Patrick Coffin…

spent a fun-filled evening with Richard Dawkins and an exciting and volatile mixture of angry fundamentalist atheists and not-altogether-competent fundamentalist Christians. Turns out Dawkins won’t come on “Catholic Answers Live” for a chat. To ask is apparently a grave sin in Atheoville. Why? The explanation appears to be, “Shut up.” Because atheists are all about the open pursuit of reason and inquiry and Catholics are closed to and fear these things.

Or something.

"thanks. just what i expected a rightwinger to say."

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  • This, I think, is the problem that Herbert McCabe addressed in his lovely book God Matters. It’s why I make it a practice to give some of his essays to my introductory health care ethics class – on the presumption that many of them wrestle by default with the tired science/religion dichotomy that gets played out in so many ways these days.

  • CJ


    I’ve been meaning to ask, is “Shut Up, he explained” a Mark Shea Original ™ or is it a reference to something of which I’m unaware? I absolutely love it.

    • CJ,

      I believe the phrase, “Shut up, he explained,” originated with the American humorist Ring Lardner, Jr. Not sure where, however.

    • Mark Shea

      We owe that great line to Ring Lardner.

      • CJ

        Thanks for the info, guys.

  • An Atheist

    Jesus himself supposedly said that you all would be mocked and made fun of for following something that appears so ridiculous to outsiders, so I don’t get the carping about how mean atheists are. Your religion appears ridiculous. This will lead to mockery. Suck it up and deal.

    • Mark Shea

      Um. No. He didn’t say that. He said that he was hated for no reason and that those who believe in him would likewise be hated for no reason. He said nothing about his being ridiculous, only that those who reject him would have no good reason to do so. If you are going to blame the victim for your irrational rejection of Jesus, at least don’t put words in his mouth to justify your behavior.

      • Mark, what about St Paul’s bit about the cross being “foolishness to the Greeks and a stumbling block to the Jews”? What about “No one comes to me unless the Father draw him”? What about “I speak in parables that seeing they may see, and not perceive; and hearing they may hear, and not understand”? If, in the final analysis, faith is a gift from God, then the unenLightened mind cannot see what we see.

        Which doesn’t excuse the boorish behavior of Dawkins and Co, but does explain their incredulity.

        The problem as I see it, An Atheist, is not so much that Dawkins cannot understand the whole gospel, it’s that he does not even try to understand what he could understand, or respect what is obviously a venerable human tradition and philosophy, with much beauty and goodness flowing from it. I would be embarrassed to talk about any non-Christian religion (or even discarded scientific theory) the way Dawkins does of Christianity. He just assumes its all crap, and spends his time tearing down straw men and ridiculing what he does not understand.

        It’s exactly the same behavior that he (rightly) decries in the Creation Science people: they assume evolution is crap, and they spend their time tearing down straw men and ridiculing what they do not understand.

  • An Atheist

    Well, that’s a stupid thing for him to have said then. People reject Christianity for perfectly rational reasons, including the fact that yes it looks absurd to outside observers, not for no reason at all.

    • Ted Seeber

      There is no perfectly rational reason to reject Christianity, because human reason is imperfect. Outside observers think that Christianity looks ridiculous because they are *outside observers*, not because Christianity actually looks ridiculous.

      I’ll agree with the “not for no reason at all” part however.

    • Mark Shea

      Jesus doesn’t mention Christianity. He speaks of himself. And yes, rejection of him is, in the end, irrational. Saying “I don’t understand this, so it’s dumb” is a child’s response.

      • An Atheist

        The early Christian Church created the gospels, so it’s safe to say you’re rejecting Christianity not Jesus individually (kind of hard to do since I can never meet the man). We don’t even know which sayings in the gospels are historical genuine with any certainty.

        • Mark Shea

          If we are certain of anything, it is that Jesus celebrated the Eucharist with his disciples at the Passover before his death and said, “This is my body. This is my blood.” The entire raison d’etre of the apostolic mission and their memory of Jesus centers on nothing else than this event. (As Fr. Barron remarks, the gospels can be accurately described as “Passion narratives with long introductions”. This story is it. This is the news the apostles have to bring. The rest is just commentary. You might as well say that because witnesses give slightly varying accounts of the number of shots fired and the direction of the sound, it’s impossible for anybody present on Dealey Plaza to really say, or for us to really know, if JFK was assassinated on November 22, 1963.

          Sorry, man, but the story of the Eucharist is absolutely bound up with the story of the Passion. It is, in the end, virtually the only thing the apostolic witnesses have to say and the only news they have to give. You may have questions about whether Jesus said, “Blessed are you poor” or “Blessed are the poor in spirit” (of course, it’s likely he said both). But the radical incuriosity and skepticism of the New Atheist which imagines that the core historical memory of the Church–which records this event in three gospels and an epistle and places it at the absolute center of every single celebration of its worship across a dozen different languages, tribes, and tongue–is fundamentally mistaken about this is beyond comparison crazy and incredible. If there is one thing that is as certain as it is possible for historical testimony to be, it is that Jesus said the eucharist was his body and blood. All the Church is doing here is remembering, not inventing. Declare the eucharistic narrative historically valueless and you declare ever historical narrative about everything whatsoever historically valueless.

          I really am amazed at the radical incuriosity of the supposedly “intellectually curious” New Atheist. I thought we theists were supposed to be the ones afraid of following the evidence where it leads.

  • An Atheist

    I don’t know, I think the belief that wafers and wine turn into the blood and flesh of a crucified Jewish carpenter when the right words are said by a priest over them would be pretty weird regardless. Saying that you then must eat it to live is even weirder.

    • Faith Roberts

      Ah well, lots of things look weird before you really understand them.

    • Mark Shea

      Saying space is curved and that light is a particle and a wave because a Jewish patent office worker says so is weird. Declaring the discussion to be over on that basis is what children do.

      Einstein, I am told, was fascinated by the Real Presence in the Eucharist and the idea that the substance of a thing could change while accidents did not. I don’t have time to document that on Google, but I’d be interested if somebody could track that down. Certainly there has been discussion since then between Thomists and physicist on this concept. As is typical, there is nothing in the sciences against it. Merely, as with you, the Argument from Personal Incredulity.

      • An Atheist

        What Einstein said about light can be proven and observed scientifically. Transubstantiation can’t, since even Catholics admit the bread still tastes, smells, and feels like bread, and the wine still tastes, smells, and feels like wine. What goes on is apparently magical and invisible.

        • Mark Shea

          “Apparently”. The argument from personal incredulity is a favorite of yours, isn’t it?

        • Thomas R

          Although I sort-of understand what you’re saying, I don’t have as much hostility to atheism as a Catholic maybe should, I think this is potentially reductive. There are other things in knowledge than just science.

          I mean prove set theory or Godel’s incompleteness by observing nature. (Yes I picked two things formulated by Christians, but from what I recall neither was Catholic) Or prove to me Socrates or Hammurabi existed. Or even that men are equal to women or blacks equal to whites.

          You might think “that last one can be proven by observation as we’re dealing with biological entities there”, but really biology tells us what’s “equal.” How? How can biology tell me I’m equal to a woman? Women live longer and in all societies I know of they murder less. Maybe that means they’re superior. Men do better at spatial reasoning going by some studies, maybe we’re superior. If we’re equal, and I think we are albeit different, how do you show that through science or logic? Can you do it?

          Don’t misunderstand I believe in racial and gender equality, etc. I’m just saying some question require ways of knowing/learning that aren’t contained in the scientific method.

          • Thank you, Thomas R. This is a generous and reasonable response. Not all the replies on this thread are.

  • Atheist guy: Any reason besides cowardice that you hide behind a fake name? Also, is there any chance at all that you’re open to hearing a reasoned defense of the Real Presence? I’m asking. You clearly mock something about which you barely have a clue.

    • Joseph

      You clearly mock something about which you barely have a clue.

      The hallmark of the New Atheists.

    • Jill

      Have any other atheists (or other non-religious sorts of folks) been interviewed on CA Live before? If so I’d be interested in looking up the podcast. (I’m asking as a non-Catholic who’s listened to the show occasionally over the past few years.)

      • Hello, Jill: Just saw this. I am dependent upon a committe at EWTN for what programming content makes it on our show. 99.9% of the time there is no issue with out selections, but typically atheists are not on as guests. They do, however, call in as callers fairly regularly and are warmly welcomed to do so. We cover atheism as a topic as often as our production team feels is often enough. Our calendar is at Blessings unto thee!

        • Jill

          Thanks for the reply.

          I had never heard an atheist (or otherwise non-religious) guest before so I was surprised to read about Dawkins being asked to be on the show. It’s too bad he refused; I would definitely make a point of listening to that! (I suppose it would make for more of a “radio debate” format for that episode than the one-way questions and answers.) Oh well. It is “Catholic Answers Live” and not “Religiously Miscellaneous Answers Live That Might ‘Scandalize The Faithful'” so I can understand why the committee wouldn’t seek out guests of other stripes in most cases.

          Interesting show anyways, though (and the only talk radio I listen to, other than the news)!

  • An Atheist

    Don’t have a clue? In what sense was my summary of your beliefs about your Eucharist inaccurate?

    I have very good reasons for using a pseudonym that are, quite frankly, none of your business. Psuedonymity is widely accepted on the internet last time I checked.

    • Mark Shea

      I suspect the part about “This is weird, therefore it’s false and Jesus is stupid” is the step in your logic that needs filling in. Also notable is the remarkable incuriosity that doesn’t seem to care how it was the apostles and roughly a billion other people (surely not all of them mind-numbed idiots and people incapable of reason) came to the conclusion that the obvious and easy assessment “This is a hard saying! Who can hear it?” did not exhaust the possibilities for understanding Jesus’ meaning. Do you really think a shrug about St. Thomas being a maroon is sufficient to account for everything. The Lina Lamont approach to history–“Everybody back then was a dope”–may satisfy those who worship the intellect. But it leaves those who use the intellect dissatisfied with the the all-too-common incuriosity of the New Atheist.

      • An Atheist

        Also notable is the remarkable incuriosity that doesn’t seem to care how it was the apostles and roughly a billion other people

        A billion people believe the Koran to be the word of the one true God and Muhammad to be his final prophet. This proves absolutely nothing, except the credulity of human beings in matters of faith.

        • Mark Shea

          So you are radically incurious about two great religious traditions.

          • An Atheist

            I guess you’re radically incurious about the Great Juju at the bottom of the sea. Lots of people believe that too.

            • Mark Shea

              Come on. Use your imagination just a tad. In fact, if there were many reports of Juju at the bottom of the sea, I would be curious. Wouldn’t you? Or would you be like the people who dismissed the reports of gorillas until somebody went and looked?

              You really are radically incurious. “That sounds weird, so it’s stupid and false” is the definition of radical incuriosity. The difference between you and St. Thomas is that he gave some thought to the matter. You give no thought to the matter and then condemn Catholics for not using their brains.

              You are radically incurious. And credulous about what your peer group tells you to believe.

            • An Atheist,

              I think this is Mark’s best reply to you. To place a great religious tradition which has inspired truly beautiful art and literature, justice for the poor, and even, at times, great science, philosophy, and mathematics (I speak of the Islamic tradition) in the same category as belief in some sort of all-powerful submarine monster is really unjust and short-sighted. It’s like putting Linnaeus or Tycho in the same category as Creation Scientists and Flat-Earthers. Yeah, they’re all wrong in significant ways, but the first two made valiant, intelligent, impressive, and largely-if-not-completely correct attempts to understand the universe, while the last two groups are stupidly and foolishly ignoring real life and evidence.

              It seems to me that Dawkins and Co. are ignoring evidence that the processes and categories of “scientific knowledge” do not exhaust human knowledge and insight.

    • An Atheist,

      If you’re so confident in your (dis)belief, why troll a Catholic blog? It seems to me that only someone who is very insecure and doubting about his own faith system (or lack thereof) must go to such great lengths to justify it to himself.

      • I don’t know. I’m sometimes tempted to troll atheist blogs, or Jezebel, or places like that. It’s fascinating to read people who disagree with you so fundamentally. And sometimes I get insight into my own beliefs as well, through trying to respond to their challenges.

        • Trying to respond in good faith is one thing. But “An Atheist” has no interest in learning what Catholics actually believe; he’s only interested in forcing his opinion of what he thinks Catholics believe on us.

  • Anonymous Atheist Guy:

    If you can handle the embarrassment of hiding behind a pseudonym — and since this is not my combox — fine, I’ll answer your question. Your summary of the Catholic teaching on the Eucharist is inaccurate in the following ways. 1) You fail to make the classic and necessary distinction between substance (what a thing IS in its substantial substratum) and accidents (how a thing appears as a sensible phenomenon). When Jesus instituted the Eucharist, he did not intend a lesson in cannibalism nor that the bread and wine would magically turn into bone and organ tissue nor hemoglobin fluid. That’s an old canard. Without the eyes and ears of faith, yes, it is an offensive absurdity, as His hearers clearly showed at the end of John’s Gospel. The consecrated bread and wine, after the words of institution, still appear 100% to be bread and wine only. Any plasma or human tissue testing of the Eucharist would discover only bread and wine. That is a fact. And yet the reality — the substance — becomes the body, blood, soul and divinity of Jesus Christ. That’s the fundamental miracle of the historic Christian faith.

    if you’re interested, the biblical foundations for this are found here: Matthew: 26:26 “This is my Body” 26:27 “This is my Blood…”; Mark: 14:22 “This is My Body;” 14:24 “This is my Blood…” Luke: 22:19; “This is my Body…” 22:20; “This … is the new covenant in my Blood.” See also 1 Corinthians 11.

    2) You use the pejorative term wafer when you mean host, or sacred species. Wafer is right up there with cookie in the P.Z. Myers lexicon of disrespect.

    3) When you say, “We don’t even know which sayings in the gospels are historical genuine with any certainty,” I can only conclude that you’ve never read further than the Newsweek magazine article on the Jesus Seminar. Please. The New Testament is, to an impressively high degree, the most historically accurate document of the ancient world. We have a superabundant amount of extant manuscripts, dating to very close to the event they record, at least as compared with the writings of Livy, Homer, and Plato.

    Stop digging, Anonymous Atheist Guy. God loves you and there’s nothing you can do about it. I recommend you check out the Miracle of Lanciano:

    I pray it’s just what the divine Doctor ordered.

    Over and out,


    • S. Murphy

      I’ve heard Catholics use the term wafer all the time, to describe the unconsecrated ones. I don’t expect someone whose very point is that the Consecrated ones aren’t any different, to nonetheless speak of the Consecrated Host or the Body of Christ.

  • Roberto

    Dear Lord, please help people who can do no more with their brains than mock and insult you, and who are not prepared to look sincerely into reality. They may be beyond our capacity to let them see the light, but not beyond yours.
    Make them curious to look for substantial and strong ways to prove Christianity false, for that will lead them to you, just as it has led so many other deeply intelligent and open minded people.

  • Thomas R

    I’m not a fan of Dawkins at all, but I have to say in this case I think I understand where he’s coming from. I’m not sure why he has to say “yes” to any radio or TV program or be deemed a coward or whatever. If he has a policy of only debating with Bishops, etc when debating with Catholics maybe that’s odd, but I don’t know that it’s that unreasonable. There are lots of bishops if he adds “and Catholic TV programs, radio channels, etc” he might be opening himself up to too many appearance requests. And maybe he feels a specifically Catholic site or radio station or whatever would not give him a “fair audience.” I mean if PZ Myers invited to interview me I might be leery. And besides writers don’t have to appear anywhere just because you ask them.

    And I don’t necessarily like saying this because the idea of defending Dawkins, who I disapproved of before he ever wrote “The God Delusion”, is not my cup of tea at all.

  • There are very legitimate reasons for adopting a pseudonymic handle on blogs that deal with sensitive issues like religion and politics.

    • Roberto

      I agree that the handle issue is a very weak one, but what are some such reasons? It may be an interesting item to reflect on.

      • Adolfo

        Well, he might be a theology professor at a local Jesuit-run university, for example.

  • Rich Fader

    “So if you could condense that down to a short answer, Doctor, would it sound like, ‘Because I don’t want to, Mr. Coffin’? Is that a fair summary?”

  • Jon….reasons such as….?

    I am not incurious about such matters.

    Thomas R: You write — “I’m not sure why he has to say “yes” to any radio or TV program or be deemed a coward or whatever. If he has a policy of only debating with Bishops, etc when debating with Catholics maybe that’s odd, but I don’t know that it’s that unreasonable.”

    It is both odd and unreasonable, for this reason: Dr. Dawkins routinely gets on airplanes and flies great distances to confront lightweights like Pastor Ted Haggard or actor Kirk Cameron or confused-in-his-Catholicism Bill O’Reilly, while systematically avoiding debating people his own size. His “policy” sounds open-minded and courageous because he appears to only debate Generals and not bother with Privates. But the prelates he has selected as worthy opponents thus far have one thing in common: none are trained philosophers or scientists. He debates on the minutiae of God’s existence/non-existence for a living. By definition, your average busy Catholic shepherd — no matter how intellectually astute — is simply out of his league generally speaking. Not really a fair fight, eh.

    You also write: “There are lots of bishops if he adds “and Catholic TV programs, radio channels, etc” he might be opening himself up to too many appearance requests. And maybe he feels a specifically Catholic site or radio station or whatever would not give him a “fair audience.”

    I concede this point, and he certainly has a right to tell me to go pound sand. But “not give him a fair audience”? Come, come, Thomas. I’ve already told him (more than once) that the format I propose would by definition be civil and open. You know, a debate environment where, you know, contrary viewpoints get aired and discussed. Sure he’d have to take callers, but welcome to the medium of live radio.

    You further write: “I mean if PZ Myers invited to interview me I might be leery. And besides writers don’t have to appear anywhere just because you ask them.”

    One more time: yes, I agree. But not with the first part. The P.Z. Myers analogy falls down and breaks its femur right away. Myers is a deliberate and hostile scoffer. For the analogy to safely work, you’d have to have an example of me doing to atheists the equivalent of selling a consecrated Host on eBay. Interview leeriness based on THAT, I would get. But little old me? Why, I’m pathologically nice, I tell you. I’m a *Canadian* fer gawd’s sake!

    • reasons such as….?

      Someone might work in an environment in which powerful people express unjust hatred towards particular viewpoints, such that it might threaten your employment or advancement.

      Or you might be someone very strongly associated with a particular group and you wish to explore and idea or express your opinion as a private person and not as a representative of that group.

      You never know who’s reading these things.