John on January 7, 2006 at 11:50 pm
Joe Carter at the Evangelical Outpost has done a great post on the “Dangerous Ideas” piece which I blogged about here and here. I wrote the following comment in response to some complaints that Joe was wrong to call atheism a new faith. [Since this was written as a comment, some of this is specific to what others were saying which you can view at his site. But most of it has a general applicability to the concept of materialism as a religion, which I also posted about here.]
Joe is hardly the first to describe evolution in religious terms. The first to do so was almost certainly T.H. Huxley, aka Darwin’s Bulldog. Huxley frequently used religious terminology such as “the church scientific” to promote evolution as an alternative to religion. Again, [evolutionists] are free to disagree with Huxley, Dawkins, Dennett, Wilson, PZMyers and others, but the scientist as prophet of the Enlightenment does represent a fairly well established tradition in the field.
So while I get what you’re saying about conflating belief in evolution with materialism, Joe is right to point out that there are a large number of scientists — and this post lists quite a few — who see science as a means of religious iconoclasm. [One of the commenters said atheism was a religion like baldness was a hair color.] Baldness may not be a hair color, but it is a hair style. When 50 (or whatever) well known scientists proclaim that “skin is in” I think it’s safe to say we’re looking at a fashion trend.
As I read the quotations [excerpted in Joe's post] I find that they all have a core philosophical thrust, i.e. the (badly named) Copernican principle. Whatever dimishes man’s standing, whatever erodes his purpose, whatever minimizes his ego, whatever eliminates his hope — that’s where we need to go. And this idea is usually attached to a very specific secular eschatology. Once man is freed from his childish view of the world, he will be free to transform it into a rational paradise.
So, is it a religion? Well, you have prophets and origins stories and eschatology and one more thing… [Actually, two more things. My next paragraph experienced a beneficial mutation which I've passed on to this post.]
It’s certainly possible that all of these individuals are correct, in which case we can hardly begrudge them the truth. What I think is harder to account for is their ZEAL. The existentialists of the 20th century came to many of these same conclusions about morality and significance, but to their credit it filled them with the angst and dread of responsibility for which man does not appear suited (Supermen were required). But scientists like the ones in this post seem to relish man’s diminution with what can only be called a holy fervor. In fact, this is the whole point of the “Dangerous Ideas” piece. It’s a chance for the converted to savor the bitter flavor of man’s sorry existence while congratulating one another for the courage to do so. I see guys do this same thing with hot peppers at parties. It’s a rite of manhood. Who can eat the really hot one and act like it was nothing.
Origins, prophets, eschatology, rites and zeal for meaninglessness — these are the elements of a religion. Speaking only for myself, this is why scientism seems to be not just a rational excercise, but something more akin to a suicide cult.