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The Silence of the Atheists

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  • Hiram Caton
    The discussion touched off by a posting on Dawkins militant irreligion shows once again that even among us atheists and agnostics, PERSONAL interest in the
    Message 1 of 1 , Feb 1, 2002
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      The discussion touched off by a posting on Dawkins' militant irreligion shows once again that even among us atheists and agnostics, PERSONAL interest in the God question is alive and well. So I'm taking this opportunity to pose a question that interests me: why is it that in America, despite the sacred doctrine of evolution being under attack, atheists/agnostics haven't opened a front of militant irreligion?
      The point of entry for this query is the fact that the NAS, AAAS, and other scientific bodies have promulgated policy statements on religion and science; and the view taken is the two magisteria doctrine, that religion and science are NOT mutually incompatible.  The opposite view, promoted by Dawkins and the Creationists, has long been discarded by mainstream American religious denominations; in that sense the position taken by organized science is mother's milk.  Yet this position is puzzling.  About 60% of NAS members declare themselves to be atheists (apologies, I didn't save the reference) and AAAS members are likely (I surmise) to be atheist/agnostic in similar numbers.  Why then do they go along with the bland two magisteria view?  The question becomes more acute when it's noticed that research in numerous biological sciences strongly affirms naturalist causality at points that impinge on religious teaching, eg, in matters concerning sexuality, the moral self, the efficacy of prayer. 
      There's an ready answer: organized science promotes the two magisteria not because it reflects the conviction of its members, but to pacify taxpayers who might be tempted to think again about science funding if they believed that science, in its heart, were godless.  Accordingly, the wannabe Dawkins types in these organizations go along with the pragmatic judgment of the executive suite for pragmatic reasons (funding is more important than symbolic victories).  This is what I believe to be happening (but does anyone know of empirical evidence?)  Assuming this, there is still an option that hasn't been taken.  Individual scientists (100 Nobelists say) could go public with a statement to the effect that it's time to get real about religion, it's gross superstition, etc.  (Reminder: scientists DO go public in this way, as they have on global warming, peace, and other agitated questions).  So why don't they do it on the God issue? 
      Here's a thought experiment.  Israeli and Arab scientists join hands and issue a James Randy type statement condemning Judaism and Islam as the main source of the shameful violence that afflicts the Holy Land.  What would be the likely public response among Israelis and Palestinians?
      Hiram Caton
      Addendum:   In his remarks at the announcement of the completion of the HGP, President Clinton sanctified the genome by styling it ‘the language in which God created life’, and continued: ‘We are gaining ever more awe for the complexity, the beauty, the wonder of God's most divine and sacred gift. With this profound new knowledge, humankind is on the verge of gaining immense new power to heal’.  Francis Collins, who headed the govt arm of the project, is a devout Christian.  Did Collins script Clinton's statement?  Does Craig Venter concur in Clinton's expressed view?
      La contagion sacree ou Histoire naturelle de la Superstition, London 1768
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