We are in a war. That is not a metaphor. We are fighting a war for the soul of Western Civilization, and we are losing, badly. In the summer of 2015 we find ourselves in a positon very similar to Great Britain’s position 75 years ago in the summer of 1940 – alone, demoralized, and besieged on all sides by a great darkness that constitutes an existential threat to freedom, justice and even rationality itself.
In this thread I don’t want to discuss the rights and wrongs of the email itself, nor of whether or not TSZ constitutes a “great darkness”. Barry is entitled to decide who posts at UD and who does not; it’s his blog.
What interests me is the perception itself, which I suspect is quite widely shared.
Indeed it’s my perception that a lot of people are truly frightened by much that the modern world seems to represent – evolutionary biology, social and economic liberalism, atheism, the decline of religious observance, multi-culturalism, abortion, LGBT issues, the welfare state – and feel that they are somehow part of a coordinated, or at least related attack on values held very dear. Indeed, that was made explicit in the Wedge Strategy document:
The proposition that human beings are created in the image of God is one of the bedrock principles on which Western civilization was built. Its influence can be detected in most, if not all, of the West’s greatest achievements, including representative democracy, human rights, free enterprise, and progress in the arts and sciences.
Yet a little over a century ago, this cardinal idea came under wholesale attack by intellectuals drawing on the discoveries of modern science. Debunking the traditional conceptions of both God and man, thinkers such as Charles Darwin, Karl Marx, and Sigmund Freud portrayed humans not as moral and spiritual beings, but as animals or machines who inhabited a universe ruled by purely impersonal forces and whose behavior and very thoughts were dictated by the unbending forces of biology, chemistry, and environment. This materialistic conception of reality eventually infected virtually every area of our culture, from politics and economics to literature and art
The cultural consequences of this triumph of materialism were devastating. Materialists denied the existence of objective moral standards, claiming that environment dictates our behavior and beliefs. Such moral relativism was uncritically adopted by much of the social sciences, and it still undergirds much of modern economics, political science, psychology and sociology.
Materialists also undermined personal responsibility by asserting that human thoughts and behaviors are dictated by our biology and environment. The results can be seen in modern approaches to criminal justice, product liability, and welfare. In the materialist scheme of things, everyone is a victim and no one can be held accountable for his or her actions.
Finally, materialism spawned a virulent strain of utopianism. Thinking they could engineer the perfect society through the application of scientific knowledge, materialist reformers advocated coercive government programs that falsely promised to create heaven on earth.
Discovery Institute’s Center for the Renewal of Science and Culture seeks nothing less than the overthrow of materialism and its cultural legacies.
Barry clearly believes (or did back in the summer) that the War is being lost (“and lost badly”). Here are the reasons why I think he should Stop Worrying And Learn To Love The Bomb Materialists.
- We are no threat to freedom. Those of us who call ourselves “atheists” for the most part do not hold the belief that there is no God (or gods), we simply do not hold the belief that there is. We have no problem if you do. Indeed, many of us are glad that there are people who find themselves inspired by their beliefs to do much good in the world. Most of us believe that a pluralistic multicultural society is something to be proud of, and those cultures include yours.
- We are no threat to justice. Even the most ardent materialist utilitarian is unlikely to have any problem with the idea that people must be held accountable for their actions, and that the role of social and legal justice systems is to ensure that people treat each other fairly. The fact that some of us do not think that wrongdoers will be punished in the next life does not prevent us from thinking that it is a very good idea to provide major disincentives in this.
- We are no threat to rationality. I think this fear arises from the sense that scientists frequently demonstrate that what seems obvious (aka “self-evident”) ain’t necessarily so. Turns out the earth isn’t flat. Turns out that “down” points in all kinds of different directions depending on where you are standing. Turns out there is a speed limit for information. Turns out that time is relative. Turns out that reality at quantum level is simply weird. All this, in the past, theists have taken in their stride, albeit with a bit of a lurch. What I suspect the real threat is that science – neuroscience! – is, in places, appears to be claiming that our powerful sense that in each of us there is a soul-y thing, a homunculus, who is the “I behind the eyes” – isn’t what we think it is. That some of us are, in effect, denying that we – I – exist, except as “a bag of chemicals”. That A is not-A. That I is not-I. My response is that this fear too, is unfounded. Even if some of us think that there is no immortal (or otherwise) homunculus in the brain directing operations, but rather that the brain is an organ of the body consisting of a vastly complex distributed decision-making system that acts recursively thus generating as a property of the decider the capacity recognise herself as an intentional agent, by analogy to the other similar intentional agents she observse and interacts with, that does not amount to a denial that “I am”. It is merely an attempt to account for why there should be an I that can say “I am”.
So sleep easy, Barry! We are not Nazi Germany, nor yet a Great Darkness. Our ideas are not billowing blackly from Mount Doom. They are transparent, humane, pluralistic, and provisional. There is nothing to fear but fear itself.