Because most philosophies that frown on reproduction don't survive.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Science, Atheism and the Big Tent

Science blog Pure Pedantry has a post up entitled Why Pairing Science and Atheism is High-Brow (HT: Razib), which makes some interesting reading, especially from the point of view of a Christian with an interest in science.

The context for the piece is the argument among science bloggers (all of those involved atheists, so far as I'm aware) over what the relationship between science and atheism ought to be. The "neo-atheists" (generally fans of the Dawkins, Dennet, Harris books that have recently been appearing) essentially assert that one must be an atheist to have a truly scientific mind -- and so the cause of science is best advanced by getting rid of religion as quickly as possible. The other folks (most amusingly called the "Neville Chamberlain atheists") maintain either that religion is pretty much built into the human creature or that it will die off eventually on its own, but either way that trying to abolish religion as a first order of business will simply turn the vast majority of the population off science permanently.

The article is centered around a 1922 piece written by John Dewey, reacting to the Scopes Trail and the triumph of William Jennings Bryan. Dewey's point is essentially that, tempting as it might be for progressives to attack Dewey and the evangelical/populist movement that he represented, it would be counter productive to do so since in doing so they would be cutting themselves off as a "high-brow" group with no sympathy from the majority of the population. The authors on Pure Pedantry feel that science is in a similar situation in regards to religion: If they declare war, they'll lose, since most people are already religious and would simply write science and scientists off.

Now clearly, I've got some basic philosophical disconnects with the mentality behind the post. They think that religion is essentially irrational, but that one can overlook it and deal with people on a scientific basis anyway. I see a totally materialistic worldview as lying somewhere between the irrational and the unsatisfying (either you're a materialist who thinks the world means nothing, and that should be unsatisfying, or you're a materialist who thinks the world does mean something, and that's irrational.)

However, I see the point to a similar willingness to coexist with a scientific community whose practitioners are, let's face it, mostly atheists and agnostics. Theists are, I think, unwise to go to war with the idea of a methodologically materialist approach to scientific enquiry because, in diagnosing the workings of material systems, such an approach works well and is entirely appropriate. Now, this kind of enquiry both attracts those with an atheistic bent (after all, there is at that point nothing else in the world to know) and also may win some converts to atheism. However, I'm fairly confident, as a Christian, that most people will not be won over to the view that the only things that can be known at material things learned through material investigation. It's just not a viewpoint that "rings true" for most people. It leaves too many spiritual and intellectual needs in the human person unmet.

1 comment:

Geoffrey said...

Wow. That's all I can say after reading that article. And all this time I thought people who believed in an atheistic conspiracy to take over the world were lunatics.

Now I understand why people really are so afraid of atheists. They really are close-minded and agenda-driven. Though, I'm not sure why this should surprise me.

I should really play devil's advocate someday, pretend to be one of them, and ask some hard questions, to get the scoop from the inside and demonstrate how atheism means not only the death of religion, but also of philosophy, art, music, and everything else meaningful.

Would it be sinful to embark on such an undercover campaign?