One of the two major reasons that people become atheists is that secondary causality is, so they think, sufficient to explain all that exists without any reference to God. This and the existence of evil are the two objections to God’s existence that Saint Thomas posits and replies to in his Summa Theologiae.
It is the error clung to with tenacity by the post-Enlightenment votary of scientism, empiricism, or positivism, those errors which embrace the scientific method and empirical proofs as the only sure norm for human certitude. While not every empiricist is an atheist, many of them are. Others are agnostics or simply indifferent to God and religion because they are so preoccupied by the creature that they fail to elevate their mind to the Creator — and that, even when creation itself testifies to Him, as Saint Paul ironically puts it: “For the invisible things of him, from the creation of the world, are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made; his eternal power also, and divinity: so that they are inexcusable” (Rom. 1:20).
Science. In the daily lexicon of the contemporary denizen of former Christendom, the word itself has come to mean exclusively the empirical sciences. If its object is not made of matter, and if it does not study that matter prescinding from origins and ultimate purposes, it is not a science. This is one of the many fashionable bigotries of our day. But it was not always so, for the natural sciences did not formerly exhaust the notion of science. A science, from the Latin word scientia (“knowledge,” from scire, “to know,” as in, to know facts), is an ordered body of knowledge. For Aristotle, science is “a sure and evident knowledge obtained from demonstrations”; for Saint Thomas, it is “the knowledge of things from their causes” (Catholic Encyclopedia). By these definitions, theology, which is also called “the Science of Faith,” is most certainly a true science, as is its handmaid, philosophy.
The empirical sciences have advanced to an impressive level. Nobody can reasonably argue against that fact. There is much that men now know about the created universe, and there are many ways that we can technologically manipulate creation in order to produce marvelous results (marvelous, even if not all good, as in, e.g., being able to blow entire continents off the map by splitting the atom very skillfully).
Just as the profiteering, technocratic “military industrial complex” has done much harm to our nation’s prosperity and the world’s prospects of peace, many scientific and technological advances have brought with them similar dangers — to human life, to public morals, to genuine civilization and culture.
In general, we have become highly advanced barbarians.
That last concept might seem oxymoronic to some reading these lines, but consider: If the words “highly advanced” exclusively imply advances in the empirical sciences and the technologies that these sciences make possible, then we are indeed highly advanced. Barbarism connotes a lack of civilization, which itself embraces much more than science and technology; civilization includes art and architecture, taste and manners, a well regulated legal system that maintains high standards of justice, altruism and the will to sacrifice for the common good, love of virtue and strong social bonds based upon the common pursuit of what is truly good. Those social bonds, of course, begin with the family, a divine institution that our civilization is busy deconstructing at the moment.
We Americans tend to measure civilization mostly by technological metrics. This is no doubt an inheritance from the English Protestant industrial capitalist outlook on the world. If we were to behold a nation that had a less advanced power grid than our own, fewer cars per capita, and a sparse network of highways, but instead had intense religious devotion among its populace, a replacement level birth rate, a healthy traditional diet sourced from family-owned farms, skilled craftsmen making quality goods purchased by their neighbors, leisurely activities like good poetry, literature, and music, and crowded taverns serving locally made brews, vintages, or spirits, we would look down on that nation as inferior. No broadband Internet and frequent power outages in the more remote districts would make most of us conclude that these people are comparatively “uncivilized,” as would the fact that the entertainment was mostly self-made or comprised of live local talent — not five-hundred channels of cable idiocy plus Netflix.
Yet such a people would be more civilized than most modern Americans.
That’s what I mean when I say that we have become civilized barbarians. Our profusion of blue-tooth devices and our massive nuclear arsenal do not and cannot supplement for our genuine cultural impoverishment. And as for our moral impoverishment, that makes our advanced technology all the more dangerous.
Anticipating objections to these thoughts, let me plainly stat that I am no Luddite, as I am obviously using advanced technology to transmit these very thoughts to my readers. This is all a question of proportionality, as well as of intention, i.e., the all-important matter of purpose. The Middle Ages were times of great technological advancement — really! see here, here and here. But there was an accompanying sense of proportion, and technology was not a fetish for the denizens of Medieval Christendom. Moreover, it was the Gospel and not mere technological progress as such that gave men their ideals. Modern materialism and secularism have changed all that.
Poor Ireland was long made to feel inferior to the rest of the Anglosphere, especially its British neighbors. After decades of gradually jettisoning its Catholic identity, it was made materially prosperous and more “advanced” in recent times, especially by the Celtic Tiger, but it has also gradually become barbaric because, among other things, barbarous sodomy, barbarous onanism, and barbarous infanticide are now welcomed as “progress” in the Emerald Isle. Soon the sons and daughters of Saint Patrick will be reaping hefty doses of the social ills that come in the wake of these sins that cry to heaven for vengeance. And if the social ills are not enough, there are the eschatological downsides.
Returning again to the subject I began with, I shall quote from Brother Francis’ Challenge of Faith regarding certain advantages, limits, and ideological dangers attached to the empirical sciences. The following words, with which I will close these lines, exemplify the contemplative approach Brother took to all questions of major moment:
- All things contribute to the glory of God, even science, the marvel of the modern age.
- When we contemplate what scientists have done and are doing, we gaze at an astounding aspect of God’s most wonderful creature, and we praise God. Yet so many scientists do not contemplate and do not praise.
- Certainly the very reality of the sciences and the inventions of science are a striking testimony of the mastery of mind over matter, and an emphatic assertion of the reality of the spiritual; yet so many scientists use their most spiritual power (their intellect) to deny the reality of the spiritual.
- It is the tragedy of the modern age that scientists on the whole have not been as grateful to their Creator as they might have been. The coldness of this generation is at least partly due to that.
- By their very method and approach, most scientists commit themselves to a restricted view of the material aspect of things, to a utilitarian approach which stifles the contemplative interest.
- How could the scientists decide for or against the revealed account of creation? Creation involves a free act of an omnipotent power. By the nature of the case, [the act of] creation is not a phenomenon that can be controlled, measured, or repeated. The scientists must assume (as scientists) that things always happened in the manner of the phenomena before their eyes.
- God uses miracles in order to authenticate the supernatural order, and intelligent but simple men have always learned the lesson intended by miracles. But the scientist can only relegate miracles to the class of things “we do not yet understand.”
- Human intelligence has always, and almost unanimously, concluded to the existence of God, from the consideration of the universe which we all experience in common. Some reach this conclusion simply and swiftly in the manner of a child, and some methodically and cautiously in the manner of the philosopher.
- Holy Scripture teaches us that man is reprehensible when he cannot reach even without the assistance of divine revelation a knowledge of God, of “His eternal power and divinity” (Rom. 1:20).
- The Christian missionary is not sent to preach the existence of God. He should be able to take that for granted. The apostle is to bring the good news of God-become-man, and the consequences of that great event upon our human destiny.
- But the scientist, chained to his ideology and to his method, can be, and often is, indefinitely distracted from ever finding God. In place of the primacy of the First Cause he can be lost in an infinity of secondary causes, and instead of reaching the fullness of Eternal Being he is left with the emptiness of an indefinitely long duration of time.