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

The Incoherence of Atheism - Part III

by Mark Shea

There are, according to St. Thomas, only two arguments against the existence of God.

The first, translated into modern lingo, means: "Bad stuff happens, so God doesn't exist." The second says, "Everything seems to work fine without God, so He's not there."

Most "scientific" attempts to argue for atheism (such as Richard Dawkins' The God Delusion and or Daniel Dennett's Breaking the Spell) rely on the second argument to claim that human beings and their religions are, like everything else, a product of the same purposeless natural forces of matter and energy that gave us the beetle and the paramecium. The problem is that, by the materialist's own logic, "everything else" also includes the human mind and means that the free human mind is, ultimately, an illusion. What we call "reason" is, in a materialist universe, the consequence of the physical-law-bound motion of molecules in our brain, according to atheists such as William Provine, a professor of biological science at Cornell University. The first consequence of this is that there is a self-contradiction embedded in trying to persuade somebody that religion should be abandoned, for persuasion presumes real freedom.

Beyond this, atheists try to use not only the materialist argument that "Nature causes Mind", but also the moralist argument that evil exists and that, furthermore, its greatest source is theism itself. Atheist literature is thick with denunciations of the moral evils of theism and with appeals to abandon this enslaving priestcraft for the liberating heights of Reason. In short, atheism tends to not only assume that reason is intrinsically free, it assumes reason can be freely and even perversely misused by cunning religionists. Atheists do not merely claim that Reason is the force that will liberate us from the shackles of Nature (by freeing us from the naturally evolved delusion that God exists). They also blame theists for doing bad things in ways they do not blame other creatures. Tapeworms and televangelists both exploit other creatures, but atheists only blame the televangelists.

In short, in the very act of denying that humans have a supernatural element to them, it affirms we are higher than tapeworms, and capable of free moral acts of both good and evil that no other creature can conceive. It assumes our thoughts are not simply caused by nature as the motions of animals are, but that they are grounded in something higher. That something is what theology calls the rational soul.

However, atheists like Dawkins are not eager acknowledge this self-contradiction. Instead, they plunge further on into more self-contradiction. And so, having just made the case that religion is the product of natural evolutionary forces that tend to make for the biological success of homo sapiens, they simultaneously argue that religion is a naturally evolved blight that will surely doom homo sapiens. Only by listening to Dawkins, Dennett and Co.--who refer to themselves as "Brights" to distinguish themselves from the "Dims" who believe in God--may we be saved.

Yet, on their own evolutionary accounting, what basis do we have for thinking that Dawkins, Dennett and the "New Atheists" have evolved beyond the religious herd of humanity and point the was to biological, much less spiritual, health for the human species?

Curiously, Dawkins and Co. explain all this, not with science (which is about the business of quantifying matter and energy and their effects) but by inventing invisible pixies called "memes" and claiming that they cause religion. By a complex series of handwavings and incantations, they argue that these "memes" have, in the case of religion, led directly to the survival of the unfit (namely, belief in God) and that Brights have magically escaped the influence of these Bad Memes that nobody has ever seen, smelt, heard, tasted or measured. And because Brights have out-evolved the rest of us meme-enslaved theists, they are qualified to argue that the State should be allowed to take children away from parents who hold the "wrong" sorts of religious beliefs and pass along these invisible memes.

Given that nobody has yet been able to actually see a "meme", I think it might be worth asking how we know they exist, much less guarantee the superiority of Dawkins, Dennett et al to the rest of the gene pool. Might it not be that atheists such as Dawkins and Dennett are not the Next Phase in Evolution but rather mutants doomed to extinction? Suppose the reality is not that they see better and therefore possess an evolutionary advantage, but that they are blind to what most humans can see and are therefore doomed evolutionary dead ends?

For, on a purely Darwinian accounting, it would rather appear that religious people, who believe in the sanctity of life and have more children than the secular atheists are, by every scientific measure, the winners--even in this life. And if atheism's account of things can be that self-contradictory when it comes to earthly things, what of heavenly ones?


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