Mark P. Shea is a popular Catholic writer and speaker. The author of numerous books, his most recent work is The Work of Mercy (Servant) and The Heart of Catholic Prayer (Our Sunday Visitor). Mark contributes numerous articles to many magazines, including his popular column “Connecting the Dots” for the National Catholic Register. Mark is known nationally for his one minute “Words of Encouragement” on Catholic radio. He also maintains the Catholic and Enjoying It blog. He lives in Washington state with his wife, Janet, and their four sons.
A reader writes:
I may not be the first to have observed this, but it seems to me that many materialists are working with at least one fundamental dogma in tow: anything is more probable than God. Two observations support this: (a) the tendency of materialists to tell Darwinian stories to explain how things came about (“Science indicates that it COULD have happened like this…”), and (b) the support that things like “M-theory” have garnered (see Stephen Hawking’s recent book).
To elaborate on the first, imagine trying to explain the basic behavior of a caterpillar using Darwinian evolution. I can’t, and I wouldn’t begin to try to. And truthfully, all we could ever look at were fossils to figure this out. But when I’ve seen materialists try to explain such things, 9 out of 10 times they will tell stories of how such a thing COULD have happened, as if this proves something. Maybe these are of the sillier variety of materialist, but nevertheless.
To elaborate on the second, M-theory surmises that an infinite number of material universes must exist, and since our universe was one that was ordered enough to make human life possible, human beings are here to observe this order. In other words, universal order was not designed: we are merely here to observe order because our universe was the one out of an infinite number which just happened to have it. Make sense? Now, there’s absolutely no evidence for an infinite number of material universes, and could never be: the idea is asserted because materialism can’t allow for a non-material order.
The only way people could let themselves entertain such thoughts and ideas is only if they believed that ANYTHING is more probable than God. I propose that I have identified this as an unquestionable dogma of materialism. Thoughts and feelings?
I think my reader is pretty astute. There are, according to St. Thomas, only two worthy arguments for atheism:
Objection 1. It seems that God does not exist; because if one of two contraries be infinite, the other would be altogether destroyed. But the word “God” means that He is infinite goodness. If, therefore, God existed, there would be no evil discoverable; but there is evil in the world. Therefore God does not exist.
Objection 2. Further, it is superfluous to suppose that what can be accounted for by a few principles has been produced by many. But it seems that everything we see in the world can be accounted for by other principles, supposing God did not exist. For all natural things can be reduced to one principle which is nature; and all voluntary things can be reduced to one principle which is human reason, or will. Therefore there is no need to suppose God’s existence.
These can be paraphrased thus:
1. Bad things happen, so there is no God.
2. Things work fine without God, so there’s no God.
That’s it. That’s all. Those are the only two decent arguments for atheism in the whole history of human thought. Every atheist argument either rings the changes on these two or else atheists pad their case by introducing a lot of non sequiturs and lousy arguments. In the case of each of the two examples my reader cites, we have a mixture of Objection 2 and some pseudo-scientific padding. Both a) and b) are reassertions that nature (i.e evolution/the existence of lots of other universes) can explain everything, so there’s no God. The padding comes in when specific “just so” stories are concocted in order to make the leap from a) “X might have happened, therefore it did happen—and therefore there is no God” and b) “there might be a lot of other universes, therefore there are a lot of other universes, therefore there is no God.”
The answer to both of these objections is the same, When you get rid of the padding of just so stories about “How the Human Got His Sense of Morality” and the science fiction accounts of multiverses we have zero evidence for, you have the naked proposition, everything works fine without God. To that, Thomas replies:
Reply to Objection 2. Since nature works for a determinate end under the direction of a higher agent, whatever is done by nature must needs be traced back to God, as to its first cause. So also whatever is done voluntarily must also be traced back to some higher cause other than human reason or will, since these can change or fail; for all things that are changeable and capable of defect must be traced back to an immovable and self-necessary first principle, as was shown in the body of the Article.
In short, when we blithely glide over the question “Why is there anything?” we are burying the lede. Likewise, when we avoid the question “Why do things work at all? Who wrote the rules by which they work?” we are rather avoiding the issue. There could be a gazillion other universes and that question would still demand answering. Every single gap and problem in the evolution of life on earth could be plugged with elegant proofs demonstrating each and every physical and chemical law that inexorably led to the proliferation of species across the globe and we would be no closer to answering (or even asking) the question “Why are there physical and chemical laws and why do time, space, matter and energy obey them? St. Thomas does ask and answer those questions. Materialists remain mute or give answers that are rubbish because they hold, as my reader notes, a dogma which forbid them from giving a rational answer.