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Theism v Atheism Compared

I’ve heard people refer to the crusades, witch-burning, inquisition, Galileo, terrorism, abortionist murderers as reasons why religion is dangerous and without it there would be a lot less death and suffering in the world.

The facts and figures tell a different story, however.

Below are three pie charts comparing democide (this includes genocide, politicide, and mass murder, but not war-dead) with war-dead, atheist regime murder and the Black Plague. The first is Pre 20th C, the second is Post 20th C and the third combines all of history.

The atrocities from religion are inexcusable. The death of one person is tragic, and these numbers are so huge they lose all meaning. What should be learnt from this that getting rid of religion will certainly not spell the end of war, genocide and political murder.


Why Human Cloning Is So Frightening

Reports of the first successful human cloning were broadcast on several major news media services on Thursday, January 18, 2008, in the United States. Whether the report from California researcher Dr. Samuel Wood of the first successful human clone is true or not, we know, tragically, that it is not a matter of “if” but “when.”

It is said that the scientists who successfully cloned the sheep “Dolly” warned fellow scientists not to try cloning techniques for producing a human being. In the process of arriving at Dolly, there were so many bizarre and freakish aberrations of a sheep that it indicated that the effects of using similar trial-and-error techniques to clone humans would have grotesque results. But many scientists are not listening.

Human cloning represents the final rejection of God the Father. We can kill human beings without him through abortion and euthanasia, and now we can create human beings without him—or can we?

God has seen fit, in his mysterious ways, to infuse a soul into a body conceived through the perverse acts of rape and incest, and even through unnatural methods such as in vitro fertilization where human sperm and egg are united in a laboratory dish.

But what about infusing a human soul into a human cell scientifically manipulated to generate into a type of “human xerox?” In this case, there is no union of human sperm and egg at all, but rather simply the regenerating of human cells and human DNA to produce a body that looks human.

What exactly am I saying? I’m saying that no scientific process of DNA manipulation can produce a human soul. Only God can create and only God can infuse a human soul, with the powers of universal knowledge and authentic free will, as well as a true human conscience. Is God obliged to infuse a human soul into a man-made human body? I believe the answer might well be, “No.” No, God doesn’t have to infuse a unique personal, immortal soul into a human cloned body. No, God doesn’t have to cooperate with human efforts to replace him as Creator, as if humanity, on its own, has the capacity of creating beings with immortal souls. No, I think God will not tolerate this latest and greatest act of human pride, arrogance, and presumption, which we call human cloning.

The possible result of man’s effort to clone human persons may prove to be something quite inhuman. Science can reproduce the human body, but without God infusing a human soul, what might the end result be? We could have creatures that look human, that perhaps can mirror human behavior, and can even distinguish acts for which they can be rewarded from others acts for which they can be punished. But they may not be human beings.

Apes, dolphins, dogs and cats can be trained to perform these functions. Only the human person is truly free. God has given him the capacity to know on the universal, abstract level the good, the true, and the beautiful, and then to either freely choose them or to freely reject them. But no animal can perform these human functions. No animal has a human soul with the powers of abstraction and volition.

What then might a cloned human be? He might be a soulless creature, without human intellect, human will, human conscience. He might appear human on the outside, but contain no immortal human soul on the inside and the unique, transcendent faculties that can only be given by God. Can you imagine the moral, psychological, societal and spiritual dilemmas that would surround the appropriate response and care for a humanlike creature minus the one component that ultimately makes a human person a human person—a human soul?

Hypothetically, it might be difficult to tell if a cloned human-resembling creature had an eternal soul. Take for example, an unborn child or a severely mentally impaired person incapable of communicating, neither of whom appear to exhibit reason or conscience but who are fully human and possessing a rational soul. The essential moral issue remains does man have the right to generate human life in this way, if it is human life? This raises supplemental ethical dilemmas, such as if science can produce this human-type creature, can it be used for the harvesting of body parts or for menial tasks such as those farm animals perform? Perhaps in light of potential misuse and harm of human cloned creatures we should err towards assuming that God would infuse a human soul. But this does not in itself change the significant possibility that he may not.

There is simply no guarantee that God will infuse a human soul into a human copy and cooperate with man’s idolatry of himself.

The cloning of humans is an unprecedented step in contemporary man’s attempt to usurp the rights and the authority of God. God forgive us. God stop us.


Taking Science on Faith

Science, we are repeatedly told, is the most reliable form of knowledge about the world because it is based on testable hypotheses. Religion, by contrast, is based on faith. The term “doubting Thomas” well illustrates the difference. In science, a healthy skepticism is a professional necessity, whereas in religion, having belief without evidence is regarded as a virtue.

The problem with this neat separation into “non-overlapping magisteria,” as Stephen Jay Gould described science and religion, is that science has its own faith-based belief system. All science proceeds on the assumption that nature is ordered in a rational and intelligible way. You couldn’t be a scientist if you thought the universe was a meaningless jumble of odds and ends haphazardly juxtaposed. When physicists probe to a deeper level of subatomic structure, or astronomers extend the reach of their instruments, they expect to encounter additional elegant mathematical order. And so far this faith has been justified.

The most refined expression of the rational intelligibility of the cosmos is found in the laws of physics, the fundamental rules on which nature runs. The laws of gravitation and electromagnetism, the laws that regulate the world within the atom, the laws of motion — all are expressed as tidy mathematical relationships. But where do these laws come from? And why do they have the form that they do?

When I was a student, the laws of physics were regarded as completely off limits. The job of the scientist, we were told, is to discover the laws and apply them, not inquire into their provenance. The laws were treated as “given” — imprinted on the universe like a maker’s mark at the moment of cosmic birth — and fixed forevermore. Therefore, to be a scientist, you had to have faith that the universe is governed by dependable, immutable, absolute, universal, mathematical laws of an unspecified origin. You’ve got to believe that these laws won’t fail, that we won’t wake up tomorrow to find heat flowing from cold to hot, or the speed of light changing by the hour.

Over the years I have often asked my physicist colleagues why the laws of physics are what they are. The answers vary from “that’s not a scientific question” to “nobody knows.” The favorite reply is, “There is no reason they are what they are — they just are.” The idea that the laws exist reasonlessly is deeply anti-rational. After all, the very essence of a scientific explanation of some phenomenon is that the world is ordered logically and that there are reasons things are as they are. If one traces these reasons all the way down to the bedrock of reality — the laws of physics — only to find that reason then deserts us, it makes a mockery of science.

Can the mighty edifice of physical order we perceive in the world about us ultimately be rooted in reasonless absurdity? If so, then nature is a fiendishly clever bit of trickery: meaninglessness and absurdity somehow masquerading as ingenious order and rationality.

Although scientists have long had an inclination to shrug aside such questions concerning the source of the laws of physics, the mood has now shifted considerably. Part of the reason is the growing acceptance that the emergence of life in the universe, and hence the existence of observers like ourselves, depends rather sensitively on the form of the laws. If the laws of physics were just any old ragbag of rules, life would almost certainly not exist.

A second reason that the laws of physics have now been brought within the scope of scientific inquiry is the realization that what we long regarded as absolute and universal laws might not be truly fundamental at all, but more like local bylaws. They could vary from place to place on a mega-cosmic scale. A God’s-eye view might reveal a vast patchwork quilt of universes, each with its own distinctive set of bylaws. In this “multiverse,” life will arise only in those patches with bio-friendly bylaws, so it is no surprise that we find ourselves in a Goldilocks universe — one that is just right for life. We have selected it by our very existence.

The multiverse theory is increasingly popular, but it doesn’t so much explain the laws of physics as dodge the whole issue. There has to be a physical mechanism to make all those universes and bestow bylaws on them. This process will require its own laws, or meta-laws. Where do they come from? The problem has simply been shifted up a level from the laws of the universe to the meta-laws of the multiverse.

Clearly, then, both religion and science are founded on faith — namely, on belief in the existence of something outside the universe, like an unexplained God or an unexplained set of physical laws, maybe even a huge ensemble of unseen universes, too. For that reason, both monotheistic religion and orthodox science fail to provide a complete account of physical existence.

This shared failing is no surprise, because the very notion of physical law is a theological one in the first place, a fact that makes many scientists squirm. Isaac Newton first got the idea of absolute, universal, perfect, immutable laws from the Christian doctrine that God created the world and ordered it in a rational way. Christians envisage God as upholding the natural order from beyond the universe, while physicists think of their laws as inhabiting an abstract transcendent realm of perfect mathematical relationships.

And just as Christians claim that the world depends utterly on God for its existence, while the converse is not the case, so physicists declare a similar asymmetry: the universe is governed by eternal laws (or meta-laws), but the laws are completely impervious to what happens in the universe.

It seems to me there is no hope of ever explaining why the physical universe is as it is so long as we are fixated on immutable laws or meta-laws that exist reasonlessly or are imposed by divine providence. The alternative is to regard the laws of physics and the universe they govern as part and parcel of a unitary system, and to be incorporated together within a common explanatory scheme.

In other words, the laws should have an explanation from within the universe and not involve appealing to an external agency. The specifics of that explanation are a matter for future research. But until science comes up with a testable theory of the laws of the universe, its claim to be free of faith is manifestly bogus.

Source: Paul Davies is the director of Beyond, a research center at Arizona State University, and the author of “Cosmic Jackpot: Why Our Universe Is Just Right for Life.” New York Times, 2007

Darwin & Intelligent Beginner (A Letter)

Letter – C.R. Darwin to James Grant, March 11, 1878

In this letter to Sir James Grant, a Scottish explorer of South Equatorial Africa interested in botanic and microbiology fields, Darwin says that the strongest argument for the existence of God is the intuitive feeling that there must have been “an intelligent beginner of the universe.” The question remains unsolved when we ask whether such intuition is trustworthy and true.

Dear Sir,

I should have been very glad to have aided you in any degree if it had been in my power. But to answer your question would require an essay, and for this I have not strength, being much out of health. Nor, indeed, could I have answered it distinctly and satisfactorily with any amount of strength.

The strongest argument for the existence of God, as it seems to me, is the instinct or intuition which we all (as I suppose) feel that there must have been an intelligent beginner of the Universe; but then comes the doubt and difficulty whether such intuitions are trustworthy.

I have touched on one point of difficulty in the two last pages of my “Variation of Animals and Plants under Domestication,” but I am forced to leave the problem insoluble.

No man who does his duty has anything to fear, and may hope for whatever he he earnestly desires.— Dear sir, yours faithfully,

Ch. Darwin.

Down, Beckenham, Kent, March 11, 1878.


The “Religious” Dimension of Atheism (2/2)

Leaving aside any theological judgements on the assertions of Bonhöffer -one could for example object that the rediscovery of the human face of God does not necessarily imply a denial of metaphysics, or also that faith in the God of Revelation does not exclude the correctness of a philosophical access to the existence of an Absolute as grasped by reason- there is no doubt that his thought represents a valuable contribution to better understanding how contemporary atheism is not only a metaphysical product, but is closely linked to the new historical and religious situation defined by Bonhöffer as “secularization.” If secularization, combined with the growth of human autonomy in the world, has also produced atheism as an obscuring of the God of transcendence, it is also true that the same atheism can constitute for the Christian a fresh possibility for rediscovering the true face of God.

Some of Bonhöffer’s theories have been taken up by the “theologians of secularisation,” in particular by Harvey Cox (The Secular City, 1966), also Fr. Gogarten, J.B. Metz, G. Vahanian, P.M. van Buren, for whom it was the Christian vision of the relationship between God and world that abolished the sacral-pagan vision, introducing the “desacralization” in which contemporary men and women live, and in which the adult faith of a Christian can operate refusing the traditional “mythicization” of the world. An extreme form of this theology of secularisation is represented by the so-called “theologians of the death of God,” in particular William Hamilton and Thomas Altizer, author of The Gospel of Christian Atheism (1966), in which he claims that the essence of the Gospel consists in the renouncing of every human discourse on God, to every mythical-religious vision, so as to make room for an “adult” faith that would make atheism the very premise, interpreting the figure of Jesus as “the man-for-the-others,” without further theological specifications relating to his nature and divinity.

Also for the Jewish philosopher Martin Buber (1878-1965), author of Eclipse of God. Studies in the Relation between Religion and Philosophy (1953), atheism has a purifying function in comparison to the false images of God created by us. The human being is an “I” that can experience God only if he or she meets him as a “You,” a divine You. God is not an It (Ger. Es), but a He (Ger. Er), indeed, Buber specifies, a You (Ger. Du): “if God is not a living person, then he is an idol,” because “we can encounter God only in a I-You relationship.” The “eclipse of God” is Buber’s answer to Nietzsche’s claim that “Gos is dead.” The eclipse of the “God of concept,” of the God-It, does not mean for Buber the death of God, but only that the God-It of science and philosophy is eclipsed in the modern conscience, and that the road is being prepared to rediscover the God-You. God-You, the God of prayer, will continue to live untouched behind the wall of obscurity that atheism has raised, because although human beings eliminate the name of God from philosophy and science, that name will however live in the light of its eternity. The Nietzschean announcement of the death of God, in truth, says that man has become incapable of apprehending a reality absolutely independent of himself and of having a relation with it, and is also incapable of depicting or representing this truth in living images that cannot replace the contemplation one longs to have of it. In contrast to Heidegger, Sartre and Jung, Buber maintains that between the human being and God stands now our omnipotent Ego, surrounded by the God-It built around: God would then stop being a You for us, someone with whom one could establish a true dialogue and enjoy a genuine reciprocity.

Similar to what we previously observe when speaking of Bonhöffer, the re-evaluation of the purifying role of atheism in comparison to the false gods and the rediscovery of an existential dimension in the relationship between the human person and God, a relationship that cannot be surrogated by the simple conceptualization of a philosophical Absolute, as brought to light, with different slants, by the previous authors, does not imply the refusal of metaphysics or the denial of any access to God through the analogy of Being. The metaphysical perspective, whose global appraisal in today’s world still appears to be greatly conditioned by the work of Heidegger, does not lead to a conceptualization of God. The notion of God brought about by metaphysics is not closed on itself, but offers meaningful connections with anthropology and phenomenology, including existentialist phenomenology. Such a notion of God remains open to the inexpressibility and the mystery of Being, taken not only as a foundation, but also as source of morality, meaning and freedom. From a more theological perspective, a correct understanding of the image of God transmitted by Biblical Revelation implies –as shown by P. Ricoeur– the notion of the God of common sense and philosophical thought, including some reflections on God even coming from scientific thought (cf. Jervolino, 1995). The problem of atheism and its debate with the believing thought, seems therefore destined to keep open both fronts of discussion and study, that is the metaphysical-scientific and the existential-personalist.

Source: Gaspare Mura (Interdisciplinary Encyclopedia of Religion and Science)

The “Religious” Dimension of Atheism (1/2)

Other interpretations of atheism exist, that consider it not only as a metaphysical or scientific phenomenon, but also as a historical phenomenon of reaction against an inadequate ethical and religious vision of the relationship between human beings and God. Among these, offered by authors such as: H-U. von Balthasar, K. Rahner, E. Borne, C. Bruaire, G. Fessard, H. de Lubac, G. Marcel, G. Morel, E. Mounier, J. Lacroix, P. Ricoeur and others, is one which says that atheism can have a positive function of intellectual purification from the false idols of modernity and from all the absolutes created by us, responsible for having hindered the vision of the true God, revealed in Christ. In short, it is suggested that atheism is not only (justly) criticized from the metaphysical or rational perspective, but is also valued by a renewed Christian philosophy that is more attentive to the Bible.

Romano Guardini (1885-1968) speaks of a “purifying atheism” with regard to the philosophical idols represented by all those deistic or theistic conceptions, which take the cue from the conception of God as a Being and transcendent Principle of the cosmos, instead of beginning by considering Him as highest and greatest personal subject. Atheism would then have the providential function of purifying the “outdated viewpoint” of ontology, to open our eyes to the vision of the living and personal God. The God-Person is the God that looks not at the being, but at the existence; He is the God-for-us, the God-for-humankind, the God who speaks and gives a meaning to real human life. Atheism, of course, does not lead us to explicitly recognizing the existence of God, an existence in which metaphysics was positively concerned, but rather would prepare more suitable existential conditions to the act of faith in his Word. Faith, according to Guardini, cannot be born as the result of a conceptual elaboration. We can open to faith only existentially, in the horizon of a conception of God as Value and as a Person. Only when faith is welcomed as a gift, we have the proof that the true face of God is the “God-for-us.” “Atheism can act in a positive sense also as historical factor, which awakens a dull and ‘sleepy’ religiosity, which leaves aside a false auto-intelligibility and intensifies the attention towards issues. By making everyone responsible that every genuinely religious existence is based on decision and constitutes an audacity, this type of atheism can bring vital matters to a superior level” (R. Guardini, Fenomenologia e teoria della religione , in “Scritti filosofici”, vol. II, Milano 1964, p. 280).

Along the same lines the theologian Dietrich Bonhöffer (1906-1945) pushes this vision even further and in a more radical way (1906-1945). A witness to his faith to the point of martyrdom under Nazism, Bonhöffer, like Barth maintains that the provocation of atheism allows the overcoming not only of the concept of God as a “being” but also the religious concept of God as “transcendence,” both linked to a purely rational and mundane consideration of God. According to them, this should open the way to the God-for-us of Biblical Revelation, a thesis that recalls what was stated by Emmanuel Lévinas (1905-1995) regarding the absolute transcendence and “otherness” of God, who can appear to us in the “face” of others. Radicalizing the positions of Karl Barth’s “dialectic theology,” who confirmed the absolute distance between the human being and God (the Totally Other, Ger. ganz Anders ) and the supremacy of the historical Revelation of God in Christ against every philosophical speculation on God, Bonhöffer also adopts the position of existential thought, in particular that of Kierkegaard. According to the Danish philosopher, God is not an object but a Person, not an Es but an Er , and the believer must be familiar not to the calmness of thought but to the risk of faith (Ger. Glaubenswagnis ), he is not asked for concepts on God, but for a very decision of life (Ger. Entscheidung ). It is in this precise theological context that Bonhöffer is not afraid to claim that, thanks to contemporary atheism, we are in reality faced with the death of the “religious God-object,” the “stop-gap God” (Ger. Lückenbüsser ) invented by us to respond to our own insecurities. The human being, having reached adulthood in the era of secularisation, no longer knows what to do with such an idea of deity: God as a hypothesis, as a stop-gap, has become superfluous for our existential problems.

It is no longer possible to announce to our contemporaries a God merely understood as a remedy for human deficiencies, the God of Power and the Supreme legislator of the cosmos. We must rather announce a God that is powerless and weak in the world: only a God like this can remain with us and help us. This, for Bonhöffer, cannot be the God of philosophers, but the God of Biblical Revelation. The death of the stop-gap God, capable of covering our personal deficiencies and gaps, opens up a vision of a God who abandons us not because he is absent, but because he appears present in our own lives, in the good that we do and in the positive efforts of our work. Feuerbach’s thesis, according to which God is the alienating projection of the essence of the human conscience, is here turned on its head: God is with us in our lives and our story when we fulfil our nature and our full vocation as men and women. “And we cannot be honest without recognizing that we must live in the world etsi Deus non daretur. It is just this that we recognize in the presence of God. God himself compels us to this recognition. The achievement of the ‘coming of age’ brings us to a true recognition of our situation in God’s presence. God makes it known to us that we must live as men and women that can get by without God. The God who is with us is the God who abandons us (Mk 15:34). The God who makes us live in the world without the work hypothesis of God, is the God in whose presence we are at all times. With God, and in the presence of God, we live without God. God is powerless and weak in the world and only in this way does he stay with us and help us (Mt 8:17). It is very clear: Christ does not help us by virtue of his omnipotence, but by virtue of his weakness of his suffering” (Widerstand und Ergebung , C. Kaiser, Gütersloh 1998, pp. 533-534). The transcendence of God is discovered therefore not as metaphysical transcendence, but rather as an “agapical transcendence,” as God for us, who makes us, in turn, a sort of transcendence for the others.

Source: Gaspare Mura (Interdisciplinary Encyclopedia of Religion and Science)