The Bill Muehlenberg Trophy: Father Thomas Williams

19 06 2008

Okay, I’ll bite. The man is a liar and a blowhard. A strawman-builder from the get-go:

“Though the atheists claim to represent the side of reason,” he asserts in his book, “their arguments more often than not are ideological rather than rational.”

Atheism is the lack of belief in a god or gods. Period. If that’s all it takes to constitute an ideology, then not collecting stamps is an ideology. (Aphilatelism?)

Williams has joined the ranks of fleas with an anti-atheist tome entitled Greater Than You Think: A Theologian Answers the Atheists About God. Why does the world need this book? (That is, in addition to the plethora of recent releases with the same Christian apologist/anti-atheist agenda?) Because there has been a “surge in neo-atheist literature” in recent times, with books by Daniel Dennett, Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris and Christopher Hitchens making the best-seller list, and as a consequence:

most people only hear one side of the story. They become indoctrinated with the atheistic arguments without ever hearing a reasoned response.

You have to ask yourself what parallel universe this guy is inhabiting, because he’s certainly absent from this one if he can utter the phrase “most people only hear one side of the story” with a straight face, given that he means “the ‘atheist’ side.” Actually, the problem is that, regarding belief and especially regarding non-belief, most people do only hear one side: and that is precisely what is prompting individual atheists, prominent and not-so-prominent, to speak out. Williams’ ridiculous statement reminds me of British Cardinal Cormac Murphy O’Connor’s call for Christianity to be given unopposed air time on the BBC–anything less would be “Christophobic,” according to the Cardinal. Both men are either completely disconnected from reality, or telling lies.

As for the “indoctrination” charge: your side of the debate is familiar to everyone, Williams. Apologists keep telling us how your religion is the bedrock of Western civilisation. Being exposed to dissenting and critical voices does not constitute indoctrination, unless you have an idiosyncratic interpretation of that term that have neglected to share with us.

He continues:

Just to name a few, atheists claim that religion is inimical to science, and that the Christian Church in particular sought to stamp out scientific research. They charge that “religion kills” and has been responsible for most of our wars and social ills. They say that religious belief requires the renunciation of reason and the embrace of willful blindness. They assert that religion does not contribute to moral improvement, and that it makes people sour and sad, rather than joyful.

It bears repeating: atheism is simply the lack of belief in gods. Nothing more, nothing less. What individual atheists think about religion is a separate matter, and you will find among atheists varying degrees of agreement and disagreement with the claims above, none of which are necessary to the definition of atheism. So when you assert that “atheists claim x” and “atheists claim y,” and provide no evidence that atheists (all of them) make such claims in unison, you are making a strawman argument. You are telling lies, and nobody is obliged to dignify your mendacity with a response. That’s part of the reason why I’m not going to defend Dawkins, Hitchens, Harris or Dennett against your blather: to do so would be to give your strawman undue credit.

There is one thing, however, that simply cannot be passed over in silence, and that is Williams’ historical revision regarding the history of science and the Church. Williams actually says the following:

Science grew out of the fertile humus of Christian culture. The Catholic Church, in particular, was at the forefront of scientific investigation and sponsored scientific research the way it patronized the arts. Some of history’s greatest scientists — Newton, Pasteur, Galileo, Lavoisier, Kepler, Copernicus, Faraday, Maxwell, Bernard, and Heisenberg –were all Christians, and Gregor Mendel — the father of modern genetics — was a Catholic priest. The Jesuit order in particular spearheaded much scientific study.

“Science grew out of the fertile humus of Christian culture.” Tell that to Hypatia of Alexandria, who was seized by a Christian mob during Lent, at the urging of Saint Cyril, stripped naked, and had the flesh torn from her bones with roof tiles. Tell that to Giordano Bruno, burnt at the stake for heresy. (And if it is objected that we don’t really know whether Bruno was declared heretic on the grounds of his Copernicanism, because his file is missing, ask how a culture that foments the burning of people at the stake for heresy could possibly be conducive to the flourishing of scientific inquiry.) Tell it to Galileo, who was fortunate enough to evade being burnt for his beliefs, but was placed under house arrest by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (in those days known as the Inquisition) for printing his Dialogue Concerning the Two Chief World Systems. There is no single atheist position on the relationship between religion and science, of course. Some see little conflict. Some, like Richard Feynman, see fundamental conflict . . . or at least incompatibility. Feynman addresses the charge that science=atheism=communism as follows:

I would like to remark, in passing, since the word “atheism” is so closely connected with “communism,” that the communist views are the antithesis of the scientific, in the sense that in communism the answers are given to all the questions–political questions as well as moral ones–without discussion and without doubt. The scientific viewpoint is the exact opposite of this; that is, all questions must be doubted and discussed; we must argue everything out–observe things, check them, and so change them.

For this individual atheist (i.e. yours truly), dogmatic religion–particularly a dogmatic religion that punishes heresy–is the antithesis of scientific inquiry and not its stimulus. To say that a religious culture in which the answers to all questions are determined in advanced, and any dissent is punished, provides “fertile humus” for a mode of thinking in which all questions must be doubted and discussed is a contradiction.

I’m looking forward to Mojoey’s review of Greater Than You Think, if he can be bothered wasting his time.

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11 responses

19 06 2008
Bruce

It is worth mentioning that some of the documentation of Bruno’s trial is not lost. A summary document (produced back in the day) that heavily cites and quotes chunks of dialog from the lost documentation has since been found, and it includes proceedings where Bruno defended his Copernicanism.

This summary documentation was found back in 1940, so anyone claiming that the role of his Copernicanism is unknown due to a lost file is pulling a fast one by way of half-truth. Academic fraud to be frank, if it is published by way of a genuine University.

19 06 2008
AV

Thanks, Bruce. I haven’t checked, but I think the Wikipedia article on Bruno makes some mention of that document.

22 06 2008
Bruce

Oh, geez. I just read the interview in full. It’s worse than I thought and ironically in some places.

One of the frustrating things about these authors is the way they blur all religions into one amorphous reality, as if there were no difference between Franciscan monks and Islamic suicide bombers. But they do take time out to specifically denigrate Christian beliefs along the way… They even go so far as to question the historical existence of Jesus Christ, and claim that even if Jesus did exist, he never intended to found a church. Christopher Hitchens goes further still, asserting that the Christian faith causes sexual repression.

Aside from the naked assertion of the first sentence, Hitchens’ and Dawkins’ opinions on these matters aren’t identical (indeed Dawkins is more reserved, speculating more and asserting less than Hitchens), yet Father Williams manages to blur them into one amorphous reality.

22 06 2008
AV

Outgroup homogeneity bias.

22 06 2008
Bruce

And projection all in one.

22 06 2008
Bruce

I’m really starting to worry that I’m thoroughly not going to enjoy reading this book. Was hoping I’d get to see something new. Maybe I still will, but it’s not looking good from the teaser we are given.

24 08 2008
Alan

By beginning with ad hominem, you admit you have lost the argument. At the core of the debate, Father Thomas is correct. Atheists believe what they believe because they want to, not because they have a better rationale.

You say: “It bears repeating: atheism is simply the lack of belief in gods. Nothing more, nothing less.” Although atheism is “nothing more,” militant atheists are quite a bit less.

Besides repeating the strict definition of atheism, you remain blind to the reasons why you need to follow a militant atheist agenda, and you offer “nothing more” of any value.

You will be angry with this statement, and your anger again will prove you are wrong. If I had said, “the world is flat,” you would just shake your head and smile. Instead, you are pissed off, because you know you’re wrong, but you just don’t know why. Maybe you’ll gain more wisdom some day. I hope you do. With wisdom will come the peace of mind you lack.

24 08 2008
AV

Atheists believe what they believe because they want to

By beginning with a strawman, you admit you have already lost the argument. Belief is not subject to the will: given the lack of evidence, I am no more able to “choose” to believe in the existence of a deity/deities, than I am able to believe in the existence of little green men in orbit around Alpha Centauri.

You say: “It bears repeating: atheism is simply the lack of belief in gods. Nothing more, nothing less.” Although atheism is “nothing more,” militant atheists are quite a bit less.

Meaningless ad hominem.

Besides repeating the strict definition of atheism, you remain blind to the reasons why you need to follow a militant atheist agenda

There’s a “militant atheist agenda”? I didn’t get the memo. Is that something like the Homosexual Agenda? Or the Protocols of the Elders of Zion?

You will be angry with this statement, and your anger again will prove you are wrong. If I had said, “the world is flat,” you would just shake your head and smile. Instead, you are pissed off, because you know you’re wrong, but you just don’t know why. Maybe you’ll gain more wisdom some day. I hope you do. With wisdom will come the peace of mind you lack.

As I said, strawmanning (+ ad hominem) me loses you the argument. You are, I assume, a Christian, and my 12 years of Catholic education led me to believe that there is a commandment in your belief system against bearing false witness (which is what advancing strawman arguments amounts to—lying). Please provide the empirical evidence (an fMRI scan of my amygdala ought to do it) that I am sitting here, right now, as I am typing these very words, seething in anger. Please provide the evidence that I “know I’m wrong, but I just don’t know why.” What do I “know I’m wrong” about anyway? There may be a god—I don’t have enough evidence to assert that there definitely isn’t—but there is no evidence to establish that there is, and hence, no reason for me to believe that there is.

24 08 2008
Alan

See my other posts. Your “strawman” refuge doesn’t cut it with smart people.

P.S. You don’t know what “ad hominem” means.

24 08 2008
Bruce

Your “strawman” refuge doesn’t cut it with smart people.

Speaking as both a smart person, and someone who is familiar with Arthur’s views and the clear difference between them and your representations, “strawman” does cut it. “Strawman” will always cut it as long as you (and your dubious co-religionists) continue to misrepresent other people’s views.

24 08 2008
AV

Your “strawman” refuge doesn’t cut it with smart people.

Smart people think logical fallacies make for sound arguments? Evidently your understanding of the word “smart” differs from mine.

P.S. You don’t know what “ad hominem” means.

I know what the term means. I am also operating under the assumption that smart people can read. I have a comments policy regarding abusive rhetoric, and I have been more than indulgent in allowing you most recent comments to stand.

I haven’t done it as a favour, of course. Your conduct here is contrary to what, according to the propaganda, at any rate, your belief system teaches—abusive rhetoric (Proverbs 15:1, Ephesians 4:31, Proverbs 29:11, James 1:19-20, Matthew 5:43-48, and the clincher, Matthew 5:21-22), pride (Proverbs 16:5, Proverbs 8:13, Proverbs 29:23, 1 Peter 5:5, Galatians 6:3), lying (Exodus 20:16, Proverbs 19:9, Proverbs 6:16-19). If I may be so bold as to speak on behalf of Teh Grand Atheist Conspiracy (whose Miltant Atheist Agenda is now available in paperback) we find it deliciously amusing when apologists such as yourself keep shooting yourself in the foot like this. If you’ve come here to defeat teh atheists and defend Christianity, it’s simply hilarious that you would seek to do so by means of conduct which Christians are supposed to deem morally reprehensible.

But consider this your first and final warning regarding abusive rhetoric.

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