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Way Beyond the New Atheist Nonsense

Given the intellectual flimsiness of their work, it’s best to look for cultural causes to explain the popularity of the “New Atheists.” And surely one factor is the now-canonical notion in Western high culture that biblical religion is incompatible with modern natural science—an idea rooted in the notion that the “scientific method” is the only way to get at the truth. (William Shakespeare, call your office.)

Yet facts are stubborn things. And the fact is that two Catholic priests, Gregor Mendel, O.S.A., and Georges Lemaitre, were pivotal figures in creating two of the most important scientific enterprises of the twenty-first century: modern genetics, which is giving humanity previously unimaginable powers over the human future; and modern cosmology, which is giving us glimpses of the universe in the first moments of its existence.

Mendel is perhaps the more familiar figure; most high school biology classes explain how the Moravian monk developed gene theory and the theory of inherited characteristics (with its distinction between recessive and dominant traits) from his studies of the humble pea. Lemaitre, a Belgian, was a brilliant mathematician who first articulated the Big Bang theory of the universe’s origins and subsequent expansion. That proposal, ridiculed by some at first, now reigns supreme in astrophysics and seems to have been verified by the astonishing work of the Hubble Space Telescope. Watch for Father Lemaitre’s bold idea to gain even further traction from the findings of the James Webb Space Telescope when it begins orbiting the sun, a million miles from Earth, in a few years.

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