Blind Hopes

Whether they like it or not, evolutionists find themselves having to dabble in theology and philosophy. Typically they’re not very good at one, or the other, or both, but they don’t have a lot of choice. They know that religious belief predominates, and they know that the inference to design in nature is profoundly intuitive. It certainly was for David:

I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made. Wonderful are your works; my soul knows it very well. – Psalm 139:14

To overturn three-plus millennia of what almost everyone knows very well is a tall order, and so hyper-Darwinists like Richard Dawkins know where they must begin:

Biology is the study of complicated things that give the appearance of having been designed for a purpose.[1]

They also know where the entire enterprise must end. Materialistic science leads to the soul destroying conclusion that there is no morality and no meaning. It’s a hard sell.

One brutally honest approach is to put the unadulterated wares on sale knowing that the local fast food chains will have better luck selling tofu burgers at their drive-through windows. This was Richard Dawkins in a more honest moment back in 1995:

The universe we observe has precisely the properties we should expect if there is, at bottom, no design, no purpose, no evil and no good, nothing but pitiless indifference.[2]

Another approach, and the preferred mission model of the New Atheists, is to gussy up the product with a sprinkling of religion, or something that looks a lot like religion. It’s not always possible to tell whether this approach is unintentional, with religion sneaking in the back door, or just plain cynical, with atheists charging out of the portcullis to raid the enemy’s stores.[3] This is Dawkins in his latest outing, The Magic of Reality (2011).

What might be new for Dawkins is old hat for E.O. Wilson. “The evolutionary epic,” Wilson wrote back in 1978, “is probably the best myth we will ever have.”[4] Like many atheists, Wilson takes his myth-building cues from Prometheus – the old titan who stole fire from the gods and gave it back to man.

The true Promethean spirit of science . . . constructs the mythology of scientific materialism, guided by the corrective devices of the scientific method, addressed with precise and deliberately affective appeal to the deepest needs of human nature, and kept strong by the blind hopes that the journey on which we are now embarked will be farther and better than the one just completed.[5]

In the ancient Greek tragedy, Prometheus Bound, the rebellious titan not only stole fire from the gods, but “caused mortals to cease foreseeing their doom.” That seems a worthy enough goal, at least at first glance. After all, who wants to go through life knowing that Zeus is about to blast the whole of humanity into Hades? Except that Prometheus adds deception to his crimes: “I caused blind hopes to dwell within their breasts.”

The greater context of the “blind hopes” line is what makes militant atheists both less like and more like Prometheus than they usually admit. They’re less like Prometheus  because at least the titan saved humanity from the wrath of Zeus. Last time I checked, atheists have saved exactly zero souls from eternal punishment. (They haven’t done much for the living, either.[6]) And they’re more like Prometheus in that they need to offer a piece of deception along with their gift of all that counts as knowledge. If materialistic science is the only game in town, then “hope” is an answer to a question that nobody is allowed to ask. What can they pretend to offer in its place?

Unfortunately, evolution – the central creation story of materialistic science – is the perfect engine of despair. Not only is it depressingly “red in tooth and claw,”[7] it is entirely backward facing. Evolution cannot look forward to the next day, the next ice age, or the next asteroid impact. Evolution is blind. “It has no vision,” as an earlier Dawkins reminds us, “no foresight, no sight at all.”[8]

But not to worry: materialistic science will win the day. It will tell us everything we need to know.

And therein lays the deception. Materialism has shown itself to be entirely incapable of explaining the mind, the universe, life, and pretty much everything else important to the human experience. It can do even less for “the deepest needs of human nature.” Even if we lump the best of science and technology into this picture we will have no more than Prometheus’ gift of fire. It will give us something useful, perhaps, but not hopeful. It will allow us to plan and scheme based on what we see right in front of us, on what the devilish Uncle Wormwood would call “real life,”[9] on what crops we are growing and barns we are building,[10] but all such hopes are blind. What humanity needs so deeply is a future good, and nothing here and now will ever satisfy that need.[11]

[A version of this article appeared in Think, January 2012, p. 11.]

[1] Richard Dawkins, The Blind Watchmaker. New York: W.W. Norton, 1996, p. 1.

[2] Richard Dawkins, River Out of Eden: A Darwinian View of Life. New York: BasicBooks, 1995, p. 133.

[3] Mary Midgley, Evolution as a Religion. London: Routledge, 2002, p. 131.

[4] Edward O. Wilson, On Human Nature. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1978, p. 201.

[5] Wilson, On Human Nature, p. 209.

[6] See, e.g., Richard Weikart, From Darwin to Hitler: Evolutionary Ethics, Eugenics, and Racism in Germany. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2004.

[7] Alfred Tennyson, In Memoriam, lvi.

[8] Dawkins, Blind Watchmaker, p. 5.

[9] C.S. Lewis, The Screwtape Letters. New York: Macmillan, 1961, p. 8.

[10] Luke 12:16-21.

[11] Romans 8:24; 1 Corinthians 15:19.

© 2012 – 2015, Trevor Major. All rights reserved.

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