Mark Shea over at National Catholic Register held his breath and stomped his feet this week with his article, Atheist Dogma. (Of course, the first thing you want to do to show everyone how much you know about atheism is to claim it has a dogma.)
He started with a link to a story about a miracle baby, told by the child’s mother Bonnie Engstrom. Shea naturally accepts the woman’s story completely, without question, and attempts to paint skeptics as irrational. Shea doesn’t give skeptics a chance to respond to the story or to explain what could have happened. He already knows exactly what skeptics will say. In his mind, the conversation as he imagines it is a “hilarious spectacle of Evangelical Atheists attempting various ways to explain [miracles] away, finally culminating in the popular explanation, ‘Shut Up!'”
Shea paints atheists as people who hopelessly try to hold on to their lack of belief. He claims that “more and ever more desperately implausible naturalistic explanations must be trotted out to preclude the possibility of a supernatural answer to prayer.”
Not exactly. The objections Shea makes note of are not new and they are not at all implausible. The reader can feel the desperation in Shea’s own words as he attempts to scorn skepticism about a story that may be true, but even if it is, holds no proof of supernatural intervention.
The skeptics, Shea says, will say the following:
1. “The diagnosis of trained professionals was completely wrong.”
Is Shea seriously saying that trained professionals are never wrong? Why does this suggestion upset him so much?
2. “The mother is a liar.”
What is more likely to be said is that the mother suffered an emotional roller coaster ride of a medical nightmare. She is not necessarily an ideal objective witness. She is not a medical doctor, nor trained in the myriad possibilities involved in the problems with, or healing of, the human body. Has Shea never watched Mystery Diagnosis?
Again, why would this doubt about the mother’s story upset Shea so much?
3. “The testimony of witnesses is a theistic conspiracy.”
Really? A skeptic really said that to Shea at some point? More likely what was said was that religious people are very likely to accept supernatural explanations for things they do not understand or that look improbable. And they stick together. It’s so much easier to believe when everyone else believes with you. (This might also be an explanation for Shea’s hostility toward skepticism.)
Next Shea goes completely off the rationality train with this:
4. “Some Star-Trekkian ‘bio-energy field’ must be invoked for the special purpose of fending off a miracle.”
Huh? Clearly a skeptic has offered Shea an explanation some time in the past that went way over his head.
5. “Some incursion from an alternate universe will be posited.”
Well, this atheist has always said that not all atheists are rationalists. But what was likely meant in this instance is that Shea adamantly insists that skeptics admit the possibility of his God. And yet, you see how well he handles other possibilities that are equally flawed. He can posit God, but a rationalist dare not suggest an alternate universe scenario for the event. How ridiculous!
6. “The mantra, ‘some claims of miracle [sic] are mistaken or phony, therefore all are’ begins to be chanted.”
Chanted? Really? Shea probably has this one just as wrong as the others. More likely, skeptics point out to him that many claims of miracles are shown later to have been false. Why should we assume that this particular event must be a miracle? Why rush to believe?
7. “People who believe in miracles are stupid or liars or both.”
No doubt some atheists have said exactly that to Mark Shea.
8. “At some point, the Amazing Randi gets trotted out to explain that such things can be faked by professionals.”
And he objects to this…why? It’s true. Many events that are claimed to be miraculous can be faked…not even necessarily by professionals.
9. “Complaints are filed that God rudely did this without submitting himself to rigorous laboratory standards, so the evidence doesn’t count.”
Claiming that such an event can’t be replicated, or authenticated, or even tested, and therefore it can’t be used as evidence for the supernatural makes perfect sense. But Shea has no time for science or evidence. For him, God performed a miracle and therefore there would be no objective evidence. Because, see, it’s a miracle. Feel free to slap your forehead.
10. “At another point, the atheist screams, “What about all the other babies who die instead of being healed?!!!'”
Shea is very upset at this point in his imaginary conversation. Perhaps it would be unwise to note that he does not offer any response to this very legitimate question. Why some babies and not others? If often the answer to prayer is no, and the baby dies, why do Christians claim it’s a miracle when the baby survives? Is it a miracle God said yes?
11. “Finally, we arrive at, ‘SHUT UP!’ followed by something about pedophile priests, Crusades, The Inquisition, Galileo, and SCIENCE!”
Clearly a list of things Shea does not want to discuss.
To be perfectly honest, I can understand how an atheist or skeptic would at some point in trying to reason with Shea resort to telling him to shut up. One feels like saying it after reading the paragraph in which this imaginary, one-sided conversation takes place.
Shea claims that the atheism he is confronted with is “very clearly, a faith commitment, not something arrived at by the vaunted rationality of the Rationalist.”
“Vaunted” rationality? Apparently, even the atheist who arrives at his conclusions through reason would be insufferable.
Unfortunately, none of the fabricated and/or embellished statements Shea lists as evidence for this “faith commitment” are valid. Just because he apparently can’t understand reasonable objections, doesn’t mean those who discount his theories are engaged in his own kind of faith.
The second part of Shea’s article makes up for his insulting portrayal of skeptics by revealing just how irrational his thinking processes are.
Shea claims that Thomas Aquinas said there are only two valid objections to the existence of God: “The first is the existence of evil. The second is that nature seems to get along fine without God.”
We have to stop him here to note that there are several more valid reasons to refrain from belief in deity. But no need to go into them here. And we should point out that while nature gets along fine without gods, said nature includes horrific suffering and death.
Shea believes that the miracle baby renders the second objection null.
“Stories like this,” he claims, “threaten objection 2, because they suggest that there is, after all, something behind nature and that our over-confidence about knowing how everything works may be rather premature.”
Wrong again. Stories like this are just that: stories. Stories that people like to believe are evidence for the existence of God. All the objections skeptics offer are valid and important. The fact that people like Shea must paint skeptics as shrill and irrational says quite a bit more about their inadequacies than anything about their detractors.
In one final attempt to label atheists irrational and theists totally sane, he quotes G. K. Chesterton:
The believers in miracles accept them (rightly or wrongly) because they have evidence for them. The disbelievers in miracles deny them (rightly or wrongly) because they have a doctrine against them…It is we Christians who accept all actual evidence–it is you rationalists who refuse actual evidence being constrained to do so by your creed.
Feel free to slap your forehead again. You can read the full quote here, in which Chesterton explains that you should believe everything everyone says.
Chesterton’s logic is so twisted, his understanding of belief and non-belief so skewed, that his words are rendered imbecilic. If this is the sort of thinking Shea applies to his discussions with skeptics, it’s no wonder they end badly.