Atheism and Multiple-Choice Truth

… And Nothing but the Truth: Atheism and the Audacity of the Catholic Worldview, Part 4

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In school, there are two types of tests — objective tests and essay tests. On objective tests, there is a right answer for each question and, typically, no partial credit is given.  Either your answers are right or wrong. There is no gray area.  Right.  Or, wrong. That‘s it.

And, on multiple choice tests, the answer is right there in front of us.  We just have to find it.

Well, in life, we face the same choice. If all the possible answers are on a list, we just have to find the right one. And, if the list is comprehensive and the choices are clear and mutually exclusive, we can know with certainty the right answer is there on the list. This goes for the answers to the big questions of life and of living, including questions about God.

For example, let’s look at the origin of the universe. How did all this come to be? Did it happen by accident or did it happen on purpose? Was the universe designed on purpose or was it the result of blind accident, random chance?

With this question, there are only two basic choices. The universe is accidental or the universe is intentional. It is accidentally ordered or it is intentionally ordered. Those are the choices: accidental or intentional. And, these two choices cover all the possibilities. So, one must be right. And, the other must be wrong.

Similarly, we can look at another set of possibilities about the relationship of the universe to time. We can ask if the universe is eternal or finite. Did it always exist? Or, did it have a beginning? On this basic level there are only two choices. Either the universe is eternal or it’s not.

Also, if the universe had a beginning, how did it come into existence?  And, was the ordered universe the result of deliberate intent or blind accident? And, who or what brought the universe into existence?  These three questions are fundamental to life and foundational to life as we live it. 

And, they are crucial questions implicit in questions about God.  For while we can answer questions about God through spiritual experience and revelation, through history and tradition, through common human experiences and intuitions, even through logic and reason, for most of the “heralds” of atheism and their followers,  these sources of evidence are inadequate, irrelevant or ridiculous. 

This is why they harp on the need for demonstrable evidence and why they have such an affinity for science — science as they see it.  Not science as it is.  And, that is obvious in how they approach the findings of science and their attitude about the future of scientific findings.

First, let’s look at the beginning of the universe.  The standard view of the origin of the universe is the “big bang theory.”  This theory based on physical evidence and mathematical extrapolations of the universe’s various properties point clearly to the “beginning” of the universe. 

From a Catholic point of view this is not a problem because a beginning to the universe is a dogma of our faith.  We know the universe started at the beginning of time and at God’s command.

But, for many atheists, this is a problem.  It is a problem because a beginning to the universe raises the question of God.  So, what do most of them do?  They come up with a theory about other universes.  Why?  Because the universe must be eternal somehow, no matter how much they must stretch human credulity or how much they must stretch the facts.  Or, even more importantly, how much they must distort science. 

For these atheists know, if we reason backward from one effect to its cause, and we go back far enough, we must confront something eternal, something uncaused.  And, when these atheists reason back to the “big bang,” they must find a way to avoid the logical necessity of an uncaused, first cause outside of the physical universe. They must find a way to maintain their belief in only physical things, in materialism. 

And, this logical, inescapable necessity for an uncaused cause and the need for a physical reality as the sole explanation for everything compel them to conclude that the physical realm is uncaused. This uncaused universe is what the “multiverse” theory postulates.  It claims that a series of other universes, universes beyond investigation, imaginary universes, actually exist.  And, we will never be able to acquire demonstrable evidence of either their existence or their nature.

Second, let’s look at the order of the universe.  In the science of cosmology, there is a theory outlining something known as the “anthropic principle” that identifies over one hundred physical constants in the universe, whose presence and finely tuned nature, are critical to biological life as we know it.  The “anthropic principle” maintains that the slightest change in an exponent to any of these constants would result in a universe without life. 

The “tuning” of the universe for biological life and the extent of these many constants appears to indicate an intention, a structured order, even a plan, just as the “big bang’ indicates a beginning.  For Catholics, both a beginning to the universe and an intentional order supports the Church’s orthodox view of creation, though also with the force of reason and tradition, as well as science. 

But, for these atheists, this tuning must be viewed as accidental despite the clear probability of such data.  Not only do they deny the implication of such fine” tuning”, but they use their multiverse hypothesis as a means of explaining the “tuning.” For them such “tuning” indicates the presence of other universes, whose physical constants are not as finely tuned as our universe.  And, they must conclude this because they really believe in materialism and the only operative process for change in this view is accident and chance.   

Thirdly, what brought our universe into existence?  This question is implicit in the two previous questions. The atheists’ answer to this question is that nothing brought the universe into existence.  The universe did not come into existence.  It always existed.  The universe is eternal.

And, they know this because the multiverse explains away the beginning of our universe.  And, their absolute blind belief in random chance, not the scientific data, accounts for the other universes that must parallel ours, though they are wholly outside our ability to investigate.  So, atheists answer this question as they did the others.  The multiverse and random chance ideas explain everything including existence, including the origin of the universe, including the order and tuning of the universe. 

Even when evidence continues to accumulate indicating the likelihood of God, they deny these as real possibilities and create alternatives that stretch credulity in order to maintain their conclusions about God.  For their real allegiance is to atheism and to the absolute hegemony of the physical world. They follow their preconceived notions and miss their materialist presuppositions altogether.  And, it all leaves them closed to open and honest inquiry and dialogue.

For Catholics know faith is part of their faith.  We know, but we also believe.  We believe what we believe because it is reasonable and grounded in reality, all parts of reality, the physical, the intellectual, the spiritual, the emotional, the moral, the political, the social.  But, despite these sources, we know we need to have faith.  Though with all these dimensions and data, when we remember them, we do not need all that much faith.

But for these atheists, they have no faith, or so they think.  And, many will tell you this.  That is because they don’t recognize the bias they have about ways of knowing, such as their misapprehensions about science and its basis in philosophy, reason and mathematics and their latent and implicit materialism. 

And, it is this unacknowledged faith and these misperceptions of other ways of knowing with which they must contend.  They must acknowledge and come to know the insights that abound in human experience, in life and in living, as well as in science, including its basic assumptions and its inherent limitations.

For we all face life’s crucial questions.  And, thankfully the questions are multiple choice ones.  Not only are the choices clear, mutually exclusive and exhaustive, but they are there right in front of us.  And, our teacher wants us to get it right and has given us permission to use our notes.  But, for some of our fellow students who are atheists, they don’t want any help. 
They insist the answers can only be found in a very narrow, unrealistic and distorted way. They stubbornly demand that intangible things become tangible, in order to know that they are intangible.  Then, and only then will they acknowledge such intangible things.  And, because of their bias and blindness and pride, they can’t see the right answers that are right in front of them.

(See Part 1 of the series here, Part 2 here and Part 3 here. Next: Certainty and Silliness.)

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 studies include Harvard, Columbia and Holy Apostles College and Seminary. He was received into the Catholic Church in 2007.

Michelangelo, “The Last Judgment,” 1536-1541

Dare We Admit That Not All Will Be Saved?

“To die in mortal sin without repenting and accepting God’s merciful love means remaining separated from him forever by our own free choice. This state of definitive self-exclusion from communion with God and the blessed is called ‘hell.’” (CCC 1033)