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A Christian sceptic's challenge: why atheism has no answers

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 Contents - Oct 2007AD2000 October 2007 - Buy a copy now
Editorial: Australian Catholicism in the balance - Michael Gilchrist
Catholic Life: Sydney's Pastoral Plan ready for implementation in 2008 - Michael Gilchrist
News: The Church Around the World
Events: Book Launch: Advancing the Culture of Death, by Rev Dr Peter Hung Tran
More of the same: Retired Sydney bishop calls for a radical overhaul of the Catholic faith - Michael Gilchrist
Queensland: Liturgy in Brisbane and the rights of the laity - Michael Apthorp
Sacred space: Sydney seminar promotes improved church architecture and art - John O'Brien
A Christian sceptic's challenge: why atheism has no answers - Babette Francis
Sacred language: New US liturgy head endorses revised Missal translation
Truth: And the Light shines in the darkness: the meaning of true ecumenism - Andrew Kania
Protect Our Children: New organisation to tackle doctrinal and moral child abuse - Fr John O'Neill PP
Letters: Bishop Robinson - Fr Edward P. Evans
Letters: Moral standards - Don Gaffney
Letters: More on Vatican II - Peter D. Howard
Letters: Catholic education - June See
Letters: Mass attendance - John Schmid
Letters: Nonsense - Frank Bellet
Letters: Teaching position available in France - Br John Moylan CFC
Letters: St Therese Church Torquay demolition threat - Charles Haber
Poetry: Mother to Son - Bruce Dawe
Books: JOHN HENRY NEWMAN: In His Time - Tim Cannon (reviewer)
Books: SPANISH ROOTS OF AMERICA - Tim Cannon (reviewer)
Events: Cardinal Pell to celebrate Latin Mass - 3 November 2007
Books: Books available from AD Books
Reflection: Archbishop Hickey on the Christian concept of marriage - Archbishop Barry Hickey

Books by atheists such as Richard Dawkins, Christopher Hitchens and Sam Harris are recent best-sellers, and we also have James Cameron claiming to have discovered 'the tomb of Jesus'.

All this impels me to ask a few basic questions.

Do Richard, Christopher, Sam and James actually exist? I ask because the evidence for the existence of God, defined as the First Cause, the Prime Mover and Shaker, is so much stronger than for the existence of these writers.

Sure, they appear to have written a few books and James seems to have produced Titanic, but that does not compare with creating the Big Bang which brought the universe into existence and gave us planet Earth on which to live. And anyway the Titanic sank, unlike the biblical Noah's Ark which floated.


The theories of Richard Dawkins, author of The God Delusion, assume we are all here due to evolution, and I have heard that a number of monkeys typing for 13 billion years could have produced Shakespeare's plays. So the monkeys could certainly have produced the books by Dawkins et al, especially as during the past 13 billion years typewriters have evolved themselves into much faster computers.

And given a million cameras, the monkeys could surely have produced Titanic.

But Dawkins et al do not explain the origins of some observable phenomena.

Where did the universe come from? Why is there a universe rather than nothing? Where do matter and energy come from?

Where does life come from? How does life come from matter that has no life? Is it those monkeys again, crawling out from under the rocks and becoming us?

What is the origin of a self-aware mind? How do primitive life forms become self-conscious beings?

What is the origin of good and evil? How does an amoral animal that functions on instinct become morally aware? How did those monkeys know Shakespeare was worth typing?

But the most difficult question for Richard, Christopher and Sam is the question of free will - and here I am assuming they wrote their books freely and were not coerced by some malign influence from the nether world.

If there is no mind or soul independent of the brain, all our thoughts and choices are purely the result of chemical reactions in the brain. Thus we would not have any free will.

But we know that we can choose between practical options A or B. (If you don't know this, just ask the pro-choice ladies). So where does our ability to choose come from if we are just predetermined matter?

Atheists reject arguments from physics and 'design' in nature as indicating the existence of a Designer (God), but a few experiments with a simple ball show that the ball remains stationary unless moved by someone or some force like a breeze, or gravity on a slope. (Some feminists of course reject gravity, claiming it would work differently if discovered by a female scientist).

But, anyway, who created gravity, the force we best know? With our powerful telescopes we can look right back to the milliseconds after the Big Bang. But what about just before the Big Bang? Who said 'Let there be light'? Who said 'Let there be Richard and Christopher and Sam'?

James Cameron with his discovery of the 'tomb of Jesus' reminds me of the 19th century novelist, Gustave Flaubert, who used to joke about archaeologists discovering a stone tablet signed 'God', which read, 'I do not exist.' His punch line had an atheist then exclaiming, 'See! I told you so!'


Our local Melbourne non-believer is Jill Singer, columnist for the Herald Sun, who entertained us all on Christmas Day 2006 in an article claiming that God does not exist.

Still, Jill is to be commended for at least reading the Gospels.

She queried Jesus's lineage as belonging to the House of David because Joseph was only His foster-father. However, tradition has always held that Mary, Jesus's mother, was also of the House of David. This appears to be substantiated in Luke's Gospel, Chapter 2, where he reports that 'Caesar Augustus decreed that all the world should be taxed [a forerunner of our very own Income Tax Department] and all went to be taxed, everyone into his own city'. Joseph went to Bethlehem because he was of the lineage of David, and so did Mary.

Jill, if she exists, may belong to the lineage of Caesar Augustus, because in her second column on the same topic (8 January 2007) she expresses the frustration of her fellow non-believers that we are not taxed even more for 'public welfare services', while glossing over the enormous voluntary contributions made by Christians and church agencies in relieving suffering all over the world.

Nevertheless, in the same spirit of generosity I am willing to concede that Jill and her fellow non-believers may indeed exist, and if so I must tell them of a university debate between a priest who was confronted by atheists stridently proclaiming there was no God. He commented dryly, 'You had better pray that you are right!'

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Reprinted from AD2000 Vol 20 No 9 (October 2007), p. 10

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