|"Superman" (Nietzsche) and "The Angelic Doctor" (Aquinas)|
Art by Theodore Schluenderfritz
I am so excited! This is the first in a series of posts (don't know how many, don't know when they'll run) wherein I interview Kevin Vost, Psy.D., psychologist, physical fitness expert, and the author of several books, including the one I told you about that has me all giddy:
From Atheism to Catholicism: How Scientists and Philosophers Led Me to the Truth
To give a quick background: Dr. Vost has taught psychology and gerontology (look it up!) at the university level, and has served as a Research Review Committee Member for American Mensa (the high IQ society) which promotes the scientific study of human intelligence. Basically, the dude is super smart.
As you all know, I dialogue with several atheists on this blog, and I am fascinated by the things I've learned from them. Still, I can never quite get a handle on their thought processes, principles, or premises. Also, my debating skills are often lacking, as I am not classically educated and I don't have a background in history or philosophy -- at least not to the level I should as we march forth into this brave new (post-Christian) world.
Dr. Vost helped break things open for me, writing simply and accessibly about his journey into atheism as a young man, and I left his book much more educated than when I began. In the book, he introduces us to and explains the belief systems of the famous atheists he studied and admired so much on his intellectual journey, even acknowledging for the reader the nuggets of truth in their philosophies. Eventually, his studies led him to discover some of the greatest minds in history, which in turn led him (as it has so many others) straight to the door of the Catholic Church.
Dr. Vost's book is for everyone who wants to be better prepared for the cultural war in which we find ourselves now, including those with little to no philosophical or scientific background (like me!).
Let's dive in with the first question!
Q. Kevin (yes, I am on a first name basis with this man!): Raised a Catholic, you were drawn to atheism as a teenage bodybuilder who had a penchant for Nietzsche's "superman". Is it fair to say that you thought your way into atheism?
A. That is totally fair and accurate, Leila. As a young boy I was mesmerized by the television Superman – such awesome power and manliness in service of the good! In my teenage years I was absorbed in the world of bodybuilding and weightlifting. At 17 in 1978 I attended a seminar by Mike Mentzer, the reigning Mr. Universe and heir-apparent to Arnold Schwarzenegger. Mentzer was a brilliant man who revolutionized my understanding of things like the role of genetics and rational principles behind strength training and diet. I still employ those ideas today. His writings also led me into the world of atheist philosophers like Friedrich Nietzsche, famed for his very different and anti-Christian “Übermensch” (superman), and then to novelist/philosopher Ayn Rand. Her ideas influenced me for decades. Though I was raised Catholic and attended Catholic grade and high schools in the 1960s and 1970s, I did not have a clue about the profound philosophic underpinnings of Christian theology. I was easily led away by the arguments of philosophers like Nietzsche, Rand, Bertrand Russell, and the psychologist Albert Ellis, to think that God did not exist, that the idea of God just didn’t make sense and wasn’t true. To sum it up using four basic branches of philosophy, this is what I came to believe:
Metaphysics (the underlying nature of reality): “Existence exists.” (a favorite phrase of Ayn Rand’s). Open your eyes and see the universe. It is the ultimate reality and is just plain there. We don’t need to postulate a God to explain it. It just is.
Logic (“the art of non-contradictory identification” per Rand): The concept of God is self-contradictory. God cannot be both all-powerful and all-knowing. If He knows what He’s going to do tomorrow, then He can’t do something different, can He? (New atheist Richard Dawkins also uses this one in his book, The God Delusion.)
Epistemology (theory of knowledge): Reason is our only guide to truth, and faith opposes it. (Rand said faith and reason go together “like poison and food.”)
Ethics (morality): We don’t need God to be good, as evidenced by examples of how noble pagan philosophers (e.g., Socrates, Aristotle, the Stoics) wrote about and lived by natural virtues like fortitude, prudence, justice, and temperance. Rand based her “Objectivist Ethics” on man as the highest standard.
So then, yes, thinking did lead me away from the faith. I thought in good conscience that I was seeking the truth. I knew there was so much practical good in the Catholic Church that I never hated it or spoke out against it. I just thought it was wrong about one little thing – the existence of God. (Please don’t let me forget to get around to explaining how I found that I and those four foundational atheistic conclusions were flat out wrong – 25 years later!)