The New Atheists and Christian Nationalism

*Outline of Talk*

   1. In the Red Corner
         1. The Discovery Institute: The Centre for Science and Culture
         2. Some Biographical Details
   2. In the Blue Corner
         1."New Atheism"
         2. The Major Texts
   3. New Atheism
         1. Some Quotes
         2. Two Cheers for Moderate Religion
   4. "Evangelical Christianity"
         1. Goldberg
         2. Spheres of Influence
   5. Intelligent Design
         1. Forrest and Gross
         2. Discovery Institute Again
   6. Philosophy in the Academy
         1. Some History
         2. Craig and Koons
   7. Rationality Considered more Carefully
         1. Imperfect Rationality

i. Probability: Monty Hall & Marilyn Savant

ii. Statistics: Base Rates, Gambler' Fallacy

         2. Imperfect Information

i. Folk Physics

ii. Thomas Young

         3. The Importance of Testimony
   7. Defence of Craig and Koons

*Some Quotes*

1. The idea ... that religious faith is somehow a sacred human convention - distinguished as it is, both by the extravagance of its claims and by the paucity of its evidence - is really too great a monstrosity to be appreciated in all its glory. Religious faith represents so uncompromising a misuse of the power of our minds that it forms a kind of perverse, cultural singularity - a vanishing point beyond which rational discourse proves impossible. When foisted upon each generation anew, it renders us incapable of realising just how much of our world has been unnecessarily ceded to a dark and barbarous past.
[Harris (2005:25)]

2. [W]hat is really pernicious is the practice of teaching children that faith itself is a virtue. Faith is an evil precisely because it requires no justification and brooks no argument. Teaching children that unquestioned faith is a virtue primes them - given certain other ingredients that are not hard to come by - to grow up into potentially lethal weapons for future jihads or crusades.  Faith can be very, very dangerous, and deliberately to implant it into the vulnerable mind of an innocent child is a grievous wrong. [Dawkins (2006:307-8)]

3. [T]he greatest problem confronting civilisation is not merely religious extremism: rather, it is the larger set of cultural and intellectual accommodations we have made to faith itself. Religious moderates are, in large part, responsible for the religious conflict in our world, because their beliefs provide the context in which scriptural literalism and religious violence can never be adequately opposed. [Harris (2005:45)]

4. As long as we accept the principle that religious faith must be respected simply because it is religious faith, it is hard to withhold respect from the faith of Osama bin Laden and the suicide bombers. The alternative, one so transparent that it should need no urging, is to abandon the principle of automatic respect for religious faith. This is one reason why I do everything in my power to warn people against faith itself, not just against so-called 'extremist' faith. The teachings of 'moderate' religion, though not extremist in themselves, are an open invitation to extremism. [Dawkins (2006:306):]

5. While moderation in religion may seem a reasonable position to stake out in light of all that we have (and have not) learned about the universe, it offers no bulwark against religious extremism and religious violence. From the perspective of those seeking to live by the letter of the texts, the religious moderate is nothing more than a failed fundamentalist. He is, in all likelihood, going to wind up in hell with the rest of the unbelievers. The problem that religious moderation poses for us all is that it does not permit anything very critical to be said about religious literalism. [Harris (2005:20)]

6. There are days when almost every headline in the morning papers attests to the social costs of religious faith, and the nightly news seems miraculously broadcast from the fourteenth century. One spectacle of religious hysteria follows fast upon the next. Sanctimonious eruptions announcing the death of the pope (a man who actively opposed condom use in sub-Saharan Africa and shielded frocked child molesters from secular justice) are soon followed by other outbursts of religious lunacy. At the time of writing, Muslims in several countries are rioting over a report that US interrogators desecrated a copy of the Koran. Such perfect visions of unreason have been punctuated by the more ordinary trespasses of faith: daily reports of pious massacres in Iraq, of evangelical ravings about the evils of a secular judiciary, of widespread religious coercion in the US Air Force, or efforts in at least twenty states to redefine science to include supernatural explanations of the origin of life, of devout pharmacists refusing to fill prescriptions for birth control, of movie theatres refusing to show documentaries that report the actual age of the earth, and on and on and onward ... to the fifteenth century. [Harris (2005:236)]

7. The motivating dream of [Christian nationalism] is the restoration of an imagined Christian nation. With a revisionist history that claims the founders never intended to create a secular country and that separation of church and state is a lie fostered by conniving leftists, Christian nationalism rejects the idea of government religious neutrality. The movement argues that the absence of religion in public is itself a religion - the malign faith of secular humanism - that must, in the interest of fairness, be balanced with equal deference to the Bible. ... [H]owever, the ultimate goal of Christian nationalist leaders isn't fairness. It's dominion. The movement is built on a theology that asserts the Christian right to rule. That doesn't mean the non-believers will be forced to convert. They'll just have to learn their place. [Goldberg (2006:7)]

8. [An account of 'educational' literature available at the Christian Home Educators of Colorado Convention of 2005]: The history texts described a past in which America was founded as a Christian nation, only to be subverted and debased by God-hating liberals bent on perverting the country's heritage. A CD lecture lauded the Christian kindness the Puritans showed to Native Americans. Science videos claimed that leading researchers have discredited evolution, and some offered evidence that dinosaurs and men lived together in the Garden of Eden. Astronomy textbooks explained that the universe was created six thousand years ago with the appearance of age, which is why starlight only seems as if it has travelled millions of years to reach the Earth. Many volumes were packed with footnotes referencing books for sale at other tables, all of them confirming each other's claims. Reading through them one after another, I sometimes felt I was in a novel by Jorge Luis Borges, drifting through a parallel reality contained in a monumental library of lies. [Goldberg (2006:5)]

9. [An anecdote which appeared in /Reason/ (1998)]: For connoisseurs of surrealism on the American right, it's hard to beat an exchange that appeared about a decade ago in the Heritage Foundation magazine /Policy Review/. It started when two associates of the Rev. Jerry Falwell wrote an article which criticised Christian Reconstructionism, the influential movement led by theologian Rousas John Rushdoony, for advocating positions that even they as committed fundamentalists found 'scary'. Among Reconstructionism's highlights, the article cited support for laws 'mandating the death penalty for homosexuals and drunkards'. The Rev. Rushdoony fired off a letter to the editor complaining that the article had got his followers views all wrong: They didn't intend to put /drunkards/ to death. (Ital. in original.) [Goldberg (2006:37)]

10. The proposition that human beings are created in the image of God is one of the bedrock principles on which Western civilisation was built. Its influence can be detected in most, if not all, of the West's greatest achievements, including representative democracy, human rights, free enterprise, and progress in the arts and sciences. Yet, a little over a century ago, this cardinal idea came under wholesale attack by intellectuals drawing on the discoveries of modern science. Debunking the traditional conceptions of both God and man, thinkers such as Charles Darwin, Karl Marx and Sigmund Freud portrayed humans not as moral and spiritual beings, but as animals or machines who inhabited a universe ruled by purely impersonal forces and whose behaviour and very thoughts were dictated by the unbending forces of biology, chemistry, and environment. This materialistic conception of reality eventually infected virtually every area of our culture, from politics and economics to literature and art. The cultural consequences of this triumph of materialism were devastating. ... Discovery Institute's Centre for the Renewal of Science and Culture [subsequently renamed the Centre for Science and Culture] seeks nothing less than the overthrow of materialism and its cultural legacies. ... The Centre explores how new developments in biology, physics and cognitive science raise serious doubts about scientific materialism and have re-opened the case for a broadly theistic understanding of nature. The Centre ... briefs policymakers about the opportunities for life after materialism. ['Wedge Strategy', Introduction]

11. [C]onservatives [like me] oppose (1) the establishment of religious institutions by the state; (2) treating religious interests as of no special value over and above secular interests; (3) effective control by the state of the arts, humanities, science and education; and (4) a wall of separation that interferes with the right of the people to affirm their religious commitments publicly and collectively, or that excludes religious ideas and convictions from the public square. [Koons, 'An Introduction to Conservatism', p.6]

12. The founders of the American republic, schooled as they were in the classics of Western civilisation, understood and applied [the principles of piety, accountability, subsidiarity, the rule of law, separation of powers, mediating institutions, private property and free markets]. The enduring success of the Constitution they crafted, and of the civilisation that took shape on this continent, bear eloquent witness to the validity of these principles. In the course of the 20^th . century, much of the intellectual leadership of our country has abandoned or betrayed these proven ideas, placing their faith instead in a materialistic positivism or in a wildly romantic idealism .... Sowing the wind, we have reaped a whirlwind of social disorder, cultural decline, and political corruption. Today, conservatives lead the way toward a restoration of sanity and a reconstruction of society built on the solid foundation of the permanent truths [concerning God, Human Nature, Objective Knowledge and Original Sin]. [Koons, ibid]

13. [Koons, report]:

   1. We cannot make /a priori/ pronouncements about what kind of theory
      or what kind of explanation can properly be made in the course of
      scientific inquiry. In principle, there is nothing to exclude
      appeals to a superhuman or even extra-cosmic intelligence.
   2. Good science consists in working within research programs that are
      progressive in the following senses: (a) they generate empirically
      testable novel predictions; (b) they generate explanations of a
      wide range of phenomena on the basis of a simple, spare system of
      postulated entities and relationships; (c) they deal with
      anomalies and predictive failures without resorting to /ad hoc/
      repairs. The inspiration for a scientific research program can
      come from anywhere (including religious conviction) but the
      evaluation of an existing program must be rigorously empirical.
   3. If theistic science or intelligent design theory is to become a
      progressive research program, it must do more than poke holds in
      the evidence for Darwinism: it must acquire auxiliary hypotheses
      about the intentions and preferences of the designer from which we
      can generate specific, testable predictions and informative
   4. We should not expect intelligent design theory to offer much, if
      anything, in the way of support to Christian theology (which does
      not stand in need of any such support). But, if we are to pursue
      theistic research programs, it must be for the sake of doing 
      science and doing it well, not for the sake of religion.

14. I would like to interject a few words of encouragement and advice to those who are considering whether or not to join one of the theistic paradigms of scientific research (here I am speaking only for myself, and not for the conference as a whole). I think that the primary reason why theistic research programs have not been undertaken in the recent past - i.e. the past 200 years or so - is not from lack of courage or lack of opportunity, but from lack of imagination. ...¦ Let me reiterate that the research program does not consist in simply finding more and more examples of things that Darwinism cannot explain. To constitute an alternative paradigm, it must demonstrate that it can produce novel predictions and informative explanations, and that it can out-perform naturalism in doing so, at least within significant sub-domains. I can think of one example where this has already happened. A design theorist can confidently predict that we will find more and more anthropic coincidences, with higher and higher levels of fine-tuning required, since the design hypothesis should include the auxiliary hypothesis that the designer created a world in which the necessity of design would be abundantly manifested. [Koons, ibid.]

*Biographical Information about Craig and Koons*

15. William Lane Craig is a prolific author, and an indefatigable public speaker and debater. His sole-authored philosophical books include: /The KalÄm Cosmological Argument/ (1979, Macmillan); /The Cosmological Argument from Plato to Leibniz/ (1980, Macmillan); /The Only Wise God: The Compatibility of Divine Foreknowledge and Human Freedom/ (1987, Baker); /The Problem of Divine Foreknowledge and Future Contingents from Aristotle to Suarez: The Coherence of Theism: Omniscience /(1988, Brill); /Divine Foreknowledge and Human Freedom/ (1991, Brill); /The Tensed Theory of Time - A Critical Examination/ (2000, Kluwer); /The Tenseless Theory of Time - A Critical Examination/ (2000, Kluwer); and /God, Time and Eternity: The Coherence of Theism II /(2001, Kluwer). His more theological or apologetic sole-authored books include: /The Existence of God and the Beginning of the Universe/ (1979, Here's Life); /The Son Rises: Historical Evidence for the Resurrection of Jesus/ (1981, Moody); /Apologetics: An Introduction/ (1984, Moody); /The Historical Argument for the Resurrection of Jesus During the Deist Controversy/ (1985, Edwin Mellen); /Knowing the Truth about the Resurrection/ (1988, Servant); /Assessing the New Testament Evidence for the Historicity of the Resurrection of Jesus/ (1989, Edwin Mellen); /No Easy Answers: Finding Hope in Doubt, Failure and Unanswered Prayer /(1990, Moody); /Reasonable Faith: Christian Truth and Apologetics/ (1994, Crossway); /Time and Eternity: Exploring God's Relationship to Time/ (2001, Wheaton); and /Hard Questions, Real Answers/ (2003, Wheaton). Craig has co-authored: /Theism, Atheism and Big Bang Cosmology/ (1994, Oxford University Press, with Quentin Smith); /Philosophical Foundations for a Christian Worldview/ (2003, InterVarsity, with J. P. Moreland); and /Creation out of Nothing: Its Biblical, Philosophical and Scientific Exploration/ (2004, Baker, with Paul Copan). Craig has edited /Philosophy of Religion: A Reader and Guide/ (Edinburgh University Press) and /Time and the Metaphysics of Relativity/ (2001, Kluwer); and he has co-edited: /The Logic of Rational Theism: Exploratory Essays/ (1990, Edwin Mellen, with Mark McLeod) and /Naturalism: A Critical Analysis/ (2000, Routledge, with J. P. Moreland). Four of Craig's debates have been published as books: /Will the real Jesus please stand up? A debate between William Lane Craig and John Dominic Crossan/ (1998, Baker, with John Dominic Crossan); /Jesus'  Resurrection: Fact or Figment. A Debate between William Lane Craig and Gerd Ludemann/ (2000, InterVarsity, with Gerd Ludemann); /Does God Exist: The Craig-Flew Debate/ (2003, Ashgate, with Anthony Flew); /God? A Debate between a Christian and an Atheist/ (2004, Oxford University Press, with Walter Sinnott-Armstrong). And, on top of this, Craig has also published more than one hundred book chapters and journal articles, including papers in: /Analysis/, /Australasian Journal of Philosophy/, /British Journal for Philosophy of Science/, /Erkenntnis/, /Journal of Philosophy/, and /Philosophy of Science/.

16. Robert Koons has worked across a range of fields, including philosophical logic, artificial intelligence, metaphysics, epistemology, and philosophy of religion. He has written two books - /Paradoxes of Belief and Strategic Rationality/ (CUP, 1992), and /Realism Regained: An Exact Theory of Causation, Teleology and Mind/ (OUP, 2000) - and a number of articles that have appeared in top-tier philosophy journals, including: /American Philosophical Quarterly/, /Australasian Journal of Philosophy/, /Mind/, /Minds and Machines/, /Philosophical Studies/, /Synthese/ and /Topoi/. Koons is a member of the Association for Symbolic Logic, and has been an active member of the Society for Christian Philosophers. He is a member of the Board of Advisors for the C. S. Lewis Institute of California, a Fellow of the Hill County Institute for Contemporary Christianity, a Senior Fellow of the Witherspoon Institute, a Senior Fellow of the Texas Public Policy Foundation, the Founder of the Program in Western Civilisation and American Institutions (University of Texas at Austin), and, as mentioned earlier, a Fellow of the Centre for Science and Culture in the Discovery Institute.