The two pieces I recently did, inspired by Bret Weinstein, were not intended to do him down, since the piece I quoted from him was essentially apologising to Christians that the New Atheism movement, by denigrating them, had sidelined important allies against the same enemies of truth and morality. My main point was that he has failed to recognise that faith in God is the foundation of that morality and truth, not an unfortunate superstitious add-on.
Now a good essay by William Dembski adds a further dimension to a similar message. Dembski received a communication from the National Association of Scholars, of which he is already a member, he says, because a friend was cancelled for belonging to it, so he thought it could not be all bad!
The letter is about the threat to the open practice of science by the same woke ideology against which Weinstein has fought, and it advertises an event around the issue led by atheist physicist Lawrence Krauss. Dembski notes that New Atheists like Steven Pinker and Richard Dawkins have similarly set themselves up as champions against the corruption of Enlightenment values, but he points out that it is those very values (in the dominant form that excludes God from consideration) that have led inexorably to the woke phenomenon.
He points out how Darwin himself began to doubt how the ateleological evolutionary process he had formulated could produce trustworthy values, when its only criterion was survival. C. S. Lewis made the same point in his book Miracles, and philosopher Alvin Plantinga has developed it analytically and pretty much irrefutably.
The proof of the pudding is in numerous conversations I had with atheists on sites like BioLogos and Peaceful Science, in which atheists, having to deny the existence of absolute morality and, indeed, of any actual goals in the nature of the universe without God, would always have recourse to the idea that rational people must create their own hopes, and their own values. Inherent in these statements, at least amongst the civilised Westerners contributing to such fora, was the expectation that liberal humanistic values are the natural outcome when rational people “create their own hopes, and their own values.”
Yet the very first serious Christian book I read, Os Guinness’s Dust of Death of 1973, documented how even back then, it was clear that once morality is divorced from its roots in biblical faith, it inevitably begins to drift from its moorings and degenerate. The memorable phrase he used for this (coined by another author originally) was “the striptease of humanism.”
Now, as Bill Dembski rightly points out, that loss of foundation has come home to roost: the Enlightenment, and especially evolutionary theory, removed any firm, objective, grounding for purpose and hope. So it is entirely unsurprising that the world has scrabbled around to find its own grounding by inventing “its own truth” independent of the “scientific” reality Richard Dawkins described:
The universe we observe has precisely the properties we should expect if there is, at bottom, no design, no purpose, no evil, no good, nothing but blind, pitiless indifference.
If that’s reality, it is better to construct your own, in which your feelings trump biology, 2+2=5 if you prefer, and all your problems are caused by white people, TERFs, the oil companies or Donald Trump. Dembski ends his article thus:
Woke ideology is not a betrayal of scientific materialism but its logical conclusion once people realize that on materialistic grounds we are here for no reason and have no destiny beyond this brief life, so that the only meaning our life can have is the meaning we give it, the meaning we construct for it. And if conventional educational values like freedom of thought and expression get in the way of that meaning that we are constructing for ourselves, so much the worse for those values.
Now, what I want to observe from this is the way that so many secular people now, alarmed at the way society is collapsing on all fronts, are beginning to speak of the value of Christianity as a social force, whilst in most cases holding aloof from embracing it themselves. They say it is useful, even if it is unfortunately not true. Such would include Bret Weinstein, of course, but we see the same attitude on all sides, from people like Douglas Murray, Ayaan Hirsi Ali, Peter Whittle and many others. This is admirable in the sense that such people stand shoulder to shoulder with believers against lies, apparently matching the saying of Jesus that “Whoever is not against us is for us.”
But their recognition that humanism does not stand on its own two feet, but on the foundation of religious faith, whilst they decline to accept that foundation for themselves, is potentially disastrous for society. For let us suppose that such an elite intelligentsia, commending Christianity without embracing Jesus’s claims on their own lives, begins to win the day over the mess we are currently in as a civilisation. Were that to happen, they would know that the hope for a free and prosperous culture lies in people living by what the Bible teaches. But they would have no personal convictions from which to preach that gospel so that people would freely accept it. Their only recourse, therefore, would be to impose it by force. They would be like Karl Marx, seeing religion as the opiate of the people, whilst avoiding the dangerous addiction themselves. It would be another form of top-down control, only it would be a theocracy instead of a technocracy.
In some ways this would be like the evils of Christendom against which radicals from Luther to the French revolutionaries railed. But as I have observed before, for all the previous corruption of the Church by brute power, or by misunderstanding the dynamics of the Kingdom of God, it was probably unusual for kings and nobles to have no fear of God themselves. Atheists were vanishingly rare. Yes, religion was a way to control the people, but it was also a way to control princes, who feared judgement and hoped for heaven as much as their subjects did. Endowing a cathedral indeed showed your temporal status – but also your piety. Endowing a chantry to pray for your soul after death may have been bad theology, but it demonstrated a religious outlook too.
I would be less afraid of a Christian dictator whose power has gone to his head than of a bunch of atheists who see Christianity as a useful tool for civil order. The latter has no alternative than to impose religion by force and psyops, for they do not believe that God can win hearts himself.
Fortunately, the “civilisational Christianity” phenomenon is only the tip of a much bigger iceberg, and may even be, for its proponents, a transitional phase. For every public figure lauding the values of Christianity for society, whist remaining agnostic themselves, I see ten comments on YouTube or on Substack or in the Daily Telegraph comments saying that although they have never been religious, the obvious evil of the times has led them to buy their first Bible, or to return to church, or to pray for salvation.
That is not yet the kind of revival that has occurred in Russia these last twenty years (hidden from us, of course, by our Putinophobia) and now appears to be occurring in, of all places, Islamist Iran, against an actual theocracy. But it is the kind of ground-up movement of the Holy Spirit that may, by God’s grace, transform the people first, and only after that their leaders.
If and when that happens, you will not find those leaders referring to the change as societal evolution!