A Quick Note on History Denial and the New Atheists
By John Taylor; 2009 Dec 21, Masa'il 10, 166 BE
"With most men, unbelief in one thing springs from blind belief in another." (Georg Christoph Lichtenberg)
This is the quote for the day on my quotation list server. It jibes nicely with what I have been reading about atheists. I find that when their conversation turns to their intellectual origins, you often find the same thing. Many if not most of the prominent, proselytizing atheists you read about in the news were evangelical Christians in their youth. The same is true of a friend of mine, who engages in friendly debate with me about God's existence. He opposes violently everything I say about religion; religion is what he was taught as a child. He was trained from an early age that religion is a narrow, blinkered thing, a masked form of bigotry, and will hear nothing else about it.
The new atheists are enthusiastic born-againers, then they discover science, whose tolerance and openness broadens their outlook. As a result, they go around vocally opposing the same blinkered prejudice that they were exposed to in their tender years, blind to the fact that the majority of thinking believers agree with such criticisms completely. Baha'u'llah made the same point.
"Follow not those who have repudiated what they had once believed, and who have sought for themselves a station after their own fancy; these, truly, are of the ungodly." (Baha'u'llah, Summons, p. 31)
The most prominent of them all, Richard Dawkins, does not seem to have this specific background. In youth he simply took science on as his religion. Why not kill two birds with one stone? This form of belief is known as scientism. Unfortunately, from a tender age he was not content with being a scientist whose faith is science, he vociferously opposed other beliefs too. As such, he is closer to the Mullahs of Iran and the fire and brimstone preachers than to a moderate believer in God's benevolent creativity. So in a broader sense what Lichtenberg said above still applies: his unbelief in one thing springs from blind belief in another. He is now flogging his latest book, which lumps all believers in creation together, accusing them of being history deniers, analogous to Holocaust deniers. Like all bigots, of course, he is guilty of what he accuses others; it is a case of the pot calling the kettle black.
Dawkins and other anti-creationists deny the fact that the Bible and all other scriptures teach evolution. Where else did the idea come from? Without scripture, Darwin's discoveries would have been seen by all as nothing more than the ravings of a lunatic. Our earliest origins, the Genesis myth teaches, started with gradual creation, starting with the creation of the basic elements and ever increasing complexity of life during the first five "days" or ages. God only creates humans on the sixth day, after which He "rests," leaving it up to us to continue the creative process. To deny that the seven days of creation could symbolize long ages and gradual, intelligent evolution, is to deny the ability of the human mind to understand metaphor. This puts Dawkins squarely in the camp of the most bigoted believers. It leaves intelligent, open-minded believers untouched. This surely is history denial of the most blinkered breed.
I was interested in the following exchange in a recent interview with Dawkins. Here Dawkins concedes a point that Baha'u'llah made in one of His Tablets to the Kings, that even if you leave aside questions of truth and falsehood, religion is highly beneficial to the wise leader, since it removes discontent among the populace and makes them tractable.
Q: There's a new paper from a psychologist at Bristol University, claiming our brains are hard-wired to believe in God. You've argued that religious belief is a by-product of indoctrination or lack of education. Could you see an evolutionary benefit to faith?
A: Oh yes, I think that's quite likely. Not a benefit to faith itself, but a benefit to the kind of psychological predisposition which shows itself in the form of faith.
Q: What would those benefits be?
A: One might be obedience to authority. You can see where that might be of benefit to a child. You are born into a dangerous world, there are all sorts of ways in which you could die, and you need to believe your parents when they tell you don't go near the edge of the cliff, or don't pick up that snake, etc. There could very well be a Darwinian survival value in that sort of brain rule of thumb. And a by-product of that could be that you believe your parents when they tell you about the juju in the sky, or whatever it might be."
"On Darwin, faith and natural selection, and why creationists are simply history deniers," interview of Jonathon Gatehouse with Dawkins, Macleans Magazine, September 23, 2009
"It is true that there are foolish individuals who have never properly examined the fundamentals of the Divine religions, who have taken as their criterion the behavior of a few religious hypocrites and measured all religious persons by that yardstick, and have on this account concluded that religions are an obstacle to progress, a divisive factor and a cause of malevolence and enmity among peoples.
"They have not even observed this much, that the principles of the Divine religions can hardly be evaluated by the acts of those who only claim to follow them. For every excellent thing, peerless though it may be, can still be diverted to the wrong ends. A lighted lamp in the hands of an ignorant child or of the blind will not dispel the surrounding darkness nor light up the house -- it will set both the bearer and the house on fire.
"Can we, in such an instance, blame the lamp? No, by the Lord God! To the seeing, a lamp is a guide and will show him his path; but it is a disaster to the blind." (Secret of Divine Civilization, p. 72)