Page 3

Atheist Overreach in Science and Morality: A Theological Response Editor’s Corner – Summer 2018 By Very Rev. Thomas A. Baima, S.T.D. This issue of Chicago Studies presents the papers from the 2017 Albert Cardinal Meyer Lecture Series at the University of Saint Mary of the Lake. This issue is an important exercise in cultural engagement. As is the usual format for the Meyer Lecture series, the Visiting Lecturer delivers two keynote papers. These are followed by two responses which extend, qualify or critique the main papers. Consequently, you should read the four articles as a conversation: first between the three authors, and secondly with you, the reader. Christian Smith is one of America’s best-known scholars studying and writing about religion. In his first essay, Dr. Smith uses his considerable competence as a sociologist to engage with some issues of philosophy of religion. Whereas it is common today for atheists to paint all religious people as fundamentalists, Smith shows that science has its own form of fundamentalism: the ideology of scientism. Any kind of fundamentalism is at its root about authority, the authority to make “claims that stick,” to use Smith’s words. The question that is proper for a sociologist to ask is: “what kind of issues or claims is science legitimately competent to address?” Science has a claim to legitimacy over things that can be observed and measured. Scientism, or vulgar imperialistic scientism, as he calls it, makes claims about what it cannot observe or measure. Like any ideology, scientism seeks a monopoly on truth. The real world is a bit more complicated. Since the monotheistic God of the Near East is understood to be transcendent, science is limited in what it can assert since the transcendent is not measurable. But this does not mean it is not knowable. Transcendent reality “may be humanly known, but if so it must be through means other than scientific experiment, such as divine revelation or enlightenment, operating with reason and experience.” Science is a legitimate way of human knowing. However, there are other ways too. To claim otherwise, Smith says, is simply a category mistake. In John Kartje’s response, we hear a priest and scientist dialogue with a religious sociologist. He picks up on Dr. Smith’s title about scientists doing bad theology and explores what theology could be like if theologians were good at taking the legitimate insights of science into account, contending that good science can make for better theology. Fr. Kartje argues that “science may well help to stretch the theological imagination and serve as an antidote against an overlysimplistic comprehension of profound truths.” Smith’s second article engages the question of the basis for morality in society. At the outset, as a sociologist, he moves beyond the philosophical or even scientific question, “can atheists be good?” and asks what kind of good is being claimed. He identifies that religious people understand good as a higher-order quality than atheists. This modifies the question, as two different outcomes are being claimed. Dr. Smith continues by examining why having reasons for moral behavior matters in the final analysis. He insists that they matter because they are what form the basis for the socialization of behavior in a society. It is the institutionalization of values that grounds a culture.

2

Chicago Studies Summer 2018  

volume 57:1

Chicago Studies Summer 2018  

volume 57:1