I know I get stuck on one topic every now and then. For those whom that annoys I apologize. Currently I am on this whole atheist compared to Catholic kick. It simply fascinates me.
If you watched the video on Tuesday you witness one of the world’s most famous atheists and one of the princes of the Church . . . compare and contrast I suppose. I understand why the cardinal wants to use any opportunity to express his beliefs – he has what believes is a divine mandate to do so. What motivates the atheist? Why would it be important to him that everyone understand him? I suppose there are two main reasons – one, that he wants to be understood, and two, he must to some extent enjoy it.
The most interesting part of the interview for me is the “why” of the universe. I interpret his question as to why there is anything as opposed to nothing. Why should there be matter and space and such a thing as life? The whole universe and everything in it would be equally as mysterious if it were the size and composition of a tiny pebble. Why should there be something that can form structure, have energy – no – why should there be anything at all? Why should there be existence?
Of course, for the Christian, the universe is full of meaning and purpose and direction and everything means something. Where we came from, where we are, and where we are going are all very significant. “Why” is based on a benevolent God who created all there is out of love and Who desires to share that love with those who freely choose to accept it. All of creation is aiming toward that love. So bringing others on board is very important.
Unfortunately most of the self proclaimed atheists with whom I get the opportunity to speak are either not really atheists at all or have a very shallow understanding of the underpinnings of their atheism. (I am sure they can be matched man for man with similar Catholics – probably outnumbered and in vast numbers – but such is my current experience.) As one of my favorite Catholic speakers once said, “There are many good reasons to be an atheist, but most people don’t know enough to be one.”
So we turn to Dawkins. Firstly I was disappointed that a lot of his argument was based in ridicule. There was the dismissives, “Surly you don’t believe . . .” and his misleading presentation of the Christian position that then made it easy for him to ridicule. But such is life.
What was truly interesting to me was his turn on the “why” of the universe. He believes there is a scientific why to the universe. Something caused it to form. It can be explained. It can’t be explained yet, but science will eventually tell us. (Here he we see a basis of atheistic “belief” the same as the Christian “belief.”) But as to the deeper why of the universe – the meaning behind it, he calls an absurd question. There is no meaning to the universe. It is not achieving any perfection. It simply is. So what does this debate matter unless you do it out of personal joy?
So then he rejects social Darwinism and declares it wrong. But how can he declare it absolutely wrong if there is no meaning to the universe? The only way I can see is to say, “I have declared it wrong, I have the power (or the majority or what have you) and have decreed it so.” Is that not, in effect, a form of Social Darwinism? It can’t be both ways. The universe cannot be meaningless and full of inherent good and evil at the same time.
So we both look at a pebble. For both of us it is an amazing thing. Scientifically it might reveal tons of information. It might bring joy or be useful. We could instill meaning into it such as, “This is the rock I picked up on my 25th birthday and I keep it as a happy remembrance of that day.” But after that, if I read things correctly, for the atheist, all else is meaninglessness. For the Christian, there is further meaning in that pebble with the power of a nuclear explosion. There is a Who, what, where, when, and why of its coming into being and just as much to where it is going.