September 25, 2006 | David F. Coppedge

Atheist Dilemma: Fight or Smooth-Talk Religion?

The unpopularity of evolutionism and the persistence of religious faith has scientific materialists confounded and dumbfounded over how to respond.  Some want to fight, some want to shrug it off, and some want to dialog with religious believers, in hopes of convincing some of them that evolution is not the bogeyman they think.  Richard Dawkins is known for the intensity of his rhetoric against all religion.  His strategy is to take no prisoners, but condemn religion as the opiate of the masses, an evil that must be opposed with militant energy.
    The NCSE, on the other hand, plays the line that you can be religious and still believe in evolution.  Eugenie Scott, an atheist, has even produced Sunday School material to soften the opposition (01/14/2002).  According to Kenneth Silber, writing for Tech Central, the AAAS has also entered this arena with a new book entitled The Evolution Dialogues: Science, Christianity, and the Quest for Understanding:

The book, published by the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS), is an unusual offering for a scientific society in its focus on religious issues.  Targeted especially at Christian adult-education classes, The Evolution Dialogues contributes a thoughtful discussion to the highly charged debate about evolution and its implications.  Written by Catherine Baker and edited by James B. Miller, the work was developed with input from scientists and theologians.

These approaches attempt to woo the faithful into acquiescent acceptance of evolution (with acceptance of evolution as the unalterable goal).  Such tactics usually work only with liberal churches.  Last February’s Darwin Day (02/11/2006) found willing ranks of liberal pastors ready to preach from the Origin of Species.  Perhaps the oddest attempt in this vein recently came from admitted apostate Michael Shermer, leader of the L.A. Skeptics Society, writing for Scientific American.  He argued that Christians should embrace evolution because it is good theology, while creationism is bad theology.  Not only that, Shermer argued that evolution fits in with the political and moral values of the religious right.  It is not likely Pat Robertson and Jerry Falwell will be convinced.  They might even turn the argument back on Shermer and ask why he is a liberal, if conservatism is more adaptive.
    There are also some, like Ronald Numbers, who may not agree with believers but believe their views should be taken seriously and treated with respect.
    More commonly, Darwinist materialists seem content to explain away religion as an evolutionary artifact.  An example is Daniel Dennett’s; new book Breaking the Spell: Religion as a Natural Phenomenon (Viking, 2006), reviewed by Kim Sterelny on American Scientist, by Jack Miles in the Washington Post, and mentioned in a Newsweek article by Jerry Adler about modern atheists.  Encompassing religion in a Darwinian worldview is the strategy likely to be endorsed by the mainline science journals.  Though, according to reviewer Sterelny, “Dennett devotes much of his energy to trying to convince his nonsecular readers that it is legitimate to inquire scientifically into the roots of religious belief and to assess its moral consequences, good and bad,” in the end, Sterelny thinks “His intended audience will rightly regard any evolutionary model, indeed any secular model, of religion as essentially corrosive.”  That’s because Dennett believes that religion evolved; it is not a response to anything real in the divine realm, but is only an artifact of material causes acting by natural selection.  Atheism, by this measure, is not in the dock.
    Typically, the “evolution of religion” theorists use cognitive neuroscience and game theory to describe religion, altruism and other behaviors as adaptive strategies among populations of organisms (in this case, people) needing to preserve their genomes.  The more sensitive of the bunch, like Dennett tries to be, attempt to explain the persistence of religion (for their atheist colleagues) on one hand, but try to assuage the fears of believers, on the other hand, that Darwinism does not necessarily lead to a dog-eat-dog moral chaos.  They try to attract believers to the beauty of evolutionary theory, and its advertised ability to explain peacock behavior as well as our own.  Some, like Dennett, even try to calm the battlefield by persuading fellow atheists to learn more about religion.  Miles finds this somewhat hypocritical, though: “though Dennett pays lip service to the need for Darwinian theorists of religion to acquaint themselves with actual religion as patiently as Darwin acquainted himself with actual animal breeding, in practice he rarely does so.”
    Though Dennett tries to be more nuanced, cautious and soft-spoken than Dawkins, Sterelny argues, he is really a close ally to Dawkins, who along with Richard Harris, Adler remarks, uses “bone-rattling attacks on what they regard as a pernicious and outdated superstition.”
    Apparently religion-by-evolution is becoming a popular vacation topic.  Dennett will be the featured speaker at a conference in Hawaii next January on the subject, The Evolution of Religion.  There must be an adaptive benefit for this new trend among atheists.

Sad.  If Dennett, Dawkins and Harris really believed and understood what they are arguing, they would realize that they are shooting themselves in the feet.  If belief in God evolved as an adaptive strategy, and therefore has no validity in its claims, the same can be said for belief in evolution – indeed, for belief in anything.  It would make just as much sense for other Darwinists to explain Dennett’s behavior in evolutionary terms, and for him to fight back and explain theirs in evolutionary terms, till everyone sings, “Ashes, ashes, we all fall down.”
    Speaking of cognitive neuroscience, Dennett has a bad case of what we will term the Yoda Complex.  He makes himself out to be some kind of exalted master, the Enlightened One, like some disembodied green god with pointy ears (and a pointy head), able to talk down to the rest of humanity.  In reality, he wears flesh and bones and puts on pants like the rest of men.  Most of us wouldn’t promote a guy like him to Exalted Master if we could.  But Dennett rambles on like some Yoda, sipping a soda in his pagoda, as if we owed assent (or a cent) to his ode.  (A girl named Rhoda showed a more rational response to the evidence than some believers: Acts 12).  While Dawkins recklessly swings his light saber like the dark lord of the Mith, Dennett talks smooth and deliberately in hushed tones, unaware that the universal acid that flowed away from his own Darwinian principles was strong enough to corrode a Darwinist container, too.
    In case any Ewoks out there are entranced by Yoda Dennett, as if he showed a thing or two from some enlightened abode, a perceptive mind will know what’s up.  That’s because Yoda wrote a coda to his ode, a line in the review to his book on where he spilled the beans (or his guts, if there’s a difference): “I appreciate that many readers will be profoundly distrustful of the tack I am taking here,” he said.  “They will see me as just another liberal professor trying to cajole them out of some of their convictions, and they are dead right about that—that’s what I am, and that’s exactly what I am trying to do.”  So, students, now that he has shown his true colors, what side of The Farce is he on? (answer: 06/20/2003).
    One doesn’t have to be “dead right.”  Being alive and right is much preferable.  Keep reading Creation-Evolution Headlines, where you learn how to explode a load of phony openness before you’re snowed.  A pretentious Yoda in his own mind, Daniel Dennett showed a code of bluster, not a display of wisdom bestowed upon him from on high.  A man he is, pretender he is; deceitful times, these.  You asked for it, you got it: Toy Yoda.

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