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November 8, 2006
Dear Concerned Citizen,
by Dinesh D'Souza

side bar side bar side bar side bar side bar side bar side bar side bar Leading atheists like Richard Dawkins and Sam Harris are convinced that they have discovered a devastating rebuttal to the traditional idea that the chains of causation in the universe imply the existence of a creator of the universe. In his book, The God Delusion, Dawkins concedes that the universe is fantastically complex, and this would ordinarily imply some external cause that produced this effect. Even so, Dawkins notes that we cannot infer a creator because such a creator would have to be at least as complex as the universe that he has supposedly designed. Therefore Dawkins concludes that “the theist’s answer has utterly failed” because it has only pushed the problem back by one level. “If God created the universe,” Sam Harris asks, “what created God?”

Both Dawkins and Harris are very proud of this argument. Harris triumphantly notes that to say the universe must have been created by God “poses an immediate problem of an infinite regress.” Why, in other words, does the chain of causation have to stop with God? Why can’t it go on forever? Harris argues that the Christian answer simply won’t do because “to say that God by definition is uncreated simply begs the question.” Dawkins haughtily concludes that “I see no alternative but to dismiss” the theistic argument.  These debunkers of religion think they have, with scientific precision, exposed a thousand years of metaphysical reasoning as irrational. Take that, Aquinas!

To see who is being irrational here, let’s revisit the traditional Christian argument in the form that Aquinas presented it. Aquinas begins with two principles that are today at the heart of all scientific reasoning. He argues that every effect requires a cause, and that nothing in the world is the cause of its own existence. Whenever you encounter A, it has to be caused by some other B. But then B has to be accounted for, and let us say it is caused by C. This tracing of causes, Aquinas says, cannot continue indefinitely, because if it did then nothing would have come into existence. Therefore there must be an original cause that is responsible for the chain of causation in the first place. To this first cause he gives the name God.

Let me clarify Aquinas’ argument with an example. Imagine yourself going to the Department of Motor Vehicles to get a driver’s license. Upon arrival at the license counter you are asked to take a number before taking your test. Just as you are about to take the number, you are told that you must go to a different counter and take a number there.  And when you reach that counter, you are informed that you must first take another number. Suppose further that every time you attempt to take a number, you discover that there is a prior number that you must take before you can take the next number. At this point you would be extremely exasperated at what seems to be an unending process.

Now suppose that, just as you are ready to draw your weapon and start shooting, you see a man walking out of the DMV with his new license. You are extremely relieved, because you know instantly that the series of numbers must not in fact go on indefinitely. If the series were infinite, then no one would ever be able to reach the counter to take the test and get a license. So the fact that this fellow has done so proves that the series cannot be infinite.

Here’s a second example, which I borrow from historian Colin Brown. Think of the chain of causation in the universe as represented by a series of dominoes falling. Each domino that topples over is itself knocked over by another domino. The dominoes have been arranged so that, when the first one falls, it knocks over the second one, and so on. The trail of dominoes may be extremely long, but it cannot go on forever, because the whole process is only triggered by the fall of the first domino. If the first domino isn’t toppled, then the second and third and fourth ones aren’t going to fall either. Moreover, the first domino isn’t going to topple itself. It relies on some agent outside the series of falling dominos to knock it over.

We are in a better position at this juncture to see Aquinas’ point. Given that nothing in the universe is the cause of its own existence, the universe cannot be explained by an infinite regress of causation. If there were infinite regress then the series would not have gotten started in the first place. The universe is here, just like the fellow who has gotten his driver’s license or like the dominoes that we see toppling over before our eyes. And just as there had to be a first number at the DMV that got the sequence going, and someone or something that got the dominoes to start falling one by one, so too there must be a first cause for the universe that accounts for the chain of causation that we see everywhere in the world. We may not be able to say much about what this first cause is like, but we have logically established the need for it and the existence of it. Without a first cause, none of its effects—including the world, including us—would be here.

Aquinas can rest easy. It seems evident that Dawkins and Harris have not answered the theistic argument. Yet amusingly they think they have. What’s up with these self-styled paragons of reason?  Dawkins and Harris are experts in laboratory science. One is a zoologist, the other a student of neuroscience.  Here is the classic case of people who are experts in one field trying to issue authoritative pronouncements in another and embarrassing themselves in the process.

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Responses to Religious Belief is Much More...:

It isn't secularization that is causing the problems. Rather, it is the fundamentalist fears that have been fanned by the exposure of the myths that religion is built on. Your email is yet another example of fear. - G. O.

It really is preposterous to argue as a professing Christian that religion is not the principal source of this violence, because any reasonable reading of the entire Bible makes that clear. The persecution of the prophets and Jesus all arose from false religion, including the love of money, which Jesus clearly identifies as idolatrous religious belief. Jesus warned his disciples, "If the light in you is darkness, how great is that darkness!" So whenever "Christianity" takes some form of calling Jesus, "Lord, Lord!" while despising what he actually says - as is and has always been usual - any Christian should expect the results to prove him right. The resulting darkness in the world is great indeed, and the cause is clear, to be found by us Christians in the mirror - and thank God, because in that case the matter is in our power through repentance. It's nonsense in biblical terms to call the 20th century secular. On the contrary, it has been characterized by "secular" religions - Communism and American exceptionalism in particular - that derive from Christianity and are effectively heretical expressions of it, and both are responsible for the annihilation and cruel oppression of millions of people around the world. Not surprisingly, Americans are rather more familiar with the works of the rival sect in this regard, but among such as Guatemala, Vietnam, the Amazon Basin, Iraq, and American Indians this is better known. There's nothing secular about "secular" religions, if you remember what "secular" means - of this present day or century. These "secular" religions, including others I failed to mention like Nazism and Young Turk nationalism, feel exalted and supremely righteous in their monstrosities precisely because they promise solutions to ultimate, not secular, questions - offering liberation, "democracy," equality, unity, and other such eternal values which the gospel offers in Jesus Christ and nowhere else. - P. A.

Is religion evil or good? It seems that in the final analysis, it is human, reflecting us in all our damning glory. Perhaps it is the task of those with a mystic God-consciousness to redeem religion from the dark side. - Jim Frisbie, Canby, OR

To be more precise, a comparison should be made between religion and civil government. Civil Government, as an institution, has killed far more people than religion. If a person wants to throw religion overboard on account of religious wars, then certainly the entire notion of Civil Government ought to be tossed on account of national wars. Clearly the problem lies not in the institutions, but in the imperfect human hearts which make up any institution. - Rev. Jeff Johnson

Responses to other tothesource articles:

I read with interest but also with dismay, the article by Dinesh D'Souza because it unfortunately continues to frame the science/faith discussion as an either/or proposition. As a scientist who understands and sees the developments occurring in molecular genetics and other areas of biology, this approach is likely to continue to erode Christian credibility. We must find a better approach. The integrity of our witness is at stake. - Richard G. Colling Ph.D.

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We live complex lives. We strive to sort out priorities that sometimes conflict or seem incompatible. A moral framework is needed to help us understand the reality around us. Our Judeo-Christian heritage provides a framework to help us comprehend the choices we make and the conflicts that arise over them. It is not only the main source of our spiritual values, but also many of the secular values we depend on.

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  Dinesh D'Souza
Dinesh D'Souza, the Rishwain Research Scholar at the Hoover Institution at Stanford University, served as senior domestic policy analyst in the White House in 1987-1988. He is the best-selling author of Illiberal Education, The End of Racism, Ronald Reagan, The Virtue of Prosperity, and What's So Great About America. D'Souza's forthcoming book The Enemy at Home will be published by Doubleday in January 2007.
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