Leah said "yes"

Leah Libresco has consented to a public discussion with me about her conversion to Catholicism.  So far I like the way it’s going.  We’ve both been very frank.  She knows precisely where I stand and what I hope to accomplish and ditto on her end.  She asked only for two weeks to get her life in order.  I think that’s more than reasonable since she’s dealing with quite a lot of traffic right now.

There is one thing I’d like to get out of the way early: her conversion is not a gimmick.  It’s for real.  It’s time to lay to rest the idea that her motivations are somehow insincere.

I’ve also sent her some preliminary questions to mull over in the following weeks.

1.  For those of us who admire your intellect, what is the most compelling piece of evidence that convinced you that Catholicism was true?  In your opinion, should that reason convince others, such as myself?

2.  What parts of Catholicism do you now accept?  Which do you reject?


  • Did Jesus rise from the dead?
  • Do you believe in heaven and hell?  If so…
    • What are the criteria for entry into heaven?  Into hell?
    • Were you to find out today that disobeying the ten commandments meant entry to heaven and abiding by them landed you in hell, would your behavior change?  If so, how?

Any others you feel are particularly relevant would be awesome to read.

3.  I’ve read that you felt the Catholic church had the best grounding for your moral values.  I know how things can get twisted in the media, so is this true?  If so…

  • From what parts of the bible have you derived your moral truths?  What parts, if any, have you decided are not useful morally?  What methodology did you use?
  • Do you have any moral critiques of the Catholic church?

3.  You undoubtedly have a logical proof of some sort for a moral lawgiver.  What is it?

4.  How do you get from the existence of a moral lawgiver to Catholicism?

I’ve told Leah my motivation: that there are a lot of theists now pointing to her conversion as proof that there are good reasons/evidence to believe in god (even if they don’t know what those reasons are).  I either need to confirm that or dispel it.  Questions #3 and #4 were asked to get her reasoning on the table as bare-faced as possible.  The others are to ascertain the nature of her Catholicism and to poke about her moral impulses.

I wish Leah the best, and I certainly don’t view her as a bad person.  But there’s no hiding the fact that sometimes, for the sake of society, we must necessarily be at odds with good people.  Leah undoubtedly feels the same.

This should be interesting.

  • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/unequallyyoked/ Leah @ Unequally Yoked

    But there’s no hiding the fact that sometimes, for the sake of society, we must necessarily be at odds with good people. Leah undoubtedly feels the same.

    I do indeed! I really appreciate the way JT’s engaged me, which is a testament that fierce opposition =/= disrespect.

  • http://www.facebook.com/llamagirl kevinbutler

    I’m really interested in seeing this. Should be good!

  • http://aceofsevens.wordpress.com Ace of Sevens

    Thank you for asking her instead of just going into unflattering speculation so so many Internet atheists have. You’re a class-act, JT.

    • http://freethoughtblogs.com/wwjtd JT Eberhard

      Don’t tell anybody. It’ll ruin my rep.

      • fastlane

        Yer secret’s safe with us! It’s not like we’re going to post any of this on a popular blog network that anyone reads……


      • http://researchtobedone.wordpress.com researchtobedone
  • http://www.facebook.com/paulmmoloney sc_bedcc649a9583aecb153584302d12c2e

    I’m interested in some of the answers too, as so far LL has addressed her philosophical reasons for becoming a Catholic (I’m an ex-Irish Catholic – “Worse than the ordinary miserable childhood” – Frank McCOurt) while sidestepping any historical or scientific debate.


  • Hairy Chris, blah blah blah etc

    Not familiar with Leah’s blog but this could be a very interesting conversation. I’m a Proddie atheist, but know a few Catholics who are/were all in the church by birth. I’ve not, to my knowledge, come across any converts.

  • Anteprepro

    Might I suggest that you read the latest on the subject over at Camels with Hammers? I think that it might serve as inspiration for a few more questions, regarding what/how much she has read in regards to (professional) atheistic philosophy in comparison to Catholic philosophy. Personally and on a similar note, I am curious about how much she read about non-Catholic religions and the philosophy relevant to them, compared to Catholicism. She seems to have been flooded in Catholic philosophy due to the arrangement she had with her boyfriend, and I wonder if she went out of her way to see the state of philosophy in other religions in any comparable level of detail. It should be obvious to anyone that having such a disproportionately large amount of study in one specific religion would bias one towards believing that the most-studied religion is more intellectually supported than others. It seems like there is more to religion X than any other religion simply because the student has spent more time learning about and studying religion X than any other religion. That says nothing about the relative content or merit of the religions where a similar effort was not put forward, but most people don’t realize that.

    • ACN

      Agreed with Anteprepro.

      Daniel has some excellent posts on this topic that are well worth reading.

  • Gregory Marshall

    Since she specifically convert to Catholicism. You should ask her about transubstantiation and papal infallibility.

    • http://aceofsevens.wordpress.com Ace of Sevens

      Catholics don’t believe that the pope is infallible except when he speaks ex cathedra. This has only happened twice, IIRC: Once to establish the ex cathedra doctrine and once to establish the immaculate conception doctrine.

      • Hairy Chris, blah blah blah etc

        I think that the point is that the pope can, arbitrarily in my view at least, make any claim of doctrinal infallibility in the first place.

        • Erick

          Papal infallibity neither means that the pope is infallible nor that the pope is arbitrary. To argue that a pope could be arbitrary is to have no understanding at all about the Catholic meaning of “human relationship”.

          A pope is limited by not only his responsibility to the deposit of faith, but by his responsibility to and relationship with all faithful Catholics (and their reflection and divination over the last 2000+ years) worldwide past, present, and future.

          Only an outsider, such as an aetheist I guess, could actually contemplate that the pope’s absolute authority means unlimited power. Even the worst, most sinful popes had enough understanding to know not to be arbitrary about the Catholic faith.

          • Hairy Chris, blah blah blah etc

            OK… Under what circumstances can he be said to be speaking ex cathedra? Self declared? After a conclave of some sort?

            There are no circumstances that I can think of that are not problematic.

          • Za-zen

            No, no that just won’t do.

            Pope Benedict IX
            Pope Urban II
            Pope Beneface VIII
            Pope John XXIII

            And on and on…….the pope is as arbitrary as he wants to be, and as evil as he wants to be, a pope is mo limited becuase he can’t be deposed, he can do whatever the hell he likes and the only way you catholics have to stop him, is to whack him, because of course god itself appointed him.

          • Za-zen

            Ahhhh i forgot to mention my favourite pope steven VI, who exhumed his predecessor had him seated on a throne in a mock trial whilst he fired accusations at him! The corpse was indeedmfound guilty, and had three of its fingers cut off! Then it was tossed in the tiber….. Ahhh those catholic popes and their direct hot line to the sky daddy.

      • http://www.facebook.com/paulmmoloney sc_bedcc649a9583aecb153584302d12c2e

        Also, the Assumption of Mary VTOL-like into heaven:



        • Hairy Chris, blah blah blah etc

          Isn’t that kind of similar to what Mohammed did?

          Oh, wait…

      • http://atheismtube.com/ Atheismtube

        So the pope can be infallible…except when he’s not. Wait a second…

      • http://bigthink.com/blogs/daylight-atheism Adam Lee

        This is true in and of itself, but the pope speaking ex cathedra isn’t the only way the Catholic church can establish a new “infallible” doctrine.

        There’s a lesser-known but probably much more frequently used method: if every bishop in the world agrees on a particular belief at a particular point in time, that belief automatically becomes infallible dogma binding on all future generations of Catholics. The church calls this the “ordinary and universal magisterium”. Pope John Paul II, for instance, stated that the prohibition on female priests was a permanent and infallible part of Catholic belief because of this.

  • karmakin

    I think the big question is What is the nature of said moral lawgiver? Are we talking about something about moralities inherent in the system, which is almost a pantheistic view, or a sort of set it and forget it style, which is closer to deism, or are we talking a strong theistic viewpoint of an active deity who can intervene in our existence?

    To be honest, I’m not a strict rationalist, and as such, pantheistic and even deistic belief structures simply don’t bother me that much. I find them quaint, in the same way I find beliefs in UFO’s and Bigfoot, but relatively unimportant. So the idea that someone could convert into Catholicism for cultural and philosophical reasons, given a certain level of desired verisimilitude, isn’t something that really bothers me that much.

    What DOES concern me about this, is that I feel like a lot of it reads like a defense of Natural Law. That what is right is right just because. This often leads to a lot of bad moral ends, such as the anti-homosexual focus of the Catholic church, as a big example. There’s no reason for it. It’s just because. The over-reliance on concepts of natural law are a big reason why religious morality is often lacking.

    This is why by and large I reject the notion that morals are self-evident and explorational. I prefer a rational, utilitarian model, where we compare the effects of an action on various affected people, and the in-total result is the “correct” action. The problem with this, of course is that this calculus is often insanely complicated, and we can have different perspectives that greatly change the math on how this works out. But, the more important part is that at least it gives us some sort of common language that we can use (a harm/benefit model) to discuss moral issues.

    And we might not always be right…in fact we won’t be. But I think our chances are much higher under that system than they are under a natural law-based system.

  • http://www.ziztur.com Flimsyman

    “Admire her intellect” is exactly correct. I’m genuinely wracking my brain for a person that was an intelligent, thoughtful atheist and who converted as an adult. Maybe Anthony Flew, but honestly, I’d rate Leah as a notch or two above him based on my admittedly limited knowledge of either of their thought.

    I’m really, really looking forward to this exchange.

  • IslandBrewer

    Frankly, I’m much more looking forward to this exchange than watching Thunderfoot debating Ray Comfort, which was, although entertaining, like shooting fish in a barrel (or more accurately, shooting really dumb fish in a barrel shaped coffee cup).

  • justsomeguy

    Personally, I’d split the first question into two. Part one would be something like “why change from atheist to theist” and part two would be “why Catholicism specifically?”

  • starfoster

    I’d love to see a Google+ Hangout discussion.

  • gordonduffy

    I don’t get it. To believe there is a moral law giver is to believe morality is arbrary and/or meaningless. There is no way out of the Euthyphro Dilema.

    • John Horstman

      I’ve always had a problem with god-as-moral-lawgiver. Even if real, why, exactly, should I subscribe to Yahweh’s definition of right and wrong? Because he made everything? My parents made me, but that doesn’t mean it’s a good idea to let them dictate my worldview and morality (Catholics might well disagree with this, what with all that honor thy parents or be stoned to death stuff). Might makes right? By what virtue can Yahweh claim moral authority?

      I agree – unless morality is an emergent phenomenon of reality itself, or the evolution or life, or some other intrinsic universal process, it is arbitrary and therefore rather meaningless. The existence of a creator-god doesn’t imply that it should be the moral authority, nor does the existence of a moral authority imply the existence of a creator-god. I’m very curious why Libresco concluded that the attractiveness of Catholic moral philosophy (that was apparently her path in) justifies a belief in the truth of any of their specific claims about the nature of the universe, or, alternately, if she doesn’t believe in any of the specific claims about the nature of the universe, by what reasoning she calls herself a Catholic.

      If Yahweh somehow turned out to be real, I’d oppose him like I oppose any authoritarian genocidist. Were he real, he’d be an evil god, not worthy of worship but instead resistance.

  • http://malkyrian.blogspot.com/ Malkyrian

    Questions #3 and #4 were asked to get her reasoning on the table as bare-faced as possible.

    Which question #3?

  • MurOllavan

    Interested in this a lot. I’m looking forward to hearing about why Catholicism matches her moral philosophy. I always thought it was horrific which is why I left.

  • http://bigthink.com/blogs/daylight-atheism Adam Lee

    You probably didn’t intend it this way, JT, but the title of this post makes it sound like you made Leah a marriage proposal. ;)

    • http://freethoughtblogs.com/wwjtd JT Eberhard

      I did. Mostly because I’m a smartass.

  • http://freethoughtblogs.com/camelswithhammers Daniel Fincke

    She can’t have said “yes” to you!! She already said “yes” to me last week!! (And she also asked me for time before she would actually be able to debate.)

  • Johnston

    So what happened to this? She said she’ll debate things with you in two weeks, long time ago now. Did it happen?

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  • http://www.facebook.com/paulmmoloney sc_bedcc649a9583aecb153584302d12c2e

    Given that her followup post completely baffles me from the 7th word in, and seems to answer none of the questions I or you are interested in, I think it’s time I bow out of the Leah Libresco saga, which while initially interesting is today’s fish and chip wrapper.


  • Jesse Weinstein

    Here’s one of Leah’s posts responding to this, that doesn’t seem to have been linked here yet:


    It’s responding to question #2.