(Essay 1 in Series Evolution&Morality )
Can you believe it? It has been a year since a majority of Americans voted for and elected Barak Obama as president, shattering once and for all the proverbial marble ceiling.
Yet, if you look back at the mood of the time, you have to admit, what really drove all those people to the polls was something more than a desire to create history. It was a feeling well captured by the catchphrase of the Obama campaign – change. There is no doubt Obama was the beneficiary of a collective yearning to end the dark ages that were the Bush years.
No one had really ever expected things to turn out as badly as they did during those eight years. On the day W. took his oath of office in 2001, everyone was expecting Bush2.0, a repeat of pappy Bush’s moderate Republicanism. No one at the time paid much heed to the evangelicals who were a critical part of the Republican coalition. They belonged in the coalition, this was well understood. Republicans were expected to actively court them, as they did. What took everyone by surprise was the degree to which Bush& Co., continued to actively placate this group even after they had won the election.
Sure, every party is obligated to look after their constituents even after they win an election if they wish to maintain their allegiance in future elections. Realistically though, no one actually expects an administration to unreservedly give in to all the unreasonable demands of one vocal constituency. You never really imagine anyone being that despotic. That could only be a joke!
The joke was on us, the credulous. We had collectively failed to grasp the insidious combination incurious George and his Machiavellian minion Rove would prove to be. We failed to realize how far they would be willing to go in a quest for a permanent republican majority. How else could they have unabashedly pushed a particular brand of Christianity into the affairs of state and declare an all out war on all things science, from the teaching of evolution in schools, stem cell research, climate change, to end of life decisions?
Under Bush, the country that was founded as a secular republic, and had pioneered many of the greatest scientific achievements of the 20th century, found itself at the beginning of the 21st century smothered in an atmosphere of state sanctioned religious intrusion into public life and scientific intolerance.
The vociferous cultural reaction to all this oppressive religiosity has been the rise of the new atheism.
Unlike the marginalized atheists of old, this new group of antitheists could not be easily dismissed as cranks. Many are respected academics and scientists. Richard Dawkins who leads the pack, made his name as a world renowned genetic theorist. Daniel Dennett, Christopher Hitchens and Sam Harris are all academics. Together they have brought to bear a new set of arguments, opening a new chapter in the culture wars.
The whole thing has been immensely entertaining especially for those of us who had long ago quietly and unceremoniously abandoned all religious affiliation. Dawkins and Hitchens with their acerbic British wit and their open disdain for all things religious are probably the most entertaining of the lot.
Eventually though, as you watch and listen to episode after episode of these Science vs. Religion debates that are in vogue these days, you begin to wonder whether in fact these anti-theistic arguments are producing any enthusiastic converts. Are they having any meaningful impact at all? Or are they just preaching to the choir?