Monday, July 10, 2006

Why some scientists accept patent absurdity

Harvard population biologist, Richard Lewontin, an atheist who thinks that matter is all there is, writes in the New York Review of Books:
"Our willingness to accept scientific claims that are against common sense is the key to an understanding of the real struggle between science and the supernatural. We take the side of science in spite of the patent absurdity of some of its constructs, in spite of its failure to fulfill many of its extravagant promises of health and life, in spite of the tolerance of the scientific community for unsubstantiated just-so stories, because we have a prior commitment, a commitment to materialism. It is not that the methods and institutions of science somehow compel us to accept a material explanation of the phenomenal world but, on the contrary, that we are forced by our own a priori adherence to material causes to create an apparatus of investigation and a set of concepts that produce material explanations, not matter how counterintuitive, no matter how mystifying to the uninitiated. Moreover, that materialism is absolute, for we cannot allow a divine foot in the door."
Again, the well-known philosopher, Thomas Nagel writes in his book, The Last Word that much of contemporary subjectivism may be due to "fear of religion," citing his own fear of religion as a case in point:
"I speak from experience being strongly subject to this fear myself: I want atheism to be true and am made uneasy by the fact that some of the most intelligent and well-informed people I know are religious believers. It isn't just that I don't believe in God and, naturally, hope that I'm right in my belief. It's that I hope there is no God! I don't want there to be a God; I don't want the universe to be like that .... My guess is that this cosmic authority problem is not a rare condition and that it is responsible for much of the scientism and reductionism of our time. One of the tendencies it supports is the ludicrous overuse of evolutionary biology to explain everything about life, including everything about the human mind. Darwin enabled modern secular culture to heave a great collective sigh of relief, by apparently providing a way to eliminate purpose, meaning and design as fundamental features of the world."
There's some disarming honesty about atheists not being honest with themselves! If Nagel is right, then those who say that theism is a crutch have got it backwards, at least for certain sectors of our intellectual culture. For these portions of contemporary intellectual culture, it's atheism that serves as a crutch!

[Richard Lewontin, "Billions and Billions of Demons," New York Review of Books 44:1 (January 9, 1997): 28-32; The Last Word (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1996), 130-131; cf. J. Budziszewski, What We Can't Not Know, pp.62-64.]

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