When Atheists Get Religion Wrong

What, in these benighted modern times, ought faithful Catholics to make of atheism? Robert Tracinski’s recent piece, “What Atheists Have To Offer The Right,” gives us occasion for reflecting anew on this question.

Tracinski is speaking primarily about politics, and in this realm, making common cause with atheists seems clearly warranted in our time. As he points out, some of the political right’s most respected personalities identify as agnostics or atheists, including Charles Krauthammer, George Will, Charles Cooke, Heather Mac Donald and Walter Olson. Tracinski himself is a fine writer (and my fellow contributor at The Federalist), and he often offers incisive insights into political affairs. It’s good to hear that conservative atheists feel welcome on the political right.

As strange as it might initially seem, there may also be a sense in which Catholics and atheists are natural cultural allies. As I have argued elsewhere, modern people rarely have the audacity to reject religion wholesale. Rather, they allow it to degenerate into a soft declaration of good will towards men, which has no serious metaphysical foundation and no power to combat the many errors of our benighted age. Most people today, in other words, prefer sloppy, insincere professions of faith to honest disbelief. This explains why atheists remain disreputable, despite the left’s general contempt for organized religion. Understanding this, I can admire the avowedly godless for their willingness to fess up to their real spiritual state, and to admit that metaphysics does matter.

Disappointingly, though, Tracinski’s piece soft-pedals the latter point. In some respects he is sympathetic to religious people. He declares them to be “annoyingly nice” critics, and implies that they are amiable fellow travelers on the political front. Nevertheless, in spelling out the unique contribution that he thinks atheists are most qualified to make, he reveals certain regrettable misunderstandings concerning the nature of religious belief. It may be worth clearing these up, in order to better facilitate dialogue and provisional cooperation amongst atheists and people of faith.

At the core of Tracinski’s argument is a claim that may seem commonsensical or even obvious: secular arguments are more useful than religious ones on the political front, because they have more broad-spectrum appeal. Secular arguments cultivate common ground. They don’t require people to settle contentious metaphysical issues concerning, for example, the existence of God, or the legitimacy of revelation.

“Ask yourself, is appealing to religion more likely to settle an issue, or inflame it?” he challenges. “Even if you believe that God exists, when it comes to asking what God is and what He wants, you have to rely on the testimony and interpretations of human beings—who differ enormously on every detail. So you’re back to the same problem.”

Instead of consulting our catechisms for insight into the state of the world, Tracinski suggests that we argue political and moral positions on the basis of empirical observation. “My point,” he explains, “is not just that it is possible to offer a secular defense of free markets and liberty and the moral values that support them. My point is that these arguments have a power to persuade that cannot be matched just by quoting chapter and verse from the Bible.” He goes on to discuss how salutary it would be, in particular, to dispel the notion that the natural sciences are somehow most properly the domain of the left.

I agree completely that we cannot settle deep disagreements on political or moral questions by dragging in extraneous metaphysical disputes. It’s pretty obvious that, say, a non-religious pro-choice person will not be persuaded to change his mind through appeals to divine authority. I agree as well that the secular left should not be allowed to claim dominion over the natural sciences. I just have one lingering question: what does any of this have to do with atheism?

The atheist is defined by his belief that there is no God. This is a metaphysical position, exactly as belief in God is a metaphysical position. Neither one is either more or less directly relevant to the political and empirical questions he raises, and there is no reason to suppose that either theists or atheists have a specially heightened capacity for empirical observation (either of the natural world or of human society). There is no interesting sense in which an argument is “secular” simply because it doesn’t include a direct appeal to divine or scriptural authority. Naturally, everyone seeks common ground with their interlocutors when attempting to persuade them on a given issue, but again, there is no reason to think that either atheists or committed secularists are particularly advantaged in this respect. Atheists and theists both hold controversial metaphysical views that would (in most contexts) unnecessarily complicate an argument on, say, welfare reform, or the most promising way to treat Ebola.

I think it’s worth issuing a gentle correction in this matter, because even though Tracinski doesn’t intend to belittle religion, his piece does in fact lend support to the widespread notion that religious people are reality-challenged. He thinks that our belief in a loving Creator somehow makes it especially difficult for us to study that Person’s handiwork in a disciplined way. He imagines that we can make empirically based moral or political arguments only if we start by checking our religion at the door.

In fact though, religious people have long understood the importance of organizing knowledge in disciplined ways, and of imposing methodological constraints on what kind of data can be considered within the realm of a given discipline. This has nothing to do with secularism; it’s just good scholarship. If properly trained and educated, religious people have no difficulty sorting out these varied commitments and constraints. It is only secular liberals who, in our time, have muddled the lines between different realms of study by allowing their methodological constraints to morph into metaphysical commitments.

This is why church-going scientists do not consult their Bibles or pastors before interpreting lab results. It is the reason why Christian sociologists or economists do not piously erase empirical data out of fear that it may get them into trouble with their Magisteria or holy books. There are of course occasions on which disciplines rub up against one another in complex ways. Cosmology and evolutionary science have gone through “sticky metaphysical moments” of that kind. Those episodes warrant a more extended discussion than I can offer here. But they are the exceptional cases.

As a rule, theistic (and Christian) belief is completely compatible with empirical study, and indeed has contributed enormously to the development of the natural sciences. It’s not coincidental that the natural sciences as we know them emerged out of a Judeo-Christian culture that embraced the natural world as the creation of a good and rational God. If you believe that the world was created in large part as a home for human beings, and that its Creator also endowed humans with rational powers that would enable them to thrive here, you can go forth to study it with a confidence your efforts are likely to prove fruitful. Natural science has repaid that confidence one hundred fold, showing again and again that the world is deeply ordered, and penetrable by human reason. Today nobody needs religion to reassure them that the Scientific Method “works.” But we shouldn’t forget the theistic premises that made its development possible.

There are, in fact, unique ways in which atheists can contribute to our political and cultural debate. Perhaps I can detail these in another column. With respect to the issues raised in this particular column, however, I fear they have no more to contribute than the ordinary, run-of-the-mill pew-sitting Christian.

Editor’s note: Pictured above is “Astronomer Copernicus, or Conversations with God” painted by Jan Matejko in 1873.

Rachel Lu

By

Rachel Lu, a Catholic convert, teaches philosophy at the University of St. Thomas in St. Paul, Minnesota where she lives with her husband and four boys. Dr. Lu earned her Ph.D. in philosophy at Cornell University. Follow her on Twitter at rclu.

  • Jose Carbonell

    I would only add that, based on my experience, most avowed, self-proclaimed atheists are in reality theophobes. It is not that they do not believe in God, they don’t want Him to exist.

    • fredx2

      There are two types of atheists: The Emotional Atheist, which you describe, and the Rational Atheist.

      The Emotional Atheist is nothing more than a fundamentalist. He seizes every opportunity to mock believers, to degrade them and to try to show they are not rational enough for him. But he is just a bundle of prejudices, contradictions, and hatreds. He is willing to warp the evidence when arguing for atheism,( Hitler was a Catholic!) and he is sometimes less than intellectually honest (Stalin was not an atheist!) . He is more comfortable when attacking other people. As you say, he desperately does not want God to exist. The New Atheists are this type, and to a large degree, they are just childish.

      The Rational Atheist feels no need to mock or degrade believers, he just has come to the conclusion, based on all the evidence he has seen, that there is no God. He is calm and rational about it, and open to new evidence. George Will, etc or of this type. This type of atheist is perfectly acceptable.

    • DE-173

      Brilliant observation

    • guest

      We need to pray that “Christo-phobe atheists” finally rise to at least to the level of Jurgen Habermas.

      Even JurgenHabermas, a prominent neo-Marxist, a postmodernist critic, NOW, surprisingly, sings the praises of Christianity” (Polity Press, 2006):

      “Egalitarian universalism, from which sprang the ideas of freedom and social solidarity, of an autonomous conduct of life and emancipation, of the individual morality of conscience, human rights and democracy, is the DIRECT HEIR of the
      Judaic ethic of justice and the Christian ethic of love.

      This legacy, substantially unchanged, has been the object of continual critical appropriation and reinterpretation. To this day, there is NO ALTERNATIVE to it. And in light of the current challenges of a post-national constellation, we continue to draw on the substance of this heritage. Everything else is just idle postmodern talk. (Habermas’s book “Time of Transitions p. 150).”

      And a SIMLIFIED TRANSLATION:

      “Christianity, and nothing else is the ultimate foundation of liberty, conscience, human rights, and democracy, the benchmarks of western civilization. To this day, we have no other options [to Christianity]. We continue to nourish ourselves from this source. Everything else is postmodern chatter.”

      • guest

        1.

        Atheists are fond of pulling out the “Galileo-card” in an attempt to discredit the Church.

        BUT this popular MYTH can easily be DISMANTLED, together with the myth of his supposed torture, imprisonment and the MYTH that science and religion are not compatible:

        Professor Nicola Cabibbo, ex-president of the Italian Institute of Nuclear Physics summarized the case:

        “Galileo was NOT condemned for his scientific theses, but because he wanted to formulate theology” (see Nicola Cabibbo, 30 Dias, January 1993, p. 33.)
        Ÿ
        The Roman Inquisition’s infamous (supposed) “persecution” of Galileo was nothing of the sort. The Church’s denunciation of the Pythagorean doctrine of the motion of the earth in 1616 did NOT affect Galileo in the least. His works continued to be available, and Galileo’s name was not attached to the denunciation.

        – In fact, the Church had merely asked Galileo to “wait until more scientific evidence could become available to support his new and still-unproven theory”.
        – It is a GOOD thing that the Church did NOT rush to embrace Galileo’s views, because it turned out that his ideas proved NOT entirely correct – because:

        – Galileo believed that the sun was NOT just the fixed center of the solar system, but the fixed center of the universe. We NOW know that the sun is NOT the center of the universe and that it DOES move—it simply orbits the center of the galaxy rather than the earth.

        – As more recent science has shown, BOTH Galileo AND his opponents were PARTLY RIGHT and PARTLY WRONG:
        >> Galileo was RIGHT in asserting the mobility of the earth and WRONG in asserting the immobility of the sun.
        >> His opponents were RIGHT in asserting the mobility of the sun and WRONG in asserting the immobility of the earth.

        THEREFORE: Had the Catholic Church rushed to endorse Galileo’s views the Church would have [mistakenly] embraced what modern science has since DIS-proved.

        2.

        Atheistic materialist scientists often (falsely) portray faith and science as a “feud” – whereas the very opposite is true. For example, biologist Richard Lewontin, who candidly admitted that he and other scientists accepted materialism “in spite of the evidence”, rather than because of it, simply to avoid any reference or need for God; that materialism must be resented as being “absolute, for we cannot allow a Divine Foot in the
        door.” He continues: “Our willingness to accept scientific claims that are against common sense is the key to an understanding of the real struggle between science and the supernatural. WE take the side of science in spite of the patent absurdity of some of its constructs, in spite of its
        failure to fulfill many of its extravagant promises of health and life, in
        spite of the tolerance of the scientific community for unsubstantiated
        just-so stories, because we have a PRIOR COMMITMENT – a commitment to materialism.”

        In uttering such illogical nonsense, he does not seem to realise that in fact – atheistic materialism UNDERMINES science, eg:

        One of the most interesting and widely discussed arguments for the existence of God is the kalam cosmological argument, which
        attempts to prove that it is impossible for the universe to have an infinite
        past. If the argument proves the universe had a beginning, then it follows that some cause that transcends the universe must have brought it into existence, eg:
        P1. Whatever begins to exist has a cause.
        P2. The universe began to exist — and (from the Big Bang proposed by Fr.La Maitre for whom Einstein gave a standing ovation) proceeded according to Laws of Physics, Laws of Mathematics, Laws of Chemistry. Now atheists conveniently forget that Laws cannot self-assemble; that ALL Laws require a Law-Maker / Law-Giver God.
        C. Therefore, the universe MUST have a cause – a Law-Maker God.

        Indeed, many Astro-physicists have acknowledged such a discovery:

        * George Ellis (British astrophysicist) – “Amazing fine-tuning of the universe occurs in the LAWS that make this [complexity] possible. Realization of the complexity of what is accomplished makes it very difficult not to use the word ‘miraculous’ without taking a stand
        as to the ontological status of the word.”
        * Edward Milne (British cosmologist) “As to the cause of the Universe, in context of expansion, that is left for the reader to insert, but our picture is incomplete without Him [God].”
        * Vera Kistiakowsky (MIT physicist) “The exquisite ORDER displayed by our scientific understanding of the physical world calls for the DIVINE.”
        * Alexander Polyakov (Soviet mathematician) “We know that nature is described by the best of all possible mathematics because GOD created it.”
        * Barry Parker (cosmologist) “Who created these LAWS ? There is no question but that a GOD will always be needed.”
        * Ed Harrison (cosmologist) “Here is the cosmological proof of the existence of God—the design argument of Paley—updated and refurbished. The fine-tuning of the universe provides prima-facie evidence of deistic design. Take your choice: blind chance that requires
        multitudes of universes OR design that requires only one. Many scientists, when they admit their views, incline toward the teleological or design argument.”
        * Henry “Fritz” Schaefer (computational quantum chemist) “The significance and joy in my science comes in those occasional moments of
        discovering something new and saying to myself, ‘So that’s how God did it.’ My goal is to understand a little corner of God’s plan.”
        AND
        “The laws of nature are written by the hand of God in the language of mathematics.” – Galileo Galilei (Il Saggiatore, 1623)

    • Amatorem Veritatis

      True story. I would suggest that there are very few true atheists in the world. Certainly the most vocal of the deniers have an irrational fixation (hatred?…or as you say, fear?) on something they claim does not exist. Just a bit strange. Perhaps some of the more monastic and devotional schools of Buddhism approach true atheism, only after years of highly disciplined denial of reality, but their “rational atheism” is ultimately an embrace of nihilism. On the contrary, the highly vocal and visible practitioners of neo-atheism are at their core, “me-theists”, who elevate self to the status of deity. Perhaps we should simply declare the term atheism obsolete, and use the more appropriate terms, “Anti-theist” and “Me-theist”.

      • Howard

        It appears most atheists are really irreligious pantheists. They believe the universe as a whole is all there is, and as such is worthy of adoration (which their “wonder” often approaches), only they do not want to be bothered with with any ceremonies or such unless the mood strikes them, as it may once a year or two or three times in a lifetime.

  • JP

    What is the hall mark of this Post Modern Age? It is not the religiously inclined attempting to impose a theocracy. But, it is the secular realm’s attempt to co-opt what was once considered the sacred. Progressivism, or more specifically Fascism is nothing more than State or the Party’s attempt at intruding into areas where religious institutions operated.

    It is not that Atheists have been passive. Everything from determining what kind of behaviors are permitted by parents to what kind of sermons can be permitted by State Regulators to what is permissible inside of bedrooms has been the hall mark of today’s secular state. The modern Progressive State is anything but passive. And like God, the State is a jealous institution.

  • Michael B Rooke

    Atheists frequently preface their remarks with insults the opposite to apologetics.

    Apologetics is usually considered “the intellectual defence of faith.” Etymologically is was derived from the Greek ‘apologia’ meaning a speech or giving an explanation and to rebut charges. It was used in the NT in Acts 26:2 , Phil 1:7 and 1Pet 3:15.

    It might be noted that the opposite of apologetics is given in Romans 1:20. Paul used the Greek word anapologētoi meaning ‘without excuse, defense, or apology.’
    Hence unbelievers are αναπολόγητοι – anapologētoi without excuse, defence, or apology for rejecting the revelation of God in creation.
    http://www.usccb.org/bible/romans/1

  • Michael B Rooke

    Leon Festinger’s concept of cognitive dissonance* (1957) postulated that when people hold conflicting ideas they would act to reduce that dissonance. The discord that is within them. That Festinger termed dissonance reduction.
    Atheists in an attempt at dissonance reduction either by insulting religion or the belief of others hope it will go away it will reduce their pain of cognitive dissonance.
    Children should also be taught that there cannot be a coexistence of ideas and beliefs of good and evil because evil constantly wants to gain the upper hand.

    As Archbishop Chaput of Philadelphia said in a lecture.

    “…My point is this: Evil talks about tolerance only when it’s weak. When it gains the upper hand, its vanity always requires the destruction of the good and the innocent, because the example of good and innocent lives is an ongoing witness against it. So it always has been. So it always will be…”

    http://archphila.org/archbishop-chaput/statements/threadforweavingjoyl.htm

    Catholics have an obligation to seek the salvation of the souls of atheists.
    We pray for them. Despite insults, despite mockery, may they be blessed and may they find salvation in truth, in the infinite mercy of God. God who is both Love and Truth.
    As the Psalm (85) says ‘Love and Truth will meet, justice and peace will kiss.’

    * Note also that Pope Pius XII in when speaking to French students and academics spoke also of (cognitive) dissonance in 1946 some ten years before Leon Festinger
    “Seek the truth, seek the light, look for Christ and you will see in its clarity, to reconcile all contrasts, harmonize all discords, will solve all the puzzles.”
    (Cherchez la vérité, cherchez la lumière, cherchez le Christ et vous verrez, dans sa clarté, se concilier tous les contrastes, s’harmoniser toutes les dissonances, se résoudre toutes les énigmes.)
    http://www.vatican.va/holy_father/pius_xii/speeches/1946/documents/hf_p-xii_spe_19460425_universitari-francia_fr.html

    • Don

      Great quote from the Archbishop – thanks for sharing that one Michael!

  • Therese

    Jose,
    You are absolutely correct!!

  • john

    Excellent article, Ms. Lu. The snide assumption is that atheists are better THINKERS as a consequence of their atheism. You’re exactly correct disputing that point!

    • guest

      “Happy the man who bears within him a divinity, an ideal of beauty and obeys it; an ideal of art, an ideal of science, an ideal of country, an ideal of the virtues of the
      Gospel.”

      AND

      “These are the living springs of great thoughts and great actions. Everything grows
      clear in the reflections from the Infinite.”

      ~ Louis Pasteur, founder of physio-chemistry, father of bacteriology, inventor of bio-therapeuties; devout Catholic

  • s;vbkr0boc,klos;

    “Nobody can believe nothing. When a man says he believes nothing, two things are true: first, that there is something in which he desperately, perhaps dearly, wishes not to believe; and second that there is some
    unspoken thing in which he secretly believes, perhaps even unknown to himself.”

    -John C. Wright
    This is the weakness I find in many atheists – their vaunted ‘objectivity’ is tainted by a powerful ‘will not to believe’.

  • Preach the Gospel at all times and when necessary use words. – St Francis of Assisi

    Most ‘Christianists’ are simply ‘make-others-wrong machines’ and use their theoretically mistranslated version of a mistranslated ‘book’ to do it. The mind is a useful tool and lies always and all ways. No amounts of logic, mind beliefs or observation provide what is required to ‘know’ how to ride a bicycle. Once you ‘know’ how to ride, no amount of
    explanation on your part gives anyone the ability either. The bicycle Christ offered has been rebranded to death and what most people have is not Him. He said as much.

    The music of the young should be listened to with the heart and not with the ears. – Don Bosco

  • Michael Paterson-Seymour

    There is no reason why atheists should not espouse right-wing views.

    In Europe, the New Right is both anti-Liberal and anti-Christian; indeed, they believe that Liberalism represents “a secularization of ideas and perspectives borrowed from Christian metaphysics, which spread into secular life following a rejection of any transcendent dimension. Actually, one finds in Christianity the seeds of the great mutations that gave birth to the secular ideologies of the first post-revolutionary era. Individualism was already present in the notion of individual salvation and of an intimate and privileged relation between an individual and God that surpasses any relation on earth. Egalitarianism is rooted in the idea that redemption is equally available to all mankind, since all are endowed with an individual soul whose absolute value is shared by all humanity. Progressivism is born of the idea that history has an absolute beginning and a necessary end, and that it unfolds globally according to a divine plan. Finally, universalism is the natural expression of a religion that claims to manifest a revealed truth which, valid for all men, summons them to conversion. Modern political life itself is founded on secularized theological concepts.” Alain de Benoist and Charles Champetier)

    To these ideals of individualism, egalitarianism, progressivism and universalism, the Right opposes “Order, tradition, discipline, hierarchy, authority, continuity, unity.”

    The ultimate paradox is that some of them admire the Catholic Church for having been, at least in the past, a bulwark of order against “the anarchy inherent in Christianity itself.”

  • littleeif

    My reading of your article has you allowing that a belief in God and religion are the same, and this begs an essential question: Can a society cohere around the subjective? You want to resist the implication that religion is anti-science, and that is admirable and correct but it is the wrong debate. Remove a belief in the Divinity, and suddenly society struggles to understand itself – no good and evil, no natural law, no objective right and wrong, no basis for common law and practice. Suddenly society doesn’t know what marriage is, what gender is, when life begins, when it ends and how a person ought to live in between.

    We are at the inception of this great social experiment which tests if man can survive much less build a society without widespread agreement on what is right and wrong, an agreement that cannot be achieved empirically but only through a common understanding that we have been supplied with a human nature, that there is a content to that nature in accord with a higher reason, and that we need to discern the higher reason to discern nature itself.The thesis is that human existence depends on a belief in its placement in a hierarchy under the Divine, regardless the religious practice that belief produces. In this one-and-done experiment, the atheist is inherently the antithesis. His proposition is morality is all a matter of conjecture, morality is progressive and malleable. The atheist has the day, and therefore the synthesis may be a decisive moment for all mankind.

  • Michael Doyle

    I think I’d rather not conflate religion with Catholicism. Only Catholicism has the “fullness of the truth”, which means every other Church or ecclesial community has errors. Sometimes they are mostly errors. Some religions do not hold to the Scientific method; some believe science stopped in the 7th century, so the argument breaks down because some religions do not value empirical evidence.

    I’d prefer articles like this start from the viewpoint of propounding Catholicism’s POV with its history of reason and science and then you have room to be gracious and say something like, “many other ecclesial communities hold similar beliefs”.

    We’re at a time where the generic term religion is too broad to describe anything meaningful. Catholicism has withstood the most rigorous scrutiny of atheists and a “sophisticated” culture and holds her own in the modern zeitgeist. She can not be conflated with other religions.
    Defend her and your are on a solid rock.

    Hope this helps.

  • Fred

    Great article Rachel. The one thing that
    I find in common with people who describe themselves as being Atheists is in
    fact they aren’t very deep thinkers on the subject of spirituality. They
    live in this world only and chose not to think about other than worldly things
    because it’s inconvenient to do so and causes angst. They have no concept
    of temporal or spacial boundaries to the universe so chose to ignore because of
    the limits of their finite minds. Those that ascribe to the origins of
    life evolving from primordial soup can’t articulate where did the building
    blocks of matter come from to make the soup? The big bang is a great
    observation (thanks Father Georges Lemairtre), but don’t ask what came before, or
    where will it end. Why do we think of these as being great thinkers –
    perhaps they are in a single dimension. Sadly in the metamorphosis from child
    to adult many shed the qualities of innocence. Pray for the adult who comes
    to realize the limitation of their own mind and pride through the inquiry of a
    child who asks keeps asking why, and recognizing that there ultimately
    is no further physical answer to give. Blessed
    is the innocence of children, and blessed are they who believe without seeing.

    • guest 3

      “perhaps they are in a single dimension”

      I’m afraid all the atheists I have encountered all insist on “living” in a blinkered two-dimensional existence.

      – a former atheist

  • Bartolomé Cuerda

    By the way, this is exactly what the Church’s Social Teaching says. In the Compendium of the Catholic Social Doctrine published by the Holy See it is explicitly stated the the Church argues in social issues using only rational arguments, that are grounded on the Revelation but not dependent on it.

  • DE-173

    brilliant observation

  • Kenneth Cote

    I find that Christians and atheists–specifically, Christians and atheists working in the sciences–disagree not on how the universe works but rather on how it got here and how long it has existed. Everyone agrees, for example, that fossils are the remains of extinct life forms, but many people debate over the age of those fossils and whether the animals that left them lived side-by-side with humans. Despite nearly incontrovertible evidence such as carbon dating and soil layers, some Christians insist that the earth is only 6,000 years old; conversely, in the face of patterns that suggest that our planet exists by design, many atheists–all of them, actually–dismiss that notion as an anthropocentric delusion. Such debate causes each side to become defensive, and the extremists shout above the reasonable people, generating the scorn, spite, and resentment that leads to impasse. To solve the problems of daily life–the purview of politics–believers and non-believers must agree on the principles of the practical sciences and leave metaphysics alone. Even moral issues such as abortion can be debated through science. I am a Catholic, but I know that physiology provides plenty of evidence that life begins at conception. I do not need to complicate the matter by imposing my Catholic God on opponents who have motivation enough to ignore my arguments.

    • clintoncps

      Dear Kenneth,

      Thank you for your comment. You say that “Even moral issues such as abortion can be debated through science (because) physiology provides plenty of evidence that life begins at conception.”

      While it’s true that physiology proves that life begins at conception, why is that fact a compelling reason that pre-natal life should be defended?

      It’s obvious that many people who acknowledge that life begins at conception still vociferously support abortion. How can that be? Because science is not conscience. All the scientific observation in the world will not make evident whether something is good or evil. Only God does that. It is not a function of logical deduction; it is a gratuitous revelation from the One who creates us in His own image.

      Every day atrocities and holocausts occur, and there are always those who are indifferent to them because they don’t recognize them as atrocities; in fact, they may themselves commit them in the name of their own god or addiction or political program or social experiment. A materialist examination of such things is incapable of proving anything in relation to truth or justice. Only a definitive moral premise that both believers and atheists can agree upon could form the context for the application of reason on issues like abortion, euthanasia, human trafficking, and the like. We can observe the facts, but only the truth sets us free — truth that is a gift from God to enlighten our conscience.

  • maxthelion

    Hi Rachel,

    I’m writing from Ireland and just wanted to say that I thouroughly enjoyed your article. The bes part for me was the following – “The atheist is defined by his belief that there is no God. This is a metaphysical position, exactly as belief in God is a metaphysical position. Neither one is either more or less directly relevant to the political and empirical questions he raises, and there is no reason to suppose that either theists or atheists have a specially heightened capacity for empirical observation (either of the natural world or of human society).”

    This for me this was a fantastic revelation. I never thought of the atheist worldview as being a metaphysical position equal to that of the theist.

    Thanks again Rachel
    Beannachtaí Dé (Irish for God Bless)
    Max

  • Amatorem Veritatis

    Point…Set…Match! A wonderful rebuttal of Tracinski’s well intentioned, but annoyingly condescending article. As mentioned by another below, your formulation and brief exposition of atheism as just another metaphysical proposition is sublime. Logical of course, but I must admit that I experienced one of those rare “aha” moments reading, then re-reading that paragraph. Revelation is good for the soul!

    Mr. Tracinski, like most libertarian leaning “conservatives”, is selective regarding which elements of universal truth are worthy of conserving. He of course invokes the mantra of the three legs of “trinitarian” conservatism, but quickly admits to being cognitively dissonant on the question of homosex marriage. While insisting that he is “an atheist with a burning passion for the value of marriage and children and what you might call “family values”. Talk about dissonant cognation. And he claims to be one of those highly rational empiricists? None of that superstition for him…just the facts Jack!

    You have to be willfully ignorant to have missed the far reaching (and accelerating) negative effects of the radical homosex agenda on the values of “marriage and children and what you might call family values”. But libertarians like to carve out special exemptions to universal truths for themselves, just like the progressives and libertines that they claim are utopian idealists, and reality deniers. However, I want to be generous and tolerant (and inclusive of course) to those like Tracinski who are on the same journey, but perhaps at a different milestone. I trust that at some point in the future, he will look back at his article, smile to himself, and admit he was both naive and very, very wrong about the seeming incompatibility of faith and reason. Hope so.

  • clintoncps

    How can one be rational and yet fail — or refuse — to believe in God?

    The Scientific Method referred to in this article is treated by many as a kind of Holy Grail, but what is it in essence? It is a method of observation. Man can use the Scientific Method to study phenomena and then describe what is studied, but the Scientific Method generates nothing, and it can’t even pretend to explain the ultimate source that empowers, directs, and holds all things in existence. But the One who generates and sustains — the source of the coherent and complex functioning and interaction of myriad particles that themselves are incapable of self-awareness and yet carry out their mission reliably, as if intelligent — this One is recognized by the works of His invisible Hand.

    As to forming moral codes on the basis of empirical observation, the idea is absurd. Such an exercise is nothing more than an attempt to reduce transcendent truths, which can only be revealed to the conscience of man by God, to the level of Scientific Materialism or Utilitarianism or sentimentalism. Atheists, in their arrogance, think that they can take the moral framework of divine revelation, do some nipping and cutting here, make a few additions there, and come up with a moral system that is superior to God’s revelation. But the very people who propose this have had the benefit of a Christian or otherwise theistic cultural background, and the more distanced they become from that background, the more anti-human their moral systems become, so that now western civilization is known for such great signs of human “progress” as pre-natal homicide (abortion), LGBTQ psycho-sexual abuse, and euthanasia. Perhaps empirical evidence has demanded these “innovations”, as it did in varying degrees for Hitler, Stalin, and the Greco-Roman Empire. Have theists, even Christians, cooperated in the advent of these evils? Of course — as a result of what some Catholic Bishops have called “practical atheism”. A cut flower retains its beauty for only so long before the decay becomes evident, and if a branch is separated from the vine, it withers and dies.

    Nothing is more inimical to the well-being of humanity, and the human person as such, than atheism. Those who apply this blasphemous title to themselves should realize that without God, “man” does not exist; without God, the term “human” becomes merely a conceit — a speciesist fabrication to justify the domination of one particularly clever variety of beast over others.

    I pray that atheists reading this comment will really think about it with honesty and humility and let go of their pre-conceived notion of self-sufficiency. Recognize that you are a creature — not a creator — and that the One who creates you is not merely a Master dominating His pets, but a loving Father guiding His children.

    — a former atheist

    • Michael Paterson-Seymour

      The Scientific Method does indeed generate something, namely laws: it observes phenomena, or rather their common measurable properties and unifies them (through differential equations) in order to make rational predictions.

      As Comte says, it restricts itself to “considering them as subjected to a certain number of invariable natural laws which are nothing else than the general expression of the relations observed in their development.” In particular, it deals, not with causes, but, through its equations, with functional relationships between variables. This is not metaphysics, but it is not “nothing,” as modern technology demonstrates.

  • Rachel Lu

    Although I can’t at the moment respond to every excellent comment here, I just wanted to say how much I’ve enjoyed reading over this thread. So many interesting, thoughtful and encouraging comments here… my thanks and regards to all.

  • Howard

    “Tracinski is speaking primarily about politics, and in this realm, making common cause with atheists seems clearly warranted in our time.” Why, it’s almost as good an idea as arming the Mujaheddin in Afghanistan was! Surely, underneath it all atheists “on the right” want the same kind of society as Christians do, just exactly like the Mujaheddin really wanted to transform the Mideast into the Midwest!

    Sheesh. This makes sense only if your true god is your party affiliation.

  • goodkid43

    I agree completely that we cannot settle deep disagreements on political or moral questions by dragging in extraneous metaphysical disputes

  • Lewelyn Fidler

    I am a student of the Sciences, experience and training of Electronics the main stay. Science and Theology go hand-in-hand. Every day I cannot but see the examples of a “Engineered and Intelligence” of this planet.This is a home that our Father in Heaven designed, created and built for his children, us! The notion of Climate Change influenced or affected by and of Humanity tosses the notion that Mankind of more Intelligence that the one who designed this Planet and the system around this “third-rock-from-the-sun”

    God knows full well the capacity, attitude and capabilities of his children, so God places the resources that we, his children, need, consume and even took into the account of “wastefulness” that mankind will and have done. Planet Earth has enough not just for the current population but of much, much more thus Earth can provide and plenty left over. The selfishness of man and the pursuit of it reason Human Beings suffer the lack of them (resources like food, water, materials for home, households and productivity).

    Oil for the production of energy to supply the demand of energy for heat, cooling, transportation, cell phones…… yes we live today that more than 6000 years this planet did not have. Able to communicate within milli-seconds, any place on the planet or physically arrive there within hours.

    Nothing invented, thought of and developed in the history of Man but allowed by God. Knowledge of the sciences, technology, medical, but by his design and time of it. Centuries passed and Theology “fought” knowledge, twisting into evil as the Evil one ever had the ability to introduce knowledge, for Satan can only do his work upon permission from The Father and within the guidelines He allows of it! (see Job, Lucifer had to ask permission!)

    More I understand God, more I understand Science…..

    More I learn of Science the more I learn about my Father in Heaven…..

    You see they are intertwined together, one cannot be without the other and God wants mankind to understand all.

    Look unto Moses as upon the Mount, Moses asked the Lord about this and of his role to be played, Moses asked God (Jesus Christ for Christ is the God of this planet) “hey, slow down, I am mostly interested in this place not the WHOLE story and we get the first 5 books of the Old Testament.

    So just as I a father unto my children want to see them grow, learn and succeed not as underlings to I! but to surprase my achievement if they have the drive and the willingness of it.

    In a nutshell, Theology is not separate from Science nor is science alone or contrary to God. That has been of the greatest fault of the Church’s history the suppression of Knowledge!

  • The_Monk

    Atheists are simply people whose thinking process never matured. And the same can be said of a sector of fundamentalist theists, too. But people who think things all the way through will always locate God. The fulfillment of the thinking process will lead to Catholicism.

    Atheism tends to be simply the product of incomplete thinking….

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