Wednesday, August 25, 2004

New Strategy For Ducking the Issue

Viewpoint thinks it has detected a new strategy being adopted by the Kerry team in responding to the Swiftvets. Ironically, the strategy seems to be the same one employed by the Nixon administration in trying to bring the Vietnam war to a somewhat honorable conclusion. It's simply to declare victory and go home. The Kerry defenders on the talk shows are increasingly resorting to this tactic by proclaiming that the Swiftvets have now been thoroughly discredited and disgraced, their charges have been shown to be a pack of lies, and it's now time to move on to other issues. No real evidence is offered to substantiate this astonishing pronouncement, it's just asserted, as if claiming something is the case is sufficient to make it so. Look for the strategy to be employed more and more frequently as the evidence continues to mount that Kerry's Vietnam stories are bogus, and as Kerry himself continues to stonewall requests to have his records be released to the public.

Keep abreast of the controversy at Captains' Quarters, Power Line, and Hugh Hewitt.

The Devil's Chaplain

The current issue of First Things has an excellent piece by Stephen Barr titled The Devil's Chaplain Confounded. The chaplain in this instance is Richard Dawkins an English biologist and notorious despiser of Christianity who has compiled an anthology of his essay and titled it after a thought expressed in a letter of Charles Darwin's in which he exclaims to a friend, "What a book a Devil's Chaplain might write on the clumsy, wasteful, blundering low and horridly cruel works of nature."

As Barr says of Dawkins, "For him, the great foundational truth is that the universe and the life it has spawned are without any ultimate purpose: the revelation given to the Devil's Chaplain is one of cosmic futility."

He points out that Dawkins says that we must accept Darwinism as true science but must rebel against its moral implications: "[A]t the same time as I support Darwinism as a scientist, I am a passionate anti-Darwinian when it comes to politics and how we should conduct our human affairs."

This is the sign of a mind at war with itself. If, as Dawkins says, we are merely biological machines then the whole concept of morality is reduced to nothing more than a set of feelings that genetic mutation and natural selection have instilled in us. We may rebel against those feelings, but why should we? What do we base our rejection of those feelings upon? Do we recognize that there is some higher moral order to which we are bound that renders our evolutionary moral heritage suspect? If so, where does that higher order come from? What is it based upon?

A materialist like Dawkins has no satisfactory answer to these questions. He can give no reason why a man should not live as a complete egoist acting for the benefit of others only to the extent that such actions also benefit him. The atheistic materialist who grounds morality in the survival of the species has absolutely no warrant for so doing. Why should an individual care what happens to the species? Why would it be "wrong" if someone did not care about the species? What do words like right and wrong refer to anyway? Where does an atheist get the idea that we should respect others and treat them well?

Dawkins argues against genetic determinism, but as Barr points out, "given his materialism, it is hard to see the point of this. Whether or not genes decide anything, atoms decide everything. Whether or not there is genetic determinism, there is physical determinism. One does not liberate anybody by throwing open the gates of a prison and leaving the inmates locked in their cells. It is of little importance what influence genes or the environment have, or what role is played by individual choices, if in the final analysis everything is just matter anyway, including the genes, the environment, and the individuals who choose. To a materialist, we are just congeries of atoms; and atoms must go whithersoever they are driven by the laws of physics and blind chance."

Moreover, given the determinism that is entailed by a materialist view of the world, it's hard to see what meaning morality could possess. In order for there to be a right act or wrong act there has to be the possibility of choosing. Otherwise, there are just things the environment compels people to do and there is no moral value in doing them any more than there is in a computer which runs the program it has been fed.

Dawkins is famous, or infamous, for his vitriolic screeds against religion. Without religion, says Dawkins, we would not have wars of religion or religious persecution. Barr's answer to this commonly heard complaint highlights the superficiality of Dawkins' thinking:

"True," Barr replies, "And without sex, fathers, families, material possessions, and governments, we would not have sex crimes, abusive fathers, dysfunctional families, greed for material possessions, and oppressive governments. Every natural and necessary thing can be perverted, even reason. Religion has led to hateful ideas, but has any Christian writer ever published ideas as hateful as the social Darwinism of H. G. Wells? Religion has led to persecutions, but none even nearly as massive as those produced by militant irreligion. More people were killed by the "scientific atheism" of communism on an average day than the Spanish Inquisition killed in an average decade. And largely responsible for this fact was a teaching of contempt for religion of exactly the kind that Dawkins propagates."

There is much more of value in Barr's response to Dawkins' book, and Viewpoint encourages the reader who is familiar with Dawkins, or those who think like him, to read it in its entirety. It is one of the great frauds modernity has foisted upon the culture, the notion that we can throw away God and still hold on to all that makes life meaningful and livable. Perhaps it's possible for an individual to do this, but only at the expense of, like Dawkins, denying in one's heart what one affirms in one's head. Either that, or not think about the consequences of denying God at all.

This is a dispiriting alternative. If one wishes to embrace atheism and avoid moral nihilism one either has to be schizophrenic or willfully ignorant.