Tuesday, April 12, 2005

On the Mythology of Naturalism

"...for some time the philosophers who did not believe in God, whom they regarded as a myth, managed to believe in Nature without realising that she is a metaphor..." -G.K. Chesterton, The Common Man


Probably the simplest objection to rationalistic atheism is that it is futile. It has central in itself the false assumption that freedom from God is freedom from religious irrationality. Just a few days ago, I've been reading about the eminent biologist Richard Dawkins and his ideas about genetics and culture. According to the atheistic scientist, all living organisms are mere tools for the propagation of individual genes, and all intelligent beings are likewise vessels for the spread of "memes" (the basic units of knowledge; anything that is learned or recorded). We humans are therefore pawns and minions of the Gene and the Meme.

I wonder, though: why don't I care?

I suppose this isn't anything new, as the so-called "liberalists" have given us other rulers before. If they are to be believed, we are also slaves of Progress and Evolution, of Nature and the Elements, of Time and Space. They believe in this so fervently, as if it was so clear and obvious, and as if they are utterly oblivious of the phrase "figure of speech" and of the word "personification." Of course, we all know that characteristics and knowledge can be passed from one thing to another, but it's rather quite a stretch to claim that such abstract notions have "evolutionary goals," or that they are therefore our masters. Genes and memes (and Progress and the rest of the atheist deities) do not have personhood, and any notion of them literally striving for something would hark from the days of the superstitious nature-worshiping myth-making heathens. One might imagine an atheist offering blood sacrifices on the altar of the god Spacetime, which might be located next to the altar of the twin-gods Gene and Meme (where a toga-clad Richard Dawkins might be burning incense) in the Temple of Liberty From All Superstitions.

Religious emancipation my ass.

In any case, my genes and my memes (all of which being inanimate, abstract, and rather incapable of action) don't seem to be in any position to defend any claim of superiority or dominance over me at the moment, so methinks I'll just let them go on their metaphorical evolutionary journey, while I myself continue on my own (rather more pressing) journey towards salvation.

A final Chesterton quote might be allowed. This one's from the chapter Escape from Paganism, in the book The Everlasting Man:

"There will be no end to the weary debates about liberalising theology, until people face the fact that the only liberal part of it is really the dogmatic part. What the denouncer of dogma really means is not that dogma is bad; but rather that dogma is too good to be true. That is, he means that dogma is too liberal to be likely. Dogma gives man too much freedom when it permits him to fall. Dogma gives even God too much freedom when it permits him to die. It is like believing in men with wings to entertain the fancy of men with wills. It is like accepting a fable about a squirrel in conversation with a mountain to believe in a man who is free to ask or a God who is free to answer. But I decline to show any respect for those who first of all clip the wings and cage the squirrel, rivet the chains and refuse the freedom, close all the doors of the cosmic prison on us with a clang of eternal iron, tell us that our emancipation is a dream and our dungeon a necessity; and then calmly turn round and tell us they have a freer thought and a more liberal theology."