Math-Related Prayer Hijinks

Math-Related Prayer Hijinks June 21, 2012

I like praying the Liturgy of the Hours because, at a bare minimum, it gives me something to say to God.  Not just the words of the prayers but, basically, “I’m really grateful for prayer traditions because I’d pretty much suck at having to make all this up on my own.”  Instead of just being grateful for language period, it’s kind of like being grateful for slang — the shared set of references that characterize a relationship or a community.

The trouble is, that I haven’t been praying for very long and I may have read the cautionary bits in The Screwtape Letters about praying to an idol of your own idea of God rather than God too much, which makes me a little nervous about which way I’m directing these prayers and this gratitude.  Especially because I’d noticed one kind of slippage in particular.

When I think of immaterial things, I tend to think of Morality, which might not be that bad as a focus of prayer, even if I need to expand it out a little.  The trouble is I also think of Math, and since it’s much easier to think about clearly and distinctly, I was running into a problem.  I certainly wasn’t intending to pray to the Pythagorean theorem (which would make me a very strange sort of pagan), but I was drifting away from trying to talk to a Person and over to just thinking about immaterial ideas.

So, basically, instead of fighting these thoughts, I kept thinking about whatever math concepts popped into my mind.  I thought about when I’d learned them, how exciting they were, and the way I got to share that joy with my friends.  Then I basically reminded myself, “God is Truth, so he totally shares your delight in these things.  In fact, he delights in your delight and would love to draw you further up and further in to contemplate and be changed by higher truths in math and in everything else.”

And that meant I was basically thinking about a person and a relationship again.  In my own weird little way.

The other math-related prayer hijinks came out of praying St. Patrick’s Breastplate.  There’s a little litany in it near the end that goes like this:

Christ be with me, Christ within me,
Christ behind me, Christ before me,
Christ beside me, Christ to win me,
Christ to comfort and restore me.
Christ beneath me, Christ above me,
Christ in quiet, Christ in danger,
Christ in hearts of all that love me,
Christ in mouth of friend and stranger.

I had prayed through the whole Breastplate right before sending an email to tell someone I was close to (and whom I though would be upset) about my conversion.  And right after I hit send, I went to my anti-gravity yoga class to relax and prevent myself from checking my email obsessively for a reply.

I realized during one of the quiet meditative bits that I could still be praying.  The trouble was that I hadn’t memorized very many prayers, and St. Patrick’s Breastplate was not one of them.  But I figured, I might not know the litany accurately, but I know the general form.  “Christ in one place, Christ in a diametrically opposed place.”  That’s how I ended up praying something like this:

Christ above me, Christ below me,
Christ within me, Christ beside me,
Christ when I rise up, and Christ when I lie down,
Christ in three-space, Christ in tiny rolled up dimensions where gravity lives

I figured that was probably ok, as it’s totally what St. Patrick would have written if he’d been able to share in the delight of God’s creation through theoretical physics.

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  • Cous

    “He was praying in a certain place, and when he had finished, one of his disciples said to him, ‘Lord, teach us to pray just as John taught his disciples.’ He said to them…” (Lk 11:1-3)

    “You write: ‘To pray is to talk with God. But about what?’ About what? About Him, about yourself: joys, sorrows, successes and failures, noble ambitions, daily worries, weaknesses! And acts of thanksgiving and petitions: and Love and reparation. In a word: to get to know him and to get to know yourself: ‘to get acquainted!’ ” (St. Josemaria Escriva)

  • PJ

    “For this cause I bow my knees unto the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ,

    Of whom the whole family in heaven and earth is named,

    That he would grant you, according to the riches of his glory, to be strengthened with might by his Spirit in the inner man;

    That Christ may dwell in your hearts by faith; that ye, being rooted and grounded in love,

    May be able to comprehend with all saints what is the breadth, and length, and depth, and height;

    And to know the love of Christ, which passeth knowledge, that ye might be filled with all the fulness of God” (Ephesians 3:14-19).

  • Cous

    p.s. to everything you said above: carry on! Another hi-jinks-conducive prayer is the hymn Lord of All Hopefulness.

  • You’re a delight to read… and I’ve been praying for you since your conversion…

  • joey

    You’re an inspiration Leah, even to cradle-Catholics such as myself who still struggle with prayer.

    • Christopher

      NEVER say you struggle with prayer, wot I do is WAIT UPON THE LORD on my knees, ask HIM anything, he will talk to you from HIS Holy Word, Psalm 99 is a good start.

    • I second the motion. Often my parents have told us that if we find ourselves distracted turn that distraction and see what God wants us to find within it. Sometimes you really should just not be thinking about Jason Bourne during the Rosary, but other distractions can remind us to pray for people who need our prayers, or such. The other day after praying the 4th decade of the Joyful Mysteries (The Presentation of Our Lord just after his birth) for the couple thousandth time in my life, I realized that I had no idea why that particular event in Christ’s life was picked for bi-weekly meditation. It seemed like a very small event. Besides, I always thought it was weird that Christ had to be presented to God when he is God. But then I compared it with Christ’s Baptism, he did not need that either, but Christ was baptized to physically sanctify the sacrament and water. But what about the Presentation, well, in that Christ was teaching each of us to offer everything to God, even those things which apparently are already God’s such as the mass or our other prayers.
      Sorry, just a long way of saying thank you for reminding us of this important lesson.
      Through Our Lady Mother,

      • Kathleen

        That mystery is one of my favorites. The Old and New Testaments meet on holy ground. And there’s a quirky moral dimension too: The rule was “Give God two pigeons.” And the family of the Lord had the humility to obey instead of overanalyze. I often need that reminder.

  • As a seminary prof said “All truth is God’s truth.” It was so much fun to see heads spin as the implications of that sunk in! “But what about..?” “All truth is God’s truth.” And truth is a Person. I think you’re right about St. Patrick!

  • Slothmorse

    Oh, prayer is hard, isn’t it? But it is part of a conversation with God, as if you were a child and came home from school and excited said, “Guess what I learned today!” Sharing that joy of discovery with Abba — our Father — brings him joy, too. You’ve finally gotten the point, the appreciation of this wonderful life he gave to us.

    Leah, I read you posts every day. They make me cry — and I’m an old, retired Marine. Your converstion and your prayer life have kick-started my renewed attempts at prayer as a constant part of my life. God bless you and keep you all the days of your life.

  • I don’t know about praying Evening Prayer, but the ability to pray Morning Prayer? That’s laudable.

    Nyuck, nyuck, nyuck …

    • He’ll be here all week folks. Try the veal! 😉

  • Alex Goodfsky

    I certainly wasn’t intending to pray to the Pythagorean theorem (which would make me a very strange sort of pagan), but I was drifting away from trying to talk to a Person and over to just thinking about immaterial ideas.

    Pythagoras actually founded a cult directed roughly along those lines.

    • I thought that was what she was referencing.

    • Adrian Ratnapala

      But the Pythagoreans were in fact very strange pagans. (As was Plato and those who beleive in the Trinity).

  • AVargas

    I would encourage you to learn about the Eastern Churches in communion with the Catholic Church – Specifically the Byzantine Rite. This will give you the whole spectrum of Catholicism and its liturgical life. Look up Fr. Tom Loya or Holy REsurrection Monastery or Fr. Robert Taft, SJ

    • Ted Seeber

      A bit early in her conversion to throw the Byzantine Eastern Rites at her- especially since the initial motivation for her conversion was love of a Latin Rite Catholic.

      • Geoffrey

        It’s never to early to throw in Eastern folks, especially since her philosophy meshes well with Byzantine theology.

        • deiseach

          Also never too early or too often to emphasise that the Catholic Church does not consist solely of the Latin (Western) Rite, but also the 22 Eastern Rite churches in communion with the Pope, stretching from Albania to India!


      • Rose

        And even if the author has a preference for the Latin Rite in the end, maybe some of her theological questions will be answered in a more satisfying way by the other lung. It is good to not be myopic in our experience of Catholic and Orthodox culture. Many many many people have no idea that there in anything outside of the Latin Rite and Protestant Churches. They may know there are Orthodox, but have no idea of the diversity of liturgical rites in or out of communion of Rome. I really had no concept of it until I was in my 20’s, which is just plain sad. Note: that many of the people who asked her why Catholicism; “why not Protestantism, Buddhism, Islam, etc.” never asked “Why not the Orthodox?” I just found that interesting, and typical of our Western European culture. In his history of philospohy, Bertrand Russel dismisses the Byzantine Empire as only having given us some art and Justinian’s laws. This typifies a certain myopia that pre-existed him and still exists. Maybe it was just a British myopia, but America has always been derivative of Britain. Had it not been for the Byzantine Empire, many of the texts of the Eastern Father and the Greek philosophers would have been lost (where does everyone think the Muslims got the text from?). The theological traditions of the Eastern Catholic and Orthodox Churches reflect a diversity within the Christian tradition that is often forgotten. It is never to early to experience the whole Church.

        I happen to be a cradle Catholic who did a canonical change of rite from the Latin Rite to a Byzantine Rite in 2006.

  • PJ


    You are wise to be cautious of delusion in prayer. St Paul warns in Colossians, “Continue steadfastly in prayer, being vigilant in it with thanksgiving.” It is very difficult for modern people to be still and silent, yet we hear in Scripture this Divine exhortation, “Be still, and know that I am God” (Psalm 46:10).

    Jesus is very clear as to the importance of steady internal prayer, “But thou, when thou prayest, enter into thy closet, and when thou hast shut thy door, pray to thy Father which is in secret; and thy Father which seeth in secret shall reward thee openly” (Matthew 6:6).

    Spiritual contemplation requires discipline, lest we take pride in prayer, or pray openly for show, or pray vainly to figments of our own making. I find the Philokalia — that much revered and ancient monastic book of wisdom — very helpful in this regard, though much of it is too advanced for an nfant like myself. Nonetheless, it has gems that even a novice can appreciate.

    Also remember the words of Silvanus the Athonite, “The soul cannot know peace unless she prays for her enemies. The soul that has learned of God’s grace to pray, feels love and compassion for every created thing, and in particular for mankind, for whom the Lord suffered on the Cross, and His soul was heavy for every one of us.”

    Prayer is the practice of love and compassion, the lifting of the heart to God for purification. It is important that love be not forgotten. If the heart is cold and stony, prayer will not take root, never mind flourish.

    “What is a merciful heart? It is the heart’s burning for the sake of the entire creation, for men, for birds, for animals, for demons and for every created thing; and by the recollection and sight of them the eyes of a merciful man pour forth abundant tears. From the strong and vehement mercy which grips his heart and from his great compassion, his heart is humbled and he cannot bear to hear or see any injury or slight sorrow in creation. For this reason he continually offers up tearful prayer, even for irrational beasts, for the enemies of the truth and for those who harm him, that they be protected and receive mercy. And in like manner he even prays for the family of reptiles because of the great compassion that burns in his heart without measure in the likeness of God” (Isaac of Syria, Homily 81).

    And, if you ever feel frustrated, just remember: “Likewise the Spirit also helpeth our infirmities: for we know not what we should pray for as we ought: but the Spirit itself maketh intercession for us with groanings which cannot be uttered” (Romans 8:26).

    “A servant of the Lord is he who in body stands before men, but in mind knocks at Heaven with prayer” (St. John of the Ladder).

  • [quote]Christ when I rise up, and Christ when I lie down,
    Christ in three-space, Christ in tiny rolled up dimensions where gravity lives[/quote]

    For a weird quasi-Platonist virtue ethicist turned Catholic, you’re alright, Leah.

    • That was pretty cool, wan’tit?

      • WSquared

        Oh, that was VERY cool! 🙂

    • deiseach

      That is a perfectly cromulent prayer 🙂

      And now I’m going to quote an early Chesterton poem which is somewhat related (Deity in tiny little spaces):

      The Holy Of Holies

      G. K. Chesterton

      ‘Elder father, though thine eyes
      Shine with hoary mysteries,
      Canst thou tell what in the heart
      Of a cowslip blossom lies?

      ‘Smaller than all lives that be,
      Secret as the deepest sea,
      Stands a little house of seeds,
      Like an elfin’s granary,

      ‘Speller of the stones and weeds,
      Skilled in Nature’s crafts and creeds,
      Tell me what is in the heart
      Of the smallest of the seeds.’

      ‘God Almighty, and with Him
      Cherubim and Seraphim,
      Filling all eternity—
      Adonai Elohim.’

  • Fred

    The Infinite Supplicant: On A Limit and a Prayer by Mark Cauchi in The Phenomenology of Prayer edited by Bruce Ellis Benson and Norman Wirzba

  • Elliott Scott

    It’s so easy to overthink prayer. As others have mentioned, Jesus teaches us to call him Father and how best to pray to him in passages like Matthew 6: 5-15, 7: 7-12 and Luke 18: 1-14.

    While some people have a hard time thinking of God as a father due to all the crappy fathers in the world, I’ve found it’s usually best to try it Jesus’ way for while before coming up with my own method.

  • RE: sucking at making it up on your own….

    I was just thinking along these lines the other day about grace before meals. We had some friends (who are in the process of converting to Catholicism from a Protestant background) over for lunch and I launched right into the standard “Bless us, O Lord…” I was embarrassed, a little, thinking “Gosh, how wimpy must my “rote” prayer sound to these guys?” who, I’d assumed for no good reason, were just amazingly good at spontaneous prayer.

    And then I realized that, part of the reason I love having standard prayers, is that, as you say, I’d suck at making it up. Not that I can’t be sincere, and not that I don’t have my own, non-liturgical prayer, but I couldn’t get away from the sense that elaborate, occasion-specific grace-before-meals is more a performance for my fellow eaters. A way to communicate to THEM how I feel about the good food, good company, etc.

    And that ain’t prayer. So by keeping (sometimes) to words I’m not making up, I help to keep my own need to show off in check. And by praying the hours, I’m praying with scripture, which means I’m praying God’s words. So instead of me at the center, it’s God talking.

    • leahlibresco

      Yup, this! Its not a privation that we don’t make up a new language from scratch for every conversation.

      • PJ

        Indeed. Anyway, extemporaneous prayers typically follow a formula, as I’ve learned from listening to my evangelical friends. And they’re not nearly as beautiful.

      • This is my main use of the rosary: I usually begin by saying something like, “God, I don’t really have anything new to say,” or “God, I’m not sure how to pray right now,” or even “God, I really don’t feel like praying right now,” and then I launch into the words and actions that I know are prayer despite my situation or thoughts or feelings.

        Well, that and the rosary is a great cure for insomnia, too.

  • Rek

    This is all pretty fascinating. When I was Christian, I really enjoyed talking to God throughout the day. Only occasionally did I ask him for things, and by my latter teen years, those requests were usually for spiritual things like courage and discernment. In the evangelical traditions we usually eschew formulaic or memorized prayer of the kind more familiar to liturgical communities. But there was one prayer, besides the Lord’s prayer, that I came to love. You may already know it, but I leave it here anyway, as it still captures how I want to live:

    “God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, courage to change the things I can, and wisdom to know the difference.”

  • Think of mathematical theorems as art. You can pray to God while meditating on a beautiful piece of music or a painting. Why not a beautiful piece of math? They key is to use it as an icon to worship God. Not to worship the creation and forget the creator.

    • Ted Seeber

      Not only that- but there’s a close connection between liturgical prayer and mathematical theorems to begin with. Both are a Turing-complete language unto themselves.

      • Tom

        I’ve been reading this blog the last few days (since the conversion) and I have no become fairly well acquainted with Alan Turing. Last night I was playing Endless Ocean on my Wii (the greatest video game ever – no seriously) and the tidbit of information for one of the angelfish that I was petting was about it’s pigmentation being modeled as a Turing pattern!

  • Great post and reflection. I pray an “on the fly” St. Patrick’s Breastplate from time to time also.

    It sounds like you are finding a good balance in prayer: On the one hand, doing one’s best to pray TO God rather than to an idea and to actually pray rather than thinking about math or philosophy (I share the struggle, lol). But on the other hand remaining cognizant of God’s presence and of His being the source of Truth, and thus of all good thoughts and inspirations – this is why these things inspire us with such fascination and wonder in the first place.

  • Martha G

    Lovely post. I particularly look forward to hearing about not only your internal dialogues, but also how prayer and your conversion are changing how you feel/see/interact with the world and your fellow humans.

  • Hibernia86

    I think Leah’s struggle between imagining something immaterial like math and a deity like God shows the logical problems of trying to jump between those two. If I had to pick the one place where I think Leah stumbled the most in her thought process, I think this would be it. She says that she will hash out her thinking for us on the blog in the next two weeks. We’ll see what she writes, but I’m guessing it might end up being the idea that for objective morality to exist, you need a person to create it, which is a fallacy. The existence of God and the existence of objective morality are two separate questions. One does not rely on the other.

    • GKC

      Hibernia, you may be disappointed by an attempt for a Christian to hash out her reasoning in her relationship with God. Leah has reached her conversion (her decision to “leap” to Catholicism) through reason, and reason will guide her further up and further in. However, growing in faith and prayer is necessarily “falling in love” with God. This is not abandoning reason, but investing our senses and emotion into it. If you explained to me all the reasons you are in love with your spouse or significant other, I might think they’re a neat person, but nothing you say could make me love your spouse too.
      Likewise, nothing I say to you could make you suddenly stop loving your spouse.

      Sorry if this is unsatisfactory from a standpoint of basic logic, but Christians understand that logic alone cannot point to this abundant love.

      • Hibernia86

        You might not love my spouse, but you could see why I do. You have proof as to why my spouse is a loving person. You don’t have that with God. All you have is events that can be explained by the normal laws of physics. If God was truly manipulating the world, you would see changes that violate the laws of physics. Or maybe you would see unlikely events happen frequently. But you don’t see that. Pentacostals, for example, often claim medical miracles, but never provide scientific evidence to back it up. A person may have an imaginary friend growing up that they loved very much but that does not mean that that person is real.

        • justin

          Catholics have a thing called miracles also and they have an abundance of proof from doctors and examiners that they are outside the laws of physics. I don’t think this is proof for a non-believer, but it is a reality. I don’t know where i read it or saw it but it is a great quote. “For those who believe no proof is necessary and for those who do not believe no proof is sufficient.” The reason I love my wife is not because of a list of things she has done for me or attributes that she has, but an expression and fulfillment of my whole being and that is why i give her everything (and another reason why contraception is not ok). I hold nothing back from her. If she lost all of the attributes she has and could do nothing, I would love her no less. I could not give sufficient proof to why I love my wife, but I don’t need proof because I am in love. Love is not measured because it is all encompassing. And is still fully rational and logical.

          • Hibernia86

            “Catholics have a thing called miracles also and they have an abundance of proof from doctors and examiners that they are outside the laws of physics.”

            No they don’t. Never has there been a scientific study that showed this. Whenever you hear about miracles, it is stories about how “my mom’s friend’s doctor’s cousin’s babysitter had a miracle happen to her”. They are never verified.

          • deiseach

            To quote Leah’s sometime-to-be-Supreme Overlord from the Introduction to his 2005 encyclical, Deus Caritas Est (emphasis mine):

            “We have come to believe in God’s love: in these words the Christian can express the fundamental decision of his life. Being Christian is not the result of an ethical choice or a lofty idea, but the encounter with an event, a person, which gives life a new horizon and a decisive direction. Saint John’s Gospel describes that event in these words: “God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should … have eternal life” (3:16). In acknowledging the centrality of love, Christian faith has retained the core of Israel’s faith, while at the same time giving it new depth and breadth. The pious Jew prayed daily the words of the Book of Deuteronomy which expressed the heart of his existence: “Hear, O Israel: the Lord our God is one Lord, and you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul and with all your might” (6:4-5). Jesus united into a single precept this commandment of love for God and the commandment of love for neighbour found in the Book of Leviticus: “You shall love your neighbour as yourself” (19:18; cf. Mk 12:29-31). Since God has first loved us (cf. 1 Jn 4:10), love is now no longer a mere “command”; it is the response to the gift of love with which God draws near to us.”

          • Hibernia86

            deiseach, but it is likely that that experience you have that you call God (that warm fuzzy feeling you get that makes you feel so good) is based in your head. It may be that belief in God was evolutionarily beneficial (people were less scared because they believed the gods were taking care of them and they didn’t fear death because they believed in an afterlife).

            It is similar to the way atoms (because of the small nucleus and large electron cloud) are actually 99% empty space, making everything we see 99% empty space, but we see walls as whole even though that isn’t what they are really. Also depressed people often view their life as worse than it really is just based on chemical imbalances in the head.

            If God were real, we would see the laws of physics being broken by his allpowerfulness. We don’t see that. We don’t see any evidence that God exists anywhere outside our head.

          • Peggy Hagen

            Hibernia, why should we see such? Granting that God is the creator of those same laws, surely He can as easily work within their bounds as without.

            On another note – experiencing a warm fuzzy feeling is experiencing a warm fuzzy feeling. Experience of God is experience of God; and there is no confusing the two. (Could you honestly ever reduce the God of the Old Testament to a “warm fuzzy”?)

          • Hibernia86

            Peggy: We would see God breaking the laws of physics because that is the only way to answer prayer. If he doesn’t break the laws of physics then the world would continue as it would anyway and he could have no impact on it after creating it.

            When I allow myself to consider the possibility that God might exist, I get the same experience you do. But the difference is that I realize that this experience does not connect with the outside world and is just in my head. If it were real, I would see something in the material world that would make it different from a world without God. We don’t. The experience you have with God is just the way your brain evolved in order to give it a sense of safety from a deity and the hope for an afterlife. The idea of God is the brain trying to soothe you, not a real being. It is not in the outside world.

          • Ted Seeber

            Hibernia, you’ve got the wrong definition of what a miracle is. A miracle need not be supernatural.

          • Hibernia86

            Ted, if used literally, miracle means something supernatural. If we aren’t being literal, it doesn’t have much meaning. If all it means is “a fortunate situation” then it has little to do with this conversation.

          • deiseach

            Dear Hibernia86, if you think my experiences of religion have been the warm, fuzzy kind that make me feel good…

            … you are misinformed, as Rick said as to why he had come to Casablanca 🙂

          • Cous

            Part II

            But this is kind of a distracting sideshow, no one should be hanging their faith hat on miracles – the Church really does not consider miracles to be one of the primary reasons for belief – they can encourage us and boost our faith, but our faith itself does not stand or fall with any miracle or collection of miracles (healings and visions and bleeding hosts; I’m not including the Incarnation and Resurrection in that category, those are on another metaphysical level and are obviously absolutely central to the Catholic faith).

            Faith does stand on evidence, though, even if it’s not solely based on evidence. It’s historical, messy evidence, plus philosophical evidence that we can grasp through observation and reason, with the final “capstone” of the grace of faith that gets us from that evidence to making the conscious choice to accept the source of these historical interactions as the creator of the universe and the source of all goodness.

            Sure, I can tell myself – dang, if I had 24/7 visions of God like St. Teresa, or if I had just been one be one of the apostles and spent 3 years living with Jesus, or one of those eyewitness to all the supposed miracles in the new testament, or even been one of the Gentiles preached to by St. Paul, my faith would be rock-solid. How can God expect me to believe now, with all this historical white noise and interference in the data 2000 years after the fact? But even the people in his time didn’t believe – thousands of eyewitness rejected him, civic and religious and intellectual leaders wanted him dead. We even get a Gospel shout-out thanks to a doubting apostle – “Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.” So we’re kind of kidding ourselves to think that we would be above all that – even when these people got hit in the face with it, they could still turn away and refuse to believe.

            Also, your persistent portrayal of all religion as just a “warm fuzzy feeling of God in your head” is leading me to seriously doubt that you understand the claims these religions are making. Faith (as Catholics define it) is an intellectual commitment, a deliberate choice, that makes radical demands on every aspect of your life. It has produced the foundations of western intellectual tradition and culture, led people to sacrifice their lives (appropriately enough, today is the feast day of Sts. Thomas More and John Fisher), lose family members, undergo torture or spiritual desolation, give up marriage, lose careers and reputations, found universities…the list goes on. That’s not even addressing B.C. consequences of believing in God. Can people do all these things for mere human reasons, or for religions that directly contradict the Catholic worldview? Sure. Are many other religions basically feel-good support groups? Sure. But your refusal to consider that there are categorical differences between religions and the types of claims they are making, and that you can in fact judge one religion as more reasonable than another, is making it difficult to take your evolutionary explanation seriously, because you’re trying to solve a completely different problem.

          • Hibernia86

            deiseach, you may feel God’s presence, but you need to have some sort of evidence in the material world to prove that this feeling is accurate. I’ve used the examples of depression and the fact that we view walls as solid even though, because the electron cloud of atoms is mostly empty space, walls are mostly empty space. I’ve also already theorized in other posts as to why humans have evolved to believe in God. But for God to be real, you have to do more than experience him because there is no physical evidence that that experience is anything beyond your mind.

        • justin

          Hibernia… actually, miracles confirmed by the Catholic Church are proven scientifically. They are investigated meticulously by non-Catholic scientists and judged to be outside of the laws of physics. Now you might have people who have said that their mother or whoever was cured by a miracle, but that is not a miracle declared by the Church and I would be equally suspicious of those. You may be a smart person, but you clearly don’t do your research and are speaking far beyond your knowledge on this matter.

          • leahlibresco

            Uh, it’s my impression that they’re investigated and shown not to be clearly attributable to a known physical cause (the cancer vanished because we mixed up your first set of scans, they were cysts not tumors, etc). It’s conceivable that there is a more run-of-the-mill ideopathic cause, but the Church thinks that divine intervention is sufficiently plausible to count it. [/not an expert]

          • Hibernia86

            Justin, if you think you are a better expert, then show me some proof of your claims. Where is a scientific paper showing that something happened against the known laws of physics in the medical field or otherwise?

          • Ted Seeber

            Hibernia86- this website has several, but you may need to learn Italian to read them:

          • justin

            I don’t claim to be an expert, but Leah’s explanation is correct. Every miracle declared by the Church is examined and concluded that the results are not of known physiology/anatomy or known laws of physics. The miracle of Lanciano is one of those well know miracles, but there are so many more. I hesitate to even provide evidence because I don’t want to cheapen FAITH which needs no proof. I can come to an understanding and belief in a god through reason, but faith cannot be proven or argued toward. And it is far from a warm fuzzy that my mind makes up to feel good. Look up the miracle of Lanciano and see that professors from the university of Siena conducted a scientific study. The main argument is not about God proving anything by miracles or prayers being answered by miracles every day because we would lose faith. It would be nothing more than believing in a mathematical proof. If you posit that God created the world with free will and he created humans for His own sake, why would he overpower us with miracles every day. The kind of God you are talking about i don’t believe in either. He is a personal God that desires my salvation.

          • Hibernia86

            Well Ted, I’ll get right on that.

            While you wait, see if you can find me some from a more neutral site than the Vatican website.

            “I don’t want to cheapen FAITH which needs no proof.”
            -justin explaining why there are thousands of different religions in the world.

            Seriously, you think that God would create us with free will, tell us that we needed to believe in him in order to go to heaven, and then not give us clear logical evidence for his existence? That sounds pretty evil, like he is trying to send people to hell. Because he seems to be doing a pretty good job of dividing the human race into different faiths.

            Also it has supposedly been proven that the miracle of Lanciano is now human flesh, but you’ll notice that they had a lot of that back at the time the miracle was supposed to have happened. A more interesting study would test the DNA of the flesh. Is it even Jewish? How old is the flesh really? While that wouldn’t prove for sure that it was Jesus’s flesh, it would allow us to test for some types of forgery.

          • Faramir

            You said: “Seriously, you think that God would create us with free will, tell us that we needed to believe in him in order to go to heaven, and then not give us clear logical evidence for his existence?”

            First of all, if he’s already told us that we need to believe in him, that seems like some sort of evidence that he exists.

            Secondly, we believe that God did exactly that; you simply find that evidence unpersuasive. He began by choosing one people (the Jews) and gave them plenty of prophets and miracles to make himself known to them. Then, about 2,000 years ago, he gave us the most concrete, in-your-face evidence possible: he himself became a man, walked and talked among us, healed the sick, fascinated the crowds, terrified and enraged the political and religious rulers, and rose from the dead. Unfortunately they didn’t have video cameras back then, so we don’t have HD footage of Jesus emerging from the tomb or walking on water. They did write books, though, which just happen to be the most well-attested documents of any kind from the ancient world. So I think God has given us plenty of evidence – he almost literally walked right up to us and said, “Hey, I’m God!”

          • Cous

            Part I

            @Hibernia86 – yeah, I don’t know what Ted’s saying – miracles are definitely understood as being having causes “beyond the natural,” though their effects are in the natural, i.e. physical, world. If you’re looking for the Vatican to publish every investigation in a peer-reviewed article in a scientific journal, you’re going to be disappointed, but one exception may be the Eucharistic miracle at Lanciano, which shows up in a PubMed search:

            : Quad Sclavo Diagn. 1971 Sep;7(3):661-74. Links[Histological, immunological and biochemiccal studies on the flesh and blood of the eucharistic miracle of Lanciano (8th century)] [Article in Italian]
            Linoli O. PMID: 4950729 [PubMed – indexed for MEDLINE]

            However, even if you can’t find a reference in PubMed for every approved miracle, the Church certainly has a protocol in place for approving and documenting miracles – many (if not most) approved miracles were approved as part of the process of investigating someone for beatification or canonization, and this process is governed by the Congregation for the Causes of Saints. For healing-type miracles, they are required to have a certain # of medical experts review the miracle, and there is even someone appointed whose sole purpose is to do everything he can to disprove the miracle; he’s known as the advocatus diaboli – devil’s advocate. I’m not a canon law expert but I could poke around for the references if you’re really interested (this and this give some background, and this specifically addresses the protocol for bishops investigating miracles in their own dioceses).

          • Cous

            meant to post Part II here.

    • PJ

      “We’ll see what she writes, but I’m guessing it might end up being the idea that for objective morality to exist, you need a person to create it, which is a fallacy.”

      No, it’s not. It’s an entirely natural and eminently reasonable assumption. Law is personal, presupposing willful, intelligent, and self-aware being.

      • Cous

        Law is personal, presupposing willful, intelligent, and self-aware being.

        @ PJ – That’s hardly what I would call a synthetic truth. Can you offer other support for this claim?
        @ Hibernia86 – If you consider that a fallacy, what do you consider necessary and/or sufficient for objective morality? What would ground it, if not an agent? (I’m not being antagonistic, just curious). I’m guilty of using “objective morality” without having a clear definition for it, but here’s a discussion on the related, but distinct, question of whether you can have moral absolutes without God.

        • Ted Seeber

          It’s not a synthetic truth because it is a natural truth. Created information demands a creator. It is in defiance of entropy.

          • A Philosopher

            Why do you think that moral truths are created? It’s a central claim of Catholicism that they’re not.

          • Ted Seeber

            I don’t. I think that SYNTHETIC truths are created.

        • Cous

          @myself, June 21, 2012 at 12:35 pm
          That’s embarrassing. I meant “analytic truth.”

          • Ted Seeber

            That’s at least better- but you still need a creator to do the analysis for an analytic truth.

        • PJ


          I’m not interested in Kantian categories. Kant’s philosophical ideas are the fruit of a poisonous tree of Enlightenment rationalism, the very roots of which I find dangerous, though they are buried in the soil of medieval Catholic scholasticism. That’s where all of this atheistic nonsense began: nominalism combined with mutant Augustinianism led to Protestantism led to rationalism. But the horrors of the modern age destoryed the confidence rationalism imbued in western man. The wars and the death camps and the revolutions soured him, turned him into a cynic, a skeptic. And once skepticism reared its head, it was just a hop and a skip to relativism. Now we suffer the extremes of skepticism and relativism: denying the possibility of any truth while simultaneously accepting all truth as equal (unless that truth happens to be part of western heritage, in which case it must be driven from the public square and ridiculed into non-existence).

          Bah…bah humbug, I say!

          Well, this has been a very interesting couple of days. I am glad I had the opportunity to watch so many bright Christians and sharp atheists interact. Very unusual. Very enlightening. But it’s back to work soon. Leah, I’ll pray for you. Keep on writing — I’m going to pop in when I can. God bless you and keep you: the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, one God forever and ever, amen.

          • Lane

            Is your distaste of skepticism because you find the methodology flawed, or because you don’t like the results?

        • Hibernia86

          Cous, if objective morality exists, it would have to exist in a similar way to how the laws of physics or math exists. You don’t need an agent for that. Gravity would still work even if there was no one to see it. Math would still exist even if there was no one to see it (there are some, such as apparently Leah, who believe that math would still exist even without space or time, but I’m undecided on this). It would have to be similar for objective morality to exist. Having an agent does not create morality. If your parents say “I created you, now go kill your neighbors” they are not made moral just based on that. It is the same if God says it.

          • Cous

            While both phrases use the word “law,” physical laws are in a separate category; they describe the universe, they tell us what “is,” while moral laws tell us what we “ought” to do, so be wary of analogies between the two. Moral laws, unlike physical laws, assume there are moral agents who are under it, because they govern acts, not simply events. Acts of moral agents are something above and beyond the physical events that go into them; can would you explain intention in purely materialist terms without making the concept morally irrelevant?

            However, even if you agree that moral laws presuppose moral agents (e.g. us) to be governed by them, it is a separate question as to whether they presuppose an agent who authoredthem (e.g. God). See my comments below at at [June 21, 2012 at 2:28 pm] and June 21, 2012 at 2:43 pm]

          • leahlibresco

            I’m not saying the Person-ness is necessary for morality to exist, just for us to have knowledge of it.

          • Hibernia86

            Cous: “However, even if you agree that moral laws presuppose moral agents (e.g. us) to be governed by them…”

            I don’t agree with that. If objective morality exists, I think it would exist whether people existed or not.

            “While both phrases use the word “law,” physical laws are in a separate category; they describe the universe, they tell us what “is,” while moral laws tell us what we “ought” to do,”

            True, but I feel that, for objective morality to exist, the “ought” has to come from an intrinsic value. It can’t just come from someone giving an order. Someone telling a person to do something, no matter how high their authority, does not guarantee that that thing is moral. (this is true for office managers and God). The value has to exist intrinsically rather than based on authority for it to be a moral law.

          • Cous

            @ Leah – fascinating. Are you going to spell this out in an upcoming post? What would it look like if there existed morality for us but we were blocked from knowing it? Worms don’t know about morality, but they can’t perform moral acts either.
            @ HIbernia86 – “If objective morality exists, I think it would exist whether people existed or not.” —->Good point, I should have said that the possibility for moral agency has to exist, even if no moral agents ever actually existed. Would you agree with that?

            “the “ought” has to come from an intrinsic value” —> yes, the whole point is that God is not just another player inside (or outside) this universe, his being is what grounds the universe metaphysically/ontologically/whateverly speaking, and therefore the nature of his being serves as the source of moral law. So objective morality, in this picture, is intrinsic and totally non-arbitrary; God cannot “arbitrarily” command morality, he is “bound” by his own nature, which is total goodness. To echo what someone else has said about fatherhood: We try to understand God’s authority by way of analogy with human authority, but the truth is that genuine human authority (not “might makes right” authority) can only be understood in relation to, as a shadowy derivation of, God’s authority.

          • Matt R

            But how does gravity exist perfectly, so that matter could be formed and that life could form?

          • Hibernia86

            Leah, thanks for your response. I have two points:

            One, Christians believe that we can experience God’s presence in a non-material way. Why couldn’t we experience morality in the same way? I realize that that would have the same problems that the so called experience of God has, but the point is that they are two separate things. We never hear God telling us what is right and wrong. It is always feelings, so those feelings don’t necessarily need to be based on a person telling us.

            and Two, I feel that you may have been too quick to dismiss evolution when it comes to morality. The evolution of moral actions does not require a belief in group selection. I believe that it was Richard Dawkins actually who wrote out in his book “The Selfish Gene” how kin selection and reciprocal altruism can explain moral actions. Kin selection says that it is in our best interest evolutionarily to help our family. And reciprocal altruism says that if you help someone, they will likely help you back (because those that did were more likely to have successful partnerships in the future that helped them survive). When we lived in tribes, everyone we help would likely have an opportunity to help us in the future. I think that these two reasons together can give a biological reason for our feelings and explain why humans act the way they do. This question seems to be a lynch pin for your beliefs so it may be good to talk about it more in future blog posts.

          • leahlibresco

            Reverse order!

            2) I think evolution can explain why some behaviors we consider moral turn out to persist. It doesn’t explain why they’re moral. Evopsych people decide to noodle over why altruism might be an evolutionarily advantageous strategy because they’ve already decided that altruism is good. So I definitely think evolution can tell us interesting game theory kinds of things about behaviors, but it doesn’t tell us which ones to condemn or promote.

            1) Well, this is kind of what I thought for a long time. Way back in this series, I went on for a bit about how we have some facility that responds to morality in the same way the eye responds to light. The main difference is that the eye is a material facility and the morality sense seems to be mediated immaterially. (This was obviously enough on its own to get me in hot water with some of my atheist friends).

            So I was trying to think about what kind of immaterial cause or facility there could be. Now, it could be ideopathic, unknown to me except in its effects, which is what I went with for a long while. But what I kind of decided was most likely is that morality was more actively manifesting itself to us than, say light does. Almost like… an agent.

          • Hibernia86

            Cous: “I should have said that the possibility for moral agency has to exist, even if no moral agents ever actually existed. Would you agree with that?”

            Hmmm, I suppose, unless someone can come up with a strange situation I haven’t thought of that would disprove it somehow.

            Cous: “yes, the whole point is that God is not just another player inside (or outside) this universe, his being is what grounds the universe metaphysically/ontologically/whateverly speaking, and therefore the nature of his being serves as the source of moral law.”

            The problem is that none of that requires that God by conscious or answer prayers or send a Messiah or do any of the other stuff Christianity says that he does. If “his being is what grounds the universe” that sounds very similar to physical laws which are not conscious and don’t respond to prayer (although they can be manipulated scientifically). So even if you were to prove objective morality existed, that does not prove that there is a conscious being connected to it.

          • Hibernia86

            Matt R, some scientists say that other physical laws require gravity to be the way it is. Here is a book on that topic that I plan to read soon.

            Other scientists who study string theory say that multiple universes may have been created, each with a random set of physical laws. We evolved in this one because this one happened to be the one that randomly got the needed physical laws to evolve life.

          • Hibernia86

            Leah, I agree that evolution can not create objective morality. But what it can create is the desire to act as if objective morality were real. We may have evolved to act this way because it was the most successful evolutionarily (for reasons outlined in my last post). Those who believed in God and who believed in objective morality lived most successfully in the past (they cared for others, they felt that the gods were protecting them so they didn’t worry as much, they didn’t fear death because of their belief in the afterlife). It may be that neither God nor objective morality exist, but just that those who believe in them were most successful evolutionarily in the past. Evolution may be why people have the feeling of God or the feeling of objective morality, not their actual existence. This thought might sicken you, but if we truly want to know the truth, sometimes we don’t like what we find.

            And even if objective morality exists, I’m not sure I agree that it is manifesting itself more actively than light. Well meaning people disagree about morality all the time. If it were being told to us by a deity, don’t you think that he’d make it a little more obvious so that more people got it right? And why hide from us? Why not appear to everyone so that we won’t be confused and we can know what to do and worship. There are too many religions and moral beliefs for there to be a loving God talking to us. If he is truly all powerful, he would do a much better job than this at communicating.

          • leahlibresco

            I don’t know. We have a pretty hard time keeping on top of vision, and morality seems harder. I don’t have a pat answer for this.

          • Cous

            @Hibernia86 – I may be going a bit off the deep end, but my understanding is that these physical laws, while they may be a comprehensive description of the universe, do not transcend it (i.e. have any meaning or existence outside of it), and in no way cause it. In other words, physical laws do not metaphysically ground the universe, and they have no “being” unto themselves. Again, they are in a completely separate category from any source of moral law, and all analogies between the two are off. Or are you claiming that physical laws are grounded in some transcendent principle or being?

            And yes, I completely agree that the conclusion that “a transcendent, omnibenevolent being is required for morality” does not entail a triune God or the Incarnation or angels or anything like that. You have to look around and say, “OK, is there any other evidence lying around that indicates what this transcendent being might look like?” So, switching into Catholic gear, that is the point of divine Revelation – human reason can only get so far, e.g. to conclusions like the ones you and I have been discussing – and so God has to reach down and reveal himself to us. He has to interact with us, and give us good reasons to believe that it’s him speaking. In his OT dealings with the Jewish people, and his NT dealings as Christ, he didn’t just claim to be some superpower like some Zeus, he named himself as being itself, I AM WHO AM. And then if he says he’s a Trinity of persons or that he’s actually present in a piece of unleavened bread, we have to take his word for it. That’s what it is to “have faith” – to respond to his interactions with human history by accepting him as a divine, transcendent authority and then to believe what he says, however much it may boggle our minds.

          • Hibernia86

            Cous: If the multiverse exists, then there may be physical laws that apply only to our universe and other physical laws that apply to the multiverse as a whole. Yes, at some point you have to get to a level that just exists and doesn’t need a cause (perhaps an infinite loop or something like that). But there is no reason to believe that that ultimate truth has to be a conscious person.

            As I’ve talked about in responses to other people above, we have to be careful about what we count as good evidence. Yes when we think about God, we get a warm fuzzy feeling and we may feel as if he is there. But is that anything outside our head? If God was real, we’d see him breaking the laws of physics and revealing himself more obviously. Instead we see the world operating by physical laws and we see no angels or demons or other such beings. If God truly wanted us to believe, then why doesn’t he make it more obvious? Why let their be thousands of different faiths, each who have faith that theirs is the right one? You don’t know that your Bible is any more accurate than a Quran, but Christians and Muslims are willing to assume that their book is and devote their lives entirely to it. In reality, it may be that those who believed in God were more successful evolutionarily and that that is why religion persists, not because there is actually a god outside our head.

          • Hibernia86

            Leah, I do appreciate that you are thinking about these difficult issues, anyway.

      • Hibernia86

        Law and morality are two separate things. You can have something that is immoral but not illegal (like adultery) or you can have something illegal but not immoral (like free speech in Fascist nations).

        • Cous

          You’re talking about merely human law; no one’s arguing that speed limits presuppose God, but what any law governing human choices does presuppose is authority (perhaps this is the point where you disagree?). So for there to be an objective moral law, one that governs all moral agents and is not based on mere practical considerations, the preferences of the agent himself, or the consensus of a given group, what must that authority look like?

          • Hibernia86

            I think the post I just posted a little ways up answers this question.

    • Ted Seeber

      Why is that a fallacy? And in fact, how can you have a fallacy without something to create the rules of logic?

      • Hibernia86

        It is a fallacy because for objective morality to exist, it has to exist outside of a person. If a dictator says “kill all the children in the next town” that does not make it good just because he is your leader. Likewise, if God says that he is going to kill all the Egyptian children, that does not make it automatically good. Objective morality, to exist, has to be a standard separate from an individual. God could create objective morality through whatever magical powers he would have, but that doesn’t mean that it automatically needs a God. That would be like saying “The river system is so complicated, it must have been built by someone intelligent.” No, it was built by the laws of nature.

        • Cous

          for objective morality to exist, it has to exist outside of a person

          Hm, not quite – more like it has to transcend the person. God is not simply another person, he is a being who transcends the created universe, which is certainly not true of you or me or any dictator. Your next step could be to argue that objective morality can be grounded in something that transcends persons but not the entire universe, e.g. human nature. My next question would be, how does one get “good” and “evil” out of human nature?

          • Hibernia86

            No, I think for objective morality to exist, it has to transcend the entire universe. But what I’m saying is that if objective morality exists, it can be a thing, not a person.

          • Hibernia86

            Objective morality would have to be like the laws of physics or math, niether of which are persons.

        • Ted Seeber

          “It is a fallacy because for objective morality to exist, it has to exist outside of a person”

          I think you miss the point. Isn’t the idea of a logical fallacy itself an example of objective morality?

          • Hibernia86

            Um, no. Logical fallacies are explanations that don’t make sense. Objective morality is about right and wrong. You can make a logical fallacy about objective morality but you can make it about factual arguments as well.

        • jose

          Hibernia86 and others, imagine humans don’t exist and asocial species like squirrels or eagles develop. What sorts of things would they consider to be good, what kind of morality would they have. Some for eusocial species (eg ants, some wasps). For one, the golden rule would be meaningless because reciprocity is not a concern in their everyday lives.

          This connects with a previous post (one on values as colors and the correct perception of them), but I don’t know if it’s okay to comment about that post here as the other one is old now, or it’s better to directly make the comment there? Some blogs don’t like comments in old posts. What’s the rule?

          • Hibernia86

            Well, Jose, if there was objective morality, then it wouldn’t matter what type of species evolved. The morality would still be the same even if the species weren’t good at following it. However, if morality is based on evolution or culture, then the species would consider to be good whatever they had evolved to consider good and they would believe that just as strongly as you believe that your morality is the best. Remember, however, not to fall into the trap of “I want objective morality to exist, so I’ll believe in it.” That’s not how beliefs are supposed to work. They need to be based on evidence. So the correct question is “Do we have evidence that objective morality exists or does it look like our moral beliefs come from how we evolved?”

  • A Philosopher

    I see you’ve adopted the masculine pronoun for divine references?

    • Faramir

      Of course God doesn’t have a gender, but the Bible consistently uses male pronouns and Jesus taught us to pray, “Our Father…”, so I tend to take the approach of “If it’s good enough for Jesus, it’s good enough for me.”

      • A Philosopher

        Well, there’s actually quite a robust thread of God-as-mother imagery in the Old Testament, and a long tradition of using the feminine for the Holy Spirit. I myself think the evidence is pretty substantial that cultural biases play a substantial role in making the masculine pronoun the dominant form.

        But really my main point was more indirect. I’m interested in how quickly Leah has acculturated to the practice. That suggests to me that there was already some background shaping of her thought by Catholicism on these issues (not too surprisingly, of course). As a general rule, I think one should put up an extra layer of epistemic resistance against views that one finds comfortable when one slips into them — it’s just too hard to tell whether one’s acceptance of them is based on evidence or familiarity.

      • Julie42

        It was good enough for past Christians because they lived in a sexist culture where femininity was considered weakness, so naturally God is a “he.” And of course it’s good enough for you because you’re also a “he.” You’ve never had to deal with the idea of being a different gender than God, a different gender than the vast majority of Bible characters, and told that you have no place speaking in church. That’s gotta be great!

        • Faramir


          On the other hand, I have to deal with the fact that I, a male, am a part of the Bride of Christ. And of course, if you look through salvation history and church history, you’ll see that we’d be nowhere without the vital contributions of women like Sarah, Ruth, Esther, Mary, Mary Magdalene, Catherine of Siena, Joan of Arc, Mother Teresa, and plenty of others – those are just the ones that come immediately to mind.

          Also, I’m not so sure about the whole “the Bible was written in a sexist culture” objection. Certainly ancient Jewish society was patriarchal, but I find it interesting that even though Jesus is willing to overturn so many other societal taboos (healing on the Sabbath, eating with sinners, talking with Samaritans, “You have heard it said… But I say to you…”) and even though he gives women a great deal of respect and involvement in his ministry (e.g. the woman taken in adultery, allowing women to be the first witnesses to the empty tomb), he also repeatedly refers to God as his Father. If Jesus had wanted to overthrow that conception as well, I’m convinced he would have. It seems to me that Jesus feels there is something about God’s nature that is better expressed by the word “Father” than the word “Mother”. You can be offended by that if you want, but I think you need to take it up with God, not the Church. Whatever God’s reason is for referring to himself as Father, I’m sure it’s not because he thinks men = superior, women = inferior; after all, he created both of them, and declared them very good.

    • Ted Seeber

      You’ve got to understand the allegory of the theology. A mother’s love is soft- always forgiving, always patient. A father teaches with tough love and natural consequences. Therefore God is more like a father than a mother- using evil to bring about good.

      • A Philosopher

        I’m pretty sure that’s a heresy. And not a terribly attractive picture of God.

        I’m also pretty sure that the forgiving/patient versus tough love/natural consequences line does not with any great reliability break down along gender lines.

        • Ted Seeber

          More like allowing evil to bring about good, CCC 426.

      • PJ

        I agree with Philosopher. The gender-traits thing is sketchy. Bottom line: We know God as Father, Son, and Spirit because that’s how He revealed Himself. God is certainly forgiving and long-suffering. To suggest otherwise is contrary to Scripture and Tradition. “For thou, Lord, art good, and ready to forgive; and plenteous in mercy unto all them that call upon thee” (Psalm 86:5). “The Lord passed before him and proclaimed, ‘The Lord, the Lord, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness'” (Exodus 34:6).

      • Mike

        Dude, that’s very sexist. Seriously, you need to not say things like that.

        • Ted Seeber

          Dude, a lack of sexism is a denial that gender exists. Seriously, you need to not say things like that.

          • KL

            One can view the gendered paradigm that you’ve described above as deeply problematic and, yes, sexist without denying that gender exists. I wholeheartedly accept that there are innate differences (both physiological and emotional) between males/men and females/women, many of which we are still learning to understand. Nevertheless, the polarization of mother’s love as “always forgiving, always patient” and a father’s as “tough love [with] natural consequences” is not accurately descriptive, nor should it be prescriptive.

            And, as others have pointed out, Scripture is rich with descriptions of God that fall under both gender categories you identify, so equating God with Father on those grounds is fruitless.

      • Julie42

        1) The Bible consistently describes God as being both. There are tons of angry, strict God references and tons of forgiving, patient God references.
        2) I hate it when people insist that gender roles operate in very clear ways. They don’t. You’re only one gender, so don’t speak for other genders. You’ve never known a more gentle man or a dad who avoids telling his wife about misbehavior because he doesn’t want to have to punish his children? You’ve never seen assertive, strict women?
        My guess is that you’ve seen plenty of both, but you don’t consider it to be the ideal. People think of those men as pussies and pushovers and those women as bitches. And it’s all because of thinking like yours that gender roles are true and anyone that deviates from them isn’t normal.

        • Ted Seeber

          2) is because you have been infected by American feminism and deny differences between the genders or that gender roles exist for a reason. Why not look into how gender roles evolved and why before throwing out the baby with the bathwater?

          • KL

            So, do you think a strict mother is behaving in an unacceptable manner? Or a compassionate father? I am genuinely curious.

  • charles

    So now that you’ve had difficulties with prayer on both sides of the divide what’s the biggest tangible difference with it now that you are a believer?

  • deiseach

    In honour of Leah praying the Lorica, and because she is going to be dealing with all these kinds of questions on here – an extract from the story of the meeting between Eithne and Fedelma, daughters of Laoghaire, the High King of Ireland, and St. Patrick and his disciples at the well of Clebach in the west of Ireland; the girls wondered who these strangers could be, Patrick told them it would be better for them to ask him about God, and the elder girl, Eithne, said (from the translation of the Tripartite Life of St. Patrick by Whitley Strokes):

    “Said the girl who was elder : “Who is your god? And where is he? Is he in heaven, or in earth, or under earth, or on earth? Is he in seas or in streams, or in mountains or in glens? Hath he sons and daughters? Is there gold and silver, is there abundance of every good thing in his kingdom? Tell us about him, how he is seen, how he is loved, how he is found? If he is in youth, or if he is in age? If he is everliving; if he is beautiful? If many have fostered his son? If his daughters are dear and beautiful to the men of the world?”

  • Lane

    This post puzzles me quite a bit — I swear I’m not trying to be flippant when I ask these questions, but I’m trying to understand and am coming up short (atheist here, in case that’s not evident. Hi!). When you say you don’t know what to say to God, do you mean (a) you know what you want to say but struggle to put your thoughts together coherently, (b) you feel like you should pray but when you do, you’re basically at, “Uh… I got nothin’,” or (c) something else I’m missing?

    I’d have a hard time believing (a), mainly because you’re already good with words and I can’t imagine that God would have a problem with unconventional and/or jumbled thoughts so long as you’re sincere. If it’s (b)… well, I have many thoughts, but I’ll hold off if that’s not what you meant.

    • PJ

      “True prayer is not speech, nor is it discussion. These are steps along the path to true, inner prayer, but they are not the goal. Speech is forged of words, and words of finite minds, and finite minds are ultimately incapable of grasping the fullness of divine Truth. Thus words begin the ascent, provide the path which leads to the mountaintop, but cannot reach its peak.

      At the height of prayer all speech must cease. The God who transcends speech energizes the human soul and body to the attainment of intimate, personal union with Himself, whence knowledge and communion are of experience and not of words. The heart of prayer communes with God not through any mediating speech or conversation, but through direct connection and communion. God lifts the ascetic to Himself in prayer, and there she comes to know God.”

      Written by an anonymous monk.

      Much of the confusion among atheists regarding prayer results from a fundamental lack of understanding. This is especially true in America, wherein Protestant and Catholics alike have lost or simply thrown away the ancient spiritual disciplines of Christian discipleship. The most visible prayer is extemporaneous petitionary prayer. But prayer is first and foremost about intimacy with God through purification of the heart — that is, becoming a true son of God by increasingly resembling *the* Son of God.

      • Lane

        I am very aware of the purpose of prayer as you have described it.

    • leahlibresco

      Let’s go with (c): just not exactly sure what to say. To use a terrible analogy, greatly admiring Douglas Hofstadter doesn’t mean I’d easily strike up a conversation of first meeting. I’m doing prayer more as spending time with God and trying to return some of my time as a gift than as a conversation.

      • PJ

        “Trying to return some of my time as a gift than as a conversation.”

        That’s very beautiful. Well said. Well done.

      • Lane

        Thank you for answering. I understand your point that striking up an actual conversation with someone you admire can be daunting (I’ve been there and it was excruciating), but I wasn’t thinking of prayer in terms of having a conversation. I’ve personally never found it difficult to simply say, “Thank you for X; it really means a lot to me,” in a similar situation. Maybe that’s a good place to start?

        • Ted Seeber

          For an Atheist, Lane, and for a new convert like Leah, I think that is a most excellent place to start.

          Myself, as a cradle Catholic suffering from what modern catechists in America call “the lost generation”, I find the rote memorization of the Rosary, with or without the mysteries, to be also quite helpful.

      • At his parish, St. John Vianney encountered an old farmer who would stop at a chapel on his way home from the fields. Knowing that the man just sat in the chapel apparently doing nothing, a neighbor asked him, “What goes on when you sit there?” The old man smiled and said, “I look at the Good God, and the Good God looks at me.” Prayer can be that simple—and that wonderful.

      • Martha G

        I’d be interested in what other Catholics have to say on giving God the gift of your time through prayer. It’s well said, but in terms of what it means… I find the notion of giving God a gift (besides giving God everything, all the time) to be a bit strange.

        • KL

          Why is it strange? We like to give people with whom we are in relationships gifts (whether material or temporal), regardless of whether or not they need anything. It’s a gesture of my care for that person and what they mean in my life.

          • Hey, are you the same KL/Kat who ran in the first ITT? If so it’s nice to “see” you again, you had some interesting comments then.

          • KL

            @Gilbert — I’m trying to reply to you but there’s no button! But yes, that’s me. Good memory and thanks! I meandered away for a few months but the events of the past week have made me a daily visitor again.

          • Katie

            He does have a freakishly good memory. He remembered an anonymous comment I left and then took credit for, like, six months after the fact. And he probably remembers that I didn’t respond to his comment about the contraceptive mandate (sorry! I meant to! *hangs head in shame*).

            Anyway, if the current trend holds up, this blog’s comment section is about to get a whole lot less intimate, anyway 🙁

          • leahlibresco

            Well, my current plan is to just relentlessly blog about math, if there’s too much niceness and/or trollishness in the threads.

          • Contrarian

            ^^ Approve. ^^

          • @Katie
            You’re exaggerating, it wasn’t like six months, it was four months and eight days. (Yeah I Google-cheated right now.)
            Seriously though, my memory isn’t good, just very random and uncontrollable about what it stores. For example, while we’re talking about commentators on this blog, it puts , Jay, Joe, Jack and Jake into one fuzzy category. I think I know they collectively are one Catholic, one unsure/unhappy atheist and two atheist hardliners. But every other time one of them comments I wonder when that radical change happpened, because the names just never match.

            Now that creates some perverse incentives.

            Welcome to the community of the saints! We all love you to pieces! Also your excellent liturgical timing strikes again, because it’s courage season with all those English martyrs having their feast days this week! You’re so smart I never read this blog before because it’s all over my head! Great things are yet to come from you! Sorry atheists, it was fun while it lasted, but now you lost the brain and the gig is up!

            On the other hand you never were a real atheist and now you’re not a real Christian either! Deep down you always wanted to kill your rationality and now you found an excuse to kill it! But then it zombified for some over-analysis that is clearly incompatible with a simple heart-felt faith! Which isn’t so bad because we only want you to become child-like because we’re all child-molesters! Either that or the metaphysical backsliding thing is true and you now get to fulfill you’re most certain moral intuition, which is that African children should be struck with AIDS!

  • PJ


    I don’t mean to answer for Leah, nor to insult her, but prayer is a spiritual discipline. It takes much striving and self-denial. It is communion grounded in intimate love of God: directed toward the Father through the Word by the Spirit. One grows into it slowly, sometimes painstakingly. Leah is like a newborn babe. Newborn babes do not speak fluently to their fathers upon hitting daylight. Similarly, one matures in prayer. It is a process. The fathers and mothers of the church write extensively on prayer: they testify that prayer is a battle for the heart, an uphill ascent toward the Holy and Infinite God. Without the Spirit, nobody would get past Base Camp 1. “Difficult” is the name of the game. There is an old saying, “Prayer is a struggle to a man’s dying breath.”

    St. Macarius wrote, “The heart itself is but a small vessel, yet dragons are there, and there are also lions; there are poisonous beasts and all the treasures of evil. But there too is God, the angels, the life and the kingdom, the light and the apostles, the heavenly cities and the treasuries of grace—all things are there.”

    Fr. Stephen Freeman wrote, “Most important to me as I think on this topic is the true nature of prayer and communion with God. Prayer will not be a habit so long as it seems a laborious activity that we carry out because we “ought to.” This is the thought of a slave and not a son. Until we come to know God as our Father we will not be able to pray in such a way that it can become our true life. This is a gift of grace, a kindness from God. If you pray like a slave, then ask for the gift to pray like a son. God is a good God and wishes to free us from slavery and adopt us as His children.”

    Just sayin’.

    • Charles

      So what you seem to be saying is that it will always remain obtuse to an outsider?

      • Charles

        I can tell you that I rather like the podcast, but its more about self examination than thanks to God, which obviously comes a lot easier to one who doesnt believe!

      • Charles, if you’re interested and have never read, I’d recommend taking a look at the works of St. John of the Cross (Ascent of Mount Carmel) and St. Teresa of Avila (Interior Castles/Mansions). Prayer is designed to be contemplative, a state of love, and thus is impossible for the non-praying to understand (I know from experience). It’s St. John who describes the union with God as a fire, and that meeting is impossible to describe without allegory — the Lord consumes the person, dwells in them, makes them perfect, in fire. What you might find interesting is that each of these writers will note that such a state of prayer is impossible for the person to attain; it’s a plane onto which only God can draw a person. Not one of us could bring ourselves into a level of such “psychological phenomenon,” no matter how much we tried. It’s the reason why such prayer has consistently manifested only among the Church’s greatest mystics — and its most hidden saints.

        • Charles

          I have never read either, but obviously am familiar with both by name. I will read one and get back to you, now where is my kindle…..

          I can tell you that sometimes I wonder if I am just left in a permanent Dark Night of The Soul 🙂

      • WSquared

        Yes, and no. Rather, that everybody’s got to start somewhere, and it takes baby steps. I’m a revert (which means that yeah, you can have been a cradle Catholic, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that you know anything at all, due to either bad catechesis or falling out of practice, or both). So what PJ describes is spot on. Furthermore, St. Francis of Assisi said something along the lines that the saint first learns to pray badly so as to learn to pray or the first time.

        Also, unless you actually do pray, and/or pray in a particular manner, then you’re going to be rather on the outside looking in. You might know some externals from observation, but intimate details? Not necessarily. Here, some of the usual Protestant criticisms of the Rosary being “vain repetition” and the like come to mind, whereby I would counter that repetition is good for meditative rhythm, and it teaches you to pray rightly (as such, tying it in with what some people have said about rote, and not making it up as you go along) and also persistently. But you wouldn’t really know that intimately if you didn’t do it on a regular basis.

        In addition, the Rosary is often described as “to Jesus through Mary,” wherein one is praying *through* Mary, asking her to help us see and love Christ with her perfect faith (seeing as one prays with each decade for the virtues to make this possible). If the pure in heart are blessed, for they shall see God, think of what an immaculate heart can see. So the Rosary does draw you into a rhythm– one that belongs to Our Lady, and not to us, and one which is ultimately about Christ. Thinking about it this way, it’s a reminder that prayer is intimate, certainly. But it is not All About Us.

        I can honestly say that I did not know any of that until I started praying it on a regular basis, because I did not know how to make certain connections.

  • I love the Lorica of Saint Patrick, and the litany at the end especially – so much that I embroidered it on the breast of my son’s baptismal gown. Your mathematical way is just as cromulent as the extremely Irish nature of the original, but I do think Saint Patrick quite capable of rejoicing in the physics of creation, once he learnt them.

    But I like the liturgy of the hours just because it’s beautiful. Even if I had an easy time thinking of what to say in prayer, I would gravitate towards the LotH, just because it’s beautiful. After a few steady months, bits of the psalms are starting to be incorporated in my running background internal monologue. It is an unexpected refreshment.

  • I can’t find it now, but Maimonides has something similar to say on the nature of liturgical codification.

  • Ted Seeber

    Love it- but if you get to deep into the oneness of three and end up walking on the sea shore, you might want to have a chat with any strange children you find. (Ref. St. Augustine and the child trying to empty the sea with a cup).

  • Jared

    “Christ above me, Christ below me,
    Christ within me, Christ beside me,
    Christ when I rise up, and Christ when I lie down,
    Christ in three-space, Christ in tiny rolled up dimensions where gravity lives”

    And, that may be the best thing I’m going to read today. I’m a lifelong Catholic, and I too struggle with making up my own prayers that don’t suck. I have several friends in seminary who are suddenly good at it though, so it seems to key is praying a lot. (Or they have secret priest-to-be classes on good spontaneous prayer)

  • Slan21

    Math is indeed cool, but i’m feeling uncomfortable with the new language you’re using…
    And the christian fan club is all over the place in the comments. Noooooooooo !! :p
    I’m still looking forward for the answers you promised.
    Btw, a question i’d like to ask to some believers :
    How important are the details of your theology, the rituals, the small weird alleged facts your religion endorse ? If they’re not, why believe in them and why shouldn’t you throw them away ?
    I guess it rejoins the previously asked (but not answered yet) question of why not a “nicer” religion than catholicism, why not some form of deism, why accepting something much larger than the independence of morality, which seems to be what brought you there.

    • A couple weak hints at answers because I’m short on time but interested by your questions:

      About the importance of “details of your theology,” I’m persuaded by CS Lewis’s (I think it was his) observation that the weird details of theology actually make a strong case for that theology’s being true. To make an analogy to physical science: If I were to design the solar system, for instance, I’d make the planets’ orbits circular and regularly spaced. But it’s more complicated than that in real life. There’s order there, but it’s order among a lot of moving parts that seem “weird” because we don’t hold all the truths in our head. (And, I’d add, that seem less weird [but not less cool] the more we learn about them.) Likewise, if I were going to make up my own religion it’d be a lot less messy with weird details than Christianity is. The analogy doesn’t prove anything, of course, but it points out that the weirdness of any given faith doesn’t prove anything either and that a too-neat religion might be something to be wary of.

      Also, without knowing what you have in mind, and speaking just in terms of Roman Catholicism, a lot of the “weird” stuff is no more crucial to the faith than the arrangement of the solar system. Particular Marian apparitions, for instance: If they lead one to God and don’t lead one to contradict core teaching of the faith, cool. If they don’t do anything for ya, you’re under no obligation to care.

      I’d also say that posing the question in terms of theology (if “theology” means a systematic way of talking about God) occludes an important point about Christianity (a point missed by much of western Christianity, too, but that’s another discussion): Christian prayer is not fundamentally an intellectual/verbal exercise. When we pray, we’re not *just* thinking our thoughts toward God, but (should ideally be) praying with our whole bodies because we are our bodies (and our minds). Speaking as a rhetorician, it’s pretty widely understood that we humans know and identify not solely through our minds but also through our bodies and actions and environments. Hence the eastern Christian maxim, “The one who prays is a theologian.”

      Like I said, not fully developed answers, but lunch break’s over.

    • KL

      Well, you’ll have to get a little more specific than that! What do you mean by “details of your theology, the rituals, the small weird alleged facts your religion endorse”? What may appear to be inconsequential details may in fact be bound up quite tightly in someone’s or some religion’s theology — or they might not! Could you give an example or two of what you have in mind? (In other words, are we talking about, say, the ritual of the Mass, or the ritual of praying to St. Anthony to find something lost?)

  • Mike Silva

    “God is Truth, so he totally shares your delight in these things. In fact, he delights in your delight and would love to draw you further up and further in to contemplate and be changed by higher truths in math and in everything else.”

    You got it exactly right. God, who is the source of all that is true/good/beautiful, delights in all that is true/good/beautiful, and he delights in our delight in the true/good/beautiful. Many thumbs up!

  • Pascale

    Ugh… I just don’t GET this.

    I can’t help but feel like you’re taking yourself too seriously. You do still believe in evolution right? We’re primates, wearing clothing and watching television, loving, exploring etc; hurtling through an indifferent flat universe! Why the need for supernaturalism? Why not meditation addressed at the concept of morality or infinity? why label anything as God? I really don’t understand the conversion… Every time you talk about it I feel like your ideas are wrapped up in confusing, vague language; not anchored to anything at all… just floating words. I am dissapoint.

    • Ted Seeber

      “We’re primates, wearing clothing and watching television, loving, exploring etc; hurtling through an indifferent flat universe! Why the need for supernaturalism?”

      To a theistic evolutionist- EVERYTHING you just referenced IS supernaturalism (in that it is a part of the uniquely human experience that animals do not share, even when they’re smarter than we are like dolphins and cephalopods).

      But then again to a theistic evolutionist, supernaturalism is just what some atheists call quantum mechanics- and it underlies the natural world so completely that the natural world is just an illusion.

      • deiseach

        The universe is flat? I’m shocked!

        (Seriously, never heard that one before). So we don’t live on a flat earth but we do live in a flat universe – how does that work? What is the definition of ‘flat’ here – that it’s only a certain thickness or the way you go all the way round and end up back where you started?

        • Julie42

          They don’t mean literally flat. It’s an imperfect attempt to describe the structure of the universe. For instance, one possible universe would be a spherical universe. It would not be spherical in the sense that it would be shaped like a sphere, but that it is infinite because it is connected to itself. Like the earth, in a spherical universe you could travel in one direction and eventually come back to where you started. We live in a “flat” universe, meaning that if you traveled in one direction, you would always be getting farther from where you started. You would eventually reach the edge, just like you could reach the edge of the world if it were flat.

          • Ray

            That’s not quite the right description of spatial flatness — What you’re describing is the universe’s topology (which could in theory be closed, even if the universe was flat — e.g. the average curvature of the surface of a donut is zero also.) The real definition of spatial flatness — and how it’s measured in practice: If the universe is flat, an object that is twice as far away will look twice as small. If the universe is positively curved, the object will appear slightly larger than it should, if the universe is negatively curved, it will appear slightly smaller.

            Also, a reference is probably helpful for pointing out that spatial curvature is on the less speculative end of cosmology, where you can actually measure stuff:


      • SouthernRob

        Quantum mechanics comes from observations and a testable theory about those observations. Supernaturalism is the opposite of that. As Pascale said, it seems ungrounded and “floaty” to me, to believe that this amazing universe must be an illusion on top of something more real. Something that really just wants to have a conversation with you…and somehow chooses the most error-prone method possible. To me, it seems selfish to be so dissatisfied with this life. To quote St Dawkins,

        “We are going to die, and that makes us the lucky ones. Most people are never going to die because they are never going to be born. The potential people who could have been here in my place but who will in fact never see the light of day outnumber the sand grains of Arabia. Certainly those unborn ghosts include greater poets than Keats, scientists greater than Newton. We know this because the set of possible people allowed by our DNA so massively exceeds the set of actual people. In the teeth of these stupefying odds it is you and I, in our ordinariness, that are here.”

    • Mike Silva

      “Why the need for supernaturalism?”

      Only one good reason, of course: If it’s all true. It’s ridiculous to believe in God if he doesn’t exist, and tragic to not believe in him if he does.

      • Actually . . . I dunno if it’s ridiculous to believe in God if he doesn’t exist. I don’t think it’s ridiculous for an existential nihilist to say, “There is no meaning in the universe, but humans, and I with them, choose to make our own meaning, and that’s enough for me.” I find that beautiful and noble. I think I feel the same way about believing in God even if he doesn’t exist.

  • PJ

    “We’re primates, wearing clothing and watching television, loving, exploring et”

    The irony of this sentence is delicious. Yes, we’re just animals … with television … and novels … and opera … and space shuttles … and penicillin … and skyscrapers … and sculpture … and nuclear weapons … and poems … hmm.

    Shaved chimps indeed. We are so utterly unlike any other animal, it’s incredible. The fact that we’re almost genetically identical to the various beasts makes the vast chasm even more peculiar.

    Let me propose an answer:

    “God created mankind in His own image,
    in the image of God He created them;
    male and female He created them.”

    No, I’m not a creationist. I believe in evolution, to some degree or another, but the Breath of God is within us.

    • Mike R

      For me , finally beginning to understand the beautiful elegance of the Theory of Evolution helped me feel truly connected to all other life on the planet, despite the underlying brutal indifference of its mechanism. But the ToE also exposes the hubris of inventing an anthropomorphic God and the elevation of our species to its most special status.

      • Geoffrey

        But outside of Christian thought, and monotheisms similar to it, why is hubris a bad thing?

      • PJ

        God is not “anthropomorphic.” It is a basic tenet of Catholic theology that God’s essence is utterly unknowable. St. John of Damascus wrote that God is, “[I]ncognisable, indefinable, incomprehensible … Neither do we know, nor can we tell, what the essence of God is … It is not within our capacity, therefore, to say anything about God or even to think of Him, beyond the things which have been divinely revealed to us, whether by word or by manifestation, by the divine oracles at once of the Old Testament and of the New.”

        He also wrote, “God then is infinite and incomprehensible, and all that is comprehensible about Him is His infinity and incomprehensibility. All that we can say cataphatically concerning God does not show forth His nature but the things that relate to his nature. God does not belong to the class of existing things: not that He has not existence, but that He is above all existing things, nay even above existence itself. For if all forms of knowledge have to do with what exists, assuredly that which is above knowledge must certainly be also above essence (huper ousian); and conversely, that which is above essence will also be above knowledge.”

        The “divine oracles” themselves are the products of Divine condescension, said St. John Chrysostom. They are meant to give us a peek, a glance, a look.

        Maximus the Confessor went so far as to declare, “God is everything and beyond everything.”

        These are radical statements and can only be understood with much prayer and study. But what’s evident is that we worship not a man-like God. Were it not for love, what could possibly bind us?

        • Mike R

          So we are created in the image of something with a completely unknowable essence? Has the Church identified the special properties of human sapiens that actually are reflections of real and knowable properties of God?

          • God is not a “something”.

          • PJ


            Christ is the Image, the Icon, of the unknown Father. We were created after His likeness, to live and love as He did. Indeed, through the mysteries we become one with Christ: we become part of His Body, the Church, “which filleth all in all.”

          • KL

            Sure — things like free will, the capacity to love/be in relationship, and an existence that transcends the material, for starters.

    • Lane

      “We are so utterly unlike any other animal, it’s incredible.”

      Unlike any other animal currently alive, that is. How about ones that are extinct? You may want to look into the evolution of human culture and intelligence, because the answer looks more like this:

      “Early bipedal hominids emerged around 7 million years ago. Over millions of years, hominids and early humans of greater brain size and more sophisticated tool-making abilities evolved, including Neanderthals, which first appeared around 600,000 years ago and eventually developed the capacity for making and controlling fire, cooking food, building dwellings, ritualistic behavior such as burial rights, language, and possibly art, demonstrating the capacity for abstract thought and rudimentary logic. Anatomically modern humans came around 200,000 years ago and were similar enough to Neanderthals to interbreed with them until their extinction 25,000 years ago.”

      After approximately 150,000 years, humans had evolved most of the hallmarks of modern culture. 40,000 years later, agriculture. 7,000 years after that, written language. Then philosophy, the scientific method, mathematics, etc., all leading to the incredible technological innovations you see today.”

      It’s not so incredible after all. Just a logical progression supported by evidence.

      • deiseach

        “It’s not so incredible after all. Just a logical progression supported by evidence.”

        Which is why there are hundreds of species of beetles, fish, trees, etc. but only one of us since the Neanderthals died out. Maybe we did kill off our competition, but why then do we have sub-species of gorillas, etc. instead of having just one species of primate in every niche? I could see the argument if there were three species of the genus Homo still surviving, and I could see the argument if each species of animal, plant and so forth killed off or supplanted its competing rivals so that there were only daisies growing in a pasture (not daisies and buttercups and birds’ eye speedwell and so forth), but the diversity of all other creatures and our singularity is odd.

        • Maureen

          And we’d expect there to be tiny little cockroach civilizations with tiny little televisions and poems.

          And actually, we do probably expect that, in the back of our minds, which is why fairy tale talking animals and e.e. cummings’ archy and mehitabel are so popular with so many humans. Being alone among the animals is kind of weird and uncomfortable. 🙂

        • SouthernRob

          I don’t see why our singular survival among other homos should be odd. It just is. It’s the way things turned out. Why should it imply anything mystical? This reminds me of people who believe that a parking spot opening up right when they need it is a sign of God’s concern (that one time it actually happened out of all the times they needed it to happen).

  • I’m sure I’m just displaying my mathematical ignorance here (never studied past calculus 1), but I’ve always struggled with the idea of “tiny rolled-up dimensions.” I’ve always thought of a dimension as a direction in which something can move or be extended. Is that not how “dimension” is meant in this context? Can you point me to a resource where I can learn about these dimensions … that won’t require a math degree before I start?

    Also, if gravity lives in these dimensions, is gravity animate? personal? a manifestation of God? According to Catholic theology, I think this would verge on panentheism … buy my sci-fi mind is loving the possibilities implied by the phrase.

    Keep praying! You’re in my prayers, for whatever they’re worth.

    • Stupid typo: “BUT my sci-fi mind…”

      *Psigh!* If only I had something worth advertising for sale!

      • Tom B

        Don’t know much more myself except that it’s a part of “string theory”, you might search that on the internet. As for pan-theism, it’s only pan-theism if you view the physical universe as the totality of God. God is infinite, the universe though very large is finite; ergo, the universe can only be an infinitesimal part of God. But, part of God it is, or else it couldn’t exist.

    • Julie42

      Like you, I don’t have much understanding of mathematics or the equations involved in this. I just watch a lot of documentaries where they explain these things to average people. Excuse me if this isn’t 100% accurate.
      Think of walking on a wire. It seems as though you are traveling in one dimension; a line. You can go back and forth in this dimension, but you cannot go up or down or from side to side. But the wire is actually a 3D object. You’re just unable to access those other dimensions. So the idea is that there are the three dimensions of space that we can easily see. There is the dimension of time which we feel and can measure. But there could be other dimensions that exist, but we don’t know about them because we only know how to see the first four dimensions. We can’t detect them because we don’t even know what they would look like if we found them because we’ve never traveled in these dimensions before.

      • Julie42

        Gravity might work in one of these dimensions because it exerts force on things from a distance and we don’t understand how yet.

    • Try Brian Greene’s The Elegant Universe.

    • Neal

      If you zoom in close enough, what you can see of the space looks like a tiny ball of some number of dimensions. For example, zoom in very close to the surface of a garden hose. What you can see looks like a little disc. Now zoom back out a little. Suddenly, what you can see wraps up on itself: you can see yourself from behind. A dimensions is “tiny rolled up” if, anywhere in the space you go, you can only zoom out a little bit before what you see is no longer a disc in some direction.

  • Geoffrey

    Truth is completely simple but entirely hard to explain unless the person you’re talking to has direct experience. God, Math, Morality–they all describe aspects of Reality that our mind abstracts from the whole; each term merely places a different emphasis on the same Entity. It might help to realize that our Lord, properly understood, does not serve as an explanation for the order of the universe; he IS the Order of the Universe, which in turn serves as the foundational explanation for our own being and behavior and that of everything else in our world. Whether acknowledged or not, science presupposes God, in particular his immutability, and uses him to anchor its authority (Why does gravity work? Because of the Law, which was, and is, and ever shall be, through which we move and breathe and have our being).

    Leah’s conversion hinges upon her recognition of personal attributes within this Universal Order. The logic really isn’t that difficult to follow: we are personal beings, governed by Order, whence Order has a personal character. Otherwise, how could we possibly be governed by the same Law as the rest of the universe? It wouldn’t make any sense at all.

    • Contrarian

      The logic really isn’t that difficult to follow: we are personal beings, governed by Order, whence Order has a personal character. Otherwise, how could we possibly be governed by the same Law as the rest of the universe? It wouldn’t make any sense at all.

      This isn’t logic at all. You seem to be trying to argue by contradiction, but you haven’t made any deductions from your stated hypotheses, let alone arrived at an absurdity! I presume (hope!) that Leah’s conversion hinges upon an actual argument, rather than pseudo-logical incoherence.

  • hp

    I’ve enjoyed reading your posts and find my fellow Christians many recommendations for how to grow in your Faith – interesting to read and sometimes entertaining (probably the wrong word). We all have a devotion or sacrament that is particularly dear and want you to have the same. Fortunately for me- I have a fondness for St Patrick’s Breastplate. So I am happy to hear you are praying it regularly. When I coached my daughters sports teams – they went to St Patricks school – we would say the “Christ above me, Christ below me…..” part as a group prayer before each game. Each girl would say a phrase as we went around the huddle. I let them ad lib and thought I heard the gamut- “Christ in the scoreboard, Christ in the other team, Christ in the referee ….” I never heard something as abstract as Christ in tiny rolled up dimensions where gravity lives. Maybe because that was grade school.

    • leahlibresco

      How delightful!

  • I pledge allegiance to evolution
    of the biological diversity on earth,
    and to the theistic guidance from which it evolved,
    one DNA under God, cellularly divisible,
    with allopatric speciation and adenine triphosphate for all.

  • lethargic

    “Christ in three-space, Christ in tiny rolled up dimensions where gravity lives”

    Love it! I wonder about my mental picture of God chuckling at us so-sophisticated humans trying to figure out multi-dimensional physics or whatnot from inside our little pigeonhole of Creation … He invented it all, after all, and maybe some of it just for grins, and why not … it’s killin’ my atheist wannabe-physicist son … *grin*

  • jen

    I very HIGHLY recommend “The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Prayer” because it talks about what prayer IS and what it ISN’T and goes through everything related to it. I’ve been a Christian of varying traditions for 17 years now (converted in high school) and I find it incredibly helpful even now. The prayers are from the Episcopal Book of Common Prayer but they translate over to Catholicism nicely and they give you 30 days of Morning Prayer so you can get used to it.

    I love the Lorica of St. Patrick (aka the Breastplate). The whole thing is at

    • Dave

      “The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Prayer”
      A very appropriate name for a book about prayer.

      • GKC

        I think St. Augustine would agree, actually.

        If you can fit the concept of prayer in your mind, then you probably don’t understand it.

  • Andrew

    Leah – this prayer is actually perfectly aligned with a mathematical approach to praying. To understand the request of this prayer, we recognize God’s position surrounding us and at the same “time” being outside of our physical boundaries. CS Lewis drew the comparison of an author to a character is a story – knowing the character fully and not living on the character’s time. But mathematically speaking we can draw a comparison to the constraints of the inhabitants of Abbot’s two dimensional Flatland. Bound by just two dimensions their understanding of an extra-dimensional object was incredibly limited. And an entity existing in any additional dimensions unknowingly can surround each being (both from the inside and out).

    This prayer asks God to surround us. And math lets us understand. The mathematician fully understands that the hyper-dimensional Being is able to surround, contain, protect and know each of us completely.

  • Tom B

    I’m an architect and long thought: if ever called on to do an inter-faith prayer space, I’d cover the walls in mathematical equations like the hieroglyphs on ancient temples. That would seem to express the Divine in a non-sectarian way.
    As to prayer I’d only through out there, that I often force myself to pray for one hour. I’m a bit given to A.A.D., so I run out of anything to ‘say’ after about 10 minutes. Then my mind wonders; I refocus; it wanders again; I refocus again. But it’s after that, the interesting stuff starts to happen.

  • Oh my. It’s gotten so busy over here in the comment section since you announced your Catholic possibilities…But I like this post, so very you and God. He certainly meets all our personalities in our own ways. And very impressed that you’re praying the Liturgy of the Hours already: I’ve never done that and I’m a pretty big practicing Catholic. I do, however, know the St. Pat prayer. And I love it.

  • Leah, my heart rejoices for you. I’ll pray for you.

    You’re, obviously, quite the intellectual, which I love and admire (though we’re on two totally different planes here). The book that really solidified my interest in and passion for the affective sphere of faith and prayer was THE FULFILLMENT OF ALL DESIRE by Ralph Martin. He offers a marvelous arch for the beginner. (And, remember, the Spirit always intercedes for us.)

    Two others I think you’d love: THE SPIIRT OF THE LITURGY by Ratzinger and I BELIEVE IN LOVE by Fr. Jean d’Elbee. And Chesterton; Chesterton, always.

    • “I Believe In Love” is marvelous!

  • PJ Jedlovec

    Haha, great post! God is the ground and origin of all mathematics, so there is no reason we shouldn’t bring math to prayer and prayer to math!
    If you are looking for a good Catholic book on prayer, Time for Prayer by Jacques Philippe is a great choice:
    One of the things that he points out is that almost everyone considers themselves to be bad at praying. But in a sense, there is no such thing as “bad” prayer. If you stick to prayer and are faithful, you have already won the battle.
    Also, a good fail-safe when you don’t know what to do is to pray “Come Holy Spirit, teach me how to pray.” God will provide from there.

    • SouthernRob

      “God is the ground and origin of all mathematics”

      That was somehow omitted from calculus courses I took.

  • PJ Jedlovec

    Also, Mass and Eucharistic adoration are great prayer aids, especially for the intellectual type. One of the greatest minds in history, Thomas Aquinas, would get a lot of his greatest insights during Eucharistic adoration.

    • WSquared

      Well, the Mass and Eucharistic Adoration are focused on the Source and Summit of the Christian life, after all. 🙂 Wasn’t Aquinas also the one who learned so much merely from looking at the Crucifix?

  • Leah,

    Ever since I heard about this blog and your conversion (which I heard about yesterday on the Catholic News Agency website) I have been on cloud 9, and I am completely in awe of what you write here -I was going to say smitten by, but that would imply way more than I’m allowed to imply as a Jesuit brother!!-. I don’t understand a lot of it. I myself am only starting my formation in theology, and am doing no philosophy at all, so there’s a lot of concepts and ideas expressed by you or others that I really don’t get..but I love what’s happening here. I love that you’ve created a space for dialogue that is respectful and amicable -most of the time. I assume it is at least!!-. I love that you’re so open about your struggle and so eager to share it with us. I’ve shared this website to as many of my Jesuit brothers and lay friends as I could…you’re an inspiration my dear. Thank you so much.

    My own brief response to your post today is what you’ve already concluded: God is in all things. Math formulas, people, creation, whatever…S/he is alive and thriving in us, and through us, through the way we receive the world. So forget Screwtape. (Lewis wasn’t even a Catholic anyway :p) Go with your gut instinct. That would be the spirit at work in you. Let it work. Let it bring you closer to God. etc etc…
    Thanks again for this wonderful page. You’ve absolutely made my week!

  • Clark

    When you seek to talk with God, he is willing and pleased to hear you, no matter what is on your mind. God is a loving creator. I think of your earlier remark, “Morality loves me.”

    A suggestion of a prayer type is found in Psalm 1, verse 2: “But his delight is in the law of the LORD, and on his law he meditates day and night.” That Hebrew word translated as “meditate” can also be rendered as “softly spoken,” sort of a sotto voce to our Creator. Toward this end, you might memorize a few verses to contemplate softly aloud during the day. Its similar to the way God answered his prophets of old; “a still, small voice.” 1 Kings 19:11-13.

  • Joelle Townsend

    I simply attend a non denominational church…and am quite the intellectual as well. I read your posts and feel your struggle 🙂 I grew up in faith, however due to various intellectual battles, had left to just come back around again in the last year or two…I am not Catholic and so memorizing prayers/liturgy may not be apart of my discipleship, per se, however, I do know we worship the same Jesus 🙂 How sweet this Man is…and how sweet is Our Father. I pray protection over your heart and mind over the coming years…and please know, above all else, He knows your thoughts and very words before you even have a chance to mutter a breath. I find prayer to be ultimately a communion with Him…sometimes I don’t have to say anything…I just sit and listen. He speaks in spirit and quietness to me, which speaks so much louder than words. Know that you can come to Our Father, through Jesus,…openly and just EXACTLY the way you are:) Intellectual and all…He loves every bit of you and your awesome mind. Blessings and peace to you, my sister.

  • Cynthia Lauren Thorpe

    Dear Leah.

    I saw a little article about ‘your conversion’ (read: your new RELATIONSHIP) and I was simply thrilled.

    After a bit of searching, I’ve found your blog and read several of your ‘conversations’ and can say with TOTAL CONFIDENCE that we are ‘indeed’ sisters – and I’ll be thinking of you and lifting you up in prayer as you now embark on your journey with our Savior and KING.

    Being with HIM has been a thrilling ride for me since August 7th of 1990 – and I can assure you that keeping your eyes focused on Christ – rather than anyone else – will be to your maximum benefit and blessing. (He’s NEVER – not once, not EVER) let me down and He loves you just as much, darling ‘thinker’.

    Cynthia Lauren Thorpe
    Believer in Kingston SE, South Australia

  • Scott Taylor

    Pour your heart out to God daily when you pray. Bring to him your every request, every worry, every frustration, every joy, every mistake, and every thanks to him. Even if you are mad at God, let him know.

  • eva

    •”In my charismatic retreats, the majority of the participants come with various moral, spiritual, mental and physical problems in order to be liberated and healed and to have a new life through the power of the Holy Spirit. With all sincerity of heart I will say, 80 to 90 % of the participants had been to YOGA, Reiki, reincarnation, etc of the Eastern religious practices where they lost faith in Jesus Christ and the Church.
    •In Croatia, Bosnia, Germany, Austria and Italy I had clear instances where individuals who were possessed with the powers of darkness cried out “I am Reiki”, “I am Mr. Yoga”, identifying themselves to these concepts as persons while I was conducting prayers of healing for them. Later, I had to pray over them by the prayer of deliverance to liberate them from the evil possessions.”

    (Father JAMES MANJACKAL Catholic priest-exorcist)

  • A lot of my prayers really stink.

    Sometimes I’m only into it a minute or two before my mind starts to wander and the prayer…just fades away.
    So I try to keep ’em short and sweet. Sometimes, as Scott said above, I yell at Him. But not too often.
    I love it that the Holy Spirit intercedes for us in our prayers, because as St. Paul reminds us, “we don’t pray as we ought.”

    Great post! Thank you.

  • Brunoosb

    I am glad to hear of your beginning conversion. it is not a one-shot deal but a lifelong process of “Conversatio Morum Suorum”. If you would like to learn more about the Liturgy of the Hours, here is a good link:
    It is one of the most extensive collection of print and online resources available online. I think you mentioned being in DC somewhere. You might want to look up St. Anselm’s Benedictine monastery:
    It might be a good place for a retreat for you, and you can participate in the monastic chant.

  • Tina


  • Sheryl

    Dear Leah,

    When a priest friend shared your story, I was so happy that I looked you up right away. I was born and raised Catholic. Like most other people, I just went to Mass because my parents told me it was our obligation to God and of course I rebelled against that. I thought, if God was everywhere and in all things, why the need to go to a physical church? And why would we need salvation if God’s love was unconditional. These were a few of the things I struggled with.

    Then in high school, I had this very weird experience. Weird but extremely happy. I was at Mass with my family and then when we started praying “Ama Namin” (the Lord’s Prayer), I felt like I was raised out of myself. I saw everyone singing and I was part of it and at the same time above it, like I was seeing clearly for the first time. There was this incredible happiness that bubbled from within me and I remember crying. I know that loving “thy neighbor” seems so unreal but at that moment that was how I felt. It lasted just for a few minutes but that experience stays with me to this day.

    But the experience unfortunately did not settle my questions on faith. In college I started reading about different world religions. Buddhism. Hinduism. Islam. Other Christian faiths. I thought I’d get the best each religion offered and create a sort of personal religion for myself. I thought I was not religious, I was “spiritual”. I thought little of religious people, the ones who pray the rosary, the ones who said novenas, the ones who went to confession. I mocked them and I felt intellectually superior. I thought my faith was actually stronger than everybody else’s.

    For so many years (since I was a child in fact), I struggled with hypochondria. It was just something I had accepted. It didn’t seem like too big of a deal because I had been functioning well. I had a company of my own that was doing well. I had a happy marriage, happy kids. So I just accepted that even if I suffered from hypochondria, I was generally in a good place. I got interested in things “new age”. In all my searching, my predominant feeling was that of pride, a sense of being in a better place than people who had “blind faith”. But then my hypochondria got worse. Finally I told my parents when I visited them in Canada that perhaps I needed to see a therapist to help me with it but they said that there is no better therapist than God and no better therapy than faith. My mom has been going to daily Mass for so long. I envied her “blind faith” for the first time. I wished that I had that same certainty.

    When I got back to the Philippines, we were met with some very disturbing news. Our maid died and other maids said it was witchcraft. I don’t usually believe in such things but she had been taken to numerous doctors and specialists at the new Medical City and Cardinal Santos and the doctors couldn’t tell what was wrong with her. She just slowly died. It could have been any of a number of illnesses but during that time, it felt like our home was touched by evil. I went to confession for the first time in 10 years because I felt vulnerable. I remembered a priest saying that when evil threatens, the first thing you had to do was to go to confession. My first confession was liberating. I didn’t know I had such big baggage on me.

    Perhaps at the right time, God calls us in His own ways which are mysterious and varied. It was fear that led my to God. Fear of death, fear of evil. And some may mock that I know. But fear quickly turned to love as I continued going to Mass. I bought iMissal, an iphone application that allows me to read along with the readings at Mass (and I realized that the readings are as true now as they were during the time of their writing.) I fell in love with God. The more I read, the deeper I fell. I didn’t know it was possible for me to love God more than my husband or children but placing God above all in my life just increased my capacity to love my family. I love them now more than ever because it is with a love that is supernatural, a love that comes from God. Needless to say, the hypochondria is all gone, like it was just a bad dream.

    Now I volunteer at our parish to teach catechism to teenagers. I think the desire to serve God comes naturally after falling in love with God. Perhaps your writing is to be your service.

    If you like to read, I would suggest Introduction to the Devout Life by St. Francis Sales. This was recommended to me by a bishop friend. I love my ipad apps because they’re just really handy. You could get iPieta, a collection of readings on doctrine and spirituality by different doctors of the church. There are a gazillion ebooks in it that each cost at least $7 if you buy them on amazon but this app gives them all to you free when you buy the iPieta app which is something like 2 dollars I think. I also highly recommend reading The Interior Castle by St. Teresa of Avila which is not an app but you can get the book in Fully Bookd. You will love it I think. It’s been instrumental in my growth. I would also recommend reading on the mystical saints of the Catholic Church. Reading about them has really strengthened my faith as well because you discover that God isn’t just a concept. He is a living God and the more you learn about Him, the more you would grow in reverence and love for Him.

    I will pray for you as you are in a unique position to influence others. I thank God for you. 🙂

    God bless always.


  • Elizabeth Scalia

    Leah, these folks would understand you perfectly, and they are a very varied lot in terms of class, education, etc…

  • John Z


    As an astrophysicist and a Christian, I gotta say I love this. I was floored by it, actually. I think I’m going to have to digest it more, to see what else God may be trying to say to me through it.

    And that’s the encouragement I want to leave with you… that though you have just started on this journey of faith with Jesus Christ, that God is already using you to speak his truth to others. Specifically, you’re reminding us that God calls us to himself exactly as we are, and speaks directly to us in the language that we need to hear him in, because he made us and knows how we tick, and delights in it greatly.

    • Jason B

      I’m a geologist, and I admire physicists which drew me into your comment. What caused me to respond here is the certainty with which you speak about a god, and a god of a specific religion. For example: “God is using you”, “he delights in it greatly”. He does? How do you ‘know’ this? 900 children die every hour on this planet. That’s 15 kids and babies every minute. There is a child in agony, dying, literally every second of the day, always. We are no better or more important than they are. They don’t feel less pain, or dream smaller dreams than we do. It seems I’ll never quite understand how someone like yourself , an astrophysicist who’s used to working around the weaknesses of his own limited human intuitions, can make sense out of and believe: 1) that an intervening or caring god exists in the first place 2) that stories of one particular religion are somehow unquestionably true, and 3) that God is “delighted” by something so trivial as us talking to him, or somehow “hearing” him, when at the *exact* same time -every second of the day- children are in agony, with no one saving them in their last seconds of life (not to mention the grief their families are going through. Many of whom, I’m sure, praying harder than we’ve probably ever prayed). And to speak about all of it with such certainty, as if skepticism is useless, is what floors me. We don’t even know what dark matter is, but you ‘know’ what God likes? I apologize for the long response. I’m just very curious.

  • Stephen Sparrow

    Well Leah, I’m late, very late in the congratulation stakes. Only the practising Catholic knows what it’s like to be Catholic – so now you know. In my now extensive experience with Atheists I’m convinced of one thing – there are none – merely folk who say “no”. As St Anselm says, it is impossible for the human mind to conceive of “no thing” – nothing. Welcome aboard & be prepared to be dismayed with many of your crew mates 😉

  • John Siegrist

    Hello Leah,
    As for your difficulties in prayer, it is only natural that that happens at first. However, if you persist in seeking God whole-heartedly, you will find Him.

  • My advice would be, when you pray, don’t talk too much. Try to listen.

  • Veronica

    “Christ in three-space, Christ in tiny rolled up dimensions where gravity lives”
    This is wonderful! I’m sure God and St. Patrick smiled in delight at your version of the Breastplate.

  • matt


    can you recommend a resource for learning to pray the Liturgy of the Hours? i want to, but i am not quite sure how to start.


  • Bryan

    I’ve read or heard the following idea on how to pray without liturgy, while still maintaining the correct focus. I am totally plagiarizing, and since I don’t remember where this came from, forgive me for failing to give proper credit…

    The idea follows the acronym ACTS

    Accolades – Start by glorifying God simply for who He is, not just because of what he does. In other words, don’t praise him because He saved your soul (at least not yet), simply praise Him for being Him. Give Him His just reverence as the Great I AM. He Is and therefore deserves your praise and glorification. Tell him how rad He is and how you feel about that.

    Confession – This is fairly self-explanatory, but many people don’t take this part seriously enough, I think. It simply means to acknowledge that you are sinful and distasteful in God’s eyes and that you are completely unworthy of the Grace and Mercy God grants you. This is foundational to salvation by faith, you first have to admit that you are unworthy and incapable of self-saving by acknowledging that God has total reign and that without the sanctification of Christ’s death, you can’t enter Heaven, no matter how good you think you are. Be specific about where you continually stumble (if you have a persistent hang-up); be specific about one-offs and new sin that’s come into your life. Ask for forgiveness for not placing God in his rightful place within your life and for not humbling yourself and for trying to be your own God (This is the fundamental essence of the original sin, and EVERYONE suffers from this sin {especially myself}, pretty much continuously, so no “I haven’t done anything bad today” excuses for the confession part)

    Thanksgiving – This is where you dish out accolades for specific and general awesomenesses of God. THIS is where you praise Him for saving your soul.

    Supplication – Here is where you pray for specific things; this is your request line. “Lord, please heal Brother James of his cancer”, “Lord, please let me win the lottery”, “Lord, protect the foreign missionaries”, etc. I’ve read that God loves the thoughtful and non-selfish prayers and that we shouldn’t only pray for our own human desires, but I’ve also read that we shouldn’t feel guilty about asking for things and that we really should put big things before God, because that, in and of itself, is honoring to God because you are giving Him your BIG issues and trusting Him to deliver when you ask for, and then expect Him to give you, BIG things.

    Since I’ve heard this idea, I’ve used it continuously to help me be sincere and focused in my prayer time. These things cover all thing prayer pretty well, but can keep it from feeling rehearsed.


    • Peggy Hagen

      Bryan, pretty sure that that’s from Ignatius’ Spiritual Exercises, in form if not by exact name.

  • Max

    The medievals were obsessed with math, that’s why all the Gothic cathedrals have OCD like numerical patterns and shapes.

  • Jason B

    If I understood you correctly, you starting believing in Christianity after being unable to account for something more tangible regarding the origin of moral compulsion and behavior. I’d really like to hear from you how you delineate the difference, in origin, between, let’s say, the compulsion many birds have for building nests and the human compulsion (most of us experience) for minimizing suffering whenever and wherever we see it and/or simply taking care of someone who needs a hand. In other words, if you were given the task to find out why birds feel compelled to build nests, would you focus on the brain and its evolution or would your conclusion be to place the origin of a bird’s desires in a transcendent reality as well? What reasons are there to ‘only’ look at the brain when studying the origin for one set of desires, and to conclude an entirely different origin (i.e. a transcendent reality) for another set of desires? Another question which comes to mind would be how any of this makes any particular historical claim in the bible more true, but maybe I’ll bring that up another time.
    Best wishes.

    • Erin

      The very fact that you can contemplate origins as coming from the brain and evolution vs. a transcendent reality is proof enough of our fundamental difference from animals and reason enough not to search for anything beyond instinct for non-human creatures. Birds give no evidence of a soul – humans do.

      • Jason B

        But see, the ability of an animal to “contemplate” and reflect on itself is not a necessity in my proposed experiment. Not all humans alive can “contemplate” on the level which you’re implying is required to separate humans from animals. Simply being a human does not guarantee an individual to be “fundamentally” different from other animals in terms of cognitive abilities. I could just have easily chosen a human whose contemplative parts of his or her brain are damaged, and then asked the same sort of question: That is, where and why does the experience of desire x or y emerge in this person’s brain. Speaking of cognition and the ability to “contemplate” to varying degrees: To ignore the correlation between spindle neuron density, for instance, and intelligence is to avoid reality. Generally, the smarter the animal the greater the density of neuron connections (spindle neurons multiply neural connections, so no surprise humans contain the highest known density of spindle neurons). Also, altruistic behavior and some degree of self-awareness is seen in some intelligent animals (e.g. elephants) and not just humans. Speaking of birds- the magpie is one of 4 or 5 known animals to recognize itself in a mirror, indicating some degree of self-awareness (how much? who knows). Plus, all indications point to the understanding that moral and emotional intelligence does not begin and end in humans. I don’t think I have to expand on that. Some quick research will turn up lots of examples. My question still stands: Why look at the brain for some desires and elsewhere for others? That I’m smart enough to ask this question, and that a bird is not, would only be un-explainable (and seem to transcend reality) if the difference between my brain and the bird’s brain was indistinguishable.

  • Maureen

    Love your Lorica, and I love Agnikan’s Pledge of Allele-giance, too. 🙂 I think you understand the spirit of Irish spirituality pretty darned well. (Except for the parts where they stay up all night walking around barefoot on the cold ground.) 🙂

    Moving along… contemplating God’s beauty in mathematics is Totally Normal (and Biblical, especially the “order and weight and measure” thing, and because Biblical number symbolism makes math something with fun exegetical meanings that can be used in architecture, etc.). This is one of many reasons that mathematics was one of the Seven Liberal Arts studied by monks; but also it was considered a proper preparation for learning theology, because it stimulated the mind in a lot of good ways.

    Here’s what St. Gregory Thaumaturgus said, about his Christian philosophical education in natural philosophy and geometry, back in Roman days:

    “[Our teacher] also took in hand that humble capacity of mind which shows itself in our amazement at the magnitude, and the wondrousness, and the magnificent and absolutely wise construction of the world, and in our marvelling in a reasonless way, and in our being overpowered with fear, and in our knowing not, like the irrational creatures, what conclusion to come to. That, too, he aroused and corrected by other studies in natural science, illustrating and distinguishing the various divisions of created objects, and with admirable clearness reducing them to their pristine elements, taking them all up perspicuously in his discourse, and going over the nature of the whole, and of each several section, and discussing the multiform revolution and mutation of things in the world, until he carried us frilly along with him under his clear teaching; and by those reasonings which he had partly learned from others, and partly found out for himself, he filled our minds with a rational instead of an irrational wonder at the sacred economy of the universe, and irreproveable constitution of all things. This is that sublime and heavenly study which is taught by natural philosophy— a science most attractive to all. And what need is there now to speak of the sacred mathematics, viz., geometry, so precious to all and above all controversy, and astronomy, whose course is on high? These different studies he imprinted on our understandings, training us in them, or calling them into our mind, or doing with us something else which I know not how to designate rightly. And the one he presented lucidly as the immutable groundwork and secure foundation of all, namely geometry; and by the other, namely astronomy, he lifted us up to the things that are highest above us, while he made heaven passable to us by the help of each of these sciences, as though they were ladders reaching the skies.”

    And then they moved onto ethics and morality:
    “Moreover, as to those things which excel all in importance, and those for the sake of which, above all else, the whole family of the philosophical labours, gathering them like good fruits produced by the varied growths of all the other studies, and of long-practised philosophizing—I mean the divine virtues that concern the moral nature, by which the impulses of the mind have their equable and stable subsistence—through these, too. he aimed at making us truly proof against grief and disquietude under the pressure of all ills, and at imparting to us a well-disciplined and steadfast and religious spirit, so that we might be in all things veritably blessed. And this he toiled at effecting by pertinent discourses, of a wise and soothing tendency, and very often also by the most cogent addresses touching our moral dispositions, and our modes of life. Nor was it only by words, but also by deeds, that he regulated in some measure our inclinations….”

  • Maureen

    It should say “fully”, not “frilly.”

    Anyway, thought you’d like knowing that a saint also thinks that math and astronomy are like “ladders to the skies.”

  • Mary

    Leah – as a lapsed come-back sorta not really Catholic, I would really appreciate your thoughts on some of the more odd prayer traditions. I have particular problems with the chain-letter style prayers (say this 10 times and you are guaranteed heaven!) We had a priest from the Divine Mercy Seminary in the states basically claim that the divine mercy chaplet was a short cut to heaven – I felt like I was being sold snake oil. I find it hard to move more fully into communion with the Church when I feel like it is populated with hucksters! (This is in addition to some other objections, namely the absence of women from the deaconship and the Church’s continued attempts to persecute the civic rights of gays and lesbians).

  • Nice blog, I like the math and physics reference. I read your conversion article in CNN and it inspired me. One thing is for sure: you have chosen the narrow path, you have decided to go through the eye of the needle. That means hardship, sacrifice, acceptance of dogma/doctrine you may not fully understand, and questions unanswered for months or years on end. I pray that Christ may give you the grace you need to persevere. May God go with you on your journey, and see you on the “next dimension”!

  • Wow, so many experts on prayer. the best way to learn nothing is to (try and) learn everything at once. Buddy, good luck with your conversion. awesome.


  • D Harper

    absolutely fascinating. keep going….

  • Gus Snarp

    Gosh, if it’s so hard to figure out if you’re praying to God or to some idea in your head, one might wonder if in fact that isn’t evidence that God IS just some idea in your head.

  • Lynette

    Ok I LOVE this post.

    You are SO going to be a “Christian” after my own heart. :delighted laugh:

    As a scientist by training and trade … how OFTEN I have taken my DELIGHT with Science and/or Math to God like an excited kid sharing some new Joy with a parent who I have forgotten knows already the “facts” in my enthusiastic rush of bubbling enthusiasm. Only to find that like the best of parents, after letting me gush and sharing in my happy delight, He then feeds and encourages my explorations by doing exactly that… pointing me higher up and deeper in.

    Welcome to the path where all things interconnect in an ever growing spiral that blends all the joys of learning into a thing of complex beauty beyond our wildest dreams.

    Since this seems to be the best place to put in a few personal comment for you I am going to go ahead and add them here.

    First, read your atheist blog a long while back and found it stimulating and enjoyed that you were smart and not nasty in your debating style. Eventually I added you to my prayer list. It seemed to me you were searching for truth no matter where it lead you. So I prayed God would step in and lead you to truth in all is wonderful complexity. I am sure I was not the only person praying that for you. I am delighted to welcome you to the intimate family now.

    Next… Two books you might find interesting.
    The first on prayer
    1) Prayer: Does It Make Any Difference? by Philip Yancey
    Not the same kind of depth as Lewis or Chesterton but more contemporary and a great overview on all different kinds of prayer and perspectives from a spectrum of believers. Since you are just starting down the path of prayer I think you will find it very helpful in that it doesn’t “lead” as much as it lets you see and taste from the diversity that is experienced by others some of the many forms prayer can take and the many things prayer can do and be.

    The second as a science loving believer I really loved… THE MAN WHO TALKS WITH THE FLOWERS: The Intimate Life Story of Dr. George Washington Carver. This is a very old book just recently put back into print. But it was really intense for me as a Scientist and as a Christian.

    I will look forward to reading more about your journey in the next many years.

    • leahlibresco

      Thanks a lot, Lynette! I’d never heard of that last one.

  • Leah,
    Glad you discovered the Liturgy of the Hours. If you can possibly find time for it, don’t neglect the Office of Readings, or at least do its second reading each day.

  • Rachel K

    Leah, I usually go through something similar, except instead of having trouble with praying to a mental idol, I have–trouble with being squirrely and distractable during prayer and Mass (“Lord, please keep our troops safe in Iraq…man, Battlestar Galactica did some great Iraq stuff. What a show that was. You know what was an awesome episode? Kobol’s Last Gleaming. [20 minutes of thinking about BSG later] Oh, crap, I was supposed to be praying…”) My husband had an idea similar to yours–turning distraction into prayer. Now, when I find myself thinking about what a great show BSG is, I try to turn that into praying for displaced people, or occupied people, or even for any trouble Ron Moore or Edward James Olmos might be going through. It’s a little silly and doesn’t always work, but it’s better than nothing.

    Fun fact: about a week ago, I was distracted during Mass because I was thinking about what a good book “Deep Wizardry” was. I’d just read your series of posts on those books, so the most logical thing seemed to be converting that into praying for your conversion. I was on vacation and didn’t have Internet access that week, so I had absolutely no idea how late to the party I was. 😉

    • leahlibresco

      I missed a little content of your post, because I got distracted thinking about how great BSG is. 🙂

  • Maths and prayer? Well, for this post, I’ve linked to a study on the power of prayer. As in, seek and ye shall turn up nothing.