March 23, 2007


Atheism on the move

(Listen to this editorial being read)

Atheism seems to be the latest fad.

It started with the success of British atheist Richard Dawkins’ book The God Delusion, which remains on best-seller lists.

American atheist Sam Harris also had a best-seller, called The End of Faith: Religion, Terror, and the Future of Reason. He followed that up with Letter to a Christian Nation, which also achieved success. They argued, in effect, that religious beliefs are mainly responsible for most of the evil in the world.

Those books’ success spurred a conference last November in La Jolla, Calif., called “Beyond Belief: Science, Religion, Reason and Survival.”

The point of the conference was that science and belief in God are incompatible. Dawkins was one of the speakers. He compared God to a small child’s imaginary friend, or a little purple man with a tinkling bell.

Finally, there came the establishment of something called the Center for Inquiry Transnational, founded by atheist Paul Kurtz. The purpose of this center is to lobby against the influence of religion in politics, especially in areas of science such as stem-cell research. Its leaders placed an ad in The New York Times that argued for a “scientific viewpoint” in politics that would not permit “legislation or executive action to be influenced by religious belief.”

Obviously, atheism is a popular belief (or disbelief) at the present time. Anti-religion books sell well, especially when their authors present religion as being incompatible with science. For many of these authors, science has become their religion.

But there cannot be incompatibility between science and religion because God is the author of both. It’s true that Catholic Church officials were once wrong when they condemned the teachings of Galileo, but the Church has learned from that mistake.

Some atheists who put all their faith in science want to give the impression that most scientists are atheists. That simply isn’t true. As far as we know, there is no study that shows that there’s a greater percentage of atheists among scientists than in other professions. Atheists remain a small minority among scientists just as they do in other fields.

Throughout history, our greatest scientists have tended to be believers, many of them devout believers. Sometimes that belief comes from recognition that there is tremendous order in the universe, an order that could not have occurred accidentally.

Belief among scientists continues today. Another successful recent book is Francis S. Collins’ The Language of God: A Scientist Presents Evidence for Belief.

Collins was director of the International Human Genome Project that successfully mapped the human genome. In his book, Collins writes about his journey from agnosticism to atheism and then a reverse to Christianity.

He attributes his journey partially to the writings of Christian apologist C. S. Lewis, who made a similar journey. Lewis had many reasons for his belief, but one of them was the universality of the moral law, the sense of right and wrong in all cultures and time. Where could the natural law come from but from God?

Collins sees no contradiction between his belief in God and in evolution. He quotes scientist Stephen Hawking’s observation that scientific acceptance of the Big Bang as the beginning of the universe is difficult unless it was the act of some God who had in his mind the creation of human beings like us.

Pope Benedict XVI spoke about Christianity and science last November in a talk to the Pontifical Academy of the Sciences. Here are excerpts:

“Christianity does not posit an inevitable conflict between supernatural faith and scientific progress. The very starting-point of biblical revelation is the affirmation that God created human beings, endowed them with reason, and set them over all the creatures of the earth. In this way, man has become the steward of creation and God’s ‘helper.’

“… Man cannot place in science and technology so radical and unconditional a trust as to believe that scientific and technological progress can explain everything and completely fulfill all his existential and spiritual needs. Science cannot replace philosophy and revelation by giving an exhaustive answer to man’s most radical questions: questions about the meaning of living and dying, about ultimate values, and about the nature of progress itself.”

— John F. Fink

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