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March 28, 2006

Does Darwinism Lead to Atheism?

A split seems to be developing among pro-evolution (anti-intelligent design) forces, with the work of Richard Dawkins and Daniel Dennett the major bones of contention. The selection below is from a new piece by Madeleine Bunting, an old friend in this blog, in the Guardian:


'Michael Ruse, a prominent Darwinian philosopher (and an agnostic) based in the US, with a string of books on the subject, is exasperated: "Dawkins and Dennett are really dangerous, both at a moral and a legal level." The nub of Ruse's argument is that Darwinism does not lead ineluctably to atheism, and to claim that it does (as Dawkins does) provides the intelligent-design lobby with a legal loophole: "If Darwinism equals atheism then it can't be taught in US schools because of the constitutional separation of church and state. It gives the creationists a legal case. Dawkins and Dennett are handing these people a major tool."'

In his blog, The Proper Study Of Mankind, from which I learned of this latest Bunting blast, Dan Jones does a fine job of unpacking the Bunting-Rose position. He has a go at the "legal loophole," atheism-as-religion argument. But also takes on the Darwinism=atheism question: Jones concedes that "the specific claims of" science and evolution may not be "utterly incompatible with a religious conception of the universe (you can always tweak your scientific and religious models to mesh with one another)." But he contends that "scientific investigation just doesn't tend towards theism and belief in God."

This tending away from theism (and you-know-Whom) by science, while it is wrestling with creationism, throws Bunting into something of a panic:

'Across the US, a crude and erroneous conflict is being created between science as atheism and religion. It's important that Britain avoids the trap that America is falling into, not just because it endangers good science, but also because there is a fascinating debate worth having about what scientific method can reveal about faith, and what theologians have to say about science.'

Bunting is right about the scientific method shedding light on faith. That, as she acknowledges, is the point of Dennett's book. But seeing science as irreligious won't interfere with this effort. Exactly what light theologians can shed on science she neglects specify.

Posted by Mitchell Stephens at March 28, 2006 5:56 PM


Faith historically has one light to shed on science - that of the pyre.
Religion has crept back into politics this time to face a relatively cohesive atheist reactionary movement - and now that science is putting the torch to religion, the lunatics are grabbing anything they can get a hold on. This includes trying to separate science and religion into two independent fields of study and denying any overlap. Oops, can't kill the scientist anymore, so try to convince everyone that religion is out of his scope. God's ways are too mysterious.

Incidentally there is an article in the New Yorker called "The God Project" which is just about the topic of this post talking about Dennett, Dawkins, memes, and the fabricated incompatibility of science and theology... except the author of the article seems to actually conclude that they are indeed incompatible.

"Religious beliefs," he writes "including those abstract ones having little relation to any particular tradition may very well be mistaken. But it seems clear that any such conclusion must come from someplace other than science."

If he's a New Yorker I propose that we go TP his house, who's with me?

On further reflection maybe we should save the TP for it's intended purpose, since history is, perhaps, on his side. For how many centuries have scientist been dangling the evidence in front of the masses? Five since Galileo, three since Newton, one and a half since Darwin. Just makes one want to order six billion "I'm with stupid" t-shirts and deliver them to the doorstep of every place of worship around the world.

Maybe people will believe what they want to believe regardless of the evidence against it. Ayn Rand's work comes to mind. She didn't talk science, she talked philosophy, and she gave people a reason not to want to believe. And she made it accessible to the masses. Maybe that's the answer.

Posted by: Andrey at March 28, 2006 9:32 PM

Err, meant five since Copernicus, but Galileo belongs in the lineup as well.

Posted by: Andrey at March 28, 2006 9:42 PM

actually copernicanism did not put an end to religious feeling, nor did darwinism, nor freud not marx, it seems to persist in innumerable permutations and degrees of strength among benign citizens as well as "fanatics" . it's certainly amenable to study.

Dawkins's fervor is nothing if not religious. He fell to his knees before the Replicator that manifested on his computer screen. He and Dennett are perfectly correct; as James Merrill's mystic interlocutors proclaimed: God Biology rules. Evolution counteracts entropy, locally-they say, but what draws the borders on the local? The evolution of memes may, or perhaps one can show, even must, bring us to higher levels of freedom, "bootstrapping" (Dennett's term) to a higher platform, finally engulfing the material. Right? This is all right in their books.

What about post-atheism? Isn't atheism a bit passe'?
Certainly its been taken for granted in the Western European intelligentsia for a long time -- a post-atheist sees arguments contra the existence of god as impossible as arguments pro, and questions their motivation. Keeps as holy only a space of conceptual freedom in his head that interrogates authority, conformity, technology, morals etc. And not without difficulty.

Posted by: mark shulgasser at April 10, 2006 4:13 PM

interesting. your post-atheism=agnosticism?

Posted by: mitch at April 11, 2006 2:13 PM

I see your agony at finding a name for what you describe as holy. And I raise you a why must we name the magic? Can we not recognize there is much beyond our description without confining it to one word? Symbols are not what they represent. It is better to not say anything than to limit the magic. But that, even more, is not without much difficulty and risk.

Posted by: Jay Saul at April 19, 2006 11:17 PM

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