Famine in a Time of Feasting

This past weekend was the one year anniversary of my conversion (well, according to the liturgical year, anyway). I changed my mind in the night between plain old Saturday and Palm Sunday. And, as one friend joked, this meant I got to skip Lent and come in right during Holy Week.

But one of the things I felt most acutely during my attendance at Triduum services that week was a sense of distance. It was one thing to not participate in the liturgy as an atheist, but if the Eucharist was actually the Body and Blood of Christ offered for us, it was wrenching to stay back in my pew, aware of the gap that still had to be bridged.

At the Easter Vigil, I watched the catechumens (from the RCIA class I had been nudged to leave) be received into the Church, and, at the reception after the Mass, I had contradictory feelings. On the one hand, I felt much closer to them, now that I was genuinely happy about their choice to enter the Church. And, on the other, I was jealous that I might have a whole year of waiting outside to be let in. I had received my change of heart at the antipodes of the year, with the longest possible wait.

Except, as it happened, a Dominican priest directed me toward a parish with a lot of intellectually engaged people my age and two cycles of RCIA per year, so I’m facing this year’s Holy Week as a member of the Church instead of poised on the banks of the Tiber, aching to get my feet wet.

And, as I probably could have expected if I’d pause to think about it, there’s still often a sense of distance. But now it’s not based on something I’m waiting for, but on things I’m doing or missing. The funny thing about having a mostly philosophy-based conversion is that, after switching sides, things can feel a bit anticlimactic. A bit like reading the Appendices after actually finishing the narrative of Lord of the Rings.

I’m in the period where it’s supposed to be less about learning about theology in the abstract and more about growing in a relationship with God.  And I’m considerably better at the former than the latter.  But, as was the case last year, there are always plenty of small steps to take.  The first step to converting wasn’t imitating St. Teresa’s ecstasy, it was emailing the RCIA director.

And tis the season for Gethsemane, I’m told.  And then, not long after, for Easter.

About Leah Libresco

Leah Anthony Libresco graduated from Yale in 2011. She works as an Editorial Assistant at The American Conservative by day, and by night writes for Patheos about theology, philosophy, and math at www.patheos.com/blogs/unequallyyoked. She was received into the Catholic Church in November 2012."

  • https://twitter.com/billybluejames billybluejames

    As one who entered the Church on the eve of Pentecost in 1978, welcome to the fold Leah!

  • Joe

    I was thinking of you today at the foot washing. I’m happy you’re home safe and sound even if it doesn’t seem as exciting as the journey.

  • Ruben

    I think the reason you’re better at the former than the latter is that god doesn’t exist, and you can’t
    have a relationship with someone who doesn’t exist. The best you can hope for is a voice inside your head which won’t be able to answer questions you don’t already know the answers to, and a warm fuzzy feeling during services.
    I wonder how you can swallow the Eucharist- do you really believe it’s possible for bread and wine to transform into blood and flesh but still have all the physical properties of bread and wine? Isn’t that just a con, a make-believe game for children? If it’s still bread and wine in every way that registers in our senses, how would such a transformation even be meaningful?

    Have a happy Easter. I live in hope that one day the Catholic church will be seen as ridiculous by everyone.

    • Phillip

      Ruben, from your comment I would assume you do not believe in God. The belief in the real presence of Jesus Christ in the Holy Eucharist is not an intellectual thing but rather one of faith. Faith that is given by God (the one you assume does not exist) to those who ask. Also, the Catholic Church has been around for almost 2000 years and I think she is here to stay for good. Happy Easter to you.

      • PhysicistDave

        The problem, Phillip, as you know, is that most Christian denominations also do not believe in the Real Presence. For that matter, I have found that many American Catholics don’t either.

        And the reason is quite simple: when most non-Catholics read the Gospels, Jesus’ words at the Last Supper seem just as obviously metaphors not to be taken literally as the various parables do.

        I grew up attending a fundamentalist church — pretty hard-core. But, even they did not think the parables were meant literally (it doesn’t mater whether some guy really built his house on sand — that is missing the point), nor could they see why on earth Catholics could not see the metaphorical nature of the words at the Last Supper.

        What makes this especially strange is that Catholics so easily accept that the early chapters in Genesis are not literally true.

        No, I do not think it is just faith, or the fundies would believe in the Real Presence too.

        Dave Miller in Sacramento

        • http://irenist.blogspot.com/ Irenist

          I actually agree with you on the “faith” thing here, Dave. Catholics have arguments about why our exegesis of the Eucharistic discourses is better than Protestants’, but those are arguments. Phillip seems to be just taking it on the Church’s authority: which is fine if it works for him, but probably isn’t going to win him any combox arguments.

        • R.C.

          Dave,

          Y’gotta remember that most fundamentalist sects, like the one in which you were raised, don’t like to read the Early Church Fathers, who personally were taught Christianity either by the apostles (Polycarp, Ignatius of Antioch) or by guys who knew the apostles and had been trained in the the faith by the apostles and had even been installed in leadership positions by the apostles.

          They don’t like to read those guys, naturally, because they all sound too Catholic.

          This is why such sects generally posit an early apostasy, where real Christianity vanished or nearly vanished, replaced by the Catholic Church, and wasn’t revived until the 16th or the 19th century by the founder of their particular group, who (after all this time, and separated from 1st-century society by thousands of years and cultural changes) suddenly figured out what the New Testament authors had really been thinking about as they wrote.

          At any rate, the whole “John chapter 6 is symbolic” thing not only doesn’t stand very well as exegesis of the passage, if you pay attention to the close details, but it also doesn’t match what the apostles’ buddies were saying the apostles had taught them that it meant.

          I mean, you have Ignatius of Antioch (trained by John, and succeeding Evodius as bishop of Antioch, which almost certainly means he was either made presbyter by Evodius or by Peter himself) saying stuff like, “The heretics abstain from taking care of their poor and from prayers because they don’t confess that the Eucharist we offer is the flesh and blood of Jesus Christ.”

          Oh, and don’t let’s forget the relevance of how the Romans sometimes arrested the early Christians on suspicion of drowning babies (infant baptism) or of cannibalism (eating the flesh and blood of Jesus)…only to disappointingly find that, so far as they could see, “it was only food of an ordinary kind.” Nice to get arrested for cannibalism, only to have the evidence be undetectable to any non-believer!

          So the Early Church Fathers, and other early sources outside Christianity, serve as a kind of “Federalist Papers” or “Declaration of Independence” for the New Testament’s “Constitution.” You get to understand the critical document through the lens of the commentary provided by the authors (or, at least, the students of the authors whom the authors installed in leadership positions).

          Sure, it would have been more convenient if the apostles had gotten together to produce a Study Bible, with footnotes provided by the apostles themselves, rather than letting their buddies write memoirs about it once the apostles had already been martyred. But that’s a rather anachronistic wish, isn’t it? (And it would have prohibited Bible commentators from Jerome to Scofield to Scott Hahn from having a job, wouldn’t it? Can’t have that.)

          So let’s face it. Genesis 1, being a liturgy celebrating the temple of creation in deeply poetical terminology, was never appropriately viewed as a scientific chronology. It would be like insisting on the dialogue of one of Shakespeare’s historical plays being a word-for-word transcription of the historical figure’s speeches! (Funny thing, not many historical figures deliver speeches in iambic pentameter.) Or it would be like taking the speeches of Job’s friends as if they were word-for-word transcriptions.

          For a modern American, the best way to understand Genesis 1 is not to say that it’s about nothing (it isn’t) and isn’t trying to convey any understanding of real events (it is); but, the best way to understand it also isn’t to pretend it was jotted down in shorthand by a court-reporter who was recording the events from stage left. For a modern American, if he will not listen to what the Catechism has to say, then he should perhaps think of Genesis 1 as being a bit like the song “American Pie” or the song “Stairway to Heaven.” It’s not that it’s not about anything. There’s meaning packed into every word. But the jester isn’t literally wearing a hat with bells on it and the “three men I admired the most” aren’t literally the Trinity. But real events are being described, in a picturesque and poetical and (most importantly for a verbal-tradition culture) very MEMORABLE and REPETITIVE way.

          That’s Genesis 1. You can get that just from the literary style. (There are different literary styles used in different parts of the Bible, of course.)

          But John 6? It doesn’t read like poetry at all. It reads like John, already familiar with the synoptic tradition and realizing that an important event had been given short shrift in Matthew, Mark, and Luke, recording it because it was already dealing with a reality — the Real Presence — that the Church had been practicing day-to-day for decades.

          And if we had doubts about that, Ignatius and the others should settle them. Throughout the early Christian world, from the Thomasites in southern India to Irenaeus over in Gaul to the ancestors of the Copts and of the Tewahedo church in Ethiopia, Christians were confessing that the Eucharist was the flesh and blood of Jesus which hung on the cross for their sins. Just like Jesus said: “The bread I will give is my flesh, which I will give up for the life of the world.”

          Given that, the evidence really isn’t on the side of the “it’s just a metaphor” crowd.

          It’s on the other side. The “it’s just a metaphor” crowd really needs to find some argument for how it is that all the Early Church Fathers got it uniformly wrong, and all in the same way.

          • Darren

            R.C., pretty sure you are batting for the other team, but since we are without up-voting, figured I would chime in.

            Nicely argued. I haven’t fact-checked, and given that the real presence is not such an issue to me any more, I probably never will… But I can say, that, back in my Assembly of God days, this would have made me take a hard look at my sources, which is pretty good, I think.

      • CF

        V2 and its cheerleaders intimate that he does not have to be Catholic, no believe at all…….and that all are saved…..Doctrine and Dogma can change at the whim of a Pope, you missed the Akin/Shea side show on this…no doubt, they will have a book/talk/CD to seel ya on this or coming Soon to a NO Parish Near You…….

    • http://irenist.blogspot.com/ Irenist

      Ruben,

      Many Catholics are Thomists, and therefore persuaded of the correctness of Aristotelian metaphysics. Within that framework, Aquinas’ “Five Ways” are persuasive demonstrations of the existence of God, and Aquinas’ theology of transubstantiation is a reasonable account of the Eucharistic miracle. If you are sincerely interested in answers to your questions, I would suggest first exploring the underlying metaphysics, and then attending to the theological applications mentioned.

      Happy Easter (or a good weekend, or whatever) to you.

      • http://empiricismvsfaith.blogspot.com Empiricismvsfaith

        The problem with adopting Aristotle is that he was spectacularly incorrect in almost every empirical claim he made. So why should we be convinced of his metaphysics if he couldn’t even get his physics right?

        • PhysicistDave

          Oh, the answer to that is quite simple:
          Most modern Aristotelians either know very little about science or very little about Aristotle or both.

          I’m a scientist (Ph.D. from Stanford in physics), and I cannot recall ever meeting a scientist who claimed to be an Aristotelian: that’s not proof that they do not exist anywhere, but they are certainly rare birds!

          And, in fact, most “Aristotelians” you encounter on the Web are just poseurs, rather like those people who claim to love Shakespeare, even though they have strenuously avoided reading the Bard since they got out of school. After all, few people have read anything at all by Aristotle, but everyone knows he was famous as an intellectual, so claiming to be an “Aristotelian” makes it sound as if you are some kind of exotic intellectual type, rebelling against the crassness of the modern world.

          The funny thing is that Aristotle himself would have been appalled by this: he seems to have been a guy willing to get his hands dirty and revise his opinions, even if most of his guesses in science were wrong — not surprising given the primitive state of scientific knowledge in his time.

          I think it is fair to say that no modern Aristotelians are really Aristotelians.

          But claiming to be an Aristotelian is an easy way to impress the uneducated (i.e., most contemporary college graduates).

          Dave Miller in Sacramento

          • Iris Celeste

            Physist Dave, stop trying to create God in you own image. If you read the Church Fathers, It is obvious they believe in the the real presence. Also read Jesus and the Jewish Roots of the Eucharist by Brant Pitre. May God guide you to the Truth your arrogance is not letting you grasp.

            From a Chemist undergraduate & EE graduate

          • http://empiricismvsfaith.blogspot.com Empiricismvsfaith

            “Oh, the answer to that is quite simple:
            Most modern Aristotelians either know very little about science or very little about Aristotle or both.”

            Maybe… but most Catholics are not of the Robert Sungenis type proudly proclaiming that Galileo was wrong. http://galileowaswrong.blogspot.com/ At the very least, most Catholics are at least aware that a slavish devotion to Thomistic philosophy was part of the problem with the Catholic Church’s inept response to modernity. There’s even a few papal encyclicals to that effect. This is why the “convinced by Aristotle” business is so weird to me. Sure, there might be some scientific illiteracy amongst the Thomists but surely most are at least comfortable with the idea that it is uber-backwards to defend a geocentric worldview.

          • Darren

            PhysicistDave said;

            ”Most modern Aristotelians either know very little about science or very little about Aristotle or both.”

            Nice to have you aboard, PD!

            I suspect you will find a lot of Aristotle by way of Thomas Aquinas by way of Edward Feser here. Feser was high on Leah’s reading list around conversion time, as I recall.

            Commenter Irenist is the strongest Thomist I have seen on the blog, a worthy opponent, though scarce on the ground these days (new baby and some schooling, I believe).

          • http://irenist.blogspot.com/ Irenist

            PhysicistDave,
            Welcome to Leah’s combox klatsch! As Darren said, nice to have you aboard. I’ll be merciless below, when I get to arguing with you–since it’s more fun and productive for all that way, IMHO–so let me apologize in advance for my asperity.

            Most modern Aristotelians either know very little about science or very little about Aristotle or both.

            Citation needed.

            I’m a scientist (Ph.D. from Stanford in physics),

            In case no one has informed you: being a scientist does not render you an authority on every field of human inquiry. It does not, e.g., make you an expert on metaphysics. Ignore this, and you end up making a fool of yourself like Lawrence Krauss or Richard Dawkins.

            and I cannot recall ever meeting a scientist who claimed to be an Aristotelian: that’s not proof that they do not exist anywhere, but they are certainly rare birds!

            Aristotelian metaphysics and Aristotelian virtue ethics are divisions of philosophy, not of science. If you’re going to descend to making an argument from popularity, the relevant sample of subject-matter experts would be metaphysicians and ethicists, not people you’ve met at physics conferences.

            And, in fact, most “Aristotelians” you encounter on the Web are just poseurs, rather like those people who claim to love Shakespeare, even though they have strenuously avoided reading the Bard since they got out of school. After all, few people have read anything at all by Aristotle, but everyone knows he was famous as an intellectual, so claiming to be an “Aristotelian” makes it sound as if you are some kind of exotic intellectual type, rebelling against the crassness of the modern world.

            Your psychoanalysis of your opponents is dubious. I suspect you are imputing bad faith without evidence. If not, you are most likely generalizing from anecdotal experience. Even if your assertions were correct, they amount to no more than an ad hominem.

            The funny thing is that Aristotle himself would have been appalled by this: he seems to have been a guy willing to get his hands dirty and revise his opinions, even if most of his guesses in science were wrong — not surprising given the primitive state of scientific knowledge in his time.

            Are you criticizing Aristotelians in metaphysics or virtue ethics for having failed to revise their theories to account for some empirical study, or for having failed to read Aristotle’s works, or for having failed to perform experiments–or what? What are you getting at here? It appears this is a restatement of your unsupported ad hominem that Aristotelians haven’t read Aristotle.

            I think it is fair to say that no modern Aristotelians are really Aristotelians.

            Your argument appears to proceed like this:

            1. I went to Stanford; I am a scientist. (Arguments from authority).
            2. I have never met any Aristotelian scientists. (Argument from popularity).
            3. I think Aristotelians are ignorant poseurs. (Unsupported ad hominem.)
            4. Therefore, no proponents of hylomorphic metaphysics have reasoned arguments for their position, and no proponents of virtue ethics have reasoned arguments for theirs. (Unjustified conclusion).

            If this discussion were to continue, I suspect your argument would then proceed:
            5. Because of (4) above, we can safely assume Aristotelianism is false. (Another unsupported ad hominem).

            But claiming to be an Aristotelian is an easy way to impress the uneducated (i.e., most contemporary college graduates).

            Another dubious ad hominem–is being an Aristotelian more impressive than being, e.g., a Stanford-educated physicist? If the latter is more impressive to the uneducated (and I suspect it is), does that somehow render science false? Speaking of which: however impressive your qualifications in physics (I’m impressed, FWIW), your skill at philosophical argument (which may be substantial, for all I know) has yet to be demonstrated here. Nowhere do you grapple with whether Aristotelian positions are true, as opposed to merely tainted by alleged association with your intellectual inferiors.

            Enough of that. To return to where I began–welcome aboard, PhysicistDave!

          • PhysicistDave

            Hi, Darren.

            Yeah, I’m familiar with Ed Feser, have read some of his stuff, and have actually interacted with him online. You’ll be happy to know that while I have been extremely harsh in my criticisms of Ed (and he remembered seeing some of that criticism!), he and I got along well enough personally. I think he is a horrible person in the abstract (i.e., I think his beliefs lead to horrible results), but he seems like a nice enough fellow as an actual human being.

            You remember C. S. Lewis’ point that he would rather play cards with a moral relativist who was raised in a family that valued honesty than with a moral absolutist raised in a family that encouraged cheating? The point being that often people’s actual behavior is much better than one would think from their abstract beliefs.

            My life experience has confirmed Lewis’ point. (Bright fellow, C. S. Lewis – if only he had not gotten sidetracked on that Christian thing.) I.e., I disagree strongly with some of my best friends on philosophy, religion, politics, etc. Of course, that is almost inevitable since I am an anti-materialist, atheist, Thoreauist – not too many of us around.

            Dave

          • PhysicistDave

            Irenist wrote to me:
            > Welcome to Leah’s combox klatsch!

            Oh, I’m not new here – I’ve been around off and on for quite a long while, from long before the “conversion.” I drop in for a while, then I get mad at Leah or Leah gets mad at me or obligations in the real world demand my attention, and I drop out for a while.

            Irenist wrote:
            >[Dave]Most modern Aristotelians either know very little about science or very little about Aristotle or both.
            > [Irenist]Citation needed.

            Main source: personal experience with jokers on the Web, to whom I was mainly referring. Other sources: books such as Feser’s The Last Superstition which really screws up the science royally.

            I was mainly referring to random guys (and it is almost always males) wandering around the Web who pretend to a much greater knowledge of Aristotle and Aquinas than they possess. But, as to the ignorance of science charge, I have yet to find any serious philosophers who are Aristotelians who are not guilty on that charge.

            Irenist also wrote:
            >[Dave] I’m a scientist (Ph.D. from Stanford in physics),
            >[Irenist] In case no one has informed you: being a scientist does not render you an authority on every field of human inquiry.

            I made no claim of that sort: you’re putting words in my mouth.

            Irenist also wrote:
            > It does not, e.g., make you an expert on metaphysics. Ignore this, and you end up making a fool of yourself like Lawrence Krauss or Richard Dawkins.

            Well, on that we will have to agree to disagree. I think that nearly all metaphysicians make much greater fools of themselves than Lawrence or Richard as judged by other philosophers: no one is a harsher critic of philosophers than their own colleagues.

            I can think of a few cases where I think Lawrence is radically wrong (isn’t he a reductionist materialist, a view with which I differ?). I cannot think of any case where Richard has made a fool of himself (I know, I know, his critics wish he had put a lot more detail into his discussion of Aquinas – Richard felt that would be a waste of time, and so do I).

            Frankly, I think a detailed knowledge of physics is an absolute prerequisite, indeed the single most important prerequisite, to saying anything important about metaphysics. I suppose we will have to agree to disagree on that, too.

            Irenist also wrote:
            > Are you criticizing Aristotelians in metaphysics or virtue ethics for having failed to revise their theories to account for some empirical study, or for having failed to read Aristotle’s works, or for having failed to perform experiments–or what?

            Yes, I am.

            Irenist also wrote:
            > Your argument appears to proceed like this:

            Hmmmm….. you know, you constructed this detailed argument linking together different things that I said that I myself did not link together.

            Does it occur to you that maybe I did not link those things together in that way because I did not intend them to be linked together?

            The “argument” you constructed had almost nothing to do with what I was saying. Sorry.

            We physicist are very simple souls: we rarely construct lengthy or complex arguments outside of mathematical calculations, and I most assuredly was not doing so in the post you so lovingly critique.

            For example, I pointed out that I was a physicist merely to make it credible that I did know a lot of scientists and that therefore my report was credible that not too many scientists seem to be Aristotelians.

            End of chain of reasoning: you see, much, much shorter than the “argument” you attribute to me.

            Y’know, often I mention that I am a scientist not to make any “argument from authority” at all but merely so that those folks I am conversing with can reasonably infer where I am coming from: e.g., I probably do not believe in “pyramid power.”

            The whole convoluted argument you attribute to me is just not there in my earlier post: all I was doing was poking fun at some pompous fools around the Web who know nothing about Aristotle or science but pretend otherwise (and, secondarily, at some guys like Feser who do indeed know things about Aristotle but not much about science).

            Irenist also wrote:
            > your skill at philosophical argument (which may be substantial, for all I know) has yet to be demonstrated here.

            And, it never will be: one of my central themes (though not in the post you linked to) as I wander around the Web is that the methods of philosophy have been proven to be horrific failures as methods for discovering the truth. I try hard not to be convicted of practicing philosophy without a license, because I think no honest person should be practicing philosophy!

            If you want to know more or less where I am coming from, try Ernest Gellner’s Legitimation of Belief: Gellner was an anthropologist turned philosopher, and he has influenced my thinking on philosophy more than any other single individual. Two other writers who have had a big influence on me are C. S Lewis and Ayn Rand, though in a peculiarly perverse way: Much of what I understand about the world comes from figuring out where and how Lewis and Rand went wrong.

            I assume everyone here has read Lewis (if you haven’t, do). As to Rand, if you find here distasteful, and most people do, don’t read her.

            I am truly touched by your hermeneutical efforts on my previous post: but, alas, you detected much deeper meanings than were actually there.

            All the best,

            Dave

          • PhysicistDave

            By the way, here are two of my favorite quotes from Ed Feser that I actually agree with and that nicely illustrate my own views:
            First:

            …it is worthwhile recalling the “mechanistic” conception of the natural world… On this conception, the world is devoid of what Aristotelians call formal and final causes: there are in nature no substantial forms or inherent powers of the sort affirmed by the medieval Scholastics, and there is no meaning, purpose, or goal-directedness either. The physical world is instead composed entirely of inherently purposeless elements (atoms, corpuscles, quarks, or whatever) governed by inherently meaningless patterns of cause and effect. All the complex phenomena of our experience, from grapes to galaxy clusters… must somehow be explicable in terms of these elements and the causal regularities they exhibit.

            Second

            The history of the West over the last four or five centuries – revolution after revolution, one authority, institution, or standard collapsing after another – can be seen as the gradual unfolding of the implications of the mechanistic, anti-classical, anti-Scholastic philosophical… revolution inaugurated by Bacon, Galileo, Hobbes, Descartes, Locke, et al.

            Ed thinks all of this is bad, and I think it is all good, but we whole-heartedly agree on the history and its implications.

            Ed also thinks that natural scientists made a mistake in their turn to mechanism and that we can and should turn back to teleology and Aristotelianism. I think that the examples he gives in order to justify this betrays his ignorance of science.

            In my conversation with Ed, he seemed to hint that he might give up on the issue of opposing the philosophy of mechanism in physical science (please note: “seemed to hint” – I might be misinterpreting him here) and instead simply focus on issues such as consciousness, values, etc. I agree with Ed that those issues are indeed not settled by natural science and are still debatable.

            I certainly do not know how consciousness works (no one does), and, in fact, I am infamous in various places around the Web as a militant proponent of the claim, associated with philosophers such as Popper, Searle, McGinn, Chalmers, Nagel, et al. (and indeed some physicists such as Schrödinger and Roger Penrose), that there is an apparently unbridgeable “explanatory gap” between physical science and consciousness.

            Just food for thought given someone’s having invoked Ed up-thread.

            Dave

          • http://empiricismvsfaith.blogspot.com Empricismvsfaith

            Dave wrote:

            > I can think of a few cases where I think Lawrence is radically wrong
            > (isn’t he a reductionist materialist, a view with which I differ?).

            I can think of some areas that I differ with Krauss (feminism being a prime example), but reductionism or physicalism or physicalist reductionism is not one of them. I would be curious to know why you disagree as I tend to agree with his assessments in those regards.

          • http://empiricismvsfaith.blogspot.com Empricismvsfaith

            Ah, now I see with the latest comment by Dave that it is the consciousness bug that’s got him.

            Yeah, you’re out on a limb on that one. Penrose is too, incidentally. Taking up arms with pseudoscientists at vanity-press predatory open access journals. Grumble grumble.

            I have yet to see a consciousness non-reductionist truly take on the fundamental conceit of Crick’s Astonishing Hypothesis. I mean REALLY deal with it in a substantive way. Have a chat with neuroscientists and see. The absolute best you’ll find in that crowd are some who think the reductionist/anti-reductionist battle is purely speculative and essentially uninspired (in the same way I as an astrophysicist might tack that questions about whether the universe if finite or infinite are uninspired). The fundamental point, though, is that the action in the brain is the mind and there is no evidence to any other effect.

          • PhysicistDave

            Empricismvsfaith wrote to me:
            >Have a chat with neuroscientists and see.

            Actually, I did indeed have a chat about this issue with a senior professor in neuroscience at MIT last year: we sat in on his class and I spoke with him afterwards. He confirmed that neuroscientists do not (yet) have a clue as to how to attack the “hard problem” of consciousness (the term “hard problem,” for those unfamiliar with the literature, was made popular by the philosopher David Chalmers: the MIT neuroscientist was familiar with the concept).

            EvF also wrote:
            >Taking up arms with pseudoscientists at vanity-press predatory open access journals. Grumble grumble.

            I don’t think it is fair to call Penrose or Schrödinger “pseudo-scientists.”

            And, while I will see you and raise you in criticizing philosophers, I have not heard that any of those I mentioned, much less Penrose or Schrödinger, is known for publishing in “vanity-press predatory open access journals.”

            It is certainly true that numerous kooks have written numerous kooky things about consciousness (take Deepak Chopra – please!), but the same is true in quantum theory and, I rather suspect, astrophysics.

            The hard, cold truth is that everyone who claims to have “explained” consciousness (e.g., Dennett) is faking it: none of them actually gives the sort of details a neuroscientist expects, much less truly reducing consciousness to physics.

            I, and most of the people I mentioned, think there is a simple reason for this: physicists, several centuries ago, wisely decided to focus on “primary” qualities that were externally observable and eschew any talk of the “secondary” qualities that are interior to consciousness. We developed our theories intentionally ignoring the interior perspective of consciousness, and this ended up being a sound decision, since we thereby created very accurate theories for describing the physical world. But, the result is also theories that simply have no terms at all for the interior perspective offered by consciousness.

            Maybe there will be a very simple extension of physics that adds that interior perspective. Could be. I’ll tell you, though, that developments in physics have rarely been that painless.

            Or maybe the concerns of Schrödinger, Penrose, Popper, Nagel, McGinn, Chalmers, and, least of all, me will prove to simply be wrong-headed, and, in a few decades, neuroscientists will fully reduce consciousness to physics. I do not think that is possible for the reason I just explained, but it would not be the first time that I was wrong about what was possible. Maybe we are all wrong.

            At any rate, right now neuroscience is clearly not advanced enough to reduce consciousness to mere physics, as the senior professor at MIT explained to me last year.

            You know that science is like that: right now, as a physicist, I cannot solve the equations of superstring theory (in fact, no one even knows what those equations are).

            As you know, we know an enormous amount in science today, but there just are some very fundamental things we do not (yet) know. How consciousness ties in to physics is one of those things, along with how to quantize gravity, how to solve superstring theory, etc.

            It’s a good thing there are some unsolved problems, or what would we scientists do?

            Dave

          • http://empiricismvsfaith.blogspot.com Empricismvsfaith

            Dave:
            >He confirmed that neuroscientists do not (yet) have a clue as to how to attack the “hard problem” of consciousness (the term “hard problem,” for those unfamiliar with the literature, was made popular by the philosopher David Chalmers: the MIT neuroscientist was familiar with the concept).

            Yes, just as astrophysicists are familiar with the question about whether the universe is finite or infinite. It’s just that the question is either formed from ignorance or poorly posed. As I said, the best you’ll get is the agnostic “I don’t know.” That’s hardly an endorsement of non-reductionism.

            Dave:
            > I don’t think it is fair to call Penrose or Schrödinger “pseudo-scientists.”

            Nor would I. But when extremely smart people go down rabbit holes outside of their area of empirical expertise, they become far more speculative and less trustworthy. The pseudoscience I see Penrose supporting is his involvement with this nonsense: http://journalofcosmology.com/ He is making a fool of himself going out on a limb on this consciousness nonsense.

            Dave:
            > The hard, cold truth is that everyone who claims to have “explained” consciousness (e.g., Dennett) is faking it: none of them actually gives the sort of details a neuroscientist expects, much less truly reducing consciousness to physics.

            Again, at best you can say they have no data for the Chomsky question, “why does the cockroach turn left?” But assuming that there is something irreducible about the question is a sincere violation of Ockham’s Razor at the very least. You can have agnosticism, but it’s a lazy kind in the same way some knowledgeable physicist might want to put a deity as the inflaton. You’re allowed to do that since we don’t know what the inflaton is, but that’s God of the Gaps theorizing. You and your comrades-in-arms are basically promoting an “Irreduciblity of the Gaps” proposal.

            Dave:
            > But, the result is also theories that simply have no terms at all for the interior perspective offered by consciousness.

            Again, I encourage you to take up Crick’s Astonishing Hypothesis. He goes into great detail as to why we know about “interior percepts”, for example.

            > Or maybe the concerns of Schrödinger, Penrose, Popper, Nagel, McGinn, Chalmers, and, least of all, me will prove to simply be wrong-headed, and, in a few decades, neuroscientists will fully reduce consciousness to physics.

            Let’s offer another possibility. I think the answer is amenable to empirical investigation, on that we probably agree. However, I don’t think that the out-on-a-limb stuff that is promoted by many of these luminaries is liable to stand the test of time. One of my favorite astrophysicists of the last century was Milne. He had the uncanny ability of offering interrogation of some of the more interesting questions that were just beyond his era’s ability to answer. Looking back, many of his ideas have fascinating intersections with what we know to be true and many are just flights of fancy, but the point is that given the current knowledge at the time there is a sense in which the proposals were correct. Take, for example, Lavoisier. His development of caloric theory at the expense of earlier phlogiston theories was vital for the understanding of chemistry and thermodynamics. Of course, Count Rumford would empirically establish that the caloric theory of heat was incorrect, but in comparison to phlogiston theory it has the virtue of being reducible to a mechanistic substance rather than being irreducible to the fire anima of Aristotle. I contend that the side of the debate closest to those who are in favor of consciousness being irreducible are those who were vainly trying to cling to phlogiston with the argument that because no one had isolated a caloric fluid (indeed theory said you could not do that) the opposing camp had problems of their own.

            Dave:
            > Maybe we are all wrong.

            Likely.

            Dave:
            > At any rate, right now neuroscience is clearly not advanced enough to reduce consciousness to mere physics, as the senior professor at MIT explained to me last year.

            Think of it this way: in the areas where meaningful experiments have been done, the mind has been reduced to the brain. There are no experiments that contradict this. That’s the starting point, in my opinion.

            Dave:
            > How consciousness ties in to physics is one of those things, along with how to quantize gravity, how to solve superstring theory, etc.

            Eh, quantum gravity and superstring theories have models. Claiming that we are all just neurons is a reasonable model. What’s your model? Quantum entanglement? I mean, Penrose’s work on the subject is just blatherskite in no small part because he doesn’t deal with the actual empirical results of neuroscience.

          • PhysicistDave

            Empricismvsfaith wrote to me:
            > Eh, quantum gravity and superstring theories have models.

            I am afraid you are waaaaayyyy outside your area of expertise: I am a theoretical particle physicist. One of the fathers of superstring theory, Lenny Susskind, was on my thesis committee. Another, John Schwarz, was one of my professors as an undergrad. I’ve known Joe Polchinski, one of the leading figures in superstring theory today, since we were undergrads in the same dorm at Caltech.

            And, more importantly, I’ve actually done calculations in superstring theory.

            There just are no models of superstring theory, if by models you mean mathematical solutions to quantum superstring theory or models that we have good reason to believe are good approximations to solutions to quantum superstring theory. This is well-known among us theorists, apparently not so well-known to others. Anyone who wants more info should go to theoretical physicist Peter Woit’s “Not even Wrong” blog, where Peter discusses this extensively and interminably.

            If you can point me to a paper that shows the contrary, I, and a huge number of other theoretical physicists, would deeply appreciate it: we would like to hear that someone has made a breakthrough in dealing with this intractable theory.

            EvF also wrote:
            > Think of it this way: in the areas where meaningful experiments have been done, the mind has been reduced to the brain.

            I know of no examples at all, and I know a decent amount for an outsider about neuroscience (my wife’s Ph.D. is in biology, which helps). I of course know (and no one denies!) that the brain has a lot to do with consciousness. But, you say, that in some experiments, “the mind has been reduced to the brain.” “Reduced” is a pretty strong term: if you know of any examples at all of this, I would, quite sincerely, like to hear of them.

            EvF also wrote:
            > Claiming that we are all just neurons is a reasonable model. What’s your model?

            I don’t have one. I also do not have a model for quantum gravity or superstring theory. No one does. I am just honest enough to admit it.

            EvF also wrote:
            > Let’s offer another possibility. I think the answer is amenable to empirical investigation, on that we probably agree.

            No, I’m afraid we don’t agree. You seem to be sure that everything is amenable to empirical investigation. Our critics on this thread are sure that some things are not amenable to empirical investigation.

            I, on the other hand, take neither stand: I simply do not know. I do marvel at how both you and your opponents are sure without any evidence to back up your beliefs.

            I do agree with you that the only areas in which we seem to have been able to get reliable, substantive knowledge that merits general acceptance are those areas that are amenable to empirical investigation. But, of course, that does not prove at all that all areas are amenable to empirical investigation: in fact, it is hard to see what sort of empirical investigation could ever prove that assertion! It’s the same problem the logical positivists had with the “verification principle”: by the rules set by the verification principle, the verification principle itself is unverifiable.

            My mentor, Dick Feynman, once said,

            I can live with doubt and uncertainty and not knowing. I think it is much more interesting to live not knowing than to have answers that might be wrong. If we will only allow that, as we progress, we remain unsure, we will leave opportunities for alternatives. We will not become enthusiastic for the fact, the knowledge, the absolute truth of the day, but remain always uncertain … In order to make progress, one must leave the door to the unknown ajar.”

            I think Dick was right.

            I do not know how consciousness works (nor does any other human being). I have no even semi-plausible model for how consciousness works. I do not think that physics as we know it can explain consciousness (though, perhaps, some extension of contemporary physics can). And, I do not know whether the mind-brain problem will ever be amenable to empirical investigation.

            I would, by the way, make similar statements about problems in my own primary field of expertise, including problems such as superstring theory, the interpretation of quantum mechanics, and quantum gravity.

            I am frankly bemused that pointing out that some questions are truly open annoys so many people, but I guess Dick explained that.

            Dave

          • http://empiricismvsfaith.blogspot.com Empiricismvsfaith

            > There just are no models of superstring theory, if by models you mean mathematical solutions to quantum superstring theory or models that we have good reason to believe are good approximations to solutions to quantum superstring theory.

            That’s absolutely NOT what I mean. I take Woit’s concern seriously, but the framework is there. The discussion of solutions is an interesting problem, but it does not the model make in the larger sense. If no one had found a solution to Einstein’s Equations, would that have meant there was no model of General Relativity? Or maybe I’m misinterpreting what you mean by your statement.

            You say about models:
            >I don’t have one. I also do not have a model for quantum gravity or superstring theory. No one does. I am just honest enough to admit it.

            I understand your critique of frameworks currently offered, but fundamentally I think that lamenting the lack of solutions to various formulations of supersymmetry is not the same as saying, “I have no hypothesis whatsoever for what causes consciousness and am not sure any observations can be made to answer this question.” I’m challenging you to *take seriously* the claim that neurons create what we call consciousness in spite of certain questions you may have about that model that have not been answered. Is that impossible for you?

            > I know of no examples at all, and I know a decent amount for an outsider about neuroscience….

            Aside from the normal points trotted out by Crick in the Astonishing Hypothesis, you mean? Or actually, I don’t know what you mean because your dismissal is so all-encompassing.

            >I, on the other hand, take neither stand: I simply do not know. I do marvel at how both you and your opponents are sure without any evidence to back up your beliefs.

            Well, I guess taking the agnostic position is honest, but it seems a little strange that you are so evangelical about it and willing to go out on limbs with Nagel, Penrose, and others who are so “not even wrong”. Amenable to empirical investigation just means that experiments and observations can be done to inquire after a subject. There have been many points in the history of science where “we’ll never know” has been trotted out as plausible when reckoning with this or that model extension. In all these cases, the people who bet against no experiments being possible were wrong. Atomic theory is a favorite example of mine in this regard. That I favor the likelihood that empirical work can investigate claims directly related to the natural world does not seem like much of a stretch considering history to me. I suppose there is a possibility that something like the Gödel’s Incompleteness Theorem might be discovered for empirical work, but until I see some demonstration of this I think I’m happy to stick with my spin on the wait-and-see approach.

            At the end of the day, however, I think our disagreement may be one that is largely of semantics. You are comfortable in the areas where we don’t have answers in saying a LARGE “I don’t know”. That’s fine and acceptable, but it sells short, in my estimation, a discussion of how one might come to answer such questions. I guess it may also come down to how one handicaps the alternatives. There’s that famous crackpot who said that the odds that the CERN collider would destroy the Earth were 50/50 because either it would or it wouldn’t. When I read some of your comments, I think I see a similar kind of parametrization with regards to the question of what is amenable to empirical investigation. But that may just be *my* prejudice.

            I stand by, however, my insistence that Crick’s work is worth more than all the non-reductionist philosophers and fish-out-of-water physicists put together on the subject of consciousness.

          • http://irenist.blogspot.com/ Irenist

            PhysicistDave,

            I was mainly referring to random guys (and it is almost always males)

            That I believe.

            But, as to the ignorance of science charge, I have yet to find any serious philosophers who are Aristotelians who are not guilty on that charge….
            .
            Frankly, I think a detailed knowledge of physics is an absolute prerequisite, indeed the single most important prerequisite, to saying anything important about metaphysics. I suppose we will have to agree to disagree on that, too.

            Given prevailing academic hyperspecialization, I find your account of a dearth of physics-literate Aristotelian professional philosophers very plausible. While I don’t think that one must know physics to say *anything* important about metaphysics, I am responding to your assertion as yet another non-physicist.
            .
            I’m intrigued enough by the possibility (which I am unqualified to judge) that you might be right to be really, really curious if anyone has any ideas for how one might seed an institutional ecology amenable to providing people competent in physics sinecures sufficient to persuade them to forgo the other lucrative career options available to highly numerate people and take up the professional study of metaphysics.

            I made no claim of that sort: you’re putting words in my mouth….
            .
            The “argument” you constructed had almost nothing to do with what I was saying. Sorry.

            My apologies. Sincere thanks for being very gracious about my misunderstanding.

            Well, on that we will have to agree to disagree. I think that nearly all metaphysicians make much greater fools of themselves than Lawrence or Richard as judged by other philosophers: no one is a harsher critic of philosophers than their own colleagues.

            Ruthless argumentation is philosophy’s main tool, so I don’t know how symptomatic of failure it is that some metaphysicians harshly criticize others.

            I can think of a few cases where I think Lawrence is radically wrong (isn’t he a reductionist materialist, a view with which I differ?). I cannot think of any case where Richard has made a fool of himself (I know, I know, his critics wish he had put a lot more detail into his discussion of Aquinas – Richard felt that would be a waste of time, and so do I).

            Glad you’re not a reductionist materialist. We can agree to disagree about the rest, I think.

            one of my central themes (though not in the post you linked to) as I wander around the Web is that the methods of philosophy have been proven to be horrific failures as methods for discovering the truth. I try hard not to be convicted of practicing philosophy without a license, because I think no honest person should be practicing philosophy!

            Well, that’s a philosophical position, too. But you know that.

            If you want to know more or less where I am coming from, try Ernest Gellner’s Legitimation of Belief: Gellner was an anthropologist turned philosopher, and he has influenced my thinking on philosophy more than any other single individual.

            Never heard of him. Intriguing thinker, from what I can find online. Speaking of which, there’s a “David H. Miller” who has done some Amazon reviews of some of Gellner’s other work, and whom I suspect is you. If so, I imagine an Amazon review by you of “Legitimation of Belief” would be a very interesting read.

          • PhysicistDave

            EvF wrote to me:
            > I take Woit’s concern seriously, but the framework is there. The discussion of solutions is an interesting problem, but it does not the model make in the larger sense. If no one had found a solution to Einstein’s Equations, would that have meant there was no model of General Relativity? Or maybe I’m misinterpreting what you mean by your statement.

            That is where you are mistaken: we really do not know what the equations for superstring theory are supposed to be.

            It’s really that bad: we do not merely lack the solutions, we lack the equations we are supposed to solve.

            EvF also wrote:
            >I understand your critique of frameworks currently offered, but fundamentally I think that lamenting the lack of solutions to various formulations of supersymmetry is not the same as saying…

            No, superstrings and supersymmetry are not the same thing. Superstrings are one specific example of supersymmetry, or, more accurately, they might be if anyone can ever figure out what the equations of superstring theory are! There are indeed non-superstring models of supersymmetry, though they are rather ad hoc and not very convincing to me and a lot of other physicists – and, in fact, many have already been ruled out by experiment.

            EvF also wrote to me:
            > I’m challenging you to *take seriously* the claim that neurons create what we call consciousness in spite of certain questions you may have about that model that have not been answered. Is that impossible for you?

            Look… maybe neurons do create consciousness – I don’t know. What I do know is that physics as we now know it cannot explain how that could happen.

            EvF also wrote:
            > There have been many points in the history of science where “we’ll never know” has been trotted out as plausible when reckoning with this or that model extension. In all these cases, the people who bet against no experiments being possible were wrong. Atomic theory is a favorite example of mine in this regard.

            You’re misstating my position: I don’t claim that experiment will never show us the true nature of consciousness. I just don’t know.

            I am making a very, very specific claim: consciousness will never be reduced to physics as we know it. Maybe some radically different sort of “super-physics” of the future will do it; maybe people will convince themselves they have an explanation of consciousness that does not rely on physics (in fact, lots of people make that claim – e.g., religious believers, but they have not convinced you or me).

            EvF also wrote:
            > At the end of the day, however, I think our disagreement may be one that is largely of semantics. You are comfortable in the areas where we don’t have answers in saying a LARGE “I don’t know”.

            Yes, in that sense, I am certainly Feynman’s student.

            Look – I’m not in the slightest opposed to neuroscientists doing their best to understand consciousness. I have, alas, no constructive suggestion as to how they should do this except to pursue their current course, which is largely an attempt to reduce neuroscience to physics. In the process of doing so, I think they will make some marvelous discoveries, concerning what David Chalmer’s facetiously labeled the “easy problem” of consciousness. But, I am pretty sure they will fail to reduce consciousness to physics as we now know it (what Chalmers calls the “hard problem”). At any rate, that is actually the current situation, and since I made this prediction over forty years ago, I can at least claim to have been right for more than forty years!

            Dave

          • PhysicistDave

            Irenist wrote to me:

            I’m intrigued enough by the possibility (which I am unqualified to judge) that you might be right to be really, really curious if anyone has any ideas for how one might seed an institutional ecology amenable to providing people competent in physics sinecures sufficient to persuade them to forgo the other lucrative career options available to highly numerate people and take up the professional study of metaphysics.

            Well… actually, the career options available to most Ph.D. physicists are not all that lucrative!

            The real problem is that most physicists have a perspective similar to mine (Lawrence Krauss and Steve Hawking have both commented publicly about this recently): the methods one would have to use to fit in to the community of metaphysicians are methods that seem to us to obviously be dead ends, not because of an a priori prejudice against those methods but simply because of the results produced by those methods over the last two millennia.

            In short, we think we have a decent shot to discover something that is at least interesting, if not earth-shattering, in physics. Pursuing metaphysics as a career seems like pursuing drug addiction as a lifestyle: i.e., a way to simply waste one’s life.

            I know that analogy sounds harsh, but the traditional methods of metaphysics seem like a complete dead end.

            Irenist also wrote:

            Well, that’s a philosophical position, too [referring to my criticism of philosophy].

            That is a bit of semantic slieght-of-hand. Astrologers could define “astrology” so that any critique of “astrology” itself counted as “astrology”: then, even attempts to refute “astrology” would indirectly affirm “astrology,” since they would be examples of “astrology.”

            Philosophers are pulling the same trick by claiming that any critiques of philosophy count as philosophy.

            Neither passes the laugh test.

            Irenist also wrote, “I imagine an Amazon review by you of “Legitimation of Belief” would be a very interesting read.” Well, it’s been on my “to-do” list for a long time: I guess I have been more eager, for some reason, to review books on politics, the mind-body problem, etc.

            Irenist also suggested, “Speaking of which, there’s a “David H. Miller” who has done some Amazon reviews of some of Gellner’s other work.” I have to confess that that is indeed me.

            Dave

        • http://irenist.blogspot.com/ Irenist

          Aristotle was a clever guy, and metaphysics (like mathematics, logic, and ethics), in contrast to the physical sciences, is a lot more amenable to armchair philosophizing (without an adequate industrial setup for intensive laboratory work) of the sort at which the ancient Greeks excelled. Greek scientific theories like geocentrism are simply wrong and useless, whereas, e.g., Euclidean geometry is still pretty useful stuff in the many contexts where non-Euclidean geometries aren’t the right tool for the job.

          • http://irenist.blogspot.com/ Irenist

            Sorry, that was in reply to EvF’s question about why anyone should attend to Aristotle’s metaphysics, given his antiquated physics.

          • Darren

            A clever guy, indeed.

            I think more specifically, since Aristotle was so far off base regarding his physics, then why trust his notions of causality. If I am not mistaken, AT makes pretty heavy use of Aristotelian causality.

          • http://irenist.blogspot.com/ Irenist

            Darren,
            Thanks for the kind words above in your comment to PhysicistDave. (Kind but false, btw: commenters Elliot, Robert King, and Brandon Watson all offer better defenses of Thomism in this space than me.)
            *
            And thanks to the many here who offered advice and encouragement when I mentioned my newborn. I was particularly gratified by all the atheist well-wishers: Leah has a special little community here.
            *
            As to your point about causality: it’s a strong argument, but not, IMHO, ultimately persuasive (big surprise, right?). Philosophical questions about causality are distinct from physical questions about causality. In particular, while both Aristotle and Hume had antiquated physical ideas about the detailed workings of what Aristotelians would call efficient and material causes, the dispute between Aristotelians and Humeans about whether formal and final causes exist, is not really a dispute about physics at all, given that neither formal nor final causality is the sort of thing that would be expected, as defined by AT, to give rise to an interaction problem. Similarly, the debates between Platonists and Aristotelians about formal causality in the context of mathematical realism aren’t going to be solved by physics experiments, either.

          • http://empiricismvsfaith.blogspot.com Empricismvsfaith

            Well, arguing that Aristotle was right on the basis of Euclid seems pretty dubious to me, but I digress.

            Here’s my beef: I think that empiricism can be of great service to a person who is trying to work out a consistent philosophy or an understanding of morality. But of course, Aristotle does not do this. The success of empiricism vis-a-vis the physical universe is well-documented so the question you might ask is why don’t people use it in the social universe? Well, I see evidence that they do in certain incarnations of the social sciences.

            Now let me propose a bold hypothesis: it is easier to dismiss empirical results when it comes to building society than it is to dismiss them when building physics because it is popular these days to be more emotionally attached to your ideas about society than it is to be emotionally attached to your ideas about the natural world. It wasn’t always this way. In large part, I think the scientific revolution is the story of de-enchanting the natural world and convincing humanity that empiricism will work for descriptions of such. The next step is to convince us that this can be done for society. I think this will happen and the ethics and metaphysics of Aristotle will look just as foolish by comparison as his physics does.

          • PhysicistDave

            Empricismvsfaith wrote:
            > The success of empiricism vis-a-vis the physical universe is well-documented so the question you might ask is why don’t people use it in the social universe? Well, I see evidence that they do in certain incarnations of the social sciences.

            Have you seriously studied any social science? I came close to becoming an economist, and, in fact, I actually had an offer to do a post-doc in econ after getting my Ph.D. in physics, which I unwisely rejected (many physicists have made that transition, by the way).

            To the degree that there is “empiricism” in social science, it tends to be what my own mentor in physics, Dick Feynman, labeled “Cargo-Cult Science.”i.e., a crude imitation of natural science without any real substance. For a detailed description of this in social psychology, see Brannigan’s The Rise and Fall of Social Psychology. The sociologist Jack Douglas is famous for his classic explanation, with regard to the early work of Durkheim on suicide, of the dangers of taking “empirical” data too seriously in social science: see Douglas’ The Social Meanings of Suicide. And, for an early attack on the empiricist pretensions of economics, an attack well-born out by the failures of economists to predict everything from the collapse of LTCM to the current economic mess, see “The Mantle of Science.”

            Randall Collins’ essay “Why the Social Sciences Won’t Become High-Consensus, Rapid-Discovery Science” in Stephen Cole’s What’s Wrong With Sociology?, by a pretty “empirically-minded” sociologist, lays out very clearly some reasons why the social sciences can probably never be as successful as the natural sciences.

            It’s not that I have any better alternative to empiricism in social science aside from careful common sense and a good knowledge of history. However, on the basis of the evidence thus far, it seems unlikely that any “social science” can really succeed, and I just think we need to be honest about this.

            Have you noticed that your and my discussions seem to consist of your thinking that empiricism can solve some problem and my thinking that the problem is, thus far at least, simply insoluble?

            Dave

          • http://empiricismvsfaith.blogspot.com Empricismvsfaith

            I am a bit more attracted to sociology than I am to economics. As I said elsewhere, the base problem in the social sciences (think positivism) is the one of unfounded assumptions. When one interrogates one’s assumptions carefully and only makes claims in the context of those assumptions, social science is remarkable. For example, one can drone on and on about how Keynesian economics is totally wrong, but it doesn’t deal with the fundamental empirical results that show its applicability in times when capital is in short supply. This is all predicated on a fundamental assumption about capital and money that is foundational to economics. Of course, one need not accept that social construct if one chooses. Making universal declarations of the sort made in physics isn’t possible because there are assumptions of social organization that have to be made before you even start doing economics or any other social science.

            Where the Cargo Cult stuff comes in is in the attempts done in the 50s, 60s, and 70s (and, to some extent, continuing today) to turn social sciences into a deterministic and context-free enterprise.

            But let’s think less large scale. Is it possible to predict outcomes in the social sciences? You would be a fool to say that we can’t. Your SES is an incredibly predictive indicator of your course in life, for example. To deny this is fashionable in certain political circles, but it doesn’t remove the facts of the matter. This is what I mean when I champion empiricism. Acknowledging the empirical facts that are discovered through careful observation is what interests me. Theorizing needs to be couched carefully by context and kept within the bounds of the questions that were asked by the experiments and observations upon which the theory is based. Once that is done, I see incredible predictive results. Here’s an example for you to chew on: stereotype threat.

            Anyway, that’s my peculiar little corner in this debate. Have at it if you will, but my acceptance of empiricism comes not from a global positivism but rather a piecemeal approach to answering small contextual questions. This is where we do the best and ignoring this subject when building, for example, local models of morality does us a disservice.

    • Cam

      “I think the reason you’re better at the former than the latter is that god doesn’t exist, and you can’t
      have a relationship with someone who doesn’t exist. The best you can hope for is a voice inside your head which won’t be able to answer questions you don’t already know the answers to, and a warm fuzzy feeling during services.”
      This is well put, and I think your point is right. There’s more problematic possibilities than that though- a perfectly neurotypical person can experience visions and voices, or failing that, a person can change their theology to match the fact they’ve experienced nothing more tangible than the warm fuzzies- I always did the latter. Both are irrational.

      • http://ephesians4-15.blogspot.ca/ Randy

        Why is it irrational. To me for something to be against reason there has to be a logical contradiction involved. But there is no experience that is logically required for Christianity to be true. That does not require any change of theology.

        • PhysicistDave

          Randy,

          Most people consider rationality to include treating similar cases similarly. But, believers in any particular religion treat the “faith claims” for their religion very differently than the “faith claims” for other religions.

          Of course, the reason is obvious: religious beliefs are “badges of group identity” – if they were seen to be true through the power of normal human reason, they could not serve as distinctive identifiers for the particular religious group that espouses them.

          As common as this is, I think it is indeed about as far from “rationality” as you can get.

          Take Leah. Given her conviction about the non-naturalistic nature of morality and her belief that this implies the existence of a God (both wrong, in my judgment, but perhaps not irrational), the obvious conclusion for her to draw would be to become a deist or a Unitarian or something of the sort.

          So, why Roman Catholic???? Nothing that I have read about her intellectual conversion would have prevented her from becoming a nice liberal Episcopalian or Presbyterian – indeed, that would have been an easy, rational transition.. But, RC is quite a stretch.

          But, she had been hanging with Roman Catholics. A lot. An awful lot.

          No surprise that she finally decided she wanted to fit in – indeed, Leah goes into detail about that in the post we are all commenting on.

          “Religious beliefs are badges of group identity.” And, so it is with Leah, as she explains in the post above.

          Dave Miller in Sacramento

          • http://ephesians4-15.blogspot.ca/ Randy

            Most people consider rationality to include treating similar cases similarly.

            I would call that an ad hoc fallacy. I don’t think not expecting signs and visions is and instance of an ad hoc fallacy.

            But, believers in any particular religion treat the “faith claims” for their religion very differently than the “faith claims” for other religions.

            I would agree with you about protestant denominations. There is not a good reason to choose one over another. I would disagree about Catholicism. Catholicism has a principled reason to choose it ever other forms of Christianity. The claim that uses the office of pope and bishop to guide His church. To provide leadership, sound doctrine, and true sacraments. If that is true then the ad hoc problem goes away.

            Take Leah. Given her conviction about the non-naturalistic nature of morality and her belief that this implies the existence of a God (both wrong, in my judgment, but perhaps not irrational), the obvious conclusion for her to draw would be to become a deist or a Unitarian or something of the sort.

            So, why Roman Catholic????

            I agree. She has not fully explained why she chose Catholicism. I can actually think of many reasons she might have done that. You can think of none. She does not have to share everything about her faith life. She shares what she shares. I am sure there is a ton she keeps private as there is a ton I keep private. Don’t jump to the conclusion she is just trying to fit in. Still the fact that she found the Catholics she knows to be more impressive than the protestants or atheists she knows is not an irrational reason.

      • http://irenist.blogspot.com/ Irenist

        Good points, Cam. Even for those of us who do believe in God and angels both fallen and unfallen, our default explanation for a vision or miracle should be a materialist one, if at all tenable.

        • http://ephesians4-15.blogspot.ca/ Randy

          Actually the presence or absence of a material explanation is almost irrelevant. If we see a vision that makes scientific sense or see a vision that is miraculous we react the same way. We discern whether it is from God and if it is we try and discern what it means. Scientifically explainable does not imply it is not spiritually meaningful.

          Any religious experience that it is at all common is going to be associated with “a perfectly neurotypical person” just by the fact that it is common. I actually don’t think it is as common as Cam seems to. I have heard some people claim to see visions or hear voices but it is not common and I still tend to be skeptical. There are some that I do believe. I think most people know a few people like that.

          • http://empiricismvsfaith.blogspot.com Empiricismvsfaith

            It’s not that hard to convince yourself that you’re talking to God in your head. Try it out. Say to yourself, “God, what is the meaning of life?” and pay attention to the first response that pops into your head! Is that hearing voices?

            And all one has to do is go to a Pentecostal service to see people having any number of religious experiences up to and including ecstatic claims of visions and voices. It’s nice that the mainline Protestants and the Catholics are all very grounded in the reality that says these events are not indicative of proper charism, but it might behoove them to consider that these kinds of religious paroxysms were once a lot more commonly accepted as being meaningful to their ancestors in the faith. As far as consistency goes, I can understand how such a low church celebrator might be convinced that their religion saves the world. I have a much harder time understanding someone who dismisses that very behavior as farcical can still simultaneously hold belief in other forms of invisible spiritual magic.

          • http://ephesians4-15.blogspot.ca/ Randy

            I have done the Pentecostal thing. I don’t think they are farcical. They are sincere. They do get confused between their own pious imagination and the voice of God. Still they are beautiful Christians. They have great joy. Their services rock.

            They do lack a theological grounding. Even when I was going there every week I also went to a reformed service. I just needed the solid exegetical preaching. With a foot in both camps I noticed issues with competing truth claims both based on scripture. It set the stage for me to be more open to Catholicism when I encountered that a little later. Like someone was leading me to the truth.

          • http://empiricismvsfaith.blogspot.com Empiricismvsfaith

            I would submit, Randy, that this sense you had that you were being led to truth was actually just your baloney detector being activated by the Low Church’s allergic reactions to secular scholarship. The Catholic Church, on the other hand, hides behind its neo-Platonism to make you think that it is able to accommodate rational thought by only requiring leaps of faith when absolutely necessary. But if you were uncomfortable with the guilelessness of the Pentecostals, I bet there are nagging little doubts you continue to feel about the magical claims of the mass, for example. Like someone leading you to the truth.

          • http://www.ephesians4-15.blogspot.ca Randy

            My sense of being led into the truth simply refers to me being shown a problem with protestantism and shown the corresponding solution in Catholicism in a very timely manner. You could say it is a coincidence but I don’t have to say that. I can see a blessing in it.

            The mass is not magic. Magic is the supernatural being controlled by man. The mass is us allowing the supernatural to control us. We take Jesus into out bodies and by extension into our hearts, minds, and souls. It is a bit like being impregnated with grace. It will cost you dearly. Still you know what is produced will be from you and from the Father. Yet it will have a life of its own.

            To tell you the truth I had more problems with the protestant understanding of John 6. Is it a hard truth? Sure. But it is clearly what Jesus taught. I would rather do my best to swallow a hard truth than bail on the words of Jesus.

          • http://empiricismvsfaith.blogspot.com Empricismvsfaith

            On coincidence vs. divine providence: I don’t think your finding of the answers to your questions was either. That Catholics with their accommodation of scholarship (Dominicans, Jesuits, et. al) might be able to answer questions that low church Protestants could not with their distrust of the intellect is unsurprising and not exactly coincidental. I mean, the counter-reformation was in large part invented to attack the vulgarities of Northern climes.

            On magic: the distinctions of how the supernatural is engaged is meaningless to an empiricist who contends that the supernatural simply does not exist. Demarcating between magic and mass is akin to scholastic argumentation (you know the old saw: angels on a head of a pin.) The point was intended to be larger than that, and if I upset you with imprecise vocabulary I hope you can at least understand that ritualistic consumption of bread-flesh and wine-blood looks equally ludicrous as the Buddhist/animist tradition of leaving food for the dead.

            On John 6: do you mean John 3? The Protestant understanding of the feeding of the 5000 ranges from a literal violation of the conservation of mass to some sort of statement about the power of community and solidarity. I think Catholics tend to have a similar range of views. If it is John 3 you are discussing (which makes more sense to me) then I think that the low church Protestants are probably closer to the sense in which the initiation rite was being promoted in the Johannine community as a complete identity overhaul (John is partly obsessed with separating from the Jewish community). Nicodemus says this is “hard” because he is the Jewish representative in the passage, and though he converts, the Jews who do not are despised, ridiculed, and condemned to a few millennia of anti-Semetic horrors. Well, that’s what I see, anyway, on the outside looking in. I guess I can see that as “hard”.

          • http://www.ephesians4-15.blogspot.ca Randy

            On coincidence vs. divine providence: I don’t think your finding of the answers to your questions was either. That Catholics with their accommodation of scholarship (Dominicans, Jesuits, et. al) might be able to answer questions that low church Protestants could not with their distrust of the intellect is unsurprising and not exactly coincidental. I mean, the counter-reformation was in large part invented to attack the vulgarities of Northern climes.

            The point is I was a dutch reformed protestant. Is Holland northern enough to be vulgar? Like most protestants I was closed to Catholic ideas. They were wrong and the Calvinists were right so what more was there to know? Seeing the inconsistencies within protestantism so vividly and so recently made me more willing to listen to Catholic criticisms. Looking back it is not hard for me to see God’s hand in that.

            On John 6: do you mean John 3? The Protestant understanding of the feeding of the 5000 ranges from a literal violation of the conservation of mass to some sort of statement about the power of community and solidarity. I think Catholics tend to have a similar range of views.

            I was not talking about the story of the feeding of the 5000. I was talking about Jesus’ statements later in the chapter.

            51 I am the living bread which came down from heaven; if any one eats of this bread, he will live for ever; and the bread which I shall give for the life of the world is my flesh.”

            52 The Jews then disputed among themselves, saying, “How can this man give us his flesh to eat?” 53 So Jesus said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of man and drink his blood, you have no life in you; 54 he who eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day. 55 For my flesh is food indeed, and my blood is drink indeed. 56 He who eats my flesh and drinks my blood abides in me, and I in him. 57 As the living Father sent me, and I live because of the Father, so he who eats me will live because of me. 58 This is the bread which came down from heaven, not such as the fathers ate and died; he who eats this bread will live for ever.” 59 This he said in the synagogue, as he taught at Caper′na-um.

          • http://empiricismvsfaith.blogspot.com Empiricismvsfaith

            > Is Holland northern enough to be vulgar?

            Unquestionably.

            > Seeing the inconsistencies within protestantism so vividly and so recently made me more willing to listen to Catholic criticisms. Looking back it is not hard for me to see God’s hand in that.

            But I hope you understand that the arguments were tailor-made with you in mind. The stick-in-the-mud Calvinism that either maintains its doctrines with a slavish devotion to what was state-of-the-art thinking in 15th and 16th Century Middle/Northern Europe or transmogrifies into congregationalist liberal theology is the sum total of that particular tradition’s inheritance. One need only plop down some Erasmus next to some of the more liberal edicts of the Council of Trent to start an extended disputation on esoterica that would bore to tears anyone not in this particular conversation. If there is a hand of God in this, it is the hand of the Renaissance Popes reaching into their pockets to give patronage to more theologians in the Mediterranean than could be supported by the Protestant World.

            > John 5:51-59.

            Ah, I see. So you’re unconvinced by the Luther/Zwingli proposals the Greek philosophical explanations are pagan decadence? Again, it looks like you’re the poster-child for the counter-reformation. But to those of us who think the whole thing tosh, this does not look like the hand of God: it looks like a successful political campaign.

          • http://www.ephesians4-15.blogspot.ca Randy

            But I hope you understand that the arguments were tailor-made with you in mind. The stick-in-the-mud Calvinism that either maintains its doctrines with a slavish devotion to what was state-of-the-art thinking in 15th and 16th Century Middle/Northern Europe

            That was me. Then I saw that going back to the 15th century was illogical. Why not go back further?

  • JQ Tomanek

    Leah, very good post. Like you, the former is much easier for me as well. The application of the former takes time and constant conversion. I find it something like baseball. I can know the game, but it takes much practice to play.

  • George

    “Faith” is a gift from God, Ruben. You should try asking for it. It is only through “faith” that you can begin to comprehend the mystery of the Eucharist. The Letter to the Hebrews states, “Only faith can guarantee the blessings that we hope for, or prove the existence of the realities that at present remain unseen” (Hebrews 11: 1).
    When we gaze upon the Tabernacle, it is ‘faith” that allows us to see not ordinary bread, but Jesus, the Bread of Life. Happy Easter, Phillip – I’ll pray for you during this most holy of season’s that you might open your heart and ask God for this tremendous gift.

    • PhysicistDave

      “Jedi powers” are a gift of the Force, George. You should try asking for it. It is only through “Jedi powers” that you can begin to comprehend the mystery of the Force.

      Somehow, I doubt you can see how exact this parallel is. And, alas, I doubt you have it in you to sincerely talk to the Force, since you are confident it does not exist. Yet, you do not see that atheists really cannot talk to God for the same reason.

      Dave

      • Micha Elyi

        Somehow, I doubt you can see how exact this parallel is.
        –PhysicistDave

        Lessee, George Lucas invented “Jedi powers” for a fantasy entertainment, a movie.

        There’s no “exact… parallel” here of “Jedi powers” with religious faith to see at all.

        • http://empiricismvsfaith.blogspot.com Empiricismvsfaith

          That’s selling Lucas somewhat short. He perhaps didn’t parallelize as staunchly or as consistently as Lewis did in the Chronicles of Narnia, but the Jedi religion was intentionally designed to parallel those universal mythologies that humanistic studies proclaim.

          • http://irenist.blogspot.com/ Irenist

            I score this exchange for the atheists, PhysicistDave and EvF. This has been a demonstration of the fideism (a Protestant heresy, btw) making for lousy apologetics.

          • http://www.ephesians4-15.blogspot.ca Randy

            I actually thought the Jedi were a bit like the Jesuits. They seem to take vows similar to poverty chastity and obedience. They were suppressed for a while and restored. I have told my boys that being a priest is like being spiritual Jedi.

  • grok

    “…there’s still often a sense of distance. But now it’s not based on something I’m waiting for, but on things I’m doing or missing. The funny thing about having a mostly philosophy-based conversion is that, after switching sides, things can feel a bit anticlimactic.”

    Good post Leah. And I agree with JQ Tomanek’s comment. But, I’m guessing though that sports-based analogies may not perhaps be the most compelling for you…
    I think perhaps the Martha/Mary story might be helpful? The reality is, it is a false dichotomy. We are all BOTH Mary and Martha- trying to intellectually understand the faith, and trying to do God’s work in the world (there is so much to be done!) Doing God’s work in the world (have you hooked up with Catholic Charities in SF yet?) inevitably means coming into struggle/conflict with the world. And as the psalms recount, that struggle/conflict/suffering often deepens our relationship with God. As today’s psalm says:
    http://www.usccb.org/bible/readings/032913.cfm

    “For all my foes I am an object of reproach, a laughingstock to my neighbors, and a dread to my friends;
    they who see me abroad flee from me. I am forgotten like the unremembered dead; I am like a dish that is broken.
    BUT MY TRUST IS IN YOU, O LORD; I say, “You are my God; IN YOUR HANDS IS MY DESTINY; rescue me
    from the clutches of my enemies and my persecutors.”

  • http://truthseeker-lamont.blogspot.com Lamont

    Ruben, you probably did not realize that when you wrote your comment you were in fact producing a very succinct proof for the existence of God. A person without God can only respond to the presence of God in others with indifference, or with ridicule and contempt as you did. It is only by the power of God that anyone can genuinely love their enemies. When the light of Christ is present in a person they can act in a manner that has no natural explanation. Hence we know that God exists. Leah knows the difference between virtue and vice, and between darkness and light, so her relationship with God is real and growing even when she does not feel anything extraordinary. That is a common aspect of the Christian experience.

    In this season we remember that Jesus’ death was not an unfortunate accident, but a part of God”s plan to transform us both individually and as a people so that we might truly live as children of God. The fact that you are here is evidence that God is calling you Reuben. I pray that you respond to that call.

    • http://empiricismvsfaith.blogspot.com Empiricismvsfaith

      By expressing contempt for Ruben’s contemptible state, are you therefore demonstrating that you are a person without God?

  • brand

    Here is good info:

    “The Jesuits and How they Helped Native Guaranies”

    http://www.antisharia.com/2010/03/15/the-jesuits-and-how-they-helped-native-guaranies/

    “Was Nostradamus a True Prophet(1503-1566)?A Documentary Proves he Was Not”

    http://www.antisharia.com/2010/03/18/was-nostradamus-a-true-prophet1503-1566/

  • TheresaL

    Thanks for this post during Holy Week. I have been a Catholic all my life but also struggle with a relationship with God, mostly because of his infinite nature. And I am envious of those with a strong devotion to Mary, who I find difficult to relate to because of her perfect sinlessness (although in times of distress I tend to turn to May and have found it a great comfort). I have an easier time with the communion of saints, who we can feel connected to through their histories and writings. And I am thankful to be a Catholic and know that with the Eucharist I do have a relationship with God, both physical and spiritual, regardless of my feelings about that relationship.

  • Joe

    Leah, I know you work long hours but it my help your personal relationship with Christ if you got involved with a ministry wi the poor. My wife and I really benefited by making home visits for the St. Vincent DePaul Society.

  • deiseach

    Okay, I’m jealous because pshaw, you converts! With your personally significant moments to which you can point! At liturgically meaningful times of the year! *Grump, moan, complain, whine, grumble and generally carry on like a cradle-Catholic dog-in-the-manger type*

    No, I’m sitting here with a big smile on my face reading this. Yeah, it’s hard to shift from the knowing in the head to the doing with the hands and heart. I’m great at being intellectually convinced it’s true, but I’m hopeless at translating that into conversion of heart. So it’s not at all strange that you have the feeling of “Well, now what?” You’re still new, so a lot of things are not yet habits or familiar in the same way that learning to do things is familiar. Now you don’t have a schedule and a mapped-out “from point A to point B on to C”, it’s very bewildering to try and find your own way.

    I’m not going to give you spiritual advice, because I’ve already given my guardian angel more than enough laughs for one night. I’m not going to say join a soup kitchen or start saying the Rosary or read this or sign up for that. You know best where you are stronger and where you are weaker. I think, though, that one thing that might be helpful is investigating what kind of spirituality is attractive or fitted to you; you talk a lot about Dominicans and their charism may be where you’re suited – or it may not. I’ve been haunted by Carmelites which I’m just as assiduously dodging because Carmelite spirituality is hard work and I’m lazy.

    With your love of musicals and acting, maybe Salesian spirituality would be a fruitful path for you? Particularly that of Don Bosco who was involved in education, believed in incorporating joy and cheerfulness into instruction, and is the patron saint of illusionists and stage magicians (because he used to perform magic tricks as a youth to earn money and later did the same to attract and hold the attention of boys when teaching or preaching).

    • Darren

      deiseach said;

      “Okay, I’m jealous because pshaw, you converts! With your personally significant moments to which you can point! At liturgically meaningful times of the year!”

      Well, you could always convert to Atheism! You already have a keen grasp of biblical criticism, and an Irish accent is very hip among we Americans these days… If it doesn’t work out… just convert back! ;)

  • PhysicistDave

    Let everyone remember what Christians are truly celebrating this Sunday: the claim that a merciful God would condemn all human beings to eternal torment in Hell unless an innocent man was viciously murdered.

    Puts a bit different perspective on the “miracle” of Easter.

    Dave Miller in Sacramento

    • http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/01546a.htm Rod Coffey

      Dave Miller

      I think you are not well informed about what Christians believe and are creating a straw man. Salvation is far more rich than “Unless Jesus Dies everyone goes to hell”.

      I suspect you are in a hell of your own brother — believe me we’ve all been there.
      I have a question for you.
      Have you never felt GUILTY about anything you’ve done? HAve you ever known there is justice and right in the world and found yourself on the wrong end of the same? The Church is for those who have the moral maturity to understand they may deserve punishment. It is a great assurance that my debt has been paid by the Cross. Now how do I love others and obey God to display gratitude for that.

      If you do not think you deserve punishment then I pray for your conversion to Catholic Christianity and look forward to joining the religious order you found.
      As I assume you are already a great Saint.

      • Darren

        Ahem, well, Dave Miller does pretty much sum up the Baptist and Charismatic branches…

        • PhysicistDave

          Darren wrote:
          >Ahem, well, Dave Miller does pretty much sum up the Baptist and Charismatic branches…

          Hmmmm….. Have you read all of Paul’s letters in the last couple years? I have. Or are you claiming that Paul is a Baptist or Charismatic who has no connection to Catholicism? (You’ll be happy to know, then, that the Baptists and Charismatics agree with you!)

          I did not invent the doctrine of the “Vicarious Atonement” nor did the Baptists or Charismatics. I know that some of you modern Catholics view Catholicism as basically a multi-person role-playing game where you can keep the Real Presence and the Virgin Birth but dump Hell and the “Vicarious Atonement.”

          But, as you may have noticed, the Magisterium has slightly different ideas.

          Of course, if you want to chuck the Magisterium into the dustbin of history and also toss into the dumpster thugs like Paul, Augustine, Aquinas, et al., then I ‘m with you 100 percent.

          There’s a name for folks like you: Unitarians.

          Dave

          • http://irenist.blogspot.com/ Irenist

            I did not invent the doctrine of the “Vicarious Atonement” nor did the Baptists or Charismatics.

            Correct. It was St. Anselm of Canterbury.
            .
            However, AFAIK, the Eastern Orthodox have never been that impressed with it. Some modern Catholics like Pope Benedict XVI (in his “Introduction to Christianity”) have moved closer to the Orthodox vocabulary and begun to question whether Anselm’s theology is the best light in which to view salvation. I don’t really think of Benedict XVI or the Eastern Orthodox of the last few eight centuries as Unitarian LARPers.

      • PhysicistDave

        Rod Coffey wrote to me:
        >I think you are not well informed about what Christians believe and are creating a straw man. Salvation is far more rich than “Unless Jesus Dies everyone goes to hell”.

        but then revealed his hidden side by saying:
        > If you do not think you deserve punishment…

        And some of your friends here, Rod, would like people to fall for the old sleight-of-hand that claims that Christians do not really believe what they have taught for two millennia!

        You couldn’t help yourself, could you, Rod? You had to let it out: “If you do not think you deserve punishment…”

        For the record, no, obviously I and most human beings do not deserve anything like the punishment discussed by Paul, Aquinas, and, of course, the Gospels. No human in history is guilty of the monstrous crimes which the Church Fathers attribute to your false god.

        Y’know, by bringing it back to the old theme of punishment, you are just ruining it for all the multi-person role-playing Catholics around here.

        Dave

    • B. S. K.

      Penal substitution? A bloodthirsty god? Maybe some Protestants believe that. It certainly isn’t Catholic theology.

      http://catholicdefense.blogspot.com/2013/03/how-does-good-friday-work-exactly.html

      From a fellow physicist: Literature searches are important, aren’t they?

      • PhysicistDave

        B.S.K. wrote to me:
        > From a fellow physicist: Literature searches are important, aren’t they

        Yes, they most assuredly are, but it is a good idea to actually check the original source, not rely on some misbegotten paraphrase.

        Take, for example, Romans 3:23-25.

        Or maybe you cannot take Paul straight up but want him filtered through the Dumb Ox? Sure thing (from Aquinas’ CT 227):

        >To save us, consequently, Christ was not content merely to make our passibility His portion, but He willed actually to suffer that He might satisfy for our sins. He endured for us those sufferings which we deserved to suffer in consequence of the sin of our first parent. Of these the chief is death, to which all other human sufferings are ordered as to their final term. “For the wages of sin is death,” as the Apostle says in Romans 6:23.
        >Accordingly Christ willed to submit to death for our sins so that, in taking on Himself without any fault of His own the punishment charged against us, He might free us from the death to which we had been sentenced, in the way that anyone would be freed from a debt of penalty if another person undertook to pay the penalty for him.

        You might also go to the trouble to read what you yourself link to; e.g.,
        > Catholics more or less agree with the Reformed on the first half of the equation. By willingly sinning against God, we merit the “wages of sin,” death. We fall short of the glory of God, and God could justly condemn us for our rebellion.

        > Christ offers the perfect Sacrifice to the Father through His total self-sacrifice, and it is critical that it is done out of love.

        > In love, the Father delights in His Son’s selflessness on the Cross, and accepts it as a satisfaction of the debt incurred by our sins. This reconciliation is where the word “atonement” comes from.

        That is exactly what I meant: sacrifice, condemnation, “satisfaction,” suffering, and all the rest.

        “Penal substitution” was your phrase, not mine. What I was talking about was exactly the sort of “atonement” your oh-so-Catholic link admits to.

        Your own link confutes you, BSK.

        We have seen the face of evil, and it is called the Christian God.

        • Mike

          PhysicistDave does NOT like the Christian God and he may even HATE Him. Ok, duly noted.

          • PhysicistDave

            It would be kinda weird to hate something that does not exist. No, what I hate is the spreading of the lie that this mythical monster is real.

          • Mike

            Ok, fair enough you hate the mistaken beliefs of Christians. Fair enough I can respect that. Seriously. We’re fighting for the same thing. As long as you don’t hate actual Christians we’re cool :).

          • PhysicistDave

            Mike wrote to me:
            >As long as you don’t hate actual Christians we’re cool

            Yes, we are. I hate some Christians, those who are liars and con artists. I hate about the same fraction of atheists, i.e., the atheists who are liars and con artists.

            No, I do not hate Christians simply for being Christians.

            For that matter, like most atheists, I also do not hate Chartres Cathedral, “Jesu, Joy of Man’s Desiring,” Handel’s “Messiah,” etc.; even the infamous Richard Dawkins has made the same point.

            I of course have the same attitude toward people I disagree with politically (meaning almost everyone, since we Thoreauists are a rather small minority).

            All the best,

            Dave

      • http://irenist.blogspot.com/ Irenist

        BSK,
        I think PhysicistDave is correct that Penal Substitution/Atonement has been an important part of Catholic theology since Anselm. It’s far from the whole of Catholic soteriology, and unfortunate implications of it have led in part to everything from the Reformation to atheism like Dave’s. However, it is a facet of the historical Catholic vision of what the Cross means. I think it’s fair to acknowledge that.

  • http://www.2catholicmen.blogspot.com Ben @ 2CM

    Think of love as a choice for ANY relationship instead of love as a “feeling”. If we choose (as an act or the will) to spend time with someone, get to know someone and do things for someone, our love & relationship for that someone will grow; if we stop, it starts to die.

    So too with God; if we choose to spend time with God (acts of piety), get to know God (study) and do things for God (action/evangelize) our relationship will grow; if we stop, it starts to die.

  • Fr.Sean

    Leah,
    Congratulations on entering the church and finally being able to receive our Lord in the Eucharist! Always remember Leah, Faith is not a “feeling”, and doubt is a part of faith. You became a believer because you investigated your doubts (as an atheist) and that led you to the truth. Thomas in the Gospel is a good example of having doubt, he investigated his doubts and that led to stronger faith. Doubt is also a part of faith in the sense that you make decisions either according to your faith or according to your doubts. When you make decisions according to your faith as you have in the past you continue to see evidence of the Holy Spirit, or in other words that those decisions are a worthwhile investment. You do grow in “confidence” of your faith because those experiences remind you of the ever present God, and that you don’t need to rely on feelings. As you grow in confidence of your faith, those doubts fade away. I have seen many a Catholic convert to Protestantism and Many a Protestant convert to Catholicism. One thing has been certain (while both may convert because of a marriage) Catholics who leave their faith never really understand their faith. I’ve asked Catholics who have left very simple questions that they never have been able to answer. Protestants who convert to Catholicism do so because they’ve grown to deeper understand their faith, which has led them to the Catholic Church. Up until the time of Luther, if you were a Christian you believed in the real presence of the Eucharist(incidentally if Luther was right about everything why don’t protestants agree on everything, aka infant baptism etc.). John Ch. 6 should clear up any misunderstandings on the Eucharist. “For my flesh is true food and my blood is true drink”. Congratulations Leah! And by the way, I enjoy reading your columns!
    Fr.Sean

    • Jack

      CFAR, “First, a perfect reasoner wouldn’t believe two contradictory things at the same time.”

      “The stranger who sojourns with you shall be to you as the native among you”

      What do you think Fr. Sean?

      • Fr.Sean

        Jack,
        Everybody is religious about something, aka. Everyone has a point of which they discern truth, morality etc. An Atheist/ Agnostic want to believe there is no God because it gives them freedom to null their conscience. As Monotheists, we believe that all truth has it’s origins and roots in the creator. One of the posts above, conveys that Leah choose a faith perhaps the way one chooses a car, simply because his “faith” in Atheism is being questioned, instead of seeing perhaps Leah may have stumbled upon something true. Nevertheless, they are reading her posts and responding to them because she awakens their conscience a little. Hopefully they will continue to read her posts and be open to the gift of faith.

        • http://empiricismvsfaith.blogspot.com Empiricismvsfaith

          I suppose some atheists and agnostics may choose to believe that there is no god to nullify their consciences, but I have yet to meet one. Most don’t believe there is a God because they don’t see evidence for such. If you think that they are self-delusional or lying about this, well, it’s going to be a little difficult to have conversations with such people unless you fancy yourself a psychotherapist skilled in rectifying contradictory mental states. But I’m quite pleased with the conscience I developed through biology and societal training and don’t see a need to nullify it at all. Still, don’t see evidence for any gods, demons, angels, or miracles, though. Sorry.

          • Fr.Sean

            Empiricismvsfaith,
            Perhaps you are right in the sense that i should not use former atheist converts to the faith as a blind understanding of most atheists. Most atheists from my experience (at least atheists who have converted) either seem to be mad at God or simply don’t see it, it doesn’t make sense to them, which if there is a God would support the idea that faith is indeed a gift. C.S.Lewis believed one came to faith through reasoning and rational thought as Leah has done, but i believe Kierkargard believed you simply had to make a leap of faith after looking at the evidence, once you make the leap things start to fall together. to be clear, there is only one thing and one thing alone that you can be 100% sure of and that is that you exist. you can’t be sure that i exist, that Jack exists, or even the computer sitting in front of you exists for there is a possibility that you’re really some kid in India in a coma dreaming this whole thing. in other words, we live in a world where we aren’t 100% sure of anything but you still have to make decisions, educated guesses if you will. if you’re married, or are contemplating marriage you can’t be 100% sure that the woman your married to was definitely the person you were supposed to marry, but you made a leap, assuming that you looked at enough evidence.
            with respect to evidence of God’s existence i would argue that there is a great deal of evidence. gravity existed for longer than man has been on the planet, but it was such a part of our lives it was overlooked. without getting into all the evidences i would simply look at design in nature, the theory of entropy,(which suggests there is an original very powerful force that defies the laws of physics that started the whole chain reaction) and the natural law. if there were no God than atheism would not be evil because evil, or a lack of love really wouldn’t exist. if in fact there is a God than you may be overlooking something that will benefit your life.

          • PhysicistDave

            Fr. Sean wrote:
            > we live in a world where we aren’t 100% sure of anything but you still have to make decisions…

            But, let’s be honest: there is a reason that almost everyone, all around the world, believes that physicists like me really do understand an awful lot about how reality works, while there is no consensus among the peoples of the earth that you, Fr. Sean, knows how God works.

            We physicists have proven our knowledge by making unbelievably useful things (MRI scanners, lasers, microchips, etc.) as well as terrifying things (the Bomb): no one believes we made all these things just by dumb luck. We made them because we possess powerful knowledge about reality. People are about as close to 100% sure of that as they are of anything.

            But religion? Well… every country from Iran to North Korea, from India to France, is eager to make use of the knowledge of us physicists. But, the “knowledge” you have? Let’s just say that most human beings are way less than 100% sure that the special “knowledge” you claim is true at all.

            And, so, that wonderful, heartwarming metaphor from Matthew Arnold is coming true in our lifetime:

            The Sea of Faith
            Was once, too, at the full, and round earth’s shore
            Lay like the folds of a bright girdle furled.
            But now I only hear
            Its melancholy, long, withdrawing roar,
            Retreating…

            Retreating indeed.

            And, Catholicism has become a multi-person role-playing game for the likes of those you see on this thread.

            Warms the heart.

          • http://empiricismvsfaith.blogspot.com Empiricismvsfaith

            Fr. Sean,

            It is good that you are open to the possibility that there are classes of atheists out there who might not be in the two camps you outline. Allow me to offer you a third one: I’m an atheist who fully appreciates that there is a powerful allure in religion and the leap of faith for those who sincerely practice it. This is not convincing evidence to me that the claims of the religion are true, any more than your acceptance that a sincerely believing Buddhist or Sikh or neopagan represents evidence that those particular faith stories are correct where they diverge from the Catholic story. Further, the juvenile solipsism you describe as being a convincing rationale for leaps-of-faith in general is something of a red herring. The whole point of the apocryphal comment of Galileo, “Eppur si muove.” or Samuel Johnson’s retort to Bishop Berkeley, “I refute it thus!” is that no amount of heady armchair mental acrobatics can remove basic empirical facts from our consideration from the pain of a stubbed toe to the movement of the celestial orbs.

            Your further foray into design arguments are extremely unconvincing to empiricists, doncha know? In fact, the rejection by prominent Catholic scientists of the “Intelligent Design” arguments soldiered in the service of creationism ought to give you pause for thought. Physicists do not find the concept of entropy to be anything like an accommodation for belief in the supernatural, and because it does not seem that you yourself are a physicist, I would imagine that that particular argument was not the one that convinced you of the existence of deities, so proposing it as an argument is a little disingenuous at best and pseudoscientific at worst. Indeed, the Second Law of Thermodynamics does not indicate to this physicist that there was any “force” defying the “laws of physics” that “started the whole thing”. I’m fairly certain you don’t have a thermodynamics text on which to base this claim, though I welcome your attempt if you would like to pursue this line further as it is these sorts of canards that I find the most fascinating when considering theistic conceits.

          • ACN

            EvF has already beaten me to it, but let me add that this is a HIGHLY dubious understanding of entropy you’re throwing around Fr. Sean.

            “Usually, even a non-Christian knows something about the earth, the heavens, and the other elements of this world, about the motion and orbit of the stars and even their size and relative positions, about the predictable eclipses of the sun and moon, the cycles of the years and the seasons, about the kinds of animals, shrubs, stones, and so forth, and this knowledge he hold to as being certain from reason and experience. Now, it is a disgraceful and dangerous thing for an infidel to hear a Christian, presumably giving the meaning of Holy Scripture, talking nonsense on these topics; and we should take all means to prevent such an embarrassing situation, in which people show up vast ignorance in a Christian and laugh it to scorn. The shame is not so much that an ignorant individual is derided, but that people outside the household of faith think our sacred writers held such opinions, and, to the great loss of those for whose salvation we toil, the writers of our Scripture are criticized and rejected as unlearned men. If they find a Christian mistaken in a field which they themselves know well and hear him maintaining his foolish opinions about our books, how are they going to believe those books in matters concerning the resurrection of the dead, the hope of eternal life, and the kingdom of heaven, when they think their pages are full of falsehoods and on facts which they themselves have learnt from experience and the light of reason?”

          • http://irenist.blogspot.com/ Irenist

            PhysicistDave,

            But, let’s be honest: there is a reason that almost everyone, all around the world, believes that physicists like me really do understand an awful lot about how reality works, while there is no consensus among the peoples of the earth that you, Fr. Sean, knows how God works.

            Argument from popularity. If we were to sink to that level, we might start by noting that most of the “peoples of the earth” are not atheists. But let’s not, because arguments from popularity are pointless.

            We physicists have proven our knowledge by making unbelievably useful things (MRI scanners, lasers, microchips, etc.) as well as terrifying things (the Bomb): no one believes we made all these things just by dumb luck. We made them because we possess powerful knowledge about reality. People are about as close to 100% sure of that as they are of anything.
            .
            But religion? Well… every country from Iran to North Korea, from India to France, is eager to make use of the knowledge of us physicists. But, the “knowledge” you have? Let’s just say that most human beings are way less than 100% sure that the special “knowledge” you claim is true at all.

            The technical advances derived from engineering derived from applied physics are very impressive. But not every area of human inquiry is about the quantitative prediction and control of physical objects. If you assimilate all questions to that, you have left science (which is great) for scientism (which is an unscientific, sophomoric philosophical view).

          • http://empiricismvsfaith.blogspot.com Empricismvsfaith

            The technical advances derived from engineering derived from applied physics are very impressive. But not every area of human inquiry is about the quantitative prediction and control of physical objects.

            A fascinating contention, and one that is often soldiered in defense of a(nti)-physical or a(nti)-empirical claims, but I have honestly never actually seen evidence of this. I think every area of human inquiry can be addressed by quantitative prediction and control of physical objects. Sometimes, the predictions and the control may be beyond our abilities, but this does not mean that the inquiry is not amenable to such a treatment. There was a time when computers couldn’t beat humans at chess, for example.

            If you assimilate all questions to that, you have left science (which is great) for scientism (which is an unscientific, sophomoric philosophical view).

            I think you are mixing up positivism and scientism at the very least, but quite possibly you are going even further than that to maybe declaring physicalist reductionism to be scientism, in which case I must strenuously object and challenge a real takedown rather than just a name-call.

            Even if you are talking about positivism here, I still have a lot of sympathy for positivists. I think that part of the problem they ran into were certain unexamined assumptions, but I do not think that this is a no-go theorem. I think we’ve gotten considerably better at interrogating assumptions, actually.

          • Fr.Sean

            Empricism, Dave, and Acn,
            I think you may have misunderstood what i was attempting to say.  1. in discussing/arguing about things, almost anything can be argued or confused by injecting doubt.  nothing in the world besides the fact that you exist can be 100% certain and yet we still have to make some decisions, the difference lies in the amount of certainty.  a Materialist would claim that once should only make decisions based on certainty of evidence.  but if nothing is completely certain, and everything is simply based on probability than why claim to follow a model that isn’t accurate for how the rest of your life is run?  
            2. i once heard a lawyer say; “if your client’s innocent stick with the facts, if your client’s guilty try to confuse the jury.”  we all do that when we argue/ discuss things.  if we feel that we’re moving to a point where our position isn’t that strong or can’t be that well defended that natural response is to change the subject, aka. confuse the jury.  
            3 the point on entropy i was attempting to convey matches up with aquina’s proof for the existence of God called the unmoved mover.  while energy is neither created nor destroyed it only moves in one direction and cannot return to it’s original state.  so what started the whole chain reaction?  something very powerful had to begin the whole chain reaction that defies the laws of physics?  one may not want to call that God but one cannot deny that it exists?  a believer would simply say that that alone is God because God is much more than a mover of celestial events.  
            4. has anyone ever seen an atom under a microscope?  we use the atomic structure because it works but we aren’t 100% sure that our model is indeed completely accurate.  when lightening strikes electrons move from the ground to the cloud and yet the atomic structure of the atoms remains unchanged?  should we throw out the whole model because we aren’t 100% sure of it?  

          • PhysicistDave

            Irenist wrote to me:
            > But not every area of human inquiry is about the quantitative prediction and control of physical objects. If you assimilate all questions to that, you have left science (which is great) for scientism (which is an unscientific, sophomoric philosophical view).

            Once again, Irenist, you attribute to me an argument I did not make.

            Read my reply to EvF somewhere on this over-threaded thread about the failings of social “science.” I do not think empiricism works miracles.

            But, the point is that the alternatives to the methods of natural science are just not convincing at all, as judged by those who pursue such methods. The harshest critics of the claims made by philosophers are their fellow philosophers. The harshest critics of religious beliefs are other religious people who hold contrasting beliefs.

            The only exception of any substance is math, and in some sense math is rooted in empirical experience (our experience of counting and of geometric shapes), although the detailed methods of math certainly differ from those of natural science.

            I am not a dogmatic materialist, I do not claim to have proof that no god exists, and I certainly do not think that the attempts to apply the methods of natural science and engineering to human affairs have succeeded: on the contrary, they have led to some of the greatest horrors in history.

            I am a humble empiricist: empiricism has succeeded in simple common sense and in natural science. Outside of that, no method of acquiring knowledge of reality has ever succeeded at all, as shown by the wildly mutually contradictory answers achieved by those who have tried each supposed alternative method.

            I merely think we should be honest about admitting this.

            “Of things of which we know nothing, we must admit our ignorance.”

            Dave

          • ACN

            Fr. Sean,

            I don’t understand what you’re getting at in point 4.

            Aquinas’ unmoved-mover argument is just special pleading. There is no reason for god to be immune to causality while the universe is not.

          • http://empiricismvsfaith.blogspot.com Empricismvsfaith

            Fr Sean:
            > I think you may have misunderstood what i was attempting to say. 1. in discussing/arguing about things, almost anything can be argued or confused by injecting doubt…. but if nothing is completely certain, and everything is simply based on probability than why claim to follow a model that isn’t accurate for how the rest of your life is run?

            Solipsism is a poor excuse for faith. Is it completely certain the sun will rise tomorrow? No. There could be some condition that might prevent it (an imaginative astrophysicist could provide you with some plausible ones). Are you going to bet against it? Not if you want to win the bet. Even though we lack 100% certainty in a lot, the conclusion to this state of affairs is not “therefore God.”

            > the point on entropy i was attempting to convey matches up with aquina’s proof for the existence of God called the unmoved mover. while energy is neither created nor destroyed it only moves in one direction and cannot return to it’s original state. so what started the whole chain reaction? something very powerful had to begin the whole chain reaction that defies the laws of physics? one may not want to call that God but one cannot deny that it exists? a believer would simply say that that alone is God because God is much more than a mover of celestial events.

            Wow, I think Dave is right when he says that the Aristotle fans and the Aquinas devotees do not know their science. You REALLY need to learn about entropy. It is a statistical law, first of all. One can try to string causal chains back in physics very far, but if you do you end up in a state of ignorance some 10^-33 seconds after the Big Bang or so. After that, things run pretty smoothly without your unmoved mover. So that’s where you can put your God of the Gaps: as the creature that blows up the universe. It’s a nice little deist habitat, but it’s probably not going to survive for very long (the history of scientific discovery is filled with numerous other God of the Gaps habitats being cleared out). The problem you are facing is one of increasing impotence and irrelevance for your hoped-for starting point. God at the place where physics breaks down is not a kind of God imagined by Aquinas or any other extant religious tradition. Feel free to correct me if I’m wrong, but I believe it is still Catholic heresy to be a Deist: and the kind of Deist that is permitted these days is namby-pamby compared to when the term was invented.

            Further, all this bluster about conservation of energy and the entropic arrow of time is an absurd farce. In the microscopic realm, these ideas take on extremely different characteristics. At the level of single particles, in fact, the concepts become downright baroque. Entropy of a single particle is not even a useful concept. Why do I bring this up? Because that’s where you want to chain-of-being back to: small scale stuff. So once there you are required to invent some physical theory that comports with reality. Things like the Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle get in the way. Conservation of energy becomes a game at the event horizon of a microscale black hole. Are you truly willing to deal with this stuff?

            I suspect that instead you are convinced of an argument that you have not researched in full. You are convinced by Aquinas who knew nothing of modern physics, entropy, or any of the rest. It’s a shell game, actually. To put it succinctly, there are plenty of ways in physics to get “something” from “nothing” depending on how you define the terms (and it’s up to you to define them because physics fundamentally does not have the luxury of a consistent definition of “nothing”, though most laypeople would be fooled into thinking things like the “vacuum” were good stand-ins). So, this argument that you have to have an uncaused cause or an unmoved mover is utter and complete straw, to paraphrase a theologian for whom you seem to be fond.

            > 4. has anyone ever seen an atom under a microscope?

            Yes.

            > we use the atomic structure because it works but we aren’t 100% sure that our model is indeed completely accurate. when lightening strikes electrons move from the ground to the cloud and yet the atomic structure of the atoms remains unchanged? should we throw out the whole model because we aren’t 100% sure of it?

            No, see, you don’t get to do that. I know that there are things I don’t know. I am comfortable with that. There are also things that I know. For example, there is no evidence for a personal God acting in history. That’s simply an empirical statement right there. Because there are things that I don’t know does not invalidate that observation. The onus is on you to provide the evidence, not play games like a defense attorney who knows the evidence is not on his side.

          • Darren

            Fr. Sean, if I may add my little bit to what has already been provided.

            ”a Materialist would claim that once should only make decisions based on certainty of evidence. but if nothing is completely certain, and everything is simply based on probability than why claim to follow a model that isn’t accurate for how the rest of your life is run?”

            No, a materialist would claim that we should make the best possible decision on the best possible evidence, allowing that evidence continues to accrue and we may very likely have to update our decisions or discard them outright if need be. This is key difference between the Materialist and the Theist.

            Hypothetical example PFA – I currently support same sex marriage on fairness and equal protection grounds. Let us go twenty years into the future and it turns out that, surprise, surprise, the critics actually were right, and SSM is the worst thing to ever happen to child welfare. Guess what, I change my mind and advocate for its abolishment. Just like that.

            ”i once heard a lawyer say; “if your client’s innocent stick with the facts, if your client’s guilty try to confuse the jury.” we all do that when we argue/ discuss things.”

            No, I don’t! Maybe you do… Leah just took a job with the CFAR, and whatever problems that group may (or may not) have, it’s stated goal is to get people to argue only from the truth, and if they are wrong, to admit it and change their own mind. If my client is guilty, tough luck for him, I’ll send him a card in prison…

            Crisis of Faith

            ”…so what started the whole chain reaction? something very powerful had to begin the whole chain reaction that defies the laws of physics? one may not want to call that God but one cannot deny that it exists?”

            Maybe yes, maybe no. Better men than I have torn up this claim, so I will not spend a great deal of time on it. If you are satisfied with your God of the Gaps pushed back to the first 10^-18 second after the Big Bang, then more power to you, but that is an awfully far perch, and David Hume did a pretty thorough job of savaging any hope of connecting that very tenuous Deist God to our own favorite JC hanging on the corner crucifix some 200+ years ago, not sure why you and Edward Feser didn’t get that memo…

            Less Wrong has a pretty amusing take on just what such a God as you wish to hang on to might really be like. It is aimed at biological evolution, but it works just as well to move it back in the timeline into the multiverse evolution / anthropic principle phase were you would like to tuck God:

            An Alien God

            Secondly, the last, oh, hundred years of physics is showing more and more that Aristotelian causality is just not the way the world works, not at all. How can something come from nothing? Well, show me some nothing first, ‘cause it turns out that there is no such thing as nothing and stuff spontaneously appears into existence all the time. I’ll leave this short, as there are real physicists about.

          • Fr.Sean

            Empercism Dave and Acr,
            i Naturally do not have enough text space, and you most likely don’t have the interest in adequately explaining all of the proofs of God in this forum, but I would like to highlight a couple. First when arguing/discussing things it’s naturaly to divert the issue if we feel our position isn’t that strong. Empercism, when you seem to make personal attacks on what i may know about entropy it would seem as though the issue has changed from whether my claim is valid, to how much i know or do not know. diverting to various topics of entropy or other topics in science once again takes it off the topic, confusing the jury again, if you will.  naturally i’m going to make a small leap and say the big bang occured, since then energy only moves in one direction (aka, black holes are formed, energy from the sun is converted to fossil fules etc.)  something very powerful that is able to defy the laws physics initiated that process. perhaps you might call that a footprint of a creator.  secondly, if you look at all of the variables that make life possible on our planet, what are the astronomical chances that that occured by chance?  water forms a hollow, floats to the surface, if it didn’t do that and most liquids don’t, no life on the planet, if it didn’t evaporate and condense, no life on the planet, if we were a little closer to the sun or a little further away, no life on the planet, if we didn’t have a magnetic force around the planet, no life, etc. some respond by saying that’s only because it’s life as we know it, but there’s no evidence of life on Mars or Venus as “life as they know it”?
            there are three possibilities that i know of of how things came about; 1. a creator created everything and set things in motion.  2. things came about by pure mathematical chance.  3. things came about by guided mathematical chance. i believe that three at least to me makes the most sense.  First of all, most Christians do not believe that you are to read everything in the bible literarly (1) but that the bible teaches faith, not necessarily science or history verbatim (in other words, there were dinosaurs etc.)  now it’s evident to see that animals evolve, animals that can adapt have an increased chance of survival, that’s evident.  but what about something as complex as an eyeball, with a lens, ritna, nerves, a brain that translates the image?  is something that complex really just going to be created by chance?  a good analogy may be to say that if given enough time, with the waves hitting sand on the beach that it is possible that the waves and sand could create a computer, it is possible, but how likely?  by the way, i hope none of you take any of this personal, i do enjoy a good discussion.  

          • http://empiricismvsfaith.blogspot.com Empiricismvsfaith

            Fr. Sean:
            > Empercism, when you seem to make personal attacks on what i may know about entropy it
            > would seem as though the issue has changed from whether my claim is valid, to how much i
            > know or do not know. diverting to various topics of entropy or other topics in science once
            > again takes it off the topic, confusing the jury again, if you will.

            You were the one who brought up entropy, not I. The problem is that you are so far off-base with your positioning on that topic that I cannot have a conversation with you about it because in order to do so I would have to go into pedagoge mode. I pointed out the basic issues, but they are so damning as to cause our discussion to grind to a halt. I have to argue with argument I think you should have made rather than the ones you actually did — arguments so problematic that they seem plucked straight out from the pages of the AnswersInGenesis website. I’m not the only one who has pointed this out to you. Yet instead of dropping the line, you persisted. Why? All that’s left is for me to exhort you to learn about the subject since I will not be holding class on the Laws of Thermodynamics in this comment list.

            > naturally i’m going to make a small leap and say the big bang occured, since then energy
            > only moves in one direction (aka, black holes are formed, energy from the sun is converted
            > to fossil fules etc.) something very powerful that is able to defy the laws physics initiated
            > that process. perhaps you might call that a footprint of a creator.

            But see, there you go again, Jimmy Carter. Simply repeating a problematic argument doesn’t make it more convincing, of course. Let me be blunt: there is NOTHING in physics that requires something “powerful” to “defy the laws of physics” to initiate “that process”. This argument which for some reason holds some special place in your heart is simply wrong. I don’t know how to put it more succinctly than that.

            > secondly, if you look at all of the variables that make life possible on our planet, what are
            > the astronomical chances that that occured by chance? water forms a hollow, floats to the
            > surface, if it didn’t do that and most liquids don’t, no life on the planet, if it didn’t evaporate
            > and condense, no life on the planet, if we were a little closer to the sun or a little further
            > away, no life on the planet, if we didn’t have a magnetic force around the planet, no life, etc.
            > some respond by saying that’s only because it’s life as we know it, but there’s no evidence of
            > life on Mars or Venus as “life as they know it”?

            Wow, you are a creationist. This Fine Tuning argument is another bit of pseudoscientific tosh trotted out by the Discovery Institute as high-quality scholarship. At best, it’s an argument from ignorance, but actually it’s not even that: it’s just plain ignorance. Victor Stenger makes mincemeat out of it: http://mukto-mona.net/Articles/vstenger/flew.htm

            > there are three possibilities that i know of of how things came about; 1. a creator created
            > everything and set things in motion. 2. things came about by pure mathematical chance. 3.
            > things came about by guided mathematical chance. i believe that three at least to me makes
            > the most sense.

            Another creationist canard. There is chance in the universe, but there is also context. For example, natural selection is an extremely efficient process. Interesting that it doesn’t appear on your list.

            > First of all, most Christians do not believe that you are to read everything in the bible
            > literarly (1) but that the bible teaches faith, not necessarily science or history verbatim (in
            > other words, there were dinosaurs etc.) now it’s evident to see that animals evolve, animals
            > that can adapt have an increased chance of survival, that’s evident. but what about
            > something as complex as an eyeball, with a lens, ritna, nerves, a brain that translates the
            > image?

            Are we really going to do this? Am I really going to have to refer you to the talkorigins archive?
            http://www.talkorigins.org/indexcc/CB/CB301.html

            > is something that complex really just going to be created by chance?

            http://www.talkorigins.org/faqs/chance.html

            > a good analogy may be to say that if given enough time, with the waves hitting sand on the
            > beach that it is possible that the waves and sand could create a computer, it is possible, but
            > how likely?

            http://www.talkorigins.org/faqs/abioprob/abioprob.html

            > by the way, i hope none of you take any of this personal, i do enjoy a good discussion.

            I don’t take this personally, but neither am I too pleased to have to revert to debunking pseudoscience and creationist balderdash. It’s a little weird to be doing so with someone who is apparently Catholic. Pretty sad, actually.

          • ACN

            Fr. Sean,

            “(1) but that the bible teaches faith, not necessarily science or history verbatim (in other words, there were dinosaurs etc.) now it’s evident to see that animals evolve, animals that can adapt have an increased chance of survival, that’s evident. but what about something as complex as an eyeball, with a lens, ritna, nerves, a brain that translates the image?”

            I’m unimpressed with your ID.

            http://www.talkorigins.org/indexcc/CB/CB301.html

            Amusingly, the catholic church isn’t impressed by this ID/Creationism hogwash either.

          • http://irenist.blogspot.com/ Irenist

            PhysicistDave,

            Once again, Irenist, you attribute to me an argument I did not make.

            So it would appear. Your position (as outlined elsewhere in this thread) is very different than the one I had attributed to you. My apologies again.

        • Jack

          Fr. Sean, I’ll try again. Leah works at CFAR

          “First, a perfect reasoner wouldn’t believe two contradictory things at the same time.”

          “In Coriolanus, it is inconceivable for human beings to hold that they could be deceived by others, let alone that they could deceive themselves. They view themselves as contradicting others while not being contradicted by others. There is neither truth nor deception (falsehood) in a world that is ruled by the law of contradiction (quote from CFAR). In that world either I contradict (conquer) those opposed to me as my enemies, or they contradict (conquer) me as opposed to them as their enemy. There is no common truth (good) in a world divided such that each side views the other as its enemy. “Truth” here is always contradiction (of the other as enemy).

          And then there is “stranger as native, self as neighbour”, you know.

          So what do you think now?

        • Jack

          “Nevertheless, they are reading her posts and responding to them because she awakens their conscience a little.”

          I don’t think so. They’re the righteous from, “I come not for the righteous but sinners”. You must know that atheism is innocent and is never responsible for any evil. There it is again.
          “First, a perfect reasoner wouldn’t believe two contradictory things at the same time.”
          If I’m good, all else is evil.
          These trolls are here for other reasons.

          • http://emipiricismvsfaith.blogspot.com Empiricismvsfaith

            Of course atheism isn’t responsible for evil. How can a simple lack of belief be “responsible” for evil? Likewise, simple faith in a non-existent deity is never “responsible” for evil. There are atheists who argue otherwise: they’re wrong.

            Now, one might use one’s faith or lack thereof to justify evil actions, but the responsibility lies on the actor, not the claimed justification.

          • Fr.Sean

            Jack,
            i googled, cfar and came up with a few websites, i believe the one your referring to has to do with improving rational thinking, but i couldn’t get enough details on the discussion without signing up for their news letter. if you could point me in the right direction i’d be happy to look at it. Thanks,

        • Fr.Sean

          Empercism,
          If you were suggesting that by being a creationists I believe that the world was created six thousand years ago and dinosaur bones are here to test our faith, than I am not. Animals and plants do evolve, and I think a lot of evolution is accurate, I just don’t prescribe to the whole thing that it all came about by pure mathematical chance. the idea that an eyeball was formed by pure mathematical chance, that some primitive creature spontaneously created something similar to an eye and then separated into various parts I also find difficult to believe, unless of course it was by guided mathematical chance.
          A little while back I was speaking to someone who had a heart attack, their heart stopped beating on the operating table. The man told me he found himself floating out of his body, and watched them perform surgery on him. When he came to he explained what he had witnessed to the doctor. he said the doctor found it a little hard to accept until he described in detail the people who came into the room and what they did. Now, having heard that event, and I’m sure you’ve heard out of body experiences in the past, that some believe it is simply chemical reactions in the brain, I would pose this question; Rationally, we believe we can see because light bounces off of various objects in the room, hit’s our retina and is translated by our brain into an image. So what kind of an eye mechanism would be able to absorb light for his brain to translate into an image? Chemical reactions are one thing, but being able to see, from a certain standpoint in a room would suggest that something of him had to be at that part of the room, furthermore, he would have to have some kind of mechanism that would be able to translate light into an image, that would give him the ability to explain in detail what he had witnessed? I can imagine chemical process in the brain making people think they are seeing loved one’s who passed on, or perhaps think they are seeing heaven, but witnessing events and details in a room with no physical eye to use? Scientifically, being able to witness actual events in detail without a physical eye would be impossible? Would it be more likely to explain that by the suggestion of a soul?

          • http://thoughtfulatheist.blogspot.com Jake

            Fr. Sean,
            Incidentally, they’ve tried testing this on several occasions, and have as of yet been unable to find evidence for such an occurence. Can’t speak for other materialists, but if you could conduct a study and prove that someone actually observed things that would be impossible for them to observe, you would at the very least make me seriously question reductionism.

            But without good evidence, you’ll get no concession from me- the brain does awfully weird things when pumped full of chemicals, and the human memory is notoriously unreliable. I don’t suspect that your friend was lying- I suspect he was simply mistaken.

            (A summary of the standard atheist position on Near Death Experience can be found here)

          • Fr.Sean

            Thanks Jake for the response, perhaps you’re right, i should find the guy and have him give a detailed explanation for others to read. Naturally he wasn’t thinking of doing an experiment, he simply had the experience and told the doctor what various people looked like who came into the room while he was unconscious. I read the Summary post you suggested and ironically i read Alexander’s book. I Think Harris misses some of the points Alexander was attempting to convey. first Alexander talked about how some of his patients would discuss their “out of body” experiences when they came to. he always thought it was chemical reactions in the brain. after his experience he knew it wasn’t chemical reactions. he also met a woman on the other side whom he later discovered by looking at a picture that it was his biological sister (he was adopted). some of these arguments go back to faith and reason. although many people on the side of reason see faith as the opposite i don’t believe there’s by nature antagonistic. i think they can be compatible in some instances. my criticism of Harris’ understanding of the book is that he seems to want Alexander to reveal some kind of a scientific evidence for a spiritual experience. if there was scientific evidence it would no longer be in the realm of spiritual. But the only evidence he had was his brain scans and his own personal account. if you get a chance google, “to hell and back” by Dr.Maurice Rawlings, you don’t have to watch the whole documentary but, i believe it’s the third story, the one of the art teacher who went to France. he talks about how he looked at his body, looked at his wife and other things in the room during his out of body experience. he was an atheist prior to the experience and was overwhelmed by what he witnessed.

          • http://thoughtfulatheist.blogspot.com Jake

            Fr. Sean,
            I suspect we disagree on enough that it won’t be solved via combox :)

            But I will say that if you would like to convince us rationalists of an empirical fact about reality (“out of body experiences are real and inexplicable in a materialist framework”), you’re going to need valid scientific data- peer reviewed, double blinded, reproducible scientific studies. No amount of anecdotal evidence or emotionally touching personal narratives are ever going to convince us.

            You may consider this to be an incorrect standard (your demarcation of “spiritual” and “scientific” realms seems to indicate that you would), but that is the standard most atheists use. If you would like to convince them of NDEs, your options are to convince them that this standard of belief is wrong, or to provide evidence that conforms to this standard. I sincerely doubt you’ll have much luck with the former. But if you could produce the latter, you would have a good shot at changing my worldview.

          • http://empiricismvsfaith.blogspot.com Empiricismvsfaith

            > If you were suggesting that by being a creationists I believe that the world was created six thousand years ago and dinosaur bones are here to test our faith, than I am not. Animals and plants do evolve, and I think a lot of evolution is accurate, I just don’t prescribe to the whole thing that it all came about by pure mathematical chance.

            Did you read the links about your chance conundrum? Well, no matter. Let it be known that there are other varieties of creationist other than the Young Earth kind. That you charitably give empirical thought their timeline is nice, but that you deny central claims of natural history still makes you a science denier.

            > the idea that an eyeball was formed by pure mathematical chance,

            linked above. I wish you would read it.

            >that some primitive creature spontaneously created something similar to an eye and then separated into various parts I also find difficult to believe, unless of course it was by guided mathematical chance.

            linked above. Are you really so stubborn that you won’t learn about the evolution of the eye? It’s a fascinating subject, I tell you.

            > Would it be more likely to explain that by the suggestion of a soul?

            No, and there is plenty of literature on NDEs as well. Generally, careful empirical investigation of these claims comes up rather short. The data is already corrupted by the time the story gets told. Now, I’m sure your friend genuinely believes in what he saw, but there is simply no way to verify this anymore. I could invent a test to do this, but it requires sets of controls that your anecdote did not provide. A soul? Hardly. This is evidence of confirmation bias, however.

          • Fr.Sean

            Jake and Empricism,
            I read the articles above, indeed they are fascinating, but i still don’t see why they wouldn’t fall under the notion of guided mathematical chance? again, i don’t think evolutionary theory is a religion but i did acknowledge that i believe some or even most of it is true. The articles seem to be conflicting with pure creationists, that some of the events in natural history are an impossibility? I’m not saying that, i do believe much of evolution, i just believe guided mathematical chance fits in much better with evolution that pure mathematical chance. The theory on how the eye evolved was also quite interesting, but again if we’re going to go with proven science then we do have to acknowledge that it is still a theory, until proven other wise it has to remain in the realm of a theory. i also realize that people who’ve had out of body experiences can also not be put into the realm of proven science, but don’t forget we do use people’s accounts of events to put people in Jail, etc. i’m not sure it’s a good idea to throw out all of their experiences simply because it can’t be scientifically proven. again, none of us makes decisions based on 100% certainty. in that documentary listed above, all of those people had two things in common. 1. they didn’t believe in God and were living an immoral life. 2. all of them had a hellish type of an experience and none of them anticipated than anything was going to happen when they died. if in fact i was an investor that was quite successful, and i encouraged you to buy a stock because it was going to go up, and i myself was investing in the stock, would you not consider, my experience, expertise for something that may benefit your life?

          • http://thoughtfulatheist.blogspot.com/ Jake

            but don’t forget we do use people’s accounts of events to put people in Jail, etc.

            Indeed we do- often with disastrous results. Eye witness evidence is notoriously unreliable, and generally considered extremely weak evidence. I’m sure you’ve heard the trope- if multiple witnesses all remember the same thing, then they’re colluding, because witnesses never all remember the same thing.

          • Fr.Sean

            Jake,
            i would agree that personal testimony is not exactly scientific. if you notice from the documentary Dr.Rawlings had each individual person give an account of what they experienced. Those accounts were not all the same, in fact I think there’s a good possiblity that the second to the last one could have just been a man in distress. what i do think is compelling though is that each individual didn’t anticipate anything, they happened upon something unexpected. Again we don’t strictly make decisions upon scientific data, but experience often guides are decisions. I suppose it is a possibility that it was chemical reactions in the brain, but many of those witnessed saw themselves outside of their bodies? why would someone who didn’t believe in God give such detailed accounts of an out of body experience?

          • http://empiricismvsfaith.blogspot.com Empiricismvsfaith

            Fr.Sean says:
            >but i still don’t see why they wouldn’t fall under the notion of guided mathematical chance?

            It depends on what you mean by “guided”. If you think that the extinction events were “guided” by, for example, catastrophic disasters, then I suppose you can have that sense of the word. But there is no data pointing to a hand of God in the fossil record, for example. One can re-interpret the purely naturalistic mechanisms by which life developed as somehow being “guided” by a deity only if you remove any sense of observability from that statement. It is like saying, “Look, God guides the Moon as it orbits the Earth.” It’s basically a quaint notion and there is no reason it is convincing to anyone who is looking for evidence of a deity.

            > again, i don’t think evolutionary theory is a religion but i did acknowledge that i believe some or even most of it is true. The articles seem to be conflicting with pure creationists, that some of the events in natural history are an impossibility? I’m not saying that, i do believe much of evolution, i just believe guided mathematical chance fits in much better with evolution that pure mathematical chance.

            And it is in this last statement where you are out on a limb without evidence. Again, as long as you mean “guided” in the sense of “no direct empirical evidence, just what I like to tell myself for metaphysical games”, you can have at it. But that’s not the sense in which you have been couching your arguments.

            > The theory on how the eye evolved was also quite interesting, but again if we’re going to go with proven science then we do have to acknowledge that it is still a theory, until proven other wise it has to remain in the realm of a theory.

            There was just an article on the problems with the layperson’s understanding of the term “theory”. “Theory” is the best we’ve got in science. We have as much evidence to explain the evolution of the eye as we do any other biological instance. To cast doubt upon it on the basis of the status of a scientific theory is to fall victim to this creationist argument: http://www.talkorigins.org/indexcc/CA/CA201.html

            > i also realize that people who’ve had out of body experiences can also not be put into the realm of proven science, but don’t forget we do use people’s accounts of events to put people in Jail, etc.

            And that is one of the most problematic aspects of our legal system. Eyewitness accounts are far less reliable than are given credit in the courtroom.

            > i’m not sure it’s a good idea to throw out all of their experiences simply because it can’t be scientifically proven.

            It’s not about “throwing it out”. It’s about extraordinary claims requiring extraordinary evidence. If you tell me you dropped a pencil and it fell to the floor, I take you at your word mostly because it is not an extraordinary claim. If you tell me you dropped a pencil and it turned into a dragon and flew away, I need more evidence.

            > again, none of us makes decisions based on 100% certainty. in that documentary listed above, all of those people had two things in common. 1. they didn’t believe in God and were living an immoral life. 2. all of them had a hellish type of an experience and none of them anticipated than anything was going to happen when they died. if in fact i was an investor that was quite successful, and i encouraged you to buy a stock because it was going to go up, and i myself was investing in the stock, would you not consider, my experience, expertise for something that may benefit your life?

            Let’s say I approached you with a great stock because it was going to go up. I pointed out a number of stories by investors who were skeptical and then saw the light after losing their shirts when not investing with me. The documentary is produced by someone who invests in this stock. Do you not think there might be something wrong with this kind of persuasion?

            > i would agree that personal testimony is not exactly scientific. if you notice from the documentary Dr.Rawlings had each individual person give an account of what they experienced.

            Consider the source. Do you think that there is an incentive given Rawlings’ faith for him to promote this narrative? Is it possible he cherry-picked stories only for the benefit of further strengthening his case? Is it possible he coached the subjects of his stories?

            It really amazes me how credulous people of faith can be when it comes to these basic matters. You are basically leaning on NDEs as a major talking-point for why to believe in your religion. The gaping holes in this are easy to see for anyone who is not in the cult already, but for some reason you seem blind to them.

            At the very least some comments on sampling and control would be nice. But that’s not the point of propaganda.

            > Those accounts were not all the same, in fact I think there’s a good possiblity that the second to the last one could have just been a man in distress. what i do think is compelling though is that each individual didn’t anticipate anything, they happened upon something unexpected.

            That’s not compelling to me. Most people haven’t gone through such a major medical disaster and so don’t know what to expect. An oxygen-deprived and panicked brain will probably act in unexpected ways. In fact, I’m not sure what the “expected” way would be.

            > Again we don’t strictly make decisions upon scientific data, but experience often guides are decisions.

            This is why it is so important to develop a baloney detector in order to have a good sniff test for extraordinary claims. You should consider developing one.

            > I suppose it is a possibility that it was chemical reactions in the brain, but many of those witnessed saw themselves outside of their bodies?

            Why is it hard for you to imagine that someone couldn’t hallucinate such a thing or come up with post hoc rationalizations for the random synapse firing that occurred in their distressed state? Do you find dispassionate expositions like this to be unconvincing: http://rationalwiki.org/wiki/Near-death_experience ?

            > why would someone who didn’t believe in God give such detailed accounts of an out of body experience?

            Why can’t a nonbeliever hallucinate?

          • Fr.Sean

            Empircism,
            I suppose I may point out the elephant in the room. When it comes to physics and or evolutionary theory I have a very basic knowledge and am a little out of my element. Naturally, since this is a faith website I suppose I felt it was okay for me to comment on various topics. A friend of the family is an astronomer who teaches at a local university. One day he was over for dinner and we talked mostly about astronomy and so forth. Out of curiosity I asked him what would ultimately occur with the universe. Naturally I had instincts that the universe is going on one direction but didn’t really understand what would ultimately happen (it doesn’t take much to realize when stars become black holes, other stars fall into black holes or our own sun will burn out that things seem to be heading towards something dying if you will). He told me what would ultimately occur is two basic possibilities. Either when energy has gone in the one direction that all of the atoms would eventually even lose their ability to maintain gravity, they would drift apart, there would be no stars, planets, etc. he said the other possibility is that after the stars, or rather matter went out far enough, they would once again contract, and there would be another big bang. But he said that like throwing a stone into a pool, that each expansion would be slightly smaller until the same thing he spoke of earlier would occur, energy would be exhausted and atoms would separate. Naturally I though since there was an end to the transfer of energy there would also be a beginning and that something powerful had to initiate it. when you went off into the finer points of entropy that I am not educated in, I didn’t know if you were moving toward an perspective that the universe is not ultimately going to come to an end in terms of energy, or if because I didn’t know the subject well enough that it wasn’t worth discussing. Now, I know you’re most likely not an astronomer, but without diverting into various issues I am not educated in, if in fact the transfer of energy has an end, then wouldn’t it stand to reason that something powerful initiated the whole sequence?
            2. when you were talking about guided mathematical chance, if I understand you correctly you insinuated two things; 1. That there’s no empirical evidence of evolution being guided. I would agree for the most part that there’s nothing individual that one can hang there hat on. However, I would argue that there is evidence if you look at the evidence together. for example; if you had a friend who worked at the lottery, and he encouraged you to play the lottery, and you won, say a million dollars, you may have no hardcore evidence that he had anything to do with winning that individual lottery ticket. However, if you won a million dollars every month for the next year, you may start to wonder if he was doing something to guide to lottery in your favor. Sure winning it one time may be just chance, but every month for a year? it may be more likely that he is guiding the process. Some of the variables I spoke of earlier, water, gravity, the polar magnetic force, the distances from the sun, I’m sure there are thousands of other variables entailed, wouldn’t it make sense that all those variables, or chances point to something directing them? I mean, sure it’s possible that you just happen to randomly win the lottery every month for a year, but wouldn’t it seem likely that your friend had something to do with it? 2. I believe you insinuated that if there was a creator guiding evolution that that creator allowed bad things to happen such as extinction of animals etc. in terms of theology the original creation story, the book of job, and the incarnation kind of hint at why this may be? First of all, in the garden there was no original notion of suffering, but because of the fall, suffering and sinning in other ways became a part of reality. Thus creation is flawed (again remember the bible teaches faith not necessarily science or history). St.Paul says in Romans, “that all creation groans in eager expectation of the revelation of the children of God, for creation was subject to futility, not of it’s own accord but by the one who subjected it.” this would naturally indicate that creation is also in a sense awaiting redemption. The book of Job is really an allegory to help understand why bad things happen to good people. while God never answers specifically is question he simply points out that suffering is indeed a part of life but if we face it with a sense of Trust we can usually learn something from it. finally, the incarnation also highlights the notion of suffering. Christians believe Jesus is the son of God, the second person of the trinity. Thus, it’s almost as if God says; “ I know you have to deal with this notion of suffering, whether just or unjust, in order to show you that I am not above, or indifferent to suffering, I am going to become one of you and suffer anything you may have to suffer so that you will know I am with you in suffering. Thus the cross isn’t just about physical suffering, but also about rejection, misunderstanding and abandonment.”
            In terms of the theory of the eye, perhaps your right, theory isn’t the correct word. Scientists hypothesizing how it may have occurred are just hypothesizing based on other events they have witnessed, so it’s more of a long shot than to simply call it a theory, since there’s no hardcore evidence that that was how it occurred.
            In terms of the people having the out of body experiences, again it’s important to note what the people experienced, they all had unanticipated experiences that they believed were more real than this world, witnessed things they could recount. Gloria Polo who was Catholic but drifted from her faith had a similar experience. She was struck by lightening, the doctor told her family she wasn’t going to make it because most of her organs were to severely damaged. She made a miraculous recovery even though she did die for a short time. She had the same experiences as the others in the “to hell and back” documentary. All of them radically changed their lives afterwards. Again, is there hardcore evidence one can hang there hat on, no, but then we don’t make decisions in life based on 100% evidence. I have looked at the other citations you have listed, perhaps you should also look at it. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vQ8TEGMj-jc if in fact you don’t want to watch the whole documentary i would suggest just looking at the second and third one.
            By the way, Dr.Rawlings was an atheist prior to witnessing what occurred with his patient.

  • http://NA Rod Coffey

    Leah

    I would suggest you are more than ready for Theresa of Avila and John of the Cross.

    YOU are a bride of Christ

    I understand completely what you are saying about philosophical conversion now time for the personal relationship. St Anselm is also a help with that. The Anselm who wrote the Monologion and Proslogian

    Your Brother in Christ

    Rod Andrew Coffey
    Seminarian and would be priest
    Colonel of Infantry
    Silver Star
    Purple Heart

  • http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/01546a.htm Rod Coffey

    God is that tha which nothi greater can be thought

    And he loves you

  • http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/01546a.htm Rod Coffey

    Sorry about the typos

    God is that than which nothing greater can be thought
    And He loves you

    • Darren

      Actually, I am now imagining a God that is even greater than yours, and he is calling you a dork…

      ;)

      • Darren

        Rod Coffey;

        Oops, you appear to be new here, I should have introduced myself. See, that last comment, the one with the winky-smiley thing, that was a big fluffy metaphysical snowball lobbed in your direction, lest you mistake my intentions.

  • zai

    Leah,

    I know that feel quite well. My goodness, the last year or so, when I was Catholic in all but an official capacity, mass was excruciating. Knowing that the Truth is there for the tasting in a physical, sacramental sense and being unable to fully engage it hurts. I ended up barging my way into an RCIA already begun at the parish I entered the Church through. This was at the end of 2009, months after finishing my undergraduate degree. I’ve been official since 2010 and cannot even imagine being another way. Glad you got to jump in the Tiber more quickly as well! Keep writing!

  • Andrew

    Love the ad orientem photo!

    Go Tridentine Leah!

  • David Naas

    Not being a “touchy feely” type, but one who appreciates intellect, it took me years to formulate what I know to be true.
    1. “Proof” is that which convinces us of something. “Proof” is not an objective entity, but is rather very subjective to every person.
    2. “Reason”, or “rationality”, is simply the name we give to a process whereby we arrive at “proof”.
    3. “Truth”, ahh, “truth”. Non-theists hold it to be one thing, Theists to be another entirely. Each has “proof”, and “reason” on their side, and will argue vehemently, some nice, and some nasty, but become convinced by arguments from the other side… not usually.
    4. “Honesty”, now, there’s the rub. An honest non-theist can become a theist. Dishonest ones will Stand Their Ground, in spite of misunderstood or half-baked arguments, for the fear of seeming foolish if they change their infallable minds (so, they Do believe in a “pope”, only it is — themselves.) — I thought about removing the snarky comment in parens, but, no, I will include those who make theistic arguments they don’t understand and have not finished cooking.

    I perceive Leah is an honest person, and as such, not afraid of a little ridicule from former co-belligerents (It has been a long year, hasn’t it).
    Hang in there. It doesn’t necessarily get any easier.
    But, as the Old Country Preacher said, “Sunday’s on the Way.”

    • http://empiricismvsfaith.blogspot.com Empricismvsfaith

      Can an honest theist become a non-theist?

      • DoctorD

        Can a truly honest theist become anything BUT a non-theist.

  • Pingback: The Meaning of Easter - Big Pulpit

  • Mark G.

    I love the intellectual rationalists. They despise you for your faith. They decry your ignorance for believing in something that is unproven and unprovable yet, they believe that life on Earth developed as a result of an infinite number of chemical reactions and lucky coincidences, all of which are unproven and unprovable. We are all people of faith – It’s just a matter of what you put your faith in. God, or a belief that inanimate matter became animated beings all by itself.

    • http://emipiricismvsfaith.blogspot.com Empiricismvsfaith

      I like your exaggeration here. Indeed, “infinite number of chemical reactions” is not only an exaggeration, it’s so embarrassingly off the mark that it is farther away from the truth than if you had said “zero chemical reactions”. This just exposes your imperious ignorance when it comes to understanding the natural world. Your assumed attachment of your ignorance of the subject to humanity at large and then a strained God of the Gaps conclusion makes it all the more ridiculous that you associate the belief in a personal, Earth-moving, magical godhead on par with the research project investigating abiogenesis. Apples and oranges doesn’t begin to describe the differences. It’s more like the difference between infinity and zero.

      • Mark G.

        “This just exposes your imperious ignorance when it comes to understanding the natural world.”

        O.K. then, I admit it, You’re right! It took exactly somewhere between zero and infinite chemical reactions for the process of inanimate matter to develop into life. I’m gonna guess 12.

        I would love to know where the empiricism falls in that little belief. Oh… would that we could be there as the proverbial non-existing “fly on the wall” on that day when some non-entity, non-living happenstance stood back from it’s creation after a direct hit from a lightening bolt and screamed, “It’s Alive!!!!”

        Abiogenesis is unprovable! Whose the real imperious ignoramous, EVF… hmmm???

        • http://empiricismvsfaith.blogspot.com Empiricismvsfaith

          I think you simply are not aware of the subject as it is studied.

          In particular, you seem to be falling victim to what I call the “vitalistic fallacy” which is the supposition that there is a discernible difference between living and non-living matter that is separate from the empirical facts on the ground. If I pluck a red blood cell from one of your capillaries and examine it, is it alive? It still has a metabolism, cellular functionality, etc. Or is it only alive in the context of the larger organism? The people who fall for the vitalistic fallacy see this question as profound whereas scientific investigation has largely moved past this kind of nonsensical handwringing.

          The fact is that the demarcation between living and nonliving at the molecular level is arbitrary and almost useless. Chemists and biologists studying abiogenesis have coaxed all the behaviors you would associate with life out of very dead soups of chemicals (investigations into the RNA World Hypothesis are some of my favorite ways that this is so). So if you take offense to my characterization of your comments as imperious, let me revise it to say that maybe you are simply incurious.

  • u3

    Leah,
    Congratulations on your conversion! Don’t listen to the negative and pessimistic comments on here…get as far from those people as you can, for they are only trying to bring you down and ruin your faith…they are being led by Satan and don’t even realize it. Read any book by Joan Carrol Cruz, especially the Incorruptibles or Eucharistic Miracles…these are truly excellent and will help you to supplement your faith. One great website is Mystics of the Church, and read their mystical experiences. May God bless you and may the peace of Christ reign in your heart!

  • George

    Hi Leah,

    Happy Easter! I feel that I sometimes have the same problem. I’m doing a PhD in physics and because of my academic inclinations have the same tendencies to focus on the intellectual side of religion sometimes to the detriment of the “relationship with God” side of things.

    I try to remember that Theology has to go with Liturgy in order to be complete. (A good analogy is the theory and experiment split in physics. They are both equally important parts of physics. Science needs both to truly be science.) In that light, I spend about as much time reading, say Augustine, as I did before, but I have added in a daily Mass during the week and try to do evening or night prayer regularly. Engaging more often in the liturgical elements help remind me that whatever philosophy and theology I’m currently reading is something that is alive, something of which I am personally a part. On the flip side, the theology and philosophy help remind me about the foundations of the relationship that is expressed in the Liturgy. I think this approach has helped me a good deal.

    Happy Easter again! Conversion is an extended process for all of us. Keep pushing forward! God bless!

    • PhysicistDave

      Have you gotten to the part yet where Aquinas explains why heretics have to be murdered? Or how the Elect will drool over the torture meted out to most of the human race who are being tortured in Hell?

      I’ll be happy to provide the cites if you need them.

      After you finish with Aquinas, maybe you can read the wisdom of Pol Pot, or that crazy German dude.

      Kindred souls.

      • George

        A few points:

        1. Perhaps this is confusing for everyone. I noticed there is another self described physicist named George posting in these comments. I am not him. This was my only comment in this thread.

        2. Augustine and Aquinas are different writers. Though as you reply sounded like a knee-jerk response, I’ll assume you didn’t get time to carefully read the words on the page before the righteous anger overwhelmed you causing you to troll without regard for what you were even trolling.

        3. My comment was for the blog author not you. I’m done here and not getting into an argument.

        • PhysicistDave

          Yes, George: I was careless. I’ve recently run across too many people defending Aquinas and it befogged my brain.

          Not that I have much kinder things to say about Augustine, but perhaps on another day.

          I apologize. Sorry.

          Dave

  • sqeecoo

    Leah, isn’t it time to come through on all your promises to answer questions and explain the rationale for your conversion to Catholicism?
    You’ve made some vague attempts at explaining your belief in God, but you haven’t event begun to hint at why you chose specifically Catholicism and all the weird baggage that comes with it.

    Happy Easter!

    • CF

      what weird baggage?

      • http://empiricismvsfaith.blogspot.com Empricismvsfaith

        The infallible papal sovereign, transubstantiation, the Inquisition, the Crusades, Humanae Vitae, the Immaculate Conception, Mariology, the sexual abuse crisis, rampant sexism and homophobia….

        • Lori

          You’ve got a lot of opinions and “issues” with something that you claim not to believe in. Just saying….

  • Jack

    “Jack,
    i googled, cfar and came up with a few websites, i believe the one your referring to has to do with improving rational thinking, but i couldn’t get enough details on the discussion without signing up for their news letter. if you could point me in the right direction i’d be happy to look at it. Thanks”

    7 quick takes 3/28/13, quick take number 6
    I copied that particular quote from their site because when someone uses the words first and perfect they usually stand behind what they say in a strong way.

  • Jack

    “Of course atheism isn’t responsible for evil. How can a simple lack of belief be “responsible” for evil? Likewise, simple faith in a non-existent deity is never “responsible” for evil. There are atheists who argue otherwise: they’re wrong.”
    Of course, what and how you think doesn’t mean anything only in the land of OZ. There goes your statement above.

    Now, one might use one’s faith or lack thereof to justify evil actions, but the responsibility lies on the actor, not the claimed justification.
    The actor is not responsible for the justification?

    • http://empiricismvsfaith.blogspot.com Empricismvsfaith

      Justifications can be very cheaply invented. One might provide a justification, but the justification is not to blame. The actor is.

      • Jack

        Are your actions unjustifiable?

        • http://empiricismvsfaith.blogspot.com Empiricismvsfaith

          I certainly have my own reasoning for what I do, but when judging whether my actions are right or wrong those reasons are largely irrelevant. Why did Adolph Eichmann schedule trains to Auschwitz? I actually don’t care what his reasons were; he was wrong to do it. Aiding and abetting genocide is not an acceptable social practice.

          See, I don’t believe in Augustine’s descriptions of sin, so the state of mind of a person while they’re acting doesn’t matter to me one lick. What matters is the consequences of their actions, not their intentions.

          • Jack

            Cool, when I run into you by accident I’ll take advantage of what you’re saying and pretend i wanted to tackle an atheist. Not that i don’t want to anyway.

          • http://empiricismvsfaith.blogspot.com Empiricismvsfaith

            Look, I understand that mens rea can be a sticky subject in our courtrooms, but it matters not a lick to me whether you tackle me accidentally or with malice aforethought. I’m still tackled. Obsessing over why you did it is not going to make me feel any better.

  • CF

    I am hoping her her new steps, she does read some of those good old fashioned writers like St. Teresa eventually, soon……

  • Mike

    Same here to some extent. It’s easier for me to accept the philosophical underpinnings, the theology and the rationality than it is to feel the relationship with God and the Church. It’s the intellectual stuff that keeps me coming back more so than the touchy feely things. So I find myself trying to act it out alittle more and believe it or not it starts working. After the intellectual problems are resolved it’s in the living the faith part that the real story begins. But, well, I love it! I’ve never been happier and felt more grounded. All the best Leah and may God continue to bless you.

  • LAM

    I don’t suppose some of the posters here might credit the opinion of a believer (experiencing a conversion of heart and mind in her early teens) only later to lose what she can only term the near-palapable presence of God for quite some time. I believe that when this happens in a longer and more painful way, it’s called a “Dark Night” of the soul. Losing something and appreciating it’s presence I can only liken to losing the ability to see a color, lose the ability to see that color, and then to be able to see it again. I remember the day I first wore eyeglasses, after being near-sighted for most of my childhood, and that’s a fair analogy as well. But analogies can only go so far. So in a sense, there’s an experience that is not “warm fuzzes” but simply is part of the physical as well as spiritual dimension of life. Any believer in Christ will admit that there was no real merit in accepting this thing we call grace, and the effort is in the living of the life in Christ. I hoped, wished, prayed for know His presence when I could discern absolutely nothing. If I could have manufactured it, especially in times of personal crisis, oh you bet I would have. There’s more to Easter than the Resurrection of Christ, it is the reality of the promises of Christ that is joyfully celebrated. I’ve not ever read your blog before, but I believe I am now a fan. Thank you , Leah.

  • Jack

    Which brings me back to,“Of course atheism isn’t responsible for evil. How can a simple lack of belief be “responsible” for evil?
    You monkeys end up adopting moralities, if you can call them that, that are full of shit.

    • http://empiricismvsfaith.blogspot.com Empiricismvsfaith

      Are you seriously suggesting that theists do not end up adopting moralities that are full of shit too?

      • Jack

        If they stray, yes.

        • http://empiricismvsfaith.blogspot.com Empiricismvsfaith

          Stray from what? Sharia?

          • Jack

            Sharia would be straying.

          • http://empiricismvsfaith.blogspot.com Empiricismvsfaith

            I’d love to know how you figured that out. How do you make it that if you had been born into a Muslim family you probably wouldn’t be saying that? Does it bother you?

  • Jack

    “Look, I understand that mens rea can be a sticky subject in our courtrooms, but it matters not a lick to me whether you tackle me accidentally or with malice aforethought. I’m still tackled.”
    Yes you are, but if it’s accidental it ain’t a crime.

    “Obsessing over why you did it is not going to make me feel any better.”
    Stop trying to read minds

    • http://empiricismvsfaith.blogspot.com Empiricismvsfaith

      I’m not a lawyer, so I’m not interested in whether it is a crime or not.

      Trying to read minds is exactly the problem with Augustine’s expositions intention. Of course, he punts to a deity that can read minds, you see.

      • Jack

        “I’m not a lawyer, so I’m not interested in whether it is a crime or not.”

        Fine by me then if you getting tackled has no leagal or moral qualities for me.

        “Trying to read minds is exactly the problem with Augustine’s expositions intention. Of course, he punts to a deity that can read minds, you see.”

        I doubt you even understand what you’re talking about.

        • http://empiricismvsfaith.blogspot.com Empiricismvsfaith

          Are you saying you make your moral judgments as to whether someone is, say, entitled to bodily integrity and safety from harm on the basis of whether they care about other people’s moral judgments? That sounds very similar to fascism to me.

          • Jack

            Are you saying that if I run into you by accident, I’ve somehow broken a law or moral precept? Sounds very retarded to me.

          • http://empiricismvsfaith.blogspot.com Empiricismvsfaith

            No, I’m not saying that. Not sure why you think I am.

  • Jack

    “I’d love to know how you figured that out. How do you make it that if you had been born into a Muslim family you probably wouldn’t be saying that? Does it bother you?

    “Stray from what? Sharia?”

    Point being this isn’t relativism,where evil is what someone else does. In that case your morality wouldn’t apply to me at all.

    • http://empiricismvsfaith.blogspot.com Empiricismvsfaith

      You’re getting very hard to follow. Relativism is not “where evil is what someone else does” according to most relativists I know. I don’t know that I would even call myself a “relativist”, if you care at all.


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