This week The Gregorian went to press with a challenging but necessary lecture by Father Robert Spitzer, S.J.
Argumentative atheism is experiencing a resurgence. And Father Robert Spitzer is one reason why that is not necessarily a bad thing.
We have experienced at least three different forms of atheist resurgence in the past century. One was the literally militant atheism that reached its peak in totalitarian regimes in the middle of the 20th century. Expressions of faith in God were criminalized and adherents were persecuted; this form of atheism decimated the ranks of the faithful by violence and fear.
A second form of atheism is the apathetic agnosticism that has prevailed in much of the Western hemisphere and in America to this day. In apathetic agnostic societies, religion is fine as long as it remains a private eccentricity. But to mention God at a social gathering is a faux pas, and to mention him seriously in a business meeting is unthinkable. This form of atheism may have been even more destructive to faith.
A third form of atheism is argumentative atheism. This was the form of atheism that prevailed in the world of the turn of the 19th and 20th centuries. It was an atheism that didn’t seek to destroy believers, but passionately sought to dissuade them. Questions about God were bandied about in universities and in public lectures. Poets, philosophers, novelists and playwrights all had their say.
Today’s rise in atheistic literature looks most like this third kind of atheism — but with important differences from the days when God’s existence was debated in public halls.
Back then, thinkers spoke a common language, based on rules of reason and logic that were widely shared. Today, that philosophical language — and the worldview it expressed — is lost. In its place is a scientific language and, as Cardinal Christoph Schonborn said on campus last year, “reason is bound into the narrow limits of the mathematical , or natural science and its methodology.”
Enter Father Robert Spitzer.
Think of him as a missionary to scientists. His New Proofs for the Existence of God: Contributions of Contemporary Physics and Philosophy (Eerdmans, 2010) speaks to modern scientists in their language.
He came to Benedictine College campus fresh from the Larry King Live show and a “debate” with Stephen Hawking. Spitzer is the kind of guy who can debate Stephen Hawking.
In his speech here he addressed three questions: “First, can science give evidence of creation and supernatural design? Second, what is the evidence for a beginning of the universe and what are the implications for creation? Third, what is the evidence of supernatural intelligence from anthropic fine-tuning — the idea that the universe appears to have been intentionally constructed for intelligent life?”
The concluding sentence gives you a hint for the direction the talk goes but it has to be read to be appreciated: “Thus, it is both reasonable and responsible to believe on the basis of physics that a very powerful and intelligent being caused our universe to exist as a whole.”
To check it out, click on the link and sign up for The Gregorian … free.
Tom Hoopes is writer in residence at Benedictine College in Kansas where he teaches in the Journalism and Mass Communications department and edits the college’s Catholic identity speech digest, The Gregorian.