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Saturday, December 21, 2013

Christmas Gifts for Atheists?

At Fox News, William Lane Craig has an article titled, "A Christmas Gift for Atheists: Five Reasons Why God Exists." While as a Catholic theologian I agree with Mr Craig's reasoning, I disagree with him that these arguments will well received by atheists.

Let me summarize his arguments.

The first reason is, "God is the best explanation of the origin of the universe." This argument relates well to St Thomas' famous First Cause, Prime Mover, and Necessary Agent arguments. A universe full of things and motion that do not need to exist of themselves, and indeed cannot, suggests that there is a transcendent, all powerful Creator. Science cannot offer a better explanation. Prominent and brilliant atheists will respond, "Yet." That is, science cannot offer a better explanation yet. And such atheists already propose a kind of circularity of time and space that they believe circumvents the need for a First Cause (a la Stephen Hawking in A Brief History of Time).

The second reason is, "God provides the best reason for the fine-tuning of the universe," which relates to St Thomas' Fifth Way, pertaining to the governance of the universe. In addition to harmony, St Thomas adds that things both sentient and non-living act towards ends that are reasonable, as if there were some intelligent participant in the events of the universe. Atheists poo-poo this and reduce it to obedience to physical laws and evolution.

The third is, "God provides the best explanation of objective moral values and duties," which I basically agree with. Without God, there is no objective morality possible - it all reduces to subjective goals and judgments of "good." I have argued this many times; just search "atheism" or "atheist" on this blog to see. To a certain extent, this third reason relates to St Thomas' Fourth Way, that of the gradation of things - we see goodness in everything, but there must be something that is perfectly good, goodness itself, in which all good things participate in some way. But the atheist could say that there doesn't have to be an objective moral order or an objective perfect good, as long as we have laws and we all try to get along. And therein, for me, lies the problem. Because "law" is malleable by those in power, and so it becomes a matter of might making right and tyranny. Atheism ends in tyranny - or at best, anarchy.

The fourth reason is, "God provides the best explanation of the historical facts concerning Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection." While I agree with this statement, I don't think I'd find it especially compelling if I were an atheist. After all, only if the apostles had a firm conviction of the resurrection of Jesus would they do what they did - no one invites persecution and poverty, torture and death, unless one holds firmly as true the thing that is ticking people off. But the atheist could say, "Maybe they were just insane." It's convenient and it also explains the facts, and since they hold as a premise that God does not exist, it is the only explanation that actually fits the facts.

The fifth reason is, "God can be personally known and experienced." Yes, but unless an atheist personally experiences God, he will not give any credence to those who claim to have personally experienced God. And if he does personally experience God, he is likely to attribute some other cause to the experience, something that could be explained by science, if science had the right instruments and knowledge to figure it out.

So although I agree with Mr. Craig and hope and pray he has good results with this approach, I think it may not really work as well as he believes it may. After all, atheists have been dealing with St Thomas' Five Ways for about 800 years now, and Mr. Craig doesn't really advance the argument in a compelling way.

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