A Catholic’s Conversation with Atheists
Atheist #1: I’m an atheist.
Me: That’s nice. I’m wondering why though, just out of complete curiosity?
Her: I don’t know. I believe in like a higher power but not God.
Me: What? What does that even mean?
Her: Well, I believe that our spirits live on forever, and that everyone is eternal but, like, there’s no God. If there was a God, why would there be so much suffering in this world? If He was real, there wouldn’t be suffering. Therefore, there is no God.
Me: (As I’m about to respond, Atheist #2 hears us and walks over to plant himself in the conversation – as do like 3 other people).
Atheist #2: I don’t believe in God either. God’s not real.
Other person: Wait, you don’t believe in God??
Atheist #2: Oh heck no. Definitely not. Religion is irrational.
Other person: So wait, you don’t believe in anything?
Atheist #2: Absolutely not. I believe in science. Science gives us actual answers while religion gives us none. All religions are irrational and contradict the rationally based logic of science.
Me: I love science too, but not all religions are against the use of reason or contradict the logically based reason of science.
Atheist #2: (Annoyed and confused look now on his face): Really? What religion in the world could possibly be said to be rational? All the religions have their holy books and think theirs is the way. None of them go with science and I don’t know any that can use logic or deductive reasoning.
Me: Well, I know at least one… my religion.
Him: What religion are you?
Him: Catholic? Are you kidding?
Me: Not at all. The Catholic Church has always supported science and thinks logic and reason are necessary. The Church has been emphatic that we can’t “just believe,” but must have reason too. That’s why the Catholic Church does not fear science but supports it.
Atheist #1: Oh no, you guys are making me nervous. We’re going to have a big fight here or something.
Me: A fight? Never.
Atheist #1. People always fight about religion and get too heated.
Me: Some people might, but watch and learn Atheist #1 (insert her name), and see how it’s done. Watch how two people can have a completely rational and peaceful discussion even though they disagree.
Athiest #2. Yeah, I agree with that. But, the Catholic Church is not for science. Science contradicts religion.
Me: (Very nicely) Not at all. They both seek truth but do so in different ways. Religion seeks to answer WHO made us and why, and science observes the physical realm and tells us HOW. So, is it evolution or not? Bib Bang or not? If evolution is true, that’s OK with the Catholic Church as long as it’s not viewed as a purely naturalistic process (meaning that there is no God and it all happened by accident by itself), and if the Big Bang is true, that’s fine with the Church too. These views can be harmonized with what we already believe when properly understood.
Him: What? That’s not true. The Catholic Church does not accept the Big Bang? It’s too scientific for them.
Me: The Church does accept the Big Bang.
Him: No, no they don’t.
Me: (Nicely) How are you going to tell me what my religion believes? Hmm?
Him: I’m telling you, the Catholic Church is against science and the Big Bang.
Me: Fine, then let me ask you a question. Who invented the Big Bang? Meaning, who was the first person to discover and outline the theory of the Big Bang?
Him: Oh… ummm…. well… I actually don’t know that of the top of my head.
Another person: Einstein?
Me: Close. The person was a classmate of Einstein. His name was FATHER George Lamaitre. He was a Catholic priest AND a scientist. He was a Belgian physicist to be exact. So let me ask you a question, how could he be a Catholic priest AND a scientist if the Church was so against science? Why were many, many priests and Catholics scientists down through the centuries if the Catholic Church was against science?
Atheist #2: That’s a good point. But, what about…
Me: Oh, can I add one more thing?
Me: Few people know enough about history or the Catholic Church to realize that the Vatican has one of the ‘largest’ and ‘biggest’ scientific observatories in the whole world. How could that be if the Church hated science? Also, you probably don’t realize that there are 36 craters on the moon named after Catholic priests because the Catholics Church gave more money toward the advance of science, and made more discoveries than any other, and perhaps all other institutions combined, throughout entire the Middle Ages. Thus, the Catholic Church has given so much toward science, and…
Him: Yeah, Ok, I didn’t know all that… but what about Galileo? The Church WAS against science at certain times. They condemned Galileo for proposing a theory that the Church was afraid of.
Me: Actually, Galileo wasn’t condemned for scientific reasons.
Me: It’s true.
Him: Everyone knows he was persecuted for his scientific view of heliocentricity.
Me: Well, not really.
Him: No, that’s a fact.
Me: Well, no… buuutt, let me put it to you this way. Copernicus taught the same heliocentric model of the universe, right?
Me: So, question then. Why was Galileo condemned while Copernicus wasn’t? What did Galileo do that Copernicus didn’t?
Him: Hmmm. I’m not sure. Probably because Galileo didn’t have permission and stepped on the Church’s toes or something.
Me: Ummm, no. Not really. The Church actually encouraged Galileo, supported him, and treated him like a celebrity. He was good friends with the pope, in fact. The pope loved his work as did many in the Church. They even liked his new scientific theory but were cautious at the same time. NOT because it was scientific, but because it was only a theory and he was starting to preach it as a fact. This is also because about 2000 years earlier, Aristotle and Ptolemy has utterly destroyed any thought of this model with arguments that no one could disprove for almost two millennia. Then, Copernicus and Galileo enter onto the scene and say they were wrong. This was like dynamite in the scientific field, and you have to realize that most non-Catholic, secular scientists were against Galileo at first too. The Church supported Galileo in trying to disprove the geocentric model (That the earth is the center of the universe), even funding him with large amounts of money. However, since they were financing him, they didn’t want to be embarrassed either. They wanted him to stop preaching it as fact until he had all of the facts (which wouldn’t fully come until after his death). Copernicus taught it as a theory, Galileo as a fact. Thus, the Church wanted him to have solid proof before preaching it as fact. The real problem came when Galileo began to state that certain passages in the Bible were wrong. BOOM. Big problem. This is something Copernicus never did which is why he never got into hot water. Galileo not not only misunderstood these Biblical passages, but started making himself a theologian who knew more than the Church. So whether you agree with the Church or not, the Church overreacted in some ways in condemning him, but it was not for scientific reasons. In fact, even when he was under house arrest (with his own personal butler and all the latest amenities), He was still allowed to work his science. In fact, that’s when he came up with some of the biggest scientific discoveries of his life.
CONTINUED – PART II (I typed it out in two different parts because it was long). . . .
HIM: So, you said that Galileo was condemned for theological reasons and not scientific ones, for making himself more of an authority on the Bible than the Church.
Him. Well, I think Galileo was right and that the Bible and the Church are wrong. I mean, the Bible clearly contradicts science, so maybe Galileo was right. Like, do you actually believe that God created Adam and Eve directly when science says that evolution took place and we came from primates? You actually believe that the earth was created in 7 literal days when science tells us that everything took place over billions of years?
Me: First of all, Galileo wasn’t a studied theologian or a scholar, and so he didn’t know the Bible that well in order to be pronouncing authoritatively on it. Second, while some people might be against science, the Catholic Church is not, and she doesn’t make the elementary mistake of interpreting everything in the Bible literally. Not everything in Scripture can or should be taken literally. For example, the Catholic Church does not teach that the days of creation are 7 literal days. Nearly 1800 years ago, a Catholic bishop named St. Augustine even said that the seven days are symbolic. So, this is nothing new, not something the Church is trying to “change.” Moreover, the Bible says that one day for us is like a thousand days for God and one day for God is like a thousand days for us, meaning that our time is not the same as His and so we don’t measure the time in that passage literally.
Him: Well, some Christians think they are literal. And there are so many different Christian religions anyway all contradicting each other. Did you know that there are more churches than restaurants and Starbucks? It’s true. Look in the phone book at all the restaurants and there will be even more churches all claiming to be right. So, whose right?
Me: What you say is true. There are a lot of churches. But, you have to remember, that while it all seems confusing now, it wasn’t always confusing. At one time, there was only one Church, the Catholic Church, and it was that way for over 1000 years. 1500 years later, a man named Martin Luther broke away from the Catholic Church. Everyone knows who he is. Where before Luther, there was one teaching, by the time he died, there were over 240 new religions all claiming to go by the Bible and all claiming to be right. Now, about 500 years later, there are tens of thousands of Christian religions all claiming to be right. Yet, the Catholic Church is the one Church that has been there all along, the one who put the Bible together under one cover for the rest of the world.
Him: That make sense. But, what about Adam and Eve? How in the world is ‘that’ true?
Me: Well, you have to realize what we know of the Bible. Biblical scholars tell us that the first 11 chapters of Genesis are more symbolic. They tell a story. NOT that they didn’t happen or are ‘just’ a story, but they are a story that is true though with poetic details and lisence. Here’s what I mean. We need to remember that the writer of the first part of Genesis wasn’t trying to write a science book or an encyclopedia to tell HOW the earth was made, rather, His purpose was to communicate the truth that God created everything. And to tell the story, he used symbolic and poetic language. The story of our first two parents really happened, but we don’t believe, for example, that there was a talking snake. The devil was not a snake but a fallen angel. We also don’t believe that their names were actually Adam and Eve. However, there really was a devil, we believe, and there were two first people who sinned against God somehow and brought death into this world. So, even if evolution is true, what the Church says is that Adam and Eve were the first two people ever created – what we would rightly call homo sapien. We believe that God breathed a ‘rational’ soul into man (as opposed to mere animals who have an irrational soul), giving mankind free will and a rational intellect. We are animals (which even the Bible says) and yet different than animals in that we are the only creature made in the image and likeness of God and raised above all the rest of creation. That’s what the Bible is saying. There were two first people, a temptation, and the story tells of how they turned from their Creator. It wasn’t trying to detail HOW God created it. That wasn’t the author’s intention. If evolution is true therefore, you can see why it wouldn’t necessarily contradict the Bible.
Him: That makes sense, actually. I could see that. But how do we even know that any of this is true in the first place. I mean, the Bible has changed like a thousand times and there are countless versions of it.
Me: Actually, the Bible hasn’t changed much or been watered down through the centuries as many people think it has.
Him: No it has changed, and there are many versions? You can’t tell me there aren’t many versions.
Me: Actually, if you study the history and archeology of the Bible, you will see that it hasn’t changed a lot like people think.
Him: Yes it has.
Me: (Nicely): Look, we have some of the earliest Scriptures and versions of the Bible, up to like 1700 years old or more. Look at the Codex Vaticanus. This is the earliest full Bible we have from about 1700 years ago, and there are other partial manuscripts too that date earlier. If you match them up to the manuscripts we have today, they match up pretty closely. It certainly blows the notion out of the water that the Bible can’t be trusted or has been tampere with.
Him: You have no proof that the Bible hasn’t been changed. It’s like the game telephone...
Me: No, it’s not. I just gave you the proof. Look up the Codex Vaticanus for yourself. We have some of the earliest Scriptures in black and white. Look it up.
Him: Ok, I’ll have to do that. I didn’t know about the different manuscripts.
Me: Oh definitely. And archeologists have different ways of measuring how accurate manuscripts are based on copies. For example Buddha has only 2 copies of his biography, so if they differ, archeologists may not know which one is correct. The biographies of Jesus in the Bible have over 24,000 manuscripts in different languages that all match up pretty closely. Like, “Jesus walked into a town” vs. “Jesus walked into a village” – nothing that would change any real meaning. Also, the first thing written about Buddha, for example, wasn’t written until about 600 years after his death. The stories of Jesus started to be written about 15 – 20 years after his death. Which one do you think would be more accurate?? Archeologists tell us that the closer a document is to the original source, the more accurate it will be. The Gospel writers who wrote the stories of Jesus all wrote during the time of eye-witnesses, making it much more accurate, or able to check on the accuracy of such documents. Not so with any other ancient document that I know of.
Him: Hmm. That’s actually interesting. I didn’t know that. Ya know, I like how the Catholic Church uses philosophy and reason, and works toward logical interpretations, not just blindly believing or taking everything literally. Actually, the Catholic Church seems very reasonable to me in all this. And, I like talking to you about this stuff.
Me: (Speaking to other Atheist #1): See, you can discuss with others that you disagree with in respectful and polite way.
Atheist #2: I just don’t like the Christian religions that force their beliefs on others and translate the Bible like fundamentalists. Religious believers seem all about forcing their beliefs on others.
Me: Well, I don’t like that either, but to be fair, many atheists and non-Christians force their beliefs on others and are intolerant too. Need I bring up Stalin for example? The majority of Christians are great people. The Catholic Church, for example is the largest charitable organization in the world doing more good than anyone else.
Him: I did know that.
Me: Yes, we started orphanages, hospitals, and many other things to make the world a better place.
Him: I like that. I’m cool with that, it’s just the people who force their beliefs on others I have a problem with.
Me: I agree with you, but they are the minority who give the rest of us a bad name.
Him: (Joyfully) Well, thanks for the conversation. I have enjoyed it actually. I like talking to people who are reasonable and know what they are talking about.
Me: I also have enjoyed our conversation, and I hope we get to talk again sometime soon.