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Render Unto Darwin That Which Is Darwin’s

Posted on May 11, 2008
stained glass

A stained-glass window at Yale University by Louis Comfort Tiffany imagines science and religion in harmony.

By Chris Hedges

(Page 2)

When Darwin published “On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection, or the Preservation of Favored Races in the Struggle for Life” in 1859, he named natural selection as the mechanism that drives and defines life. Evolutionary science, however, swiftly became for many a surrogate religion. It was used to promote racism and pseudo-science, such as eugenics, a theory of biological determinism invented by Francis Galton, Darwin’s cousin. It was turned like a club on religion and used to justify exploitation and neglect of the poor and disadvantaged.

There are unfortunate implications in Darwin’s theory of evolution. Darwin believes in the possibility of compassion and benevolence. He argues that these adaptations give one species advantage over another. He uses compassion to insist that sooner or later the “superior” races—those with compassion—will exterminate the “more savage” races. Compassion, he implies, does not exist, or certainly not in the same abundance, in others as it does in us. But Darwin left the championing of these implications to others such as Herbert Spencer, a utopian and a doctrinaire Malthusian. It was Spencer, not Darwin, who argued that step by step we were progressing as a species and would end with the perfect human being. And it was Spencer who coined the phrase “survival of the fittest.”

The atheists, while they do not endorse the hierarchy of races or espouse the crude racist doctrines of earlier Social Darwinists, continue to argue that natural selection is social selection. They continue to create moral hierarchies among human beings and use these hierarchies to sanction violence. They do this because they insist we are moving toward a final good. This is not a position supported by human history, human nature or evolutionary biology.

Wilson, in his book “On Human Nature,” uses evolutionary biology to justify power structures such as the subjugation of women and social inequality. All behavior in society, he argues, has a genetic basis. Religious belief exists, he writes, only because it gives humans a biological advantage. Religion helps “congeal identity,” provides “unquestioned membership in a group claiming great powers” and gives to a human being “a driving purpose in life compatible with his self-interest.” Wilson, while correct in assuming that many of the laws that govern animals also govern the behavior and habits of the human species, goes much further. He leaps from science to the unscientific propositions that evolution means we can, as a species, morally advance. He dreams of a day when the human race, having jettisoned religion and embraced science and reason, will be able to alter human nature and control its own destiny: 


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“... [G]enetic evolution is about to become conscious and volitional, and usher in a new epoch in the history of life. ... The prospect of this ‘volitional evolution’—a species deciding what to do about its own heredity—will present the most profound intellectual and ethical choices humanity ever faced ... humanity will be positioned godlike to take control of its own ultimate fate. It can, if it chooses, alter not just the anatomy and intelligence of the species but also the emotions and creative drive that compose the very core of human nature.”

Dawkins writes that the human species, unlike other animals, can transcend its biological map. “We are built as gene machines and cultured as meme machines, but we have the power to turn against our creators. We, alone on earth, can rebel against the tyranny of the selfish replicators,” he says. 

This leap by Wilson and Dawkins is not science. It certainly is not Darwinian science. Darwin wrote nothing to indicate that the human species had risen above its biological composition. He argued that human morality was linked to the behavior of animals. The social instincts that constitute humankind’s understanding of moral behavior can be found, he wrote, in monkeys, pelicans and dogs, as well as other animals.

Wilson and Dawkins build their vision of human perfectibility out of the legitimate theory that human beings are shaped by the laws of heredity and natural selection. They depart from this position when they assert that we can leave that determinism behind. There is nothing in science that implies that our genetic makeup allows us to perfect ourselves. Those who, in the name of science, claim that we can overcome our imperfect human nature make a leap of faith. In this leap they leave the realm of science. They operate on a belief system that functions like religion. It gives meaning. It gives purpose and hope. But it is a myth. It is not true. And there is nothing, when you cut through their scientific jargon, which supports their absurd proposition. 

The attempt to impose the methodology of science onto collective and personal relationships also has grave consequences. If a scientific hypothesis does not work it is discarded. Pluralism has no place in science. Neither do competing truths. Science, when set up as a model for our moral and social existence, implicitly banishes compromise and tolerance. Scientific ideas, because they can be demonstrated or disproved, are embraced or rejected on quantifiable evidence. But human relationships and social organizations interact and function effectively when they are not rigid, accept morally ambiguity and take into account the irrational. Politics, for example, is about channeling and managing human drives and desires. It is only fitfully in contact with reason. This profound understanding of the irrational element in politics led Sigmund Freud to write his masterpiece “Civilization and Its Discontents.” The secular fundamentalists, in a gross misuse of Darwin and of science, turn biological evolution into a methodology to champion moral progress for the human race. They seek to give to their arguments the patina of unassailable truth. But what they sell are myths, bizarre utopian visions of a new heaven and a new earth dressed up in the language of scientific rationalism.

Chris Hedges, who graduated from Harvard Divinity School, is the author of “I Don’t Believe in Atheists.”

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By Planet of the Atheists, May 12, 2008 at 12:39 pm Link to this comment
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god is a myth, and religion is a scam by power hungry manipulators to control weak, frightened people. You know damn well that scientific inquiry discredits and disproves your “holy” texts, and refutes your arrogant ,outrageous claims regarding origins of our universe and existence.The idea of a male creator-person-thingy is something to scare and poison the minds of kids, but is really just embarrassing to hear coming from the mouths of adults

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By Leefeller, May 12, 2008 at 12:21 pm Link to this comment

Hi Billy,

Glad to see your still with us.  Had fun on the old Hitchen Post last year.  Always find it interesting that non believers find it necessary to defend non belief.  One positive point is they know from posts like this they are not alone, in their not believing, Off to see Hemi’s Wizard Oz again.

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By Maani, May 12, 2008 at 12:18 pm Link to this comment

How many times must it be said before anyone actually HEARS it: Darwin did NOT set out to disprove the existence of God; he set out ONLY to prove that species were not “specially created.”

Darwin was himself at first a Christian, then a deist.  And he remained a deist throughout most of his life, even though he had “moments of doubt in faith”; after writing Origin of the Species and Descent of Man, he served as a deacon of his church, and was buried in Westminster Abbey.

Here are Darwin’s own words, from The Origin of Species: ““Authors of the highest eminence seem to be fully satisfied with the view that each species has been independently created.  To my mind, it accords better with what we know about THE LAWS IMPRESSED UPON MATTER BY THE CREATOR that the production and extinction of the past and present inhabitants of the world should have been due to secondary causes, like those determining the birth and death of the individual…There is grandeur in this view of life, with its several powers, HAVING BEEN BREATHED INTO A FEW FORMS OR INTO ONE…”  (Emphases mine)

Thus, Darwin believed that (i) life was created by a “Creator,” and (ii) the process of evolution was a “law” “set in motion” by that Creator.

And before anyone suggests that he simply said this to assuage believers (either in his own time or in the future), consider that the book has undergone some 23 editions since its publication.  Had the scientific and educational communities wanted to, they could easily have removed this language at any time, since, from their perspective, it would seem superfluous, if not blatantly confusing.  Yet they did not.


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By GodlessLiberalDogooder, May 12, 2008 at 12:17 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Your right that it’s important to here the other side of the argument. I haven’t read any of these books. Some, I’ve been wanting to (Collins, McGrath and Hedges’ latest in particular) but I have to say, I’ve seen these apologists in countless debates. Again and again I don’t see them making sound arguments. Ever. One day I’ll get around to reading them but they really haven’t made much of a case (to me) for buying their books. I would love to walk away form one of these debates saying “wow, I’ve never looked at it that way before. Maybe there is something to what the bronze age mystics have been saying after all”. I think it will take a hell of an apologist though to convince me of that smile

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By FelixVulgaris, May 12, 2008 at 12:10 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

*yawn* Another straw man erected only to topple over under minimal scrutiny. The fact that

“Science is not always directly empirical. Science is not governed by absolute, immutable laws. Science, and especially quantum mechanics, far from telling us we can know everything, tells us there will always be things we cannot know. No one ultimately understands. Science affirms the complexity and mystery of the universe.”

comes as some great revelation to theists is only evidence of how utterly divorced this subset of the population is from real everyday science and the people who work in the field. Theists, please put away the sanctimonious attitude and there actually may be a small chance for a dialogue between the two sides.

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By GodlessLiberalDogooder, May 12, 2008 at 11:41 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

The human mind evolved to understand features of the universe necessary for human survival. We’ve been able to push this constraint to go beyond the intuitive 3D, temporal universe and peek at its (to us) mysterious nature. Hedges tries to conflate this struggle to understand a counter-intuitive universe with the lack of clarity that religion offers and the religious call mystery. The mysteries of of the real world do nothing to bolster the claims of snake handlers and transubstantiationists.

Using words like “high priest” to disparage the vanguard of religion’s critiques is revealing. The is a very common pattern seen in the writing of religious apologists (an expression that is appropriate for more than one reason). Hedges repeats the pattern a few more times in the essay. It’s as if he is trying to assert that rational people are just as irrational (and therefore wrong) as religious people.

“Cult of science”. Are you kidding me. Science comes from the Latin word “scientia” which means knowledge. It still means knowledge. Knowledge acquired through rigorous methods. If you are a living human you are a member of this “cult” because we all depend on science. This again is another attempt to disparage champions of reason using religious terminology and is also revealing.

I haven’t read much of Dennet or Susan Blackmore so I can’t comment on a lot of what he said about memes but it’s clearly a disingenuous attempt to paint rational thinking in a bad light. It also seems tangential to the discussion which is: Whether or not it is a good idea for people to align themselves with superstitious thinking.

Hedges also claims that science doesn’t have all the answers. Very true. But people who claim to speak on behalf of a god or gods don’t begin to warrant our respect for obvious reasons. There have always been charlatans and obscurantists. We only have evidence and reason. Science and to a lesser extent philosophy. We don’t have mysticism (feelings) as a way to know things. Sorry.

Page 2 seems to be a mixture of of reductio ad absurdum arguments mixed with fear mongering. If you like this tripe you should go see the movie Expelled, No Intelligence Allowed; Ben Stein’s latest attempt at career suicide.

In conclusion, Hedges was indoctrinated into religion as a child. He wrote American Fascist (a great book) and can criticize religious extremes as well as of the “New Atheists”  (I use the term here to make the point that it shouldn’t even exist) he criticizes. Unfortunately he can’t handle religion (particularly his experience of it) being criticized. Because of this he has been doing a lot of belly-aching lately. He is one of many (many more than a lot of us would like to admit) who can’t accept a clear picture of reality.

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By Manson, May 12, 2008 at 11:32 am Link to this comment

Please feel free to point out the specific logical mistakes in my argument.  I’m always open to learning.

Until then, I’ll take your “folks like you” comment as ad hominem.

As far as confusion of agnosticism and atheism, I suggest you re-read my post… specifically the part about “tooth fairy agnostics.”

The dictionary I have defines agnostic as:

“a person who believes that nothing is known or can be known of the existence or nature of God or of anything beyond material phenomena; a person who claims neither faith nor disbelief in God.”

As I said, most scientific atheists I know are also agnostic by definition.  They don’t believe there is no god / are no gods.  Rather, they have zero belief.  By atheism, these people mean that it is 99.999999998….% likely gods don’t exist.  That is a type of agnosticism.  Contrast that to the straw man atheism of Hedges which is 100% sure there are no gods.

I’ll accept either your civil response in agreement with these statements or a reasoned response to the contrary.  Rude, ad hominem attacks, however, will not receive a response.

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By Maani, May 12, 2008 at 11:18 am Link to this comment

Oops, forgot an important one:

The Dawkins Delusion, by Alister McGrath.  Dr. McGrath is a theologian with a Ph.D. in molecular biophysics.

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By TrevorAlan, May 12, 2008 at 11:15 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

I’ve had reason to disagree with Hedges and don’t follow everything he says even in this article, but he is responding to group of Athiest writers who give the group a bad name.  I don’t agree with the “Atheism is a religion too” crowd, but some of the people Hedges is reacting to ARE becoming smug and doctrinare in their arguments and need a good smack-down, if only to sharpen their own reasoning. 

The TRUE enemy are the religious fundamentalists, who Hedges is as much PERHAPS MORE a sharp foe of as Dawkins, et al.  I understand the backlash against religion by some pro-science people, but Hedges offers some reasonable responses to peopel who believe all human problems are caused by religion, and religion is nothing but a problem.

I hope he is joined by more writers who see worth in both science and religion.

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By Maani, May 12, 2008 at 11:11 am Link to this comment

Rather than enter into this debate - since every debate on faith/religion on TD has quickly devolved into insult, denigration and dismissal of all believers - I will simply provide a short reading list, and challenge the atheists here (particularly the most rabid among you) to read one or more of them.

Note that none of these books is argued from a theological or religious perspective, even where the writers are believers.  Rather, they are argued from science, philosophy, logic and/or common sense.

I have read Harris, Dawkins, Dennett, Stenger, Hitchens et al, and found that while all of them have some supportable positions, they all have some positions that are hopelessly weak.  But at least I read them.  Do the atheists here dare to read anything in response to these authors?  The first four are the most relevant to the current debate:

The Language of God, by Francis Collins.  Dr. Collins is a Ph.D. molecular biologist and geneticist who was director of the Human Genome Project.

God Is No Delusion, by Thomas Crean.  Dr. Crean is a Dominican friar who approaches his refutation of Dawkins from a non-theological perspective.

The Delusion of Disbelief, by David Aikman.  Dr. Aikman is an agnostic journalist who writes on matters of faith.

The Devil’s Delusion, by David Berlinski.  Dr. Berlinski is an agnostic secular Jew with a Ph.D. in philosophy.

God: The Evidence, by Patrick Glynn.  Dr. Glynn is scholar-in-residence at George Washington University.  He writes on religion, politics and foreign affairs.

Darwin’s God, by Cornelius Hunter.  Dr. Hunter has a Ph.D. in biophysics.

Genesis and the Big Bang, by Gerald Schroeder.  Dr. Schroeder.  Dr. Schroeder received a double Ph.D. in nuclear physics and earth and planetary science.


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By Thomas Billis, May 12, 2008 at 11:04 am Link to this comment

Dear Cyrena this whole article is a senior moment.Some sort of nostalgia for the good old days when Galileo was put under house arrest for stating that the earth revolves around the sun.If Chris Hedges wants to beleive in his imaginary friends good luck.The rest of us will struggle to find truth the old fashioned way through what we can determine to be true not what people in dresses tell us is the truth.

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By Richie, May 12, 2008 at 10:54 am Link to this comment
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Cantor later showed that within any mathematical system there will always be unprovable theories.

It wasn’t Cantor. You are thinking of Godel’s Incompletness Theorem. It states that in a mathematical system that include axioms of arithmetic there exists propositions that cannot be proved within the system.

Such propositions can be assumed to be true or false, and then added as an axiom to your initial system to form a new one. The classical example are the many non-Euclidean geometries.

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By Gmonst, May 12, 2008 at 10:44 am Link to this comment

I like this article if for only its point that science is a method, a technique, for testing ideas and nothing more.  Theorizing is myth making, and when untested or untestable theories are taken as truth then new myths have been erected.  Sure, some of those myths could be given supporting evidence by the scientific method in the future, as could more ancient myths, but they are just myths the same as others.  Further, many of them are utterly untestable by the scientific method.

Myth making seems to be one of humanities natural tendencies.  Its nice to see that for all our rationality we are still just groping in the dark trying to come up with stories that will tie it all together into a meaningful package.  The universality of that search is probably the best evidence of a spiritual nature that one will ever find. The What How and Why of our myths today will wind up being as irrelevant in the future as the myths of the ancient past are today.  Yet we continue to make myths, continue to try and turn the chaos into order.  No matter how much we try to solidify our understanding, there will always be messy edges that hint at the unfathomable chaos just beyond the boundaries of our tiny island of understanding and order. We can only see a tiny fraction of the whole, and we can’t even know how tiny a fraction.

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By Aegrus, May 12, 2008 at 10:41 am Link to this comment

Sorry, it’s just ridiculous to say atheism is a religion or even organized to any extent. Any kind of gathering of atheists is usually only to stop state-sponsored religion.

Atheists are people without belief. Period. It isn’t some homogeneous group of people who all don’t believe in God. All of them just lack belief, and do whatever suits their lifestyle.

I’m not exactly an atheist anymore, but atheism probably falls under one of the many philosophical beliefs I’m influenced by. Secularism isn’t monolithic. There is a lot of diversity in thought amongst those Americans who are without a practicing faith.

Secularism is the saving grace of our country and is the most American value after freedom of speech.

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By pitleaper, May 12, 2008 at 10:32 am Link to this comment

Wow! as my feeble little brain tries to wrap itsself around the ideas and concepts in Hedge’s argument and the posts, I’m reminded of a mystery.

Why does mathematics describe natural phenonena?  For example, Einstein’s theories of special and general relativity were based on thought experiments.  He then used mathematics to expand them into his theories which were later proven by observation.  My question is fundamental; why did the math accuratey predict the outcome?  (I’m not trying to be nit-picky here.  This question has puzzled mathematicians and philosophers, as well.)

This faith in the viability of mathematics to accurately predict outcomes has lead to ‘string theory’, and even to Hawking’s theory of an infinite number of bubble universes.  It works as long as the mathematical premises are true.  It doesn’t when they’re not.

Cantor later showed that within any mathematical system there will always be unprovable theories. Therefore, for some outcomes, you have to “set up” the premises to get the desired result.

So that leads us to truth. What is it anyhow? (Which set of premises are we using and why?) 

These and similar incongruities lead me to believe that science has a long way to go.  There’s a lot we don’t know…far more than we do know.

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By Manson, May 12, 2008 at 10:31 am Link to this comment

Is atheism a type of belief?

This is a common logical fallacy.

A - meaning without

theism - meaning belief in the existence of a god or gods, esp. belief in one god as creator of the universe.

Atheists do not “believe” there is no god / are no gods.  They are WITHOUT belief in such things.

This is not the same as faith IN non-belief.

I am without a belief in Santa Claus.  Does that make me a religious believer in the unbelief in Santa Claus?

No, that makes no sense.

Most scientific atheists are what are known as “tooth fairy agnostics.”  In other words, I can’t prove there is no tooth fairy because lack of evidence is not evidence of lack.  But the PROBABILITY that a tooth fairy exists is almost zero.

When pressed, I know of no atheist that says there is proof there is no god.

Rather, given the extreme lack of evidence for and much evidence to the contrary the probability of god(s) is terribly low.  But, that is a lot to say every time the subject comes up over drinks.  It is a lot easier and more concise to simply say - I’m an atheist.

So, no, they are not the opposite side of the same coin.

To test this… try the following:

- get four empty glasses
- pour milk into three of them
- now add some chocolate to one glass with milk
- now add some ketchup to another glass with milk
- now answer the following questions

1.)  Is the first glass of pure milk a type of milk.
- yes -
2.)  Is the second glass of milk with chocolate a type of milk?
- yes -
3.)  Is the third glass of milk with ketchup a type of milk?
- yes -
4.)  Is the fourth glass that is empty a type of milk?

If you said yes, then you must also agree that the fourth glass is also a type of beer, cola, vinegar, car, horse, etc.  Basically a type of anything and everything in the universe.

Now, I pose the question again.  Is atheism a type of belief?

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By Blackspeare, May 12, 2008 at 10:05 am Link to this comment

It is interesting that belief and non-belief in a supreme entity are opposite sides of the same coin——they are both religions.  The basic definition of a religion is a belief in something or someone that can’t be proven or dis-proven.  So atheists cannot be anti-religion for they are one, but they can be anti-god.

For those who want to avoid any true reference to religion or a supreme being have to present themselves as agnostics.

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By niloroth, May 12, 2008 at 9:53 am Link to this comment

I am amazed that they even let Hedges post anything having to do with religion on truthdig anymore.  this is another “article”  that will quickly slid off the front page when the editors realize that he is getting slammed by the readers of his own site again. 

To Mr. hedges:

Please get off the whole “atheists are bad” thing.  You are making yourself look petty and ill informed.  Everytime you post one of these diatribes to try to sell your book, you end up looking silly.  Your bias and ignorance end up on full display.  If you really have an issue with the new atheists, and darwinism in particular, then set up a debate between yourself and any of the people you attack and misrepresent in this article.  But this time, try to do it without setting it up as a 2 on 1 when you start to get trounced.  Hell, i will take you on, and i am not even a scientist or a writer.

Thank you,

Ps. I would highly recommend the book ‘The moral animal’ by Robert Wright to you.  If you had read that book, most of the ignorance in your above post could have been averted.

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By AnnMullins, May 12, 2008 at 9:23 am Link to this comment

Science is like digging a ditch or building a skyscraper in that if it doesn’t strictly adhere to physical reality it isn’t science anymore. If a scientist has a visionary or megalomaniac fit, the pesky requirement for proof re-engages him or her with what is observable on the earth.

When you’ve gone off into the realm of ideas, the only worthwhile argument is against the actual positions of others, not against a distortion of their ideas. Hedges fails that test.

Dawkins, like most scientists, because of his lifelong engagement with external realities, at least tries to get his opponent’s ideas right. That said, I agree with Hedges that he’s slipped the bounds matching his grapefruit-sized brain against the vastness. I question whether the discipline of rationality is a better tool for approaching the nature of being than, say, the discipline of a buddhist.

I also question the fear that seems behind Hedge’s piece. This unified atheistic movement seems like the bogeyman that theists scare themselves with late at night. It just ain’t there.

The drive to inform metaphysics with physics may just arise because otherwise there’s nothing new to say.

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By Manson, May 12, 2008 at 9:08 am Link to this comment

Oh Chris, Chris, Chris…

If only you could arrange all those words so they actually reflect reality.

Attempting to equate incomplete, incorrect, or outdated science with the fiction of religion or the fantasy of pseudo-science is not only inaccurate, it is disingenuous.

You seem intelligent, which is why it is too bad that you continue to choose to cloud this issue rather that clarify.  I wonder why you choose not to?  Because the public deserves better.  It deserves honesty.

Telling people the world needs more irrationality and more unreason to balance out science is dishonest, Chris.

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By AnalogKid, May 12, 2008 at 8:41 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Given that the probability of any god existing is on par with unicorns and fairies, would Hedge fight for fairies?  He seems to accuse science of all the things religion is famous for.  I think Hedge forgets that what we live in today was brought to us organized religion, not science.  Science just brings us the TV to watch the preachers.  If you like how the world is working today, keep looking for the fairies, unicorns and gods to say thanks.  If you don’t like what is going on today, maybe you should think about a different way of viewing the world.  Hedge has a degree in divinity.  Good job, a piece of paper that says you are a gullible twit.  When I read Dawkins or Wilson at least I am learning something.  When I read Hedge I feel like I am listening to a 5 year old defending his invisible friend that broke the flower vase.  By the way, Dark Matter has now been observed.  Hedge needs to get more education then his paper saying he knows about invisible people.

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By John, May 12, 2008 at 8:25 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

What, scientists also have opinions about ethics, philosophy and religion?  How dare they? 

Seriously, Hedges seems to think they shouldn’t even be allowed to speculate about the implications of science.

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By DaveF, May 12, 2008 at 8:01 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Science looks at reality and tries to see it *as it is*, rather than making up an idea called “God” and *applying* it *to* reality.

Science is based on evidence, even if the evidence is received indirectly.  In science, if a claim is made, it must be supported.  In religion, evidence is moot, so long as the claims are respected without the willingness to abandon them.

The author of this article is an eloquent fool.  Nothing more.

Tell a child a story all his life, and it will stick.  Pound it into his head while demonizing all other points of view (especially those based on evidence that contradict mythological interpretations of the natural world) and that child will cry about science, just as this author does.

Religion is a mental disease, just like those who tell their kids Elvis is still alive.  Passing on nonsense without evidence is a cancer to rational thought.

Yes, people have used irrational influences to derive rational conclusions, but notice that those irrational influences are ABSENT from the rational conclusions.

Theists want a monopoly on spirituality and truth, whereas the fruits of science naturally reveal that truth, and *inspire* awe and wonder in the natural world.

Theists such as this author are so arrogant, they should be ashamed.

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By Eoin, May 12, 2008 at 7:50 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

His statement that there is no evidence, that our genetic makeup allows us to perfect ourselves is just rubbish. We are in the early stages of gene research and medicine and the advances we have made are enormous.

The fact is that this is just another religious nut saying, don’t try anything because it won’t work. Thank god, the giants before Dawkins didn’t listen to people like this or we’d still be living in the dark ages.

Waste of my time, reading Chris Hedges.

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By ender, May 12, 2008 at 7:44 am Link to this comment

What is Tuth?  Nah, forget it.

If you believe faith in ANYTHING is going to change reality for you or humanity then we a cannot have a rational discussion on causality.  Science may not explain all natural phenomina, and possibly may never, but it is the only method, and science is a method, that actively seeks to explain the universe(s) REGARDLESS OF WHAT THAT EXPLAINATION MAY BE.  ID only seeks explanations that fit a certain dogma, so it (and the courts have agreed) does not qualify as science.  Darwinian evolutionary theory is a growing body of knowlege that has proven repeatable and capable of predicting the next stage of discovery, which it has done most succesfully for more than 150 yrs.

Buddhism, which I gather you also disregard, is the science of consciousness, and unlike the other religions of the world, does not predict any particular outcome.  A preconception of higher states of conciousness is one of the attachments that the Buddha warns inhibits attainment of perfect consciousness.  Your sworn enemy, the Dalai Lama, follows science closely, and has never spoken of any rational method of mental discipline being an impediment to attainment of dhyana or Nirvana. of course, attachment to illusions such as ancient tribal religions pretty much guarantee a life without progress.

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By tdbach, May 12, 2008 at 7:31 am Link to this comment

This is a very reasonable response to Hedges article. Hedges falls into the same trap that has caught many theist defenders before him: he tries to “demythologize” science in the same way the Dawkins of the world demythologize religion. The problem is, science isn’t based on myths; it’s based on evidence. And if sometimes scientists succumb to human frailties and express belief in an idea that lacks evidence (e.g. string theory) and may even get so attached to that idea that they can’t let go of it even when the evidence contradicts it, that doesn’t mean the enterprise of science refuted as the evidence-based exploration of nature that it is.

Myths are central to religion. They’re the operative metaphors that give theists a language to talk about the indescribable. Theists should embrace science and leave any criticism of science alone. And they would, I think, if guys like Dawkins and especially Harris wouldn’t pervert science to the cause ridiculing and abolishing not only religion but theistic thinking altogether. They stand so cock-sure of themselves on a long and noble history of science while they swing wildly at the sweet air that is the stuff of wonder and faith, that in rebuttal it is apparently too tempting to try to knock that science out from under them. It’s a mistake. Let these guys make fools of themselves flailing away, as long as they don’t seize power and use that power to persecute people of faith. If they want to dwell in the cold-calculus desert of rationality alone, so be it. Science be with you.

For me, I’d rather honor what science is doing, relish the wonders that science reveals of our universe, and celebrate the mysteries that science is solving, while I continue to cherish the mysteries that ask for no other solution than love.

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By dick, May 12, 2008 at 7:09 am Link to this comment
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Read Russell’s “God and Religion”, a compilation of his writings on the subject. Hedges is writing out of fear of the facts, not because he thinks he is responding to lies and errors.

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By Purple Girl, May 12, 2008 at 7:01 am Link to this comment

I’ve been an’Stheist’ for decades. Recovered Catholic since the age of 9- refused to attend presbyterian sunday school following the Re- marriage of my mother who was forced in her 1st amrriage to raise Us girls Catholic- dad never attended, just Us & Mom. It left a resentment even changing churches could not resolve. Orgnaized Hierarchial religions posed a philosophical and Intellecual heretical basis to me even at 9. how can a mere mortal expound knowledge of the ‘All powerful , All Unkowing?” ‘How can a person lay judgement upon another ‘Creation’ of such a Supreme being and it’s Design and Plan?”. When faced with the Beauty, rhythm and Power of nature how can we claim Dominance over it or disregard it’s real dominace over Us?” “Are We not just creations who are Innately responsible to not only care & manage all that exists because of our ‘station’ in the Grand Scheme, But responsible to assuring it continuation as the Steward Species.
Whether a ‘Creation’ of a God or Oddities of nature does not our Abilities Warrant Our Respect and obediance to it’s miracles and obligations. Is it not misguided to do so only for fear of retribution instead of personal motivation and acceptance of this place on the ‘Ladder’. Is it not a Sin to work outside the boundries and ‘Meaning ’ to our existence- to not only due our Duty for the present, but the future. by a ‘God ‘/Nature we are the only species cablable of such an awesome responsiblty. It is our JOB to care for what is here and to assure it’s future existence. Regardless of the possilbity of a ‘Gods Wrath’ or the result of ‘Atlas Shrugging’ we must do all we can while we are Here now and FOR the Future.We are the Current Band of Stewards - It is high time we act like It and Respect the ‘gifts’ and duties that go along with such a Positon- because it is the right thing to Do - The very meaning of Life as Mankind. The ‘After Life’ is irrelevant, and merely a delusion set on the assumption we have no morals or Ethics without the threat of retribution. ‘Heaven’ is for those who merely want a ‘Cookie’ at the end- their justice reward, not a Doctrine that works to make it BE HERE ON EARTH- encourages Trashing ‘Eden’ because the ‘Promised Land ’ lies somewhere else. Heretical and blasphemous to a ‘God’/ nature,and Each Other.

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By tdbach, May 12, 2008 at 6:44 am Link to this comment

It must be very comforting to be so smart. I can tell you, as one of those who still struggles mightily to understand the world and it’s imprausible variety and confounding contradictions, it’s hell sometimes (but hugely entertaining most of the time) and never really comfortable. But then, I think comfort is an overrated thing.

Before you dismiss Hedges out of hand as a mere child, perhaps you could argue why you believe that the “high priests of memetic engineering” haven’t appropriated the language of science (“proposal”) in the service of an unscientific certainty (“we will change human destiny and trascend biology”).

Does it strike you as at all ironic that the chorus of voices asking that a rational theist (and that is most definitely NOT a contradiction in terms) be ridiculed into silence is coming from the temple of reason?

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By ender, May 12, 2008 at 6:39 am Link to this comment

Hedges has a masters in divinity from Harvard.  He may have even attended some classes, or, like our current president, may have spent that time playing hanky spanky while wearing pantyhose and rompin’ with the Scull and Bones Boys.

What exactly is a degree in Divinity worth?  Is it equal to a ‘degree’ in the psuedo sciences of astrology or numerology?  Paranormal research?

Hedges should peddle this Visigoth nonsense on On Faith, or maybe he could get a job as a GWB advisor since all the other rats have bailed.

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By ManoZezez, May 12, 2008 at 6:37 am Link to this comment

8. “Human thought cannot be treated like an object in a laboratory.” There are people in psychology and neuroscience departments all around the world who would passionately disagree with you, so you’re not working from shared assumptions.

9. “Dennett has argued that human evolution can be shaped and directed through memetic engineering. He advocates not science but indoctrination, an updated version of thought control.” This is blatant misrepresentation.

10. “Evolutionary science ... was used to promote racism and pseudo-science”. It is a misunderstanding of evolutionary theory to believe that one existing species is more highly evolved than another. It’s also a mistake to link might with right. Is evolutionary theory to blame for these misunderstandings?

11. “He uses compassion to insist that sooner or later the “superior” races—those with compassion—will exterminate the “more savage” races.” Your use of the word ‘exterminate’ is completely out of step with Darwin’s view of how one race might prevail over another. He was talking about natural selection rather than genocide and there is no evidence that Darwin shared Spencer’s discredited views about Social Darwinism. None at all. Darwin used the word ‘savage’ in his writing to talk about what we would now call tribal cultures. It has unacceptable racial connotations now, but you have to take this in historical context. And it would make no more sense to attempt to discredit religion by citing racism among religious leaders.

12. “The atheists ... continue to create moral hierarchies among human beings and use these hierarchies to sanction violence.” If you had the courage to explicitly attribute this view to any of the atheists you cite, this would probably be libellous.

13. “Wilson ... uses evolutionary biology to justify power structures such as the subjugation of women and social inequality.” Explanations are not justifications.

14. “Darwin wrote nothing to indicate that the human species had risen above its biological composition.” Darwin isn’t the last word on evolution. He was wrong about a lot of details. Dawkins and Wilson will no doubt be shown to be wrong on many of the details too. The good thing about science is that if you have some evidence, you can use it to correct them.

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By ManoZezez, May 12, 2008 at 6:35 am Link to this comment

There is an interesting debate to be had here, but if you have any intellectual honesty, you’ll correct the many errors in this piece.

1. In your discussion of Kekulé‘s dream, you mistakenly equate having an idea with having a discovery. A scientific discovery doesn’t just require generating a hypothesis, but also testing it.

2. String theory is still untested and it’s misleading to suggest that physicists have already accepted it. The interest in it stems from the possibility that it could unify a lot of phenomena.

3. “Quantum physics demolished the assumption that physical elements are governed by fixed laws.” This is completely untrue.

4. “Science is often as inexact and intuitive as theology”. The uncertainty principle says that there are physical limits to how accurate measurements can be, but it’s misleading to suggest that something that isn’t perfectly accurate is no better than anything else that isn’t perfectly accurate. Also, coming up with scientific theories is a creative process, but testing them isn’t. The difference between science and faith is about the role of evidence. Like most of us, a scientist believes we’re more likely to find answers when there is some evidence available rather than none.

5. “There are forces in the universe that will always lie beyond the capacity of the human mind.” It’s misleading to imply that since we cannot learn everything on the basis of evidence that we might be able to learn just as much or more with none (i.e., by relying on faith).

6. “The genetic coding ... is fairly precise. But [the memetic] model fails to work…” No one is arguing that memetic replication has to be as precise as genetic replication, only that ideas can be transmitted in a recognisable form from one person to another culturally just as genes can be passed from one generation to the next. If you’ve ever learnt anything from anyone, you have to consider this completely uncontroversial.

7. “Ideas that prevail are often not the best ideas but more often ideas backed by power… Those who advocate the theory of memes ignore the role of power…” Dawkins doesn’t argue that the ideas that prevail are ‘best’ in any sense other than that they are better at getting themselves copied. Indeed, he argues that the memes that replicate most prolifically don’t necessarily represent true ideas and are not necessarily beneficial to the people whose minds they inhabit. That’s why he compares some of these successful memes to viruses.

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By Maezeppa, May 12, 2008 at 6:32 am Link to this comment
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This writer seems to think science is responsible for eugnics.

The more compelling science-based conclusion is that humans evolved to survive in groups and that empathy and mutual cooperation and protection as well as genetic variation that confers a greater survival advantage.

Plenty of deeply religious people are social Darwinists and eugeniciests.  Today the pernicious influence of the lazziz-faire Dominionists and Reconstructionists is everywhere.  These people, not Science, are extremely dangerous.  They are organized and they are in a position to do real damage and they believe in government providing no protection in order to force people to turn to God for help.  They also belive in executing, imprisoning and ostracizing those they brand as ‘undesirables’.

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By tdbach, May 12, 2008 at 6:29 am Link to this comment

Did you read the article? It looks like a response to the title.

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By JojoMojo, May 12, 2008 at 6:27 am Link to this comment
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I normally don’t take the time to say “Right On!”, but this entry deserves a loud one.

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By tdbach, May 12, 2008 at 6:27 am Link to this comment

Great argument. You knocked off every one of Hedges’ arguments, one by one, with rational grace, like Barry Bonds at hitting practice. Very impressive.

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By Maezeppa, May 12, 2008 at 6:22 am Link to this comment
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Author:  “Science is often as inexact and intuitive as theology, philosophy and every other human endeavor. “

From time to time a scientist might make a lucky guess but it’s not the guess that stands the test of time—it’s the work product!

Serendipitious, nonlinear processes that pan out might seem wonderful but they are not by default “miraculous” or evidence of divine guidance.  Also, most of the time ‘wild-ass guesses’ do NOT pan out.

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By Doubting Tom, May 12, 2008 at 6:11 am Link to this comment
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Thank God for atheists. Belief in a Supreme Being may be the only rational way to confront an apparently godless world, irrationally cruel and capriciously malicious—-  but it’s the atheists who shoulder humanity’s Promethean burden of self-transcendence. Belief in God prohibits. But hubris means never having to say to a god, “I’m sorry.” Religionists brought down to mankind a Moral Code (or so they claim, anyhow), but godless science worked up the Genetic Code. Which will prove most transformative? Milennia of memes and genes have produced no discernible improvement in the race; now it’s Himmler’s turn.

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By Leefeller, May 12, 2008 at 6:08 am Link to this comment

Debating about something that does not exist, requires study and thought and makes money for those debating, for the subject is endless.

Peer pressure does have it’s problems on those opposing peer views,  appearance values set acceptance to most of society.

It goes much deeper than religion opposed to non religion; aside from the heretic being burned at the stake; like racism it is another form of us and them.

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By Maezeppa, May 12, 2008 at 6:05 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

The author writes “...but it was the nonrational that brought him his discovery”.

No. It was the rational, expressed symbolically in a dream state that brought him his discovery.  This arrival, incidently, is an exception to the general rule.

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By Maezeppa, May 12, 2008 at 6:02 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

The preceding comment could have been better thought out.  Science and religion are not sides of one coin.

Just a couple hundred years ago half of all one’s children were expected to die before age 10.  Thank you, Science, for saving more lives than were ever snuffed out in war, famine and outbreak.

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By locke, May 12, 2008 at 5:59 am Link to this comment
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“Science is often as inexact and intuitive as theology, philosophy and every other human endeavor.”

Yet science doesn’t dogmatically cling to erronious “intuitions” when they don’t hold up to scrutiny. And they ARE scrutinised. Religious ideas aren’t, we’re not allowed to. The “new atheist” movement is questioning religion’s exhalted position, a position it doesn’t deserve. If it wants to be treated as a viable human endeavour, it can take criticism like any other endeavour.

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By jackpine savage, May 12, 2008 at 4:52 am Link to this comment

This little spat between the Hedges crowd and the Dawkins crowd is hilarious.

On monkey says, “I’m better than a monkey because i have ‘science’.”  The other monkey says, “I’m better than a monkey because i have ‘religion’.”

And we end up with two monkeys trapped in a cage together, stomping their feet, screeching, and flinging feces at each other.  Proving their innate monkiness in an attempt to be better than a monkey.

Have a banana, relax…realize that neither science nor religion (two sides of the same flipping coin) have - or will - save us from killing each other or ourselves.  Why, both are generally predicated on killing each other.

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By Stephen Pedersen, May 12, 2008 at 4:20 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Science is generally statistics. And those statistics reflect reality. Pythagoras realized that it is no coincidence that math reflects reality, and physicists learned from that. Much of the math they are using can be proven in reality. Are you going to reject Einstein? Or the Pythagorean theorem. 

Science has just taken a default position on String Theory until something better comes along. They are not being dogmatic. Scientists know their statistics and math are not absolute, unlike how theist believe dogmatically that their scripture is. You cannot put a scientist and a priest in the same category on this premise.

Its better to believe in statistics any day than a story. To do otherwise is a reasoning fallacy, and one may fall on their very head into a delusional abyss of unreason.

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By cyrena, May 12, 2008 at 4:09 am Link to this comment

Thomas Billis,

IF I remember correctly, ( I do have senior moments) Chris Hedges spent some time in the Seminary, or a Theology College, or whatever you call them. So, the nuns didn’t do it all. (I mean, I had nuns for 12 years myself, and I’m an agnostic, though I prefer to call myself a humanist).

Still, you get my point. NOT religious..and I figured that out only 4 or 5 years into it.

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By jm cronin, May 12, 2008 at 2:12 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Hedges’ cant reveals most if not all of the propaganda techniques of right-wing think tanks, including outright lies and distortions and the manufacture of straw men.  In particular, Hedges calls the abuses of science, which he glaringly fails to mention are mostly corporate, science; and that science has itself become a religion, exactly the arguments of the religious right.  He is a propagandist, not a thinker deserving of inclusion on a progressive website.

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By TheRealFish, May 12, 2008 at 1:19 am Link to this comment

“Evolutionary science, however, swiftly became for many a surrogate religion. It was used to promote racism and pseudo-science…”

The findings of scientists (or, as they were called during the time of Darwin, “naturalists”) may provide neutral discoveries but those discoveries—because they are neutral—can be perverted through cultural lenses to mean things the neutral principles were never intended to represent. Or simply be used to promote unscientific bigotry or serve political ends.

For example, those who follow the religious belief of the apocalypse may feel no burden to do anything about global warming because they are convinced the end is near anyway, so what’s the rush? Or, as you point out, Hitlerian ideologues can look at Darwin’s research and interpret the need to force nature and end up with a superior “race.”

Religions start with conclusions, and then declare testing as blasphemy. It teaches there is one singular unknowable TRUTH that is above the ability of the human mind to comprehend. And that is the end. Science says “prove it, repeat the tests, and prove it again.” Once that is done the hypothesis becomes a concrete theory.

Besides, any human idea can be turned “as a club” against whomever or whatever we frail humans choose. Though there are many mentions of such harsh treatment as reflecting a basic law of Judeo/Christian belief, we no longer put to death adulterers. In most “civilized” countries, we at least turn aside from the concepts of “an eye for an eye” revenge as the underpinning to justice. Some times it is 10 years to life for an eye. Or adulterers reconcile, separate so as to do no further emotional harm. But they are more rarely pummeled to death with stones anymore (accept in some cultures most now consider “repressive”).

That suggests that even hard and fast laws of religion can evolve, when subsequent testing (or moral evolution) suggest unthinking retribution does not yield desirable results.

In that way even religions respond or react to Darwinian principles.

Religion tends to suggest that there is one ultimate truth, end of story, quit looking, asking is blasphemy. Science acknowledges our understanding is limited and that today’s laws (like Newtonian Physics) will someday be replaced through evolving thought and testing (as with Einsteinian Relativity).

“Come unto me as a child” is a rock hard demand cloaked in gentle language for us to not question authority, not challenge boundaries, not test “truths” offered by spiritual leaders.

Is Rod Parsley correct about the divine mission of the US? Is the Right Reverent Hagee (or Robertson or Falwell or Wright) correct that God damned America or parts of it for what they interpret as its various sins? Those are some pretty big hypotheses that need testing before they can become full-fledged proven theories, I would say. Do some people follow them blindly in their theo-political fervor? Most scientists or others who adhere to principles of logic and the scientific method would not without seeing the proofs.

Atheists say there is no proof of gods and religious followers say it is all around us. Both are interesting hypotheses. It would be fascinating to be alive the day those test results come in. Of course maybe thoughts on both sides will evolve to know through testing that the universe itself is the observer that let the quantum foam collapse into reality, and the long standing argument will be over.

Until the next hypothesis comes along to be tested.

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By Douglas Chalmers, May 12, 2008 at 12:48 am Link to this comment

Oh, groan, don’t tell me that we have to grind over Dawkins’ crap again, uhh?!?! If there is one thing that typifies these people, it is that they all have an agenda and an axe to grind.

In that respect, they are just like the Neocons with their self-serving and utterly hypocritical flat-Earth theories.

Supporting the scientific and medical establishment as it feeds on a suffering society and endlessly lauding the fake high priests in their hospital ‘temples’ and crumbling universities is just more ideological imperialism.

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By Thomas Billis, May 12, 2008 at 12:23 am Link to this comment

Is this article a joke.Disagree all you want with the atheists and you cannot make religion right.Which has come closer to expalining the mysteries of the universe science or religion?Religion has always been an impediment to learning.Mr Hedges should yurn his focus on religion and the absurdity of beleif in imaginary things.Sounds to me the nuns did a good job with him.

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By Mayponce, May 12, 2008 at 12:22 am Link to this comment

Can you guys give up with the bullshit Hedges anti-atheist witch-hunt?

You’d think the man was raped by comi-humanist scientists from outer space when he was a child…..

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By Jack, May 11, 2008 at 11:29 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Poor Chris. He is one of my favorite writers when he writes on a subject of which he has some knowledge or familiarity. Unfortunately, science is not one. While I claim no more than an avid amateur familiarity with the area, his knowledge of science and the philosophy of it is abysmal.
  Dawkins, Dennett and their ilk are certainly not using anything approaching a scientific method in their polemics on religon and atheism. Similarly, Hedges’ writing off of science is misplaced. Granted, there are many mysteries which science cannot yet explain; and it does seem that the more we learn, the more mysteries we uncover. But science does advance. Like it or not, the mysteries of brain function are slowly giving up their secrets. Perhaps the instruments and methodological tools we currently possess are insufficient for the job. And perhaps the process of evolution has not produced a human mind capable of understanding all of nature’s laws or rules at every scale. None of this, however, compels a belief in some supernatural entity any more than it negates it. There is plenty in the ideas of Dawkins, Dennett, Harris (and even Hitchens) to criticize on legitimate grounds; but to extend this to a general criticism of science is beyond the pale. Come on Chris, get back to what you do well.

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