01 August 2007

Atheism - it's a good thing?

The National Catholic Register has a curious editorial, putting forth the idea that the resurgence in atheism is good because it's an argumentative form of atheism, compared to the oppressive (militant) form we saw and currently see in Communist countries where religion is outlawed; and, the apathetic-agnostic form, which just doesn't really care that God exists.

I don't think the editors have either spoken to a current atheist, looked at the writings of some serious modern atheists or read any of their blogs. Atheism is rotten in any form because it is Godless. That's its definition. To call any form of atheism better or worse than another is to miss the point. Atheism is still atheism despite whatever adjective you want to throw in front of it.

The editors cite the currently popular atheistic works of Richard Dawkins (The God Delusion) and Christopher Hitchens (God is Not Great) as evidence of this "intellectually honest" argumentative atheism. I don't buy it for a minute. Atheism has been around, undoubtedly, for as long as the Catholic Church has. For 2000 years, the Church has stood as a complete refutation of this unbelief system. God moves in every soul. Atheists consciously choose to ignore this.

This quote from C.S. Lewis in "Surprised by Joy," that I recently used on another post, hints at this:
In reading Chesterton, as in reading MacDonald, I did not know what I was letting myself in for. A young man who wishes to remain a sound Atheist cannot be too careful of his reading. . . . God is, if I may say it, very unscrupulous.

The editorial uses my favorite quote from Chesterton:
Chesterton once said that “Christianity has not been tried and found wanting; it has been found difficult and not tried.” We should welcome the resurgence of argumentative atheism. It’s a good chance to remind the world that we can now say atheism has been tried — and found to be wanting, difficult and destructive.

Yes, a healthy dose of Chesterton and Lewis, and other great Catholic apologists, is a good place to start. But, I think you'll find these argumentative atheists are no different than their militant and apathetic-agnostic brethren.

22 comments:

Anonymous said...

Chesterton and Lewis are both weak intellects with little to say that could convince anyone. If Christians weren't so wrapped up in their own dogmatism -- when they should be looking for verifiable truth -- they'd be less likely to advance those two minor thinkers as the end-all be-all of apologetics. The truth is that if god existed, apologetics simply wouldn't exist...

Michael said...

You wrote "God moves in every soul."

So many things wrong with this.

First, what is the evidence that god exists?

Second, what is the evidence that the soul exists?

Third, even if god exists, why is your version of god (and of what god wants) correct, and that of the majority of the world's inhabitants incorrect?

Fourth, why are you an atheist with respect to every other god that has ever existed?

swissmiss said...

Anon:
Chesterton and Lewis were great thinkers, Chesterton especially. St. Thomas Aquinas was, IMHO, one of the greatest. Yes, Catholics are dogmatic, that's because we have a belief system. Who are the great thinkers?

Michael:
I doubt we will find any common ground here. God exists. The soul exists. If the entire beauty of creation doesn't convince you, if your conscience doesn't convince you, then I could talk until I'm blue in the face and you'd still be asking me the same four questions over and over. The Catholic Church is Truth. Go read some of the Church Fathers and lives of the saints. If they don't convince you, then nothing I, or my humble blog, can say will convince you. This is not an attempt to "beg off" the question(s), just an acknowlegement that we are both at logger heads in our positions. I am as convinced in the existence of God as you are that He doesn't exist. Can you prove God doesn't exist?

Cathy_of_Alex said...

swissmiss: I read that editorial in NCReg as well. You should think about writing a letter to the editor in response.

It is not that atheists have changed. They have softened their militancy so that we think that they have and so they can mainstream their beliefs.

We see these days that some politicians who call themselves Catholic are now harping upon the theme of "common good" hoping that we will ignore the fact that behind that dominent platform (which on the surface may sound good) we don't see that they espouse some beliefs that are contrary to the Faith they profess.

anonymous: If God didn't exist, neither would atheists. Literally and figuratively. If you think Chesterton and Lewis are "weak" thinkers, who do you think would make better arguments? You must be well read on the topic of Catholic apologetics, right?

Michael: You bring up a lot of questions that swissmiss did not even address or claim or talk about. If you are going to bring up a bunch of rhetorical off-topic questions, why don't you provide the answers? swissmiss is under no obligation to do so. Why don't you start by attempting to "prove" God doesn't exist?

swissmiss said...

Cathy:
Thanks for the comments. The thing is that you technically cannot prove a negative argument (God doesn't exist). Ironic, huh? This irony seems to indicate that God even has a sense of humor ;}

Michael said...

I'm happy to respond to my own questions...see my post below.

Michael said...

Ok...here we go:

"First, what is the evidence that god exists?"

There is none. All arguments for the existence of god (argument from design, ontological argument, answered prayers, miracles, etc) presuppose god's existence, and hence beg the question. Circular arguments are never valid.

"Second, what is the evidence that the soul exists?"

Again, none. Of course, we haven't defined "soul" in any concrete terms, have we?

"Third, even if god exists, why is your version of god (and of what god wants) correct, and that of the majority of the world's inhabitants incorrect?"

This is a major issue, and one that most theists cannot address. Even if there were evidence for god that wasn't self-referential, that alone would not constitute evidence for a specific god. Thus, there is no good reason to reject any given god or to accept any particular god, with the exception of simply stating "I believe in this one and not that one".

"Fourth, why are you an atheist with respect to every other god that has ever existed?"

Similar to the third question. You have rejected Zeus, Thor, Ra, the Flying Spaghetti Monster, and Allah. Presumably, this is because you don't see any reason to believe in these gods; there is no evidence for their existence.

But the situation is no different with your god, Yahweh. Think of all the reasons that you are an atheist with respect to the aforementioned gods. Those are the same reasons I am an atheist with respect to one additional god.

And as for disproving god's existence, this is, as was pointed out, also not possible. But by that logic, all things that we cannot disprove must be true. Celestial teapots, the Flying Spaghetti Monster, and so forth, all cannot be disproven. Why do we reject them? Because there is no evidence FOR them.

The onus is on the theist to prove the positive claim (i.e. god exists). In the absence of any evidence, there is simply no good reason to think that god exists at all. I will gladly accept the existence of god the moment some evidence is proffered. Until then, I will refrain from subverting our rational human discourse by worshiping an non-existent deity.

swissmiss said...

Michael:
Thanks for your comments and I appreciate your answers. But, like I said before, I think we are both pretty entrenched in our positions.

I was wondering, debating the existence or not of God aside, if I could ask a few questions, just my curiosity...answer if you like.

During college I had a good friend who was an atheist. She always sais she lived by the Golden Rule, do unto others as you would have them do to you (yes, it's biblical so that's kind of funny), but I was wondering what you have as a moral code. Or how you determine what's right from wrong. I hardly get a chance to ever ask an atheist, so hoping you'll indulge me here.

Also, curious what you think happens when you die. I know, it's probably nothing, but curious all the same.

Finally, do you believe in miracles and aliens. No, those two things don't have anything to do with each other, just wondering what your thoughts are.

I'd be happy to answer your questions, if you have any.

Thanks!

Michael Fraser said...

"During college I had a good friend who was an atheist. She always sais she lived by the Golden Rule, do unto others as you would have them do to you (yes, it's biblical so that's kind of funny),"

No, it's not Biblical.

http://www.religioustolerance.org/reciproc.htm

The Golden Rule is not a Christian (or even Biblical) invention.

"but I was wondering what you have as a moral code. Or how you determine what's right from wrong. I hardly get a chance to ever ask an atheist, so hoping you'll indulge me here."

Morality is based on altruism, which is evident even in "lower" organisms and is predicted by evolutionary theory:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Altruism#Altruism_in_ethology_and_evolutionary_biology

Simply put, morality is hard-wired. We do good things because (a) we want others to think of us as good people, (b) for most of our evolutionary past, being good to one another meant being good to people who shared our genes, meaning that shared altruism was likely to result in passing those genes on.

There is a lot we don't know about the specific biological origins of morality.

We also get our morality from moral philosophy, which can describe moral "truths" without presupposing anything on insufficient evidence.

One thing is clear, however: the author of Deuteronomy, Leviticus, and 2 Kings was not moral. Paul, and his ridiculous views on the role of women (Ephesians 5:22-24) and slavery (1 Timothy 6:1-5) was not moral. Jesus was moral when you take him in half his moods; he said nothing, however, to discourage the practice of slavery (which is one thing that most of us have decided is decidedly immoral).

The Good Samaritan, while clearly moral, was, by definition, not a Christian. Presumably Moses was not raping, killing, and stealing before his encounter with god on Mt. Sinai.

The point is this: religion is neither necessary nor sufficient for morality. The most secular societies on earth also tend to have the lowest levels of crime. Prisons are filled with the pious. There is simply no reason to think that morality comes from god.

And besides, if the only reason you are "moral" is because you think god will punish you if you're not, then is this really morality?

"Also, curious what you think happens when you die. I know, it's probably nothing, but curious all the same."

I don't know. You're dead, I suppose. I presume it's a lot like going to sleep. None of us know, in truth. I dont really suppose it matters all that much anyway; you're dead.

"Finally, do you believe in miracles and aliens."

Miracles? No, if by "miracle" you mean a temporary halting of the fundamental, observable laws of nature by a supernatural being. All we know if explainable in rational terms; why would I feel the need to invent supernatural explanations for things. Granted, we don't know everything, but supposed "miracles" are simply natural events for which we dont yet have an explanation.

Aliens? I think it's a reasonable hypothesis, given that there is likely to be other planets in our vast, vast universe that have the proper characteristics for carbon-based life. No evidence, of course, but it is at least a valid hypothesis.

Here's a couple for you:

1. What are your views on the biological fact of evolution by natural selection?

2. Given the evidentiary support for evolution, which tells us beyond all doubt that all living organisms have arisen from a common ancestor over the course of roughly 3.5 billiion years, do you accept the literal existence of Adam?

3. As a follow-up to (2), what are your views of Genesis as a whole?

4. Can original sin exist without the literal existence of Adam and Eve?

5. Why not Islam? Why not Judaism? Why not Buddhism? Why not Hinduism? Etc...

Thanks

swissmiss said...

Thanks for the answers, Michael. I can tell we are going around in circles though.

Here are my answers.
1. I don't believe evolution is a fact. However, that doesn't mean I believe in "creation-science" nor do I believe in "fully naturalistic evolution." I believe that God created the world and, if things really do evolve, which I think some things do, then that was His plan. I don't think the creation story is meant to be taken literally, nor do many Catholics. Other Protestant denominations might disagree with that.

2. Yes. Adam existed. I may believe in evolution to a point, but when it comes to man we are going to diverge in opinion. God created man with a soul, man is created in God's image and is unlike all the other creatures in that respect.

3. I think I touched on this one already in the first two answers.

4. No.

5. Islam is a heresy of Catholicism. Judaism, while they are our ancestral brethren, didn't accept Jesus Christ and the Church He founded. While I have known people of the other religions you mention, I disagree with their beliefs.

Michael said...

"I don't believe evolution is a fact. However, that doesn't mean I believe in "creation-science" nor do I believe in "fully naturalistic evolution." I believe that God created the world and, if things really do evolve, which I think some things do, then that was His plan. I don't think the creation story is meant to be taken literally, nor do many Catholics. Other Protestant denominations might disagree with that."

Two comments.

First, evolution is a fact, better supported by evidence that the modern theory of gravity. Do you believe in gravity? If so, I put it to you that you are allowing your dogmas to override your logic. You have decided the conclusion before looking at the data; and the data is powerful and vast.

Second, if parts of the bible are not meant to be taken literally and some (like the virgin birth, resurrection, etc) are literal, how do we decide?

"2. Yes. Adam existed. I may believe in evolution to a point, but when it comes to man we are going to diverge in opinion. God created man with a soul, man is created in God's image and is unlike all the other creatures in that respect."

First, how do you know Adam existed? What is the evidence? Or more precisely, what leads you to think this?

Second, the evidence for the common descent of humans is just as strong as that for any other species. It is a fact. Belief otherwise comes only from a preconception (conclusion first, ignore data that contradicts).

"4. No."

Precisely. The whole faith hinges on the literal existence of Adam and Eve. Without original sin there is no need for salvation, and thus no need for Jesus. No Jesus, no Christianity.

"5. Islam is a heresy of Catholicism. Judaism, while they are our ancestral brethren, didn't accept Jesus Christ and the Church He founded. While I have known people of the other religions you mention, I disagree with their beliefs."

Are you aware that this is precisely the argument that a Muslim or a Jew would use against your beliefs? Why are you right and they are wrong? WHY are they wrong? more importantly, what is the evidence that you are right?

swissmiss said...

Michael:
Seems we are where we were when we started. I still believe in God and you still don't.

Unfortunately for both of us, you stumbled onto the blog of one of the least articulate Catholic bloggers. God moves in mysterious ways to bring you here (hope you take that as the tongue-in-cheek comment it is meant to be). If you are sincerely trying to understand what Catholicism believes on the all these topics (and I believe this is the case) and want get the caliber answers you are looking for, I would suggest trying the Catholic Answer Forum at www.catholic.com This type of format is not my cup of tea and I wouldn't blame you if it wasn't yours either.

Does anyone have a better suggestion for Michael?

Just some general comments to what you have said for anyone reading my blog.

Evolution is not a fact. Catholicism is not built on a one-legged pillar of anti-evolution. It is built on Jesus (the Trinity) and here is the crux of the matter. Faith. Sorry if atheists don't like it and sorry I'm not a better apologist, but my inadequacies don't change Catholicism. The Church has the answers on all these questions and has spoken far more eloquently. Don't take my word on it, look to the Church for the final word. Is this all pretty convenient? Yes, and that's the beauty of it. I'm a sheep, not my own shepherd.

A general answer to some of Michael's points is that the Bible is to be interpreted by the Church. How do I know what to take literally, what not? The Church has the answers. From the atheists point of view, I'm assuming that this is folly, but from my point of view it is comforting. I don't have to be a bible scholar, anthropologist, historian, theologian, etc.

An earlier comment I want to address,
And besides, if the only reason you are "moral" is because you think god will punish you if you're not, then is this really morality?
This is not a Catholic idea. Morality is not based on aversion to punishment. From The Act of Contrition, it says, "Oh my God, I am heartily sorry for having offended Thee and I dread the loss of Heaven and the pains of Hell, BUT MOST OF ALL FOR HAVING OFFENDED YOU, MY GOD, WHO IS ALL GOOD AND DESERVING OF ALL MY LOVE." While it is a good thing to fear the loss of Heaven and the pains of Hell, to have this as your motivating factor is called "imperfect contrition." One has "perfect contrition" when they are sorry for offending God.

Michael, if you aren't able to find what you are looking for at Catholic Answers, come back and we'll try again.

Michael said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Michael said...

Oh, and in case you would like to learn about the actual, demonstrable, established fact of evolution, here's a good place to start:

http://www.talkorigins.org/faqs/comdesc/

Just give yourself one hour to think for yourself, and question what you've been told. The Catholic church has said time and again that faith is entirely compatible with reason. So allow your reason to consider all of the vast evidence suggesting that life (including human life) has evolved from a common ancestor.

After you've thought on your own for one hour, feel free to go back to having "truth" dictated to you.

swissmiss said...

Michael:
Had to delete your prior comment. This is a Catholic blog, in line with the Pope. You don't come into my home and bash the Pope.

Michael said...

I understand why you feel you had to delete the previous post.

But this is the whole point of modern atheism: whereas in the past your religious views would be protected from critique simply because they were religious, we now refuse to exempt these views from rational discourse. If you have a belief, and you post that belief on the internet, you should be required to defend that belief. The fact that it is a view about god (or his earthly messenger) is no excuse. I would never bash your gender, sexual orientation, skin colour, or anything else intrinsic about you. Your believe in the existence of an invisible god (or, again, his earthly messenger), much like your belief that a certain wine or type of food or sports team is best, is fair game.

That having been said, it's your blog, and you can do what you please. I'm not upset; I did bash the pope (an institution I feel has done more than one or two evil things in its day), but that is beside the point. I dont need to point out the horrors performed by religions (and not just your own) to make the point that there is no god. It is enough to say "show me the evidence", and leave it at that.

So, I'm disappointed that you deleted the previous post, but that's fine.

You're welcome to come to my blog (http://propterhoc.wordpress.com) and post any comments you'd like. You can call atheists "rotten" if you'd like.

swissmiss said...

Michael:
Catholicism has been under the microscope for millenia.

Like I said, I'm not a theologian, anthropologist, etc., but that should not end the discussion, it just means you should find a bigger dog than me. My personal limitations do not translate into a limitation of the Church.

Michael said...

Fair enough.

I didn't come here to pick on you; I came here following a Technorati link. I'm not even here to "convert" you; that isn't the point of modern atheism (we leave the conversion attempts to the experts!)

No, my point was simply to raise issues pertaining to a rational, logical approach to religious dogma (my anti-pope rant notwithstanding). I visit these types of blogs not to be an instigator, but to learn from the beliefs of theists, and to suggest that they don't have to take things on "faith".

To be frank, your personal Catholicism is not worrisome to me; you can believe anything you'd like, and I couldn't care less. Moreover, I have no reason to suspect that your religious position makes you a good or bad person in your day to day life. I've never met you, and I'm in no position to discuss this.

But...

the institution you revere (and its leadership) do promote some potentially (very) harmful teachings, in the name of the alleged creator of the universe.

I guess the purpose of what I'm saying is "food for thought". Take it or (more likely) leave it.

And I wasn't kidding about my blog; you are welcome to critique anything I say in whatever (legal) way you'd like. I'm not just trying to drum up business.

It's always good to get different perspectives on these issues; I've offered mine, and you've given me yours. We clearly do not agree, and that's fine. But that doesn't mean we can't learn from each other.

Anyway, I digress.

swissmiss said...

Michael:
Please, try to find a Catholic that can discuss this better than I can. I've tried to answer your questions as best I could, and given you lots of print, (yeah, the pope rant thing aside), I just hope you pursue this further, not to be converted, but just to understand the Catholic Church better. Similarly, I plan to do the same to understand your position, too.

One last question...who are the great thinkers? I know this came from the anonymous comment, but curious as to what your opinion is. For me it's St. Thomas Aquinas. If you haven't read him already and are interested, read the first 10 questions of his Summa Theologica.

Michael said...

I've read Aquinas; no doubt there are some excellent thoughts there. He still tacitly assumes the existence of an invisible god who (a) he has no evidence for and (b) has had no demonstrable effect on the world (the list of things we can ascribe to god shrinks every day).

For me, the great thinkers are people who can consider the human condition without presupposing anything on insufficient evidence. Daniel Dennett is a good modern example. Einstein, Charles Darwin, Richard Dawkins (not just for his position on god...he is a brilliant scientist as well), Wittgenstein.

My all-time favourite, however, is James Burke. 'Connections' and 'The Day The Universe Changed' are responsible for me becoming a scientist (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/James_Burke_%28science_historian%29)

swissmiss said...

Thanks, Michael. I don't know if you and I have read the same Summa.

However, I did always enjoy "Connections." Guess there is some common ground here.

Michael said...

I've read the same Summa. It might be insightful and awe-inspiring, but no matter how you dress it up, it's still belief without evidence.

There's no question we can learn from the teachings of various religions and theologians. But doing so doesn't require that I presume anything on insufficient evidence. Aquinas does just this.