God is not the enemy of reason

In demanding a monopoly on truth, secular fundamentalists are in unholy alliance with secular zealots.


It is an article of faith (except, of course, among those who actually have a faith) that the dethronement of God by the apostles of secularism has ushered in an age of reason. Belief in the Almighty is now widely held to be a priori evidence of primitive stupidity.

In fact, we are living in a deeply irrational age, where millions are putting their faith in such mumbo-jumbo as astrology, parapsychology, paganism, witchcraft or conspiracies between sinister groups and extra-terrestrial forces. All of which goes to prove the truth of the old adage that when people stop believing in God, they will believe in anything.

Nevertheless, the belief has taken hold that religious faith is inimical to reason, as defined and exemplified by the scientific mind. Such belief expresses itself in the near God-like status afforded to Professor Richard Dawkins - the Savonarola of atheism - on the basis of his aggressive contention that evolution accounts for the origin of life, and that anyone who believes the world had a creator and a purpose should be exiled altogether from intelligent discourse

Interestingly, over the past few months Dawkins has been meeting his match in a remarkable Oxford mathematics professor called John Lennox, who argues for the existence of a creator on the basis of science - and demonstrates that, on his own scientific terms, Dawkins's arguments fail the test of reason.

Next week, the two of them will slug it out in a debate freighted with historic resonance at Oxford's Natural History Museum - the very place where, in 1860, Samuel Wilberforce, Bishop of Oxford, tried to pour scorn on Darwin's Origin of Species, only to be savaged by "Darwin's bulldog" TH Huxley. I wouldn't put money on the same outcome this time.

The fact that secularism has taken on the characteristics of religious fanaticism, in espousing dogma inimical to human flourishing and punishing dissenters in order to slam the lid on debate, is explored in a timely monograph by Herbert London, president of the Hudson Institute, the influential American think-tank.

This institute is a front-line combatant in America's culture wars, in which it seeks to defend the values of western civilisation against the onslaught from those trying to destroy it. In his book, America's Secular Challenge: The Rise of a New National Religion, London argues that the rise of secularism has so hollowed out Western society that it has left it acutely vulnerable to the predations of radical Islam.

The decay of religion, he says, has given rise to moral relativism, which regards all beliefs and principles as being of equal value and truth as a relative concept. This has given rise to multiculturalism, which masquerades as the promotion of equal rights but is actually a disguised form of cultural and national self-loathing.

This in turn lies behind the idea that nations are illegitimate or passé, and that the world's problems can all be solved by everyone on the planet coming together to harness the power of reason to arrive at a solution. But, in robbing people of their national identity and capacity to believe in anything except the fiction that reason trumps all, this is an essentially irrational negation of self-interest.

No less irrational is the overreach of science which, as London writes, has been hijacked by secular fundamentalists who want to supplant religion by asserting that only in science can truths be found.

Such "scientism" - as this overreach is termed - goes beyond the ability of science to explain the nature of the world around us and claims to tell us how life began. Yet the assumption that science provides a complete theory of knowledge is itself fundamentally unscientific.

Science generates more questions than it can answer. The more science unravels the mysteries of the world for us, the more mysterious it becomes. And, as the many scientists who are also religious believers demonstrate, there is no inherent conflict between religion and science.

The dogma that science provides the answer to every question and so supplants religion has led to a junking of the moral codes deriving from Judaism and Christianity that underpin western society.

This loss of cultural nerve has created an unwitting collusion between secular zealots and the Islamists who have declared war upon western civilisation, and who believe - correctly - that a secular west will be unable to resist them.

Science, rationality and the pursuit of truth are intimately related to the religious traditions of the west. If those traditions are not defended from within against the threat from without, this will be how the west was lost.

Melanie Phillips is a Daily Mail columnist

    Last updated: 1:32pm, October 16 2008

    COMMENTS

    NewEnglandBob

    Sat, 10/18/2008 - 22:35

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    This article is one of the worst I have ever seen written. This is full of untruths and ad hominem attacks. This author should be drummed out of journalism due to this pile of fecal spewings.


    JonPJ

    Sun, 10/19/2008 - 03:25

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    The author has obviously either never read Dawkins or failed completely to understand and appreciate his arguments. As for the tired old charges against 'secular zealots', it's worth going back through the news media over the last year or two and comparing the number of deaths due to religious belief versus those due to atheism -- the ratio is on the order of ten thousand to one. Atheist 'zealots' politely ask for evidence. Religious zealots kill people. Is there a double standard at work here?

    But to claim that religious faith is the enemy of other supernatural faiths is simply absurd, anyway. The credulity shown by visitors to Lourdes, for instance, indicates that the two are not in opposition but often go hand in hand. And the reason why intelligent people believe in science has got nothing to do with faith: it's because science works. If I want to communicate with my brother I use the telephone, not prayer -- because prayer doesn't work and the telephone does. Of course science raises more questions than it answers -- and then it goes on to answer them too. Religion, on the other hand, evades all the hard questions with a simple mantra: "Goddidit, goddidit, goddidit..."


    Joe

    Sun, 10/19/2008 - 13:53

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    As an historian I agree with Melanie's views. Atheistic Communism and atheistic Nazism led to millions of deaths beyond count. In the era of religion a Jew could convert; in the age of science all genetic Jews had to be exterminated, even nuns and priests of Jewish origin. Science and religion should not overlap. Science explains what we can demonstrate in a laboratory while religion deals with morals and ethics and that which transcends this physical world. There have always been deeply religious scientists who saw no contradiction.


    bob

    Mon, 10/20/2008 - 22:16

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    Excellent article Melanie.
    If I remember, when the revolutionary committee of the French revolution started their bloody work, one of their declarations was "God is dead, the age of reason has arrived".
    To emphasise this they got a not too reputable woman and sat her on a throne in one of the cathedrals with the title "Goddess of Reason"and made people worship her.
    The sad truth is that "reason" is still worshipped above any other God.
    I wonder what God thinks?
    I guess he will have the last word!


    Martin Freedman

    Mon, 10/20/2008 - 22:22

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    What an appalling article, the JC and espcially the editor, who accepted this, should be ashamed. Clearly journalistic standards have dropped since I regularly read the JC even for op eds. What is the criterion to get published in the JC?... Apparently very low. To help the editor do his job properly I provide the following partial analysis:

    "It is an article of faith (except, of course, among those who actually have a faith) that the dethronement of God by the apostles of secularism has ushered in an age of reason." This is at best empty rhetoric. In reality we can see it was a naive conjecture - not an article of faith - and, as the publication of this article shows, not a conjecture that is yet correct.

    "Belief in the Almighty is now widely held to be a priori evidence of primitive stupidity. " Well maybe this is Phillips' experience, guessing she has been told this before, as I can conclude based on the evidence of this article - a posteriori - that it certainly applies to her.

    "In fact, we are living in a deeply irrational age, where millions are putting their faith in such mumbo-jumbo as astrology, parapsychology, paganism, witchcraft or conspiracies between sinister groups and extra-terrestrial forces. All of which goes to prove the truth of the old adage that when people stop believing in God, they will believe in anything." Since many holders of such mumbo-jumbo also believe in god, nothing is proven and all we are left with is an unfounded assertion ironically reflecting the irrationality of the author.

    "The fact that secularism has taken on the characteristics of religious fanaticism" No this is not a fact, here it looks like a deliberate mistake based on selectively choosing a few outspoken individuals, ignoring any other view and tarring all with this negative caricature - which is the basis of bigotry, is that what Phillips - presumably a Jew - wants to encourage?

    " in espousing dogma inimical to human flourishing and punishing dissenters in order to slam the lid on debate" well Dawkins certainly is not, otherwise why would he write a book that has stimulated debate including in this article which also notes he is debating John Lennox next week! Stifling indeed... I would like to say Phillips use of logic is bizarre but so far it is not clear that she knows what logic is.

    "...Herbert London, president of the Hudson Institute, the influential American think-tank...
    This institute is a front-line combatant in America's culture wars, in which it seeks to defend the values of western civilisation against the onslaught from those trying to destroy it." Such as Phillips???

    "In his book, America's Secular Challenge: The Rise of a New National Religion, London argues that the rise of secularism has so hollowed out Western society that it has left it acutely vulnerable to the predations of radical Islam." Well maybe there is an argument there but I am focused on this article and still waiting for any remotely sound and valid rational points. From the data of this article, there is no evidence that the author could properly and critically examine London's work. Anyway giving the benefit of the doubt in Phillips favour for reporting this in an unbiased fashion:

    "The decay of religion, he says, has given rise to moral relativism, which regards all beliefs and principles as being of equal value and truth as a relative concept." Oh dear, it appears that London is confusing the nefarious influence of`post modern left wingers with liberal advocates for secular states, a common piece of immoral sophistry in the USA and not something we want to see encouraged in this country surely?

    "This has given rise to multiculturalism, which masquerades as the promotion of equal rights but is actually a disguised form of cultural and national self-loathing." Yes we can all agree on this but this is nothing really to do with secularism and much more to do with post modern anti-science anut-capitalist left wing idealogues. Who exactly is Phillips trying to criticise here?

    "No less irrational is the overreach of science which, as London writes, has been hijacked by secular fundamentalists who want to supplant religion by asserting that only in science can truths be found. " Yes but scientists are generally opposed to such postmodern clap trap and not just because of its irrational anti-scientific bias but becuase it is plain wrong. It looks like both London and Phillips having been taking lessons in Orwell's Double Think.

    OK this comment is getting too long but there is nothing further that Phillips adds that resolves any of the contradictory and irrational opinions she espouses. A defense of rationality it is not! Anyone is entitled to their own opinion, even if irrational, stupid and bigoted. Still what does this say about the JC, whose editors felt it fit to publish? God may not be the enemy of reason, but Melanie Phillips certainly is :-)


    Martin Freedman

    Tue, 10/21/2008 - 09:34

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    Bob

    You are quite correct about the Jacobin Deists and, plausibly, to them it was an "article of faith" for the supremacy of "reason" but then this prevents them being secularists!. Certainly any modern equivalent would be contrary to the the secularist enterprise - the supposed target of Phillip's article.

    Joe

    Really you contradict yourself when you say you are a historian then get such basic facts wonrg that the Nazis were atheists. Nothing more to say to a classic bigot.

    Melanie Phillips

    Remember that there are a higher pecentage of Jews who are atheists and secularists (quite different categories btw) than other ethnoreligious groups. Given this, if for no other reason, surely you should be wary of stoking the flames of modern anti-atheist bigotry? And the same goes for the JC in publishing this, it is a good step in alienating a large proportion of your potential readership.