Sunday, April 08, 2007


Atheist Gospels?

As Ed Brayton has correctly warned on this Blog Against Theocracy weekend, we should avoid simplistic over-generalizing. To be against theocracy is not to be against religion. And not every person who supports what Ed describes as "non-coercive public propping up of religious belief" is a theocrat.

However, our American Constitution, for good or ill, has a particular, some would say peculiar, scheme for protecting against theocracy. You don't have to be a theocrat yourself to advocate actions that threaten that scheme. It follows, then, that fighting against the nibbling at the edges of our protections is a fight against theocracy, even when it is not against theocrats.

Speaking of nibblers, David Klinghoffer of the Discovery Institute is out with an opinion piece that is a fine example of the problem:

While the American cultural landscape includes many religions, it's still fascinating to watch closely when we have the chance to observe a new faith being born. Consider, for example, a religious phenomenon that has been dubbed the "new atheism," prominently represented by some bestselling books.

Calling a disbelief in God "religious," Klinghoffer goes on to make the not-so-suble trope of calling Richard Dawkins' The God Delusion and Sam Harris' Letter to a Christian Nation "atheist gospels."

He complains about how "influential" atheism has become, citing to an article on the study of scientific evidence for the evolution of religious sensibilities that didn't take into account the "possibility that it developed in response to a living God." Naturally, being an article about science, which cannot say anything about gods, living or otherwise, such a mention would be merely paying cheap lip service to God that any intelligent believer would likely find offensive. Certainly, given that the Discovery Institute keeps denying that Intelligent Design is about God, they wouldn't be in favor of mixing science and religion ... right?

Klinghoffer's real aim, of course, is to identify science, particularly "Darwinism," with atheism:

The new religion has a scientific appeal, with orthodox evolutionary theory recruited to provide a rationalistic "proof" for atheist teaching. For this reason, Oxford University biologist Dawkins devotes the "central argument of [his] book" to an attempted refutation of intelligent design (ID), the alternative to neo-Darwinian evolution that has been spearheaded by Seattle's Discovery Institute (where I work).

Unfortunately, Dawkins does not grapple with the latest arguments for intelligent design as formulated by their chief proponents. Harris is similarly preoccupied by ID, which evidently provoked the new atheism's present evangelistic push.

Darwinism, of course, is hardly new. The novelty here lies in the new faith's missionary fervor. Dawkins writes explicitly about making "converts."

Blurring the lines between religion and theology (or beliefs about religion and theology, such as those Dawkins holds) on the one hand and science on the other is the raison d'etre of ID. As Judge Jones, a conservative Republican and devout Christian, found after an extensive trial, "ID is a religious view, a mere re-labeling of creationism, and not a scientific theory."

The part about Dawkins and others not having grappled with "the latest arguments for intelligent design" is hooey. As I've noted before, ID "arguments" are nothing more than argumentum ad ignorantium layered over what Judge Jones rightly called a "contrived dualism." Their arguments all boil down to 'we don't know how this or that attribute of life could have evolved, therefore it must have been created by God.'

As Edward J. Larson pointed out in his book, Evolution (p. 19-20), Georges Cuvier was arguing against evolution (then called "transmutation"), in the 1790s, based on the "irreducible complexity" of the traits of organisms. The only "new" thing that Michael Behe did was to take Cuvier's already disproven argument from the macro world of the interdependency of bone and teeth and eyes and move it to the micro world of blood cascades, flagellum and the like. The only positive "evidence" that has been offered on ID's behalf is an analogy to human artifacts, such as the claim that DNA is like a computer program. In other words, they can do no better than William Paley's watch analogy that Kant was demolishing even before Paley uttered it. Far from being new arguments, ID is barely warmed over Natural Theology.

The rest of Klinghoffer's screed, consciously or not, reveals the real purposes of the Discovery Institute. Alleging that "God gives objective definition to our ideas of right and wrong, crucial for civilization" and "an atheist society [can] not survive," Klinghoffer demonstrates that ID is part of a political agenda that would put the state in service of supporting religion against "atheism," the definition of which is manipulated to include everything secular, such as science, that is not willing or is not able to serve one particular group's belief in "a living God."

Theocracy or not, that's close enough to be worth fighting.


Klinghoffer's new book on the ten commandments will clearly add greatly to the melding of creationism and ID. We don't really need anymore, but if these IDiots want to add fuel, I won't object.
I wonder what the purpose of mentioning the fact that no African-Americans self-identified as atheists in a study could be. Was it an attempt to imply that atheists are racists?

I also wrote something about that opinion piece. I was not impressed, neither by the opinion piece or by the study he referred to.
I assumed it was an attempt generally to paint atheists as those pointy-headed Blue State liberal establishment intellectuals that are so despised in Red State America. His pointing at Jews was funnier to me.

But atheists should really be ashamed for being disproportionately college-educated and affluent!
It looks like I'll have to expand my generalized Godwin's Law to cover a few more cases, "atheism is a religion" and "science requires faith" in particular. And if I reach seven cases, everybody can enjoy the pleasure of Godwinning people by citing "Blake's 7".
Klinghoffer wrote: "In its polling sample, the Baylor study found not one atheist African American."

Obviously they failed to contact any of the members of African-Americans for Humanism.
I thought it very ironic that you linked to a Kant text at the Libery Fund's website, on Kant's views on intelligent design in his own era. I suspect most of the people at the Liberty Fund rather root for ID to win out -- though, in the end, they are much too rational to keep cheering once the idea has been disproven in their mind (and they don't spend much time on biology).

More heavy stuff to read.
I only linked to that site because it was the first one I found that had links to individual sections and, as an ".org," it has a fair chance of being around for a while. I didn't (and still don't) know anything about the Liberty Fund but anyone putting philosophy texts on the web can't be all bad. ;-)

I'll plug The Philosophy of Biology: An Episodic History by Marjorie Grene and David Depew again (that I found out through a glowing endorsement by John Wilkins). It is dense (I consider it good if I get through -- and understand -- 10 pages a day) but I've found at least 4 major arguments against ID that you hear all the time that Kant was making in the 1790s.

Now Kant was a theist and not against creationism but he thought these were bad arguments. The important thing is that it shows how empty the claims of the IDeologists are about their "science" being new.

I'm going to blog on it when I have a chance.
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