Parasitical Reasoning

Posted by on October 29, 2010 at 12:32 pm.

“There are Christian theisms which are parasitical upon forms of atheism, for they formulate a doctrine of God primarily in response to a certain kind of grounds for atheistic denial. It is a case worth considering that much eighteenth-century theodicy has this parasitical character, being a theism designed to respond primarily to the threat to it posed by the particular formulation of the problem of evil which prevailed in that century. In our time, the ill-named ‘creationists’ seem to offer but a craven reaction, trapped as they are into having to deny the very possibility of an evolutionary world, simply because they mistakenly suppose an evolutionary world could only be occupied by atheists. Thereby they play the atheist’s game, on the undemanding condition that they play on the losing team.” [Denys Turner, ‘Apophaticism, Idolatry, and the Claims of Reason’, in Oliver Davies and Denys Turner (eds.), Silence and the Word : Negative Theology and Incarnation (Cambridge: CUP, 2002), p. 15]

Furthermore, it is the evolutionary atheists who argue that evolution not only disproves God, but evolution is itself inherently atheistic. There are, of course so many problems with this claim (e.g. Darwin didn’t lose his faith because of his belief in evolution, but because of the suffering and death of his daughter, not to mention the fact that millions of Christians around the world have no problem with evolution, although ‘evolution’ would of course have to be unpacked a bit). But the real kicker here is that these Creationist Christians 1) don’t bother to learn the science, but 2) more damningly, actually accept these claims of the evolutionary atheists as if they were true. Really? Who says that evolution has to be atheistic?

After my PhD supervisor’s BBC documentary ‘Did Darwin Kill God?’ came out last year (March 2009), my wife and I went home for a visit and I showed the documentary to my family. We had a very fruitful discussion afterwards. Something that came up in the discussion was that one of my relatives said, ‘But it’s the atheists who say that evolution disproves God.’ Aside from many pages written to the contrary that break apart these unhelpful and false binaries, basically, these claims are by scientists who are looking at the science and bringing their pre-conceived cosmological claims to the table and then saying, ‘see, evolution means God doesn’t exist.’ It could easily be claimed that the Christian who comes to the science lab and is fine with evolution does the same thing, but the difference here I would argue is that the Christian at least has some inkling and basic understanding that belief is a part of one’s basic reasoning about things (cf. Michael Polanyi); whereas the atheists who usually make such claims (Dawkins, Dennet, the Churchlands, et al.) deny belief altogether, and so can’t even ultimately believe in their own belief in atheistic evolution.

I told my relative that scientists who say such things one way or the other are being bad scientists. At that point, they’re making theological, philosophical, and cosmological claims that are not an inherent part of their scientific method, as the questions of science bracket out such claims (cf. Heidegger’s analysis of science in ‘What is Metaphysics?’: ‘science says nothing about the nothing’). Theology and philosophy can theologize and philosophize about science, but when science does the same it is no longer ‘strictly’ science but should admit that it is now making such philosophical, theological, or cosmological claims. In other words, the category error here is not realizing that the relationship between these areas (although admittedly this is all a bit porous) is an asymmetrical one.