I think I know why.
Someone recently asked me why I was drawn to science after I rejected religion back in the early days of adulthood. My answer surprised me, but it was the kind of answer you give and then keep thinking about because you finally found the thoughts and words to articulate an idea that has been forming for a long time.
Let’s back up.
I remember believing in God naturally as a child. People say that children are born atheists, but I don’t believe that at all. We are created in the image and likeness of God, and we naturally are made to desire to love and be loved, to know and be known. Made to know and love God. We are naturally awed by order in the created world. We naturally seek order in our lives.
As an adult, I would learn that it is a defined dogma of the Catholic Church that God, our Creator and Lord, can be known with certainty, by the natural light of reason from created things. De fide. Some Church Fathers believed the knowledge of God is innate; St. Thomas Aquinas held that the knowledge of Him is innate but we also can will to know and love Him better by using our ability to reason. 
Let’s really back up.
This is why Aristotle’s epistemology makes sense – and why the spiritualism of Plato and the materialism of the Stoics and Epicureans does not. This is something I learned in my first theology course, but I never knew it in all the years I studied, taught and worked as a scientist. We need to adopt an epistemology, an organizing principle for thought.
Plato was a spiritualist. He believed the soul has always existed, as a spirit, and as such it saw God, saw the whole truth, before the person existed. By some cruel fate, Plato believed, our spirits forget the real world when they descend into our bodies. So to him, the search for truth is a reawakening. The truth is in us, not outside us, and we seek to become conscious of it again. Plato, like Pythagoras, called the body a tomb of the soul.
In contrast to spiritualism, is materialism. The materialist believes all knowledge comes from our senses, from what we can see, touch, taste, feel, and somehow process. Materialism is nothing new, but it is the prevailing mindset of atheism today. Modern science seems to have convinced people that we can explain our world in terms of matter and energy, and nothing else is necessary.
Aristotle held the middle ground, reconciling the material and the spiritual. He believed that we acquire knowledge both through our sensory interaction with the material world and through our contemplation of the spiritual realm. Isn’t that how we all learn though? First we learn about the material world through our senses, then we organize and process that input into complex and abstract ideas. 
Now let’s put that together.
Consider children, consider your own childhood. Children aren’t pure spiritualists, though there is some truth to the idea that we know certain things inherently. Neither are children pure materialists, though there is some truth to the idea that we need to rely on our senses to determine whether some things are real. Even children naturally apply the Aristotelian epistemology. (I call them Little Aristotles.)
Children are driven to learn. The first thing an infant does is to sense his mother, most intimately in her womb, and almost as intimately as a newborn. Children then learn because they instinctively trust their senses; they rely on sight, smell, sound, taste and touch. They process it all and discover order in things; they stack, they repeat, they experiment, they mimic, they find patterns. What child hasn’t peered out at the great big world with wonder?
And children, having learned, are driven to love and be loved. to belong. What child hasn’t tried to show off his skills and make people laugh? What child isn’t harmed by neglect or lack of affection? That desire for unity and order, love and knowledge, is in us as children, it’s natural from the very beginning of our life. God told us so.
Be amazed, and recall the revealed dogma of the Holy Trinity – One God, Three Persons. The Father begets and conceives the Son, also called the Word, as an act of the intellect; the Father and the Son together, as one, breathe forth the Holy Spirit as an act of love. Knowing and loving, giving, receiving, communicating with others – it’s in us all, a reflection of the Holy Trinity, and (whether we admit it or not) we are desperate without those things. They are necessary, and if we seek knowledge and love without seeking God, we will naturally never be fully satisfied. That’s why man has always sought God, in any time, any culture. It’s why societies that reject God, fail.
As I grew up, there were contradictory and confusing messages about religion. Every group thought they had the answers, none of them offered much in the way of explanation. Much of false religions do ask you to believe blindly. So after a half-hearted search, I rejected religion in my young adult years. I decided real freedom meant that I could do whatever I wanted, and so that is how I lived, daring anyone to hinder me. I hadn’t done the mental work to reason through God’s objective laws for moral order and love, so in some ways it was also a childlike (if not lazy) search for truth because I just wanted to find order, only I didn’t know why.
And…I was drawn to science.
I was drawn to its rules and order, the way the fundamentals were certain and objective. In a world of moral subjectivism veiled as freedom, I was drawn to something objectively ordered. And that is why I think atheists, in general, are drawn to science. Just like we all seek it as infants, they need that order, that objective truth, that wonder. We know our lives demand order both internally and externally, as children and as adults.
When I discovered and applied the moral order taught by the Church, every experiment I tested in my life brought me success. I learned to be truly free, and the truth of it resonated deep in my soul. This was my empirical evidence, my scientific method that assured me I found Truth. I don’t think atheists can really argue against this because it is to argue against an experiment that hasn’t been tried.
But even atheist scientists know they need to obey laws of order.
Does a scientist enter a laboratory and do whatever he wants, abandoning the known physical laws of nature? It would either be dangerous or ignorantly pointless. Legitimate freedom is not the freedom to do whatever you want, for if that is what a scientist decided to do, he would cease to be a scientist. Science depends on respecting certain basic rules in order to advance in the discovery of truth.
While some things are subjective, moral subjectivism – as a guiding principle born of an incomplete epistemology – fails, and it fails whether we are children or adults. It’s just that sometimes adults convince themselves to forget what they knew as children. Having denied objective moral order, all that is left is objective order in the search for knowledge, but it is an insanity to divide the internal acts of our soul in this way. To do so, creates an unnatural void, one that tries to quiet a spirit that cannot be quieted. 
Just as spiritualism isn’t the way to all truth, neither is materialism, and we all know it. We need both. Isn’t it interesting that instead of calling themselves materialists, identifying with what is positive in their epistemology, they call themselves atheists, identifying with something lacking. The atheist knows innately that he has that emptiness. Some people call it a God-shaped hole.
And it needs to be filled.
Atheists are drawn to science because they are drawn to God, driven to know Him. Science offers knowledge of the ordered, created world, so like curious and awestruck children atheists can’t help but love science. It is their soul’s yearning for God.
“Once upon a time there lived upon an island a merry and innocent people, mostly shepherds and tillers of the earth. They were republicans, like all primitive and simple souls; they talked over their affairs under a tree, and the nearest approach they had to a personal ruler was a sort of priest or white witch who said their prayers for them. They worshipped the sun, not idolatrously, but as the golden crown of the god whom all such infants see almost as plainly as the sun.” G. K. Chesterton Alarms and Discursions 1910 Introductory: On Gargoyles
 Dr. Ludwig Ott, Fundamentals of Catholic Dogma, Section 1, Chapter 1, Dogmatic Definition 1, page 13. Thanks Jeff McLeod for the recommendation and explanation of why this book is so necessary to anyone who wants to understand Catholic dogma. The book is difficult to find in print for a reasonable price, but I found an online version at Logos Bible Software for under $30.
 Fr. Benedict Ashley O.P., International Catholic University, Philosophy for Theologians, Lesson 2: Choosing an Epistemological Approach to Human Experience.
 I do not claim this as an original thought, only one that is original to me.
Sites That Link to this Post
- Three Ways to Win Every Debate with an Atheist | Accepting Abundance | May 28, 2012
- How Does Theology Protect Science? : Accepting Abundance | February 18, 2013
- What is a Stillbirth of Science? : Accepting Abundance | March 21, 2013