Why would a pro-science op-ed give credence to the words of William Dembski?
William Dembski (one of the leading lights of the US intelligent-design lobby) put it like this in an email to Dawkins: “I know that you personally don’t believe in God, but I want to thank you for being such a wonderful foil for theism and for intelligent design more generally. In fact, I regularly tell my colleagues that you and your work are one of God’s greatest gifts to the intelligent-design movement. So please, keep at it!”
You can guess why: to engage in more atheist-bashing. Yes, Dawkins does much to antagonize the godly, and I’ve heard over and over again that that is bad strategy, but I’m sorry, someone must have that discussion. Despite Dembski’s welcome (which reeks of pleas not to be thrown in that there briar patch, Br’er Fox), the surest and I think the only way to end the creationist threat and many other social ills is to undermine the credulous authority granted to the religious. Trying to nibble away at the edges and parading around those awkward scientist-Christian chimeras as representative, while reassuring the cow-eyed masses that “yes, your sons and daughters can be smarter than you are while retaining the same blind obedience to Mother Church” is the strategy we’ve been trying for years and years, to utter, abysmal failure.
Scientists will never be the close, reassuring father figures that Americans see every week. We will always be threats to the backwards-looking flocks of the majority of the religious, and we will always be railed against from the pulpits—science is an alternative and better way to approach the truth, so we are the competition. The only religion that we can coexist with is one that abandons dogma and scriptural authority, that concedes all explanations of the natural world to the scientific process rather than ancient writ, and to short-circuit the inevitable whining that will follow in the comments thread: those faiths and those individuals are in the minority just as much as we atheists are, and are regarded by the Baptists and the Catholics and the Lutherans and the Mormons and other established sects as just as much of an evil.
Dawkins goes for the root of the problem. It’s the only way. The rest of you can keep nipping at the twigs, but you’re just playing at topiary, rather than addressing the source of our conflict.
The real problem isn’t Dawkins—it’s the spectacle of sorry appeasers like Michael Ruse trying to silence dissent. Oh, no, religion is sacrosanct; we must not speak the truth, or we’ll rouse the ire of the true believers.
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.”
Hmmm. in•e•luc•ta•ble: “unable to be resisted or avoided; inescapable.” Dawkins doesn’t say that. He has said that evolution made atheism intellectually respectable, by providing a natural explanation for a prominent feature of our world, organic life. He has said that religion is a foolish delusion, and on that I agree with him; are we to be denied the privilege of criticizing foolishness? No one claims that science leads inescapably to atheism, since as any idiot can tell, many good scientists are also religious (which, of course, does not make religion good).
Ruse compounds his stupid error of equating “Darwinism” (have I ever mentioned that I hate that term?) with atheism, something that we do try not do, with his argument that this hypothetical, nonexistent state of affairs would violate the separation of church and state. Atheism is not a religion. Teaching science is not the same as teaching atheism, as Dawkins would plainly say, while Ruse is the one who insists on conflating them. Ruse is the one who is playing into their hands.
Try this: evolution is a secular theory. I’m sure even Ruse would agree with that statement, and it’s much more accurate than claiming it is an atheistic theory. Now update his sentence with this more accurate phrase: “If Darwinism equals secularism than it can’t be taught in US schools because of the constitutional separation of church and state.”
I know, dear readers, that sounds insane and internally contradictory to you, but that is exactly what the religious hordes who oppose the teaching of evolution think. “Atheism” is merely one label for the things they hate, but “secularism” and “secular humanism” are also things they want to extirpate.
Atheism is the easy target. Secularism is next, then deistic freethought, then non-Christians, and finally we’ll have the schisms between the different sects. Ruse and the author of this op-ed are just waging the first stages of the war against secularism for the theocrats; this is why Dembski can so love Dawkins, because he can relish the sight of all of his opponents turning to slash at one of the few clear-sighted enough to see where the struggle has to go.
Madeleine Bunting, the author, is so clueless to what is at stake that I had to laugh aloud at where she took her diatribe next. When she starts talking about what religion is really about, all she’s got are naturalistic/materialistic evolutionary explanations about the advantages of religious belief on an individual and social and cultural level.
Both Dennett and Wolpert acknowledge that religion may have provided evolutionary advantages for humans. There’s good evidence for faith improving mental health and optimism, and reducing stress; shamanism, with its placebo effect, was the best healthcare system for thousands of years. Dennett cites those who argue that faith improves cooperation within groups (though not between them). This argument raises the crucial question of whether, in an era of globalisation and limited resources, religion has outrun its evolutionary advantage.
Nothing about God, or Jesus, or the Holy Ghost; nothing about faith and an afterlife; nothing about salvation or damnation. It’s all about belief, nothing but belief, as a biological mechanism that confers a selective or physiological advantage. No god is necessary for this mechanism to work. It’s as atheistical as anything Dawkins has ever said.
Remember, Madeleine, as you turn up your nose and sneer and favor the Dembskis of the world who love the way you applaud as they demonize us atheists: they see no difference between you and us, and you are next.