Scientist: Atheism Is Good For Society

Lawrence Krauss is one of the leading theoretical physicists of our day.  His work on dark energy is as famous and well-respected as are his pop-culture books on the science of Star Trek.  A scientist with his kind of intellectual and literary gifts ought to be the sort of person we can trust to write about the universe in a way we can understand and believe.

So it’s especially sad to see a name like his under a title like “All Scientists Should Be Militant Atheists”.  Indeed, Krauss considers it part of his mission as a scientist to argue the notion of God out of ordinary people’s minds.

I could spend this article fact-checking Krauss, especially the bit about Planned Parenthood where he elides the moral issue of repurposing fetal tissue with the legal issues of turning a profit and obtaining parental consent.  I could pick apart the logic of his article: how he invokes his expertise in theoretical physics as if it qualifies him to declare on political questions (more on that part later), or how he takes for granted that beliefs in vaccine poisoning and zodiac charts are perfectly comparable and equally “religious”, or how he simply lumps all religious people together as if there were no difference between Evangelical fundamentalists and Catholics who read Vatican documents on faith and reason.

But since this is a blog about human identity, and since its founding text is Vatican II’s Gaudium et spes, let’s look at this angle instead (especially paragraphs 5, 7, and 19, for those of you who’ve clicked the hyperlink).

Lawrence Krauss, in fact, is a textbook example of the modern man that the Council Fathers particularly wanted to address.  He places too-excessive value on the mathematical and natural sciences and the technology which stems from them (GS 5); he sees the denial or abandonment of God and religion as a requirement of scientific progress (GS 7); and he explicitly rejects the intimate and vital link between living fully according to truth and freely acknowledging the love of God that created and constantly preserves us (GS 19).

I should point out here that unlike Krauss, who lumps all kinds of religions and religiosities into one undifferentiated object of contempt, the Council Fathers took their time to distinguish the various forms and phenomena of atheism:

  • Those who expressly deny God
  • Those who believe man can assert absolutely nothing about God
  • Those who so scrutinize the question of God as to make it seem meaningless
  • Those who contend that everything can be explained by scientific reasoning alone
  • Those who altogether disallow that there is any absolute truth
  • Those who praise man so extravagantly that their faith in God becomes anemic
  • Those who form such a false idea of God that they do not actually reject the God of the Gospel
  • Those who never experience religious stirrings or see why they should bother with religion, and so never get to the point of raising questions about God
  • Those who protest against the evil in this world or the effective deification of human values

I suppose we could file Krauss under the “scientific reasoning” point with a dash of “fallacious idea” thrown in.

My point, and the Council Fathers’ point, is that none of these are sufficient reasons to reject God.  They are “poisonous” and “contradict reason and the common experience of humanity” (GS 21).  “The root reason for human dignity lies in man’s call to communion with God” (GS 19), and by denying that fact, atheist doctrines “dethrone man from his native excellence.” (GS 21)  They kill not only faith, but also hope and charity, for by their silence on divine things “riddles of life and death, of guilt and grief go unsolved with the frequent result that men succumb to despair.” (GS 21)

In this light, Krauss is at his most dangerous when he claims, “when religious actions or claims about sanctity can be made with impunity in our society, we undermine the very basis of modern secular democracy.”  Never mind that he exalts “modern secular democracy” like he does the mathematical sciences.  He’s really saying that when people speak openly of living godly lives in society, they undermine society.

In fact, turning now to the Vatican II constitution on the Church, “it has pleased God to make men holy and save them not merely as individuals, without bond or link between them, but by making them into a single people, a people which acknowledges him in truth and serves him in holiness” (Lumen gentium 9).  Society only truly functions at all with a shared reference point in God and the universal call to holiness that unites us in this world for the next.  To reject the implications of that is truly to undermine society.

Krauss concludes by saying that no scientist should be ashamed of the label “militant atheist.”  In fact, every person who hopes to be of service to the human community should be ashamed of it.  Because if that’s who he really is, he’s doing more to keep us all in the dark than to enlighten us.


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