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BY Mark Shea
Here’s a beautiful story: Baby was without a pulse for 61 minutes. Is fine today, through the intercession of Fulton Sheen.
What’s so wonderful about such stories, in addition to the glory they bring to God and the joy they bring to the heart is, of course, the hilarious spectacle of Evangelical Atheists attempting various ways to explain them away, finally culminating in the popular explanation, “Shut Up!”
It all depends on a priori philosophical (and deeply emotional, not rational) commitments to atheistic materialism. For the committed atheist, it’s not “I coolly and dispassionately conclude that there is no God”. It’s, “There can’t be a supernatural God. There mustn’t be.” It’s too threatening to even contemplate. So when a story like this comes along (and the world bristles with such stories), more and ever more desperately implausible naturalistic explanations must be trotted out to preclude the possibility of a supernatural answer to prayer: The diagnosis of trained professionals was completely wrong. The mother is a liar. The testimony of witnesses is a theistic conspiracy. Some Star Trekkian “bio-energy field” must be invoked for the special purpose of fending off a miracle. Maybe some incursion from an alternate universe will be posited. The mantra, “Some claims of miracle are mistaken or phony, therefore all are” begins to be chanted. People who believe in miracles are stupid or liars or both. At some point, the Amazing Randi gets trotted out to explain that such things can be faked by professionals. Complaints are filed that God rudely did this without submitting himself to rigorous laboratory standards, so the evidence doesn’t count. At another point, the atheist screams, “What about all the other babies who die instead of being healed?!!!” Finally, we arrive at, “SHUT UP!” followed by something about pedophile priests, Crusades, the Inquisition, Galileo, and SCIENCE![TM] Anything to keep one’s mind off the fact that this incident, and countless other well-documented incidents one can easily Google, really do look uncommonly hard to explain as something other than a miraculous answer to prayer. In the end, a desperate Atheism of the Gaps faith in faithlessness is clung to rather than admitting so much as the possibility that there are more things in heaven and earth than are dreamt of in materialist philosophy. It is, very clearly, a faith commitment, not something arrived at by the vaunted rationality of the Rationalist.
There are, said St. Thomas, only two really good objections to the existence of God. The first is the existence of evil. The second is that nature seems to get along fine without God. Stories like this threaten objection 2, because they suggest that there is, after all, something behind nature and that our over-confidence about knowing how everything works may be rather premature. Signs like the healing of this boy are just that: signs. They point us toward God and invite us to consider the possibility that there is more going on here than time, space, matter and energy. They are not promises of perpetual earthly happiness any more than the miracle of the loaves and fishes was a promise of perpetual earthly meals. Complaints that such healings do not visit every house seem to me to be both stunningly ungrateful and remarkably incurious. After all, according to Evangelical Atheists, theists are supposed to be the ignorant obscurantists who fear facts and evidence, while they themselves are fearless thinkers who follow the evidence wherever it leads. Yet, when confronted with such signs, it is typically the theist who takes a look and asks if the thing actually happened (and, by the way, often concludes that the evidence is not in favor of a supernatural occurence, as the Church’s condemnations of false visionary claims abundantly attest). But to weigh such claims, you have to be open-minded enough to go and see. Catholics go and see whether Mary has turned up at Lourdes. Credo ut intelligam. New Atheists stay at home and rail at what Hitchens calls the “ostentatious absurdity of the pilgrimage.” In short, Evangelical Atheism is not about open-minded inquiry or even about rationality. It is a close-minded and dogmatic creed, as Chesterton pointed out:The believers in miracles accept them (rightly or wrongly) because they have evidence for them. The disbelievers in miracles deny them (rightly or wrongly) because they have a doctrine against them…. It is we Christians who accept all actual evidence—it is you rationalists who refuse actual evidence being constrained to do so by your creed.