Richard Dawkins, Meet Francis Schaeffer: Or, Irrational Rationalism
Francis Schaeffer used to say that our modern (postmodern?) sense of despair and lack of meaningfulness flow from our autonomous rationalism, our attempts to make ourselves and our own reason (or intuition or whatever) the sole judge of everything. Schaeffer saw this as a divorce we try to make between the natural and the supernatural — but however much we try to only make room for and base everything upon what’s natural and rational, we can’t get away from the supernatural, what we think is ‘irrational’. Schaeffer thought a great example of this in contemporary life is the spectacle of philosphers who adopt strong rationalistic ideas on things, only to draw completely unwarranted ‘irrational’ conclusions from those ideas in the end. I think Schaeffer was on to something….
Take Richard Dawkins, for example: he’s a vehement atheist who hates Christianity with a passion and thinks religion is the cause of all the world’s ills. His alternative to religion is thoroughgoing evolutionism. In other words, the world from top to bottom, inside and out, is utterly explained by evolutionary chance, biological process, total materialism — you get the idea.
But what happens when we apply such ideas to culture and society, to relationships, family life and friendships? Social darwinism is a pretty scary thought, even for Dawkins. In fact, he has repeatedly written against applying the evolutionary nature of reality to our social views. For example, in response to the (in my view legitimate) suggestion that applying evolutionary theory to human values and society has at least contributed to such atrocities as Nazism, ‘racial cleansing’, and the like, Dawkins responded like this:
…natural selection is a good object lesson in how NOT to organize a society. As I have often said before, as a scientist I am a passionate Darwinian. But as a citizen and a human being, I want to construct a society which is about as un-Darwinian as we can make it. I approve of looking after the poor (very un-Darwinian). I approve of universal medical care (very un-Darwinian).
Now, maybe I’m not as ‘bright’ as Dawkins, but I find this curious indeed. Dawkins, we must remember, holds evolution to be the end-all and be-all of all existence, the thing that explains and contains all reality–in other words, there is nothing that exists in our world that is not a product of evolutionary processes and explainable by appeal to evolutionary process. That’s the way the world is.
So how on earth does Dawkins come to the conclusion that human society and values should actually be as ‘un-Darwinian’ as possible? Are we following the logic here? Everything, including human life, exists because of evolutionary processes–>We should organize human life on the basis of more or less anti-evolutionary values.
What is the basis for Dawkins’ claim that everything that is meaningful for interpersonal human relationships and values should flow from something that is the polar opposite of how things actually work in the universe? It seems Dawkins feels he can make this admittedly broad leap in his reasoning simply because ‘it is one of the classic philosophical fallacies to derive an ‘ought’ from an ‘is’. In other words, just because evolution is the way things are, doesn’t mean we ought to treat each other likewise. Is this good reasoning? Does Dawkins let himself off the logical hook here?
Well, no actually — on the contrary, he provides a vivid example of exactly the kind of completely unwarranted ‘irrational’ conclusions that Schaeffer spoke of. You see, the problem isn’t the distinction between ‘is’ and ‘ought’ — the problem is that in Dawkins’ worldview, there is nothing outside of or apart from the all-encompassing evolutionary process that we may base our social values on. If everything is the result of evolution and part of the evolutionary process, where do we get an ‘ought’ that is anything other than evolution?
Maybe a clear way to highlight Dawkins’ irrational rationalism here is to substitute evolution for something else…like the color purple. In this case, the Dawkins quote above would go something like this:
…what is ‘purple’ is a good object lesson in how NOT to organize a society. As I have often said before, as a scientist I am utterly convinced that everything in the universe is purple and operates on the principles of purpleness. But as a citizen and a human being, I want to construct a society which is about as un-purple as we can make it. I approve of looking after the poor (very un-purple). I approve of universal medical care (very un-purple).
See what’s really going on here? If everything in the universe simply is purple and is explained by purpleness, where do you get the idea that something should be some other color? For that matter, if everything is purple, how do you even know it’s purple!? If everything in the universe is the product of and is explained by evolutionary theory, where could Dawkins possibly get the notion of basing anything on something other than evolutionary theory, much less against evolutionary theory?
As Cornelius Van Til pointed out so well, in their irrational rationalism atheists must assume the existence of the Creator of heaven and earth and his order for creation, even while they argue so forcefully against him — like a child who climbs up on his father’s lap in order to slap him in the face.