In the bookstore's philosophy/religion section today, I encountered a book with a provocative title, something like "The Ten Worst Ideas in History." (The real title doesn't matter, I don't want to encourage anyone to buy it.) Among his "ten worst ideas" was Darwinism, and his reason for including it – get ready for this – is that it predicts that animals and humans will behave "immorally."
This is an embarassing error of philosophy, that facts can be rejected simply because we don't like them. And worse, this purported expert in philosophy, a man with an extensive education, doesn't see just how absurd this is. Not only the author, but his agent, his editor, the publisher who agreed to take on the book, the bookstores that decided to put it on their shelves, and the people who buy it.
One of of Darwin's most profound insights had nothing to do with evolution; it was about science itself:
A scientific man ought to have no wishes, no affections, a mere heart of stone.This simple sentence encapsulates one of the most profound aspects of the scientific method: We must be open to the truth, no matter how unpleasant, or how much at odds with our beliefs.
Darwin's "heart of stone" does not mean a scientist must be cold and cruel, nor indifferent to the results of his/her work. Rather, Darwin was referring to the process of discovering the truth; while we are investigating, experimenting, and hypothesizing, we must take on a mantle of impartiality. We must shed our desires and preconceived notions, and let the facts dictate the truth to us.
It is only after we discover the truth that we can shed our objectivity and consider the moral and ethical implications.
(This is not to say we should conduct unethical science! Don't confuse unethical or cruel behavior with an open mind. The truth can be discovered with ethical experiments and investigations. But we must not let our ethics bias our discovery of truth.)
The author of this "Ten Worst Ideas" book is a scientific and philosophical illiterate. He completely rejects the most basic principles that were responsible for lifting humanity from our hunter-gatherer roots to modern civilization. The author started from a conclusion (that humans were inherently moral and good, presumably because God made us that way, and can be again), and asserts that it is "fact." With this "axiom," he can easily "prove" that Darwinism is inherently flawed, since Darwinism predicts that things like parasitism, racism, infanticide and other unpleasant behaviors are natural.
This, I believe, is one of the worst symptoms of the anti-science attitudes so prevalent today around the world. The people who buy these books are the same ones fighting to inject creationist drivel into our science curriculum, which will only increase the ignorance of true science.
An atheist is inherently better able to do science, because the atheist has no religion that s/he has to reconcile with the facts. The facts can speak for themselves.
Similarly, an Atheist's morals can be derived from natural principles, based on kindness, making the world a better place, and minimizing suffering. Atheists aren't saddled with "truths" that were dictated two thousand years ago by priests with a political agenda, by fictional beliefs about the human soul, by antiquated dietary laws, or by guilt-laden sexuality.