April 14, 2014

OTTAWA – The great intellectual patrimony of the Catholic Church offers everything one needs to combat the new atheists, the vice president of an American Catholic college told parents here April 2.

While atheism is an old idea, what's different about the so-called "new atheists," such as Richard Dawkins and the late Christopher Hitchens, is the way they attack religious belief, said Paul O'Reilly, vice president of Thomas Aquinas College in Santa Paula, Calif.

The ideas of the new atheists are ignored "at our peril," O'Reilly said at Maryvale Academy, a private Catholic elementary school. "The times we live in are formed by popular arguments not by precise scientific considerations.

"It is my view that the position of Dawkins and others will be persuasive to many, and that, as a result, the anti-religious positions he advocates will become more mainstream," he said.

"The effects will be felt in schools and the public square."

Yet the new atheists share a weakness – "they seem to think their challenge to traditional Christianity is novel," he said.

They are unaware that their views were challenged by great Catholic thinkers, such as St. Augustine and St. Thomas Aquinas, he said.

O'Reilly urged Catholic schools to develop a strategy to combat the new atheists' thinking that is becoming "more and more embedded in our culture."

"It seems to me that many of our Catholic schools are not prepared for the upcoming challenge," he said.

Letter to the Editor – 05/26/14