Religion, Science, Freedom: The Independent Institute

Delivered at the Session on “Religion: Good or Evil?”, FreedomFest, Las Vegas, NV, July 7, 2007.


“Good is indeed something objective, and reason the organ whereby it is apprehended.”
—C.S. Lewis

“Religion without science is lame, but science without religion is blind.”
—Albert Einstein

Unlike any other creature, man seeks meaning and has done so ever since humans became human, and this is at the core of why religion exists. All religions offer answers to questions of ultimate meaning, but are they true?

In his book The Idea of the Holy, the German cultural anthropologist Rudolph Otto describes religion as the metaphysical search for truth, beginning with early man’s experience of a mysterious, absolute reality (what Otto calls the infinite other or “numen” or God) that transcends the physical world and toward which man seeks fulfillment, mindful of his own moral conscience.[1] As a result, religion has always been central and irreplaceable to man’s existence and has steadily evolved accordingly. Religion provides us with answers that address what should be done, not just what is or could be done. Faith has foolishly been for some a call to arms, and such people are a real threat to others. But although they make a lot of noise, they number very few among religious people. For most people, religion is as it has always been: a cultivation of piety, a humiliation in the face of creation, and an attempt to live according to a shared moral code.


As religion has evolved, man’s theories of reality have probed all manner of conjecture and myth. Hence, to understand what is true and whether religion is good or evil, as C.S. Lewis noted, we should evaluate the intrinsic probability of any theory and the evidence involved.[2] So, let’s do so with one such theory.


For many years, the intellectual world has been dominated by a materialist or naturalist or secular or atheist worldview that assumes that the universe and life are purposeless and that mankind is simply a more complex, material version of all else in the natural world. In other words, an individual human is viewed as no more and no less than a system of molecular processes determined by physical laws.


According to Bertrand Russell, “The first dogma which I came to disbelieve was that of free will. It seemed to me that all notions of matter were determined by the laws of dynamics and could not therefore be influenced by human wills.”


Or, as Michael Shermer has stated, “We feel free, but it’s a pseudo-free will. It’s not a real free will because there is no little person inside the head making decisions for you that isn’t affected by all causal variables in the world.”[3]


Or this from Tom Clark, Founder and Director of the Center for Naturalism, “Supernatural contra-causal freedom really isn’t necessary for anything we hold near and dear, whether it’s personhood, morality, dignity, creativity, individuality, or a robust sense of human agency.”[4] Clark then claims that denying free will presents no moral problem because by doing so, naturalists “encourage science-based, effective and progressive policies in areas such as criminal justice, social inequality, behavioral health, and the environment.” But course, if no one has free will, how, by what criteria, and by whom are such policies adopted since all individual choices are determined including those both the conditioners and the conditioned? And since his own views are determined, how would he ever know that his own views are correct or in need of “mentoring”? Clark notes that, “There is no kernel of independent moral agency. . . We are not . . . ‘moral levitators’ that rise above circumstances in our choices, including choices to rob, rape, or kill. . . . Exercising choice . . . isn’t a matter of being free from conditioning circumstances, since we are always and everywhere fully caused. Instead, it’s a matter of doing what we want, unconstrained by coercion or mental illness. Social policies and interventions which create healthy families and communities, which rehabilitate inmates, and which therefore foster benign moral sensibilities, are not coercive, but formative. They would simply ameliorate the often punitive, morally corrupting, and criminogenic conditions that now hold sway in too many families, communities and prisons.”[5] Indeed, Clark’s incoherent “mentoring state” would be nothing less than an amoral, scientistic tyranny, the very theme of C.S. Lewis’s brilliant dystopian novel, That Hideous Strength.[6]


Or this from artificial intelligence guru Marvin Minsky at MIT: “The human mind is a computer made of meat.”[7] “Everything, including that which happens in our brains, depends on these and only these: A set of fixed, deterministic laws. A purely random set of accidents.” The question to ask Minsky is: Is this theory then determined or random or both, and how would you ever know?


As the biologist J.B.S. Haldane stated: “If my mental processes are determined wholly by the motion of atoms in my brain, I have no reason to suppose that my beliefs are true . . . and hence I have no reason for supposing my brain to be composed of atoms.”[8]


C.S. Lewis and contemporary philosophers such as Alvin Plantinga[9] and Richard Swinburne[10] have examined this naturalist worldview and have shown that material “facts” alone, however they may be defined, cannot provide any conclusion without some independent basis to evaluate such data. The analysis of any world requires the existence of scientists whose views are not mechanically determined by the world they are examining.[11]


In a nutshell, naturalism leads to a denial of the validity of reasoning and the notion of science, truth and ethics. For if there is no free will, then the idea of freedom implodes, slavery and tyranny have no meaning, justice has no meaning, individual accountability has no meaning. And of course, in the modernist era, we have witnessed the greatest of horrors as regimes based on such anti-theist views produced the gas ovens, death camps, and forced starvations that killed 100+ million, as well as the utilitarian ethics in the West that has produced the mega-death weaponry and the welfare/warfare state.


Interestingly enough, all naturalists implicitly agree with Lewis about this problem as they exempt themselves from their own determinist theories, as was the case for Hobbes, Hume, Marx, Freud, and Nietzsche. Moreover, in denying free will, incredibly enough, naturalism incoherently denies the existence of the self![12]


Time magazine science editor Michael Lemonick states: “After more than a century of looking for it, brain researchers have long since concluded that there is no conceivable place for such a self to be located in the physical brain, and that it simply doesn’t exist.” But of course, how would Michael know if he is indeed not a self?[13]


But as Lewis notes, we all know that we do have free will. Hence, the fact that you are reading this article and choosing to consider any of the ideas being discussed.


Harvard neurologist Wilder Penfield stated, “I am forced to choose the proposition that our being is to be explained on the basis of two fundamental elements, material and immaterial, physical and metaphysical.”[14]


Michael Shermer has further stated that, “Science is a way of thinking. It’s a way of looking for natural explanations for all phenomena.”[15] But if “scientific” means “only those findings that uphold a materialist worldview,” then objectivity comes to mean a pre-ordained doctrine hostile to a non-materialist viewpoint, and if other realities do exist, no scientist could or should be allowed to ever accept the evidence for them.


Hence, we should not be surprised that the very idea of science did not come from materialist proponents. Instead, Western science developed from the Christian rational-theist view that the universe is orderly and rationally intelligible.[16] And, virtually all of the founders of the various scientific fields were Christian theists, including Copernicus, Kepler, Galileo, Boyle, Newton, Maxwell, Faraday, Mendel, Heisenberg, and so on.


Furthermore, starting in the first three centuries, Christianity created the first major charitable organizations, with which the Roman pagan world was at a total loss to compete.[17] As even evolutionary biologist David Sloan Wilson notes: “What enabled Christians to practice this new morality? . . . the central fact and interpretation of Christ’s death makes altruism the defining feature of being a Christian. . . . Jesus is the ultimate positive role model for altruism.”[18]


Today, faith-based organizations provide $20 billion for social services for more than 70 million needy Americans. In the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, atheist columnist Roy Hattersley in the Guradian, stated: “Faith does breed charity: we atheists have to accept that most believers are better human beings. . . Notable by their absence are teams from rationalist societies, free thinkers’ clubs and atheist associations[19]


Physicist and philosopher Alister McGrath asks, “So just what is the experimental evidence that God is bad for you? . . . Recent empirical research points to a . . . positive interaction of religion and health.”[20]


Study after peer-reviewed study shows that church attendance and religiosity produce lower crime rates, healthier families, lower spousal abuse, children with higher cognitive abilities and fewer behavioral problems, lower divorce rates, lower rates of hypertension-related morbidity and mortality, greater volunteering and charitable work, lower juvenile delinquency, lower adult criminality, and increased mental and physical health. Studies further show that religiosity enhances all measures of well-being.[21]


As biologist David Sloan Wilson again states, “On average, religious believers are more pro-social than non-believers, feel better about themselves, use their time more constructively, and engage in long-term planning rather than gratifying their impulsive desires. On a moment-by-moment basis, they report being more happy, active, sociable, involved and excited.”[22]


Is there any doubt why most people are religious?


Conclusion:


So, here you have it: The core of contemporary naturalism is thus a modern throwback to the fallacies that kept most of mankind in darkness, misery, and chains before the Christian era began, an incoherent denial of the objective truth of purposeful, individual, human choice, and rational inference as the basis for human action and morality. In contrast and as Rodney Stark has shown in his book, The Victory of Reason, Christian theism led to freedom, science, capitalism, charity, and the success of the West.[23]


As a footnote, here is one more quote, this one from evangelical atheist Richard Dawkins regarding whether his own determinist theories can explain reality:


“We have the power to defy the selfish genes of our birth and, if necessary, the selfish memes of our indoctrination. We can even discuss ways of deliberately cultivating and nurturing pure, disinterested altruism—something that has no place in nature, something that has never existed before in the whole history of the world. We are built as gene machines and cultured as meme machines, but we have the power to turn against our own creators. We, alone on earth, can rebel against the tyranny of the selfish replicators.”[24] Hence, in one paragraph, Dawkins himself has unwittingly refuted the entire atheist, materialist view.


Notes:

[3] Joie Guner. April 23, 2004. “Forum Debates Connection Between Science and Religion,” Daily Bruin, reporting on the UCLA Debate with Michael Shermer and Jeffrey Schwartz, held April 21, 2004, “The Spirit and Nature of Science.” Los Angeles, Calif., 1.

[6] C.S. Lewis, That Hideous Strength (New York: Scribners, 1974). Also see Lewis, The Abolition of Man (San Francisco: HarperSanFrancisco, 2001); and his essay, “The Humanitarian Theory of Punishment,” in Lewis, God in the Dock: Essays on Theology and Ethics, edited by Walter Hooper (Grand Rapids, Mich.: William Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1970), 287-300.

[13] Michael D. Lemonick, “Glimpses of the Mind,” Time, July 17, 1995.

[15] Michael Shermer, quoted from presentation at TED2007 (Technology, Entertainment, Design) Conference, “Icons. Geniuses. Mavericks.”, March 7-10, 2007, Monterey, Calif.

[18] David Sloan Wilson, “Beyond Demonic Memes: Why Richard Dawkins is Wrong About Religion,” eSkeptic, July 4, 2007.

[19] Roy Hattersley, “Faith does breed charity: We atheists have to accept that most believers are better human beings,” The Guardian, September 12, 2005.

[22] Wilson, “Beyond Demonic Memes: Why Richard Dawkins is Wrong About Religion.”


https://www.independent.org/issues/article.asp?id=14141