The false faith of scientific reason
Published in: Jewish Chronicle
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.