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Answering the Attack: The Incoherence of Atheism

One of the many things I don’t understand about atheists is their curious insistence on saying the religion is a purely natural phenomenon, coupled with their great outrage at religion.

BY Mark Shea

February 4-10, 2007 Issue | Posted 1/30/07 at 10:00 AM

 

One of the many things I don’t understand about atheists is their curious insistence on saying the religion is a purely natural phenomenon, coupled with their great outrage at religion.

It gets odder the longer you contemplate it.

On the one hand, God does not exist. On the other hand, prodigious amounts of fury are spent railing at Someone who is not there.

The way atheists see it, religion is, like everything else, a product of nature evolved by a complicated interplay of genes and environment, just as the shape of a pig’s snout or the suckers on an octopus have evolved. No Creator laid a finger on it.

We are, like everything else, artifacts of wind and weather, and our allegedly “free” thoughts are simply the results of the motion of molecules in the brain. And yet, when our brains think religious thoughts, we are reprehensible monsters and fools partaking in the Greatest Evil in the World! That’s weird. It seems to me to be like getting angry at a hurricane or a crocodile, if religion is simply “what the brain of homo sapiens naturally generates.”

Of course, I don’t think religion is the pure creation of the human brain. I think it is a free and normal human response to the actual presence of the divine (and the demonic and the purely natural).

In short, I think it is an enormously complex phenomenon that cannot possibly be explained without recourse to the supernatural. But since atheists have set themselves the task of trying to pretend the supernatural does not exist, and of ignoring all data that might suggest — sometimes extremely strongly — that it does, they have to play by their own weird rules and abide by the consequences.

Richard Dawkins, who has lately forgotten all about his job of promoting science and instead has become what one wag called “an atheist bag lady screaming at the traffic” in books like The God Delusion, revealed a charming innocence of education concerning this elementary corollary of his philosophical materialism in a recent debate with Irish Independent columnist David Quinn on Ryan Tubridy’s Dublin-based radio show:

Dawkins: Free will is a very difficult philosophical question and it’s not one that has anything to do with religion, contrary to what Mr. Quinn says … but …

Quinn: It has an awful lot to do with religion because if there is no God there’s no free will because we are completely phenomena of matter.

Dawkins: Who says there’s not free will if there is no God? That’s a ridiculous thing to say.

Quinn: William Provine, for one, who you quote in your book. I mean, I have a quote here from him. “Other scientists, as well, believe the same thing … that everything that goes on in our heads is a product of genes and, as you say, environment and chemical reactions. That there is no room for free will.” And Richard, if you haven’t got to grips with that you seriously need to because many of your colleagues have and they deny outright the existence of free will and they are hardened materialists like yourself.

Tubridy: Okay. Richard Dawkins, rebut that as you wish.

Dawkins: I’m not interested in free will …

Then Dawkins quickly changed the subject.

Here’s the first problem guys like Dawkins, Daniel Dennett and the various “new atheists” face: They have staked their claim on faith in reason, and most particularly, in reason vs. religion. But their dilemma was summarized long ago by another conflicted atheist, J.B.S. Haldane, who observed, “If my mental processes are determined wholly by the motion of atoms in my brain, I have no reason to suppose that my beliefs are true ... and hence I have no reason for supposing my brain to be composed of atoms.”

In short, they are assuming that the exercise of reason is an intrinsically free act — in fact, an act that will liberate us from the enslaving chains of religion — and that it tells us The Truth.

But their entire materialist philosophy is founded on the faith that our mental processes are as much a product of blind, irrational and material forces as everything else, and therefore no more assured of revealing The Truth than any other chemical process. And many of them, like Dawkins, either have never given this any thought or refuse (freely, I might add) to do so.

That leads to a second incoherence in atheistic thought, which we will examine next week.

Mark Shea is senior content editor for CatholicExchange.com.