Rise of the new atheism
Patrick Madrid writes that the new atheists’ arguments against God are empty . . .
In recent decades, atheism has become steadily more acceptable and even fashionable in the U.S. Spurring its credibility is that the atheist worldview has become entrenched in academia and is drummed incessantly into the minds of students — as early as grade school.
Young people are presented with a false option: Either you believe in God (synonymous with “superstition,” “ignorance,” and being “anti-scientific”) or you believe in science and reason. And if you believe in science and reason, you can’t believe in God because science has “disproved” the existence of God. Science thus becomes for many a de facto religion.
Christians readily admit that we owe a great debt of gratitude to science and scientists. (I, for one, thank God that I live in the era of Advil and air conditioning.) But science cannot answer every question. For example: “Does God exist?” “Do human beings have immortal souls?” What happens after death?” Science deals strictly with the physical realm — material things that are observable and measurable. This is why it is utterly unscientific to imagine that science can detect the existence of a God who is pure spirit.
When I began doing research for my recent book, The Godless Delusion: A Catholic Challenge to Modern Atheism, I immersed myself in atheist literature. It wasn’t a pleasant experience. Wading through multiple book-length attacks against belief in God is akin to getting one’s teeth drilled without Novocain. Atheism’s specious arguments and woefully unwarranted conclusions based on those arguments are tedious, even tortuous.
“How can such otherwise intelligent, even brilliant, people fall for this illogic?” I asked myself repeatedly as I slogged through the various arguments raised by atheist authors. From the “problem of evil,” to the boast that science has conclusively “disproved” the existence of God (a scientific impossibility), to the notion that “religion kills” (it doesn’t, though some “religious” people do), to the claim that “faith is irrational and antiscientific” (Pope John Paul II demolished that canard in his 1998 encyclical Fides et Ratio), I studied every significant atheist argument I could find. I found myself underwhelmed.
Why? Not simply because these arguments have been decisively refuted in works such as Peter Kreeft’s and Ronald Tacelli SJ’s Handbook of Catholic Apologetics and Edward Feser’s The Last Superstition: A Refutation of the New Atheism. More importantly, it’s because, as a philosophical system, atheism is incoherent.
Best-selling atheist books like Richard Dawkins’ The God Delusion and Christopher Hitchens’ God is Not Great suffer from this incoherence in varying degrees. They argue that God cannot exist because only material things exist. This is the naturalist worldview upon which atheism rests. By demonstrating that naturalism is false, it becomes easier to show why theism, not atheism, is the truly rational option.
Naturalism claims that only material things exist. And yet, it is self-evident that love, happiness, human rights, good and evil are real though immaterial. To be consistent, atheists are forced to argue that these things are just electrically charged chemical reactions inside the brain.
But if that were true, then there could be no such thing as “good” or “evil,” only behavior with which you agree or disagree. And if that were true, then there would be no use in appealing to “right” or “wrong” because those are nothing more than chemical processes inside the brain. In an atheist universe where God doesn’t exist, slavery, theft, murder, and cutting down rain forests would not be “evil” or “wrong.” They would simply be behaviors you dislike. Not even an atheist would want to live in that universe.
Christianity can account for the moral law, just as it can account for other immaterial realities such as love, knowledge and human rights. These can exist only if God exists. The only “rights” someone living in an atheist world could possibly possess would be those he wrested for himself through violence. When the atheist worldview claws its way to ascendancy in a given culture, sweeping away all restraints of religion, morality and human rights, we see the rise of murderous totalitarian regimes. Hitler, Stalin, Mao, Pol Pot. Remember them?
Just as atheist arguments based on science hit the bull’s-eye on the wrong target, their denial of God’s existence based on the “problem of evil” (if God exists, how can he permit evil? Either he is not good, in which case he is not God, or he doesn’t exist) is also incoherent. If God doesn’t exist, “good” and “evil” are meaningless terms. We can only measure degrees of perfection in relation to some ultimate standard — the way we know a line is crooked by comparing it to a straight line.
The atheist challenge won’t fade any time in the foreseeable future. If anything, it will gain momentum and influence. But Catholics and other Christians should “be not afraid” to evangelize our increasingly atheistic culture with the truth that faith and reason are compatible. Our task includes pointing out that God either exists or He doesn’t. There is no third option. By demonstrating that atheism is false, we open the door for atheists to embrace the only other option.
Patrick Madrid is co-author of “The Godless Delusion.” He serves as the director of the Envoy Institute of Belmont Abbey College and hosts the Thursday edition of EWTN Radio’s “Open Line” broadcast (3-5 pm ET).