There Are New Atheists in Foxholes, Part 2

As part of an extra-long holiday weekend read, we bring the second of a three-part series. Richard Dawkins kind of misses the whole "rationality and intelligible universe" thing.

By William Dembski Published on May 26, 2024

A few months back I posted a piece on my blog at BillDembski.com titled, “Woke Ideology as Scientific Materialism’s Legitimate Offspring.” This article described how the National Association of Scholars was commending physicist and skeptic Lawrence Krauss for challenging the woke assault on reason, merit, and freedom in the academy while failing to see that Krauss was complicit in bringing about this very assault.

Krauss is, of course, a close colleague of atheist Richard Dawkins. Back between 2005 and 2010, as the New Atheism came into vogue, its principal exponents, dubbed “the four horsemen of the apocalypse,” were Dawkins, Daniel Dennett, Christopher Hitchens, and Sam Harris, with Dawkins leading the charge. Krauss, to mix metaphors, was one of the key people on the bench, perhaps the sixth man.

I’m going here to put the spotlight on Dawkins rather than on Krauss. Like Krauss, Dawkins is these days attempting to stand against the woke subversion of the academy, and of science in particular. Increasingly, Dawkins is casting himself as a defender of traditional academic virtues (reason, merit, free discourse, etc.).

Dawkins the Critic of Postmodernity

And yet, a compelling case can be made that precisely because of the materialist ideology that he has promoted in the name of science all these years, Dawkins has helped bring about the state of affairs that he is now lamenting — in which woke ideology subverts all that he deems precious in the academy and science (and, as we’ve seen, also in cultural Christianity).

Dawkins has been marvelously successful at advancing scientific materialism, the view that science (especially Darwinian evolution) functions to advance materialism, with Darwin being this atheistic ideology’s principal prophet. And yet, this very scientific materialism is the Pandora’s box that has opened our culture to all the evils that he now laments.

What Dawkins seems not to have realized — or perhaps now is realizing too late — is that scientific materialism is the suicide of reason, even undermining science as reason’s most compelling expression. Scientific materialism attempts to use science as a club to enforce materialism. Yet instead, scientific materialism is a snake that eats its own tail and in the end consumes itself. It destroys itself, collapsing of internal contradiction, and thereby ruining science, as we now see happening in real time.

Even Darwin Foresaw Where We Were Headed

The view that scientific materialism collapses of internal contradiction is not new and is not made solely by people like me who oppose scientific materialism. Darwin made the point himself when he raised the following doubt in an 1881 letter to William Graham:

With me the horrid doubt always arises whether the convictions of man’s mind, which has been developed from the mind of the lower animals, are of any value or at all trustworthy. Would any one trust in the convictions of a monkey’s mind, if there are any convictions in such a mind?

C. S. Lewis and Alvin Plantinga extended Darwin’s point. In his book Miracles, Lewis argued that on materialist principles, the mind is a mere material system operating according to unbroken natural laws and thus will proceed with no necessary connection to knowledge or truth. There is nothing in the constitution and dynamics of a material system of interacting parts, such as our brain, that enables it to be “about” anything in the world and thus to capture the truth of things in the world.

Plantinga took Lewis’s argument further with his evolutionary argument against naturalism (aka materialism). Plantinga noted that evolution, in its conventional materialist sense, by putting a premium on survival and reproduction, did not — and indeed could not — put a premium on knowing truth. And so any beliefs whatsoever that are compatible with survival and reproduction are, from an evolutionary vantage, as good as any other. In fact, the right delusions might be better at advancing survival and reproduction than knowing and acting on truth.

If Darwinism Is True, There Is No Truth

On Darwinian evolutionary grounds, our beliefs therefore have no claim on truth. It thus makes no sense, on evolutionary grounds, to criticize woke ideologues for undermining reason, devaluing merit, or restricting speech. For instance, we are now told that math is discriminatory because only the privileged reside in educational settings where they can learn and excel at math. And so, instead of attempting to improve the mathematical opportunities of the underprivileged, we are encouraged to view math as an open-ended activity where all answers are considered equally valid. We thus see taken seriously that two plus two need not equal four (see my Substack essay “The War on 2+2=4”).

The woke ideology that Dawkins detests did not arise in a vacuum but is the logical outworking of the scientific materialism that he has championed. Woke ideology embraces two plus two equaling five, freedom of speech being an outdated relic, reason being a tool of oppression, and merit being a conceit of the privileged. Dawkins opposes this nonsense. But it is nonsense that his scientific materialism has invited.

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Woke ideology is not a betrayal of scientific materialism but its logical conclusion. In fact, it becomes quite appealing once people realize that on materialistic grounds we are here for no reason and have no destiny beyond this brief life, so the only meaning our life can have is the meaning we give it, the meaning we construct for it. And if conventional educational values like freedom of thought and expression get in the way of the meaning that we are constructing for ourselves, so much the worse for those values.

The scientific materialism of Dawkins epitomizes modernity. The woke ideology that he detests epitomizes postmodernity. Yet the modernity he has promoted all these years entails the postmodernity he detests. It’s as though he started a fire that got out of control, and now he’s wringing his hands about how to put it out. You don’t get to postmodernity except through modernity. The irony seems to have been lost on Dawkins and his colleagues.

See Part 1 of this essay here. Part 3 will appear tomorrow. 

William A. Dembski is a founding and senior fellow of the Center for Science and Culture and a distinguished fellow of the Walter Bradley Center for Natural and Artificial Intelligence.

Originally published at EvolutionNews.org. Reprinted with permission.

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