To the Wonder

Waking up this morning, a thought hit me.  What is one of the reasons the new atheists bring against believing in God?  Well, they say that science explains things.  The ancients saw the sun rise and believed “the gods” made it happen because they couldn’t explain it.  With modern science, we now know that the sun revolves around the earth, from our perspective it appears to “rise and set” but really it is the earth rotating, etc. etc etc. blah blah blah.  We have no need to invoke “God” to explain it.  After all, the sun revolving around the earth is not that amazing, right?

By learning how it works, we’ve lost the wonder of it happening at all.  But it seems strange that it should have this effect.  We still get impressed by acts of incredible creativity even though we know the “science” that built it.  Elon Musk has the Falcon Heavy built and launched into space and everyone is in awe at the way the engines detach and land back at their original launch pad perfectly.  And we should be silenced by the impressiveness!  The genius to make that happen was…well, genius.  It’s amazing!

So why are we so amazed?  We know the Falcon Heavy was built with science and people can figure out how it works.  Yet it’s still impressive.  Can you imagine the record skip if, in the height of everyone shouting praise, Sam Harris said, “Why are you so impressed?  Science can explain how it all works.”  Our awe would shift from the Falcon Heavy to the sheer arrogance in our midst.

We’re impressed by manmade genius, but not divinely made genius.  (Someone like C.S. Lewis or Jordan Peterson could probably pull all sort of comparisons with the Tower of Babel here.)  Somehow learning the science behind why the sun rises and sets diminishes the wonder that it rises at all.  I think this lack of wonder is a main driving force behind the rejection of God.

G.K. Chesterton asked himself, “Where should I go now, if I leave the Catholic Church?”  His answer; “The best I could hope for would be to wander away into the woods and become…a pagan, in the mood to cry out that some particular mountain peak or flowering fruit tree was sacred and a thing to be worshipped.”[1]

In some respects, the ancient pagans were smarter than we moderns.  They at least saw the wonder of the created world and knew something had to be worshipped, either the thing itself or the thing that made it.  They at least had sense enough to look at the world and say, “Daaaaaang…….”

Chesterton also imagines God very much holding to the wonder we have lost.

sun-rise-umhlanga“The thing I mean can be seen, for instance, in children, when they find some game or joke that they specially enjoy. A child kicks his legs rhythmically through excess, not absence, of life. Because children have abounding vitality, because they are in spirit fierce and free, therefore they want things repeated and unchanged. They always say, ‘Do it again’; and the grown-up person does it again until he is nearly dead. For grown-up people are not strong enough to exult in monotony. But perhaps God is strong enough to exult in monotony. It is possible that God says every morning, ‘Do it again’ to the sun; and every evening, ‘Do it again’ to the moon. It may not be automatic necessity that makes all daisies alike; it may be that God makes every daisy separately, but has never got tired of making them. It may be that He has the eternal appetite of infancy; for we have sinned and grown old, and our Father is younger than we.”[2]

 

The new atheists are like Calvinists; they are dull, rationalistic, and without wonder.  They need everything explained which in turn makes everything, including themselves, boring.  God is eternally young and full of laughter.  Perhaps this is what Christ meant when he revealed, “Truly, I say to you, unless you turn and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.”

 

[1] “The Catholic Church and Conversion” chapter 4 “The World Inside Out”

[2] “Orthodoxy” chapter 4 “The Ethics of Elfland”

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Thoughtful Theism: A Book Review

Thoughtful Theism: Redeeming Reason in an Irrational Age by Fr. Andrew Younan
Emmaus Road Publishing, 2017

From atheists who equate belief in God with irrationality to an increasing number of religious people who seem to agree, this is an age of very little reason and dialogue.  Mainstream thought is largely forgetting the rich Christian tradition of the faith and reason relationship.

Thoughtful Theism by Fr. Andrew Younan is an addition to this rich intellectual tradition that I hope reminds people that theism is a rational position to hold.  Believing in a god and becoming religious does not mean we check our brains at the door.

One thing Younan makes clear is that arguing for belief in God is all he attempts to do in the book.  From the beginning he states that this book is not about proving the Christian God but only about proving a God.  All the other questions about who God is are secondary to the first question about whether God even exists.

There are a couple of introductory chapters mainly dealing with some general fallacies and definitions of terms.  He discusses thinking, believing, and opinion and says, “Thinking is hard work….Having an opinion is the easiest thing of all.”

In chapter 3 Fr. Younan dives in and gives the classic proofs of God given by St. Thomas Aquinas in the 13th Century.  Younan says atheists do a terrible job refuting Aquinas’ proofs and adds “I haven’t found a single atheist writer who actually quotes Aquinas.”

Chapter 4 is about the Big Bang and how it “implies the existence of an eternal, immaterial, all-powerful, and intellectual Creator.”  Somehow over time, many theists and atheists came to regard the Big Bang as the province of atheists.  This is a strange position considering the theory was first proposed by George Lemaître, a scientist and Roman Catholic priest, and that even atheists at the time originally did not like the theory because of its theistic implications.

Chapter 5 is about evolution.  He begins with a story of being in a biology class and a fellow student wanted to discuss the topic of evolution vs religion.  The professor said, “The debate about evolution is not a debate between science and religion, and never has been.  It is a debate between atheists and Protestants.”  You can imagine how the rest of the chapter goes. 🙂

Chapter 6 is about the problem of evil.  This is indeed the hardest case for theists to deal with—at least theists who believe in an all-good and loving God.  It is also the case against God used most frequently by atheists.  Unfortunately, the issue is made worse by the fact that it is saturated with emotion.  Pain is such a personal thing and almost impossible to think through rationally, especially if we are experiencing an ocean of it.  But it is an issue that requires an answer.  Younan warns that his words will be blunt.  “I’m going to say them bluntly.  It’s not because I want to be mean, but because I want to deal with evil as an objection to God’s existence, not as something that has hurt you personally.”  In fact, he adds, “I’m also going to speak bluntly because the objection is a blunt one.”  A blunt accusation often requires a blunt answer.  Regardless, I believe Fr. Younan handled this topic quite well.

Chapter 7 is the last and has some general discussion about religion and epistemology.  There is also a great paragraph toward the end that I believe is worth quoting here.

“Oddly enough, the New Atheists and the Roman Catholic Church have something very deep in common.  They both consider heresy (false belief) harmful to humanity.  What they disagree on is what exactly the heresy is.  But for both of these groups, believing something false can have serious consequences—not only in its ‘extremist’ form, or only in exceptional circumstances, but simply in itself.  It is the ‘militant’ atheists who have the most in common with old-school religion.  It’s the watered-down religions and atheisms who would rather not discuss the issue at all, since it’s impolite to make people think.  To my observation, this is the final result of the ‘coexist’ mentality.”

I believe this is a great book for atheists who paint theists as irrational and for the many theists who seem hell-bent on confirming such a caricature.