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Materialist Science as Paternalistic Propaganda

Neil Thomas
Photo: Detail of Darwin statue, Natural History Museum, London, by Rept0n1x (Own work) [GFDL or CC BY-SA 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons.

Editor’s note: We have been delighted to host a series by Neil Thomas, Reader Emeritus at the University of Durham: “The Return to the God Paradigm,” of which this article is the fifth and final entry. Thomas has been reviewing three books: Is Atheism Dead?, by Eric Metaxas; Return of the God Hypothesis, by Stephen Meyer; and God of the Details, by Cristian Bandea. Find the full series here. Professor Thomas’s recent book is Taking Leave of Darwin: A Longtime Agnostic Discovers the Case for Design.

As Stephen Meyer makes abundantly clear in his meticulously thorough study, Return of the God Hypothesis, it is simply not possible on strictly logical grounds to wave away the theory of the God hypothesis. Materialist science, on the other hand, taking up the contra-logical position that the universe created itself by dint of “natural law,” has only the crypto-magical postulate of an effect without a cause to offer. Evolutionary psychologist Steve Stewart-Williams recently endorsed the purposeless automatism postulated by Darwinism in the following terms:

Over incomprehensibly vast stretches of time, the slow accumulation of serendipitously advantageous traits really adds up. It can result in the formation of complex adaptations (such as eyes and wings and the elephant’s trunk and the human brain). And ultimately it can result in the genesis of entirely new species.1

I find such abracadabra argumentation (which of course reflects Darwinism 101 to a tee) logically incoherent and more prone to produce laughter in me than to garner my assent. It has even been charged that the use of such arguments, by eliding so many necessary links in the chain of reasoning, constitutes a form of intellectual fraud insofar as the narrative “skips the difficult part in order to get to the resonant part.”2

A Totalitarian Expropriation

In his book, God of the Details, Cristian Bandea contends that an attempt is commonly made to forestall people’s logic-based inferences to a first cause: “Science is trying to suppress that fundamental intuition and it uses its own fictions to do so.” (p. 55) What he means by this is that Darwinism has been illegitimately instrumentalized to bounce people of faith into forsaking their considered beliefs. Such a totalitarian expropriation of individual rights, whilst not being actionable in a court of law, is still in the view of this reviewer a morally culpable abuse of people’s individual rights and freedoms. Hence the tactical use of Darwinism as leverage to prise people away from those dispassionate empirical inferences we call our personal convictions and beliefs can in my view only be glossed as a fraudulent abuse of science — rather as if a judge were to misdirect a jury in a crucially important trial. Thankfully, the forensic evidence itself is not so easily expunged, being preserved in the aspic of the public record and fully visible in the public domain as a standing reproach against the judicial misdirection. 

Scientists as “Unacknowledged Legislators”

In the early 19th century, the poet Shelley rather grandiloquently proclaimed poets to be “the unacknowledged legislators of humanity,” but as the century wore on that messianic role became increasingly one claimed (no less grandiloquently) by scientists of this or that stripe. However, the benefit of hindsight and historical reappraisal have joined to recategorize some of the more notable of such (would-be) legislators as mistaken messiahs. Post-1989 neither Marx’s earthly utopia purportedly achievable by political prescription nor Freud’s theories about endemic human angst being curable via talking therapies have any longer been accorded the status of “science.”Seen against the intellectual context of the displaced messianisms of Communism and Freudianism,4 it might be expected that the overreaching explanatory ambitions of Darwinism would now be read as a comparable form of (secular) apocalyptic yearning promising more the hope of enlightenment than its reality. Yet Darwinism has been permitted to escape that fate by a variety of quite remarkable face-saving maneuvers.

When Darwin’s ignorance of genetics became clear after the belated rediscovery of Mendelism in the first decade of the 20th century, there was some talk of Darwinism’s eclipse5 and yet a slow but concerted move was initiated to save Darwin’s scientific honor by enshrining him as the foundation of what in 1942 was proclaimed to be the New Synthesis — effectively melding older Darwinian ideas with the new science of genetics. Similarly, when in the early 1970s Stephen Jay Gould and Niles Eldredge advanced their theory of punctuated equilibrium to challenge Darwin’s ideas of strict biological gradualism, they claimed with whatever plausibility and verbal finessing they could muster that theirs was not an assault on Darwin’s theory since neither chose to challenge Darwin’s foundational mechanism of natural selection. Both in the 1940s and in the 1970s, then, a firm determination revealed itself to hold Darwin within the scientific embrace as an untarnished icon despite any and every difference of opinion. It appeared that Darwin, that very quintessence of the English gentleman in his own person, has been blessed with some decidedly gentlemanly (and/or self-interested) opponents in the 20th century. The net result of this sedulous Darwinian ring-fencing has been that, although other would-be gurus such as Marx and Freud have been toppled from their pedestals, “Darwin’s acolytes still speak with all the unassailable confidence of 19th-century men of science and empire,”6 and this despite well-substantiated opposition from the intelligent design community plus numerous others not formally associated with that scientific grouping.

Circling the Wagons

Any attempt to demonstrate the sheer untenability of Darwinian postulates is just met with an ever-closer circling of the wagons. By the same token, despite the overwhelming counter- arguments presented by the trio of books considered above, I cannot see the position changing any time soon since I doubt, alas, that such books are read much by the man or woman on the street. Hence there exists a clear gap in the market for more popular and easily accessible (cartoon-based?) books or other media forms to plug this gap. Theoretically this should be as easy as kicking a soccer ball through a set of open goalposts sans goalkeeper given the comic logical deficiencies of Darwinism. But who out there feels (s)he possesses the creative/satirical gifts to step up to the plate and answer this challenge?

Notes

  1. Steve Stewart-Williams, Darwin, God and the Meaning of Life (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2010), p. 29.
  2. Michael Marshall, The Genesis Quest: The Geniuses and Eccentrics on a Journey to Uncover the Origin of Life on Earth (London: Weidenfeld and Nicholson, 2020), p. 12.
  3. See especially Frederick Crews, Freud: The Making of an Illusion (London: Profile, 2017).
  4. On displaced messianisms, see John Gray, Black Mass, Apocalyptic Religion and the Death of Utopia (London, Penguin, 2007) and also Gray’s Seven Types of Atheism (London: Penguin, 2019).
  5. Peter Bowler, The Eclipse of Darwinism: Anti-Darwinian Evolution Theory in the Decades around 1900, 2nd edition (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1992). 
  6. Tina Beattie, The New Atheists: The Twilight of Reason and the War on Religion (London: Dartman, Longman and Todd, 2007), pp. 29-35, citation p. 35. 

Neil Thomas

Neil Thomas is a Reader Emeritus in the University of Durham, England and a longtime member of the British Rationalist Association. He studied Classical Studies and European Languages at the universities of Oxford, Munich and Cardiff before taking up his post in the German section of the School of European Languages and Literatures at Durham University in 1976. There his teaching involved a broad spectrum of specialisms including Germanic philology, medieval literature, the literature and philosophy of the Enlightenment and modern German history and literature. He also taught modules on the propagandist use of the German language used both by the Nazis and by the functionaries of the old German Democratic Republic. He published over 40 articles in a number of refereed journals and a half dozen single-authored books, the last of which were Reading the Nibelungenlied (1995), Diu Crone and the Medieval Arthurian Cycle (2002) and Wirnt von Gravenberg's 'Wigalois'. Intertextuality and Interpretation (2005). He also edited a number of volumes including Myth and its Legacy in European Literature (1996) and German Studies at the Millennium (1999). He was the British Brach President of the International Arthurian Society (2002-5) and remains a member of a number of learned societies.

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