Scientists, atheists and other fundamentalists
The world is so much clearer when we can divide it into us and them. Republicans and Democrats. Moslems and unbelievers. Christians and those going to hell. If you can divide up your world that way, everything becomes clear. We have the answers and they are the enemy. This refrain echoes from deep in mankind’s origins as tribes wandering the plains. We had to believe in our tribe’s virtue and defend it at every challenge. Or we cease to exist.
Demagogic rulers play on these powerful tribal emotions. They gain loyalty for themselves from your loyalty to your tribe, your nation, your race. These seem almost instinctual.
Some say we can go beyond such instincts. They give appealing speeches based on reason and common human values. We can solve all our problems if we just believe in the goodness of our fellow men and sit down and reason together. Sometimes such folk get elected President. More often they don’t move out of the protected university compounds where their kind thrives.
Sometimes these reasonable humanists are outted for the tribalists they are. They may be exposed when, speaking to their tribe, they deride the other tribes (e.g., as desperately clinging to their Bibles and their guns). Or they’re exposed when they attend and support churches where us-vs-them is the paramount theme.
Even if they aren’t caught in obvious fealty to a particular tribe, they are exposed in their fealty to the fundamentalism of reasonable humanism. They don’t realize theirs is a tribe because it is multi-ethnic, multi-racial and seemingly beyond religion. But it isn’t. It’s a religion just as devout as of the Shiites or Evangelicals. It just has different assumptions.
Closely allied are the true-believer scientists. This tribe has observed the power of reductionism. They see how chemistry can be harnessed to accomplish almost magical effects. They are justly lauded for their accomplishments in physics and engineering. Then they decide to deride the fundamentalists–only to expose themselves as fundamentalist atheists.
Fundamentalism is, across all peoples, an allegiance to basic fundamental principles. Jewish, Christian, and Moslem fundamentalists all have certain basic beliefs which cannot be questioned and which divide the world into those who know the truth and those who do not. The fundamentalists of science take the same approach, though they end up at atheism.
Scientific atheism is built on the successes of chemistry and physics in manipulating our material world. It ignores the fact that the laws of chemistry and physics don’t work at the subatomic level. And it ignores the failure of reductionistic algorithms to predict the weather or even human social behavior. It has blind faith in the ability of reductionistic science to eventually predict and control everything.
Atheism is just another form of fundamentalism. ”Some of us know the truth and everyone else is deluded or dumb.” They are sure that any evidence for an opposing viewpoint will eventually be discredited and their view will triumph. Just as with other fundamentalists, atheists know that non-atheists are the root of all our problems. Without their addictions to primitive religions, the world could escape from superstition, blind faith, terrorism, and suppression of freedom.
Yet the reasonable humanists and their colleagues the atheists have a fatal flaw: their assumptions about the material world, pursued to their logical conclusion, lead to a focus on satisfying selfish desires because there is no higher goal. If this material world is all there is, then just enjoy it. But when selfish pleasure is the sole reasonable goal and it doesn’t satisfy, then what? Logically, assisted suicide makes perfect sense to the reasonable humanists and their atheist co-travellers.
Civilization after civilization has reached sufficient mastery of its environment for its members to adopt reasonable humanism or atheism. Such civilizations, no matter how convincing their tenets are to their members, always die out. Selfish pleasure leaves no sensible reason for having children. Selfish pleasure leaves no sensible reason for helping strangers. So the underpinnings of successful societies– cooperation and concern for the next generation–disappear in any society which broadly adopts this type of fundamentalism.
The trouble with abandoning the fundamentalism of reasonable humanism or atheism is that we are apt to become a devotee of one of the other fundamentalisms. Why? Fundamentalists are searching for truth. They want to find it so badly, they convince themselves they’ve found it in some rock-solid, unshakeable truths.
Then these are enshrined as written laws and seminaries, monasteries, and legislatures can be built to worship these written laws. This worship of the written law, ironically, leads its civilizations to the same end as reasonable humanism and atheism. If the foundation of a society is a set of written laws, then those who master that set of laws control the society. Some believe in those laws, prosper by following them, but gradually become disillusioned since no set of written laws is perfect. Then, their mastery of their society’s laws allows them to pursue their own selfish pleasure with no thought to future generations. So Saudi princes and evangelical preachers can indulge in every vice, yet punish their subjects for the smallest infraction. American baby boomers can demand huge public pensions and other entitlements with no concern for the burgeoning deficit.
Many devotees of fundamentalisms are uncovered pursuing the selfish desires which reasonable humanists and atheists commonly pursue. Yet, in typical fundamentalist logic, the pursuit of selfish desires by fundamentalists is interpreted by reasonable humanists and atheists as somehow supportive of their dogma. Not realizing the circularity of their argument.
This inherent and fatal flaw in all fundamentalisms means they all must fail. Luckily, in all fundamentalist movements are a few people who are genuinely searching for the truth. When a fundamentalist movement gets too strict, they are run out because their continuing pursuit of truth means they know no written laws will ever be perfect. You’d think this would be impossible in Christianity when a basic tenet is: “The letter of the law kills, but the spirit of the law gives life.” But every prominent religion has similar doctrine. The Sufis are anathema to many Muslims. as ecstatic Jews are to the fundamentalists in Judaism.
The Sufis, the ecstatic Jews and many Christians recognize our lives are a continual search for truth. Across all religious traditions–including the fundamentalist humanists and scientists–those who are devoted adherents to their written laws as the ultimate truth must always disdain those who continue to search for a deeper truth beyond the written laws of their sect.
So we come to another seeming “us vs. them”. Some see the truth as captured uniquely in the specific doctrines of their science or religion. We see the universe as wondrously unknowable, but always interesting and worth exploring.
Those who master the laws and rules of particular disciplines and religions and nations will always be foremost in those tribes. The rest of us are sure that no tribe or religion or discipline possesses the whole truth, so we’ll seldom rise to the top of any hierarchy.
The tricky part is maintaining the balance between searching for truths and the truth, but knowing we’ll never find all of it. We know we must obey the written laws of our tribe, society, religion, and discipline since chaos and destruction is the only alternative. Yet, we know that unquestioning obedience is not possible for us. How do we unite obedience with questioning obedience which moves toward a more perfect version?
So this dichotomy is not us vs them. It’s just us. And our continual battle within ourselves–to maintain our dedication to discovering truth and not fall for any religious or scientific fundamentalism. Because the latter always leads to a pursuit of selfish desires. We aren’t satisfied with that. We need cooperation and discovery and concern for future generation. After all we are only human.