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Does Religion Really Have a “Smart-People Problem”?

SmartPeople

Daniel Dennett, one of the “four horsemen” of contemporary atheism, proposed in 2003 that those who espouse a naturalist, atheist worldview should call themselves “the brights,” thereby distinguishing themselves rather clearly from the dim benighted masses who hold on to supernaturalist convictions. In the wake of Dennett’s suggestion, many atheists have brought forward what they take to be ample evidence that the smartest people in our society do indeed subscribe to anti-theist views. By “smartest” they usually mean practitioners of the physical sciences, and thus they point to surveys that indicate only small percentages of scientists subscribe to religious belief.

In a recent article published in the online journal “Salon,” titled "Religion's Smart-People Problem," University of Seattle philosophy professor John Messerly reiterates this case. However, he references, not simply the lack of belief among the scientists, but also the atheism among academic philosophers, or as he puts it, “professional philosophers.” He cites a recent survey that shows only 14% of such professors admitting to theistic convictions, and he states that this unbelief among the learned elite, though not in itself a clinching argument for atheism, should at the very least give religious people pause. Well, I’m sorry Professor Messerly, but please consider me unpaused.

Since I have developed these arguments many times before in other forums, let me say just a few things in regard to the scientists. I have found that, in practically every instance, the scientists who declare their disbelief in God have no idea what serious religious people mean by the word “God.” Almost without exception, they think of God as some supreme worldly nature, an item within the universe for which they have found no “evidence,” a gap within the ordinary nexus of causal relations, etc. I would deny such a reality as vigorously as they do. If that’s what they mean by “God,” then I’m as much an atheist as they—and so was Thomas Aquinas. What reflective religious people mean when they speak of God is not something within the universe, but rather the condition for the possibility of the universe as such, the non-contingent ground of contingency. And about that reality, the sciences, strictly speaking, have nothing to say one way or another, for the consideration of such a state of affairs is beyond the limits of the scientific method. And so when statistics concerning the lack of belief among scientists are trotted out, my response, honestly, is “who cares?”

But what about the philosophers, 86% of whom apparently don’t believe in God? Wouldn’t they be conversant with the most serious and sophisticated accounts of God? Well, you might be surprised. Many academic philosophers, trained in highly specialized corners of the field, actually have little acquaintance with the fine points of philosophy of religion and often prove ham-handed when dealing with the issue of God. We hear, time and again, the breezy claim that the traditional arguments for God’s existence have been “demolished” or “refuted,” but when these supposed refutations are brought forward, they prove, I have found, remarkably weak, often little more than the batting down of a straw-man. A fine example of this is Bertrand Russell’s deeply uninformed dismissal of Thomas Aquinas’s demonstration of the impossibility of an infinite regress of conditioned causes.

But more to it, the percentage of atheists in the professional philosophical caste has at least as much to do with academic politics as it does with the formulation of convincing arguments. If one wants to transform a department of philosophy from largely theist to largely atheist, all one has to do is to make sure that the chairman of the department and even a small coterie of the professoriat are atheist. In rather short order, that critical mass will control hiring, firing, and the granting of tenure within the department. Once atheists have come to dominate the department, only atheist faculty will be hired and students with theistic interests will be sharply discouraged from writing dissertations defending the religious point of view. In time, very few doctorates supporting theism will be produced, and a new generation, shaped by thoroughly atheist assumptions, will come of age. To see how quickly this transformation can happen, take a good look at the philosophy department at many of the leading Catholic universities: what were, in the 1950’s overwhelmingly theistic professoriats are today largely atheist. Does anyone really think that this happened because lots of clever new arguments were discovered?

Another serious problem with trumpeting the current statistics on the beliefs of philosophers is that such a move is based on the assumption that, in regard to philosophy, newer is better. One could make that argument in regard to the sciences, which do seem to progress in a steadily upward direction: no one studies the scientific theories of Ptolemy or Descartes today, except out of historical interest. But philosophy is a horse of a different color, more akin to poetry. Does anyone think that the philosophical views of, say, Michel Foucault are necessarily better than those of Plato, Aristotle, Kant, or Hegel, just because Foucault is more contemporary? It would be like saying the verse of Robert Frost is necessarily superior to that of Dante or Shakespeare, just because Frost wrote in the twentieth century. I for one think that philosophy, so marked today by nihilism and postmodern relativism, is passing through a particularly corrupt period. Why should we think, therefore, that the denizens of philosophy department lounges today are necessarily more correct than Alfred North Whitehead, Edmund Husserl, Ludwig Wittgenstein, Jacques Maritain, Emmanuel Levinas, and Jean-Luc Marion, all of whom were well-acquainted with modern science, rigorously trained in philosophy and affirmed the existence of God?

I despise the arrogance of Dennett and his atheist followers who would blithely wrap themselves in the mantle of “brightness;” but I also despise the use of statistics to prove any point about philosophical or religious matters. I would much prefer that we return to argument.
 
 
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Bishop Robert Barron

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Bishop Robert Barron is Auxiliary Bishop of the Archdiocese of Los Angeles. He is an acclaimed author, speaker, and theologian. He’s America’s first podcasting priest and one of the world’s most innovative teachers of Catholicism. His global, non-profit media ministry called Word On Fire reaches millions of people by utilizing new media to draw people into or back to the Faith. Bishop Barron is also the creator and host of CATHOLICISM, a groundbreaking, 10-part documentary series and study program about the Catholic Faith. He is the author of several books including Thomas Aquinas: Spiritual Master (Crossroad, 2008); The Strangest Way: Walking the Christian Path (Orbis, 2002); and Catholicism: A Journey to the Heart of the Faith (Image, 2011). Find more of his writing and videos at WordOnFire.org.

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  • One thing to note is that the survey Messerly references in his article is more than a year old. When you dig into the actual survey data you'll make some intriguing discoveries.

    For instance, the researchers behind this study invited 1,972 professional philosophers at 99 "leading" departments of philosophy to complete the survey. It's important to note this group included no Christian universities or seminaries, thus excluding a massive group of Ph.D. philosophers identifying as theist. In other words, the deck seems rigged against theism from the beginning.

    Of that group, 931 completed the survey. But here's an interesting fact:

    Only 47 respondents (5%) claimed to specialize in the Philosophy of Religion.

    That number was trumped by specialists in the Philosophy of Language (172, 19%), Normative Ethics (139, 15%), Social and Political Philosophy (100, 11%), and the Philosophy of Cognitive Science (56, 6%):

    Here's another important insight. The survey group as a whole identified as 72.8% atheist, 14.6% theist, but among philosophers specializing in the Philosophy of Religion, the group was overwhelmingly theist. In fact, the ratio was almost completely reversed:

    In other words, philosophers not specializing in the Philosophy of Religion are four times more likely to be atheist than philosophers specializing in the Philosophy of Religion. What do these facts all mean? Two things:

    1. The survey results are irrelevant on the question of God. The respondent group was dominated by specialists in disciplines unrelated to the existence of God, such as Language, Normative Ethics, and Social and Political philosophy. Why would we expect those philosophers to grasp the subtle arguments for and against God? We don't assume that all scientists--meteorologists, cosmologists, material chemists--to thoroughly understand the arguments for and against evolution by natural selection; we rightfully value the opinion of evolutionary biologists more highly. But philosophy is arguably even more specialized than the general sciences. Thus if only 5% of the sample size identifies as a specialist in the field associated with the question under consideration (does God exist?), then the results are mostly irrelevant to that question.

    2. Those who presumably best understand the arguments and counter-arguments for God are overwhelmingly theist (roughly 80% theist, 20% atheist). If nothing else, the survey actually supports belief in God among the well-informed, rather than undermines it.

    Now, it may be argued that most philosophers of religion were a priori theist, that they chose to specialize in that discipline precisely because they were theistic. But the same argument could be made about evolutionary biologists, many of whom chose that field because of their a priori commitment to naturalism. Neither is a good argument.

    As worst, this survey is irrelevant because we wouldn't expect non-specialist philosophers to be adequately informed about the arguments for and against God. At best, this argument supports theism because specialists in the relevant field overwhelmingly think God is more reasonable than not.

    • GCBill

      I mostly agree with your post, except for this:

      "At best, this argument supports theism because specialists in the
      relevant field [philosophy of religion] overwhelmingly think God is more reasonable than not."

      As an aspiring cognitive scientist, I actually see an interesting parallel between my own discipline and philosophy of religion. Much like cognitive science, PoR brings a number of semi-autonomous disciplines and attempts to harmonize their insights. Classical arguments for the existence of God make use of the tools of metaphysics, epistemology, and the philosophy of nature, while newer arguments incorporate knowledge from the natural sciences as well.

      Let's say cognitive scientists started saying things that psychologists, neuroscientists, philosophers of mind, linguists, etc. mostly found disagreeable. What should we make of this unusual development? How does an interaction of fields which mostly reject a proposition produce such a strong affirmation? We might think of their discipline as a lagoon which allows an ecosystem of unique insights to flourish that couldn't have survived in isolation. Or we might think of it as a backwater into which the refuse of more productive currents flows, never to escape.

      Philosophy of religion's status as a lagoon or as a backwater depends heavily on whether or not you find its syntheses convincing. In other words, this data is useless at worst and useless at best.

    • Kevin Aldrich

      Thank you for digging into this!

    • Ignatius Reilly

      For instance, the researchers behind this study invited 1,972 professional philosophers at 99 "leading" departments of philosophy to complete the survey. It's important to note this group included no Christian universities or seminaries, thus excluding a massive group of Ph.D. philosophers identifying as theist. In other words, the deck seems rigged against theism from the beginning.

      In the United States, they used 62 of the top departments. Outside of Notre Dame, what Christian Universities do you think they should have included, if they were specifically selecting the top 62? Do you have a list of what universities were included? I would assume they polled the Ivies, NYU, some land grant institutions, and some of the other elite private schools.

      1. The survey results are irrelevant on the question of God. The respondent group was dominated by specialists in disciplines unrelated to the existence of God, such as Language, Normative Ethics, and Social and Political philosophy. Why would we expect those philosophers to grasp the subtle arguments for and against God? We don't assume that all scientists--meteorologists, cosmologists, material chemists--thoroughly understand the arguments for and against evolution by natural selection; we rightfully value the opinion of evolutionary biologists more highly. But philosophy is arguably even more specialized than the general sciences. Thus if only 5% of the sample size identifies as a specialist in the field associated with the pertinent question (does God exist?), then the results are mostly irrelevant to that question

      I disagree. The differences between physics and biology are greater than the differences between say ethics and political philosophy. An undergraduate philosophy student will take classes in all of the branches of philosophy, a physics student could get by without ever taking a class in biology.

      I don't think the arguments for and against God are as subtle as you seem to be implying. Most undergraduates (in philosophy) probably have a good understanding as to why people accept and reject the arguments. It is not like God arguments are beyond the understanding of a college student; if they were, we would not be arguing about God's existence on a website such as this. However, in physics, there are concepts and theories that take a great deal of background knowledge to properly understand. This is not true with regard to the arguments for or against God.

      2. Those who presumably best understand the arguments and counter-arguments for God are overwhelmingly theist (roughly 80% theist, 20% atheist). If nothing else, the survey actually supports belief in God among the well-informed, rather than undermines it.

      I would say that there is definitely some self-selection. I think philosophers who are atheists would have little desire to study the philosophy of religion, as they already believe such philosophies are incoherent.

      Now, it may be argued that most philosophers of religion were a priori theist, that they chose to specialize in that discipline precisely because they were theistic. But the same argument could be made about evolutionary biologists, many of whom chose that field because of their a priori commitment to naturalism. Neither is a good argument.

      That analogy does not work. The philosophy of religion is dependent on the existence of God for coherence. Evolutionary biology is not dependent on naturalism for coherence.

      At worst, this survey is irrelevant because we wouldn't expect non-specialist philosophers to be adequately informed about the arguments for and against God. At best, this survey supports theism because specialists in the relevant field overwhelmingly think God is more reasonable than not.

      I'm not at all convinced that the God question is some kind of specialized field.

      • CLynch451

        I agree with you--it is not a question of specialization. There are many, many ways to come to a belief in God, depending on the way one perceives the world and decides things. It is not simply a question of who is a "bright"!

        Second, if Philosophy of Religion is what Wikipedia says it is, it is reasonable to suppose that it draws a high percentage of students who are open to, practicing, and/or exploring some sort of religious belief.

    • William Davis

      What percentage of all philosophers specialize in Philosophy of Religion. We need that info to determine if the sample is a proper representation.

  • FrBill Peckman

    Would it not be human nature that one who possesses the arrogance to believe that because they do not believe in God that hence there must be no God; as if the existence of God were contingent upon their beliefs. That I believe in God does not create God, He is with or without my acceptance or belief. Pride, the deadliest of sin, would certainly lead a person to such rebellion and then ice it with a smugness and necessity to be superior. It is another variation of the temptation in the garden.

    • Doug Shaver

      Would it not be human nature that one who possesses the arrogance to believe that because they do not believe in God that hence there must be no God; as if the existence of God were contingent upon their beliefs.

      I've never met an atheist who thinks that way.

      • Tim

        Actually it seems to be a disease of the young. The vast majority of atheists i know in my age group do not seem to have that attitude: they don't believe in God for the simple reason that they see no evidence and are not convinced by the apparently lame arguments they encounter. Practicing Christians recognise the limits of reason, without rejecting its role in responding to grace. Both can respect each others' views.

        Young people who believe or disbelieve in God seem to do so without recourse to reason: "The Bible says He exists, so He must," or "God doesn't exist because I prayed, but my dog still died," among other stupid reasons usually starting with the brilliant philosophical insight, "I feel..."

        • William Davis

          The higher parts of peoples brains don't finish developing until 25-30. Notice the drop in car insurance rates. Explains a lot doesn't it?

      • urbanegorilla

        Atheists don't think that way because it's illogical. Atheist do not believe in God because there is no proof of God's existence, and there are perfectly logical and supported explanations of our worlds and our existence. To turn your statement around, it seems to be believers that claim their belief based simply on 'their belief'.

        • Doug Shaver

          Atheists don't think that way because it's illogical.

          I've known plenty of atheists who believe lots of illogical things.

          Atheist do not believe in God because there is no proof of God's existence

          Some of them don't believe for that reason. Others have other reasons. We don't all think alike. We're as diverse as all the rest of humanity.

    • Chad Eberhart

      I don't think it is arrogant (quite the opposite) to reserve judgment about something that is not entirely clear from our vantage point. There's been quite a bit of debate over the millennia on whether God exists and I don't get the impression that the subject has been cleared up once-and-for-all by Catholicism. Moreover, I don't think it's just pride and wanting to indulge sinful appetites that motivates this uncertainty, but possibly the limits of our epistemic situation as humans. I do wonder if it is arrogance on the part of a Catholic to assume that their God is the Truth and everyone else is deficient in their knowledge and understanding while standing outside the bosom of the Catholic Church.

      • Bizinana

        Why stand outside, no one is going to Make someone believe. God gave us free will, he certainly won't force Himself on anyone. Our limitations in Understanding are certain. If knowledge is desired of God, He freely gives what is needed.
        Just ask. (I hesitate to say ," Pray for it")
        Grace is a gift given to mere mortals with finite minds that fills the void of doubt with faith in Almighty God.

        • Chad Eberhart

          I'm glad you agree that our limitation in understanding is "certain". That we can agree on. But why do you then go on with such certainty about your understanding of God? You've given me a recipe for knowing God as if you are very certain.

          • Bizinana

            I am.

        • David Nickol

          God gave us free will, he certainly won't force Himself on anyone.

          Wouldn't belief in God (especially in response to philosophical "proofs") be a matter of intellect, not will?

          I think all to many "theists" see atheism not as unbelief, but as a willful refusal to admit belief. Atheists are just bad people. Sure, they can behave just as morally and virtuously as theists, but they willfully deny God, and so they are fundamentally bad people.

        • George

          Belief is not a choice, so what's the point of asserting free will?

          "Just ask"? Ask who?

        • KateGladstone

          I HAVE "just asked" — early and often — so when, if ever, can I soundly deduce that I have received, and that I have _correctly_ received and _correctly_ understood what I've received?

    • Krakerjak

      One who possesses the arrogance to
      believe that because they do not believe in God that hence there must be
      no God;

      Because one does not believe in god, would be a mistake to think that it is due to "arrogance",Most atheists I know do not equate their unbelief to a determination that God cannot exist. That would indeed be arrogant.
      What I do find arrogant is the "certainty" of believers that the god of Christianity does exist in the face of so many contradictions to the contrary, while at the same time leveling criticism at atheists and agnostics who don't embrace the "faith".

    • David Nickol

      Would it not be human nature that one who possesses the arrogance to believe that because they do not believe in God that hence there must be no God; as if the existence of God were contingent upon their beliefs.

      ???

      Whether the object is God, or life on Mars, or unicorns, it is scarcely reasonable or logical to conclude that any person who disbelieves in the object holds that his or her disbelief causes the object not to exist! Atheists don't think that God does not exist because they disbelieve in him. They disbelieve in him because they think he doesn't exist!

      • William Davis

        It does in subjective reality, Jesus knew this I posted this above:

        I would contend that God (at least the Christian God) requires belief to exist. Jesus knew that belief was required for his miracles and prayer to work. Take the oldest, and most historically accurate gospel (hopefully you are familiar with the synoptic problem, the other two synoptics only agree where they agree with Mark) Mark 11:

        23 “Truly[f] I tell you, if anyone says to this mountain, ‘Go, throw yourself into the sea,’ and does not doubt in their heart but believes that what they say will happen, it will be done for them. 24 Therefore I tell you, whatever you ask for in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours.

        Prayer works when you believe it works. People back then only understand subjective reality, objective reality (and the difference between the two) is a newer concept. I think Jesus understood this well ahead of his time. Here are verses about miracles.

        Mark 6

        4 Jesus said to them, “A prophet is not without honor except in his own town, among his relatives and in his own home.” 5 He could not do any miracles there, except lay his hands on a few sick people and heal them. 6 He was amazed at their lack of faith.

        Since in this gospel, no one in Jesus's family or home town knew who he was his miracles don't work. No virgin birth here, that came later, and Jesus's divine nature started at his baptism (though he says only God is good when someone tries to call him good, indicating he isn't God...the messiah was never supposed to be God himself, but a son of God, like David and Solomon). Also take the interesting case of the epileptic boy (the symptoms are a textbook case of epilepsy) that the disciples could not drive the evil spirit out of:

        Mark 9

        17 A man in the crowd answered, “Teacher, I brought you my son, who is possessed by a spirit that has robbed him

        of speech. 18 Whenever it seizes him, it throws him to the ground. He foams at the mouth, gnashes his teeth and

        becomes rigid. I asked your disciples to drive out the spirit, but they could not.”

        19 “You unbelieving generation,” Jesus replied, “how long shall I stay with you? How long shall I put up with you?

        Bring the boy to me.”

        20 So they brought him. When the spirit saw Jesus, it immediately threw the boy into a convulsion. He fell to the

        ground and rolled around, foaming at the mouth.

        21 Jesus asked the boy’s father, “How long has he been like this?”

        “From childhood,” he answered. 22 “It has often thrown him into fire or water to kill him. But if you can do anything, take pity on us and help us.”

        23 “‘If you can’?” said Jesus. “Everything is possible for one who believes.”

        24 Immediately the boy’s father exclaimed, “I do believe; help me overcome my unbelief!”

        25 When Jesus saw that a crowd was running to the scene, he rebuked the impure spirit. “You deaf and mute spirit,” he said, “I command you, come out of him and never enter him again.”

        26 The spirit shrieked, convulsed him violently and came out. The boy looked so much like a corpse that many said, “He’s dead.”

        27 But Jesus took him by the hand and lifted him to his feet, and he stood up.

        28 After Jesus had gone indoors, his disciples asked him privately, “Why couldn’t we drive it out?”

        29 He replied, “This kind can come out only by prayer.[a]”

        Interesting how epilepsy was different from the others. Maybe because it was a real neurological condition and the others were psychosemantic? I don't know.

        This gospel has no requirement for belief in Jesus to enter the kingdom of God. Love is the key (not even keeping the law). Later verses were added at the end to demand belief. These same verses have killed many who have tried to handle snakes. Belief has power, but wrong belief can be very dangerous, see Don Quixote.

    • William Davis

      I would contend that God (at least the Christian God) requires belief to exist. Jesus knew that belief was required for his miracles and prayer to work. Take the oldest, and most historically accurate gospel (hopefully you are familiar with the synoptic problem, the other two synoptics only agree where they agree with Mark) Mark 11:

      23 “Truly[f] I tell you, if anyone says to this mountain, ‘Go, throw yourself into the sea,’ and does not doubt in their heart but believes that what they say will happen, it will be done for them. 24 Therefore I tell you, whatever you ask for in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours.

      Prayer works when you believe it works. People back then only understand subjective reality, objective reality (and the difference between the two) is a newer concept. I think Jesus understood this well ahead of his time. Here are verses about miracles.

      Mark 6
      4 Jesus said to them, “A prophet is not without honor except in his own town, among his relatives and in his own home.” 5 He could not do any miracles there, except lay his hands on a few sick people and heal them. 6 He was amazed at their lack of faith.

      Since in this gospel, no one in Jesus's family or home town knew who he was his miracles don't work. No virgin birth here, that came later, and Jesus's divine nature started at his baptism (though he says only God is good when someone tries to call him good, indicating he isn't God...the messiah was never supposed to be God himself, but a son of God, like David and Solomon). Also take the interesting case of the epileptic boy (the symptoms are a textbook case of epilepsy) that the disciples could not drive the evil spirit out of:

      Mark 9

      17 A man in the crowd answered, “Teacher, I brought you my son, who is possessed by a spirit that has robbed him

      of speech. 18 Whenever it seizes him, it throws him to the ground. He foams at the mouth, gnashes his teeth and

      becomes rigid. I asked your disciples to drive out the spirit, but they could not.”

      19 “You unbelieving generation,” Jesus replied, “how long shall I stay with you? How long shall I put up with you?

      Bring the boy to me.”

      20 So they brought him. When the spirit saw Jesus, it immediately threw the boy into a convulsion. He fell to the

      ground and rolled around, foaming at the mouth.

      21 Jesus asked the boy’s father, “How long has he been like this?”
      “From childhood,” he answered. 22 “It has often thrown him into fire or water to kill him. But if you can do anything, take pity on us and help us.”
      23 “‘If you can’?” said Jesus. “Everything is possible for one who believes.”
      24 Immediately the boy’s father exclaimed, “I do believe; help me overcome my unbelief!”
      25 When Jesus saw that a crowd was running to the scene, he rebuked the impure spirit. “You deaf and mute spirit,” he said, “I command you, come out of him and never enter him again.”
      26 The spirit shrieked, convulsed him violently and came out. The boy looked so much like a corpse that many said, “He’s dead.”
      27 But Jesus took him by the hand and lifted him to his feet, and he stood up.
      28 After Jesus had gone indoors, his disciples asked him privately, “Why couldn’t we drive it out?”
      29 He replied, “This kind can come out only by prayer.[a]”

      Interesting how epilepsy was different from the others. Maybe because it was a real neurological condition and the others were psychosemantic? I don't know.

      This gospel has no requirement for belief in Jesus to enter the kingdom of God. Love is the key (not even keeping the law). Later verses were added at the end to demand belief. These same verses have killed many who have tried to handle snakes. Belief has power, but wrong belief can be very dangerous, see Don Quixote.

  • Loreen Lee

    I was most appreciative of the remarks concerning the prevalence of political allegiances and alliances within philosophy programs. There is also according to my experience a rising and fall of accepted notions; points of view that are "in' at any specific time. Two factors that are relevant in assessing the scientific basis of any statistical survey, I believe..

  • I'll agree with Robert that religion doesn't have a "smart-people problem".

    There's still something curious about the studies of religiosity among scientists and philosophers in general. A smaller percentage of scientists and philosophers are theists than the general population.

    Why is this? What is it about science and philosophy that preferentially attracts non-theists or leads people to abandon theism?

    • Nick Cotta

      Here's a theory: the average person has not much discrepancy between their religious philosophy and their understanding of the scientific method. Given this, they are more likely to be religious because the two lay philosophies produce similar pros and cons.

      When a person who is professionally invested in the scientific method begins to weigh the arguments for religion, they are more likely to dismiss the claims because they believe the method which has witnessed the garnering of truth in their lives, the scientific method, does not look favorably upon religion.

      The bottom line is that our elites, and thus our institutions, are wholly imbibed in the scientific method; the intelligentsia respect it as the ultimate source of truth, and it takes a long time and a lot of effort to even recognize the limitations of the scientific method or understand that it is a mode of knowing, not just the default system of coming to knowledge.

      • FreemenRtrue

        and the Scientific Method only holds rationally if God is unchanging as Aquinas shows that He is.

    • Jim (hillclimber)

      Granting (without reviewing the data myself) that the data do point in that direction, I would speculate that it has something to do with the extreme specialization that most hard science doctoral programs require. The people I knew in grad school were some of the cleverest folks I have met. There were also some of the least well-rounded people I have met. I have found a lot more wisdom hanging out with small business owners, little league coaches, and PTO moms then I ever found in the halls of academia.

      • Michael Bren

        Yeah...let's remember that these folks are less likely to get married statistically, as well. Not exactly poster children for explaining the mysteries of the cosmos. Most of these folks have trouble interpreting basic facial emotions. So unless they can PROVE there is no God...which no one really can...then positing they are somehow philosophical role models is ludicrous.

    • Marc M

      What's commonly referred to today as "scientism" leads the modern academic mindset. I.e., nothing can be known unless you can point to repeated experimental evidence in a peer-reviewed journal for it. If you follow any modern science, especially social sciences, you can see that this isn't restricted to the question of theism. For example, there's controversy in the psychological world over whether or not childhood sexual abuse actually causes psychological harm. Much goes unreported and you can't design an ethical experiment to test it, so... many say "we just can't really know for sure!" This was a live issue in the updates to the very recent DSM-5.

      Regarding scientism and theism, Hawking's statements come to mind, but I am more reminded of a trumpeted article a year or two ago with a headline something along the lines of, "Science finally disproves God!" A physicist had given an interview in which he actually made the claim that since the existence of God was something that could not be experimentally tested, God therefore *did not exist*. Logical nonsense of course, but that's how these questions are discussed in many academic circles. Scientism, though illogical, is largely unquestioned.

      With this atmosphere pervading academia, as Fr. Barron's article showed, students learn that those are the ideas one needs to espouse if one wants to succeed. Young people who already lean towards a reductionist/materialist mindset are encouraged to further their education in the sciences, and stick around when they find themselves surrounded by like-minded people there. Those who believe in God are discouraged from taking their faith seriously- you can go to church on Christmas and consider it a quaint social convention, but you will be opposed by your peers and professors if you take your faith any further. One is surrounded by good, moral people quoting arguments about God commanding genocide and nonsense about how theism requires assent to young-Earth creationism, and it's easy to simply assent that these good, smart people must be right. Academic atheism is evangelical. It's a hostile environment for a faithful Christian. Simple cognitive dissonance will then lead many to eliminate the tension by either putting their faith aside, or abandoning a career in the sciences.

      • I think there's a lot of good insight you and Nick offer, a couple genuinely possible theories about why scientists tend to be atheists. I don't completely accept your answer for the three following reasons:

        1) In my experience, most astronomers I know, most scientists in general, don't adopt scientism or anything all that close to scientism. They tend to accept that truth is accessible also via philosophy, art, literature, music, poetry. Some of them may not be interested in these things, and some may not be very well rounded, although most scientists I've met enjoy these various expressions and are quite well rounded and balanced individuals. This is anecdotal, but it's what I observe working with scientists.

        2) Saying that the predominantly naturalistic scientific culture perpetuates naturalism in the sciences may well be true, but doesn't explain how the scientific culture became naturalistic in the first place.

        3) It doesn't answer the question for philosophers. Why would scientists and philosophers, out of so many professions, be disposed toward non-theism, or predominantly attract non-theists? Are the philosophers also victims of scientism?

        In short, I think your explanation may be part of the picture, but it seems to be missing the key cause.

        Here's what I think is another part of the explanation: I suspect that both philosophers and scientists treat doubt as a virtue and cultivate a practice of self-questioning and self-criticism, and this practice may be especially harmful to religious belief. You stop asking whether God exists and start wondering how likely it is that God exists, and it can be difficult to preserve religious belief in such an environment of doubt and questioning.

        • Mike

          YES Skepticism and Doubt are holy virtues in our western secular age.

        • FreemenRtrue

          everyone must doubt - they have no corner on that market. The beauty and order of nature are more affirming than otherwise.

        • Jim (hillclimber)

          I suspect that both philosophers and scientists treat doubt as a virtue and cultivate a practice of self-questioning and self-criticism, and this practice may be especially harmful to religious belief. You stop asking whether God exists and start wondering how likely it is that God exists, and it can be difficult to preserve religious belief in such an environment of doubt and questioning.

          This seems completely implausible to me, because anyone who has spent anytime with a Bible knows that doubt and questioning run through the heart of it. The narrative climax of the whole thing (from a Christian perspective) is Jesus's "Eloi, Eloi, lema sabachtani?". Psalm 22, on which his cry was based, is not exactly gushing with overconfidence.

          And as for the practice of self-questioning and self-criticism, you don't even need to look to things like the Ignatian Examen . Just look at our regular penitential rite at Mass.

          • Maybe it's my limited experience with the Catholic Church, but I've found no religious practice that tries to cultivate doubt in God's existence of Christ's divinity.

            Self-doubt, sure. Doubt about my righteousness. Critical examination of my life and my sins. Doubt about my actions, or my mental capabilities, the trustworthiness of reason, the wisdom of the world. But all that sort of doubt, constrained as it is, is a sort of bounded, enslaving doubt, the sort of doubt that perpetuates and secures religious belief.

            Show me the sort of prayers and religious practice that encourages skepticism about Papal claims, the veracity of the Scriptures, the claims of Christ. I would happily pray these prayers.

          • Jim (hillclimber)

            Good questions Paul. I would love to research and write a whole book on this exact topic someday. (I probably should start now, instead of continuing with all my ad hoc comments, but anyway ... )

            Doubt per se is not a virtue, and it makes no sense to cultivate it. Doubt comes to all of us easily enough without us going looking for it. What is to be cultivated is honest acknowledgement of doubt. I think (tell me if I'm wrong) that when you talk about the virtue of "doubt" in science you are really talking about having the wisdom to recognize our uncertainties and having the humility to admit those uncertainties. So, I would say that it suffices to pray for wisdom and humility, without praying for doubt.

            A pithy prayer to reflect an honest acknowledgement of doubt is : "Help my unbelief." (Mark 9:24).

            Now, I would be perfectly willing to concede that preaching on the "virtue of humility" has frequently been perverted, in practice if not in official teaching, to perniciously browbeat the innocent into conformity. Those who preach in that way are guilty of horrendous sin, as far as I can tell.

            Whether this has been sufficiently advertised or not is another matter, but assent to the teachings of the Church is not tantamount to affirming the authority of the Church with certainty. Much to the contrary, it is a straightforward logical implication that if we believe we are compromised by original sin, then in all honesty and humility it is not possible for any one of us to adjudicate with certainty whether the Church has divine authority. Ironically then, it is precisely a doctrine of the Church, that of original sin, that should logically mandate this honest and humble confession of at least some degree of uncertainty in the authority of the visible Church.

          • William Davis

            Well said. You get it and I appreciate that :)

          • William Davis

            The demands of belief came later. I don't think anyone (especially Paul who was a Pharisee) could accept the simplicity of Jesus's message: Love. Of course love of God was important to the Rabbi, but one who really loves his neighbor is consistent with the heart of the message. This is the core message of almost every major religion. The demands of specific beliefs and theology become problematic quickly, and I think many people may need that.

          • Jim (hillclimber)

            I think this is a little bit misleading. It's both simple and not simple. "God = Love" is a simple equation, until you start thinking about what love is. Love has a certain logic to it, and that logic is expressed (albeit never perfectly) by the Law.

            One of Paul's key insights was: You don't follow the Law in order to be made right with God. You follow the Law (if you have the privilege of knowing it and understanding it) because you have already been made right with God. Earning the grace of God by following the Law would be a hopeless task anyway, because as Paul points out, we know from Psalm 143 that no one is righteous before God. But Paul is very clear that this realization doesn't obviate the Law. One follows the Law because one perceives that following the Law is an appropriate response to a love that is unconditional.

            It's analogous to the message one would give to a recent graduate of medical school. One wouldn't say, "Now you must save lives, in order to become a doctor." No, you would say: "You are already a doctor, now go and save lives".

          • William Davis

            I think I've come to understand. I hope you don't mind if I bounce this off you, it probably seems strange and unorthodox, but I think you might understand too (so far I get blank looks from people I bounce this off of, and no comment from the few times I've posted it, I've only come to understand it recently).

            Jesus knew that belief was required for his miracles and prayer to work. Take the oldest, and most historically accurate gospel (hopefully you are familiar with the synoptic problem, the other two synoptics only agree where they agree with Mark) Mark 11:

            23 “Truly[f] I tell you, if anyone says to this mountain, ‘Go, throw yourself into the sea,’ and does not doubt in their heart but believes that what they say will happen, it will be done for them. 24 Therefore I tell you, whatever you ask for in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours.

            Prayer works when you believe it works. People back then only understand subjective reality, objective reality (and the difference between the two) is a newer concept. I think Jesus understood this well ahead of his time. Here are verses about miracles.

            Mark 6
            4 Jesus said to them, “A prophet is not without honor except in his own town, among his relatives and in his own home.” 5 He could not do any miracles there, except lay his hands on a few sick people and heal them. 6 He was amazed at their lack of faith.

            Since in this gospel, no one in Jesus's family or home town knew who he was his miracles don't work. No virgin birth here, that came later, and Jesus's divine nature started at his baptism (though he says only God is good when someone tries to call him good, indicating he isn't God...the messiah was never supposed to be God himself, but a son of God, like David and Solomon). Also take the interesting case of the epileptic boy (the symptoms are a textbook case of epilepsy) that the disciples could not drive the evil spirit out of:

            Mark 9

            17 A man in the crowd answered, “Teacher, I brought you my son, who is possessed by a spirit that has robbed him of speech. 18 Whenever it seizes him, it throws him to the ground. He foams at the mouth, gnashes his teeth and becomes rigid. I asked your disciples to drive out the spirit, but they could not.”

            19 “You unbelieving generation,” Jesus replied, “how long shall I stay with you? How long shall I put up with you? Bring the boy to me.”

            20 So they brought him. When the spirit saw Jesus, it immediately threw the boy into a convulsion. He fell to theground and rolled around, foaming at the mouth.

            21 Jesus asked the boy’s father, “How long has he been like this?”
            “From childhood,” he answered. 22 “It has often thrown him into fire or water to kill him. But if you can do anything, take pity on us and help us.”
            23 “‘If you can’?” said Jesus. “Everything is possible for one who believes.”
            24 Immediately the boy’s father exclaimed, “I do believe; help me overcome my unbelief!”
            25 When Jesus saw that a crowd was running to the scene, he rebuked the impure spirit. “You deaf and mute spirit,” he said, “I command you, come out of him and never enter him again.”
            26 The spirit shrieked, convulsed him violently and came out. The boy looked so much like a corpse that many said, “He’s dead.”
            27 But Jesus took him by the hand and lifted him to his feet, and he stood up.
            28 After Jesus had gone indoors, his disciples asked him privately, “Why couldn’t we drive it out?”
            29 He replied, “This kind can come out only by prayer.[a]”

            Interesting how epilepsy was different from the others. Maybe because it was a real neurological condition and the others were psychosemantic? I don't know.

            This gospel has no requirement for belief in Jesus to enter the kingdom of God. Love is the key (not even keeping the law). Later verses were added at the end to demand belief. These same verses have killed many who have tried to handle snakes. Belief has power, but wrong belief can be very dangerous, see Don Quixote. This is why I think the church was compelled to control belief, it can end up all over the place, especially without critical thinking. I also think that Paul, who was a Pharisee, couldn't get over the law, and the need for sacrifice, so it was important for him to see Jesus's death as the ultimate sacrifice for atonement. Believing in the resurrection makes the miracle a reality, that is why it is important. I would also contend that believing in Satan brings him into the world. In Judaism "Satan" meant adversary. Notice the oldest account of "Satan" as an angel has him sitting on God's council in the book of Job. Jesus even calls Peter "Satan". I think Jesus's account of interacting with Satan in Mark is best understood as a metaphor for Jesus overcoming his own selfish (sin) nature. Most of the religious wars and persecution of Jews has happened because of looking at the enemy, not as a misguide or just different thinking child of God, but as someone in league with Satan himself. It is sad all the death and intolerance that has resulted.

            Sorry for the length, but I feel so much better that I think I comprehend this now. Notice that Paul was the first person to really talk about original sin (it was just a specific curse for all parties involved in Genesis, but I do think that Paul's idea may have originated from the writers of Psalms, which was obviously much later in history). This idea can't be objectively true, however, because other belief systems have had very good affects on people when they embrace the core message of love (agape love specifically, it was nice Greek had 3 words for it). There are even atheist charity groups now, but it all had to start with beliefs, and it will only keep going through beliefs.
            I apologize for the length, I thank you for being an open-minding individual who is open for genuine discussion.

          • Jim (hillclimber)

            Thanks for the intelligent and charitable engagement. There are a lot of ideas in there that I would like to offer my opinion on, but the real world is tugging hard at me now, so it may take me a while to really engage on most of those points. Please don't mistake my lack of response for a while with a lack of interest. I am not infrequently accused of being strange and unorthodox myself, so I have a special sympathy for others who find themselves in the same boat!

            PS: "psychosemantic" is a delicious word that undoubtedly applies to a number of commenters here, and which I would proudly apply to myself ... but I imagine that was a typo and you meant "psychosomatic"? ;-)

          • William Davis

            Lol, it is a typo...I thought about it afterward but didn't think it worth finding to fix, Thanks! Maybe I have semantics on the brain.

          • Jim (hillclimber)

            Hi William,

            A couple brief thoughts while I have a second ...

            As a general preliminary, I think it is ultimately very hard to second guess Paul to any substantial degree and still be coherently Christian. We can certainly disagree with Paul on culturally conditioned issues like gender roles (Pauline authorship is contested anyway on the really problematic sections, but let's not get distracted ...), but I think it is hard to coherently contradict Paul on fundamental issues of Christology. Not that chronology is everything, but in contrast to the Gospels, all of which were set to papyrus after the destruction of the temple and after the Jewish population (including the Christian Jewish population) had substantially scattered from Jerusalem and headed for the hills, Paul's letters give us a real-time snapshot of Christianity as it existed within Second Temple Judaism, i.e. the milieu in which Jesus actually lived. That and the fact that he was the most fervent Evangelist of all time, and really the inventor of Christian theology, leads me to conclude that the road to deeper understanding of Christianity has to run right through Damascus.

            With that preliminary out of the way, I think it is impossible to take Paul more or less at his word and still imagine that he was merely selecting an interpretive lens for events that he might just as easily have interpreted in a different way. Something that was outside of him just slapped him across the face and changed his life. I just cannot look at the texts honestly and imagine that he was in control of that change in his life. From the moment of his calling, though he claimed to be an ineloquent idiot, he nonetheless proclaimed absolutely certainty about one thing (or two inseparable things) : Christ's death and resurrection. You can call Paul crazy, but you can't reasonably claim that he chose to believe in Jesus Christ as crucified and resurrected messiah.

            That said, you are not Paul, and I am not Paul. For us, I think there is nothing wrong with approaching Christianity, for exploratory purposes, as merely an interpretive lens that we construct and/or select. I went about it that way (half-heartedly) for at about 20 years (after an initial 18 years of not having any structured religious belief at all), hanging out at the periphery without really believing that there was anything objectively true about the resurrection and the incarnation. I finally changed my perspective on that a few years ago. I no longer think we choose the meaning. I am convinced that there is a meaning already out there that has chosen us. That meaning speaks to us through every person we meet and every sparkle of frozen dew. The font of that meaning is the historical event of the resurrection. I think it would take me a while to think through and explain what brought about this change in my perspective, but hopefully that at least gives you some idea of where I stand. I do not think I choose the meaning of my life. I think I perceive it.

            I'm not sure if that starts to get at the issues you were trying to get at. In any case, I'm happy to continue chatting as time allows.

            --Jim

          • William Davis

            I understand how important Paul is theologically. He was the apostle to the Gentiles, and it was mostly Gentiles who made up the Christian church. I read parts of a paper by a Catholic historian who speculatively argued that only 1000 Jews converted. Those Jews being kicked out of Jerusalem plays into the whole narrative of how Christianity spread, maybe it was providence. I do need to read Paul's letters. I can go into a long discussion as to how, as someone heavily trained in science, thinks providence may actually work. Some scientists would argue my thinking is reading "God into the gaps", but I hardly see why that's a problem. I do believe the human mind is constructed to believe in God, or at least a higher power. I hardly see why it matters if it is just due to chance or not. I'm out of time now myself :)

        • Marc M

          I think you're right about the virtue of doubt in academic circles. In response to your point #1--granting that I'm now just speculating--I think people subcategorize what you call "truth" here. There is concrete truth (The chair I'm sitting in exists), and there is abstract truth (murder is wrong). I tend to think that people apply scientism to concrete truth while still holding that philosophy, literature, etc., can illuminate abstract truths.

          I think this applies to our current question in two ways. One, I think people don't know where to categorize God. If God exists, that's a concrete truth. But if I can't observe and analyze a piece of God under a microscope, maybe God is only abstract, like "justice". It's easy to conclude that, if we can't apply concrete tools to God, maybe He's not so "true" in the absolute sense after all.

          Two, people consistently today conflate "abstract" with "subjective". This chair exists? Yes. True. Objective. Murder is wrong? Yes. True. Sort of. Most people would agree. True, but not in the same way as the chair...

          This relativism leads to the same place. If God's existence is true, it's only subjectively true. True for you, not for me.

          This could account for the "philosopher" problem, as modern philosophy has quite embraced relativism, whereas theism--or, at least, Christianity--requires a full assent to objective truth.

          • I have a mind. I don't think it can be observed under a microscope. Temperature isn't found in single atoms or molecules. The mathematics that describes the motions of atoms is abstract, and yet this is a large part of what physical science studies. And it doesn't seem to me to be subjective.

            If some people are using this distinction, abstract vs. concrete, to determine what science does and what other things do, I don't see how they can apply that distinction consistently.

            I don't know if God exists because I haven't found any convincing evidence for Her existence, scientific or otherwise. My problem isn't with categories. But I think my education and career has influenced my beliefs. I think of doubt as a great virtue, and try to apply it to everything. When I apply my skepticism to physical miracles and to certain theological claims (simplicity, trinity, bodily resurrection), it doesn't hold up well to me. I can't bring myself to believe these things.

          • Marc M

            "If some people are using this distinction, abstract vs. concrete, to
            determine what science does and what other things do, I don't see how
            they can apply that distinction consistently."

            Yes, that's my point. I think it's inherently flawed, but I think many, many people try to categorize knowledge this way.

            I think you may have misunderstood my premise as well. Or to be more precise, I stated my terms poorly. Let's take your examples. Temperature and mathematics are descriptions of or qualities of concrete things. They have no existence in themselves, but the things they describe are concrete, experimentally measurable truth.

            Your example of "mind" would fall under what I meant by "abstract." However, I wonder what you think of as your mind--I've had this conversation with many materialists and atheists, and it seems to me that the materialist worldview requires "mind" to be simply an emergent property of movement of atoms and electrons in the brain. Therefore, though one's subjective experience of consciousness may be abstract by any definition, the existence of the mind is fully reducible to mechanical parts, and still therefore, concrete.

            If you believe your mind to be something different, I consider that in itself to be evidence for the existence of God.

          • I think you may have misunderstood my premise as well. Or to be more precise, I stated my terms poorly. Let's take your examples. Temperature and mathematics are descriptions of or qualities of concrete things. They have no existence in themselves, but the things they describe are concrete, experimentally measurable truth.

            Your example of "mind" would fall under what I meant by "abstract."

            Except that I think mind doesn't have any existence entirely apart from concrete things. Mind isn't the same as brain, but mind can't exist without brain (or something like brain, like possibly a complex computer). My views on this are very close to those os Christof Koch. ( http://www.huffingtonpost.com/christof-koch/consciousness-is-everywhere_b_1784047.html , for example)

            On a deeper level, I suspect that mind/body or form/matter are simply ways of representing a single fundamental reality that expresses itself, now as extension, now as idea.

        • Nick Cotta

          Yes, that is very good add-on.

          I do take issue with your first point though - most scientists and astronomers think of the soft sciences and arts both consciously and sub consciously as just subservient things to science itself. While poetry and art and so forth can generate a sense of truth and meaning, ultimately they do so only in relation to science and they most assuredly believe that science, if given enough time, can explain these truths in more detail. The fact is that their whole worldview is a reductionist one - they are entirely of the view that everything we see, although complex and not readily explainable, obviously emanates from the idea that simple laws and matter can produce a vast array of staggering complexity. In their mind, the idea that complexity can arise from simplicity and that this complexity is material is transferred to the other disciplines and those disciplines really become disciplines of the brain or just an appreciation for the process of complexity itself.
          The question of meaning becomes easily subservient as well --> meaning is a fiction imposed on us by our brain and the principle of complexity, an elaborate (albeit beautiful) illusion. The philosophical comes from the scientific, and no one ever thinks it can be any other way. Even after I converted to Catholicism, I thought in this same way but "added" a layer to the simplicity by calling that simplicity God.
          As I continue to live the faith, I have come to realize how slow the conversion process really is. I am of the opinion that even my converted self was still a materialist and part of me is now, and escaping it seems to me similar to atheists who never fully escape the religion they were brought up in. I am sure I am inadequate in explaining this changing of the mind, but it seems obvious to me how difficult a process it is for a human being to unlearn the deep suppositions of the prevailing culture. They're deeper than we think.

          • I do take issue with your first point though - most scientists and astronomers think of the soft sciences and arts both consciously and sub consciously as just subservient things to science itself.

            In general, not the ones I've worked with. I'd be interested in finding out if there's been some statistical study of this, though.

            Many people I work with are anti-realists. Even Hawking earlier in his career, was a positivist and anti-realist. Physics didn't say anything about truth or reality. Physics is just a way to correlate sense-data. (for Hawking's statement to this effect, see his opening statement in his debate with Penrose, from "The Nature of Space and Time".)

            All I can really offer is anecdote. I wonder if there has been a careful statistical exploration into this question. Most physicists I've worked with think, for example, that chemistry and biology can be reduced to physics, but few that poetry or literature, or their love for their families, can be entirely reduced to physics. Some do. Most important for this conversation, I certainly don't.

      • FreemenRtrue

        you make some very good points - we might also say that social sciences and economics and psychiatry and such are not even scientific.

        • William Davis

          They are scientific, they are just complex and difficult to grapple. They all have one thing in common, the human mind. I don't think it is any surprise that the human mind has difficulty comprehending itself. These fields are very important and we have learned many things from them, but the things we learn are more like artistic rendering than concrete theories, for the most part. Neurology/genetics may reveal much more as it digs deeper into the hardware itself...especially as we are beginning to use computers to analyze the signals and relationships to thoughts.

          • FreemenRtrue

            as one of my old professor's said if they can't discover any laws they are not a science

          • William Davis

            You professor was wrong. "Science (from Latin scientia, meaning "knowledge"[1]) is a systematic enterprise that builds and organizes knowledge in the form of testable explanations and predictions about nature and the universe.[nb 1] In an older and closely related meaning, "science" also refers to a body of knowledge itself, of the type that can be rationally explained and reliably applied." You can't just make up definitions and expect other people to agree with them.

          • FreemenRtrue

            conceit by professional intellectual elitists does not make science - the 'soft' sciences are a scam like the nebulous science of climatology.

          • William Davis

            Oh, I get it, you're mad at the pope. Calm down and quite stereo-typing all "soft" science the same. Is the modern state a scam? Is the modern economy a scam? All science has error bars around it, and the error bars around climate science are probably the largest of any science. It's clear the earth is warming slightly, and it is very likely that C02 is a huge factor, where they start becoming unscientific is the alarmism. The idea that there is only one perfect temp for the earth isn't exactly scientific. In other words, there is reason for concern, but it is exaggerated for political ends very often. I really like the current pope, I think he understands that the central message of Christianity, love they neighbor as they self, is way more important than all of these ridiculous arguments over theology. It is the central message of nearly all major religions. I'll probably make another post later about psychology, no time right now.

          • FreemenRtrue

            You are very presumptuous to tell me to calm down. Being unperturbed one may find your admonition out of order. The modern economy is a scam - note the insolvency of the US with an 18T debt that cannot be repaid. You are quite wrong about CO2 since it is probably very beneficial and is an effect of global warming likely not a cause. There is nothing new or surprising in the Christian message of 2000 years and I hardly need your instruction but thanks for the advice. Hard science is based on the discovery of Nature's(God's) Laws.

          • William Davis

            You're welcome. I was going to explain how Jesus had a very early and deep insight into psychology that we have only recently understood scientifically, and that is the power of belief (coming from the oldest and most historically accurate gospel, Mark). If you are uninterested, however, I won't both you with it. The question is are you really here to discuss, or just tell people what they are supposed to think.

          • FreemenRtrue

            try looking in the mirror while reading your post. No thank you for the interpretation of Jesus through the art of psychology.

          • William Davis

            It's the fact that Jesus understood psychology and the power of belief to shape the world. Its all from scripture. Just look in my comment history at my last post. Either way, I wish you the best. You'd be be much happier if you had a more open mind. Notice the comment I want you to look at is asking for a response from an open minded christian. I guess, in a way, I'm a christian myself, just a complicated unorthodox one who also understands science and critical thinking. All these should, and can, work together to make our world a better place, which is at the heart of Jesus's message.

      • Ignatius Reilly

        One doesn't succeed as a scientist by being an atheist. Academic institutions care much more about your research.

      • William Davis

        You're living in the past. More and more people are understanding the difference between subjective belief and and knowing something about objective reality. Our knowledge of objective reality tends to must err on the side of agnosticism if their is down, truth becomes a matter of probabilities. "All models are wrong, some are useful". Subjective belief is about being human, feeling love, and emotion. There's only the problem when you confuse the two. Even Jesus knew this, his miracles, and prayer only worked if someone believed they did, it right in the gospel of Mark, read my post above if interested. Subjective belief shapes reality, but it isn't reality.

    • fredx2

      It's very simple. People who excel in those fields religiously adhere to a process that religiously excludes anything but hard, tangible facts and evidence. This becomes their exclusive world view, which creates an unbalanced human being, but a rigorous scientist. So they are good at science, but have nothing to say about anything else, because they have not created a balanced world view that considers all evidence. They have created a world view that considers only evidence that is valid in their field. So they miss lots of things ordinary people see quite clearly.

      Stephen Hawkings somewhat silly comments about God etc are a case in point. Dawkins is a perfect example of a scientist who is so focused on the trees that he does not see the woods.

      Very sharp lawyers, for example practice a system of evaluating evidence and creating arguments. Some are so good that they fool themselves. Some can make black seem white. This does not make them right, it just makes them skilled for a particular, unique purpose. One should not rely on them for anything else. Specialization creates shallow men sometimes.

      Scientists are not experts on religion. So their thoughts on the matter are about as relevant as asking Oprah about nuclear physics. The sad fact is the current environment in the universities creates political activists, not rigorous academics. Universities have become anti-truth institutions in many regards, with a rather vicious culture that enforces a unique orthodoxy on many subjects. No thought is allowed in many areas.

      • I don't think that this by itself can explain it very well.

        Are plumbers overwhelmingly atheistic? Plumbers are, in my experience, experts in plumbing, they know everything about my water pipes and sink and toilet and can help with my sprinkler system. But no plumber I've met comes to believe in plumberism, that everything can be explained in terms of pipes and water flow. There's no high rate of atheism among plumbers.

        Why scientists and not plumbers, or construction workers? And why philosophers, who presumably aren't so strongly conditioned toward scientism?

        • Chad Eberhart

          Paul, I wonder if a couple reasons are that for philosophers they generally understand that arguments that can't be falsified (e.g., religious claims based on revelation) are considered bad arguments. For scientists, they tend to have a world view of humility (scientific method) that makes it difficult to just believe on faith without both empirical and rational reasons. The trade of plumbing doesn't generally equip plumbers with these types of tools/guiding principles, so there's probably more god-believing plumbers since religious faith is kinda the default for people who aren't equipped with logic and the scientific method. Obviously, there are religious people who are equipped with those tools and still maintain belief, but I think it's a lot harder to do.

      • William Davis

        So they are good at science, but have nothing to say about anything else, because they have not created a balanced world view that considers all evidence.

        Stereo-typing scientists based on anecdotes and too much tv isn't really helpful.

      • William Davis

        Universities have become anti-truth institutions in many regards, with a rather vicious culture that enforces a unique orthodoxy on many subjects

        Exactly how do you know this. My experience is the exact opposite. Unique views and intellectual diversity are cherished, as long as you aren't bullying your views onto someone else.

    • Tim

      Does science really cause people to reject or simply ignore their own theism?

      • I don't think so, Tim. But I think that the scientific way of thinking makes it harder to be religious. I don't see it as much of a cause, but more of an influence. And not a uniform influence, even. Many excellent scientists are also Christians, and see little or no conflict between their faith and science.

    • Alexander S Anderson

      We like to think of scientists and philosophers as pioneering mavericks, venturing out to the edge of our knowledge in order to bring back "truth." But they are just as much social creatures and adherents of habit and convention as we are. They work mostly with other philosophers and scientists, and doing this requires communication, and therefore something of a shared world-imaginary.

      The dominant academic world-imaginary in the United States has been atheistic since at least the early 20th century. The reasons for this are varied, but, like the earlier presumption of theism, it isn't the result of such a world-imaginary being more "rational," it has to do with history, culture, and maybe even economics.

      Of course, everyone makes their own choices, and I'm not putting forth some sort of cultural determinist argument here. But in a milieu where atheism is the background assumption, many are going to take the easy path. The same is true where theism is the background assumption: and there are milieu in the U.S. where this is the case. Of course, atheism in such milieu will often be better thought out than theism, because the theists don't have to think about it. The opposite is true when atheism is the background assumption. Most atheist scientists and philosophers are relatively unthinking in their non-faith as a result.

      • The dominant academic world-imaginary in the United States has been atheistic since at least the early 20th century. The reasons for this are varied, but, like the earlier presumption of theism, it isn't the result of such a world-imaginary being more "rational," it has to do with history, culture, and maybe even economics.

        I'm not actually convinced of the claim, that "academic world-imaginary in the United States" is or has been atheistic; to be honest, I'm not sure what your phrase means.

        But whatever causes you propose for why scientists and philosophers tend to be atheists, economic, cultural, historical, I'd be interested in learning about them.

    • Ignatius Reilly

      Science teaches a person that their intuitions can be horribly wrong. I always thought that heavier objects fall faster than lighter objects, velocity has no effect on how time passes, an object will not behave like a particle in one experiment and a wave in another, etc. I think once someone accepts that their intuition is very fallible, they tend to look closer at the other beliefs that they hold.

      The same could be said for philosophy.

      I don't think either discipline attracts atheists, but rather the disciplines force one to take a very good look at one's assumptions.

      • I think that's a good insight, one I don't often think about. Science has taught me to be very suspicious of my intuition.

        • Jim (hillclimber)

          That's all fine. But conversely, don't you at least partly mistrust your use of reason when your intuition tells you that you have come to a wrong conclusion?

          Doesn't your greatest confidence arise when your reason and your intuition can be brought into coherence with each other? Isn't that worth more than reason alone?

          Your lizard brain has been around a lot longer than your hippocampus. I wouldn't distrust it too much.

          • But conversely, don't you at least partly mistrust your use of reason when your intuition tells you that you have come to a wrong conclusion?

            Absoltuely.

  • Joshua Demi

    It is also worth noting that, in the poll cited by the salon article, there is a discrepancy between the number of philosophers which subscribe to "atheism" (72.8%) vs "naturalism" (49.8%). This very well could be due to the fact that "atheism" is an ambiguous word which can some times mean what is normally called atheism (the assertion that God does not exist), agnosticism, or view that the statement that God exists is simply meaningless. Percentage of those who affirm naturalism is likely more indicative of the percentage of respondents that affirm that God does not exist.

  • I note that Fr Barron does not dispute then statistics, he just disagrees that they show that a majority of intelligent, well-educated people lack a beleif in any Gods?

    His explanation is that this segment of the population is ignorant of the real notion of what God is, this idea of "Pure Being" rather than a being who created the Universe. Of course he doesn't have the stats to back this up, it is his impression. I disagree, i know many well educated and intelligent people, they are well aware of the vague, abstract ideas of God advanced by Fr Barron and find them so vague and abstract as to be unworthy of beleif.

    his premise is basically, like Feser's, that these educated philosophers, scientists and professors simply don't understand or are ignorant of these brilliant arguments for God to exist. I disagree, I find these arguments are unconvincing and weak and give the benefit of the doubt to the majority who say they lack a beleif in any Gods.

    Look, the idea that the intelligent masses are somehow being wilfully blind to the obvious logic that pure actuality took human form and had himself killed to solve the problem of sin is not plausible. He is right, most people believed this or something like this. They have nothing to gain and everything to lose by rejecting it. Perhaps it isn't ignorance that explains the decline in beleif in this sector, maybe it actually is what it seems it is: a good education, intelligence and a still emerging view that being an atheist doesn't make you a bad person.

    • "...a still emerging view that being an atheist doesn't make you a bad person."

      Very few Christians deny this (and none that I know personally). Do you really think that "the intelligent masses" move from theism to atheism because they discover atheists can behave morally? That's an obvious fact to most people.

    • theroman

      "his premise is basically, like Feser's, that these educated philosophers, scientists and professors simply don't understand or are ignorant of these brilliant arguments for God to exist"

      Aren't you the pot calling the kettle black here? Isn't the same accusation made against people of faith? They just can't grasp science and prefer superstition instead?

      • Not at all. I don't think people of faith can't grasp science etc. Nor do I think science is a reason for or against atheism. I think most people don't think about it too deeply, believe out of wishful thinking and various levels of indoctrination.

        I

    • fredx2

      Father Barron has noticed that many atheists, especially academic ones, seem to subscribe to a notion of God being some sort of "Human in the sky" , a sort of super hero human being with expanded powers. Why they would have such a warped vision of what God is, is beyond me. They are supposedly the smart ones. They imagine that their ability to come up with questions about the wisdom and consistency of what God does indicates a sort of "defeat" of the idea of God. But when examined closely, all too many athests operate under a child's view of God, a warped vision of what he has said and done, and therefore they sort of shoot themselves in the foot. Mockery seems to be a great delight to them.

      You show this sort of limited grasp of the idea of God in your comment that the idea he became man and had himself killed to solve the problem of sin is "not plausible". The fact is, many things are not plausible but are true. You have deemed something that is entirely plausible as "not plausible". It was implausible that the Soviet Union would suddenly crumble of its own weight, for example. Just because you find the logic behind something unlikely means little.

      • Arthur Jeffries

        Father Barron has noticed that many atheists, especially academic ones, seem to subscribe to a notion of God being some sort of "Human in the sky" , a sort of super hero human being with expanded powers. Why they would have such a warped vision of what God is, is beyond me.

        Aren't these atheists just responding to the common Christian vision of what God is? It seems to me that the majority of Christians, including Catholics, view God as "some sort of 'Human in the sky' , a sort of super hero human being with expanded powers" and not as "the condition for the possibility of the universe as such, the non-contingent ground of contingency."

        • simplynotred

          Made in the image and likeness, does not suggest a big human in the sky as many children would prefer, but eventually grow out of this notion. The Jews taught us all that there is no image of God that can be made. Christians who are mature, (not overly intellectualized) grasp the same persepective that God is beyond human comprehension.

      • Doug Shaver

        Why they would have such a warped vision of what God is, is beyond me.

        Because most of the theists we meet in ordinary life talk as if that's what they believe about God. If your average pew potato has a warped vision of God, I don't think you can blame atheists for that.

        • Nick Cotta

          I think most devout believers would mostly agree with this, haha.

          • Chad Eberhart

            Do you mean intellectually inclined devout believers? Most devout believers I know have pretty "warped" visions of God.

          • Nick Cotta

            No, I took pew potato to mean more of people not "present" in the pew - I think it's a fundamental Christian message that the simple minded have the clearest picture of God (although this might not really translate to articulation). Intellectually inclined has nothing to do with it.

          • David Nickol

            I think it's a fundamental Christian message that the simple minded have the clearest picture of God . . . .

            Would you call Paul VI, John Paul II, Benedict XVI, and Pope Francis simple minded? How about Thomas Aquinas? I am really not clear on what you are saying. Do you think that God created intelligence as some kind of barrier to understanding him? How far would you take this? The lower a person's IQ, the clearer picture he or she has of God?

          • Nick Cotta

            Well I don't mean simple minded meaning mentally challenged or the opposite of "intellectually inclined" - that is why I said being "intellectually inclined" has nothing to do with your clarity of God (intelligence as a measure of raw IQ power); I mean simple minded in its own sense although I realize that's confusing given its pejorative nature.
            Christian theology is more about how sin has clouded God and through Jesus the cloud is removed. "Simple minded" in my usage here means more like "unclouded" in this sense. There are whole elaborate philosophies dedicated to this and I'm not an expert at them, but I know this is right: physical intelligence is not a measure of your capacity to know God.

      • I am aware of Fr Barron's view of what he thinks God is, he has written about it many times and has made the distinction you note.

        I am pointing out that this view may be shared by Catholics, particularly well educated catholic apologists like himself. But I don't think it is widely shared by believers, and it takes a lot of interpretation to reconcile it with the God described in the bible. I don't think this implausible I think it contradictory.

        What I said was the idea that the intelligensia rejecting theism because they were being ignorant of good arguments for God was implausible.

    • ArgyleEuphoria

      Just out of curiosity, what evidence for the existence of God would persuade you to believe in Him?

      • The best would be a personal encounter to my repeated requests for any evidence that he exists.

        • ChrisDeStefano

          It sounds like he blessed you with a mind that desires to search for him.

        • ArgyleEuphoria

          The point is that there is no empirical evidence that supports the existence of God. There is logical support (see Thos. Aquinas) and personal testimony/anecdotal evidence. But there will never be any scientific proof.
          But that's because it's not a scientific question.

          Can you prove love exists? Or beauty? What is love's velocity, or beauty's mass? Where is the double blind study proving they are real? We have anecdotal evidence, but is that just delusion and superstition?

          • I disagree, I think there is empirical evidence that does support theism, it just is nowhere as convincing as that which supports naturalism.

            Why can't the be scientific or at least empirical proof, is God so intent on staying hidden? He provided it to his disciple Thomas.

            I can't "prove" anything exists. I can demonstrate love exists, depending on what you mean by love. I don't think beauty exists, I think people find things beautiful, or not, and yes I can demonstrate that these things "exist" depending on what you mean by "exists".

            Look, the isn't complicated. If the creator of all matter and energy wants to have a relationship with me, he also knows that I would want a relationship with him. I have genuinely asked him to speak to me in some way. Goodness, if the deity described

          • by Christians exists who would not want want to commune with him? I certainly do. I don't want to sin, I am married to a gorgeous woman and we have stopped using contraception. I am from a Catholic family and I pretty much live according to catholic values. Every now and then I am given pause and actually for a moment, do ask god to enter my heart, speak to me . Do something to distinguish a world where he doesn't exist from one where he is a myth.

  • Maolsheachlann

    As a believing Catholic, my only problem with this article is the claim that the sciences have nothing to tell us about God one way or the other. St. Paul seemed to think otherwise when he said that the invisible reality of God could be seen from the visible things of the world. You may say this is philosophical rather than scientific knowledge, but surely the interpretation of scientific fact plays a part. Great article.

    • Em

      It's not that they don't tell us anything. They tell us something. But only something, not everything! :)

    • Doug Shaver

      St. Paul seemed to think otherwise when he said that the invisible reality of God could be seen from the visible things of the world.

      Some of us think Paul was just wrong about that.

      • Maolsheachlann

        Well, of course, I accept that some people think that.

  • Romeo Pepito

    They think that belief or unbelief in God is only in their minds and God's existence depends on them ... how deeply flawed and arrogant , from us who are practically nothing in the universe and beyond ... your mind couldn't create something out of nothing like God did with universe ...science says it came out of one atom but where did that come came from ? Not so with BILLIONS of believers but still there's so much confusion about it coz God is so mysterious, He hides so many secrets to discover for ourselves. .. but He reveal all of Himself to His faithful and sincere believers though we have to earn the rights to be in that position by sacrifices , prayers and love ... true science and philosophy is in no way contradictory to God's BEING - it's NOT existence i beg to differ coz that would be too mundane ... in fact without even realizing it , these " smart " people are actually giving praises and glory to God's profundity that will be fully open to the worthy souls, minds and hearts when we leave this SPLIT SECOND existence in the universe

  • John Sposato

    Dennett's "argument" inlcludes the classic logical fallacies of argument from authority, ad hominem reasoning, all based one unproven -- and irrelevant -- assumption: that the majority of "smart" people are atheists. Ridiculous

    • Caritas06

      There seems to be an underlying assumption in both Dennett's argument and the Salon study that only scientists or academic philosophers are intelligent - so that those who hold J.D.'s, MD's, MBA's or PhDs in other disciplines and believe in God or a concept of god, are not intelligent - or "as intelligent". The assumption skews the body surveyed, which can also skew the survey. I have also know brilliant physicists and chemists who were not very smart or sensible. There are many types of intelligence.

      • Chad Eberhart

        I'm not sure it has to do so much with "intelligence" as it has to do with the difference between the liberal arts (leisure) and the servile arts. The servile arts are kind of like glorified vocational schools (who generally make a whole lot more money but have less prestige) like medical school, business school, etc. This is even reflected in how we refer to these respective departments at universities. Notice how it's called the College of Arts and Sciences rather than merely a School? A good book to check out is Josef Pieper's (who is a Thomist) Leisure the Basis of Culture. Here's a quote: "III.- But the most fundamental question is metaphysical. What are the
        liberal arts? Aquinas gives this definition:

        "Only those arts are
        called liberal or free which are concerned with knowledge; those which
        are concerned with utilitarian ends that a
        re-attailned through activity, however, are called servile."(4) "I know
        well," Newman says, "that knowledge may resolve itself into an art, and
        seminate in a mechanical process and in tangible fruit; but it may
        also fall back upon that Reason, which informs it, and resolve itself into Philosophy. For in one case it is
        called Useful Knowledge, and in the other Liberal."(5) The liberal arts, then, include all forms of human activity which are an end in themselves;
        the servile arts are those which have an end beyond themselves, and more precisely an end which
        consists in a utilitarian result attainable in practice, a practicable
        result."

  • Peter

    The problem lies with Protestantism because it made God wholly synonymous with supernaturalism in those societies where it historically dominated, so much so that the notion of a God who creates exclusively in a supernatural manner became firmly embedded in the minds of its citizens.

    Consequently any educated person who discovered that things such as human bodies, animals, plants, worlds, stars, galaxies, and even universes, could have occurred naturally, would conclude that such a God as defined by Protestantism did not need to exist in order to bring them about supernaturally.

    The Catholic understanding, on the other hand, is that God creates through nature, so that there is no contradiction if life, or even a universe, is discovered to have arisen naturally. I can only conclude that the clever atheists are clever because they have managed to see through the fallacy of exclusively supernatural creation. . In that sense they've probably done all of us a favour.

  • bdlaacmm

    The idea of polling to determine truth is the absolute height of folly. An atheistic materialist can no more accept this idea than can a devout Christian. If scientific truth were measured by how many people believe something, then the sun went round the Earth 500 years ago, and somehow the two switched places after Copernicus. If religious truth were measured by the same criterion, then Christianity was false in AD 33 when there were only a handful for believers, but then somehow became true a few centuries later after the conversion of the Roman Empire. So consider that balloon popped.

    And as for how many people will believe something or other in the future, I prefer to leave all such speculation to the daily horoscope writers and political pundits (both having equivalent track records for accuracy).

    • Doug Shaver

      The idea of polling to determine truth is the absolute height of folly. An atheistic materialist can no more accept this idea than can a devout Christian.

      This atheistic materialist couldn't agree more. However, I have no no one suggest that polling determines truth.

  • nailedvision

    I think there is a very good point to be made here. All too often it seems as if atheists are arguing against the worst possible conception of God possible. Something cooked up beside the meth in a Texas trailer park.

    That being said, while I think that does inform their vitriol against the religious and that it is very much misplaced, I don't think a more sophisticated God would do any good in changing their minds, as I don't think the slide from theism into atheism, popularly at least, is something that can be stopped.

    In fact, my personal heartfelt advice to anyone in the Catholic church is this: make faith based belief in anything physical entirely optional. Otherwise, mark my words, you'll find yourself boarding up the stain glass.

    Our world has jumped at various times from one almost universal belief in the supernatural onto another as we have expanded our capacity to sustain populations and cohesive societies. Our animism and our egalitarian nomadic life gave way to tenuously connected villages and city states who worshiped gods in a pantheon who, like them, were part of a family but often in conflict.

    These states then eventually evolved into larger states, kingdoms and empires, which happened around the same time the people started worshiping one God over all the others. Although, it wasn't always so directly one God, sometimes being one ideal or one way of doing things, and often without a direct sort of worship. Greek monotheism comes to mind as a form where worship wasn't directed at "God", instead the practice being around leading a good life and maybe ritual involving the gods, but nothing quite so direct as the book religions.

    Today, with the advent of the Internet and our increasing globalization, we've reached a point where God is superfluous. We can't just define a God, teach it to the people to emulate, and expect results anymore. The world is far too big and far to varied for that.

    So as a species we're moving toward beliefs and ideologies that don't require a God, don't require any extraordinary faith, and are not bound by any culture. I think people realize holding onto beliefs about God is a lot more about tradition and culture than Truth. Something we need to let go of as our cultures become just another part of a larger world culture.

    We have to. It's the only way we can start moving toward a moral and ethical code that applies to all people. A world where killing a child is equally bad and equally tragic no matter where it happens and for what reason. Jesus is pretty clear on where one should stand when it comes to morality or tradition so I hope the churches realize the inevitability of disbelief and adapt.

    • Doug Shaver

      All too often it seems as if atheists are arguing against the worst possible conception of God possible.

      I always leave it to whoever is telling me I should believe in God to tell me what they're talking about. So far, it hasn't made any difference in terms of their ability to offer a good reason to believe.

  • Arthur Jeffries

    I have found that, in practically every instance, the scientists who declare their disbelief in God have no idea what serious religious people mean by the word “God.”

    I wonder if very many of the Christians who declare their belief in God know what "serious" religious people mean by the word "God" and, if they don't, what that means for Christianity in general and Catholicism in particular. Do most Catholic clergy and religious know that God is "the condition for the possibility of the universe as such, the non-contingent ground of contingency"?

    • Richardson McPhillips

      If they studied their Rahner (which has been difficult to avoid in the past 30 years), and if you are willing to allow "horizon", they do.

      • Chad Eberhart

        Sure, but I've rarely found people who consider themselves "orthodox" Catholics who don't think Rahner is at least skirting with heresy if not an outright heretic.

        • Jim (hillclimber)

          But so what? Maybe those people need to be educated. Don't try to decide what Catholicism is by taking a poll of Catholics. Look at what Rahner says and look at what the Church has officially taught, and come to your own conclusions as to whether there is a conflict. If a Catholic disagrees with you, have a nice polite argument about it and see where the conversation takes you both.

          • Chad Eberhart

            I think the "so what?" of it is that you can't just say Rahner (or plug in any theologian of your preference) believes such and such, therefore "we" Catholics have a sophisticated understanding of God that jives with modern sensibilities. Most Catholics, if they know who Rahner even is, would not find his definition of God having anything to do with their everyday piety. Moreover, it's not as simple as saying "Look what Rahner says and look at what the Church officially taught...". As you are well aware there are major political fault lines within the Church and Rahner is often looked at as a polarizing figure. So while Rahner might technically be within the bounds of orthodoxy, for many many Catholics his theology, at the very least, suggests heresy, and this is enough for them to plug their ears.

            Have you spent much time in conservative and traditionalist parishes? If so how was your dialogue with them on Rahner? I'm just curious (seriously). I'd be surprised if it went down well. Or, were you at all swayed by their arguments? If so, which ones?

          • Jim (hillclimber)

            Good questions Chad.

            I go to a parish that is ostensibly "conservative", in the sense it looks and smells like conventional American Catholicism. It is certainly not wacko heterodox conservative as in rejecting the Mass of Paul VI or anything like that, but neither do we host seminars by David Tracy. We have some extremely smart people in the pews, but to put it mildly I don't think anyone would accuse the parish as a whole of being excessively intellectual.

            So anyway, to your point: yes, I do regularly find myself in conversation with parishioners of a more conservative stripe, for example when planning for our religious education programs. The fact is, while I sometimes disagree with those more conservative parishioners, I have tremendous respect for them. To paraphrase something Johnboy Sylvest said here a little while back, the Church needs both settlers and pilgrims. I am more of a pilgrim, but I respect and need the settlers. They are the ones who protect the DNA at the nucleus of the Church. I am more like the cilia, reaching out for encounter with the secular world. But I have never seen a cell survive with cilia alone, so I try to keep my humility in check. I don't cram Rahner down anyone's throat. I try to speak to them in ways that are challenging but respectful. I am capable of issuing my challenges and saying almost everything that I want to say in the language of medieval theology, if need be. We get along just fine.

        • Richardson McPhillips

          perhaps, but not particularly in this area, which has more or less settled into the dust anyways.

    • simplynotred

      You are among those who complicate understanding with excessive thinking and experiencing very little courage that is found in the daily life of thousands who perform miracles of kindness.

  • Doug Shaver

    Daniel Dennett, one of the “four horsemen” of contemporary atheism, proposed in 2003 that those who espouse a naturalist, atheist worldview should call themselves “the brights,” thereby distinguishing themselves rather clearly from the dim benighted masses who hold on to supernaturalist convictions.

    That was not the intended meaning of that term. However, back when Dennett proposed it, a majority of us atheists who weren't famous like him warned him that practically everyone was going to take it that way, and we were right. It was a colossally stupid idea.

  • Reid H.

    My IQ is145+ and I believe in God. So, religion does have a "smart person" problem!

    • kendallpeak

      Agreed. (And my IQ is 146+)

      • Krakerjak

        My I Q is off the scale and I am agnostic.

        • Loreen Lee

          Looks like you've become an 'independent'. Like Rabbi Rami!

  • Mike

    Most high achieving ambitious people simply don't have the time to spare on things such as God that don't have a direct impact on their ability to earn lots of money and/or prestige and accolades from their secular friends and family - this is exactly what i'd expect to be the case.

    However, i've heard that apparently the more that you move from the so-called 'soft' sciences to the 'hard' sciences the more likely it is that you will find believers; so chem/physics has more theists than sociology and psychology.

    • The Pew Forum ( http://www.pewforum.org/2009/11/05/scientists-and-belief/ ) doesn't look at the soft sciences specifically, but finds at least between biology, chemistry, geosciences and physics the numbers are comparable; physics has slightly more atheists than the rest, but not significantly more.

      The only data I can find in a cursory search, that includes psychologists and sociologists, is from the tables included in http://pandasthumb.org/archives/2009/07/post-29.html near the bottom of the post, particularly Tables 2 and 3. The numbers do indicate that psychologists are somewhat more likely to be non-believers, but the rates of non-belief look to be about the same between all scientists.

      I'd be interested in your opinions.

      • Mike

        That is interesting; i can't remember where i saw that stat, actually i may have heard it in a lecture come to think of it. But that psychologists are the most atheist group i thought was pretty much confirmed thoroughly so i am surprised that most scientists seem to be in the same range.

        Seems that the evidence obviously can be weighed one way or another and that ultimately to believe is a personal choice and that's the classic christian position that like choosing good over evil we can choose "nothingness" over "God".

  • FreemenRtrue

    there is no such thing as an atheist. There are anti-theists - people who oppose God, they are Legion. Those who claim to be atheist seem not to realize they are declaring an impossible belief in unbelief since there is no rational basis for it. The best they could ever manage to say is "I do not think I know". The real conclusion is that self proclaimed atheists do not, can not, believe themselves. We hold these truths to be self evident that the Ultimate Reality is present in all humankind as essence.

    • George

      Interesting. You sound like one of those hyper-Calvinist presuppositionalist apologists. may I ask what you believe?

      "they are Legion". are you saying I'm a demon?

      • FreemenRtrue

        I have no idea what you are? Why ask me?

        • George

          You sounded certain that I couldn't be an atheist. Do you know my mind better than I do?

          • FreemenRtrue

            apparently - you must choose - try opening your heart.

        • George

          perhaps you were wrong then and I am an atheist. do you stand by what you said?

          • FreemenRtrue

            You must choose. Open your heart. I say there is no such thing as an atheist since the essence of humankind is a primitive knowing of the Creator. You seem to take offense that one may deny the existence of atheists. Do you wonder that the Creator of a conscious being, a being to whom He gifted the many joys of temporal life, such a being who arrogates unto himself the grand rationale, unsupported by any fact, that said Creator does not exist, might be less than impressed?

          • George

            "the essence of humankind is a primitive knowing of the Creator". how do you know that?

            "primitive knowing", very convenient wording there. any vague intuitions could be interpreted as "knowing" the creator that way. and which creator? are you a deist or fully for YahwehJesus? I do not believe in YahwehJesus, and don't currently believe in some vague intelligent creator. those are provisional conclusions.

            the facts present to us are the lack of evidence and fallacious nature of apologetic assertions. would you like to go over the details with me on that?

            "You seem to take offense that one may deny the existence of atheists."

            Getting offended is a waste of time and energy I hope to leave behind. But if one is painting themselves into a corner, and getting a basic fact about the world wrong, I figure it's charitable to ask if you're absolutely sure you want to keep going that way.

          • FreemenRtrue

            you cannot believe in unbelief IMHO - you must choose. There is no rational proof that God does not exist. Thousands of powerful intellects have divined the presence of a Creator. Some have proven His existence by logic or philosophy. I assert that there is no such thing as an atheist; only believers and those who choose to oppose God or the notion of God. I have no idea who or what you are; you may be spoofing for fun or you may think you can dictate my thinking or you may be clinging to indefiniteness to avoid choosing. But that is a choice. Do you like Aristotle? Aquinas? The 'evidence' of God is all about you if you will not deny it but essentially it is within and it is what makes you human rather than simply animal. God bless you.

          • George

            "you cannot believe in unbelief IMHO - you must choose. There is no rational proof that God does not exist."

            your words, not mine. you're talking to a straw man, a puppet opponent of your own creation.

            "Thousands of powerful intellects have divined the presence of a Creator. Some have proven His existence by logic or philosophy."

            Have they?

            "The 'evidence' of God is all about you"

            as the the number of times this ambitious assertion is made goes up, it does not become more true or sensible. if everything was evidence than there'd be no standard of comparison, no way to come to any rational conclusions about any supposed gods.

          • FreemenRtrue

            I'm sorry - you are not making any sense now. God bless you - open your heart George - your mind can only see the barest inkling of God.

  • kendallpeak

    What fun is it to have twenty academic degrees and to agree with the common folks? That would make my academic career kind of a sham. But if I can assert a more profound knowledge than others, even a knowledge in man's most important question, the existence of a personal God, than I'm justified.

    • GCBill

      Don't get me wrong; I think signalling plays a role in what academics believe just as it does in what people believe elsewhere. But I don't think it's the main reason why atheism is so prevalent. Here's why:

      If signaling is the primary driving force behind academics' religious beliefs (and not merely a mediating influence), we should predict that the smartest, most successful academics should lean more theistic than the academy at large, bringing them more in line with the general population. Why? Because of countersignaling; those who have the most of something distinguish themselves from those who merely have more-than-average by less obvious displays of possession. Here, the "something" is intelligence and education, and the countersignal should hypothetically be higher rates of theistic belief in comparison to most academics.

      Of course, this isn't what we see happening. The National Academy of Sciences (an elite organization) has higher rates of atheism than the scientific community at large. If academics' religious views were primarily driven by signaling, we'd expect to see the exact opposite at the high end of the intelligence and education spectrum. The very smartest should feel no pressure to distinguish themselves from the common man, since there's little chance of being mistaken for one. Yet they still adopt that which, in your view, is the primary signal - rejection of religion. I think this suggests that signaling is not the major reason why the academy has abandoned religion.

  • cminca

    And so when statistics concerning the lack of belief among scientists are trotted out, my response, honestly, is “who cares?”

    Then why do you bother writing about it?

  • Wm. Sharpe

    What I do not understand is why our atheist friends seem so angry at those who hold different religious traditions and philosophies. I respect those who believe differently than I do and would not attack someone for having a different belief. The insulting comments, billboards, attack articles and misrepresentation of those who have faith in something larger than themselves seems childish at best. I support the right to believe and say what they choose, why is it so difficult for many of their groups to respect the choice of others?

    As for being called the"Brights," I would have to take issue with because of their seemingly misunderstanding about religious freedom protected by the First Amendment. The intent of the amendment was not to exclude or limit religious freedom but to protect and expand that freedom to all religions. It was about not having a state religion not prohibiting public observation of faith, but insuring all faiths and beliefs are allowed to do so.

    My question is how does my faith intrude on their belief? It doesn't. I don't believe that their disbelief effects my belief. It deems that some from their point of view have an unhealthy need to control the thoughts , beliefs and actions of others. It isn't really about ideas, philosophy or faith. It is about power.

    • Doug Shaver

      As for being called the"Brights," I would have to take issue with because of their seemingly misunderstanding about religious freedom protected by the First Amendment.

      What does what we call ourselves have to do with your First Amendment rights?

    • Lilith

      Hello Mr Sharpe. I am not angry at those who hold religious philosophies or traditions. I am angry with those religious who try to force their beliefs on others. That is about power. That is a war going on right now in the USA; the religious right trying to force all women to return to a time when we did not have reliable birth control or the right to choose when we want to undertake the responsibility of motherhood. I believe no woman should ever be forced to become a mother if she's not ready to be a mother. However, because so many religious have decided women should not be able to do what they think is best for them, women is this country are losing their right to control their lives, their bodies and their futures. I don't believe teens, or anyone else should be shamed for wanting to experience their sexuality. It's a natural part of life and to believe we should limit our experience in that one area is based on our puritanical religious heritage. I don't believe gay people should be shamed and they should be able to marry if they want. You may disagree with me based on your religious beliefs. That is no problem. But when you want to force those beliefs on me by changing the laws, closing clinics, telling me what I can and cannot do in my life then your religious beliefs become a problem and make me angry.

      • Jim Dailey

        So what is all the yammering about posting the 10 commandments on the wall of a courthouse about? Why are the atheist thought police roaming the halls of public schools making sure no one says "God"? Can you please explain why so many of your loud-mouthed, ill-tempered brethren bristle when wished "Merry Christmas"?

  • Mike O’Leary

    But philosophy is a horse of a different color, more akin to poetry.

    That seems to throw philosophy into a mostly subjective view, like which author is a person's favorite. Philosophy must stand on its merits in the same way science must. Father Barron is right in that we shouldn't discount older philosophies for newer ones simply due to their age, but ancient philosophies don't get a free pass against being scrutinized.

    • Jim (hillclimber)

      It seems that you are talking about poetry as if it is something merely ornamental, like wallpaper. It has been proven with arithmetical certainty that poetry supersedes philosophy in its ability to lead us to truth. By Dante, for example ;-)

      But in all seriousness, poetry also must be scrutinized, and must stand or fall on its own. Some poetry objectively passes the test.

  • Tpr1976

    It does seem as if this is the new, chic, in fashion way of thinking about religion. I am grateful to people like Fr. Barron who stand up and defend the thinking, rational believers of the world. My own political viewpoints definitely veer to the left of center, but where I diverge from my fellow progressive's way of thinking is often when it comes to religion.
    Barron in his article never once attacked the truths of science and observation of the natural world. He never condemns evolution or the big bang or the findings of science. This is good. He understands that too many people have tried to say that there is a definite connection between faith and stupidity or ignorance. Too many people think of faith as ignorant, blind credulity instead of believing in something with one's entire mind, heart and soul. (notice "mind" is included)
    We are not believing in something because we are dumb and lazy. We are believing in something because we have thought, puzzled, reasoned, worried, bled, cried and in some cases died for it.

  • SJH

    What I hate about this idea that smart p Another problem is that it assumes that our generation is smarter than previous generations.eople are atheists is that it assumes that a all phd's are smart and that those without phd's are not. There are many people who are very smart but choose to work for a private corporation where they can use their intellect for another purpose. Additionally, I have met many phd's that could not think their way out of a paper bag.

  • GCBill

    I agree with Fr. Barron's opinion that these statistics aren't terribly useful for much of anything. I don't agree with his opinion on philosophical "progress." Or rather, I should say that I genuinely hope it's wrong, since it'd mean philosophy can't do what many philosophers want it to do.

    "Another serious problem with trumpeting the current statistics on the beliefs of philosophers is that such a move is based on the assumption that, in regard to philosophy, newer is better. One could make that argument in regard to the sciences, which do seem to progress in a steadily upward direction: no one studies the scientific theories of Ptolemy or Descartes today, except out of historical interest. But philosophy is a horse of a different color, more akin to poetry."

    I suspect most philosophers would deny that their work aims at truth in the way poetry does. Poetry can express truth in a way that makes it far more compelling than the cold, rigorously precise jargon of analytic philosophy. However, I think it would be wrong to say that it discovers truth. Philosophy is all about discovery, and in some cases (like arguments for God -.-) it's even supposed to be about proof. I can't say my hopes for poetic proof are all that high. And as a result, I think you unintentionally slander philosophy and the efforts of philosophers through this comparison. You tell them what they do is merely an art, when they intend for it to be both an art and a science (in the original sense of the word).

    "I for one think that philosophy, so marked today by nihilism and postmodern relativism, is passing through a particularly corrupt period."

    Now this is just careless. The same survey that tells us that atheism is a majority position shows even more overwhelming support for non-skeptical realism about the external world. It also shows a majority (though not a supermajority) supports moral realism. When I think postmodern nihilist, I don't think of someone who thinks that reality and morality can so easily be known. I think of someone who sees these things (and others) as radically-constructed, to the degree that it would be silly to be confident in a position such as atheism.

    Of course, nihilism and postmodernism are as dead or deader than theism within mainstream academic philosophy. Furthermore, the specter which Catholics claim haunts the academy, one that manages to be simultaneously postmodern and scientistic, is no more coherent than any other paranormal tale I have heard.

    • Jim (hillclimber)

      However, I think it would be wrong to say that [poetry] discovers truth.

      GCBill, you usually make great comments, so I am taken aback to read such a shocking statement from you. If you would entertain a bit of corrective on that perspective, I would highly recommend this course on Dante .

      For example, you will learn more about free will in watching these 10 minutes then you will learn from reading all of Dennett and Harris. I can't see how it is possible to imagine that Dante first "figured it out" and then set it to poetry. It is rather that he discovered these things through his writing of the poetry. I believe he says as much himself in other parts of the Comedy .

      And here you can even learn how Dante discovered, in the midst of his own poem, the limitations of seeking truth through poetry! What mere philosophy would be wise enough to truly criticize itself in this way?

      • GCBill

        If it makes you feel any better, I thought about whether or not it was a good idea to include this line of argument in my response. I stuck with it because I couldn't imagine how poetic discovery was supposed to work. This could just be an issue with my own imaginative limitations (hence why I wasn't sure), but I thought it'd be better to voice the opinion and have it picked apart than silently harbor it forever.

        Thinking about it some more, I wonder if poetry could actually bring about a certain kind of discovery. The creative act could help a person come up with new insights solely from the relations between existing ideas. It's not that philosophy couldn't have achieved the same thing in principle, it's just that it might not in practice. And of course hindsight makes the discovery obvious in philosophical terms, which makes it easy to dismiss the importance of artistic thought in facilitating it.

        All of your links lead me to the same page. Had you meant to include timestamps (or maybe they're not working)? In any case, I'm listening to Lecture 10 right now, although it's after 1 a.m. here and I doubt I'll be able to make it through the whole thing tonight.

        • Jim (hillclimber)

          Sorry about the broken links. They were just pointing to subsections of lecture 10. Better to watch the whole lecture (and the whole course) anyway. I haven't made it to Paradise yet (<-- look at that, my own little poetic double entendre :), but I've made my way through Inferno and Purgatory over the last couple months, and it really is awesome stuff.

          Incidentally, this oyc course on the Old Testament is really fantastic as well.

  • David Nickol

    Daniel Dennett, one of the “four horsemen” of contemporary atheism, proposed in 2003 that those who espouse a naturalist, atheist worldview should call themselves “the brights,” thereby distinguishing themselves rather clearly from the dim benighted masses who hold on to supernaturalist convictions.

    According to Wikipedia, the adoption of the name "Brights" was not meant to imply everyone else was "dim," any more than calling oneself "gay" is meant to imply that everyone else is dull, sad, or colorless.

    Dawkins compares the coining of bright to the "triumph of consciousness-raising" from the term gay:

    Gay is succinct, uplifting, positive: an "up" word, where homosexual is a down word, and queer, faggot and pooftah are insults. Those of us who subscribe to no religion; those of us whose view of the universe is natural rather than supernatural; those of us who rejoice in the real and scorn the false comfort of the unreal, we need a word of our own, a word like "gay". ... Like gay, it should be a noun hijacked from an adjective, with its original meaning changed but not too much. Like gay, it should be catchy: a potentially prolific meme. Like gay, it should be positive, warm, cheerful, bright.

    I don't take the category "new atheists" very seriously, although some very brilliant people have associated themselves with the "movement" (if it can be called that) and said many things with which I agree. Perhaps their greatest achievement has been really getting under the skin of people like Father Barron, who seem more than a little obsessed with them and give them more attention than they deserve.

    What nerve is it that the "new athests" are hitting?

  • wayne stahre

    Throughout history the most brilliant and talented humans have not only been religious but also Christians. The current circumstance is more a reflection of cultural bias and business pressures than intellectual ability. I have always found it ironic that the scientists who bristle about Christianity from the past century onward to today brag about and fight for inclusion in conferences sponsored by the Vatican.

    • David Nickol

      Throughout history the most brilliant and talented humans have not only been religious but also Christians.

      Baloney!

    • Jim Dailey

      Throughout history the most brilliant and talented humans have not only been religious but also Christians.
      Ha ha! Also the best-looking too!

    • Doug Shaver

      Throughout history the most brilliant and talented humans have not only been religious but also Christians.

      That seems to have changed. Maybe there is a good reason for that?

  • David Nickol

    I have found that, in practically every instance, the scientists who declare their disbelief in God have no idea what serious religious people mean by the word “God.”

    What a tremendous failure on the part of theists this would seem to imply! If only scientists understood what "serious religious people" mean by God, they would become believers. We in the United States are awash in religion. This is one of the most religious countries in the world. And our scientists don't know what "serious religious people mean by God?

    Headline from today's Washington Post: The new Congress is 80 percent white, 80 percent men, 92 percent Christian

    I do wonder, though, if the vast majority of Catholics qualify as "serious religious people." How many of them can "prove" the existence of God with philosophical arguments?

    • enness

      Not everybody's a great communicator. Some people intuit better than explain. Maybe that's okay.

    • Jim (hillclimber)

      We in the United States are awash in religion.

      I don't always agree with Ross Douthat, but I agree with him that what we are awash in is "Bad Religion". Although the subtitle of his book is: "How We Became a Nation of Heretics", his argument is more subtle than that might imply. He would say (or in any event, I would say, after reading his book) that heretics have done a great service for the Church since the very beginning (how else would we come to define orthodoxy, without some people pushing past the limits?), but they have always done so "in dialogue" with an orthodox "center". By "dialogue", I don't mean necessarily "polite dialogue", but rather a dialectic in which everyone at least acknowledged that there was such a thing as orthodoxy. In America (and in the post-Reformation West more broadly) there is no longer anything like an acknowledged orthodox center of Christianity. Even within Catholicism (and here I again find myself in somewhat rare sympathy with my more conservative co-religionists like Douthat), it really has become questionable (to many) whether the Magisterium has the authority to define "what Catholicism is". The result is everything from Joel Osteen to Deepak Chopra.

      I don't just blame the Reformation and frontier American theology though. I think a huge part of the problem is our society's anemic relationship with the humanities. Speaking for myself, the public education that I received through high school was pretty good in math and science (and computer science), but was woefully deficient in really all humanities. I am embarrassed to say that I didn't even know who Alexander the Great was until I got to college. I also didn't have any sense that poetry was anything more than a bunch of pretty words. I most certainly had no idea who Dante or Aquinas were, or who Boethius and Augustine were, and I probably had only heard whispers of Homer and Plato.

      I think this is the larger milieu that explains why so many Americans, including self-professed Christians, including self-professed Catholics, are clueless about their own intellectual and spiritual heritage. That is why many scientists can indeed be forgiven for not having a very good sense of what they are criticizing.

  • enness

    Perhaps most of the theists were smart enough not to go into philosophy or academia. ;)
    (...Says the musician!)

  • Ignatius Reilly

    Since I have developed these arguments many times before in other forums, let me say just a few things in regard to the scientists. I have found that, in practically every instance, the scientists who declare their disbelief in God have no idea what serious religious people mean by the word “God.” Almost without exception, they think of God as some supreme worldly nature, an item within the universe for which they have found no “evidence,” a gap within the ordinary nexus of causal relations, etc. I would deny such a reality as vigorously as they do. If that’s what they mean by “God,” then I’m as much an atheist as they—and so was Thomas Aquinas. What reflective religious people mean when they speak of God is not something within the universe, but rather the condition for the possibility of the universe as such, the non-contingent ground of contingency.

    The God that you say scientists do not believe in is a weaker version of the God that you believe in. For instance, your God existing also implies that the scientist conception of God exists; it is just that the scientists do not have a full grasp of everything that God does. For instance, the scientist God is not personal, does not give revelation, and did not institute the Catholic Church. Therefore, the existence of your God implies the existence of the scientist God. And if the scientist God does not exist, neither does yours, by contraposition.

    And about that reality, the sciences, strictly speaking, have nothing to say one way or another, for the consideration of such a state of affairs is beyond the limits of the scientific method. And so when statistics concerning the lack of belief among scientists are trotted out, my response, honestly, is “who cares?”

    I believe it was Aquinas who said that we could know about God through his creation. That seems subject to the scientific method.

    But what about the philosophers, 86% of whom apparently don’t believe in God? Wouldn’t they be conversant with the most serious and sophisticated accounts of God?

    Yes, they are understandable to undergraduates. What are the three most serious and sophisticated arguments for God?

    Well, you might be surprised. Many academic philosophers, trained in highly specialized corners of the field, actually have little acquaintance with the fine points of philosophy of religion and often prove ham-handed when dealing with the issue of God. We hear, time and again, the breezy claim that the traditional arguments for God’s existence have been “demolished” or “refuted,” but when these supposed refutations are brought forward, they prove, I have found, remarkably weak, often little more than the batting down of a straw-man.

    You are basically just asserting that most people who disagree with you don't understand your arguments.

    A fine example of this is Bertrand Russell’s deeply uninformed dismissal of Thomas Aquinas’s demonstration of the impossibility of an infinite regress of conditioned causes.

    I have never seen an argument to this effect that wasn't circular.

    But more to it, the percentage of atheists in the professional philosophical caste has at least as much to do with academic politics as it does with the formulation of convincing arguments. If one wants to transform a department of philosophy from largely theist to largely atheist, all one has to do is to make sure that the chairman of the department and even a small coterie of the professoriat are atheist. In rather short order, that critical mass will control hiring, firing, and the granting of tenure within the department. Once atheists have come to dominate the department, only atheist faculty will be hired and students with theistic interests will be sharply discouraged from writing dissertations defending the religious point of view. In time, very few doctorates supporting theism will be produced, and a new generation, shaped by thoroughly atheist assumptions, will come of age. To see how quickly this transformation can happen, take a good look at the philosophy department at many of the leading Catholic universities: what were, in the 1950’s overwhelmingly theistic professoriats are today largely atheist. Does anyone really think that this happened because lots of clever new arguments were discovered?

    That sounds somewhat conspiratorial. Yes, some new arguments were discovered, but more importantly are knowledge base grew and the knowledge that we have obtained in the last century have made it more difficult to defend religious belief. Knowledge gained in physics, biology, anthropology, cognitive psychology, etc have all made Christianity less plausible.

    Does anyone think that the philosophical views of, say, Michel Foucault are necessarily better than those of Plato, Aristotle, Kant, or Hegel, just because Foucault is more contemporary?

    No, but his ranking in the canon is right with those who you mentioned. Foucault has the advantage of a wider range of knowledge and the errors of previous philosophers to make better conclusions. That doesn't mean that he is right, but he does have advantages over Plato et al.

    Why should we think, therefore, that the denizens of philosophy department lounges today are necessarily more correct than Alfred North Whitehead, Edmund Husserl, Ludwig Wittgenstein, Jacques Maritain, Emmanuel Levinas, and Jean-Luc Marion, all of whom were well-acquainted with modern science, rigorously trained in philosophy and affirmed the existence of God?

    They weren't exactly Aristotelians or Thomists.

  • David Nickol

    What has any of this got to do with Jesus? He is supposed to be the definitive revelation of God for humanity. And he referred to God (the Father) as "Abba" (an affectionate form of the word father that can be likened in some ways to daddy). He did not refer to God as anything remotely resembling the "non-contingent ground of contingency." Imagine

    Pray then like this: "Our Non-Contingent Ground of Contingency who art in heaven, Hallowed be thy name."

    • Jeremy Mayo

      I think if one is capable of getting their limited subjectivity out of the way, or at least reducing it's impact on what's being experienced, or at any rate suspend presumptions about what's occurring- it's possible to be astonished. This astonishment seems capable of leading a person to wonder if there is an origin to the good that is experienced. Or if the experience is particularly bad, to wonder why it exists. I find Catholicism to be the best synthesis of disparate data that I've found. That however, is not why I believe. I think what's rarely talked about is the very personal encounter with God that people of faith experience. What's even more troubling perhaps for the intellectually elite, is that God doesn't seem to care at all how high your IQ is, or how well you describe your experience of what He's gratuitously giving you.

      • Ignatius Reilly

        I think what's rarely talked about is the very personal encounter with God that people of faith experience.

        Which have psychological explanations.

        What's even more troubling perhaps for the intellectually elite, is that God doesn't seem to care at all how high your IQ is, or how well you describe your experience of what He's gratuitously giving you.

        I don't know what is troubling to the intellectual elite. I do know that I find dogmatism very troubling.

        • Jeremy Mayo

          "Which have psychological explanations." This simply does not account for the vast panorama of my experience-both at the level of the curiosity of my intellect, my experience of an enduring benevolence, and the sheer breadth of the enormity of beautiful things-the explanation of which cannot be so easily disposed of.

      • David Nickol

        I think what's rarely talked about is the very personal encounter with God that people of faith experience. What's even more troubling perhaps for the intellectually elite, is that God doesn't seem to care at all how high your IQ is, or how well you describe your experience of what He's gratuitously giving you.

        The real problem, it seems to me, is that some people who have (or claim to have, or believe they have) that "very personal encounter with God that people of faith experience" believe it's possible for them to bludgeon those who have no such experience into believing by making arguments about the "non-contingent ground of contingency." If Catholicism really does encompass both personal encounters with God and coldly intellectual reasoning about being and contingency, the two are at best opposite poles. In reality, it seems to me that the "God of philosophy" and the God of Abraham are not really compatible. There may have been a small number of people in the history of Catholicism or Christianity who have converted from atheism because they believed the "proofs" for God's existence, but for the vast majority of believers, I think it is belief itself that comes first, with the conviction that the "proofs" are conclusive coming later, for those who even bother to pay attention to them.

        It seems to me Father Baron and many apologists harbor contempt for atheists or any others who do not believe in Catholicism because they are so certain they are right that it is incomprehensible to them that anyone could honestly disagree with them. Scientists and philosophers don't actually disagree with Father Barron, according to him. Scientists and philosophers just don't understand the arguments!

        • Jeremy Mayo

          -The real problem, it seems to me, is that some people who have (or claim to have, or believe they have) that "very personal encounter with God that people of faith experience" believe it's possible for them to bludgeon those who have no such experience into having religious faith by making arguments about the "non-contingent ground of contingency."

          Catholics are fallible humans just as much as anyone else. Subject to the same fits of arrogance as anyone else. Humility is a difficult virtue to acquire. For anyone.
          Whether belief precedes a well reasoned account of what information is available is probably contingent on too many factors to count. However, if belief cannot find sufficient cause for confidence, I suspect it will quickly lapse into rigid dogmatism, or be done out of fear, or some less noble thing.

    • Michael Murray

      I always hought it was "Harald be thy name" ? You mean God's name isn't Harald ?

  • Joe Scaffidi

    This is the same thinking that led Dawkins to state that all Downs Syndrome babies should be aborted. This purely utilitarian world view was once called Nazism. Albert Einstein often stated that the more he studied the natural sciences, the more he was sure that God exists. The man who 1st posed the Big Bang theory also transubstantiated bread and wine into Christ's flesh and blood. We need to boldly refute this ideology. Religious people stand on the shoulders of some of the smartest men and women in history. One need only read Thomas Aquinas to reduce these arguments to dust.

  • Bob

    Looks like Father Barron has been reading "Everyone Agrees"! "Why do atheists and believers argue for hours without first defining "God?""

    • Guest

      Father Barron refers to the only entity that is necessary rather than contingent. That is a definition of God.

      -Chris Lynch

    • Nothing within our experience is God. Consequently, it is not possible to initiate a philosophical discussion with a definition of God. Both the existence and definition of God are achieved in a single philosophical conclusion: There must exist a being beyond our experience, whose nature and act of existing are identical, in order to explain the existence of the entities within our experience.

  • Howard

    I am a professor of physics at a mid-sized state university, and in my experience, religious adherence is not really that different for scientists. I take my Catholicism seriously, as does the head of my department; one of my colleagues at my last institution was a deacon in his Baptist church; another colleague was a serious Hindu; my mentor at my last postdoc was a Jew who took his Judaism seriously (though his synagogue is rather non-traditional); etc. Yes, a few of my colleagues have been atheists, but outright atheists are not in the majority -- at least from my experience. Some believers are more more fervent than others; most will have their faith tested at some point; all of that is the common lot of mankind -- even a thoughtful atheist (there are some) will have his faith in atheism waver from time to time.

    I think the only real difference is that scientists are more likely than the general public to have put some real thought into their beliefs, but I may be mistaken in that, and at any rate faith has never been the same thing as either cleverness or even personal observation. Note how many witnessed miracles in the Gospels but still rejected Christ.

    Actually, even if Dennett is right in his statistics, that situation is not different than in the First Century, and the meaning is different than he thinks. "For the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men. For consider your call, brethren; not many of you were wise according to worldly standards, not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth; but God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise, God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong, God chose what is low and despised in the world, even things that are not, to bring to nothing things that are, so that no human being might boast in the presence of God." (1 Cor. 1:25-29, RSVCE)

    • Ignatius Reilly

      Nobody said that one could not be a scientist and a believer at the same time. What studies have suggested is that scientists are more likely to be atheists than the general public, and the best scientists are more likely to be atheists than scientists as a group.

      Note how many witnessed miracles in the Gospels but still rejected Christ.

      Judging by the lack of miracles in contemporary times, I think it is safe to assume that the miracles in the gospels never happened.

      Actually, even if Dennett is right in his statistics, that situation is not different than in the First Century, and the meaning is different than he thinks. "For the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men. For consider your call, brethren; not many of you were wise according to worldly standards, not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth; but God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise, God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong, God chose what is low and despised in the world, even things that are not, to bring to nothing things that are, so that no human being might boast in the presence of God." (1 Cor. 1:25-29, RSVCE)

      That is a troubling passage. It replaces critical thinking and individualism with dogmatism.

      • Howard

        It's altogether too easy to bias such a "study" to make it say whatever one wants it to say. As with most polls, the tipping point is in the middle. I can prove by polls that America is pro-choice, because most Americans oppose making abortion illegal in all cases, or I can prove America is pro-life, because most Americans do not think that abortion should be legal in all cases. In this case, the trick is how to treat people with more ill-defined beliefs or with irregular practice. In fact, I think only 5-10% of scientists are hard-core atheists; more are what I would call irreligious pantheists, who think that the universe as a whole is what they would worship, if they felt like engaging in worship; then there are agnostics, deists, etc. For all its limitations, I'll value direct experience of the scientific climate over study designed to support an a priori position any day.

        The bit about miracles is a rabbit I don't want to chase at this point. I brought it up only because seeing is not believing, something you and I and every reasonable person would agree with. That applies not only to matters of religious faith, but also to other aspects of our world views. It was not because Einstein was stupid or ignorant of the evidence that he thought quantum mechanics was only an approximate theory; it was because he was profoundly reluctant to accept a physical world that works that way.

        As for your last comments, I'm afraid you are not employing critical thinking yourself. What good would be a God who only blessed and worked through those who were already rich, powerful, and successful? If they had further success, wouldn't you say it is just the nature of the world for the rich to get richer? Wouldn't you say it is natural for an ambitious man like Mark Antony to fight for control of the Empire, or for Spartacus to fight to improve his lot when he could? To convert the Empire through the blood of non-violent martyrs from every social station, though, that is more interesting. It's like Archimedes' boast about being able to move the Earth; if he were a Titan like Atlas, perhaps that would not mean much, but because he was a mere human philosopher, it emphasized his trust in the Law of the Lever.

        • ChrisDeStefano

          "Judging by the lack of miracles in contemporary times, I think it is safe to assume that the miracles in the gospels never happened."

          How are you so sure there is a lack of miracles in our times?

        • Ignatius Reilly

          In the study in question, philosophers from the most prestigious philosophy departments were asked their opinions on various subjects. Those philosophers were overwhelmingly atheist. Do you have a problem with the methodology of the study in question? There was a link to it. Objecting that studies can be bad does not show that the study in question is bad.

          Studies disagree with your assertion that only 5-10% of scientists are atheists. The AAAS's membership is 93% atheist. As one becomes more educated, one tends to be less religious then the general population. That is a fact. The group of people with bachelor's degrees are less religious than those without, and the group of people with masters degrees are less religious than those with only bachelors.

          I think you are reading the passaged differently than it is commonly interpreted.

          • Howard

            Without seeing the questions and the manner in which they were presented, I do not have sufficient information to judge the methodology. Sorry, I thought I had made that clear.

            I do have a problem with jumping from what you characterize as "philosophers from the most prestigious philosophy departments" to what Fr. Barron calls "smart people". At most, such a poll gives information about the faculty of the philosophy departments at certain universities; anything more is an unwarranted generalization.

            About once a year, the AAAS sends me a free issue of Science and asks me to become a member, in spite of the fact that I have written in the past and told them in no uncertain terms I want nothing to do with them. I have strong disagreements with them on certain ethical matters, besides which I am already spending more than I can really justify by maintaining memberships in the IEEE Computer Society, the American Physical Society, and the Society for Industrial and Applied Mathematics. If I wanted to spend more on another society, I would reactivate my Sigma Xi membership. So "membership in the AAAS" is not something particularly prestigious or noteworthy, and there may be biases affecting who chooses to join. I'm sure I'm not the only one who chooses not to join because I do not agree with their whole agenda. It is also possible that an atheist, who is not contributing to the upkeep of a church or synagogue or whatever, is more willing to contribute to the membership fees.

          • Ignatius Reilly

            I didn't jump from philosophers to smart people. All I said is that the best philosophers (the ones most acquainted with philosophical arguments) tend to be atheist. At least that is what the study in question suggests. Barron seems to think that these philosophers don't understand the "sophisticated" arguments for God.

            I then also claimed that scientists are more likely to be atheists then then general population. It is true that membership in AAAS may be self selecting, and I did not say that it was prestigious. As I understand, anyone can join AAAS regardless of academic standing. When I was in college I believe they gave a discounted student rate. However, there is some prestige associated with being an AAAS fellow and the fellows are 93% atheist compared to the general membership which is 40% atheist. Interestingly approximately 40% of scientists disbelieving in a personal God has been repeated by a couple of surveys.

            http://www.pewforum.org/2009/11/05/scientists-and-belief/

            I don't think that religion has a smart person problem. I think that when one thinks critically about their religion, there is a portion of people who will leave. This critical thinking is more likely among those who have had a good education than those who have not. I think science does pose problems for religious belief and I also think those problems are irresolvable, but I respect those who think that they can resolve those problems. However, I do not have much respect for the Catholic Triumphalism that has come into vogue.

          • Garbanzo Bean

            Membership in the AAAS is nothing more than a magazine subscription. $155 per year in the US. It includes a T-shirt.

          • Garbanzo Bean

            Thanks for your comments here Howard. Because of what you said about the AAAS, I did a little research. As also I pointed out to Ignatius Reilly, Membership in the AAAS is nothing more than a magazine subscription. $155 per year in the US. It includes a T-shirt. There is no "entrance requirement" of any kind. If you want to be a "lower" member than professional, you pay less. No credentials are required (other than a credit card or other method of payment.)

    • Doug Shaver

      Note how many witnessed miracles in the Gospels but still rejected Christ.

      We have only the gospel authors' word for it for both claims, that the miracles happened and that many who witnessed them still rejected Jesus. If I thought that I should believe the miracles happened just because the authors said so, then I would believe in Jesus just because the authors said I should believe in him.

      • Howard

        Did you know, Doug Shaver, that until you posted your comment above, I had no idea that there was a person named Doug Shaver in the world? In fact I still do not know that the name and picture really correspond to the commenter; Doug Shaver could be a pseudonym. So no, I did not open this thread with an argument designed to convert you. I was instead pointing out to the author of the original post (a Catholic priest) that, ASSUMING CHRISTIANITY TO BE TRUE, there is still no reason to expect any particular correlation between faith and properties such as fame, beauty, wealth, or academic accomplishment.

        Before moving on to the substance of your comment, though, I'd like to ask if you have given much thought to what the best reason is for believing that the Apollo missions actually landed men on the moon. I'm not asking whether you accept that account as truthful or not; the question is, "What is the best evidence that men landed on the moon?"

        For me, the answer is the reaction of America's Cold War rival, the Soviet Union. Obviously the whole Space Race grew out of a competition to build ICBMs, and there was a lot of national prestige tied up in the various milestones, most of which went to the Soviets. The Soviets were perfectly capable of tracking the Apollo spacecraft by radar, as well as tracking the source of its radio transmissions. They would have known if it was a hoax, and they would have enjoyed humiliating the US by releasing that information. The fact that they did not is good evidence that Apoillo 11 was legit.

        In the same way, you actually have more evidence than you think about (purported) miracles. Let's say, for the sake of argument, that someone claims that Catholicism must be true because Cardinal Dolan miraculously made the ball in Times Square disappear before it was supposed to drop. You would not explain this away by claiming that Cardinal Dolan did it through the agency of Beelzebub -- even if you believed in Beelzebub. Nor would you explain it away by claiming that Cardinal Dolan did it through some sort of dishonest trick. You would instead point out that the ball did not disappear -- it was seen by tens of thousands of people in person, and by millions over the TV.

        So what did the early Jewish opponents of Christianity say? Not only did they say that Jesus and the Apostles were tricksters, whether through human or diabolical means -- they are even recorded making those charges in the Gospels. I think you will agree that these charges are only brought up in the Gospels because the authors knew they were still current and needed to be answered.

        So you may doubt that the miracles of Christ were actually miraculous; that is difficult to prove. But it is not reasonable to think that Jesus of Nazareth was not doing some remarkable things that many regarded as miraculous.

        • Doug Shaver

          In fact I still do not know that the name and picture really correspond to the commenter;

          That depends on what you mean by "know." I don't think I need absolute certainty to know something. I think I'm entitled to claim to know something even if there is some hypothetical possibility that I could be mistaken.

          • Howard

            (1) Socrates would disagree, and say you only had an opinion. Perhaps that is a little extreme, but one way or another I did not start this thread with you in mind.

            (2) I hope so.

          • Doug Shaver

            Socrates would disagree

            And therefore . . . ?

        • Ignatius Reilly

          That was an interesting comment. I hope you stick around.

          So what did the early Jewish opponents of Christianity say? Not only did they say that Jesus and the Apostles were tricksters, whether through human or diabolical means -- they are even recorded making those charges in the Gospels. I think you will agree that these charges are only brought up in the Gospels because the authors knew they were still current and needed to be answered.

          The problem is that you are assuming that the gospel's are recording history. Perhaps there weren't any miracles and thus no response to the miracles.

          I think this is more likely, because the Gospels make promises about the power of faith and the power of prayer. These promises have not been kept and we do not see holy men and women of God performing miracles like the Gospel's say we will.

          • Howard

            OK, I will finish my other response to you, but it is clear my explanations are wasted. You have totally missed the point, and I am busy getting ready for the spring semester. If you want answers to your questions, there are many books you can read.

          • Ignatius Reilly

            I don't think I missed the point; I think I just skipped ahead to my point of disagreement. Most of us live busy lives on this forum.- I also have a semester to prepare for.

            Did you have some books in mind?

  • Guest

    Father Barron's point about the culture and politics of academia is very important. Jonathan Haidt makes similar points about the atheism and "progressivism/liberalism" in the sociology field: first, that these points of view in the "tribe" are so dominant that opposing views are not taken seriously, and consequently, the presuppositions necessary to sustain these points of view are very rarely subjected to scrutiny. Secondly, he shows convincingly that when it comes to broadmindedness and balance of worldview, it is traditionalists who demonstrate these characteristics to a greater degree than the liberals/progressives. It is also traditionalists, without their bias against "outdated" ideas, who are most capable of providing a fair assessment of whether an idea is beyond the pale or not.

    • Guest

      I did not mean for the above to appear without my name. Apologies.
      -Chris Lynch

  • Jim Dailey

    Whenever I read these dopey statistics about "brights", published by "brights" and ballyhooed by "brights", I like to look at an advertisement from a 1950's Life magazine that states:
    MORE DOCTORS SMOKE CAMELS THAN ANY OTHER CIGARETTE" - and as further proof of Camels medical - scientific - statistical superiority that "113,597 Doctors from Coast to cost were asked!" and finally "that the survey was conducted by " three nationally known independent research organizations."

  • IGWT

    I don't know...i just don't think anyone is bright who goes around parading themselves as bright

  • Maria

    Its interesting article, but I believe you have not taken one simple thing into consideration.

    If you look at most of the scientists, things they have created, ways they have developed to modify, convert, exploit and use nature to bend it to our needs and wishes - it does not really have much of a good or positive impact on our planet or even health in some cases.

    Nowadays the newest science is trying to find a way to stop people from ageing ( live indefinitely ), to clone cells/organs/humans, to take control and manipulate the reproduction system (in vitro). etc.

    Not a week pass between incidents where test on animals, performed in laboratories are extremely cruel, painful - all just to find out how and what.

    As far as I remember it was written that the "knowledge" of not dying, simply speaking - unusual, powerful knowledge will be reward for those who will follow the evil side.

    Now going back to article - if you now think about aims of a nowadays scientist - pursuing those goals - there would be no space in his mind or his heart for a religion, as he seeks knowledge of creation and life - thus he's trying to be the god.

    Sorry if it sounds any way apocalyptic! It simply does make sense to me from that point of view.

    Thanks for reading my opinion,
    Maria

  • Argument indeed...“How do you know God exists?” and to that the reply, “It depends who is asking.” As a once self-identified spiritual wanderer who wrestled with an academic approach to faith born of the study of Philosophy and coupled with no religious foundation, I can now claim faith. My faith admittedly not as "faithful" as I would like at times, but yet a faith born of experience. It is in the experience of God one finds a truer understanding of faith, I believe.

  • It Is

    A biologist would not use the hadron collider in his science. What tools are these Scientists using to determine there is no God I wonder? Use biological tools for biology. Use spiritual tools for spirituality. No slight intended, but I also wonder if the percentage of academics and scientists with asbergers or some such condition is higher than the rest of the population, to account for their dullness.

  • nilbud

    Pathetic, a man in a dress whose friends and colleagues rape children trying to pretend he isn't a dunce. If you're not a dunce you're a criminal you greasy conman and pedophile protector. You admit that you despise facts and would prefer conjecture, which is why you are wearing that dress.

    • George

      this immature insulting comment is completely counterproductive to dialogue. flagged.

      • nilbud

        Fuck you halfwit. Systematically raping untold thousands of children for centuries isn't a detail real people just slide over You, your friends in dresses and your imaginary friends are just a gang of pedophiles. That's simply a fact.

  • The life of faith --- has not only been caricatured by a facile scientism, which has approached it empirically as solely an evidential matter to be settled by inductive experimentation, but ---  also, at times, by some, has been diminished by a sterile scholasticism, which would approach it rationally as merely a syllogistic problem to be approached by abductive explanation, then conclusively demonstrated through deductive argumentation. 

    We encounter a reality that is far too ambivalent toward us and way too ambiguous to us, that just doesn't lead to any universally compelling conclusions regarding its precise nature or primal origins. At best, our competing stances regarding ultimate reality are equiplausible, neither empirically verifiable by any probabilistic methods  nor rationally demonstrable by any syllogistic prowess.

    The essence of these competing faith stances includes so much more than the propositional aspects of our empirical and rational descriptions, which are rather stalemated in that we know so little of where we came from, even less of where we're headed. They also involve the dispositional attitudes of our affective evaluations insofar as we feel either that this journey will ultimately have been worth it or that it's just absolutely tragic, morally indefensible, even, to the extent primal reality would involve any putative personal agency. They further involve an assessment of the practical consequences and moral deliverances of our normative justifications inasmuch as any given stance has implications for the nature of our interactions with ourselves, others and our world. 

    These competing stances, then, situate us in interpretive communities that equip us with existentially actionable hermeneutics, which involve --- not only the cognitive map-making of our evidential and rational propositions, informatively, but --- the participatory imagination of our evaluative dispositions, normative justifications and interpretive engagements, performatively.

    Our competing faith stances don't compete, then, in a robustly informative way vis a vis describing ultimate reality. Rather, they compete performatively as we evaluate, norm and interpret reality, choosing to live (or not) as if, despite all appearances and experiences to the contrary, proximately, reality will finally prove itself, in a word, friendly, and flooded with meaning, ultimately, fulfilling rather than frustrating our deepest human aspirations.

    The answers to those questions regarding how we are to best interact with ourselves, others and the world in this proximate reality, practically and morally, are transparent to human reason, independent of any putative special revelations. Let us, therefore, reason together about these things.

    How we are to best interact with any putative ultimate reality, whether living as if it's personal or impersonal, friendly or unfriendly, has been variously discerned by humankind, with no too few testimonials regarding the efficacies and inefficacies of this or that particular existential orientation. Humankind has come down rather ubiquitously and decisively in favor of living as if, in its essence, ultimate reality is friendly. Some have put forward reasons not to live this way but the way they frame the issue is typically way too narrow and, quite frankly, not terribly bright.

    • Ignatius Reilly

      We encounter a reality that is far too ambivalent toward us and way too ambiguous to us, that just doesn't lead to any universally compelling conclusions regarding its precise nature or primal origins.

      Which is why I don't think their is a God like the God of Catholicism. Reality is too absurd to be the creation of an all-good, all-powerful, and all-knowing God.

      At best, our competing stances regarding ultimate reality are equiplausible, neither empirically verifiable by any probabilistic methods nor rationally demonstrable by any syllogistic prowess.

      Surely that is the worst case scenario. I would think it better if one stance was more plausible than the others, at least then we could be a little more confident that we are actually correct.

      • Regarding Kant's interrogatories, what can we know, what can we hope for, what must we do --- we can hope to know what we must do, which is to love. We can be confidently assured, performatively, even though epistemically challenged, informatively. What we need to discern morally and practically to get along with one another in proper relationship, too, with our environment, doesn't depend on special divine revelations, just a good human heart and disciplined human reason. How people otherwise choose to relate to putative ultimate and primal realities --- I choose not to disturb their chosen reverie.

      • >>>Which is why I don't think their is a God like the God of Catholicism. Reality is too absurd to be the creation of an all-good, all-powerful, and all-knowing God. ... ...
        I would think it better if one stance was more plausible than the others <<<

        That's the rub. Relative plausibility wouldn't deliver decisive answers because it's far too weakly inferential (not robustly probabilistic). Specifically, those who've advanced evidential atheological arguments typically have failed to distinguish between abductive (including retroductive) and inductive inference.

        As it turns out, the primary reason that atheological evidential arguments have been formulated is because the theological logical arguments have been deemed valid (in several modal logics). The divine attributes have always been sufficiently nuanced, variously predicated, whether as analogical, univocal, equivocal, apophatic or kataphatic, whether in a substance, process or phenomenological metaphysic, whether by the early church fathers, ancient apophatic mystics, St. Augustine, medieval Thomists or Scotists, or by Alvin Plantinga, Jacques Maritain, Kurt Godel, Charles Sanders Peirce, Charles Hartshorne, Ralph McInerny, Peter Kreeft or Ed Feser. All that over against the facile atheological caricatures that get introduced knee-jerk like into almost every thread here.

        Here in New Orleans, Ignatius Reilly is celebrated. Walker Percy was instrumental in making him and our
        other dunces famous. Percy is another good example of a first class semiotician, following Peirce's legacy, which was also influenced by the great medieval Franciscan, Duns Scotus, whose name etymologically gifted us the word, dunce.

        • Ignatius Reilly

          As it turns out, the primary reason that atheological evidential arguments have been formulated is because the theological logical arguments have been deemed valid (in several modal logics).

          Perhaps they are valid, but they certainly are not sound. Modern physics has a few things to say about their assumptions about the physical world. Atheological arguments are also valid, and I would argue that they are also sound.

          The divine attributes have always been sufficiently nuanced, variously predicated, whether as analogical, univocal, equivocal, apophatic or kataphatic, whether in a substance, process or phenomenological metaphysic, whether by the early church fathers, ancient apophatic mystics, St. Augustine, medieval Thomists or Scotists, or by Alvin Plantinga, Jacques Maritain, Kurt Godel, Charles Sanders Peirce, Charles Hartshorne, Ralph McInerny, Peter Kreeft or Ed Feser.

          I'm not sure what you are getting at here. I don't think you should be putting Kreeft and Feser in the same sentence as Augustine, Plantinga, Godel, or Peirce.

          All that over against the facile atheological caricatures that get introduced knee-jerk like into almost every thread here.

          Probably because most posts work to address atheological arguments, but usually do it by constructing men of straw. For instance, take the recent posts about evolution. The real problem with reconciling Catholicism with evolution is atheological in nature. Whether or not Adam mated with subhumans is a side issue and fanciful.

          Here in New Orleans, Ignatius Reilly is celebrated. Walker Percy was instrumental in making him and our other dunces famous

          At some point, it is better to discuss the things we have in common (art, literature, music) then constantly quibble over our disagreements. The first is unifying, while the second is divisive. When I was Catholic, I viewed the Aristotelian/Thomistic metaphysics as false and their arguments for God as unsound. I had hoped that there was an ontological argument out there somewhere, yet undiscovered, but I was/am more of an existentialist. I'm still surprised that so many Catholics cling to Thomism.

          • Perhaps they are valid, but they certainly are not sound. Modern physics has a few things to say about their assumptions about the physical world. Atheological arguments are also valid, and I would argue that they are also sound. <<>>The real problem with reconciling Catholicism with evolution is atheological in nature.<<>>When I was Catholic, I viewed the Aristotelian/Thomistic metaphysics as false and their arguments for God as unsound. I had hoped that there was an ontological argument out there somewhere, yet undiscovered, but I was/am more of an existentialist.<<<

            Yes, natural theology and metaphysics can be a great way to probe reality but are not a reliable way to prove reality. The so-called "proofs" demonstrate the reasonableness of faith and not its logical soundness. That's why it's called faith. Many, who misconceived the substance of faith in their youth, perhaps raised with a fundamentalistic, rationalistic, evidentialistic naive realism, think they are jettisoning their faith when all they are doing is awakening to their philosophical category errors. Faith is an existential disjunction, a "living as if" --- just like any good existentialist. As for hell, I think it's ultimately a mythic expression of the truth that God wouldn't coerce anyone into relationship. Otherwise, I'm a practical universalist, like many early church fathers, who affirmed apokatastasis, who believes we can hope, with good reason, that all will be "saved."

            Thomism isn't monolithic but has competing schools like aristotelian, analytic, existential and so on, some even articulating a substance-process type metaphysic, for example. Concepts like formal and final causation have been revived as very useful heuristic devices in modern semiotic science, used by good neuroscientists like Terry Deacon, by believers and unbelievers, alike.

            Many who think they are abandoning religion are abandoning, rather, an impoverished pseudo-religion, perhaps as experienced during formative years. All for the better, often. Perhaps your own stance has been earnestly established, but some of your arguments have led me to wonder if you left for all the wrong reasons --- not wrongfully rejecting what you were mistaught, but not realizing there were more healthy conceptions available. Maybe not. I celebrate and affirm my existentialist brothers and sisters who live lives of deep caring and profound goodwill. Be well.

  • Charlie Ducey

    An enjoyable article, Fr. Barron. When I first saw the title, I thought the "smart people" problem was about Catholicism becoming too overburdened by philosophizing intellectuals who have a greater interest in arguing than in living out the message of Jesus--not that I think that is a particular problem, since explaining one's faith is part of living one's faith.

  • Dennis Nilsen

    People who are continually coming up with reasons why they are better, brighter, superior, distinguished, etc. have an inferiority complex because they cannot rest on the laurels, strengths of their own positions, but seek rather to be lauded by others.

    Father's eloquently spoken "who cares?" is just to the point. Practitioners of the empirical sciences have claimed - and been allowed to hold - the crown among all disciplines due largely to their great advancement of the totality and nuance of knowledge, which, granted, has led to a healthier, more comfortable and materially happier life for most. But let them keep to their realm - which, in an uncharitable moment I would call 'bean-counting' - and allow philosophers to come to grips with the truly difficult task of discerning the full meaning of reality through reflection on the constant tension between universal and particular. In fact, empirical scientists have a much easier task - all they have to do is master facts and methods of procedure. Philosophers deal with the immaterial behind the material, and much more difficult object.

    This being said, those philosophers who do not believe in God, or even discount the possibility of His existence, do themselves and their audiences a disservice precisely because they limit themselves, after the fashion of empirical scientists, to the material world, when the very language and exercises they engage in place them beyond it.

    In the end, those who constantly trumpet what they are against, as opposed to what they believe in, give away an intellectual - and spiritual - insecurity.

    Just as the Crucifixion was folly to the Greeks (symbolized by the Athenians, who loved to 'philosophize' endlessly), so is belief in God a scandal to their descendants.

    • George

      "Philosophers deal with the immaterial behind the material"

      some may claim to do that. but how do we know they really are? what is your definition of the material?

      • Dennis Nilsen

        Hi George.

        I say that the material is defined as that portion of existence which can be measured by the senses, either directly, or indirectly through the aid of enhancing instruments.

  • Aaron Rose-Milavec

    It is unfortunate that Father Robert Barron [who is much loved and offers us sound wisdom in so many other areas] offers "in your face" arguments that show little sympathy for the practice of dialogue. In its place, Father Robert
    Barron presents a series of pet peeves, imaginary situations, and straw-man
    refutations that have little or no relation to how and why so many persons
    today have no religious experience as such and are thereby prone to imagine
    that the practice of religion by believers results from "pious fictions" passed
    uncritically from generation to generation.

    Vatican II offers us a much sounder starting point:

    "Atheism must be accounted among the most serious problems of this age, and is deserving of closer examination. . . . Some never get to the point of raising
    questions about God, since they seem to experience no religious stirrings nor
    do they see why they should trouble themselves about religion. Moreover,
    atheism results not rarely from a violent protest against the evil in this
    world. . . . Believers themselves frequently bear some responsibility for this situation. For, taken as a whole, atheism is not a spontaneous development but stems from a variety of causes, including a critical reaction against religious beliefs, and in some places against the Christian religion in particular. Hence believers can have more than a little to do with the birth of atheism." (Gaudium et Spes, sec. 19)

    In sum, the growth of atheism needs to be taken much more
    seriously than Father Robert Barron allows.
    Dialogue with atheists, moreover, requires the ability to listen
    carefully and respectfully in order to enter into experiences and points of
    view that may be foreign and even antagonistic to one's Catholic
    upbringing. Father Robert Barron, unfortunately, does not appear to be capable of this practice. For this, we must look elsewhere.

    Fraternally,

    Prof. Aaron Milavec, STB, Th.D.

    • Michael Murray

      Do you have suggestions of where we should look ?

    • Luc Regis

      Atheism must be accounted among the most serious problems of this age,

      Why is atheism the most serious problem of this age? It may be a serious problem to the Catholic church, which I can understand. But the most serious problem of this age????? I think that most of us, including Catholics can think of other more serious problems. I won't give a list......just think, and of course some Christians will blame atheists for those problems, but Catholics should also remember that religion in general is at the root of many problems...not all....and am not speaking here only of those religions that Catholics disagree with.....but am also including Catholics.

      • Doug Shaver

        It may be a serious problem to the Catholic church, which I can understand. But the most serious problem of this age?????

        As best I can tell, that attitude is more prevalent among evangelical Protestants than among Catholics or other Protestants. The reasoning, such as it is, is that every social problem that anyone can think of is actually and simply a direct consequence of humanity's rejection of divine authority, and that atheism is nothing more and nothing less than that very rejection.

  • Kathleen

    This is my first post here, I hope no one else has made this observation -
    I am wondering a bit about how representative members of philosophy departments really are of philosophers? I found it is quite common to have philosophers in other academic departments connected to their area of interest - someone interested in Hegel might well teach in a German department, there are departments focused on particular time periods like classics or contemporary studies, and so on.

    And while it might not be universal or strictly observed, i think this can seem to end up weighting philosophy departments, at least in North America, in the direction of analytic philosophy, which perhaps has a particular approach to questions of theism.

    I have a suspicion that a bit of a wider net might have given somewhat different results.

    • Doug Shaver

      This is my first post here, I hope no one else has made this observation - I am wondering a bit about how representative members of philosophy departments really are of philosophers?

      The only philosophy department I'm familiar with is the one where I got my degree, but practically every philosopher I've ever heard of, whether through assigned readings or my own independent research, works at the philosophy department of some college or university somewhere. Whether the department at a particular school is representative of the profession in general probably depends on the proclivities or prejudices of whoever does the faculty hiring at that school.

  • tenenbauma

    i am an atheist from a family of strong Catholics....i don't think they are less smart because of it, i just don't agree with their beliefs and think they are mistaken

  • KateGladstone

    Re:
    "Bertrand Russell’s deeply uninformed dismissal of Thomas Aquinas’s demonstration of the impossibility of an infinite regress of conditioned causes" — where can I see Russell rebutted on this point?

  • Nathan RodHull Adams

    You make the claim that when "serious, reflective religious people" say the word "God", they actually mean "The condition for the possibility of the universe as such, the non-contingent ground of contingency."
    Not only is this a No True Scotsman fallacy, the claimed meaning itself is such a meaningless word salad that any interesting discussion is immediately prevented. You may have that meaning in mind when "God" is mentioned, but since words usually have generally accepted definitions, none of which for "God" bear the remotest resemblance to the one you've given...in your own words..."who cares"?

  • cat butler

    This article begins with a complete misrepresentation of Daniel Dennett's promotion of the term bright. He wanted to use this term to present atheism in a positive light. It was in no way meant to intellectually disparage believers.

    • Alexandra

      Hi Cat,

      The well-known Athiest Christopher Hitchens, like Bishop Barron, also similarly objected:

      My own annoyance at Professor Dawkins and Daniel Dennett, for their cringe-making proposal that atheists should conceitedly nominate themselves to be called "brights," is a part of a continuous argument.

      It seems like Dennett's response is that he is changing the meaning of the word "bright". He intended to "successfully hijack" the term.

      Can you imagine if a group says we are the "intellectually superiors", but we are hijacking the term to not imply that you are stupid.

      • David Nickol

        Can you imagine an organization that calls itself the "one true church"?

        “Christ ‘established here on earth’ only one church,” the document said. The other communities “cannot be called ‘churches’ in the proper sense” because they do not have apostolic succession — the ability to trace their bishops back to Christ’s original apostles.

        • Alexandra

          Exactly. Another church could claim condescension if it's the one true church. Whether this claim is valid depends on whether which labels/names are true.

          For one group to claim intellectual superiority over everyone else- Is that believable? No.
          And then to say they are changing the meaning!?

          I personally think the use of "brights" is petty and silly. Do you think it's a good term?

          Edit: added words, changed words and some meaning