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Atheism Is a Catastrophe for Science

Michael Egnor

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An atheist biologist, P.Z. Myers, unloads on Christianity by citing several questions about nature that he believes atheists answer better than Christians.

Myers:

Some of us, like me, are atheists because religion provides nothing we want, is unsatisfactory at addressing what we do care about, and is really, really bad at answering a very human question, “Why?” Instead, they prefer to make tirades against the other, ignoring their own failings, and pretending that the questions they ignore have been answered.

You want to know what those New Atheists, who are the same as the Old Atheists, are all about? We actually have important questions. These question [sic] will not and cannot be answered by religious apologists. The process of exploring them honestly is exactly what leads to atheism, so they have to avoid them.

Let’s see “what leads to atheism.” Here are a few of Myers’s questions, with my answers:

Why should I believe in any god? We don’t need an intelligent authority to explain the universe…

Of course we need an intelligent authority to explain the universe. The universe is shot through with intelligibility. Nature is governed by astonishingly complex and elegant physical laws, and the laws themselves are written in the language of abstract mathematics. In fact, theoretical physicists must often explore utterly new mathematical theories in order to explain the behavior of inanimate matter.

After all, Newton discovered calculus in order to do physics. Heaviside (using Maxwell’s equations) needed to develop the calculus of electromagnetic oscillators to understand alternating current electricity. Einstein (and his friend the mathematician Grossman) reinvented non-Euclidean geometry and tensor calculus to understand relativity. Heisenberg had to develop matrix mechanics to understand the quantum world. Dirac predicted the existence of anti-matter purely on the basis of mathematical considerations, and modern string theorists such as Edward Witten work at the cutting edge of mathematics. Black holes were predicted based on singularities in the tensor equations of relativity, and the Big Bang itself was discovered mathematically by Georges Lemaitre (a Catholic priest!) before it was detected empirically.

It is astonishing (and beautiful) that the very retinaculum of the universe, from the subatomic world to the cosmos, is drawn in elegant abstract mathematics. The universe screams intelligent authority.

To Myers’s implied question “Is the ground of existence more like a thing or more like a mind?” there is only one sane answer: the ground of existence is like a mind.

Another way to understand this beautiful teleology that permeates all of creation is that it is information — the restriction of possibilities in the outcomes of natural processes. This information is especially striking in living things. The intricate nanotechnology that subserves cellular metabolism is governed and replicated by a genetic code with letters and words and sentences and punctuation that stores and sifts and actuates information in overlapping reading frames. The intelligent authority — the Mind — that governs the cosmos and life through information has a remarkable fondness for language as well as mathematics, and is peculiarly solicitous of man, who is endowed with the capacity to discover the exquisite logic of creation.

Myers:

… in fact, assuming that the world is a product of natural, undirected processes has a far better track record of generating useful answers.

Balderdash. Modern theoretical science arose only in the Christian milieu. Roger Bacon, Copernicus, Galileo, Newton, Kepler, Faraday, Pasteur, Maxwell and countless other pioneers of the Scientific Enlightenment were fervent Christians who explicitly attributed the intelligibility in nature to God’s agency, and even 20th-century scientists like Einstein and Heisenberg and Schrodinger and Rutherford and Planck attributed nature to intelligent agency. Einstein famously explained his quest: “I want to know God’s thoughts…”

Vanishingly few great scientists have attributed the world to “undirected processes.” Atheism, in fact, has a dismal record in science. For much of the 20th century, a third of humanity lived under the boot of atheist ideology. What was the great science produced by atheist scientists in the Soviet Union? What are the scientific contributions of Communist China and Cuba and Vietnam and Albania? Compare the scientific output of East Germany (atheist) to that of West Germany (Lutheran and Catholic). Compare the scientific output of North Korea (atheist) to that of South Korea (Christian and Buddhist).

The fact is that during the 20th century atheist ideological systems that “assum[ed] that the world is a product of natural, undirected processes” governed a third of humanity. What’s the scientific “track record” of atheism? Atheism had its run: it heralded a scientific dark age in any nation unfortunate enough to fall under its heel. Atheism is as much a catastrophe for science as it is a catastrophe for humanity. The only thing atheist systems produced reliably (and still produce reliably) is corpses.

Myers:

Why can’t you explain why you believe without resorting to hand-waving, fuzzy, unconvincing nonsense?

“Handwaving, fuzzy, unconvincing nonsense”? You be the judge. Here is how Christians explain nature: modern science, which is the inference to intelligence and intelligibility in nature — the fruit of two millennia of Christian civilization and theology and natural philosophy. Here is how atheists explain nature: Nothing made everything for no reason and made life from non-life for no reason and made meat robots who think they have purposes but don’t for no reason. Goodness gracious, what sort of blindness would lead an educated man like Myers to embrace the moral and intellectual squalor of atheism?

What leads to atheism? Blindness in the soul. The truth is all around us, more obvious than man’s hand in front of his face. The universe has Mind stamped all over it like a signature.

Photo: Richard Dawkins and friend, Atheist Bus Campaign Launch, by Zoe Margolis [CC BY 2.0], via Wikimedia Commons.