The Irrational Atheist, Part 4

In chapter 3 of The Irrational Atheist, Vox Day makes “The Case Against Science.” This chapter is quite straightforward, being based almost entirely on Sam Harris’ contention that Science + Faith = Extinction, or something like that. Toward the end, Vox includes a list of religious sins against science that is collected from PZ Myers’ site.

The case against science seems pretty uncontroversial to me in principle, but I’m sure Vox calculated that this chapter would get a rise out of most people, especially people whose philosophy of life is predicated on the inherent goodness of science. He takes pains to show that he is neither Luddite nor anarcho-primitivist, but simply following Harris’ argument to a logical conclusion.

To that extent, it is kind of surprising that anarcho-primitivist John Zerzan gets a warmer reception from liberal atheists than Vox does. Zerzan, however, taps into the fundamental cultural nihilism of liberal atheists; that is to say, he appeals to their ignorance of history and their disdain for modern Euro-American consumer culture.

Vox is actually closer philosophically to political philosopher John Gray, author of Enlightenment’s Wake and Straw Dogs. One of Gray’s favorite whipping boys is the unreasoning faith of the modern Euro-American in meliorism, or cultural progress. The superstition is that science will continually make progress in real knowledge; this will raise people’s consciousness and enhance their aggregate rationality; then the people will democratically reform the institutions and norms of society according to their newfound understanding; and society as a whole will then advance to the next stage of ethical and political evolution. Gray claims that such progress is not inevitable, since advances in science and technology have no positive correlation to political and ethical progress. He goes further and states that political and ethical progress is actually illusory, since any changes are never permanent, and there is no justification for believing that they ever could be.

Science as method is merely a tool, and so carries no particular moral valence. It is possible to see scientific method as a kind of spiritual discipline, but that still leaves its objectives unspecified and its products open to misuse by anyone else. Science as a body of knowledge is itself a form of historical narrative and not a conclusive view of present reality in any sense. Moreover, the supposed “body” of knowledge does not exist in any coherent form anywhere, not even in the heads of the wisest practitioners, and cannot produce a definitive conclusion on any controversial topic. Science as a profession arguably has the most impact on a society, but there is no positive correlation between its existence and “social progress.”

In sum, science does not constitute an unqualified good. To regard it as either inherently good or evil is actually to assign it a moral quality it cannot possess. Likewise, it is unsupportable to claim that scientific understanding causes atheism, as many atheists do. Constant meditation on the scientific method may cause one to conclude that all knowledge is provisional, and so that any particular claim of absolute knowledge is false, and thus that atheism is the only rational theological position. However, this is not positive knowledge; it is only a speculation.

Whereas Vox’s progress through chapter 3 is well paced and fairly conclusive, he breaks up a little near the end by once again dismissing, out of hand, atheist objections. In this case, he lists the sins of religion against science collected from a casual blog survey, then waves his hand and pronounces them irrelevant. However, he recovers at the end by showing how scientists themselves tend to interfere with science in more significant ways.

Gray Day

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One thought on “The Irrational Atheist, Part 4

  1. Pingback: The Irrational Atheist, Part 1 « Brainbiter

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