The New Atheism’s Infatuation With The Irrational

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(Aristotle, who maintained that man is a rational animal)

“Being Atheist, it is characteristic of the advancing wave that it repudiates the human reason….But the Faith and the use of the intelligence are inextricably bound up. The use of reason is a main part – or rather the foundation – of all inquiry into the highest things”  (Hilaire Belloc)

Atheism, perhaps attractive at first, ultimately sells out and collapses because it cannot maintain continuity with rational thinking. The “New Atheism” (which is essentially a series of recent books touting atheism) clothes itself in the aura of scientific credibility, but then when these atheists leave their comfort zone and begin to speculate about ultimate causation their theories breakdown and become murky; their arguments even become preposterous and manifestly irrational.

The so called “New Atheism,” which even goes so far as to refer to itself as a venture in improbability, is permanently flawed (for as the genius of G.K.  Chesterton points out, “if there was no God, there would be no atheists!”).  As far as I’m concerned, the only thing different about the new atheism, when compared to the old atheism, is that the new atheism is newer than the old atheism! In fact, David Hart (who wrote a book on this subject) is of the opinion that the old atheists were actually better atheists than the new ones. He laments:

“The principal source of my melancholy, however, is my firm conviction that today’s most obstreperous infidels lack the courage, moral intelligence, and thoughtfulness of their forefathers in faithlessness.”  (“Believe it or Not” www.firstthings.com)

The real appeal of atheism is not its intellectual prowess (atheism requires a positively irrational faith in blind chance); no, the real appeal of atheism is moral autonomy so that God can be conveniently pushed aside. “The fool says in his heart, ‘There is no God’” (Psalm 14:1).

Frankly, these new atheists need to show a little more humility. It’s not like they’ve suddenly discovered the answer to the age old question: “Why is there something rather than nothing?” Point in fact: the well known physicist, Stephen Hawking, who responded to the question, “Why does the universe bother to exist?,” by saying: “I don’t know the answer to that.”

I have to admit that it is always a little amusing to me when a mere creature, who has only been alive no more than a handful of decades, proclaims with noticeable hubris that his mind has reached the conclusion that the universe – and human beings – are nothing but an accident. I have greater respect for the deist who sees the implausibility of denying a creator, but has a great distaste for actually having any sort of relationship with such a being. In any event, if the computer I am typing on was to suddenly start shouting at me that it had no ultimate designer, and that it came about by mere chance, I would have to tell it to, well, shut-up!

Recently I had the idea of pretending to be an atheist. I wanted to see what it felt like to be an atheist (to believe somehow that all that we see, hear, feel and touch is nothing but an accident). I even thought of praying to the ungod of the accidental universe to see how he managed to bring it all together by accident (although here I could be accused of reverting to primitive religious superstition). But I prayed to this ungod anyways.  And as I prayed my lovely wife walked into the room: and I said, “ungod, you are truly amazing.”    

“There’s my wife, and she is sort of like a perfect partner to me! She’s all so feminine (thanks for those gentle curves), and I’m masculine (I played football in seventh grade). I must be insane to think that you pulled off this amazing complementarity between my wife and I by accident, and so hats off to you, ungod, because the chances of this happening by accident must have been, well, zero.” I paused then to see if ungod would say anything back to me, but he didn’t, and the whole thing actually backfired on me as I began to see the complementarity between my wife and I as a rather obvious revelation that I did have a creator. Then I remembered that quote by C.S. Lewis: “A young man who wishes to remain a sound atheist cannot be too careful of his reading.” In my case, it simply wasn’t a good idea to pray to ungod.     

Years ago Carl Sagan (the astronomer) was the unofficial High Priest of atheistic scientism. Sagan helped to popularize Haeckel’s theory of recapitulation, a theory that maintains that human embryonic development recapitulates in miniature the grand course of  biological evolution. It is well known, now, that Haeckel forged some of his well known drawings of human embryonic development (ones that were standard for years in biology texts and tended to dehumanize the fetus), and the theory is now generally regarded as defunct. We therefore need to be careful not to grant to scientific theory an aura of infallibility that ultimately serves merely as a disservice to science. Even scientists need to distinguish carefully between scientific fact and scientific theory. Thus, in the current debate over evolution, it is important to know that the two leading proponents of the theory – Dawkins and Gould – have seemingly diametrically opposing views as to how evolution happened , i.e., the dispute between gradualism and punctuated equilibrium. Gould opted for punctuated equilibrium due to the paucity of the fossil record. We still have a lot to learn about the “mechanics and pace” of biological evolution. Pope Francis points us in the right direction, having said: “The evolution of nature does not contrast with the notion of creation, as evolution presupposes the creation of beings that evolve.”

Dawkins’ book, The Blind Watchmaker, shows just how unscientific scientists can be. Frankly,  Dawkins (one of the top “new atheists”) must be embarrassed for having said what he said. In his book, Dawkins maintains that if one was to see a statue of the Virgin Mary wave its hand, such an occurrence, although improbable, could be explained by the laws of physics and chemistry. Here are Dawkins own words from the book:

“In the case of the marble statue, molecules in solid marble are continuously jostling against one another in random directions. The jostlings of the different molecules cancel one another out, so the whole hand of the statue stays still. But if, by sheer coincidence, all the molecules just happened to move in the same direction at the same moment, the hand would move. If they then all reversed direction at the same moment the hand would move back. In this way it is possible for a marble statue to wave at us. It could happen. The odds against such a coincidence are unimaginably great but they are not incalculably great. A physicist colleague has kindly calculated them for me. The number is so large that the entire age of the universe so far is too short a time to write out all the noughts! It is theoretically possible for a cow to jump over the moon with something [[171]] like the same improbability. The conclusion to this part of the argument is that we can calculate our way into regions of miraculous improbability far greater than we can imagine as plausible.”

Let’s give Dawkins a break. Perhaps he was having a bad day when he wrote this rubbish. But how can I trust anything he says in light of the scientific foolishness employed by him in the just cited quotation.

Michael Corey, in discussing the possibility whether our “wondrous universe could have evolved by blind chance” quotes the distinguished University of Montreal psychiatrist Karl Stern as  labeling such a view of the universe as “crazy.” He further quotes Stern as saying: “And I do not at all mean crazy in the sense of a slangy invective but rather in the technical meaning of psychotic. Indeed such a view has much in common with certain aspects of schizophrenic thinking” (God and the New Cosmology, p.220). Stern is basically maintaining that it is flat out irrational to believe the universe came about by chance or accident.

Theism – belief in God –  is grounded in common sense. It need not be intimidated by the “bio-mythology” of an accidental universe. 

Tom Mulcahy, M.A.

Image: A bust of Aristotle in The National Museum of Rome. Saint Thomas Aquinas referred to Aristotle simply as “the philosopher.” Aristotle is known for maintaining that man is a rational animal. The image is in the Public Domain, U.S.A.

Ref. Answering the New Atheism (Wiker and Hahn). Concerning the complementary relationship between faith and science, see Catechism of the Catholic Church, sections 159, 283 and 284. In October of 2014, Pope Francis stated the following: “The Big Bang, which nowadays is posited as the origin of the world, does not contradict the divine act of creating, but rather requires it. The evolution of nature does not contrast with the notion of creation, as evolution presupposes the creation of beings that evolve.”

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