From the bestseller lists to the talk shows, the heralds of atheism trumpet their victories over Christianity and religion. Their case complete and their ultimate victory assured, they already look to the future of an atheistic culture and world, once the final bastions of faith fall to the relentless and inevitable advance of science and technology.
To them, the struggle for the minds of modern man is now just a matter of time. The conflict raging for the last 500 years is over. All the crucial victories are won. And, religion retreats reeling from these devastating defeats in disgrace. Defeated, disorganized and discouraged, Christianity’s credibility is crushed completely in the eyes of the enlightened elites of the world.
Christendom itself teeters on a total collapse from within as, one by one, its adherents abandon the faith of their fathers. The old myths, legends and traditions fall before the relentless rigor of science and the implicit incursions of modernity.
Complete victory is at hand. All that is left is to mop up the last vestiges of religious resistance: the mindless zealots, the emotional mystics and the fanatical fundamentalists. It is time to plan the new world free from the archaic restrictions of religious morality, free from the delusions of dogma, free from the illusions of truth, purpose and a loving and just God.
But, the reports of Christianity’s demise have been greatly exaggerated. For these heralds have made their case more with rhetoric and ridicule than with reasons and facts. And, when they have used reason, it is more like the reason of the salesman, the con artist or the politician than the reason of the fair and forthright logician or the common sense of the common man.
Many of these prominent heralds misuse and manipulate reason and science to undermine the credibility and content of the Christian faith. They have used the tools of reason to build their case for an atheistic universe and the weapons of rhetoric to promote their universal perspective to the masses. And, these tools and weapons do not belong to them. They belong to us.
For most of these atheistic heralds’ foundational and crucial belief is that the only real dimension to the universe is the tangible one, the world of the senses, the physical world. This is why their manipulation of science is critical to their case for atheism. For them, if things aren’t physically observable with our senses or with the aid of technological advances or through mathematical extrapolation, then those things do not exist. And, on a superficial level and with certain reservations, that is true. Up to a point. A very near, a very narrow and a very limited point.
For science deals effectively with many aspects of the physical universe. But, it also relies heavily and conceptually on reason. And reason is not physical. It is mental. It is not a tangible thing. It is an intangible thing. But, brain activity is physical and observable. You can see it with the right instruments. So, when it comes to thinking, to reason it is important to keep in mind a crucial distinction. Brain activity is tangible. Reason is not.
Yet, reason is a crucial aspect of science. For science weds the tangible and the intangible, the physical and the mental, the observable and the logical. If it didn’t, we would not have the science and technology we have.
Yet for these atheists, the supposed champions of science, brain activity is all there is. Nothing more. Reason for them is an illusion. For them, reason is intangible; it can’t be seen regardless of the instrument employed. And, if it can’t be seen, then it does not really exist.
For such atheists, only brain activity exists because it is physical and observable. For such atheists, brain activity is the only real aspect of any reasoning good or bad, sound or spurious, cogent or confused. But, for those who recognize an intangible dimension to the universe, reason is more than mere brain activity. It is real and lawful. Reasoning can be evaluated according to reason’s laws and principles.
Perhaps an example will help clarify. Just imagine removing the top of someone’s skull and observing their brain activity. What would you see? Or, imagine using some advanced brain activity monitor. Could you see their thoughts? Could you see their reasoning? No. You could only see the neural activity. And that is where the atheists stop. They stop because thoughts are merely a mirage, an illusion generated solely by the brain.
But, even if you could see their reasoning, how would you know if it was good, sound, cogent? You wouldn’t. You wouldn’t because reason’s rules, its structure and validity are intangible and unobservable to physical inspection. They are mental and they will not be found in the physical realm. They are intangible aspects of the universe. They are inherent aspects of the universe, a universe that is both tangible and intangible.
And, the intangible aspects of the universe do not fit these atheists’ model of the universe. They cannot allow or tolerate them because it raises the possibility and the reality of other intangibilities such as love, truth, morality, and even the possibility of God. For these atheists, if everything is physical, then everything in the universe must be physical. If everything is physical, then everything is one thing. And, nothing can be anything else. If everything is physical, then nothing can exist if it isn’t physical. And, therefore, reasoning is merely physical according to the atheists.
The actual content of reason, our actual reasoning is nothing more than neurological mirages, biochemical illusions to atheists. Our brain is only a sophisticated neurological organ. And, our thoughts are simply the product of this organic biochemical activity. The content of our thoughts and the legitimacy of our reasoning are all biochemical, tangible, physical.
So, if they do not believe in the actual and factual reality of thinking or consciousness or reason, why do we afford them the concession of using a tool such as reason to build a case for their viewpoint? Why do we allow them to use reason to defend and debate a view of the universe that eliminates reason as a real and legitimate source of knowing any truth about the physical universe or the legitimacy of ideas or emotions, arguments or explanations?
For these atheists who truly understand their view of the universe, thoughts are simply and always an illusion, a mirage generated by biochemical activity. If thoughts are solely biochemical events as atheists believe they are, then logic, reason, common sense and intuitions are too. And, reason is only a physical brain function. The actual reasoning of brain activity is not valid or credible because it is nothing more than activity. Premises, conclusions, facts, ideas and all the other aspects and laws of logic and reason are nothing more than illusions created by brain activity.
So, when such atheists raise the typical objections to faith or morality or knowledge, make them operate in their defined universe. Let them explain their objections. Hear their argument carefully. But don’t debate their reasons. Make them explain how they can use reason. Make them demonstrate the physicality of reasoning. Make them show you the physicality of the laws and principles of reason. And, make them do this without reason. Do them, to them.
Hold them to the physical dimension only, for that is the universe they inhabit. And, know with absolute certainty they cannot explain this problem of tangibility and reasoning and the nature of reason. Just as they try to discredit the intangible dimensions of life, discredit their arguments by making them show you the physical basis for their reasoning and for reason itself.
For the tools of reason and the weapons of rhetoric are indigenous to a world and a cosmos that includes intangible dimensions, that blends and harmonizes the tangible and the intangible. For the building of a case, the making of an argument, even the very persuasive elements of rhetoric and debate all rely on reason being real. And, the person being persuaded must be equally rational or there would be no reason or way to build a case to persuade or influence anyone else.
The presence and importance of reason to human nature and human living is part of the evidence for the reality of intangible things. And, the existence of the intangible compels atheists to reconsider their conclusions. It introduces doubt, not as a philosophical state as with skepticism or agnosticism, but as a stage in the process of knowing and understanding the truth about the cosmos, human nature and ultimately about God.
And, when you hear the premature reports of the final victory of science over religion, the latest communiqué from the front of the culture wars or the dismissive ridicule from the people and institutions nearest you, know with absolute certainty that these many voices speak not of a crushing argument and the logical impossibility of the Christian faith. It speaks only of the dominance of this type of irrational thinking and the blind beliefs fostered by atheism. But, also realize it speaks of the work that must be done by Christians to enlighten those who walk in darkness.
We must show those who think we are just biochemical machines, who think we are just the current configuration of a material universe, that mankind, like the universe, is both tangible and intangible. We must show them we do not inhabit a universe that is empty, silent, meaningless, purposeless, without order or structure, rhyme or reason.
We must open their eyes to the universe’s true reality. We must show them the sublime and wondrous discovery that reason, justice, love and all the other dimensions of human life are not just simple sensations stimulated by biochemical events or mere emotions grounded in biochemistry. But, like reason, they are that and so much more.
Frank Cronin, formerly an avowed atheist, writes from eastern Connecticut. He has a master’s degree in theology from Regent University. His post-master’s study includes Harvard, Columbia and Holy Apostles College and Seminary. He was received into the Catholic Church in 2007.