Tuesday, February 05, 2008

A Rolicking Good Read

Mark Shea on the New Atheists.


This curious pattern of trying to have things both ways is on remarkable display among the New Atheists. On the one hand, we run into contradictory explanations that do not explain, such as diabolically clever evangelists who are too stupid to read their own books. On the other hand, we run into a curious role reversal when it comes to dealing with claims of the miraculous, not 2,000 years ago, but right here and now.

Theists, you will recall, are dogmatists utterly closed to empirical evidence that challenges their tidy little universe. The New Atheists, in contrast, are realists who just follow the evidence where it leads, and luckily it leads to what they "simply knew" since they were nine years old [here, Shea is referencing Hitchens]. Yet curiously, we so often meet New Atheists like London Times columnist Matthew Parris.

Recently, Parris wrote his coolly intellectual reaction to the story of Sr. Marie Simon-Pierre, who, as doctors confirm, was suddenly healed of a well-documented case of Parkinson's Disease on the night of June 2, 2005, after praying for the intercession of the recently deceased Pope John Paul II. By way of careful scientific examination of these facts, Parris deployed the following analytical algorithms:

1. Link the story with crazy dispensationalist notions about the Second Coming;

2. Call for "intelligent Christians" to voice their "righteous anger" and "contempt" for this "nonsense" (apparently meaning "any belief in the supernatural");

3. Ridicule the "excesses of Lourdes";

4. Lament "the woeful confusion of faith with superstition"; and

5. Categorically condemn anyone stupid enough to "honestly entertain the possibility that from beyond the grave the late Pope John Paul II interceded with God to cause a woman to be cured of Parkinson's disease."

Parris concludes this dispassionate pursuit of the evidence with the following de fide definition:

"But how can you be sure?" Oh boy, am I sure. Oh great quivering mountains of pious mumbo-jumbo, am I sure. Oh fathomless oceans of sanctified babble, am I sure. Words cannot express my confidence in the answer to the question whether God cured a nun because she wrote a Pope's name down. He didn't.

Simple-minded folk might think that the truly rational first step is to find out if the nun had Parkinson's and then find out if she was cured...

Shea does a great and amusing job in this article of putting atheist arguments into Summa Theoligica-like Thomistic propositions. An altogether great read!

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