Turning the Tables on Atheists (Part 1)

Author Patrick Madrid Discusses "The Godless Delusion"

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By Karna Swanson

GRANVILLE, Ohio, MAY 12, 2011 (Zenit.org).- What would happen if Christians turned the tables on atheists and challenged them on their belief that God doesn't exist?

This is the premise of the book "The Godless Delusion: A Catholic Challenge to Modern Atheism," written by Patrick Madrid and Kenneth Hensley (Our Sunday Visitor), in which the internal contradictions of a non-belief in God, as well as the various incoherencies in the atheistic worldview, are exposed.

According to Madrid, "atheists are not accustomed to Christians subjecting atheism to a rigorous critique on its own merits. This is why our primary goal was to take a different approach by providing a philosophical critique of atheism itself."

Madrid is the author or editor of 16 books, the director of the Envoy Institute of Belmont Abbey College, the publisher of Envoy Magazine, and host of the Thursday edition of EWTN Radio’s "Open Line" broadcast (3-5 p.m. ET).

In this interview with ZENIT, Madrid discusses the primary goals of writing "The Godless Delusion," as well as the precarious foundations of the naturalistic morality of atheism.

Part 2 of this interview will appear Friday.

ZENIT: As you state in your book, atheists have been around for years, but there have also been various Catholic and Protestant responses to atheism. What is unique about your approach to atheism and your understanding of atheists?
Madrid: Given that other Catholic books have already decisively refuted atheism’s major arguments against God, when Kenneth Hensley and I began outlining chapters for "The Godless Delusion," we knew it wasn’t necessary for us to write the same sort of book (three superb examples of which are: "The Last Superstition: A Refutation of the New Atheism," by Edward Feser, "Handbook of Catholic Apologetics," by Jesuit Father Ronald Tacelli and Peter Kreeft, and "Theology and Sanity," by Frank Sheed).

Atheists are accustomed to being the aggressor when engaging Christians. They attack and Christians defend. But atheists are not accustomed to having the tables turned, and to defend atheist principles. They are not accustomed to Christians subjecting atheism to a rigorous critique on its own merits.

This is why our primary goal was to take a different approach by providing a philosophical critique of atheism itself -- one that would highlight its internal contradictions and incoherencies and demonstrate what we believe to be the atheist worldview’s abject inability to account for various immaterial realities we all know and experience, e.g., love, knowledge, goodness, evil, self-awareness, memory, human rights, etc.

Second, we wanted to subject atheism to a strictly rational, philosophical critique that would not rely on evidence for the existence of God found in divine revelation: Christ, Scripture, the Church, miracles, etc. Those things are, of course, rejected out of hand by atheists as wholly irrelevant and inadmissible, so we felt it would be useful for our readers to understand how to critique and refute atheism without ever having to engage in directly proving the existence of God.

At the outset of the book, we specify a premise with which all atheists would agree: Either God exists or he does not exist. There is no possibility of a third option. Thus, if it can be conclusively proven that God does not exist, then atheism is true and we should all become atheists. The corollary is equally true: If atheism itself is false, then by default, God must exist. In "The Godless Delusion," our fundamental goal is to demonstrate that God must exist, but only indirectly, by showing that atheism is false.

ZENIT: In the chapter titled "The Death of Right and Wrong," you discuss the naturalistic worldview of atheism and note its most radical implications vis-à-vis morality. Essentially, if one is to accept that only what can be seen exists, then one must deny the existence of the basic ideas of right and wrong. But isn’t the natural law written on the hearts of all? Why couldn’t a naturalistic worldview also encompass a naturalistic morality?
Madrid: Yes, that’s correct. Atheism's denial of the existence of God is predicated on what is known as the Naturalist world view. Naturalism posits that the only things that exist are material. Or, to say it a different way, nothing immaterial (i.e., spiritual or supernatural) can exist. In other words, only things in the natural order exist. There is no supernatural order above or beyond the natural. This helps to explain why, on the one hand, atheists disdain any talk of God, angels and souls. They reject the existence of these things since there are immaterial and therefore not part of the natural order.

And on the other hand, the naturalist foundation of atheism helps to explain why so many modern atheists tout science as the supreme means by which the question, "Does God exist?" can be answered. Most atheists confidently assume that science has either disproven the existence of God or it soon will. But, of course, science is completely incapable of answering this question because science deals strictly with pre-given material realties in the cosmos, which can be apprehended with man’s corporeal sense organs. These things are subject to observation, measurement, etc., because they are material. But God is immaterial. So are angels, demons, and human souls. These are pure spirit and, therefore, lie utterly beyond the realm of science. Philosophy, not the physical sciences, is the proper and only adequate means of proving or disproving the existence of God.

Science, for all its stupendous importance, is simply incapable of speaking to the question of God’s existence. And this brings us the crux of the answer to your question: Morality is part of the "real world" we all live in, and even atheists follow moral norms out of a desire to be "good." But what possible meaning can the word "good" have in a truly atheist universe in which God does not exist?

In "The Godless Delusion," we say that terms such as "good" and "evil" would be essentially meaningless in any absolute sense because, if God does not exist and there is no transcendent moral law revealed by God which prescribes how we should act, one cannot say that a given action is good or evil. It just is what it is. One may not like or approve of a particular action, such as murder or theft, but it would be impossible to deem it "evil" in any sense beyond one’s own subjective, personal preferences. This is an example of an incoherence at work within atheism.

The atheist conviction is that human beings should be "good" for the sake of being good, as well as for the general personal and social benefits that accrue from being "good," "moral," etc. -- not because God wills that we be good.

This is where a curious lacuna inherent in the atheist moral theory comes into view. Atheist scientists, such as Richard Dawkins, concur with Charles Darwin’s theory of evolution, which entails the "survival of the fittest" principle of natural selection. The strong dominate and kill off the weak. The superior naturally eliminate the inferior, etc. This principle can be readily observed in the animal kingdom, where stronger, faster, more aggressive alpha males get to mate with the females and produce offspring. Weaker, less dominant males do not.

A significant incoherence in atheist thought becomes clear when atheists insist, on the one hand, that the natural order is governed by the blind, random forces of nature, resulting in the "survival of the fittest" evolution of species and yet, on the other hand, they complain about the problem of evil, or decry violent acts of Muslim jihadism, or excoriate those who engage in "immoral" behavior, especially among those who believe in God (and most especially among Christians).

But if, as atheists claim, God does not exist and all of us are simply the byproducts of natural selection’s "survival of the fittest," why shouldn’t the strong among us dominate and kill off the weak? Why shouldn’t we adopt an "every man for himself" attitude and get what we want from whomever we want it by whatever means we can get it? Atheism can offer no meaningful, much less plausible, answer to that question.

One of the many ironies of atheism is that atheists dismiss the Christian claim that God has revealed a transcendent moral law to all human beings (see St. Paul’s discussion of this in Romans 1:19-23, 2:14-16). Of course, there is a great deal more one can say about the problem this dichotomy presents for atheists, and we examine this issue in much greater detail in "The Godless Delusion."

ZENIT: You state that most atheists are moral people, who do believe in right and wrong. How do they justify not living out the naturalistic worldview to its logical conclusion?
Madrid: Yes, it’s true that many atheists not only regard themselves to be good people, but they really do try to be good people. Many of them strive to be kind, tolerant, generous, and respectful toward others. This is because they recognize that "right" and "wrong" behavior is real and not merely theoretical.

But this recognition, as important as it is for peaceful and harmonious human interaction, is still utterly inconsistent with the atheist worldview’s foundational claim that only natural, material things exist. To be consistent with this claim, they are forced to admit that "being good" is really just a matter of personal conviction or group consensus, not an ideal that God desires for all of us to strive for.

Atheists cannot justify, according to atheist principles, why they believe it is "wrong" to pollute oceans, cut down rain forests, or hack into someone’s bank account and steal their life savings. If the stronger members of the human species engage in such behaviors in their pursuit of dominating the weaker members, and if there is no God and therefore no transcendent, prescriptive moral law given by God to guide us into knowing what is right and what is wrong, then on what grounds can atheists legitimately oppose such behaviors?

Doing so would be intolerant and would have the net result of the atheist forcing his morality on others -- the very thing atheists object to in the first place.

[Friday: Proselytism by atheists]

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On the Net:

"The Godless Delusion": www.osv.com/BooksNav/TheGodlessDelusion/tabid/8102/Default.aspx

Patrick Madrid's Web site: http://patrickmadrid.com