Sunday, June 07, 2009

Five Questions for an Atheist

(Trinity Sunday 2009: This homily was given on June 7, 2009 at St. Pius X Church, Westerly, R.I., by Fr. Raymond Suriani. Read Matthew 28: 16-20.)
[For the audio version of this homily, click here: Trinity Sunday 2009]

In paragraph 286 of the Catechism it says this: “The existence of God the Creator can be known with certainty through his works, by the light of human reason, even if this knowledge is often obscured and disfigured by error.”

In other words, you don’t need the Bible to know that God exists; you don’t need a special revelation from heaven to know that there's a Supreme Being out there. All you have to do is look at the world in which we live; all you have to do is look at the universe in its incredible beauty and splendor. There you’ll find plenty of evidence that God is real. As the writer of Psalm 19 said, “The heavens proclaim the glory of God and the firmament shows forth the work of his hands.”

Or, to put it another way, creation itself points to the existence and the activity of a Creator.

And yet you do need a special revelation from heaven to know what the inner life of this Creator God is like. For example, without the insights we receive from Sacred Scripture and Sacred Tradition, we’d never know about the Blessed Trinity: we’d never know that there are 3 divine Persons in the one, true God. As we’re told in paragraph 237 of the Catechism, “God has left traces of his Trinitarian being in his work of creation . . . but his inmost Being as Holy Trinity is a mystery that is inaccessible to reason alone or even to Israel’s faith before the Incarnation of God’s Son and the sending of the Holy Spirit.”

If you’re dialoguing with a Jew or a Muslim or someone with a similar view of God, you might find yourself forced to explain and defend this dogma of the Blessed Trinity to them—since Jews and Muslims don’t believe in the divinity of Jesus or the unique divine Personhood of the Holy Spirit.

But it’s much more likely that you will find yourself forced to defend something else in public these days: the very existence of God himself—in spite of all the evidence in creation that I spoke about a few minutes ago.

That’s because, as many of you already know, atheism is rapidly growing in popularity. Sad to say, but in certain segments of our society right now, it’s highly fashionable to say that you don’t believe in God—any god.

As Catholic Christians, we need to be prepared for this kind of challenge to our faith, since it could come at any time—even from people we know who used to be believers.

To help you in this regard, let me share with you now my 5 questions for an atheist. There are others you could ask, I’m sure; these are just my personal 5.

I share them with you because I think for too long we Christians have been on the defensive when it comes to the issue of God’s existence—and we shouldn’t be. If anything, we should be on the offensive, challenging the presuppositions—the unreasonable presuppositions—of those who don’t believe.

Many atheists say they put their trust in “science,” not faith—as if people who have religious faith can’t be great scientists. But the fact of the matter is, atheists have faith just like we do! And that’s the first point we should make when dialoguing with them. We simply have faith in different things: we have faith that there is a God; they have faith that there isn’t.

Then we need to challenge them on the ideas that stand behind their faith, just like they challenge us on the ideas that stand behind ours.

That’s one of the purposes of these 5 questions. So here they are (in no particular order) . . .

Question #1: If God does not exist, then why should I respect you? If you are not created in God’s image and likeness; if you do not have an immortal soul; if you are no more valuable than a chicken or a mosquito, then why should I be concerned about you and your well-being? We kill chickens to use them for food—so why shouldn’t I “use” you to achieve whatever goals I want to achieve in my life?

We kill mosquitoes because they annoy us—so why is it wrong for me to mistreat you if you annoy me?

Question #2: If there is no God, then how do you account for the complexity of the universe? For starters, how do you account for the complexity of the human body? Many scientists say that the odds against the human body evolving from a microscopic organism without an Intelligent Designer are astronomically large—no one can even count that high! (Believe me, you would never want those odds at the casino or in the lottery!)

So how did it happen? And don’t just say, “It did.” That’s a lousy answer, especially from someone who is supposedly so “scientific.”

Question #3: If there is no God, then why was Hitler wrong? If there is no God, then morality is totally subjective. There is no ultimate authority for me except me!

So why was Hitler wrong? He was simply acting on the principles of his own, personal morality. And who are we to impose our morality on him?

You see, Dostoevsky was right: If God does not exist, EVERYTHING is permissible—including the grotesque, immoral activity of someone like Adolf Hitler.

Question #4: If there is no God, and only matter exists, then why am I able to have images in my brain? In other words, explain my thoughts to me.

I have an image of my car in my brain right now. But if my favorite brain surgeon, Dr. Martin Bednar, cut my thick skull open later today he would not find a little Toyota Camry lodged somewhere between my ears!

So where is it? I know it’s there, but it definitely is not there physically.

My point here is that our thoughts are not material. And while that fact doesn’t prove the existence of God in and of itself, it does point us to another dimension of reality—the spiritual dimension.

And once you admit that reality has a spiritual dimension, you admit the possibility that there might be a God—a God who, as the Bible says, “is Spirit.”

Which brings us to question #5, which I think is the most challenging of all: Will you please explain to me how something can come from nothing?

Matter exists; I exist; the world exists—and all of this constitutes “something”. As a religious believer, I say that this “something” came from something else—really Someone else—namely, God.

But you say that God doesn’t exist. Okay, then where did this “something” come from? I’ve never seen something—anything—come from nothing. Yet, that’s what you believe as an atheist about creation.

And don’t say you believe in the Big Bang Theory of the creation of the universe; that won’t solve the problem for you. The Big Bang says that 12-14 billion years ago the universe as we know it expanded from a tiny speck of matter after a huge cosmic explosion. Fine. So where did that “tiny speck of matter” come from? If that speck was like a bomb, then who or what made it? And who or what lit the fuse? And who or what designed the blueprint for the explosion?

Did it come from nothing? If there is no God, then that’s what you must believe! But how does something come from nothing? Where is your scientific evidence that such a thing could—and actually did—happen?

So there they are: my five questions for an atheist.

They probably won’t convince him right away that there is a God who made him and the universe, but they’ll hopefully get him to start questioning his atheistic faith, and the flimsy presuppositions which stand behind that faith.

And that just might get him on the road to belief: belief in the one, true God--and eventually belief in the Blessed Trinity.