When Selfish Gene author Richard Dawkins challenged physicist John Barrow on his formulation of the constants of nature at last summer’s Templeton-Cambridge Journalism Fellowship lectures, Barrow laughed and said, “You have a problem with these ideas, Richard, because you’re not really a scientist. You’re a biologist.”
For Barrow, biology is little more than a branch of natural history. “Biologists have a limited, intuitive understanding of complexity. They’re stuck with an inherited conflict from the 19th century, and are only interested in outcomes, in what wins out over others,” he adds. “But outcomes tell you almost nothing about the laws that govern the universe.” For physicists it is the laws of nature themselves that capture and structure the universe–and put brakes on it as well.
Yeah, and some physicists are little more than glorified numerologists.
Barrow’s schtick is to go on and on about how fine-tuned the universe is, with every constant dead on exactly what it must be for life as we know it to exist. For this vacuous nonsense, the Templeton Foundation drops a million bucks on him. I think the Templeton should have just given all their money to Douglas Adams, for his elegant refutation of whole simple-minded game.
…imagine a puddle waking up one morning and thinking, ‘This is an interesting world I find myself in, an interesting hole I find myself in, fits me rather neatly, doesn’t it? In fact it fits me staggeringly well, must have been made to have me in it!’
That idea was worth a prize, and it was expressed far more clearly than the fuzzy excuses for superstition offered by a pretentious physicist.
Similarly aggravating are the babblings of progressive, left-wing Rabbi Michael Lerner. He’s trying to understand why some on the left are hostile to religion; he speculates that it’s a reaction to the use of religion to justify oppression (but rejects that because there are totalitarian regimes that do not support religion), or personal experience with oppressive religious communities (but also rejects that because, as we know, many progressive leaders were also religious). By an inadequate process of elimination, he comes to his conclusion.
So I am led to the conclusion that the main reason that underlies the left’s deep skepticism about religion is its members’ strong faith in a different kind of belief system. Even though many people on the left think of themselves as merely trying to hold on to a rational consciousness and resist the emotionalism that can contribute to fascistic movements, it’s not true that the left is without belief. The left is captivated by a belief that has been called scientism.
Umm, no…what a lack of imagination. He’s so steeped in his faith that he is unable to comprehend that people might lack it, so he invents one, and claims we’re believers in it. It’s pathetic.
Here’s a simpler explanation: many of us find his ancient tribal superstitions foolish, contradictory, irrelevant, and, well, stupid. We aren’t rejecting them because we have leapt onto some other bandwagon for the credulous, but because we don’t find him, or Jerry Falwell, or JZ Knight, or LDS President Thomas Monson, or Elizabeth Clare Prophet, or any of the endless chain of religious charlatans who have claimed divine insight, to be at all credible.
Scientism thus extends far beyond an understanding and appreciation of the role of science in society. It has become the religion of the secular consciousness. Why do I say it’s a religion? Because it is a belief system that has no more scientific foundation than any other belief system. The view that that which is real and knowable is that which can be empirically verified or measured is a view that itself cannot be empirically measured or verified and thus by its own criterion is unreal or unknowable. It is a religious belief system with powerful adherents. Spiritual progressives therefore insist on the importance of distinguishing between our strong support for science and our opposition to scientism.
Look. If I let go of a bowling ball, it falls down. If I pick it up and let go again, it falls down. It’s not a matter of “belief”, it’s an empirical matter that we can repeat over and over and we find that we get the same result. It’s purely pragmatic. I don’t have to possess any kind of belief in much of anything to find that F=G•m1•m2/d2 nicely describes the force between two masses, and science is accepted as a matter of testable utility (and if a scientific claim fails to be useful, it gets abandoned relatively readily). We get used to the fact that science is specific and testable and accomplishes things, and we get spoiled.
So when religion makes claims, such as that chopping bits of a baby’s penis off marks them as ‘special’ to god, or that there is one deity who is actually three and one part of him got killed but came back to life, you have to recognize that those kinds of things just don’t meet our standards anymore. It’s not a matter of having adopted silly new dogmas that displace the old ones…it’s that those ideas are absurd. They’re untestable. They have no point. And when religious people say inane things like this,
As a scientist, Barrow has some useful advice for religious believers: “Don’t be cowed because religious images are often naive or simple. They are merely a shadow of something far more sophisticated. And, as in science, as more knowledge accumulates, old ideas often turn out to be part of the deeper truth that eventually emerges.”
We see right through them. There’s nothing sophisticated about theology, except in the sense that they’ve managed to make astounding elaborate contortions in the struggle to rationalize the irrational.
Lerner goes on, and what he attempts to do is to make this an argument about meaning.
The secular left consistently disarms itself of what could be its most powerful weapon: a spiritual vision of the world. I’ve used the word “spiritual” as a label to identify a meaning-oriented approach to politics. Its focus is on the yearning of human beings for a world of love and caring, for genuine connection and mutual recognition, for kindness and generosity, for connection to the common good, to the sacred and to a transcendent purpose for our lives. Understand human history and contemporary society and individual psychology from the standpoint of these needs and the ways they have been frustrated, and then develop a strategy that addresses those needs, and we will be able to build a movement and a political party that will be in a position to bring about all the good things liberals and progressives have fought for with such limited success over the past 100 years.
No, no, no. The godless life does not mean we have a meaningless life, and is not the abandonment of purpose. We do not need religion or a belief in the unseen and unknowable and intangible and mystical to find value in the world and our lives. What kind of blind fool is this Lerner fellow to think that love and caring and connection and recognition and kindness and generosity are properties that require a belief in magic? Atheists embrace all of those virtues fully.
We are working for meaning in what actually exists. What we reject is meaning found in the lies of the religious—we are striving for truths, rather than affirmation of goofy superstitions.
If you want a solid progressive movement, build it on honesty and a steady willingness to test ideas against the real world. Don’t build it on false dogma and the hokum of the religious. I don’t care how well meaning or sensitive or kind to puppy dogs Lerner might be—he’s asking that our futures be built on the rotten framework of his personal delusions. No, thank you. Keep your spooks and cosmic boogeymen out of real world politics.