Wednesday, October 31, 2007

I Don't Have Enough Faith to be an Atheist!

This fall, our Adult Education class at church has studied Lee Strobel's book, The Case for Faith. Strobel wrote this volume to present Christian doctrines and beliefs that are often stumbling blocks for moderns. I chose this book because I thought that it presented a good alternative to the spate of books written by atheists that have been published recently.

I must confess that I've never really understood atheism. Perhaps it's because I've always been a Christian that the issues which drive people from faith to anti-faith have never been compelling to me. In fact, I've always harbored a radical theory about atheism, a theory that probably would be called intolerant and insensitive by many. I also have no proof for my theory; hence, it may simply be a reflection of my own intellectual bigotry. However, if that be the case, rest assured that I will amend my thinking as soon as I am presented verifiable evidence to the contrary.

Having said all of that, here's the theory, one that I have never shared publicly until now: I believe that most people who claim to be atheists do so because they are engaged in a behavior or behaviors that they know to be sinful and they have no desire to change. In our culture today, most of those behaviors center around the vice of lust, but any of the cardinal vices will do just as well. Okay, I've said it. Call me a bigot if you want, but please, please prove to me the error of my ways.

The atheist, having denied the authority of God, usually in the moral sphere, then has to engage in ever more strange beliefs in order to justify their idea that there is nothing in which to believe. This leads to some pretty unusual and convoluted lines of thought. To my way of thinking, no atheistic theory strains credulity as much as the theory of Darwinian evolution. This theory, which has more twists that a pretzel, has been around for about a century and it has permeated every aspect of our educational system even though the evidence to support it is skimpy at best. A lot of people might debate whether Christianity and evolution are compatible citing Darwin’s own opinion that there was no inherent conflict. However, letters published years after Darwin’s death have revealed that his hope in developing this theory was to eliminate the necessity for God in the creation of the world. That’s a pretty godless position and so I think it’s safe to say that evolution is an atheistic theory from its very origin.

Some Christians, either lacking knowledge of evolution theory or unwilling to be seen as naïve at cocktail parties, frequently attempt to synthesize evolutionary theory with Christianity, a wholly unsatisfactory mix of two absolutely incompatible theories. Acerbic political commentator Ann Coulter puts it well:

“No matter what argument you make against evolution, the response is Well, you know it’s possible to believe in evolution and believe in God. Yes, and it’s possible to believe in Spiderman and believe in God, but that doesn’t prove that Spiderman is true.”

Before proceeding, we need to define ever so briefly just what it is we’re talking about when we talk about evolution. Evolution has generally been taught in a couple of ways. There is microevolution which is the theory that over time changes occur within species to help them adapt to their environment. There is a pretty good base evidence to support the notion of microevolution.

Then there is macroevolution which says, in a nutshell, that higher forms of life have evolved over billions and billions of years (to quote the late atheist scientist Carl Sagan) from simpler forms of life, originally single cell organisms. These single cell organisms existed in the primordial stuff of this world and have gradually developed into every form of life that we have today. Let me give you an example of this from my daughter's third grade public school textbook that will help demonstrate the process.

This textbook showed a neat, glossy, three-colored diagram of a single cell, which led to something like a tadpole, which later developed into something that looked like a frog. Later, the frog's nose lengthened and a tail grew, for reasons that have never been clear, and the frog became something that looked like an alligator. Then the alligator apparently decided that it needed to be on land more in order to survive, and so it started walking on earth. But alligators get cold, so it decided that it needed fur. After the fur, it realized that its tail was not as necessary as it used to be, so the tail shortened, along with the nose. Then it needed longer legs in order to run. And then after the Sagan interval (billions and billions of years), it became a dog. (I affectionately call this The Reverse 'Poor Old Lady She Swallowed a Fly' Theory. In fairness, I will also grant that this description is grossly over-simplified.) So life in all of its complexity has emerged totally from this one source, the single cell existing in the swamp of primitive earth, what author Frank Peretti calls, “From Goo to You by way of the Zoo!”

The theory of macroevolution has some serious drawbacks. First, there is no evidence of this trans-species development in the fossil record. This is remarkable since we have quite detailed fossil records going back millions of years. Second, the same fossil record seems to suggest that life emerged on this planet at about the same time, in a way that is much more consistent with the notion of a Creator, or at least consistent with the notion of creation as presented in Genesis. Third, and this is big, cellular life is not as primitive as Darwin considered it to be. Scientists now know that cells are extraordinarily complex things, with internal regulatory systems whose complexity staggers the imagination. Additionally, Darwin had no idea of subcellular life, which we understand now. The cell was the building block in Darwin’s time much in the same way that the atom was in our parents’ time.

Let's also add to all of this the philosophical problems inherent in Darwinism. Darwinian evolution offers no answer to this question: From where did the matter originate from which the elements of life were born? If something can truly not come from nothing, then where did the matter of life originate? Supporters of Darwin are strangely silent on this point, because if they spoke they would have to eventually support the position that somehow this matter came about by the influence of a source of matter, a process otherwise known as creation. If they acknowledge the fact of Creation, then of necessity that implies a Creator. Since I try to be a good Thomist, let me say that “We call that creator God.” This is something atheists simply can't do (see my personal theory on atheism above).

Janet LaRue, in an article published on summarized the problem this way:

"Suppose you awaken alone in your house with its doors and windows locked to find your table set with a scrumptious breakfast awaiting you. Which explanation satisfies you? Your breakfast always existed in its present form, or your breakfast organized itself from lesser matter? Maybe the eggs, ham and cheese just evolved into an omelet, the muffin popped itself into the toaster then rolled around in the butter, the oranges squeezed each other, and there’s coffee but no Mr. Coffee.

"The response is usually an ontological admission, as in, ‘Somebody came into my house while I was asleep and fixed breakfast,’ or a simple ‘I don’t know.’ I’m amazed at the atheists who find it easy to swallow the big bang but not the evolving breakfast."

LaRue highlights the problem very nicely. In her breakfast analogy she shows the dilemma that an atheist faces when dealing with a problem that a reasonable person would consider self-evident. In her explanations of the evolving breakfast, she shows with remarkable clarity the degrees of convolution into which an atheist has to twist in order to avoid the notion of creation and Creator. When one looks at ham, cheese, and egg evolving into an omelet or muffins rolling around in butter of their own volition, then one sees readily how much faith it requires to hold such a strange position. This is why I say that I have enough faith to believe in a loving Creator, but I do not have enough faith to be an atheist.


Anonymous said...

Fr Jones, thanks for your great article - and for mentioning your theory on why people believe in atheism. I would say that I can see that as a strong point.
However, I have noticed (at least from my limited perspective) that I run into a lot of people who either embrace atheism or agnosticism because of a lack of morality. People do not doubt there is a moral code, but that no one steps in to help the innocent. Now it could easily be argued (and I have done it) that because you think something is wrong there has to be a law outside of ourselves, and as such a lawgiver. I also believe that atheism breaks down when you get into the intricacies of creation as well (as you have mentioned in your article).
Again, thanks for the article and for mentioning your “theory”. That gives me one more issue to look for when people come to me with atheism. Their issue may not be a logical problem after all.

Fr Jamie Danford

LocoOwl said...

I believe that most people who claim to be atheists do so because they are engaged in a behavior or behaviors that they know to be sinful and they have no desire to change.

Well, if I am reading your theory correctly, then such people are not atheists as much as they are just trying to convince themselves that God did not really mean what he said. Eventually, I suppose, that would lead to a denial of God, but it stems from the fact that they are trying to assuage their guilt!

Allen Lewis