It is a truth universally acknowledged that reason and religion are mortal foes. Reason deals a death blow to religion; religion is clearly irrationality on stilts. If only religion didn’t exist, reason would rule the world and there would be no more wars, tyrannies or murderous hatreds. It follows therefore that religious people are either stupid or unbalanced and are inimical to progress, modernity and happiness.
Well, this universal truth isn’t true at all. In fact, reason is underpinned by religion — at least the Biblical variety. Without Genesis there would have been no Western science, no equality and human rights and no liberal belief in progress.
I see I’ve already caused you to throw your Spectator round the room. What about the Enlightenment, you cry. That’s what gave rise to Western science and the opening of the Western mind, precisely because it ushered in an age of reason that knocked religious obscurantism out of the park.
Ah yes, the open Western mind. But if you look around you — with a mind that is truly open — you will see much evidence that the Western mind is currently snapping tightly shut. Indeed, the paradox is that some of our most noisy advocates of reason say a lot of things which are demonstrably absurd.
Take those scientists who promote not science but scientism — the belief that science can deal with every aspect of existence. The scorn and vituperation they heap upon religious believers is fathomless. And yet their materialism leads them to say things which are just... well, nutty.
For example, Professor Richard Dawkins told me he was ‘not necessarily averse’ to the idea that life on earth had been created by a governing intelligence — provided that such an intelligence had arrived from another planet. How can it be that our pre-eminent apostle of reason appears to find little green men more plausible as an explanation for the origin of life than God?
The answer is that in certain areas science has overreached itself by trying to play God, and as a result has turned into an ideology. Contrary to popular myth, Western science was not created by Enlightenment secularism. It grew out of the revolutionary claim in the Bible that the universe was the product of a rational Creator, who endowed man with reason so that he could ask questions about the natural world. With the rise of secularism, the striking thing is that people didn’t lose the drive to believe. They stopped having religious faith — but that drive was diverted instead into the creation of a wide variety of secular religions, otherwise known as ideologies. But these are the true enemies of truth and reason.
Just look at environmentalism. This defines the modern ‘progressive’ — and yet it is fundamentally irrational, illiberal and pre-modern. Based on a spiritual belief in the innate, organic harmony of the universe, it grew out of pagan and animistic ideas which not only defied reason but, in elevating emotion and subjectivity as well as downgrading mankind, were to feed directly into such regressive thinking as eugenics and fascism. Indeed, all the ideologies so prevalent today in ‘progressive’ circles — scientism, environmentalism, anti-Americanism, anti-Zionism, moral and cultural relativism, egalitarianism, multiculturalism — are deeply reactionary, illiberal and coercive.
This is because ideology, by wrenching evidence to fit a prior idea, is inimical to reason and sacrifices truth to power. That’s why environmentalism’s most famous offspring, man-made global warming theory, is totalitarian gobbledegook. There is no evidence to support it, plenty of evidence against it and even more evidence that much of the ‘science’ on which it is based is fraudulent.
But like other ideologies, it appears immune to challenge, however compelling the case against it. And that’s because these are not propositions to be debated in a rational way, but rather self-evident truths which have the infallibility of religious dogma — and which are equipped with secular inquisitions against heretics. They represent not a point of view but virtue itself. All opposition must therefore be stamped out. So reason is replaced by bullying, intimidation and the suppression of debate.
Thus scientists sceptical of man-made global warming are subjected to funding famine, character assassination or professional ostracism. Or Christians asserting the need for a child to be brought up by a mother and father find themselves forced off adoption panels and vilified as ‘homophobic’ bigots. In Manichean fashion, the left divides the world into rival camps of good and evil. Anyone who is not on the left is ‘the right’ and thus beyond the moral pale. But much that is demonised in this way as ‘right-wing’ is simply an attempt to uphold truth, reality and liberty against the distortions, fabrications and bullying of ideology.
What’s really odd is this. Just like the persecution of medieval heretics, these secular inquisitions are driven at root by fear — the terror that a challenge to the Received Truth might actually succeed. Scientific triumphalists may realise that what they are saying about the origin of the universe is ludicrous. Yet they persist because of their fear of the alternative explanation — God. As the Harvard geneticist Richard Lewontin has candidly explained, such scientists ‘take the side of science in spite of the patent absurdity of some of its constructs’ because they ‘cannot allow a Divine Foot in the door’.
So what is it about the possibility of even a Divine toenail over the threshold that terrifies these men of reason into becoming so irrational? Or to put it another way, if they are going to believe in ten impossible things before breakfast, then why not believe in the one impossible thing which happens to have an infrastructure of critical thought, thousands of years of history and their own civilisation attached to it?
It can’t be that religion has committed terrible atrocities, because atheism has committed terrible atrocities too. Maybe it’s the fear that Biblical morality fetters the freedom to be footloose and fancy-free. After all, if genes are selfish why should they alone have all the fun?
Maybe it’s a projection on to religion of all the bad stuff in human nature. For if the Biblical God is the cause of intolerance and war, tyranny and genocide, then humanity gets a free pass. But since Biblical religion actually underpinned reason and morality, the decline of religion means the erosion of truth and conscience. If religious totalitarianism was rule by the Church and political totalitarianism was rule by the ‘general will’, this is cultural totalitarianism, or rule by the subjective individual.
In Britain, the effects are plain to see. Everything is upside down: the transgressive becomes the norm while the normal is discriminatory; victims become aggressors while aggressors are indulged; education leaves children in a state of noble savagery; broken families are promoted as lifestyle choice. And a brutal utilitarianism means elderly or coma victims are starved and dehydrated to death, with anyone who dares to mention the sanctity of human life dismissed as a Bible-bashing nut-job.
Once the pre-eminent nation of reason and free debate, tolerance and civility, Britain is now the global leader of the rout of rationality and the retreat to a pre-modern war of all against all, facilitated by secular ‘human rights’. Britain — first into the Enlightenment, and now first out.
Melanie Phillips’s new book, The World Turned Upside Down: The Global Battle over God, Truth and Power is published by Encounter, New York.