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.
We know, and it is our pride to know, that man is by his constitution a religious animal; that atheism is against, not only our reason, but our instincts; and that it cannot prevail long. But if, in the moment of riot, and in a drunken delirium from the hot spirit drawn out of the alembic of hell, which in France is now so furiously boiling, we should uncover our nakedness, by throwing off that Christian religion which has hitherto been our boast and comfort, and one great source of civilization amongst us, and amongst many other nations, we are apprehensive (being well aware that the mind will not endure a void) that some uncouth, pernicious, and degrading superstition might take place of it.
Former Czech president Vaclav Havel has died. One of the giants of our time, he was one of the dissident heroes in the Eighties who helped end Communist rule in Eastern Europe. He was also a profound thinker and writer. In recent years, although his own personal religious beliefs were murky, he has bemoaned the atheism and the flight from God that has become a hallmark of modern Europe. Last year he gave a remarkable speech, in which the following passage sums up what is wrong with Europe and much of the rest of the West:
We are living in the first truly global civilisation. That means that whatever comes into existence on its soil can very quickly and easily span the whole world.
But we are also living in the first atheistic civilisation, in other words, a civilisation that has lost its connection with the infinite and eternity. For that reason it prefers short-term profit to long-term profit. What is important is whether an investment will provide a return in ten or fifteen years; how it will affect the lives of our descendants in a hundred years is less important. Continue reading
(Hattip for the Atheist Barbie pic to its creator, Atheist Blogger Blag Hag.) Another April 1 rolls around, and it is time again to observe National Atheist Day and salute those atheists who, as part of the herd of independent atheist thinkers, bravely assert that, yes, matter and energy did arise ex nihilo without God, and that belief in God is too silly for a person of intelligence. (Sorry Saint Augustine and Saint Thomas Aquinas! Sir Isaac Newton you simply lacked the intellectual heft to embrace belief in non-theism.)
In honor of the day, I think Sir Francis Bacon’s essay Of Atheism from 1601 might be appropriate: Continue reading
I make a point of always trying to listed on the EconTalk podcast each week — a venue in which George Mason University economics professor Russ Roberts conducts a roughly hour-long interview with an author or academic about some topic related to economics. A couple weeks ago, the guest was Robin Hanson, also an economics professor at GMU, who was talking about the “technological singularity” which could result from perfecting the technique of “porting” copies of humans into computers. Usually the topic is much more down-to-earth, but these kinds of speculations can be interesting to play with, and there were a couple of things which really struck me listening to the interview with Hanson, which ran to some 90 minutes.
Hanson’s basic contention is that the next big technological leap that will change the face of the world economy will be the ability to create a working copy of a human by “porting” that person’s brain into a computer. He argues that this could come much sooner than the ability to create an “artificial intelligence” from scratch, because it doesn’t require knowing how intelligence works — you simply create an emulation program on a really powerful computer, and then do a scan of the brain which picks up the current state of every part of it and how those parts interact. (There’s a wikipedia article on the concept, called “whole brain emulation” here.) Hanson thinks this would create an effectively unlimited supply of what are, functionally, human beings, though they may look like computer programs or robots, and that this would fundamentally change the economy by creating an effectively infinite supply of labor.
Let’s leave all that aside for a moment, because what fascinates me here is something which Roberts, a practicing Jew, homed in on right away: Why should we believe that the sum and total of what you can physically scan in the brain is all there is to know about a person? Why shouldn’t we think that there’s something else to the “mind” than just the parts of the brain and their current state? Couldn’t there be some kind of will which is not materially detectable and is what is causing the brain to act the way it is?