Every idea comes from somewhere, is fruit of a given context and can only be formulated using a repertoire of previous ideas. Every idea must carry the burden of its assumptions.
This is why it makes good policy to suspect every idea that promotes itself as neutral: They are compromised by their context just like all others but are trying to hide the fact.
Militant atheism too.
The Hitchens-Dawkins Hitchins kind of Militant Atheism is a direct child of Catholic thought, preserving both the worldview and the morality and the argumentation techniques. They can only hope to present a façade of respectability comparing themselves to the childish absurdity of Creationism.
Creationism foregoes any value it might have had when it adopts their enemies’ terminology. It turns Genesis into an hypothesis, which is to discard all the poetry and insight of this ancient text, effectively making a mockery of their sacred book. To adopt someone’s words is usually to assume their world as given.
But, if better pledged, is their case so hopeless? Deep down, what they mean is religious teaching should have more space in curricula and biology less. Is that wrong? Who’s to say?
Einstein derived great solace from his religious convictions, while Teilhard de Chardin did seek spirituality through a scientific path. Most of my school friends learned biology exclusively to pass tests, while a few are now growing a lot from a contact with religion which only happened very late in their lives. To each his own.
The foolishness of Creationism does not come from religion, it is just standard USA foolishness, something that’s been escalating to extremes for some time now. In fact i would say the solid foolishness brings the two parts together. But the arena where the disputes happen holds some interest.
In other historical contexts, ideas would only be held important in as much as they had effects in other areas of life. Roman worship of Mithras was important because it was a propitiation to better fighting. It was a matter of power and gods had power — or to say it in a contemporary way, power was mediated through the cultural worship of gods.
Power is still at stake, but beliefs have been raised to the foreground. It is now a matter of deciding which set of beliefs power should be given to, either rabid scientism or rabid biblism. That a belief held is important enough to determine judgement or power distribution is a custom commonly kept in so called Abrahamic religions — coming from the Jewish fixation with the Name.
Judaism has this trash-scifi trope that there is a secret/sacred name of god that is encrypted (or something, they didn’t have this word at the time) behind everything. Classic loser ideology: “We’re being sacked, but actually we’re the greatestest only nobody else knows it”. At first it was just a ritual thing, but as the culture mixed with the rest of the west, and as their theology became more nuanced, it came to be seen as a fundamental power of god, to influence everything without the uninitiated ever knowing.
The Hitchkins conception of “Laws of Nature” amounts to the same as a sacred name of god — complete with mathematical notation that only initiates can read.
The parallel is so fitting it sounds like a joke, but it is dead serious.
The key is to understand that it is impossible to get to the idea of an impersonal equation that rules the universe without passing through a personal power that does so. Just like swans are white and clouds are white and it doesn’t mean a thing, similarities in behaviour across different fields do not constitute a law. The idea of an Abrahamic god that rules the universe also means that this universe is understandable, that it is co-existent with a given mind and purpose (whether or not we can understand it). In this, the equation that explains the universe has the most important properties of the god idea — a very complex idea — with one important addition, that of impersonality.
The idea that god lies underneath the world means that this world is understandable. This amounts to allowing us to use forms of thinking about people (purpose, predictability, style, personality) to the world. This is bogus, but it also works surprisingly well in certain contexts. With some precautions, it can be made to work even better — like the precaution of impersonality.
This is, we guess that god oversees everything without looking too closely, without having opinions or preferences. The world still makes sense, that sense being god, but we don’t wait for god to come down to our terms and actually talk to us. Instead, we try to understand him in his own terms. By the way if we use maths to approximate it and it works we might end up with an equation that rules the universe.
So it is for example that Newton didn’t add much to physics that Galileo had not done before, but the one thing he did add was a connection between the mathematics of earthly objects and the mathematics of sky objects, thereby seemingly devising an equation that was a thought of god. Although Galileo was certainly considered a great scientist (or something, they didn’t have this word at the time), Newton is the genius.
The difference is that Newton was doing theology — he was talking about god.
In the nineteenth century two young biologists (both while reading Malthus) came up with the idea that the environment could act as a selective breeder. The first thought the idea merited maybe an article in a scientific periodic, but the other one saw it as conclusive proof of the inexistence of god. It was the exact same idea, used for different purposes.
Wallace was a lower middle class man whose science was a job, albeit one that he seemed to enjoy a lot, but a job nevertheless to be approached with diligence and expediency, in good days or bad. Darwin was a noble, and science was a path to glory through grandiose ideas.
Inside biology, natural selection was a small deal, as interesting as discovering a new species. The lab matter is certainly important and interesting (even though as a lab matter it is not remotely as definitive a finding: See for example the overwhelmingly deleteriousness of mutations or the evolution of gender). A lab matter. But in Darwin’s world natural selection was a high argument with deep ramifications. A courts matter.
Thus ideas, both religious ones and scientific ones, can be used to discuss matters of the world or to discuss matters of god (AKA theology), or also things in between, like matters of laboratory or matters of senate and so on. Theology is seen to have higher precedence: When it says something different then the others, we ignore the others.
Contemporary Atheism is certainly a theological issue, since it is not the absence of arguments about god, but an zero-hypothesis about god, a theory of a minimal god in the form of scientific laws (though the notation they use tries to hide the fact).
This might sound like that Atheism is just another kind of religion. Maybe even this is a valid interpretation. But of course a different argument, just as convincing, could be made that religion is just another kind of science. I doubt the distinction makes any difference.
It is more interesting to understand why and how our media-rich contemporary culture has so much energy applied to the issue of beliefs.