Much is made by contemporary atheists of the absolute priority of reason in their thinking and conclusions. Author Olson challenges this claim to reasonableness, first by questioning the underlying logic of the claim itself, then by showing the unreasonableness of many atheist arguments. As atheistic ideas permeate modern society so thoroughly, this is a good primer on some errors of contemporary thought, and how Catholic teaching might respond to them.
is the first enemy of the ability to think. ... Faith is the worst curse of mankind, as the exact antithesis and enemy of thought. Ayn Rand, novelist with an opinion
Atheists like the word rational.
They use it to describe themselves, their beliefs, and their methods. People who are religious, especially Christians, are irrational. Modern atheists claim that they use reason and logic to arrive at their conclusions, while Christians do not. This emphasis on reason means that the mind is the key to any meaning that might exist. Atheists simply assert that in order to create meaning, you must have a functioning mind.
Kevin, a local atheist and freethinker, stated in a letter to me, We all create our own meaning, and hence our own version of morality, whether we want to believe it or not. There is no one right way, no fundamental rule which applies in all circumstances. So, truth is relative, morals are subjective, and only scientifically validated facts can be accepted. All others need not apply.
This emphasis on reason is actually another way the atheist focuses on man and excludes God. While the existence of a Supreme Being or First Cause can be rationally argued, the inner life of the God of revelation cannot be known through logic or scientific proofs.
This doesnt cut it for atheists since they only believe what they can scientifically test: Truth is the degree to which a statement corresponds with reality. Reality is limited to that which is directly perceivable through our natural senses or indirectly ascertained through the proper use of reason. Reason is a tool of critical thought that limits the truth of a statement according to the strict tests of the scientific method. For a statement to be true it must be testable, falsifiable, parsimonious, and logical. (Freedom From Religion Foundation, Inc., Nontract #11).
However, is it really logical to claim that a mindless, meaningless cosmos, after countless eons, coughed up rational minds that can locate and pursue meaning? Where is the proof that rational, logical thought should be the basis for our lives? If my meaning, created in my mind, insists there is no logic or meaning to life, then what? What justification does the atheist have for claiming we are material accidents with no eternal, objective purpose in life and then turn around and demand that we form meaning according to his logical, but unproven, premises?
This lack of coherence in the purely naturalistic and materialistic view is one of the weakest points of atheistic thought, as philosopher James Sire points out: [:Can]: a being whose origins were so iffy trust his or her own capacity to know? ... if I am only a thinking machine, how can I trust my thought? (James W. Sire, The Universe Next Door, Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1988, p. 83).
Get That Cross Away From Me!
I would never want to be a member of a group whose symbol was a guy nailed to two pieces of wood. George Carlin, not-so-funny comedian
Many atheists believe Christianity to be either dying or dead, with a new era of enlightened, rational co-existence on the horizon. Christianity is stale, boring, dry, mean, and uptight. Atheism is hip, fresh, open-minded, exciting, and open to custom-designed beliefs. For most atheists, Christianity is at best a childs crutch and at worse a bloody and violent system of superstition and fear. Most atheists are convinced Christians are superstitious, malicious, fairly stupid, and extremely uptight. Just about every problem in the world can be traced back to Christians and their beliefs: Although intending to be absolute, modern atheism is, nevertheless, first of all an anti-Christian attitude. ... It is, in fact, the Christian religion which almost all atheists see as the obstacle to their idea of man and his happiness (Lepp, Atheism In Our Time, p. 12).
In particular, it is conservative Protestantism and Catholicism that irritate atheists so badly. Ironically, many atheists use many of the same time-worn arguments that other anti-Catholics use, such as pointing out every evil, real or imagined, committed by a certain Catholic or group of Catholics. This includes the obligatory reference to millions and millions of people killed during the inquisitions, crusades and assorted witch hunts. And where is the scientific, historical evidence for these ludicrous claims? The atheist, according to his own criteria, needs to scientifically prove such allegations, but he cannotsuch numbers are false.
The Bible is the butt of many jokes and jabs by atheists. Kevin continually referred to the ancient Hebrews as primitive desert tribesmen in his correspondence with me. His remarks are full of modern condescension towards ancient cultures and beliefs: It seems clear this teaching [:Catholic doctrine]: is nothing more than a primitive human invention. Fairy tales, legends, and myths. From internally inconsistent, historically undocumentable writings by primitive desert dwellers 2000 [:sic]: years ago. Writings that legitimize slavery, the burning of witches, treating mental illness by exorcism, mass murder, rape, prostitution, castration, incest, and torture or death as the just punishment for the act of questioning church doctrine. Is it any wonder that more and more people are trying to come up with a new set of values and myths to base their lives on?
Christianity in general, and the Catholic church in particular, is denounced by atheists for the justification of war, slavery, sexism, racism, homophobia, mutilations, intolerance, and oppression of minorities. The totalitarianism of religious absolutes chokes progress. (Freedom From Religion Foundation, Inc., Nontract #11).
But isnt it odd that the biggest wars, the largest episodes of genocide and the greatest ethnic discriminations of all time have occurred this century in atheistic, anti-Christian countries? The Catholic apologist shouldnt fail to ask the atheist why more people died under atheistic governments in this century alone than all previous history combined. The number of deaths that Christians have been responsible for down through the centuries cant even compare to a few years of work by Stalin or Mao Tse-Tung. Tens of millions of murders took place under atheistic Communist regimes since 1918. Where is the outcry by atheists? Why are they so silent?
Why is there no answer?
Copyright © 2000 Carl E. Olson.
Originally published in the July/August 1999 issue of Envoy magazine, a bimonthly journal of Catholic apologetics and evangelization. Visit their Web site at http://www.envoymagazine.com.