Weekly Buzz: 8/25/14

Losing faith in atheism

This week’s buzz features Breaking Bad, killer robots, and an English professor who lost his faith—in atheism.

“My Failed Atheism”

Over at First Things, Mark Bauerlein wrote about his conversion from atheism to Christianity.

An English professor at Emory, he describes the onset of his atheism in high school:

I grabbed some breakfast, stepped out onto the front porch to eat, and realized: That bush to the right, five feet away—there’s nothing there. I looked hard, and the same words popped into my head: “There’s nothing there.” . . . Everything changed. The bush was different and the universe was different. God was gone, utterly, and so was all spirit and meaning and moral value.

Bauerlein explains that atheism’s implications grieved him:

Every night in bed I foresaw my pending nonexistence and trembled. . . . The discovery didn’t free me, it crushed me. The universe was open, but my life was closed. Others might take the disappearance of God as liberating, a chance to forge their own future, but not me. Whatever plan I might commence, whatever identity I might pursue, it shrank to pointlessness beside the yardstick of boundless nothingness.

Nevertheless, he persevered and learned to make peace with his worldview:

I found a career in academia, one that tallied my loss of faith and love of great books in workable ways. Never did I feel out of place in my unbelief, and so, as the semesters passed, the roguish aspect of my atheism diminished.

Decades later, though, his unbelief slowly eroded:

The process worked incrementally and backward, not toward faith but away from nihilism, fueled by the rising conviction that the conclusion I had drawn long ago was wrong. . . . I had accumulated several classic and contemporary statements of nonbelief, and as I perused them again, they seemed more and more to contract life, not expand it. I started to notice that they lacked the whisper of self-doubt that is more or less necessary to both sound religious and irreligious belief.

This humility, this self-doubt, turned the tide for Bauerlein:

I . . . began to wonder if, for all their claim to intellectual progress, many atheists suspect they are missing something from which other people receive meaning and healing and even happiness. But even to say “I don’t understand you” acknowledges the limits of atheism and allows the possibility they might be wrong. It’s a difficult position for the intellectually proud to hold, and it is easier for them to denounce the believer than to admit that they don’t know. Contempt can be a sign of inadequacy, and envy too.

After drinking deeply from the Catechism of the Catholic Church, Bauerlein decided to become a Christian:

The idea that faith might not be an instantaneous perception, that God’s presence or absence rests upon more than a blunt apprehension, struck me as a dilating prospect. God is out there, and the Church is the way to him. If I haven’t apprehended him directly and overwhelmingly, as I did the Nothing of that not-burning bush when I was a bright and confused teenager, that’s the fault of my limited powers of perception, not because there is nothing there to perceive. I entered the Rite of Christian Initiation for Adults last fall.

I’m sorry to quote such large chunks of his testimony. Sorry I’m not sorry, that is. I encourage you to read the whole article!

What do you make of Bauerlein’s journey? Does any of it resonant with you?

“Yeah, Mr. White! Yeah, science!”

Science Forward released a great new video that looks at what science is, how it works, and what it’s not.

Cool video, eh? Your reaction to this video might resemble one of Jesse Pinkman’s outbursts on Breaking Bad.

I love that the Science Forward video features Massimo Pigliucci. Speaking of Massimo, last week was “scientism week” on his blog. The scientism blog posts were pretty dense, so I recommend starting with some accessible PowerPoint slides he made about the topic.

“So What Exactly Is a ‘Killer Robot’?”

What a great essay title! Even better, this Atlantic article starts off with a killer—pun intended—line: “For as long as we’ve been able to make robots, we’ve been worried about them killing us.”

This really short article looks at the history of “killer robots,” and different definitions of the term.

Speaking of killer robots, check out my top three:

  1. Arnold in The Terminator
  2. The evil robot in Judge Dredd
  3. This robot on The Colbert Report (with analysis by Massimo Pigliucci)

Did I miss any good killer robots? What do you think about the article? 

“The Neanderthal survival game”

A new Nature video looks at different understandings of why and when Neanderthals became extinct.

This video is under four minutes, and makes disputes about Neanderthal extinction about as interesting as possible.

If you enjoyed this post, please “like” it and/or leave a comment!

5 thoughts on “Weekly Buzz: 8/25/14

  1. In this case, comments like this are pretty illogical: “I . . . began to wonder if, for all their claim to intellectual progress, many atheists suspect they are missing something from which other people receive meaning and healing and even happiness.” The point of atheism is about what is true about the universe and what evidence there would be or not be for the existence of a god. Whether it’s helpful to believe in a god has no bearing on whether or not a god exists. Additionally, the idea that you should become religious because atheists don’t express enough self-doubt is sort of like saying that you should become an interior decorator because you don’t know what career to pursue. It’s a non sequitur.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Peter, thanks for the comments!

      I don’t think Bauerlein is making the simplistic and illogical claim you suggest.

      I read the comments about self-doubt in the context of his larger theme: Atheism is nihilistic and life-constricting, but also wrong. I think his analysis of self-doubt was a way for him to reveal the false assumptions that sustained his unbelief.


  2. Beyond simply this one professor’s testimony, I’d like to see an analysis of conversion/deconversion narratives. I know some atheists for whom God simply never made sense to them, and the reality was in no way crushing to them. Any good texts which analyze people’s (de)conversion narratives for those who (a) abandon theism, (b) embrace theism, and/or (c) switch camps within a(n) (a)theistic tradition, e.g., from anti-theism to secular humanism, from Islam to Judaism, etc.?

    Liked by 1 person

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