The conversion of an atheist Sci-Fi writer

Science Fiction author John C. Wright explains his conversion at Strange Notions.

Here he explains the beginning of the process:

I am more than a presumably rational individual. I was a champion of atheism who gave arguments in favor of atheism so convincing that three of my friends gave up their religious belief due to my persuasive reasoning powers, and my father stopped going to church.

Upon concluding through a torturous and decades-long and remorseless process of logic that all my fellow atheists were horribly, comically wrong about every basic point of philosophy, ethics, and logic, and my hated enemies the Christians were right, I wondered how this could be. The data did not match the model.

So, as a good scientist who put things to empirical proof, he prayed to this “God” he did not believe in, politely asking him to reveal himself. He says, “Three days later, with no warning, I had a heart attack, and was lying on the floor, screaming and dying. Then I was saved from certain death by faith-healing…” The he describes what happened. For the purposes of this blog, I refer you to his original story for all the details.
What is also interesting is how his atheist friends reacted:

I then discovered that the Christian world view makes sense of much that the atheistic or agnostic worldview cannot make sense of. I found that even on its own philosophical terms, Christianity is a more robust explanation of the cosmos and man’s place in it, answering many questions successfully that atheists both claim cannot be answered, and then, without admitting it, act in their lives as if the question were answered, such as how to account for the rational faculties of man, the universality of moral principles, the order of the cosmos, how best to live, etc.

Turning to my atheist friends, I then discovered none of them, not one, could give me even so reasonable an argument as I was expert in giving in favor of atheism.

They reasoned as follows: “God cannot possibly exist. Therefore any evidence that you encountered that God exists must be hallucination, mis-perception, faulty memory, self-deception, coincidence, or anything else no matter how farfetched and absurd. Since any evidence that you encountered that God exists must be hallucination, mis-perception, faulty memory, self-deception, coincidence, or anything else no matter how farfetched and absurd, therefore none of your evidence proves God exists.”

No matter what they saw, no matter what they heard, no matter how the world was against them, they would go to the lions rather than look at the evidence, lest their faith in their faithlessness be shaken.

When I pointed out that this was circular reasoning, they called me bad names.

He continues on with several examples of the unwillingness of his atheist friends to acknowledge that he was still a sane, rational person. Here’s the original story on the author’s blog Sci Fi Wright.

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Faith Gives Hope to Science

In this interview with ZENIT, Professor Dominique Lambert, an expert in theoretical physics and the philosophy of science at the University of Namur, Belgium, believes not only does the Catholic faith, when correctly applied, not hinder science, but gives it vital intelligibility, meaning and purpose:

ZENIT: You also talk about faith giving hope to science. Could you explain more?

fr_georges_lemaitre_lecture_cuLambert: If we are believers or atheists, we are carrying out the same science, but a religious attitude can change the way we do science. Of course, your ethics, your ontological perspective is influenced by your theological point of view or religious attitude, and this gives you a kind of optimism. Msgr. Georges Lemaître, who discovered the Big Bang theory, said that science is the same for atheists and believers, but religious beliefs give you a nice optimism and hope, hope in the enigma of the universe as a solution. Of course, it doesn’t change the science, but it gives you an optimism of hope and maybe it changes, not science, but your life.

Read more.

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Fundamental physics is in a metaphysical mess and needs help

So says Raymond Tallis of The Guardian.

But there could not be a worse time for philosophers to surrender the baton of metaphysical inquiry to physicists. Fundamental physics is in a metaphysical mess and needs help. The attempt to reconcile its two big theories, general relativity and quantum mechanics, has stalled for nearly 40 years. Endeavours to unite them, such as string theory, are mathematically ingenious but incomprehensible even to many who work with them. This is well known. A better-kept secret is that at the heart of quantum mechanics is a disturbing paradox – the so-called measurement problem, arising ultimately out of the Uncertainty Principle – which apparently demonstrates that the very measurements that have established and confirmed quantum theory should be impossible. Oxford philosopher of physics David Wallace has argued that this threatens to make quantum mechanics incoherent which can be remedied only by vastly multiplying worlds.

He then expands on three points: 1) “the failure of physics to accommodate conscious beings”, 2) the problem of time, the “now”, the failure of physics to acknowledge “the fundamental reality of time”, and 3) “recent attempts to explain how the universe came out of nothing… reveal conceptual confusion beneath mathematical sophistication.”

Read more.

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Archbishop Chaput on the Evidential Power of Beauty

A nice reflection on beauty by Archbishop Charles Chaput of Philadelphia in his weekly column, he offers these lessons:

First, the most powerful kind of witness doesn’t come from a classroom or pulpit. It doesn’t need an academic degree or special techniques. Instead, it grows naturally out of the lives of ordinary people – parents and spouses and friends; people confident in the love that God bears for them and eager to share it with others; people who know the world not as a collection of confused facts but as a symphony of truth and meaning.

eclipse1-cSecond, nature is sacramental. It points to things outside itself. God speaks and creation sings in silence. We can’t hear either if we’re cocooned in a web of manufactured distraction, anxiety and noise. We can’t see the heavens if our faces are buried in technologies that turn us inward on ourselves. Yet that’s exactly what modern American life seems to promote: a restless and relentless material appetite for “more,” that gradually feeds selfishness and separates each of us from everyone else.

Third and finally, every experience of real beauty leads us closer to three key virtues: humility, because the grandeur of creation invites awe and lifts us outside ourselves; love, because the human heart was made for glory and joy, and only the Author of life can satisfy its longings; and hope, because no sadness, no despair, can ultimately survive the evidence of divine meaning that beauty provides.

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The Problem of Evil is Harder for Atheists to Explain

So argues seminarian Joe Heschmeyer over at Strange Notions. Simply put, the existence of evil is frequently used against theists, but acknowledging that there is such thing as evil then puts the burden back on atheists.

problem of evil

But here’s the problem with that: Objective morality, including objective evil, cannot exist without God. This doesn’t mean that atheists can’t be moral people, of course. Catholicism teaches that much of objective morality is knowable by natural law. Atheists can and generally do implicitly recognize the moral law, and obey it. The problem is that this behavior appears completely irrational.

More specifically, the problem is that there’s no way to get from statements about how the world is to how the world ought to be without imposing a value system. And to say something is objective evil—that it objectively ought not to be—you have to believe in objective values, binding everyone (including, in the case of the problem of evil, God Himself). It has to be something infinitely more than whatever your personal values might be.

Those words echo what Pope Francis has been saying about atheists, “do good: we will meet one another there.” For all, believers and atheists, “the Lord has created us in His image and likeness, and has given us this commandment in the depths of our heart: do good and do not do evil.” This moral sense part of our very nature.

Joe Heschmeyer then concludes his argument as follows:

So is the problem of evil a problem for Christians? Sure. There are intellectually satisfying answers, but it’s not for nothing that St. Thomas Aquinas lists it as one of two logical arguments for atheism in the Summa Theologiae. But we shouldn’t let this fact blind us to the paradoxical truth: the problem of evil is a dramatically larger problem for atheists:

1. To complain of the problem of evil, you must acknowledge evil.
2. To acknowledge evil, you must acknowledge an objective system of moral laws.
3. Objective universal moral laws require a Lawgiver capable of dictating behavior for everyone.
4. This Lawgiver is Who we call God.

Ironically, this evidence lays the groundwork for establishing that God not only exists, but cares about good and evil.

Read his entire article here.

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Faith and reason: the two wings of the human spirit

Fascinating article over at Catholic Stand on the relationship between implicit (personal, informal, natural) and explicit (theoretical, formal) reason, as taught by John Henry Newman.

What is faith? Is it explicit theoretical knowledge, or implicit personal knowledge? Does it even mean anything now that we have science?

JohnHenryNewmanI hope you said faith is the implicit personal knowledge, because that is indeed Newman’s answer. If you have heard yourself say, as many have, that you have no feel for theological discussions about faith in the abstract, you are in Newman’s heart. His ardent desire was for those who possessed a rich personal faith to rejoice in it and be glad. One does not need explicit reason to “justify” the inner foothold. You must never allow your friends or your culture to tell you that your personal knowledge of God is inferior because it is not expressed in a formal theory, or because you can’t “prove it,” or because you don’t use Latin words to describe things.

On the other hand do not be put off by the theoretical knowledge of theology, dogma, or the creeds – these help us think more clearly about the faith that you know in your heart. Perhaps you do not need the assurance. Nevertheless, the Church herself is obligated to pass on the precipitate of faith, the explicit formulation, because it is true. The fullness of a human community is the constant interaction between faith and reason. There is a need for both in the Church. Indeed, the monumental Fides et Ratio by Pope John Paul the Great begins: “Faith and reason are like two wings on which the human spirit rises to the contemplation of truth.”

Read more: John Henry Newman on the psychology of faith and reason.

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Why the New Atheism is Inadequate

A recent convert to the Catholic Church speaks of why the New Atheism (in general: Dawkins, Harris and Hitchens) is not enough to approach the big questions. Here is her entire piece in The Catholic Herald.

First, the alleged conflict between Faith and Reason:

I started by reading Pope Benedict’s Regensburg address, aware that it had generated controversy at the time and was some sort of attempt –futile, of course – to reconcile faith and reason. I also read the shortest book of his I could find, On Conscience. I expected – and wanted – to find bigotry and illogicality that would vindicate my atheism. Instead, I was presented with a God who was the Logos: not a supernatural dictator crushing human reason, but the self-expressing standard of goodness and objective truth towards which our reason is oriented, and in which it is fulfilled, an entity that does not robotically control our morality, but is rather the source of our capacity for moral perception, a perception that requires development and formation through the conscientious exercise of free will.

Next, morality:

Non-theistic morality, to my mind, tended towards two equally problematic camps: either it was subjective to the point of meaninglessness or, when followed logically, entailed intuitively repulsive outcomes, such as Sam Harris’s stance on torture. But the most appealing theories which could circumvent these problems, like virtue ethics, often did so by presupposing the existence of God. Before, with my caricatured understanding of theism, I’d considered that nonsensical. Now, with the more detailed understanding I was starting to develop, I wasn’t so sure.

Next, metaphysics:

I soon realised that relying on the New Atheists for my counter-arguments to the existence of God had been a mistake: Dawkins, for instance, gives a disingenuously cursory treatment of St Thomas Aquinas in The God Delusion, engaging only with the summary of Aquinas’s proofs in the Five Ways – and misunderstanding those summarised proofs to boot. Acquainting myself fully with Thomistic-Aristotelian ideas, I found them to be a valid explanation of the natural world, and one on which atheist philosophers had failed to make a coherent assault.

Then, how New Atheists and Fundamentalists misunderstand the Bible and its interpretation:

What I still did not understand was how a theology that operated in harmony with human reason could simultaneously be, in Benedict XVI’s words, “a theology grounded in biblical faith”. I’d always assumed that sola scriptura (“scripture alone”), with its evident shortcomings and fallacies, was how all consistent, believing Christians read the Bible. So I was surprised to discover that this view could be refuted just as robustly from a Catholic standpointreading the Bible through the Church and its history, in light of Tradition – as from an atheist one.

It’s easy to take one teaching of the Catholic Church, read it out of context, and attack it in a completely different context, usually with mockery as the New Atheists sometimes do, but she saw beyond this:

I looked for absurdities and inconsistencies in the Catholic faith that would derail my thoughts from the unnerving conclusion I was heading towards, but the infuriating thing about Catholicism is its coherency: once you accept the basic conceptual structure, things fall into place with terrifying speed. “The Christian mysteries are an indivisible whole,” wrote Edith Stein in The Science of the Cross: “If we become immersed in one, we are led to all the others.” The beauty and authenticity of even the most ostensibly difficult parts of Catholicism, such as the sexual ethics, became clear once they were viewed not as a decontextualised list of prohibitions, but as essential components in the intricate body of the Church’s teaching.

Most importantly, it is lived faith that is most convincing, as she describes in her entire article here: The atheist orthodoxy that drove me to faith.

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Pope Francis to Atheists and Believers, “Do good: we will meet one another there.”

Where do Atheists and Believers meet? According to Pope Francis, in doing good. From his daily Mass homily on May 22, 2013, as translated by Vatican Radio.


Pope Francis, “the Lord has created us in His image and likeness, and has given us this commandment in the depths of our heart: do good and do not do evil”:

“The Lord has redeemed all of us, all of us, with the Blood of Christ: all of us, not just Catholics. Everyone! ‘Father, the atheists?’ Even the atheists. Everyone! And this Blood makes us children of God of the first class! We are created children in the likeness of God and the Blood of Christ has redeemed us all! And we all have a duty to do good. And this commandment for everyone to do good, I think, is a beautiful path towards peace. If we, each doing our own part, if we do good to others, if we meet there, doing good, and we go slowly, gently, little by little, we will make that culture of encounter: we need that so much. We must meet one another doing good. ‘But I don’t believe, Father, I am an atheist!’ But do good: we will meet one another there.

“Doing good” the Pope explained, is not a matter of faith: “It is a duty, it is an identity card that our Father has given to all of us, because He has made us in His image and likeness. And He does good, always.”

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Playing at Atheism

The Prince in Dostoevsky’s The Idiot is asked about faith and responds:


As to faith… One morning I met a man in the train, and made acquaintance with him at once. I had often heard of him as a very learned man, but an atheist; and I was very glad of the opportunity of conversing with so eminent and clever a person. He doesn’t believe in God, and he talked a good deal about it, but all the while it appeared to me that he was speaking outside the subject. And it has always struck me, both in speaking to such men and in reading their books, that they do not seem really to be touching on that at all, though on the surface they may appear to do so.

The same is true throughout history, for there are many people who play at atheism, but dance around the heart of the matter, or as Dostoyesky says, “speak outside the subject”.

It is easy enough to appeal to science and reason (with the prejudiced but unproven idea that it is opposed to faith) and declare that God does not exist. But it is much harder to address the core issues: free will, self awareness, the mind (and dare we say soul?), existence, the problem of evil and suffering, and love.

The Prince then speaks of the essence of the Christian message:

Well, I went homewards, and near the hotel I came across a poor woman, carrying a child— a baby of some six weeks old. The mother was quite a girl herself. The baby was smiling up at her, for the first time in its life, just at that moment; and while I watched the woman she suddenly crossed herself, oh, so devoutly! ‘What is it, my good woman I asked her. (I was never but asking questions then!) Exactly as is a mother’s joy when her baby smiles for the first time into her eyes, so is God’s joy when one of His children turns and prays to Him for the first time, with all his heart!’ This is what that poor woman said to me, almost word for word; and such a deep, refined, truly religious thought it was— a thought in which the whole essence of Christianity was expressed in one flash— that is, the recognition of God as our Father, and of God’s joy in men as His own children, which is the chief idea of Christ. She was a simple country-woman— a mother, it’s true— and perhaps, who knows, she may have been the wife of the drunken soldier!

Here’s a modern example of “playing at atheism” – creating and attacking a strawman God who acts irrationally, throw about a few emotive words about love, and declare oneself an enlightened atheist:


Doestoevsky has the Prince conclude:

The essence of religious feeling has nothing to do with reason, or atheism, or crime, or acts of any kind— it has nothing to do with these things— and never had. There is something besides all this, something which the arguments of the atheists can never touch.

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Pope Francis on Atheism: every man is the image of God, whether he is a believer or not.

Jorge Bergoglio
From (now Pope Francis) Cardinal Bergoglio’s 2010 book On Heaven and Earth, now available in English.

When I speak with atheists, I will sometimes discuss social concerns, but I do not propose the problem of God as a starting point, except in the case that they propose it to me. If this occurs, I tell them why I believe. But that which is human is so rich to share and to work at that very easily we can mutually complement our richness. As I am a believer, I know that these riches are a gift from God. I also know that the other person, the atheist, does not know that. I do not approach the relationship in order to proselytize, or convert the atheist; I respect him and I show myself as I am. Where there is knowledge, there begins to appear esteem, affection, and friendship. I do not have any type of reluctance, nor would I say that his life is condemned, because I am convinced that I do not have the right to make a judgment about the honesty of that person; even less, if he shows me those human virtues that exalt others and do me good.

At any rate, I know more agnostic people than atheists; the first are more uncertain, the second are more convinced. We have to be coherent with the message that we receive from the Bible: every man is the image of God, whether he is a believer or not. For that reason alone everyone has a series of virtues, qualities, and a greatness of his own. If he has some vileness, as I do, we can share that in order to mutually help one another and overcome it.

Read more here.

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