Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Richard Lewontin—an atheist who thinks matter is all there is—in the New York Review of Books (January 9, 1997): “Our willingness to accept scientific claims that are against common sense is the key to an understanding of the real struggle between science and the supernatural. We take the side of science in spite of the patent absurdity of some of its constructs, in spite of its failure to fulfill many of its extravagant promises of health and life, in spite of the tolerance of the scientific community for unsubstantiated just–so stories, because we have a prior commitment, a commitment to materialism.” He continues, “It is not that the methods and institutions of science somehow compel us to accept a material explanation of the phenomenal world but, on the contrary, that we are forced by our a priori adherence to material causes to create an apparatus of investigation and a set of concepts that produce material explanations, no matter how counterintuitive, no matter how mystifying to the uninitiated. Moreover, that materialism is absolute, for we cannot allow a divine foot in the door.

For another example, consider the remarks of the philosopher Thomas Nagel in his book The Last Word. The purpose of the book is to defend philosophical rationalism against subjectivism. At a certain point Nagel acknowledges that rationalism has theistic implications. For the moment, the important thing is not whether that is true, but that Nagel thinks that it is. Note well what he says next. After suggesting that contemporary subjectivism may be due to “fear of religion,” he writes, “I speak from experience, being strongly subject to this fear myself: I want atheism to be true and am made uneasy by the fact that some of the most intelligent and well–informed people I know are religious believers. It isn’t just that I don’t believe in God and, naturally, hope that I’m right in my belief. It’s that I hope there is no God! I don’t want there to be a God; I don’t want the universe to be like that.” Nagel adds, “My guess is that this cosmic authority problem is not a rare condition and that it is responsible for much of the scientism and reductionism of our time. . . . Darwin enabled modern secular culture to heave a great collective sigh of relief, by apparently providing a way to eliminate purpose, meaning, and design as fundamental features of the world.” First Things

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