Back to Realism

In an age where marrying someone with whom you cannot reproduce is declared a human right, where pretending that you are different gender from your biological sex is termed ‘brave’ and ‘empowering’, where destroying your national identity by admitting endless streams of immigrants into your country is said to be patriotic, we are in desperate need of common sense.

That’s why I cannot recommend highly enough the recently released book The Realist Guide to Religion and Science by Paul Robinson.

Written in Australia and published in the UK, the book is practically a Bible of rationality. Robinson starts off by pointing out a fundamental prerequisite for any of us to have a claim to common sense: we have to be willing to admit both the evidence of our senses and the validity of our ideas.

This is what it means to be a realist: to accept that human beings make a real connection with reality—and so know truth—by means of their senses and their ideas.

Isolating one or the other of these truth vehicles, however, leads to irrationality. If you are a materialist and so claim that only what can be seen and touched is true, then you are destined to adopt ideas that are bonkers. If, on the other hand, you think that you can just come up with an idea and make it true of reality—without consulting reality itself—you will likewise go off your rocker.

Robinson points out that religions have often given people the wrong ideas and then asked them to impose those ideas on reality for the supposed honour of God.

Take Islam, which he covers in chapter 6 of The Realist Guide. Mohammed claimed that he was the messenger of the actual words of Allah, words in Arabic that Allah has spoken from all eternity. After those words are put down in the Qur’an, the believer has to accept them as being the final word on reality. Even when they don’t make (common) sense.

For instance, it does not make sense that it would give honour to God to convert people by means of physical violence. The reason is that conversion to a religion is something that takes place in the mind, not in the body. It is not a question of getting someone to crouch down on a prayer mat; it is a question of convincing them that your God and your religion are true.

But the Qur’an encourages conversion by the sword. And the Qur’an is claimed to be the exact words of Allah. If I believe this is the case, who am I to use my reason to question Allah with an argument of common sense?

That’s an example of religion causing people to lose realism and common sense. There are other examples in chapters 4-7 of The Realist Guide, but I am going to let you read about them, so that I can turn to what, in Robinson’s mind, can be another agent in the destruction of rationality: modern science, which is covered in chapters 8-11.

My favourite part of that section is his takedown of Richard Dawkins, who has been criticised in one of the more memorable posts of this blog.

While Jihadist terrorists lose common sense by accepting the ideas of the Qur’an over the evidence of their senses, Dawkins loses common sense by taking an opposite stance on human knowing: he will only accept sense data as being true and so refuses to admit that there can possibly be any intelligence behind the beauty of biological life.

Robinson enlists the help of the late, great Australian philosopher David Stove to show the absurdity to which Dawkins commits himself when he adopts a materialist view of reality. Dawkins can only use something material as the ultimate explanation for the whole biological world. He chooses genes, and he makes them our gods. With the permission of the author, I paste below some paragraphs of The Realist Guide to Religion and Science, so that you can get a taste of the book’s style:

[Dawkins] understands clearly his New Atheist task: explain all of reality without God, using only material and efficient causes. Dawkins certainly gets rid of God, and he certainly speaks only in terms of material forces. The problem is that he gives to those material forces the attributes of God. Specifically, he makes genes divine.

Really, that was the only thing to be done. We have seen how empiricists are driven by the laws of their paradigm to explain all of reality by the smallest of its parts: empiricist physicists have the universe derive from the fluctuations of subatomic particles in a quantum vacuum; empiricist origin of life theorists have life come from chemical interactions in a warm pond. Following the same trail, empiricist origin of species theorists have species derive from the interactions of genes. If you are going to explain everything by means of matter, you must start with the lowest common denominator. Moreover, by making that denominator the ultimate first principle of reality, you must ascribe to it the attributes of God.

Dawkins makes genes godlike in three different respects:

1. Genes are capable of manipulating their hosts. We are, Dawkins says, ‘robot-vehicles blindly programmed to preserve the selfish molecules known as genes’ and are ‘manipulated to ensure the survival of [our] genes.’ Stove comments:

According to the Christian religion, human beings and all other created things exist for the greater glory of God; according to sociobiology, human beings and all other living things exist for the benefit of their genes.

2. Genes perform feats beyond the powers of human beings. A certain type of cuckoo places its egg in a reed warbler nest and, once the cuckoo egg hatches together with the warbler chicks, the cuckoo chick’s louder cries and more colourful gape induces the warbler parents to feed it more abundantly than their own young. How was this clever strategy conceived and executed? According to Dawkins, the genes of the cuckoo manipulated the reed warblers. Stove comments:

We cannot build young cuckoos, or breed them, to precise specifications. And no genetic engineer could as yet undertake this particular task with rational confidence of success … The implication could hardly be plainer: cuckoo genes are more intelligent and capable than human beings. The same presumably holds a fortiori for human genes.

3. Genes live forever. The gene, says Dawkins, does not grow senile; it is no more likely to die when it is a million years old than when it is only a hundred. It leaps from body to body down the generations, manipulating body after body in its own way and for its own ends, abandoning a succession of mortal bodies before they sink in senility and death. The genes are the immortals…

Final causality, as I explained in chapter 3, is especially key in religion, which attempts to give an account for the purposes of the universe. What should be our wonder, then, to find that Dawkins, a professed atheist, empiricist, and destroyer of purposes, proposes for our belief that the entire biological world exists to serve the interests of genes? His proposition is not a scientific statement, but a religious one. Dawkins, says Stove, is a polytheist, and shares with believers the fundamental point of all religions, the affirmation of ‘the existence of purposive beings of more than human intelligence and power’, namely, genes.

In the end, empiricist evolutionists have the same relationship with final causality as they have with formal causality: they can’t live with it, and they can’t live without it. If they allowed a designing intelligence to play a role in evolution, the difficulty would disappear. Without such an intelligence, the theory must become irrational. It must commit the original sin of the intellect, affirming that a thing is and is not at the same time, that there is no purpose and that everything derives from purpose

In short, The Realist Guide to Religion and Science is at once both a professional affirmation of common sense and an attack on the irrationality that besets our modern world. Given that we are in desperate need of a greater sanity today, I cannot recommend Robinson’s book highly enough.


 You can purchase Paul Robinson’s book, The Realist Guide to Religion and Science, here.

A realist guide to religion and science

Author: Richard Peters

Share This Post On

Pin It on Pinterest


Share This

Share this post with your friends!