The Skeptical Inquirer by Edward Tingley


The Skeptical Inquirer

If Only Atheists Were the Skeptics They Think They Are

Unbelievers think that skepticism is their special virtue, the key virtue believers lack. Bolstered by bestselling authors, they see the skeptical and scientific mind as muscular thinking, which the believer has failed to develop. He could bulk up if he wished to, by thinking like a scientist, and wind up at the “agnosticism” of a Dawkins or the atheism of a Dennett—but that is just what he doesn’t want, so at every threat to his commitments he shuns science.

That story is almost exactly the opposite of the truth.

Men of Truth

The story is right about virtue: The smoothly muscled skeptical-scientific mind is a gorgeous thing—picture the Apollo of Olympia, a poised young athlete in a throng of centaurs, passion-driven half-men. Science is a virtue: a perfection of the human creature gifted with a mind, a use of the mind that, says Aquinas, “perfects the speculative intellect for the consideration of truth.” But to be “men of truth,” in the words of Exodus, is to be vulnerable to truth.

Richard Dawkins speaks as a genuine scientist when he insists, “What I care about is what’s true; I want to know, is there a God in the universe or not?” Perfect. Truth is awaiting you, with its painful grip.

But on the question around which Dennett, Dawkins, Hitchens, Harris, Grayling, Onfray, and voices still to come are now springing up—the question of God—the successor of Apollo is not the atheist or the agnostic. Both lack the great virtue of the scientist, the skeptical virtue. Here they are the hankerers after comfort, the scrawny ones who prefer their own commitments over reason.

No matter how excellent these thinkers might be on other questions, on this question they nimbly shift their allegiance: Between the life they like and the demands of vocation (submission to the question), they choose their lives—ironically, the very failing for which they ridicule believers. A seeker of truth has to go where the truth can be found, and to go on until it is found, and both the atheist and the agnostic are early quitters.

Dawkins is right that “the question of the existence of God or gods, supernatural beings, is a scientific question,” straight from the mind hungry for truth. On that question, the path of the scientist was shown to us at the dawn of modernity by a consummate scientist: Blaise Pascal. Here was a scientific mind that brushed aside the medieval proofs of God (which did nothing for him) to attack the question anew.

People may think it just an odd coincidence that the author of the Pensées, a work of apologetics, also came up with Pascal’s law, on the transmission of pressure in confined liquids, but one mind seeking one thing generated both. Pascal was a lifelong seeker of truth: “I should . . . like to arouse in man the desire to find truth, to be ready, free from passion, to follow it wherever he may find it,” he says in Pensée 119. But the scientists who have asked Pascal’s question after him are rarely scientist enough for that.

Edward Tingley teaches philosophy at Augustine College in Ottawa and worships at the Cathedral of the Annunciation in the Anglican Catholic Church of Canada.

calling all readers

Please Donate

"There are magazines worth reading but few worth saving . . . Touchstone is just such a magazine."
—Alice von Hildebrand

"Here we do not concede one square millimeter of territory to falsehood, folly, contemporary sentimentality, or fashion. We speak the truth, and let God be our judge. . . . Touchstone is the one committedly Christian conservative journal."
—Anthony Esolen, Touchstone senior editor

Support Touchstone

• Not a subscriber or wish to renew your subscription? Subscribe to Touchstone today for full online access. Over 30 years of publishing!

personal subscriptions

Online Subscription

Get a one-year full-access subscription to the Touchstone online archives including pdf downloads for only $19.95. That's only $1.66 per month!

RENEW your online subscription

Purchase Print &
Online Subscription

Get six issues (one year) of Touchstone PLUS full online access including pdf downloads for only $39.95. That's only $3.34 per month!

RENEW your print/online

gift subscriptions

GIVE Print &
Online Subscription

Give six issues (one year) of Touchstone PLUS full online access including pdf downloads for the reduced rate of $29.95. That's only $2.50 per month!

RENEW your gift subscription

Transactions will be processed on a secure server.

bulk subscriptions

Order Touchstone subscriptions in bulk and save $10 per sub! Each subscription includes 6 issues of Touchstone plus full online access to—including archives, videos, and pdf downloads of recent issues for only $29.95 each! Great for churches or study groups.

kindle subscription

OR get a subscription to Touchstone to read on your Kindle for only $1.99 per month! (This option is KINDLE ONLY and does not include either print or online.)

Your subscription goes a long way to ensure that Touchstone is able to continue its mission of publishing quality Christian articles and commentary.

more from the online archives

22.7—September/October 2009

Science Fictions

on a Random Quantum Fluctuation by Marilyn Prever

29.1—Jan/Feb 2016

Bargain Debasement

Secular Credibility Is a Devilish Temptation by James Hitchcock

31.1—January/February 2018

Vikings Under the Son

on Ragnarök, an Extreme Weather Event & the Paths to Conversion by Timothy J. Burbery