Why I Am Catholic…

Patheos asked bloggers to give 200 word apologiai for their faith, so, here’s my very brief attempt at why, given theism, I went with Catholicism:

From Paul’s original cry that “If he be not raised… your faith is in vain” to Flannery O’Connor’s “Well, if [the Eucharist]‘s a symbol, to hell with it!” Catholicism has resisted Invisible Dragon in the Garage Syndrome fairly well.  It’s not a religion that doesn’t mind what people think, as long as they all get along  – it’s truth-seeking.

And one thing I’d noticed, long before I thought its god might exist, was that a number of its truths had stolen a march on me.  When it came to virtue ethicsradical forgiveness, or the logic of marriage-as-covenant, my philosophical development kept prompting quizzical looks and “You know you sound Catholic, right?”

And those answers came out of an argument/discourse/tradition that spanned several millennia and wasn’t shy about telling me that it was nice that I’d notice that people are people, not moral quiz questions, but I needed to do something about the contempt for the material world, or nothing doing.

Catholicism is specific enough to make philosophical demands and to do me the courtesy of not pretending it’s no big deal to differ with them.  It welcomes faith seeking understanding, but spurns the comfort of agree to disagree.

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."

  • http://thoughtfulatheist.blogspot.com Jake

    Catholicism is specific enough to make philosophical demands and to do me the courtesy of not pretending it’s no big deal to differ with them. It welcomes faith seeking understanding, but spurns the comfort of agree to disagree.

    I think this was the part that suprised me most about your conversion. You seemed to have consistent moral disagreements with the church (“I’ve used this blog to pick at some parts of religion that I find off-putting… objections I have to its moral teachings”), and now you cite them getting the right answers on moral questions as a primary factor for converting.

    To the best of my knowledge, you still have substantial moral disagreements with the Church on quite a few issues- do you consider this Bayesian evidence against Catholicism?

    • leahlibresco

      Some of them more than others. My thinking that it’s weird for people to care about gender is very weak evidence against, since plenty of people, not just Catholics care about it, and it’s considerably more likely that I’m the odd man out here. Opposition to civil gay marriage bugs me more, but is less central to the faith than the gender-is-germane thing.

      • http://thoughtfulatheist.blogspot.com Jake

        I notice that I am confused. Do you or do you not think that it’s “a big deal to differ with [the Catholic Church]” on the question of civil gay marriage?

        • Mike

          She thinks I think that people like me who don’t think marriage should be re-defined to exclude sexual differences are either misinformed or maybe a bit old fashioned or maybe even stupid; but I don’t think at least I hope not that she thinks they’re evil or wicked or bigots. If she does, then I think she may one day find herself at one of the lefty churches, but I personally hope she toughs it out. We won’t agree to disagree bc that’s a cop out but we’ll have fun debating and fighting and examining life…and being good Catholics. BTW sorry if this starts an avalanche on this issue. Oh I would add that I think she correctly identifies the issue with the importance of gender/sex. It is connected to why the priesthood is all male and why only women give birth and why God is presented as a male even though he is neither sex and why he became a male when he decided to come into the world. So I think L’s on the right track there. Sorry if answering for you makes me sound like a twit. I kinda think it’s a bit inappropriate so forgive me. PS I would recommend for anyone interested in gender/sex P. Kreefts lectures on these subjects.

          • Brian G.

            You are right about one thing. You using your religious beliefs to deny me civil equality is not something I’m going to agree to disagree with you on.

        • leahlibresco

          Honestly, I think that one’s prudential (though that’s also something that opinions in the Church vary on). Whether it’s prudential or not, I want to be correct obviously.

          • http://thoughtfulatheist.blogspot.com Jake

            My impression of your conversion was that it was in large part due to an inability to reconcile certain strongly held beliefs (objective morality, virtue ethics, etc.) with an atheistic framework. I’m a bit tentative to proffer this next argument, since I’m not sure if it’s kosher to argue against what I consider incorrect views using what I consider to be slightly-less-incorrect views**, but here goes:

            If you accept “how much this belief system supports my moral intuitions” as valid evidence, then it would be inconsistent to ignore conflicts between your intuitions and Catholicism- but it would also be inconsistent to subjugate your moral intuitions to Catholicism, since you weren’t willing to do so with your neo-Platonic secular humanism.

            I wouldn’t presume to say whether you are doing that or not, but it is a pattern I’ve seen among the other very intelligent Catholics that frequent this blog. The contention that something is right because the Church says so only works if the Church actually is what it claims to be. I generally agree with your analysis of local maximums of reasonability, but I see subjugation of your reason/moral intuitions/etc. to an Authority source as something of a moat around your little mountain of reasonablility.

            I guess I’m just trying to point out that your disagreements with the Church are evidence, and as someone who is rooting for you to get the right answer, I’m nervous that you seem far too willing to brush them aside as secondary.

            **I don’t actually think these are the best arguments against the Church, because it would be fairly trivial to construct a religion which did not suffer from such complaints- this standard passes far too many false beliefs. But it does seem to me to be an inconsistency in your worldview at least as glaring as your previous neo-Platonic-virtue-ethicist-atheist stance.

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

            I think is quite the opposite. Leah’s agreements with the church are evidence that the church’s claims are true. That is that the church has a special grace from God to get things right. Are my disagreements really evidence against that? Would I expect the true revelation of God to line up 100% with my opinions? That is a pretty arrogant claim. I would expect it to be rational. I would expect it to be amazing. I would expect it to blow my mind. I would expect it to be old and yet relevant. I would expect it transform cultures rather than being transformed by cultures. I would expect it to work for all types of people, thinkers, feelers, contemplatives, servers of the poor, artists, family men, etc.

            I sympathize with Leah having a hard time explaining this in a way that can stand up to scrutiny of the folks on this blog. It is a bit like the liar, lunatic, lord thing. You need to decide if you are going to accept the claim or reject it. If the Catholic church is not God’s instrument on earth then it is the most blasphemous institution ever. If you are a theist then one of those must be the truth. The former is hard to believe but the ladder is impossible.

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

            Is is prudential. You still need to be careful. If you see yourself parting with the church on many issues even if they are all prudential that should be a red flag. The goal is to think with the church. It is not to meet the minimum requirements and agree of matters infallibly defined. It is to see Catholic tradition as a well of truth and drink as deeply from it as you can.

          • Steve

            Randy… “Leah’s agreements with the church are evidence that the church’s claims are true.” That’s nonsense. That’s like saying my agreement with the values of ‘Truth, Justice & the American Way’ is evidence of Superman being real.

          • ACN

            Come on Steve, obviously that’s evidence of Captain America being real.

            What are you, some kind of alien-loving communist?

          • Erick

            I think Leah, you are conflating the Church’s conception of prudence with her conception of political importance.

            Politically speaking, you are correct that the results regarding the civil gay marriage debate is just not of utmost importance to Catholic faith as long as religious liberty is protected.

            Morally speaking, however, it is not a question of prudence. It is a big deal to disagree with the Church and advocate for civil gay marriage.

            It is one thing to say “I tried to win but lost”. And another to say “I will help the team lose”.

          • Brian G.

            It’s cool. In two hundred years or so the Church will come around on marriage equality, act like it was their idea all along, and pretend like being on the wrong side of history never happened. It’s happened repeatedly, and they’ve done an amazing job of portraying the cause and effect cycle as the complete opposite of reality.

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

            Randy said,

            I think is quite the opposite. Leah’s agreements with the church are evidence that the church’s claims are true… Are my disagreements really evidence against that? Would I expect the true revelation of God to line up 100% with my opinions? That is a pretty arrogant claim.

            Here’s the problem: is how closely she agrees with the Church evidence, or is it not? You can’t have it both ways. Either “Leah’s agreements with the church are evidence that the church’s claims are true” or “my disagreements [aren't] really evidence against [Catholicism, and I wouldn't] expect the true revelation of God to line up 100% with my opinions.” But not both.

            If you claim to use reason to arrive at a conclusion, then that conclusion cannot override your reason, because your confidence in your conclusion is necessarily less than or equal to your confidence in your reason. Likewise, if you claim to arrive at a conclusion via moral intuitions, then that conclusion can’t override your moral intuitions, because your confidence in that conclusion must be strictly less than your confidence in the evidence that brought you there.

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

            So how can you come to the conclusion that someone knows more than you? It is not logically impossible. When you get there then you will have issues about which they have arrived at a different conclusion. So you think they might be right. That is you have faith. But you don’t comprehend all their reasons. So you have faith seeking understanding. That is what we do with the best experts in any field of human endeavor. You might use similar methods to become convinced the church is the best expert in the field of faith and morals. If you did you would be on the road to becoming Catholic. Sure there are more questions to be dealt with but that might be the main motivation for going down that path.

          • http://last-conformer.net/ Gilbert

            Jake, since I have some similar experiences with Catholicism I can point you to a way for things to be more complicated than your dichotomy. Of course I can’t read Leah’s mind, so I don’t know if that’s what she would say.

            The thing is the Catholic Church has an eerie habit of turning out right on things we used to disagree on. That points to it being better at this than I am alone. This is true even if I still have problems on other issues (in my case now much more obscure than what Leah has problems with). Basically if it turns out right on things I had to put a lot of work into understanding it probably is also right about things I have spent less cognitive work on.

            This isn’t specific to religion. For example, back in the day a college friend and me would come up with nearly identical solutions to math problem sets, but he would do so much faster than I did. I remember a case where we came up with different examples of functions with some perverse properties, and then when I wanted to write mine down it turned out my proof had a hole and patching that hole basically turned my example into his. I take this as fairly good evidence that he is better at math than I am. But last time I talked math with him we still had somewhat different first ideas on some math question I never bothered to follow up on and now have forgotten about. I don’t think that is good evidence of him having lost his math savvy. So basically our (eventual) agreement is evidence and our disagreement isn’t.

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

            Steve,

            Randy… “Leah’s agreements with the church are evidence that the church’s claims are true.” That’s nonsense. That’s like saying my agreement with the values of ‘Truth, Justice & the American Way’ is evidence of Superman being real.

            How would you evaluate a moral system? Would you not want to know if many of the answers it gives seem right to you? You would not expect all the answers to be obviously right. If they were then the system would not be of much use. Still you would not be tempted by a system that seems get everything wrong. So right answers are evidence. Is it the only evidence? No. It has to have the character or a moral system that is more true than the one you have. It is hard to be precise about what that looks like.

            Then there is the further question of whether a good moral system implies a true religion. If the moral system is based on understanding the deepest truth about man and God then it is hard to imagine how they could get that truth wrong and still get a better morality than I could come up with on my own. It is logically possible but practically speaking the odds get vanishingly small.

          • http://thoughtfulatheist.blogspot.com Jake

            @Randy,Gilbert

            It is certainly in principle possible to discover another agent who is better at making predictions than you are. But your confidence that they are better is never greater than your confidence that they are actually right about their predictions.

            Math is a good example, and the one I was going to raise in response to Randy- Gilbert believes his friend to be better than him at math, and he believes it on the strength of his friend getting the right answers faster and more often than he does. But how does he know his friend got the right answers? His confidence in the statement “my friend is better at math than me” is bounded by his confidence in the sum of all relevant statements of the form “my friend got the correct answer X for problem Y faster/better/more efficiently than I did” for all tested values of Y. It presupposes knowledge of the actual right answer.

            Now this works in science, because science makes clear cut, falsifiable predictions. Whether this works in morality or religion is far less clear, but lets suppose for a second that it does. Your job is to figure out which framework, if any, is actually the way the world works. If you’re willing to accept moral intuitions as evidence- as that presupposed knowledge of the actual right answer- then when a framework disagrees with your knowledge, that counts as evidence against the theory.

            It is certainly possible that, upon further reflection, you will change your view to match that framework- and that counts as Bayesian evidence that that theory is true. But how confident you can be in that conclusion is again limitted by how confident you are in your newly found view. The wrong way to do it is to change your view because the model says so, because parity with your view is how you’re judging the model to be correct in the first place.

            It is analogous to accepting someone’s claim to be better than you at math on the strength of their claim alone. Unless they can demonstrate to your satisfaction that they are actually consistently more correct than you, it would be quite an odd epistemology to accept their answers over your own- how would you differentiate their claims of mathematical authority from someone elses?

            (also, the math analogy is limitted, both in that there’s a HUGE difference between someone being more-likely-to-be-right and someone being infallibly-always-right, and in that there is an asymetric distribution of computational power between you and the Church- it’s been around a lot longer, and has had lots of time to think, so it would not be surprising that it’s found some good/interesting/accurate answers, even if it’s not actually what it claims to be. All analogies are limitted, and I don’t think either of you were saying it’s the exact same thing- but it’s worth pointing out to any potential readers)

          • Darren

            Jake;

            Very nice…

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

            But your confidence that they are better is never greater than your confidence that they are actually right about their predictions.

            There are a lot of ways to be confident someone is right about predictions. Checking them against your own thinking is one. You can also read other thinkers who have checked it against their thinking. You can read those who have accepted it as accurate and those who have rejected it and weigh the various rationales.

            There is also the plausibility factor. In your philosophy is the claim that God is revealing His truth through this organization inherently plausible or implausible? She started by assuming theism so idea that God’s wisdom is somehow accessible would make sense. The Catholic claim to have such access makes the math analogy weak. Can St Thomas be brilliant about ethics yet massively confused about the Eucharist and the papacy and the divinity of Jesus? I think this kind of reasoning can get you past the limits of how many moral answers you can confidently check.

          • Darren

            Randy said;

            ” There are a lot of ways to be confident someone is right about predictions. Checking them against your own thinking is one. You can also read other thinkers who have checked it against their thinking. You can read those who have accepted it as accurate and those who have rejected it and weigh the various rationales.”

            Nice as well, and IMO this would be a valid way for establishing confidence.

            ”There is also the plausibility factor. In your philosophy is the claim that God is revealing His truth through this organization inherently plausible or implausible?”

            Perhaps it is lingering Quaker bias, but I actually find the Reformation reasoning more plausible. God, being spirit, would reveal himself individually and in spirit. That sort of thing.

          • http://thoughtfulatheist.blogspot.com Jake

            In your philosophy is the claim that God is revealing His truth through this organization inherently plausible or implausible?

            I think whether or not there is a God who is revealing his truth through a human organization is an a posteriori claim. It’s not something I would be able to evaluate purely based on reason- I would have to venture out into reality and look around a bit before I decided whether or not it was true (or even, for that matter, plausible). Turns out I don’t think it is.

            Starting from theism (if that is indeed what Leah did- I’m not sure if that’s the only valid interpretation of her morality-as-consciousness claims) is what is boggling the minds of so many atheists. Once you start from theism as an assumption, you’ve lost the battle. You’re already wrong.

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

            Jake,
            She explicitly says she started with theism so you are interacting with the wrong part of her reasoning process.
            Darren,

            Perhaps it is lingering Quaker bias, but I actually find the Reformation reasoning more plausible. God, being spirit, would reveal himself individually and in spirit. That sort of thing.

            This fails on empirical grounds. If the reformation reasoning was right then those who use it would end up in basic agreement around some coherent set of truths. They don’t.

          • Darren

            Randy said;

            ”This fails on empirical grounds. If the reformation reasoning was right then those who use it would end up in basic agreement around some coherent set of truths. They don’t.”

            Now that is an interesting thought.

            How then is Catholicism not hoisted by this same petard? If Protestantism is implausible because of its balkanization, then how does the existence of the Reformation and the Schism not work against Catholicism’s truth claims?

            Same too for Christianity as a whole .vs. the other Theisms?

          • http://thoughtfulatheist.blogspot.com Jake

            Randy said:

            She explicitly says she started with theism so you are interacting with the wrong part of her reasoning process

            This is why I made the earlier comment “I’m a bit tentative to proffer this next argument, since I’m not sure if it’s kosher to argue against what I consider incorrect views using what I consider to be slightly-less-incorrect views.”

            I’m not super comfortable making the claim “assuming theism, you’re still wrong,” because “assuming theism” is a bad idea. Moreover, I can point out logical contradictions in her position until I’m blue in the face, but if she’s stuck on “assuming theism,” then she’s eventually going to arrive at the least-troublesome-wrong-version, rather than the actual right answer to how the world works- the local maximum, rather than the global maximum.

            For all I know, the least-troublesome-wrong-version of theism might indeed be Catholicism (a pretty bold claim, given the thousands of theistic religions and sects that I personally have little to no knowledge of)- but that doesn’t make it true any more than epicycles being the best-predictive-geocentric-model made it true.

          • Theodore Seeber

            Jake- that’s the best description yet of a problem I’ve seen with many New Atheists when it comes to Catholicism. The problem isn’t the theism. The problem is the authority.

            Theism, particularly a Creator God, presents an authority that can’t be ignored. That is too big to be ignored. So for some people, rationalizing into atheism, the other rational maximum, is the only reasonable way out. All else, is just window dressing.

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

            How then is Catholicism not hoisted by this same petard? If Protestantism is implausible because of its balkanization, then how does the existence of the Reformation and the Schism not work against Catholicism’s truth claims?

            Well played, Darren. If I may echo from Jake’s expression (“the least-troublesome-wrong-version of theism might indeed be Catholicism “), I think the Catholic claim would be that the Papacy has a charism of Christian Unity demonstrated in part by the fact that the Catholic Church has maintained more internal unity (despite global growth) than either Protestantism or the various ethnic-nationalist patriarchates of Orthodoxy. In answer to the Orthodox argument (your heresy was proto-Protestantism and look at all the divisions that have come from Western Europe), which I think is actually quite strong and too little discussed in the West, I think the Catholic response is twofold:
            1. Things are pretty balkanized in the Balkans, too, buddy.
            2. There are indeed a lot of things we get wrong (overzealous ultramontanism perhaps among them), which is why we need you guys back as the other lung!
            .
            Jake,
            I think you’re right to point out that if theism is wrong, “best version of epicycles” is the only palm the theisms are contending for. Similarly, if atheism is wrong, then my personal predilection to find in deracinated Californian Buddhism the “best version of epicycles” among the non-Abrahamic systems might be correct, too. It seems like an obvious point; not sure where you’re going with it.
            .
            But as an answer to the oft-repeated atheist question “Why, Leah, of all the Platonist-virtue ethicist theisms, a bunch of homophobic nutters like the Catholics, for crying out loud?” which does come up a lot around here, “assume theism” seems entirely appropriate, since it’s *part of the question.*

          • http://thoughtfulatheist.blogspot.com Jake

            @Irenist-
            I clearly failed in communicating my point clearly. C’est la vie.

            My intention for this thread was to advocate for the position “assuming theism, you’re still wrong, because your reasons for assuming theism are inconsistent with choosing Catholicism.”

            Randy was pressing me on whether or not I thought assuming theism was reasonable in the first place, and my answer is no, I don’t think it is- I think the evidence fails to back it up. This is why I expressed consternation at the idea of starting off any argument from “assuming theism…” because once you assume a contradiction, you can prove anything. So I’m still not sure if my argument is a good idea.

            To the question of “Why, Leah, of all the Platonist-virtue ethicist theisms, a bunch of homophobic nutters like the Catholics, for crying out loud?”, I don’t think assuming theism is implied so much as now that I have good reasons for thinking theism is true. And if that’s the case- if theism is “proved” rather than “assumed”- then atheists would be right to point out contradictions between her proof of theism and her proof of Catholicism.

            (I have used the word “assuming” with extremely inconsistent precision, for which I apologize. Would that I could go back and edit all my posts…)

          • http://last-conformer.net/ Gilbert

            Jake, I’m not a Bayesian, but I’ll speak your language.

            My confidence in an authority is limited by my posterior confidence in its p=1 predictions after taking the authority in account. So if my friend tells me he can square the circle or the pope infallibly declares rape a good thing, that would disprove the respective authorities. Likewise, my confidence in an authority gets limited by my confidence in whatever facts I base my trust of it on. So if it turns out my friend pulled a Jason Anderson on all those problem sets I would no longer credit his predictions and same if it turned out I was wrong to be convinced on the questions the church already convinced me on.

            But: My prior confidence on questions the authority pronounces on doesn’t limit my belief in the authority except insofar as it influences my posterior confidence. So if my friend and I talk about some math problem neither of us considered before, and we disagree and I would otherwise be 80% sure of my answer, I’m still right to defer and the fact that what turns out to be him being right previously had only 20% probability is not a 20% limit on the probability of him being an authority. Likewise, if Leah had an 80% prior on the pelvic issues (that’s just me making an assumption ex ano b.t.w.) that doesn’t impose a 20% probability limit on Catholicism.

            Basically in conflict cases the question is not how sure one is of any particular question but how much more sure one is of some questions than of others.

          • http://thoughtfulatheist.blogspot.com Jake

            @Gilbert,

            Yes, this version of Bayesian reasoning I’ve presented presumes there’s only 1 input (moral intuitions), and it assumes you have an equal confidence in each of your moral intuitions. As in most cases of using math to describe the real world, it’s an over-simplified model. I apologize if I gave the impression I thought this was a conclusive mathematical proof against Catholicism- it’s not.

            Even in the case of 1 input and equal-weighting, it is in principle possible in a Bayesian sense to side with the other guy. If you have 99 consecutive cases where you thought the other guy was wrong, and eventually you realized he was right, and then you come accross a 100th case where you think he’s wrong, it would be rational to assume that you might in fact be mistaken.

            The three points I’m trying to drive home are as follows:

            1) If and when you assume you might be mistaken and the other guy might be right, that doesn’t erase the Bayesian evidence created when you disagreed with him. You can’t use induction ad infinitum to say “well since I think he’s been right so far, I’ll assume he’s right this time too.” At that point, the proper test of whether or not he’s trustworthy is some equation involving the term ((# things I agree with him on) – (# of things I agree with him on based on authority)). This turns out to be extremely difficult for humans to do (since I know how much you love Less Wrong :p)

            2) From my lofty perch on ignorance mountain, this does not appear to be what has actually happened with Leah. She has some handful of things with which she agrees with the Church- a small number of which she has actually changed her mind about- and some handful of things that she doesn’t agree with the Church about. Even if that number is one- even if it’s only civil SSM that she disagrees on- that’s still really strong evidence, when she’s only got virtue ethics and objective morality that point in the general direction of Catholicism.

            3) Leah- and indeed, most Catholics- do not appear to believe in God in a Bayesian sense. I’ve yet to hear a theist say anything along the lines of “I’m 80% sure that Catholicism is true, which clears my threshold, therefore I’m a Catholic.” Perhaps I am wrong- I find myself comfortably outside of my area of expertise when I start talking about how and why other people believe things- but as far as I can tell, Catholicism as a framework doesn’t really allow for such a belief. Since you’ve already said you’re not a Bayesian, I won’t belabor the point- but it is a distressing one for me.

            As usual, I think Irenist summed it up much better than me below:

            if Leah’s argument reduces to the Chestertonian “the Church is a truth-telling thing” w/r/t virtue ethics, etc., then a falsehood (on SSM, e.g.) is indeed a defeater, unless Leah has since discovered that it was only apparent and revised her own ethical views

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

          Ah. Thanks for the clarification, Jake. I see what you were getting at now. And indeed, if Leah’s argument reduces to the Chestertonian “the Church is a truth-telling thing” w/r/t virtue ethics, etc., then a falsehood (on SSM, e.g.) is indeed a defeater, unless Leah has since discovered that it was only apparent and revised her own ethical views. My own predilections in this area (argue thus: classical theism -> Christianity -> plausibility of Divine provision for a teaching authority to propagate the Gospel) have been repeated plenty here. I’d be interested to here Leah’s response to your (actually quite strong) argument. I predict she’d prevail, but like the viewer of a genre film, I am in suspense as to the mechanics of how our hero (Leah) would prevail, even if I think I can predict the ending.
          .
          And I certainly agree with you about the principle of explosion, as it leads to a rather too clever an anti-Pope for Catholic comfort!
          http://www.nku.edu/~longa/classes/mat385_resources/docs/russellpope.html

          • http://thoughtfulatheist.blogspot.com Jake

            I predict she’d prevail, but like the viewer of a genre film, I am in suspense as to the mechanics of how our hero (Leah) would prevail, even if I think I can predict the ending.

            Man, I hate being the bad guy! :)

            Also, that is the single most elegant mathematical proof I have ever seen. I am in awe.

          • http://thoughtfulatheist.blogspot.com Jake

            incidentally, you’ve mentions “classical theism” serval times- any recommendations for introductions to either “Classical Theism” or “Thomism”?

            My favorite non-UY debate parter also claims Thomist tendencies, and I haven’t yet had the time to delve into the actual theology (believe it or not, I’m too busy reading about evolution to argue with my fundamentalist friends…)

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

            For classical theism, I usually link to this:
            .
            http://edwardfeser.blogspot.com/2012/07/classical-theism-roundup.html
            .
            Feser seems to be quite Tea Partyish in his politics (which I find immensely off-putting) but he is a very gifted popularizer of Thomism. In particular, follow his Cosmological Argument round-up linked in the Classical Theism round-up.
            .
            Speaking of Bertrand Russell (consistently entertaining and enlightening atheist that he was), IIRC, Feser was very impressed with Russell’s neutral monism in his atheist days, and only moved from materialism to Aristotelianism via neutral monism. Feser discusses it here:
            http://edwardfeser.blogspot.com/2012/07/road-from-atheism.html
            .
            In general, I think that something like neutral monism (which seems to be what, e.g., Thomas Nagel is now trying to trek toward) could be a far more fearsome naturalist intellectual opponent for Thomists than materialism has turned out to be. (Paging PhysicistDave?) One of my to-do’s is to read more about it and see if it persuades me. It might.

          • Theodore Seeber

            Isn’t it a rather large and unproven assumption that the Church is wrong on SSM, given a Sacramental Catholic, rather than Civil, definition of marriage?

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

            Isn’t it a rather large and unproven assumption that the Church is wrong on SSM, given a Sacramental Catholic, rather than Civil, definition of marriage?

            Sure. In fact, I don’t see how the Church can be wrong on the morality of sacramental marriage at all given non-cafeteria assumptions about Catholicism. I think Jake’s question is more like this: If, hypothetically, Leah hasn’t changed her mind about SSM (civil or sacramental, whichever) and/or abortion and/or some other areas of disagreement pre-Catholic Leah had with the Church, does that not detract from an argument for Catholicism based upon her having found the Church to be a truth-telling thing? Assuming the hypothetical, I think Jake would indeed be on to something. But, as you say, the hypothetical shouldn’t be assumed.

      • GudEnuf

        What about your support for abortion rights?

  • Mike

    I like it. I agree with you and I think you’re right: the RCC has, at least, if nothing else, guts – and of course I think you do too. God bless you and continue to fight the good fight.

  • http://empiricismvsfaith.blogspot.com Empiricismvsfaith

    What distinguishes a Catholic from a Protestant, for example? Can a Protestant hold to virtue ethics, radical forgiveness, and the logic of marriage-as-covenant? I would submit that many likely do. What distinguishes Catholicism in my estimation is the utter reverence for the traditions of Catholicism especially the mass, the sacraments, the transubstantiated host, a complicated mythology surrounding Mary (though separate from the more heady one supported by the Eastern Orthodox Church, for example), and a communion with a magisterium that has never suffered papal excommunication. Of course, it’s also an ethnic church for many, though that’s likely not the attraction. Anyway, those seem to be the distinguishing characteristics and that’s the kind of thing I think a Catholic needs to be on board with if they’re Catholic. Of course, that’s not really for me to say, but it’s what I see anyway.

    • Pseudonym

      I would say that the majority of mainstream Protestant thinkers would broadly agree with those points. Protestants typically don’t see marriage as a sacrament, for example, but they certainly do see it as a covenant.

      I would say that the odd one out is probably virtue ethics. The majority of mainstream Protestant thinkers are virtue ethicists, but among the more non-mainstream (e.g. US-style “bible belt” fundamentalism) deontology is one of the more popular heresies. I’m a Protestant, BTW, so I can say that without it sounding bigoted.

      Perhaps more to the point, “Protestant” isn’t really a thing. It’s a family of related things, some more closely related than others. Even the English Reformation and the Scottish Reformation were very different, and the traditions which sprang from them are correspondingly different.

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

      “What distinguishes a Catholic from a Protestant, for example?”
      Fair question. For me as a classical theist, preeminently this:
      http://squid314.livejournal.com/337475.html
      (TL;DR: Atheism > Protestantism because both involve modern mechanistic metaphysics, which logically imply atheism, whereas Classical Theism > Modern Metaphysics, and Catholicism still holds to classical (in our case Thomist) metaphysical foundations for theism).
      .
      Thus, for me, Thomist Catholicism and a California-Buddhist-inflected atheism are both Jamesian “live options,” whereas Protestantism, with its frequent reliance on either Fideism or Paleyan intelligent design arguments, just seems obviously false.
      .
      Cards on the table: Irish Catholic on both sides of my family; my mom is from the States, and my dad is from Ireland. Grew up with plenty of stories about the Tans and black legends about Cromwellians using infants for target practice. So there are less edifying reasons why Protestantism isn’t a “live option” for me, too.

      • http://empiricismvsfaith.blogspot.com Empiricismvsfaith

        I don’t know that I follow completely. Do I have it right that you think New Age spirituality is superior metaphysically to someone who claims that the physical world is all there is?

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

          No. By California-Buddhist-inflected atheism, I mostly just meant to shorthand some Sam Harris vision of being a materialist who meditates and is pretty laissez faire about consensual fun. “Buddhism without Beliefs,” as Bachelor famously put it.

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

            To put it differently, if I wasn’t attempting to follow the same Way as Leah, I’d probably be trying to cobble together something similar to whatever it is that “Scott Alexander”/The Blogger Formerly Known as Yvain seems to be working on.

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

            Sorry for the nested self-replies, but to add one more bit of perhaps useful self-i.d.: during my decade or so of young adult atheism, I was very attracted to Rorty’s deflationist account of philosophy and to a strongly transhumanist vision of the emancipatory potential of technology. Although reading of folks like Dale Carrico, Ricahrd Smalley, Jaron Lanier, and John Searle has since made me a lot more skeptical of the Kurzweilian/Drexlerian/Yudkowkyan faith, I still think something that views spirituality as a kind of neurotechnology of therapeutic meditative techniques is a strong local maximum in worldview-space, and that seems to be a common predilection among Less Wrong types.

  • Pingback: Why I Am Catholic… - CATHOLIC FEAST - Sync your Soul

  • Octavo

    I was interested until you said “given theism.” Are you planning at any point to make a case for the existence of god?

    • leahlibresco
      • Octavo

        I’ve been following since before you became a Christian. You talk a lot about how it would make morality easier to comprehend if there were a God, but you haven’t really engaged a lot of non-moral atheist arguments head on.

        For instance, do you think there is life after death? How does that square with your understanding of biology?

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

          For instance, do you think there is life after death? How does that square with your understanding of biology?

          On an Aristotelian account, your question is loosely like asking how someone can continue to believe in the existence of mathematics after a particular sheet of paper with equations written on it has been destroyed.

          • Ray

            must be very loose, since this would seem to be equally an argument for the existence of life before conception.

            Mathematics (at least in the sense of something that does not depend upon the physical activities of a community of mathematicians) is not something we conceive of as existing in a different state at different times. But Catholics constantly speak of their own souls being wounded or healed by the grace of god over the course of their lives. So it seems even Catholics believe in a living soul that has a different state for each moment of the life of the body. But then they wish to introduce a new state (be it the beatific vision or the torment of hell) which does not correspond to any moment in the life of the body. This still seems completely unmotivated.

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

            must be very loose, since this would seem to be equally an argument for the existence of life before conception.

            Indeed. The doctrine that each human soul arises at conception by a special act of Divine creation is more rooted in specifically theological concerns than in the metaphysics.

            But Catholics constantly speak of their own souls being wounded or healed by the grace of god over the course of their lives.

            That sounds more like Evangelical jargon to me, but I’ll assume it’s Catholic talk for argument’s sake.

            So it seems even Catholics believe in a living soul that has a different state for each moment of the life of the body.

            Well, everyone but eliminationists believes in conscious mental states. Thomists believe that the form of the body (i.e., the soul) is involved in phenomena like qualia and intentionality.

            But then they wish to introduce a new state (be it the beatific vision or the torment of hell) which does not correspond to any moment in the life of the body. This still seems completely unmotivated.

            There are a few things to disentangle here. First, it is preeminently the rational element of the soul (because of its grasp of abstract universals) that is posited to be capable of adequate function apart from the body. The sensory faculties of the soul are held to function rightly only through the medium of the body (particularly the brain, of course) in its interaction with the material world (conceived in a non-Cartesian, non-mechanistic way as really the bearer of what moderns have called secondary qualities, since hylomorphic dualism applies to everything, not just humans). Thus, the really vexed problem in Scholastic psychology isn’t the question of how the disembodied soul might be able to survive (which is held solved by pointing to its rationality) but rather how it might undergo the bliss and torments you mention–particularly the latter, for which there is more explicit Scriptural warrant then there is for theorizing about the experience of the Blessed. Aquinas (IIRC) proposed that the disembodied souls of the damned would perceive the pains of the Hell via an imperfect approximation of angelic perception via formal species. Others have proposed that something akin to the supernatural Resurrection body promised by Paul and displayed by Christ when He passed through the wall of the upper room and yet had no trouble eating a fish breakfast beside the Sea of Galilee might also, perhaps after Doomsday, accompany the souls of the damned to enable them to perceive their torments. Myself, haven’t the foggiest. The theory that human-style sensory perception should always involve the soul’s being united to some sort of body would certainly make for a simpler Aristotelianism than Aquinas’ proposal and therefore appeals to me more, but I don’t know that it’s a decidable question this side of the afterlife. I mostly just hope Hell is empty.

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

            Irenist said:

            Indeed. The doctrine that each human soul arises at conception by a special act of Divine creation is more rooted in specifically theological concerns than in the metaphysics.

            Serious question here, which I fear is going to come off as snarky:

            Suppose I had a video of a sperm fertilizing an egg. I wait until the sperm and egg look like they’re maybe-sorta-kinda touching, but you’re not sure, and I pause the video, and ask you “does this human’s soul exist yet?” I imagine you respond with “I’m not sure, I can’t tell if they’ve touched yet.” So I zoom in, and it’s clear that they haven’t touched, so you say “no.”

            I roll the video again until it once again looks like they’re maybe-sorta-kinda touching, and repeat the process. In fact, I repeat the process all the way down to the atomic level, where it becomes clear that “touching” isn’t really what we think it is- it’s actually the interaction of the magnetic force between the valence electrons (or whatever. It’s been a long time since I took chemistry). So it’s actually never clear at what point they meet the definition of “touching” on our higher level reality. How does the soul-at-conception theory deal with this problem? Can you actually even in principle pinpoint a moment in time where the soul gets created?

            I ask because this seems to me like a classic example where reductionism is the only reasonable view- “touching” doesn’t actually mean anything outside the context of our higher level view. “Touching” isn’t a fundamental part of reality. “Touching” is just a high level description of what happens when the magnetic fields of two particles repel each other strongly enough that we notice. In a reductionist view, “created at conception” is a meaningless statement, because “conception” doesn’t actually mean anything when you zoom in far enough. It’s never clear, even in principle, what the difference is between “conception” and “not-quite-yet-conception.”

          • Ray

            Irenist
            “First, it is preeminently the rational element of the soul (because of its grasp of abstract universals) that is posited to be capable of adequate function apart from the body. The sensory faculties of the soul are held to function rightly only through the medium of the body”

            How do you disentangle this? Didn’t Einstein describe his reasoning as seeing pictures in his mind? I don’t think that was entirely figurative. Also, if you don’t think your higher reasoning depends upon the body, try showing up to your finals drunk and see how well you do.

            “(conceived in a non-Cartesian, non-mechanistic way as really the bearer of what moderns have called secondary qualities, since hylomorphic dualism applies to everything, not just humans).”

            This string of qualifiers reminds me of the demand that whatever is going on, it must be described in Swahili, but never in Latin or English. Indeed the word “conceived” seems to indicate that your qualifiers are meant to modify the map, rather than the territory of mind-brain interaction. My problem with Thomism then is not really that it describes things in hylomorphic terms, but that it claims that a description in hylomorphic terms cannot be translated into mechanistic terms. I see no reason to believe this is true, other than the desire to shield sacred Catholic doctrines from contradicting the massive body of modern knowledge constraining plausible mechanistic descriptions of the world.

            “The theory that human-style sensory perception should always involve the soul’s being united to some sort of body would certainly make for a simpler Aristotelianism than Aquinas’ proposal and therefore appeals to me more, but I don’t know that it’s a decidable question this side of the afterlife.”

            Likewise, matters would be simplified if this was true for our rational faculties as well. Mathematics has always been the paradigmatic example of rational faculties, and there is no recorded case of a single theorem having been proven without a physical substrate being involved, whether that be the brain, pen and paper, or a computer running Mathematica. Indeed we can simplify matters still further if we only posit one sort of human body — i.e. the mortal one for which there exists actual, uncontroversial evidence. (Of course, the MWI is reasonably well motivated, so the mortal body may not be so mortal after all, but I wouldn’t bet my life on that one.) In short, I see no reason to stop the application of Ockham’s razor where you do aside from a profound faith in the ability of *certain* humans to tell the difference between divine revelation and some mixture of urban legend, politically motivated lies, hallucination, and delusion.

            Also. Did you see me comment upthread re: citational conventions in the Gospels. I’m still somewhat curious what you’re referring to there.

          • Darren

            Ah, “What the Spermatozoa Said to Achilles”!

            That is a lovely reductionist explanation.

            I think we should take this further, though, and logically show that conception can never actually occur, as no sperm could ever fertilize any egg. With conception logically impossible, then all life must be an illusion. I think, my dear Jake, that you have proved, from first foundations, that Solipsism is true!

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

            Ray,

            How do you disentangle this? Didn’t Einstein describe his reasoning as seeing pictures in his mind? I don’t think that was entirely figurative.

            It’s not. One of the disorienting things about the non-Cartesian dualism of hylomorphism is that phantasms like Einstein describes are indeed seen as products of sensitive soul interacting with matter: your concept of “triangularity” is “rational,” in this sense and hence wholly immaterial, whereas your mental pictures of triangles are not. It’s a *very* limited view of what mental faculties are wholly immaterial compared to post-Cartesian dualisms.

            Also, if you don’t think your higher reasoning depends upon the body, try showing up to your finals drunk and see how well you do.

            The soul can’t express its faculties unless united to a functioning body. My infant daughter has a rational soul, but her brain development still has her (as Peter Singer would hasten to point out) at the level of–an unspeakably cute! Sorry.–primate until she starts learning some language, recognizing herself in the mirror, whatever, so I’m just left to wonder what her rational soul will be like to interact with for now. Similarly, Terri Schiavo’s body had a rational soul, but couldn’t express it because her brain was mush, which is part of Catholics’ metaphysical argument against euthanasia in such cases. If you’ll pardon the obvious homuncular fallacy so I can offer an easily memorable but very loose illustration, it’s like a driver stuck in a wrecked car.

            My problem with Thomism then is not really that it describes things in hylomorphic terms, but that it claims that a description in hylomorphic terms cannot be translated into mechanistic terms….
            .
            Likewise, matters would be simplified if this was true for our rational faculties as well. Mathematics has always been the paradigmatic example of rational faculties, and there is no recorded case of a single theorem having been proven without a physical substrate being involved, whether that be the brain, pen and paper, or a computer running Mathematica. Indeed we can simplify matters still further if we only posit one sort of human body — i.e. the mortal one for which there exists actual, uncontroversial evidence….
            I see no reason to stop the application of Ockham’s razor where you do….

            I take the upshot of this to be an entirely fair frustration that the Thomism I’m propounding here is sounding like a “garage dragon metaphysics.” And a lot it is indeed just jargon (presumably irritating jargon–sorry) that can be adequately translated into modern mechanistic talk. Except: crucially (for my argument) it seems to me impossible in principle for modern mechanism (as I understand it) to explain the hard problem of consciousness, for which proposition I refer you to, e.g., Thomas Nagel’s new book, if you can get past the unwarranted I.D.-sympathizing and the atrociously inflammatory subtitle to the actually good later chapters. Thomism, OTOH, does seem to me to have a plausible account of qualia and intentionality. And, as Feser points out in his analogy of mechanism’s success being that of someone who has swept all the hard, non-predictable, non-controllable, non-quantifiable, subjective parts of reality under a rug called Mind, one of the reasons that the Thomist jargon, even as applied to stuff like little red rubber balls that present no hard problem of consciousness at all, is important is because unless you apply consistently to everything, it’s not a consistent metaphysical worldview. As Nagel hammers away at in his new book, if anything in the universe is conscious (i.e., animals generally) or rational (i.e., us on our better days), then the cosmos giving rise to consciousness needs to be explained in a way in which consciousness arises naturally and elegantly from the metaphysics, rather than being a bolted-on ad hoc like it very much is for materialism, which appears to be (IMHO) in its (ahem) Ptolemaic epicycles phase of Kubler-Ross denial-stage Kuhnian paradigm grieving.
            .
            As an aside, this is why I want to read more neutral monism and panpsychism when I get around to it. Unlike materialism, I think those theories are plausible contenders for a post-materialist metaphysics, and might force me to become a non-Thomist Catholic (which is licit) if the arguments are better. Just because metaphysical materialism is in obvious trouble doesn’t mean I’m right: knowing that is part of the difference between being aware of unsolved problems in a field (here, metaphysics) and being some crank who thinks he’s the next Galileo because everyone keeps calling him a crank.
            .
            BTW: You are a ridiculously challenging opponent, Ray. You keep me on my toes, and might just convert me (although I admittedly hope not) if you keep at it. Kudos.

          • Andrew G.

            First, it is preeminently the rational element of the soul (because of its grasp of abstract universals) that is posited to be capable of adequate function apart from the body. The sensory faculties of the soul are held to function rightly only through the medium of the body (particularly the brain, of course) in its interaction with the material world

            I am curious how you would explain, on the above basis, the split-brain phenomena caused by damage to the corpus callosum. In particular, suppose you ask a patient with this condition a question about their internal desires, getting one answer verbally, but a completely different answer when you ask them to spell it out by touch with alphabet blocks using the non-dominant hand.

            (There are other neurological phenomena which are, IMO, more damaging to specifically theistic conceptions of dualism, such as the ability of brain damage to abrogate free will, cause religious conversions or deconversions, cause previously moral people to behave in immoral ways and so on, but that’s more problem-of-evil stuff than pure metaphysics.)

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

            Andrew G.,

            how you would explain, on the above basis, the split-brain phenomena caused by damage to the corpus callosum.

            The sun looks different when you break up its light through a prism. The “split light” phenomenon isn’t a reason to doubt the existence of the sun.

            There are other neurological phenomena which are, IMO, more damaging to specifically theistic conceptions of dualism, such as the ability of brain damage to abrogate free will, cause religious conversions or deconversions, cause previously moral people to behave in immoral ways and so on but that’s more problem-of-evil stuff than pure metaphysics.

            Although the fad in his time was more for Freudianism than neurology, C.S. Lewis responds to a similar argument in Mere Christianity:

            We see only the results which a man’s choices make out of his raw material. But God does not judge him on the raw material at all, but on what he has done with it. Most of the man’s psychological make-up is probably due to his body: when his body dies all that will fall off him, and the real central man. the thing that chose, that made the best or the worst out of this material, will stand naked. All sorts of nice things which we thought our own, but which were really due to a good digestion, will fall off some of us: all sorts of nasty things which were due to complexes or bad health will fall off others. We shall then, for the first tune, see every one as he really was. There will be surprises.

            When that railroad spike hit Phineas Gage, e.g., his soul was now dealing with a sort of biological “raw material” that made virtuous behavior not merely difficult but, it would appear, impossible. For him, there could be none of the elements of mortal sin. I cannot see, even on the most bog-standard mainstream theology, with no speculative flights at all, how any Christian could expect God to hold Gage responsible for his post-brain injury acts anymore than anyone would expect a parent to hold a newborn responsible for crying. The neurological equipment of impulse control being absent, one can hardly be faulted for failing to employ it.

          • Steve

            Irenist

            The sun looks different when you break up its light through a prism. The “split light” phenomenon isn’t a reason to doubt the existence of the sun.

            The equation of the physical alterations of splitting a light beam to the physiological and behavorial alterations of someone with a brain injury or neurological disorder is an inappropriate comparison and as a result doesn’t address the question of resolving how judgement can be made on a souls actions and decisions made using a malfunctioning or damaged brain.

            Perhaps god can strip away and properly account for the decisions a soul made using the ‘raw materials’ he himself saw fit to grant, though it begs the question of how we can then be expected to know what is attributable to faulty material vs. a bad soul decision. Were the soul a driver that knew nothing of cars, on what grounds could anyone, god included, adequately judge a drivers performance? Decisions made under this uncertainty doesn’t seem to be fair criteria to reward or punish someone for eternity. I find this explanation unsatisfying especially in light of people with severe mental impairments. Chalking it up to god existing in a preferred judgemental reference frame and general mysterious omnipotence seems like a cop out.

          • Andrew G.

            Lewis’s argument defeats itself so hard it doesn’t even leave a greasy spot on the floor. If most of the psychological make-up is from the body, it follows that my soul (assuming it to exist) would be something that not even I would recognize as being “me” – or even as being human – and therefore, why should I care what happens to it?

            (the quote that springs irresistably to mind at this point is from Stepford Wives: “There’ll be somebody with my name, and she’ll cook and clean like crazy, but she won’t take pictures, and she won’t be me!”)

            That’s especially true in that we know that long-term episodic memory is a function of the body – there is no reason to believe that my “soul” would have any memory of being me.

            The question about callosal damage has a specific relevance here. If I ask a question like “what would be your ideal job”, who exactly is responding as the addressed “you” identity? The only way to interpret the observed result is that the answer is coming from whichever half of the brain is providing it, and therefore (if you assume souls exist) that there is some important sense in which the unit (left brain + soul) is a different identity from the unit (right brain + soul), and that the soul alone is incapable of determining the answer to a question independently of the mechanism of communication.

            The effect of this argument taken to its logical conclusion is to reduce souls to the ultimate garage-dragon – a pure epiphenomenon unable to have any effect on the world.

            (And as such, even postulating its existence is committing what the lesswrongians call ‘privileging the hypothesis’)

            Arguing that someone wouldn’t face eternal punishment for actions taken as a result of brain damage opens a very interesting can of worms; what about people who have religious conversions as a result of brain injury? Do those count for determining salvation, or not?

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

            Steve,

            The equation of the physical alterations of splitting a light beam to the physiological and behavorial alterations of someone with a brain injury or neurological disorder is an inappropriate comparison

            It’s imperfect in lots of ways, sure. My limited point was only this: that physical changes in the brain are going to lead to differences in observed personality just doesn’t contradict hylomorphism. Even radical physical changes, like callosal damage or the case of Phineas Gage. All they do is establish that the soul, if it exists, is the ordered toward being the form of a body, rather than being a disembodied Cartesian ghost. But we’re not arguing with that.

            and as a result doesn’t address the question of resolving how judgement can be made on a souls actions and decisions made using a malfunctioning or damaged brain… Chalking it up to god existing in a preferred judgemental reference frame and general mysterious omnipotence seems like a cop out.

            Sorry about that. Hylomorphissts are positing that pure Being is necessarily personal, omniscient and omnipotent, and stands to us as a novelist stands to the novel’s characters. We have reasons to posit such a God. Given such a God, though, there is by definition no barrier to His knowing everything about everyone, and enquiring into the mechanics of how He knows is silly: he is metaphysically simple–there are no mechanics into which to enquire. If that seems like a cop out, then your problem is with classical theism generally, not with this specific issue.

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

            Andrew G.,

            If most of the psychological make-up is from the body, it follows that my soul (assuming it to exist) would be something that not even I would recognize as being “me” – or even as being human – and therefore, why should I care what happens to it?

            You are the soul united to the body: whatever disembodied fate the soul experiences in the afterlife before the general resurrection may involve a very tenuous sense of continuous identity indeed, for all I know. But Christians believe that eventually, the saved soul will be reunited to a (glorified) body again.

            That’s especially true in that we know that long-term episodic memory is a function of the body – there is no reason to believe that my “soul” would have any memory of being me.

            Aquinas would largely agree with you: “Knowledge, therefore, acquired in the present life does not remain in the separated soul, as regards what belongs to the sensitive powers.” The real question is whether your soul would count as “you” after being restored to a body with your own memories after the general resurrection. The answer to this would seem to depend on whether you think a person who has suffered amnesia is still the same person. Which leads me to note that it doesn’t take any fancy neurology (corpus callosum damage, etc.) to doubt that we have a unitary identity: Hume and the Buddha both did so on the basis of introspection. Similarly, the Scholastic arguments in favor of unitary identity have more to do with realism (as opposed to nominalism) in philosophy than with neurology.

            The question about callosal damage has a specific relevance here. If I ask a question like “what would be your ideal job”, who exactly is responding as the addressed “you” identity? The only way to interpret the observed result is that the answer is coming from whichever half of the brain is providing it, and therefore (if you assume souls exist) that there is some important sense in which the unit (left brain + soul) is a different identity from the unit (right brain + soul), and that the soul alone is incapable of determining the answer to a question independently of the mechanism of communication.

            The soul alone is incapable of communicating with the external earthly observer without being the form of a body with a brain. To return to my analogy: If I hold a prism in front of the sun, now I see different colors of light instead of just unbroken sunlight. But the sun is not less a unity because I have broken up its light on its way to me. Similarly, the soul is not less a unity because it happens to be the form of an individual with callosal damage, and that therefore it manifests to the world in a broken way. Your argument seems to be that of someone who has observed red and blue light coming from the prism, and insists on arguing that there is no “sun,” but only a “red sun” and a “blue sun.” If you want to meet the unitary “you” of a person with callosal damage, or to meet the version of a blind man who knows what it is like to see, or a lame man who knows what it is like to walk, you will have to await either medical advances or the general resurrection. That you can’t get at it doesn’t mean it’s not there.

            The effect of this argument taken to its logical conclusion is to reduce souls to the ultimate garage-dragon – a pure epiphenomenon unable to have any effect on the world.

            The effect the human soul has in the world is human consciousness and intentionality. We are not p-zombies.

            (And as such, even postulating its existence is committing what the lesswrongians call ‘privileging the hypothesis’)

            If you say so. My acquaintance with LW is limited. A quick google tells me that the “privileging the hypothesis” argument is similar to the argument that we are all atheists with respect to Zeus and the FSM and Russell’s teapot and so forth, so there is no reason not to also be atheists w/r/t the God of classical theism–an argument which founders on the fact that classical theism is an argument about the nature of Being, not a mechanistic god-of-the-gaps proof of some specific being. The specific LW-flavored reinvention of this wheel seems also to involve thinking that only scientifically falsifiable “evidence” is to be looked for, which is mere scientism.

            Arguing that someone wouldn’t face eternal punishment for actions taken as a result of brain damage opens a very interesting can of worms; what about people who have religious conversions as a result of brain injury? Do those count for determining salvation, or not?

            The grace of the sacraments would still suffice in such a case. I can’t answer for Protestants who think that “personally accepting Jesus” is of great salvific significance.

          • Andrew G.

            The effect the human soul has in the world is human consciousness and intentionality. We are not p-zombies.

            If souls have intentionality and physical systems (including physical brains) cannot, and souls are indivisible, then the split-brain phenomena cannot be accounted for.

            Here’s why. Imagine I ask you a question and you send me the answer by two different means of communication, say by email and by voicemail. If there is no problem in communications, I would get the same answer via both means. If there is a non-intentional problem with communications, I might get random noise, or partially corrupted messages, or whatever, but I could ask you to repeat the answers in different words, or in a different language, and any corruption or distortion of the message would be independent of the intentional content of the message. (If a communications channel can change the intentional content of the message, then that implies that physical systems can have intentionality.)

            So when I ask the split-brain patient a question requiring an answer about intentions, and consistently get one answer via one method and an incompatibly distinct answer via another, it implies that either the intentional soul is generating different answers to the same question, in which case it is no longer a single entity, or the physical brain with which it interacts is in some way affecting the intentional content of the answer, which implies that physical systems can have intentionality.

            (The prism analogy is of no use here, because the reason we can split sunlight into colours is that all those colours are present in the original light, and no-one doubts the ability of the prism to refract different colours of light by different amounts.)

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

            Andrew G.,

            If souls have intentionality and physical systems (including physical brains) cannot, and souls are indivisible, then the split-brain phenomena cannot be accounted for.

            It’s not that physical systems cannot have intentionality. It’s that they must be united to souls to do so. A living, ensouled brain is capable of intentional stances. A dead brain is not. However, the physical brain is obviously an intergral part of the form-matter unity of the ensouled body.
            .
            As I conceded above about memory, a disembodied soul (or, here, a soul that is the form of a damaged brain) is thwarted in expressing many of its faculties. The contention is merely that soulless brains lack intentionality, not that the matter of brains has no effects on the operations of the mind–it obviously does.

          • Andrew G.

            So we’re right back at garage dragons – if a physical brain can influence intentionality, i.e. if the system (soul A + physical brain A) can have different intentions to the system (soul A + physical brain B) at the same time and in the same environment – then there is no way even in principle to distinguish this from the possibility that physical brains can have intentionality. Once again the soul is reduced to an epiphenomenon.

            In fact, of course, we have no reason whatever to believe that physical systems can’t have intentionality, which can be viewed as a particular kind of relation between on the one hand, representations of objects and concepts in a computational model, and on the other hand the physical entities in the environment being modeled.

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

            Andrew G.,

            So we’re right back at garage dragons – if a physical brain can influence intentionality, i.e. if the system (soul A + physical brain A) can have different intentions to the system (soul A + physical brain B) at the same time and in the same environment – then there is no way even in principle to distinguish this from the possibility that physical brains can have intentionality. Once again the soul is reduced to an epiphenomenon.

            There is no way to distinguish with falsifiable experiments by third-person observers. Already conceded. This is my problem with “garage dragon language”: it essentially reduces all arguments to scientific arguments. The soul is *not* a scientific hypothesis. (Maybe it was for Aristotle, although I think not–it’s certainly not a scientific hypothesis for modern Thomists.) It makes zero testable predictions. Arguments in its favor are going to be armchair-type arguments, things like the “conceivability” of p-zombies or whatever. Ethics and epistemology don’t really go around making lots of falsifiable testable predictions either. So what? Arguments of the form “this admittedly non-scientific discursive practice (metaphysical argumentation) in which you are engaged fails to conform to the evidentiary rules of scientific discourse,” no matter how many times they are repeated, don’t get us anywhere. If the armchair arguments interest you, fine. If all you want to do is discuss the latest brain research, then that’s great, but it’s not really metaphysics anymore.

            In fact, of course, we have no reason whatever to believe that physical systems can’t have intentionality,

            Dubious. Do computers exhibit intentionality? Is there something it is like to be a computer? Why or why not?

            which can be viewed as a particular kind of relation between on the one hand, representations of objects and concepts in a computational model, and on the other hand the physical entities in the environment being modeled.

            Would you please describe this relation a little more?

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

          I said:

          In a reductionist view, “created at conception” is a meaningless statement, because “conception” doesn’t actually mean anything when you zoom in far enough

          I have spoken too strongly. It’s not meaningless, it’s just not a precise description of any single point of time. It’s still meaningful on a higher level- e.g., I know what you’re trying to say when you say “at conception,” I just can’t use that information to pinpoint an exact time.

          • Erick

            @ Jake

            ==Suppose I had a video of a sperm fertilizing an egg. I wait until the sperm and egg look like they’re maybe-sorta-kinda touching==

            If I may, you are presenting a false conception of conception.

            A lot of sperm touch the egg during the reproductive process. That’s not the definition of conception. Conception entails penetration of the egg’s membrane and deposition of genetic material inside the egg. It’s not about touching. In this case, even in a reductionist view, there actually is a point in time to address.

          • Darren

            Erick has said;

            ”If I may, you are presenting a false conception of conception.”

            False is not the right word. Inaccurate, perhaps.

            We are quibbling about details and the definition of conception, but the same objections lie at each stage. Perhaps we slow our magic camera down and look at the moment when one spermatozoa out of a dozen is the first to enzymatically dissolve it’s way inside the egg’s outer layers, the rupture of the sperm’s membrane, the spilling of genetic material, the mixing of DNA strands, etc., etc. All of these, any scientifically minded Catholic will readily agree involving the motion of molecules, the cleaving and knitting of biochemical bonds, the flowing of fluids. We can stop the clock at any arbitrary time and ask, “Has conception occurred yet?” On the second scale, this is trivial; on the micro-second scale, impossible.

            Jake is just asking at what point the magic happens.

            It was a nice effort, but ultimately futile. No real-presence believing Catholic is going to have the slightest concern about the inability to ascribe ensoulment to one specific degree of chromosomal integration in a fertilizing egg: 49.99999999999999% integrated = no soul, 50.000000000001% = soul.

            It may, perhaps, help shed light on the fundamental divide between reductionist materialists and non-reductive non-materialists, though.

            The reductionist materialist says: 1 + 1 = 2

            The non-reductionist has no problem with this at all. They just want to add some extras.

            The non-reductionist non-materials says: (1 + invisible intangible magic) + (1 + invisible intangible magic) = 2 + invisible intangible magic

            One can hardly argue with that.

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

            Jake said:

            Can you actually even in principle pinpoint a moment in time where the soul gets created?

            In practice, I doubt it.
            .
            Darren said:

            The non-reductionist non-materials says: (1 + invisible intangible magic) + (1 + invisible intangible magic) = 2 + invisible intangible magic

            Conceded: when discussing the fertilization of an ovum, Thomism is pretty much only bringing garage dragon metaphysics to the table. The warrant for Thomist metaphysics, as I discussed in my reply to Ray, is elsewhere: as, e.g., in its account of intentionality. My consciousness is a phenomenon that makes me credit Thomism, and then I apply Thomism consistently even to describe things like fertilization where, for practical purposes, it’s just in the garage dragon business. Similarly, the fact that my GPS works tells me that modern physics is true, so I’m happy to accept that it’s technically the most theoretically coherent way to describe rolling billiard balls, too, even though for a Newtownian who’d never heard of modern physics, all the modern stuff would just seem like a bunch of unnecessary jargon totally interchangeable with his account of billiard balls’ motion at the level available to human senses without lab equipment. (If it’s not totally interchangable at the human sensorium-scale, my apologies, physics people. Not my field: take it as a loose analogy, please.)
            .
            It’s the fact that a theory (modern physics, A-T metaphysics) works consistently that makes it worth sticking with as your foundational view of “how things really are” even when less cumbersome approximations (mechanist metaphysics, Newtownian physics) offer adequate tools for most–but crucially, not all–jobs.
            .
            TL;DR: Consistency, people. Quoth the ancients: “Save [all] the phenomena!”

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

            Darren said:

            With conception logically impossible, then all life must be an illusion. I think, my dear Jake, that you have proved, from first foundations, that Solipsism is true!

            Yeah, I considered a crack about “Zeno’s sperm,” but decided against it :)

            If it wasn’t clear, my argument is not one from the paradox of limit functions in the real world; those can be solved with basic calculus. My argument (or rather question, because I have’t hashed it all out myself yet) was an attempt to question whether a non-reductionist view could account for the inherent ambiguity of treating lower-level phenomena as higher-level forms, even though they don’t appear to act like it.

            Where the magic happens, indeed.

      • Mike

        LOL.

      • AndrewR

        You can tell us why you’re a Catholic in 200 words, but to find out why you believe in God we have to read _everything_?

        • Pseudonym

          I don’t see why that’s so hard to understand. Explaining why you’re Catholic is probably easier than explaining why you believe in God, for most Catholics at least.

          BTW, has it occurred to you that Leah might believe in God because she’s Catholic?

          • AndrewR

            >> Leah might believe in God because she’s Catholic

            That would be interesting if it were the case, but the point of my question is that I don’t want to speculate. I realise that I’m not owed any explanation by Leah (or anyone else), I’m just curious what the explanation would be if it was given.

        • leahlibresco

          Well, the God thing was a bigger lift than the Catholicism, but that is specifically the “I believe in God, now!” post I linked above.

          • Octavo

            What confused me about that post is that there are a lot of assumptions about the nature of God that weren’t tackled (since that wasn’t really the subject.) I can understand that you think that morality must be personified, but how do you talk to him? How did you determine that thoughts can be transmitted wirelessly? If you and personified Morality can talk to each other, who are pagans or Muslims talking to? How does God see the future? Does God exist apart from matter? Most importantly, how did you come to these conclusions?
            I’m not trying to badger you with irrelevant questions. These are the questions I have that prevent me from believing in a personified source of morality.

          • Theodore Seeber

            Octavio, my bit on at least one of those questions is flipped the other way.

            God exists apart from matter, but matter does not exist apart from God. EVERYTHING that we perceive, is in existence because of God. EVERYTHING we can find out, is there because of the mind of God. The universe itself cannot exist without the creation of the Big Bang, and the Big Bang can only exist due to a mind to set it off.

          • Octavo

            @Theodore Seeber: “…the Big Bang can only exist due to a mind to set it off.”
            I must have missed this in physics class. Last I checked, no one knows what caused the Big Bang.

          • Theodore Seeber

            You’d need history class, not physics class, to understand this. I suggest you look into the philosophical training of Georges Lemaître for more information.

          • ACN

            The fact that Lemaitre was a priest has nothing to do with the modern understanding of big-bang cosmology.

            There is NOTHING in the big-bang cosmology that requires a disembodied consciousness to “set-off” anything.

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

            Gotta go with ACN here, Ted.
            Thomists like to complain when Aquinas’ argument for the necessity of a purely actual first cause in any per se causal series (even an instantaneous per se causal series in an eternal universe, if there were such a universe) is conflated with an argument that “everything has a cause therefore the cosmos had a beginning and was caused by God,” both because they are not making and never have made the latter argument, and because the latter argument is easily defeated by objecting that it commits the fallacy of composition. Ted, you seem to be actually making the argument that Thomists always complain of being accused of making: ACN could respond (if he were using Thomist jargon for some reason) that there is no reason for a per accidens causal series like the history of the universe to terminate at the brute fact of God rather than the brute fact of some sort of fluctuation in the quantum vaccuum (or whatever) giving rise to the present cosmos. If he did argue that, he’d be right and you’d be wrong. So I’d recommend dropping it and letting ACN have the last word here. YMMV.

          • Theodore Seeber

            ACN and Irenist, while you are technically true, reading a wiki article about somebody and identifying him as “A Roman Catholic Priest” tells you about as much about his philosophy as identifying yourself as an atheist does.

            And while I think both of you are overlooking the antrhopomorphic constants, that too is beside the point.

            To have a universe based on order at all (as opposed to “random fluctuations in the vacuum”) you need an ordering mind. The Godless Universe falls on the very principle that principles exist and can be described. You can’t get order from chaos, and chaos itself, in an ordered universe, is really just “too complex to be measured by us at this time, or possibly at all by our species beyond certain probabilities”.

            “Some sort of fluctuation in the quantum vacuum” actually explains LESS than God does; so it is a bit of a reach.

            And not just any God will do; see Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI’s speech at Regansburg for more info.

            I still contend that those who assume atheism, have other motives than reason at heart. Usually quite superficial motives.

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

            The Godless Universe falls on the very principle that principles exist and can be described.

            Ah, you were making the argument from the comprehensibility of scientific law, rather than from an assumption that everything has a cause. My apologies. That’s a much more interesting argument.

          • Octavo

            “To have a universe based on order at all (as opposed to “random fluctuations in the vacuum”) you need an ordering mind.”

            This is really sounds like a mere assertion based on Aristotelian thought that is not representative of modern scientific efforts to discover the nature of the “Big Bang.” Apart from internet apologists, I haven’t seen a significant number of scientists throw up their hands at the problem and say “Welp, we gave it our best, but now we need to plug God in the gap in our understanding.” Mostly, astronomers and other scientists have been building better telescopes and making more observations of the light from the early universe. That’s how knowledge advances.

          • Theodore Seeber

            Once again Octavio, you’re not understanding what I am saying. This isn’t a “God of the Gaps” argument at all. It is instead a “rational universe vs irrational universe” argument. I am asserting that it takes a Catholic God for the scientific method to make sense. That in fact- with either indeterminism or the capricious pagan Gods of our ancestors, reason and rationality itself becomes at best a waste of time, and repeatability of experiments even on the macro level cannot be counted upon.

            Either EVERYTHING has an objective reality that we see dimly with our subjective reasoning, or NOTHING has any reality at all.

            Thus without God, you can’t have a universe, scientific laws to discover, anything to examine.

          • Darren

            Ted spoke thus;

            ”I am asserting that it takes a Catholic God for the scientific method to make sense. That in fact- with either indeterminism or the capricious pagan Gods of our ancestors, reason and rationality itself becomes at best a waste of time, and repeatability of experiments even on the macro level cannot be counted upon.”

            Well, thank God that, uh, God, continues to maintain the stability of the laws of science in my local environment sufficient for me to continue downloading internet porn…

            ‘Cause that would be an awkward thing to have to write down on the RCIA registration form for why I wanted to convert…

            ;>

          • Darren

            Ted spoke thus;

            ” That in fact- with either indeterminism or the capricious pagan Gods of our ancestors, reason and rationality itself becomes at best a waste of time, and repeatability of experiments even on the macro level cannot be counted upon.”

            I suppose that would account for Aristotle’s dim view of the experimental sciences – what with Hermes sneaking into Aristotle’s lab every night and swapping his Test and Control samples…

            No wonder the Greeks and Romans just sat around in sheets all day waiting for Constantine.

          • Octavo

            Seeber, I get that you don’t think the universe is comprehensible without a guiding hand or mind. I don’t see that you have a good reason for thinking this.

            The perceived order in the universe is due to the properties of particles and waves. Those properties interact in amazing ways, yielding stars, black holes, planets, and living brains. Scientific laws aren’t divine ordinances that require a Catholic God to exist. They’re just a list of observations about the nature of these particles and the things they make up.

            The universe isn’t fundamentally incomprehensible without a God. It’s just that you don’t comprehend how it can work without a God. There’s a pretty big difference between the two.

        • Val

          I think these answers cannot be provided because they are not available to the language of reason on which Leah has staked her public persona. It seems to me that her ‘conversion’ had far less to do with a rational change of mind – an actual train of logic that shifted her from a position of thoroughgoing non-belief to one of belief – than with a *removal of objections*. The seed… the need to believe in something, to have a faith at all… was always there but commitment to it was barred by Reasons. Once there were sufficient Reasons to get past “Ok, maybe”, the gate collapsed and what was behind it all along was given air.

          It wasn’t conversion at all, and its cause was ultimately not rational, and thus not communicable within the boundaries of the discourse to which she is accustomed.

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

            I think this insight might hold more generally, and without any particular psychological baggage necessarily being involved, even if it’s often present.

            Briefly, given something like the Münchhausen/Agrippan trilemma even the best rational argumentation (e.g., Aquinas for theism, your favorite atheist thinker among the many available) for a worldview on “religious” questions may (IMHO) ultimately involve an essentially aesthetic/gut judgment as to which of the three leg of the trilemma (and if the axiomatic leg, which axiomata) are the least unacceptable warrants for assent.

            If there is such an “aesthetic” or “gut” component, then discussion of foundational questions founders upon the verity that “de gustibus non est disputandum.”

        • Theodore Seeber

          Given that God is Everything, what’s so hard to understand about that?

          • Steve

            Given that Bologna is Everything, what’s so hard to understand about that? You can of course put anything in there (Bologna, Airplane, Computer, Baseball, Ghandi, etc.) and it would all be equally nonsensical.

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

            Well, given that Everything is Everything, what sorts of attributes might Everything have?
            .
            Given Aristotelian metaphysics, Everything would have the attributes of the God of the Philosophers. So we may refer to Everything (actually Being, “Everything” sounds a bit too pantheist to me) as God. Or not. Being qua Being is a different *sort* of baloney than Bologna qua Being–you have to give us that.

  • http://thinkinggrounds.blogspot.com Christian H

    “It welcomes faith seeking understanding, but spurns the comfort of agree to disagree.”
    I understand the appeal of this, but–I ask this and all questions below honestly, in the sense that I would genuinely like to hear your answer–is it not more important to function as a community than to agree on doctrinal matters? The Catholic Church has a history of excommunicating people who disagree, which does not really seem like a commitment to truth-finding so much as a commitment to internal agreement. Wouldn’t it be better to, after a certain point, acknowledge that people will not always agree on things and find workarounds? (I don’t mean to pick on the RCC exclusively; other churches excommunicate, too, and I realize that the RCC does a lot less excommunicating now than it used to.)

    I do agree that on some questions agreeing-to-disagree is not an option. I’m all for advocacy on political matters. But not all beliefs have political or social consequences (for instance, believing in a Ptolemaic universe will really do no harm to me or others so long as I stayed out of physics departments). As a personal matter, I believe in trying to approach the truth as much as possible, but on what grounds do you expect others to do the same?

    Further, as others have already commented, the Catholic Church is not the only one to make specific philosophical demands of its congregants. Orthodox Churches, high Anglican churches (also known as Anglo-Catholic churches in Anglican circles), and I’m sure many other churches have the same attitude. Too much so, in some cases; I’ve been in churches where holding unorthodox beliefs came with serious social sanctions. You write derisively of “the comfort of agree to disagree,” but such comfort is far better than a culture in which you can be punished, officially or otherwise, for what is considered heresy. I’m not saying that arguing over unorthodox beliefs is itself persecution, but I am saying that the freedom to be a heretic without persecution must come before a culture of argument. (I’m thinking of evangelical Protestantism here, not Catholicism. Yes, there’s autobiography involved. Hence my… agitation. So I’m sorry if I come across as peevish.)

    (Also, it’s not really fair to cite Paul as a reason to be Catholic rather than some other kind of Christian. He’s pre-Schism, let alone pre-Reformation.)

    • http://thinkinggrounds.blogspot.com Christian H

      On soberer reflection, I should ask a better question.
      What do you mean when you say “agree to disagree”? You frequently advocate walking away from unproductive fights. I would consider walking away from unproductive fights, if the walking away is amicable, agreeing to disagree. So what you mean by the phrase probably is not the same was what I mean by the phrase.

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

        The Catholic church does allow people to “agree to disagree” as long as it is not a matter of core Catholic teaching. So Arians and trinitarians were allowed to agree to disagree until Nicea. After that the Arians became heretics.

        So right now the church has not made a definitive statement on the first 11 chapters in Genesis. You can be a young earth creationist and take them quite literally. You can be a theistic evolutionist and treat them very figuratively. What you may not do is try and claim those who disagree with you are bad Christians. That is the church’s role and not yours.

        The problem with protestantism is the “agree to disagree” is the only option. Even an issue like female ordination where it is not practical to disagree within the same church you just split the church and really don’t answer the question. You can be in the schism that accepts it or the one that rejects it but you don’t know what God’s will is. Too much “agree to disagree” leaves you with a lot of choice and not much truth.

        Catholicism has the option of defining the doctrine and it is given the grace to never get that definition wrong. You might not like the answer but God protects His church. She can flirt with heresy but she can’t fully commit to heresy. So when she teaches firmly she teaches truth. If that was not the case she would never have survived the maze of heresies that makes up church history.

        • ACN

          “Catholicism has the option of defining the doctrine and it is given the grace to never get that definition wrong. You might not like the answer but God protects His church. She can flirt with heresy but she can’t fully commit to heresy. So when she teaches firmly she teaches truth. If that was not the case she would never have survived the maze of heresies that makes up church history.”

          This is circular reasoning.

          If things had shaken down differently in the “maze of heresies” in early christianity, you may be calling a different belief system an obviously true orthodoxy, and the belief system you hold presently to be a heresy.

          • Theodore Seeber

            It is the very fact that things did NOT shake out differently in the maze of heresies that causes it to be true.

            But the real point is that you can’t stand for it to be true. It has to be false for you.

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

            Ted, you’re indulging in Bulverism/ad hominem against ACN. ACN’s point is a pretty good one, actually. Absent other considerations (the Petrine commission in the Bible, e.g.) pointing toward the Catholic understanding of the Papacy and the Magisterium, the mere fact that Catholicism happens to have arrived at the specific suite of doctrines it now proclaims is unpersuasive unless you have some independent reason for thinking all of them to be right. If, however, you have an independent reason for thinking all of them to be right, than Catholicism’s arrival at them is indeed noteworthy. But could you share such a reason with us, rather than just impugning ACN’s motives? It would make for a far more effective apologetic.

          • Theodore Seeber

            It’s hard to put 2000 years worth of Church history into a short blog posting, and I strongly suspect that ACNs motives are so not pure that it would be a waste of bandwidth anyway. If ACN’s motives are pure, then I suggest starting with _New Proofs for the Existence of God_ by Fr. Spritzer, and working backwards from there. We can pick up this conversation in another decade or so.

    • Mike

      Maybe people are just getting tired, really tired and bored of the relativism that pervades our culture? Maybe young ppl especially are fed up with being told to “tolerate” everything and “affirm” nothing. Sorry to butt in but thought this might explain why a bright young person would want to try something that at least doesn’t belittle your intelligence by insisting that it’s all relative and nothing is better than anything else. That’s one of the big reasons I decided to get back to the RCC: because the rest of the culture was simply terribly mundane and meaningless. Ok I’ll butt out.

      • Val

        Some people see “don’t treat the different like crap” as an affirmative value.

        Who really says that “everything is relative”? Who is it that has no distinct values? Cite.

        • Mike

          Cite. What do you mean? Cite my experiences, my anecdotes? Look of course I am generalizing but yes my experience has been just that: that relativism is pervasive except of course when it comes to traditional Christian ideas.

          Again I think atheists have to be relativists but pretend to be something else. I don’t want to get into it again BUT I can’t understand how they get to values from nothing. It is, to me, the biggest leap of blind faith I can imagine. How random chemicals in my brain, formed by a thoughtless random process, how I should trust them when they tell me anything, most especially that they were made by a thoughtless purposeless process. I am just telling you what I think ok. So relativism, if you want some good expositions of it try reading J. Taranto’s Best of the Web Today for a week.

          One more thing. I don’t really think anybody even atheists are relativists: everyone believes their view is the correct one and is not relative about that. Reminds me of that clip on youtube in which some guy asks Chopra if it is really true that there is no ultimate truth. Chopra answers yes of course, but he doesn’t get the joke and the audience starts howling and the guy who asked the questions says thanks got it and walks away.

          Don’t treat the different like crap. Well you just did by referring to them as “the different” didn’t you? And you have an idea in your head of what “like crap” is that is relative to the differents, no? Can you see that? If they’re these the differents then this definition applies but if they’re those that applies. Oh you mean by their definition of what crap is? Well that is just relativism no? It depends on what they think they think. You disagree with the RCC’s appraisal of certian moral questions fine but you’re extrapolating too much.

          • Steve

            Atheists, like everyone else, get there values from a combination of experience and inborn inclinations. Everyone ultimately has a different set of values, regardless of how common they appear to be. If you’re looking for a concrete footing to base moral decisions on, you’ll probably be disappointed with what you find beyond biological truths regarding physical pain & suffering. Your values are your own and you can trust or distrust them as you see fit.

            That people are biased towards their own viewpoints & moral inclinations is actually a decent argument FOR relativism being accurate.

            There is nothing inherently derogatory about pointing out that something or someone ‘different’ is in fact different. I am white. It is not racist to point out that a black person is not.

          • Mike

            LOL. NO, it is derogatory to point out that some people are different in the context of a conversation about basic morality and the basics of how to treat people!! Not how to treat white people or black people or whatever people but PEOPLE! Geez. I think what you may be getting at is what are basic rights. Well on that we obviously differ but only because the rights that you think are basic I don’t not because I think they only apply to these groups and not those.

          • Guest

            What atheistic/relativistic value setting can never adequately address is why it is wrong for me to steal from you, rape you, or even kill you when it serves some purpose that I have identified as good for me. If we all have freedom to set our own values, why am I not free to adopt and act on those as my values?

            And don’t tell me it has to do with not violating your rights – who says you have any rights under my self-adopted ‘value’ system? You would have to appeal to an authority for those rights which you claim doesn’t exist.

          • Val

            Guest, the lack of belief is not the same as sociopathy.
            Nor, by the same token, does belief assure non-sociopathy.

          • Mike

            Guest, the lack of belief is not the same as sociopathy.
            Nor, by the same token, does belief assure non-sociopathy.

            Yeah this is what I mean: this is lazy and stupid. Don’t you realize that on your system of belief it wouldn’t be sociopathy? But just a thing that happened? At the last moment you sneak in a value judgement, why? It makes no sense for you to not believe in objective values until you choose to believe in objective values. Either morals are objective or not. Why is this so hard to atheists to grasp?

            Answer this simple question: has Hitler gotten away with it? yes or no?

          • Steve

            The values that you would be violating would be of my own in that I feel robbing, raping or killing anyone (especially me) is wrong and of the greater society who have collectively deemed those things are wrong as well. These values are the subjective creation of the individual (me) or the creations of the consensus of society (which is made up of subjective individuals, ultimately making those values subjective as well). They are wrong only in the sense of that they’ve been deemed wrong by an individual or a group.

            Perhaps if you switched out moral law for, say, traffic law. I doubt you believe that traffic lights are the result of an objective degree by god for them. Yet they’re essentially the same for drivers all over the world because when society was figuring out a way to organize itself, in this case how to most efficiently and safely have vehicles navigate through intersections, it was found to be the best way. Similarly, when societies consider the communal values of it’s individual members (which are created as a result of their individual subjective experiences and natural inclinations) to decide what is ‘right’ vs. what is ‘wrong’, some values, particularly those who have a clear biological sense of objectivity such as those relating to harm were as clear as such things can be in terms of what should and should not be permissible, giving them the illusion of objectivity. Ultimately to say something is ‘wrong’ in an objective moral sense is equivalent to saying British people drive on the ‘wrong’ side of the road in an objective sense.

            You are, of course free to act however you see fit, which is not to say that you can do so without consequence, namely me (or whomever) defending ourselves and the greater society taking efforts to stop you and discourage that behavior in the future. The authority appealed to for judgment would be whatever system society has set up to deal with such things, typically a judicial system. Whether or not this adequately addresses your concerns I can not say.

          • Guest

            Val, clearly under your value system you have determined sociopathy to be a bad thing. On what basis and by what authority?

          • Guest

            Steve, why should I care if you don’t like me robbing, raping, or killing you if under my self-adopted value system you don’t matter? Why do you think that a civil society or any society or any organization at all is better than anarchy? Why shouldn’t the most powerful always get to decide what’s right? Why do you assume you have any right to exist at all? By what authority do you make your value claims?

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

            Guest,
            Not sure why I’m playing atheist’s advocate today, but….
            .

            clearly under your value system you have determined sociopathy to be a bad thing. On what basis and by what authority?

            I think most atheists would respond that they are trying to discover the best ethic through induction from shared norms rooted in evolved altruism (murder is bad) and empirical experience (free speech -> vibrant cultures, or whatever). For some of us (like me and you, AFAIK), the inability to ground morality opens an abyss of relativism and depressing re-readings of John Gray’s “Straw Dogs.” For others (like many here), I think the acceptance of some of the apparent aporias in Christian theodicy (problem of evil, problem of Hell, etc.) seem more obviously distressing and unreasonable. As I mentioned above, I think this may ultimately be a “de gustibus” thing.

          • Steve

            “Steve, why should I care if you don’t like me robbing, raping, or killing you if under my self-adopted value system you don’t matter?” You should only care as much or as little as you care to. From your own self interest point of view, you might care to what my reaction along with the reaction of the greater society would be.

            “Why do you think that a civil society or any society or any organization at all is better than anarchy?” That all depends on what your ultimate goals are for how people relate to one another. A civil society grounded in sensible rules & law will offer higher odds of life stability & protections from harms than anarchy & general lawlessness. It offers people a better idea of what to expect when dealing with your neighbors as well as how as knowing what might be expected of you. Humans for the most part are social creatures occupying a finite geographic requiring even more finite resources of survival. Should your goals for the human race be to give the best odds for not only survival and flourishment, then civil society is better for that aim.

            “Why shouldn’t the most powerful always get to decide what’s right?” Again, from an ethics POV what is ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ is determined by the individual & the collection of individuals. Might doesn’t make right… but it often finds a way to get what it wants.

            “Why do you assume you have any right to exist at all?” I assume no more or less right to exist than anything or anyone else. I’m not sure if I’d even call it a right, so much as it’s a simply truth. I currently exist. At some point in the past I did not. At some point in the future I will not.

            “By what authority do you make your value claims?” None. Have you read a single thing I’ve written here? The authority to consider my values right or superior to anyone elses begins & ends within my mind. I make value claims simply as my own, as do you and everyone else.

          • Guest

            I hope this ends up in the right place because it is getting very difficult to find the beginning of threads.

            Steve,
            Your reply is utterly non-sensical and makes a great case for the irrationality of relativism. However, I know you don’t actually believe what you wrote because you provided not one justification why it shouldn’t be perfectly moral for me to rob, rape, or snuff you out if it’s what I and a bunch of my friends thought was the right thing for us to do.

            I suggest you need to consider just how lucky you are you don’t actually live in the relativist ‘world’ you just described. And since you don’t, just how do you suppose that is?

          • Steve

            Guest… Perhaps you’re failure to comprehend what I’ve said has more to do with your limited understanding rather than what I’ve said. Had I a crayon and some craft paper perhaps I could draw a diagram, alas I’m left to work with what tools I have.

            There is nothing irrational about suggesting a persons opinions and tastes (whether they be moral tastes or ice cream preferences) are limited to that person alone and fail to have any sort of underlying objective truth to them. When I would say “It’s wrong to rob, rape & murder”, what I am really saying is “It is of my opinion that robbing, raping & murdering are wrong”. The substance of these values begins and ends with the individual or group who holds the value. Neither I, nor you, nor anyone else can claim that their moral reference points are any more privileged than anyone else’s. There is no justification to claim a moral high ground in an objective sense either way.

            We DO live in a relativistic world and I DO consider myself lucky to live in it, for however long or short a time I have in it. I don’t have to suppose anything.

          • Darren

            Thank you, Guest, I can see that living in an objectivist world has many advantages.

            ” I suggest you need to consider just how lucky you are you don’t actually live in the relativist ‘world’ you just described. And since you don’t, just how do you suppose that is?”

            Just to clarify, would you mind telling me again which Objective world that is? I would hate to get it wrong…

            Muslim (1.6 billion)
            Catholic (1.2 billion)
            Protestant (0.8 billion)
            Hindu (1.0 billion)
            Buddhist (~ 1 billion)

          • Darren

            Steve and Guest;

            There is no need for insults. Strong arguments do not require strong words.

          • Steve

            I’d hardly consider a crack about crayons and craft paper to qualify as strong words. It’s cheeky at best, maybe snarky… condescending at worst.

          • Darren

            Fair enough, and not that I am saying you were wrong. You have good ideas, though, and I would hate to see reachable Theists put off but that…

            Listen to me, paragon of polite reasoned argument that _I_ am… pot, kettle, and all that…

          • Steve

            No, you’re right. Point taken. I stand corrected. I apologize for the tone taken back there should anyone have been offended.

          • Darren

            Guest said;

            ” However, I know you don’t actually believe what you wrote because you provided not one justification why it shouldn’t be perfectly moral for me to rob, rape, or snuff you out if it’s what I and a bunch of my friends thought was the right thing for us to do.

            This is a difficult issue for Theists and Non-Theists to get around.

            We American Atheists do, indeed, enjoy an especially fortunate position. What do we have to worry about, really? Ten Commandment monuments in city parks? Moments of silence in schools? Even the more significant same-sex marriage and abortions debates, though real and having concrete impact on the lives of Theist and Non-Theist alike. We do not face stoning for our unbelief. We are not prohibited from making use of government services, holding jobs in academia, or even holding elected office. We are not at risk of having our homes and property seized. It is not, thankfully, an actual crime to be an Atheist, for all that we do suffer some small degree of marginalization.

            I am quite happy about my rather soft life and all of the things that I need not worry about.

            However, we western Atheists enjoy this enviable state not because the Church, in its magnanimity, deigned to bestow upon we heathens these, our freedoms. No, rather we are the beneficiaries of some 300 odd years of western thinking along the lines of, “You know, really bad things tend to happen when we let the Church run our affairs. We probably should not let them do that anymore.”

            Where we Americans, in particular, enjoy freedom of belief (and more recently non-belief), lies not in the forward thinking of the Revolutionary era Church, but in the factious squabbling and unwillingness of any one particular denomination to stomach some other denomination getting a leg up on them. This and a few canny Deist founders who manipulated this distrust into the grand secular civilization we enjoy today.

            Where things are spectacularly bad in our world today, for believers and non, are in those places where Theism still holds too tightly the reins of power.

            I am afraid your relativist moral nightmare quoted above applies quite well to Theism. We just tend to forget that after a couple of centuries of the Christian church not controlling the police, the prisons, and the army.

          • Guest

            Darren,
            The big mistake you make is in thinking that because the US doesn’t have a state church it’s laws aren’t utterly grounded by and dependent upon judeo-christian morality. It is, big-time, and that’s why here in the US you have extravagant freedom to believe what you choose, vs Saudi Arabia, North Korea, China, etc.

            Relativists/atheists think their freedom comes from law. They conveniently forget our law says their freedom comes from their Creator, not the law. If y’all had your way and God was thrown completely out of government, you’d find yourself waking up to Bejing or Pyongyang on the Potomac. Idiots.

          • http://thoughtfulatheist.blogspot.com Jake

            I’m reasonably sure that in practice, my freedom comes from the collective will of the people. Should enough people decide my freedom was not a right (say, the number of people required to pass a constitutional amendment), there’s not much I, nor Judeo-Christian morality, could do about it.

          • Ray

            Guest:

            “Relativists/atheists think their freedom comes from law. They conveniently forget our law says their freedom comes from their Creator, not the law. ”

            The law of the land is the Constitution, which says no such thing. You are referring to the Declaration of Independence, which is not the law. (and while we’re at it, the “creator” referred to was not the Christian God — there is plenty of historical evidence, e.g. the famous Jefferson Bible, that Jefferson did not believe in the divinity of Jesus.)

          • Guest

            Ray,
            All of our founding documents form a coherent whole and undergird all our subsequent laws (at least until recently). Doesn’t matter what Jefferson personally believed (and there is disagreement about exactly what he did believe), he still wrote that your human rights come from your Creator, not from the law, and the law exists to uphold your God given rights. If you doubt America did not begin as a fundamentally Christian nation with her laws based on Judeo-Christian moral principals you’re either ignorant or trying to re-write history.

          • Andrew G.

            US Constitution, Amendment I, adopted in 1791:

            Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.

            Pope Gregory XVI, encyclical “Mirari vos”, 1832:

            This shameful font of indifferentism gives rise to that absurd and erroneous proposition which claims that liberty of conscience must be maintained for everyone. It spreads ruin in sacred and civil affairs, …

            and

            Here We must include that harmful and never sufficiently denounced freedom to publish any writings whatever and disseminate them to the people, which some dare to demand and promote with so great a clamor. [...]

            The Church has always taken action to destroy the plague of bad books. [...]

            and

            Nor can We predict happier times for religion and government from the plans of those who desire vehemently to separate the Church from the state, and to break the mutual concord between temporal authority and the priesthood. It is certain that that concord which always was favorable and beneficial for the sacred and the civil order is feared by the shameless lovers of liberty.

          • Darren

            Guest said;

            ”If you doubt America did not begin as a fundamentally Christian nation with her laws based on Judeo-Christian moral principals you’re either ignorant or trying to re-write history.”

            Deist and Enlightenment influence aside, it might well have been hard for the founders to imagine a society with such a plurality of religions as we now have. Then again, it might have been hard to imagine the electorate as anything other than white, male, and property owning, too.

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

          Val,

          Some people see “don’t treat the different like crap” as an affirmative value.

          Sure. The Church agrees with you: “Neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female….” Now, as to actually living out that value, as opposed to being a warren of clerical ambition, sexual hypocrisy, and deep failures of charity to those different from us . . . well, we’re a work in progress!

          • Val

            I understand, Irenist. I was only responding to the spurious notion that outside the Church society is necessarily dominated by a “tolerate everything, affirm nothing” mentality.

            The more useful issue/question is where actual values both collide and coincide. Pretending that one’s adversary simply has none is a simpleminded dead end.

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

            The more useful issue/question is where actual values both collide and coincide. Pretending that one’s adversary simply has none is a simpleminded dead end.

            So very true. The charity embodied in democratic pluralism and the saintliness attainable through traditionalist moral excellence are two of those contending values that the Church is struggling to reconcile at the moment, I think.

          • Mike

            You don’t have any real values because you don’t believe in their existence. You say so not me. I think you do you just don’t believe it.

          • Guest

            Val,
            “Pretending that one’s adversary simply has none [values/morals] is a simpleminded dead end.”

            No one is claiming atheists/relativists have no values. We are saying you have no real basis for the values you hold. You claim they are good, but without an objective definition of good you have no basis to say that – it’s nothing more than your opinion and why should your opinion carry any more weight than someone else’s who thinks in direct opposition to you? You deny that a higher authority exists that gives you the rights you claim, so by what authority do you claim any rights at all?

          • Val

            Guest,
            Personally, I’m not persuaded that your values are any more ‘objective’ than anyone else’s. It seems to me that, whatever you declare to be the authority for your values, they are reified only by your behaviors. I think Darren tried an extensive demo of this a few threads back.

            I’m curious as to the boundaries you set on your value authority. Do you differentiate only between atheist and theist values? Do you feel that non-Christian theists are also completely arbitrary in their values or only wrong?

            Given the Catholic embrace of biological science, I’m surprised that any modern Catholic would think that this is a trump card of some kind. I can very easily conceive a theistic universe in which essential values are still adequately described by anthropology, sociobiology and so on.

            I’m not nearly well enough educated in this area, but something about this approach just strikes me as not-useful. It is certainly entirely unpersuasive.

          • Val

            Sorry for the immediate followup…

            Guest, in fact yes, some do explicitly claim that atheists (and I) have no values. Look upthread.

          • Theodore Seeber

            I don’t know about Guest, but I’ve long suspected that the Protestant Reformation, in the Doctrine of Sola Scriptura, opened a pandora’s box of theological subjective relativism of which New Atheism is only the latest iteration.

      • Steve

        Are you suggesting that belief in an unobserved supernatural being with magical powers doesn’t belittle ones intelligence??

        Your inability to find meaning in your world is sad and I’m glad that whatever you get from being a Catholic has in some way filled that void. I suspect that is really a big driving force that pushes otherwise rational people to turn to religion.

        • Mike

          It really has. I feel better, I am happier and I feel more grounded; I am smarter, healthier, richer, more loved, more loving, more everything except self-centred. In short, it works, even if it isn’t true. Seriously.

          • Steve

            For me, that’s really the best reason for someone subscribing to a religious belief. If believing it’s true, speaking nothing to if it’s ACTUALLY true, actually makes your life better, so long as your beliefs don’t lead to the harm of yourself or others and that they don’t become something I’m obliged to entertain myself, I’d be hard pressed to find issue with them. I’m happy to hear it’s made your life better.

          • Mike

            Hey, thanks :). I swear it has. I go to Church every week, it helps me stay sober the night before which helps me save money and makes it easier to take better care of my kids. Listen to this, maybe too much info. but I’ve also tried hard to be as chaste as possible and you knw what, it’s made my relationship with my wife better than its ever been. It’s made me want to read more, to view lectures more, to write more. Its piqued my interest in history in philosophy in politics. I watch what I put in my body. I pray alot. I find myself praying more and more. Its reduce my anxiety my nervousness. I can think more clearly. Oh the list could go on. And it’s all nonesense, can you imagine that? A bunch of 2,000 year old nonsense can do that! :)

          • grok

            @Mike,
            I’ve had a similar experience. It makes me think of Psalm 1:

            ” Happy those who do not follow the counsel of the wicked, Nor go the way of sinners, nor sit in company with scoffers. Rather, the law of the LORD is their joy; God’s law they study day and night. They are like a tree planted near streams of water, that yields its fruit in season; Its leaves never wither; whatever they do prospers. But not the wicked! They are like chaff driven by the wind. Therefore the wicked will not survive judgment, nor will sinners in the assembly of the just. The LORD watches over the way of the just, but the way of the wicked leads to ruin.”

          • Mike

            Thanks Grok. It’s real, what happened to me. And it’s still helping, in so many ways. God bless and thanks.

            PS Do you know why if they are as convinced as they claim they are that He doesn’t exist why they bother coming on here to argue about it? I mean why bother? Unless they have lingering doubts that are buried so deep that they don’t even know they’re there? Or is it really just to get a high, a feeling of intellectual superiority over simpletons? I am beginning to believe it is perhaps more about their personal sense of intellectual accomplishment which in many cases is lacking or has been at least terribly disappointing than about their honest belief that belief in God is incorrect and hurting people. Anyway, who really knows what drives an atheist to spend most of her time arguing about God, but its been happening since the dawn of the ages. God bless.

          • grok

            @Mike,
            re your PS, I’m not sure. This quote from Thomas Nagel’s new book “Mind and Cosmos” is interesting though…
            http://www.amazon.com/dp/0199919755

            “I want atheism to be true and am made uneasy by the fact that some of the most intelligent and well-informed people I know are religious believers.”–Thomas Nagel

            I just picked up a copy and am a chapter in. Good so far. Interested in reading it? Up for a book club?
            cheers,
            grok

          • Steve

            I find the movement from non-belief to a belief, particularly one with such a specific form as Catholicism, to be incomprehensible in a fascinating way that I’m trying to understand. I enjoy the intellectual exercise of trying to figure out where I stand, why I stand there, how to defend my position and be effectively critical of another. This board has a number of people who, in good faith, engage in such discussions in a reasonable and thoughtful manner. It’s not about proving superiority in a beating of the chest king kong sort of way, though I’d venture neither side would take time defending what they feel is an inferior position. If there are lingering doubts, they are subconscious. Hope that helps.

          • Mike

            Thanks for the thougtful answer Steve but I don’t believe you sorry. Look if was honestly interested in say the beliefs of Hindus I would go on their blogs and ask them exploratory type questions and then engage them in a discussion about their beliefs but if and unless I felt threatened by their beliefs I simply wouldn’t TRY to defeat them. I mean you’re not an impartial fascinated person enjoying the intellectual games here, be honest. You have a very specific claim that depends ENTIRELY on our claim being nullified. Think about it it has to be either God exists or he does not. You are squarely of the opinion or so you say that he does not so it isn’t curiousity that brings you here but a desire to shore up your convictions, no?

            Well anyway I know what you’ll say. I mean go ahead and argue that God doesn’t exist and he is impossible and can’t etc. etc. BUT as you do it try at least to consider that while we are trying to build something UP you are in effect only trying to knock it down. I know you think you’re only “trying to help us” and in some ways you are but at some point that has to indicate you also aren’t really 100% sure God doesn’t exist. So if you’re not admit it and move on. I admit I am personally 100% sure but have doubts here and there all the time. Do you have doubts about God’s non-existence?

            I’ve asked Darren this before: why spend so much time arguing against something you already think doesn’t exist and can’t exist, is impossible given a, b,c.

            PS Grok would love to read but have small kids taking too much time :).

          • Steve

            What brought me here is the continued fascination of moving from unbelief to belief. It doesn’t make a lick of sense to me. Were Hindus making a concerted effort to shift their internal beliefs into the public square like christians in America are, perhaps I’d be more inclined to engage them. I find the bible literalists to be dull opponents as if we can’t agree about the world being older than a few thousand years, there’s little point in trying. I was raised in a catholic household, amongst a family where the identifiability of being a catholic ran strong, but specific religious beliefs were never really spoken of one way or the other. Still, so far as specific religious beliefs go, it’s the one I’m most familiar with. Between that and the often engaging (in a good way) discussion, that brings me back when I have the time. Perhaps that’s clearer?

          • Mike

            Yeah sort of. I still think you’re making it sound more benign than it is.

            Your entire worldview is based on a negation. Consider that. Its center of gravity is nothingness and a rejection of something. Everything in it flows from an overwhelming conviction that there is nothing at the bottom of all of this something. That’s a tough slog, don’t you think? Always fighting for something not to be true! WOW that must take alot of energy.

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

            Your entire worldview is based on a negation.

            I don’t think that’s likely to be true, Mike. Certainly Steve’s atheism is based upon a negation (since that’s what it is), or perhaps more accurately a sense that the evidence doesn’t warrant affirmation of theism (a refusal to affirm is less active than a negation, I think). However, in my experience, most atheists don’t center their lives around their atheism the way we Christians are called to center ourselves around God. Instead, they usually find their center in the arts, or in family and friendship, or in saving the environment, or in social justice, or whatever. I think it makes sense in a Natural Law context to argue that each of will only find peace when we come to rest in God, our telos, but I think that a lot of groundwork has to be done before an atheist will accept the truth that the human spirit has a Christ-shaped hole at its heart yearning for Him. If you tell an atheist his life is “centered” on atheism, he’ll just think you’re projecting.

          • Steve

            It’s funny how much point of view matters on such issues. In my POV my views are not negative in that I’m not taking anything away from the world. However (again, my POV) your views attribute to the world in the form of a deity that I feel is an unwarranted assumption based on insufficient evidence. You might feel my beliefs are centered around the rejection, but that’s not where they come from. My beliefs are grounded in what is observable. I feel an acceptance of something without proper cause is an improper way to see the world. I don’t have an issue with speculating or even hoping to the point of belief. I certainly HOPE for the survival of my consciousness and find the prospect of losing everything to be profoundly sad, but speaking with some sort of authority about a world beyond this would be, for me, nothing more than wishful thinking. It would be dishonest. It would diminish the appreciation I DO have for being alive. It would devalue my temporary stay in existence.

          • Mike

            Yes Irenist I should have been more specific his entire worldview is not but as you point out his atheism necessarily is, that’s its definition. Yes true too most don’t focus on their lack of affirmation or negation but most are not on these blogs either :). Oh I know what they’ll say about me projecting or misrepresenting their positions etc. etc. But again Steve is on here not because he is curious or intellectually minded but because it shores up his beliefs about people like us. It is cynical. He and the other atheists here don’t honestly believe there’s no God, they can’t possible believe that and spend so much time arguing about it, can they? What is that called? Thouest protesteth too much, maybe?

            Well if nothing else it proves 1 thing: God is alive and well.

          • Steve

            Now you’re projecting. You’re simply ignoring what I’ve said and creating your own cynical narrative. Perhaps if you accepted it at face value, rather than through the lens of your own prejudices you’d at least be able to understand where I’m coming from, even if you disagree.

          • Mike

            :) Ok Steve, fair enough you’ve been quite patient with me, thanks.

            Ok, back at it!

        • Theodore Seeber

          I’m saying it belittles my intelligence more to think that chaos can produce order, for the same reason I don’t understand or believe in the Islamic Allah. I see no functional difference whatsoever between a Godless Universe in which the scientific method is impossible and one governed by one or more irrational Gods in which the scientific method is impossible. Only with a being with rules inventing the universe, who sticks to those rules, is the scientific method possible. It isn’t perfect- the line between the natural and the supernatural is the limit of our understanding as a species, and that line is both subjective and moveable- but I can no more believe in moral relativity than I can believe that the sun tomorrow will turn into a mass of blue cheese and create a giant greek salad.

    • http://coalitionforclarity.blogspot.com/ Robert King

      is it not more important to function as a community than to agree on doctrinal matters?

      Assuming the doctrinal matters are matters of fundamental truth, then it will be difficult to keep the community functioning in the long run without agreement on doctrinal matters.

      You give the example of the Ptolemaic model of the solar system. In the only contexts in which that model is significant, it leads to a disconnect with reality: adhering to it will mean your clock is off, your sense of direction is off, and ultimately you won’t be able to meet your chums for a pint – unless everyone everywhere agrees to use that model. But those who care deeply about the actual positions of the stars and planets – especially when observed from elsewhere than the Earth’s surface – will never assent to such a social convention. And there’s no other reason to use it except its accuracy at predicting astronomic observations.

      So: if God is real, and is as the Catholic Church describes Him, then the universe runs differently than if, say, God were as the Hindus describe Him/Them/It, and again differently than if God did not exist at all. The differences may be subtle, but in the long term – maybe over the course of centuries – communities will break down over the disagreements – because they are disagreeing about the fundamental nature of reality; and some will be more right than others.

      Some look at the history of the West since the Enlightenment and see exactly this sort of disruption of culture and community. Myself, I think the break happened earlier, in the whole clash of cultures that Thomas Aquinas and Duns Scotus and their fellows were trying to make sense of. (To paraphrase: it’s not that Thomism has been tried and found wanting; it’s that Thomism has never been tried.)

      • http://thinkinggrounds.blogspot.com Christian H

        Oh, I get that there are long-term differences that accumulate depending on whether God is Three yet One or instead Infinitely Many yet Four yet One yet Etc., but those are societal effects. So it would be preferable if most were right, or if decision-makers were right. But what about me? If I persist in error about the number of God, say, or about the relation of astronomical bodies, what differences could that produce?

        My question–and it is a question, not a statement-phrased-as-question–is whether wanting society to operate on true-ish beliefs means that we can expect individuals to do so. My hunch is no, but I could be moved by argument.

  • jose

    The catholic church has a nice trick. It says it’s studying the mind of god and coming up with moral discoveries, just like scientists do with natural ones. Whenever a social change takes place, they simply declare that sure yeah, God actually wanted that all along. When an activity goes out of trend, such as burning people alive, the church just declares yeah, we prayed and objectively discovered that God actually doesn’t like that we burn people alive.

    For our 40 years of military dictatorship: Of course God likes Franco, he’s God’s bastion against the USSR; 40 years later, when Franco dies and it’s clear the regime has no future: no no, of course God condemns all that stuff Franco did. We should know, we study his mind all the time.

    In a more light hearted note, a quote: “If anyone does not confess that the world and all things which are contained in it, both spiritual and material, were produced, according to their whole substance, out of nothing by God … let him be anathema.”

    Sorry, humans weren’t produced out of nothing. We were produced out of monkeys. But it turns out the church’s trick works here, too. A closer examination of the mind of God through strenuous praying revealed God actually agrees with Darwin. Figures!

    This miraculous concordance between the current state of affairs regarding objective discoveries about God’s mind and the world’s trends allows the church to remain relevant. Very effective.

    • TheRealAaron

      Sorry, humans weren’t produced out of nothing. We were produced out of monkeys. But it turns out the church’s trick works here, too. A closer examination of the mind of God through strenuous praying revealed God actually agrees with Darwin. Figures!

      When the Catholic Church teaches that the world was created “out of nothing,” they don’t mean that each individual thing that exists springs into existence from nothing. They mean that in the beginning, God took the original act of creating the material world. There wasn’t both God AND a lump of matter that He used to create the world. God is the only eternally existing “thing” and every other “thing” comes into existence from His original act of creation.

      This isn’t a modern reinterpretation of Catholic teaching in an attempt to mesh with Darwinism. Thomas Aquinas in the 13th century wrote “Species, also, that are new, if any such appear, existed beforehand in various active powers.” In other words, there’s no need to subscribe to a God of the Gaps (“and then a miracle happened!”) sort of thinking about how things change or come into existence in the material world. New things can come into being from existing material, through natural activity. (The whole Question 73 Article 1 of the Summa Theologica addresses the question of whether God’s initial act of creation created everything, or if creation can be ongoing. Bear in mind that he uses the term “Seventh Day” metaphorically. As far back as St. Augustine, and probably earlier, the Church has viewed the seven days of creation non-literally)

      • Ray

        enh. It’s hard to be that impressed by Augustine taking the seven days thing figuratively, when none of that prevented him from dating the creation at ca. 5500BC. Also, the “new species” thing refers not to evolution by natural selection, but to the blatantly obvious fact that you can breed mules and to the now discredited Aristotelian theory of Spontaneous Generation — apparently Aquinas didn’t get enough “divine revelation” to call BS on that one. And since we’re on the subject of Aquinas. Isn’t that the same guy that was denounced in the condemnations of 1277? Seems the Church was against Thomism before it was for it. But then I suppose, the Church has always been allied with Eastasia against Eurasia (Or was that the other way around.)

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

          the now discredited Aristotelian theory of Spontaneous Generation — apparently Aquinas didn’t get enough “divine revelation” to call BS on that one.

          The Bible is not a science textbook; you are arguing with Catholics, not Protestant Fundamentalists. Thus, the fact that Aquinas got the details of abiogenesis wrong (nothing about RNA world or undersea black smokers from Aquinas) reflects the state of thirteenth century biology, not some religious doctrine.

          Isn’t that the same guy that was denounced in the condemnations of 1277? Seems the Church was against Thomism before it was for it.

          The Archbishop of Paris (not “the Church”) did condemn certain Thomistic propositions in 1277. He was not the Pope, nor have the Pope’s more recent endorsements of Thomism (e.g., Aeterni Patris) been infallible. Thomas has been canonized, and Thomism is recommended to theologians. Like Darwinism (with which it dovetails nicely, IMHO), Thomism is neither condemned nor required of Catholic thinkers.

          • Ray

            “The Archbishop of Paris (not “the Church”) did condemn certain Thomistic propositions in 1277. He was not the Pope,”

            The condemnations were enforced upon pain of excommunication. I assume you can’t just do that without the pope’s approval. Also according to: Edward Grant: “In 1325, however, two years after Aquinas was made a saint, all of the condemned articles that had been held by Saint Thomas were formally nullified, leaving the remaining articles in effect

            Does this not mean that these articles condemning opinions held by Aquinas were “in effect” for the intervening 48 years? What does “in effect” mean here if it does not imply tacit approval by the Church?

            “nor have the Pope’s more recent endorsements of Thomism (e.g., Aeterni Patris) been infallible.”

            We are all quite aware that the Church has mastered the art of plausible deniability. The Church always seems to stand for something, but never quite firmly enough that it can’t deny it once it becomes inconvenient. (How much really has been said infallibly anyway? Very little as I understand it.) It is no miracle that Thomism is compatible with Darwinism, when it is so vague that it is equally compatible with spontaneous generation of maggots in rotting flesh. Nor is it any miracle that the church currently supports a philosopher who does not directly contradict modern science, when it only ever supports such philosophers in such a way that it can deny support whenever it becomes convenient. (The church most certainly did at one time support Aristotelian Physics and Ptolemaic Cosmology, but that view was apparently equally fallible. Clever trick.)

          • http://branemrys.blogspot.com Brandon Watson

            I was going to point out, Ray, that your comment shows your usual lack of regard for actual historical evidence (it’s not as if it’s difficult to find scholarly resources on the condemnations of 1277 online, and presumably you didn’t type your comment on a machine that only connects to this comment-box), but as Irenist has mentioned the most obvious point, I’ll simply point out that your whole comment is a non sequitur: TheRealAaron’s point clearly was not that Augustine and Aquinas anticipated scientific results, but that their own positions aren’t consistent with the history of the account of creation jose apparently was attributing to the Catholic Church. That’s why he specifically began with comments about creation, and then specifically pointed out that this wasn’t new, but is found in one form in Aquinas, and then, to avoid a possible misunderstanding, pointed out the tradition of metaphorical interpretation, also longstanding. Not a single one of your points was even remotely relevant to these issues. TheRealAaron wasn’t asking you to be ‘impressed’ by Augustine; he was pointing out a historical fact about Augustine that was relevant to his specific argument against jose. He also never said a single thing about evolution by natural selection, although this is a more understandable misunderstanding, given that jose had inaccurately referred to it already.

          • http://branemrys.blogspot.com Brandon Watson

            Apparently you will insist on ignorantly lecturing other people, so I will point out that (1) any bishop can excommunicate, because excommunication means precisely that a bishop breaks communion with you in some way; (2) if you bothered to research critically, you would have discovered that it’s a matter of dispute whether the condemnations were directed to Aquinas at all, since the only definite sources for the theses are from the Latin Averroist, and all other sources are merely speculated; (3) Grant explicitly notes previously that the attribution that when he talks about Thomas Aquinas in relation to the condemnations of 1277 is interpretative and not actually in the document (which you could figure out if you ever bothered to read the document, anyway).

          • Ray

            “(1) any bishop can excommunicate, because excommunication means precisely that a bishop breaks communion with you in some way;”

            And the pope may, but did not, absolve any such excommunications. Are you saying the papacy was unaware of the condemnation for 48-years straight?

            “2) if you bothered to research critically, you would have discovered that it’s a matter of dispute whether the condemnations were directed to Aquinas at all, since the only definite sources for the theses are from the Latin Averroist, and all other sources are merely speculated.”

            Whether Aquinas was targeted or not, whoever was in charge (the pope?) of the formal nullification of certain articles in 1325 seemed to think the relevant articles were key aspects of Thomism. Do you deny that these nullifications were deemed necessary in order to make Thomism formally acceptable to the Church? And does not the failure to nullify the rest tacitly approve of the document as a whole?

          • TheRealAaron

            We seem to have gone too deep to reply directly.

            And the pope may, but did not, absolve any such excommunications. Are you saying the papacy was unaware of the condemnation for 48-years straight?
            It’s possible. As you are no doubt aware, the Church is a great enemy of sciences and technology, so the pope had yet to set up a Twitter or email account.

            More likely though, the matter simply hasn’t been settled. Each bishop is allowed to carry out discipline within his diocese as he sees fit. As long as he isn’t violating church law, the pope would have little standing to intervene.

          • http://branemrys.blogspot.com Brandon Watson

            And the pope may, but did not, absolve any such excommunications. Are you saying the papacy was unaware of the condemnation for 48-years straight?

            Why would he have “absolved” them? Which particular cases of excommunication would it have made sense for him to have “absolved”? All we actually know about the situation is that the Pope, having heard about problems in the University of Paris, told Tempier to investigate, and Tempier on his own initiative and authority put forward the condemnation. Did the Pope acquiesce? Maybe. Maybe not. We have no definite documentation of it, just the fact that none of the popes in the period seem to address the matter (indeed, there’s not even any definite evidence I’m aware of that they even knew the specifics of it). There is some reason to think (although it is disputed) that the Pope explicitly stopped a proceeding specifically concerned with the doctrines of Aquians around the same time. Wouldn’t that complicate your argument?The period you are discussing was very troubled; it sees the crisis with the Fraticelli movement, the Avignon Papacy, the popes caught in the middle between the King of France and the Holy Roman Emperor, and several popes in quick succession. Perhaps a limited disciplinary action in one jurisdiction didn’t seem all that important. Papal intervention into episcopal affairs typically takes a long time to start and a long time to finish. Perhaps the popes thought it best to assume the bishops of Paris knew what they were doing.

            It’s true that it could have been an acquiescence of some kind; that would depend on how one reads the lack of a response. But again, such an acquiescence would have concerned an action that only affected Paris, and there’s no particular reason to regard it as saying much at all.

            “Whether Aquinas was targeted or not, whoever was in charge (the pope?) of the formal nullification of certain articles in 1325 seemed to think the relevant articles were key aspects of Thomism. Do you deny that these nullifications were deemed necessary in order to make Thomism formally acceptable to the Church? And does not the failure to nullify the rest tacitly approve of the document as a whole?”

            A little critical thinking would go a long way toward answering your question on its own. Why would a local nullification of a local disciplinary document that primarily affected the University of Paris be required to make anything “formally acceptable to the Church”, whatever that means in this context? Aquinas was canonized as a saint in 1323, two years before this nullification that allegedly was necessary to make his views “formally acceptable”. What do you think that might suggest for your thesis? In the nullification document the bishop of Paris specifically says that he lifts the condemnation and excommunications insofar as they touch or are said to touch on Thomas Aquinas. Isn’t that qualification a bit worthy of consideration? The nullification occurs in 1325, just two years, again, after the canonization of Aquinas, who was one of the University of Paris’s most famous theologians, and one of the major theologians of the Dominican Order, and had been an increasing influence. Could there perhaps be a connection, particularly with the specific mention of Aquinas in the document? These are obvious questions; I don’t see why you need to have them spoonfed to you rather than thinking for yourself.

        • TheRealAaron

          Also, the “new species” thing refers not to evolution by natural selection, but to the blatantly obvious fact that you can breed mules and to the now discredited Aristotelian theory of Spontaneous Generation

          I think you’ve missed my point in quoting Aquinas. You’re arguing about mechanisms. Yes, we in the 21st century know that spontaneous generation is not the mechanism by which new species come to be. Aquinas doesn’t speculate about mechanism at all (not in this quote at least). He only says that it is possible in principle for one thing to give rise to another thing.

          In fact, if he were referring to the “blatantly obvious fact” of crossbreeding mules, there would have been no need to add the qualifier “if any such appear” in reference to something every farmer knew about firsthand.

          apparently Aquinas didn’t get enough “divine revelation” to call BS on that one.

          In this instance, Aquinas is not appealing to divine revelation (he does quote from the bible in the response I linked above, but you’ll note that it’s not to defend the idea of change in nature). He believes this point is clear from reason alone. Although Aquinas doesn’t fully flesh out his arguments about causality here, he devotes a good deal of writing to causation and change in other places.

          And since we’re on the subject of Aquinas. Isn’t that the same guy that was denounced in the condemnations of 1277? Seems the Church was against Thomism before it was for it. But then I suppose, the Church has always been allied with Eastasia against Eurasia (Or was that the other way around.)

          Like many new things, some people initially viewed Thomism with skepticism. At least one bishop believed Thomas’s teachings were seriously in error. Over time as philosophers and theologians studied his work, they found that Thomism was a good framework for understanding not just theology but the natural world too.

          Strangely, while science is praised for being non-dogmatic and willing to reconsider in the face of new evidence, religion is being condemned here for being non-dogmatic and willing to reconsider in the face of new evidence. Catholicism isn’t American fundamentalist Protestantism. We don’t feel the need to oppose science. In fact, we believe that God created the world intelligibly so that it is open to human study and understanding.

          • Ray

            “Strangely, while science is praised for being non-dogmatic and willing to reconsider in the face of new evidence, religion is being condemned here for being non-dogmatic and willing to reconsider in the face of new evidence.” The problem is that you’re trying to have it both ways. You feel the church can make infallible statements about the historical facts of 1st century Roman Judea (including a number of extraordinary claims which prominently lack extraordinary supporting evidence.) To support this claim you give examples of people, revered by the modern church, but not necessarily by their Catholic contemporaries, making claims which don’t even purport to be the result of divine revelation, and that, while consistent with modern science, show no more prescience than the views of earlier pagan philosophers. Further you ignore manifestly false claims which have been equally popular with the Church in the past. (e.g. the idea that human history dates back no earlier than ca 5500 bc, Ptolemaic astronomy etc.)

            Or to respond to Leah specifically: If Heliocentrism and human history before the Bronze age don’t count as evidence against the Church, then virtue ethics (whatever its merits might be) certainly doesn’t count as evidence for the Church. (Since the Church has made no statements regarding the latter that are any stronger than the claims it has made in the past regarding the former sorts of statements.)

            “Catholicism isn’t American fundamentalist Protestantism. We don’t feel the need to oppose science. ” Nor is it the Catholicism of the 17th and early 18th century, which did feel the need to oppose science.

          • TheRealAaron

            Ray, for some reason the Reply button isn’t showing up under your posts, only mine. I’m not sure what that’s all about…

            The problem is that you’re trying to have it both ways. You feel the church can make infallible statements about the historical facts of 1st century Roman Judea (including a number of extraordinary claims which prominently lack extraordinary supporting evidence.) To support this claim you give examples of people, revered by the modern church, but not necessarily by their Catholic contemporaries, making claims which don’t even purport to be the result of divine revelation, and that, while consistent with modern science, show no more prescience than the views of earlier pagan philosophers. Further you ignore manifestly false claims which have been equally popular with the Church in the past. (e.g. the idea that human history dates back no earlier than ca 5500 bc, Ptolemaic astronomy etc.)

            I’m afraid I’m not following your argument here. My initial point was that Catholicism never opposed evolution but now we seem to be talking about first century Judean history and the age of the universe. Could you explain the connection you’re trying to make? Or if it’s too long for a combox response, maybe we could arrange with Leah to take this to email?

          • Ray

            “for some reason the Reply button isn’t showing up under your posts, only mine.”

            Oh. The software only allows so many levels of nesting. Seems we’re out.

            “My initial point was that Catholicism never opposed evolution”

            I guess you could make this argument. But then the vast majority of educated Catholics, for most of the history of Catholicism, including Saint Augustine, believed there were no humans before about 5500 bc and based that opinion on the Scriptures which are sacred to Catholics, so I’m not sure what that buys you.

          • Ray

            ps, if you need some links:

            http://www.newadvent.org/fathers/120112.htm (chapter 10)

            http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Young_Earth_creationism
            money quote: “Many of the earliest Christians who followed the Septuagint calculated creation around 5500 BC, and Christians up to the Middle-Ages continued to use this rough estimate: Clement of Alexandria (5592 BC), Julius Africanus (5501 BC), Eusebius (5228 BC), Jerome (5199 BC) Hippolytus of Rome (5500 BC), Theophilus of Antioch (5529 BC), Sulpicius Severus (5469 BC), Isidore of Seville (5336 BC), Panodorus of Alexandria (5493 BC), Maximus the Confessor (5493 BC), George Syncellus (5492 BC) and Gregory of Tours (5500 BC).”

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

      This miraculous concordance between the current state of affairs regarding objective discoveries about God’s mind and the world’s trends allows the church to remain relevant. Very effective.

      1. Theologians hold fast to unchangeable, often infallibly defined Christian doctrines on matters like contraception, abortion, and women’s ordination.
      Result: Atheists complain that Catholicism is a medieval relic that needs to get with the times.
      .
      2. Theologians adjust to modern developments in non-religious fields (like the sciences) or political developments affecting prudential judgments (e.g., ancient agrarian slavery and slavery in an industrialized world wherein capitalist wage labor is a viable alternative, or the transitions from Empire to kingdoms to republics in Europe) .
      Result: Atheists complain that Catholicism is just making it all up as it goes along.
      .
      Suggested question for more fruitful further discussion: Is the Catholic distinction between unchangeable and/or infallible and merely prudential philosophically consistent, or does it appear to be a bunch of post hoc rationalizations with no underlying principles? We Catholics can be expected to cite Newman here to explicate how we think the development of doctrine works, perhaps even boring everyone with discussion of Newman’s “Vincentian Test.” Atheists will presumably have many excellent points as well; based on past experience, I expect slavery to figure in their arguments.

      • http://thinkinggrounds.blogspot.com Christian H

        I have never read Newman. Can you assign readings?

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

          For our purposes here, just this one:
          http://www.newmanreader.org/works/development/
          As an Anglican, (as indicated by your fine blog, which I now need to bookmark), you should find that his argument is very precisely directed at you, as it happens. Enjoy!

          • http://thinkinggrounds.blogspot.com Christian H

            Thank-you.

      • jose

        The church is simply very slow at it. The atheists you describe in 1 just with they did their trick more rapidly.

        As for your question: the latter. No need for slavery, I think burning people alive will do fine. But please, do explicate.

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

          I think burning people alive will do fine.

          That was sinful. There was never any infallible exhortation to go burn people, but certainly many churchmen enthusiastically aided in the burning of heretics, etc., so your query deserves a fuller response than merely pointing to the absence of claims of infallibility in the area.
          .
          In the millennia before penitentiaries, capital punishment was common and arguably prudent in some cases. So that’s not the key issue with burnings: the two key issues are that as a method of execution it amounts to torture, and that it was wrong (per insights codified at Vatican II) to exercise compulsion over heretics’ religious consciences.
          .
          Newman argued that authentic Christian doctrinal development was characterized by ever-stricter adherence to the Gospel law of love. The Church began by permitting itself to treat heretics harshly, and has moved slowly toward learning to turn the other cheek instead. Movement in the other direction (from the ecumenicism of Vatican II to the anti-Semitic ravings of Mel Gibson, e.g.) is in contrast doctrinal corruption rather than development.
          .
          Christians who refuse to dismiss the Old Testament as pious fan fiction believe that it reflects Israel’s maturing understanding of God, beginning in a valid but limited conception of God as concerned with social justice (often embodied in pedagogic communal ritual), and moving toward a deeper conception of God as also concerned with personal character (as in the witness of the prophets). Christ fulfills this and deepens it further by witnessing through his martyrdom (if I may use that word) on the Cross to a Divine perfectionist ethic that transcends the more humanly attainable ethic of the Old Testament. The Church, the City of God and the “New Israel,” is in a pilgrimage throughout history to incarnate the perfectionist ethic of the Cross and the Sermon on the Mount, but it is also a human institution trying to survive within the City of Man. Like Israel in the Old Testament, its understanding of the full implications of the Gospel, and its ability to embody them without hypocrisy, is very much a work in progress.
          .
          However, Catholics would contend with Newman, and against post-modern skeptics of historical meta-narrative (Lyotard, e.g.), that Catholic doctrinal development is indeed progressive development and deepening maturity, and that the Church’s piligrimage through history is indeed progressing somewhere, to Someone.

  • Bill

    I’m not sure what “I needed to do something about the contempt for the material world, or nothing doing.” means. Does the Church encourage more contempt, or less?

    I don’t really get what ‘faith seeking understanding’ means either. How can you have faith in something before you understand it?

    Don’t most religions, and most people in fact, see marriage as a covenant? In as much as you promise to be sexually exclusive to your spouse, share property and generally help each other.
    The Eucharist seems like a perfect example of a Dragon in the garage, because it’s a claim that can’t be falsified. The wafer and wine ‘become’ the body and blood of Christ, but in every material way they’re the same as before, made of wheat and grapes. They taste the same, they have the same material content, they look the same. If you put a transubstantianed wafer side-by-side with an untrasformed one, could priests pick it out at a rate higher than chance? If the wafer isn’t changed in any physical way, why use an actual wafer at all? Just hand out pieces of Christ’s flesh directly. They’d be invisible and intangible, but spiritually nourishing(!) How can something be transformed if it doesn’t change at all?
    The idea of communion as a symbolic acting out of the last supper makes a lot more sense to me.

    Virtue ethics seems okay but for me, it’s missing the other side of the equation. Murder isn’t bad chiefly because of what it does to the murderer, but because of what it does to the victim, and to people who care about the victim. I also wonder why you consider Catholic virtues better than Hindu, Buddhist or Muslim virtues, for example.

    The thing about agreeing to disagree is that, no matter what our beliefs, we’re all stuck on this earth together, and if we can’t find a way to live in harmony then we’re bloody well doomed. I don’t think churches that literally demonise people who disagree with them make reconcilliation easier.

    Also, kicking out people who disagree is a bad way to find the truth. There is no guarantee that whatever arguement has the most powerful people behind it is the correct one, and if disagreeing with the status quo is frowned on or even punished, then it’s much less likely that wrong ideas will be shown to be wrong.

    • Kristen inDallas

      “Does the Church encourage more contempt, or less?”
      Less – Catholicism teaches that God manifests in the ideals of Truth, Love, and Beauty. We can get at Truth with our heads and a fewgood books, but Love and Beauty require interaction with the world outside the self.

      “How can you have faith in something before you understand it?”
      If you wait until you understand it completely, it’s called knowing, not faith.

      “The thing about agreeing to disagree is that, no matter what our beliefs, we’re all stuck on this earth together, and if we can’t find a way to live in harmony then we’re bloody well doomed.”
      We’re not doomed if we could agree to just love each other first, while pressing the disagrerements. Aren’t we also pretty doomed (as a species) if we agree to just stand around watching each other drown and clinging to the belief that every man is an island?

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

      The Eucharist seems like a perfect example of a Dragon in the garage, because it’s a claim that can’t be falsified.

      That’s a fair complaint. There are various reports of Eucharistic miracles in which blood cells or cardiac tissue were found in consecrated hosts, but I’m not the sort that puts much stock in that sort of thing. I think the Catholic response to your fair complaint ought to proceed from another direction: given classical theism on philosophical grounds, and given that the God of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and Jesus is the God of the Philosophers on grounds like those argued by Aquinas, the Gospels are the words of the Son of God. Then it just becomes a matter of intra-Christian dispute between Catholics/Orthodox and Protestants about how literally the Eucharistic discourses (“This is my Body,” etc.) ought to be taken. Starting from the Eucharist and working back to theism isn’t going to work–or at least, even if it works in some individual Catholic’s devotional life, it sure won’t work in atheist-Catholic disputes in this space!

  • Guest

    Do you know what I find so achingly sad about this blog? I see a conversion of the intellect but the heart isn’t in evidence. Where is the faith, the heart overflowing with love for God? Catholicism isn’t just an intellectual exercise – a decision arrived at. At it’s most basic it is a love relationship with Jesus. Where is that love in evidence – where is there even a discussion of it?

    • leahlibresco

      Well, for that, there are a lot of better blogs to read on the Patheos Catholic portal. As for me…

      [source]

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

        No other blog can tell us about your heart. Conversion is not either the head or the heart. It is always both.

        Being Christian is not the result of an ethical choice or a lofty idea, but the encounter with an event, a person, which gives life a new horizon and a decisive direction.

        Pope Benedict XVI Deus Cartis Est 1
        http://www.vatican.va/holy_father/benedict_xvi/encyclicals/documents/hf_ben-xvi_enc_20051225_deus-caritas-est_en.html

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

          Randy, some of us start on Calvary in Jerusalem. Some of us have to get there from the Areopagus in Athens. Leah’s on the pilgrim Way. That’s what matters.

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

            I understand but I am interested in the pilgrimage. If I think about it she has written from her heart from time to time. I just don’t want her to consciously avoid it. There might be a “pearls before swine” issue.

            Thinking of Pope Benedict, he talked about seeing a choice in University between believing in atheist or believing in Catholicism. He said what clinched it for Catholicism was beauty. Not generic beauty but one performance of one piece of Mozart’s music touched him so powerfully that he could no longer believe in atheism. Now I can imagine how this forum would ridicule that. But is that a reason to not tell the story?

          • Val

            I don’t think this forum *would* ridicule that kind of story, if it were forthcoming. It would reveal something deep, true and useful about our bloggist that has been sort of vague.

            And I, for one, find some resonance in Benedict’s choice. I have always been much less impressed by the ‘problem of pain’ (the universe will hurt you… big whoop) than what I think of as ‘the problem of cute’ (bunnies, wtf?).

        • Grok87

          Agree with the idea of pilgrimmage. There are many roads to Rome (no pun intended.) Today’s gospel is about being on the road, in this case the “road to Emmaus.”
          http://www.usccb.org/bible/readings/040313.cfm
          Cleophas is a good model for us as Christians. We are all of us hearing rumours of Christ’s resurrection, but without the benefit of joyful angelic visions (mostly). We have a hard time recognizing Christ in our lives, even though he is present. We need to seek Christ in the scriptures (lectio divina) and in the communal breaking of the bread (Mass). I think that is what Leah is striving to do…

    • Kristen inDallas

      Nah… scroll up to the top of this page and just look, for a good minute, at the picture she chose to represent Catholocism. Do you see the beauty, the light and the play of colors? Notice how the image includes the actual people, the church herself (flaws and all)? And in this image, which Leah has chosen, to represent her Why Catholisicm post, what are all those people doing, but kneeling, listening, waiting, hoping? Do you really only see an intellectual exercise?

    • Kristin

      Leah is who she is is, and she’s not an overly emotional person, as you can tell by her writing. She’s logical and reasonable, and there are plenty of blogs that touch on the emotional side, some a little too much for my taste. I agree with you about the love relationship with Jesus, but I don’t think Leah’s missing heart here. Look at her posts on radical forgiveness and Les Miserables – there’s a lot of heart here. She’s just not going to go into throes of ecstasy anytime soon – that’s just not who she is.

  • KG

    Leah, at what point did you come to take the resurrection story as literally true, such that you believe that Jesus’ body vanished from this earth, in violation of known physical laws? What convinced you? Was it really just the trilemma? This is the question that never seems to be addressed head on here.

    • Mike

      If I may I think that suffering, real actual suffering and longing for justice is a good place to start to try to understand the though process involved in “conversion”. I think, don’t jump down my throat atheist warriors that the biggest reason why atheism seems to be popping up in the west is because we have had many decades now of very little physical suffering (especially among 99% of atheists who as we know are white and upper class). We have much psychological suffering and societal angst etc. but little physical which I think explains partly at least why so many ppl can’t seem to understand the need for redemption and ultimate justice and hope.

      • Steve

        That in no way is a response to KG’s questions. It’s just vague babble not at all relevant to questions about an obvious leap (going from non-belief to belief of supernatural events) that hasn’t really ever been addressed here.

        • Mike

          Is it vague psycho babble or just vague babble? And why is being vague a disqualification? Finally, have you ever really suffered in your life? I mean really, like have you ever felt like crying out in despair for mercy? If you have would you mind telling us alittle about it and how you eventually “dealt” with it?

          • Steve

            “Is it vague psycho babble or just vague babble?” I’m fine with either.

            “And why is being vague a disqualification?” It’s not the vagueness I’m objecting to, but that none of what you said at all relates back to the initial questions posed by KG.

            “Finally, have you ever really suffered in your life? I mean really, like have you ever felt like crying out in despair for mercy?” This feels like a sales pitch you’d hear on an advertisement for a new medicine or the LDS church. The question you should be asking is ‘how is any of what I’ve just said at all relevant to the questions asked above?’

            “If you have would you mind telling us alittle about it and how you eventually “dealt” with it?” Risking beating a dead horse, I’d have to point out again that this is not at all relevant to the above questions. That being said, I’m fortunate enough to say that ‘suffering’ in my life has been relegated to timely passing of elder loved ones and a handful of relatively mild personal dealings. I couldn’t speak on experiences of untimely deaths, failing health, war related suffering, etc nor can I definitively tell you how I might deal with it if and when such things happen. If you’re alluding to turning to a religious belief to offer relief from such suffering, I wouldn’t object if that’s what makes you or others able to best cope with it, though I’d suspect I’d have more difficulty pursuing such an avenue. I suppose it would depend greatly on the particular suffering and my present frame of mind, but I can speculate that once the source of the suffering had subsided enough I’d be be able to reason and ultimately accept my new situation. I’d seek help from a friend or family or a doctor if that didn’t work or if I felt I was a danger to myself or others. And a good cry sometimes goes a long way. I hope that answers your questions.

          • Mike

            Yes, it does: you don’t believe that human suffering has any transcendent meaning: it starts and stops in the nerve endings and other biological physical attributes of our bodies.

          • Darren

            Mike said;

            ”Yes, it does: you don’t believe that human suffering has any transcendent meaning…”

            Yes, and that is why I am against it.

          • Val

            > Yes, and that is why I am against it.

            Well put, Darren. There seems to be a particular valorization of suffering in the Christian worldview especially, that is, well… creepy.

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

      Belief in classical theism makes a miracle conceivable.

      For me, it was thinking on Jung’s (actually not that great) essay “Answer to Job,” or actually just the title. The Cross is God answering the problem of evil with radical solidarity.

      Given that evil exists at all (which, admittedly, is not what a classical theist would assume to be the case in our cosmos if she’d never been here) the various free will arguments are satisfying intellectually, but leave the heart feeling abandoned. Neither the God of Judaism nor the God of Islam is said to have manifested such radical solidarity with suffering. To me, as a matter of emotion, the solidarity of the Cross just seemed like the sort of thing a loving God would do.

      Given classical theism, the miracles of the Incarnation of and the Resurrection (along with the multiplication of the loaves, the wine at Cana, etc.) don’t really scandalize me. *Of course* the God of classical theism, assuming He exists, can violate His own secondarily causal laws of physics. Once you’re a theist, the miracles part just isn’t much of a barrier. (Although, IIRC, there’s a typically excellent XKCD about how turning all that water into wine at Cana would have involved energy ouput akin to a nuke. But to think of miracles that way is, to a classical theist, simply to confuse God’s primary causality with the usual, but not inviolable secondarily causal laws of physics by which he governs the cosmos most of the time.)

      • Darren

        Irenist said:

        “Although, IIRC, there’s a typically excellent XKCD about how turning all that water into wine at Cana would have involved energy ouput akin to a nuke.”

        That is pretty funny. I had always assumed it was a 100% effecient matter conversion – you’ve got about 10% of the Oxygen needing to be tranformed in Carbon, but I just checked and the Nuetron / Proton ratios are comparable, so no worries about irradiating the party guests…

      • KG

        Thank you Irenist, I appreciate your response even though I disagree with it. I’d like to know if Leah feels the same as you. She has never said as much, and after a post in which she extolled the idea of confronting disagreements, I find her evasiveness on this issue to be hypocritical. I would like to see her profess that she does believe the laws of physics to be “secondarily causal” with respect to God, who can intervene in them to produce miracles in a deliberate manner, and what convinced her. I echo Octavo’s objections that the “I believe in God, now!” post does not satisfactorily address this. As far as I can tell, her dragon really is still invisible.

      • Ray

        “Given classical theism, the miracles of the Incarnation of and the Resurrection (along with the multiplication of the loaves, the wine at Cana, etc.) don’t really scandalize me. *Of course* the God of classical theism, assuming He exists, can violate His own secondarily causal laws of physics.”

        The real problem with this argument is it seems to permit too many miracles. Why not the great flood — which, if it happened, was followed by an equally miraculous coverup of all the evidence for it? Why if “secondary causality” is sometimes violated, is it never violated in such a way that modern science can detect evidence of such violations? Why do all modern saints perform multiple miracles, but none that pass the James Randi Test?

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

          Excellent points, Ray.

          The real problem with this argument is it seems to permit too many miracles. Why not the great flood — which, if it happened, was followed by an equally miraculous coverup of all the evidence for it?

          I concede that there is no a priori reason for a Christian to doubt the Deluge. Indeed, prior to modern geology, it made sense for even pagan thinkers to credit a global flood to explain fossil seashells on mountaintops. IIRC, Pliny may have asserted something like that.
          Thus, the willingness of, e.g., St. Augustine and other early Christians to follow the Old Testament chronology of human history, (mentioned upthread) is unsurprising. In the absence of conflicting evidence, why not believe the Old Testament? However, once such evidence emerges (as it has for many of the legends in Genesis), adjusting our understanding of the intent of the Biblical text in light of modern science, history, and genre criticism seems more prudent than assuming (as do some Fundamentalist Protestants, AFAIK), that the fossil record is some elaborate demonic deception inexplicably permitted by nature’s God.
          .
          An atheist’s natural next question, I suppose, is something like: But if at least some of the Old Testament wonder tales are mere pious legends, why not the Resurrection? This is a fair question. The response, IMHO, is twofold:
          First, genre criticism considerations; e.g., the naming of various witnesses as sources according to Hellenistic citational convention throughout cut as strongly against the Gospels as legendary as they do in favor of Genesis as largely Israelite folktale–although, I hasten to add, folktale reflective of a historical and theological core.
          .
          Second, despite extensive secularist scholarly exertion, there is no evidentiary equivalent of modern geology to disprove the Resurrection account. What is left instead is an argument over whether extraordinary claims require extraordinary proof. I would argue that a prior commitment to classical theism renders the claim itself less extraordinary in light of the uncannily elegant aptness (as described beautifully by, e.g., Athanasius in his work on the fittingness of the Incarnation) of Christ’s life, death, and resurrection as a world-conquering stroke through the Gordian knot of the existential problem of evil.
          .

          Why if “secondary causality” is sometimes violated, is it never violated in such a way that modern science can detect evidence of such violations?

          It certainly reduces the prior probability of Christianity that, as I used to wonder about when I was a young atheist, Christ doesn’t just show up on Letterman one night and reveal Himself to everybody, announce His availability for lab tests, and have done with all the skepticism. The objection is not fatal to Christianity (IMHO), but I concede it’s not without force. Typical responses (correctly, I think) cite to Christ’s admonition that only the sign of Jonah (i.e., His descent into the belly of Hell and His Resurrection) would be given to us, on account of miracles not being enough to convince us anyway), and the general consideration that this world remains given over to the Powers of darkness, and that as such, Divine, Marian, and saintly apparitions represent commando incursions into occupied territory, to borrow the imagery of C.S. Lewis, and that such “stealthy” incursions are not to be expected to be full frontal assaults on skepticism on late night television or what have you. This renders Christianity internally consistent, but concededly does not remove the force from the objection as an evidentiary matter when raised by non-Christians. So be it. God wants faith as well as knowledge. This is uncongenial to my own temperament, but then, I’m not God.

          Why do all modern saints perform multiple miracles, but none that pass the James Randi Test?

          Miracles taken into account before canonization tend to be private prayers for healing to deceased people. Given the institutional mechanics of the Randi test (which require preliminary negotiation and contractual agreement between the parties), it would be bizarre to expect people desperately praying for relief to impiously couple their prayers with negotiations with the Randi folks, and it is of course impossible for the hallowed dead themselves to contact Randi to hammer out legal terms, amazing though he be. More generally, that sort of thing just doesn’t seem to be the Divine style: “Thou shalt not put the Lord Thy God to the test.” Not my style, but, again, so what?

  • Niemand

    If you don’t mind my asking, what religion are most members of your family? Were you raised with a particular religion either as belief or default? Are your grandparents, cousins, etc religious, and if so, what religion? (It’s none of my business, of course, and please don’t answer if you feel uncomfortable with doing so. But I’m curious as to whether your Catholicism is a departure from the family’s belief system or a return to it.)

    • leahlibresco

      Atheist. All the family members I knew at all growing up were atheist. And most people at school were secular Jews.

      • Niemand

        Interesting. And more distant relatives? Do you know of a traditional religion of your family?

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

          I had always assumed (perhaps erroneously) that the name “Libresco” involved some Italian ancestry along with the more-often-mentioned Jewish heritage. Depending on how recent, though, it needn’t imply any particular familial connection to Catholicism or any other Christianity.

          • leahlibresco

            Libresco was Librescieu in Romania. My dad’s side is Italian, though, but he’s old, so the people who were Catholic are mostly dead.

  • Steve

    “Catholicism has resisted Invisible Dragon in the Garage Syndrome fairly well.”… fairly well by what metric?? Is there a single supernatural claim that isn’t an Invisible Dragon??

    “It’s not a religion that doesn’t mind what people think, as long as they all get along – it’s truth-seeking.” No, it’s truth-ASSUMING and works its way backward from there. That you might feel like you’re getting something out of it speaks nothing to any claim of truth.

    “When it came to virtue ethics, radical forgiveness, or the logic of marriage-as-covenant, my philosophical development kept prompting quizzical looks and “You know you sound Catholic, right?”” No, it sounds like certain philosophical & ethical positions that resonated with you were similar to certain aspects of catholicism. I may not eat pork and like resting on Saturdays, but it doesn’t mean I’m a Jew.

    “And those answers came out of an argument/discourse/tradition that spanned several millennia and wasn’t shy about telling me that it was nice that I’d notice that people are people, not moral quiz questions, but I needed to do something about the contempt for the material world, or nothing doing.”… I’m unclear what this means.

    “Catholicism is specific enough to make philosophical demands and to do me the courtesy of not pretending it’s no big deal to differ with them. It welcomes faith seeking understanding, but spurns the comfort of agree to disagree.” That’s the most polite way of saying ‘They have an specific but unsupported worldview and you’re wrong if your views differ’

    • ACN

      “Is there a single supernatural claim that isn’t an Invisible Dragon??”

      Yeah. I was pretty confused by that too.

      • Darren

        The RCC, being one of the most successful mimetic organisms in history, has extremely well adapted Invisible Dragon defenses. Think of them as antibodies, and they have had 2,000 years to develop, test, and refine them.

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

        The point is they make falsifiable claims. The existence of the Catholic church after 2000 years still teaching the same gospel. Even the specific offices of pope and bishop need to continue to the end of time or the faith is false. Look at the protestant world. How many churches are more than 200 years old, let alone 2000? Of the ones that are how many teach anything close to what they taught 200 years ago? Infallibility is inherently falsifiable.
        I know as a protestant I studied the Jehovah’s Witnesses and the Mormons. Both made claims of infallibility. Both have had to walk back infallible teachings over and over again. This is normal for human institutions. That was good context for making a similar study of Catholicism. A much longer history and the alleged contradictions were quite lame and easily answered. The most frequently cited examples were cases where no teaching meeting the criteria of infallibility was issued, like the Galileo case.

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

          Randy, that’s a really interesting point. I imagine the atheist response would be that our Church, as a more longstanding and successful memetic evolutionary adapter than the JW or LDS faiths, happens to have cannily avoided claiming to teach infallibly in areas where it might find its teachings falsified. Back to the Invisible Dragon in the Garage again, IOW. How would you reply to that?

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

            I would ask them to familiarize themselves with the history of Christian thought. I don’t think the church has been shy about calling councils and thus making infallible statements. I would suggest they start with Bl John Henry Newman

            http://www.newmanreader.org/works/development/

          • Darren

            Irenist said;

            “Randy, that’s a really interesting point. I imagine the atheist response would be that our Church, as a more longstanding and successful memetic evolutionary adapter than the JW or LDS faiths, happens to have cannily avoided claiming to teach infallibly in areas where it might find its teachings falsified. Back to the Invisible Dragon in the Garage again, IOW. How would you reply to that?”

            Ah, but you’d have made a fine Atheist… ;)

        • Steve

          “The point is they make falsifiable claims.” I’m curious what falsifiable claims have been made regarding the existence of supernatural phenomena?

          “The existence of the Catholic church after 2000 years still teaching the same gospel. Even the specific offices of pope and bishop need to continue to the end of time or the faith is false. Look at the protestant world. How many churches are more than 200 years old, let alone 2000? Of the ones that are how many teach anything close to what they taught 200 years ago?” Am I to understand that the truths of a religious belief system are dependent on how long they’ve been practiced? Is catholicism (or greater Christianity) the oldest belief system still practiced?

          “A much longer history and the alleged contradictions were quite lame and easily answered. The most frequently cited examples were cases where no teaching meeting the criteria of infallibility was issued, like the Galileo case.” I read that as ‘We are infallible… except on the inconveniently numerously cited occassions when we clearly weren’t, so we just make up a poor excuse for why these occassions somehow don’t count and dismiss bringing them up as lame.’

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

            Now you are moving the goalposts. Not only does the faith need to be falsifiable but it needs to avoid holding the critics to any standard of logic. Even the standard of actually getting the Catholic claims right.

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

            Steve,
            You seem to be making the arguments I mentioned to Randy.

            Am I to understand that the truths of a religious belief system are dependent on how long they’ve been practiced?

            No, of course not. Although a Catholic might see something providential in Old Testament Judaism being roughly contemporaneous with the alphabetic literacy instrumental to preserving it, and the Incarnation occurring right when cosmopolitan empires (Rome, Persia) were well-positioned to enable its spread. An atheist, of course, would argue that nothing is thereby shown than that memetic replicators (Judaism, Christianity) were in the right place at the right time. No conclusively falsifiable reading of the history would be available to either party, and the topic would soon be a weariness of the flesh.

            Is catholicism (or greater Christianity) the oldest belief system still practiced?

            Hinduism or Zoroastrianism, I should think. Probably depends on whether the Vedic sacrifices are seen as proto-Hinduism or just early Hinduism. Can’t recall w/o checking la Wik. Tangentially, IMHO Christianity is better thought of as the elder daughter of Temple Judaism, with Rabbinic Judaism being the very slightly younger sister–originating c. 70 CE instead of c. 33 AD. But that’s a minority view, AFAIK–most people take the claim of Rabbinic Judaism to just be the surviving form of Temple Judaism as a historical given.
            .
            As for within Christianity, Catholicism and Orthodoxy are best thought of (IMHO) with John Paul II as two “lungs” of one Church rather than as denominations that ought to fight over which was founded at Pentecost and which in 1054 AD. Orthodox may disagree: they often seem to think of Catholicism as a “Frankish” proto-Protestant heresy.
            .
            Catholics will argue that Protestantism dates from the sixteenth century, whereas, e.g., Protestant sources like the old Baptist “Trail of Blood” tract will often argue that various ancient and medieval heretics were actually righteous proto-Protestants. So all three (Catholics, Orthodox, Protestants) will have arguments that they are part of the oldest church, in a way. The Copts and Assyrians probably have similar arguments, although I’m unfamiliar with them.

            I read that as ‘We are infallible… except on the inconveniently numerously cited occassions when we clearly weren’t, so we just make up a poor excuse for why these occassions somehow don’t count and dismiss bringing them up as lame.’

            Excellent point. This is why I think the argumentative arrow should flow from Loving God -> Teaching Authority Vouchsafed to a Universal Church to Shepherd His Beloved People rather than the other way round. I seem to differ from Randy on that, which is why I’m interested in what he has to say on the matter. The naturalness of the argumentative arrow I’m advocating (if the Incarnation, then surely some Providential provision to ensure memory of it is preserved) probably contributes to the desire mentioned above of most Christian denominations to find plausible grounds for being in a continuous line from the primitive Christians. The only strong counterexample I can think of is the LDS doctrine of the Great Apostasy, and like everything LDS, it’s rather sui generis.

          • Steve

            Irenist… It’s starting to get confusing as to who is quoting who so I’ll try to be clear… from reading Randy’s post (@2:37pm) it seemed he was implying some sort of validity to the church churches claims simply due to the fact that it had been doing for a long time (2000 years vs. less than 200 for others). My point was (in the perhaps confusing form of posing questions) that how long you’ve been doing something isn’t evidence for correctness. In terms of asking whether or not there are older belief systems, it again wasn’t a question I didn’t know the answer to (the simple answer is there are). It was meant to point out that if age is the yard stick for religious validity then Catholicism is not the oldest out there. It wasn’t a request for a history lesson (but bravo anyway). I like that you use so many terms that I have to google. LOL!

          • Darren

            Seconded. Irenist should get click-through payments from Wikipedia. It is the only way I can even keep him in sight. :)

            The discussion of relative age as a metric for truth claims (or not) reminded me of my brief foray into Paganism following my deconversion. I was exploring the idea that the God’s, if they existed, would more likely have preceded from Man instead of vice versa; a Jungian Paganism if you will (I get no credit for making up that name). Africa being the oldest habitation of man, it made sense to me to explore traditional African religions and their syncretized children: Vodou, Santeria, and Condomble. That was an… interesting… time in my life. I am still rather favorably disposed to them.

            A lovely book in that vein is Neil Gaiman’s “ American Gods ”. If you have not read it, clear your list and do so now.

    • Guest

      Steve,
      I suppose the irony of your insistence for proof of the truth of Catholicism without any proof of your own that it’s not the truth is lost on you. That is the ultimate atheist blind spot – not seeing how you don’t hold yourselves to the same proof standard you demand of others.

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

        I don’t think that’s a productive argument for us Catholics to make: we shouldn’t be expecting atheists to prove a negative.

        • Guest

          I think it’s spot on and exactly to the point.

        • Mike

          But that’s their entire case isn’t it?

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

            Sort of. Certainly, atheist attempts to find foundational grounds for morality usually seem to me to end in Advantage: Thomism. (Not “Advantage: Theism,” because non-classical theist accounts of ethics are defeated handily by Euthyphro.)
            .
            For me, I’d like to see atheists engage with Aquinas’ Five Ways and persuade me that he has failed to demonstrate classical theism. However, where I differ from Guest is that I think that atheists need only persuade me that the theist case fails, not that theirs succeeds. Their burden is one of critique, not proof. Given contemporary trends in philosophy (the prominence of atheism and materialism, e.g.), I think that’s only fair to them.

      • Steve

        I suppose my lack of proof for the non-existence of God (or any other supernatural claim) is the same as my lack of proof for the non-existence of Unicorns or the Tooth Fairy.

        If that’s the best response you can come up with… I can live with that.

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

          Right. Russell’s teapot, “weak” atheism, “absence of a god belief,” etc.
          .
          This, Guest, is why I think the argument you’re making is unproductive. Atheists win it and deserve to.

        • Guest

          Ah yes, the tired atheist memes – you forgot Zeus and Santa.

          And by your proof rationale, atoms didn’t exist before STM microscopes and computers made them ‘real’. Sorry, you’ll have to do better than that.

          • Darren

            But, they are not tired until you refute them, dear Guest.

            Explain why I do not have to prove my garden grows not by the agency of diligent fairies and I will give you my proof that your God did not hang the planets from their hooks.

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

            Honestly, Guest, in the absence of an acquaintance with the metaphysics underlying classical theism, I think an “absence of Zeus belief”-type stance is a towering peak in the landscape of worldview-space. Once the distinction is drawn between God (Who Is Being) and Zeus and teapots and dragons (which are beings), classical theism can begin its deductive demonstrations. But until then, people’s skepticism seems to me quite understandable. The only non-Thomist-type defeater of the atheist memes mentioned I’ve heard of that supposedly works is Plantinga’s account of Properly Basic Beliefs. Both because I’m enough of a Thomist that I’d find Plantinga’s support superfluous to my Christianity, and because his argument strikes me as worryingly close to the Fideism of his own Reformed heritage, I haven’t bothered to learn much about it. Still, other than arguments like those of Aquinas and Plantinga, I’m not aware of any defeaters for those memes that persuade serious philosophers. So unless Plantinga’s argument proceeds from something like “theism is as properly basic a belief as atheism, so you need to disprove God just as much (or as little) as I need to prove Him,” I don’t see where you’re going with this. Of course, you may have something brilliant up your sleeve I’m totally missing. I miss a lot; it wouldn’t be surprising.

          • Steve

            The earth is flat because I’m tired of the ‘world is round’ argument. Seriously, that’s the best you can come up with?

            My argument doesn’t suggest those things didn’t exist. What it does suggest it that we had little reason to be convinced of their existence without evidence. The burden of proof falls on the one making the claim. While demanding proof of non-existence is an absurd & laughable argument (and clearly the strongest one you have) that can be used to ‘prove’ the existence of anything, I concede that I lack proof for the non-existence of anything that has never in any point been observed, such as deities, unicorns or santa & zeus.

          • Mike

            But the Christian God is not “inside” the universe, He is outside it; He is the God of the whole show. But he did become a human being and he can perform miracles which weave themselves into history and have a real impact: like the almost immediate emergence of Christianity seemingly out of nowhere in no time.

          • Mike

            Darren aren’t you confusing the how with agency? Just because you know how a ford is built doesn’t mean Henry Ford isbecomes unnecessary. Or is it that you’re confusing or conflating 2 levels of explanation? The garden grows because of the application of the sun and whatever but that doesn’t mean that the universe grows because of some law that CAUSES it to move. Remember laws don’t actually do anything, they aren’t agents, they describe things.

          • Guest

            Darren,
            I don’t care that atheists can’t disprove the existence of God, UNTIL they come onto a Catholic blog and start sneering about lack of proof for the existence of God.

            A person can be a true agnostic (I actually respect that) and withhold any belief about God either way, absent any ‘proof’, whatever than means to them – but that would demand an honest lack of bias giving equal respect and probabilty to both sides of the issue.

            When they drag their sorry atheist butt onto a Catholic forum what atheists can’t do with any integrity is demand a level of proof they themselves cannot produce. Yet that is exactly what is being demanded by the content and tone of most of the atheists who post on Catholic forums. They don’t come here to be unbiased – they come here in an attempt to disprove Catholic belief while being unable to give one iota of proof of their own. I have every intention to continue pointing out the hypocrisy every time I run across it.

          • Steve

            Guest… Your posts reak of your own personal inadequacies that see legitimate criticisms as people sneering. Your silly argument (if one can even call it that) demanding proof of non-existence doesn’t somehow become legitimized if your positions are being attacked by skeptics.

            I’d say most (if not all) atheists are technically agnostic with regards to god’s existence in the same way their agnostic about the existence of Santa Clause and feel that the belief in either is equally rational.

            Why in the world should anyone consider an equal probability of gods existence or his non-existence. 2 options doesn’t mean 50/50 odds. I can make a shot at half court. It goes in or it doesn’t. NOT 50/50 odds. I can play the lotto. I win or I don’t. NOT 50/50 odds. I could leap head first off a 50 story building. I die or I don’t. NOT 50/50 odds. You’re demanding equal respect that you simply do not deserve.

            Claims for existence are inherently different from claims for non-existence. Truth claims for existence are provable with sufficient evidence (hell, any evidence would be more than you currently have). Truth claims for non-existence are unprovable and ultimately irrational as they can be used to suggest the existence of anything. The burden of proof if not on the skeptic in this situation. Sorry that reality wrecks your worldview.

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

            Steve and Guest,
            You two seem to be having some sort of semantic argument over whether atheism = “weak atheism”/agnosticism or “strong atheism” at this point. Is that a fair summary?

          • Guest

            Steve,
            I doubt very much you have any experience dialoguing with agnostics capable of gracefully holding the tension between belief and unbelief in themselves given that you probably spend most of your time hanging out in NewAtheistThought echo chambers when you’re not on Catholics blogs sneering about belief in God.

            In case you missed it, I’m not the one with personal inadequacies as evidenced by the fact I don’t hang out on the atheist forum and sneer at their religious beliefs.

          • Steve

            Guest… clearly I’m “hanging out in NewAtheistThought echo chambers” by posting on a CATHOLIC blog…

            Irenist… I’m not speaking of a difference b/t strong & weak atheist positions, though as a side note I think the difference is a technicality, but ultimately semantic one. I realize I briefly dove into that when refuting why Guest is incorrect in assuming equal regards, but that wasn’t the crux of this particular thread. I’m pointing out burden of proof issues between claims for existence vs. claims for non-existence.

  • Pingback: Why AM I Catholic? – UPDATED

  • Darren

    Having lost track of the threads, I shall just post this at the bottom.

    Leah’s support for SSM is perfectly in keeping with her being Catholic. After all, becoming a “real” Catholic means picking and choosing which parts of Catholic teaching to agree with, and which parts to ignore, just like all the other real Catholics. ;)

    See?

    On a more serious note, it would be a fair bet, being a conflicted Catholic, to hedge on the SSM issue for, oh, say a decade or two… Look at the strides the RCC has made in assimilating itself to the divorce paradigm – last I looked, Protestants, Catholics, and “Nones” were statistically indistinguishable. Catholics are lagging behind in the remarriage rates, but not that far, and catching up. I am sure Newt and Bill can help lead the way.

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

      Leah only mentions her impression that opposition to *civil* SSM is a prudential matter, i.e., a matter of political judgment on which opinions may licitly differ within the Church. Like Leah (IIRC), I think civil SSM is an inevitable and (in many ways) positive development, similar in that respect to legal changes regarding contraception and divorce. None of that changes my wholehearted assent to Church teaching that, as a moral matter, the bad outweighs the good in each of these.
      .
      In my case, I defer to the bishops on civil SSM because I think there are good grounds for Catholics to default to deference. But while I do defer to the bishops on the prudential matter of civil SSM, I also rather strongly suspect that on the strictly prudential matter they will soon enough add it to the list of things (contraception, divorce) that are rightly taught by the Church to be immoral, but that ought not, prudentially, to be illegal in a pluralist democracy. Nostalgia for Christendom is making that take longer than I might like. But they are the bishops and I am not, so I wait, and avoid attending rallies on either side of the question.

      • Darren

        Fair enough, and I am all for prudence.

        • Guest

          Does prudence – for you – also extend to taking sexual relations out of the equation of civil marriage and opening it up to any two adults (e.g., siblings) who want to create a legal union for all the benefits it conveys? Because I think justice and equality and non-discrimination would probably demand it once you open up the definition of marriage to that beyond the traditional meaning. Why should a sexual relationship be the defining feature of marriage any longer when marriage isn’t just about male/female proceation?

          • Skittle

            Personally, I wish that’s what the UK had done when they introduced civil partnerships: it would have solved the future problem, as well as current injustice, without the brawl over rights that is brewing.

            Just set up “civil partnerships” as legally recognised partnerships, with no reference to religious or cultural ideas of marriage. Have them created by signing a register in a civil building. Decouple it completely from marriage, which would be left to religious and cultural groups to practice as they wished. It would have been honest disestablishment, taking the government out of the question of marriage.

            Instead, they set up ‘civil partnerships’ as legally identical to marriage, except exclusively for same-sex couples in a romantic relationship. And now certain people are compaigning to change the name, as if this was a great issue of civil rights, as if this would have no repercussions for religious groups given that we live in a country with a state religion that has a legal obligation to marry people, and given that EU advisors have specifically said that doing so would create a rights issue.

            No, I’d be very pleased if civil partnerships were completely decoupled from ideas of marriage.

    • Theodore Seeber

      There is only one reasonable answer to SSM left that fits both Catholic teaching AND the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment of the US Constitution:
      Elimination of civil marriage in favor of civil unions. Leave marriage to religious and get rid of the charade that a civil union is about anything other than how laws relate to voluntary adult households of whatever stripe.

      • Darren

        Fine with me.

        Eliminate automatic power of attorney, tax breaks, assumed paternity, inheritance exemptions, pension benefits, adoption preferences, the whole thing unless a civil union is held. Somehow, I doubt you will find much support for the idea, though.

      • Darren

        All snark aside, that is actually a very reasonable and fair suggestion. Well done.

        I believe that France did something very much along these lines. Last I checked, it had resulted in about 50% of hetero couples forgoing sacramental unions altogether.

        I predict such a move would satisfy the partisans on neither side, but it very likely might fly with the 60% middle.

        • Theodore Seeber

          If you haven’t noticed, in the under 30 set, so has the existence of divorce in the United States. I have many friends with children who have forgone both sacramental and civil marriage, sometimes even for financial reasons (there is good reason to do so if one member of the partnership has a lot of debt, or makes a good deal less than the other, or they are widowers and there are SSI payments involved). Like college, civil economic marriage only really “fits” a small segment of humanity. The material outcomes are better, but it is completely possible to have a happy life just living together. And if no children are involved, well, there’s no real reason for even a civil union.

          I’m very much for removing the Government from not only my church- but from everybody’s religious belief structures.

          • Darren

            Ted said;

            “I’m very much for removing the Government from not only my church- but from everybody’s religious belief structures.”

            Well, that is something we can both agree on. Well said.

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

      So he starts out with this:
      (a) life came from a process of physical and then biological evolution that had nothing whatsoever to do with supernatural forces

      (b) life is not meant for anything, it just is (although we do construct meanings for our own existence); and

      (c) it should be lived in a way that is both moral and allows individuals to flourish in whatever way suits them best.

      The first part of (a) science is getting close to showing. The second part is just an unsubstantiated assertion.

      Likewise (b) only follows from the unsubstantiated part of (a).

      (c) actually contradicts (b). If (b) is true then you can say nothing about how life should be lived. Who cares about morality or flourishing or what suits people? Pursuing wine, women and song would be more fun.

      • Guest

        and once again the atheist/relativist definition of “moral” just appears out of nowhere with no objective definition and no objective authority. And if I decide through my own self-adopted moral code that I flourish best by robbing, raping, and killing to get what I want then where in this ‘code’ is that prohibited and on whose authority would it be called wrong?

        • Val

          Dude, the code of Hammurabi wasn’t the Ten Commandments but it still functioned as a social framework.

          Without God we are not suddenly ravening mass murderers.

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

            Val,

            Without God we are not suddenly ravening mass murderers.

            Sure: many atheists are far better folks than I am. But to back up Guest for a sec here, how can you respond if someone with deeply different ethical intuitions than you (a warmonger or an SSM opponent, perhaps?) were to ask “On what possible ground can you argue that I’m wrong?”
            I seem to recall you having some very good things to say about this in another thread. I think Guest may be trying to elicit such here.

          • Val

            Irenist,
            I would *not* begin such an argument on the grounds of arbitrary authority, and I would (and do) multiply by zero any arguments presented from that position. If I had a real interest in persuading such a person that their behaviors were harmful, I would first look for places where we could agree what “harm” is. If that basic common ground could not be found then I would either cock my eyebrows and walk away or get ready to defend myself, if the harm I believe in was also something I was likely to experience at their hands.

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

            Val,
            Would it be fair then, to characterize your methodology as induction from an agreed ethical norm (involving specific acts of harm in this case) as opposed to trying to deduce ethics from first principles? Not setting a trap, btw, just trying to get a handle on where you’re coming from.

          • Val

            Darn good question, Irenist, and one which I am not currently equipped to answer in any but a lazy way, which would do us both a disservice. Generally, your perceptions are good enough that I’m inclined to simply agree, but let me think carefully about it and I’ll get back to you via email.

          • Guest

            Val,
            I didn’t say you were ” ravening mass murders” so don’t go off the deep end. What I did point out is that under the ‘code’ that Randy posted I could be a ravening mass murderer and still be in apparent moral good-standing. Such is relativism – it relies on a ton of assumptions about people behaving themselves but has holes in it big enough to accomodate genocide. Oh wait! I just explained how 55 million abortions can happen in the US didn’t I? Each one of which had it’s own individual moral rationale too I’m sure

          • Guest

            Andrew,
            I don’t care if you accept that what we Catholics say is morally true IS true. But at least we have a coherent, objectively consistent, and well developed moral theology that informs our moral decisions and makes them more than a personal whim. And quite frankly, the 5000 yr old Judeo-Christian morality that undergirds our Constitution, our Bill of Rights, and our legal system is the only thing standing between your human rights and the anarchy that would exist if pure relativism took it’s place.

            Most relativists are like spoiled, self-centered little children. They think they are such independent thinkers/actors while being childishly oblivious to how much they are protected from harm by the grownup in their midst – the Judeo-Christian moral code – that was responsible for putting the rules in place that keep them safe from themselves.

          • Ray

            “the 5000 yr old Judeo-Christian morality” You mean 3000 year old — and even that’s a stretch. The law codes in the old testament all stem from the late monarchic period at the earliest. Christianity of course is a later invention (Although its system of morality is heavily based in Greek Pagan Philosophy. — but then Graeco-Christian doesn’t sound as holy, now does it.)

            “that undergirds our Constitution, our Bill of Rights, and our legal system”

            Compare: “I am the LORD your God … you shall have no other gods before me … you shall not take the name of the LORD your God in vain”
            to “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech”

            Come to think of it, the first three clauses of the first amendment do seem to line up nicely with the first three commandments in Talmudic numbering, but not the way you might hope.

            As for the legal system — when was the last time a court tried to settle a marital dispute by the method of Numbers 5:11-31 or ordered the death penalty for working on a Saturday? Also, staples of our legal and political system like democracy and trial by Jury were adopted in Athens long before any Abrahamic faith ever thought of using them.

        • AndrewR

          Guest, you’re right that atheists can’t point to an “objectively grounded” source for our moral intuitions in the way that a Christian can – sucks to be us.

          (I know there are atheistic attempts to ground moral values but IMO these are either misguided or aren’t using the work ‘objective’ the way theists do).

          However, from the atheist viewpoint, the theist doesn’t have objectively grounded morals either, because they’re grounded in God, and God doesn’t exist.

          Consequently, I find the “so how do you know you moral intuitions are right?” line of apologetic as unconvincing as the “so how do you know where the universe came from?” argument. In both cases, you’ve just made up an answer and are feeling superior because I admit that I don’t know.

          • Darren

            AndrewR said;

            ”Guest, you’re right that atheists can’t point to an “objectively grounded” source for our moral intuitions in the way that a Christian can – sucks to be us.

            However, from the atheist viewpoint, the theist doesn’t have objectively grounded morals either, because they’re grounded in God, and God doesn’t exist.

            Let’s not be so hasty to give up ground, AndrewR.

            Even should we grant the existence of God, the Theist still has no Objective Morality for their morality depends upon God and is thus subjective.

            Unless they choose to _define_ their way to victory, of course.

          • Theodore Seeber

            Not knowing isn’t the problem. But you’ve got a far worse problem.

            The scientific method is a form of moral objectivity in and of itself. Without a God to set up the laws and rules that we examine in the effects of those laws and rules in the material world, how can we possibly have anything to examine at all?

            Forget about the fact we can’t know everything the mind of God has done- there’s a significant difference in scale between an infinite creator and the finite created- if God doesn’t exist and/or is irrational, then how can I be sure the Flying Spaghetti Monster isn’t going to spontaneously generate out of my roof tomorrow and fill my bed with ragu?

          • Erick

            ==Even should we grant the existence of God, the Theist still has no Objective Morality for their morality depends upon God and is thus subjective. ==

            This is only if you define God in the way Atheists do, which tend to be limited (i.e. the God of the Gaps). The thing about Catholics is that we don’t have a limited definition of God. If you could use two words besides “Jesus Christ” to define the Catholic God, it would be “ultimate reality”. And even then, I’m not sure if that covers God’s scope. Once you understand God in that way, then you understand why Catholics understand that morality is objective in the same way the universe is objective.

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

            Unless they choose to _define_ their way to victory, of course.

            A rather pejorative summary of the classical theist answer to Euthyphro, but I’ll allow it.

          • Darren

            Erick said;

            ” This is only if you define God in the way Atheists do, which tend to be limited (i.e. the God of the Gaps). The thing about Catholics is that we don’t have a limited definition of God. If you could use two words besides “Jesus Christ” to define the Catholic God, it would be “ultimate reality”. And even then, I’m not sure if that covers God’s scope. Once you understand God in that way, then you understand why Catholics understand that morality is objective in the same way the universe is objective.”

            Yes, we are familiar with Aquinas, thus the “unless they define their way to victory”.

            God = Good, Good = God, and it’s all perfectly Objective, outside the universe but still all the universe, outside of time but still able to act temporally, unchanging but potent, yes, yes, it’s right there in the definition section.

            The problem with Thomism is that you have to assume Thomism to prove Thomism, then it makes perfect sense (and it does, quite appealingly so).

            Until you can demonstrate how these things are the way you ‘understand’ them to be, without swallowing 24 axioms to start with, they remain naked assertions and no more plausible than any other naked assertion.

            This will sound unreasonable of me. There can’t really be that many unfounded assumptions required.

            I will send you a copy of the Summa Theologica with a search and replace FSM for God if it helps…

            And yes, I am aware we have some pretty robust Thomists here, and if they would like to convince me that these are anything other than naked assertions and logical derivations standing on naked assertions, I am the attentive student. ;)

          • Darren

            Irenist said;

            ” A rather pejorative summary of the classical theist answer to Euthyphro, but I’ll allow it.”

            Playful, my dear Irenist. I know you’ve just been waiting for a chance to pull out a Thomist smackdown, and I invested some of last nights insomnia reading Feser… ;)

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

            A “Thomist smackdown”? You flatter me, sir.

            if they would like to convince me that these are anything other than naked assertions and logical derivations standing on naked assertions

            I happily concede that Thomism rests on axioms. That was part of my point about the Agrippan trilemma upthread: these endless arguments humans have about these matters seem to hint that part of our problem is that which leg of the trilemma to settle for as the least bad option (and which axioms to choose if the axiomatic leg seems least bad) is in part a gut/aesthetic matter, to which the “de gustibus” proverb of undecidability applies. I suspect, my friend, that you have a few axioms of your own. In which case, to paraphrase the off-color G.B. Shaw anecdote, we are now only haggling over which axioms to allow. I think the axioms underlying, e.g., Aquinas’ version of the cosmological argument (crucially, the act/potency distinction) are credible. YMMV….

          • Darren

            Irenist said;

            ” to paraphrase the off-color G.B. Shaw anecdote, we are now only haggling over which axioms to allow.”

            Touche!

            That is the best rejoinder I have heard in, well, perhaps ever!

            And in any case, I should do more reading and then just ask you a few direct questions, instead of wasting your time having you write a characteristically thorough explication.

          • Erick

            Darren,

            ==Yes, we are familiar with Aquinas, thus the “unless they define their way to victory”.==

            Unfortunately, I’m not a Thomist. I’m more of a generic Catholic.

            ==God = Good, Good = God, and it’s all perfectly Objective==

            I believe you are missing a few steps in the chain of logic, which is probably why you find it unconvincing. My logic usually goes:
            existence = good –> God = existence –> God = good.

            It’s transitive, not circular.

            ==Until you can demonstrate how these things are the way you ‘understand’ them to be==

            I only require one axiom, the same one that’s been presented by Christians for 2000 years: Jesus existed, died, and resurrected. This is where Catholicism starts. Because of it’s historical nature (it’s either bluntly true or not, there is no gray), this axiom is useful no matter what preconceived biases you come with.

            People like to ask Leah how she chose Catholicism, but to me it’s rather simple. Leah came with her biases, and found enough appeal in Catholicism. Jesus did the rest.

            Frankly, arguments about the rationality of the Catholic faith is a waste of time. If one starts from the original Gospel claim, one understands that there is rationality on both the truth and false aisles. The important question is not rationality. The important question is Truth.

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

            Frankly, arguments about the rationality of the Catholic faith is a waste of time.

            The Church strenuously disagrees; fideism is a Calvinistic heresy. Consult the encyclical “Fides et Ratio,” or paragraph 37 of the Catechism and the conciliar decrees of Vatican I and Vatican II cited therein.

          • Erick

            You misunderstand Irenist.

            I do not advocate fideism. I am merely pointing out that:

            1. In philosophy, rationality is the characteristic of any action, belief, or desire, that makes their choice optimal under a set of constraints.

            2. If one accepts the Gospel premise, then Catholicism is optimal (at least vs atheism anyway).

            3. The question to answer then is not rationality. The question to answer is, “Is the Gospel true?”

        • Guest

          Ray,
          As much as I regret giving attention to you in your straining for gnats, in hopes you will stop spreading error, you need to understand that the ‘judeo’ morality I’m speaking of comes from the time of Abraham, not Moses. Perhaps you don’t know the Bible but you should if you are going to make critiques based on it. As just one example, the lesson given us about Sodom and Gomorrah was temporal with Abraham. Abraham knew that those cities were an offense against God – hence God’s morality was already being revealed.

          • Darren

            Interesting, normally the Catholic Church tends to ownplay day the old estament tay, at least when moral standards are concerned.

            Gotta’ say, if I had to pick between Abraham and Aquinas, that’s how I would pick as well…

          • Ray

            Guest. I assume you are aware that mainstream history regards both Moses and Abraham as mythical. But even if I were to grant you a historical Abraham who lived when the Bible’s internal chronology suggested, you’d still only get 4000 years.

          • Guest

            Ray,
            I’ll accept your 4000 yr figure if you’ll accept the veracity of the book you got it from.

            The mainstream history you draw from is mainstream atheism – so no, I am not at all aware of your claim nor do I agree with it.

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

      I think Pigliucci’s atheism is actually more of a local optimum in worldview-space than Gutting’s cafeteria Catholicism, FWIW. Lewis’ trilemma doesn’t work very well against those who choose “legend” as a fourth leg, but it was designed for the milk-and-water likes of Gutting and defeats such easily.

      • deiseach

        Sure, but when you say “legend”, what kind of legend do you have in mind? The euhemerist kind? Or the 19th century example (in an old book I read) where the legend of Hercules and Iole is explained as Hercules = the sun, Iole = the sunset clouds (because apparently her name means “purple”) – the ‘myth is a disease of language’ notion.

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

          Euhemerist, mostly. Artorius -> Arthur kind of thing. The Bible doesn’t strike me as at all intended to convey insight about natural history. Even the Creation narrative of Genesis 1 seems to me more about the nature of God than about nature, although there’s plenty of folk-cosmology in it for spice, just like O.T. Hebrew is spiced with endless puns.
          .
          Euhemerist examples: the Church teaches that all humans descend from Adam (and presumably the other 100,000 or so humanlike folks alive during the human population bottleneck, but Adam is the theologically relevant one), but I doubt he called himself “Adam,” and he probably lived in Africa, not between a bunch of Near Eastern rivers. Any Marxist could tell you that the Fertile Crescent’s transition from pastoralism to urbanism involved lots of greedy expropriation by ziggurat-building bosses backed by armed thugs, so maybe Cain and Abel stem from an insight (or distant memory) about that sort of thing. There’s some evidence for a flood along the Anatolian coast being the inspiration for stories like those of Utnapishtim in Mesopotamia and our own story of Noah–so maybe real guy, smaller flood. There’s scant extant evidence in Egyptian records for the exodus, so the historical core of that tale may also have grown in the telling. King David, to be sure, is an externally attested historical figure, but it’s unclear outside the Bible if he was quite the regional bigshot of later Israelite memory. And so on. YMMV. That’s okay. Catholics’ intellectual latitude here is broad, AFAIK.
          .
          Schliemann taught the world at Troy that ancient legends often deserved more credence than scoffing higher critics prefer, so I don’t assume it’s all just made up. But where the more grandiose versions passed down in the Bible (global rather than regional flood, obviously noteworthy plagues in Egypt) seem not to jibe with the historical record, I don’t fret about it anymore than I would if some Marian apparition or Eucharistic miracle were disproved: the core of the faith is the Resurrection miracle. We should by default defer to the Bible, just as we should by default defer to the prudential judgments of our bishops, but we needn’t worry archeologists will disprove something essential to Catholic dogma unless they find Christ’s corpse in Jerusalem, or Mary’s in Ephesus.

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

            Oh, to be clear: I don’t think that the Gospels are a Euhermerist narrative at all. They are of a completely different character than the O.T. So, specific to Lewis’ trilemma, I think the choice of “Lord” over “legend” is appropriate, and of course think that “liar” and “lunatic” are frivolous options.

          • Ray

            “we needn’t worry archeologists will disprove something essential to Catholic dogma unless they find Christ’s corpse in Jerusalem, or Mary’s in Ephesus.”

            Surely you’re aware that this is overwhelmingly unlikely to happen, whether Atheism is true or not. Doesn’t this make Catholicism a garage dragon-type belief? Also, shouldn’t the failure of history and Archaeology to support Biblical claims to which you would otherwise defer count as evidence against, at the very least, the belief that you should defer to Biblical authority where miracles are concerned?

            Also:

            “First, genre criticism considerations; e.g., the naming of various witnesses as sources according to Hellenistic citational convention throughout cut as strongly against the Gospels as legendary as they do in favor of Genesis as largely Israelite folktale–although, I hasten to add, folktale reflective of a historical and theological core.”

            What does this refer to? I’m not aware of any of the Gospels citing where they got their info. For at least two of the synoptics, one of the primary sources has to be the third Synoptic, or a similar lost gospel, and I’m quite sure none of the Gospel authors admit to doing that. Worse, Mark, without the interpolated ending verses 16:9-20, seems to preclude the possibility of anyone hearing eyewitness testimony of the resurrection. “they said nothing to anyone because they were afraid.”

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

            Surely you’re aware that this is overwhelmingly unlikely to happen, whether Atheism is true or not.

            Yes.

            Doesn’t this make Catholicism a garage dragon-type belief?

            Yes, for practical purposes; I was surprised when Leah said differently: she seemed to be speaking of moral claims in particular, rather than evidentiary claims of the sort for which garage dragons are an argumentative trope. The Resurrection was far less of a garage dragon for the earliest Christians than it is for us. Of the other testable things (the Shroud of Turin, e.g.), belief in none of them is required, and our canny memetic engineers (atheist view)/honest seekers after Truth (Catholic view) would drop them like a hot potato if contradicted.

            Also, shouldn’t the failure of history and Archaeology to support Biblical claims to which you would otherwise defer count as evidence against, at the very least, the belief that you should defer to Biblical authority where miracles are concerned?

            Yes. I don’t think it’s conclusive evidence (or I wouldn’t be Christian), but I’d be a dishonest interlocutor if I didn’t admit that the case for Christianity would be stronger if there was tons of proof of the veracity of the O.T. accounts: we’re certainly happy enough to trumpet archeological confirmation of King David, e.g., when we can get it, which suggests that the converse hurts our case and we know it. I’ll even concede more: earlier Christians just straightforwardly thought the O.T. narratives (Exodus, Joshua, Samuel, Kings, etc.) were literal history in almost every detail, whatever their entirely correct reservations about, e.g., Genesis 1 being used as a science text. Thus, what from the inside looks to us Christians like deeper understanding of the generic conventions of God’s Word (often legendary O.T. stuff, far more historical N.T.) is quite reasonably going to look to atheists like the Scriptural equivalent of god-of-the-gaps silliness among I.D. proponents: a long retreat to whatever garage dragons remain available in the face of every new evidentiary contradiction.
            .
            Darren speaks upthread of the centuries Catholicism has had to hone its memetic antibodies. If you’re an atheist, that just has to be what this looks like. That’s fair. In fact, I think one of the reasons Evangelical -> New Atheist conversions are so common (at least anecdotally online) is in part because while this point is a powerful boxer’s blow against Catholicism (which is bad enough, I admit), it’s more like a hollow point bullet to the vitals when directed against some hapless young sola scriptura memeplex that’s only been at this since the sixteenth century, and hasn’t historically run its own serious universities full of clerical poindexters who worry about this kind of thing and develop arguments about it. In fact, I think it’s a structural weakness of Protestantism as a memeplex generally: Scripture is asked to bear so much emotional weight in the absence of deeper engagement with either Tradition or metaphysics, that despite the better historical grounds for belief in the N.T. as reportorial, when the O.T. is subjected to “higher criticism,” even more historically scholarly mainline denominations haven’t had the confidence not to just give up on orthodoxy and wander off into the modernist spiritual desert to die there of dessicated irrelevance alongside Bishop Pike. (Google “Bishop James Pike” for his entry in la Wik if you haven’t heard of him; then go enjoy reading the hallucinogenically gnostic P.K. Dick sci-fi trilogy in which one volume is based in part on Pike’s life.)

            What does this refer to? I’m not aware of any of the Gospels citing where they got their info.

            That’s a really great question; sorry I wasn’t clearer. Here’s a great explanation from the great Mark Shea (part most relevant to our discussion italicized):

            The gospels are written as accounts by, or drawn from, eyewitnesses to the events of Jesus’s life. They obey all the literary conventions, not of myth, but of ancient historiography. And their entire point and the only reason the eyewitnesses think it worth telling that story–in four accounts that closely corroborate each other–is that this particular life ends with a death and resurrection that they themselves saw (and went on to die for).
            .
            It’s not just the big things like the corrobrations of the four evangelists who obviously believe the story they are telling. It’s also the little things. The gospels, for instance, periodically name characters in the story who are of no particular importance to the overall tale, such as Bartimaeus the blind beggar, or Malchus, or Jairus, or Simon of Cyrene (father of Alexander and Rufus), or (as we heard at the Easter Vigil) “Mary, the mother of James”. Why do they do this? Because ancient word processors have no footnote function, so the convention in ancient historiography is to name the person who is the source of the tradition in the text. In other words, Simon of Cyrene (and his sons) become members of the Christian community and they are the source of that story about the carrying of the cross–and they are known to the Church at Rome to whom Mark is writing (you can see Paul saying “howdy” to Rufus at the end of Romans). Likewise, “Mary, the mother of James” (that would be “James, the first bishop of Jerusalem, aka the “brother” (really cousin) of the Lord” is also named as “Mary, the wife of Clopas” (aka “Cleopas”, the disciple who meets the Risen Jesus on the Emmaus Road). In short, James of Jerusalem’s mother was an eyewitness of the Crucifixion, was present at the tomb on Easter morning, and his father Clopas had gotten the report from her before heading off to Emmaus and his own strange encounters. These are figures who play no central role in the rest of the gospel accounts, but here they are giving us their testimony through Luke. The whole thing reads exactly like eyewitness interviews, not like myth (though, of course, the story of Christ fulfills the deepest mythic yearnings of our race, as you would expect a real God to do.
            .
            Anyway, all that is to say, the Good News about the Good News is that it is News, not fiction.

            Source for more (the links therein are worth following, too):
            http://www.patheos.com/blogs/markshea/2013/03/if-christ-has-not-been-raised-2.html
            .
            Upshot: Just as historically informed genre criticism reveals much of the O.T. to be legendary (although with a historical core, IMHO), so it just as strongly reveals the N.T. *not* to be legendary. For atheist arguers, particularly of the “Jesus Myth” school, but also for those who add and then select a fourth “legend” leg to Lewis’ trilemma, what higher criticism giveth in the Old Testament, it also taketh away in the New.

          • Ray

            “The gospels, for instance, periodically name characters in the story who are of no particular importance to the overall tale, such as Bartimaeus the blind beggar, or Malchus, or Jairus, or Simon of Cyrene (father of Alexander and Rufus), or (as we heard at the Easter Vigil) “Mary, the mother of James”. Why do they do this? Because ancient word processors have no footnote function, so the convention in ancient historiography is to name the person who is the source of the tradition in the text.”

            Um. Can you cite an example of a mainstream historian trying to reconstruct Herodotus’s sources, for example, by looking for minor characters in his histories? Are we to assume, for example, that Herodotus learned of Dienekes’s “we shall fight in the shade” jibe from the unnamed native of Trachis who was allegedly his interlocutor? I’ve never heard of such a thing. (in fact I’ve generally heard that it was common practice for ancient historians to outright fabricate their dialogue.) Likewise, from what little I have read of the Church fathers, they make it absolutely clear when they are quoting someone, as for example Papias did when quoting John the Presbyter on the origin of the Gospels and as Eusebius did when quoting Papias in turn. The Gospels do no such thing. (btw, it should further be noted that the consensus of higher critical scholarship is that this tradition on the origin of the canonical Gospels is erroneous.)

            As a side note, if I had to guess about the origin of the Simon of Cyrene story including his apparent connection to the historical figure of Rufus, I would assume it was a rumour designed to increase the status of Rufus or his kin within the church — just like the doubting Thomas story was invented to discredit a church that traced it’s origin to Saint Thomas, the Lot story was invented to justify hatred of the Moabites, and the Ruth story was invented to rehabilitate them as potential converts to Judaism. In this respect, the Simon story would have been more effective if it was not construed to be traceable to the relatives of Simon and Cyrene, who stood to benefit from the honor. Thus, I am skeptical that the Gospel authors intended to imply this.

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

            Um. Can you cite an example of a mainstream historian trying to reconstruct Herodotus’s sources, for example, by looking for minor characters in his histories?

            Herodotus, no. In an otherwise unpublished lecture available at the author’s website, the author of the book Mark Shea cites gives this example (using the word inclusio to describe this citation style):

            [A] very fine example from well before the NT period [is] the account of the Roman general Scipio Africanus in Polybius’s history. The pattern of reference in this account to the principal eyewitness on whom Polybius depended, Gaius Laelius, matches very closely the pattern of reference to Peter in Mark’s Gospel, both an inclusio and the frequent occurrence of the name within the inclusio.

            Source: http://richardbauckham.co.uk/uploads/Accessible/Authenticity.pdf
            .
            Elsewhere in the lecture, Bauckhaum (the author) admits that finding pre-NT references has actually been difficult for him, and indeed that most of the ancient sources he’s been able to find that use this citational style postdate the Gospels.
            .
            Here’s an evenhanded short review of Bauckhaum’s book:
            http://www.academia.edu/1056965/REVIEW_of_Jesus_and_the_Eyewitnesses_by_Richard_Bauckham_

            (btw, it should further be noted that the consensus of higher critical scholarship is that this tradition on the origin of the canonical Gospels is erroneous.)

            I’d be inclined to dispute that for at least some definitions of “higher critical.” Frankly, given that views ranging from the orthodoxy of N.T. Wright to the skepticism of Marcus Borg and John Dominic Crossan are considered acceptably mainstream within “historical Jesus” scholarship and its accompanying Gospel debates, I’m not sure that “consensus” has much force as a term here.

            As a side note, if I had to guess about the origin of the Simon of Cyrene story….

            Well, sure, if you assume cynical motives for the composition of the Gospels, they’re going to read differently. As wary of fideism in theology as I may be, Christianity does necessarily depend upon faith (trust) in the community of people who contributed to the Gospels. As the evenhanded review I link above points out, Bauckhaum’s argument neglects the possibility that the inclusio-style citations in the Gospels could have been fabricated to conform to reader’s expectations. I don’t see this as a severe flaw in Bauckhaum’s argument (which is primarily aimed at proving that the *genre* of the Gospels is biography rather than legend, not at proving that it is accurate biography). However, even accepting that the Gospels are generically biographical (rather than legendary like the story of Noah), that doesn’t prove that the Evangelists are trustworthy. I don’t know that anything available to modern scholarship could. As in the garage dragon discussion above, I hasten to concede there is an irreducible element of faith here.

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

            Sorry about the unclosed italics tags in half of the above, Ray.

          • Ray

            I’m afraid I would find this discussion somewhat more convincing if the description of common citational practices of could be found in a context other than discussion of the Gospels. Otherwise it just seems like Baukham has simply exported his motivated reasoning to the interpretation of extra-biblical documents. FWIW, the reviewer you linked seems quite skeptical of that argument in particular. This is a pity since I am fairly sympathetic to a number of things Baukham seems to be getting at:

            1) That similarity between the Synoptics might be explained by localized strands of oral tradition rather than documents as such (I’m not quite sure whether he’s arguing for this rather than just an oral phase prior to the writing of Mark.) Of course, I tend to differ from most mainstream scholars in thinking the period of orality was more like 100 years than 40 for various reasons. Basically, I see no reason to think these things were in any kind of standardized written form before Marcion et al started fighting about it, and there are a few passages in Mark 13 and parallel passages that sound suspiciously like polemics against Simon Bar Kochba.

            2)I have no particular reason to doubt the Gospels were meant to be read as history — the fights in the 2nd century don’t seem to make a whole lot of sense without that assumption. But then, I think there’s an even more compelling case that Joshua was meant as history (on account of its shared authorship with the manifestly historical book of Kings) but of course archaeology has pretty well refuted its accuracy. Which is to say, I don’t think you can sustain the assumption that any part of the Bible, which is meant to be read as history, is accurate, whatever you think the intent of the Gospels was.

  • Theodore Seeber

    Two words:
    Welcome home.

  • butterfly5906

    @Irenist,
    I tend to disagree with a lot of your arguments, but I just wanted to say thanks for making them in a calm and non-insulting manner. As an agnostic who is rather uncomfortable with agnosticism, I read this blog looking for new perspectives on religious topics. Some personalities on both sides of every debate can turn me off to ever “picking a side” at all, so it’s really helpful to read comments where I can think about the content and not the tone.

    • Darren

      Welcome, butterfly 5906;

      If you are interested in exploring these topics, you could hardly do better than Leah’s blog.

      You should also check out The Uncredible HalQ; his current book project is well worth a read and available free of charge, last I looked.

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

      Thanks for you kind words, butterfly5906! I like forward to reading your perspective sometime.

  • Darren

    Well, at 193 comments we may be a bit late, but this seems the best post to ask.

    So, Leah, given Theism, why not Islam or Hinduism? The cynical answer I can supply for myself, but I would like to hear your thoughts.

    • Theodore Seeber

      I’m not Leah and I don’t play her on TV, but I did write an answer to this above (relativistic vs rational worldview) that I think fits in with Leah’s reasoning she’s shown so far (if you haven’t noticed, Islamic and Hindu theologies are in fact on the other side of the moral objectivism/moral relativism debate- Allah isn’t bound by human reason, and the Devas who are incarnations of Krishna have their own agenda as well that is completely separate from mere human notions of reason). Now had you said Orthodox Judaism, Zen Buddhism, or Zorastarianism, we might have something worth talking about, as in those three systems God/The Universe is relatively rational and relatable with respect to human beings, just like Catholicism. Yet, it wasn’t the Jewish, Buddhist, or Zora worlds that created science- it was the Catholic world, combining a rational God and Greek Philosophy, that created what we think of as science today. I find it hard to understand true science able to survive in any other philosophical system.

      • Steve

        There is no ‘versus’ between relativistic & rational world view. It’s irrational to attribute the existence of something or someone without proper cause.

        “Yet, it wasn’t the Jewish, Buddhist, or Zora worlds that created science- it was the Catholic world, combining a rational God and Greek Philosophy, that created what we think of as science today.” This is not in anyway shape or form accurate, and considering the opposition of the church along the way to real science that makes this an absolutely absurdity of the highest order. This is false. This is a lie. This is a ridiculous fabrication. I don’t except your fantasy re-write of history.

        • Darren

          This is a trope that seems to be making its way through the Catholic blog-consciousness. I wonder if it is traceable to “ The Victory of Reason: How Christianity Led to Freedom, Capitalism, and Western Success ” (which I have not read).

          From the versions I have heard bandied about on the internet, it smells of White Man’s Burden, IMO.

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

            This is a trope that seems to be making its way through the Catholic blog-consciousness.

            Motivated by overreaction to being accused of obscurantism, I suspect.

          • Mike

            LOL So the university system, pretty much all of the fundamental scientific discoveries about the nature of the universe, the application of the sci. method the greek philosophical underpinnings, Copernicus, a Catholic priest, Newton, a devout Christian and on and on and on, all this and more did not arise in Christian Europe? Come on.

            Why do you suppose that almost all historically Christian nations are today, wealthy, powerful, just, governed well and basically kicking butt? How are Italians doing around the world? How is Austria doing as an economy? How much technology is there coming out of 30% Catholic S. Korea? Hmm, how about Poland which has suffered more than most. How is its economy, how many of its scientists are working for google and intel?Really.

          • Darren

            Mike said;

            “Why do you suppose that almost all historically Christian nations are today, wealthy, powerful, just, governed well and basically kicking butt?”

            Cause they’re white, silly.

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

            Mike,

            Well if nothing else it proves 1 thing: God is alive and well.

            I don’t think the mere existence of argument on the Internet proves the existence of God. Trolls, on the other hand….

            How much technology is there coming out of 30% Catholic S. Korea?

            Most of the Christians in South Korea are Methodists, IIRC. I think they’re more of an example of a historically Confucian East Asian tiger economy than a notch on the Christian belt, frankly.
            .
            Darren,

            “Why do you suppose that almost all historically Christian nations are today, wealthy, powerful, just, governed well and basically kicking butt?”

            Cause they’re white, silly.

            I know you’re just kidding, Darren, but someone’s going to think you’re some kind of “race realist” reading that. Mind your tongue. BTW: You want a great non-white historically Christian culture’s contribution to human welfare? I give you the Copts of Ethiopia, originators of coffee. I’d match that against anybody’s cultural bragging rights. Especially on a Monday morning.

          • Mike

            Darren,

            Well, it would appear that that’s all that’s left. Wait no maybe it was geography.

          • Darren

            Irenist said;

            ” I know you’re just kidding, Darren, but someone’s going to think you’re some kind of “race realist” reading that. Mind your tongue.”

            Yeah, you are absolutely right about that, I should have plastered 50 kinds of “just kidding” on that one… I just had Sarah Silverman running through my head and her Jury Duty bit, and Mike just begging for it… got a little excited there.

            Did I ever tell you about the night I spent in an Ethiopian Reggie bar in Tel Aviv? Who knew there were Ethiopian Jews? Queen of Sheba and all that…

            I never knew about the coffee, that is some pretty good bragging rights. Supposedly have the Ark of the Covenant as well. I watched a show some years back where a journalist found the church holding the Ark and spoke to the priest in charge. The priest told the journalist that yes, they did have the Ark, and yes, it was very nice. The journalist asked to see it and they said something along the lines of “No, you can take our word for it”. Very John Cleese “English K’nig-gits” of them!

          • Mike

            Irenis I think a good argument does, in so far as the criteria for existence is the one atheists are always harping on about. Or if that doesn’t help, how about the idea of God is still very much alive and well.

            Sorry yes only about 10% of S. Korea is Catholic but that number is growing very rapidly and the majority now is I think Christian and orthodox and devout.

            And as for Christianity’s effect on cultures and countries look no further than the parts of Africa where it is growing and you will see increasing stability, health and etc. etc. Oh and lower rates of HIV and AIDS to boot.

          • Darren

            Mike said;

            ” Darren, well, it would appear that that’s all that’s left. Wait no maybe it was geography.”

            Nah, maybe Christianity did have something to do with it, maybe even a lot, but it is a rather complicated question, and a simple answer is not likely to be true. The point of my earlier jibe is that this argument has been around for a long time, only in the colonial period it was argued to be some intrinsic superiority of the European race. Not many say that any more, which is a good thing, but it is pretty much the same argument.

            You should pop over and read Dr. Greg’s three blog posts on the subject, and Bob’s related blog post – agree or not it is interesting and I learned a few things (mostly about Islamic contributions)

          • Mike

            Darren, I know what you mean, but heck surely something must account for it, no? But please, please don’t say it’s just random luck!

          • Darren

            Mike said;

            Darren, I know what you mean, but heck surely something must account for it, no? But please, please don’t say it’s just random luck!”

            Complicated Question = Complicated Answer

            10,000 years sum-total human achievement – why? = Complicated Question

          • Steve

            Irenist… “I don’t think the mere existence of argument on the Internet proves the existence of God. Trolls, on the other hand….” Some points are made in good faith as a contribution to discussion… this implication is not one of them.

            Mike… “Why do you suppose that almost all historically Christian nations are today, wealthy, powerful, just, governed well and basically kicking butt? How are Italians doing around the world? How is Austria doing as an economy? How much technology is there coming out of 30% Catholic S. Korea? Hmm, how about Poland which has suffered more than most. How is its economy, how many of its scientists are working for google and intel?Really.” It seems a common theme here is the willingness to re-write reality as we see fit. You attribute financial successes with religious belief systems, when there is no reason to do so. Why would you attribute South Korean success to the 10% (not 30%) catholics rather than the 47% who have no religious preference or the 23% who are buddhist? By what reason can you account for China’s emergence as a superpower over the last half century if they’re essentially a godless country? What about India’s growth as a country that is 81% Hindu & 13% Buddhist? What about the prosperity of the godless nations of Northern Europe? What about the crime ridden poverty stricken Christian countries in Central America? Etc. etc. etc.

          • Steve

            Mike… “And as for Christianity’s effect on cultures and countries look no further than the parts of Africa where it is growing and you will see increasing stability, health and etc. etc. Oh and lower rates of HIV and AIDS to boot.” Considering much of the lowering of AIDS & HIV rates are due to proper sexual education & distribution of various forms of birth control, I’d say those rates are dropping in a large part IN SPITE of the churches involvement rather than because of it. A box of trojans is saving more lives in Africa that a box of bibles… and we all know how the church feels about the use of rubbers…

          • Adam G.

            White Man’s Burden? I don’t even know what the argument is for which you are poisoning the well, but I know well-poisoning when I see it.

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

            Irenist… “I don’t think the mere existence of argument on the Internet proves the existence of God. Trolls, on the other hand….” Some points are made in good faith as a contribution to discussion… this implication is not one of them.

            My apologies, Steve! I was just trying to pun on trolls as both mythical (as is God, according to atheists) and internet slang. Wasn’t thinking of anyone in particular. Really sorry about the implication. And here I am telling Darren to mind his tongue: mote, meet beam.

          • Darren

            Adam G. said;

            “White Man’s Burden? I don’t even know what the argument is for which you are poisoning the well, but I know well-poisoning when I see it.”

            Really? Really? You have no idea what I am arguing but you are sure I am lying about it?

            God, Stalker # 03 makes an appearance… I’m going home…

          • Steve

            No worries. I felt there was an implication that all non-believers come here (including myself) with malicious intent as an internet troll. In an odd way we’ve come full circle here as Darren had called me out earlier on a bit of unnecessary cheekiness on my part some 100 posts or so above. No harm, no foul.

          • Darren

            Steve said;

            ”In an odd way we’ve come full circle here as Darren had called me out earlier on a bit of unnecessary cheekiness on my part some 100 posts or so above. No harm, no foul.

            BTW, I was about 99% talking about Guest when I did so. I just thought it would be less likely to further inflame him (?) and shut down further dialog if I included you as well…

            I personally love a good bit of cheek, which is why I often enjoy going round with Mike and Ted more than I probably should… I once said it brought out the Voltaire in me, but that may not be a real thing, so maybe it is more accurate to say it brings out the Sacha Baron Cohen in me…

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

            Darren, I think Adam G. is just offended by the possible connotations of the White Man’s Burden thing, just like the other racially charged joke. The Internet, goes the proverb, is an autistic medium. People don’t know you’re kidding. I know you’re cool. You know you’re cool. Not so much Adam G.; he doesn’t know you. So I wouldn’t go calling him Stalker #whatever. Play nice.

          • Darren

            Irenist said;

            ” Darren, I think Adam G. is just offended by the possible connotations of the White Man’s Burden thing, just like the other racially charged joke. The Internet, goes the proverb, is an autistic medium. People don’t know you’re kidding. I know you’re cool. You know you’re cool. Not so much Adam G.; he doesn’t know you. So I wouldn’t go calling him Stalker #whatever. Play nice.”

            Sadly, no… There is history I am afraid…

            I will play nice and rescind the appellation for now, though.

          • Darren

            Irenist said;

            ”…offended by the possible connotations of the White Man’s Burden thing, just like the other racially charged joke.”

            It sounds, from this, that my reference to White Man’s Burden was too obscure and comes across as either P.C. Caucasian bashing or a risqué joke. I suppose I should have hyper-linked it.

            I was referring to the poem of that name by Kipling, ostensibly criticizing American Colonialism upon the U.S. obtaining the Philippine islands. The current claims regarding European Christendom’s superiority over previous and contemporaneous non-Christian (but also, inescapably, non-white) civilizations is, IMO, only a rehashing of the former rationalizations for European, and then American, colonialism though less racially motivated and imperialist, more in the line of the old myth of European exceptionalism – alive and well.

            So, no, not a joke at all, but apparently an overly obscure reference.

          • Mike

            Steve, Irenist, Darren, you’re right of course there isn’t a direct correlation bt Christian practice and scientific discover wealth etc. BUT here’s the thing it just so happens that the more belief there is the smarter, the more stable, the richer, the healthier that people become. This is standard secular research. Of course it doesn’t correlate directly with Cath. of Christ. just with belief generally and they don’t know if that also isn’t because of the communal effect. But it is there. Plus some anecdotal evidence to me is obvious.

            No of course I don’t say Christ came to us for the scientific method NO! But as John Lennox says people mostly mostly mostly Christians in Europe looked for LAWS in NATURE because they believed in a rational universe and they believed in a universe governed by laws because they believed in a LAW GIVER.

            Plus here’s something interesting. If you do take away the MASSIVE almost impossibility big contribution that even if totally fake Christ. had on Europe if you take that away, you do kind of then have to start looking into areas that sometimes lead people to conclude that it was European genes that were superior. I don’t believe this to that extent (another disc.) but I think that without Christ. you get a much much different Europe. And Nazi ideology tried to replace Christ. with notions of genetic superiority.

            Last thing. Even if it is total bunk, it works and it will continue to work: I can’t prove this but its been proven so many times in the past. My fav. example is Norway, Swed. Finland Netherlands ALL up until like 10 year ago and Denmark today have Christ. as the OFFICIAL RELIGION! and all these countries were for 1,000 years VERY VERY CHRISTIAN! They were puritanical by our standards and hmmm where did that leave them? Of course they are rejecting that tradition but let’s see where that leaves them in 50 years. Mark Steyn is right about birthrates in Europe; demography is destiny. Ok too much to digest here. But I think this is also good evidence for Christianity and for the existence of God.

          • Steve

            Mike …

            BUT here’s the thing it just so happens that the more belief there is the smarter, the more stable, the richer, the healthier that people become. This is standard secular research.

            Which research is this?

            But as John Lennox says people mostly mostly mostly Christians in Europe looked for LAWS in NATURE because they believed in a rational universe and they believed in a universe governed by laws because they believed in a LAW GIVER.

            Should it be surprising that Christians (or believers of any other faith) would assign the laws of nature to be the result of a law giver? This seems so obvious I feel like I’m missing a deeper point.

            Plus here’s something interesting. If you do take away the MASSIVE almost impossibility big contribution that even if totally fake Christ. had on Europe if you take that away, you do kind of then have to start looking into areas that sometimes lead people to conclude that it was European genes that were superior. I don’t believe this to that extent (another disc.) but I think that without Christ. you get a much much different Europe. And Nazi ideology tried to replace Christ. with notions of genetic superiority.

            Wow… OK. Your jumping all over the place here, ascribing causes & effects without any real reason. In addition you’re ignoring factors like technological advances, geographic & climate advantages, cultural influences, etc. that all contributed in some form to the way history unfolded. That Christianity (fully, partially or not real at all) had a large influence in the way European history unfolded is beyond doubt. That it might be the only alternative to European genetic superiority being the reason for European successes over the last half millenia is startlingly silly.

            My fav. example is Norway, Swed. Finland Netherlands ALL up until like 10 year ago and Denmark today have Christ. as the OFFICIAL RELIGION! and all these countries were for 1,000 years VERY VERY CHRISTIAN! … Of course they are rejecting that tradition but let’s see where that leaves them in 50 years…. But I think this is also good evidence for Christianity and for the existence of God.

            Your favorite example is for something that hasn’t happened yet?? That seems to be a running theme in evidence for deities. That doesn’t sound like evidence of anything.

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

          There is no ‘versus’ between relativistic & rational world view. It’s irrational to attribute the existence of something or someone without proper cause.

          I think the argument might be that it seems unfounded for a materialist to assert that a mind shaped by natural selection to attend to the Darwinian F’s (food, fighting, and copulation) should be trusted to reason properly, rather than with the sorts of biased heuristics common to studies of human coginition. Why, on the materialist account, should unbiased cognitive heuristics be assumed to be attainable? Smarter people than I have argued that materialists’ trust in human reason is warranted (saying, e.g., that human rationality is a spandrel in the architecture of humans’ chats-around-the-campfire model of eusociality) but I’d respectfully suggest that’s a conclusion you have to argue for rather than merely assert, whereas a Christian who believes with John the Evangelist that God is Christ is the Logos is able to assume human rationality (biased by sin, of course) and a rational cosmic order more naturally, with the weaknesses in her argument (such as they may be) lying elsewhere. In short, establishing the trustworthiness of human reason is more of a problem for atheism, much as the problem of evil is obviousness only a concern for theists.

          “Yet, it wasn’t the Jewish, Buddhist, or Zora worlds that created science- it was the Catholic world, combining a rational God and Greek Philosophy, that created what we think of as science today.” This is not in anyway shape or form accurate, and considering the opposition of the church along the way to real science that makes this an absolutely absurdity of the highest order. This is false. This is a lie. This is a ridiculous fabrication. I don’t except your fantasy re-write of history.

          It’s not a lie. But it is complicated, and presumably worth another thread all its own. In short: yes, of course non-Christian cultures (Egypt, Babylon, Greece, Rome, the Dar al-Islam, China, etc.) made great strides in mathematics, in empirical observation, and occasionally even in inductive theorization from observation. However, Western Christendom happens to have been the matrix that gave rise to modern science and technique. In particular, there were important Scholastic precursors for much of early modern scientific theory, and the medievals were empirically adept skilled craftsmen eager to adopt labor-saving techniques like milling, particularly when populations were depleted by plague. Similarly, Christians often argue that the conviction of, e.g., Galileo, Copernicus, and Newton that nature had a rational order underpinned by the Logos contributed to their readiness to posit mathematical formalisms as governing the natural order–but Ptolemy posited such formalisms, too, so I think this argument holds, if at all, only against atheism, rather than against, e.g., paganism. And whatever earlier atheists’ and their skeptical fellow travellers’ willingness to make bold scientific strides (and our sample is limited–what are we dealing with? The Epicureans? The materialist Carvaka heresy in Hinduism?), it’s hardly fair to say that modern atheists aren’t willing to do science, so the whole argument strikes this Christian as pointless at best.
          .
          Further, Christendom concededly wasn’t a pure win for early science, either, obviously: medievals were far too willing to attempt zoology via etymology and other such silliness (the average northern European manuscript illuminator had no more personally set eyes on a lion than on a unicorn, e.g., judging by their art), and however much later secularists have overblown the Galileo affair into the Whig version of a pious legend, it was hardly the Church’s finest hour. So the Christendom -> Science argument is a bit of a mixed bag, at best. It’s also irrelevant to whether Catholicism is true (as opposed to true but not always having been graced by Popes with good prudential judgment about how to handle obstreperous astronomers and that sort of thing), so perhaps it’s best left alone for now.

          • Darren

            Irenist said;

            “Smarter people than I have argued that materialists’ trust in human reason is warranted (saying, e.g., that human rationality is a spandrel in the architecture of humans’ chats-around-the-campfire model of eusociality) but I’d respectfully suggest that’s a conclusion you have to argue for rather than merely assert, whereas a Christian who believes with John the Evangelist that God is Christ is the Logos is able to assume human rationality (biased by sin, of course) and a rational cosmic order more naturally, with the weaknesses in her argument (such as they may be) lying elsewhere. In short, establishing the trustworthiness of human reason is more of a problem for atheism, much as the problem of evil is obviousness only a concern for theists.”

            Point well taken. Spandrel indeed…

          • Ray

            “Ptolemy posited such formalisms, too, so I think this argument holds, if at all, only against atheism, rather than against, e.g., paganism.”

            I don’t think that works either. Lots of Hellenistic proto-scientists of a mathematical bent (e.g. Archimedes, Aristarchus, Hero of Alexandria) could plausibly have been sympathetic to contemporary atheistic philosophical movements like Epicureanism. You can’t just assume they were religious pagans, when the historical evidence is inconclusive at best.

          • Steve

            I suppose the best response I can come up with is that I trust my reasoning, while recognizing a potential for bias and uncertainty, because I have no choice or other avenue by which to think. A line of thinking grounded in the observation of the natural world seems to offer the most reliable truths about the world as people from different cultures (or different planets for that matter) should come to the same conclusions. I’m not sure how satisfying I find that response though and I’ll let you know if I come up with something better.

            With regards to the second half of your post (which was referring to the second half of my post, which of course was referring to Teddy’s post), you can stop right there. A ‘mixed bag’? It is a lie. It is a falsehood. It is not at all complicated. He’s claiming credit for Catholicism “created what we think of as science today.” That’s a load of horse dung. That contributions might have been made by people who might have identified themselves or at least lived in predominantly catholic areas do in no way justify claiming credit for the whole pie. That sort of blatant re-write of reality doesn’t deserve to be put in context. It deserves to be brought into the public square and flogged for the fantasy it is.

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

            Ray,
            I’m actually pretty unpersuaded by the argument myself (see below). I don’t see any real problems for ancient atheists in doing science. I wish the argument wasn’t so fashionable among Christian apologists online right now, since it seems really weak to me.
            .
            Steve,
            Your response on why you trust your reasoning is a great start. I think “it’s the best we’ve got” and “look at the success of empirical reasoning applied to the natural world” are probably the best places for an atheist defense of reason to go. If you come up with more, I’d certainly be interested to read it.
            .
            As to the “Christendom created science” thing, I don’t think Mike is lying (he seems sincere to me), but yeah, an uncomplicated assertion that Christianity is the sole source of modern science, if that really were to be Mike’s contention (don’t want to speak for him) would, I agree, be kind of ridiculous. I honestly just don’t think it’s *that* interesting that Baconian science arose in Europe. Much of the rest of the Eurasian ecumene was fat and happy due to plentiful resources, and stuck in innovation-retarding large empires. Europe had lots of little sovereignties eager to reward militarily useful innovations, lots of little sovereigns eager to patronize the arts and humanities for prestige, and a climate notably bereft of tradable spices or silks to reduce its trade deficit in gold w/r/t the rest of the ecumene. And, not least, Western Europe, uniquely in Eurasia, dodged the Mongol bullet. That’s a big deal. Conquerors piling up pyramids of skulls outside your major cities tends to retard civilizational development.
            .
            With all that, I just don’t think “Christianity” is the most likely key causal factor. After all, the Orthodox were every bit as Christian, and modern science wasn’t born in Byzantium–which shared much the same geopolitics (stagnant empire, fat and happy trading hub, as China, e.g.) for much of its history. (Speaking of the Orthodox, the Mongols hurt Russian development a lot more than Orthodox rejection of Scholasticism, I’d wager.) I’d look elsewhere for Catholic apologetics ideas. Christ died to save us from our sins, not to share scientific methodology. This is not an apologetic that gets us anywhere.

          • Darren

            Irenist said;

            ”I’d look elsewhere for Catholic apologetics ideas. Christ died to save us from our sins, not to share scientific methodology. This is not an apologetic that gets us anywhere.”

            For that matter, as team Atheist I really would not mind even if Christianity was 100% responsible for all of human achievement prior to 1859. After all, I am forever grateful to those glorious monks and their stewardship of Man’s greatest invention – Beer… Speaking if which, I bid you good evening.

        • Darren

          More info re. that Christianity is responsible for reason, science, democracy, kittens, et.al.

          Patheos: Catholic blogger Dr. Greg Popcak

  • Darren

    New thread continued from above.

    Mike said;

    ” But as John Lennox says people mostly mostly mostly Christians in Europe looked for LAWS in NATURE because they believed in a rational universe and they believed in a universe governed by laws because they believed in a LAW GIVER.”

    Mike, I really do wish you would have clicked through and done a bit more reading, and a bit less writing, but such could too often be said of me, I suppose.

    _One_ of the problems with the above quoted statement is that it ignores the significant contributions of the pagan Greeks and Romans, both to the intellectual achievements of Man and to the worldview underlying. I think that you are forgetting that this rational, reasonable, rule-bound but knowable cosmos at the heart of the (Catholic) Christian tradition springs, in the Churches own words, from Aquinas.

    From whom do you suppose he got those ideas?

    • Erick

      Darren,

      ==_One_ of the problems with the above quoted statement is that it ignores the significant contributions of the pagan Greeks and Romans, both to the intellectual achievements of Man and to the worldview underlying.==

      I don’t think we’re ignoring it at all. I think what Mike is pointing out is, would the Greek/Roman scientific worldviews have led to anywhere if left to itself under its own, pre-Christian, pagan background?

      We know now, for example, that Aristotleian physics is limited. Where would science be now if the Condemnations of 1210-1277 not occurred and we were still following Aristotleian physics? Also, look at Islam. They had great science for a time, but then it died off over the centuries due to limitations presented by their worldview.

      I’m not big on this scientific line of reasoning for Christianity, but I think Mike’s point is that Christianity created a certain systematic curiosity in the mind of everyone that made science what it is today. Outside of Christianity, in other cultures, science was basically a phenomenon of uniquely curious individuals, accidental discovery, or random problem solving.

      • Steve

        Erick… Why would you suggest that

        “Christianity created a certain systematic curiosity in the mind of everyone that made science what it is today”

        Followed by

        “Outside of Christianity, in other cultures, science was basically a phenomenon of uniquely curious individuals, accidental discovery, or random problem solving.

        By what reason are we crediting Christianity for creating a curiousity, that you’re (rightfully) admitting is evident elsewhere? In other words, wouldn’t it be better to suggest that scientific progress is the result of curious individuals, accidental discovery & random problem solving performed by individuals, some of whom were Christians or at least lived in predominantly Christian parts of the world?

        (in fairness you might just be translating what Mike said without commenting on it)

        • Erick

          Darren, let me ask you: what is the enduring quality that differentiates science today from the science of pre-Christian times?

          Is it not search for truth? Science today is really just about wanting to know the truth. Even so far as hoping to observe new phenomena that will overturn current standard models of theory? For example, many physicists dream of finding “new physics”.

          Most science done previously were entirely based on material motive or need, not truth. Astronomy, mathematics and other fields of natural study were discovered or embarked on to provide for better navigation, better agriculture, better medical treatment, better support for one’s lordship, etc. While some of those things result in science today, they are no longer the reason people do science.

          This is what I mean by Christianity created a systematic curiosity that was fertile ground for science. The worldview scientists have today comes from the worldview of Christians. While you may disagree whether God is truth, the Christian cultural background clearly equates God with truth. In this sense, search for God equates to search for truth.

          Granted, I don’t think this is proof or data at all for thinking Christianity is the true religion (as in way of life in the Roman sense, not in the modern sense).

          • Darren

            Erick said;

            ” Is it not search for truth? Science today is really just about wanting to know the truth. Even so far as hoping to observe new phenomena that will overturn current standard models of theory? For example, many physicists dream of finding “new physics”.
            Most science done previously were entirely based on material motive or need, not truth. Astronomy, mathematics and other fields of natural study were discovered or embarked on to provide for better navigation, better agriculture, better medical treatment, better support for one’s lordship, etc. While some of those things result in science today, they are no longer the reason people do science.”

            Erick, with respect, do you actually know any scientists? If you think modern science is the noble pursuit of truth, you must also think professional athletes really just love playing the game…

            I am afraid you are thinking of science _populizers_.

    • Mike

      Well, again…the kind of evidence that you’re looking for is the kind that would enable you to put God under the microscope. What can I say? That’s NOT the god that we believe in and believe exists.

      At the end of the day if you believe it is more rational to believe that there is NO intelligence behind this reality than that there is, there is nothing anyone coud do to convince you otherwise.

      So with that Have a Great Weekend everyone and to the Catholics, see you in the pews! and to the atheists, God Bless.

      • Darren

        Mike, are you sure you are replying to the right comment? This was discussing whether or not Christian metaphysics was, in some way, so uniquely conducive to the incubation of reason, rationality, and scientific achievement as opposed to every other viewpoint, that without it we would all still be sitting around the cave-fire wondering, “if round _logs_ float in water, why don’t round _rocks_ also float?”

        The thing about that question, and one of the reasons I really don’t feel invested in the outcome, is that the answer neither depends upon or informs on whether Christian metaphysics is True…

        Have a good weekend.

  • Brandon

    So, basically, you like the answers they arrive at from their beliefs, since they jibe with the things you already believed. That’s not really very compelling to someone that doesn’t buy virtue ethics in the first place.

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

      In fairness to Leah, the assignment was for her to write on “Why *I* Am a Catholic,” not on why you should be. But yeah, in general argumentative terms, that’s a fair point.

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

    I want to emphasize the consciousness point in my reply to Ray upthread (the one in which I mention Newton and billiard balls if you want to CTRL+F for it), because it’s close to the core of my argument:
    The way I see the situation in metaphysics is that if you consider, e.g., idealism, Cartesian dualism, materialism, hylomorphic dualism, neutral monism, and panpsychism, you get the following:
    1. The first two (idealism, Cartesian dualism) would lead you to expect that the mind doesn’t have much to do with the brain. Studies on brain-damaged patients flatly contradict that. These metaphysical views are out of contention.
    2. Materialism struggles to explain qualia and intentionality. It leads you to expect a world of p-zombies rather than a world with conscious people. So–and this is my most controversial point here, I imagine–materialism fails, too, because we’re not p-zombies. The very existence of consciousness pwns materialism as a metaphysical contender akin to the way the perihelion precession of Mercury somehow establishes for science-literate people (in a way that’s way over my humanities-addled head) that Einstein > Newton.
    3. Hylomorphism, neutral monism, and panpsychism all lead one to expect quite naturally that the cosmos contains conscious people rather than p-zombies. Also, all three of these lead one to assume as a matter of course that the mind is highly entangled with the brain, either in a form/matter way, or because mind/brain are just two sides of one neutral monist/panpsychist (NM/P for short) “stuff.”
    .
    On the above considerations, being told that materialist metaphysics is incompatible with Christianity no more troubles me than being told that my faith is incompatible with phlogiston theory or whatever. What I do worry about is (a) whether NM/P or some other non-hylomorphic departure from materialism offers a better account of consciousness than Thomism, and therefore (b) whether something like the Thomist synthesis of Aristotle and the Bible is available for NM/P if it turns out that NM/P > Hylomorphism. Indeed, Nagel seems to be hoping for an atheist naturalist neutral monism.
    .
    Disclosure: Part of my agenda in arguing here is to get some atheists interested in non-materialist metaphysics so I can argue with them about the threat to my Christianity that actually worries me, rather than the one I think is based on bad metaphysics. In the absence of rigorous NM/P atheist naturalist interlocutors (of the sort that I take it Bertrand Russell used to be), it’s hard for me to be as confident in the strength of Thomism compared to NM/P as I am in Thomism > materialism.

    • Darren

      Irenist said;

      ” It leads you to expect a world of p-zombies rather than a world with conscious people. So–and this is my most controversial point here, I imagine–materialism fails, too, because we’re not p-zombies.”

      Ah, but if we were, would we even know it? Of course, and you will already have seen this, that is the materialist conclusion, that p-zombies don’t exist as such because we are all already p-zombies (or maybe that is just my own wonky conclusion).

      Reminds me of a fantasy story I read a long time ago, I forget the title, but a sword and (very limited) sorcery romp set in a Norse / Celtic framework. Elves existed, but were more like mystical Vulcans, and would occasionally steal unbaptized human infants, replacing them with doppelgangers, identical save the absence of a soul. The protagonist is such a stolen human, raised by the elves to adulthood, who then returns to the human world and encounters his duplicate, a duplicate that is understandably quite put out by the suggestion that he is a soulless replica.

      Then there is the Doctor Who episode, “The Rebel Flesh” and the whole Rory the Auton arc, which I really enjoyed.

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

        Ah, but if we were [p-zombies], would we even know it?

        If I’m using the term p-zombie correctly, then if you were a p-zombie, you wouldn’t consciously “know” anything. You would lack the experience of internal mental states in much the same way that Deep Blue doesn’t “experience” a chess game the way Kasparov does despite Deep Blue’s ability to model that chess game and act on the model, or in the way that the Anglophone in Searle’s Chinese room has no idea what the Sinophone conversation is about, or in the way that “Mary in the Black and White Room” doesn’t know what red looks like. Ever have the experience of driving a familiar route and not remembering making the various turns, because you were lost in thought? That kind of unconscious experience of the world (but without the lost in thought part) would be the only kind of experience (if you can call it that) a p-zombie would have. A p-zombie, by definition, is the sort of thing that we are not. (If I’m using the term correctly, anyway.)
        .
        To continue my inveterate Feser citation, I think in the posts linked below, Rosenberg is absolutely, forthrightly correct about the implications of his own reductionist materialism, and Feser is correct about why that’s a non-starter:
        http://edwardfeser.blogspot.com/2012/05/rosenberg-roundup.html
        (Rosenberg’s book is both engaging and brief, btw, if you want to read that first.) There are, of course, other materialisms. But I think something like Rosenberg’s is the most coherent materialism. And it’s false to the facts of qualia and intentionality.
        .
        There’s also a theoretical elegance issue here, akin to but distinct from Occam’s Razor: Cartesian dualist attempts to account for consciousness are destroyed by the interaction problem, and materialist attempts to account for consciousness have the quality of Ptolemaic epicycles, whereas embodied minds are a straightforward application of hylomorphism or NM/P (let’s say H/NM/P for short). None of modern science contradicts H/NM/P (as Ray pointed out above, the jargons are largely translatable), but H/NM/P all contain modern science (in this admitted layman’s view) in a broader context that also accounts for consciousness and rationality, in a way that reminds at least this reader-of-science-popularizations of the way I’ve read that modern physics contains and supplements Newtonianism while remaining pretty much translatable to it at the “mesoscale” of medium-sized objects (as opposed to the atomic microscale or the cosmic macroscale or whatever). Not, I hasten to add, that H/NM/P are forms of physics or neurobiology or any other science. They are metaphysical, armchair philosophy positions, and that’s all I claim for them: they are better armchair philosophy than materialism, for the reasons I’ve given.
        .
        Off to a weekend of limited Internet. Have a great weekend, all!

        • Ray

          “On the above considerations, being told that materialist metaphysics is incompatible with Christianity no more troubles me than being told that my faith is incompatible with phlogiston theory or whatever. ”

          There’s your issue. The problem is not that Christianity violates materialist metaphysics (whatever that is.) The problem is that it violates physics (or more properly requires one to postulate a whole host of physical entities which are neither required, nor suggested by mainstream physics.) Ah, but you say I’m positing metaphysical entities, not physical entities. Here’s the problem — physics as a discipline has no concern for the physical/metaphysical distinction. If you need to put something in your model to make the other physical entities end up in the right place, it’s a physical entity. Assuming Jesus’s feet were made of atoms, when he stepped on the sea of Galilee, you need to add something extra to your physical model to make his feet stay above the surface for any longer than an instant. (If Jesus was not made of atoms, you need to add something to reflect solar photons into the eyes of his disciples in such a way that it looks like there are atoms there.) Likewise, if positing only physical entities says the body of Jesus stays in the tomb, but the body did not stay, then you did not name all the physical entities that were present.

          Now, as a side note, I don’t like the term materialism (I prefer physicalism) — if you take materialism literally it means “take an Aristotelian description of the world and remove anything you would be tempted to call a formal or final cause.” This is not how those who describe themselves as materialists go about their buisiness. Instead, they tend to take the entities they are required to believe in by physics (usually some form of quantum fields) and assume that everything else they’ll need to describe the world can be defined in terms of those entities. It does not involve denying forms or telos or consciousness, unless you can define what these things are in physical terms. They are simply not a part of the vocabulary and therefore a denial of them is not a statement derivable from the axioms of materialism, as practiced. If you do define what you mean by form, telos, or consciousness in physical terms (which is what I would recommend, since in practice you decide whether to attribute them to others based on physical cues, and you didn’t invent the words, so you learned to apply them to others before you learned to apply them to yourself.) then, “materialism” only denies them if they predict unrealistic physical behavior.

          Thus if you claim that a disembodied form can make a man walk on water, or whatever your metaphysical justification for the miracles of Jesus is, you’re on pretty shaky ground. On the other hand. The presence of consciousness does not seem to make neurons behave any differently than physical models predict, and unless you want to demand that it’s not real consciousness, unless it violates physical law somehow, you have not contradicted materialism by positing the existence of consciousness.

          I suppose you can also explicitly define these things as indescribable in physical terms and violate materialism as well, but I’m not sure what it buys you. I don’t see how rants about how ineffable it is are going to give Mary a feeling of familiarity the first time she sees the color red any more than a detailed physical description of the Visual Cortex. The problem is not that the physical description is incomplete. It’s that a description of an experience is not the same thing as the experience itself. A description of what it’s like to be a bat, whether in physical terms or in terms of “qualia” is not going to turn you into a bat, and a description of the sensation of seeing red is not going to make you see red or remember seeing red, when you haven’t.

          BTW. If you want reading. I suggest rereading Dennett’s Quining Qualia carefully. He doesn’t deny nearly as much as fans of “the hard problem of consciousness” seem to assume. e.g. pretty early on he says ” Everything real has properties, and since I don’t deny the reality of conscious experience, I grant that conscious experience has properties. I grant moreover that each person’s states of consciousness have properties in virtue of which those states have the experiential content that they do.” What he denies regarding consciousness is more the negative statements made by qualophiles — i.e. that they cannot be studied by the methods of third person science. Things which, as I mentioned before, even if true would be grossly uninformative about what qualia actually are.

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

            Ah, but you say I’m positing metaphysical entities, not physical entities. Here’s the problem — physics as a discipline has no concern for the physical/metaphysical distinction.

            Metaphysics is a broader discipline, then. So much the worse for physics. To me, your statement reads like saying “Geology has no concern for the geology/biology distinction. Organisms are just complicated rocks. Appealing to something outside of geology to explain organisms is just a “biology of the gaps” argument. Given its success in explaining rocks, if we wait long enough, surely the internal resources of geology, entirely unsupplemented by the insights of other fields, will suffice to explain organisms.”

            If you need to put something in your model to make the other physical entities end up in the right place, it’s a physical entity.

            The argument you’ve just made is not a physical entity. An exhaustive description of the photons emanating from my screen as I type this is insufficient to account for my behavior, which stems from the meaning of your words. Intentionality is not a physical phenomenon. Our brains are of course physical. But the ideas about which we are arguing are not.
            .
            If you stretch the meaning of the word “physical” to include ideas, then I suppose we can believe in all the same phenomena. But a physicalism that includes ideas as physical phenomena is like a geologist who thinks organisms are just complicated rocks. I can translate from such uses of “physics” and “geology” into commonsensical English if I must, but encouraging such idiosyncratic definitions seems like a pointless project.

            Assuming Jesus’s feet were made of atoms, when he stepped on the sea of Galilee, you need to add something extra to your physical model to make his feet stay above the surface for any longer than an instant. (If Jesus was not made of atoms, you need to add something to reflect solar photons into the eyes of his disciples in such a way that it looks like there are atoms there.) Likewise, if positing only physical entities says the body of Jesus stays in the tomb, but the body did not stay, then you did not name all the physical entities that were present.

            By analogy: “Assuming my sister used to knock over the chessboard when she lost, you have to add something to the rules of chess allowing for knocking over the board.” No, you don’t. Her knocking over the board was an intervention from outside the chess rule set. Miracles, by definition, are interventions from outside the cosmic rule set of physics.
            .
            God’s relationship to our cosmos is like that of an author to a novel. If you write an otherwise realistic novel, but then decide to include a miracle in it, you don’t require any special physical machinery within the universe of the novel in order to pull off your miracle: your power over all events in the novel is absolute.

            Now, as a side note, I don’t like the term materialism (I prefer physicalism) — if you take materialism literally it means “take an Aristotelian description of the world and remove anything you would be tempted to call a formal or final cause.” This is not how those who describe themselves as materialists go about their buisiness. Instead, they tend to take the entities they are required to believe in by physics (usually some form of quantum fields) and assume that everything else they’ll need to describe the world can be defined in terms of those entities. It does not involve denying forms or telos or consciousness, unless you can define what these things are in physical terms. They are simply not a part of the vocabulary and therefore a denial of them is not a statement derivable from the axioms of materialism, as practiced. If you do define what you mean by form, telos, or consciousness in physical terms (which is what I would recommend, since in practice you decide whether to attribute them to others based on physical cues, and you didn’t invent the words, so you learned to apply them to others before you learned to apply them to yourself.) then, “materialism” only denies them if they predict unrealistic physical behavior.

            As a historical matter, Cartesians did define res extensa by dispensing with those elements of the Schoolmen’s description of causality that the Cartesians thought were spooky and superfluous. That their heirs no longer think consciously about why their conceptual suite includes only the quantum mechanical conceptual descendants of Cartesian billiard ball physics is an interesting insight into the sociology of science and scientism, but no more than that, IMHO.

            Thus if you claim that a disembodied form can make a man walk on water, or whatever your metaphysical justification for the miracles of Jesus is, you’re on pretty shaky ground.

            I have no metaphysical justification at all for how miracles work. They are miraculous. I have the Five Ways to metaphysically justify belief in a God who can work miracles, but not to explain how He does it.
            .
            As an aside, one of my pre-Thomist misconceptions, which I suspect may be common, was that the Eucharistic doctrine of transubstantiation was trying to explain away the Eucharistic miracle as an ordinary occurrence; it does not. Transubstantiation is an attempt to figure out the implications of a miracle (“If God promises that this really is His body, but it still looks like bread, then what specific kind of miracle is He up to here?”) rather than to explain the miracle away. Hylomorphism doesn’t attempt to explain miracles.

            On the other hand. The presence of consciousness does not seem to make neurons behave any differently than physical models predict,

            Which is a fatal flaw for a physicalist reductionism about consciousness: it reduces consciousness to an epiphenomenon at most.

            and unless you want to demand that it’s not real consciousness, unless it violates physical law somehow,

            Miracles violate physical law. Quotidian hylomorphism does not.

            you have not contradicted materialism by positing the existence of consciousness.

            Efficient and material causality are posited by hylomorphists, too. Nothing about also positing formal and final causality is intended to contradict the effects of the other two.

            I don’t see how rants about how ineffable it is are going to give Mary a feeling of familiarity the first time she sees the color red any more than a detailed physical description of the Visual Cortex. The problem is not that the physical description is incomplete. It’s that a description of an experience is not the same thing as the experience itself. A description of what it’s like to be a bat, whether in physical terms or in terms of “qualia” is not going to turn you into a bat, and a description of the sensation of seeing red is not going to make you see red or remember seeing red, when you haven’t.

            Qualia aren’t the sort of thing amenable to third-person description. So of course you’re right about all this. It’s just not on point, except to demonstrate that the entities posited by physicalism (all of which are amenable to third-person description) are not an exhaustive catalog of reality.

            BTW. If you want reading. I suggest rereading Dennett’s Quining Qualia carefully. He doesn’t deny nearly as much as fans of “the hard problem of consciousness” seem to assume. e.g. pretty early on he says ” Everything real has properties, and since I don’t deny the reality of conscious experience, I grant that conscious experience has properties. I grant moreover that each person’s states of consciousness have properties in virtue of which those states have the experiential content that they do.” What he denies regarding consciousness is more the negative statements made by qualophiles — i.e. that they cannot be studied by the methods of third person science. Things which, as I mentioned before, even if true would be grossly uninformative about what qualia actually are.

            Sounds like a good antidote to whatever degree of strawmanning I’m guilty of here. Thanks!

          • Ray

            I’ll only focus on a couple of points. There’s other stuff I disagree with in your reply, but I think I disagree for similar enough reasons that you could probably reconstruct my objections without me explicitly stating them.

            I said, “On the other hand. The presence of consciousness does not seem to make neurons behave any differently than physical models predict,”

            To which you replied: “Which is a fatal flaw for a physicalist reductionism about consciousness: it reduces consciousness to an epiphenomenon at most.”

            Your response seems to neglect the possibility that consciousness refers to something that was already in the physical model. c.f. “the presence of carbon does not make the protons, neutrons and electrons inside a diamond behave any differently than the physical models predict.” Remember, that the word “carbon” was not originally defined in terms of protons, neutrons and electrons any more than “consciousness” was.

            You also say:
            “Qualia aren’t the sort of thing amenable to third-person description.”

            I don’t think you realize how big a problem this is. For starters, it means the word “qualia” does not describe them (What could the sentence “Mary has qualia” be, if not an attempt at third person description of something?) I only claim that a physical description can be (in principle) as complete as it is possible for a description to be. If a description in terms of qualia, forms and substance, description by way of denial that any description can be “truly complete”, etc. cannot make Mary “know what it’s like to see red,” then why is the description with the qualia, forms, reiteration of “the hard problem of consciousness,” any more complete than the physical description?

          • Ray

            Oh. I feel I should elaborate further on my problem with the term “materialism:”

            Modern physicalists/materialists don’t build their description of the world from any of the four causes as Aristotle meant them. So it makes no sense to single out the “material cause” or the “material and efficient” cause as describing their world view. Near as I can tell, in the Aristotelian terminology, matter in the absence of form is simply an incoherent concept — so that should be a big clue that even the Cartesians didn’t mean matter in quite the same way as the Scholastics. And of course, the fundamental concepts of modern physics (wavefunction, time evolution operator, gauge symmetry, field) are much further removed from those of Descartes than Descartes concepts are from Aristotle’s. In fact, various facts (such as the time symmetry of physics, or more accurately, the CPT theorem) tend to make physicalists suspect that “cause” in general isn’t a good way to understand nature at its most fundamental level.

            This is not to say that physicalists outright deny causation — it’s unambiguously useful in any cosmology where there is a local arrow of time (i.e. where the second law of thermodynamics holds for some significant region of spacetime.) It’s just not something that is considered fundamental anymore. As for the four causes as such: you could probably phrase the axioms of quantum mechanics in terms of some set of concepts, corresponding to Aristotle’s four causes, but it would be clunky, and there’s no standard way to do it, so it wouldn’t tell you very much about what “materialists” believe.

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

            Ray,

            Your response seems to neglect the possibility that consciousness refers to something that was already in the physical model. c.f. “the presence of carbon does not make the protons, neutrons and electrons inside a diamond behave any differently than the physical models predict.” Remember, that the word “carbon” was not originally defined in terms of protons, neutrons and electrons any more than “consciousness” was.

            If physicalism means a physical model with consciousness in it, then I don’t so much disagree with the metaphysics as with the idiosyncratic usage of “physical.”

            I don’t think you realize how big a problem this is. For starters, it means the word “qualia” does not describe them (What could the sentence “Mary has qualia” be, if not an attempt at third person description of something?) I only claim that a physical description can be (in principle) as complete as it is possible for a description to be. If a description in terms of qualia, forms and substance, description by way of denial that any description can be “truly complete”, etc. cannot make Mary “know what it’s like to see red,” then why is the description with the qualia, forms, reiteration of “the hard problem of consciousness,” any more complete than the physical description?

            I think a description with qualia and intentionality is more complete than an eliminative reductionist description of the sort put forward by, Rosenberg or the Churchlands. If your “physicalist” description has all that stuff, then maybe you and I are just having a semantic quibble about the word “physical.”

          • Ray

            By physical description, I mean a description that does not affirm “consciousness” and “intentionality,” does not deny them, and does not even mention them. It speaks only in terms of particles, atoms, fields etc. It may include a very complicated logical relationship amongst facts about said particles/ atoms/fields etc., and it may specify the location of something by appealing to landmarks of some sort (You need this, but it’s within the common usage. People talk about “the Andromeda Galaxy” in physics papers, and expect you to know what they’re talking about, for example.)

            I emphasize that I mean to say that the language of physics is complete IN PRINCIPLE. A description in physical terms of the necessary and sufficient conditions for something to be referred to as “conscious” would undoubtedly be very complicated. In practice, we define abstractions to make what we’re describing an adequate size. Thus we speak of certain excitations of fields as particles, certain collections of particles as atoms, certain collections of atoms as molecules, certain collections of molecules as chemicals, certain coordinated motions of the molecules as waves etc. I see no reason to believe experiential terms e.g. “feeling of pain” “perception of redness” should be treated any differently from terms like chemicals, waves, heat, rocks etc. that aren’t built into the fundamental vocabulary of physics either.

            I also suspect that consciousness lacks the precise definition of physical terminology, and you would run into cases, like the worm Jake mentions, where it would be unclear whether it was conscious or not — just as there are some amounts of sand that may or may not be a heap. Now there are two ways to diagnose the situation. One is to assume the language of physics is incomplete. The other is to just assume people don’t quite agree what they mean by consciousness. In practice, people tend to define consciousness in an, I know it when I see it sort of way — which is by the way an entirely empirically testable definition; any of the 6-billion or so linguistically competent humans can be an adequate consciousness detector according to the in practice definition. (Well, until they start saying “I don’t know” or disagreeing with one another, but then I don’t see how teaching them hylomorphism is going to make them agree either.)

            This is where I return to the question. You seem to think that it is in principle impossible to replace words like “qualia” with a physical description, without losing something. If the something in question is the possibility that Mary might learn from your description “what it is like to see red” then that something was not in your qualia-laden description to begin with. So what is it that is lost?

            BTW. I can give a suggestion for why you might not like Rosenberg’s description, that doesn’t involve the description being incomplete. I think you have some idea what you mean by “consciousness”: maybe not enough to be sure whether a worm has it, but enough to know that whatever consciousness is, humans DO have it. So, when Rosenberg says it isn’t there, he hasn’t just said something incomplete — since all descriptions are incomplete — he has said something which is false for any sensible definition of his terms.This objection is not applicable to physicalism as I have defined it, because my hypothetical physical description does not deny consciousness. It doesn’t even mention it: The only way that a physical description, as I have defined it, could deny consciousness is if 1) “consciousness” is defined in terms of the vocabulary of my physical description. 2) “consciousness is absent,” follows from that definition and one or more statements in my description. But, by hypothesis, the physical statements are true and consciousness is not absent from the system they describe.

          • Ray

            Clarification. At the beginning, when I say “…does not affirm…” and “…does not deny…”

            I mean “…does not EXPLICITLY affirm…” and “does not EXPLICITLY deny.” I don’t want to rule out the possibility that my physical description may implicitly affirm the existence of consciousness, much as the description of an occupied bound state of 6 protons, 6 neutrons, and 6 electrons implicitly affirms the existence of carbon. Physicalism requires that such implicit definition is in principle possible (assuming that consciousness refers to a real phenomenon, of course.)

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

            Ray,

            I emphasize that I mean to say that the language of physics is complete IN PRINCIPLE. A description in physical terms of the necessary and sufficient conditions for something to be referred to as “conscious” would undoubtedly be very complicated. In practice, we define abstractions to make what we’re describing an adequate size. Thus we speak of certain excitations of fields as particles, certain collections of particles as atoms, certain collections of atoms as molecules, certain collections of molecules as chemicals, certain coordinated motions of the molecules as waves etc. I see no reason to believe experiential terms e.g. “feeling of pain” “perception of redness” should be treated any differently from terms like chemicals, waves, heat, rocks etc. that aren’t built into the fundamental vocabulary of physics either.

            I don’t agree with this, but I think it’s a sensible, defensible position. I think intentionality is a harder case for physicalism than qualia.

            This is where I return to the question. You seem to think that it is in principle impossible to replace words like “qualia” with a physical description, without losing something. If the something in question is the possibility that Mary might learn from your description “what it is like to see red” then that something was not in your qualia-laden description to begin with. So what is it that is lost?

            I think there are some aspects of human experience that are not amenable to quantitative prediction and control. I can’t exactly specify red, but I can allude to it (“it’s a warmer color than blue,” e.g.) in ways that get at something that’s not contained in either equations describing light wavelengths or MRI scans of people looking at red stuff. All of this may be more a problem with Rosenberg’s eliminative materialism than with your (or Dennett’s) physicalism. My concern is with saying “if it can’t be measured in a falsifiable experiment, it’s not real.” I fear that standard leaves out too much of reality.

            BTW. I can give a suggestion for why you might not like Rosenberg’s description, that doesn’t involve the description being incomplete. I think you have some idea what you mean by “consciousness”: maybe not enough to be sure whether a worm has it, but enough to know that whatever consciousness is, humans DO have it. So, when Rosenberg says it isn’t there, he hasn’t just said something incomplete — since all descriptions are incomplete — he has said something which is false for any sensible definition of his terms. This objection is not applicable to physicalism as I have defined it, because my hypothetical physical description does not deny consciousness. It doesn’t even mention it: The only way that a physical description, as I have defined it, could deny consciousness is if 1) “consciousness” is defined in terms of the vocabulary of my physical description. 2) “consciousness is absent,” follows from that definition and one or more statements in my description. But, by hypothesis, the physical statements are true and consciousness is not absent from the system they describe.

            Your distinction between “incomplete” and “false” here seems really elegant and helpful. Thanks for that. I would further agree that my main beef is with materialism of the Rosenberg sort (because it is false) than with the physicalist project you’re describing. All the metaphysical systems I’m aware of are incomplete in one way or another–seemingly necessarily so, as you hint at–so your physicalism’s specific incompleteness w/r/t, e.g., intentionality doesn’t make it any less a respectable view.

          • Ray

            My concern is with saying “if it can’t be measured in a falsifiable experiment, it’s not real.” I fear that standard leaves out too much of reality.

            Physicists attribute iron in the Earth’s core to nuclei crashing into each other in the center of a long dead star 5 billion years ago. Good luck getting measuring those ancient nuclear reactions directly. (The iron in the earth’s core isn’t a picnic to measure either. It’s detectable via seismic waves, gravometric measurements of the earth’s density, and geomagnetism. But you need to do lots of modeling and reasoning by way of analogy with iron meteorites to reach any degree of certainty that that’s what it is.)

            I can’t exactly specify red, but I can allude to it (“it’s a warmer color than blue,” e.g.) in ways that get at something that’s not contained in either equations describing light wavelengths or MRI scans of people looking at red stuff

            Well, suppose I had a specification of what happened when a person looked at red (at the level of nerve firings, not just the crude blood flow stuff you get with MRI,) and I could compare that response to what happened when the same person was resting next to a warm fireplace with a blanket. Suppose I could track in detail how these events altered the persistent patterns of nerve firings associated with memory by previous experiments. How these persistent patterns interact with the parts of the brain involved with language processing making linguistic productions such as typing the letters “red is a warm color” more frequent than “red is a cool color.” In short, if I know enough about the physical regularities of the world in which we both live and enough about the physical configuration of your brain to know that you will type “red is a warm color” when you see a certain pattern of pixels on the screen, what more have I learned when you actually do it? Even barring that level of near-godlike omniscience, it seems to me that an understanding of the commonality between neural responses to red stimuli and warm stimuli, and how that similarity is picked up by other parts of the brain during self-identified periods of introspection, is vastly more informative than the brute utterance “red is a warm color” — which, freed of any context aside from the literal meaning of the words, might just be a linguistic convention that wouldn’t have developed at all had a butterfly flapped its wings differently 9000 years ago (I doubt it, but there certainly are linguistic conventions like that.)

            I think intentionality is a harder case for physicalism than qualia.

            I assume you get this from Feser. Near as I can tell, his argument boils down to “biologists like Dawkins use a lot of teleological language (selfish gene, evolutionary function etc.)” If this is your argument.

            1) I find it extremely hubristic to assume you (or Feser) knows what Dawkins means by his teleological language, better than he does himself. If Dawkins thinks he’s using these words to describe something ultimately reducible to the level of physics, I’d take his word for it, unless you have a really good argument otherwise.
            2)Just because a biologist uses a word, like purpose, that is not in the standard vocabulary of physics, does not mean biology can’t be reduced to physics in principle. “Benzene” is not mentioned in any description of the Standard Model of particle physics I’ve ever heard of. It doesn’t mean Chemists don’t see their discipline as ultimately grounded in physics.

            With all that said, there is a sense in which you might be right that the purely physical descriptions are less complete than those that use more abstract language. When Dawkins writes about selfish genes, archaeo-purpose, and neo-purpose, his human readers are able to make better predictions about the world than they would, had they instead read a translation of his prose into statements in the language of fundamental physics (indeed I doubt they would have been able to read to the end of such a description, let alone understand it.) Humans are not perfectly rational deduction machines with infinite computational capacity, and so, they learn more from mildly ambiguous, brief passages about telos, than they do from long descriptions involving hydrogen bonds between nucleotides being transformed by way of reactions catalyzed by polypeptides. Even if the conclusions Dawkins means to allude to follow from the physical facts of the world as directly as the Price equation follows from the axioms of the real numbers, a description by analogy to familiar teleological patterns of human thought will get Dawkins readers to an understanding of the biological world far faster than the brute facts which are logically equivalent.

            All this is to say, that the completeness of the physical description is somewhat dependent on what you mean by a “complete” description. Nonetheless, even if the completeness of physics is only on physics’s own terms — i.e. nothing outside of physics is needed to answer questions about the physical configuration of the universe and its history, that would still mean that a universe with miracles is different from one without, and therefore requires an expanded (and probably far less parsimonious) set of physical assumptions.

          • Ray

            Urk. last line should read: “… a universe with miracles is *physically* different from one without, and therefore requires an expanded (and probably far less parsimonious) set of physical assumptions.”

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

            Ray,
            Took your advice and read “Quining Qualia,” which was great. Couldn’t find a Kindle edition of Consciousness Explained, but I downloaded Content and Consciousness Monday night and it’s just fantastic so far. His discussion of why no one is a dualist about “voices” is a really intriguing set up for what I expect will be a superb argument against qualia. I’m not persuaded yet, but it’s obvious that this guy’s physicalism deserves a respectful hearing–he’s obviously got more philosophical talent in his fingertips than I have at all. With some shame, I have to confess that I haven’t really read any Dennett, having been so unimpressed both with the other three “Horsemen” and with other eliminativists I’ve read. By directing me to Dennett, you’ve persuaded me to give physicalism another (very serious) look–with all that implies for Catholicism. Following the truth wherever it leads sure is a roller-coaster.

          • Ray

            Thanks. I’m glad you liked my reading suggestion. Let me know if you want any more recommendations. (interestingly enough I have read Consciousness Explained, but not Content and Consciousness.)

        • Ray

          Oh. It’s also worth noting that Hallq from the atheist channel is sympathetic to philosophers like Chalmers if that’s what you mean by neutral monism. http://www.patheos.com/blogs/hallq/2013/03/a-bit-of-philosophy-of-mind-do-these-quotes-on-consciousness-make-sense-to-you/ The discussion may also be worth reading.

          (but I hasten to reiterate that I think you shouldn’t just dismiss philosophers like Dennett as too “materialist,” since even Dennett only denies qualia in a very narrow technical sense and wholeheartedly embraces “conscious experience.”)

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

            Thanks for the tip about Hallq!

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

      FWIW, I see evolution (and evolutionary psychology) as a defeater of the claim “Materialism struggles to explain qualia and intentionality.”

      We can and do see a gradual build up of consciousness. Apes are certainly conscious and self aware, able to learn sign language, demonstrate complex social dynamics, attribute agency to other animals, etc. But they’re clearly not on the same cognitive level as humans. Ape consciousness reduces down to dog consciousness in much the same way, on down through mice, insects, earthworms, plankton, etc.

      Any way I look at it, I end up arriving at the same question (which I’ve repeated ad nauseum in this thread, so this is the last time, promise): where does the magic happen? I’ve yet to hear a compelling case for where exactly materialism stops working (since most people I know don’t argue that plankton have souls.)

      I think if I was not aware that evolution was true, I would probably be a theist of some kind.

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

        We can and do see a gradual build up of consciousness. Apes are certainly conscious and self aware, able to learn sign language, demonstrate complex social dynamics, attribute agency to other animals, etc. But they’re clearly not on the same cognitive level as humans. Ape consciousness reduces down to dog consciousness in much the same way, on down through mice, insects, earthworms, plankton, etc.

        Except for the most abstract reasoning, hylomorphists posit that human consciousness is the product of the sensitive soul, which all animals have. Whatever hominids existed prior to and contemporary with Adam and Eve presumably had no rational souls. When, e.g., in Genesis 4:17, we read of Cain’s wife, it is questionable whether she or her kindred had rational souls–I would presume not. Provided Cain and his wife didn’t feel the need to talk about higher mathematics, I doubt either of them would’ve noticed the difference, since she was doubtless smarter than the smartest ape, cetacean, corvid, or elephant we’re familiar with today. She would have experienced qualia, emotions, etc., just as we see higher animals experiencing them today. It’s mechanism, not hylomorphism, that once posited with Descartes that a dog was merely an unconscious automaton. Phenomena like signing simians and clever corvids dovetail better with hylomorphism than with materialism.
        .
        All humans alive today are the descendants of Adam and Eve, and each has a rational soul. But until the whole population was descended from Adam, humans (rational animals) and non-human (in the metaphysical sense) human-like animals were living side-by-side. N.B., this replaces the unsavory incest posited in “Inherit the Wind” with an even more unsavory bestiality. Preemptively conceded.

        (since most people I know don’t argue that plankton have souls.)

        A vegetative soul, responsible for nutrition, growth, and reproduction, would necessarily accompany a body organized (with whatever organelles or what have you) as unicellular plankton. All organisms have vegetative souls.

        I’ve yet to hear a compelling case for where exactly materialism stops working . . .

        Materialism doesn’t stop working: it never works. Unless formal and final causality were imminent throughout nature, then stochastic, unguided evolution by natural selection of random variations wouldn’t make any sense: evolution is a process by which functionality (final causality) is refined through environmental action on the material substrates of formal causality (genetic information, organismic organization). To be sure, to say that an organ exhibits functionality is not to say that it was “designed” or some other such nonsense. But it is to say that the conceptual category of “functionality” contains information about reality: “designedness” may be an illusion, but “usefulness” is not.
        .
        Further, without inherent teleology imminent within nature, one is necessarily reduced to Humean skepticism about whether even entirely material events (a rock striking water and causing ripples, e.g.) exhibit causality or merely oft-repeated correspondence. Hylomorphism goes all the way down. Materialism fails from the ground up.

        I think if I was not aware that evolution was true, I would probably be a theist of some kind.

        Anglophones’ minds are too shaped by debates between the heirs of the materialist mechanism of Huxley and the Cartestian dualist mechanism of intelligent design advocates like Paley. It is certainly true that watchmaker arguments are silly. However, evolution dovetails better with hylomorphism than with mechanism: the continual struggles of right-thinking physicalists to avoid falling into the unfashionable language of formal and final causality (selfish genes, genetic information, fitness, selection, etc.) reflects this. Evolution is a good reason not to be a creationist. But it is if anything an argument for hylomorphism, not against it.

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

          Once you start arguing over sensitive vs. vegetative vs. rational souls, you’ve left behind any pretext of empirically deriving a non-materialist universe. The question at hand is whether materialism is up to the task of describing the world which we observe, or whether we must invoke some form of dualism. My claim is simply that one can iteratively reduce the human experience via the mechanism of evolution. Materialism need not explain humans in this framework; it must only explain earthworms. If earthworms can be explained, then evolution can be the crane that gets us to humanity. And I’ve not seen any evidence, empirical, philosophical, or otherwise, to indicate that an earthworm is anything more than the sum of it’s physical part. In particular, claims that materialism cannot explain the subjective human experience of consciousness- the only legitimate argument I’ve heard for why materialism doesn’t work- seem kind of laughable when you apply them to earthworms instead.

          evolution is a process by which functionality (final causality) is refined through environmental action on the material substrates of formal causality (genetic information, organismic organization).

          It sounds like you’re simply arguing that cause and effect is a real thing. Conceded. This in no way demonstrates a flaw in materialism, or that any organism is being led toward some ultimate higher-order form. Quite the opposite- it is the idea of a soul, which instantiates non-causal free will in an organism, that suffers from the reality of cause and effect.

          But it is to say that the conceptual category of “functionality” contains information about reality: “designedness” may be an illusion, but “usefulness” is not.

          “Usefulness” is only sensical when directed towards some heuristic. In the case of evolution, “usefulness” means “more likely to cause genetic replication.” But there’s no extra information contained in the fact that trait X is “useful” in that sense. All the information is encoded into the DNA and the environment; we simply require a higher level abstraction for our finite minds to make sense of it.

          It is much the same way that knowing an airplane is able to fly doesn’t actually give us any extra information- the information is all encoded in the atoms that make up the airplane and the relevant laws of physics. If we could hold an accurate model of the airplane in our heads- each individual atom and the physical forces applied to all of them- that model would yield better predictions than the naive model “airplanes can fly.”

          Phenomena like signing simians and clever corvids dovetail better with hylomorphism than with materialism.

          You’ve totally lost me here. I’m not sure if I’m simply missing the argument, but common ancestry is a perfectly reasonable explanation for similarities between humans and other animals in a materialistic framework. In fact, it is a falsifiable prediction that materialism makes. If humans were indeed demonstrably of a different type of thing than other animals, materialism would be falsified. It turns out that we are not.

          without inherent teleology imminent within nature, one is necessarily reduced to Humean skepticism about whether even entirely material events (a rock striking water and causing ripples, e.g.) exhibit causality or merely oft-repeated correspondence

          Meh. Cause and effect work in practice. It’s an empirical observation. If I’m not allowed to trust empirical observations, then I’m done with the philosophy game, because there’s no way to verify anything anymore. I acknowledge that in principle there’s no way to differentiate oft-repeated correspondence from actual causality, but I am not troubled by it. I mostly care about cause and effect because of it’s predictive power anyway, and in that sense is indistinguishable from oft-repeated correspondence. Perhaps some others are more troubled by this than I.

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

            Jake,

            Once you start arguing over sensitive vs. vegetative vs. rational souls, you’ve left behind any pretext of empirically deriving a non-materialist universe.

            Empirically? As in scientific falsifiability? Sure. Conceded. It’s a metaphysical position.

            The question at hand is whether materialism is up to the task of describing the world which we observe, or whether we must invoke some form of dualism.

            Okay.

            My claim is simply that one can iteratively reduce the human experience via the mechanism of evolution. Materialism need not explain humans in this framework; it must only explain earthworms.

            Materialism fails to explain earthworms in multiple ways. Among them:
            1. The chemical reactions within the earthworm are parts of lawlike causal chains: with some notion of immanent final causality, this makes sense. Without it, materialism leaves us with Humean skepticism of the sort that doesn’t bother you but does trouble me.
            2. An earthworm is not merely an automaton: presumably there is something it is like to be an earthworm. Materialism does not account for this. (If you doubt that there is something it is like to be an earthworm, then you are drawing an unwarranted line between conscious and non-conscious animals.)

            If earthworms can be explained, then evolution can be the crane that gets us to humanity. And I’ve not seen any evidence, empirical, philosophical, or otherwise, to indicate that an earthworm is anything more than the sum of it’s physical part. In particular, claims that materialism cannot explain the subjective human experience of consciousness- the only legitimate argument I’ve heard for why materialism doesn’t work- seem kind of laughable when you apply them to earthworms instead.

            They don’t seem laughable to me. There is obviously something it is like to be an ape, a cetacean, a corvid, or an elephant. I suggest to you that there is something it is like to be any animal you care to name. I imagine the “something it is like to be an earthworm” is a very rudimentary suite of qualia indeed: a succession of touch-like, kinesthetic, and digestive sensations (or something similar) with (obviously) no unifying narrative personality. But I can’t think of any principled reason for there to be some “magic” that happens somewhere between earthworms and apes. To sum up, you have three options:
            1. No animals, including humans, are conscious. (The eliminative, Rosenberg-type position.) Refuted by introspection and by being itself necessarily couched in meaning-bearing words.
            2. Some animals (humans, apes, etc.) are conscious. Others (invertebrates?) are not. Then you have to draw some magic line. Maybe you can. Good luck with that. If you decide to stick with this position, I think you’d be better off pointing to unicellular animals rather than an invertebrate with a nervous system that includes a cerebral ganglion and mediates plenty of aversive and appetitive behavior. Even with unicellular animals, though, I’m just going to kvetch to you that you’re not accounting for chemotaxis.
            3. All animals are conscious. Hylomorphism, neutral monism, and panpsychism all posit this. Ray has pointed out that Dennett’s materialism does, too. If so, that’s a better tack for you to take, I think.

            This in no way demonstrates a flaw in materialism, or that any organism is being led toward some ultimate higher-order form.

            I’m not arguing that organisms are being “led” anywhere. All evidence is consistent with the idea that evolution is an undirected process. S.J. Gould somewhere explains increasing complexity by likening evolution to a drunkard walking against a wall to his left. As the drunk sways unsteadily, he can only sway so far to the left because of the wall, so he tends over time to end up walking a little further to the right without any intention of doing so. Similarly, organisms can’t get any less complex than the simplest organisms, so random evolution will tend over time to lead to some more complex organisms just because that’s the only free design space available for the random process to explore. No argument on any of that from me: it’s all very commonsensical, frankly.
            .
            To forestall a question about where theism is in this process: God appears to have created a universe (or multiverse, whatever) in which a random walk eventually led, on at least one planet, to animals capable of abstract rationality, which is the only theologically (and metaphysically) relevant human distinctive vis-à-vis other animals. But the actual evolutionary process, IMHO, looks like the product of the sort of Divine non-intervention that would accord as well with Deism as classical theism. So be it: evolution is not amenable to being a “god-of-the-gaps” proof of theism, I.D. is unwarranted, and although science has yet to figure out the mechanics of abiogenesis, I assume the mechanisms will be figured out eventually. All happily conceded.

            Quite the opposite- it is the idea of a soul, which instantiates non-causal free will in an organism, that suffers from the reality of cause and effect.

            There are various compatibilist-type arguments about that. But since you said that the task at hand is to discern whether materialism adequately describes the world (i.e., rather than why its competitors might not), I’ll just leave this point alone.

            “Usefulness” is only sensical when directed towards some heuristic. In the case of evolution, “usefulness” means “more likely to cause genetic replication.” But there’s no extra information contained in the fact that trait X is “useful” in that sense. All the information is encoded into the DNA and the environment; we simply require a higher level abstraction for our finite minds to make sense of it.

            What is the materialist meaning of the phrase “information is encoded”? From what very little I’ve encountered of, e.g., Shannon’s information theory, it distinguishes between signal and noise, which seem to be rather intentional concepts. Maybe you have another definition.

            It is much the same way that knowing an airplane is able to fly doesn’t actually give us any extra information- the information is all encoded in the atoms that make up the airplane and the relevant laws of physics. If we could hold an accurate model of the airplane in our heads- each individual atom and the physical forces applied to all of them- that model would yield better predictions than the naive model “airplanes can fly.”

            The laws of physics are mathematical. So now your universe has atoms and math in it, not just atoms. The atoms are material causes. The mathematical regularities obeyed by the atoms look a lot to me like formal causality. Without some notion of formal causality, you just have a bunch of observed regularities that look mathematical but don’t cash out that way when you’re speaking carefully. With formal causality, the math gets to be part of your universe, not just a manner of speaking about it that you have to be careful not to take too seriously.

            You’ve totally lost me here. I’m not sure if I’m simply missing the argument, but common ancestry is a perfectly reasonable explanation for similarities between humans and other animals in a materialistic framework.

            Common ancestry isn’t the issue. Not disputing that or using it as evidence for or against anything.

            In fact, it is a falsifiable prediction that materialism makes. If humans were indeed demonstrably of a different type of thing than other animals, materialism would be falsified. It turns out that we are not.

            Right. (Mostly; I’d argue there are some differences w/r/t abstract rationality, but they’re not on point so I won’t quibble.) But one of the things we share with other animals is the experience of qualia. Even if there were no humans at all, materialism would be inadequate to explain this universe. This is in no way a “human exceptionalism” argument. Not even a little bit.
            .
            Materialism fails on earthworms because there is something it is like to be an earthworm. Materialism even fails on atoms (or quarks or quantum fields or whatever) because they follow formalistic mathematical laws with the causal regularity of immanent teleology rather than the acausality countenanced by Humeanism. Metaphysical materialism fails all the way down; no human exceptionalism about it.
            .
            The only out I can see for you on atoms is to somehow invoke quantum vacuum fluctuations as acausal or something; that still sounds fishy to me, but I’m not competent to evaluate the argument since I lack physics training. On earthworm qualia, though, I just can’t see how you prevail, although of course you could always surprise me.

            Meh. Cause and effect work in practice. It’s an empirical observation.

            Empirical? How much does “causality” weigh? If by “empirical” you mean that the social practice of science has been successful in part through positing causality, then okay. But positing causality is a metaphysical thing to do.

            If I’m not allowed to trust empirical observations, then I’m done with the philosophy game, because there’s no way to verify anything anymore.

            The philosophy game is not about falsifiable predictions. Neither, e.g., is the game of Go. Lots of interesting games have different rules than the science game. If you only like the science game, that’s fine. But other games have other rules.

            I acknowledge that in principle there’s no way to differentiate oft-repeated correspondence from actual causality, but I am not troubled by it. I mostly care about cause and effect because of it’s predictive power anyway, and in that sense is indistinguishable from oft-repeated correspondence. Perhaps some others are more troubled by this than I.

            Predictive power is indeed the salient aspect for the science game. Foundational concerns are a bigger deal than predictive power in the philosophy game.

          • http://thoughtfulatheist.blogspot.com Jake

            Irenist,

            I think we have a fundamental disagreement on the role of metaphysics. You say things like “The philosophy game is not about falsifiable predictions,” and “Foundational concerns are a bigger deal than predictive power in the philosophy game,” and generally suggest that empiricism is not the correct tool to evaluate philosophical claims. I cannot conceive of a tool other than empiricism by which to evaluate any a posteriori claim. Without the ability to go out and look around at what universe we’re actually living in, I see no way to differentiate the infinite number of self-consistent systems one could construct.

            If you’re willing to cop to your metaphysics not making any demands on anticipated experiences, well, I guess I can’t do much but shake my head about how differently we see the world. But I would be surprised if a Thomist would admit to such.

            To sum up, you have three options:
            1. No animals, including humans, are conscious. (The eliminative, Rosenberg-type position.) Refuted by introspection and by being itself necessarily couched in meaning-bearing words.
            2. Some animals (humans, apes, etc.) are conscious. Others (invertebrates?) are not. Then you have to draw some magic line. Maybe you can. Good luck with that. If you decide to stick with this position, I think you’d be better off pointing to unicellular animals rather than an invertebrate with a nervous system that includes a cerebral ganglion and mediates plenty of aversive and appetitive behavior. Even with unicellular animals, though, I’m just going to kvetch to you that you’re not accounting for chemotaxis.
            3. All animals are conscious. Hylomorphism, neutral monism, and panpsychism all posit this. Ray has pointed out that Dennett’s materialism does, too. If so, that’s a better tack for you to take, I think.

            There’s a fourth option, I think, that you’re ignoring: that consciousness isn’t binary. Animals aren’t simply “conscious” or “unconscious”, much like animals aren’t simply “complex” or “uncomplex”. Some animals are more complex. There are varying levels of consciousness and self awareness in animals- a fact backed up by lots of experimentation.

            You’re certainly correct that my strategy henceforth shall be in discussing single celled organisms instead of earthworms- I had thought you were arguing from human exceptionalism, which I now understand you are definitely not.

            A claim that a single-celled organims- or a chemotaxi- is conscious seems to completely ignore the fact that, so far as we can tell, the mind is dependant on the brain. It seems like you’re left in the uncomfortable position of saying that consciousness is not dependant on the brain, which goes against pretty much every experiment ever done in a related subject. Is that the position you’re taking?

            What is the materialist meaning of the phrase “information is encoded”? From what very little I’ve encountered of, e.g., Shannon’s information theory, it distinguishes between signal and noise, which seem to be rather intentional concepts. Maybe you have another definition.

            “Information is encoded” in this case means that if you had a perfect understanding of the rules of the system, and a perfect understanding of the state of the base elements, you could perfectly predict the end result from the current state of the base elements. It’s a claim that there’s no magic extra information floating around- that every particle involved is simply following the rules of the system, and by following those rules, ends up producing the results we observe.

            Saying that some trait is useful gives no extra information to a computer capable of simulating our universe. Such a computer would step through every second, calculate every interaction, and arrive at the outcome we see on a macro level, all without having the slightest inkling that this particular DNA sequence was going to lead to some human having a different colored pigment in their eye.

            The laws of physics are mathematical. So now your universe has atoms and math in it, not just atoms

            Conceded. I admit the existence of math, and mathematical laws governing physical relationships, as a brute fact about reality, much the way I admit the existence of atoms as a brute fact. It is an a posteriori observation.

            Materialism even fails on atoms (or quarks or quantum fields or whatever) because they follow formalistic mathematical laws with the causal regularity of immanent teleology rather than the acausality countenanced by Humeanism. Metaphysical materialism fails all the way down; no human exceptionalism about it

            I’m arguing for causality + materialism + physical laws as obeservable, empirical facts about reality. I’m also arguing that there’s no reason to suspect that anything more than these is necessary for the reality we observe to exist. If there is a form of materialism that denies causality (beyond QM theory that I’m not enough of an expert to comment on), it is not the one I am arguing for. If there is a form of materialism that denies the existence of math, it is also not the one I am arguing for. But calling it “immanent teleology” instead of “cause and effect” doesn’t make it magic.

            But positing causality is a metaphysical thing to do.

            Really? I don’t see how. I would happily give up causality if it could be demonstrated to be false. After all, “assigning probability literally zero [to a non-causal universe] means you can’t change your mind, ever, even if Professor McGonagall shows up with a Time-Turner tomorrow.” I am attached to causality as an empirical claim, not as a metaphysical one.

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