Intelligent Design

Massimo Says It’s Become a Religion

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Massimo Piattelli-Palmarini

Not that Massimo — this one. And “it,” of course, is neo-Darwinism, or the Modern Synthesis: textbook evolutionary theory.

There’s nothing especially novel in saying that evolutionary theory can function as a secular religion, which is Piattelli-Palmarini’s main point in his new article. Michael Ruse has said as much for years.

What has changed within the past couple of years, however, is the rapid growth in the overtly religious (anti-religious, but that anti doesn’t really matter) content of the writings of prominent neo-Darwinian biologists, such as Jerry Coyne and Richard Dawkins. The Accomodationist Wars, which show no signs of slacking, illustrate that for many, the whole point of evolutionary theory is Getting Rid of God. A biologist who nonetheless professes his theism (Ken Miller, Simon Conway Morris, Francis Collins, et al.) — well, those people are, at best, confused. Evolution properly understood is irreligious. Not “irreligious” in the sense of indifferent or neutral. Hostile. Read the traffic at Pharyngula, Why Evolution is True, Dawkins’s site, Sandwalk, or dozens of other blogs and discussion boards. [Just to be clear: I (PN) don’t think the theory of evolution is irreligious, in the sense of hostile to theism. Philosophical naturalism, however, is. But evolution and naturalism are typically conflated by their advocates.]

The fact that Piattelli-Palmarini, like his co-author Jerry Fodor, is himself an atheist, throws a palpable irony over his recent experiences at the receiving end of impassioned attacks charging treachery concerning his challenges to neo-Darwinism. We need another Orwell to tell the story.

6 Replies to “Massimo Says It’s Become a Religion

  1. 1
    kairos says:

    Paul,

    thanks for the reference.
    I thinks that this kind of statements, and by people who are not at all religious but have enough intellectual honesty not to hidden evidence, can only be welcomed.
    I see good things arising

  2. 2
    Matteo says:

    I ran across some guy at Chris Mooney’s blog the other day who was bloviating that belief in God goes against the very definition of what it means to be a scientist. It led me to reflect: If there is any side that is incapable of properly untangling science and theology, it ain’t the theists. And if there is any side that proudly displays autistic levels of philosophical incomprehension, it ain’t the theists.

  3. 3
    Collin says:

    “Irreligion as the state religion would be the worst of all combinations. Its orthodoxy would be insistent and its inquisitors inevitable. Its paid ministry would be numerous beyond belief. Its Caesars would be insufferably condescending. Its majorities—when faced with clear alternatives—will make the Barabbas choice, as did a mob centuries ago when Pilate confronted them with the need to decide.

    Your discipleship may see the time when such religious convictions are discounted. M. J. Sobran said, ‘A religious conviction is now a second-class conviction, expected to step deferentially to the back of the secular bus, and not to get uppity about it’ (Human Life Review, Summer 1978, pp. 58–59).

    This new irreligious imperialism seeks to disallow certain opinions simply because those opinions grow out of religious convictions. Resistance to abortion will be seen as primitive. Concern over the institution of the family will be viewed as untrendy and unenlightened.

    In its mildest form, irreligion will merely be condescending toward those who hold to traditional Judeo-Christian values. In its more harsh forms, as is always the case with those whose dogmatism is blinding, the secular church will do what it can to reduce the influence of those who still worry over standards such as those in the Ten Commandments. It is always such an easy step from dogmatism to unfair play—especially so when the dogmatists believe themselves to be dealing with primitive people who do not know what is best for them—the secular bureaucrats’ burden, you see.

    Am I saying that the voting rights of people of religion are in danger? Of course not! Am I saying, “It’s back to the catacombs?” No! But there is occurring a discounting of religiously based opinions. There may even be a covert and subtle disqualification of some for certain offices in some situations, in an ironic irreligious test for office.

    If people, however, are not permitted to advocate, to assert, and to bring to bear, in every legitimate way, the opinions and views they hold which grow out of their religious convictions, what manner of men and women would we be?

    Our founding fathers did not wish to have a state church established nor to have a particular religion favored by government. They wanted religion to be free to make its own way. But neither did they intend to have irreligion made into a favored state church.

    Notice the terrible irony if this trend were to continue. When the secular church goes after its heretics, where are the sanctuaries? To what landfalls and Plymouth Rocks can future pilgrims go?”

    Neal Maxwell, 1978

    http://lds.org/ldsorg/v/index......82620aRCRD

  4. 4
    Sooner Emeritus says:

    Paul,

    Another Paul wrote,

    The fundamental symbol of our ultimate concern is God. It is always present in any act of faith, even if the act of faith includes the denial of God, where there is ultimate concern. God can be denied only in the name of God. One God can deny the other one. Ultimate concern cannot deny its own character as ultimate.

    Paul Tillich, Dynamics of Faith.

    There’s an important distinction to be made between people who have no God (and no God to deny) and those who actively deny God. A big part of why the debates between theists and atheists in the West strike me as silly is that 400 million non-theistic Buddhists don’t even figure.

  5. 5
    Seversky says:

    So, yet again, we have two respected scholars, both cognitive scientists and philosophers, who have been so kind as to identify and expose a grave flaw in evolutionary theory which has managed to elude detection by all professional biologists since Darwin. Are they really suggesting that the field is populated entirely by devout Origins literalists who cling desperately to the inerrancy of Darwinian scripture for fear that their faith will collapse in ruins at the first admission of error? Are we to accept that the absurd anecdote of the horrified gentleman at the lecture is representative of the the field of evolutionary biology?

    It may come as a surprise to the two authors but it has actually been known for some time that there were some things that Darwin did not know at the time he wrote his theory and that he did indeed get some things wrong. And, shocking as it may seem, it is also true of some if not all of his successors. Some have even gone so far as to clothe their personal philosophical or religious beliefs with the mantle of scientific authority. That, sadly, is the way of science as it is indeed of all human endeavors.

    Were they wrong to publish a book called What Darwin Got Wrong?. No, of course not. The question is, though, why keep picking on Darwin? Why did they not publish a book called “What Newton Got Wrong” or “What Lyell Got Wrong”? Is Darwin the only scientist to have made mistakes? Does the problem lie with the fact that Darwin’s work has been co-opted – some would say ‘perverted’ – to support religious, philosophical or political beliefs that are questionable or objectionable? If that is the case, is it Darwin’s fault or those doing the perverting?

  6. 6
    scordova says:

    Paul,

    Here is a good one from Spiked Online

    It is now blasphemy to criticise Darwin

    Massimo Piattelli-Palmarini, co-author of What Darwin Got Wrong (reviewed in this issue of the spiked review of books), says Darwinism has become a new secular faith that you transgress at your peril.

    by Massimo Piattelli-Palmarini

    Some months ago an American philosopher explained to a highly sophisticated audience in Britain what, in his opinion, was wrong, indeed fatally wrong, with the standard neo-Darwinian theory of biological evolution. He made it crystal clear that his criticism was not inspired by creationism, intelligent design or any remotely religious motivation. A senior gentleman in the audience erupted, in indignation: ‘You should not say such things, you should not write such things! The creationists will treasure them and use them against science.’ The lecturer politely asked: ‘Even if they are true?’ To which the instant and vibrant retort was: ‘Especially if they are true!’ with emphasis on the ‘especially’.

    Too funny!

    HT TelicThoughts and Clare:

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