 years of scientific thought which has placed our planet and our species further and further from the epicenter of creation.
Even without considering whether such products of abstract reasoning as excess greenhouse gas emissions, nuclear weapons, and the global spread of pestilence will ultimately eradicate intelligent life from the planet, the jury is still out on how enduring a capacity it will prove to be. Life existed on this planet for something in the neighborhood of 4 billion years before the emergence of human intelligence. It is thus not difficult to conceive of an evolutionary tree in which the capacity for abstract thought never emerges or, having emerged, falls from the tree like a diseased limb. While inquiry into meaning appears to be a concomitant of human intelligence, this does not suggest there is one.
We don't actually know that human beings are the only organisms known to be capable of abstract reasoning. For one thing, it's a really big universe and if this is the only planet with life on it then SOMETHING has its fingers on the scales somewhere. Vanishingly unlikely, to my mind.
Second, we're learning more and more that lots of different creatures on our planet are quite capable of tool use and problem solving. So what if we got there first, they're still on that same path. I've seen squirrels do some pretty impressive problem solving, I've seen blue jays and crows figure out just how to get at the new birdfeeder designed to keep them away and I've seen dogs work out that going away from what they want will get them closer to it once they untangle themselves from their leash.
I will admit that my hope that evolution and reason have a purpose is close to faith. It's a weakness of mine, this hope for a greater purpose to creation. But the search for knowledge and the drive to understand the universe is pretty damn near hard-wired into humanity, that's the root from which religion grows. Still, even if there is no purpose to existence, life is purely accidental and on death our consciousness scatters out across the universe as waste heat there is still value in searching for knowledge and wisdom.
Consider the sheer amount of energy required to put a satellite in orbit, to put a man on the moon or to hit Mars with a remote controlled car. Curiosity landed within 2.4 km of its planned target after a journey of 563 million some miles... Unless we go and get it, it will be there forever. None of that was necessary from a purely survival point of view, but we have done all these things and more. Because we want to know, because we want to go and see. Why?
I have hope that humanity will survive and take the great step up and away from our planet. Granted I'm also a cynic and I have no faith that we'll manage the supreme acts of will that it will take to keep ourselves alive long enough to get our base urges under control, but still I hope that we will. Intelligence isn't necessary to survival (may, as you suggest, be counter-survival in the long run) but it's what we've got and look how far it has taken us. We use our intelligence to create wonders and they are OUR wonders. If we can just get a lock on our selfish, ignorant, small-minded urges we could do so much more.
If humanity survives the next century (I don't have much faith in that, we really are a stupid species in some ways) then who knows what we can accomplish. We can build matchbox cars small enough to roll around on a human hair, and we can build sky-scraping buildings. We create wonders simply because we can, almost instinctively, and every time our tools improve the wonders grow more wondrous.
If intelligence, if UNDERSTANDING is not the cause for existence, then we can damned well MAKE it the reason for existence. Because there is an entire universe of mysteries to solve and wonders to imagine and then make real.
~Contemplating the Art and Craft of Bonsai Solforming~