Richard Dawkins’ book, The God Delusion, is, I suspect, one of those works that makes a “splash” and then dwindles away. It is certainly not the first attempt to discredit belief in God and it will, by no means, be the last.
I used to make it a habit to read books criticizing religious faith. My motive was to make sure I was “up” on the arguments that I might encounter in my dialogues with others. At one time, too, my motive was to make sure I had not missed anything relevant that might lead me to question my own convictions. I’ve always wanted to believe in God and have also been confident that belief in God was fully justified by my experience of this world in which we all find ourselves. I’ve never wanted to be deceived, however, and therefore am willing to hear critical evaluations of my reasons to believe.
After reading a good number of popular as well as more sophisticated assaults on theism, I lost interest. The reason for this loss of interest is that the arguments became uninteresting. The “new” authors tended to do little more than rehash old arguments and did more to reveal their hatred of religion than advance the cause of truth. Consequently, I moved on to more interesting topics.
When I learned of Professor Dawkins’ book, I determined to obtain a copy and see if there was something I had missed. The book had attracted much attention and represented a “new” effort to attack religious faith. Out of a desire to make sure I was well-informed, I went to a large bookstore, found a copy and sat on the floor for an hour or so surveying the book.
Had I followed my initial impulse, I would have placed the book back on the shelf and forgotten about it altogether. The book was clearly an anti-religious tirade that revealed almost no serious attempt to sympathetically understand the arguments he was critiquing. It was an overt effort to preach to the ignorant and uninformed as well as the “choir” of already-convinced atheists. I did not put it back on the shelf, however; I purchased the book. My reasons were basically three in number: (1) the book is a great example of atheist propaganda, (2) the book is “popular” in style, written by a “highly qualified” author and is therefore dangerous to those who come under its influence, and (3) its critiques of arguments for God’s existence are concise and to-the-point and provide a useful example of what an atheist would say in reply to traditional arguments for God, especially those of St. Thomas Aquinas.
I took up the several pages of Dawkins’ criticisms of St. Thomas’ arguments in some of my theology classes and it is those criticisms I’d like to describe here.
Aquinas’ First Three “Ways”
Dawkin’s disposes of Aquinas’ first three “ways” by (a) reducing them to the same argument, (b) asserting that even if these arguments work they don’t reveal any of the traditional God’s essential attributes (e.g., omnipotence, omniscience, goodness), (c) there are contradictions between the traditional attributes of God, and (d) there are natural “terminators” of regresses in the material world and therefore it is an unnecessary leap to assume that God is needed to explain the series of “regresses” found in this world.
For anyone that has spent time studying Aquinas, one can only scratch his head in disbelief at this series of replies. In less than two pages of text, Dawkins has disposed of arguments that have perplexed and intrigued great minds for centuries. When one looks to the citations used to support his arguments, it becomes immediately evident that Dawkins gives no evidence of having acquainted himself with the barest of literature on the subject. He apparently read the relevant texts from Aquinas (not knowing that Aquinas never intended his text to be read without a guide to explain the technical language and reasoning that he assumes) but gave no attention to the lengthy tradition of interpreting these texts that would have answered all of his objections with great ease.
In order to illustrate my point, let us focus on the first “way” that Aquinas proposes to demonstrate the existence of God. The argument grounds itself in the experience of motion or change. When something comes to be, it does so under the influence of some real cause. It is not possible for a “potential” cause to produce a real effect. A cause has to be real in order for it to have a real effect. To argue otherwise is to say that things happen for no reason at all. This is not only unscientific but it is absurd.
Second, Aquinas deduces that either the series of things coming into being (undergoing motion) is endless or it is grounded in some unmoved (perfectly “actualized”) Mover (i.e., God). Aquinas concludes that an endless series of things coming into being is absurd since there would be no ultimate reason for anything. Consider, for instance, a current instance of motion. Let’s say my typing these words. There are necessary conditions that allow it to be the case now that I am typing. We could speak, for instance, of the energy in my body (provided by the food I eat) or we could speak of the educators that taught me to read, write and type. We could also expand our analysis of this current motion to include more remote causes, like the gravitational pull of this planet or the heat of the sun. Whatever the causes, it is clear that there are current causes of my motions without which they could not happen.
What Aquinas is arguing is that the number of things that depend on each other right now that allow me to type these words cannot be infinite in number. If they were infinite in number, I would never be able to type a word! If an endless series of preconditions had to be satisfied in order for me to type the next word in this sentence that word would never be typed. Imagine if a parent told her child he could not attend the football game tonight unless he first completed a list of an infinite number of chores. If the number of chores is truly infinite (an absurd notion in itself), the child would never make it to the game (or to any other event).
It must be, then, that the number of things upon which I depend right now that allow me to type these words cannot be endless. There must be a ground of all current motion or else one is left with a series without a real explanation. To say that there is always another finite, dependent cause of every finite dependent effect is to refuse to answer the question that reason forces upon our intellect. If the atheist is satisfied with an infinite series of finite things, it is only because he refuses to see the massive hole that is created in our efforts to understand this world and our own selves.
Dawkins and virtually all atheists fail to understand Aquinas’ arguments for a variety of reasons. The most common reason is that they assume Aquinas’ rejection of an infinite series is concerned with a sequentially first cause of a train of causes reaching back in time. This is most certainly not Aquinas’ argument. Aquinas is concerned with current, hierarchical causes. This is why he admits that philosophy cannot prove that time and space had a beginning, since it is theoretically possible that God created from all eternity, but insists that God is absolutely necessary in order to provide a current ground of all motion. Since most critics of Aquinas assume he is arguing for a temporal “first” in a series that then sustains itself through time (somewhat like in Deism), they fail to see the real force of the argument.
Dawkins displays no awareness of this observation. To the contrary, he reveals his ignorance of it when he considers Aquinas’ rejection of an infinite regress. He thinks that if we can reduce matter to some most basic element (he mentions “atoms”) then there is evidence of a natural regress. Simply thinking about the example makes one wonder if he is serious. Aquinas would simply ask Dawkins, I suppose, if a piece of steak or a piece of gold is fully explained by its atomic structure. Surely one must go beyond the atomic structure to the conditions that allow for that structure to exist. Although, for instance, a piece of steak may be made of atoms, those atoms came to exist on account of the grass and water consumed by the cow that now sits on the plate as a piece of steak. Dawkins misses Aquinas’ point altogether by limiting himself to a particular material thing rather than seeing the inevitable relationship of that particular thing to other things that are causally related to it.
What of Dawkins’ claim that there is “absolutely no” reason to believe, assuming Aquinas’ arguments for God work, that God has any of the attributes classically attributed to Him (e.g., omnipotence, omniscience, and goodness)?
This claim is perhaps even more perplexing than the first one. First, anyone that reads Aquinas’ Summa theologiae cannot fail to notice, based on the table of contents alone, that Aquinas considers all of these attributes. He also reasons, without grounding his arguments in Scripture that these attributes must belong to God.
That God is omnipotent means that there are no external limits to God’s power. In other words, God can do what He wants. This follows from the fact that God cannot have a restricting essence. To illustrate, consider how the world about us imposes a host of limitations on our “power.” God, on the other hand, is not “part of” a material world that imposes limitations on Him.
How do we know this? Well, we might first note that God, in order to explain the changing world of motion we observe, must transcend change altogether. If God is a part of the changing world, He, too, needs explanation. The arguments for God force the mind to affirm that God transcends the categories of change and limit. Limit suggests something that restricts or sets a boundary to something. Since God is absolutely first and the cause of everything other than Himself, there is nothing outside Him that can impose a limit. God’s power, then, shares in the meaning of God’s infinity.
Dawkins thinks that God’s omniscience and omnipotence cannot be reconciled. This, he claims, is yet another problem with the notion of God. The problem here, again, is that Dawkins is sloppy in his understanding of the relevant terms. He assumes that omnipotence means God can do absolutely anything. To the contrary, as Aquinas is careful to point out, omnipotence means God is free of any external constraint. God can do anything He wants to do. God’s will and nature, however, are internal realities that are always integrated with God’s exertion of power.
Dawkins thinks the fact that God knows the future limits His exercise of power. Since God knows what He will do tomorrow, for example, God can’t change what He will do tomorrow. God’s power, consequently, is “limited.” The challenge is flawed for many reasons. One is that there is no “tomorrow” for God. God’s actions flow from His present, infinite perfection. There are countless paradoxes and conundrums that accompany the human inability to comprehend the immutable, eternal God but admitting such frailty is much wiser than speaking of God’s attributes inaccurately and then drawing invalid conclusions from inaccuracies.
This argument is little difference from the sophistical question, “Can God make a rock so big He can’t lift it?” The conundrum is that either answer given will imply a limit to divine power. The correct answer, Aquinas would agree, is that God can by no means make such a rock! God would never will to make such a rock since God’s will and nature are truly one. God would have to will that He cease to be God in order to make something that is outside His power. There are numerous things God “can’t” do (e.g., become the devil, make square circles, cease to exist). None of these affect omnipotence if we understand that to mean God’s ability to do anything He wants to do. The only limits to God’s power, in other words, are the limits of His own inner life. In order to meet Dawkins’ objection, it is not necessary to explain to everyone’s satisfaction how all God’s attributes relate to each other and every aspect of creation. It is sufficient to show that the arguments for God support the conclusion that God is not restricted in power or knowledge. How God’s knowledge and power are related within Himself is a question that can be pondered forever and there can be differences of opinion on how to resolve it. All we need to show is that there are reasonable ways to reconcile God’s attributes. If God’s knowledge and His power are harmonious in God, we can acknowledge internal reasons for the way in which God’s power is exercised while still acknowledging that there are no external constraints. That is enough to satisfy the challenge.
What of God’s goodness? Here, too, Aquinas offers arguments from reason that God must be good. He begins with Aristotle’s definition of “good.” We consider something good inasmuch as it is desirable. A good plate of food is one that is appealing to the hungry animal. Sometimes, of course, something may appear good but actually be bad; as, for instance, when the food on the plate is mixed with poison. Something that is truly good, then, is something that contributes to the positive movement of a creature towards its happiness or fulfillment. We can say that a thing that is happy or fulfilled is good and we can say that the things that help it to achieve that state are goods.
What Aquinas observes is that goodness, understood as the fulfillment of a thing, is actually its greater perfection in being. In other words, when a thing moves towards becoming fully what it can be, it is called good. If it moves away from that goal (e.g., by eating poison or contracting disease), such a state of affairs is called bad.
In what sense is God good? God, as the source of all reality is perfectly good since He is infinite in being. There is nothing God can be that He is not already. There is no part of reality that exceeds God in its level of completeness or perfection. As a result, God is most good since all other instances of good finitely mirror the supreme completion or goodness found in God.
In these brief summaries of some (certainly not all) of Aquinas’ reasons to believe that God is omniscient and good we find ourselves a far distance from Dawkins’ evaluation: “there is absolutely no reason to endow that terminator (i.e. God) with any of the properties normally ascribed to God: omnipotence, omniscience, goodness…” (101, emphasis added). Why doesn’t Dawkins interact with Aquinas on the reasons he offers? I doubt that it is a malicious act of deception. My guess is that Dawkins did little more than look at Aquinas’ arguments for God and chose not to look at anything more and summarily dismissed the arguments based on a superficial reading. I hope, at least, this is the explanation since the alternative would be that he is purposefully deceptive in his claims.
The Argument from Degree
The fourth “way” that Aquinas argues for God’s existence receives little attention in contrast to the other four. In fact, there are different interpretations of the argument. Let’s give it a try.
Aquinas notes that we make distinctions in things in this world based on, what appears to be, some standard of distinction. For instance, I might say that one kind of action is better than another. Giving up some of my time to help someone in need is “better,” for instance, than me grudgingly giving a quarter that I found on the ground in a church offering. It is also true that not doing a homework assignment is not as “bad” as murdering people for fun. Everyone seems to have the ability to distinguish between things that are better/worse, good/bad, beautiful/ugly, etc. If these judgments are objectively true, they must represent some kind of real, objective standard over against which things are judged to be good or bad. That standard is not found in this world. We find true or good things but not truth or goodness itself. We never find “beauty” itself but we do find beautiful things. Aquinas uses the example of fire. To him, things are hot on account of fire or the heat of the sun. Since the sun causes the warmth and heat on this planet, we can say that everything in this world that is warm or hot in some way is derived from the sun.
The basic principle is that degrees within a species or kind of thing argue for a supreme principle that provides the basis for the species itself.
Dawkins quickly disposes of this argument by a reductio ad absurdum: “You might as well say, people vary in smelliness but we can make a comparison only by reference to a perfect maximum of conceivable smelliness” (102). God, then, would be the “pre-eminently peerless stinker.”
This conclusion, of course, misses the point altogether. Aquinas would simply point out that “smelliness” is a part of a larger genus. Smelliness is a way in which material, changing beings exist in this world. It also happens to be an offensive way in which beings exist. If smelliness is a negative feature of some beings in this world, we can conclude that smelly beings are not as “good” as beings that have a pleasing odor, at least in regard to sensory appeal. This process of distinguishing between degrees of perfection in things is another instance of recognizing greater and lesser beings, all of which is possible because there is a supreme being, God. Dawkins’ mistake is to think too low on the scale of beings. Yet again, then, Dawkins simply misunderstands Aquinas’ argument.
The Argument from Design
Dawkins’ final assault on Aquinas’ arguments is directed towards the Fifth Way. According to Dawkins’ summary of the argument, Aquinas claimed that things that look designed have to be designed. Living things, especially, seem to be designed. Consequently, there must be a Designer, and “we call him God” (103). His response to this argument is to say that Darwin demolished it by his theory of natural selection. “There has probably never been a more devastating rout of popular belief by clever reasoning than Charles Darwin’s destruction of the argument from design.” He “improves” on Aquinas’ analogy of an arrow reaching its target by suggesting a “heat-seeking anti-aircraft missile”. The point seems to be that a heat-seeking missile is a finely devised, goal-seeking invention and its complexity and sophistication are best explained by an intelligent designer.
A few points are in order. Let’s first consider the arrow analogy. If, while walking through a field, I notice in the distance an arrow moving towards a target, narrowly missing a bull’s eye, I begin to look for the archer. If I continue to see arrows streak towards the target, I continue to look towards the direction the arrows originate. In other words, my mind will search for the cause of a moving arrow towards a target. If, on the other hand, I see a pile of rocks simply flying about randomly, I would not immediately assume there is an intelligent cause of the motion. The movement of the arrow towards a “goal” or target implies a cause of that intentional motion. The arrow itself in its state of motion is not sufficient to explain its tendency to move toward the target.
A similar kind of intentionality can be observed in nature. We are not satisfied, Aquinas reasons, with explanations of purposeful activity in nature any more than we are with instances of purposefulness in human experience when we remain on the level of instrumental causes. If, for instance, I write a word on a writing board with a pen, we do not rest content with the pen as the ultimate cause of the writing. We do not attribute intelligence to the pen on account of the fact that it wrote the words. We search for an intelligent cause that moves the pen. Similarly, when we observe nature typically exhibiting an orderly and predictable set of effects, often with apparent intentionality, we are justified in seeking an intelligent cause of this behavior.
Although Darwin’s theory did undermine the confidence of many in the validity of William Paley’s version of the Teleological Argument for God’s existence, others met Darwin’s challenge in other ways. First, philosophers of faith, especially F. R. Tennant (d. 1957), simply expanded the net of intentionality to include the whole cosmic scheme. In other words, although it might be possible to explain a single instance of apparent teleology through random causes, it is not reasonable to explain the whole trajectory of the cosmos as an orderly and predictable set of causes and effects without a supreme “lawgiver” and governor. This is very similar to Aquinas’ observation that “natural bodies always, or nearly always, act for an end (aim, goal, purpose)” (Summa theologiae I, 2, 3). Aquinas’ argument is not founded primarily in living systems, as Dawkins’ claims but, rather, in the regularity of all natural bodies, whether living or not.
Although I am largely ignorant why, Richard Dawkins has earned the right to be heard on a variety of topics related to science. With respect to the great philosophical questions, however, he has not. His critique of St. Thomas is a pitiful substitute for serious scholarship and cannot be taken seriously. If what we have seen is the best he can do in reply to Aquinas, I cannot but conclude that Dawkins is deluded.
Mark A. McNeil – October, 2008
Mr. McNeil currently teaches theology at Strake Jesuit College Preparatory (Houston)
I see that you obviously have no understanding of modern physics. Aquinas’ argument of causality is based on a Newtonian view of the world. Anyone who has spent time studying modern quantum mechanics can easily dismiss this argument.
Aquinas’ argument cannot possibly be based on a Newtonian view of the world since he lived long before Newton! Further, I don’t see how quantum mechanics affects the soundness of Aquinas’ reasoning. Ultimately Aquinas’ arguments are grounded in the metaphysical conviction that the universe is rational and knowable. If the universe can be understood then the principal of cauality (i.e., when something happens there is a reason why it happened) is sound. Quantum physics might suggest a level of randomness or indeterminancy in the universe but this is not equal to saying there are effects without causes. As I understand it, physicists are hard at work trying to find a unified theory of everything which, to my mind, suggests they hold to the ultimate rationality of the world. Aquinas’ arguments for God are the ultimate conclusion of this conviction that reality makes sense. I have read a fair number of presentations of quantum theory and find nothing that undermines Aquinas’ conclusions. Additionally, if you still think quantum mechanics so easily allows one to dismiss Aquinas you might want to let Dawkins know about that since his refutations of Aquinas fail to make that argument.
Putting aside Jake’s ignorance, this article is wonderful.
As Jake confirms, new atheists make arguments based on ignorance in both philosophy as in physics… and Dawkins is ignorant in both these fields (his knowledge lies in biology, although Dawkins to the field are hardly impressive I might say).
Dawkins’ critique of Aquinas is pathetic at best for those who understand Aquinas philosophical work and might fool only those as ignorant as himself.
I can recommend Edward Feser’s books: “Aquinas” and “The Last Superstition”, which deal on Aquinas’ philosophy and the foolishness of new atheism, respectively.
“Quantum physics might suggest a level of randomness or indeterminacy in the universe but this is not equal to saying there are effects without causes. ”
As someone who has earned a Ph.D. in physics (sorry if I sound pretentious) I might say that what you say Mark is true. QM does not invalidate causality. QM invalidates the deterministic view of Newtonian Mechanics. Yet causality is clear in QM. For example if you have an electron in a molecule and it goes from the ground state to an excited state this does not happen ‘for no reason’. It happens because it receives a ‘quantum of energy’ (ie a photon or a phonon or is hit by another particle…)
So the position of an electron in an atom or molecule is not ‘determined’ but the electron is delocalized over a volume and each bit (infinitesimal part) of volume has a certain chance to have the electron in it, if you measure the position of the electron: ie you cannot tell where the electron is a priori (like you could with a tennis ball in a box after you put it there) before measuring it.
His position is stochastic and not determined.
This (in part) differentiates QM from Newtonian physics, but it has nothing to do with ‘causality’ and certainly not with ontological causality which Aquinas talks about….
The biggest tragedy known to Mankind is the placing of “belief” and “faith” above science and reason. All because of what the priest told you, or because of of what your parents told you, or because of what a logically flawed book (written by men, revised by men) told you. Something you cannot see, touch, smell, taste or hear. An omnipotent, invisible “thing” that watches every move that you make – and if you don’t believe in this “thing”, you will literally burn in hell. Forever. But this “thing” loves you. Your “belief” (and it is little more than that) gives you a smug glow of satisfaction over “non-believers” and offers you a nice warm feeling that if you tell your “sins” to that old man behind the panel, you will spend eternity in a glorious place in the clouds, with the angels and everyone you ever loved and who loved you. Religion never helped anyone – only humans helped anyone, and humans made up this gargantuan myth to control people like you. Sin and be damned. Believe in me or be damned. DO AS I SAY and have eternal life.
Go ahead. Call me names, call me ignorant, simply because I believe in the things that I feel with my five senses, and refuse to believe something just because someone else tells me it’s true, or if it’s written in an old book. Bask in your self-gratuitous glory, firm in the belief that when the end comes, I will burn in hell, because that’s what the book says.
Wake up. Think for yourself.
The sad part is you truly don’t know what you are missing. You place your faith in science you don’t understand (like Jake). You place your faith in news reporters. You parrot the Liberal line as if you invented it. Yeah, you’re a real rebel, sticking to the Pope and his henchmen. You are carried away by the winds of popular culture and never take note of what is unchanging and True. You don’t think for yourself, you just read the latest opinions and take them for your own. I’ve been there. I know. I don’t think you will burn in hell, because you haven’t thought enough about God to reject Him. Your ignorance protects you, and thank God for His mercy. You may well be in a better spot than me, who knows some of the Truth and yet still falls short. And still I could not trade away my understanding even if I wanted to. My discontent with popular science and clever metaphysics became ever more pronounced as the people I loved began to pass into the next world. There’s no reason to wait for that. Read some Belloc, Chesterton, and Aquinas. Listen to Fulton Sheen and Kreeft. The Truth will blow your mind, and you’ll never look back.
“You parrot the Liberal line as if you invented it.” So true, so true. Miguel’s words remind me of George Carlin’s bit on religion (“…but he loves you!”) Keep speaking the truth Paul. Peace in Christ.
I call you, Miguel…and I call you brother because that is what you are to me as this faith you try to question and denounce has called us ALL to be.. ) …that includes you. Oh no, I will never ever wish that you burn in hell. I wish to take you with us to heaven. Oh please don’t say religion has not helped anyone. That would be so wrong. If our God, Jesus Christ, makes us happy, we just want to share the happiness with you. After all, He truly lived and walked this earth. That cannot be denied. If God touches your heart after reading this, perhaps you have given Him a chance to love you! 🙂 I will pray for you, Miguel!
Miguel, you said “I believe in the things that I feel with my five senses, and refuse to believe something just because someone else tells me it’s true…” If you truly have no faith and only believe what can be proven by your five senses, how do you know someone loves you, say for example, your mom? Sure you might say you know because of something your senses told you (she fed you, clothed you, told you she loved you) but how do you know she really loves you? She could have done all that for some selfish purpose and not really love you. I’m assuming you believe she truly loves you. That takes faith. Whether you like to admit it or not, you do put your faith in things that cannot be proven by science and the 5 senses alone. You even put your faith in science and the belief that it can explain all. Where is the peer reviewed study that follows the scientific method and proves that EVERYTHING can be proven by the scientific method?
Miguel, your objections to faith are understandable. That is not to say, however, that they are correct. Sifting through your argument, one objection is self-evident: that one oughtn’t believe in that which is not confirmed by science or logic.
Yet, you accept every second of every day that which is logically untenable. Anyone with a passable knowledge of Descartes could tell you that. You mention your five senses. The operations of these senses are completely divorced from reason. What I see with my eyes, for example, is in no way logically confirmed to be there. Any argument based on observation is by its very nature circular, e.g. A man sees a chair. In order to confirm the existence of the chair, the man touches the chair, smells the wood and hears it creak. He therefore assumes that the chair is real. This is logically absurd. He has confirmed the accuracy of his senses by the accuracy of his senses.
You (presumably) accept the existence of things perceived by the senses when, logically, there is no argument to be made for their existence. You therefore accept, on blind faith, that your senses report to your mind accurate information.
Science, being for the most part an exercise in observation, is by extension an exercise in blind faith. I have no qualms about blind faith. I assume daily that the sun will rise, though neither science nor logic have confirmed it to me, based purely on past experience. This is how the majority of human decisions are made. If one analysed every decision rationally, one would go insane. The mind simply cannot compute to that degree.
It seems, then, that this blind faith is the most rational part of the human mind. I would suggest you recognise how often you embrace blind faith before calling others out on it.
Miguel, thanks for the reasoned response. Your argument is flawed in one major respect. In essence, you state that simply because one cannot feel, or sense something, that does not mean that that this “thing” does not exist.
However, that does not support the existence of your faith. All religions profess that theirs is the truth. I can say to you that there is a planet exactly like ours, 500 million light years away, where the inhabitants dress like pandas and sip chamomile tea from cups made from pewter. Are you saying this is true, simply because you cannot prove its non-existence? Does my “blind faith” in this planet make it just as real as the chair I am sitting on?
You say that I “accept the existence of things perceived by the senses when, logically, there is no argument to be made for their existence.” Using your own logic, there is therefore “no argument to be made” for the existence of God.
I see this is an old thread now, but just in case Miguel returns…
I appreciate your visit here–being atheist, your interest to contribute to this site tells me much about you…
For one, your suggestion to “wake up” suggests that you are the one who is truly “awake.” I, on the other hand, am “asleep;” this means that I am dead to the world, at worst, or deluded to think I am “awake,” at best. Ouch. Most decent people (which I sense you are, based on your responses to other posts) do not start a conversation with an insult.
Nonetheless, I have but one question for you. Why are you talking with those not “awake?” You will obviously not get a response that fits your parameter of “awake.”
My conclusion thus… Assuming you are a decent person, in spite of your introductory condescension, you are in fact interested in what the “not-awake” have to say. I mean, if you were really at peace with your “superior” atheism, you would have no need to discuss it. It would be like me trying to evangelize an ant. Reflect on this, Miguel–why bother with the “not-awake?” What are you expecting to find? I doubt you take joy in being labeled arrogant.
I otherwise have no “bone” with you. You have every right to your “superior” atheism. Likewise I have every right to my “inferior” religion. Allow me the freedom to share my Joy, however “meaningless” it is to you. Allow me to love you because Someone Else has loved me first.
Thank you for this rebuttal. The world loves the ignorance those in darkness spout and they are equally unwilling to listen to two thousand years of reason.
Given Richard Dawkins disbelief and denial of God, perhaps he should focus on a different author. He might find himself more at home with Dante’s Inferno.
Thanks for the insults, Frank. As the song goes, “Don’t Stop Believing”! It makes no difference to me, or the universe for that matter. Your beliefs are simply a cluster of brain cells in your head. I’m happy. Happy to live in “darkness”, if that’s how you define it. When we die, we will all be in the same place, “believers” or not – two thousand years does not a truth make.
And Phillip, there you go again. Threats of hell and eternal fire and damnation, should a person not believe in your system. Give yourself a pat on the back.
If relgious beliefs are simply a cluster of brain cells. then so are scientific theories. So is logic itself. A thought is a thought. You can’t dismiss religious beliefs as being merely “a cluster of brain cells” and leave the rest of human knowledge intact.
I am actually convinced people like Dawkins, Harris’, Hitchens etc… Actually do believe in God, not only that I am willing to bet they actually believe in the Christian God as well, because no one spends this much time talking about a subject or talking about something they could care less about or don’t believe in.When I go onto religious sites, or watch religious videos on youtube, there are heck of a lot more atheists comments and atheists on them then people of faith I am pretty sure they don’t believe in Santa Clause either, but you don’t hear them mentioning anything about him. Also they seem to want to focus all their attention on the Christian faith and all the bad things that have been done its name, but yet they seem to want to give every other religion a pass
David, you do have a good point, but I don’t think it detracts from my argument. Scientific theories cannot necessarily be reduced to a cluster of brain cells – they are rooted in proof – for instance Einstein’s theory of relativity would exist even if no organism on earth possessed a brain. It is based on evidence – actions, reactions, etc. Religion is based on “belief”. There is simply no evidence for a god, save for ideas, beliefs, and that annoying word, “faith”.
Patrick, I agree that Christianity is singled out for the most criticism, and I object to that. I think all religion should be subject to robust criticism – no system of beliefs is immune. People are afraid to insult Judaism or Islam, as Christians are generally much more tolerant. Anyway, every adult knows Santa Claus is a myth, but nobody is threatened with hell for not believing in him.
And Paul and AG, your responses are so vague and full of religious rhetoric (yawn) that I do not deem them worthy of a response. Thanks for praying for me though, AG; if clutching your hands and talking to yourself in your head helps, then I guess you can lose the therapist.
Anyway, despite what you say, you cannot deny that ALL OF YOU think I will burn in hell should I continue to hold my beliefs for the rest of my life. You therefore define goodness in terms of what a person believes in, which is flawed, cruel and insulting. If that is what your “god” wants, I’ll spend eternity in hell – thanks for the good thoughts 😉
Very, very good article. Sadly the most of phyiscs or pseudo-phylosophers don’t understand the Trascendence but they pretend to demount it. I really have to congratulate with you for this aphology of the Aquinas.
From Rome, Lorenzo Roselli, an italian catholic.
Miguel you are being very arrogant you do not know what I believe and what I don’t, we can be saved by our works and not just our faith. Also the point I was making wasn’t so much about Santa Clause the point is why are you even on this website anyways or why if you are so convinced that God isn’t real or if your so convinced that there is no hell, why would it bother you if someone says that to you? When I was a child and stoped believing in Santa Claus people would tell me I would get coal in my stocking? But I didn’t care care because I knew it wasn’t true. Also I ask a lot of atheists what about doing what God wants us to do seems to bother you so much? Tells us not respect our parents, remain faithful to our spouse, not to steal, not to disrespect our neighbor’s etc…. Those seem like good things to me? I don’t understand why they have such a hard time wanting to abide by that, and if they don’t why they think there shouldn’t be consequences?
Miguel, thanks for the “arrogant” tag. I’m just assuming you believe in Catholicism, which (and pardon me if I’m incorrect) states as a basic tenet that if you do not believe in Jesus Christ, you will burn in hell.
The “ten commandments” are good to live by, but I do not need to believe in a supernatural deity to live by those standards.
Just answer one question for me, Patrick, in a short sentence. If a person who has never hurt another in his/her life, dies without believing in any god, Jesus Christ or the Bible, will that person go to heaven, or hell?
Inquiring minds would like to know.
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From the Catechism of the Catholic Church:
1033 We cannot be united with God unless we freely choose to love him. But we cannot love God if we sin gravely against him, against our neighbor or against ourselves: “He who does not love remains in death. Anyone who hates his brother is a murderer, and you know that no murderer has eternal life abiding in him.”612 Our Lord warns us that we shall be separated from him if we fail to meet the serious needs of the poor and the little ones who are his brethren.613 To die in mortal sin without repenting and accepting God’s merciful love means remaining separated from him for ever by our own free choice. This state of definitive self-exclusion from communion with God and the blessed is called “hell.”
1034 Jesus often speaks of “Gehenna” of “the unquenchable fire” reserved for those who to the end of their lives refuse to believe and be converted, where both soul and body can be lost.614 Jesus solemnly proclaims that he “will send his angels, and they will gather . . . all evil doers, and throw them into the furnace of fire,”615 and that he will pronounce the condemnation: “Depart from me, you cursed, into the eternal fire!”616
1035 The teaching of the Church affirms the existence of hell and its eternity. Immediately after death the souls of those who die in a state of mortal sin descend into hell, where they suffer the punishments of hell, “eternal fire.”617 The chief punishment of hell is eternal separation from God, in whom alone man can possess the life and happiness for which he was created and for which he longs.
1036 The affirmations of Sacred Scripture and the teachings of the Church on the subject of hell are a call to the responsibility incumbent upon man to make use of his freedom in view of his eternal destiny. They are at the same time an urgent call to conversion: “Enter by the narrow gate; for the gate is wide and the way is easy, that leads to destruction, and those who enter by it are many. For the gate is narrow and the way is hard, that leads to life, and those who find it are few.”618
Since we know neither the day nor the hour, we should follow the advice of the Lord and watch constantly so that, when the single course of our earthly life is completed, we may merit to enter with him into the marriage feast and be numbered among the blessed, and not, like the wicked and slothful servants, be ordered to depart into the eternal fire, into the outer darkness where “men will weep and gnash their teeth.”619
1037 God predestines no one to go to hell;620 for this, a willful turning away from God (a mortal sin) is necessary, and persistence in it until the end. In the Eucharistic liturgy and in the daily prayers of her faithful, the Church implores the mercy of God, who does not want “any to perish, but all to come to repentance”:621
Father, accept this offering
from your whole family.
Grant us your peace in this life,
save us from final damnation,
and count us among those you have chosen.622
I am really happy I have this article to rely on. See, my atheist friend used to be a typical New Age atheist. The Miguel`s of the world. You know, the atheists who are so enlightened by science that their every word drips with superior ignorance.
But ever since meeting me, she now understands that not every religious person is hellbent on forcing beliefs they themselves do no fully understand onto random people.
Unlike many supposedly Christian people, I do my research on theology to the best of my ability so I truly understand the meaning of my church `s practices.
Anyhoo, there is this boy in my class who is yet another New-Age atheist. Very much like my friend before she saw firsthand how my faith shapes my actions and my outlook on life. Well, he is reading the God Delusion(after a series of other atheist books. He works REALLY hard to maintain his atheism…)and was eager to share it with his atheist friends, one of which is that same friend of mine.
She can be easily influenced. While she respects my beliefs and sees that it is very real to me and no longer criticizes religion in blanketed terms , I fear she will rule it out completely after reading this book, merely because Dawkins is excellent at faking comprehension of St. Thomas….
This article so well written and helps me put to words the flaws I found in Dawkin`s reasoning.
God Bless you all <3
Oh and P.S: The basic definition of hell is the forcible removal (by yourself) from God`s love. So, God doesn`t send you to hell, you do. And earlier Miguel asks
"If a person who has never hurt another in his/her life, dies without believing in any god, Jesus Christ or the Bible, will that person go to heaven, or hell?"
This in itself, is impossible. No human has made perfect choices their entire life. One could 'hurt' another person without meaning to and still be considered a good person. So, your entire question is unanswerable in the sense that your hypothetical situation is irrational. Also, not believing in God doesn`t mean the qualities one possess and put to action do not reflect God.
Yes, an atheist can go to heaven in the same way Christians can go to Hell.
Salvation is one part faith and one part works.
The reason believing in God is so vital is because it gives faithful believers confidence and strength to do good things for many people despite any mental or physical exhaustion. We just want to make the world a better place and rejoin our Father in heaven. It is hard for practicing Christians to maintain their beliefs in a society where it is easier to stay quiet about their religion because people are so rude and obnoxiously bigoted, so imagine how hard is is to be a good person when one doesn`t have God`s strength on their side?
Praying for a change of heart and for those that were rejected or ridiculed on behalf of their Savior 🙂