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Friday, July 07, 2006

When materialism trickles down: The collateral damage

Recently, I received this post from a non-admirer. I am publishing it, without any intentional identifying marks, because there is an implicit threat of some obscure kind at the end. I comment below:
Subject: Academic interest versus life assuring discoveries.

Great numbers of people view the theory of evolution with disdain. They believe that a deity created the world as it is in less than a week , and that the planet is really quite young. I do not question their beliefs , nor am I concerned with their dissemination. What does concern me , however , is the people themselves who hold these beliefs as the only possible truth . My interest in science is not simply from a belief system or academic interest , but is born of absolute necessity. My life literaly depends upon it . I am battling a syndrome of illnesses that has taken the lives of [more than fifty] close friends , and will eventually kill an enormous segment of Africa. HIV/AIDS. It is no small irony that those with conservative/fundamentalist beliefs that include creationism , are the same people who fought so relentlessly in opposition to funding for the development of treatment options to counteract , or prevent viral replication in HIV/AIDS. The medications we have today came too late for so many good and decent people. The judgemental and condemnatory attitude from the religious right , which persists today ; denied any possiblity of additional life to people I loved more than life itself. The rhetoric heard from the 'creationists', when addressing the subject of homosexuals and AIDS is at opposite ends of the spectrum from the actions of said group. I think it is appropriate to this topic of discussion , and the types of individuals that would participate , to remind them of a couple of facts that are self evident. Firstly , we are , here in [country] , a secualar democracy , to the chagrin of the O'Leary's , McVety's and Stilwells of society. Secondly the US Supreme Court gave what I think is the most articulate description of true freedom I've yet heard. They said "At the heart of liberty is the right to define one'sown concept of existence , of the meaning of the universe , and of the mystery of human life." I do not jest when I state that any further obstacles to continued life by those who despise science , in lieu of mysticism and superstition , will not for a moment be tolerated . You have not only done irreparable damage to the very fabric of humanity; you've gotten away with it.

A friend comments,
Sad, misguided thinking on the writer's part. Furthermore, most of the people that I know who are doing work in the AIDS field and ministering without judgment to the dying are all.....devout Christians of what the writer would call "the right-wing" variety.

So easy to scapegoat and stereotype indeed.

Oh, I am sure that's true! People must believe in something more concrete than warm fuzzies or "unleashing the inner beast" to risk themselves to get anything useful done. So I would expect more traditional Christians to risk themselves than post-boomer whatevers. And that is what we do see.

The writer of the threat post sadly displays the damage done by the trickleinto the popular culture of the point of view about humanity that Darwinists such as Dennett and Dawkins encourage (= no free will, hatred of religion).

Note that:

(1) He blames me and some people I don't know (McVetys? Stilwells?) for the fact that he has AIDS and nearly five dozen friends died from it. He simply does not consider that he and they made choices for their own lives. (Or, if they - for example - got AIDS from a blood transfusion, they are surely entitled to compensation. And I simply do not know anyone who would not support that.)

(2) He believes that conservative Christians are to blame for the fact that cures are slow in coming and also that "creationism" is somehow related to that problem. Presumably, he thinks that - just because many diseases can be treated successfully -cures are inevitable.

Therefore, if cures are slow in coming, someone is to blame.

Sorry, no. We are all mortal. We can actually put such a strain on our bodies that they collapse, despite the best medical interventions.

No one is to blame for human physiology in a world where all flesh dies, and all species go extinct eventually.

If we cooperate, our bodies usually work. In other words, we cooperate or die.

The creationist has no special protection from all this. But, acting under religious advice, he may well avoid triggering disaster. That does not make him responsible for the fate of those who refuse to heed the warnings that he did heed.

(3) Note the threat at the end: ("I do not jest when I state that any further obstacles to continued life by those who despise science, in lieu of mysticism and superstition , will not for a moment be tolerated . You have not only done irreparable damage to the very fabric of humanity; you've gotten away with it.")

One reason I am sometimes short-tempered with Christians who don't "get it" about the roots and fruits of this kind of hatred is that, by now, I think it is past time they started "getting it."

This guy hates me NOT because "Christians have failed him" or "he wasn't shown enough love by Christians" or "we need to radically alter society," or "the wrong sort of people are involved with ID."

Nonsense. All utter nonsense.

He hates me because he honestly cannot accept responsibility for the circumstances in which he finds himself.

He probably does not believe that he either can or should be expected to accept responsibility. Perhaps he does not even believe that he ultiamtely has free will.

So he is looking for a place to vent anger. This is sad because, no matter where we find ourselves, simply accepting responsibility for our share in where we stand makes us part of the solution. Looking for someone else to be responsible is a waste of time.
If you like this blog, check out my book on the intelligent design controversy, By Design or by Chance?. You can read excerpts as well.

Former bioethics head: "Modern science is a religion for many of its practitioners"

Leon Kass, who chaired the Council on bioethics from 2001 through 2005, and was known for promoting intrinsic human dignity, recently made a very interesting comment
I think modern science is a religion for many of its practitioners, by which I mean they have utter faith in the sufficiency of their concepts to give a full account of life. But science cannot be a source of wisdom. By design it is morally neutral and indifferent to the pursuit of wisdom about human life that was the goal of pre-modern thought. If modernity went wrong, it was in taking the partial truths of science to be the whole truth about the world. One needs to recover a certain sense of the genuine mysteries of our existence on earth, which science doesn't explain but rather tries to explain away. The current argument of intelligent design is, however miscast, a way of raising again these fundamental questions. We need to restore a more philosophical science.

Kass's remarks are important for understanding the tangled controversies around the teaching of Darwinism in the schools. Nothing could be clearer than the way in which the American Association of Biology Teachers intended to use biology classes to promote the worldview of materialism and Darwinism in the mid-Nineties, as an "unsupervised" and "impersonal" process. I have no reason to think that their goals have changed. I suspect that they were a teeny bit sobered to discover that putting themselves in direct conflict with, for example, the Catholic Church on an essentially religious and philosophical issue could raise questions of separation of church and state.

It is nearly impossible to have a reasonable discussion of these issues in current legacy media because the legacy story template requires that the fundamentalists start the controversy. In fact, beginning from the 1925 Scopes trial down to the present day, it was always the materialists who actually started the conflict. How often do you hear it acknowledged that Scopes was teaching from a text that promoted eugenics?

As a textbook editor myself, part time, I simply cannot imagine the material that appeared in Scopes's text passing muster today. William Jennings Bryan opposed that stuff way back then. That's what started the controversy. As Secretary of State during World War I, Bryan knew where the growing popularity of eugenic theory was leading Germany.

There is a whole hidden history here, about the use of biology classes to promote materialism and a variety of other questionable causes - material for a book, if I can get a generous enough advance to pay for all the research. Goodness knows, there's boxcars of material to go through.

Why a hidden history? Well, a lot of big butts must be covered. H.L. Mencken, who popularized the view that only the booboisie would oppose Darwinism, supported eugenics. While I am here, I have noticed a tendency in American literati to refuse to face up to the fact the Mencken was a Hitler fan and an anti-democrat, as Terry Teachout shows. I am always hearing excuses, excuses, excuses for Mencken from the lar-di-dah quarters. Why?

Here's why I think they excuse him: They are so gutless that they cannot either believe or say what Mencken did, but they admire him for the guts to do it. In other words, they are not cowed by virtue or reason but by mere cowardice and political correctness. Except for their cowardice, Mencken's fascist leanings would be entirely in character for them, as they confront a world that rejects their materialist orthodoxies.

Clarence Darrow, who muscled the case away from ACLU, opposed eugenics, but did not believe in free will. Remember that when you hear him portrayed as a hero.

Kass also has some interesting things to say about technology:
Technology is more than machinery and acquired power to change the way things are. At its root, the technological disposition believes all aspects of life can be rationally mastered through technique. So now we have techniques for solving marital problems, grief, and almost everything else. And at the end of the day you've utterly transformed the character of human life. Eventually the things that really matter--family life, worship, self-governance, education of the next generation--become threatened.

Of course, there really are no techniques for solving the most fundamental human problems. Life is an experience to be lived, not a problem to be solved.
If you like this blog, check out my book on the intelligent design controversy, By Design or by Chance?. You can read excerpts as well.

Mass market materialism: Its hidden costs

Mustafa Akyol comments that the idea that "material things are the only things that matter" - the very philosophy that Darwinism so helpfully underwrites - misleads Muslims about life in North America, and thus inadvertently provides the fanatic with a platform.

... many Muslims -- in Turkey and elsewhere -- despise capitalism and perceive it as something both alien and destructive to Islam. Yet this is a misdirected disdain. When you look at anti-capitalist rhetoric in Muslim circles, you will see that it is focused on sexual laxity, prostitution, drugs, crime, or the general selfishness in Western societies. Yet these are not the inherent elements of capitalism, they would be better explained by the term "cultural materialism" - the idea that material things are the only things that matter. Most Muslims who abhor capitalism simply confuse it with materialism.

Such worried Muslims would be quite surprised to discover that some of the most outspoken advocates of the free market in the West are also staunch defenders of religious faith, family values and the healthy role of both in public life. Unfortunately, the synthesis of democratic capitalism with Judeo-Christian values -- which is basically an American, not a European phenomenon -- is not well known in the Islamic world. The America of churches and charities is poorly represented in the global mass media. Quite the contrary, what most Muslims see as standard Americans are the unabashed hedonists of MTV and Hollywood.

Akyol, who writes for the financial markets, argues that Islam is fully compatible with capitalism. I, for one, would have to agree; many small Muslim-owned businesses in Toronto offer excellent service at reasonable prices, and I doubt that the proprietors feel conflicted about religion.

Similarly, I remember the day last summer, at a local garden centre, where one of the employees was a young Muslim woman. I overheard her tell a more senior staff: "Look, the boss must soon face reality! These rose bushes are too old, so no one buys them. All day she is paying me to water a product that loses value every hour. Tell her to put them on sale at a dollar each, no refunds, and get them out of here. Customers will buy armloads of them, and I will go back to doing something that it is worth her while to pay me for. Anything that isn't sold by next week, just throw out." The boss accepted her advice.

Now there was a person who understood the fine art of cutting your losses and focusing on the high profit centers. And I believe she was only about 23 or so.
If you like this blog, check out my book on the intelligent design controversy, By Design or by Chance?. You can read excerpts as well.

Are you looking for one of the following stories?

A summary of recent opinion columns on the ID controversy

A summary of recent polls of US public opinion on the ID controversy

A summary of the Catholic Church's entry into the controversy, essentially on the side of ID.

O'Leary's intro to non-Darwinian agnostic philosopher David Stove ?

An ID Timeline: The ID folk seem always to win when they lose.

O’Leary’s comments on Francis Beckwith, a Dembski associate, being denied tenure at Baylor.

Why origin of life is such a difficult problem.
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