Turning the table on atheists






Here’s the text of my recent interview with the Catholic news service ZENIT on the question: What would happen if Christians turned the tables on atheists and challenged them on their belief that God doesn’t exist?

This is the premise of the book The Godless Delusion: A Catholic Challenge to Modern Atheism, written by Patrick Madrid and Kenneth Hensley (Our Sunday Visitor), in which the internal contradictions of a non-belief in God, as well as the various incoherencies in the atheistic worldview, are exposed.

According to Madrid, “atheists are not accustomed to Christians subjecting atheism to a rigorous critique on its own merits. This is why our primary goal was to take a different approach by providing a philosophical critique of atheism itself.”

Madrid is the author or editor of 16 books, the director of the Envoy Institute of Belmont Abbey College, the publisher of Envoy Magazine, and host of the Thursday edition of EWTN Radio’s “Open Line” broadcast (3-5 p.m. ET). In this 2-part interview … Madrid discusses the primary goals of writing The Godless Delusion, as well as the precarious foundations of the naturalistic morality of atheism.

ZENIT: As you state in your book, atheists have been around for years, but there have also been various Catholic and Protestant responses to atheism. What is unique about your approach to atheism and your understanding of atheists?

MADRID: Given that other Catholic books have already decisively refuted atheism’s major arguments against God, when Kenneth Hensley and I began outlining chapters for The Godless Delusion, we knew it wasn’t necessary for us to write the same sort of book (three superb examples of which are: The Last Superstition: A Refutation of the New Atheism, by Edward Feser, Handbook of Catholic Apologetics, by Jesuit Father Ronald Tacelli and Peter Kreeft, and Theology and Sanity, by Frank Sheed).

Atheists are accustomed to being the aggressor when engaging Christians. They attack and Christians defend. But atheists are not accustomed to having the tables turned, and to defend atheist principles. They are not accustomed to Christians subjecting atheism to a rigorous critique on its own merits.

This is why our primary goal was to take a different approach by providing a philosophical critique of atheism itself — one that would highlight its internal contradictions and incoherencies and demonstrate what we believe to be the atheist worldview’s abject inability to account for various immaterial realities we all know and experience, e.g., love, knowledge, goodness, evil, self-awareness, memory, human rights, etc.

Second, we wanted to subject atheism to a strictly rational, philosophical critique that would not rely on evidence for the existence of God found in divine revelation: Christ, Scripture, the Church, miracles, etc. Those things are, of course, rejected out of hand by atheists as wholly irrelevant and inadmissible, so we felt it would be useful for our readers to understand how to critique and refute atheism without ever having to engage in directly proving the existence of God.

At the outset of the book, we specify a premise with which all atheists would agree: Either God exists or he does not exist. There is no possibility of a third option. Thus, if it can be conclusively proven that God does not exist, then atheism is true and we should all become atheists. The corollary is equally true: If atheism itself is false, then by default, God must exist. In The Godless Delusion, our fundamental goal is to demonstrate that God must exist, but only indirectly, by showing that atheism is false. (continue reading)


  1. Ismael

    I confess I still need to get your book (yes shame on me :P) and I am enormously curious to read it.

    Regarding morality & atheism: atheism has a DOUBLE problem. Since Naturalism, mechanistic materialism and Secular Humanism in general reject also the notion of ‘forma causes’ and ‘final causes’ as understood by St. Thomas Aquinas and Aristotle, their moral system is completely arbitrary.

    On the other hand St. Tomas showed that accepting final causes will lead necessarely to a certain moral code (ie the Christian one).

    Of course if someone accepts final causes he might also have, eventually, to accept St. Thomas teleological argument.

    On the other hand sticking to denial of final and formal causes and sticking to materialism can only lead to moral relativism. Secular Humanism tries (vainly) to set up ground rules ‘such as live and let live’, or ‘do anything you like as long you do not harm/disturb others’… yet such rules vary in interpretation from person to person so wildly that they are themselves completely arbitrary.

    Also the idea of ‘being good for the sake of being good’ in Secular Humanism is eventually irrelevant if there is no solid definition of good, hence absolute moral standards.

    One does not even need to go as far as mentioning Stalinism or Pol Pot… just a look at western secular society shows the clear social damage of over 40 years of hard secularism.
    Western society looks a lot as a falling Roman Empire (and guess who the ‘Barbarians’ are :P)

    Also think about Atheist ethicist Peter Singer from Princeton U.: he claimed that intrinsically there is nothing wrong with infanticide, necrophilia or bestiality… and atheists, even if appalled by such acts, did treat Singer’s view seriously, since they MUST. Abiding to reductive materialism as (some) atheists do, leads necessarily to relativism.

    This will, eventually when all Christian morals have been oppressed and pushed away, lead to obvious disaster.

  2. Ismael

    PS: I realize I was not clear on my conclusion above.

    The ‘double problem’ is that atheists search for a ‘Natural Law’ through rationalism, but by denying ‘final causality’ they automatically destroy the means to find the Natural Law as Aristotle and St. Thomas did, using rational arguments and not arguments from scripture or faith.

    Hence by rejecting both God and final causality they deny the two systems (the first through revelation and the second through logic and reason) to have a relevant and non-arbitrary moral code.

  3. Sandra

    I’ve always thought that if I didn’t believe in God I’d be “living it up” and doing whatever comes to mind, living without any rules. I have never understood why atheists don’t so the same. In fact, most atheists I know are very reserved and adhere strictly to their own moral code. Mostly its geared toward the liberal side of things politically, i.e., religion is evil, political correctness, gender equality, environmental activism, thinking all politicians on the “other side” are lunatics, meaningless sex, a woman’s right to destroy her own child, etc. They have got themselves into such a tiny box, I don’t know how they can breathe in there! Christians have a list of 10 things they can’t do. Atheists have a list of ten things they can do. (I know G. K. Chesterton said something like that once.)

    How boring to be an atheist! To possess no sense of wonder, mystery or something greater than oneself. Who do they talk to when they close their eyes to go to sleep at night? I guess they were never read fairy tales as a child. Their minds are in a cage because they are not allowed to dare to dream of a place like heaven existing, and a person like Jesus to love them with the mercy of God. How sad for them, and how thankful I am for the gift of faith.

  4. Michael J. Hutchinson

    There are these atheists, like these members of Longmont Astronomical Society, in Longmont and Boulder County. They reject God for the astronomy. That is no good for me.

  5. MEL

    The proverbial “sneeze without a head” is where I always like to begin.

    The off-duty police officer at the Planned Parenthood where I sidewalk counsel is an atheist. He claims there is no order to the universe and everything is totally random. All I could respond to that was, “Gee, and your job is law enforcement, and they let you carry a loaded gun? What are you enforcing other than ‘Man is God’ here?”

    I’m just glad there are actually “Pro-Life Atheists” in the world–at least, Father Frank Pavone has said they exist. They exist. How ironic.

  6. Martha

    I have to admit that I know no atheists, nor have I ever really given them a thought- but after reading the interview, my interest is piqued. You make a great point- from whence, exactly, does the moral compass then come?

    Atheism strikes me as such a completely ridiculous concept, and at its base such a pathetic attempt at supreme egoism, that one would think it would be immediately disregarded by anyone of substance, but that doesn’t seem to be the case.

    What I’m really wondering is; is atheism, like homosexuality, exaggerated to make everyone think that it’s more common than it really is? I’ve read that the homosexual population is, at most, 2%, but we’re led to believe they make up a much larger section of society. Are atheists as prevalent as we’re led to believe? Or is it a ‘Kinsey’ type argument meant to make the Christians feel they’re outnumbered, and ditch religion in favor of the herd mentality of atheism?

  7. Jenn


    According to the Pew Forum study on the Religious Landscape of America (from 2008?), 5% of Americans do not believe in a higher power. http://pewforum.org/Not-All-Nonbelievers-Call-Themselves-Atheists.aspx

    In addition, 16% of Americans now self-identify as having “no religion” and is the fastest growing category. Around half of Catholics that identify themselves as having left the church (32%) currently identify as “no religion”.

  8. John Flynn

    Pat, I love this! So brilliant! Thanks…

    “Atheists cannot justify, according to atheist principles, why they believe it is “wrong” to pollute oceans, cut down rain forests, or hack into someone’s bank account and steal their life savings. If the stronger members of the human species engage in such behaviors in their pursuit of dominating the weaker members, and if there is no God and therefore no transcendent, prescriptive moral law given by God to guide us into knowing what is right and what is wrong, then on what grounds can atheists legitimately oppose such behaviors?
    Doing so would be intolerant and would have the net result of the atheist forcing his morality on others “

  9. Richard

    Loved the interview article. It actually helps me to comprehend your book “Godless Delusion” better which I am currently attempting to read. I have quite a few “atheist” friends on facebook and they are never afraid to post anything anti-religion or engage in a debate against religions especially Christianity. We should prepare ourselves and be ready to defend and attack the lies of atheism. Thank you for what you do Patrick. God bless.

  10. Bram

    I quote:

    “Yes, that’s correct. Atheism’s denial of the existence of God is predicated on what is known as the Naturalist world view.”

    No, the naturalist world view is predicated by the absence of suffient reasons to assume there are such things as gods (let alone the christian, or muslim one)

    “Most atheists confidently assume that science has either disproven the existence of God or it soon will.”

    Even in the case most atheists think that (I think not) it does not follow that atheism as a principle need that idea. On the other hand: much of the various ways in which (the presence of) god is portrayed by men have at least been seriously hampered by science. The point doesn’t matter in the case of religions, since the always give a ‘description of their god’, ie god created the world in seven days, and created man in a special way.

    Regarding the absence of absolute morality:
    ” One may not like or approve of a particular action, such as murder or theft, but it would be impossible to deem it “evil” in any sense beyond one’s own subjective, personal preferences”

    True, regarding the fact that no absolute morality can be made on personal preferences. But that’s leaving out much of the important things. Descartes beleived that the howling of a vivisected dog is like a clockwork. We know have ample reasons to think it is not. In the bible thousands of people are murdered on behalf of god or the people of Israel, yet it states: thou shalt not kill. How absolute is that? If genocide is good in god’s personal preference then we are back to square one. In other words: we have nothing but ourselves common sense and knowledge to construct a morale. (further proven by the fact that there a meriads of religions denominations with quite some different rules)

    “Atheist scientists, such as Richard Dawkins, concur with Charles Darwin’s theory of evolution, which entails the “survival of the fittest” principle of natural selection. The strong dominate and kill off the weak. The uperior
    naturally eliminate the inferior, etc.”

    Ohw come on! Being fit can also mean; being able to coöporate in various ways. That by being the fittest you can only think of killing of the weak says more about you, than about survival of the fittest:

    “Why shouldn’t we adopt an “every man for himself” attitude and get what we want from whomever we want it by whatever means we can get it? Atheism can offer no meaningful, much less plausible, answer to that question.”

    Theory of evolution can answer that. Every man for himself is most certainly not the a priori best way of living.

    “But this recognition, as important as it is for peaceful and harmonious human interaction, is still utterly inconsistent with the atheist worldview’s foundational claim that only natural, material things exist.To be consistent with this claim, they are forced to admit that “being good” is really just a matter of personal conviction or group consensus, not an ideal that God desires for all of us to strive for.”

    For that view to hold, you NEED to prove YOUR god exists (the one that holds/created the desire for an ideal) Since you do not, you cannot use it.

    “Atheists cannot justify, according to atheist principles, why they believe it is “wrong” to pollute oceans, cut down rain forests, or hack into someone’s bank account and steal their life savings”

    Here we go again. Imagine everyone doing this… Human as a species could not have gotten were we are if that was the general rule. We NEED eachother to survive and prosper. That precedes our morality, as well as follows it. You only seem to see it as a result of our way of life. That’s quite ignorant.

    “on what grounds can atheists legitimately oppose such behaviors?”

    Again: protecting the fabric of society, general concensus, common sense, knowledge of ourselves and the way we are able to empathize. Those aren’t separate issues!

    “Doing so would be intolerant and would have the net result of the atheist forcing his morality on others — the very thing atheists object to in the first place.”

    It isn’t the first thing atheist object to. That’s ridiculous. However, there can be good reason to object to morals that are based on the following reason: my god says what’s good and it’s good because my god says it. Especially since you need very good reasons to beleive YOUR god exists (not just A god!). If this belief, in any way, needs your subjective feelings, preferences or ideas, you’re actually off worse than atheïsts, because your stuck with a set of godrules you cannot account for and to which you say you must adhere. (you remember what I wrote above on personal preference?)

  11. CC Pearce

    From my limited experience, most of the “atheists” I have talked to over the years are simply not smart enough (undereducated) to be atheists. They are too uninformed in theology, history, and science to make supportable conclusions. I think we are experiencing a culture of “born again” agnostics and atheists. Primarily, their view seeks to sustain their exestential, relativistic, entitlement positions. A friend once smugly (and probably wrongly) suggested a headstone inscription another friend: “Here lies an atheist. All dressed up and no place to go.”

  12. Tony Flores Reyes

    Atheists claim to be educated and smart. They quote science as if science created the earth and all existence. The difference of one who believes in God and the atheist is that God can not be scientifically examined. God is an enigma who cannot be known by the scientific method. The way one knows God is by faith and trust that he is the creator of all. “Faith is the evidence of things not seen but yet hoped for”. The realm that God exists in is not of this world, science only knows what it sees in this world through the lens of the scope and the examination of what is.

    Science is a great tool for discovering what already exists, but cannot probe the realm of God that is not of this world. This world was created for all living creatures and man is nothing more than a curious creature confined to what is.

    It is not superstition to believe in God. Creation demands it. Man is maintained alive for his allotted time by the earth’s ability to provide the elements required to sustain life. When he dies he goes back to the dust he was created from.

    Scientists know a lot, but they do not have the tools to see God; therefore it is only through faith that he can be known. God allows us to explore that which is created, but it is only through knowing that he is the “I am” and trusting that he commanded all existence into being and that he will reveal himself to those that truly trust, believe, and do what his commandments are designed to do, to guide us through the way to eternal life.

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