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Thursday, December 21, 2006

Godless chic: Brought to you by spineless wonders

A friend pointed me to an article in the Los Angeles Times, extolling the current "godless chic," which has attracted the attention of other bloggers. There is the “your God is a fraud” thing (Jesus never existed; men stupider than him made him up) or Blasphemy Challenge thing (deny the Holy Spirit on YouTube and see if Anyone cares).

This isn't surprising, of course. Given who is behind blasphemy chic, etc., the atheism in question is materialist atheism*, of which Darwinism is the creation story.

And Darwinism is itself a failing god. The intelligentsia believe with all their hearts but the sullen proles largely will not budge. If anything, some who once tramped along with the sodden mass may be plodding back home even now.

But you cannot have a revolution without foot soldiers and tank fodder. So a recruitment drive is in order, all the more so because atheists tend not to produce many children. (Whether this is because atheists are better or worse than the common run of humanity, I waive; at the end of the day it means that the church of atheism won't need fundraising barbecues for a Sunday school wing.)

As Douglas Futuyma wrote in one edition of his textbook promoting Darwinism:

Darwin showed that material causes are a sufficient explanation not only for physical phenomena, as Descartes and Newton had shown, but also for biological phenomena with all their seeming evidence of design and purpose. By coupling undirected, purposeless variation to the blind, uncaring process of natural selection, Darwin made theological or spiritual explanations of the life processes superfluous. Together with Marx's materialistic theory of history and society and Freud's attribution of human behavior to influences over which we have little control, Darwin's theory of evolution was a crucial plank in the platform of mechanism and materialism… (3rd edition, 1998, p. 5)

Well, as we all know, it’s hard to find anyone who will say a good word for Marx today (absent a gun pointed at his head) and every year ushers in another mainstream trade book trashing Freud. So far, Darwin survives mainly because he is the "loveliest vision far" of materialism's faded hierarchy**.

You see, according to the committed, his theory accounts for everything from cosmic black holes to why people go to church.

I’m going to pass on the black holes but, as for the Darwinist religion's accounts of traditional religions, not only are they are becoming increasingly ludicrous, but increasing numbers of thoughtful people seem aware of that fact. For example, Darwinist philosopher Daniel Dennett's recent tome, Breaking the Spell , did not spark the sort of "Right ON, buddy!" response from the American secular intelligentsia that I might have expected; acute, penetrating criticisms abounded, as Mario Beauregard and I will discuss in our forthcoming book The Spiritual Brain (Harper 2007) .

My sense is that it all isn't working any more, but the upcoming Darwin bicentennial is good excuse for the entertainment of the saints of Darwinism, and they can probably get most of it publicly funded too. Meanwhile, there is blasphemy chic, trashing Christianity.

A few items of interest in this scene:

Why Christianity? Why not Islam? Well, for one thing, Muslims tend to actually respond to this kind of thing. Christians don't. There is an organization of Christians in science in the United States called American Scientific Affiliation, with about 2000 members, but they seem dedicated to ignoring these obvious affronts, and claiming to an increasingly restless public that there is no conflict between Darwinism and the traditional religions. Indeed, they have so far managed to ignore the fact that increasingly strident Darwinists claim that there is indeed such a conflict.

I suspect that the key boffins at ASA would be inclined to blame those who openly question Darwinism for "causing" the atheist outbursts. In much the same way, under Marxist regimes, the churches that went along with Marxism used to blame traditional Christians who refused to do so, for bringing upon themselves the persecution they suffered at the hands of Marxists.

Right now, the ASA is making much of genome mapper Francis Collins, whom I regard as an intellectual lightweight. I tried to say that in as nice a way as possible in my recent review of his book because he sounds like a really nice guy. If nice is all you need, he's your man.

Why I think Collins is an intellectual lightweight: Well, how about this: He composed a folk song about his worthy goal of making cystic fibrosis history, but what his research has most significantly led to is prenatal detection, which is a way of making CF children history. I know, I know, other good may come of it and some people will be mad at me for even bringing this up.

But we live in a world where, when mommy whispers in your ear "I specially loved and wanted you!", what she means is, you passed a battery of quality control tests, and if you hadn't, you had a first class ticket to the Medical Waste bucket. Today's glitzy mommies don't love loser kids. To the extent that Collins' research has contributed, I would have more respect for him if he openly acknowledged and dealt with that in his book.

Most Darwinists are in fact pro-abortion, as far as I can see, and most of the ID guys go the other way. That is not an accident. All these people can at least follow through an argument to a logical conclusion about the value of human life and the meaning of suffering.

Anyway, back to the larger question: Why does the church of Darwin focus its efforts on attacking the Christian churches and not, say, Islam?. Well, fear may be one reason but another possibility is raised by an article by Mary Eberstadt in Real Clear Politics, "The Scapegoats Among Us." She asks the same question about the larger horizon of world politics: Why do so many American and European pundits write obsessive books attacking American Christians when the real threat - as news reports make very plain - is non-traditional, highly politicized Islamic groups?

Her thesis, which I find persuasive, is that when people are aware of a threat that they have no idea how to deal with, they look for a scapegoat. Someone they can blame who has limited resources for fighting back. They project onto that party all their anxieties and hostilities.

Case in point: Christian countries do not have a penalty for blasphemy nor are any significant Christian groups seeking one. Heck, you can blaspheme on youtube, if you don't mind feeling a fool in ten years, in front of the Thames Valley Presbyterian Elders.***

But some countries DO have a penalty for blasphemy - the death penalty - and it is carried out often enough to be a cause for concern. Guess which religion is the only one permitted in such countries? Got it in one, did you? Good for you.

So, suppose you are an atheist living in a Western country with entrenched freedom of religion. It's Sunday morning. No one bothers you on your godless Sunday at home. Your neighbour doesn't go to church either, but only because she is lazy, so you don't trust her. The family across the street, all six of them, is loading up the minivan's carseats and heading off to Beulah Community Church.

You know that most of the world thinks that the human being has a spiritual nature and that bugs you. You want to tell them they are wrong, that their experience of life is wrong. But you daren't address real issues of religious freedom and persecution because then you would find yourself smack up against the type of people that the Canadian Army is fighting in Afghanistan. Those people do not believe in your right to a godless Sunday at home. Heck, a wall could fall down on you, and it might not be an accident.

So, if Eberstadt is right - and I think she is - you will suddenly decide that Mr. And Mrs. Minivan and the tangle of tiny sneakers littering their front hall represent a serious threat. Hence all the books on the threat they represent. And now, sure enough, we see the Church of Darwin promoting blasphemy "against the Holy Spirit" as a form of self-expression - but not against the Taliban's God, where it would matter.

Some call it picking your fights. Others call it hiding out. I call it another stop on the long road of decline for materialist philosophies. And I say so for a good reason: A philosophy that cannot confront actual threats with a viable program is doomed.

*Historically, atheists have not always been materialists; indeed, one can easily be an atheist without being a materialist, though one’s godless universe itself must then be endowed with some sort of cosmic mind or karmic law.

**(apologies owed to Keats. )

*** But whatever you do, please don't go on one of those American Christian TV shows and emote. Just learn your lesson and shuddup. Every teenager goes through a stage when traditional beliefs seem wrong, and the best explanation is that the teen is learning how to appropriate an independent intellectual perspective. The beliefs may be wrong, of course, but that is not the reason for the angst. The teen is disturbed by the need to develop an independent perspective, which requires a variety of new cognitive skills. The smarter the kid, the longer and harder the road.
My other blog is the Mindful Hack, which keeps tabs on neuroscience and the mind.

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?

My review of Francis Collins’ book The Language of God , my backgrounder about peer review issues, or the evolutionary biologist’s opinion that all students friendly to intelligent design should be flunked.

Lists of theoretical and applied scientists who doubt Darwin and of academic ID publications.

My U of Toronto talk on why there is an intelligent design controversy, or my talk on media coverage of the controversy at the University of Minnesota.

A summary of tech guru George Gilder's arguments for ID and against Darwinism

A critical look at why March of the Penguins was thought to be an ID film.

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’s critique of Darwinism.

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

Why origin of life is such a difficult problem.
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