Cardinal Newman once opined that to be deep in history is to cease to be Protestant. Most atheists I have encountered lend support to this adage by their shocking ignorance of the most basic facts of History. Unlike the atheists of yesteryear, some of whom could be quite challenging with their knowledge of History, most contemporary atheists are so ignorant of History that debating them is to engage in instruction rather than debate. John C. Wright, a science fiction author and convert from atheism to Catholicism, encounters one of the new breed of ignorant atheists:
Hmph. I just came across another antieducated sophophobe who declared there to be a war between science and faith, especially the Roman Catholic Church.
I asked him to name the Papal Bull or Encyclical, or any other official document of the Church prohibiting or condemning the practice of scientific inquiry. He did not know what a ‘bull’ was.
I asked him if he knew anything about science and the history of science, and he said yes. I asked him for the evidence of any Catholic interference, or even lack of enthusiastic support, for any scientific inquiry of any kind, in any time or place?
He mentioned Galileo. I asked him if he knew the circumstances of Galileo’s trial, or what Galileo was accused of? He said no. I asked him if he knew who Cardinal Bellarmine was. He said no.
I asked him if he had read Dialogues Concerning Two New Sciences? He did not even know what the book was, much less who the characters in it were, or what positions in the contemporary debates they represented.
(Do I need to mention that I read this book in school? I went to a good school, where the education is what mathematicians call a ‘positive sum game’ that is, I ended up more educated than when I went in. His school left him with less education than when he went in.)
I did not bother to ask him if he knew what, precisely, Galileo had discovered, or what proofs he gave to support his various theories.
I did not ask him to tell me what the Galilean satellites were, much less name them (off the top of my head: Io, Europa, Callisto, Ganymede. If I am wrong, and Amalthea is one of them, shame on me. If got them in order, more to my glory.)
Calibrating my questions to the level of someone without a Saint John’s College level of education, I asked him if he knew who Abertus Magnus, William of Ockham, Roger Bacon, Nicholas Steno were. He said no.
I asked him who invented the mechanical escapement used in clockwork. Or when. He did not know what mechanical escapement was. (Villard de Honnecourt circa 1237, in case you are wondering.)
Recalibrating my question to the high school level, I asked him if he knew who Pascal was, Copernicus, Descartes. He said no. Mendel. No. Still no.
He then told me that all the European inventions in mathematics and medicine came from the Muslim world. I asked him if he knew where Andalusia was, or when the Reconquista happened. Did not recognize those terms. I asked him what religion the people were in the lands conquered by the Muslims in the Seven, Eighth, and Ninth Centuries, et cetera? He guessed that they were some sort of pagans.
I did not bother to ask him if he knew who Abu Hamid al-Ghazali was.
He did not even know enough to raise and throw into my face the old, tired, and oft- efuted slander about Hypatia the neoplatonic philosopher (always described as a female scientist) being flayed to death by a Christian mob wielding sharpened clamshells.
In other words, I could have argued in favor of the War between Science and the Church better than he. He had not even memorized his side’s own talking points.
He was a disgrace to the forces of evil. Continue reading
Back in the seventies and eighties I read quite a few of the articles that appeared in The New Republic. Although always left of center, the magazine at that time had little use for liberal pieties and published fairly iconoclastic articles shattering many idols of the left. Alas those days are long ago, and The New Republic has fallen into the lock step ideological conformity that makes the portside of our politics such a gray place. However, apparently, not always. John Gray has a piece on Richard Dawkins, that must not be missed. How good it is may be gauged by the anguished bleats of the faithless in the comments section. I especially enjoyed this portion of Mr. Gray’s article:
Exactly how Dawkins became the anti-religious missionary with whom we are familiar will probably never be known. From what he writes here, I doubt he knows himself. Still, there are a few clues. He began his pilgrimage to unbelief at the age of nine, when he learned from his mother “that Christianity was one of many religions and they contradicted each other. They couldn’t all be right, so why believe the one in which, by sheer accident of birth, I happened to be brought up?” But he was not yet ready to embrace atheism, and curiously his teenage passion for Elvis Presley reinforced his vestigial Christianity. Listening to Elvis sing “I Believe,” Dawkins was amazed to discover that the rock star was religious. “I worshipped Elvis,” he recalls, “and I was a strong believer in a non-denominational creator god.” Dawkins confesses to being puzzled as to why he should have been so surprised that Elvis was religious: “He came from an uneducated working-class family in the American South. How could he not have been religious?” By the time he was sixteen, Dawkins had “shed my last vestige of theistic credulity.” As one might expect, the catalyst for his final conversion from theism was Darwinism. “I became increasingly aware that Darwinian evolution was a powerfully available alternative to my creator god as an explanation of the beauty and apparent design of life. … It wasn’t long then before I became strongly and militantly atheistic.”
What is striking is the commonplace quality of Dawkins’s rebellion against religion. In turning away from the milk-and-water Anglicanism in which he had been reared—after his conversion from theism, he “refused to kneel in chapel,” he writes proudly—he was doing what tens of thousands of Britain’s young people did at the time. Compulsory religious instruction of the kind that exists in British schools, it has often been observed, creates a fertile environment for atheism. Dawkins’s career illustrates the soundness of this truism. If there is anything remarkable in his adolescent rebellion, it is that he has remained stuck in it. At no point has Dawkins thrown off his Christian inheritance. Instead, emptying the faith he was taught of its transcendental content, he became a neo-Christian evangelist. A more inquiring mind would have noticed at some point that religion comes in a great many varieties, with belief in a creator god figuring in only a few of the world’s faiths and most having no interest in proselytizing. It is only against the background of a certain kind of monotheism that Dawkins’s evangelical atheism makes any sense.
Even more remarkable is Dawkins’s inveterate literal-mindedness. He tells us that “the Pauline belief that everybody is born in sin, inherited from Adam (whose embarrassing non-existence was unknown to St. Paul), is one of the very nastiest aspects of Christianity.” It is true that the idea of original sin has become one with a morbid preoccupation with sexuality, which has been part of Christianity throughout much of its history. Even so, it is an idea that contains a vital truth: evil is not error, a mistake of the mind, a failure of understanding that can be corrected by smarter thinking. It is something deeper and more constitutive of human life itself. The capacity and propensity for destruction goes with being human. One does not have to be religious to acknowledge this dark fact. With his myth or metaphor of the death instinct thanatos, Freud—a lifelong atheist—recognized that impulses of hatred and cruelty are integral to the human psyche. As an atheist myself, it is a view I find no difficulty in sharing.
Quite apart from the substance of the idea, there is no reason to suppose that the Genesis myth to which Dawkins refers was meant literally. Coarse and tendentious atheists of the Dawkins variety prefer to overlook the vast traditions of figurative and allegorical interpretations with which believers have read Scripture. Both Augustine and before him the Jewish philosopher Philo of Alexandria explicitly cautioned against literalism in interpreting the biblical creation story. Later, in the twelfth century, Maimonides took a similar view. It was only around the time of the Reformation that the idea that the story was a factual account of events became widely held. When he maintains that Darwin’s account of evolution displaced the biblical story, Dawkins is assuming that both are explanatory theories—one primitive and erroneous, the other more advanced and literally true. In treating religion as a set of factual propositions, Dawkins is mimicking Christianity at its most fundamentalist. Continue reading
Andrew Brown at The Spectator has some interesting comments about the money making potential of being Richard Dawkins:
But the $85 a month just touches the hem of rationality. After the neophyte passes through the successively more expensive ‘Darwin Circle’ and then the ‘Evolution Circle’, he attains the innermost circle, where for $100,000 a year or more he gets to have a private breakfast or lunch with Richard Dawkins, and a reserved table at an invitation-only circle event with ‘Richard’ as well as ‘all the benefits listed above’, so he still gets a discount on his Richard Dawkins T-shirt saying ‘Religion — together we can find a cure.’
The website suggests that donations of up to $500,000 a year will be accepted for the privilege of eating with him once a year: at this level of contribution you become a member of something called ‘The Magic of Reality Circle’. I don’t think any irony is intended.
“I’m a member and preacher to that church where the blind don’t see and the lame don’t walk and what’s dead stays that way.”
Flannery O’Connor, Wise Blood
I have always been vastly amused by atheists who seek to ape Christian services. These throw the substance out and keep the often banal trappings. If I were an atheist I would sleep in on Sunday mornings, or work, or do something fun. However, some atheists believe, if I may use that term, otherwise:
The service or the “show” (no-one is quite sure what to call it) fairly fizzes along, although there is a long moment’s silence, at which the congregation is invited to “turn down their inner volume knob” and, in a little dig at the idea that only God can bring meaning, “be grateful to this impersonal universe that you have a place, and people in it that love you”.
But mostly the emphasis is upbeat and life-affirming. At one point members of the congregation are literally dancing in the aisles as the band plays a cover of Jesus Jones’s Right Here, Right Now before speakers step up to “share” on a range of topics around the theme of “balance”.
One member talks about coping with depression; then a life-coach talks about the importance of self-knowledge that isn’t narcissism while a third – it being Mother’s Day – talks movingly about his mother’s battle with an abusive husband and his decision to respect, rather than to mock, her Christian faith.
It all ends with a quotation from Albert Einstein – “Life is like riding a bicycle. To keep your balance, you must keep moving” – before coffee and doughnuts are served, followed by lunch at a local Southern Barbecue restaurant.
Soon the hall is filled with running children, suddenly released from the discipline of having to sit through the service, a joyous cacophony which also points to one unavoidable similarity between going to Sunday Assembly and going to church.
“The kids still moan about it,” admits Craig Mueller, a lapsed Catholic who has four children under 10 and comes to the service because he enjoys the sense of community. “I tell my nine-year-old son, it’s time to go to Sunday Assembly and he’s like ‘Argh, no, boring!’” Continue reading
“The bravest are surely those who have the clearest vision of what is before them, glory and danger alike, and yet notwithstanding, go out to meet it.”
Yesterday, June 4, was the twenty-fifth anniversary of the brutal suppression of the pro-Democracy protests in Tiananmen Square in Beijing. Over 3000 of the protestors were murdered by the Communist government of China. Tyranny won that round, but I have absolutely no doubt that Democracy will ultimately prevail in the Middle Kingdom. When it does, the heroes and heroines of Tiananmen Square will be remembered and their murderers forgotten.
Hilarious. Apparently Atheist parents have difficulty in having their kids follow their no god views as adults.
Do kids raised without religion actively seek it out and convert all that often? As it turns out, yes. The most recent data on this that I’ve come across comes from Pew’s 2008 Religious Landscape Survey, which finds that only 46 percent of people who are raised religiously unaffiliated (which includes atheists, agnostics, and those who say they’re “nothing in particular”) remain unaffiliated as adults. By contrast, 68 percent of Catholics and 52 percent of Protestant stay with their childhood religion, and only 14 percent and 13 percent (respectively) stop subscribing to any religion at all: Continue reading
I was at this time of living, like so many Atheists or Anti-theists, in a whirl of contradictions. I maintained that God did not exist. I was also very angry with God for not existing. I was equally angry with Him for creating a world.
I do hope that National Atheist Day today will be a happy time. One of the more amusing aspects of the contemporary atheist scene is how many of them tend to be more dour and dogmatic than the most dour and dogmatic of the fundamentalists they conjure up in their fancies. One might almost suspect that many atheists do not disbelieve so much in God as they hate Him. Tis a puzzlement. For example, I do not believe in Hinduism or Islam, but that does not make me hate either faith or their devotees. Rather I find the study of both faiths intellectually intriguing. The same might be said for Greek and Roman myths, the reality of which I no more believe in than an atheist does the Virgin Birth.
George Orwell, who spent most of his life veering between agnosticism and atheism was quite familiar with the type of dour atheist who is so often found as the public face of atheism:
“He was an embittered atheist, the sort of atheist who does not so much disbelieve in God as personally dislike Him.” Continue reading
There’s something happening here, but what it is ain’t exactly clear…The opening words to the Buffalo Springfield (the band that would introduce to us the likes of Stephen Stills and Neil Young) classic song written in 1966, but released in 1967 certainly resonated to those who heard it whatever their political leanings. There was a sense even before the famous or infamous 1967 events, like the Newport Folk Festival and San Francisco’s Summer of Love that something in society was changing. The same could be said today in light of a flurry of religious themed movies that have come out in the first three months of 2014.
One could argue that the first signs of the secular sea change we have been under were first seen after the mid-term elections of 2006. By November of 2008 there was no doubt the western world was changing. However, for every action there is a reaction. It may have taken the world of faith a bit longer to react but it has. Already in 2013, the Bible mini-series caught the attention of those in Hollywood who notice TV and cultural move watching habits. The Bible mini-series, the brainchild Mark Burnett and Roma Downey literally spun off into the Son of God film which is currently one of the year’s early top grossing films.
However, it seems that what is bubbling under the current is what catches everyone by surprise, and so it is with the year’s first big surprise, God’s Not Dead. The film’s entire production budget was between 1-2 million dollars, the mere advertising budget of most medium size films. The screenwriters are faithful Catholics Cary Solomon and Chuck Konzelman, whom I met some four years ago while giving one of my talks at Family Theater in Hollywood (founded by Servant of God Father Patrick Peyton CSC also known as The Rosary Priest.) I was impressed by Cary and Chuck, their frequent Mass attendance during the week, their fervent study and practice of the faith (as evidenced by the St. Thomas Aquinas type logic used in some of their arguments in God’s Not Dead,) and their embrace of the sacramental life, especially the Sacrament of Penance.
Both men weren’t living some fantasy of wanting to hobnob with Hollywood’s hipsters. They had been down that road successfully working and mingling with the likes of Sylvester Stallone among others. Cary and Chuck felt called to write faith based scripts. In an interview with me featured in the National Review both men spoke of the hypocrisy that the faithful have to endure in the public square.
Hartline: I think a faithful Christian, or anyone of faith, feels a lot has changed in the last five or six years. People of faith are often mocked or belittled in popular culture, and the faithful are accused of all sorts of bigotry and ignorance. We are told to get with the times, as if our consciences could really leave the truth behind. It seems the movie is addressing that underlying feeling in the faith community.
Solomon and Konzelman: Yes, that’s definitely the nerve that’s been touched. Secular humanists insist that Christians in general — and Catholics in particular — are supposed to leave their belief system at home when it comes to matters in the public sphere. So according to the rules they propose, their belief system is allowable . . . and ours isn’t. Which is a deliberate attempt to subvert the whole democratic process. As someone else pointed out: Democracy is supposed to be about more than two wolves and a sheep voting on what to have for dinner.
I then posed the question as to why some are willing to defend their faith as did the college student in God’s Not Dead, but sadly most do not.
Hartline: College student Josh Wheaton appears to be the nondescript everyman. While everyone else accedes to the professor’s atheistic rants, Josh decides to take up the challenge, even though he’s far from being a theologian. Is there a message there for most of us?
Solomon and Konzelman: It’s a question of being willing to try . . . and fail, if necessary. Mother Teresa got it right: God does not require us to be successful, only faithful. Secular humanism has really been racking up the score in the culture wars lately, largely because of the unwillingness of many Christians to counter their efforts. Unfortunately, doing nothing is doing something: It’s enabling the other side. Every time we roll over and don’t confront the challenge, our forfeit shows up as a win in the other team’s column and encourages them to push further. Continue reading
The hilarious thing is that atheists like Dawkins consider themselves “Brights”:
In a recent interview with the Times magazine, Richard Dawkins attempted to defend what he called “mild pedophilia,” which, he says, he personally experienced as a young child and does not believe causes “lasting harm.”
Dawkins went on to say that one of his former school masters “pulled me on his knee and put his hand inside my shorts,” and that to condemn this “mild touching up” as sexual abuse today would somehow be unfair.
“I am very conscious that you can’t condemn people of an earlier era by the standards of ours. Just as we don’t look back at the 18th and 19th centuries and condemn people for racism in the same way as we would condemn a modern person for racism, I look back a few decades to my childhood and see things like caning, like mild pedophilia, and can’t find it in me to condemn it by the same standards as I or anyone would today,” he said.
Novelist Tom Knox, who writes under the pen name of Sean Thomas for some of his work, certainly knows how to ignite a firestorm. In The Telegraph he argues that atheism is a form of insanity.
In the last few years scientists have revealed that believers, compared to non-believers, have better outcomes from breast cancer, coronary disease, mental illness, Aids, and rheumatoid arthritis. Believers even get better results from IVF. Likewise, believers also report greater levels of happiness, are less likely to commit suicide, and cope with stressful events much better. Believers also have more kids.
What’s more, these benefits are visible even if you adjust for the fact that believers are less likely to smoke, drink or take drugs. And let’s not forget that religious people are nicer. They certainly give more money to charity than atheists, who are, according to the very latest survey, the meanest of all.
So which is the smart party, here? Is it the atheists, who live short, selfish, stunted little lives – often childless – before they approach hopeless death in despair, and their worthless corpses are chucked in a trench (or, if they are wrong, they go to Hell)? Or is it the believers, who live longer, happier, healthier, more generous lives, and who have more kids, and who go to their quietus with ritual dignity, expecting to be greeted by a smiling and benevolent God?
And I mean that literally: the evidence today implies that atheism is a form of mental illness. And this is because science is showing that the human mind is hard-wired for faith: we have, as a species, evolved to believe, which is one crucial reason why believers are happier – religious people have all their faculties intact, they are fully functioning humans.
Therefore, being an atheist – lacking the vital faculty of faith – should be seen as an affliction, and a tragic deficiency: something akin to blindness. Which makes Richard Dawkins the intellectual equivalent of an amputee, furiously waving his stumps in the air, boasting that he has no hands. Continue reading
The blog Science 2.0 repeats something that most combat soldiers have always known: there are few atheists in fox holes:
But does war really transform people, or does it simply make the fleetingly religious more so for a short time? A recent analysis of archived surveys of Army Infantry soldiers after a battle – Samuel Stouffer’s “The American Soldier” World War II research (1) - found self-reported reliance on prayer rose from 42% to 72% as that battle got more intense.
“The question is whether that reliance on faith lasts over time,” said Craig Wansink, author and Professor of Religion at Virginia Wesleyan College, who did the analysis and co-wrote the paper with his brother Brian Wansink, food marketing expert and Professor of Applied Economics and Management at Cornell University. The World War II generation is a good one for analysis because the interest was religiosity long-term and young people in the 1940s were more religious overall than more recent generations.
A second analysis of survey results from 1,123 World War II veterans showed that 50 or more years after combat, most soldiers still exhibited religious behavior, though it varied by their war experience. Those facing heavy combat (versus no combat) attended church 21% more often if they claimed their war experience was negative, but those who claimed their experience was positive attended 26% less often.
The more a veteran disliked the war, the more religious they were 50 years later. Continue reading
“A young man who wishes to remain a sound atheist cannot be too careful of his reading.”
― C.S. Lewis, Surprised by Joy
Our annual salute to atheists, those members in good standing of the herd of independent thinkers who are convinced there is no God, and that the Universe materialized from nothing in some scientific fashion that will be explained to us shortly.
Here at The American Catholic we do appreciate atheists and wish them to hone their arguments when they come visiting us. Here are a few helpful hints:
1. Catholics are not Fundamentalists-Atheists often have Bible verses that they memorize in order to attempt to discomfit Christians. Unfortunately for them different sects of Christians read the Bible differently. What might discomfit a Fundamentalist has no impact on a Catholic who has 2000 years of teaching as to the many ways in which a Biblical passage can be interpreted.
2. Hitler was not a Catholic-Hitler was born a Catholic but had stopped believing in the Faith long before he became ruler of Germany. In conversations he evinced a hatred for Christianity in general and Catholicism in particular. When you attempt to use Hitler as a club against us, it merely displays a profound historical ignorance on your part.
3. Religion starts all the Wars-After the bloody last century, in which most wars were caused by atheist totalitarian systems, that argument needs to be cast on the ashheap of history.
4. Pedophile priests-Attempting to discredit Catholicism because some priests and bishops have caused great evil, is like attempting to discredit Christ because one of His chosen Apostles betrayed him.
5. Read Saint Thomas Aquinas-You will quickly lose any Catholic audience unless you can show some familiarity with the proofs of the existence of God of the Angelic Doctor. Continue reading
Atheist blowhard Richard Dawkins never has the least hesitation in bashing Christians and Jews, but when the subject of Islam comes up, at least when he is being interviewed by Al-Jazeerah that will blast his comments throughout the Islamic world, well that is another matter:
While you may not agree with the views of the new breed of aggressive atheists who have emerged in recent years you have to admire their courage for bravely standing up and speaking truth to power against the various religious institutions whose integrity they seek to undermine. No matter what consequences they might face, they aren’t afraid to lay out their case against religion in terms that are often harsh and sure to offend.
Here is an example from an article called Facing uncomfortable truths:
In a recent Al-Jazeerah interview, Richard Dawkins was asked his views on God. He argued that the god of “the Old Testament” is “hideous” and “a monster”, and reiterated his claim from The God Delusion that the God of the Torah is the most unpleasant character “in fiction”.
As you can see, Dawkins has no trouble attacking the Hebrew God in a most direct and uncompromising manner. No atheist wallflower he.
Asked if he thought the same of the God of the Koran, Dawkins ducked the question, saying: “Well, um, the God of the Koran I don’t know so much about.”
How can it be that the world’s most fearless atheist, celebrated for his strident opinions on the Christian and Jewish Gods, could profess to know so little about the God of the Koran? Has he not had the time? Or is Professor Dawkins simply demonstrating that most crucial trait of his species: survival instinct.
Whoops. It’s funny how these confident, cocksure prophets of atheism-who barely have time to take a breath between slamming the tenets of Christianity and Judaism-often get curiously tongue-tied and shy when the subject of Islam comes up. The idea that Dawkins doesn’t “know so much about” the God of the Koran is absurd. Of course he knows about Islam. And the same disdain and disregard that he has for Judaism and Christianity should surely apply to Islam as well.
Both World Wars Were A Catalyst For Religious Growth; What Future Tragedy Will It Take For Another Revival?
Sadly it often takes tragedies for religious faith to grow. It seems an unfortunate part of our fallen nature. We have been hit by a spate of tragedies as of late; in its wake we often see churches full of worshippers seeking answers where once there were but a few. Following both world wars, there existed a religious resurgence that unlike the recent tragedies did not ebb and flow. It remained constant due in large part to the horrific loses of human life.
Modernism was alive and well and condemned by the likes of Pope Pius X even before the Guns of August began in 1914. The Catholic and Protestant churches were increasingly seeing relativistic elements entering their seminaries. However unlike recent times, they were quickly addressed. Though we are gaining the upper hand, it has been 40 years since Pope Paul VI lamented that “The Smoke of Satan” had entered the Church. In my just released book; The Catholic Tide Continues to Turn, I speak about the positive events occurring within the Church, as well as those movements who aim to do us harm. In addition, the book delves into how we got into this mess in the first place.
Following World War I there was a great return to religious devotions, especially those having to do with the Blessed Mother. The events of Fatima which had occurred during the war and were being followed closely around the Catholic globe. As I mentioned in my article on the Schoenstatt Movement, the likes of Father Josef Kentenich chastised theological authorities who were giving short shrift to these devotions as well as those who dismissed popular devotions to those who recently passed away like the future Saint Therese of Lisieux (The Little Flower.) Father Kentenich reminded these scoffers that Jesus did indeed say that we must become like little children if we are to enter the Kingdom.
The well heeled of Europe and many American ex pats found their way to Paris to rebel against the religious side of the equation. On the whole, they were a gloomy lot who seemed to drown their sorrows in all matter of drink and sexual exploits which only made them more unbearable. Some even found their way to more exotic locales like Casablanca, as did the fictional Rick Blaine (Humphrey Bogart) in the epic film Casablanca. Continue reading
Sooo…Jen has a reality show that debuts tonight. It’s called Minor Revisions.
While Jen found it a little bit awkward to tell you about this new mini-series of hers, I’m tickled pink to tell you why I think you’ll love the series. She gave me a little sneak preview since we both engage with atheists and we both are converts. We have other things in common: We both are fascinated by science, we both have a lot of little kids, and we both have a fondness for Texas. She lives there, I grew up there. She hates the scorpions that invade her house; I hate the spiders that compete for mine.
Anyway, here are three things (in true Jennifer Fulwiler bullet point style) that I think you’ll like — no love! — about her mini-series ‘Minor Revisions.’ These are things that I did not expect, pleasant surprises. Continue reading
Hello TAC, it is good to be posting again after a prolonged illness that left me unable to do anything but make half-conscious Facebook updates. I have been following the news, and for the sake of our collective sanity, I am going to refrain from extended commentary on foreign affairs. Instead I wanted to share with you an interesting discussion I had recently with some rather confident, cocky atheists on the question of free will.
It had begun as a debate on the so-called “problem of evil.” They think we have a problem with evil; maybe some Christians do, but I don’t. But I do think atheists – by which I mean Western, science-worshiping, philosophical materialists – have a problem with evil. Namely, how do materialists who reject free will (either explicitly or implicitly, depending on how well they’ve thought it out) even speak of such a thing as “evil”? Assuming we are speaking of human acts, and not things like bad weather, to describe an act as “evil” or malicious or malevolent or something similar assumes and implies that it was freely chosen. No one speaks of a lion’s decision to tear apart a zebra for sustenance as an “evil” act. What mindless animals do has no moral significance whatsoever. What people do has significance solely on the assumption that we can choose otherwise. In other words, free will. Without the assumption of free will, morality utterly collapses into a meaningless rubbish heap.
I was hesitant to write this because I don’t like picking battles with atheists. At first I didn’t see how anyone would take this idea about free will and our judicial system seriously, but it seems some people are. So I offer the following with the hope that if more people know about this discussion, more people can see it for the nonsense that it is.
Victor Stenger, Ph.D. particle physicist and best-selling author of God and the Folly of Faith has written an essay at Huffington Post “Free Will is an Illusion” and it took an unexpected turn. Certainly, the atheistic consideration of free will is nothing new, but Dr. Stenger also makes a connection between free will, or the lack thereof, and our judicial system in the United States. This position has disturbing societal implications.
Keep in mind, this is the man who popularized the phrase: “Science flies you to the moon. Religion flies you into buildings.” He has also published such titles as God: The Failed Hypothesis and The New Atheism: Taking a Stand for Science and Reason. Victor Stenger has made it known that he thinks science can prove there is no god, and that he considers religion dangerous to society.
In this Huffington Post essay he references a book by another physicist, Leonard Mlodinow, who says that the unconscious plays a dominant role in human behavior. As Dr. Stenger puts it, “before we become aware of making a decision, our brains have already laid the groundwork for it.” He goes on to say (read carefully), “This recognition challenges fundamental assumptions about free will and the associated religious teachings about sin and redemption, as well as our judicial concepts of responsibility and punishment. If our brains are making our decisions for us subconsciously, how can we be responsible for our actions? How can our legal system punish criminals or God punish sinners who aren’t in full control of their decision-making processes?”
He also references the book Free Will by neuroscientist Sam Harris and title-quotes him in stating that “free will is an illusion.” Dr. Stenger writes, “We don’t exist as immaterial conscious controllers, but are instead entirely physical beings whose decisions and behaviors are the fully caused products of the brain and body.”
So, essentially having established that humans are determinant blobs of matter with no free will, he then makes the case to the Huffington Post readers that “our largely retributive moral and justice systems need to be re-evaluated, and maybe even drastically revamped” if the people in society are going to be able to protect themselves from “people who are dangerous to others because of whatever it is inside their brains and nervous systems that makes them dangerous.”
That is, he is calling for a new system of morality and justice based on the the presumption that no one is ultimately responsible for his actions, and remember, he’s made it clear who he thinks the “dangerous” people are. This is eerily like the argument used to justify abortion, only we’re all blobs of tissue now.