June 16, 2018

This came about in my combox after I posted a critique of a paper by John W. Loftus: The Census, Jesus’ Birth in Bethlehem, & History: Reply to Atheist John W. Loftus’ Irrational Criticisms of the Biblical Accounts.  Loftus’ words will be in blue.

* * * * *


Dave, have you read any of my books yet? You should.

[Here they are:

Why I Rejected Christianity: A Former Apologist Explains (2006)

Why I Became an Atheist: A Former Preacher Rejects Christianity (2008)

Why I Became an Atheist: Personal Reflections and Additional Arguments (2008)

The Christian Delusion: Why Faith Fails (with Dan Barker, 2010)

The End of Christianity (scheduled for 26 July 2011) ]

No. I’d rather see you defend what you say in your innumerable posts. You’re gonna outwrite me! Very few do that! :-)

I gave you plenty to think about in this piece. You can choose to ignore it and join in on the mocking that they are now doing on your blog, or you can actually interact with a meaty, substantive critique. Maybe Christians have a valid point of objection once in a blue moon, huh? Maybe you got a few things wrong in your critique of the Bible? Is it possible?

Dave, do you agree with me that how we see any one particular issue depends on a whole lot of background knowledge?

Absolutely. I made note of that in the paper, in discussing the high importance of presuppositions.

If so, then in order for you see these things the way I do you need to understand more of the background knowledge I have that makes me see things the way I do. That can only be understood by reading my books. If you don’t want to I understand.

I don’t need to read a book in order to make it possible to engage in a dialogue with you on one particular topic (the Bethlehem thing). The thing that would most likely make me curious enough to read one of your books, would be to see you actually defend your opinions under scrutiny. But atheists, in my experience, have been mostly unwilling to do that.

And do you agree with me that Catholic biblical scholars are almost all liberals with regard to the infancy narratives? Debate them.

Wouldn’t surprise me. Liberalism has made huge inroads into Catholic biblical scholarship, for various reasons.

You made the claims. I disputed them. You can choose to not defend your positions if you like. It’ll be a matter of record here. We all have limited time. I understand that. I don’t have the time or desire right now to read your book(s). You don’t have the time or desire to respond to this critique.

There can be reasons other than inability or fear; I grant that. I would just like to see more dialogue take place. If not, then it is still worthwhile for me to “defeat the defeater” and show how atheist arguments fall remarkably short of their goals.

Now, if we had some understanding that if I read your book(s), then you would be willing to actually defend your views point-by-point, in a public written dialogue (to be posted unedited on my site) then I might very well be willing to do so.

I would be happy to respond point-by-point to portions of your books if you sent me the electronic text (i.e., in part). I ain’t gonna type all that out! If I recall correctly, I asked you this before and you refused. I might be thinking of someone else, though.

I continue to seek amiable, constructive dialogue with atheists. It may, indeed, turn out to be an unattainable goal, but I haven’t given up yet. I’m most interested in defending the Bible against all the onslaughts.

Dave, from past exchanges with you it’s not productive of my time to respond.

Your choice. I may still choose to do critiques, so if you want to leave your work undefended against them, that is up to you. You want me to read your books, but you ain’t interested in a dialogue.

I’ll send you my e-book, Science and Christianity: Close Partners or Mortal Enemies? for free if you like. Any atheist who asks for it can have it for free.

Dave, defend away. I know that’s what you feel you must do. As for an exchange on the issues I raise in my books, I cannot promise that. I wish I could, but I can’t.

All I’m saying is that you’ll find in my books why I see things differently. They probably won’t change your mind but people on both sides of this great divide of ours are saying they are the best out there.

Click on “John’s Three Books” on my blog and read the reviews. I would think if you wish to defend your faith you would want to tackle the best out there. That’s all.

Nothing personal, but if your arguments (what I’ve seen of them) are the “best” that atheism has to offer, that makes my day. :-)

Not that I ever thought atheism had anything to offer in the first place, mind you . . . If you’re the best at defending a falsehood, that ain’t much of a distinction in my book. E for effort, maybe . . .

I do appreciate your confidence. I would just like to see it expressed more concretely (rather than verbally only): with some substantive defenses against critique. Moreover, it’s easy to appear to be the World’s Greatest Expert when you are not interacting with criticism of your opinions. You can create your own little world and bask in the adulation of the choir . . .

Don’t just take my word for it. Here’s what Dr. Dale C. Allison author of Resurrecting Jesus: The Earliest Christian Tradition and Its Interpreters said:

Forget Dawkins. If you are looking for a truly substantial, well-informed criticism of the Christian religion, this is your book. Defenders of the faith will do believer and unbeliever alike a disservice if they do not rise to the challenge and wrestle with the thought-provoking arguments of Loftus and company.

Notice the highlighted words?

If you consider yourself one of the defenders of the faith then according to Allison you’re doing us all a disservice if you don’t rise to the challenge.

Presumably you write on your blog for the same overall purpose of presenting atheism as the truth. So what is the huge difference between reading a post of yours there and critiquing it vs. reading your books and critiquing those?

If you’re not willing to defend what you write on your blog, to what purpose are the posts? Just preaching to the choir? Atheist backslapping and yucking it up about how “ridiculous” Christians are? You see yourself as the Pied Piper of Impiety or sumpin’?

If you won’t defend a blog post, then why would I think you would be willing to defend any portions of your books? I already said that if you sent me a chapter or two electronically, I would critique them line-by-line and you could show where my reasoning went astray. But you haven’t agreed to any of that yet. You just want me to read your books. No dialogue; no rational interaction . . .

I’m doin’ you one better: I’ll send you any of my books for free (e-books) and I’m willing to defend what is in them, too. Only two are really written with atheists directly in mind, though: the science volume and Christian Worldview vs. Postmodernism.

Dave, I’m not the World’s Greatest Expert. Sheesh. If you really want a respectful dialogue stop the misrepresentation.

That was a rhetorical exaggeration. You misunderstand the language of intellectual thrust and parry just as you do the nuances of biblical language. It’s all of a piece. Do you seriously think I literally meant that you think you are the World’s Greatest Expert on atheism? But you do have a rather high opinion of your own work, by your own humble admission: “people on both sides of this great divide of ours are saying they are the best out there.”

And if you paid attention I’m not preaching to the choir. Christian scholars also recommend my books.

How is that a counter-point at all? So what? I’m talking about whether you will defend your positions or not. So far you have consistently refused to do so with me. Perhaps it is personal in my case, as you alluded to.

Furthermore, in my books and on my blog I most emphatically do interact with the opposition.

Then why the reluctance to do so presently?

Stop your whining. I can only do what I can do and you are not on my “to do” list.

Didn’t take long for the fangs to come out, did it, John?

If you want to debate someone then debate your own Catholic biblical scholars on this particular issue.

Clever but fundamentally silly deflection . . .

Your views are out of step with biblical scholarship.

Liberal scholarship, not all biblical scholarship . . . and the latter is not confined to Catholics.

It’s not an atheist issue here. Liberals all say the same things.

Couldn’t have said it better myself. Thanks for confirming what I have said about liberals for many years. But why would the fact that you parrot liberals somehow make it no longer an atheist issue? I disagree with both of you. I have explained why. You want no part of an intelligent interaction along those lines. You might have to (horrors!) admit you actually made a mistake in your anti-biblical reasoning, and your choir and fan club over on your blog would be very disappointed and disenchanted to see that, since you guys ridicule and mock Christians as imbeciles and ignoramuses on a daily basis.

It’s called being a scholar and you are not one.

Never said I was, but nice touch. It you think it scores a rhetorical victory to note the obvious and the thing that I always take great pains to state myself, then be my guest. I fail to see why any serious thinker would be impressed with that.

The fact that I am not a scholar, nor as educated as you, seems to me, would be a good reason for you to blow my arguments out of the water, as the inept ramblings of an alleged “pretender,” but instead it is a pretext for your condescending refusals to interact, because I’m not worth your time. But you expect me to have plenty of time to read your book(s), since they are supposedly the “best” out there on atheism. We went through this schtick in our last runaround.

I have Dawkins and Dennett and Hitchens in my library. If I want to read the “best” of a bad lot, I’ll read those, not yours. At least not till you’re willing to defend your opinions in an honest dialogue . . .

Loftus made another reply on his blog, on 7 February 2011:

For everyone’s information there are a few reasons why I don’t bother with Dave Armstrong. We have a history. Do a search for his name here and you’ll see it back in 2007 I think. He comes across as someone who wants a civil discussion but when you disagree his fangs come out. Discussing something with him is like getting in a pigs trough and wallowing in the mire with him.

Like a few other wannabe apologists he will always have the last word. Because of that he will proclaim victory, hey, the person who has the last word is right, right?

He’s ignorant and unworthy of my time:

[makes a link to the post: “On Being Ignorant of One’s Ignorance and Unaware of Being Unskilled” (6-4-10), which includes the following comments:

So I’ll continually be bothered daily at DC by ignorant people who are unaware of their ignorance, especially Christians. That’s the nature of this beast. Worse off, they don’t trust me to tell them what they should understand. . . . For now I’m challenging people to consider whether they are ignorant/unskilled and unaware of it. Most Christians who comment here are. I would say this about them as a former professor of philosophy, apologetics, ethics, and the Bible. . . . But I do know this: I know a hell of a lot more than most people about Christianity. I am not ignorant when it comes to Christianity. I might be wrong, but I’m not ignorant, at least not as ignorant as most of the Christians who comment here. ]

Besides from this [sic] I got nothing bad to say about him.

More of the usual elitist condescension, in other words . . . And there is more of the same in a post entitled, Such Idiocy: I Do Defend My Views Against the Opposition (2-5-11):

There are several blog posts in criticism of what I’ve written that I have not attempted to answer. Because I choose not to do so the accusation is leveled at me that I don’t interact with the opposition. This is such idiocy that no wonder these people believe. Let me explain.

First off, in my books and in my substantive posts here I am most emphatically interacting with the opposition in every paragraph. Does this fact escape their attention or what? When someone makes this accusation then I know I chose correctly not to respond to them. For it confirms what I thought in the first place, that they are ignorant of their own ignorance. Their beef with me is that I ignore them. Well then, what they should do is write something that deserves my response. I have limited time. I can only respond to criticisms I consider important or substantive. I told one such person recently that “I can only do what I can do, and you are not on my ‘to do’ list.” [gives several examples of his defending his own views] . . . These are my choices. Have done then with such idiocy that I don’t interact with the opposition. I do so almost every day in everything I write.

Apparently the “ignorance card” is a droning theme for Loftus. Hence, these remarks from 12-23-10:

I just want to offer a shout out to the skeptics here who help in answering the personal attacks on me and the arguments of some utterly ignorant Christians. It means a lot to me, really. What buffoons some of them are. I have no clue what they hope to accomplish but they certainly view me as a threat, and of that they are right. It’s just that I’m reading what they write and it’s completely ignorant for the most part. I would’ve said that as a Christian professor when I was teaching apologetics. It’s a shame that with a Bible in hand they think they can answer us, isn’t it? They are unaware how ignorant they are. Is there anyone else out there who can reason with us? Oops, sorry, they’re all ignorant.

And in the combox (12-23-10):

[T]his is my conclusion and I’m putting it out there. Some people don’t like me saying it, but I think it’s true. I have spent almost my entire life wrapped up in Christianity, and spent nearly seven years online debating these topics, first on a Christian forum and then on this blog. I have heard nothing from any Christian that shows they understand what atheism is or why their faith is reasonable, nothing. I know what I’m talking about. I might be wrong but I’m clearly not ignorant.


(originally 2-4-11)

Photo credit: Carnival barker at the grounds at the state fair. Rutland, Vermont, September 1941 (Jack Delano) [public domain / Wikimedia Commons]


May 26, 2018

This exchange occurred in one of my blog comboxes. “gusbovona” appears to be an atheist. His (her?) words will be in blue.


The thing I don’t get is why there should be so much interpretation necessary to correctly understand the Bible. The logical thing would be, for a book that would be the most important book in the world if it is as believers claim, to require as little interpretation as possible (I’m admitting that perhaps some interpretation is impossible to remove). But surely writing can require more interpretation, or less.

For instance, one can interpret a story as allegorical if it contains absurd elements, like the story about Jesus withering the fig tree. But it would require less interpretation if allegories were always labeled as such. I suppose there are allegories labeled as such in the Bible, but I presume – correct me if I’m wrong – that not every story in the Bible that should be interpreted allegorically or metaphorically is labeled as such. The Bible would be more clearly written, and require less interpretation, if every single metaphorical or allegorical element were labeled as such.

And the ways in which the Bible requires more interpretation is not limited to just labeling allegory and metaphor. If the analogy of Flatland and dimensions is helpful to understand the Trinity, why isn’t that in the Bible?

It appears, then, that the Bible requires more interpretation than if it had been written differently. And, of course, requiring more interpretation will lead to more possibilities of misunderstanding the Bible. So, I don’t get it.

It requires interpretation because it’s from a different culture and time, in different languages, and because it is complex, with many genres. It’s just flat-out long, too, and has to be read to be accurately understood. It’s also infinitely more sophisticated than atheists — and even many Christians — take it to be. It’s thought that it was written by a bunch of primitive hayseeds, who were very ignorant and uncultured. Some writers were less educated (fishermen, etc.) but there are still very complex ideas. And much of the New Testament was written by a tremendous intellectual, steeped in ancient philosophy (St. Paul).

The well-known Protestant theologian, G. C. Berkouwer, wrote about biblical interpretation:

Such a variety of differing and mutually exclusive interpretations arose – all appealing to the same Scripture – that serious people began to wonder whether an all-pervasive . . . influence of subjectivism in the understanding of Scripture is not the cause of the plurality of confessions in the church. Do not all people read Scripture from their own current perspectives and presuppositions . . . with all kinds of conscious or subconscious preferences? . . . Is it indeed possible for us to read Scripture with free, unbiased, and listening attention? . . . We should never minimize the seriousness of these questions . . . ‘Pre-understanding’ cannot be eliminated. The part which subjectivity plays in the process of understanding must be recognized . . . The interpreter . . . does not approach the text of Scripture with a clean slate. (Studies in Dogmatics: Holy Scripture, Grand Rapids, Michigan: Eerdmans, 1975, translated from Dutch ed. of 1967 by Jack B. Rogers, pp. 106-107, 119)

An attempt has often been made to solve this problem by referring to the ‘objective’ clarity of Scripture, so that every incomplete understanding and insight of Scripture is said to be due to the blinding of human eyes that could not observe the true light shining from it . . . In considering this seemingly simple solution . . . we will soon discover that not all questions are answered by it . . . An incomplete understanding or a total misunderstanding of Scripture cannot simply be explained by blindness. Certain obstacles to understanding may also be related to Scripture’s concrete form of human language conditioned by history . . . Scripture . . . is tied to historical situations and circumstances in so many ways that not every word we read is immediately clear in itself . . . Therefore, it will not surprise us that many questions have been raised in the course of history about the perspicuity of Scripture . . . Some wondered whether this confession of clarity was indeed a true confession . . . The church has frequently been aware of a certain ‘inaccessibility.’ According to Bavinck . . . it may not be overlooked that, according to Rome . . . Scripture is not regarded as a completely obscure and inaccessible book, written, so to speak, in secret language . . . Instead, Rome is convinced that an understanding of Scripture is possible – a clear understanding. But Rome is at the same time deeply impressed by the dangers involved in reading the Bible. Their desire is to protect Scripture against all arbitrary and individualistic exegesis . . . It is indeed one of the most moving and difficult aspects of the confession of Scripture’s clarity that it does not automatically lead to a total uniformity of perception, disposing of any problems. We are confronted with important differences and forked roads . . . and all parties normally appeal to Scripture and its perspicuity. The heretics did not disregard the authority of Scripture but made an appeal to it and to its clear witness with the subjective conviction of seeing the truth in the words of Scripture. (Ibid., pp. 268-271, 286)

J. Derek Holmes, in a book about John Henry Cardinal Newman’s view of Scripture, summarizes this seminal thinker’s ideas on perspicuity and sola Scriptura:

In 1845 . . . Newman pointed out some other limitations of the Scriptures . . . The mere letter of the Bible could not contain the fulness of revelation; Scripture itself could not solve the questions of canonicity or inspiration; its style was indirect and its structure was unsystematic so that even definitions of the Church depended on obscure sentences . . . The inspiration of Scripture was as difficult to establish from the text of the Bible as the doctrine of apostolic succession . . .

The Bible did not contain a complete secular history, and there was no reason why it should contain a complete account of religious truth. It was unreasonable to demand an adequate scriptural foundation for Church doctrines, if the impression gained from the Bible was of writers who took solemn and sacred truths for granted and who did not give a complete or full treatment of the sense of revelation . . . Scripture did not interpret itself, often startling facts were narrated simply, needing the understanding of the Church, and even essential truths were not made clear . . .

Newman, it must be emphasized, held a ‘one-source theory’ of revelation. He believed that the Church and Tradition taught the truth, while Scripture verified, vindicated or proved that teaching. The Bible and Tradition made up the joint rule of faith, antiquity strengthened the faint but real intimations of doctrine given in Scripture, the Bible was interpreted by Tradition which was verified by Scripture . . . The Bible was never intended to teach doctrine to the majority of Christians, but was written for those already instructed in doctrine . . .

It might be possible for an individual Christian to gain the whole truth from the Bible, but the chances were ‘very seriously against a given individual’ doing so in practice. (in J. Derek Holmes & Robert Murray, On the Inspiration of Scripture, Washington, D. C.: Corpus Books, 1967, 7-8, 10-11, 15-16)

Surely then, if the revelations and lessons in Scripture are addressed to us personally and practically, the presence among us of a formal judge and standing expositor of its words, is imperative. It is antecedently unreasonable to suppose that a book so complex, so unsystematic, in parts so obscure, the outcome of so many minds, times and places, should be given us from above without the safeguard of some authority; as if it could possibly, from the nature of the case, interpret itself. Its inspiration does but guarantee its truth, not its interpretation . . . The gift of inspiration requires as its complement the gift of infallibility. (Ibid., 111-112; Newman’s essay On the Inspiration of Scripture, 1884)

I’d also add that Christianity is not a simpleton’s religion. It can be grasped in its basics by the simple and less educated; the masses, but it is very deep the more it is studied and understood. Thus, we would expect the Bible not to be altogether simple. It has complexities, but we can better understand them through human study, just like anything else.

I can accept that a religion might be very complex, but complexity is not the same issue as writing clearly so as to avoid interpretation as much as possible.

If the analogy of Flatland and dimensions is helpful to understand the Trinity, why isn’t that in the Bible?

I would say because it is written in pre-scientific and non-philosophical language. So it simply states (either directly or by direct deduction):

1. God the Father is God.
2. Jesus is God.
3. The Holy Spirit is God.

By and large, it doesn’t attempt more sophisticated analysis of that. There are three Divine Persons, and they are all said to be God; yet there is but one God (monotheism). The Bible (and Hebrew culture and subsequent Christian theology) often express strong paradoxes, as ultimate mysteries.

But it’s not “contradictory” any more than the three-dimensional cube is contradictory to the two-dimensional flat square. The ancient Jews and Christians would accept mysteries in faith as paradoxical (but not contradictory). So the Christians could accept the Holy Trinity based on the biblical revelation that taught it. It was understood that we could not fully understand everything, because God is as far above us in understanding and complexity as the stars, and we shouldn’t expect that we would.

The flatland / dimension analogy to the Trinity was basically a way to explain to skeptics who already disbelieve in it, that the Trinity is not necessarily / indisputably contradictory, as claimed. It is simply another “dimension” that goes beyond our present experience.

Furthermore, we Catholics believe that the Church is needed to guide Christians into a correct understanding of the Bible (just as existing scientific consensus guides new scientific research and provides parameters and a paradigm), because individuals (for a variety of reasons) manage to come up with all kinds of contradictory interpretations. I think this is what the Bible itself teaches: an authoritative Church, as seen in, e.g., the Jerusalem Council in Acts 15.

You’ve contributed a lot of general statements about interpreting the Bible, but I don’t see how any of them address the specific examples I gave, which demonstrate that the Bible could have been written more clearly and require less interpretation if only because of those specific examples. For instance, being from a different time, language, and culture would not have prevented labeling every metaphor as a metaphor, and every allegory as an allegory.

Nor does any of that prevent you from studying so as to learn how to interpret correctly. I think the Bible is clear in its main outlines and teachings, but there are also complexities. I’ve never had any trouble determining what the Bible taught. But I have the basic background to know how to interpret it.

But much of this was understood in the culture when it was written. This is my point. Because we’re not from ancient near Eastern Hebrew culture we have to learn how they thought and interpreted and expressed things.

For example, it was understood that Jesus was speaking metaphorically when He taught parables. The hearers may not have understood the meaning of any given one, but they understood that it was a parable. Jesus then generally explained the meaning to His disciples.

We find Jesus often saying straight out that He was teaching a parable:

Matthew 13:10-14 (RSV) Then the disciples came and said to him, “Why do you speak to them in parables?” [11] And he answered them, “To you it has been given to know the secrets of the kingdom of heaven, but to them it has not been given. [12] For to him who has will more be given, and he will have abundance; but from him who has not, even what he has will be taken away. [13] This is why I speak to them in parables, because seeing they do not see, and hearing they do not hear, nor do they understand. [14] With them indeed is fulfilled the prophecy of Isaiah which says: `You shall indeed hear but never understand, and you shall indeed see but never perceive.

Matthew 21:33 “Hear another parable. There was a householder who planted a vineyard, and set a hedge around it, and dug a wine press in it, and built a tower, and let it out to tenants, and went into another country.”

Mark 4:13 And he said to them, “Do you not understand this parable? How then will you understand all the parables?

Luke 8:9-15 And when his disciples asked him what this parable meant, [10] he said, “To you it has been given to know the secrets of the kingdom of God; but for others they are in parables, so that seeing they may not see, and hearing they may not understand. [11] Now the parable is this: The seed is the word of God. [12] The ones along the path are those who have heard; then the devil comes and takes away the word from their hearts, that they may not believe and be saved. [13] And the ones on the rock are those who, when they hear the word, receive it with joy; but these have no root, they believe for a while and in time of temptation fall away. [14] And as for what fell among the thorns, they are those who hear, but as they go on their way they are choked by the cares and riches and pleasures of life, and their fruit does not mature. [15] And as for that in the good soil, they are those who, hearing the word, hold it fast in an honest and good heart, and bring forth fruit with patience.

[see the rest of the discussion in the combox]


Photo credit: [Pexels.comCreative Commons Zero (CC0) license]


May 9, 2018

“ButILikeCaves” was hyper-insulting and asserted that all Christians are fundamentally dishonest. He was banned as a result, but before he was escorted to the door, he refused to defend his basic axioms. Here is that discussion, with his childish insults omitted, as much as possible, with his words in blue:


Mythology is cool, and fun to study, and can have some good lessons. You should never let it rule your life.

I (like Tolkien and C. S. Lewis) contend that there is such a thing as a “true mythology.”

Physical Evidence: bring it to me. I’ll wait.

Why do you think that evidence is confined to empirical, physical evidence? From whence did you adopt that presupposition?

From reality. And from the fact all other religious types of differing faiths think all the other faiths are wrong. I happen to agree with all of them: they are all wrong. Now I will cut and paste: “Physical Evidence: bring it to me. I’ll wait.”

That’s not an argument. Put up or shut up. Where does this notion come from that the only evidence is physical?

I asked first: you put up or shut up. Ball’s already in your court.

(Normally, this is where I say “I’ll wait”. But you and I both know you will never deliver: thus far no one ever has).

So, I’ll twist the argument around: Where does this notion come from that any real evidence is supernatural? “It can’t empirically proven, therefore (insert deity here) did it” is no greater an argument, and has the disadvantage of completely lacking physical evidence to back it up.

You refuse to answer. What else is new? This is what almost all atheists do when asked hard questions about their axioms (that we all have; it’s only a question of whether we acknowledge them or not).

You asked me about “physical evidence”. Like Socrates would do, I questioned your unexamined premise, and wondered where you got this odd idea from that evidence is confined to physicality (empiricism). And you refuse to answer.

My answer is in my 2000+ online posts and 49 apologetics books (including very extensive web pages on atheism and science and philosophy). It’s a long, complicated answer, but you have already said that you don’t like “long” and have mocked me for supposed long answers above. You want simple slogans and sound bites. That shows me that you will gain nothing from me.

You had your chance to show that you had some rational basis for your asserted premise, and you refused and punted.

Not interested in playing those games . . . Life’s too short.


“Vfilipch” then chimed in (words in green):

Because there are no others known to be objective.

I didn’t ask you, but since you replied:

1. Why should I believe the statement you just made, since it is not empirical evidence; therefore, by the criterion you just expressed, not objective (merely subjective), and thus, can be summarily dismissed as irrelevant to anyone else but yourself?

2. On what (not immediately logically self-defeating) basis can you assert that only empirical evidence is “objective”?

Do you really wanna go down this road? But at least you have the guts to give it a shot, unlike “Caves” above. I do admire that.

1. I stated: “there are no known ways to obtain objective knowledge other than empirical”. You should either address this point or don’t reply at all.. I don’t really care if you believe me or not. My credibility is not going to be a subject of the discussion because it is boring.

2. It is objective because it delivers the same results for everyone, and results do not depend on anyone’s prior believes [sic].

I addressed the point by denying the premise and asking:

“1. Why should I believe the statement you just made, since it is not empirical evidence; therefore, by the criterion you just expressed, not objective (merely subjective), and thus, can be summarily dismissed as irrelevant to anyone else but yourself?

“2. On what (not immediately logically self-defeating) basis can you assert that only empirical evidence is “objective”?”

Until you demonstrate why I should believe your premise, the discussion is stalled. I can’t skip over what to me is a crucial point of the whole discussion.


My friend, Jon Curry (also atheist) wrote a lengthy critique of my argumentation above, which can be read online at my Facebook page. Here are some of my replies to him:

They were indeed saying it is the only evidence worth bothering with, or at least the only compelling evidence for religion or religious truth claims. And this is proven by their words.

Thus, when I challenged him, he proved that this was his thinking:

Me: Why do you think that evidence is confined to empirical, physical evidence? . . .

“ButILikeCaves”: From reality. And from the fact . . . 

I don’t see any denial there. Why do you?

It was the same with “Vfilipch”. He answered my same question by saying, “Because there are no others known to be objective.” He didn’t deny that it was his only criterion of truthfulness. These guys were trapped by the incoherence and self-defeating nature of their own positions: not by some nefarious apologetics plot or “trap.” And their refusal to answer betrays that this is the case. I merely pointed it out (sorry!). It’s the error of logical positivism or scientism. We’re all illogical or insufficiently educated in a certain area at one time or another.

I said not one word about supernaturalism. That’s another discussion altogether. I am challenging the philosophically naive and hyper-absurd common atheist notions of positivism and the empirical-only mindset.

Lots of fields of knowledge are not empirical; for example, mathematics, without which there could be no modern science. Logic itself is also non-empirical. The very starting assumptions of science are non-empirical, as many philosophers of science have pointed out.

We have nothing against empiricism. Modern science began in a thoroughly Christian culture. Thomas Aquinas reasoned in mostly empiricist terms (emphasizing sensory information). What we object to is an empiricist-only epistemology (scientism / extreme positivism). These guys believed in that, as shown in their responses.


See the related papers:

God, Empiricism, & Atheist Demands for “Evidence”

Vigorous Critique of Irrational, Incoherent, Excessive, Arbitrary, & Relentless Atheist Demands for “Empirical” Proofs of God’s Existence

Must Christianity be Empirically Falsifiable in Order to be Rationally Held?: Positivist Myths and Fallacies Debunked by Philosophers and Mathematicians

Non-Empirical “Basic” Warrant for Theism & Christianity

Atheist Double-Standard Demands for (Empirical-Only) “Evidence”




(originally 7-18-17 on Facebook)

Photo credit: Random mathematical formulæ illustrating the field of pure mathematics [public domain / Wikimedia Commons]


March 27, 2018

This series of mini-dialogues (most, frustratingly incomplete and “left hanging,” in my opinion), occurred in a very lively combox on my Facebook page. Karl’s words will be in blue. The sections are not necessarily chronological. He and I are good friends, with mutual respect. I consider him the father of the modern Catholic apologetics movement.


I don’t read Douthat regularly, but every time I’ve read him I’ve pegged him as a conservative, both politically and religiously–not as a traditionalist in either sense. 

I see no evidence that he is moving toward what you [Michael Liccione] and Dave call the radical reactionary position. As for his becoming sedevacantist, Douthat is more likely to become a Scientologist first.

Questioning essential aspects of Vatican II doesn’t give you concern, as a longtime critic of reactionaries yourself?

Like you, Dave, I haven’t seen Douthat’s book yet. Like you, I’ve seen only Winters’ review in the (heterodox) National Catholic Reporter, where quotations often are cherry-picked. I’m leery of someone–whether you, Michael Liccione, or anyone else–trying to draw conclusions about Douthat’s personal status or trajectory.

That said, I can’t think of an ecumenical council that hasn’t been “questioned” in some way. The “questioning” of Vatican II has existed since about 1963, and it’s come from all parts of the spectrum. 

For example, it’s become a truism, agreed upon by just about all commentators, that the council documents manifest much misplaced optimism about how things were going to be going in the world in the near future. 

The documents were written on the cusp of the sexual revolution and about a decade before the general abandonment of Christianity in the West had become obvious. Most of the council fathers expected a springtime for the Church, but that spring never came–not because of the council but because of forces already long at work that those fathers didn’t have a sufficient measure of. (Some of them did, but most didn’t.)

Although two of the sixteen documents, in their titles, are denominated as doctrinal, most of the documents are considered–again, by nearly all parties–as chiefly pastoral and thus largely of prudential judgment. (Trent had pastoral provisions too, but a much smaller proportion. Other ecumenical councils also had pastoral provisions.) Pastoral provisions don’t fall under the charism of infallibility and thus are open to revision, reinterpretation, or even dispute.

I can remember discussions–in orthodox books and magazines–as far back as the 1980s where orthodox Catholics, including clerics and professors of note and impeccable reputation, pointed out ambiguities or other weaknesses in some of those sixteen documents. Again, historically this is nothing new. 

The Holy Spirit guarantees that an ecumenical council won’t teach, definitively, as true something that in fact is false. He doesn’t guarantee that the council fathers will write clearly or will cover all the topics that should be addressed in their time.

I think you make some good points. Let’s cut to the quick: Do you think Pope Benedict or Pope St. John Paul would speak of failures of certain essential aspects of Vatican II, as Douthat does?

It’s possible that I am reading too much into some of his criticisms of Vatican II, which is why I will keep a close eye on further developments, but it’s also true that he has a different view than the last two popes.

I don’t know what Douthat has written about Vatican II because I haven’t seen his book (nor have you). I’m not going to draw conclusions from a review written in a heterodox newspaper by a very liberal writer who quotes only a few sentences from the book. 

Given that newspaper’s reputation (I used to subscribe to it), I can’t have any confidence that the review accurately or fairly expressed what Douthat meant, so I’ll wait to read his book, which I hope to do over the next couple of weeks.

I drew my key reference from the review at One Peter Five, which incorporated several direct quotations from Douthat’s book. I also drew from Douthat’s own words in his Jan. 2016 First Things piece. I didn’t draw from Winters at all in this piece or argumentation. Neither his name nor his review appear in the above post.


You seem to be operating on the notion that it is impossible to criticize a pope or council legitimately: any criticism is illegitimate a priori, which obviates the need to read, actually read, a book that proffers criticism. 

You don’t seem to entertain the idea that a particular writer might have both legitimate criticisms and illegitimate criticisms. 

I have argued the contrary for over twenty years, as laid out in my post, On Rebuking Popes & Catholic Obedience to Popes (which combined many past articles of mine on the topic).

This very day, I put up another post about honoring popes. In that paper, I wrote:

Now, to be clear: I’m not saying that no one can ever say or do anything about a wicked ruler. The Bible also contains Revelation 13 as well as Romans 13, as I noted recently to a severe critic on another page. I have taken the same view of popes: one can criticize under rare circumstances, with the right attitude and spirit (and the right people doing it). I’ve literally expressed that view for 20 years online (while the reactionaries denied the entire time that I did).

What one cannot do, and pretend to be honoring the pope is lambast, bash, condemn, slander, speak evil against, gossip about, spread mere rumors about a pope day in and day out. That is not “honoring” a pope or ruler, as we are commanded to do, in any way, shape, form, or matter.

We simply don’t find models of pope-bashing behavior in the Bible, even as regards one of the most wicked tyrants in history, Nero, or wicked kings of Israel, such as Saul and Solomon.

In fact, if we define “criticizing” popes very broadly, I did so myself. I would say it is respectfully offering advice, but I did do it, at National Catholic Register (Sep. 2017), in my article, “I Hope the Pope Will Provide Some Much-Needed Clarity.”

Obviously, then, what you thought my position was, was incorrect. I’m saying that the criticisms that Lawler made (the book I read) are not substantiated at all. It’s not the simple fact that he is making criticisms (though I think they should be very rare and not public). The problem is that his criticisms hold no water. That’s the biggest scandal. They simply aren’t true, and he hasn’t demonstrated that they are.


I want to note that I’m distressed at seeing how these exchanges are going. I fear there will be irreparable ruptures.

I am, too. We disagree on this issue, but I continue to respect you. I don’t see that it should harm our friendship. I have hundreds of Facebook friends right now who are being critical of Pope Francis. I have hundreds of friends who detest President Trump. I have liberal friends, atheist friends, many Protestant friends. I’ve always been able to be friends with those who disagree. No problem.

Our responsibility (both of us) is to accurately represent other opinions and to not caricature or demonize them. The more emotional folks get, the more this is the temptation. We’ve all fallen into it, including myself.


I don’t think the term “pope-bashing” is inappropriate, inaccurate, or should stop being used. There is undeniably pope-bashing going on. It’s not just this academically sophisticated, calm, cool, collected necessary criticism.

The Merriam-Webster Thesaurus defines “bash” in this sense as “to criticize harshly and usually publicly.” Yep. That’s what’s going on. You may think it is just and necessary criticism but it is unarguably both harsh and public. And that’s what the word means.

It gives a synonyms: “abuse, assail, attack, belabor, blast, castigate, excoriate, jump (on), lambaste (or lambast), potshot, savage, scathe, slam, vituperate.” gives a host of synonyms for “bash” too: many of which describe exactly what is going on these days.

I still would like to know whether it’s possible, in your estimation, for there to be a book that’s critical of a pope, whether on a few or on many points, and yet isn’t a “pope-bashing” book. If Author A has exactly one criticism of a pope but Author B has 100 criticisms of him, is Author B a basher but Author A not? How is a line drawn between legitimate criticism and illegitimate criticism, assuming the latter exists? (Some Catholics apparently think no criticism can be legitimate, period.)

It’s a spirit and lack of charity and as such, can’t be quantified in the way you seek. I think what Phil Lawler wrote in his Introduction to Lost Shepherd is bashing:

. . . leading the Church away from the ancient sources of the Faith. . . . a source of division. . . . radical nature of the program that he is relentlessly advancing. . . . encouraged beliefs and practices that are incompatible with the prior teachings of the Church. If that complaint is justified, he has violated the sacred trust that is given to Peter’s successors. . . . a Roman pontiff who disregarded so easily what the Church has always taught and believed and practiced on such bedrock issues as the nature of marriage and of the Eucharist . . . a danger to the Faith . . .

Particularly, it’s “bashing” because he made the extraordinary claims but never came within a thousand miles of proving them beyond all doubt. He never proved that the pope was indeed “lost” per the title of the book. In other words, I could only conclude that these dramatic statements were falsehoods.  (or at the very least, inadequately demonstrated; therefore, not worthy to be asserted). And spreading unsubstantiated rumors about another is clearly bashing them.

I kept waiting for this amazing compelling demonstration to appear in the book: to prove definitively that Pope Francis is an anti-traditionalist subversive, but it never came, which is why I compared reading it to peeling an onion and finding no core in the final analysis (or peel).

Non-bashing criticism would be like what St. Catherine of Siena wrote to Pope Gregory XI:

I have prayed, and shall pray, sweet and good Jesus that He free you from all servile fear, and that holy fear alone remain. May ardor of charity be in you, in such wise as shall prevent you from hearing the voice of incarnate demons, and heeding the counsel of perverse counselors, settled in self-love, who, as I understand, want to alarm you, so as to prevent your return, saying, “You will die.” Up, father, like a man! For I tell you that you have no need to fear.

Note that she was a saint, a mystic, and a Doctor of the Church, too. This is one of my points of protest against what is happening. It was also a private letter (another big point of mine).


If you [Pete Vere] (and Dave and others) think that the likely small sales of Douthat’s book (at least when compared to Dawkins’ book) means that Douthat is inconsequential, . . . I think that they will have substantial influence and are worth talking about, provided the talking is done without hysterics, exaggeration, and name-calling–and preferably by people who actually have read the books.

Yeah, me too. I’ve disagreed repeatedly with Pete yet you seem (who knows why?) to think I haven’t. If I didn’t think these books were important and influential (not to mention quite harmful), I wouldn’t be devoting scores of hours to writing about them.

I find the exchanges fascinating, though I don’t mean by that that I’ve found them particularly satisfying intellectually. I think there’s been more dross than fine metal.

I couldn’t agree more. Now if you would actually take it upon yourself to interact with any of my six critiques of Phil Lawler’s book, then we actually might accomplish something constructive in these exchanges because (novelty!) we’d actually be talking directly about the contents of the book, rather than about people.

You’re welcome to critique my latest piece about Henry Sire [The Dictator Pope author], too.


[Julian Barkin: “So then Dave based on your four point criteria of [radical Catholic reactionaries], Douthat would be one now or close to it? Pope bashing or supporting such, check. Bashing Vat II? Check.”]

He (like Lawler) thinks like them in two of four key aspects. The other two are anti-ordinary form Mass and anti-ecumenism. How close he is, I don’t know. That will be determined by watching his progression into the future. I think if he is moving that way, it’s gradual.

Is being “anti-ordinary form Mass” the same as being “pro-extraordinary form Mass”? If someone prefers the old form over the new, is he thus part way to becoming a “radical reactionary”? Is it possible to prefer the Extraordinary Form and not be tainted with radical-reactionaryism at all?

Once again, you are quite unfamiliar with my thought, as consistently expressed through the years. There’s nothing wrong with that (no one can know all the thought of another), but I’m just saying that I have never ever expressed what you fear here. Quite the contrary, in fact.

There is nothing whatsoever wrong with preferring the EF [Extraordinary Form / “Old” / Tridentine Mass]. I have favored availability of the EF from the minute I converted, in 1990. I attended one such Mass shortly after my conversion (we had to cross the river to Windsor, Ontario, in those days, as there were none available in Detroit). I attended a parish for 25 years which offered it, but more regularly, the OF [Ordinary Form / Pauline / “New” Mass] in Latin, with high tradition and reverence (altar rails, facing the altar, etc.).

I am still a member of a parish (it’s a two-church cluster) which sometimes offers the EF and a very traditional, reverential OF (and I continue to prefer OF, as I always have). So, it’s not preference for the EF which is any sort of problem. I am all for that: 110%. Probably 75% of all the Masses I have attended since 1990 were in Latin (though OF).

It’s the bashing of the OF as vastly inferior, sub-par, heterodox, or, in extreme cases, invalid, which is the problem. That creates divisions and animosities. That runs contrary to Pope Benedict’s Summorum Pontificum, which I have strongly defended over against reactionaries like Dr. Peter Kwasniewski, who are now rejecting the reform of the reform and, by logical necessity, also the interior logic and conclusions of SP.

So you see, Karl, once again, our differences are not nearly as great as you feared. If you ask me what I believe, I’ll tell you. I’m not some wild-eyed radical. I’ve been in the same general place I’ve been my entire 28 years as a Catholic: orthodox, Newmanian, lover of JPII and Vatican II and the current Mind of the Church, which (rightly understood) presupposes all existing tradition.

We agree here, and we agree that it is possible to criticize a pope (just very widely in degree and nature, on the latter). I’m not an ultramontanist. That’s always the charge whenever someone complains about papal criticism: that we never accept any, ever, under any circumstances.

The various issues involved have to be discussed on their merits. Start with my five reviews of Lawler, or my Amazon review, which condenses the “meat” of all five. If you’ll stop looking at me and thinking I am becoming some unhinged fanatic, and simply address my arguments, I think we could make much progress, and agree on lots of things, just as we agree on these two things you brought up today (acceptance of the EF as perfectly fine and there being such a thing as permissible pope-criticism).

But you never need fear a terrible rupture between us. I respect you far too much as the father of modern apologetics, and Catholic Answers, for that ever to happen, or even be thinkable / conceivable. There are some “big names” out there who have given up on me, and unfriended me, but very few, when all is said and done. And that’s because I can get along with anyone, if they are willing, too. Because of that, I’ve had four major reconciliations in the last few months. We still disagree on things, but we are able to be friends. You’ve been far more critical of me than I have been of you through all this.


Photo credit: Photograph of Karl Keating, in the article, “Exclusive Interview: Karl Keating – Catholic Answers” (Aurelio Porfiri, O Clarim, 8-12-16). 


February 24, 2018

Bishop “Dr.” [???] James White (words in brown) made the argument that I was supremely ignorant as an evangelical, and so that amply explained my conversion, which need not give anyone the slightest pause.

Hence his description of me in December 2004 as “one who has given very little evidence, in fact, of having done a lot of serious reading in better non-Catholic literature to begin with. In fact, I would imagine Armstrong has done more reading in non-Catholic materials since his conversion than before. In any case, this lack of background will resound loudly in the comments he offers, . . .”

And so I went ahead and showed White exactly what I had read in my 13-year evangelical period, which included many Reformed scholars [he is reformed Baptist] and otherwise solid evangelical biblical scholars or Church historians, such as, e.g., Bernard Ramm, John Walvoord, R.C. Sproul, C.S. Lewis, Josh McDowell, A.W. Tozer, Francis Schaeffer, Harold Lindsell, Merrill Tenney, James Montgomery Boice, Lorraine Boettner (The Reformed Doctrine of Predestination), Oswald Allis, George Marsden, J. Gresham Machen, Kierkegaard, John MacArthur, J.I. Packer, Billy Graham, Walter Martin, G.C. Berkouwer, F.F. Bruce, D.A. Carson, Norman Geisler, Alvin Plantinga, Gerhard Maier, Augustus Strong, Charles Hodge, Gleason Archer, John Gerstner, A.A. Hodge, Benjamin Warfield, Dunn, Alford, Westcott, J.B. Lightfoot, Peter Berger, Os Guinness, Thomas Oden, John Ankerberg, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Jonathan Edwards, Ronald Nash, Carl F.H. Henry, Charles Colson, Dorothy Sayers, and James Davison Hunter, among many others.

Now, how did White respond to that?: “Mr. Armstrong has provided a reading list on his blog. In essence, this means that instead of blaming ignorance for his very shallow misrepresentations of non-Catholic theology and exegesis, we must now assert knowing deception.”

[further discussion with ecumenical Presbyterian friend Tim Roof (words in green) ]:

For White (and anti-Catholics like him, generally), there is no such thing as an intellectually honest conversion from an educated Protestantism to Catholicism. Thus, he claimed at first that I was dumber than a doornail about Protestantism and never was a true Protestant at any time (never having been Reformed).

After I provided my reading list he (even he!) could no longer plausibly argue that I was an imbecile. I knew too much. Thus, the only choice left in his severely limited thought-world was deliberate deception. I couldn’t possibly be sincere or honest, knowing what I did, in becoming a Catholic.

I have never thought this pertained to you and your own history, Dave. And I would never attribute this to Catholic converts in general. However, I have heard several high-profile men who have converted to Catholicism from Protestantism whose descriptions of what they believed while Protestants bore little relation to what Protestantism actually teaches. I mean, I’ve heard some say some truly astonishing stuff. In those cases, it makes sense to me that they converted to Catholicism since what they believed before was so convoluted. My own Pastor, Carl Trueman, Chairman of the Church History Department at Westminster Theological Seminary has told us, “If you’re not a Roman Catholic, you had better have good, solid reasons as to why you are not.” In other words, don’t be Protestant simply because you’re not Catholic, or because you think it’s “cool” or “hip” or whatever. Know thoroughly what and why you believe the way you do.

I completely agree with your last part. Thanks for not thinking I am either a dumbbell about Protestantism or a deceiver.

I would just add that whenever we speak of “Protestantism” we have to make a hundred qualifications or exceptions; which brand? Thus, those from one sector may not understand others, etc. They are going by their own experiences and may be overly extrapolating to others and being a bit inaccurate.

I think I had a pretty firm grip on Reformed thinking, since I had read so much of it, as seen in my list of books that I had read. But most Arminians have a poor understanding of Calvinists and often vice versa as well. But in any event, we all have to know what we believe and why we do. I help with the latter, as an apologist.

I would only add that most Calvinists started out as your garden variety Arminian, which is to say that Calvinists TEND toward much more serious and deep study. This is the case with me.They typically are better able to give a defense of their faith. This is a generalization, of course; there are always exceptions. But the trend is much more going from Arminian to Calvinist rather than the other way around, and converts to Catholicism TEND to be Arminian as Protestants rather than Reformed/Calvinist.

Calvinists definitely are more educated as a whole, among Protestants. I was gonna actually say that above. Arminians are much more prone to theological liberalism, too.

I think Arminians being more prone to liberalism, as you have said above, may be a function of that system being (in my view) more emotion-based and less intellectual-based. Liberalism TENDS to be much more about emoting and much less about the consequences for others of one’s actions. I am not saying that evangelical Christians are “dumber” than Reformed. However, I do think that pursuit of biblical and theological knowledge is much more characteristic of Reformed theology than general evangelicalism. I am speaking broadly, of course.

I agree again, and I am a former Arminian. Calvinists tend towards other vices: a certain “coldness” and over-intellectualizing of faith; minimizing of legitimate religious experience, disbelief in continuing miracles, and anti-Catholicism, as well as anti-anything other than Calvinism.

You show none of these traits. James White shows all of them.

Conversion is extraordinarily complex (at least for those who try to think through issues). All the more reason to excoriate the tunnel vision “ignoramus or lying deceiver” choice that White has limited himself to . . .

My only caveat to what you have said would be a Calvinist belief in continuing miracles but not a belief in the continuation of the miraculous gifts of the Spirit.

It’s interesting to note how Steve Hays (equally anti-Catholic) was, in 2006, still able to say some nice things about me: something White has never ever done in 22 years. He changed a few years later and started saying that I was “evil”, but at this point he was much more nuanced (words in blue):


“An open letter to Dave Armstrong” (9-9-06) [most of it]

I don’t think I’ve ever accused him of being a traitor or apostate or infidel.

Everyone is entitled to his own usage. I won’t judge someone else’s usage. They have their reasons.

But those are not the adjectives I’d reach for in the case of Armstrong.

Those are words I reserve for extreme cases, not borderline cases.

To judge by his conversion story, he had a rather brief and superficial experience [untrue!] with Evangelicalism—reading popularizers and attending emotive, anti-intellectual churches [untrue as a generalization].

A transition from a shallow brand of Evangelicalism [untrue!] to devout Catholicism is not the same thing as apostasy—much less infidelity. Not by my definition, at least.

And, unless he’s sheltering his wealth from the Feds, I don’t think one can accuse him of changing sides for fast cars, fast women, and a vintage pint of sherry.

So it’s not as if he’s another Kim Philby or Guy Burgess with a Rosary.

I have nothing to say, one way or the other, regarding his state of grace. But his sincerity is unquestionable.

I also don’t dislike him. And this is not a pro forma disclaimer to prove what a charitable guy I am, for there are some bloggers whom I do dislike. (Sorry, no names!)

I don’t think there’s anything malicious about Armstrong—unlike some people who come to mind.

In addition, I don’t think I’ve ever said he was unintelligent.

For the record, it’s obvious that Armstrong has a quick, nimble mind.

Then writing generally in the combox, Hays added (in a remarkably fair way, given his anti-Catholicism):

The term “apostasy” carries with it a heavy presumption that the apostate is a hell-bound reprobate.

I think it’s unwarranted to assume that all Catholics or converts to Catholicism are damned.

In addition, when you use the same adjective for Dave Armstrong or Scott Hahn that you use for John Spong or Robert Price, the charge loses credibility and can backfire.

In fact, some former evangelicals have swum the Tiber precisely because they discovered a disconnect between hyperbolic polemics and the less lurid reality.

We should avoid the temptation to exaggerate and overplay our hand.

I replied in the combox as follows (this comment was later deleted):

Thanks, Steve, for the nice things said. I appreciate it. This was a classy piece. Just a few observations, if I may:

Your theory of my odyssey from evangelicalism to Catholicism is — shall we say? — “interesting.” I was in a shallow environment, so that Catholicism was quite possibly even a “step up” and I get a pass for ignorance; therefore I am not an apostate, etc. (never having been a Calvinist – is the implication). This reminds me of a statement I saw from Phillip Johnson, where he said that much of evangelicalism was worse than even Catholicism in the 16th century.

The problem, of course, is that this is an inaccurate portrayal of what I used to believe and the circles I used to be in. You claim that I “had a rather brief and superficial experience with Evangelicalism—reading popularizers . . .”

James White made the same argument [see above]: that I was supremely ignorant and an evangelical, and so that amply explained my conversion, which need not give anyone the slightest pause.

Will that be your approach now, too, once you have discovered that I was not nearly as ignorant as you would like to make out presently? I hope not.

My “brief and superficial experience with Evangelicalism” included intense anti-cult research and many other informal studies on various theological topics. You can see, for example, what sort of thing I was doing and writing back then by perusing the following papers (dated 1982 and 1987). If you want to classify this as “superficial,” you have every right to, but I don’t think one out of hundred evangelicals who read this stuff would agree with you.

Biblical Refutation of “Hyperfaith” / “Name-it-Claim it” Teaching: Is it Always God’s Will to Heal in Every Instance? 

Jehovah’s Witnesses: “The Apocalyptic Arians”: A Biblical and Historical Critique 

This experience included intensive street witnessing at the Ann Arbor Art Fair in Michigan, for ten straight years, and in many other places (often, Kingdom Halls or Marxist meetings), and a five-year stint as a campus evangelist.

As for “attending emotive, anti-intellectual churches,” this is also grossly inaccurate. It is true that I attended some charismatic churches, but they were not “anti-intellectual” by any means (if they had been, I wouldn’t have been there in the first place). One of the non-denominational churches I went to had an assistant pastor who had a master’s in philosophy. Later, the pastor was Al Kresta, one of the sharpest people I have ever met, who had a very popular evangelical talk show for ten years in the Detroit area, on the largest Christian radio station, WMUZ. He later converted to Catholicism, but in any event, he is no anti-intellectual, by any stretch of the imagination.

I also started out at a Lutheran church, with a brilliant, missions and outreach-minded pastor named Dick Bieber. Lutherans are generally not accused of anti-intellectualism, to my knowledge.

The man who “baptized” me (when I believed in adult believer’s baptism), and who married me has a Ph.D. in education, etc. Another good friend, who pastored a Reformed Baptist church that we often attended, eventually obtained his Ph.D. and is now a professor at a college in Michigan. Hardly “anti-intellectual” circles again . . .

You can stereotype charismatics if you wish as “emotive and anti-intellectual,” but as in all categories (even Calvinism) you can always find solid proponents and shallow ones. I believe in the spiritual gifts, on biblical grounds. I never believed, however, that everyone had to speak in tongues in order to truly be indwelt with the Holy Spirit, because I saw that as contrary to Paul’s clear teaching on the gifts.

At the same time, also, I was issuing strong critiques of excesses within the charismatic movement (see the paper above about healing: from 1982). I was strongly criticizing Jim Bakker even before the big scandal hit. I attended MENSA groups and meetings of university philosophy professors during my evangelical apologist / evangelist period in the late 80s. Etc., etc., etc. “Anti-intellectual”? Um, I don’t think so. Strange that you would claim this.

I became an avid pro-lifer and participant in Operation Rescue all during my evangelical period. Was all this “a shallow brand of Evangelicalism”? I think not.

The only way you could make such a claim (having truly understood my background) would be on the basis that all non-Calvinist brands of evangelicalism are “shallow” and “superficial.” I think that is rather silly and laughable (and would apparently include even your own compatriot Jason Engwer), but then I think that about the tiny anti-Catholic wing of evangelicalism too.

So, thanks again for the nice things you said, but I had to correct the misrepresentations of the state of my theological and spiritual knowledge and what sort of fellowships I was involved in as an evangelical.

I converted precisely for the reasons that I have explained in my four or five different accounts. It wasn’t because I was ignorant of evangelical Protestantism. It wasn’t because I despised or hated same or came to regard it as worthless. It wasn’t because I was disenchanted with where I was. My journey began out of simple intellectual curiosity about why Catholic believed certain things that I thought were exceedingly strange and puzzling (particularly, the ban on contraception, and infallibility).

Many of the things I hold very dear now (love of the Bible, interest in Christian worldview, pro-life, opposing cults and atheists, evangelism, fighting cultural sexual immorality, apologetics in general, strong family values, political conservatism, concern for the poor, love for great Christian authors and thinkers) were cultivated during those days. That’s where I initially learned all that stuff. It was the air I breathed. I’ll always be thankful for that and remember those times with the utmost fondness. Ironically, you appear to view many of your evangelical brothers and sisters far, far more negatively than I would ever dream of characterizing my own past.

You see, those of us who were evangelical and loved it, who later become Catholics, don’t have to reject our past and regard it as an evil, bad thing. We simply think that we have come to understand in faith some additional elements of Christianity that were lacking in our previous Christian circles (a sense of history, sacramentalism, ecclesiology, the saints, greater emphasis on the Incarnation and actual sanctification, etc.).

As I wrote recently, it isn’t “evil vs. good”. Rather, it is a matter of “very good” and “better” or “a great deal of truth” and “the fullness of truth” or “excellent” and “best.”


Unfortunately, two-and-a-half years later, Steve Hays’ fairly tolerant, nuanced analysis quickly changed to an outright hostile one. It came about because I dared to believe and defend the sister of an anti-Catholic who was being publicly trashed by her brother because she revealed that she had been systematically sexually abused by their father (an early “#metoo” moment, back in 2009):

I used to think that Dave Armstrong was just a jerk. Not deeply evil. Just a jerk. . . . He isn’t just a narcissistic little jerk. He’s actually evil. It’s not something we can spoof or satirize anymore. He’s crossed a line of no return. (4-13-09)

[I]f you do a spot-on impersonation of someone who’s hypersensitive, paranoid, an ego-maniac, narcissistic, with a martyr and persecution complex, then how are we supposed to tell the difference between the person and the impersonation? The make-up, inflection, &c, is just uncanny. . . . For that matter, have you ever encountered a self-obsessive individual who admits to being a self-obsessive individual? Don’t we expect a self-obsessive individual to deny how self-obsessive he is? A self-obsessive individual spends endless amounts of time talking about how he’s not a self-obsessive individual, which, of course, is just another way of talking about himself–over and over again. Does that ring a bell? Sound like anyone you know? . . . Not only is Dave an idolater, but a self-idolater. He has sculpted an idol in his own, precious image. A singular, autobiographical personality cult. (7-16-09, on James Swan’s Boors All site [later deleted by Swan] )

[Y]ou play the innocent victim when someone exposes your chicanery. . . . you’re a hack who pretends to be a professional apologist . . . you don’t do any real research. . . . If I did pray for Armstrong, do you think I’d announce it in public? But suppose I didn’t? . . .  Dave isn’t somebody who lost his faith and went quietly into the night. No, Dave is a stalwart enemy of the faith. He’s no better than Richard Dawkins or Christopher Hitchens. Just like the militant atheist, his modus operandi is to destroy faith in God’s word to make room for his alternative. In this case, his corrupt denomination. (1-28-10; comment at 11:53 PM)

I realize that, due to your persecution complex (by the way, you need to have your psychiatrist up the dosage), you imagine that only “anti-Catholics could ever find fault with your stainless conduct . . . Are you hearing voices? . . . I didn’t say you were evil in this one instance. You have an evil character. This particular instance brought that to the fore. . . . Since you can’t out-argue [Jason Engwer], you try to discredit him by creating a deceptive narrative about his performance. . . . There’s always a clientele for P. T. Barnums like you. . . . I’m supposed to be taken in by your bipolar tactics? (1-29-10; two-part comment at 8:25 PM)

It’s entirely possible for a schizophrenic guy like Armstrong to contradict himself from one moment to the next. Indeed, just look at the wild mood swings which he has put on display in this very thread. . . . The question is not whether the accusation makes sense, but whether Dave makes sense. Dave is confusing logical consistency with psychological consistency. It’s psychologically possible for an emotionally unstable guy like Dave to be logically inconsistent. . . . 

That disclaimer would be a bit more plausible if Dave didn’t go on and on and on in one hysterical comment after another after another. One of Dave’s problems is his lifelong love affair with himself. He reacts to any imagined slight the way a normal man reacts if someone slights his wife or mother or girlfriend. . . . Dave is self-important. . . . People who are truly self-effacing don’t ordinarily crow about how truly self-effacing they are. If would help Armstrong if, in refuting the allegation that he’s emotionally unhinged, if he didn’t become emotionally unhinged whenever he hears the allegation. A hundred hysterical comments later: . . .
Well, since you ask, one of Armstrong’s problems (yes, the list is long, I know) is his repudiation of Pauline sola fide. And we see the practical outworking of his life. Because he doesn’t trust in the merit of Christ alone for salvation, Dave has an insatiable need for self-justification. He, like other Catholics, has no peace of mind. . . . 
Yes, Dave, that’s evil. Pure evil. . . . 
Of course, that’s symptomatic of Armstrong’s instability. He will post reams and reams of high-strung reaction pieces in the heat of the moment, then, after a cooling off period, when it dawns on him that his impetuous commentary unwittingly backfired, he will follow that up with a mass purge. (4-18-10, on James Swan’s Boors All site [later deleted by Swan]. Somehow, when Swan engaged in his “mass purge” of Hays’ remarkably unhinged comments, that evidenced no metal instability on his part. Nor did Hays’ own multitudinous deletions of my comments on his page, and eventual banning of yours truly indicate his own psychosis)
Both Paul Hoffer and Dave Armstrong are bad men who imagine they are good men. That’s not unusual. Bad men often have a high opinion of their own motives. And Catholicism reinforces that self-deception. (12-7-11; comment at 12:51 AM)



(Dec. 2004; added dialogue from 2-21-17; additional citations added on 2-24-18)

Photo credit: photo by Nick Youngson [The Blue Diamond GalleryCC BY-SA 3.0  license]


April 20, 2017


Photograph by Alex Beynon (5-16-14) [Flickr / CC BY-ND 2.0 license]




TAO (The Anonymous One; aka Turretinfan)

A plain reading of the Old Testament and the Gospels makes it clear that the world was created supernaturally by God in the space of a week, and more particularly, in six days each consisting of an evening and morning. This event took place less than 10,000 years ago, which we can calculate more or less accurately from geneologies provided, for example, in Genesis 5 and the gospels.

Frankly speaking, there is no reason for anyone who excludes outside information from the Bible to arrive at any other conclusion. The Bible, on its face, is clear. God created the world, he did so in six days, and rested on the seventh day. In celebration of this fact, we observe the week.

Nevertheless, from time to time, weak Christians are tempted to believe the testimony of scientists (and their acolytes) who claim that they have unshakable evidence (some may even claim “proof”) that the earth is older than 10,000 years. These Christians, led astray by the lies, deceit, or simply errors of the “science crowd” believe the testimony of the crowd.

Some do so by disbelieving the testimony of Scripture outright: these are the so-called Theistic Evolutionists. They deny that God created man from the dust of the Earth and woman from the rib of man. Others, however, seek to harmonize the Bible somehow to the old earth claims of the science crowd. These are termed Old Earth Creationists. They create novel and sometimes bizarre interpretations of Scripture to try to justify a timeline that holds the universe to be tens of billions of years old, and biological life to be billions of years old. . . .

Today, the idea that man was created less than 10,000 years ago is out of vogue with the science crowd, . . . the science crowd will not agree that all of humanity descended from a single pair of human ancestors who lived less than 10,000 years ago. Instead, we see modified old earth creationists holding to ever more erratic views of the text of Scripture, as they attempt to remain popular with the scientific crowd. (7-3-07)

There is no need for further evidence for Young Earth Creationism (YEC), since Scripture speaks clearly via the Creation account (one week) and the Old Testament genealogies. (11-7-07)

Open Challenge on the topic of YEC.
Thesis: Resolved, that Scripture conveys that the Earth was created in week, less than 10,000 years ago.
UPDATE: I get to AFFIRM the resolution.
Anyone wish to deny the resolution? (11-8-07)

Steve Hays

I don’t link to an OEC like Hugh Ross because I don’t find much of either scientific value or exegetical value in his writings. . . .

The universe is between 6000-10,000 years old, give or take. . . . I agree, but with certain qualifications . . . (10-22-06)

YEC takes Scripture as its frame of reference . . . (3-9-09)

“Saint and Sinner”

Due to my philosophy of science, Instrumentalism, I allow Scripture to speak for itself, and so, I am a YEC. (3-11-07)

R. C. Sproul


I now hold to a literal six-day creation, . . . Genesis says that God created the universe and everything in it in six twenty-fourhour periods. According to the Reformation hermeneutic, the first option is to follow the plain sense of the text. One must do a great deal of hermeneutical gymnastics to escape the plain meaning of Genesis 12. The confession makes it a point of faith that God created the world in the space of six days.

(Truths We Confess: A Laymans guide to the Westminster Confession of Faith, Volume I: The Triune God (Chapters 18 of the Confession)[Phillipsburg, New Jersey: P&R Publishing, 2006, pp. 127128, cited at a YEC website)

We have a problem not only with a six-day creation, but also with the age of the earth. Is the earth a few thousand years old or billions of years old (as scientists today insist)? . . . If we take the genealogies that go back to Adam, however, and if we make allowances for certain gaps in them (which could certainly be there), it remains a big stretch from 4004 BC to 4.6 billion years ago. (Ibid., pp. 121122)

Bishop “Dr.” [???] James White


I haven’t yet found any indisputable proof that White is a young earth creationist; however, in his tract, Evidence for Special Creation From Scientific Evidence, he cites at length a foreword written by Dr. Dean H. Kenyon, Professor of Biology at San Francisco State University, who is a well-known young earth creationist. The book that Dr. Kenyon endorsed (and by strong implication and logical deduction, that White also approves of), is The Mystery of Lifes Origin, written by Charles B. Thaxton, Walter L. Bradley, and Roger L. Olsen (Lewis and Stanley, 2nd edition, 1992).

Thaxton’s book, The Soul of Science (Bible Science Association, 1994), co-written with Nancy R. Pearcey (a young-earther) and Marvin Olasky (yet another young-earther), is listed in YEC icon and central figure Henry Morris lengthy Young-Earth Creationist Bibliography. Morris states: “The books listed in this bibliography represent works of authors advocating literal creationism, including the six-solar-day creation week and a worldwide cataclysmic flood.” That pretty much proves that Thaxton is in the YEC camp.

Bradley and Olsen, however, are old-earthers. There is a chance White is the same, but in favorably citing YEC Kenyon’s foreword to a book at least partially written by YEC Charles B. Thaxton, the likelihood is that White, too, is a young earth creationist, since those who deny the YEC position generally don’t cite YEC’s as reputable scientific authorities (I certainly would never do so).

Moreover, White hosts on his website, the article, “The Flood, Dinosaurs, Oh My!,” by his colleague Jeff Downs, who states, “I’ll admit that I’m a YEC.” It’s difficult to imagine that White would host such a piece, while fundamentally disagreeing with it, but he might. The more plausible interpretation, in my opinion, is that he agrees with it.

John MacArthur

The hypothesis that the earth is billions of years old is rooted in the unbiblical premise that what is happening now is just what has always happened. This idea is known as uniformitarianism. It is the theory that natural and geological phenomena are for the most part the results of forces that have operated continuously, with uniformity, and without interruption, over billions and billions of years. (5-7-10)

According to Scripture, God created the universe over six days time and rested on the seventh day. . . .
To reject a literal, six-day interpretation is to confound that memorial. Furthermore, it is a denial of the completeness of Gods creation. (6-20-10)

Uniformitarian geologists start with the assumption that the earth is millions and millions of years old. When they go to the evidence, they find what they’re looking for old fossils, old rocks, and the marks of long ages of time. But what if you start with a different set of assumptions? What if you go to the evidence assuming the biblical record is true, namely, that the earth is relatively young and there was a cataclysmic event known as the Flood. (7-2-10)

Phil Johnson (Pyromaniacs)

I know, of course, that old-earthers like to fudge on the questions of whether all creation (or Eden only) was a perfect paradise; whether the six days are a chronological account of creation or merely some kind of poetic framework; whether the flood was a global or regional deluge, and whatnot. But regardless of what hermeneutical machinations one imposes on the text, I can’t see how any reasonable person someone for whom words are in any sense truly meaningfulcould think it possible to reconcile the first nine chapters of Genesis with the bald assertion that “the same processes we see shaping the earth today have been at work since God created the world.” . . . every biblical creationist who rejects uniformitarianism strongly affirms divine providence. . . . Few old-earthers truly grasp how much their capitulation to evolutionary theory compromises when it comes to hamartiology, hermeneutics, biblical history, biblical anthropology, and the authority and reliability of the Scriptures. But it would be nice to see a conscientious effort from old-earthers to deal with Christian doctrine and the foundations of Christian faith seriously. (6-21-10)


It has to do w/ the age of the earth. As I’m sure you know, it is oft claimed that an old earth is the more “scientific” position, and that one would have to hold to a young earth position (say, less than 10,000 yrs old) solely on faith. What I’ve been discovering in my journeys of thought, debate, and polemics over the last 3-4 yrs, however, is that any opponent of my position who accuses me of blind faith has at least an equal investment of blind, unprovable faith in their own position, but they don’t realise it (for the most part) or hide it (I suspect that is the case for at least a few). (2-19-07)

[Catholic Peter Sean Bradley] you seem to think that defending a literal six days of creation is completely different.

Since Scr[ipture] teaches the 6 days of creation and doesn’t teach geocentrism, I don’t see any reason to make an apology on that. (11-9-07: on the notorious know-nothing Boors All blog)

The Bible doesn’t really support an old earth . . . (5-2-08)

. . . Young Earth Creationism, especially the kind that I generally argue, where my answer to why geological structures appear to be really old is b/c God created them, like Adam, with a certain appearance of age to the natural eye. (9-25-09)


Discussions in the combox (see the complete huge discussion):

I would describe the YEC position along the lines of (to put it diplomatically) being “scientifically challenged.”

The Church never teaches that the earth is a certain age; therefore, to embrace it “dogmatically” is a rejection of Church authority.

By the same token, a Catholic is free to believe it, since it isn’t dogma. But he can’t say that the Church teaches YEC as a matter of dogma, because that is simply untrue. There is no such dogma. The Church takes no dogmatic stand yay or nay on evolution, either. It requires every Catholic to believe in a primal pair of human beings (Adam and Eve) and original sin; also in the supernatural creation of every human soul (Pope Pius XII, Humani Generis, 1950). That is consistent with either a creationist or theistic evolutionary view.

So its not a dogmatic issue, but YEC is a scientific issue, and can be rejected on that basis. From the perspective of science, I say it is pure bunk and refuted many times over in many ways, by the usual means of scientific, empirical observation. An old earth is exceedingly supported by scientific findings.

I haven’t called anyone a nut or a wacko, etc. (I specifically rejected such categorization). Others in the thread have done that, but not I. The original intent of the post was simply to document a strong sociological association of YEC with active, zealous anti-Catholicism. Since then I have clarified some things, and noted what I think is some profound ignorance of scientific method and findings, but haven’t attacked anyone’s person. Ignorance of so-and-so is a belief someone holds, not the person himself or herself.

The common ground is lack of education. The YEC is uninformed about science (esp. geology) and the anti-Catholic is uninformed about historic theology (esp. ecclesiology). So it stands to reason that a person given to lack of learning and understanding in one area will have that approach spill over into others. And that is indeed what we see.

Also, both views almost always stem from fundamentalism and all that that entails. I described the “mindset” of that as:

. . . an inability to understand definitions of words, multiple definitions, non-literal interpretation, idiom, context, cultural background of how words are used in the Bible, ancient Hebrew (biblical) thinking, and so forth. I see that as essentially the root of the whole error.

With this sort of attitude, going into science, with all its complexities and nuances, one can see that there is little prospect of one with fundamentalist presuppositions arriving at scientific truths and the consensus of the scientific community on a thing like the age of the earth: because they bring an already profoundly mistaken view of biblical hermeneutics to the table, and they think one can only conclude from the Bible that the earth is 6000-10,000 years old (as Steve Hays holds).

But I haven’t stated that YECs are “nuts.” I don’t think that about YECs. I think they are simply guilty of hopelessly confused and mistaken conclusions about certain scientific matters (and also ecclesiological ones, in the case of the anti-Catholics).

October 10, 2016


William Jennings Bryan (1860-1925) as a young man [public domain / Wikimedia Commons]




[Note: a few years after I wrote this, I was able to visit the famous courthouse in Dayton, Tennessee]


I don’t think Bryan was so much a “pseudo-intellectual” as he was simply ignorant of biblical exegesis and the latest developments of science at the time of the Scopes Trial.

The man was a lawyer (second in his class), a US Congressman, three-time presidential candidate, and Secretary of State from 1913 to 1915. He was influential in the movement to popularly elect senators, and women’s suffrage. According to Encyclopedia Britannica (1985), “he made a distinctive contribution to world law by espousing arbitration to prevent war.”

I’m not sure a man becomes a “pseudo-intellectual” simply because (being a lawyer, politician, diplomat, and social reformer) he is not up on his biblical exegesis and apologetics, and philosophical apologetics, and was trapped on the stand by a very clever opposing (secularist) lawyer.

We are in danger of accepting the secularist stereotypes of all “fundamentalist” Christians as ignorant troglodytes. That was not the case (especially not in the late 19th and early 20th centuries). But it is so easy to join the bandwagon and pile on Bryan because of the Scopes Trial.

We always hear about the episode with Clarence Darrow ad nauseam, while very few people are familiar with the Piltdown Man hoax, that dazzled and duped evolutionists for 41 years, or Nebraska Man, introduced as evidence at the Scopes Trial, that turned out to be the tooth of an extinct pig (all “it” was, was a tooth), or embarrassing scientific espousal of eugenics and phrenology and suchlike: used to bolster cultural racism and Nazism (Nazi Germany being a very scientifically advanced culture).

No; forget all that. Even we Christians have been brainwashed to believe that Bryan was merely a doltish idiot because he did a poor job defending an over-literalism of the Bible that was itself an unworthy position, in its extremity. But Darrow was simply wrong, too, in some of his line of questioning (see the transcript of his questioning of Bryan). He implied that it was patently ridiculous for Jonah to have been swallowed by a large fish or whale. But we know there have been instances of that, where men actually survived the ordeal. Therefore, it is not unthinkable at all. It isn’t even a miracle. Darrow asked hackneyed, garden-variety skeptical questions like “where Cain got his wife”. Moreover, he showed the seething condescension that we are so familiar with, with folks like Richard Dawkins, Christopher Hitchens today, saying, “You insult every man of science and learning in the world” and referring to “your fool religion” and “your fool ideas that no intelligent Christian on earth believes.”

Bryan showed, for example, that he was not a young-earth, six literal days creationist, as many fundamentalists (even relatively sophisticated ones) are today:

Q–Have you any idea how old the earth is?
Q–The Book you have introduced in evidence tells you, doesn’t it?
A–I don’t think it does, Mr. Darrow.
Q–Let’s see whether it does; is this the one?
A–That is the one, I think.
Q–It says B.C. 4004?
A–That is Bishop Usher’s calculation.
Q–That is printed in the Bible you introduced?
A–Yes, sir….
Q–Would you say that the earth was only 4,000 years old?
A–Oh, no; I think it is much older than that.
Q–How much?
A–I couldn’t say.
Q–Do you say whether the Bible itself says it is older than that?
A–I don’t think it is older or not.
Q–Do you think the earth was made in six days?
A–Not six days of twenty-four hours.
Q–Doesn’t it say so?
A–No, sir. . .
Q–Does the statement, “The morning and the evening were the first day,” and “The morning and the evening were the second day,” mean anything to you?
A— I do not think it necessarily means a twenty-four-hour day.
Q–You do not?
Q–What do you consider it to be?
A–I have not attempted to explain it. If you will take the second chapter–let me have the book. (Examining Bible.) The fourth verse of the second chapter says: “These are the generations of the heavens and of the earth, when they were created in the day that the Lord God made the earth and the heavens,” the word “day” there in the very next chapter is used to describe a period. I do not see that there is any necessity for construing the words, “the evening and the morning,” as meaning necessarily a twenty-four-hour day, “in the day when the Lord made the heaven and the earth.”
Q–Then, when the Bible said, for instance, “and God called the firmament heaven. And the evening and the morning were the second day,” that does not necessarily mean twenty-four hours?
A–I do not think it necessarily does.
Q–Do you think it does or does not?
A–I know a great many think so.
Q–What do you think?
A–I do not think it does.
Q–You think those were not literal days?
A–I do not think they were twenty-four-hour days.
Q–What do you think about it?
A–That is my opinion–I do not know that my opinion is better on that subject than those who think it does.
Q–You do not think that ?
A–No. But I think it would be just as easy for the kind of God we believe in to make the earth in six days as in six years or in 6,000,000 years or in 600,000,000 years. I do not think it important whether we believe one or the other.
Q–Do you think those were literal days?
A–My impression is they were periods, but I would not attempt to argue as against anybody who wanted to believe in literal days.

In this instance he was not defending biblical hyper-literalism. In fact, most of those who do so today would consider him a “flaming liberal” on this basis alone. There are, for example, still geocentrists today (even Catholic ones), but Bryan didn’t take that position:

Q–The Bible says Joshua commanded the sun to stand still for the purpose of lengthening the day, doesn’t it, and you believe it?
A–I do.
Q–Do you believe at that time the entire sun went around the earth?
A–No, I believe that the earth goes around the sun.
Q–Do you believe that the men who wrote it thought that the day could be lengthened or that the sun could be stopped?
A–I don’t know what they thought.
Q–You don’t know?
A–I think they wrote the fact without expressing their own thoughts.

Note again that he does not stake out a position of extreme literalism. The window is left open for a more sophisticated phenomenological view. Bryan isn’t required to have known every jot and tittle of exegetical / philosophical speculation about Bible matters, in order to “prevail” in this exchange between two legal minds. It’s unreasonable to expect him to be such an expert. In fact, he states exactly why he wanted to testify. Apparently (from what I can gather from this) Darrow had taunted him beforehand (probably off the record):

Bryan–The reason I am answering is not for the benefit of the superior court. It is to keep these gentlemen from saying I was afraid to meet them and let them question me, and I want the Christian world to know that any atheist, agnostic, unbeliever, can question me anytime as to my belief in God, and I will answer him.

Darrow–I want to take an exception to this conduct of this witness. He may be very popular down here in the hills….

–Your honor, they have not asked a question legally and the only reason they have asked any question is for the purpose, as the question about Jonah was asked, for a chance to give this agnostic an opportunity to criticize a believer in the word of God; and I answered the question in order to shut his mouth so that he cannot go out and tell his atheistic friends that I would not answer his questions. That is the only reason, no more reason in the world.

So sure, we can critique his answers on the stand (and that’s very easy to do safely hid away and with the hindsight of 84 years) , but it’s not necessary to insult the man’s intelligence and make out that he wasn’t a real intellectual: to accept all the stereotypes we are supposed to believe as dogma, from our secularist overlords. That simplifies and caricatures true history, which is always, invariably more complex and interesting than the spoon-fed versions of he public schools. Bryan’s closing speech (that he actually didn’t give, for some reason), contains some very eloquent and wise observations, that were much-needed, then and now:

Science is a magnificent force, but it is not a teacher of morals. It can perfect machinery, but it adds no moral restraints to protect society from the misuse of the machine. It can also build gigantic intellectual ships, but it constructs no moral rudders for the control of storm tossed human vessel. It not only fails to supply the spiritual element needed but some of its unproven hypotheses rob the ship of its compass and thus endangers its cargo.. . . If civilization is to be saved from the wreckage threatened by intelligence not consecrated by love, it must be saved by the moral code of the meek and lowly Nazarene. His teachings, and His teachings, alone, can solve the problems that vex heart and perplex the world….

Again, we need not agree with Bryan in every particular. I don’t. But there is no necessity to disparage him as a “pseudo-intellectual.” Bryan probably accomplished more good things in his life than all of us reading and writing these things will ever do, put together. He was not an idiot. And he deserves to be remembered for more than a few (perhaps) stupid or philosophically / theologically insufficient remarks made under the pressure of an intense cross-examination on a blistering hot day.

Related paperMy Claims Regarding Piltdown Man & the Scopes Trial Twisted


Meta Description: Analysis of William Jennings Bryan, of Scopes Trial fame (1925): beyond the usual stereotypes.

Meta Keywords: Christianity & science, Christianity & evolution, creationism, theistic evolution, William Jennings Bryan, faith & reason, Scopes Trial, scientific method, scientism

September 12, 2016


Galileo Before the Holy Office, by Joseph Nicolas Robert-Fleury (1797-1890) [public domain / Wikimedia Commons]


Clinton Hooper is an agnostic. He showed up in a Facebook thread of mine that had a meme with 16 Catholic scientists. It sarcastically stated: “Catholics are Anti-Science. We’d Probably be in the Space Age by Now if it Weren’t for Those Catholics.” His words will be in blue. I won’t bother to correct all of his lack of capitals, etc.

How many of those catholics were catholics because to openly not be catholic during their time was basically a death sentence….

I should rephrase I suppose… how many of those catholics were quite literally ordered under threat of imprisonment and the possibility of torture to not disagree with the church…. easiest example: galileo…. may have been catholic, but he was also explicitly ordered not to hold a heliocentric view by the church and subsequently imprisoned by the church… how much worse would that punishment have been if he had been like “meh, i’m not a catholic anymore either!”

[I posted links to three of my related papers]

Galileo: The Myths and the Facts [5-11-06]

“No One’s Perfect”: Scientific Errors of Galileo and 16th-17th Century Cosmologies [7-29-10]

Dialogue on the Galileo Fiasco and the State of Scientific and Astronomical Knowledge in 1633 (vs. Eric G.) [5-13-06]

The Church clearly made mistakes in the Galileo affair, but none that affected infallibility. Galileo was sentenced to a luxurious palace with a supporter.

This is nothing like how the “enlightened” atheists in France treated great scientists. Lavoisier, the father of chemistry, was killed. For some reason, no one ever hears about that at all!

i’m glad you can google, but nothing you’ve posted disagrees with what I said…. in 1633 galileo was imprisoned for the rest of his life under “house arrest”… being comfortable does not make a prison any less of a prison.

Not to mention the “officially atheist” Chinese and Soviet treatment of scientists.

This isn’t about atheists… or protestants…. it’s about catholics. Also, galileo according to the first article you posted galileo was only in the palace for a few months. he spent the rest of his life under house arrest with “friends”.

I wasn’t Googling. These are all my own papers.

What is your worldview, Clinton? Yes, it’s about Catholics. We freely admit that we screwed up about Galileo. But things must be put into perspective, and a fair-minded approach taken. That’s what I attempt to do in my treatments of it. There is a huge double standard. It’s always Catholics and their error here [that are brought up].

Never mind that scientists at the time were, e.g., neck-deep into astrology. No one ever hears about that. Never mind that Galileo’s notion of scientific method was less modern than Bellarmine’s was. Never mind that Copernicus’ famous book was endorsed by the pope at the time.

It’s only Catholics who are supposedly “anti-science.”

My point in bringing up Lavoisier is obviously to argue: “if you are gonna get all righteously indignant about Galileo’s house arrest, as if this is the height of anti-scientific bigotry, then also get much more indignant about Lavoisier being murdered by the French radicals of the so-called ‘Enlightenment.'”

Don’t simply highlight one bad thing and ignore a far worse thing. That gives a wrong impression and is lousy history. But it happens all the time. The analyses are so often anti-Catholic in motivation.

Fair enough, the google comment was out of line.

My world view is irrelevant to the conversation, however I believe that there may or may not be a god. go back far enough and there’s still things that science cannot answer with current theories. who’s to say that far enough back there wasn’t a creator and he didn’t put all of this into motion…. go back far enough and even science relies upon blind faith in the form of assumptions.

I don’t take issue with catholics in particular, and I don’t really think Catholicism in its current state is anti-science… but that doesn’t mean that it was always the case. galileo is a prime example of this. was galileo wrong? absolutely, that’s the way science works… we’re constantly disproving someone else by presenting a better argument…

When the discussion is stifled by fear of persecution by the church, then the church (at the time) is anti-science. pretty much every major form of Christianity has been anti-science at one point or another.

I should say pretty much every major form of religion, including atheism, has been anti-science at one point or another.

Thanks for sharing your worldview, and I appreciate the qualifying statements.

Worldviews are always relevant to conversations, because everyone has a bias, and opposing positions have to be informed as to what someone’s position is in order to sensibly argue against them (because knowledge of premises of one’s debate opponent is key to all constructive dialogue).

You being an agnostic means that you will tend to view things in certain ways regarding all sorts of topics, just as I will tend to have many views because of being a Catholic.

I also put together an entire book about this issue.

Herein lies the problem. my worldview is not pertinent to the facts… you are arguing against me rather than discussing the facts. not to say this isn’t a perfectly valid strategy in order to “win” a debate, but it’s not the most effective way to get to the truth.

Worldviews are relevant for precisely the reason I gave: it creates some bias and others need to know about that. I am biased too. That’s all I’m saying.

I’m not arguing against “you” as an agnostic. That’s silly and a piece of sophistry. I have made all kinds of arguments in my papers and book on science; that the Galileo fiasco is not the height of “anti-science” in the history of the world. Far, far from that . . .

I used to think much like you when I was an evangelical. I thought that the Catholic Church was uniquely anti-science, till I studied the actual facts about the Galileo case.

It was temporarily, partially “anti-science” in a sense, and in a much more limited way than the standard secular / Protestant critical (and sometimes anti-Catholic) approach portrays it.

“how many of those catholics were catholics because to openly NOT be catholic during their time was basically a death sentence”


Yeah; how many priests and nuns had their heads chopped off in “Enlightened” France simply for being Catholics? You tell me. Again, if we’re gonna criticize one viewpoint, concerning a time when things were pretty universally intolerant, let’s be sure to do comparisons, so no one gets the impression that only Catholics persecuted folks, as if the secular / agnostic crowd did not do so.

As soon as these clowns got power in France, they started killing tens of thousands of people for disagreeing with them: priests, nuns, great scientists . . . And that was supposedly “enlightened” and a reaction against all those wicked intolerant Catholics.

Here are the numbers of murders in less than one year, in the Reign of Terror in France [1793-1794]: “The death toll ranged in the tens of thousands, with 16,594 executed by guillotine (2,639 in Paris), and another 25,000 in summary executions across France.” [Wikipedia article]

You keep trying to compare… saying “oh well these people were much worse!”… well getting punched in the gut is not as bad as being punched in the face, but it’s still being punched. in much the same way what happened elsewhere in the world was worse, but that doesn’t mean that the church wasn’t bad. the question at hand is not “was the world anti-<insert literally anything>” but specifically “is/was the catholic church anti-science”…

In that limited scope of topic, literally anything else is irrelevant. my beliefs, your beliefs, the “enlightened” and the reign of terror.. all irrelevant to the question of “is/was the catholic church anti-science”….. this scope limitation isn’t brought about by me, but by your original post.

Oh and by the way, never once did I say or even imply that what happened to galileo was unique to the catholics nor the “height of anti-science”… just that it was an excellent example of the church being anti-science for a time.

Well, you didn’t put it in such a sophisticated, nuanced fashion the first time. You stated: “how many of those catholics were quite literally ordered under threat of imprisonment and the possibility of torture to not disagree with the church.”

Yes, how many? Good question. Why don’t you tell us how many you think it was, and give us documented examples? You came up with Galileo as your “easiest example.” He wasn’t tortured. He was put under a relatively luxurious house arrest.

Since you imply that such things were widespread, why don’t you give us some more examples? If you can’t, then don’t go around implying that it was common, expected treatment for scientists to be threatened with imprisonment and torture in Catholic circles.

One anomalous example of poor treatment of a scientist doesn’t overcome the meme and establish that as a general rule, Catholicism was “anti-science.” It was not. We had a short period of time when the Church wrongly assumed that geocentrism was factually true: just a few decades after the great scientist Tycho Brahe held the same position, and when virtually all of the leading scientists (including Galileo) were enthralled with the pseudo-science of astrology.

There’s every reason to believe that Copernicus would have faced similar trial and imprisonment as galileo had he not died shortly after publishing his book on the same topic. according to my friend google (which I readily acknowledge does not tell the whole truth and nothing but the truth) here are a couple of examples other than galileo….

Bacon was imprisoned, and the church restricted him (as friar) from publishing works without their specific approval…

Descartes fled from france and take refuge in Sweden, to have his works banned by the catholic church after he passed…

Now, how many of the folks who had their works banned or condemned overall were catholic I don’t know… but the number of scientists and philosophers condemned by the church, or who had works banned/condemned by the church seems to be quite large for an organization that has never been anti-science.

It seems to me that the church went through a good long stretch where some science was embraced, so long as it didn’t contradict with anything they had previously taught…. but where works exhibited support for ideas that didn’t necessarily agree with the church got their authors in some serious trouble.

[Roger] Bacon is not a very good example of your dubious thesis. According to Wikipedia:

The Condemnations of 1277 banned the teaching of certain philosophical doctrines, including deterministic astrology. Some time within the next two years, Bacon was apparently imprisoned or placed under house arrest. This was traditionally ascribed to Franciscan Minister-General Jerome of Ascoli, probably acting on behalf of the many clergy, monks, and educators attacked by Bacon’s 1271 Compendium Studii Philosophiae. Modern scholarship, however, notes that the first reference to Bacon’s “imprisonment” dates from eighty years after his death on the charge of unspecified “suspected novelties” and finds it less than credible. Contemporary scholars who do accept Bacon’s imprisonment typically associate it with Bacon’s “attraction to contemporary prophesies”, his sympathies for “the radical ‘poverty’ wing of the Franciscans”, interest in certain astrological doctrines, or generally combative personality rather than from “any scientific novelties which he may have proposed.

Thus, scholars either question that it took place at all, or hold that if it did, it had nothing to do with science.

March 16, 2016

+ Comment on the Inadequacy and Unbiblical Nature of Libertarianism


Figure 8-6, page 288, chapter 8 in: Mitchell, Richard Sheppard; Kumar, Vinay; Abbas, Abul K.; Fausto, Nelson Robbins Basic Pathology, Philadelphia: Saunders ISBN: 1-4160-2973-7. 8th edition. Häggström, Mikael. “Medical gallery of Mikael Häggström 2014“. Wikiversity Journal of Medicine 1 (2). DOI:10.15347/wjm/2014.008. ISSN 20018762. [released into public domain / Wikimedia Commons]

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These are some related thoughts that have come up in different discussions on the CHNI board. My thoughts here are not honed and refined: just thrown out “off the cuff” for consideration. The discussion in one case was about whether drinking alcohol was a sin. An analogy to sports was made (somewhat facetiously, as it turned out). It was said that playing sports sometimes causes brain or spinal cord injuries, or serious ongoing knee problems, etc. Therefore, why do people play sports if there are such serious risks?

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Interesting analogy. I’ll take a crack at it.

The difference is that sports are a calculated risk, whereas something like alcohol abuse or smoking are known harmful things that are always or intrinsically harmful (alcohol at the point of abuse, not absolutely any alcohol).

When one says: “sports are dangerous” as opposed to “smoking is dangerous” this is really meant (when closely analyzed) in two different ways. Playing sports is dangerous in the way that driving cars or climbing a very tall mountain is dangerous. There is a known risk involved. So many people will be killed or injured. We know this will occur without doubt. Yet it doesn’t stop us from driving. And that is because the percentages and risks are very small, comparatively speaking, so that the positives far outweigh the negatives.

Sports are the same. Some will get a spinal injury. A baseball player was killed in 1920 when struck by a pitch. Some basketball players can have a heart attack and die (that happened to Reggie Lewis of the Celtics, as I recall). But these are tiny percentages as well.

Therefore, the analogy breaks down, because something like smoking has overwhelming risk in doing it at all. To know that yet to keep doing it is (I would argue) an abuse of our bodies. Alcohol becomes the same harmful thing in excess, or for an alcoholic.

* * *

Someone else — following up on this argument — argued that the sport of professional boxing was “objectively immoral.” My reply:

I think boxing is the sport that comes closest to being classified as “abuse” (if one wishes to make that argument); however, I reject the notion that it is objectively immoral on the basis of reductio ad absurdum. Any number of physical activities, after all, would cause one to be exhausted and “physically unable to stand on his feet.”

I mentioned in this very thread about climbing Mt. Washington in New Hampshire. I couldn’t stand over and over, my 49 yo, sports-weakened knees hurt so bad at the top of that monster. It’s a willful activity that leads to physical exhaustion after a while.

If we say that boxing is objectively immoral, what about mountain climbing (serious climbing, like Mt. Everest)? People die doing that, or get frostbite and lose toes and fingers. You could sever your spine in a fall. So no one should ever climb a mountain? Moses couldn’t have even gone up on Mt. Sinai.

How about marathons or the bicycling in Tour de France? Are they not utterly exhausting? Sonny Bono was killed by running into a tree, while downhill skiing. So now that sport is out, too?

We can’t avoid risks in life. Some sports, granted, carry a much greater risk factor (e.g., auto racing, boxing). But I think it is only a matter of degree, not of essence. Boxers agree to undergo possible harm. That is the difference. But if someone comes up to you on the street and punches your face and breaks your nose and rearranges your jaw, that is, of course, a sin, because you didn’t voluntarily participate in that, train for it, etc.

I don’t think the case can be made. Smoking is very close to “objectively immoral,” but even there, the Church has apparently not declared it to be a sin, and it certainly has not done so with regard to boxing.

Based on your first argument, I attempted to draw analogies and create a reductio ad absurdum: if “a goal of reducing another to a state of being physically unable to stand on one’s feet” is objectively immoral, then why not also mountain climbing, and foot race and bicycle marathons?

Granted, the goal of those things is not to be unable to stand (it is getting to the top or first to the finish line), yet being unable to stand will be a virtual inevitable result, so the actual end result is the same. Therefore – so I argued — your argument fails unless you also condemn these other sports. No analogy is absolutely perfect because analogy is not equation.

It also occurs to me that it isn’t possible to say about boxing that the goal is always the knockout for the ten-count, for matches are often decided without one, or without even a knockdown (falling down but getting up before a ten-count). The goal is to get more points than the other guy by more direct hits and relatively less received. The secondary goal of a knockdown or knockout help bring about victory: the former by probability and the latter by certainty. If the knockout was the only criterion of victory then matches would continue until it occurred. But instead they are predetermined to have so many rounds and then end.

I’m not trying to “argue” — if by that one means being obnoxious or contentious — but simply responding to a very serious claim that a sport (one that I have enjoyed myself) is “objectively immoral.” The strong claim requires a strong response. I am arguing by logic and what the actual facts of the matter are according to the self-definition and competitive goals of professional boxing.

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I’ve written about alcohol. As for cigarettes, I think that is more clear cut and not merely an issue of moderation: it is an abuse of our bodies, period. We know that it causes cancer. We know that even secondary smoke has serious negative health effects. It can also cause emphysema. My father has lung cancer because of it (but he is doing remarkably well for all that). I remember a chain-smoking neighbor who slowly died of emphysema. These aren’t pretty sights, and in most cases they were completely preventable.

Arguably, it is wrong to do anything that mutilates or harms our body.

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I never said, myself (lest anyone think this) that smoking was a mortal sin. It would be tough to make that argument, even in the objective sense, let alone subjective. I think one would have to greatly misunderstand the nature of addiction, to try to do the latter.

What I said was that there is little doubt now that smoking harms your body in a serious manner. And it is not a good thing to do anything that does that, whether it is technically a “sin” or not. I think it’s very borderline; quite a complex thing to discuss. The same arguments can be made for overeating, lack of exercise, lack of sleep, eating lousy, unhealthy foods to the detriment of healthy foods, or over-dependence on various medications and drugs.

It’s a very tricky business because it is so much a matter of degree. Gluttony and drunkenness are clearly sins; eating a Twinkie or sipping a Scotch are clearly not. My wife and I have followed a pretty strict health food diet for 25 years. We try to avoid white sugar as much as possible, and eat whole foods as much as we can (financially permitting). We like natural, whole foods (based on serious, scientific studies on what is more healthy and health-promoting). But we never tell our kids that not doing that is a sin, because we don’t believe that. They get the usual candy at Halloween and Easter and at Christmas parties. We’re not legalistic at all about this.

We simply tell them the principles that we have learned and try to live by, and give them this kind of food, as much as it is in our power. If they don’t want to eat this way when they’re grown up, fine. Consequently, however, none of them have grown up with the terrible “junk food junkie” mentality” that I grew up with, because my mother is crazy about sweet stuff. They don’t even crave sweets half as much as I do myself.

I would go beyond the “legal” question and ask, “whether smoking is a sin or not, do you really want to do something that has been proven beyond any doubt to harm your body, and to take off years of your life (statistically)? Do you want to deprive your spouse or kids or parents, or friends, of possibly many years of your life because you refused to stop doing what you should have known full well was harmful?”

That works whether it is considered sinful or not. It’s a matter of charity towards our loved ones and stewardship of the bodies and good health that God gave us.

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The issue is a bit more complicated than people often make out. Let me try to make a somewhat tentative argument. I’m “thinking out loud”; not trying to speak in “dogmatic” terms. The Church teaches that it is a sin to mutilate our bodies; for example to have a vasectomy. It’s wrong because it is doing things to our bodies that are harmful and not intended to be that way by God. The Church would also oppose the practice of clitorectomies, that take place in, for example, Africa, so that women will not experience as much sexual pleasure. These things are intrinsically wrong.

In the case of vasectomy, we are trying to avoid causing a conception altogether and to engage in contraception, which is itself an intrinsically disordered, sinful act. So it is already wrong on those grounds, but it also goes against the natural way a (male) body is supposed to operate.

The analogy to smoking isn’t perfect (very few analogies are), but I would say it is reasonable to argue that if we know beyond any doubt that smoking is antithetical to lung functions, and yet keep doing it, that this is wrong, and indeed, may be a sin, because by our action we are deliberately causing physical injury to ourselves. What would we say if we stabbed someone in the kidney and they had to have it removed? That is wrong not only because it was attacking another and causing them pain, but because that person’s body is now not fully operative in the way it was intended to be.

Now, is it essentially different when we are talking about our own bodies? No. It is a serious sin to commit suicide. The Church doesn’t agree with assisted suicide and euthanasia, because our bodies are not our own, and we are made in the image of God, with eternal souls created directly by God, and we are the temples of the Holy Spirit. The Church is not libertarian: we don’t “own” our own bodies; God does. We don’t own the bodies of our preborn children, and so cannot kill them as we please. It is a serious sin.

Therefore, if it is wrong to cause harm to other persons’ bodies, it is also wrong to cause harm to our own, by the same principle of our bodies being given to us as a gift of God, so that we are stewards of them. In a sense, we’re “renting” our bodies from God the Creator.

Nor can we say in the case of smoking, that it only affects us — just as libertarians argue that drugs and pornography and homosexual acts only have consequences for those who are doing that and no one else. And that is because we know now that second-hand smoke also can do harm to other people (not nearly as much, but still some).

I grew up my entire childhood, breathing the smoke from my father’s cigarettes. I also grew up in southwest Detroit breathing the pollution from the Ford Rouge Plant, just a mile and a half away (the largest factory in the world, at least at one time). Pollution was sort of like smoking on a huge scale. These factories were belching out harmful smoke with little or no control, until the 1970s and a greater awareness of the environment (and it’s not just radical, wacko, far left hysteria: pollution of air and water is objectively, demonstratively a bad thing).

So Ford (where my dad worked, like a typical Detroiter) and other companies got up to speed and did a better job there. In fact, Ford is doing quite a bit environmentally, now, because I just took the tour of the factory in the last few weeks, and they were describing a number of (rather fascinating) environmental programs that the plant is now promoting and practicing.

Cigarette smoke is known (without any doubt) to harm our lungs especially. Why would anyone want to do that (even apart from the sin question)? There is an aspect of this (I agree with another commenter) that is just plain stupid, whether it is technically a “sin” or not. Who would go around bashing their foot or hand with a lead pipe, so that it became increasingly damaged? Who would stab their ear so that 47% of the hearing were lost over time? Who would scrape their back with a sharp object so that it became raw and infected and permanently harmed, or try to deliberately break a finger or a toe?

All of that is considered irrational, “nutty” behavior. Yet if someone smokes and smokes and destroys their lung capacity and sets themselves up for cancer, is that not wrong and dumb, too, on the same grounds? I don’t see any difference. Perhaps someone can explain to me what the difference would be.

Who would make a theoretical choice where there were two doors (like Let’s Make a Deal) and two paths to choose from?:

Door A: a “healthy” lifestyle which is less “fun” but which will render it statistically probable that you can live a healthy, fairly happy life up to age 75-85 or even longer.

Door B: a lot more fun of a life with stuff like excessive alcohol intake and smoking and junk food that will “fulfill” the person at the time but which will cause a great statistical likelihood of cancer and other debilitating diseases and a loss of 10, 15, 20 years off of the person’s lifespan, so that they have a much greater likelihood of dying “early” (and often in horrible, tragic fashion).

Now, would a rational person who cares about his own life and body and about his loved ones, deliberately choose Door B (and, by the way, Door B is also the “choice” of the active homosexual, because we know beyond a doubt, that this lifestyle is unhealthy and takes many years off of lives, statistically)? Yet with the issue of smoking, in effect, millions choose Door B and seem to think little of it.

Whether smoking is a sin or not, I’m not sure. Now I am curious and would like to research this, in terms of what Catholics and other Christians have thought. I suspect that it will be a borderline thing. But at the very least it is an irrational and stupid choice, and I think there are strong arguments to abstain from it whether it is a sin or not. Not everything that is “legal” is necessarily “good”, which is a far smaller category. The Christian ought to pursue what is good and life-affirming and edifying.

And I say this without the least judgment of persons at all (and not the slightest pretense that I am “better” than anyone else). I’m just looking at the thing itself, and I see no good coming from it at all. If the pleasure of it is sought, certainly are plenty of other pleasures that can substitute, without the harm done. I would say it is an act of charity to try to reason with the smoker to stop. After all, it is their life and the life of their loved ones who is harmed. My own father has lung cancer, as I write, because he wouldn’t listen to reason and stop smoking years ago.

Someone argued that “Nicotine, like caffeine is a neurotransmitter analogue and in small doses can relieve stress.” I’m sure it can. But there are tons of natural tranquilizers and sedatives that can do the same with absolutely no harm or side effects. Niacin from Vitamin B does that. So does calcium and magnesium. There are a number of herbs that are quite calming, like chamomile or valerian root. There are now a great many natural anti-depressants, such as St. John’s Wort and SAM-e. My wife takes natural amino acids to relive her tendency to mild depression (as I have written about). There need not be the risks or side effects involved, and there is no addiction, either. Even exercise is known to relieve stress. Talking and laughing does that. Why should anyone seek that benefit from something that is known to harm and to be addictive? It’s not a rational choice.

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Christianity is not libertarianism. It’s valid for folks to be concerned with acts and behaviors that may harm others or cause them to stumble. It’s the Christian charity for others that comes into play here. Mere legalism doesn’t care about that, because it is all about “rights” and not “what’s right.”

Someone wants to argue by libertarian principles? St. Paul in the Bible also has principles too, that he tries to live by (and he calls us several times to imitate him). For example:

Romans 14:13-21

Then let us no more pass judgment on one another, but rather decide never to put a stumbling block or hindrance in the way of a brother. I know and am persuaded in the Lord Jesus that nothing is unclean in itself; but it is unclean for any one who thinks it unclean. If your brother is being injured by what you eat, you are no longer walking in love. Do not let what you eat cause the ruin of one for whom Christ died. So do not let your good be spoken of as evil. For the kingdom of God is not food and drink but righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit; he who thus serves Christ is acceptable to God and approved by men. Let us then pursue what makes for peace and for mutual upbuilding. Do not, for the sake of food, destroy the work of God. Everything is indeed clean, but it is wrong for any one to make others fall by what he eats; it is right not to eat meat or drink wine or do anything that makes your brother stumble.

This is biblical ethics. It goes beyond what I can do or not do, to considerations of how my actions may affect others. Libertarianism doesn’t give a damn about that: it is all about “my right to do this, and if you don’t like it, you can lump it.” Libertarianism assumes that “I am not my brother’s keeper” and that my actions do not affect others. That’s why libertarians defend things like pornography and mind-altering drugs and even legal prostitution. It’s brought us wonders like abortion and assisted suicide. And I’m the first to say, by the way, that I think this libertarian mentality has infested both US political parties. The thought of many conservatives is shot through with this unbiblical sort of thinking. Smoking (or the “right to smoke”) might be another instance where libertarian reasoning is often utilized.

Oftentimes, folks are not personally libertarian, but they will argue like one, having been influenced by those cultural currents (whether they are aware of it or not), and they are not being sufficiently biblical and Christian in their outlook.

Note that St. Paul above even says to refrain from a thing that is good in and of itself, if it stumbles someone else. This is highly significant. Even if something is a perfectly good thing, and it is causing stumbling, that alone is reason enough for a Christian to refrain from it. That ain’t “self-righteousness”; it is plain old biblical, Christian, Catholic, Pauline righteousness. See also 1 Corinthians 8:

1 Corinthians 8:8-13

Food will not commend us to God. We are no worse off if we do not eat, and no better off if we do. Only take care lest this liberty of yours somehow become a stumbling block to the weak. For if any one sees you, a man of knowledge, at table in an idol’s temple, might he not be encouraged, if his conscience is weak, to eat food offered to idols? And so by your knowledge this weak man is destroyed, the brother for whom Christ died. Thus, sinning against your brethren and wounding their conscience when it is weak, you sin against Christ. Therefore, if food is a cause of my brother’s falling, I will never eat meat, lest I cause my brother to fall.

I remember being at a wedding once, way back in 1981, when I was just starting to be a serious evangelical Christian. One of the persons at our table said, “I’m not gonna drink wine, because our friend x is a recovering alcoholic, and I don’t want to do anything to make him stumble.” I was profoundly affected by that and distinctly remember the incident. This woman (who later returned to the Church, by the way) was applying Romans 14 and 1 Corinthians 8 and showing profound love and concern for a fellow Christian who was weak in that regard.

This is Christianity. This is communal Christianity, not a bunch of renegade individuals strictly concerned with themselves, like the “Me Generation” or the stupid “rugged individualism” so beloved in American culture from the beginning. Chances are that Wyatt Earp and Buffalo Bill, riding off into the sunset, couldn’t care less about Christianity. They probably didn’t even go to church. I don’t know, but it wouldn’t surprise me one bit if they didn’t. And if they happened to be good Christians, I’m sure one could produce many other examples of the “American individualist” who were not, and in part because of this unChristian mentality of the atomistic individual, in no need of a Christian community, and clueless about the necessary relationship with others in the Church (whether Protestant or Catholic).

Another libertarian argument we often hear, and which is very widespread now in Christian circles, is the compartmentalization of life, so that certain areas are seen to be separate from Christianity, and our own little domain, away from God and faith and religion.

But the Church and Christianity deal with all aspects of life. Jesus is Lord of all of life. To deny this and to reserve various areas of life immune from the influence of God, is pure libertarianism and postmodernism. The Catholic, Christian, biblical worldview utterly rejects this. All of creation is God’s; therefore, God can give instruction, through His revelation and Church, regarding every aspect of life and Christianity has something valuable to say about everything.

We don’t make an absolute separation between science and religion. Hence, we oppose the materialism in science that wants to pretend that God had no part in the material universe whatsoever, even though science (by its very definition and essence) can’t say anything about that, since it deals with matter, and God is Spirit. It’s a self-contradiction. The truly scientific position (i.e., by science’s own internal self-definition) is to be agnostic on the question of God. But atheist scientists (people like Richard Dawkins) are often more atheist than scientific and they insist on meddling into religious matters, when (usually) they are profoundly ignorant of same. And some Christians meddle into science when they don’t have a clue (such as young-earth creationists). It’s the same mistake from opposite ends of the spectrum.

Christianity doesn’t separate reason from faith. It is my own life’s work to connect the two, and I’m very honored and excited to be involved in that endeavor, as an apologist. Christianity doesn’t take the view that what goes on behind closed doors is “none of God’s business.” It certainly is! Hence, we condemn homosexual acts not only because they are intrinsically wrong, but because they DO affect other people, besides the ones doing the sin, even in terms of health, despite all the libertarian, secular nonsense we hear, that there is no such effect, and all people are atomistic individuals, as if they lived in a bubble.

Catholicism abhors abortion precisely because every conceived child is made in the image of God and has a soul specially created by God. The mother does not own her child and cannot do with him or her whatever she likes. That may fit with Roman paganism or a slave mentality or modern-day Democratic platforms, but is utterly opposed to Christianity. And so we are the preeminent pro-lifers, because we refuse to grant that there are areas of life where God has no relevance.

That’s why Christians are almost always in the forefront of social change for the better, because that is part of God’s world, too. Hence, William Wilberforce conducted virtually a one-man crusade to abolish the slave-trade and all slavery in England, and succeeded (in 1807 and 1833). Martin Luther King was a Baptist preacher. Pope John Paul II and Lutherans in Germany and other Christians in Eastern Europe and Russia (folks like Solzhenitsyn) played key roles in bringing down Soviet Communism.

But Margaret Sanger, who crusaded for contraception, and founded Planned Parenthood, was a blatant racist who admired the Nazi eugenics programs.

Etc., etc., etc. So I hope we can all realize that it is not true to think that the Church ends where our house begins. God is everywhere and the Church is concerned with all areas of life. No exceptions. That doesn’t mean that we aren’t allowed think (a whole ‘nother discussion that I’d be more than happy to take up).

February 19, 2016

Photograph by “ulrikebohr570” [public domain / Pixabay]
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This is a continuation of a previous discussion with a doctoral student in philosophy who is seriously considering conversion to Catholicism, but who struggles with the doctrine of hell, and aspects of God’s function as Judge. His words will be in blue.
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Thanks for your reply. To clarify briefly, after having glanced at your reply, I don’t believe in predestination to hell, per Catholic teaching. Catholics believe in predestination to heaven, but without ruling out or superseding our free will. It’s a paradox and not totally understandable by the human mind, but that’s what we believe. It requires faith.

When I speak of there definitely being persons in hell, it is not from reasoning or deduction alone, apart from revelation (i.e., not purely philosophical). It is based on what we know from the Bible, which says that there will be people who are damned, as opposed to those who are saved. The Bible teaches neither universalism nor annihilationism. It also explicitly describes the devil and his angels being tormented in hell indefinitely.

Jesus on several occasions matter-of-factly states that hell is a reality, and that people will end up there. I know that doesn’t cut it in a purely philosophical discussion, but we’re also discussing Catholic theology, which entails a consideration of revelation (which you will have to accept anyway, should you decide to become Catholic). I’m trying to do mostly philosophy here (badly as I might be doing it), because that’s your area, but I can’t totally divorce my position (surely you understand) from revelation and biblical evidences for hell.

I’m assuming, too, that you accept the distinction between foreknowledge and predestination (God being out of time and knowing all things). This doesn’t necessitate predestination. All who end up in hell freely made the choice to do so.

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First of all, I would like to thank everyone for their thoughtful responses. In particular, thank you to David and Dave for replying so thoroughly. I’m in the process of writing a response to Dave in particular. Dave, you make a great many important points and I want to respond to them fairly systematically in another post.

Thank you. Glad to be of any service to you.

However, for the moment, I want to refer briefly to your exchange with Geoffrey and Kevin about universalism etc. I took your advice and had a look at it. To be honest, I found a great deal of what you said there very troubling. So before I post my response to your response to my questions I want to clarify some concerns I have with your statements in this discussion.


I have to say that after reading the discussion carefully a number of times I do think that you missed the point of Geoffrey’s question. As it stands, your arguments seem to me to involve a defence of some kind of predestination, whereby some individuals are necessarily destined for hell. Obviously this claim needs to be clarified, which I will attempt to do here.

It seems to me that Geoffrey made his point quite clearly.He is not claiming that necessarily no one has or will choose hell. This would clearly involve a denial of free will. What he is asking is whether it is permissible to believe that as a contingent fact nobody will choose to go there. In each and every case a person may go one way or the other. It is possible, however, that in each and every case the person involved will freely choose God, rather than hell. I presume, because of the discussion of the possibility of a last minute reprieve, that Geoffrey is concerned with the possibility of somebody repenting at the end of their life.

As I replied in another brief post already: granting a belief in revelation and NT revelation in particular (which you have done in large part by accepting most of the Nicene Creed), it is not possible to believe that no one will end up in hell, because the NT clearly states that they will. Several passages imply a great division between the saved and the unsaved; “few” are they who take the Christian road, etc.

The “beast” and the “false prophet” in Revelation are human beings. The Bible tells us that “these two were thrown alive into the lake of fire that burns with sulphur” (Rev 19:20). This is reiterated in chapter 20, with mention of large numbers of people (the dead in Hades) also being consigned to hell:

Revelation 20:10-15

[10] and the devil who had deceived them was thrown into the lake of fire and sulphur where the beast and the false prophet were, and they will be tormented day and night for ever and ever. [11] Then I saw a great white throne and him who sat upon it; from his presence earth and sky fled away, and no place was found for them.
[12] And I saw the dead, great and small, standing before the throne, and books were opened. Also another book was opened, which is the book of life. And the dead were judged by what was written in the books, by what they had done.
[13] And the sea gave up the dead in it, Death and Hades gave up the dead in them, and all were judged by what they had done.
[14] Then Death and Hades were thrown into the lake of fire. This is the second death, the lake of fire;
[15] and if any one’s name was not found written in the book of life, he was thrown into the lake of fire.

Therefore, if you accept biblical revelation, you have no choice but to accept this. You can’t pick and choose what you personally like and don’t like, or what you think God should have done, rather than what He has revealed that He has done and will do. Christianity doesn’t work that way. Why would you think you could totally understand everything, anyway? I understand that a philosophy doctoral student will use his mind more than most of us, and work through things by that method. I have no problem with that in and of itself, as long as the limits of it are acknowledged. But Christianity is not philosophy: it is a religious faith. It is not contrary to reason, but it does go beyond it. Surely you know this, and I don’t have to remind you of it, but I am writing for everyone reading this, too. It requires faith and grace to believe in its entirety.

Your replies clearly negate free will.

They do not. You must have misunderstood them if you got that impression, or you are argung from a supposed logical reduction of my arguments.

You say for example:

“I don’t see much of a distinction between believing in a hell that the reprobate and damned go to and then turning around and saying that it is quite possible that no men go there…”

I’m not sure what I meant in this statement, but I think it is muddled and unclear, looking back at it after 4 1/2 years, and I would like to remove it because if I can’t figure out what I meant, I suspect readers won’t be able to, either. Much more clear is what I wrote immediately afterward:

As I said before: if no men go to hell, then why is so much of the NT devoted to warning men to not end up there by virtue of their rejection of God? Why would the Church tell us that all mortal sins place us in potential danger of hellfire, when in fact, that never occurs because no men end actually up in hell?

That makes no sense to me. It seems to me that if universalism were in fact the true state of affairs and that all men end up in heaven, then we would be informed of this in the Bible, as it is a wonderful truth. Instead, God plays a sort of game by scaring us half to death with all this business about hell and fire and torture and all, and then no one goes there anyway except the devil and his demons.

I find that as silly and implausible as a parent who constantly scares his children with threats of punishment, but never follows through with any of it. Just as the child would not believe the parent when they make such claims, after a few years of that, I wouldn’t trust God’s word, either, if He acted in such a weird, arbitrary fashion with us, involving virtual deception.

I’m not sure whether Geoffrey would agree with the following formulation of an argument for the possibility of an empty hell, but in any case I think the idea is quite simple:

1) There is a hell.

2) If a given person chooses hell then they will go to hell.

3) If a given person does not choose hell then they will not go to hell.

4) Human beings have free will.

5) Since human beings have free will it is not the case that any human being will of necessity go to hell.

6) From this it follows straightforwardly that it is possible that hell is empty because, as a contingent fact, ( not as a necessity) no one has chosen to go there, i.e. everyone has repented before death and been reconciled to God.

And again, I have stated that if the discussion involved merely philosophy and the question of free will, of course your statement about necessary truths and possibilities of human choices would be undeniably true. But this discussion also involves revelation, and that revelation informs us that it is a certainty that in fact many human beings will reject God and thus end up in hell. It’s a fact that is yet to happen: known by God in His foreknowledge and omniscience. God has communicated this fact to us, and repeatedly warns us to avoid the same fate. It’s no less fact because it happens to be “future” to us. It’s not future to God. He knows all that will happen in the future because He is already there.

It is crucial to be clear about where the necessity lies. It is a necessary truth that if a person chooses hell then they will go to hell. So if some group of people chooses hell, then that group will necessarily go to hell. It is a completely different thing to claim that necessarily some group of people will go to hell.

I understand that. I took logic in college too. But it’s not my claim in the first place. It is a statement of fact based on the revelation of what will happen. I made this very clear in the dialogue of mine that you reference, as well, so you should already know that my reasoning is entirely consistent, with regard to incorporation of biblical revelation, which I as a Catholic am not at liberty to deny (nor will you have any such liberty should you decide to become Catholic). As it is, now you accept some revelation and reject other portions of it that you find difficult. That is the logically inconsistent position, not mine.

This only follows if it is necessarily true that some group of people will choose to go to hell. And this flatly contradicts the reality of free will.

As I have not asserted this, it is not a problem of my position that I have to explain.

Geoffrey seems to me to pick up on the troubling consequences of this way of thinking when he says:

“The Catechism condemns the teaching that God predestines anyone to Hell. Therefore there can be no certainty that some are in Hell…”

It seems to me that what you are defending clearly implies that some are predestined to Hell.

Not at all. This exhibits the rather common confusion between predestination and foreknowledge. Since God is outside of time (and I actually took a philosophy of space and time course in college too), He has the ability to state what will happen in the future (acts and facts) back to us for whom the acts are not yet accomplished. So we human beings can make a free choice in the future that God knows (knowing all things). He can tell us now that there are people who will be damned, and He has indeed done so in the Bible. You need not take my word for this.

Your reply to this really does miss the point. You say:

“It follows from the fact of original sin and mortal sin. There are people who fall into the latter, and we are all (except the Blessed Virgin) subject to the former. Therefore there will be people in hell, because there are people in original sin and mortal sin.”

By your own claim, the Catholic Church teaches that the moment of death determines the fate of the soul. Now assuming for the sake of argument that this is true, it would certainly be true that if some person dies in a state of mortal sin they will go to hell. This is just a specification of the general if-then statement above- If some person chooses hell, that person will necessarily go to hell. But you are claiming something else: Some person will necessarily go to hell. But this is completely dependent on whether some person chooses hell, in this case, dies unrepentent and in state of mortal sin. For your view to follow you would need to hold that at least one person will of necessity choose hell. In a concrete sense you would need to be able to say with absolute certainty that a given person has not repented and been reconciled to God. I don’t see how anyone could claim this kind of knowledge of what goes on in someone’s heart. This is predestination plain and simple, and makes a mockery of free will.

It was overstated a bit. I should have said “it is extremely likely” or some such. But the overall thrust of my statement remains true, based on what we know from Revelation. The Bible clearly states that those who are beholden to serious, mortal sin will not inherit the Kingdom (and that means hell, when we harmonize all related biblical teachings) and that unbelievers will be judged and sentenced to eternal darkness and separation from God. Jesus assumes this as a fact on several occasions.

Your subsequent statements only seem to confirm that you hold to some form of predestinationism, in other words that there is some definite group of people who will of necessity be damned.

Incorrect. There is a group that will be damned, as we know from the Bible and as a function of God’s omniscience, but not because they were predestined. They freely chose to reject God.

In your response to me you say clearly that Catholicism is not Calvinism,


that the Catholic Church does not teach that people are predestined to hell.

That’s correct. You can take it from me, as a longtime apologist. If the Catholic Church did teach that, there is a strong likelihood that I wouldn’t have converted to it myself, as I was an Arminian and never a Calvinist.

I am glad if this is the case, but I fail to see how your own statements avoid the charge of defending predestination.

I have amply explained it by now. You may object to God being outside of time or omniscient, for all I know. That would entail an entirely different discussion. You may subscribe to some form of process theology, that is heretical according to Catholicism. Other discussions . . .

* * *

I’d like to make a start on a reply to the various ideas that have so far arisen in this thread. Part of the problem in a discussion like this, especially from my side, as someone who does not share all of the assumptions which my Catholic respondents do,

In the case of hell, it is also historic Protestantism and Orthodoxy that disagree with you, not just Catholicism, because all Christians pretty much agree on this.

is that I can’t assume that people are aware of or understand my own theological, moral, and philosophical presuppositions. What I would like to do is lay out as clearly as possible the main problems I have with the doctrine of hell, more clearly than I have so far, present as clearly as possible my own presuppositions, and then proceed to fairly systematically work through the various thoughtful and generous responses I’ve received.

Okay. And I will counter-reply.

I would like to begin by outlining what I take to be the key claims involved in the dominant or traditional conception of hell. To do this I would like to refer to the work of the philosopher of religion Jonathan L. Kvanvig whose book, “The Problem of Hell” presents many of the issues with admirable clarity. Kvanvig lists the following theses as being central to the traditional concept of hell:

” (1) The Punishment Thesis: the purpose of hell is to punish those whose earthly lives and behavior warrant it.

(2) The No Escape Thesis: it is metaphysically impossible to get out of hell once one has been consigned there.

(3) The Anti-Universalism Thesis: some people will be consigned to hell.

(4) The Eternal Existence Thesis: hell is a place of unending conscious existence.”

Now I basically agree with Kvanvig that this is an accurate account of how hell has, for the most part, been understood throughout the history of Christianity.

Because that is precisely how the Bible has presented it! That’s why Christians have believed this in the first place.

Kvanvig himself argues for a version of annihilationism, in other words the view that the damned simply taken out of existence. I disagree with his arguments here, but the above formulation should give people participating in this thread a fairly clear idea of what I’m objecting to.

Annihilationsim cannot be squared with the biblical data. I knew this 25 years ago, when I used biblical arguments to disprove the Jehovah’s Witnesses position, which is the same.

Now I would like to briefly state some of my presuppositions. Since I will describe my presupposition as far as content is concerned as I go along, I want to begin here by stating what one might call my methodological assumptions, in other words how I approach the Christian faith, how I understand the relation between Faith and Reason, and where some of my basic influences lie.


This is meant also to be a partial response to David’s contention that my ” fixation with reasoning to a conclusion” is causing me to stumble.

Insofar as you don’t also include revelation in the analysis, I think he is correct. It’s impossible for any Christian to intelligently discuss hell without taking that into account. But as you clarify, I think the problem may not be so much “hyper-rationalism” as it is “selective revelation.” You accept part of revelation and reject another part, and the criterion is reason and your feelings about things like hell. The orthodox Christian replies that this is unreasonable and arbitrary.

David made a number of points about the relation of reason, and thus philosophy, to religion. His view seems to be that reason is flawed as an approach to religious truth.

He’s certainly less inclined to philosophy than I am, but I think it would be most unfair to categorize him as “anti-reason” in any way. David can speak for himself, but I think he means it in the sense that I described above. He wants to harmonize faith, revelation, and reason, as I do. We usually have different approaches in our answers on this forum, as the folks here are well aware (and which I think is wonderful), but on that broad principle we are in complete agreement, I can assure you.

I have to say I disagree strongly with this view. I certainly have specifically philosophical reasons for disagreeing, which it wouldn’t be appropriate to go into here. But quite apart from this this view does not seem to me to accurately reflect the profound influence which philosophical thought has had on Catholicism. Thomism is one obvious example. I mention this because my own philosophical convictions on a great many questions are basically Thomist, with a strong element of phenomenology. David made the point that philosophy students often make the mistake of legislating for God, of thinking that they can judge God’s actions and so on. Now I think this criticism is to a large extent valid, and not only of philosophy students but also great philosophers. There is a lot of titanic presumption in the history of philosophy ( e.g. Hegelianism). At the same time I think this charge is unfair with respect to my own concerns.

I hope so, and I’ll accept your word on that.

I would never presume to legislate what God Himself can or cannot do. But none of what I say is directed at God, rather it is directed at human conceptions of God with which I disagree.

But that is a fine line, because in this case the human conceptions are directly derived from revelation, which we believe is from God. If one accepts the validity and truthfulness of the NT, hell is part of the package. It is as impossible to extract from it as it was for Thomas Jefferson to eliminate all the biblical miracles from his ridiculous Bible. To do so guts the NT and it is no longer the NT after that ransacking of it.

When a philosophical theologian says that God cannot do evil, he is not telling God what he can or cannot do, he is simply clarifying a truth which follows necessarily from the nature of God, if we the virtually universally accepted view that God is Perfectly Good.

Yep. No problem there. And this is grounded in Revelation as well.

In the same way if someone says that God cannot make a square circle, he is not legislating for God, or claiming to know God’s mind better than God.

That’s right. I made that very argument in my first installment, as I recall.

Similarly, my claim is not that I know better than God, but rather that on my understanding of God’s nature ( which is not merely some arbitrary personal construction but informed by many years of studying) the doctrine of hell seems to be incompatible with God’s nature.

And I deny that just as vigorously.

There are certain things which I accept without philosophical argument. I believe and accept everything contained in the Nicene Creed, with two provisos: 1) I would have a different interpretation of what is involved in God’s judging the quick and the dead than Catholics; 2) I have doubts as to whether the ‘ One Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church’ refers exclusively to the Roman Catholic Church.

To do so one must accept revelation. You have done that in large part. Yet when it comes to hell that same revelation isn’t sufficient for you. This is the incoherence that I see in your position thus far.

I do not question what I take to be the central truths of the Christian faith: the Trinity, The Fall, the Son’s Incarnation, Death and Resurrection, The Last Judgment and so on, not only because I believe them to be true by faith, but because they enlighten my reason, because the beauty and moral grandeur of these idea inspires me unlike any other religious conception. So faith and reason are not for me at odds with each other.


On the other hand there are clearly things in both the Old and New Testament which are morally unacceptable: one obvious example is the fact that slavery is not only never condemned in the Old Testament, but is clearly practiced by some of Israel’s prophets. In the New Testament similarly, there is St. Paul’s injunction that slaves should obey their masters. Now it seems obvious to me that by any sane contemporary standards of morality St. Paul was in error, in so far as he did not speak out against the institution of slavery and even, in some places seems to give it a partial acceptance.

Slavery in the Bible (in most instances) was essentially being an indentured servant. Paul’s conception of slavery was not identical to the chattel slavery of early America. But this is a sidetrack. See these articles:

Development or Reversal? (Slavery) (Avery Cardinal Dulles)

A Response to John Noonan, Jr. Concerning the Development of Catholic Moral Doctrine (Usury, Marriage, Slavery, Religious freedom) (Patrick M. O’Neil)

On Slavery in the Old Testament (Luke Wadel)

Catholic Encyclopedia: Slavery and Chrisrtianity

Catholic Encyclopedia: Slavery, Ethical Aspect of

This is just one instance of many, especially as pertains to the Old Testament, where God Himself is presented, at least if read literally, as counselling the Israelites to commit genocide against their enemies, killing every last woman and child.

This is perfectly defensible as acts of judgment on God’s part (Who has this prerogative as our Creator). See:

How Could a God of Love Order the Massacre of the Canaanites?

Shouldn’t the Butchering of the Amalekite Children be Considered War Crimes?

To me it is obvious that it is moral duty for any one who believes in God, but for Christians in particular, to reject those aspects of Scripture which are clearly immoral ( slavery) as representing not an unchanging truth, but rather the historically limited understanding of people ( even Saints) of the time, or, as in the case of the Old Testament, reject a literal interpretation of God’s actions and find an interpretation which saves God from the calumny of seeing Him as a genocidal tyrant.

Have you read intelligent defenses of the biblical outlook on these matters, such as the ones I have presented to you presently? Gotta read both sides. Christianity can always offer some sort of answer. it may be regarded as implausible or false, but we do always at least offer some defense of our beliefs, which counts for something, I think. Many belief-systems are unable or unwilling to sustain an apologia after just one strong critique.

It is one thing to appeal to mystery when it is a matter of doctrines ( such as the Incarnation) which exceed our understanding but which can in no way be accused of being immoral. It is quite another thing to appeal to mystery when it is a matter of ideas, like slavery, or like the idea that God is a wrathful and jealous tribal deity, which are clearly immoral by any reasonable human standards.

The latter is merely a deliberate anthropomorphism on God’s part (rather common in the OT and a well-known aspect of Hebrew poetry and sacred literature), and poses not the slightest problem.

Furthermore, there is the fact that concepts central to the issue of hell, such as free-will, are simply not given any clear articulation in the New Testament. There is no doubt that we have free will, but what this means and how we are to understand this, how it relates to God’s will, to issues of God’s knowledge of the future and so on, is simply not a Scriptural matter. All the complex accounts of these issues developed over the centuries by Christians represent a development which, while we may believe it is divinely inspired, is nevertheless rational and philosophical, or philosophical-theological.

To the contrary, there is some explicit biblical indication, right from Jesus, even of Middle Knowledge (a sophisticated philosophical concept), which I have noted in the past, in my defense of same (being a Molinist myself):

Matthew 11:21-24

[21] “Woe to you, Chora’zin! woe to you, Beth-sa’ida! for if the mighty works done in you had been done in Tyre and Sidon, they would have repented long ago in sackcloth and ashes.
[22] But I tell you, it shall be more tolerable on the day of judgment for Tyre and Sidon than for you.
[23] And you, Caper’na-um, will you be exalted to heaven? You shall be brought down to Hades. For if the mighty works done in you had been done in Sodom, it would have remained until this day.
[24] But I tell you that it shall be more tolerable on the day of judgment for the land of Sodom than for you.”

There is also considerable data concerning God being out of time, with no beginning or end, and omniscient. I’ll refrain from getting into all that now, but rest assured that I can produce plenty of it, if needs be.

As such one cannot invoke faith to defend them from rational scrutiny.

I certainly can invoke revelation (Mt 11:21-25) and faith in same to defend Middle Knowledge, as well as other passages showing His omniscience, foreknowledge, sovereignty, providence, omnipotence, eternity and being outside of time, etc.

The fact is that even the Scriptures need to be interpreted, we do not simply passively take in a content which is obvious and clear as to its meaning, as the history of Christianity amply points out. When people defend hell using concepts like Justice, eternal existence of souls, and so on, they are dealing in human concepts, concepts whose sole meaningful content derives from the way in which they have been developed and articulated throughout the history of thought. So I think that you simply cannot avoid discussing these issues at the level of rational argument.

Nor can you avoid dealing with how Scripture presents hell as a plain, simple fact (especially Jesus Himself).

So much for my assumptions as to the relation of philosophy, or rather reason, and faith. But I should make it clear that the source of my doubts about hell is not purely rational. The most important theological influence on my thoughts in this regard comes from St. Isaac the Syrian, also known as St. Isaac of Nineveh, a hermit and ascetic universally recognised in the Orthodox Church for his personal sanctity, although his universalism was rejected by the Orthodox Church.

That should tell you all you need to know. It is the corporate Church that decides what is orthodox. It is not any one saint or even collection of them, no matter how saintly. We ought not go looking for saints who agree with our predispositions and biases. The Catholic and Orthodox approach is to accept an authoritative Church. If you continue to insist on an unbibical universalism you can always join the Unitarian Universalists. If you think annihilationism is true, you have the option of Seventh-Day Adventists (trinitarianian) or Jehovah’s Witnesses or Christadelphianism (both Arian in Christology).

If that is your methodology: to pick and choose a religious group based on their agreement with your previous philosophical conclusions, then that is thoroughly Protestant and individualistic, and you have many options available to you. But the Catholic accepts the entire package of Catholic dogma in faith, as something far greater than himself. St. Thomas Aquinas and Cardinal Newman (my own intellectual hero) both made this very clear.

Virtually all of my views about hell either come from St. Isaac, or if they were developed independently, received their confirmation in his teachings, in particular as expressed in his Ascetical Homilies.

Every heresy originally started with one person.

I won’t describe his views, but will instead provide a link to an article on St. Isaac by Bishop Hilarion Alfeyev of Vienna, who has written on of the few scholarly books on St. Isaac’s thought.

Okay; thanks. But I warn anyone who would want to read this, that it is considered rank heresy to deny the existence of hell.

Next I would like to articulate the main issues I have with regard to this conception of hell. These questions for the most part directly relate to things said by respondents in this thread.

1) The problem of God’s Justice and its relation to His Mercy. There are various issues here:

(1a) Is the relation between Justice and Mercy in God such that both are equally essential to His nature, or does one of them exceed the other in importance?

Equal, I believe.

(1b) A slightly different but related question is whether both God’s Justice and His Mercy exist on the same level, whether, to put it metaphorically, they are the two sides of a balanced scale, or whether one of them exceeds the other not simply in the sense that the scale is weighted in its favour, but in the sense that it includes both sides in a higher synthesis.

Two sides of a balanced scale. Every parent understands this when we punish a child for their own good and follow it up by explaining and hugging them.

This is important to my argument because I believe that it is a basic mistake to view Justice and Mercy as equally essential to God’s nature.

So you demote Justice?

I’ve chosen the metaphor of a scale quite consciously because of its association with the concept of Justice. It seems to me that people who emphasize the equal, but competing claims of Justice and Mercy in fact, implicitly subordinate both to an overarching conception of Justice. The very idea that there is a conflict between Justice and Mercy, involves a conception of a weighing up of relative merits which is at odds with the radically gratuitous nature of God’s love.

Who says there is a conflict? They are simply two different but perfectly harmonious things.

My deeply held conviction is that Mercy, which is just another word for Love, transcends the apparent opposition between Justice and mercy (with a small m).

On what basis do you assert this “conviction” and build systems of thought upon it?

Obviously we need new words to express this without confusion, but the basic idea should be clear. Mercy is not one of the sides of the scale, it is the whole scale itself. Or perhaps more accurately, it is the still point from which the two sides of the scale hang.

Everything God does is out of love. I agree if that is what you mean. It is loving even for God to allow human beings to have free will, which many will use to reject Him. That is not only loving it is extremely humble (just as the beginning of the Incarnation and the crucifixion were). It’s because God loves us that He gives us free will and abides by the decisions we make as a result. But if we can freely serve Him we can also freely reject Him, and God won’t force anyone (out of love) to serve Him against their will. Thus hell follows inexorably from this granted free will which is an aspect of God’s love for His creatures.

But it also follows from justice, insofar as evil deeds and adoption of a stance of thorough rebellion against God and goodness do not go unpunished for all eternity. Thank God for that, too. I couldn’t live a day with just the abominable outrage of abortion alone if I didn’t believe in a cosmic justice, or God’s judgment.

There is nothing new or morally compelling in the ethic of strict justice or retribution. The desire to avenge wrongs, to extract justice with “an eye for an eye” is I think a tendency as old as humanity itself.

God’s justice is not vengeance. You’ve been greatly affected by secular thinking in this respect, to adopt such a perspective. And that is very common in post-“Enlightenment” philosophical environments, of course.

If this was in fact what Christ taught then the Christian ethic would bring nothing new to the world, and would be inferior in certain ways to others ( for example, in failing to express the same universal compassion for the non-human world, e.g. animals, as found in Buddhism and Jainism).

Jesus lays it all out in Matthew 25. Revelation 19:11,15 shows Him coming back to earth with a sword in His mouth, to judge the nations. Nor was Jesus a pacifist. See also:

Matthew 16:27 (RSV) For the Son of man is to come with his angels in the glory of his Father, and then he will repay every man for what he has done.

JOHN 5:22,27 (KJV) For the Father judgeth no man, but hath committed all judgment unto the Son . . . (27) And hath given him authority to execute judgment also, because he is the Son of man. (cf. Mt 3:10-12: John the Baptist)

JOHN 9:39 (KJV) And Jesus said, For judgment I am come into this world, that they which see not might see; and that they which see might be made blind.

ACTS 10:42 (KJV) . . . it is he which was ordained of God {to be} the Judge of quick and dead.

2 TIMOTHY 4:1 (KJV) I charge {thee} therefore before God, and the Lord Jesus Christ, who shall judge the quick and the dead at his appearing and his kingdom;

Christ’s injunction that we love our enemies, forgive those who sin against us is, conversely, an ethic of unprecedented radicality and beauty. This is not an ethic of justice.

Injunctions as to personal behavior do not cancel out the social responsibility of Christians to oppose injustice. This is a common secularist, pacifist perspective, but it is not biblical. The same Jesus of the Sermon on the Mount also praised the faith of Roman centurions and told the disciples to purchase a sword (Luke 22:36).

Even more telling is the fact that God, in the Person of Christ Crucified forgives human beings the ultimate sin against His very own Person. Human beings murder God Incarnate and His response to this is ” Father forgive them for they know not what they do”. This is far removed from any considerations of strict justice.

He forgives them personally (or more correctly, asks God the Father to forgive them), but they still have to face judgment if they are unrepentant. They knew not what they did. That is one thing. But God will judge us for what we knowingly do, if it is evil.

We presuppose on this forum that one accepts the Bible as God’s inspired revelation. You argue, contra Scripture, that God has no concept of justice, cannot judge, that He is (?) supposedly a pacifist; cannot take any human life in judgment, etc. It’s no wonder you don’t believe in hell, because you have taken out the justice that is its fundamental rationale, along with free will, causing poor, deluded souls to prefer it to heaven.

If anything tells against the idea that our God is a God of strict justice it is this. The people who reviled Christ, the Romans who scourged Him, the Jews who demanded His crucifixion, had far more reason to believe in Him that any one today. They saw Him, witnessed, or at least heard by direct testimony of the miracles wrought by Him, and heard Him preach unmediated by centuries of theological interpretation and disagreement. And yet they rejected Him, and Crucified Him, and He forgave them, despite the fact that it would be very unlikely that they first repented.

You miss the point. They didn’t know what they were doing. But in Peter’s sermons and Paul’s epistles they made it clear that there was blame to Jews (not just ones at the crucifixion or calling for it) who rejected Jesus and His claim as Messiah and Lord:

Acts 3:12-19

[12] And when Peter saw it he addressed the people, “Men of Israel, why do you wonder at this, or why do you stare at us, as though by our own power or piety we had made him walk?
[13] The God of Abraham and of Isaac and of Jacob, the God of our fathers, glorified his servant Jesus, whom you delivered up and denied in the presence of Pilate, when he had decided to release him.
[14] But you denied the Holy and Righteous One, and asked for a murderer to be granted to you,
[15] and killed the Author of life, whom God raised from the dead. To this we are witnesses.
[16] And his name, by faith in his name, has made this man strong whom you see and know; and the faith which is through Jesus has given the man this perfect health in the presence of you all.
[17] “And now, brethren, I know that you acted in ignorance, as did also your rulers.
[18] But what God foretold by the mouth of all the prophets, that his Christ should suffer, he thus fulfilled.
[19] Repent therefore, and turn again, that your sins may be blotted out, that times of refreshing may come from the presence of the Lord,

Acts 4:8-12

[8] Then Peter, filled with the Holy Spirit, said to them, “Rulers of the people and elders,
[9] if we are being examined today concerning a good deed done to a cripple, by what means this man has been healed,
[10] be it known to you all, and to all the people of Israel, that by the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, whom you crucified, whom God raised from the dead, by him this man is standing before you well.
[11] This is the stone which was rejected by you builders, but which has become the head of the corner.
[12] And there is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved.”

This precise message was why Stephen, the first martyr, was killed:

Acts 7:51-53

[51] “You stiff-necked people, uncircumcised in heart and ears, you always resist the Holy Spirit. As your fathers did, so do you. [52] Which of the prophets did not your fathers persecute? And they killed those who announced beforehand the coming of the Righteous One, whom you have now betrayed and murdered,
[53] you who received the law as delivered by angels and did not keep it.”

I’ll refrain from documenting what Paul wrote about this, too, for space’s sake.

2) Even if we assume that Justice is a primary value, equal to Mercy, there remains the question whether it is just for anybody to be consigned to hell. There are various issues here too:

(2a) The first issue here was stated in a fairly representative way by Dan:

“To sin against something that is infinitely good deserves infinite punishment or reparation. Man, being finite cannot make infinite reparation. Because God is merciful, we do not need to. To have contrition and going to Confession is enough. But there are those who reject the Sacraments. During the Last Judgement, there will be the select few that enter into Paradise because they have lived just lives. God being just cannot award eternal pleasure to the just without “awarding” eternal punishment to the unjust.”

Kvanvig describes just this sort of argument in his book, and in the article on Heaven and Hell in the Stanford Encylopaedia of Philosophy ( I give the link at the bottom of this post.) He writes:

“According to defenders of the traditional view, punishment deserved is also a function of the status of the individual one has wronged, and they argue that all wrongdoing constitutes a wrong against God, and that wronging God is as bad a thing as anyone could do- they are infinitely bad thereby justifying an infinite punishment”.

I think I already anticipated this in my analysis of souls being intrinsically eternal. If they reject God, then they exist eternally apart from Him, and that entails a suffering because being absolutely separate from God with none of His grace any longer present is an unutterably horrific thing.

Kvanvig himself presents a number of telling arguments against this view.

The first of these is relevant to another issue I will discuss later, so I will mention it only briefly here. He makes the fairly obvious point that it is simply not true, in the vast majority of cases, people ” do not intend to harm God or to defy Him in some way when they act wrongly”. On any defensible notion of “intention” it is not simply implausible, but patently false to say that all people who act wrongly thereby intend to defy God or sin against Him.

The Bible teaches (particularly in Romans 1 and 2) that those who are judged have knowingly rejected God. Kvanvig can speculate all he likes, but he is contradicting plain Scriptural testimony.

Our everyday sort of intuitions about intention and culpability recognise that intention is crucially important in determining the moral and legal gravity of an act, hence the distinction between murder and manslaughter, among other things.

Exactly. And that is how the Bible describes those who are judged and damned:

Romans 1:18 For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and wickedness of men who by their wickedness suppress the truth.

Romans 1:20-21 Ever since the creation of the world his invisible nature, namely, his eternal power and deity, has been clearly perceived in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse; for although they knew God they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking and their senseless minds were darkened.

Romans 1:32 Though they know God’s decree that those who do such things deserve to die, they not only do them but approve those who practice them.

One could give many everyday examples of this, but the obvious one that jumps out is the case of atheists. It is absurd to say that in sinning the atheist intends to defy God, for the simple fact that the atheist does not believe in the existence of God. I’m not talking here about militant atheists like Richard Dawkins but virtuous, thoughtful atheists who despite their best attempts to understand and affirm belief in God cannot do so.

I have argued that it is possible for atheists to be saved if they are truly ignorant, and that not all atheists are evil people, so I agree. Many times they are not ignorant, however, and their “atheism” is just a cover and pretense for true hatred of God, just as Romans 1 describes. I know; I’ve debated many of them.

The same obviously goes for small children and for those who, through no fault of their own have never been exposed to a credible form of Christianity.

Exactly. That’s why Catholic theology allows for that, following Romans 2 and other such passages.

So there is obviously something missing here, some further assumption which motivates the view expressed by Dan and characterised by Kvanvig.

According to Kvanvig, and I agree with him here, it is the assumption of a kind of ownership relation between God and His creatures. The idea is, one can wrong a person by destroying their property without being aware who the owner is, and without intending to wrong them.

Of course. That is not at issue. Christians believe that knowledge of God is innate in human beings. People can unlearn that, however, by secular education, bad experiences, following a path of sin and corruption, etc.

He also makes the important point, in his book, though not in the article, that this sort of thinking is a kind of relic of feudal relations, that it conceptualises the relation between God and human beings along the lines of the relation between an absolute monarch and his subjects. I cannot see how Dan’s position could possibly be defended without this sort of underlying paradigm being assumed: namely, that God, as absolute sovereign has complete and arbitrary power over his subjects,

He has power over those He created. God gave life and can take it away. That is His prerogative. He didn’t have to create us at all. He is under no obligation to save anyone, either, after the human race rebelled against Him (the Fall). He does so out of love and mercy. We owe our life and existence to Him. Your mistake is to conclude that this power is arbitrary. It’s not at all.

and that a sin against God is so heinous because of God’s status in the cosmic hierarchy.

God is God. A=A: the first law of logic.

This seems to me to be fundamentally at odds with the Gospels’ picture of Jesus Christ. We are not presented here with the picture of a proud sovereign but with a God Who takes the form of a servant, who washes the feet of sinners, and Who dies, as far as the external world is concerned, the shameful death of a common criminal.

He also speaks of judgment and reiterates that He Himself is a judge and will judge sinners on the Last Day because he is one with the Father.

Quite apart from this objection, namely that this conception of God involves the projection of onto God of certain outdated and discredited political assumptions about authority,

The usual anthropological condescending disdain of the Bible and ancient Jewish religion that is observed so often . . . It won’t help you progress in your inquiry at all, to adopt this approach.

there is also the serious problem of making any sense of the idea of an “infinite sin”.

The unforgivable sin is to call evil good and reject God’s plan of salvation for human beings. That causes separation from God, which is hell.

This is not as clearly stated by Dan as by Kvanvig, but it is clearly implied by his view. He works explicitly with the image of a scale of justice: sins against God, who is infinitely Good, are infinitely bad, therefore they deserve infinite punishment.

We don’t need to get into all that to defend hell.

The first problem with this I have already discussed. If sins against God are infinitely bad, then one must ask, for whom? The only possible answer is, for God. God on this view, judges all sins as sins against His own Person, and as infinitely bad. This position makes no sense unless one assumes that God is the kind of being Who can take offence, something which I find absurd. It makes sense in the context of a political relation between a sovereign and his subjects, because here we are obviously dealing with an instance of wounded pride, which demands satisfaction. I think this is deeply mistaken. Great political rulers, especially absolute rulers have for the most part been monsters of titanic pride and any tendency to conceptualise God along these lines is fundamentally flawed, as well as being at odds with the Christ of the New Testament.

Your argument at this point rests, with all due respect, on a series of fallacies, disproven by the Bible and, I think, natural law reason and common sense. And to the extent that revelation is accepted, it contradicts many facts at every turn, too. Even if the NT is accepted as an accurate historical account of Jesus and His teachings, you have huge internal difficulties.

3) Next I would like to respond to Dave’s statement that God gives every person adequate grace and opportunity to accept Him and thus to avoid hell. I think this is highly doubtful.

Then you again discount the data of revelation. This creates an incoherence in your stated position. One cannot pick and choose from revelation. It stands together as a whole.

The fact is that countless people deal on an everyday basis with all manner of things which seriously undermine their ability to exercise their free will. People in their millions live in conditions of unimaginable poverty, violence and oppression, so much so that God would have to be unbelievably callous to fault such people for not believing in Him. It is one thing to fault a healthy, well educated, person living in relative luxury in a western country for holding to a facile atheism. It is quite something else to condemn someone for being unable to believe in God if they have lived a life in which there has been virtually no sign of love, or justice or meaning.

God doesn’t judge as men do: outwardly only. He knows the secrets of our hearts, so that He judges justly and fairly. No one will be sent to hell because they lacked sufficient knowledge (Romans 2:15-16). All of this speculation is, then, a moot point.

More seriously still is the fact that millions of children, who can in no way be held morally responsible for the situations in which they find themselves, are born into grinding poverty, virtual slave labour, sexual and physical abuse and so on.


I don’t know if Dave intended to imply that everyone gets not only an adequate chance, but also an equal chance. I sense that this was implied, but I may be wrong. If it was then I think these considerations refute it fairly obviously- people are not given an equal chance, far from it.

They get an equal chance at salvation, because God takes all these factors into account. “To whom much is given, much is required.” Obviously, they don’t get an equal chance at the opportunities and luxuries of earthly life, but we’re talking about salvation, not earthly happiness. It is the fact of heaven after this life, that puts our sufferings here in proper perspective (Romans 8:18: “I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us.”).

Even if Dave did not mean this, and meant simply that everyone has an adequate chance, adequate to their circumstances, I don’t think this is true. Take the example of a child who endures horrendous abuse, poverty, lack of education. Let’s say that as a result of this the child grows up to be an adult who is not able to form the right beliefs about God, which in this context would mean beliefs in consonance with those of the Roman Catholic Church. To say that on the basis of such a life this person would be competent to decide their eternal destiny, that it would be fair or just for them to be consigned to hell on the basis that they had ample opportunity to get it right, simply beggers belief. To say this is to speak in abstractions. Human life is not that simple.

I think this is all a red herring. I believe in a perfectly merciful, loving, and just God. I don’t lose one second’s sleep wondering about whether His judgment of souls will be fair or not. Of course it will be. Jesus reveals the nature of God and His love.

4) This links up directly with another very significant problem- the fact that the Catholic Church makes it, in my view, unconscionably easy to end up in hell because it sets the conditions for entry far too low. Previously there has been some discussion of the question whether somebody could be eternally obstinate, so hard hearted as to be impervious to any divine influence. Now I would be far more willing to contemplate the possibility of hell if we were talking about paradigmatic cases like Hitler, where we have conscious, and unrepentent evil on a massive scale, perpetrated by a human being who, though it is hard to imagine, was probably not insane. Although even in such cases it makes no sense to speak of an “infinite sin”, they at least begin too approximate this.

But the fact is that the Church teaches that it is possible to go to hell for dying unrepentent in a variety of sins, which to my mind do not by any stretch of the imagination approximate a severity for which eternal damnation would be a just response.

God looks at the whole picture. It’s not Catholicism that sends people to hell for being unrepentant sinners, but the Bible:

1 Corinthians 6:9-10 Do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived; neither the immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor sexual perverts, nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor robbers will inherit the kingdom of God.

Galatians 5:19-23 Now the works of the flesh are plain: fornication, impurity, licentiousness, idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, anger, selfishness, dissension, party spirit, envy, drunkenness, carousing, and the like. I warn you, as I warned you before, that those who do such things shall not inherit the kingdom of God. But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such there is no law.

Your problem, then, is again with the Bible, not Catholicism, which is merely following it. And if you have a problem with the Bible, you have a problem with God Himself: the real one: not some imagined Being dreamt up and “projected” by ancient tribes (as anthropologists love to mock and disparage). God has revealed Himself. It is up to us to accept or reject this. I’ve given you more than enough myself, from revelation, to establish these things. Your task is to be willing to accept these truths, in faith, with the help of God’s grace.

Take the case of fornication, of sexual activity outside of marriage. Now I don’t deny that this is sinful in the sense of “missing the mark”, that it fails to achieve the full meaning of human love and sexuality, that it is imperfect. At the same time there are many people who live in lifelong completely faithful and monogamous sexual relationships. This includes of course people who believe in God, and who in many other areas of their lives are very moral people. While I am quite prepared to agree that such a state is not ideal, and that it would be better for them to be married, it seems absurd to me that their committed, loving life long union should be understood as a fundamental rejection of God deserving of eternal damnation (whether understood as punishment or as the absence of God).

If they know full well it is wrong, and continue to do it with full consent of the will, then they are in distinct danger of hellfire. If they truly don’t know, then it is still sin, but not mortal sin (see 1 John 5:16-17). We make that very distinction that you call for. Your real beef is with the Calvinists and other Protestants who often don’t make the distinction and discount the subjective and willful element of sin as having an effect on relative culpability (as in civil law).

I could give many, many other examples. One other particularly galling one is the fate of infants or embryos who die unbaptised. As I understand it the Church has made no definitive statement on this. I recall reading somewhere that the Catholic Church has recently cast doubts on the traditional ( though as I understand never dogmatically stated) belief that unbaptised infants go to Limbo. Obviously the issue arises because of the Catholic belief in original sin. I can’t even begin to imagine how someone could take this question seriously. It is so patently unjust and so at odds with any sane standards of moral culpability that a God Who would consign unbaptised infants to hell would be a monster.

I don’t think He does, nor does the Church: not in this crass, absurd sense that you despise (as I do also). Again, it is the Calvinists who believe in double predestination, including infants, with whom you have the beef here. 

The list goes on. What about the fate of Saints of other religions? Is Gandhi in hell? Is the Buddha? Will the countless saints and holy men of other religions who knew nothing of Christ live for an eternity of suffering without God?

Not necessarily at all. See my many papers about salvation “outside the Church” on my Ecumenism page.

Christian tradition is as far as I know fairly unanimous regarding the eternal destiny of the Prophets of the Old Testament, even though it would be very difficult to argue that they believed in Christ, or held any of the distinctive doctrines of the Christianity, let alone the specific views of the Roman Catholic Church. If they don’t go to hell, what justice would there be in sending the saints of other religions to hell, when by all fair accounts they often equal Christians in their asceticism, their love of God and neighbour, and their sanctity?

All depends on what they know and how they acted on it (Romans 2).

This has already got too long so I will end it here, to be continued later as replies come in…

You need to figure out your opinion as to what revelation teaches on any or all of these matters. You seem to reject revelation wherever it disagrees with your present opinions. That makes no sense, given your self-described espousal of most of the Nicene Creed, which is clearly itself based on revelation; not just natural reason. It remains your primary internal problem of incoherence and inconsistency, as I see it, anyway.

Thanks for the dialogue. I hope I have given you some food for thought, and have helped move you towards orthodox Catholicism. But God’s grace and human free will are ultimately the key factors as to who believes and who doesn’t.

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