Evangelical atheists crusade against ‘pernicious’ religions
November 17, 2006
WASHINGTON - When it comes to science and God, Americans want it all — “MRIs and miracles,” according to this week’s Time magazine. Increasingly, however, evangelicals are standing in the way. But these religionists may not be who you think.
Richard Dawkins, Oxford Darwinist and best-selling author of “The God Delusion,” says you can’t have it all. Religion is pernicious and survives only because it has direct or indirect Darwinian survival value. Faith is largely a side-effect of the trust we learn as youths. But luckily for us, according to Dawkins, “Darwin made it possible to be an intellectually fulfilled atheist.”
Atheist philosopher Daniel Dennett, recent author of “Breaking the Spell: Religion as a Natural Phenomenon,” has long claimed Darwinism to be a “universal acid” which eats through all traditional notions of God and morality. For Dennett, religion survives because our brains evolved, albeit irrationally, to fall in love, which of course has reproductive advantages.
And in a recent Newsweek, atheist neuroscientist Sam Harris, author of “The End of Faith” and most recently “Letter to a Christian Nation,” presents his “Case Against Faith.” And where does he begin? At the beginning, of course, deriding the faithful for suggesting God had something to do with nature.
What is happening? Is it all just election-year hoopla against the religious right? I suggest another explanation. A quiet revolution is underway; and it will not be publicized.
It’s now been more than 80 years since Hubble observed evidence for the Big Bang, challenging the conventional wisdom among scientists that the universe was eternal. As theoretical physicist Stephen Hawking commented, “Almost everyone now believes that the universe, and time itself, had a beginning at the Big Bang.”
Four decades ago, scientists began to notice the “fine-tuning” of the laws of physics, thus revealing the vast odds against a life-sustaining universe. As just one example, if gravity were one part in 100 billion greater or smaller, life would not be possible. Our universe would have kept expanding without forming galaxies, or matter in our universe would have stuck together without forming stars and planets.
And it’s been 10 years since Michael Behe’s “Darwin’s Black Box” first awakened a slumbering world to the “irreducible complexity” of many molecular systems, showing that a step-by-step Darwinian process couldn’t have produced them and that, instead, intelligent foresight was necessary.
We are in the midst of not one but two information revolutions. In the last half-century, scientists have recorded reams of genetic information as well as an intricate system for storing, copying, and editing this information, leading Bill Gates to comment that “DNA is like a computer program but far, far more advanced than any software ever created.” The cell is a far cry from what scientists in Darwin’s day thought was something like a simple blob of Jell-O.
Some intellectuals are noticing. Probably the most cited atheist philosopher of the last half-century is Antony Flew. At Oxford, Flew sparred at C.S. Lewis’ Socratic Club. But in case you missed it, due to the mounting scientific evidence, Flew has become a theist. “I think the argument to intelligent design is enormously stronger than it was when I first met it,” Flew said in an interview.
He insists that he doesn’t believe in heaven, hell or the God of the Bible but that he now sees the origin of life as strong evidence for intelligent design, commenting that “the findings of more than 50 years of DNA research have provided materials for a new and enormously powerful argument to design.”
Books on atheism used to quote Flew abundantly and authoritatively. Not anymore, although Dawkins derisively mentions Flew’s conversion “in his old age.”
Just as we have confidence that black holes exist, not by direct observation, but because of the movement of bodies around the blackness, so, too, can one be sure an intellectual revolution is underway when we increasingly find books on The New York Times best-seller list by evangelical atheists like Richard Dawkins.
These authors are surely responding to something. That something is powerful scientific evidence challenging their worldview. Time got it right: “This debate long predates Darwin, but the anti-religion position is being promoted with increasing insistence by scientists angered by intelligent design. …”
Logan Paul Gage is a policy analyst with Discovery Institute in Washington.
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