Debunking a Debunking

Ok.  There’s been a controversy brewing on the “Is it so hard not to desecrate the Eucharist” post (part of the ongoing discussion of when, if ever, sacrilege is an appropriate form of protest).  March Hare has been making the case that P.Z. Myers’s desecration of a consecrated wafer was meant to debunk the Catholic doctrine of transubstantiation.

March Hare wrote:

Should Catholics not be called out on the fact their faith decrees that a cracker becomes human flesh by a priest saying magic words? Or that the consumption of an actual body (according to their belief) is a key part of their union with the Church i.e. cannibalism.
Magic and cannibalism. And they call the African religions voodoo.

Incidentally, it has been tested scientifically, it is still a cracker after consecration, there is no human DNA in it. Catholic magic words, like all magic words, have no supernatural effects.

I’m not under the impression that any Catholics think that they receive the Host as piece of flesh complete with DNA or that the Communion chalices are full of red blood cells, platelets, and plasma.  After all, if March Hare’s contention were true,  Myers’s attempting debunking would be superfluous, as long as Catholics could distinguish between the taste of wine and the taste of blood.

There’s been some counter-citing in thread, and I want to clear things up.  To start with, I consulted noted Catholic reference Wikipedia, in which the first paragraph of the article on Transubstantiation reads:

In Roman Catholic theology, transubstantiation (in Latin, transsubstantiatio, in Greek μετουσίωσις metousiosis) means the change of the substance of host bread and sacramental wine into the substance of the Body and Blood (respectively)[1] of Jesus in the Eucharist, while all that is accessible to the senses (accidents) remains as before.[2][3]

This tracks pretty well with some of the explanations I’ve heard from Catholics, but I wouldn’t mind getting an explanation that’s written by a source that’s a little less small-c catholic than Wikipedia but which is still targeted toward laypeople.  I’ve asked the folks at the Catholic Spitfire Grill for help, but if any Catholic reading this blog has a good link or wants to write a quick, well-sourced guest post, let me know.

March Hare was citing from the Catechism of the Catholic Church in the last thread, but according to a plausible argument by Charles, he may have been misunderstanding terms that used differently in theology and in everyday life.  Here’s what Charles had to say:

March Hare: I think part of th issue seems to be that from basic principles you reject theological explanation, so rather than saying “the idea that something could have an ‘essence’ and a ‘substance’ is absurd” or “a physical object cannot have a ‘spiritual presence'” you redefine the doctrine to meet your rationalistic/mechanistic world view, and attack that as absurd.
Now I am not saying your critique of the concept of transubstantiation might not be valid, I am saying that it is overly simplistic, and betrays a complete misunderstanding of what catholics actually believe…

As to whether Catholics in the pews are expected to get this, I can tell you I have never met a Catholic from the pew on up to the priest who believed/claimed to believe/thought anyone believed/or thought the church taught anything like what you subscribed. AS to lay understanding I would think one of the points is that it is a MYSTERY! I find it odd that you can accept lay understanding of a triune godhead, but not that a piece of bread contains a spirit!

So let’s take one last round of links and then clear all this up.

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  • have not listened to this yet, it turned up in a quick search, I will listen at some point today, however Fr. Hardon is a pretty orthodox source on anything catholic.

  • Anonymous

    No matter how much you obfuscate the terms, March Hare's critique lines up nearly verbatim with the Catholic understanding of transubstantiation. It's literally becoming the "substance" of Christ's body… aka cannibalism.

  • Anonymous: It is not becoming the "substance" of Christ's pre-resurrection human body. It IS becoming the substance of Christ's glorified body. So even if "substance" meant what you think it means it is debatable if that would be cannibalism. This entire discussion strikes me off the kind of thinking you get when pop-personalities like Deepak Chopra latch onto terms and concepts from quantum physics drawing absurd and bad conclusions from a complete misunderstanding of the facts. To appreciate what Catholics are saying you need to understand Aristotelian metaphysics and Thomism, two systems that materialists reject outright. You are arguing that The Pittsburgh Pirates are a poor defensive team because their defensive linemen are poor players. Yes they may be a bad team, and it may be a defense issue but your using football terms!I find it also absurd that folks who are discounting transubstantiation as nonsense are also attacking it as cannibalism! If it is cannibalism then you are accepting that its "real" in some way! If it isn't real then telling a Catholic they are pretending to be cannibals is simply stating something they already know and making no progress on any discussion.You have to realize that Catholic thinkers have put a lot of time in on rationalism vs faith, and they have come to the conclusion that there are in fact aspects of their faith that can not be rationally figured out, and required revelation. They jive because to a catholic like Aquinas reason is just as strong, so if reason contradicts revelation you are either reasoning poorly or misunderstanding the faith. This implies that there are extra-scientific concepts you will find troubling as a non-catholic, trust me when I tell you a great many Catholic thinkers has commented on how troubling they find them as well! The difference between us and them is they chose to believe them on faith.

  • @Charles:1) can you post any official Church citation where there is a distinction drawn between Jesus' pre and post resurrection body specifically in connection with what the eucharist is?2) would you clarify the difference between Jesus pre-resurrection and post-resurrection bodies in general? Is one now pure spirit or otherly vs. the body that, say, Doubting Thomas examined?Or perhaps are you just building off of Paul's "glorified body" discussion with respect to what heaven will be like?

  • I have to say it… seriously, there's a Fr. Hardon?

  • Anonymous

    @CharlesI actually was quite clear on it, but you are incredibly mistaken to assume that this somehow evades the charges of cannibalism. Jesus' "resurrection" body was indeed flesh and bone, according to Luke 24:39. Therefore, eating the "substance" of Jesus' "resurrection body" is still cannibalism. We are not countenancing the reality of transubstantiation by acknowledging its logical consequences, we are simply showing the Catholic the fully explicated consequence of their ridiculous belief. Congratulations on not only appealing to authority but appealing to tradition in one paragraph. It's not easy to generate so many fallacious arguments.

  • Hendy, what you are describing is from an early Heresy called Docetism, and the passages about christ eating and being touched are specifically cited to point out that he had a physical body when he returned.What I am pointing out (and I have no specific expertise in this area) is that the term "Body of Christ" is used in Catholicism to refer to several different things, including the entire group of believers. So saying that it definitively must mean a physical piece of the human that was the incarnation is a little odd. Would the "pro-cannibal" crowd also state that in John 1:1 "In the beginning was the word, blah blah" that the "word" is referring to a physical human body? or perhaps you are forgetting that christ is a GOD to Catholics and much more than just the incarnation that worked the earth for approx. 33 year approx 2000 years ago.Certainly I will have to read up on this christology to discuss it more. But I will refer you to the Summa Theologica on this since I am almost certain that if you ask the Pope himself he would cite Aquinas.It is pretty clear that the doctrine (no matter how contrived it is) is not a simplistic cannibalism. Nor is it implying that catholics are eating human flash and blood.

  • Here is Aquinas on it: "I answer that, It is evident to sense that all the accidents of the bread and wine remain after the consecration. And this is reasonably done by Divine providence. First of all, because it is not customary, but horrible, for men to eat human flesh, and to drink blood. And therefore Christ's flesh and blood are set before us to be partaken of under the species of those things which are the more commonly used by men, namely, bread and wine. Secondly, lest this sacrament might be derided by unbelievers, if we were to eat our Lord under His own species. Thirdly, that while we receive our Lord's body and blood invisibly, this may redound to the merit of faith."Clearly for aquinas the "species" of the substance is what counts, otherwise he would be saying here that eating the flesh and blood is horrible. So for him the fact that the "species" (which he is using as a technical word here) is bread means that you are eating bread as a matter of PHYSICAL reality and not a cannibal.I can't believe I am having this argument, Since first it is self evident to anyone who has been to a Mass that the priest is handing out bread and wine and not flesh and blood, thereby negating the cannibalism claim. And second you can't make the cannibalism claim without first accepting the supernatural transformation which any self respecting atheist must reject!

  • I will simply add to this that if I had bothered to read the next Article in the Summa theologica, (Tertia Pars, Q 75, Article 8) Aquinas Answers the question "Is The body of Christ is made out of bread"? with a "Yes once again negating the cannibalism claims.I know it is hard to see, primarily because the catholic is using reasoning that a non-believer rejects as not actual reasoning. But you have to understand the ground on which your opponent operates if you are to challenge him. Based on my reading of ST, Tertia Pars, Ques. 75 the correct refutation that March Hare and his ilk mean to take is to say that the body has no soul, therefore the soul as "form of the body" is meaningless, therefore another object cannot take that form, and anyway in a material world the bread ONLY has what Aquinas calls accidents, and species, and does not have a "form" or "matter" separate from those accidents.You have to remember that Aquinas doesn't address these claims precisely because he is starting from a different set of first principles than you are. I find the Summa immensely readable and I also find the differences in first principles with the modern secular mind obvious. Incidentally it is possible to accept/agree with thomistic metaphysics and not be a Christian. So to sum up, it is ridiculous to take a conclusion that was reached using premise you don't accept and then apply that conclusion to your premises and laugh. You should be attacking the premises that you find suspect. (As Lewis says, we didn't stop burning witches because we thought it wrong, we stopped because we stopped believing witches were real)

  • Charles:"I find it also absurd that folks who are discounting transubstantiation as nonsense are also attacking it as cannibalism! If it is cannibalism then you are accepting that its "real" in some way! If it isn't real then telling a Catholic they are pretending to be cannibals is simply stating something they already know and making no progress on any discussion."Antitransubstantionists (now there's a nice word!) don't actually think that transubstantiation is real in any way. What they are trying to do is point out the real and distasteful (excuse the pun) implications of a *Catholic* belief that transubstantiation is real. If it is the case (and I'm not saying it is) that Catholics truly believe that crackers turn into human flesh in their digestive tracts, then those Catholics must admit that they are taking part in cannibalism.

  • @Charles:- No idea where the charge of docetism, (from wiki) saying Jesus' physical body was an illusion, came from. You distinguished between Christ's "pre-resurrection body" and his "glorified body." I simply asked for the difference.- I don't understand how this from Aquinas: "First of all, because it is not customary, but horrible, for men to eat human flesh, and to drink blood. And therefore Christ's flesh and blood are set before us to be partaken of under the species of those things which are the more commonly used by men, namely, bread and wine." doesn't confirm what I and others have been saying.I would go back and read Q75, Article 8. Reading on, I don't think it says what you suspect. Some tidbits:"Again, this conversion has something in common with natural transmutation in two respects, although not in the same fashion. First of all because in both, one of the extremes passes into the other, as bread into Christ's body""Secondly, they have this in common, that on both sides something remains the same; whereas this does not happen in creation: yet differently; for the same matter or subject remains in natural transmutation; whereas in this sacrament the same accidents remain.""But since in this sacrament the whole substance is converted into the whole substance, on that account this conversion is properly termed transubstantiation."In other words, he's contrasting "natural transmutation" with the sacrament by saying that in the first, it's the matter/substance that's the same but in a different form, whereas with the latter, it's literally the matter/substance that changes but just the outward appearance that remains (form). It is substantially different.I think the best is simply when he puts forth that the "whole substance" is converted into the "whole substance."I don't know how you can read that any other way: it is Jesus' literal body, blood, and flesh; it just looks, tastes, and smells like bread.

  • As a Catholic I frankly don't mind if someone feels the need to accuse me of cannibalism because I believe in the Real Presence of Jesus in the Eucharist. It isn't really useful to me to discuss the finer points of that doctrine with those who are flatly rejecting the premises to begin with. That said, Charles is doing a magnificant job and mostly I am commenting because I didn't want Leah to think I'd ignored her post to the Spitfire Grill. As a term, "Transubstantiation" is a philosophical term use to describe a religious mystery. Got that? Mystery. I frankly think the Western tendency to define, define, define, might just go a little too far in this case and I tend to prefer the Eastern Orthodox tendency to leave this mystery a little less defined. It should be noted that while "transubstantiation" shows up in oodles of Catholic writings, it is merely an attempt at an explanation and that it is not, in and of itself, doctrine. The doctrine is that Jesus is fully present, Body and Blood, Soul and Divinity, in the Eucharist. Catholics do not believe that "crackers turn into human flesh in their digestive tracts." Transubstantiation occurs at the consecration. So in mocking-atheist-speak, the "crackers" turn into human flesh on the altar. The consecrated hosts act like bread, taste like bread, function as bread in the human disgestive tract from the consecration to digestion. According to the transubstatiation explanation, the Real Presence of Christ would no longer be present when the 'accidents' of bread have gone due to digestion. At NO TIME would any reasonably educated Catholic tell you that any kind of testing done on the host after consecration would yield a result inconsistent with what you'd expect for the same test done on an unconsecrated host. So the idea that testing a consecrated host does not reveal human DNA, would not be convincing for an educated Catholic and it seems to me that you'd get farther in getting us to relinquish what appear to mocking-atheists to be irrational beliefs by tackling something a little less offensive. However if offense is your goal, have at it. You're in good company. I could get you plenty of similar diatribes going back nearly 2,000 years. There are records of miraculous incidents where the consecrated wine/bread tuned into visible blood/flesh. Those hosts/wine are NEVER consumed. It is also interesting that of those miraculous incidents in every single case where the miracle was investigated and approved by the church as genuine, and where the host/blood was still available for testing, they ALL tested as blood type AB. Since many of those miracles happened in the days before blood typing was even known, it is interesting to me that they all came back with the same rare blood type. It seems unlikely to me that if these events were hoaxes that they'd match like that. That, of course, does not prove anything to the skeptic and I am not suggesting that it should. Still I offer it for anyone who might find it interesting. While it may not be rational to believe in the Real Presence. It is equally irrational, to define 'transubstatiation' however you'd like and then mock your definition of it. At least mock what we actually believe and not what you've made it out to be. It seems to me that if we are wrong and Jesus is not truly present in the Eucharist, at best we are pretending to be cannibals as suggested elsewhere since when the hosts DO appear to be real flesh and blood they are not consumed.

  • " The doctrine is that Jesus is fully present, Body and Blood, Soul and Divinity, in the Eucharist. "Yep, his body and blood are present. Then you eat the wafer which all of these are present in. This is cannibalism. Whenever you prod Catholics' views, they always fall back into the "it's a mystery!" mode and revert to badly quoted Aquinas and act if it is a legitimate saving grace.The idea that we shouldn't "mock" these beliefs is absolutely ludicrous. In the 21st century to still believe that a guy who lived over 2,000 years ago LITERALLY comes into a cracker because a priest says some magic words is beyond nutcase. However, because there is a long tradition people feel validated in believing in said insanity. Then, after you are done acting as if we are creating some sort of strawman for your argument, you go and say something nutters like this "I could get you plenty of similar diatribes going back nearly 2,000 years. There are records of miraculous incidents where the consecrated wine/bread tuned into visible blood/flesh. "

  • @Sister Stepfire:Please provide links to blood typing in eucharistic miracles other than that of Lanciano. My google searching is turning up squat. Tooooons of cites are willing to tout that "All eucharistic miracles have been shown to have blood type AB" but the only concrete examples that ever are cited are Lanciano and (not a euch miracle) the Shroud of Turin.I find this (and similar from others) incredibly ironic (read these back to back):-"It is equally irrational to define 'transubstatiation' however you'd like and then mock your definition of it. At least mock what we actually believe and not what you've made it out to be.""As a term, "Transubstantiation" is a philosophical term use to describe a religious mystery. Got that? Mystery. I frankly think the Western tendency to define, define, define, might just go a little too far in this case and I tend to prefer the Eastern Orthodox tendency to leave this mystery a little less defined."-Apparently, believers can't define it either and you'd prefer it that way. Pardon the rest of us for trying to comprehend the differences between form, substance, essence, presence, transmutation, transubstantiation, accidents, outward signs, and whatever else is thrown in there.If it can't be defined, then the discussion (like Leah says in her most recent post) is probably utterly fruitless. I think everyone should go their separate ways:- Skeptics: "I don't believe this and don't even understand how it's possible."- Believers: "I believe this and don't even understand what I believe."End of story.

  • Anonymous

    Not end of story. Aquinas would say two things, I think.A) cannibalism is consuming the accidents of human flesh. And B) to a modern scientific view point it should be pit that during the consecration the body of christ becomes that wafer. The wafer does not become flesh, this is because science can only be concerned with accidents!Charles posting as anon

  • @ Matt, you are free to mock whatever you'd like. You can call my beliefs whatever you'd like. Perhaps, I should have been more clear in my point. If you'd like to change my mind with respect to my religious beliefs; then, it makes sense to me that you would want to approach the conversation from a standpoint that at least respects what I believe even if you don't agree. That way, we can avoid an argument about your "tone" and concentrate on the substance of your disagreement. If all you want to do is mock….knock yourself out. @ Hendy….my sources for AB blood typing are not internet based and I am not sure that I would be any more able to locate a decent source on-line if you were unable to. Like you, I would also like to be able to reference some hard lab reports on those claims. I should not have referenced it in this conversation without a willingness to do some legwork to provide some easily available documentation and at the moment I simply do not have the time to do it. My apologies. I would also like to point out that by "definition", Christian belief that finite humans are made by an infinite God means that we will not be able to clearly define all that God is, or means. In fact, we could be certain that God was man-made if there weren't mysteries and God fit neatly into the little box we had made for Him. My point was that I would like to leave this particular mystery a little less defined…personal preference and not "not defined at all." I think that by overananlyzing the how-it-works aspect of the Eucharist, you risk (admittedly from a Believer's perspective) missing out on the more significant spiritual aspects. If you'd like to discuss accidents, substances, forms, essences and the rest, I am not stopping you or anyone else. I expressed a personal preference. For me as a religious person, I find that that which I CAN comprehend points me reliably to a greater mystery which I do not fully comprehend. As a believer, I think I would rephrase your statement with regard to my respect for this particular mystery–I believe this. I understand some of what I believe but also understand that what I do comprehend points me to deeper mysteries still. Even in the realm of the completely rational natural sciences, an unknown is an invitation to ask better questions and seek deeper knowledge not an indication that you don't know anything at all.

  • @Sister Spitfire:- perhaps you could mention the not-easily-accessible sources you did have in mind, then? I'm more than willing to visit a local library or theological storehouse (seminary, etc.) to find such works. It sounds like you have a reference in mind, but that it's just not internet-based. Provide away.- re. the rest, it's probably just the dividing line between believers and not. My study has led me to find the suggestions put forth by religion to be highly improbable and thus I don't believe. I would argue that something other than things making sense leads you to believe. In other words, you already believe, then comprehend what you can (which reinforces belief) and then take the rest on faith, certain that it would also support your position could it be comprehended.

  • @Charles: yes, maybe Aquinas would say that. But then, if someone or something could take the essence of broccoli and give it the "accidents" of flesh… it would be cannibalism? All that matters is the "outward appearance" with respect to cannibalism; not the "essence/substance"?So lost…

  • @ Hendy the only book I can lay hands on, is one of dubious value which is Eucharistic Miracles by Joan Caroll Cruz. It's mostly a compilation of events some better substantiated than others but the only blood typing mentioned is that of Lanciano (that I could find). My recollection dates from some reading I did on the Shroud of Turin which as you pointed out is not a Eucharistic Miracle. I couldn't begin to lay my hands on the articles I read, but as I recall it was a reference to the blood typing related to both the Shroud of Turin and the Sudarium of Oviedo (both AB) and included a reference to other Eucharistic Miracles. It may be that the author should have used the singular to describe the number of identified instances of AB typing with regard to Eucharistic miracles and not the plural or that my memory regarding the articles I read is faulty.As for the other. I think you're right. We all come with some sort of master template to lay over the world as we see it that lets us be comfortable continuing to view the world as we see it. How best to break through that world view to check out the value of another template is probably the hardest thing that any of us can ever undertake. I was not born to Catholicism and my move from a Protestant world view to a Catholic one was pretty big for me, but perhaps in the eyes of an atheist…not so big. Anyway, Eucharistic miracles played/play no role whatsoever in my beliefs with respect to God/Eucharist. I freely concede I don't expect the highest level of documentation and proof for precisely that reason and for that reason….I should not bring them with me to discussions such as these.

  • I am not against cannibalism. Just thought I'd get that out of the way.Aquinas: I don't like the idea of cannibalism, the Eucharist appears very much like cannibalism, I best make something up to allow these conflicting ideas to co-exist in my head.Modern theist: It's a mystery, you couldn't possibly understand.This is simply following on from very old arguments about religion – there's something barbaric, people point it out and then it gets neatly explained away in terms that appease the masses and shut out criticism. e.g. purgatory, Abraham's sacrifice, circumcision etc. etc.Also, it's very telling that sophisticated, internet-wielding Catholics seem to have such impressive knowledge about what ordinary Catholics believe, if I may point out that there are a lot of Christians in Africa and they have some interesting beliefs…, I think we're getting away from the fact that while cannibalism is the end point, we should maybe concentrate on the belief that a priest can say magic words and transform something in the real world. Or cast out demons…

  • March Hare, if we're having an argument about Catholic doctrine it is not relevant to bring in African tribal medicine that encourages the butchering of albinos.

  • Leah, considering Christianity's long history of adopting and supplanting existing religions in new territories I think it to be relevant.However, the whole cannibalism thing could have been done away with if they'd simply say it was symbolic, but they don't and instead continue to use the phrase body and blood.Are we honestly to believe that people in the 10th Century were able to understand the philosophical difference between the substance of the host and the physical reality of it? Especially when the mass was in Latin and none of the congregation spoke it.

  • The best way to get a sense of what laypeople understood of theology might be to look at heresies from that period that attracted popular support. Presumably people understood enough to choose between popular heresies and orthodoxy. Some heresies, of course, were common only among theologians.

  • To look at things a different way:Let's take one consecrated host and one unconsecrated wafer. Mix them up. Is there any way to tell them apart? If not then are you saying I can't (or shouldn't) desecrate an unconsecrated wafer in case it might be the 'real' one?On that basis I can't desecrate any wafer as people might think it's a 'real' one. Which means my freedom of speech and freedom to treat my wafer however I choose is severely restricted.So when people say that I have to go into a chapel to get a host to desecrate that's simply not true, since there is no way to tell them apart I simply have to pretend it's a real host and no-one can say it's not. Can we tell if PZ's mailed cracker was consecrated? You're calling his actions immoral and yet we have no way of knowing if he did what he is being charged with.

  • I think those hypotheticals are a little silly, March Hare. Yes, I can't tell the difference btwn a consecrated and an unconsecrated wafer, but I can make a reasonable guess in most circumstances. A wafer I ordered from a site selling unconsecrated wafers in bulk: probably unconsecrated. A wafer handed out by a priest at mass: consecrated. (And are you really surrounded by unconsecrated or questionably consecrated wafers on a day-to-day basis that you need to decide whether or not you can destroy?)P.Z. originally requested a consecrated wafer to be stolen, so it's likely that he believed he had one and that he did have one. Can I be a hundred percent certain without a carefully documented paper trail of provenance? No, but I'm confident enough to call Myers out.

  • Leah, the point I was trying to get at is that if you set up an arbitrary rule saying what people can and can't do to a consecrated wafer, with no way to tell if a wafer is consecrated, then you have set up a rule protecting all wafers.The real problem we have is that people are attaching too much import onto symbols. If Catholics want to revere the Eucharist then they are welcome to, what they can't do is make me do the same. If Muslims don't want depictions of Muhammed they are welcome to not make any but what they can't do is stop me from making them etc. etc.

  • dbp

    March Hare:You're right! Why on earth does the Church leave baskets of consecrated Hosts on street corners for anyone to take, and send them out at random to postal customers like AOL trial CDs, back in the day?It would make SO much more sense, and be SO much less of an imposition on everyone, if they simply required people to consume the Host as soon as it is received. Why don't they do that? Then no one would complain.

  • I'm reading through this series, and two conflicting emotions are running through my mind. First, disgust: I still think PZ Myers' actions were pretty appalling. However, my other impulse is one of (almost) amusement. Understanding the Eucharist and the idea of transubstantiation requires an understanding of Aristotelian metaphysics. Most atheists on here (Leah being the notable exception) simply don't have that understanding . As far as I can tell, most of them aren't really seeking to gain it, and probably wouldn't find it valuable anyway. Yet they've continued to make spurious assertions, without doing the legwork to be intelligible or persuasive.As John Adams once wrote: "I cannot contemplate human affairs without either laughing or crying. I choose to laugh."

  • @Publinus:,—| Understanding the Eucharist and the idea of transubstantiation requires | an understanding of Aristotelian metaphysics. Most atheists on here (Leah | being the notable exception) simply don't have that understanding.`—I wonder how many Catholics have such an understanding and, thus, the required education necessary to contemplate their weekly ritual? Only since deconverting have I pursued knowledge of apologetics and background knowledge. Now that I am immersed in such discussions, it baffles me how many Christians know almost nothing of the various subject matters enveloped by the concept of belief in a particular deity.

  • I agree with Hendy that this argument cuts both ways. The very geeky Catholics I hang out with in college know about Aristotle's categories, but I'm sure most lay Catholics don't understand the theory behind transubstantiation in those terms and may not understand it at all.

  • Publius, I think you're being slightly harsh on the non-theists. Many do understand Aristotelian metaphysics we simply reject the notion, a bit like we understand exactly how people think homeopathy works but reject it in its entirety.Some of us don't think the best flute should go to the best flute player and we also don't think that things have an immeasurable essence. We have had 200-odd years of enlightenment thinking where the scientific method has produced increases in lifespan and standard of living unprecedented in human history. This has all been based on the idea that there are no supernatural effects when running scientific experiments and I see no reason to abandon that assumption and return to Aristotelian thinking.

  • Roz

    In regard to the knowledge of run-of-the-mill Catholics about the nature of the Eucharist, it's a mistake to think that it's necessary to have an understanding of Aristotelian metaphysics. That's only necessary for theologians and those challenging Catholic theology, who need to bring the right tools to the job.Probably the most succinct and admirably clear explanation of the Eucharist that I'm aware of came from a 7-year old girl. "It looks like bread. And it tastes like bread. But it's not bread — it's Jesus."

  • I would certainly agree that most Catholics don't really understand the exact mechanics of transubstantiation. But on the other hand, they aren't the ones accusing folks of cannibalism. Roz is right: deep knowledge on the subject is only really necessary for those who defend it, and those who would challenge it.Re: March Hare, actually, I'm pretty sure you don't understand it (if only because you think Aristotelian metaphysics entails "supernatural effects"). Also, I'd be willing to bet you do believe in "immeasurable essences."Are you human? If you lost a limb, would you remain human? I'm pretty sure you'd answer "yes" to both. Why? Because your limbs are non-essential to who you are; in other words, they're accidents. You can't cut off my nose and say you cut off my humanity, simply because my humanity is not a material thing. It's an essence: it's the definition of who I am. If you agree with this — and I have trouble seeing where you could disagree — then presto! You're an Aristotelian.

  • Publius: Roz is right: deep knowledge on the subject is only really necessary for those who defend it, and those who would challenge it.No, deep knowledge of astrology, homeopathy, spirit walking or exorcism is not required by people who challenge them. Likewise, deep knowledge of Aristotelian philosophy is not required by people in the 21st century who have access to two thousand years of scientific advances. Materialism has proven its worth, and while people may say there's more, the advances in humanity have all been made while assuming there isn't.Publius, you don't get to play word games. Define human then we'll talk. Or, if you'd prefer, I'm a chemical factory where the gain or loss of some chemicals may or may not impact the definition of factory. The common or garden description of human has certain things implicit in it that don't exist like free will and morality so I'm not playing that game.

  • March Hare: Correct me if I'm wrong, but I'm pretty sure that those those who initially refuted astrology and homeopathy and spiritualism were actually very well versed in the arguments pro and con. These errors weren't erased by the mere passage of time: it often took brilliant people and ingenious arguments to disprove or discredit them.I see you've made a number of assertions about the history of science. I'm not sure that's wise, if only because you seem to rely on an understanding of the field that passed out of currency a good fifty years ago. Your arguments can be traced to Andrew Dickson White's "A History of the Warfare of Science with Theology in Christendom," which is not exactly consider a credible resource these days, at least not by professional historians.As for your last point, I don't see why it's necessary to have a precise psychological definition of "humanity" in order to use it in a conversation, especially when I'm only trying to establish what it's not. Incidentally, you can take all the chemicals out of a chemical factory, and it'd still be a factory. My question was: do you consider yourself a human? If so, is that something that can be physically removed?Finally, I'm sorry you think this an exercise in word games. I have to wonder, though, whether your problem is really with Christianity, since it seems you'd object to the entire notion of philosophy. After all, we're talking about the same sort of propositional logic performed by Plato, Aristotle, Boethius, Aquinas, Descartes, and Hegel (among many many others). If you're willing to disregard their combined insight and contributions, then I fail to see how any small amount of insight I possess could possibly change your mind.

  • Ted Seeber

    I know it’s awfully after the fact, but here’s an idea:
    You know electromagnetism exists from natural magnets, from electrical circuits, etc. You can measure it with a compass.

    Now suspend your disbelief as an atheist for a second, and *think of God as a type of cosmic background magnetism* and the soul *as a type of personal magnetism*. All transubstantiation is doing is taking the magnetism of the soul of Jesus Christ, and applying it to bread and wine, just as stroking a steel needle on a magnet will transfer it’s magnetism from the original magnet to the needle.

    The analogy isn’t perfect- many theologians would disagree with me- but it IS at least an analogy that is understandable to any lay person with a passing knowledge of physics.

  • Humans write human definitions.
    For God all thing are possible.