The Rational Argument?

Here’s a quote from someone in the combox who calls himself ‘Rational Libertarian’:

I’m rational because I approve of the scientific method, which scares religionists. I’m a libertarian because I support freedom. I never said Christians aren’t allowed to spread their lies, but I’m gonna challenge them every step of the way. And even if Yahweh exists, I’m on Satan’s side. Satan fights against Yahweh’s tyranny.

Observations to the combox.

  • Bernard

    Hmmmmmmm, this shows how intelligent this person really is.

  • Conchúr

    That comment makes absolutely no sense. While I am sympathetic to a lot of Libertarianism’s positions, it seems to me to often be the contemporary cover for adolescent authority issues now that Communism is no longer fashionable.

  • Gregg the Obscure

    Commenter doubts the existence of the Most High, but affirms the existence of the evil one. He’s probably not as far from the Truth as those who affirm the existence of some nicey-nice quasi-deity but deny the realities of sin and evil (like the “mainline” religions these days). Here’s hoping that he recognizes the banality of evil before it’s too late for him.

    • Sagrav

      No, he doesn’t believe that either Yahweh or Lucifer exist. He’s just saying that in case he is wrong in the end, he would prefer Lucifer’s side in the divine struggle because he is in opposition to a divine tyranny.

      If you are going to criticize somebody’s position, you need to actually understand said position.

  • Brian Westley

    “Commenter doubts the existence of the Most High, but affirms the existence of the evil one.”

    No, he really isn’t affirming that.

  • Rob

    “I’m rational because I approve of the scientific method…”

    So do I. We have that in common. It was developed by Catholics by the way. You’re welcome for it.

    Secular Humanists weren’t actually doing much of anything for humanity for roughly 3000+ years or so of human civilization until the Church came along and tried to get everything ordered and structured in such a way as to allow for the advancements that we enjoy today.

    The Church built up the modern western world out of the ashes of the Western Roman Empire, and the Church will do that again out of the ashes of the secular world we find ourselves in today once it eventually succumbs to the barbarians beating at its gate.

    “I’m a libertarian because I support freedom…”

    Most libertarians I’ve met only support freedom only to the point where they can still have their fun without having any responsibilities to another human being. Ayn Rand, whose novels never feature any young children, or elderly people who are totally dependent upon others for their survival, comes readily to mind.

    • Ana

      Ayn Rand does not define libertarians. Yes, she has become popular in modern culture, but the definition of libertarianism does not exclude children or caring for the elderly. I’m as libertarian as they come and I took care of my father until he drew his last breath. Just because something has become the accepted libertarian thought process does not mean it is what the basis of libertarian thought process is about. The libertarians I know want to care for their children, neighbors, and elderly as they do not believe it is the government’s role. They believe things should be handled on the local level by the community and voluntary collaboration instead of people washing their hands by handing the care of the elderly or those in need over to the government.

    • RickK

      ““I’m rational because I approve of the scientific method…” So do I. We have that in common. It was developed by Catholics by the way. You’re welcome for it.”

      Um – that’s wrong. But I guess facts don’t really matter much in the realm of faith. Aristotle, the Islamic philosophers, Bacon, Sanchez, Newton, Hume, Peirce, Popper – none of them were Catholic. It’s actually quite stunning how little contribution was made to the definition of experimental science by Catholics.

      Oh, Galileo was Catholic. And we all know how well his experiments were accepted by the Church.

      • Fr. Dwight Longenecker

        Rob is referring to the English Franciscan friar Roger Bacon–the father of the scientific method.

      • Arnold

        Do Copernicus ( a Catholic cleric) and Gregor Mendel count? How about Louis Pasteur or the 25 or more Catholic priest astronomers whose names were given to places on the Moon. Or the Belgian priest who was the first to postulate the Big Bang. And on and on.

      • Thomas R

        Look up Robert Grosseteste as well.

      • Rob B.

        Funny, isn’t it, how the Catholic Church (including the pope) commissioned and paid for large portions of Galileo’s work while “persecuting” him…

        RickK, if you are going to argue about the hisory of science, you might want to try actually reading the history instead of blindly accepting the anti-Catholic (and generally anti-religious) propaganda spewed by Voltaire and the other figures of the French Enlightenment who created the Galileo myth.

        One final point. When Darwin published his works detailing evolution, the most uproar was located in the oh-so-Protestant nations of Britain and the US rather than Catholic countries ecause of the idea of *sola Scriptura.”*

        • Paul Rodden

          Hi Rob B.
          I’ve just finished reading Benjamin Wiker’s, “The Darwin Myth: The Life and Lies of Charles Darwin”, and you might like it. It’s interesting to read a well-researched biography from someone who’s not a groupie and so paints a very different light on the proceedings of ‘trasmutationism’.
          One does wonder after reading it how much Darwinism is simply a form of ‘Zoological Phrenology’, based on what Wiker unearths about how seriously the Darwin family took Phrenology as science…

          • Rob B.

            Thank you for the recommendation, Paul! I’ll put it on the ever-lengthening list of books I intend to read… :)

      • Paul Rodden

        Hi RickK.
        If you read Fr Bernard Lonergan’s ‘Insight’, he outlines how insight in science and mathematics come about, starting with Archmedes and Euclid, and the importance of questions in reaching what he calls a ‘higher viewpoint’ and the ‘virtually unconditioned’ – that Newtonian physics holds until a new question is asked – and then it results in a richer, higher viewpoint. He makes comparisons with developments in science and the development of doctrine (Method in Theology). That ‘advances’ in science don’t actually contradict what went before, rather they are seen in the context of a bigger picture because truth is fixed.
        Truth doesn’t evolve because ‘it is’. We merely get insights into what’s there. But Modernity believes it constructs truth, and therefore it evolves, and is therefore relative. It’s the cart-before-the-horse mentality kicked off by Ockham (Nominalism).

        • Fr. Dwight Longenecker

          You’re smart!

  • pam

    Father Longenecker,
    Not too long ago you blogged about the question some people ask. Why a loving God would send people to hell? You responded by saying something along these lines…God does not send people to hell. The people themselves decide to separate from God. You said it much better than that and even added an anecdote about a wonderful party that almost everyone is having a grand time at but there is always that person who just does not want to be there. In his current state of mind “Rational Libertarian” could be that guy. He himself said he would choose satan. Let us hope and pray that he comes out of the darkness before it is too late.

  • Kay

    Although I can’t explain it as clearly as I think you could, it seems to me that this position is riddled with contradictions. Supporting freedom and yet challenging the assumed “lies” of Christians “every step of the way” does not seem to jive.

    Christians are not Christians because of the “tyranny of Yahweh” but usually because they have some experience of faith that transcends science and/or reason. They should be free to believe as they do and share their belief with others. Furthermore, to the extent that I understand scientific method, it doesn’t DIS-prove the existence of God any more than it PROVES it conclusively. Reason too can go a long way toward affirming a belief in God.

    Also, to declare that “even if Yahweh exists,” one would be on the side of Satan for whatever reason, does not seem “rational” to me.

  • Bernadette

    Dear Rational Libertarian. Here’s my response:

    I’m rational because I, too, approve of the scientific method, which scares Atheists. I’m a libertarian because I support freedom. I never said Atheists aren’t allowed to spread their lies, but I’m gonna challenge them every step of the way. And even though Satan exists, I’m on God’s side. God fights against Satan’s tyranny.

    Your move.

  • Tzard

    There are too many problems with his paragraph (is it even that?) to address all of it.

    Just approving of the scientific method doesn’t show one’s rationalism. It may be a good way to exercise one’s rationality, but rationality itself isn’t dependent on the scientific method. It is used when we form any belief (even atheism) when made based on available evidence. We may throw out any of the evidence (even the most compelling) rightly or wrongly, but it’s still rational.

    I suspect most of us will see his claim of rationality, and the veiled claim of those who believe in religion are irrational as an attack, and react emotionally. I think he knows this, on some level.

    He does the same thing with claiming to be on Satan’s side – He doesn’t believe in Satan, he’s using it as an emotional fire starter.

    So, bottom line, by making emotional arguments like this, he’s using a logical fallacy. He’s appealing to emotion, rather than the logic. That in itself is not appealing to reason. There’s a word for this – Irony.

    Another thought – why are so many people fixated on “positions” – that they “approve” of the scientific method, or they “support” freedom. It’s like we’re at a political convention. All mental and no action. I guess that means no accountability either.

    • M. Love

      Actually, read the replies to the Irrational Libertine’s comments on the original thread. No-one’s rising to the bait or responding emotionally to his obvious attempts at button-pushing. His scattershot approach doesn’t rise to even a basic level of argumentation, so it’s difficult to take him seriously.

      • Bellarmine17

        I think Tzard’s point was that Rational Libertarian is appealing to emotions and insults to dismiss Christianity, not if other people were actually responding to it as a legitimate claim. For RL to use this tactic is no only ironic but cowardly as well, especially considering his claim to rationality.

  • MarylandBill

    My general thought is that his argument starts off as flawed. He bases his claim for rationality on the scientific method… but this ignores the fact that the scientific method does not even come close to encompassing all of human knowledge (mathematics for example is completely outside the scientific method).

    His understanding of freedom also seems to be flawed. God gives us freedom, but exercising that freedom in the wrong way brings consequences. If we end up in Satan’s domain, we will have no freedom.

    • abb3w

      Well, yes; mathematics is somewhat outside the scientific method. This is because mathematics is the language of science — philosophically, a precursor. Something resembling the “scientific method” results as a pseudo-algorithm from a mathematical theorem, where the problem of induction is partially resolvable given an additional premise that “experience has a pattern” — translating loosely from the math into English. (The premise may alternately be taken in refutation, but the alternate implications seem interesting for most people.) This is a more elegant approach than taking the scientific method as an a priori; the rationality of the scientific method is a sub-case of the more general rationality of mathematics.

      Not that I’m a big fan of libertarians; most seem to have some major problems noticing that Hume pointed out Ayn Rand’s main mistake a couple centuries before she started writing.

  • Paul

    Trying out another alter ego, Father? This one isn’t as funny as the others.

  • Paul Rodden

    Rational Libertarian exemplifies all four of Brandon V’s failures.

  • Bryan

    Good point about math being outside the scientific method. Haven’t seen any sort of atheist response to this observation; is there one?

    • Paul Rodden

      No. Because they haven’t got one.
      Most people who claim to be on the side of science haven’t read Polanyi, Polya, Lakatos, Kuhn, Popper, et al. If they had, I think they’d be far more humble…
      In essence, the ‘New Atheists’ are far more stupid than the ‘old atheists’, because they simply rely on people’s ignorance, replacing reasoning with rhetoric. That’s why AC Grayling, supposedly a philosopher, is actually the most disingenuous, to my mind, because hes bound to know the deception taking place, yet overlooks it.
      The Jesuit, Bernard Lonergan (who takes his cue from Newman), is best on the topic of ‘bias’ (self-deception), and what he calls ‘scotomas’ (blindspots) in Epistemology.

    • abb3w

      Mine would be agreement, but noting that abstract mathematics is a precursor to the scientific method; and that the foundations are in some ways pretty arbitrary — there’s several ways to get to effectively the same results. The impact of the different starting points is akin to merely deciding whether to use English, French, or German for discussing philosophy; a bit of translation, but not much more.

      • Bryan

        OK. Well, I am entirely unconvinced that mathematical reasoning is anything at all like a precursor to the scientific method. There is a notable lack of observation in mathematical reasoning, for example: “for every delta there is an epsilon…” is not an observation at all. But I thank you for engaging the question.

        • abb3w

          Observation is the additional element, needed to get from abstract mathematics to science. Specifically, you need an axiom that’s roughly “experience (observation) corresponds to some mathematical pattern”; following as an inference, something resembling the scientific method results to somewhat resolve the problem of induction. The primary consequence of mathematics is to provide science with an abstract language for talking about experience and probability with; IE, “F=ma”, using numbers and mathematical symbols to represent experience. Most scientists don’t worry about checking the foundations, however.

          I’ll note, it’s perfectly possible to take the refutation of that additional axiom; however, that has alternate hazards. For example, difficulty in finding any resolution to the problem of induction, and that any subsequent argument can be shown internally inconsistent if it can be shown to have a mathematical pattern. (They’re harder to avoid than most people would naively think.) It’s not a dead end philosophically, but it makes for even harsher ground theologically than outright scientism would.

          There’s some pretty heavy math, either way. Refutation leads to a short stop into Ramsey theory; affirmation involves axiomatic probability and theory of computation.

  • Sir Louis

    My impression is that commenter is on the lesser side of age 30. I wonder what he’ll be when he grows up.

  • spudnik

    It’s been my experience than when someone begins by telling you that they are more logical than you (or more intelligent, or tolerant, etc.) they quickly follow that up with an argument that shows that they are not.

    Science studies the physical universe and the things in it. It does not follow that the physical universe and the things in it are all that exist. Saying that science is the only valid line of inquiry is merely stacking the deck.

    It’s also more persuasive if you demonstrate at least an attempt to understand the things you so pompously pronounce upon.

  • Alice C. Linsley


  • Ginny

    I’m inclined to think that Sir Louis is spot on.
    Rational Libertarian will not pay homage to God but seeks to replace Him with science and freedom? Sounds like an inner life of arrogant pride to me. In Milton’s portrayal of Satan speaking to his followers in sin:
    “We shall be free; . . .
    Better to reign in Hell, than serve in Heaven.”
    –Paradise Lost

  • FWKen

    I’ve started reading some Catholic blogs, having mostly followed the Anglican troubles. Don’t ask me why; I’ve been Catholic for 25 years. But here’s my question: why do Catholic blogs attract atheists and wanna-be rationalists in such droves? You just don’t get that on Anglican blogs.

    • Fr. Dwight Longenecker

      It’s complicated…

      • Bryan

        Now that’s funny.

    • Paul Rodden

      Because Catholics believe one thing…

    • Thomas R

      Catholicism, I think, is more of a threat to atheism or values many atheists hold than Anglicanism is. Anglicanism is smaller and on many issues vaguer. Catholicism is the biggest force in global Christianity, Pentecostalism is quite large but much less organized, and it has some fairly solid statements on things many atheists care about. Like sexuality, gender, and money. Many people who abandon atheism have become Catholic. (the Genoveses, E. F. Schumacher, John C. Wright) Although I don’t know if it’s more, in comparative terms, than those who became Anglican.

      • abb3w

        Those raised irreligiously (not quite the same as atheists) who convert tend to disproportionately end up Nondenomonational or some manner of Baptist, relative to the number of those in the population. They end Catholic slightly below the base level of Catholics in the population. Anglican/Episcopalian are too small a fraction to tell with any confidence whether it’s proportional or not from the GSS data.

        I suspect the difference is due to the emphasis of Nondenominational megachurches and Baptists on evangelism, but that’s just a guess.

    • abb3w

      There’s several factors. Given in linear but not particular order…
      There’s a lot of atheists/agnostics out there who are also ex-Catholics. Catholics seem to place a greater cultural emphasis on reason than some of the protestant strains, making Catholics seem more promising targets for trying reason-based counterargument. The Catholic hierarchy’s child molestation coverup leaves it low-hanging fruit for criticism. In the US, there’s significant fraction of Catholic laity whose beliefs diverge between what the Catholic clergy teach as doctrine.
      Probably other factors.

  • Pancho

    Maybe he read Paradise Lost at an impressionable age. Bizarrely, I also thought of “The Philadelphia Story”. When he writes, “I’m gonna challenge them every step of the way” and about fighting against Y****h’s “tyranny” I thought of the scene where Cary Grant’s character is describing men to Katherine Hepburn and says, “We’re very vain, you know – ‘This citadel can and shall be taken, and I’m the boy to do it.” Freedom is important to him, put so is his role in attaining it.

  • Glenn Juday

    “It’s actually quite stunning how little contribution was made to the definition of experimental science by Catholics.”

    What is disheartening is the rush to conclude that if someone has never heard of something, then it never happened. The perspective that the commenter has apparently bought into reflects what is now clearly recognized as the zeitgeist of the period from the Age of Steam to the decay of the WASP establishment in the 1950s. It was a dominant viewpoint, tendentious, and particularly characteristic of the prejudices common in the American higher education establishment. It has claimed many victims, and the commenter quoted above appears to have volunteered to join their ranks.
    If somebody who has suffered that fate wishes to free themselves from ignorance and superstition, there are a number of overviews of the subject that that can assist. Christopher Dawson is, of course a good place to start. Among the more recent are two particularly good books:

    Jaki, Stanley. 2000. The Savior of Science. Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company. Pp 263. ISBN-10: 0802847722 ISBN-13: 978-0802847720.

    Woods, Thomas E. Jr. 2005. How The Catholic Church Built Western Civilization. Regnery History. Pp 280. ISBN-10: 0895260387 ISBN-13: 978-0895260383.

    The first listed of these authors has an armload of awards (Templeton Prize, Gifford Lecture, etc.) and the second has degrees from all the acceptable places and did not start out as a Catholic.

    P.S. What often tips people off to the syndrome of less than usefully informed comments about the role of the Catholic Church in building science, civilization, and culture is the use, in all innocence of the facts, of the fabulist legend of the Galileo episode. (Hint: provide a prominent place in your use of the Galileo episode for, among other things, papal patronage for leading edge science, a prominent role for jealous academics in concocting a set up, and wild mocking pride and scientific error on the part of the putative hero Galileo).

    • spudnik

      Also see The Soul of Science by Pearcey and Thaxton.

    • Zwetschgenkrampus

      Glenn, I fear you are preaching to the choir. Those of us who are interested in the actual and factual truth will follow your recommendations and maybe dig up other references for ourselves. Those who are convinced that they are right (regardless the issue) won’t bother, because checking facts could endanger their prejudices …

  • SteveD

    I’ve said it before, I’ll say it again. We can offer proven miracles to the atheists, miracles frighten them so much that they usually won’t even consider the evidence.
    “And then again the finger of God flashed down, and again and again; and each time a sick and broken body sprang from its bed of pain and stood upright; and the crowd smiled and roared and sobbed. Five times I saw
    that swirl and rush; the last when the ‘Te Deum’ pealed out from the church steps as Jesus in His Sacrament came home again. And there were two that I did not see. There were seven in all that afternoon.”
    ‘Lourdes’ by Rev. Hugh Benson (a former Anglican then Catholic priest who initially doubted that God performed miracles in his age)

    • Bernard

      I have yet to see an athiest prove that there isn’t a God. God has given us proofs of his existence time and time again.

  • Kristen inDallas

    I am a rationalist and there for I do not believe in the “straight line.” It is nothing more than a geometrical concept that humans have made up in order to better understand that which we can not explain. It can not be proven by the scientific method and is there for not worth discussing. However, even if a straight line were real (which I don’t believe it is) I would still side with the equilateral traingle. The equalateral triangle fights the tyranny of the straight line with it’s pointy corners and er… straight lines.

    • Faith

      This made me laugh out loud. Thank you!

  • Rob B.

    The Catholic Church is the largest and oldest religious institution in the world. The New Atheists like to picture themselves as secular Davids taking on a God-fearing Goliath. Like with so much else, they invert the proper way of things…

  • Anil Wang

    “And even if Yahweh exists, I’m on Satan’s side. Satan fights against Yahweh’s tyranny”

    Brings to mind a quote from Bishop Fulton Sheen “There are not one hundred people in the United States who hate The Catholic Church, but there are millions who hate what they wrongly perceive the Catholic Church to be.”

    Everything we have comes from God. For us to rebel against God would be like a video game character rebelling against the one who programmed it and pays the electricity to keep the program running. There is simply no such thing a tyranny in such a situation any more than there is tyranny in programming or using a calculator. And for the video game character to do anything other than submit is not only irrational but foolish (see Luke 14:31-32 ) and ungrateful.

    That being said, again he does not understand the Catholic understanding of God so his statement is off base. God is Life, Truth, Beauty, and Goodness so to rebel against that is to rebel against these (i.e. to choose death, lies, ugliness, and evil). No sane person would do such a thing.

  • shadowlands

    “And even if Yahweh exists, I’m on Satan’s side. Satan fights against Yahweh’s tyranny”

    It seems as if earthly man’s arguments, far from convicting or convincing you of God’s existence and everlasting love for you, are having the opposite effect, making you see Him as a tyrant. He’s not, not at all.

    Time to go straight to source! Ask Jesus (politely but sincerely) to reveal Himself to you ( a bit at a time or you’ll be completely overwhelmed!! He’s quite a Saviour!), then wait, expectantly. God bless you and draw you close to His heart.

    Scripture affirms going straight to source at times, it’s always God’s power and calling at work in conversion anyway, not the works of man (lest they should start to boast).

    New International Version (©1984)Matt 11:27
    “All things have been committed to me by my Father. No one knows the Son except the Father, and no one knows the Father except the Son and those to whom the Son chooses to reveal him.

  • Lynda

    Profoundly irrational statements. His moniker is rather incongruous.