There are days I marvel at the obdurate ignorance of self-nominated “scientists.” As I was one, once, I think I can say this with authority: if it isn’t in his wheelhouse, the typical scientist will dismiss it as irrelevant at best, absurd at worst.
Mankind has developed a great variety of approaches to the acquisition of useful knowledge. Some of those approaches are religious in nature. That is: they proceed from a theology: a creed that incorporates a Supreme Being, a supernatural realm, and a connection between our temporal reality and that higher one. Now, any honest theist will allow that the theology he subscribes to is unverifiable (i.e., unprovable). However, if it is sound, his theology will also be unfalsifiable: incapable of being disproved. A falsifiable system of belief will be subjected to tests of its propositions that human minds can perform. That directly contradicts the nature of a theology.
More than three thousand years have passed since Moses presented the Decalogue, a.k.a. the Ten Commandments, to the wandering Hebrews. Billions of people have made those commandments the central moral-ethical tenets of their lives. While their lives have not been “perfect” in any sense, those who were faithful to the dictates of the Decalogue (or the Noachide Commandments which preceded them) succeeded in forming coherent, enduring societies capable of progress. While it cannot be proved that adherence to the Decalogue is a necessary condition for forming such a society, history records no examples of successful societies that have lacked them.
An inquiring mind would note that pattern and say, “Hmm! There might be something to this.”
In the Christian formulation, the Decalogue is seen as a set of requirements derived from even higher and more imperative principles:
But the Pharisees hearing that he had silenced the Sadducees, came together: And one of them, a doctor of the law, asking him, tempting him: Master, which is the greatest commandment in the law?
Jesus said to him: Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with thy whole heart, and with thy whole soul, and with thy whole mind. This is the greatest and the first commandment. And the second is like to this: Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself. On these two commandments dependeth the whole law and the prophets. [Matthew 22:34-40]
Earlier in His ministry, the Redeemer put it like this:
All things therefore whatsoever you would that men should do to you, do you also to them. For this is the law and the prophets. [Matthew 7:12]
Most of us know this Golden Rule in its more concise version: “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” C. S. Lewis has called it the Law of General Benevolence: to wish all others well, for we would surely prefer that all others wish us well, and so the Golden Rule applies.
Not too difficult, eh what? Certainly within the intellectual reach of the “scientific mind.” Yet the habit of prominent contemporary scientists has been to dismiss religious precepts. While there are surely scientists who appreciate those precepts, they are out-shouted by cretins such as Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris, and their fellow-travelers. It’s arrogant, self-glorifying atheists such as these who get the media attention.
A few months earlier, in front of an audience of graduate students from around the world, Dawkins took on a famous geneticist and a renowned neurosurgeon on the question of whether God was real. The geneticist and the neurosurgeon advanced their best theistic arguments: Human consciousness is too remarkable to have evolved; our moral sense defies the selfish imperatives of nature; the laws of science themselves display an order divine; the existence of God can never be disproved by purely empirical means.
Dawkins rejected all these claims, but the last one – that science could never disprove God – provoked him to sarcasm. “There’s an infinite number of things that we can’t disprove,” he said. “You might say that because science can explain just about everything but not quite, it’s wrong to say therefore we don’t need God. It is also, I suppose, wrong to say we don’t need the Flying Spaghetti Monster, unicorns, Thor, Wotan, Jupiter, or fairies at the bottom of the garden. There’s an infinite number of things that some people at one time or another have believed in, and an infinite number of things that nobody has believed in. If there’s not the slightest reason to believe in any of those things, why bother? The onus is on somebody who says, I want to believe in God, Flying Spaghetti Monster, fairies, or whatever it is. It is not up to us to disprove it.”
Mind you, no one has demanded that Dawkins, or anyone else, present a conclusive disproof of the existence of God. Rather than confront that unpleasant little fact, Dawkins resorts to ridicule and, later in the same article, defamation:
Dawkins looks forward to the day when the first US politician is honest about being an atheist. “Highly intelligent people are mostly atheists,” he says. “Not a single member of either house of Congress admits to being an atheist. It just doesn’t add up. Either they’re stupid, or they’re lying. And have they got a motive for lying? Of course they’ve got a motive! Everybody knows that an atheist can’t get elected.”
Could it be any clearer that Dawkins’s entire argument is circular? That its function in his consciousness is to reinforce his conviction of his personal intellectual superiority? Yet this is the premier anti-theist of the day.
Science and religion have often been at odds. But if we remove the theology—views about the nature of God, the creation of the universe, and the like—from the day-to-day practice of religious faith, the animosity in the debate evaporates. What we’re left with is a series of rituals, customs, and sentiments that are themselves the results of experiments of sorts. Over thousands of years, these experiments, carried out in the messy thick of life as opposed to sterile labs, have led to the design of what we might call spiritual technologies—tools and processes meant to sooth, move, convince, or otherwise tweak the mind. And studying these technologies has revealed that certain parts of religious practices, even when removed from a spiritual context, are able to influence people’s minds in the measurable ways psychologists often seek.
(Applause to Misanthropic Humanitarian for the reference.)
It’s worth reading in its entirety, though my reaction was a rather amused “No, really? What an incredible surprise!”
You don’t have to seek far into the past to find great minds – among the greatest that have ever existed – that were deeply religious: devout Christians, devout Jews, devout Buddhists, Taoists, Confucians, and so forth. If the Dawkinsites, as well as being numb to the practical benefits of a wholesome religion, are willing to dismiss Sir Isaac Newton, Louis Pasteur, Antoine Lavoisier, and Albert Einstein as unintelligent, I’d say nothing more need be said about them.
The bottom line “should” be “obvious:” Beware of anyone who purports to judge the intelligence or honesty of others on the grounds of a difference in unverifiable, unfalsifiable beliefs. Such persons habitually set themselves above others. They need to believe themselves morally and intellectually superior to others. It’s a conclusive symptom of an inherently inadequate identity, the sort that could crumble upon being confronted with a single indisputable fact adverse to their creed. It’s no coincidence that the preponderance of militant atheists of the Dawkins stripe are on the political Left…which says a lot about both the militant atheists of the world and the political Left, doesn’t it?