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The Dawkins Challenge

The noted atheist Richard Dawkins has been very active recently in his campaign to discredit religious belief, in particular Christianity, and Roman Catholicism has been a special target. He had a debate of sorts with Rowan Williams, the Anglican Archbishop of Canterbury, and appeared on an Australian television program, “Q and A,” with Cardinal George Pell, Archbishop of Sydney. His animus against Catholicism was also evident in a joint appearance with Lawrence Krauss, a theoretical physicist and fellow non-believer (as Krauss likes to be called), at the Australian National University.

Krauss is the author of the much heralded, A Universe From Nothing: Why There is Something Rather Than Nothing, in which he argues that it is highly plausible that we will soon be able to understand how the entire universe, including the fundamental laws of physics, can start from “absolutely nothing” without any need to appeal to a creator or supernatural agency.

When he speaks of the irrationality of religious belief, Dawkins often invokes Catholic faith in the real presence of Christ in the Eucharist. The Church teaches that with the priest’s words of consecration the bread and wine really become the body and blood, soul and divinity of Christ.

The rationale behind the doctrine, which is known as transubstantiation, employs categories of substance and accident, which have their origin in the philosophy of Aristotle. According to the Church, the underlying substances of bread and wine are replaced by the body and blood of Christ while the external appearances of bread and wine remain. A scientific analysis of the consecrated host and wine would only detect these external appearances.

Dawkins opined both in Australia and previously at the Reason Rally in Washington, D.C. that people should be encouraged to confront Roman Catholics about transubstantiation. Do they really hold the “utterly nutty belief that a wafer turns into the body of a first-century Jew just because a priest blessed it?” Such a view is “barking mad.” 

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TAGGED: VATICAN/ROMAN CATHOLICISM


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The US Conference of Catholic Bishops in session in Atlanta, Georgia, earlier this month. Photograph: Tami Chappell/Reuters

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