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Thanksgiving and the Frailty of Scientific Atheism 

Image: The First Thanksgiving at Plymouth, by Jennie Augusta Brownscombe, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons.

For the Humanize podcast, our bioethicist colleague Wesley Smith had a very interesting and wide-ranging conversation with Stephen Meyer, about Return of the God Hypothesis and much else. They discussed the implications of Darwinian materialism for Smith’s own expertise in the subject of human exceptionalism, and threats to scientific integrity from the insistence on a stifling “consensus.” Meyer observes that “you rarely hear people refer to a ‘consensus’ in science when there actually is one.” 

What’s needed, he says, and what is increasingly under siege in our culture, is the idea of “science as an open form of inquiry,” where “science advances as scientists argue about how to interpret the evidence.” Meyer would like to see more scientific debate, across the board, from climate change to Darwinian evolution to “many issues that have arisen in response to the Covid epidemic.” I couldn’t agree more. I want to offer a thought about something that underlies the impulse to clamp down on debate, and it relates to Thanksgiving.

No Slip-Ups, No Exceptions

At the end of the podcast they touch on the fragility, the brittleness of the materialist picture of reality. Materialism is as oppressive as it is because it can’t afford one slip-up, not one exception to the iron rule that nothing exists beyond nature. Wesley cites a fascinating interview with two well known “proud atheists,” Harvard cognitive psychologist Steven Pinker and his wife, the philosopher Rebecca Goldstein. She wrote a particularly good book that I read when it came out, Betraying Spinoza: The Renegade Jew Who Gave Us Modernity. Both are committed to Spinoza-style rationalism. In the interview with Salon, Pinker and Goldstein make clear how fragile their atheism is:

[SALON:] I know neither of you believes in paranormal experiences like telepathy or clairvoyant dreams or contact with the dead. But hypothetically, suppose even one of these experiences were proven beyond a doubt to be real. Would the materialist position on the mind-brain question collapse in a single stroke?


GOLDSTEIN: Yeah, if there was no other explanation. We’d need to have such clear evidence. I have to tell you, I’ve had some uncanny experiences. Once, in fact, I had a very strange experience where I seemed to be getting information from a dead person. I racked my brain trying to figure out how this could be happening. I did come up with an explanation for how I could reason this away. But it was a very powerful experience. If it could truly be demonstrated that there was more to a human being than the physical body, this would have tremendous implications.

No Miracles, No Genuine Wonders 

In defense of “the materialist position,” whether on the nature of the mind or anything else, there can be no exceptions, no miracles, no genuine wonders — nothing that cannot be fully explained in naturalistic terms. Just one tiny miracle, if genuine, and materialism would “collapse in a single stroke.” To her husband’s admission, Goldstein adds that she has had some “uncanny experiences,” the most noteworthy being apparently “getting information from a dead person.” Wesley, who says he has had some interesting experiences of his own, quotes her revealing comment: “I did come up with an explanation for how I could reason this away.” She had to!

Smith and Meyer also discuss the science censorship in which Darwinists specialize, and I think this frailty can explain that, too. Darwinism can’t permit “a Divine Foot in the door,” in biologist Richard Lewontin’s famous phrase (a moment of candor which I have no doubt he deeply regretted). One foot, one little toe, and it’s all over for them.

Which brings me to the phenomenon you probably notice each year when we arrive at the beloved American holiday that falls tomorrow. Thanksgiving, for many vocal atheists, has become increasingly intolerable. Why? Our friend Michael Medved describes the highly providential first Thanksgiving and other marvelous events from the founding of our country as instances of the “American Miracle.” 

This might clarify the impulse, which you’ll see on full display across the mainstream media, to tear down the holiday as a shameful, racist fraud. If it were a statue, they would have already pulled it down in disgrace. They can’t allow “a Divine Foot in the door.” Happy Thanksgiving!