wait for it...
In his book On Truth and Lying in an Extra-Moral Sense, Nietzsche gives us this ultimate atheist scenario: “In some remote corner of the universe, poured out and glittering in innumerable solar systems, there once was a star on which clever animals invented knowledge. That was the highest and most mendacious minute of 'world history'—yet only a minute. After nature had drawn a few breaths the star grew cold, and the clever animals had to die.” He continued:I posted the following comment as a response:
One might invent such a fable and still not have illustrated sufficiently how wretched, how shadowy and flighty, how aimless and arbitrary, the human intellect appears in nature. There have been eternities when it did not exist; and when it is done for again, nothing will have happened. For this intellect has no further mission that would lead beyond human life. . . . There is nothing in nature so despicable or insignificant that it cannot immediately be blown up like a bag by a slight breath of this power of knowledge; and just as every porter wants an admirer, the proudest human being, the philosopher, thinks that he sees the eyes of the universe telescopically focused from all sides on his actions and thoughts.This atheist scenario undermines science itself. If the “knowledge” delivered up by “science” only serves to puff up a pathetic animal doomed to die in an uncaring universe, why bother with science anyway? If the search for knowledge is nothing more than a vain attempt to puff oneself up like some miles gloriosus in a Falstaffian comedy, what’s the point?
This seems a bit like asking why one would use a rhetorical question. We do science because we're curious. We search for knowledge because we can.What makes Oakes's rant facepalm-worthy is the grandiose claim that Nietzsche's text, here cast as The Atheist Scenario™, undermines science. Wait...undermines? No, not at all.
Nihilism is theism's child, not atheism's.
Oakes is just flatly wrong. He uses dead and irrelevant Nietzsche as an atheist straw man so that he can make an objectionable appeal to consequences. Even if science were merely a vain (in both senses of egotistical and trivial) enterprise of a doomed humanity, it would still be worth pursuing.
I don't doubt that there's some vanity involved in the scientific enterprise, as in all human enterprise. But who says we're doomed? Yes, the universe is uncaring, but people seem to have the capacity to care. So do other animals. People seem to be able to make judgments and to establish values. Within our own little world we seem to be able to have a great impact, for better or worse.
There's a common prayer that goes:
God,We certainly can make a difference here and now. This is not a matter of free will or control or inspiration; this is a matter of fact. The fact is that we are here. The fact is that our actions have material effects in the world. The fact is that these effects are consequential. Atheism helps us to understand and deal with the facts as facts.
Grant me the serenity;
To accept the things I cannot change;
The courage, to change the things I can;
And the wisdom, to know the difference.
Only theism sees Atheism as nihilism. Only theism fears the night. Only theism hates the question. Only theism seeks to enslave the fact.
And one important fact is that God is the product of science. God (like all gods) became established to explain natural phenomena and to authorize the religious power structure. Oakes, however, turns this around and tries to make the ridiculous claim that "If God is 'our most enduring lie,' science is inevitably founded on that same lie." No, science is not founded on God at all and has absolutely no dependence on God.
Are not the fear-mongering and irrelevance of theism becoming ever more obvious? A facepalm no longer does justice to their inanity.