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Holy Spirit Interactive: Mark Shea: The Incoherence of Atheism - Part II

The Incoherence of Atheism - Part II

by Mark Shea

Last time, we discussed one facet of the incoherence of atheism, namely its dependence on materialism and naturalism to try to explain away the supernatural. It seems like a pretty promising road at first. The atheist loves to recite little tropes like "Once, people thought thunder was the voice of God. Now we know that it's caused by discharges of electricity." And so, we are invited to assume that absolutely everything is equally explicable in terms of material causes.

The problem is that, as we saw last week, a purely material explanation of the human mind itself means that the human mind is not free, but is merely a result of mindless chemical processes. And we know that thoughts which are merely caused by nature, yet not rooted in a rational soul that is created in the image and likeness of the Reason or Logos of God are valid, at best, only by luck and usually not at all. The proof of this is seen in the way materialists themselves talk: "People who claim to see ghosts are suffering from a chemical imbalance that causes them to see things that aren't there." Likewise, most humans argue along the same lines: "He doesn't believe in capitalism because of a sound reason. He believes in it because he want to keep his money", "You trust the police because you are a fascist", "You believe in God because you need a Father figure to keep you safe." Thoughts which are merely caused by irrational forces but not rooted in Reason are, in short, just electrochemical activity that happens to be going on in a three pound piece of meat behind your eyes. Yet that is what all thought must be according to the atheist, because nature is all there is.

Now the curious thing is that atheists themselves do not really believe this, if we watch what they do and not merely what they say. For atheist authors like Daniel Dennett and Richard Dawkins do pretty much nothing all day but give lectures and write books like Breaking the Spell and The God Delusion in which they try to persuade people to freely change their minds about belief in God. But if what we call free will and reason are simply illusions (as atheist materialists like William Provine claim) then this a monumental exercise in wasted time.

Beyond this, however, is the curious fact that atheists do not simply live as though free will and reason are real despite their own rhetoric: they even compound this by getting angry at theists. They do not simply speak like mathematicians coolly concerned about an erroneous miscalculation. They typically write as moralists outraged at evil and even (perish the thought) sin! And so we get the peculiar spectacle of the atheist attempting to say, "La de dah! Religion is completely transparent and soluble to the Rational Mind" as he tries to come up with a completely naturalistic explanation of its origins. Yet, at the same time, the atheist is given to outbursts of anger and rage at "faithheads" and "Godidiots" whose religious beliefs are the source of everything from the Holocaust to long lines at the post office during Christmas. Read virtually any atheist for even a few pages and the anger strikes you in the face like the heat of furnace.

But here's the thing: a man like Dawkins (whose expertise is actually in creatures like wasps), does not seem to have any outrage at all for these critters when they lay their eggs in a paralyzed insect and leave their young to eat their way out of the helpless victim. Yet by his own account, the religious impulse is just as much an artifact of blind and purposeless forces as the wasp's breeding habits. So why all the outrage?

Moral: One can be a materialist or a moralist, but not both. Most atheists are emphatically both, claiming that religion is a purely natural secretion of the brain, just as insulin is a purely natural secretion of the pancreas. But if religion is a naturalistically evolved epiphenomenon of the brain that can no more be eliminated than the pancreas' naturalistically evolved tendency to secrete insulin, why get angry at it? Do we berate the modern pancreas for having so much in common with the pancreas of our barbaric ancestors? Why then, are atheists so irritated at ordinary human beings for having brains which, by their own account, cannot resist the impulse to see Somebody at work behind the natural order, just as our (allegedly) foolish ancestors did? Why, it's almost as though atheists are conscious of a human relationship to some supernatural standard of goodness which other creatures do not share since they lack a free rational soul.

And that leads to a final question, which we will look at next time.


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