Thursday, January 04, 2007

When atheists attack science

Pray that God will stop them!

There's nothing like a newspaper's letters to the editor to give you a heaping helping of soapbox oratory. The January 3, 2007, edition of the Sacramento Bee served up a fine dollop of disorientation. I believe the writer was referring to a reprint of the New York Times article by science writer George Johnson, “A Free-for-all on Science and Religion.”
How religion protects science

The scientists in the Dec. 17 Forum article “Science vs. Religion” did not see much value in religion. They don't seem to understand that religion defends science from atheists.

For example, the father of modern chemistry, Antoine Lavoisier, was executed in the French Revolution. Men who claimed to be in favor of reason and against religion took over one country and within two years managed to execute a scientist who was many times more important than any the Christians have ever killed in two millennia.

Many scientists were killed for supporting Darwin's theory of evolution by atheists in the Lysenko affair in Stalin's Soviet Union. Ironically, many scientists died for Darwin, all at the hands of atheists.

Governments that promote atheism or the worship of reason are many times more likely to kill scientists.

So religion serves science by protecting scientists from atheists.

—Richard Bruce, Davis
You got that? Religion is a mighty bulwark that shelters scientists from the violent onslaughts of the nonbelievers. Although scientists themselves are nonbelievers in greater proportion than the general public, they should all give thanks for the solicitude of God's minions.

It's an interesting theory. I suppose it would be impolite at this point to mention that Galileo (a faithful son of Holy Mother Church) found the clerics less than supportive of his arguments in favor of heliocentrism. Of course, the Church merely kept Galileo under house arrest; they didn't kill him. On the other hand, Giordano Bruno was burned at the stake for, among other things, espousing the notion that the universe contains a multiplicity of worlds (as we now know it does). But perhaps Bruno doesn't count either, because those “other things” were matters of theological controversy; we could sidle away quietly, muttering that he wasn't really a scientist.

Those medical practitioners who were recently sentenced to death in Libya as scapegoats for an increase in HIV infections should be pleased that Libyans are generally quite religious. (“This is a blessing by God!” shouted one of them at the news that the doctor and nurses had been convicted and sentenced to death.) But maybe medics are not scientific enough to serve as a counterexample to Mr. Bruce's argument about how religion protects science.

Lavoisier was killed by French Revolution anarchy and Lysenko's victims were imprisoned by Soviet totalitarianism. Mr. Bruce would have us believe that the common thread is the lack of the gentling force of religion. (Tell that to Protestants living in Mary Tudor's England or dissenters in John Calvin's Geneva.) His argument is based on proof by assertion: “Governments that promote atheism or the worship of reason are many times more likely to kill scientists.” You said “many times.” Could we have some actual evidence, please?

And to think that Mr. Bruce lives in Davis—a university town.


paulv said...

The notion that religion either makes us gentler (as most religious affirm) , or more violent (as many atheists affirm) is lacking in evidence in both cases. Certainly some religions have inspired violence, as have some non-religious beliefs. But the amount of violence in a society should be a reflection of what works from an evolutionary perspective. Certainly the Gombe chimps cannot blame religion for their behaviour. Lets just say it is in our genes and stop trying to pin it on religion
(when all we have is anecdotal evidence)
The notion that religions share a fundamental characteristic is I think flawed. In the same way one cannot characterize dictatorships and democracies as having the same flaws because they are both systems of government, unless your an lazy anarchist and can't be bothered to prove all systems of government are bad. So not being a lazy atheist, I can't say that all religion is bad. Nor can I claim that just because some religion is good, that any religion is good.

Zeno said...

Do all atheists claim religion is bad? No. Some do, but many others simply think it's pointless.