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    Fr. Joseph Jenkins

  • The blog header depicts an important and yet mis-understood New Testament scene, Jesus flogging the money-changers out of the temple. I selected it because the faith that gives us consolation can also make us very uncomfortable. Both Divine Mercy and Divine Justice meet in Jesus. Priests are ministers of reconciliation, but never at the cost of truth. In or out of season, we must be courageous in preaching and living out the Gospel of Life. The title of my blog is a play on words, not Flogger Priest but Blogger Priest.

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ATHEIST COMMANDMENT 3

“The scientific method is the most reliable way of understanding the natural world.”

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I have a profound respect for the utility of the scientific method; however, it would be the height of hubris for one to place it alone on the dais of truth. It has very significant limitations. I am not surprised that this “new” commandment is proposed by one of the renowned television Mythbusters. One of my favorite shows, the premise is that a “myth” or hypothesis must be testable through experiments or observations that are repeatable. The program gives one of three answers: Confirmed, Plausible or Busted. Despite a desire from certain cast members to tackle “religious myths,” the Discovery Channel has said no, if not to avoid the mockery of faith at least to preserve a large faith-based audience.

Such an approach to the natural world is often best with particularized or tightly delineated questions. The topics that concern philosophers and theologians are generally beyond the parameters of the scientific method. For instance, string theory might make good math but how would one go about proving experimentally a theory “about everything”? When researchers try, the experiments, by necessity become increasingly expansive. Astronomers and astrophysicists want telescopes that see further into the universe and into bands of light or energy that we could not normally perceive. We now think we have detected the cosmic radiation present after the Big Bang. Physicists peer in the opposite direction, looking for the God particle or the infinitesimally small, as with the massive (17 miles long) Hadron Collider. However, after all the number crunching and investigation, there is still no good science that demonstrates either a doomed or self-perpetuating cosmos without a Creator. This should force even the most hardened cynic to agnosticism, not to an atheist’s absolute denial of a deity. They will argue that the burden of proof is upon the believer. And yet, the believer looks around and sees proof everywhere; he is shocked that the atheist cannot see it. Nothing comes from nothing. If there is no Creator, then nothing should exist— not a butterfly or a smiling child— not a tick of the clock or the movement of an electron and proton— nothing, no time, no space, no matter, and definitely nothing that should be asking these questions or reflecting upon existence. But here we are. Are we just a cheap accident? That is no answer. If being and non-being is a flip of the coin, then I want to know who is supplying the change!

While the Catholic already accepts the existence of God and even says that he has intervened in human history as a caring God; nevertheless, he wants to make sense of the natural world. God can use miracles and suspend his laws but usually he does not. Otherwise, creation would be capricious and God would seemingly curse the very order he put into place. The Catholic notion of intelligent design looks at the patterns in the natural order and philosophically deduces a knowing agent. Schools often refuse to admit the view, even though it respects the scientific data associated with theories of creation and evolution. There is no empirical test to prove or disprove the existence of a divine being. Public schools, in particular, will make room for experiential science, but increasing reject not only religion but the benefits of natural reason and philosophy. This throws out the best of Western civilization and represents a type of intellectual reductionism. The same philosophy that would allow for intelligent design would also promote logical reasoning and a study of the virtues. It is no wonder, that vice and actions are increasingly separated from the concern of culpability or objective morality. Schools become hell holes because we have subtracted everything of heaven out of them.

The scientific method is a useful tool, but it is only that.  It has led to discoveries that have both improved and endangered the world.  Knowledge is gained but often without the wisdom as to how to use it properly.  Understanding the atom has made possible new sources of energy and medical treatment; it has also made possible the Bomb and the prospect of nuclear holocaust.  It is truly a two-edged sword.

It falls short in teaching us values and in answering the question about the origin of the natural order. Even if there were an infinite sequence, and eternal regression and progression, (which Thomists regard as an absurdity), the question could be raised as to whom or what put it into place. Similarly, if creation has a beginning and an end then questions emerge that beg for an answer. When the last of the energy evaporates from the one remaining black hole, what happens next? Or looking to the very beginning, where did the point or singularity come from? Compared to the claims of science, those of religion are looking more credible, even if still inscrutable. God lives outside of time and space. Even though he is the source for the natural world, there is a wall between experiential knowledge and a dimension without matter or temporal and spacial extension. He is existence or the source of all being. He creates everything from nothing. While no one is compelled to believe in a deity, similarly the notion should not be ridiculed or banned. As a believer, I contend he shares with creation the perfections that he has in infinite measure as their source. God by definition would defy being placed under the microscope or being reduced to mathematical formulae. He has called us to know him, but only the surface of this “knowing” can be scratched. The mystery remains and the response of believers is gratitude and praise. I suppose the lack of thankfulness is what most infuriates believers about atheists.