A Prophet Deserving No Honor
Topic: Liberal Fascism
Via another Web venue I was directed to this review of the first volume of Richard Dawkins’ memoirs, An Appetite for Wonder: The Makings of a Scientist. The reviewer, John Gray is emeritus professor of European thought at the London School of Economics.
Dawkins has become famous—some would say notorious—as the scientific face of militant atheism. Trained as a scientist, he gave up active research in the 1970s, embarking on a career as a…what? Enemy of religion? Prophet of scientific rationalism? In numerous books, Dawkins has not only criticized but mocked and caricatured religion and its practitioners. His is the most forceful voice preaching the doctrine of the (self-described) reality-based community: that “good science” provides the only organizing principle that humanity needs. Darwin good, God bad.
This notion—one hesitates to call it an idea—is widely held in progressive circles and so has thus become a factor in politics. Climate change activists embrace it with fervor, pointing to a “scientific consensus” that in their minds forecloses all debate. For many people, few of them scientifically trained, the imprimatur of “Science” (the capital S reverberates) trumps every ace.
A certain phrase came irresistibly to mind comes as I contemplated Dawkins’ scientism—in Gray’s formulation “the positivistic creed according to which science is the only source of knowledge and the key to human liberation.” That phrase is “modern scientific religion” and I hasten to add that I can’t claim credit for coining it. It’s to be found it in Olaf Stapledon’s Last and First Men (1930), a novel of ideas far beyond the grasp of Richard Dawkins’ narrowly circumscribed imagination.
Last and First Men, a fictional future history of humanity, begins with an account of the decline and fall of the first human species—H. sapiens. The chief symptom of that fall is the degeneration of science. Stapledon describes how the “once fluid doctrines of science” crystallize into a kind of scientific fundamentalism—“modern scientific religion”—that tyrannizes over the collective consciousness of the race for 4,000 years. When the terminal crisis—an energy crisis—arrives, humanity lacks the mental agility to cope and civilization falls to pieces. Scientific positivism, in short, is the death warrant of the intellect.
All this constitutes a powerful if indirect critique of Dawkins’ scientism. Stapledon thought that humanity’s spiritual cravings could not be eliminated, but only suppressed and corrupted, by a narrow rationalism. The history of socialism, supposedly a scientific ideology based on facts and analysis, bears out the truth of this insight. The spiritual impulses that underpin religion can just as easily be channeled into politics. And the True Believer—in socialism, fascism, science—usually turns out to be no less doctrinaire, no less intolerant, than the most fanatical Islamist.
In his review of Dawkins’ memoir Professor Gray touches on many of these chords. On the whole his tone is moderate but from time to time a certain disdain breaks through: “One might wager a decent sum of money that it has never occurred to Dawkins that to many people he appears as a comic figure. His default mode is one of rational indignation—a stance of withering patrician disdain for the untutored mind of a kind one might expect in a schoolmaster in a minor public school sometime in the 1930s.” A touch there—a distinct touch.
As a postmodern public intellectual Richard Dawkins displays traits typical of the breed: intellectual snobbery, inveterate bigotry, narrow-minded dogmatism. One could call him, indeed, the Barack Obama of scientism.
Posted by tmg110
at 8:35 AM EDT
Updated: Friday, 3 October 2014 9:08 AM EDT