Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Loser Letter #5

Mary Eberstadt, alias A. F. Christian, laments all the "total craptacular hoser traitor enemy combatant Loser-lover guys" who are leaving the ranks of the Brights to join the Dulls in Loser Letter #5 at National Review Online.


Microscopic Clutch

The bacterial flagellum continues to give strict Darwinians migraines. Scientists have recently discovered that the flagellum's rotation is stopped by a protein assembly that acts just like the clutch in an automobile transmission.

"We think it's pretty cool that evolving bacteria and human engineers arrived at a similar solution to the same problem," said IU Bloomington biologist Daniel Kearns, who led the project. "How do you temporarily stop a motor once it gets going?"

Indeed. The whole flagellar assembly is a miniature outboard motor and the filament is disengaged from the motor by a clutch assembly such as intelligent engineers have designed for cars. Yet we are to believe that random genetic mutations occurring relatively quickly in geological time acted in tandem with natural selection to produce this astonishing machine completely without any guidance or intention.

Which came first, you may wonder, the flagellar motor or the clutch assembly? What good would each do the organism if the other didn't exist? If it does no good how was it conserved? If they evolved together how did such a marvel happen unless guided by an intelligent agent?

Never mind. It's impertinent to ask such questions. Just believe what the wise Darwinists tell you and don't be difficult.


The God Delusion, Ch. 7 (part II)

Richard Dawkins' The God Delusion is a rambling, weakly argued polemic against God and religion in which no canard is considered too lame to be trotted out in service to the cause. In the second half of chapter 7, for instance, Dawkins reconstructs the obligatory sad history of religious oppression, conflict and bloodshed. He strongly implies that but for the baleful influence of religion all would be peace and light in the world.

As so often in his book, though, Professor Dawkins tells us only part of the tale, and a small part at that. Let's talk a little bit about what he leaves out, starting in 1915: First there was the Russian revolution (9 million dead), then the Ukrainian famine (15 million), the Nazi holocaust (6 million), the rape of Nanking (300,000) the war in Korea (2.8 million), the cultural revolution in China (40 million), post-war Vietnam (430,000), the Cambodian killing fields (1.6 million), the Rwandan genocide (750,000) These slaughters accounted for the deaths of about 80 million people, none of them had anything to do with religion, but most of them were perpetrated by devotees of an ideology that was explicitly or implicitly atheistic. In other words, the record of slaughter in the name of atheism and by atheists dwarfs that committed in the name of God. Moreover, if we consider not religion in general but only the Christian church the bloodshed which can be layed to the account of Christianity over the last four centuries is vanishingly small, especially compared to the crimes of state atheism.

Dawkins maintains that religion is a significant force for evil because religion, being a human enterprise, is subject to many of the flaws that humans possess, but he fails to recognize that it is the human element of religion that is the problem, not religion itself.

Because there is a widespread consensus about what's right and what's wrong, and this consensus has nothing to do with religion, he concludes that religion is unnecessary for morality. As an alternative to the Biblical commandments he offers a list of ethical rules that reflect what he calls the "moral zeitgeist." Some of the platitudes he serves up are: Always seek to learn something new; live life with joy and wonder; in all things strive to cause no harm. To each of these, however, the question needs to be put, "why?" What obligates anyone to observe Dawkins' rules? They're nothing more than banal expressions of his own preferences about how he'd like to see people live. Observing them or flouting them is neither right nor wrong.

Dawkins naively believes that the moral zeitgeist is moving us forward and that we're making moral progress. Notwithstanding the absurdity of such a claim in light of the statistics given above for the 20th century (which represent, by the way, only a fraction of that century's horrors), it is remarkable for what it reveals about his utter obliviousness to the fact that he has no grounds for calling an evolving moral consensus either progress or regress. It just is.

He assures us that the "zeitgeist," pushed along as it is by people like ethicist Peter Singer, is moving us toward a post-specieist condition where animals will have rights similar to those of human persons. This, Dawkins' enthuses, would be a "natural extrapolation of earlier reforms like the abolition of slavery and the emancipation of women." What Dawkins chooses not to tell his readers is that Singer is the world's most outspoken proponent of legalizing infanticide, which is a "natural extrapolation" from a Darwinian worldview and an example of the progressive direction in which the zeitgeist is moving.

"The manifest progression of the zeitgeist is more than enough to undermine the claim that we need God in order to be good," Dawkins proclaims. In other words, as long as we can agree to follow certain precepts and platitudes who needs God? This is so naive that it seems almost an indignity to respond to it. One of his ethical rules is "Do not discriminate or oppress on the basis of sex, race or species" (Interestingly, he does not prohibit discrimination based upon religion). But why should we not discriminate on the basis of sex or race? Why is such behavior wrong? Why is it wrong to harm another person? Dawkins doesn't tell us because he can't tell us. The Darwinian ethic is might makes right and under such a principle prohibitions against discrimination are ludicrous. Discrimination, or anything else, can only be wrong if we are somehow obligated to treat others with dignity and respect and we can only be so obligated if there is a God.

A big problem for anyone seeking to show that atheists are good folk is the record of oppressors like Hitler and Stalin so Dawkins devotes several pages to explaining how these men and others like them were not influenced to do what they did by their atheism. Their atheism was one thing, their deeds were another. This is a laughable defense given that he was loath to make the same concession to the historical crimes committed by Christians. But even if we allow him the point it's still irrelevant. The question is not whether these men were consciously acting on their atheistic beliefs when they committed their crimes, but rather whether what these men did was in any way inconsistent with an atheistic worldview. The answer to that is no. If atheism is true nothing Hitler, Stalin, Pol Pot, or Mao did is wrong.

Dawkins is offended that anyone would think that an atheist, qua atheist, would commit such atrocities as were recorded by Stalin and Hitler. "Why would anyone go to war for the sake of an absence of belief?" He asks. Again this question muddies the water. Dawkins needs rather to answer the deeper question of why atheistic Marxists felt impelled to slay thousands of clergy and to attempt to wipe out Christianity in almost every country in which they seized power in the 20th century. If atheism is merely the absence of a belief why is it so hostile to believers? Why is it not simply indifferent? The reason is because atheism is indeed an absolutist belief system and it sees Christianity as its most vigorous rival.

Richard Dawkins does not believe in miracles but he should. The fact that a book as poorly argued as The God Delusion has become a best-seller and is making him wealthy is perhaps the most amazing miracle of our young century.