So, this isn’t new (it posted in November of last year), but you know how it goes: not all that’s good is new and not all that’s new is good. So something pretty outstanding that’s around four months old is still outstanding. This is an excerpt from Pascal-Emmanuel Gobry’s piece for the National Review, “The Errors of the Militant Atheist”, which calls a thing what it is with insight and verve. Here Gobry brings his outline of atheist buffoonery to a climax with this very direct assault on Lawrence Krauss’ illiteracy and, well- how else can we put it?- refusal to think. Gobry understands that the cruciform shape of love will sometimes not only say, “That’s false,” but will, when occasion demands, add, “and more than that, it’s just plain stupid.”
Here’s the problem with all these false dichotomies: At bottom, they come from, and reinforce, illiteracy. And while sophisticates can, and too often do, produce their own exquisite forms of barbarism, widespread illiteracy probably inexorably leads to barbarism. A scientist who doesn’t understand anything about epistemology, or religion, or philosophy, and gets on his soapbox is a joke. A scientist who does all these things and as a result is on best-seller lists and gets published in The New Yorker is a symptom of a serious social disease. Never mind the science-versus-religion “debate,” such as it is — widespread confusion about science’s epistemological framework is producing a lot of shoddy science, and that should have us all concerned.
In his New Yorker article against the presence of religion in public life, Krauss writes: “It’s clear that many of the people protesting Planned Parenthood are opposed to abortion on religious grounds and are, to varying degrees, anti-science.” But as pro-lifers, both religious and secular (yes. they’re out there) point out relentlessly, going blue in the face, it is a scientific fact that human life begins at conception. Now, the belief that every human being has an intrinsic dignity that ought to be protected in law is not a scientific proposition, it is a metaphysical one, one that many militant atheists loudly insist can be sustained without belief in God. That debate can be resolved in a great many ways, but it actually exists.
That Krauss, while singing the praises of an epistemic of doubt, blithely evinces absolutely none about the nature or value of human life — he only needs to know what “religious” people oppose to know what he’s for — merely shows that he’s ignorant and intellectually lazy. That he can write this in the pages of a magazine that is supposed to be a beacon of American intellectualism without rebuke, or even throat-clearing, from his ideological fellow-travelers shows that the illiteracy is widespread and cultural. Such confusions stem from the false dichotomies I’ve been trying to destroy. If someone opposes abortion and is a Christian, the implicit worldview of most of the staff and readership of The New Yorker goes: He must do so on “religious grounds” — that is to say, not “rational grounds” or “scientific grounds.” But this is just nonsense on stilts. It is on scientific grounds that pro-lifers believe that life begins at conception; that this life ought to be protected in law can be justified on the basis of reason, or faith, or both.
Now, none of this is to say that there is a God (though there is) or that abortion is wrong and should be illegal (though it is, and it should be). But it is simply to demonstrate that we have arrived at a peculiar moment when our elite institutions and discourse seem to be utterly ignorant of their own philosophical and cultural legacy. The institutions we live in and through, whether the scientific revolution or liberal democracy or the concept of human rights, were built and explored by great thinkers, who in turn were grounded in great traditions of rational speculation (that is to say, of philosophy), and it is mystifying and, frankly, very scary that we have arrived at this moment of what can only be called cultural amnesia — an amnesia so profound that we have not only forgotten, we’ve forgotten that we’ve forgotten.