The following is from a recent debate in Australia between physicist Lawrence Krauss and a couple of Muslims.
What I find hopeful is the very existence of such a debate (between young Muslims and an atheist scientist). It suggests to me that, at least where Muslims live in Western countries, they are acclimating to the secular Enlightenment in a way similar to the experience of Protestants and Catholics over the past three centuries (lots of rationalization, lots of accommodation).
Religions, including the Muslim religion, are doing their best to keep up with global trends. These trends are toward greater human solidarity, democracy, secularism, and the embrace of science and technology. All of these are the children of the Anglo-French Enlightenment and are nicely encapsulated in the below video.
So be happy and hopeful. In the contest for human history’s direction, the Enlightenment continues its now centuries long winning streak. Given the alternatives on offer (the divine right of kings, authoritarian nationalism, theocracy, etc.), things could be so much worse. But like the computer in “War Games,” by a historical process of trial and error people are learning and progressing. Fanatic cultural insularity, religious war, and terrorism are just three of the things that have been playing themselves out in recent history and exhausting themselves.
I believe in science but it’s the humanity side of Enlightenment that bothers me. If you approach human rights like a scientist you would ask why and where is your evidence. While religious people can rely on God as their authority you can’t rely on science as yours. Which leaves you with just a handful of opinions. In fact, some of these opinions, like global solidarity, go against scientific findings. Show a film of a needle piercing white skin to a black person and vice versa and the emotional reaction will be one of tribalism, not global solidarity. You’re essentially just basking in the glory of science.
Your example (the needle prick) might actually support the power of the scientific side. Where religious authority too often sides with nationalist and racist sentiment, contemporary biology might easily (and with the prestige and authority of science) respond by saying something that is a fact: “The DNA in the blood beneath the skin of those needle pricks tells the white man and the black man that they share a common father who lived in Africa just 60,000 years ago (more or less). You are brothers.”
But your larger point is taken: a godless scientific worldview is always in danger of nihilism. But then so is the theistic worldview (as was evident on 9-11). Theists often devalue this world for the world to come.
Under the skin we may share a lot of DNA but that’s not my point. Protestants and Catholics have been fighting bitterly in spite of being almost genetically identical. What we all share is an innate tendency to team up with our brothers – against the other guys. Is there any knowledge about DNA or anthropology that will somehow change this behavior? Look at the militant atheists, they have all the facts and can still not help themselves.
Yes, theism can also be destructive in its focus on the afterlife. “This world is not my home”, as Jim Reeves sang, but also an antidote against a culture of instant gratification. And without religion you only have declarations. And religion seems to be a part of our nature. I can’t puzzle it together. I just feel that the whole modernity project is very unstable and will collapse. Although I’m not an apocalyps junkie. Have a nice weekend,