August 27, 2019

Episode 1 is here!

My podcast, like my blog, features the big questions; served with swagger. Science, philosophy, psychology, religion, well-being – the big questions and how these all intersect – the aim of my writing is ultimately the aim of my podcast. The genesis of this podcast ultimately originated from my interest in these areas and some very cool live conversations I’ve been part of with other writers, philosophers, and theologians (and a/theologians).

The first episode of the Soapbox Redemption podcast features my friend and coauthor Adam Lee. Adam is a software engineer, author, and activist living in New York City. He is the author of Daylight Atheism (and Meta co-authored by yours truly) as well as a fictional series, and blogs at Daylight Atheism at Patheos.

Adam and I initiated a blog exchange on Patheos where we are neighbors (myself on Progressive ChristianAdam on Nonreligious) which culminated into our book (Meta: On God, the Big Questions, and the Just City) and live events where we celebrate our exchange and shared cause of ending human trafficking. In this podcast, we discuss our project, some big questions, and our debate turned friendship (turned mission), along with idea of celebrating the big questions with epistemological humility.


October 24, 2018

The Meta tour continues! Adam and I are back it with another double header in my hometown.

We’re up first at Butler University on Thursday at 7pm. Our discussion, “A Christian Humanist, a Secular Humanist, and a Theologian: On God, the Big Questions, and Ending Human Trafficking”, will be moderated by Dr. Charles Allen, theologian, Episcopal priest, and chaplain of Grace Unlimited, the Episcopal/Lutheran Campus Ministry at Butler.

On Friday, we’re at Crosspoint Church in Fishers at 7pm. Our discussion, “Faith vs. Doubt”, will be moderated by pastor Curt Walters. As always, both events will celebrate an evening of truth-seeking among friends while raising money to support the fight on human trafficking, a shared cause for Adam and I with this project.  

Your attendance and donations are always appreciated! 

August 16, 2019

After having some very cool conversations with other authors, philosophers, and theologians, I’ve decided to timestamp these conversations and launch the Soapbox Redemption podcast. The vibe of the podcast will follow that of my blog; the big questions, served with swagger. Topics will include philosophy, religion, science, well-being, and culture.

I’ve already snagged some very cool guests in my friend and coauthor Adam Lee (from the Patheos Nonreligious channel), James McGrath (another Patheos Progressive Christian) Massimo Pigliucci (philosopher and author), and Randal Rauser (theologian and author). Stay tuned as Episode 1 will be launching soon!

June 8, 2018

The to timeless question “Why is There Something Rather Than Nothing?”, one of the hallmarks of classical theism in the various expressions of the cosmological argument is the concept of metaphysical necessity, to Aristotle’s logic that there must be a First Cause (an UnMoved Mover or Uncaused Cause), or else nothing would exist.

Expressed in a variety of different ways by Aristotle, Aquinas, and Leibniz, with the problem of change, principle of causality, and principle of sufficient reason applied to existence itself, the focus is on change/Unchanged, caused/Uncaused, contingent/Necessary. In these arguments, God is Being Itself, the UnMoved Mover, First Cause, and metaphysical Necessity of which all contingent things depend, or else nothing would exist. Aquinas, in his Five Ways, the the first three ways (argument from motion, argument from causality, and argument from contingency) all effectively arrive at this principle. There’s an important point here though. God is applied at the end of the argument; in Aquinas’ words, “and we call this God.” One could of course have take issue with the word “God”, but they’d have confront the the problem of change, principle of causality, and principle of sufficient reason – on how a constantly changing, contingent existence is its own source.

In my recent discussion with Adam Lee and Massimo Pigliucci, Massimo challenged both Adam and myself on our respective positions (as a good philosopher should). Naturalists, with the arguments made above, I’ve typically seen reply in three ways;

[1] Denial that the question has any meaning (which is Adam’s position).

[2] The logic above is followed save the “and we call this God”. The UnCaused Cause, UnMoved Mover, or Necessity is a natural one (perhaps a Platonist solution, which makes for a curious naturalism) — Adam’s backup position when pushed by Massimo.

[3] The universe itself is a “brute fact” (a Humean causal skepticism is employed, where there is no need for a First Cause).

In many cases, some or all of these are put forward. Bertrand Russell, for example, in his famous debate with Frederick  Copleston, offered both [1] + [3]. Massimo put forward Hume’s skepticism on causality as a response to Aristotle and Aquinas – that we can have a sequence of events (that seem to have a necessary cause), but that “causes” are just human creations. If this is the case, perhaps the universe is a “brute fact”, not only a fair counter to Aristotle and Aquinas. Or, perhaps metaphysical necessity is granted, we just don’t call it “God”?

Whatever the maneuver one may take, as I maintained with Massimo in our discussion, I feel Hume’s skepticism plays the role of a fair devil’s advocate, but we’d be pretty bad scientists (not to mention moralists) if we truly followed his logic and skepticism on causality (and morality). The principle of causality is the bedrock of science. We may be wrong about certain causes, but that is a far cry from concluding they’re all just human creations. The argument for an UnCaused Cause, UnMoved Mover, or metaphysical Necessity is derived from our best knowledge (empirical, philosophical, and common sense) of contingent reality or else an infinite regress of contingent causes.

Certainly, one could claim the principle of causality is false (good luck with that one) or is true for everything except the universe/multiverse (a “brute fact”, biting the bullet on an infinite regress) or is true (either “God” or some natural source that qualifies as an UnCaused Cause or UnMoved Mover). Either way, the concept of metaphysical Necessity, I argue, must at least be dealt with thoroughly by theists and naturalists.






January 28, 2018

To defend the Catholic Church’s kidnapping of a six year old child is certainly a brave move; ridiculous, but certainly brave. But hey, what else would you do when a Jewish child is baptized in secret by his Christian nanny when he was sick (for fear of eternal damnation should he have died)? Why, knock on the parent’s door, and take him of course. This is precisely what Pope Pius IX and the Catholic Church did in the case of Edgardo Mortara in 1858. And this, according to Father Romanus Cessario, was “divine providence“.

Cessario is a professor of systematic theology at St. John’s Seminary, associate editor of The Thomist, senior editor of Magnificat, and general editor of the Catholic Moral Thought, so I’m acutely interested in how this idea will be received in these circles, as well as the Catholic Church at large. I, for one, agree with Michael Sean Winters at the National Catholic Reporter that such a defense is “inexcusable”. The kidnapping (yes kidnapping), of Edgardo was certainly sad according to Cessario, but there is an infinitely higher calling at play:

“No one who considers the Mortara affair can fail to be moved by its natural dimensions. It is a grievous thing to sever familial bonds. But the honor we give to mother and father will be imperfect if we do not render a higher honor to God above. Christ’s authority perfects all natural institutions—the family as well as the state. This is why he said that he came bearing a sword that would sunder father and son. One’s judgment of Pius will depend on one’s acceptance of Christ’s claim.”

And the finale of Cessario’s logic? “Those examining the Mortara case today are left with a final question: Should putative civil liberties trump the requirements of faith?” At this point, we’d have to take to recap some of his definitions. “Putative civil liberties”, of course, would be smallish things like not kidnapping children from their parents. “Faith”, of course, would be Cessario’s particular flavor of Catholicism (I’ll label “Cessario-ism”) to which such an action represents the beatific vision of Christ. I’m careful to separate “Cessario-ism” from Catholicism, as I have a hunch most Catholics would repulsed by Cessario’s 1850’s papal logic – that such an action represents the Christ-filled actualization of the Church.

Perhaps Cessario would find such liberals unChristlike in their repulsion of his proposition. After all, “one’s judgment of Pius will depend on one’s acceptance of Christ claim.” One not need be so imaginative to be repulsed, whether it be Catholic, Christian, or irreligious thinkers like my friend Adam Lee. After all, it’s a familiar idea found in Marxism; in this case, a theological marxism where the end justifies the means, because the kidnapping of Edgardo ensured eternal salvation.

Go figure, a theology of throwing kids in the baptismal fount against their or their parent’s will/knowledge to ensure salvation; and of course, a salvation that only Catholic servitude would offer. But wait! Edgardo later became and priest and was immensely grateful of the Catholic Church and specifically Pope Pius IX, whom he felt should be a saint. And so rests the apologia of Cessario’s theological marxism.

As Adam correctly notes, it’s quite common for victims to adopt the ideology of their kidnappers. Brainwashing, guilt, and indoctrination are powerful psychological forces. The majority of victims of human trafficking return to their perpetrators. Should their embrace of their captivity be suggestive of anything but brainwashing, guilt, and indoctrination? Now, for Cessario, Catholic trafficking is just plain good theology (one that Christ demands); his apologia proudly embraces the forced baptism and human trafficking that ensued. And we can rest assured in the apologia, the means and the end – for it was only through such actions that Edgardo would achieve salvation for which he was later grateful. If this theology or rationality sounds repulsive, have no fear, it repulsed the world back in 1858. For the international outcry to return Edgardo, non possumus, Latin for “we cannot”, was Pope Pius IX’s reply. For Cessario, this was “piety, not stubbornness” as there was much more than the “human element” to consider.

In keeping with the theme of defending human trafficking, let’s return to Cessario’s logical finale: “should putative civil liberties trump the requirements of faith?” As Cesario is from Boston, I’m sure he’s quite familiar with the Catholic Church’s active cover-up of priest pedophilia; Boston and Archbishop Bernard Francis Law the eye of the storm. In the famous Boston Globe’s Spotlight team’s report, we see the archdiocese appealed having to release the Church’s inner workings. Even further, we see how the law afforded cover-up with clergy being exempt from laws to report incidence of sex abuse to police for prosecution. Raping children, as the Spotlight team reported, could simply be viewed “as a sin for which priests could repent rather than as a compulsion they might be unable to control.” And so the logic goes (and went), don’t prosecute the priests, just have them repent and transfer them to another parish. Then, when pressed for records, just grease the Appeals Court. I’m sure many of these priests and bishops held the same logic that there was more than the “human element” to consider. After all, when weighing out things like rationality, honesty, and the basic human right not to be raped, why should “putative civil liberties trump the requirements of faith”? Just silence victims, shuffle the priests to other parishes, and keep the baptisms coming. Amen?

Perhaps Cessario should take look closer at Aquinas that reason is the “preamble” to faith (ST, Ia, q. 2, a. 2). Certainly, faith ultimately “surpasses the capacity of reason” (like trust in anything without certainty), but “truth that the human reason is naturally endowed to know cannot be opposed to the truth of the Christian faith” (Contra Gentiles). With Edgardo’s forced baptism and kidnapping, the higher calling, and Cessario’s apologia, on what does such a Christology like rest I’d like to know? Common sense? Definitely not there. The greater Catholic Church? Doubtful. Aquinas? Even more doubtful. Mere Christianity? Definitely no solace here. In Christ Himself? Forced baptisms and human servitude in His name – blasphemy.

And so Cessario’s apologia, in reason or in Christ? Non possums, we cannot.

January 13, 2018

Murtagh_FrontAs a follow up to my book release announcement, I’m happy to announce that Meta is now on available on Kindle. The foreword was written by William Jaworski, Associate Professor of Philosophy at Fordham University and author of Structure and Metaphysics of Mind.

The book celebrates an exchange of the big questions (among myself and Adam Lee) and 20% of the profits go towards ending human trafficking. A number of live events are in the works for Adam and I in the near future, so stay tuned.

Here are some early endorsements/reviews:

“Andrew Murtagh and Adam Lee provide a model of how conversations in day-to-day life can be touched by the philosophical spirit—one that seeks actual reasons for accepting or rejecting various claims, that acknowledges the limitations of one’s own perspective, and that is open to altering one’s views in the evolving endeavor to discern what is true and to order one’s life accordingly.”

—William Jaworski, Ph.D., Associate Professor of Philosophy at Fordham University and author of Structure and the Metaphysics of Mind


“A bold journey… The nature of the good, the existence of God, faith and reason, the problem of evil, the historicity of Jesus, consciousness, heaven, causation, justice, church and state, and abortion, it’s all here… If you share Murtagh and Lee’s passion for the friendly pursuit of truth across deep intellectual divides, then Meta is for you.”

—Randal Rauser, Ph.D., Professor of Historical Theology at Taylor Seminary and author of An Atheist and a Christian Walk Into a Bar…


“Perhaps you have grown tired of scholarly dialogues that regularly lose the audience in technicalities, or where opponents scream over each other so neither can be heard. If you enjoy dialogues but refuse to pay these prices, try this discussion between Andrew Murtagh (a Christian) and Adam Lee (an atheist).”

—Gary Habermas, Ph.D., Distinguished Research Professor & Chair of Philosophy at Liberty Baptist Theological Seminary and author of The Historical Jesus


“A theist and an atheist walk into a radio station, and out come a brilliant series of letters. Thoughtful, witty, respectful – Lee’s and Murtagh’s extended conversation about the nature of truth, existence, and morality transcends competition and spectacle.”

—Katherine Stewart, journalist and author of The Good News Club: The Religious Right’s Stealth Assault on America’s Children


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