Atheists and Fundamentalists: Brothers under the Skin

Atheists and Fundamentalists: Brothers under the Skin March 1, 2014

So a while back I did a little series for the Register on Natural Revelation. In the course of it, I compared the seemingly similar arguments for Intelligent Design and St. Thomas’ arguments for the existence of God and noted that the problem with ID is that it is basically a species of God of the Gaps argument. It says “Here is a living system full of specified complexity and here is a rock. We can’t account for the living system apart from design, therefore… well, You Know Who” (they tend to be cagey about coming out and saying “God”.

In short, the argument tends to proceed by means of appeal to Exceptions to the Normal Rules of Nature.

Thomist arguments, on the other hand, don’t appeal to Exceptions to the Rules. They appeal to the fact that there are Rules. In this, they begin with exactly the same assumption as the Sciences: that there are rules of nature and that it is the work of the intellect to understand those rules. (One fun result of this fact was watching atheists in the comboxes laboring to pretends that there are no laws of nature, or that laws of nature change, in order to avoid the possibility of You Know Who.) Basically, Thomas says, “You know that whole metaphysic that fundamentally underlies the scientific enterprise–the one about a lawful orderly nature comprehensible to reason and intellect? Yeah, well, here’s the thing, that metaphysic necessarily points to lawful and orderly Creator.” No appeals to miracles or Exceptions to the Rules or “We can’t explain how living systems arose, therefore God.”

Now the funny thing is that this used to be called Classical Catholic Metaphysics. But when I pointed all this out in the series, I found myself assailed not merely by the Usual Suspect from the Reddit.Atheist crowd, but by Fundamentalized Catholics who seriously charged me with being a Liberal–for defending St. Thomas. They much preferred the arguments of ID felt that I was attacking the Faith by quoting the Angelic Doctor. It was a remarkable triumph of fundamentalism over the Church’s teaching and was, in great measure, fueled by anger that any concession that there was weakness to the ID case was giving aid and comfort to the enemy. The notion that St. Thomas has stood the test of time rather well and that his arguments were, you know, sound was out of the question. The demand was to know Whose Side I was on and the fundamentalist judge, jury and executioner wasn’t interested hearing a lot of high-falutin’ evidence, reasoning, or argument. I was a Liberal. That was that–for defending St. Thomas’ argument.

Now the funny thing is: evolutionists have analogous people in their camp. Here, for instance, is Michael Flynn’s account of some dogmatic simpleton who decided to arraign, not some six day creationist, but Dr. James Shapiro of the University of Chicago’s Department of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology. His crime? Failure to believe and profess that absolutely every phenomenon in evolution is strictly and solely accounted for by gradual accumulation of random mutations. Mind you, Shapiro is an evolutionist. It’s just that he’s an evolutionist who knows what he’s talking about and therefore is aware of other natural processes that account for changes in living systems.

His inquisitor, however, would have none of it. The Holy Name of Darwin was being blasphemed and so the cry went up that Shapiro was some kind of Creationist or something. Why? Because the suggestion that something besides “randomness” might enter into the process set off Pavlovian acoustic cues in the Inquisitors mind. The opposite of “random” had to be “intelligent” and that must mean Shapiro was opening the door to ID and the God of Tweaking who pops in from time to time to invent a cow or a sea sponge in the DNA workshop out back. Shapiro was giving aid and comfort to the Enemy! Whose side was he *on*?

Treating with things like evidence, reason, and logic went straight out the window. It was a remarkably similar performance to my Fundamental Catholic interlocutors–made all the funnier by the trademark reddit.atheist preference for worshipping rather than using the intellect.

Atheists and fundamentalists: how good and pleasant it is when brothers dwell together in unity.

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