Tuesday, January 2, 2007

Whose Nightmare, What Dreams?

Chuck Colson's "Breakpoint" essay today dealt with an issue near and dear to my heart. You can read the entire piece here. Colson reports on "a conference recently held in Costa Mesa, California, that turned into the secular materialist equivalent of a revival meeting." It apparently became so militant that even those who were presumably in favor of the agenda thought things went over the top. One such attendee described the conference as:

a "den of vipers" where the only debate [was] "should we bash religion with a crowbar or only with a baseball bat?"

Nice display of tolerance, eh?

These things are to be expected I guess. But what really gets me is the blatant hypocrisy of a guy like Steven Weinberg, author of The First Three Minutes. Weinberg was a speaker at the conference who told attendees:

that "the world needs to wake up from its long nightmare of religious belief." According to Weinberg, "anything that we scientists can do to weaken the hold of religion should be done and may in the end be our greatest contribution to civilization."

Weinberg, some may recall, is also the guy who famously said (in the above referenced book) that:

It is hard to realize that [life on Earth] is just a tiny part of an overwhelmingly hostile universe. It is even harder to realize that this present universe has evolved from an unspeakably unfamiliar early condition and faces a future extinction of endless cold or intolerable heat . . . The more the universe seems comprehensible, the more it also seems pointless (emphasis mine)
This is purely Mr. Weinberg's opinion of course, but I wonder why he would find these assertions of his so "hard to realize?" On his materialist view, the hostility and futility of the universe are not unexpected. Indeed, they are the only logical conclusions he should expect. Does Mr. Weinberg possibly betray an undeniable, intrinsic yearning for the reality of a world beyond what he can see?

And what about this? Mr. Weinberg claims that the scientific enterprise he so idolizes offers us only meaningless inferences about the nature of the universe. The more we learn about it, the more meaningless it becomes. We irrational religious types are just engaged in wishful thinking when we seek, or think we've actually found, otherwise. Silly us. But, as Jonathan Witt points out in A Meaningful World; in the very next paragraph of Mr. Weinberg's book, he also makes the following claim:
But if there is no solace in the fruits of our research, there is at least some consolation in the research itself. Men and women are not content to comfort themselves with tales of gods and giants, or to confine their thoughts to the daily affairs of life; they also build telescopes and satellites and accelerators, and sit at their desks for endless hours working out the meaning of the data they gather. The effort to understand the universe is one of the very few things that lifts human life a little above the level of farce, and gives it some of the grace of tragedy.
In other words, all those scientists to whom Mr. Weinberg addressed his comments in Costa Mesa spend their time engaged in an enterprise that, at its core, is a search for meaning in the data -- data which he just labeled as meaningless. So, who is being irrational? As Witt points out:
Science is a meaningful activity precisely because the universe itself is meaningful and human beings have the strange capacity to understand it.
It is sad that Mr. Weinberg holds such a view of the universe. But it is intellectually dishonest to vilify religious folks for seeing meaning when he, as a scientist, is engaged in an effort that does the exact same thing. That Mr. Weinberg does not accept the implications of that data is his own choice. But on what basis does he justify not only disallowing religious people that same endeavor, but demonizing them for trying?

Let's be clear. We theists welcome science, the data it brings us, and all the implications that go with it. Those who share Mr. Weinberg's view do not welcome the implications, or any debate about those implications. They cower from debate by vilifying their opponents before the debate starts. They disallow certain readings of the data not for scientific reasons, but for philosophical reasons. They want "the world to wake up from its long nightmare of religious belief" while their worldview resulted in the Utopian dreams of Stalin, Hitler, Pol-Pot, Mao, and Hussein. The list goes on ... as does the hypocrisy and dishonesty of those who make statements like the ones made in Costa Mesa. If civilization needs a contribution, it certainly isn't from folks who think like these guys.

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