by William F. Clark
"God, infinitely perfect and blessed in himself, in a plan of sheer goodness freely created man to make him share in his own blessed life. For this reason, at every time and in every place, God draws close to man." Catechism of the Catholic Church, Prologue
"It is really so: the purpose of our lives is to reveal God to men. And only where God is seen does life truly begin. Only when we meet the living God in Christ do we know what life is. We are not some casual and meaningless product of evolution. Each of us is the result of a thought of God. Each of us is willed, each of us is loved, each of us is necessary." Pope Benedict XVI
A REVOLUTION IN THE OFFING
Within less than 20 years, theistic religion will become the developed world's primary organizing and motivating force not through orderly growth, but suddenly and by default, as today's wrongheaded social patterns and perspectives become untenable. Atheism in particular is about to fall victim to its own errors, while Roman Catholicism is uniquely positioned to gain tremendous stature. Historians may one day refer to this event as the "Theistic Revolution."
WHERE WE ARE TODAY
For generations, the West has drifted ever further into a form of atheism that manifests itself in behavior rather than professed ideology. (Except during the heyday of Marxism, relatively few people have embraced philosophical atheism.)
Our contemporaries have fallen into this atheism of practice largely because many of the Christian clergy have lost the ability to proclaim a compelling alternative. Most people's hopes, cares, and entire perspective are constrained to fit within a purely material world.
Westerners are alienated from their civilization's religious past and seemingly without recourse to a source of transcendent truth. Their ethics, fundamental beliefs (to the extent they are even developed), and behavior are in flux, often influenced by concepts that are attractive only for as long as they seem novel.
As a result, many among us see their own lives unfolding within the context of randomness. They detect no obvious purpose for existence, and feel no assurance that their aspirations, achievements, and trials have any lasting significance. In this way, atheism has devalued the world and obliterated hope.
In a desperate response, increasing numbers of educated people have sought meaning in, and eventually been disappointed by, occultism, various superstitions derived from Eastern religions, or pop psychology. Others have thrown themselves into a single-minded pursuit of professional goals or other personal agendas. Unfortunately, these goals and agendas usually spring from egocentric obsessions or the desire for riches, so even if they are achieved, they do not satisfy man's hunger for truth and purpose. The Catholic concept of a vocation a call from God to dedicate one's life to a specific path and all of its attendant burdens for the sake of salvation and the common good or any other concept of duty that transcends the self, is usually simply absent.
HOW WE GOT HERE
Atheism attained its grip on the West largely via the propagation and general acceptance of the Theory of Evolution, following the 1859 publication of Charles Darwin's The Origin of Species. According to Darwin, groups of organisms change over time, mainly because of natural selection, causing descendants to differ in structure and physiology from their ancestors. (In this paper, "evolution" refers to macroevolution the development of entirely new species and functional structures, not microevolution routine variations within species (e.g., breeds of dogs) that do not create new structures or species.)
This theory provided an explanation for the origin of species that obviated the need for divine intervention, so it reduced many believers' confidence in Christian and Jewish teachings, and tended to make God seem remote. By substituting chance and natural selection for a creating God, Evolutionism also debased all living things, including man, by re-classifying them at least implicitly as accidents. William Provine, professor of evolutionary biology at Cornell University, described Darwinism as "the greatest engine of atheism devised by man." (Michael Powell, "Doubting Rationalist 'Intelligent Design' Proponent Phillip Johnson, and How He Came to Be," The Washington Post (May 15, 2005), page D01)
The entire Christian worldview suddenly seemed hopelessly anachronistic. In the 1860's, prominent churchmen such as John William Colenso, Anglican Bishop of Natal, South Africa, were inspired by The Origin of Species to reconsider the historicity of the Bible. Colenso ultimately rejected the historical truth of the Biblical creation narratives in a controversial book, The Pentateuch and Book of Joshua Critically Examined, which gained much notoriety at the time.
Most theologians simply vacated the intellectual battlefield. With regularity and an air of certainty that they no longer projected about many traditional doctrines of their religion, the clergy reminded their congregations that "the Bible is not a science textbook." Theologians treated this truism as an all-sufficient justification for the uncritical acceptance of rationalistic preconceptions (e.g., that miracles and authoritative, supernatural revelation of the truth in human language are impossible).
This set the tone for much of theology during the following century, and predisposed Christians to abandon beliefs and customs that seemed irrelevant in the modern era.
Within most of the Christian world, this secularizing trend was reinforced over time, which tended to reduce further the prominence of what was once widely accepted as "revealed truth." For example, in 1982, theologian Wolfhart Pannenberg noted that the World Council of Churches had reorganized its structure apparently to de-emphasize potentially divisive doctrinal initiatives in favor of less controversial efforts for social justice and peace. (Richard John Neuhaus, "Pannenberg Jousts with the World Council of Churches," Christian Century, February 17, 1982, p.174.)
At the same time, throughout the industrialized world, technological progress continued, which raised the average standard of living and seemed to make less urgent the ultimate questions about the meaning of life and the existence of God. Most Christians traded their traditional mores for ever-more permissive standards initially with little apparent cost. (The societies established during a more religious era have not yet lost their capacity to produce goods.) Many non-Christian nations underwent a similar transition.
Today, only a minority in the developed world take the major religions seriously. Also, with the fall of the Berlin Wall, and the disillusionment that followed the radicalism of the 1960's, ideologies and utopian philosophies religion's only competition in the provision of durable hope have been discredited almost completely.
Millions now spend their days distracting themselves with material goods and other passing interests. In such soil, hope and love do not take root, leaving little motivation or justification for the selfless sacrifices upon which every society depends. It is already possible to predict many of the impacts that will eventually result from this mentality.
WHY THE REVOLUTION WILL OCCUR: AN OVERVIEW
Scientific research and societal trends are both hastening the demise of atheism in all its forms.
Philosophical atheism cannot thrive without a rationalistic explanation for the origin and diversity of life. The only explanations that were credible were versions of the Theory of Evolution (e.g., Neo-Darwinism and Punctuationism). As I will explain, these are being discredited largely by incisive critiques that various evolutionary theorists have written about each other's concepts.
In society, the previously hidden, corrosive aspects of practical atheism have begun to manifest themselves. Where God is no longer the ultimate point of reference, people have lost perspective and all sense of proportion. They now view the universe as if it were reflected from a fun-house mirror: some of the smaller things in the world loom absurdly large, while many of the most important aspects of life especially the opportunity to extend God's love and receive it again through a family or religious devotion are made to look small, even repulsive. Led astray by these distortions, people are making foolish choices.
There are now increasing numbers of otherwise responsible, healthy, financially secure couples who have chosen not to have children in order to devote themselves more fully to office work, pets, and a surfeit of gadgets and living space that they scarcely have time to use. The embrace of artificial contraception has reinforced the view that children are something to be avoided at all cost, and that their creation should more often than not be left to "someone else."
The resulting "baby bust" is about to destabilize nations, because the most self-sufficient members of society are not replacing themselves with similarly capable citizens who can support pension programs in particular and civilization in general. As economies are undermined, it will become impossible for most people to ignore moral and religious issues any longer: pain will have opened their minds.
The condemnation of artificial contraception, which is the most distinctive and controverted point of Catholic moral doctrine, will be vindicated spectacularly. The credibility and influence of the Catholic Church will skyrocket.
A CLOSER LOOK AT THE SCIENTIFIC ROOTS OF THE REVOLUTION
For over a century, science appeared to be an ally of atheism, primarily because of the Theory of Evolution and the tireless work of its exponents. The latest research, however, is buttressing theistic religious belief and this applies especially to the fields of cosmology and biology.
Among the strongest scientific evidence for the existence of God is the Cosmological Anthropic Principle, which has illuminated how narrow is the range of physical constants in the universe that would permit the emergence of intelligent life. The late Sir Fred Hoyle, a world class cosmologist who served as Plumian Professor of Astronomy at Cambridge University and founded the Cambridge Institute of Astronomy, put it this way: "A common sense interpretation of the facts suggests that a super-intellect has monkeyed with physics, as well as with chemistry and biology, and that there are no blind forces worth speaking about in nature. The numbers one calculates from the facts seem to me so overwhelming as to put this conclusion almost beyond question." ("The Universe: Past and Present Reflections," Annual Reviews of Astronomy and Astrophysics 20 (1982):16.)
As astronomer and cosmologist Robert Jastrow stated: "The smallest change in any of the circumstances of the natural world, such as the relative strengths of the forces of nature, or the properties of the elementary particles, would have led to a Universe in which there could be no life and no man" (quoted by Roy Abraham Varghese in The Intellectuals Speak Out About God (Chicago: Regnery Gateway, 1984), pages 21-22). This principle applies to several physical constants, including electromagnetic force, gravitational force, and the ratio of neutron mass to proton mass. If any of these were fractionally different, matter would have different properties and densities. Stars would condense too rapidly to sustain life, or there would be no carbon which appears to be a prerequisite for living things.
Perhaps deliberately to escape the clear theistic implications of the Cosmological Anthropic Principle, some have posited the existence of a multiplicity of universes (multiverse) with countless potentially different laws of physics. These theorists assert that given enough universes, it becomes certain that at least one will have physical laws and constants that are conducive to the development of life. Obviously, adherence to this theory requires a non-theistic version of pure faith in something unseen faith in the unproven existence of universes other than our own.
Luminaries in the world of biology have contributed evidence that indicates an intellect created life on earth and directed its development. Interestingly, many of them consider themselves atheists, but their findings provide strong justification for belief in God. One such atheist, the late Sir Francis Crick, Nobel prize-winning co-discoverer of DNA, wrote: "An honest man, armed with all the knowledge available to us now, could only state that in some sense, the origin of life appears at the moment to be almost a miracle, so many are the conditions which would have had to have been satisfied to get it going." (Life Itself (New York: Touchstone, 1982), page 88)
The Theory of Evolution finds itself beset by difficulties: the above-mentioned challenges to belief in the accidental creation of life, and fratricidal disputes between proponents of Evolution's two leading schools (Punctuationism and Neo-Darwinism).
The huge differences between these schools of evolutionary theory are sometimes overlooked:
- According to Neo-Darwinism, evolution occurs slowly, as random DNA copying errors continuously give rise to relatively small-scale mutations, and a rare subset of these mutations confer competitive advantages on organisms that have them. These mutations gradually produce major new structures and entirely new species. The fossil record has not yet supported this view. As the previously quoted Professor Provine, himself a convinced evolutionist, stated, "...the evidence for the big transformations in evolution is not there in the fossil record it's always good to point this out." (Michael Powell, "Doubting Rationalist 'Intelligent Design' Proponent Phillip Johnson, and How He Came to Be," The Washington Post (May 15, 2005), page D01.) Others have noted that the long continuum of mutations necessary (according to this theory) to create fully functional structures would also produce many useless and clumsy intermediate structures, which would actually frustrate evolutionary progress by making their owners less fit.
- Punctuationism can be considered a reaction to, and critique of, Neo-Darwinism. It asserts that evolutionary change happens so rapidly and in such isolated populations that its details are seldom captured in the fossil record. Although this concept appears tailor-made to explain the absence of transitional forms in the fossil record, it requires basically blind faith that highly complex, fully functional structures and brand new species were repeatedly created almost instantly (in terms of geologic time) but still by accident.
Disputes between the champions of these schools of Evolutionary Theory (e.g., between the late Steven Jay Gould, who helped establish Punctuationism, and Richard Dawkins, a leading defender of orthodox Neo-Darwinism) have been heated and public, perhaps because they instinctively recognize each other's critiques as serious threats to the entire Evolutionist worldview. The gulf between, and deficiencies of, these versions of the Theory of Evolution are so significant, that there is little chance that a credible new synthesis can be derived from them. The relationship of their proponents is best described as mutual annihilation, not healthy competition: they have salted the ground underneath each others' feet.
The growing Intelligent Design (ID) movement has exploited these and other critiques to emerge as a powerful alternative to Evolutionary Theory. According to the Access Research Network Website (http://www.arn.org/idfaq/What%20is%20intelligent%20design.htm), ID Theory holds that "nature shows tangible signs of having been designed by a preexisting intelligence." ID is not tied to any specific religion, so it is gaining a variety of adherents who cannot easily be branded by Evolutionists as Christian fundamentalist agitators. Nor can they be dismissed as ignorant.
By July 22, 2005, over 400 scientists, including a professor of bio-organic chemistry at Moscow State University, the Vice President of the XIV International Congress of Genetics, and others holding doctorates from Princeton, Cornell, and other reputable institutions had signed a "scientific dissent from Darwinism." The dissent (available at http://www.discovery.org/scripts/viewDB/filesDB-download.php?command=download&id=443) stated that "We are skeptical of claims for the ability of random mutation and natural selection to account for the complexity of life. Careful examination of the evidence for Darwinian theory should be encouraged."
The Catholic Church is beginning to draw attention to problems with the Theory of Evolution, and their implications. Earlier this year, in the inaugural Mass of his pontificate, Pope Benedict XVI stated, "We are not some casual and meaningless product of evolution." In a July 7, 2005 Op-Ed piece in the New York Times, Cardinal Christoph Schonborn, the Archbishop of Vienna, wrote the following:
The Catholic Church, while leaving to science many details about the history of life on earth, proclaims that by the light of reason the human intellect can readily and clearly discern purpose and design in the natural world, including the world of living things. Evolution in the sense of common ancestry might be true, but evolution in the neo-Darwinian sense an unguided, unplanned process of random variation and natural selection is not. ("Finding Design in Nature," The New York Times, (July 7, 2005), Editorials/Op-Ed Section)
In the same piece, Cardinal Schonborn approvingly quoted the following words of Pope John Paul II:
To speak of chance for a universe which presents such a complex organization in its elements and such marvelous finality in its life would be equivalent to giving up the search for an explanation of the world as it appears to us. In fact, this would be equivalent to admitting effects without a cause. It would be to abdicate human intelligence, which would thus refuse to think and to seek a solution for its problems.
Cardinal Schonborn concluded with the following forceful statement:
Now at the beginning of the 21st century, faced with scientific claims like neo-Darwinism and the multiverse hypothesis in cosmology invented to avoid the overwhelming evidence for purpose and design found in modern science, the Catholic Church will again defend human reason by proclaiming that the immanent design evident in nature is real.
A CLOSER LOOK AT THE SOCIETAL ROOTS OF THE REVOLUTION
On July 25, 1968, Pope Paul VI issued Humanae Vitae, the most controversial papal encyclical of the last 400 years, which declared that artificial birth control is immoral. A key portion of the encyclical follows (emphasis mine):
...Responsible men can become more deeply convinced of the truth of the doctrine laid down by the Church on this issue if they reflect on the consequences of methods and plans for artificial birth control. Let them first consider how easily this course of action could open wide the way for marital infidelity and a general lowering of moral standards....Another effect that gives cause for alarm is that a man who grows accustomed to the use of contraceptive methods may forget the reverence due to a woman, and, disregarding her physical and emotional equilibrium, reduce her to being a mere instrument for the satisfaction of his own desires, no longer considering her as his partner whom he should surround with care and affection..... Consequently, unless we are willing that the responsibility of procreating life should be left to the arbitrary decision of men, we must accept that there are certain limits, beyond which it is wrong to go...
At the time, the intelligentsia, and perhaps the majority of the Christian laity and clergy branded Pope Paul's decision foolish, despite its congruence with what every major Christian denomination had taught until 1930. (In that year, the Anglican Communion's Lambeth Conference approved contraception in limited circumstances a first among major Christian bodies.) Few believed Pope Paul's concerns had any merit whatsoever.
Ironically, almost exactly 30 years later, the following words appeared in the New York Times under the headline "Population Implosion Worries a Graying Europe":
Driven largely by prosperity and freedom, millions of women throughout the developed world are having fewer children than ever before....As a result, birth rates in many countries are now in a rapid, sustained decline. Never before except in times of plague, war and deep economic depression have birth rates fallen so low, for so long. What was once regarded universally as a cherished goal incredibly low birth rates have in the industrial world at least suddenly become a cause for alarm. With life expectancy rising at the same time that fertility drops, most developed countries may soon find themselves with lopsided societies that will be nearly impossible to sustain: a large number of elderly and not enough young people working to support them. The change will affect every program from health care and education to pension plans and military spending that requires public funds. (Michael Specter, "Population Implosion Worries a Graying Europe," The New York Times, (July 10, 1998))
The same concerns about dropping birthrates are evident in industrialized non-European nations as well, including Japan, South Korea, and Singapore. All face the likelihood of destabilization. The number of retirees will swell, while the ranks of able-bodied workers to replace them will dwindle or become dominated by immigrants immigrants who will have no desire to pay high taxes to support the retirement of people with whom they have relatively little in common. Barring huge breakthroughs in automation to compensate for the lack of young workers, pressure for mandatory euthanasia of the elderly will grow. (The pressure may already be considerable. Some observers believe the scandalously lackadaisical nature of the French government's response to a terrible heat wave in the summer of 2003, which killed 14,847 primarily elderly people, resulted from indifference to the plight of the aged.)
Returning to Humanae Vitae, we see that the Pope's prescience regarding artificial birth control included an understanding of its eventual impacts upon morals. After considering the fashions, music, and general behavior of young people today, who could argue that Paul VI's prediction was inaccurate?
The Catholic Church's counterintuitive foresight and vocal witness regarding the immorality and dangers of artificial birth control were stunning and unique among major institutions of the day especially those in the developed world. Only the intervention of a supernatural intelligence could have made them possible, and many of our contemporaries will soon realize this.
The widespread availability of artificial birth control is not the only reason for the sharp reduction in the birthrates of developed countries. We must also consider the effects of the previously mentioned atheistic, materialist mentality that robs people of the morale, stamina, and will to sacrifice for their neighbors and for generations of descendents they will not live to see. Michael Specter's article quotes Dr. Pierpaolo Donati, professor of sociology at the University of Bologna: "Prosperity has strangled us. Comfort is now the only thing that anybody believes in. The ethic of sacrifice for a family one of the basic ideas of human societies has become a historical notion. It is astonishing."
The mindset that produced this behavior is essentially exterminating itself. Those who have maintained the will to share life with the next generation, and who are still capable of recognizing this life as a divine gift, will dominate the future.
HARBINGERS OF THE REVOLUTION
The appeal of a deliberately theistic approach to life is already growing, even among those who were formerly most hostile to it. In recent years, several intellectuals and prominent members of the secular establishment have abandoned atheism. Millions will soon follow the trail blazed by the following harbingers of the Theistic Revolution:
- Jean Paul Sartre: After a long career as an atheistic existentialist, in 1980 said "I do not feel I am the product of chance, a speck of dust in the universe, but someone who was expected, prepared, prefigured. In short a being whom only a Creator could put here; and this idea of a creating hand refers to God." (Quoted in Varghese's The Intellectuals Speak Out About God; p. 128)
- Sir Anthony Flew: British philosophy professor who was long considered a leading champion of atheism, said in a 2004 interview that he has concluded that an intelligence or first cause created the universe, and that a super-intelligence is the only good explanation for the origin of life and the complexity of nature. (ABC News Report; December 9, 2004)
- Dr. Mortimer Adler: Former editor of the Encyclopedia Britannica, leading American philosopher, and at various times a self-described agnostic and pagan, converted to Christianity in 1984 and to Roman Catholicism in 1999.
- Dr. Bernard Nathanson: Former atheist, co-founder of the National Abortion Rights Action League (NARAL; originally known as the National Association for the Repeal of Abortion Laws), and former director of the Center for Reproductive and Sexual Health in New York City, who personally performed over 5000 abortions (one of which killed his own child), converted to Roman Catholicism in 1996.
HOW THE CHURCHES WILL FARE
Not all churches and denominations will thrive during and after the Theistic Revolution. As increasing numbers of thinkers objectively evaluate various Christian groups, the weaknesses of Protestantism and Eastern Orthodoxy relative to Catholicism will come into sharp focus. Here is a brief look at the also-rans:
Liberal Protestantism: Rests on a self-contradictory assertion that it is possible to declare authoritatively that there is no authoritative revelation. Non-Christian Physicist Steven Weinberg, quoted by Frank Tipler (The Physics of Immortality (New York: Anchor Books, 1994), page 340) put it bluntly:
Religious liberals are in one sense even farther in spirit from scientists than are fundamentalists and other religious conservatives. At least the conservatives like the scientists tell you that they believe in what they believe in because it is true, rather than because it makes them good or happy. Many religious liberals today seem to think that different people can believe in different mutually exclusive things without any of them being wrong, as long as their beliefs 'work for them.'...We are surrounded by piety without content....I happen to believe that the religious conservatives are wrong in what they believe, but at least they have not forgotten what it means to believe in something.
This religion offers man little reason for hope, because it denies the possibility of the intimacy with God that divine revelation represents. As historian James Hitchcock wrote (What is Secular Humanism? (Ann Arbor: Servant Books, 1982), page 123):
Liberalism in religion has never been a way into faith; it has always been a way out....A loosely defined religion, subject to endless revisions in keeping with the preferences of individuals, has little appeal to those outside the faith. It serves mainly those who chafe against their inherited faith and are looking for ways to make it less demanding.
Eastern Orthodoxy: Maintains a beautiful liturgy and rich spirituality, but its hierarchy is afflicted by national rivalries, leaving the Orthodox Churches incapable of speaking with a single, definitive voice. For those who expect to be able to identify God's Church by its capacity to provide authoritative guidance on the major moral questions of the day, the relative silence of the Orthodox Churches on prominent issues such as abortion, cloning, and homosexual marriage does not compare favorably with the performance of the Roman Catholic Church.
Eastern Orthodoxy will also probably continue to be frustrated by its conflicted attitude toward the papacy. The Orthodox manifest what appears to be both jealousy of the Pope's prestige and recognition of his role as at least "first among equals" within the global episcopate.
Fundamentalist and Conservative Evangelical Protestant Communities: Claim authority based on something that many will realize is an impossibility an infallible canon of scripture defined by humans without assistance from an infallible Church. The growing multiplicity of, and fundamental disagreements among, these communities demonstrate that the Bible alone is not sufficient for the establishment of church unity and doctrine.
THE CATALYST FOR THE REVOLUTION
The attacks perpetrated since September 2001 by Muslim fanatics in the United States, Europe, and the Far East are a major catalyst for the Theistic Revolution. This is so, because these events have conclusively demonstrated that major assumptions of the modern mentality are specious especially the belief that religious opinions "don't matter" and that all expressed points of view should be treated as equally valid.
Ultimately, the repulsive violence and intellectual poverty endemic to Islam will check its growth and help ensure Christianity's conquest of the developed world. This will occur despite the fact that many demographers predict that Islam will become the dominant religion in Europe before the end of the 21st century because of immigration and the currently low birthrate of native Europeans.
The prospect of domination by Islam will help motivate increasing numbers of Westerners to jettison everything associated with the hopelessly depressing atheistic philosophy that made such domination a real possibility. Atheism will yield its ground to primarily Christian theism, and Islam will recede into the shadows.