A Theologian Answers the Atheists–or tries to

Writing for the online edition of the National Catholic Register, Fr. Thomas Williams attempts to answer the New Atheists:

One of the more irritating aspects of these books is the studious avoidance of arguments and examples that would contradict their preconceived thesis. The selection of data is so thoroughly biased that one often has the sensation of reading cheap propaganda…

One example that illustrates this well is the authors’ silence concerning the many marked benefits of religion to humanity. The atheists deliberately ignore the mountain of evidence available — empirical evidence — that ties charity to religious and specifically Christian belief. The founding of schools, hospitals, orphanages, universities, hospices and general aid to the poor has marked Christianity from the outset, yet finds no acknowledgement in these works.

Perhaps that’s because this is a spurious argument.

According to Roman Catholic teachings, Mormonism is a cult, i.e. a bad religion. Yet Mormons also have charitable institutions, hospitals, and Brigham Young University. Protestants in general have many such institutions, yet the Roman Catholic position is that they have departed from the One True Faith. Do these “good works” and charitable/educational institutions provide us with evidence that Roman Catholics are wrong to criticize the religious views of Protestants and Mormons? Should Catholic schools and hospitals prove that Protestants and Mormons are wrong to criticize Catholic beliefs?

I think Fr. Williams would be the first to admit that BYU is not valid evidence in favor of the Mormon doctrine of God(s). If we look at all these works, it’s fairly easy to see that men are doing the work, and then giving credit to their religion. Religion provides a context for good works, but not necessarily the motivation. The motivation comes from social standing.

Consider: one effective way to gain favor and respect from people is to make their beliefs look good, especially if they’re beliefs that need reassurance. The person who stands up and builds a hospital for God, or organizes a prison ministry for God, or founds a university for God, is going to end up with a great deal of prestige among theists, because he’s making their God look good. And if he “humbly” declines to take the credit for his efforts, and shifts the glory to God instead, his prestige becomes even greater.

Thus, there is a tremendous social pay-off for doing good works in the name of religion, but even more significantly, it doesn’t matter which religion. Now let’s think about that for a moment. It doesn’t matter which religion. If God really existed, then there would be some body of objective truth concerning this God. That means that it should matter which religion you espouse, because your religion is either going to be telling the truth about God, or it’s going to be wrong and/or deceptive. If we want to use the good works of men as evidence for or against their doctrine of God, then there ought to be an obvious and significant difference between the works of the “true” religion versus the works of the “false” ones.

On the other hand, if all religions are false and all their gods are myths, then all religions are essentially equal (i.e. equally false), and therefore religion would not matter. The situation we see in real life is exactly what we ought to be seeing if Christianity and Islam and Hinduism and so on are all superstitious beliefs in mythical deities.

So maybe, in a sense, Fr. Williams is right: Dawkins & Co. should look at the evidence provided by religious good works. It gives us yet another clue that mainstream religion isn’t telling us the truth about God.

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Posted in Unapologetics. 4 Comments »

4 Responses to “A Theologian Answers the Atheists–or tries to”

  1. blacknad Says:

    You are missing the point.

    The argument is about whether religion is detrimental or on balance, good for humanity.

    If the only atheist argument was about the veracity of religion then it would not be a problem. However, the atheists are attacking religion as if it is the root of all evil.

    That is where the charitable nature of religion comes into it’s own.

    Don’t conflate the two different arguments.

  2. blacknad Says:

    And do you have any facts about the amount of charitable activity carried out by different religions?

    Obviously not. If you took a scientific approach you could come to a real conclusion that religions are equally false or not.

    But I bet that if the evidence showed (as I think it would) that Christianity is responsible for the most charitable work/voluntary work, per adherent, you would still not follow the logic of your argument here and pronounce Christianity true.

    See, you win either way – stacked cards.

  3. blacknad Says:

    You said:

    “Protestants in general have many such institutions, yet the Roman Catholic position is that they have departed from the One True Faith.”

    I see you are also preemptively splitting Christianity up so if it had the major share of charitable activity, you can further hide behind smoke and mirrors and avoid your argument being turned against you. Is this just sloppy thinking or dishonesty?

    It is not up for the Catholic church to decide who is a Christian or not (however much they may want to). It is clearly God’s decision, ” … only begotten Son, that whosoever believes in Him shall not perish but have everlasting life.”

    For your own purposes you want to allow Catholics to decide.

    I am not too impressed with your ability to think straight.

  4. blacknad Says:

    “Religion provides a context for good works, but not necessarily the motivation. The motivation comes from social standing.”

    Evidence? or unsupported assertion?