li: faith in God is truthful then, as the new atheists righrly point out, there must be something in reality that corresponds to the idea of God* But, according to Dawkins, Harris, and I ¡itch ens, no such correspondence can be shown empirically Co exist. Since faith gives rise to all sorts of fantasies, how do we know that the idea of God is not just as wild and removed from reality as belief in the tooth fairy? As Harris insists, in order ro be accepted as true there has to be a way of confirming the reality of God independently of faith (50-79). Given that science has not been able to find God, and the prospects that it will ever do so are not good, atheism is the only reasonable position left.
But if faith in God requires independent scientific confirmation, what about the colossal faith our new atheists place in science itself? Exactly what are the independent scientific experiments, wre might ask, that could provide "evidence" for the hypothesis that all true knowledge must be based on the paradigm of scientific inquiry? If faith requires independent confirmation, what is the independent (nonfaith) method of demonstrating thai their own faith in the ail-encompassing cognitional scope of science is reasonable? If science itself is the only way to provide such independent assessment, then the quest for proper validation only moves the justification process in the direction of an infinite regress.
What's more, there are many channels other than science through which we all experience, understand, and know the world. In my interpersonal knowledge, for example, the evidence that someone loves me is hard to measure, but it can be very real nonetheless. The only way I can encounter the subjective depth of another person is to abandon the objectifying method of science. To treat the otherness and subjectivity of another person as though he or she were just another object in nature is both cognirively and morally wrong, lo take account of the evidence of subjective depth that I encounter in the face of another person, I need to adopt a stance of vulnerability Encounter with anothers personal depth challenges me to pur aside the controlling, mastering, objectify ing method of natural science. Likewise, in my encounter with a work of great artistic value or with the beauty in nature, the aesthetic "'evidence" is such that I will miss it completely unless I abandon the objectifying, analytical stance and allow myself to be carried away by it.
Do our new atheists seriously believe, therefore, that if a persona] God of infinite beauty and unbounded love actually exists, the "evidence' for this God s existence could be gathered as cheaply as the evidence for a scientific hypothesis? Even in our ordinary human experience it is other personal subjects that matter most to us, and no amount of scientific expertise can tell us who they really are. Would it be otherwise with God, whom believers experience not as an ordinary 'It but as a supreme *Thou"? If God exists, then interpersonal experience, not the impersonal objectivity of science, would be essential to knowledge of this God. In our everyday existence the love of another person matters more to us than almost anything else, but gathering the "evidence" for that love reqtiires a leap of trust on out part, a wager that renders us vulnerable to their special kind of presence. The other persons love, moreover, captures us in such a way that we cannot connect with it at alt if we try to control it intellectually. Again, would it be otherwise in the case ot any conceivable encounter of human persons with an infinite love?
Since God matters more than anything else to devout believers, how could they know God without risking themselves, or without undergoing a deep personal change analogous to, but more dramatic than, what it takes to know the love of another human being? All the great faith traditions insist that the encounter with ultimate reality cannot occur without such a transformation. The life ol faith is one in which "there is no knowing without going : "unless you change and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven" (Man, 18:3). Even to understand the world in a scientific, objectifying way requires a very specific kind of training, asceticism, and mental transformation. So if the universe is encompassed by an infinite Love, would [he encounter with this ultimate reality require anything less than a posture of receptivity and readiness to surrender to its embrace? How is it that the new atheists think they can decide the question of Gods existence without having opened themselves to the personal transformation essential to faiths sense of being grasped by an unbounded love?
Clearly the new atheists are looking for a shortcut and a direct, objectifying access to what believers regard as unapproachable apart from the surrender of faith. Not finding God or any "evidence" of God by way of either scientific or ordinary ways of knowing, [hey are now certain that God does not exist.
At some point in the validation of every truth claim or hypothesis, a leap of faith is an inescapable ingredient. At the foundation of every human search for understanding and truth, including the scientific search, an ineradicable element of trust is present. If you find yourself doubting what 1 have just said, it is only because, at this very moment* you trust your own mind enough to express concern about my assertion. You cannot avoid trusting your intellectual capacity, even when you are in doubt. Moreover, you raise your critical questions only because you believe that truth is worth seeking, Faith in this sense, and not in the sense of wild imaginings and wTishful thinking, lies at the root of all authentic religion—and science. Trust is another word for wThat the Christian Scriptures call faith, and only a little reflection is needed to notice that every inquiry of everv human being emerges from the murkiness of some sort of faith, or trust, without objective evidence. Most of us simply believe that seeking truth is worthwhile. We cannot prove it since even the attempt to do so already presupposes ihis trust. This basic trust, then» launches and energizes every honest human inquiry, not least the scientific search itself But my point is that this basic trust is not the outcome of any regime of scientific experimentation. Trusting that the natural world is intelligible and that truth is worth seeking is essential to getting science oft the ground in the first place. We spontaneously trust that our journeys of exploration will be greeted by an ever-expanding field of intelligibility and an inexhaustible depth of truth. I his trust also lies at the heart of gen-nine religious faith. In tliis respect, at least, science and faith are allies, noc enemies. A mysterious and irrepressible font of trust wells up from deep within us, commissioning both science and religion to look for deeper understanding, Of course, the impetus to trusr can at times be diverted so as to lead to perversions nor only in religion bur also in the realm of science. Bur only a primordial trust can Sead human minds to undertake the adventure of exploring the universe—as well as Infinite mystery -in che first place.
I am emphasizing our ineradicable inclination to trust for two reasons. First, it shows clearly that the newT atheistic attempts to cleanse human consciousness of fiiith are absurd and doomed to failure. Harris, for example, proposes that the removal of all faith is essential if reason is to reign supreme. But he cannot eliminate all traces oi faith even from his own mind. As he undertakes his passionate quest to divest the world of faith, he first has to believe that the real world is rational, that truth is something to be valued and respected, and that his own mind is ol such integrity that it can grasp meaning and make valid claims to truth. This trusting component is usually tacit and seldom explicit, but it is a powerful presence nonetheless. Our expert atheists have obviously failed to notice it even as it drives their own cognitional activity.
Second, by identifying the radical trust that underlies the cognitional life of everv seeker and knower, we can locate the appropriate place of theology in its relation to science. Theology is not the answer to scientific questions, as the new atheists would like it to be—since this would make their job of destroying theology an easy one. Rather, theology responds to the question of whether the spontaneous trust that underlies every journey of inquiry, including science, is justifiable, Science cannot provide thai justification since it already assumes that seeking understanding and truth is worthwhile. Nor can the new atheists provide the needed justification of their trust since they too simply take for granted that reality is intelligible and that truth is worth seeking.
So the really important question goes unanswered by science and the new atheists. Harris places enormous trust in his own power of reason, as the citation at the outset of this chapter reveals. He makes a tacit act of faith in his own critical intelligence. But he never provides us with a good reason as to why he should trust his mind to lead him and us to truth. In other words, he never jusrifies his enormous cftgmtional swagger, He simply believes blindly in the superior capacity oi his own mind to find truth with a facility and certainty that people misguided by religious faith do not possess. In order to be a reliable guide for the rest of us, he has to trust that his mind can put us in touch with the real world. But why should he trust his mind at ail, especially given the view of the natural world out ol which his mind and ours is said to have evolved?
The new atheists1 own belief system, scientific naturalism, logically undermines cognitional confidence, even if it does not necessarily do so psychologically Since our minds are said to have evolved gradually from a mindless state of nature, why should we trust these same minds to put us in touch with reality? Where and how did they acquire such an exquisite competence, especially given the lowliness of their origins in nature? True> evolutionary science has a plausible explanation for why our minds are adaptive, but that is not enough to justify the spontaneous trust we have in our minds to put us in touch with reality or truth. In fact, we should instead distrust our cognitional activity if evolution is the ultimate causal factor involved in the making of minds. Since evolution is itself understood to be a mindless process, why does the scientific naturalist trust it to be good at anything but adapting?
In order to justify our cognitional confidence, something in addition to evolution must be going on during the gradual emergence of mind in natural history. For if our minds are nothing but the accidental outcome of a mindless evolutionary process, why should we trust them at all? A Darwinian account of the mind's critical capacities—factual though such a narrative might be—is not enough to ground the confidence we place in our cognitional powers. Darwin himself would agree. Writing to one ofh is friends, he agonized over whether the theory of natural selection, if we take it seriously and consistently, might not undermine the actual trust we have in our minds capacity to understand and know reality. "With me the horrid doubt always arises/' he admits, "whether the convictions of man's mind, which has been developed from the mind of the lower animals, are of any value or at all trustworthy. Would any one trust in the convictions of a monkev's mind, if there are j 1
any convictions in such a mind?"fi
So evolutionary biology, the scientific naturalists final court of appeal, is not enough. Mind has to be more than an adaptive mechanism in order to merit our trust. Biology, after all, has demonstrated that many adaptations in life are pure deceptions. Or as another kind of evolutionary speculation would claim, the emergence of the human mind in evolution is the outcome of a series of accidents. That account is not enough to inspire confidence either. Moreover, social science has shown chat the shifting winds of culture and society are not enough, at least by themselves, to validate the confidence we have in our minds to understand and know what is true and what is not. Under any purely naturalistic interpretation there is insufficient reason for trusting our minds. I have every reason to believe that our minds evolved too, and I fully embrace evolutionary biology. But I also trust my mind, and evolutionary7 science alone cannot justify that trust/'
Was this article helpful?