Cf. Dinesh D’souza, What’s So Great About Christianity, at Amazon
“We shall be rendering a service to reason should we succeed in discovering the path upon which it can securely travel.” —Immanuel Kant, Critique of Pure Reason
SO FAR WE HAVE BEEN CONSIDERING science and the scientific understanding. Now I want to broaden the inquiry to examine the proudest boast of the modern champion of secularism: that he is an apostle of reason itself. What distinguishes the “freethinker,” Susan Jacoby writes in her book of that title, is a “rationalist approach to fundamental questions of earthly existence.” Taking reason as his star and compass, the atheist fancies himself superior to the rest of the people who rely on faith, superstition, and other forms of irrationality Sam Harris writes, “Tell a devout Christian that his wife is cheating on him, or that frozen yogurt can make a man invisible, and he is likely to require as much evidence as anyone else, and to be persuaded only to the extent that you give it. Tell him that the book he keeps by his bed was written by an invisible deity who will punish him with fire for eternity if he fails to accept its every incredible claim about the universe, and he seems to require no evidence whatsoever.”
But there is one subject on which the atheist requires no evidence: the issue of whether human reason is the best—indeed the only—way to comprehend reality. Writing in Free Inquiry, Vern Bullough declares that “humanists at least have reality on their side.” Paul Bloom asserts in the Atlantic Monthly, “Yes, our intuitions and hypotheses are imperfect and unreliable, but the beauty of science is that these ideas are tested against reality.” Steven Weinberg writes that as a scientist he has a “respect for reality as something outside ourselves, that we explore but do not create.” In pursuing knowledge, he writes, “the pull of reality is what makes us go the way we go.” E. 0. Wilson writes that “outside our heads there is a freestanding reality” whereas “inside our heads is a reconstitution of reality based on sensory input and the self-assembly of concepts:’ By linking the two, Wilsonhopes to achieve what he calls “the Enlightenment dream” of “objective truth based on scientific understanding.”
Weinberg, Wilson, and other atheists may not recognize it, but there is a huge assumption being made here. These men simply presume that their rational, scientific approach gives them full access to external reality. It is this presumption that gives atheism its characteristic arrogance. Daniel Dennett and Richard Dawkins call themselves “brights” because they think they and their atheist friends are simply smarter than the community of religious believers. In this chapter I intend to show that this arrogance is misplaced.
The atheist or “bright” approach to reality must be measured against a rival approach. Through the centuries the great religions of the world have held that there are two levels of reality. There is the human perspective on reality, which is the experiential perspective— reality as it is experienced by us. Then there is the transcendent view of reality, what may be called the God’s-eye view of reality, which is reality itself. Being the kind of creatures that humans are, we see things in a limited and distorted way, “through a glass darkly,” as Paul writes in his first letter to the Corinthians 13:12. Indeed we can never, as long as we are alive, acquire the God’s-eye view and see things as they really are. Rather, we live in a fleeting and superficial world of appearances, where the best we can do is discern how things seem to be. We can, however, hope that there is a life after death in which we will see everything—including God—as it really is.