Tag Archives: Existence of God

This is your brain on atheism

This is your brain on atheism


September 9, 2011 (LifeSiteNews.com) – The ranks of celebrity atheists lionized by the major media is now being joined by a psychiatrist and journalist who have jointly written the book “Why We Believe in God(s): A Concise Guide to the Science of Faith.” The two authors claim, in short, that God is nothing more than a figment of our biologically-determined imaginations.

In a recent article about the book, J. Anderson Thomson, a University of Virginia psychiatrist, and “medical writer” Clare Aukofer repeat stale clichés from the repertoire of 19th century German atheism, dressed up as modern “science.” They begin by citing the inane lyrics of John Lennon’s “Imagine,” in which he claims that the socialist paradise he envisions will bring “peace” with “no heaven…no hell below us…and no religion too.”

“No religion,” the authors rhapsodize. “What was Lennon summoning? For starters, a world without ‘divine’ messengers, like Osama bin Laden, sparking violence. A world where mistakes, like the avoidable loss of life in Hurricane Katrina, would be rectified rather than chalked up to ‘God’s will.’ Where politicians no longer compete to prove who believes more strongly in the irrational and untenable. Where critical thinking is an ideal. In short, a world that makes sense.”

How we make “sense” out of a world that is nothing more than the blind churnings of matter, without any ultimate purpose, is beyond me, and is unsurprisingly not addressed by the authors. But surely this duo could come up with more than the jaded accusations of “violence” always leveled against religion by atheists, who always seem to forget that the cruelest and most violent regimes in history, such as Mao’s China and Stalin’s Russia, were inspired by and led by atheists.

China’s atheist regime continues to impose mass murder on its people through its coercive “one child policy,” which has now resulted in hundreds of millions of deaths by abortion.  But who’s counting? Certainly not atheists, who are unlikely to even acknowledge the humanity of the unborn.

Those who defend theism in a generic sense do not claim that it is a sufficient condition for virtue. The great world religions are not always conduits of truth, and the errors that mar some of them have caused real suffering for humanity. But denying the existence of God, which is the only conceivable basis for an objective morality, is hardly the answer. If human beings are nothing more than a configuration of atoms with no ultimate purpose, the concepts of right and wrong are rendered meaningless. Surely even a psychiatrist can see that, and perhaps even a reporter.

Do the authors expect us to forget that religion has produced much, if not most, of the greatest art and architecture enjoyed by mankind, as well as the modern educational system? Do they think that a cheap crack about Osama Bin Laden will serve to dismiss the vast charitable works, from hospitals and homeless shelters to massive international aid agencies, that have been inspired by religious belief? Surely Thompson and Aukofer can do more than pass over these towering facts in silence, as if ignoring them will make them go away.

The authors then pull the old trick of 19th century German atheists like Feuerbach, Marx, Nietzcsche, and Freud, who never made any attempt to answer the historic arguments for the existence of God, and instead threw out the red herring of psychological, economic, and biological explanations for religion. The assumption is that if you can explain the origins of a belief, you have somehow refuted it, a silly non-sequitur that only serves to remind us of the impotency of the atheist’s position.

Thompson and Aukofer take the biological route, claiming that we are genetically hard-wired to believe in God because it served our ancestors as a survival mechanism.

“Like our physiological DNA, the psychological mechanisms behind faith evolved over the eons through natural selection,” they claim. “They helped our ancestors work effectively in small groups and survive and reproduce, traits developed long before recorded history, from foundations deep in our mammalian, primate and African hunter-gatherer past.”

The authors drone on like this from one paragraph to the next, citing speculative evolutionary pathways to theism that they say have been offered by researchers. They sprinkle their commentary with silly observations about man’s need for social “attachment,” “reciprocity,” “romantic love,” and “group hatreds,” as if a few trite references to psychological phenomena can explain away man’s almost universal belief in the divine.

The questions they leave begging, however, speak more about their own psychology than anything else. If evolutionary biology explains man’s belief in God, how do we explain the authors’ atheism? Do they claim to be supermen who, unlike the rest of us, can transcend their own natures?  If religion can be explained by our genes, would the same not be true of atheism? What’s good for the goose is good for the gander.

Reducing man’s ideas to his biology, in fact, destroys the foundation of all knowledge. If our ideas are determined by our genes, then how can we know if anything we believe is true? Such refutations were long ago leveled against the muddled thinking of materialists, but the authors, confused by the crude empiricist errors of modern scientism, apparently are unaware of the historic debate. Ignorance of the history of ideas is a woefully common trait among atheists.

The LA Times piece is just the latest reminder of the effect of atheism on an otherwise able mind.  The fact that the authors of the article have written an entire book elaborating on their evolutionary thesis on the origin of religion, apparently totally unaware of the simple fallacies that underlie their premise, does little more than illustrate a truth that has been demonstrated time and again by the modern partisans of disbelief: the irrationality of atheism undermines one’s ability to think.

You were made for heaven — Fr Raniero Cantalamessa

Human beings were created for eternal life, and Christians need to get over their timidity and bring this certainty to the modern world, the Pope’s preacher has told him.

“The force that this truth possesses answers to the deepest, but often repressed, desire of the human heart,” said Fr Raniero Cantalamessa in an address to Pope Benedict and his household.

He was speaking on the Christian response to secularism, which he described as “an ensemble of attitudes contrary to religion and to faith,” and “the reduction of what is real to the earthly dimension.”

The loss of the sense of eternal life, he said, “has the effect on Christian life of sand thrown on a flame: it suffocates it, extinguishes it.”

The preacher recalled that in the ancient world few pagans came to belief in an after-life. Rather, the conviction that true life ends with death persisted among the masses.

“One can understand with this background,” he said, “what impact the Christian proclamation must have had, the news of a life after death infinitely more full and joyful than the earthly.

“One can also understand why the idea and the symbols highlighting eternal life are so frequent in the Christian burial chambers of the catacombs.”

The Christian notion of resurrection, he said, prevailed over the pagan expectation of “darkness beyond death”, eventually permeating all aspects of life during the Middle Ages.

But from the 1800s on, influential figures like Hegel, Marx and Freud began once again to deny the existence of God and an after-life, settling instead for the notion that they would survive in the species or in the future society.

“Little by little, suspicion, forgetfulness and silence fell on the word ‘eternity’,” said Fr Raniero. “Materialism and consumerism did the rest, making it seem inconvenient to still speak of eternity among educated persons.”

As a result, “the faith of believers became, on this point, timid and reticent,” with even priests unwilling to preach about it, even at funerals.

But the desire for eternal life remains. The renowned Spanish writer, Miguel de Unamuno, for example, was criticised by a friend because of his hope in eternal life. Unamuno responded:

“I do not say that we merit a beyond, or that logic demonstrates it; I say that we have need of it, whether or not we merit it, and that’s all.

“I say that what passes does not satisfy me, that I have thirst of eternity, and that without it nothing matters to me. I have need of it! Without it there is no more joy in living and the joy of living no longer has anything to give me.

“It is too easy to say: ‘One must be content with life.’ What of those that are not content with it?”

Fr Raniero noted that, like all people since time began, people today still ask, “Who are we? From whence do we come? Where are we going?”

The Christian faith, he believed, may return to Europe for the same reason if was first welcomed: “as the only faith that has a sure answer to give to the great questions of earthly life.”



The reasons which ought to lead all men to seek God — Intimations of Immortality by Dr. Jeff Mirus

VISIT THE SOURCE: Catholic Culture

Intimations of Immortality

by Dr. Jeff Mirus

When I was growing up in the 1950s and early 1960s, my world was a Christian world, at least nominally. My earliest efforts at apologetics were all designed to explain the “oddities” of the Catholic Faith to Protestants, and to show why their version of certain Christian ideas was wrong while the Catholic version was right. Since then much has changed. Now we are just as likely to be starting from scratch with people who don’t accept any version of Christianity, or perhaps any serious version of God either.

So from time to time we may profit from reviewing some of the reasons people ought to be interested in God, and especially interested in seeking a revelation from God that can set us on the right path. While people are often brought to a serious examination of the existence of God and the truth of the Christian Faith through personal experiences—whether tragic or triumphant—there are also some intellectual starting points that can get us wondering about these things. I’ll briefly review four of them here.

Our Own Sense of Continuation

There are several indicators of the existence of an immaterial, intellective soul that is necessarily immortal, but the one that impacts us most is simply our own sense of identity and our continuation in that identity. There is no evidence that any other creature has such a sense, that any other bodily creature understands itself as a unique individual with an identity which “ought” to continue beyond the vicissitudes of this earthly life. And no other creature manifests anything like a religious sense.

It is otherwise with us. No matter what age we are, no matter how many changes and struggles we’ve lived through, no matter how many times our cells have died and been replaced in the constant cycle of growth and decay, we still think of ourselves as “ourselves”. I look out from a 62 year-old body feeling exactly like the same “me” who was once fifteen. I am astonished that I should be old, and that life should be drawing inexorably to its close. This is unfathomable; it is a contradiction of everything I instinctively feel about myself. I cannot imagine my own non-existence. I cannot imagine a time when I will be unable to reflect on myself, on who I am. So it is with every man and woman who has ever lived.

Ralph McInerny, in his memoir of his life at Notre Dame (see I Alone Have Escaped to Tell You) makes the telling statement that even after his beloved wife of 50 years died he went on each day feeling immortal. That captures what it means to be human very well. We expect to continue as ourselves, and this leads us inescapably to ponder whether we have a persistent spiritual identity capable of transcending our current bodily existence. This in turn opens our minds to a spiritual world, and to the possibility of a God who is the very ground of our being. As the expression goes, nature abhors a vacuum. If we instinctively expect continuation, yearn for continuation, and seek continuation, then this is reason enough to presume that we will continue, and to examine carefully the question of whether in fact what our instincts tell us is so, and how this can be.

Our Perception of the World

Another profitable line of thought which is very near to us arises from our normal reactions to the world around us. There are at least two questions concerning our experience of the world which strike most of us fairly forcefully in a rather philosophical way. The first is the question of where it all came from. Ultimately, the human mind is not satisfied with the idea that the universe is eternal (which is far harder to believe than that an eternal God created it, given that everything we know about the material world suggests that it is contingent). Nor are we satisfied with the idea that the universe “just happened”, a concept which makes no logical sense to anyone who can think his way out of a paper bag.

It is not even too much to say, I think, that the human mind tends to be unsatisfied with the notion that the world could have evolved randomly from some primordial chemicals without any teleology (or tendency toward an end) having been built into it from the beginning. On the one hand, pure atheistic evolutionism simply pushes the God question beneath a few more layers of cosmic dust. On the other, the imagination has to stretch farther to see the plausibility of atheistic evolutionary theory than it does to see the plausibility of an uncaused Cause. We don’t claim to be able to encompass the Cause in our minds; but logic drives us to assume Its existence. Thus the questions “Where did this come from?” and “How was it designed?” set both the human mind and the human heart to work.

The other obvious question is why, in such a highly ordered universe, so many things are out of sync. How is it that the law of the jungle rules the beasts, that natural disasters occur, that men mistreat each other, that we lack so much in equality, justice and peace? No sooner does our experience of reality enable us to see how things are supposed to work than it shows us the proverbial sticky wicket. It is almost as if something that began flawlessly has somehow been broken, but we don’t see how. In Orthodoxy, G. K. Chesterton explains that the doctrine of Original Sin fit his experience of reality perfectly, and Blessed John Henry Newman saw things exactly the same way. We anticipate in this Christian doctrine the answer to the question, but the question itself should at least prompt us to seek an answer.

Our Sense of Justice

In An Essay in Aid of a Grammar of Assent, Newman also offered a third line of thought, a highly developed argument based on the personal conscience (see Newman’s Final Argument). It is a universal experience, Newman rightly states, that we instinctively apprehend a difference between right and wrong; we also apprehend that we are under an obligation to do what is right, and we sense strongly that we will be subject to some sort of judgment on this score. Very few indeed are those who have never entertained such thoughts, or who manage to keep them at bay so continually as to forget them altogether.

At the same time, we cannot escape the observation that what is right is very frequently ignored, and that justice in this world is so imperfect as often to be laughable. Too often justice is a standard to which men are more likely to hold others than themselves, yet it remains a standard all the same, and people very typically look forward to a harmonious day when perfect justice will be achieved. Some, it is true, have sought this perfect justice through utopian schemes, and have ended by attempting (unjustly!) to effect it by force. But many, many more have thought it likely that the imbalances of this life would be redressed in another life. If we find ourselves with an outraged sense of justice then, and if nature really does abhor a vacuum, we must be made for a time and place when justice will be done.

Now a sense of right and wrong presumes some sort of law, which in turn presumes a lawgiver; and a judgment rather obviously demands a judge. This realization actually suggests two parallel lines of thought. First, it reinforces the idea that there must exist a God who somehow represents the Good and cares enough to punish those who violate it. Second, it leads us to a near-certainty that such a Judge would certainly wish to reveal Himself so that we should know clearly what He approves and what He abhors. In other words, the argument from conscience points directly at Revelation. It leads us naturally to inquire whether such a revelation has, in fact, been made.

The Christ

Though destined for universal acceptance, Christ entered the world at a particular time in history; His person, His preaching, and His works impress themselves upon the minds of men now at one time and now at another. It cannot be said that every human person, in his lifetime here on earth, will have heard about Jesus Christ. For many, indeed, He would be the end of a sincere search for revelation, if they could but know Him. But not all have known Him; not all, through ordinary human means at least, can know Him.

Nonetheless, a great many have now heard of Him, or have the opportunity of hearing of Him if they are in fact sincerely searching for God and His Revelation—as their consciences and personal reflections naturally lead them to do. For it is again a universal experience of the human mind (unless a man is in proud rebellion or has been carefully taught to the contrary) that one would expect to find a revelation from God precisely in that realm of activity which deals with God most directly, namely religion. And so one who has not already found this revelation ought to be spending some reasonable amount of time and energy in examing the different religions on offer throughout the world.

Now in thus canvassing the various religions, great and small, which vie for our allegiance, it becomes evident that very few claim to be based on a divine revelation, as opposed to the mere insights of their founders. And of those which claim a divine revelation, even fewer (exactly two, Judaism and Christianity) claim to be based on a revelation which was objectively validated by wonders that God alone could perform. Of these two, one claims to be the fulfillment of the other, and its founder is said to have risen from the dead—a claim as arresting as it is unique, and a claim also supported by a considerable historical testimony. My point is simply this: Someone who sincerely seeks answers, and who has heard the claims made on behalf of Jesus Christ, truly owes it to himself to take a closer look.

The Big Picture

The larger issue here is that too often atheists and agnostics dismiss believers by arguing that the claims of religion cannot be proven absolutely, such that on rational grounds doubt becomes impossible. That is true, but it puts the shoe on the wrong foot, as if the unbeliever has no call to look into the matter unless someone first convinces him of a particular religious position. To the contrary, any person who reflects on himself, on the world around him, on the moral order, and even on what he has heard of the claims of Christianity ought to be very serious about exploring and answering the God question. He certainly ought not to seek to ignore it, to isolate himself from its influence, or to heap scorn on those who do not give up so easily. Inquiring minds—which are the very best minds and the only responsible minds—really do want to know.