Francis Wheen writes a panic stricken editorial in today’s LA times over the lack of “reasonable” people in America today. He claims that human progress has not only stalled, it may be going backwards as the population embraces spirituality. The is typical of his rant, entitled “When Reason Sleeps, Mumbo-Jumbo Frolics”:
Over the last 25 years or so, after two centuries of gradual ascendancy, Enlightenment values of reason, secularism and scientific empiricism have come under fierce assault from a grotesquely incongruous coalition of radical deconstructionists and medieval flat-earthers, New Age mystics and Old Testament fundamentalists. The space vacated by notions of history and progress has been colonized by cults, quackery, gurus, irrational panics, moral confusion and an epidemic of gibberish. A Gallup poll in 1993, for example, found that only 11% of Americans accepted the standard scientific account of evolution, whereas 47% maintained that “God created human beings pretty much in their present form at one time within the last 10,000 years or so.” Another poll revealed that 49% of Americans believed in demonic possession, 36% in telepathy and 25% in astrology. It is as if the Enlightenment never happened.
Wheen doesn’t get it: He thinks he is defending rationality, but what he is really defending is metaphysical naturalism and epistimological empiricism. That is to say, He is defending a worldview that presupposses that matter is all there is and that real knowledge only comes to us through our physical senses. The problem is, of course, that this wordview is entirely irrational. Reason tells us that there is more to the world than what we can touch and see, and that is why “enlightenment values” are losing favor. Open minded and objective people know that life has a spiritual dimension. They may not always find the whole truth – there certainly is a lot of quacks and two bit gurus out there – but the move away from materialism is a step forward, not back.