Response to atheism: rationality of believers

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The general belief in God at the University of Dallas is natural for a Catholic university, and the burden of proof lies not with believers, but with unbelievers. Photo by Kathleen Miller.

As an English major, I appreciate the thought that was evidently put into an article by Nathan Swope, published in The University News last week. Though I am by no means a good apologist for arguing the existence of God, the author encouraged student dialogue, and I appreciate the opportunity to attempt to answer what he calls the “all-important question.”

In the same way that his piece so articulately did for atheism, I am hoping that this article will clarify some things about theism, not just on my own behalf but on behalf of all Catholic, Protestant, Buddhist, Muslim and other religious students here at the University of Dallas. While these clarifications do not directly engage the all-important question, they are nonetheless related to it; moreover, they engage the various critiques offered with regard to shortcomings at this university.

The main point of the article was not that there is no God, but that the university and its students proceed incorrectly in answering the question of God’s existence.

First off, I am a little confused as to why the author discussed Christianity so much in his article.  The fact that we are in the midst of a predominantly Christian community has little to do with the all-important question, which is at the center of the argument between theists and atheists.

Perhaps Christians are deluded about what characterizes God. But if God is malicious and not, as Christianity portrays Him, profoundly loving, would this discount His existence?

I would suggest concentrating on the all-important question, rather than on questions that would arise from an affirmative answer to that question.

I’m also unsure as to how the author finds UD lacking in terms of critical engagement with the idea of God, a critique of the university and not of its students.

UD does, after all, have an entire academic department dedicated to theology, a study that many have called the capstone of liberal arts education. Theology, like any science, has its first principles. One of these is the affirmation of God’s existence.

Perhaps the real criticism is directed at UD students, in which case I would answer that all UD students, in fact, have to engage the all-important question at some point when they read St. Thomas Aquinas’ five proofs in Western Theological Tradition class.

The author might object, however, that this is not enough — that this is only proof that at UD “it is easy to assume that this essential question has already been answered.”

This is true. UD is a Catholic university after all, and if the majority of its students did not feel certain about God’s existence, they might not be here.

This is not intellectual complacency, as the article suggests. This characterization is a grave oversimplification, but I find it revelatory.

The article encourages a rational debate between its author, an atheist, and the average UD student, a theist, about whether a supernatural power exists.

But what it really suggests, perhaps unconsciously, is that the theist be a skeptic before even beginning the debate. That’s all that is really meant by “critical engagement” and “abandon[ing] your comfort zone,” as if these could not be accomplished without also doubting a conviction which many theists at this school have held for years. For this reason, I wonder whether this dialogue can even take place, at least in the way that the piece suggests.

I feel it is my duty to remind the theists at this school that the burden is on atheists to disprove God’s existence. This is because most of their interlocutors have probably moved on to other questions, having already attained a level of certitude about God’s existence.

But hopefully I’m wrong about the impossibility of dialogue. After all, the beauty of the Core is that students of all religious beliefs share it.  As Aquinas’ five proofs are a part of the Core, I’ll let him spar and object to the article’s leading claim.

Let’s just take one proof: the argument from Efficient Causes.  Is this a flawed argument for the existence of God? And if so, why?

I highly recommend, for both sides of the conversation, a debate on Youtube entitled “Has Science Buried God,” which is very indicative of the incommensurability I suggest above. The debaters are philosopher William Lane Craig and New Atheist Lawrence Krauss, the latter of whom, unfortunately, seems a poor spokesman for atheists and could learn something about civility from last week’s article.

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