The Heavens & the Firmament

Deep space, deep sea, deep atomic structure, and the reason for the season

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Atheism

Perhaps you have read of the James Webb Space Telescope, launched on Christmas Day 2021, and the kinds of images it has given us, like those of the “Stephan’s Quintet” (google “James Webb Space Telescope Stephan’s Quintet” to see it). And perhaps you have read of the findings of the ten-year Census of Marine Life (2000-2010) to catalogue deep sea creatures. The stunning photo of the transparent sea cucumber, Enypniastes, might have caught your eye (again, google “Census of Marine Life transparent sea cucumber” to see it).

You may also have seen the July 5, 2022, report that the Large Hadron Collider in Switzerland is producing an energy level of 6.8 TeV (teravolts) for each of two beams of colliding protons (Liam Tung, “CERN Is Firing Up Its Large Hadron Collider at Record Energy Levels, in Search of Dark Matter,” ZDNet).

Surely the wonders of the universe prompt us to pause and reflect on their origins. Christians and Jews may bring to mind various verses from the Psalms which are hymns of praise to the Creator: “The heavens declare the glory of God; and the firmament shows His handiwork” (Ps. 19:1); and “Of old did You lay the foundation of the earth; and the heavens are the work of Your hands” (Ps. 102:25).

Some years back there was a spate of books promoting atheism. They included The End of Faith (2004) by Sam Harris, The God Delusion (2006) by Richard Dawkins (1949-2011), and God Is Not Great: How Religion Spoils Everything (2007) by Christopher Hitchens. The cosmologist Stephen Hawking (1942-2018) was an atheist. And there were advertisements in the UK in 2009 proclaiming, “There’s probably no God. Now stop worrying and enjoy your life.”

In his 1999 book The Evidential Power of Beauty, Rev. Thomas Dubay asserts that the fundamental division in all of human history is between theists and atheists. Certainly, the Hebrew Scriptures make clear the Jewish and Christian belief that there is a fundamental division between idol-worshippers and those who worship God. In contrast to idol-worshippers, Jews and Christians rely on — their help is in the name of — God “Who made heaven and earth” (Ps. 124:8).

At the time of the death of Francis Crick (1916-2004) — Nobel laureate for co-discovering the double helix — obituaries quoted his statement that “[i]n the fullness of time, educated people will believe there is no soul independent of the body, and hence no life after death.” This was repeated and affirmed at the conclusion of an essay in the Washington Post by that paper’s venerable journalist Chalmers Roberts (“The Decision of a Lifetime: In His Twilight, Facing the End on His Terms,” Aug. 28, 2004, p. A1). Let’s parse two aspects of this statement.

First, it is ironic for an atheist to use the phrase “in the fullness of time” because that phrase is well known from an English translation of St. Paul’s letter to the Galatians: “In the fullness of time, God sent His Son…that we might receive the adoption of sons. And because you are sons, God has sent forth the Spirit of His Son into your hearts, crying, ‘Abba, Father’” (Gal. 4:4-6). If, as Roberts and Crick believe, there is no soul and no life after death, then there may be a God, but certainly not the God Who, from the beginning with Adam, has always had a relationship with humankind as with no other creature — about which the Psalmist is awestruck: “When I consider Your heavens, the work of Your fingers, the moon and the stars, which You have ordained, what is man, that You are mindful of him?” (Ps. 8:3-4)

Second, an “educated atheist” — as proposed by Crick and Roberts and Dawkins, Hitchens, and Harris — is an oxymoron. I make this statement because all matter, whether visible or invisible to the human eye, whether invisible because it is too small or too distant, obeys the “laws of nature” — the laws of what we call chemistry, biology, and physics. Every single thing, large and small, is in relationship to every other thing. Human beings are endowed with intelligence and the desire to explore and articulate these laws, these relationships, and to make sense out of nature. The most commonsensical conclusion to draw from these laws and relationships is that they are the obvious evidence of the existence of a “Most Intelligent Being,” a “Big Being” that (or who) is, in St. Anselm’s words, bigger than anything we can conceive, bigger than the universe, and so we call It/Him the Supreme Being. (This is the “ontological” argument for the existence of God, stated by a Doctor of the Church, St. Anselm.) We human beings, too, are a part of nature, so we, every one of us, are in relation to this Supreme Being and should obey the laws He has for us the way the largest and smallest unintelligent things do.

If all matter were chaos, if no sense could be made of any circumstance, if no medical diagnosis could ever be made, if no weather could be predicted, if no sun came up every morning, if airplanes could never be depended upon to fly, if no building could be expected to remain upright, if cicadas didn’t appear every 17 years, then, yes, maybe we could conclude there are no laws of nature and no God. Rather than educated men and women concluding from the scientific evidence that no God exists, the only conclusion a truly educated human being can make from the scientific evidence is that God does exist.

Not only does God exist but, in the fullness of time, He sent His Son on Christmas Day, a date by which the whole world divides all time into B.C. and A.D. (see my blog posts of Dec. 20 and 21) and we Christians — endowed by the Father with intelligence and by the Spirit with wisdom and grace — cry, “Abba, Father.”

 

James M. Thunder has left the practice of law but continues to write. He has published widely, including a Narthex series on lay holiness. He and his wife Ann are currently writing on the relationship between Father Karol Wojtyla (the future Pope) and lay people.

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