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The next time you want to stop a conversation among the soi-disant enlightened, ask what has atheism ever done for science. It’s one thing to admit that religious dogmatism has periodically halted the march of scientific progress but quite another to argue that atheism has actually advanced science. The difference matters. Richard Dawkins plans to spend his retirement spearheading a foundation (bearing his name) that aims to be the atheist equivalent of the John Templeton Foundation, a charity that supports science-religion collaborations.

In his evangelical atheism, Dawkins finds several fellow travellers including Christopher Hitchens, Daniel Dennett and Sam Harris. Their confidence in atheism has extended to suggesting – and not in jest – that religious instruction is so potentially corrosive of the mind that it be left to secular authorities.

Open declarations of atheism have never been so fashionable, especially among scientists. A poll of members of the US National Academy of Sciences found that 85 per cent do not believe in God. But again, it is one thing for scientists to deny the existence of God and quite another for atheism to actually advance science. It may also be that 85 per cent of the National Academy’s membership is male or belongs to the Democratic party. So the question returns: what has atheism done for science? While evolutionists have been busily trying to explain our propensity for religion, they have neglected science itself. From an evolutionary standpoint, why have we done science at all – and why are we still doing it?

The ease with which we accept banal non-answers to this question is breathtaking. The most popular non-answers usually involve some vague appeal to “innate animal curio­sity”. But this hardly distinguishes science from, say, gossip or sheer nosiness – let alone religion. It also doesn’t explain why we persist in doing science even when trails grow cold or, worse, dangerous. Most evolutionary explanations account for a trait’s persistence in one of two ways: it either increases our chances for survival or it is the by-product of something that increases our chances for survival. But does science fit either description?

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Just Some Guy
September 16th, 2009
4:09 AM
But isn't this a bit like asking what the value to navigation is, of not believing the Earth flat? Still, this is a fantastic argument for the relative benefits of religion to science, when compared to atheism. But I'm not sure where it leaves either side, and the end of the day. We can't advocate the use of one over the other due solely to societal benefit (in this case specifically to science). Or could we? Well I suppose we could. But I wouldn't. I still want real objective, empirical "truth." ;) Good article!!

Alex Gittens
September 2nd, 2008
10:09 PM
You've made the mistake of confusing the way things are with the way they should be. With Darwinist, I take it that you refer to a person who believes that evolution is the way things are. That does not mean that a Darwinist believes that we must promote an evolutionary agenda.

Great Gaon of Vilna
August 1st, 2008
1:08 AM
Thought-provoking indeed...but, sorry, no Islamic theological figure or school would consider humans to be created “in the image and likeness of God”. Even uberliteralists such as Ibn Hazem stopped short of advocating a non-figurative interpretation of Qur'anic verses mentioning Allah's 'hand' to give but one example. Allah is transcendant.

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