Reflections on a Wandering Life.....

Wednesday, November 13, 2019

Science Night - Atheism and Its Scientific Pretensions 

In the scientific community today, there are the "new atheists," such as Richard Dawkins, there are the Christians, such as John Lennox from Oxford and Stephen Meyer of the Discovery Institute, and there are also the agnostics, who do not number themselves among the believers, but look with disdain on the new atheists, who always seem so sure of themselves in their assertion that there is no God.

I suppose you could say that the agnostics are taking the easy way out. They don't have to commit themselves to anything. They can just attack. But it is interesting to me that the agnostics tend to get along better with Christians than with atheists. I suppose I should add that among the atheists, there are the cordial atheists and the angry atheists. I am making up these categories as I am pounding this out on my laptop in the old, old factory (since made in to a youth hostel) which is my home when I am in Shanghai. So you can debate them if you like--I won't be offended. In fact, after I have had time to think about it, I may debate them myself.

But they are not pulled out of thin air, either. I have given this matter some thought, and I have engaged with a number of thinkers down through the years. Years ago, I was chatting with a colleague of mine at the university where I was teaching in Tempe Arizona. He was talking about how he would never think of driving on the freeways in the Phoenix area. He always took the streets. He was deathly afraid of freeways.

I said to him, "No, you can't live that way. You just have to get out there and do it. You'll get used to it."

He said, "That's easy for you to say. You have God on your side. You have to remember I'm an atheist."

He was never cantankerous, like Dawkins, who is the first person to come to people's minds when they think about "new atheists" since Christopher Hitchens died. But he was not a believer, either, and he did not call himself an agnostic. So I don't believe, and do not want to imply, that all atheists are ill-tempered and angry. George Will, for example, calls himself a "low voltage" atheist.

David Berlinski is a mathematician, but he also has considerable background in philosophy, and he has written several novels. In this lecture, given in 2012 as an episode of Socrates in the City, he attacks both Darwinism and atheism. Perhaps I should have featured this video before the previous one, because this lecture predates that interview by several years. In some ways, though, that one is more important, because it shows how scientists one by one are being won over to the belief that Darwin's idea just are not scientifically viable.

So keep this in mind when you are watching this video. David Berlinski does not qualify as one of these new converts. He has been a Darwin doubter for a long time. But he is important, because he and others like him are part of the reason some of these world renowned scientists are being won over. David Gelernter specifically mentions him in telling of his own conversion. And I should emphasize that this is not a religious conversion. David Gelernter did not become a Christian. He does not even say that he has been won over to the idea of Intelligent Design. His conversion, if you want to call it that, is an acceptance of the growing belief in the scientific community that Darwin's ideas just could not have happened.

Darwin doubting isn't new. There have always been people like me who, while accepting Darwin's observations of micro-evolutionary changes, do not believe that those observations justify the grandiose macro-evolutionary changes that Darwin assumes. People like me acknowledge change in nature. We just don't believe that Darwin's beliefs about single-celled organisms mutating into highly developed creatures can be justified by his observations.

But the Intelligent Design folks are going further than this. They are saying they can prove that Darwin's ideas couldn't have happened. And they are winning converts. You see, the reason Darwin is dying isn't because of a few religious people on the fringes. Darwin is dying because the scientific community is starting to reject Darwin's explanations. It will be a slow death. There are still plenty of diehards who will continue to maintain their belief in Darwinian evolution (by carefully shielding their eyes from the math). But I personally believe it is only a matter of time.

At the very end of the Q and A there was a question about Richard Weikart, and his idea that Darwin lead to Hitler. Berlinski endorsed it wholeheartedly. I have heard those kinds of ideas before, but I have no idea who Richard Weikart is, so I will do some more research before commenting on that, except to pose one question: Do you think Darwin was a racist? Look up the full title of his book and tell me what you think. You'll enjoy this lecture. David Berlinski is an engaging speaker.

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