The New Atheists

It would appear to be a reasonably accurate supposition that Heather Mac Donald is to the New Atheists as a mere Fabian Socialist—or perhaps a Menshevik—is to Bolsheviks. Yet, notwithstanding the presumably differing degrees of intensity and of urgency in the respective parties’ will to destroy religious belief, precisely the same astounding intellectual and imaginative limitations that I descried in Mac Donald, Sam Schulman, writing in Opinion Journal, discovers in the New Atheists. These people—notably Richard Dawkins, Daniel C. Dennett, and Sam Harris, all of whom have written books on the subject—are driven by a revolutionary will to change the world combined with an ideologue’s ignorance of the world. Acting as though the problems of the existence of God had not been wrestled with by the greatest intellects for millennia, presuming that all religious people are mental inferiors undeserving of the slightest consideration, the New Atheists attack the most basic, universal human belief—much as the Bolsheviks attacked the property owning classes, and much as the Nazis attacked the Jews—as an evil that must be mercilessly extirpated from society. Indeed Dawkins has openly stated that children should be taken away their parents to prevent them from having a religious upbringing. Yet, having declared jihad on this central facet of our historic civilization and of ordinary human life, these revolutionary foes of the purportedly naive belief in God naively expect ordinary people to listen to their message and take it seriously. It would be as though a group of intellectuals announced that some universal and fundamental institution—marriage, for example—was the most dangerous thing on earth and had to be eliminated—and then expected other people to agree with them. In this connection, we may recall Mac Donald’s sanguine expectation that a couple of “empirical” arguments by her would instantly dispel everyone’s belief in God, and her shock when she found out that this wasn’t the case. Schulman’s piece is terrific and makes a good complement to my entry on Mac Donald.

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Mark P. writes:

I’m curious…has anyone identified how atheism over time became so acceptable among the learned? How did atheism eventually replace God in the minds of so many people? What was the underlying dynamic?

Specifically, what is it about Darwinism that people found so compelling in the decade or so after Darwin published “The Origin of Species?”

LA replies:

There are whole libraries on the growth of secularism in the West. I’m not deeply knowledgeable on it, but that’s certainly a subject worth reading a book or two.

As for Darwinism, it was the very keystone of secularism—that’s why it was accepted so readily. It’s not that the theory was so great, and therefore people accepted it, and therefore they became secularists. (The theory was after all filled with holes and has remained so.) No, it was that there was already a broad movement in the intellectual classes away from the theistic world view, had been for almost a century, but as long as there was that little problem of life, which so obviously requires a higher intelligence, the secularist view could not become dominant. Darwin provided a plausible—or at least a “presentable”—non-theistic explanation of life, and thus empowered the secular view to become dominant. That’s why, then and now, Darwinians don’t care much about the specifics of the theory and its staggering flaws; it’s the function that it serves in society that matters most to them. Darwinism is the founding myth of modern materialist godless society.

And that is why defenders of Darwinism tend to be both contemptuous and defensive. They are the upholders of an orthodoxy on which the entire modern scientific establishment and the entire modern view of man and society rests, but it’s an orthodoxy that is indefensible to a few simple direct questions. Read articles by orthodox Darwinians and you’ll be likely to see the same rhetorical pattern over and over. The writer starts out with an incredibly assured, superior attitude, really laying it on thick, saying that Darwinism (actually neo-Darwinism) is so firmly proved that no one can question it, anyone who does is an idiot, and so on. But as the article goes on you’ll suddenly see these little admissions pop out, such as that, well, yes, we really haven’t figured out that pesky little question of the evolution of new organs and species and life forms, but we will, very soon! And then you realize that the Darwinian establishment is like the Wizard of Oz, trying to terrify anyone who approaches his palace with a gigantic show of power and might, but behind the screen there’s a frightened little man pushing buttons.

Recommended are the chapters on Darwin in Ann Coulter’s book Godless. No one has ever taken the Darwinians down in the sweeping, merciless way that she does. And mainly she uses the leading Darwinians’ own quotes against them, the kind I mentioned above, in which they admit that the theory really does not hold together; but then having made that admission they just sail on as they hadn’t said it. Darwinian apologetics is a huge exercise in Doublethink, much like liberalism itself.

Posted by Lawrence Auster at January 06, 2007 12:09 PM | Send

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