Thomas Aquinas the the Flying Nun


In a nearby convent there was a nun who had taken to levitating during mystical prayer. The people were, of course, stupefied by this astounding miracle and were flocking to see the flying nun. The novices in Thomas’ friary were just as excited as the others and dragged the great philosopher off to see the floating sister. Thomas joined the crowd and gazed up at this amazing sight. Then, when the brothers asked him what he thought he said, “I didn’t know nuns wore such big boots.”

It’s a good response to the mystical, the marvelous, the magical, the miraculous and the mysterious. On the one hand he didn’t deny that such things could happen. He didn’t dismiss the supernatural, but neither was he that impressed by it. For Thomas Aquinas a floating nun didn’t prove anything except that you can’t prove anything. In other words, the whole world is far more mysterious and strange than we thought it was. Those who would make out that the world runs on fixed and unchangeable principles have got it wrong. The cosmos is more flexible than we thought. Reality is rubbery.

Thomas’ response to the flying nun shows us the proper response to the supernatural. Faced with apparitions of Mary? Incorrupt bodies of saints? Inner locutions? the gift of bi-location? Eucharistic miracles? Reading souls? Speaking in tongues, miraculous healings? Fatima? Flying nuns? We should just shrug and say, “Hmm. That’s interesting. I’m not surprised. Weird things happen.”

We don’t use these things as proof of the Christian faith, but we do use them as evidence that there is more out there than the cynics, the atheists and the materialists have accounted for. They may one day be able to give a “scientific explanation” for the things we consider miracles. That’s okay. All we were saying in the first place is that things are not always what they seem, that the cosmos has room for surprises and the very laws that govern the universe are not quite as solid as we like to think.

However. However. My other favorite story about the fat philosopher is the one told at the end of his life. He had written volumes of his great philosophical and theological work. He was one of the greatest minds the world has ever seen. Even atheist philosophers grant that Thomas Aquinas was one of the most brilliant thinkers ever. But at the end of his life he had a mystical experience. He never said what he saw, but he did, from that point on, not write another word and said, “All that I have written seems like so much straw to me compared to what I have seen.”

There is the proper balance between the intellectual and the mystical. When he saw the floating nun his intellect sorted the experience and filtered it. He did not exclude it, but fit the unexplainable into the rest of his philosophy. It was extraordinary, but not overwhelming. His openness to the supernatural, however, allowed that mystical experience whereby he was able to validate all that he had written and put it on one side.

This is also where we should be in our relationship between the mystical, the supernatural and the miraculous and the rational and intellectual. The two work together–neither being so rational as to exclude the miraculous nor being so credulous as to nullify rationality.

Faith and Reason working together–like two legs pedaling a bike– or like two wings whereby we fly.

Read More: Weird Things Happen;  The Day I Met St Bernadette; I’ll Fly Away Oh Glory!

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  • michael

    It’s less a question of can they work together, but which one is primary? Reason demands us to combat credulity because as Richard Feynman once said “The first principle is that you must not fool yourself, and you are the easiest person to fool.”

  • Rob B.

    Father, your favorite story about St. Thomas is also my favorite story about him (though him chasing the prostitute around his room with a torch is a close second… :) )

  • Fr. Dwight Longenecker

    Neither is primary. Faith and Reason are two wings.

  • michael

    But when faith and reason differ, look to evidence to determine which is correct.

  • Fr. Dwight Longenecker

    But the word ‘evidence’ itself is not simple. This term ‘evidence’ is tossed around by so many people, but they never explain what they mean by ‘evidence’. Do they mean scientific evidence, forensic evidence, archeological evidence, psychological evidence, medical evidence, documentary evidence, human experiential evidence, etc etc.

    Furthermore, all evidence requires interpretation. Who is the interpretative filter? What set of assumptions are in place to choose the evidence, filter the evidence and assess the accuracy of the evidence? Who will interpret the evidence, prioritize the evidence or judge the quality of the evidence?

    Finally, the whole area of ‘evidence’ is reliant on an acceptance of the means of perceiving the evidence to begin with. We ‘trust’ a whole range of factors in the gathering of evidence to start with. We trust our senses, but are they really trustworthy? We trust those who have gathered and compiled and interpreted evidence before us. Are they trustworthy? How do we know? We trust those who assist us in the gathering and interpretation of evidence in the world around us. Who do we trust and why? Who do we believe give us accurate evidence and why do we necessarily trust them and their procedures?

    Take, for example, one piece of “evidence”–which may be a newspaper report of a particular incident–let’s say the raid on Benghazi. There is so much room for error there that we may reasonably distrust most everything we read.

    Why do you then put so much trust in this thing you call ‘evidence’?

  • David Naas

    But… Faith comes first, Reason merely edifies Faith.
    But… Everybody encounters the Miraculous, far more often than they think (not just refering to the Mass here). Some go out and start a new religion/movement/cult from the experience. Others deny what was plainly “evident”. Others, like the Old Hippie say, “Wow! Cool! Far Out! Is the asparagus done cooking yet?”

  • John

    I am not sure what you mean by “when Faith and reason differ” Faith and reason cannot contradict. What we know by Faith being infallible, it follows that what we think we know by reason must give way to that which we know by Faith, or more precisely we know that in such a case we have reasoned incorrectly. I am using the term Faith in the rigid sense of “Divine and Catholic Faith as found in the articles of Faith. (dogmas) I do not mean the protesntant sense of faith which usually means “trust.”

  • Jacob S

    Maybe for people who have had earth shattering mystical experiences, this might be true. Myself, I can point to a specific point in time (a span of about a year when we were studying modernist “literature” in school) when my faith heavily leaned on reason to survive. Reason supports faith, faith directs reason. They’re pretty intertwined – each without the other would be, barring extraordinary situations, crippled. I don’t think either can be said to “merely” help out the other.

  • Ben

    The Dogmatic Constitution of the First Vatican Council ‘Dei Filius’ is a key text on the topic of faith and reason that deserves to be more widely known. In particular, it indicates that we shouldn’t underplay the role of miracles in rationally proving the credibility of Christian Faith. Some relevant texts are as follows:

    ‘In order that our submission of faith be nevertheless in harmony with reason, God willed that exterior proofs of his revelation, viz. divine facts, especially miracles and prophecies, should be joined to the interior helps of the Holy Spirit; as they manifestly display the omnipotence and infinite knowledge of God, they are the most certain signs of divine revelation, adapted to the intelligence of all people.’ (DS 3009)

    ‘If anyone says that no miracles are possible…or that miracles can never be recognized with certainty, and that the divine origin of the Christian religion cannot be legitimately proved by them, anathema sit.’ (DS 3034)

    (See also Pius XII, ‘Humani Generis’: ‘The human intelligence sometimes experiences difficulties in forming a judgment about the credibility of the Catholic faith, notwithstanding the many wonderful external signs God has given, which are sufficient to prove with certitude by the natural light of reason alone the divine origin of the Christian religion.’)

    In principle, the key miracles are of course those of Jesus himself, and the texts of the Magisterium are referring to them above all. However, events like Fatima, Lourdes, etc., though from a faith viewpoint not obligatory on our belief, from a rational viewpoint do have some comparative advantages in making an unbeliever at least stop and think. They bypass the controversies concerning authorship, dating and interpretation of the gospel accounts, and they have a wealth of recent documentary evidence.

    Unbelievers would generally have little interest in the distinction between public and private revelation; from the point of view of unaided reason, the miracles of Scripture don’t appear to have more proving power than those of Church history, so if we reject the rational force of the latter, we also undermine the former.

    (To clarify: the act of faith itself is not the conclusion of a logical proof, yet reason does prove the credibility of faith beyond reasonable doubt (i.e. that the things of faith are worthy of our belief, that stepping beyond natural reason to make the act of supernatural faith is the right thing to do). Faith goes beyond reason in its motive (not our own rational insight, but complete trust in God’s truthfulness), its cause (supernatural divine grace rather than our natural powers), and its absolute certainty.) (See ‘Catechism of the Catholic Church’ 156-159)

  • michael

    Defining valid evidence is easy. Evidence is valid if is can be disproven, preferably in practice, but at least in theory. “Evidence” that can not be falsified. even in theory, should not be included in making rational judgement.

    As to the question of trust, I have never measured the mass of a proton and probably never will, but I have worked on refining several attributes of the neutron and confirmed current accepted values. I trust the findings on the neutron, because I confirmed them myself and I know I was hoping to find a discrepancy to get a much quoted paper out of my work. I know there are scientists out there doing the same on the proton and hoping to make their name by overturning the status quo.

    A friend of mine is into alternative medicine in a big way and despite her constant illnesses touts the efficacy of various homeopathic or naturopathic remedies to her on going chronic conditions. She claims, 100% effectiveness and likes to draw my attention to all the times allopathic (when she calls conventional medicine) has been wrong and has reversed its judgement. She’s a smart person, better educated than I am, but she doesn’t understand when I say I trust modern medicine because it is so often wrong. Because I know the only way to make progress is to find and admit error. I never trust any area of human inquiry that has not made substantial refinements in its knowledge or refuses to admit the possibility of error.

  • Fr. Dwight Longenecker

    So by evidence you really mean scientific evidence. This is fine for the area of scientific enquiry, but there are many other areas of human life, culture and experience that are beyond science, and these other areas affect the flow of world history and human actions to a very great extent. So, for example, a political ideology cannot be falsified or verified, and yet it may motivate millions to change the world. Similarly, art, music, philosophy, literature, architecture and the vast range of human emotions are really beyond the capabilities of the sort of ‘evidence’ you require.

  • michael

    Does this mean you are a cultural relativist? Are all manifestations of art, music, literature, etc. equally valid. As I type this I’m listening to Bach’s beautiful Cantata 140, “Sleepers Awake”, but could I equivalently be listening to “Gangnam Style”?

    It’s perhaps not a easy in those fields to remove the dross from the silver but it is still possible.

  • Jacob S

    To jump in here –
    “It’s perhaps not a easy in those fields to remove the dross from the silver but it is still possible.”

    That’s the whole point. Cultural relativism is generally false (there are some things where equally valid makes sense, but not all things) and you can distinguish the good from the bad. You do it, but you don’t do it (or do it completely anyway) via applying the scientific method to physical evidence.

  • Ben

    Is there evidence for the philosophical theory that ‘Only falsifiable evidence is valid evidence’, and can that evidence itself be falsified? If not, then on this theory, there can be no valid evidence for the theory itself. (This may seem like pedantry, but in philosophy, any apparent self-contradiction raises a red flag.)

    Falsifiability has its role in assessing certain types of assertions, but its inflation into a universal criterion of evidence is untenable.

  • michael

    I certainly agree that cultural relativism is false and that there are ways to, if not specifically, certainly in general, distinguish good culture from bad.

    Ben – We’re not going to argue that you can’t prove induction again, are we? You can’t prove that only falsifiable evidence is valid. But just like in Matthew it says “By their fruit you will recognize them”, the same is true with science. Compare the tremendous advances, the global unanimity, the acknowledgement of what is incomplete in science to the same theological discussion for millenia, the total lack of agreement (thousand of religions) and the assuredness with with each sect promotes their own truth. Philosophically there is lots of room for learned discussion, but practically science has demonstrated the superiority of its methodology any times over.

  • Jacob S

    “…but practically science has demonstrated the superiority of its methodology any times over.”

    Or perhaps the relative simplicity of it’s subject matter? After all, the physical sciences are only concerned with “stuff,” whereas theology is concerned with stuff, what stuff means, and whether or not there is anything that is not stuff and/or transcends stuff.

    This attitude is like saying that the methods of arithmetic are better than the methods of, say, complex analysis just because everyone knows that 2+2=4 and the similar questions raised in arithmetic, whereas no one has been able to solve the Riemann Hypothesis.

  • June Thompson ,OCDS

    I like the story about St. Thomas wherein he is asked by a fellow seminarian to see the flying cow. He goes
    to the window to look; of course, his fellow seminarian has a good laugh. However, St. Thomas replied to his laughter with, “I was not so stupid as to think a cow could fly; as to think that a man of God could tell a lie.”
    I do not know who the author of that qup is? Do you? God bless, in Him, jt

  • michael

    “Or perhaps the relative simplicity of it’s subject matter?” I take it you’ve never taken a course in Quantum Mechanics or worked with Maxwell’s equations or solved the classical equations of how a boomerang works. I have done all those. I also once took a graduate course in Thomas Aquinas, enjoyed it and got a good mark (B+).

    Don’t say science is easy until you’ve done it. I’ve done both theology and science and I know which one is easier.

  • obpoet

    I am intrigued by this story of St. Thomas having a vision, and then writing nothing else. Why would he not?
    1) He was forbidden to write of it
    2) He could not find words to describe it
    3) He no longer trusted his own abilities
    4) Human effort seemed futile
    Even if it made his own work seem like straw, you think he would write down a description of it. Only #1 seems to make sense. Besides, we also know he had a vision whereby Christ told him regarding his work, “You have written well of me, Thomas.” Seems like it was all meant to be kept secret.

  • Ben

    Michael, like many people, I’ve also done tertiary level theology, philosophy, science and mathematics. I think it’s one thing to learn about theology (or philosophy), to produce university level ‘essays’ in it, to follow the arguments of various philosophers in a general sort of way, and to pick holes in a bad or imperfectly formulated argument. It’s another thing to so grasp some of these arguments so as to give a definite positive judgment on their validity, because of the very high level of abstraction of the concepts involved.

    It seems to me less taxing in mathematics than in metaphysics to follow a proof carefully enough as to have clear confidence and certainty that the task has been achieved. The human mind takes more naturally to the concepts of mathematics and physics than to the even more abstract concepts of metaphysics. Also, metaphysics requires that we go back to our most basic assumptions. There’s a sense in which every philosopher is starting from scratch.

    So it’s not surprising that progress in thought about these matters has been more sporadic than progress in some other branches of knowledge. (Even so, there’s a bit more convergence than your claim of ‘total lack of agreement’ between ‘thousands of religions’!)

    But all this doesn’t mean that metaphysical reasoning simply can’t be done with any confidence, or gets nowhere at all, for those who really apply themselves to it. The results can’t be empirically double-checked, but the same is true of whole realms of mathematics; the evidence is of a logical nature. (I’m talking here of things like the existence and nature of God and the soul. Things like assessing claims of the miraculous such as are mentioned in Father’s original post, and seeing if reasonable alternative explanations can be ruled out, involve more of the thinking that goes on in history or science than philosophy.)

  • Michael

    I’m obviously not a professional theologian, not even an amateur one but at one time in my life was a very observant Catholic even going so far as to take a number of philosophy and theology courses as I pursued my studies in science and math.

    Jacob S. mentioned the Riemann Zeta Function and you’ve mentioned metaphysics. Take a look at this entry at Mathworld ( ) and Humanae Vitae ( vi_enc_25071968_humanae-vitae_en.html )

    I’ve read both and understand both. I’ve repeated many of the calculations in the former and while I don’t agree with aspects of the latter, I can certainly explain quite clearly the Catholic view on contraception. Which of these two does your mind take more readily to?

    When people claim that there is more and more agreement between various denominations and point to facts like Presbyterians and Methodists are essentially the same (here in Canada the Presbyterians and Methodists merged in the 20′s to form three churches) I ask them which other denomination is there’s essentially like.

    Metaphysics should have ended with Descartes’ Cogito. Yet armchair metaphysicians still build their castles in the sky formulating wildly different formulations (depending upon their religions).

    As to miracles the late Sathya Sai Baba ( ) performed countless miracles in front of millions of people of whom most are still living and can attest to them yet why is it appropriate to be skeptical of these claims.

  • Jacob S

    “Don’t say science is easy until you’ve done it. I’ve done both theology and science and I know which one is easier.”

    B.S in Physics, B.S, M.S working on Ph.D. in Math. I have studied Quantum Physics, though it was a few years ago now. I am not a theologian, but do have a amateur sort of interest in it.

    I didn’t say it was easy. We used to call physics the “science of everything,” and that’s correct if you emphasize “thing” and by it mean the material world. I said that it was easier. Just because one one thing is hard doesn’t mean another isn’t harder.

    If you think theology is simpler, then surely you can personally settle all theological differences your self in a way that everyone will accept.

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  • Michael

    It’s less that theology is easy, and more that it is seemingly random. Take any current major moral issue (Abortion, birth Control, Capital punishment, Divorce, Euthanasia, etc.) and just staying within mainstream Christian denominations you can find totally opposite positions on each of these issues. And these are well thought out positions by intelligent, well meaning, praying, education people. Imagine if science were like that. Imagine if there was no agreement on conservation of energy, gravitational theory or evolution, would you take it seriously?

    And the same applies to all areas of theology. Where’s the agreement on major issues such as the nature of Jesus, the meaning of the Eucharist, the number of sacraments. Imagine if a substantial minority of physicists thought that gravity was only symbolic.

    Good luck on your math studies. If you don’t mind me asking, what’s your specialty? I studied condensed matter physics using neutron scattering.

  • Fr. Dwight Longenecker

    The diversity of opinion you observe is the reason I became a Catholic. This question leads one into the question of authority–i.e. why should one religious group have a stronger claim to be “right” than another? Are there any criteria for establishing a claim to authority?

    This is a vital question for believers, but I accept that it doesn’t matter much if a person doesn’t have religious belief to start with.

  • Michael

    Even St. Aquinas said the argument from authority is the weakest form of argument … according to Boethius (bit of Scholastic humour there).

    But many non believers, including myself, did have religious belief to start with. In science there is no argument from authority. There is no magisterium in science. The most junior grad student can present data that overturns the head of the Royal Society and that is not just acceptable, but celebrated. And as more and more young people aquire scientific training and the scientific mindset, they ask why the same methodology that works so well in science is anathematized in religion.

  • Fr. Dwight Longenecker

    “The same methodology in religion as in science?” Why is it so difficult to understand that this makes about as much sense as saying a car mechanic saying, “Poetry is really dumb because they don’t have any car manuals to tell you how to do it.”

    It’s like trying to explain the meaning of human love by analyzing the pigments of ink used in the printing of a valentine card.

  • Ben

    Yes, Humanae Vitae is easier reading than the Mathworld entry, but Humanae Vitae isn’t a work of dense philosophical argumentation, and doesn’t pretend to be. (Which is one reason many people find it ‘unconvincing’: it simply doesn’t aim at communicating every step of the reasoning required to make the conclusion watertight. That would take a more detailed and difficult book.)

    But this very difficulty in constructing and evaluating valid arguments in such matters is part of what leads to the considerable diversity of religious opinion, and why, as Father Dwight indicates, the claim is not implausible that God has placed in the world an authority to help us find the truth in such important matters and to unite in it. A searcher for truth is left with the still arduous (but not impossible) task of evaluating the reasons presented for believing in that authority.

    I’m not convinced by generalized dismissals of metaphysics as ‘armchair speculation’. If a supposedly proven conclusion is actually false or uncertain, there logically must be a flaw in the reasoning that led there. If no such flaw can be found, then if we trust logic, there is no reason for dismissing the conclusion or for calling it ‘armchair speculation’ in the first place. But we have to do the patient work of examining the arguments on a case-by-case basis. (Just as in pure mathematics, but with typically more difficulty in reaching certainty and consensus.)

    It’s similar with miracle claims, inside or outside the Church. Case-by-case basis. Much harder work! Can reasonable alternative explanations (legend, inaccurate documentation, hallucination, fraud, natural causes) account for the data? If so (as so often is the case), then we don’t conclude it’s something beyond the natural. But if remotely plausible natural alternatives can reasonably be ruled out, this rationally points to causes beyond the natural.

    If you have sound reasons for doubting the miracles of Sathya Sai Baba, well and good – they join the list of unauthenticated claims. This has no rational bearing on other cases where no reasonable natural explanation is found plausible – anymore than a disproved scientific theory casts doubt on soundly established theories. If, on the other hand, you can’t find any plausible reasons at all for doubting his claimed miracles, then perhaps rationally you should accept that something beyond the natural was going on there.

    However, it’s a further question what theological conclusions should be drawn from that. Catholics are not committed to believing that God never works miracles in non-Catholic settings; also, we do believe in the possible operation of spiritual forces other than God. Broader philosophical and rational considerations help us assess what is going on in particular instances.

    Sometimes no definitive conclusion is possible, just as in criminal investigations. But just as in criminal investigations – detailed case-by-case evaluation, not throwing up our hands in despair. (Because some explanation of each case there logically must be, even if we can’t find it for sure.)

    And then in the end, we look at the broader picture of all well-established supernatural events and ask, what overall theological view best accounts for all the data?

  • Michael

    ” If, on the other hand, you can’t find any plausible reasons at all for doubting his claimed miracles, then perhaps rationally you should accept that something beyond the natural was going on there.” UFOlogists use this same technique. If science can come with no explanation for the lights in the sky they saw, then it must be alien visitation. No, it’s still an Unidentified Flying Object.

    Neither of us have any reason to doubt the followers of Sai Baba any more than we have reason to doubt the gospel accounts of Jesus’ miracles. We just have a predisposition to view with skepticism one or both of these claims. And like the Indian Skeptic now charged with blasphemy for exposing a miracle ( ) we must be rigourous and impartial in acceptance of the supernatural.

  • Michael

    What part of sciences’ methodology of admitting error and correcting it is adverse to religion. It must be however as although religious people are often quick to say religion has been wrong in the past, they never say their own religion has been wrong on any major issue of faith or morals. It would be akin to chemists claiming science learns from its mistakes by pointing to all the errors biologists have made.

    I have never met a religious person who will admit that their current religion has ever been wrong on a substantial issue about their God or how God wishes them to act.

  • Fr. Dwight Longenecker

    There is actually much more in common between scientific and theological methodology than differs.

  • Michael

    Let’s hope. Thank you for this discussion.

  • Ben

    The Indian skeptic was applying the very methodology for investigating miracles that I recommended, i.e. searching for all plausible natural explanations first. And I’m not sure what you mean about my doubting the claims of Sai Baba’s followers (and so not being impartial), as I conceded (not having looked deeply into the evidence) that there could in principle be something ‘supernatural’ going on there. (The theological implications of this would be another question.)

    The UFO parallel is unconvincing. I don’t believe in alien visitations, but I suppose we would all admit them if their ships landed in front of the White House. It would no longer be reasonable to admit ‘natural non-alien causes’ as the explanation. So there is a spectrum of strength of evidence between that case and the ‘unexplained lights in the sky’ (which latter, neither of us find convincing evidence of alien visitations). Now, as we move along that spectrum of strength of evidence from weaker to stronger, the ‘natural causes’ explanation becomes less and less plausible, and at some point ridiculous. Now, maybe no miracles come before me with the strength of evidence of spaceships in front of the White House. Yet for some claimed miracles (e.g. Fatima, considered in all the details of the evidence, which most people don’t) the implausibility of a ‘natural causes’ explanation still clearly reaches the ‘ridiculous’ level. Frankly, skepticism in the case would simply be irrational on my part.

  • Ben

    On refusal to admit error in one’s religion, I can’t speak for believers in other religions, but among Catholics there has been plenty of revision, refining, backtracking, clash of opposing ideas leading to progress, in all sorts of matters of theology and practice. Where admittedly there is no ‘backtracking’ is in those teachings that fulfil the conditions for supposedly being ‘infallible’. Since we believe we have solid evidence establishing this infallibility of the Church in principle, and no solid evidence establishing any particular one of those ‘infallible’ teachings to be false, it would be irrational and against the evidence for us to backtrack. (This might seem to you like ‘bias’, but in the end the only way to adjudicate that claim would be to look again at the evidence.)

  • Jacob S

    “What part of sciences’ methodology of admitting error and correcting it is adverse to religion?”

    None, in principle, but there has to be an actual error to admit. As Catholics believe that the meat of our faith comes directly from God, we are not likely to ever say that we were wrong about that. It is worth pointing out that there is a development of doctrine, which involves the understanding and application of the infallibly declared never-changing stuff (and the stuff that just is fallible). Understandings shift, and it’s all held up to logic (and what is already known) with what fits surviving and what doesn’t dying off. This is why “small t” traditions fade in and out of popularity (see limbo, for example).

    The difference is not primarily that we aren’t willing to subject our faith to reason and see what happens (what stands and what falls). We do that. We even do that with the infallibly defined stuff that we know by faith is correct and can’t change – we’re confident that it won’t fall (and so far it hasn’t). The difference is that if you want to figure out if there is such a thing as limbo, your recourse is to your brain and your books. You can’t build a soul accelerator to zoom the spirits of the dead around in circles and into each other to see where they go. In this sense, the study of religion is much more like mathematics than the physical sciences. I mean, you can test propositions like “if I do this dance it will rain” empirically, but some others not so much.

  • Michael

    Ben – There’s only been two infallible pronouncements, both Marian related, the Immaculate Conception (referring to Mary’s conception to Anne and Joachim) and the Assumption of Mary bodily into heaven after her death. I don’t expect too much movement on those fronts.

    “None, in principle, but there has to be an actual error to admit. As Catholics believe that the meat of our faith comes directly from God” But all religious people believe that and that is my point. Are all denominations true in their assertions (No) or are most of them wrong in the truth of their denomination (Yes). So why has no religious faith ever said they were wrong about even on of their major beliefs. It;s akin to astrologers, homeopaths and naturopaths never admitting that they’ve ever been wrong as contrast to evidence based medicine which does it all the time.

  • Ben

    “There’s only been two infallible pronouncements” – you’re referring there to exercises of infallibility in which the Pope is pronouncing a doctrine on his own. (Even within that category, I’d say ‘two’ is a very minimalist account, but yes, some people give that number.) However, definitely a much greater number of infallible teachings come from the 21 Ecumenical Councils held in union with the Pope. For example, the Nicene Creed (from the first two Ecumenical Councils) is certainly viewed as infallible. Vatican II explained in detail the different channels of infallible teaching (‘Lumen Gentium’ 25).

    I guess people of various religions (including leaders) admit their religion is wrong on essential beliefs all the time – but then that just means those individuals, and those who go along with them, don’t really hold to that original religion anymore. They’ve created or joined a variant religion, or no religion. And generally there will be those they leave behind who don’t agree with their change – and that means there is generally continuity as well in the original religious faith. So the notion of all religions refusing to change is an illusion created by our definition of terms. A religious idea by definition never itself ‘changes’ (or it would not be the same idea), but various religious people often change their minds as to which ideas are true. Sometimes the name of the religion will stick with the original set of ideas, sometimes (if there are enough of them) with the group of people who change their minds.

    I agree with you that it would be great if all those in religious error admitted their error and changed. But then we have to decide which religious claims are actually errors – and we’re back to looking at the evidence for those specific religious claims. The patient case-by-case methodology that I’ve advocated, rather than the methodology of indiscriminately discrediting in one hit all religious claims as supposedly lacking evidence.

  • Mark W.

    Faith and reason are mutually incompatible. Faith, by definition, is believing in something without having any reason for it. Reason and rationality deal with making sense out of reality as we know it. Wishful thinking and an ancient fable in a holy book, that are unsupported by any evidence in reality, isn’t proof of anything.