Exposing the self-satisfied thoughtlessness of atheistic fundamentalism
In his book The God Delusion, Richard Dawkins narrates a discussion he once had with Jim Watson:
[Some people] claim science is about how things work and religion is about what it is all for. Watson retorted, “Well, I don’t think we are for anything. We’re just products of evolution. You can say, ‘Gee, your life must be pretty bleak if you don’t think there’s a purpose.’ But I’m having a good lunch.” We did have a good lunch, too.
This small anecdote is riddled with lapses in logic.
No Purpose Exists Except Mine
Our existence has no purpose, claims Watson. Social critic Curtis White, in his book The Science Delusion, excoriates the sophistry inherent in such a claim: “Life has no purpose, but my life had a purpose: I won the Nobel Prize.”
Dawkins echoes Watson’s “nopurpose” mantra, yet his quoting this anecdote has a purpose – to argue that nothing has any purpose. And for Dawkins, it’s not just the anecdote that has a purpose; his whole book has a purpose too. He writes at the start of The God Delusion: “If this book works as I intend, religious readers who open it will be atheists when they put it down.” So, life has no purpose, but his book has a purpose.
How convenient that Dawkins can make purpose pop in and out of existence, as per whatever suits his purpose. Has he acquired the power of the God whose existence he is bent on denying?
Actually, the science, on whose back Dawkins so proudly piggybacks, is a purposeful endeavor – it is a search for order in nature. When Newton saw a fruit falling, if he had believed that life has no purpose (other than having a good lunch), he would have done nothing more about that fruit than eaten it. And there would have been no theory of gravity. Without gravity, there would have been no modern science. And without modern science, who would have given Dawkins his free ride?
The brazenness of such arguments is breathtaking. “Hear, everyone: I have come to share the good news – nothing has any point.” Well, then, why should this statement have any point?
Extra-scientific Systems of Value
Let’s now look at the second problem with this anecdote – the notion of a “good lunch.”
The usage of the valuejudgmental term “good” is significant in the context of what is ostensibly a scientific discussion. Atheists like Dawkins and Watson often try to misappropriate the prestige of science to prop up their belief-system of atheism. Here since two scientists are discussing, people would think that the points they discuss come from their scientific knowledge.
Atheists exploit this thinking of people to portray anyone who criticizes them as anti-scientific zealots. But are Dawkins and Watson talking science here? No, they are talking scientism.
Today’s mainstream science observes nature and tries to come up with mechanical, preferably mathematical, explanations for those natural observations. Atheists drag science beyond its jurisdiction in a dubious attempt to extract from it explanations for everything about everything. Science thus ideologically manipulated by atheists morphs into scientific imperialism or, what is commonly known as, scientism. Scientism is an unscientific ideology that lives as a parasite on science. It appropriates for itself the prestige of science and then by making extrascientific claims which it passes of as scientific, it alienates people from science, thus doing a disservice to science.
The point here is that science itself cannot tell us anything about a good or a bad lunch – it can tell us about the nutritional content, calorific value and so forth of the lunch, but not its goodness or badness.
And if we accept scientism, the whole notion of good and bad itself becomes meaningless. Why? Because scientism holds that matter is all that exists, and all that is there to be known about matter can be known only through science. So, if science doesn’t tell us anything about good or bad, then good or bad doesn’t exist.
“The currency is false and I am wealthy”
If we are just products of evolution moving around pointlessly, why should a product be pleased to have a “good” lunch? If evolution has programed us with nothing more than the drive to survive, then all that matters is whether the lunch helps us survive. If the goodness of the lunch refers to its taste, how does the taste matter for survival-driven selfish genes? What is taste, anyway? On what basis is some taste deemed good? And why should good taste be considered better than bad taste?
We don’t usually question such notions as “good” because these words are so familiar that we think we know what they mean. But this system of meaning that we assume is self-evident doesn’t have any basis in the atheistic worldview.
If everything is just matter and there’s nothing beyond matter, then the taste that makes a good lunch good is nothing more than matter contacting matter – the matter that comprises the food contacting the matter that comprises Dawkins: his tongue, his alimentary canal and ultimately his chemicals.
Matter contacting matter; electrons intermingling with electrons; one set of percolating leptons and bosons meeting another set – what’s good or bad about that?
Atheistic fundamentalists like Dawkins love to claim that they are thoughtful, and they love even more to label theists as unthinking. But these atheists don’t think hard enough about their own beliefsystem – if they did, they would realize that in their attempts to falsify the truth-claims of religion, they have ended up with an ideology that makes pointless any truth-claim, including the truthclaim of atheism.
And yet they proudly proclaim their own belief-system to be true. They assume and use a value system that their own belief-system cannot account for. If matter is all that exists, then all our emotions and cognitions are meaningless, being nothing more than the interactions of insentient chemicals contacting other insentient chemicals. If our emotions are meaningless, then atheists’ delight in some emotions among those meaningless emotions is meaningless. If our cognitions are meaningless, then the atheistic argument that theism is meaningless is also meaningless. In fact, it’s worse than meaningless – it is hypocritical.
Why hypocritical? Because such atheists are like people who go about claiming that all the currency that everyone has is false and then brag about having a million dollars in that very currency.
When people other than these “enlightened” new atheists – people from the fields of philosophy, arts and religion, people who have given their life’s best years to contemplate questions about meaning – talk about the good and the beautiful and the valuable, atheists dismiss such talks as essentially meaningless. But when these atheists talk about how good their lunch is, or how good their belief-system is, then we are supposed to obediently nod our heads, believing that something called good exists, and that whatever these atheists consider good is good.
Put in terms of the currency metaphor, their message boils down to: “When the currency is in others’ hands, it is false. When it is in my hands, it is true.”
Atheists of the ilk of Dawkins are quick to mock what they think is the irrationality of theism. But the very tools of reason that they use for mocking theism have no rationale within their own belief system. What, after all, is reason? Why should reason be right?
An old saying cautions against throwing stones at others while living in glass houses. Dawkins and Co. present us with a far worse spectacle: they throw stones at others while claiming that stones don’t exist.
Given the self-contradiction inherent in his statements, he would do well to remember an old Jewish saying: “Did your ears hear what your mouth spoke?”
His self-satisfied thoughtlessness may have deafened him, but other atheists have heard. And they are mortified. One expression of such mortification comes from atheist and philosopher of science, Michael Ruse: “The God Delusion makes me embarrassed to be an atheist.”
Caitanya Carana Dasa is the associate-editor of Back to Godhead (US and Indian editions). To read his daily Bhagavad-gita reflections, please subscribe to Gitadaily on his website, thespiritualscientist.com.