The Christian Perspective

The subtitle of "The Godless Delusion", released June 30th of 2010, is "A Catholic Challenge to Modern Atheism". Based on the subtitle, I was expecting that the book would attempt to make two cases:

1. Atheism is clearly false.

2. Roman Catholicism is clearly true.

While reading the book, I quickly realized that making these two cases was not at all the intention of the authors. Rather, they were attempting to establish a different set of conclusions:

1. Atheistic Naturalism does not adequately explain human experience.

2. Theism in general, more specifically Christianity, and particularly Roman Catholicism, do not suffer from the specific problematic issues that Atheistic Naturalism suffers from.

You'll note that the difference between what I expected from the title and what the authors were actually shooting for is quite extreme. That was a little disappointing.

For example, Buddhists are frequently Atheistic in their worldview, but, to my knowledge, generally cannot be considered Naturalists, given their beliefs in the soul, reincarnation, karma, etc. The majority of the arguments in the book would be wholly ineffective against any Atheistic belief that allows for the supernatural.

Further, to establish that Roman Catholicism does not have the same flaws as Atheistic Naturalism is ultimately not saying very much.

Nonetheless, it seems to me that the book does in fact succeed at demonstrating that the latter two assertions are accurate -- namely, Atheistic Naturalism does not adequately explain human experience; and Theism in general, more specifically Christianity, and particularly Roman Catholicism, do not suffer from the specific problematic issues that Atheistic Naturalism suffers from.

On another positive note, the book was easy to read and the arguments were clearly presented in layman's terms, allowing for them to be fully understood by anyone truly interested in the subject matter. For a book on theology, that itself is no small accomplishment.

Many of the weaker arguments in the book generally suffer from the same single problem -- the reliance on human experience as the authoritative arbiter of truth. While arguments like these are fairly weak and merely serve to cast a small amount of doubt on Atheistic Naturalism, other arguments presented in the book are exceptionally powerful and fully serve to obliterate all possibility that Atheistic Naturalism could even theoretically be true. After all, as the authors of the book would argue, how can a "theory" even exist if all that exists are tiny subatomic particles randomly colliding into one another? Is a "theory" made up of subatomic particles? If so, how much does the average "theory" weigh? (pp. 138-139, 179)

On the Roman Catholic front, as stated above, the most that the authors attempt to establish is that the problems they list that Atheistic Naturalism suffers from are not problems for Roman Catholicism. While I would agree with this, not being Roman Catholic myself, I must dutifully point out that the Roman Catholicism of the authors has its own share of problems. One of the most easily demonstrated of these problems involve issues concerning divine sovereignty, one of the focal points of the Reformation, an issue already thoroughly addressed by reformer Martin Luther 500 years ago and available to the modern reader in his book "The Bondage of the Will".

The Roman Catholic authors make it clear that one of the problems, in their opinions, for Atheistic Naturalism is the lack of the possibility of human free will. The human experience, they say, demonstrates that we really do have free will, namely, we can choose to do something, or we could just as easily choose not to do it. Atheistic Naturalism, on the other hand, claims that since we are nothing more than a random collection of atoms, there can be no such thing as the will, let alone any freedom in it. Roman Catholicism, according to the authors, has no problem with human free will, and therefore it does not share in this problem that Atheistic Naturalism has, and thus it is a better match to the human experience, and therefore more likely true (pp. 139-142, 193-197).

Not only is this one of the weaker arguments against Atheistic Naturalism offered in the book, but it also presents an internal coherency problem for Roman Catholicism.

First, why do I claim that the argument is weak?

Primarily, the major premise of the argument is thoroughly debatable. Is it really the human experience that we have freedom of the will? If so, why do so many cultures and belief systems throughout history plainly deny it?

I am not arguing that every culture and belief system must be correct in all that they affirm, but I am arguing that the claim that "it is obvious that we are free" seems to be debatable for many people throughout history, and this lack of agreement in the historo-cultural record should have been explained, since that appears to be what the argument hinges upon. If the authors had added some kind of supporting evidence to this assertion that it is obvious that we have free will, it would have presented a much stronger case against Atheistic Naturalism.

Second, how does it present an internal coherency problem for Roman Catholicism?

Roman Catholics believe in a God who knows all truth, including the truth regarding our future actions (Colossians 2:3; John 14:6; Deuteronomy 18:22; 1 Samuel 2:3; Isaiah 42:9, 43:9-12, 44:7, 48:5; Acts 1:24). Therefore, it is impossible for us to do other than that which the Roman Catholic God knows we are going to do. However, according to the authors and the Roman Catholic catechisms (Catechisms pp. 131, 194), we have the ability to choose, or to choose otherwise. In other words, we do not HAVE to do what God knows we are going to do. We could choose to do something different.

So, according to the views of the authors, God knows what we are going to do and it is not the case that God knows what we are going to do.

This is a logical contradiction. If Roman Catholicism affirms logical contradictions, then, under Roman Catholicism, knowledge itself is impossible.

The Bible, on the other hand, affirms no such thing. As Martin Luther so eloquently argued during the Reformation, the Bible teaches that man does NOT have free will (Proverbs 16:1, 16:9, 21:1; Job 1:21-22; 1 Chronicles 21:1-8 combined with 2 Samuel 24:1; Exodus 4:21; Deuteronomy 2:30; Romans 9:17-24; Genesis 45:5-8; Judges 14:4; Luke 12:16-20, 22:22; James 4:13-15; Revelation 17:17).

In sum, while the authors seem somewhat confused about both scripture and logic, they do successfully demonstrate that Atheistic Naturalism is incoherent, which I believe was in fact their primary goal in writing the book. If you choose to read this book, or any others by these authors, be cautious of Papism and all it entails.

The Godless Delusion