Blogger David T. at Life’s Private Book has a good post on our modern priesthood. David quotes Baron d’Holbach from the18th century:
“Man has been forced to vegetate in his primitive stupidity; nothing has been offered to his mind, but stories of invisible powers, upon whom his happiness was supposed to depend. Occupied solely by his fears, and unintelligible reveries, he has always been at the mercy of his priests, who have reserved to themselves the right of thinking for him, and directing his actions.”
David notes that we still have priests, but they are secular priests–Experts–and they provide us with a semblance of meaning and healing:
…the referents have changed. The “invisible powers” offered to man today are not angels and demons, but obscure material forces…
He observes that modern man, in the place of priests of old,
…[has] “experts” who dispense therapy and pills to relieve his depression, other experts who construct government education and welfare programs, without which obscure social forces will inevitably turn him into a criminal, and yet other experts who inspect his genetic code like tea leaves and tell him that he is doomed to be a loser anyway. Instead of confession, we have therapy; instead of the sacrament of baptism, we have the sacrament of abortion; instead of Calvinism, we have genetic determinism.
We need priests because the fundamental state of man is our contingency. We are in a state of ‘primitive stupidity’ in the sense that we do not intrinsically know metaphysical truth, the answers to such questions as ‘why is there anything’ and ‘why are we here’. Much of our lives are implicitly or explicitly devoted to answering these questions, and we depend, and have always depended, on priests. Our answer is to worship. We differ in the priests we consult, and by what we worship.
Our scientific pursuits are part of our effort to understand our contingency, and to take some control over our lives. That scientific endeavor has arisen from, and not despite, fervent religious belief, generally of the orthodox Judeo-Christian variety. The dependence of the rise of modern science on Judeo-Christian theology, philosophy, and social and economic structures is a matter of historical fact.
We are entering an era in which a substantial and loud minority of atheist scientists and philosophers are claiming that science validates and depends on atheism and materialism. A ferocious fight has broken out in the pro-Darwinist blogosphere over this question: are philosophical naturalism and atheism essential to good science? Some of those on the side of accommodation with religion no doubt are atheists who believe that accommodation of religious beliefs is necessary for tactical reasons; others, such as Ken Miller and Francis Collins, are scientists who are Christians and who see their science as entirely compatible with their theism.
This debate is about whether worship at the materialist/atheist altar is a prerequisite for good science. My sense of it is that the accomodationists have easily gained the upper hand. The atheist insistence that science depends on and validates atheism is historically ignorant and philosophically incoherent.
That theists and open-minded agnostics and atheists on the pro-Darwinist side of this debate are finally engaging the same fundamentalist atheist dogma that intelligent design proponents have engaged for several decades is a good sign. Fundamentalist atheists are of course fighting back ferociously, because they understand, as perhaps the accomodationists don’t, the profound implications of an understanding of the natural world that is not causally closed.
Teleology is obvious in nature. Atheists and materialists intrinsically deny the reality of teleology — Aristotelian final causation — in nature, yet nothing in the natural world can be understood without reference to teleology. Science is saturated with reference to purpose and goals of natural things. Atheists deny teleology, because acceptance of teleology in nature raises devastating questions about their atheist faith.
Fundamentalist atheists — secular priests — fight ferociously to extinguish challenges to their faith, because they understand that to raise the question of teleology in nature is to answer it. Atheism, for good reason, fears questions.