Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Atheism, Fundamentalism, and Pseudoscience

Recently, I have been reading Chris Hedges book I Don't Believe in Atheists. Hedges has already distinguished himself by writing several brilliant books. He is especially adept at taking on fundamentalism (see esp. American Fascists). Hedges has produced an insightful look at the craziness and scariness of Christian fundamentalism. Now he sets his sights on atheist fundamentalism. This short series will take a chapter by chapter look and offer some commentary on I Don't Believe in Atheism.

Chapter 2: "Science and Religion"

Darwin changed everything, there is no denying that. Even though fundamentalist Christians may say "the Bible only," they are well aware that in our day, that is not enough. So what do they do? They turn to pseudoscience and "cook-up" theories that sound scientific, but really are not-- theories like intelligent design. It seems that since Darwin, we must all answer to science in one way or another.

The fundamentalist atheists also resort to pseudoscience in setting forth their fundamentalist utopian visions of the world to come. Science is not capable of answering the "real" questions of religion. By this, I don't mean literal creation accounts, flood stories, etc. Here I speak of the existential questions of humanity. Science has no answers for humankind's experience of the transcendent, the mystery
of being, or the human search for meaning. These things are not things that can be quantified and empirically dealt with in any meaningful sense.

Still, the new atheism uses pseudoscience to create, prove, and defend a non existent utopia (by the way, the word "utopia" literally means "no thing"-- an appropriate word for what the new atheism proposes). Why pseudoscience? What do I mean?

As Hedges points out, Darwin dealt with biological change over time. The modification and origin of species. He made no claims about applications of the theory to the "way the world should be" in a social/cultural sense. Other associates such as Galton, Wilson, and Spencer saw the theory as somehow, someday arriving at "perfected humanity." This resulted in theories such as eugenics, or biological engineering that fueled the insane theories of Nazism.

Other theories, such as social Darwinism, have been used to justify the oppression of the poor, minorities, and women. Really, it is not so different than religious fundamentalism. An opiate, drugging the proponent so that kindness can be excused in some sort of larger cause. Yet the quest to create a perfected humanity-- something proposed by the new atheism, is based on a myth. The myth of perfected humanity is neither true, humane, nor scientific.

In Dawkins theory of "memes" (sort of a personality/psychosocial version of genes), the goal is to to get rid of the "bad" memes and cultivate the "good" ones. Sound a bit like utopian social engineering of many a despotic regime? Fundamentalism is always a bit nutty, you know.

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