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US: New money vs old dogma

July 13, 2012

The billionaire Catholic Melinda Gates has thrown down the gauntlet to the Vatican with a vow to dedicate the remainder of her life to improving access to contraception across the globe.

Mrs Gates…predicted that women in Africa and Asia would soon be ”voting with their feet”, as women in the West had done, and would ignore the church ban on artificial birth control.

Mrs Gates…said since she announced her new direction a few weeks ago she had been inundated with messages of support from Catholic women, including nuns. ”A church is made up of its members, and one of the things this campaign might do is help women speak out. I’ve had thousands of women come on to websites and say ‘I’m a Catholic, but I believe in contraception’. It’s going to be women voting with their feet.”…

She admitted she had agonised over whether to speak out in defiance of the church hierarchy.

She said: ”Of course I wrestled with this. As a Catholic I believe in this religion, there are amazing things about this religion, amazing moral teachings that I do believe in. But I also have to think about how we keep women alive.” 

SMH

The only amazing thing about the Catholic religion is how an intelligent, well-informed person like Gates can possibly go on believing in it.

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34 Comments
  1. corio37 permalink

    OK: when you explain satisfactorily why it will work for me, when it clearly hasn’t worked for thousands of practicing Catholics who have attended Mass dozens or hundreds of times, I’ll consider it.

    http://www.catholicculture.org/news/headlines/index.cfm?storyid=14190

    But regarding your assertion that no other religion makes the same claims about ‘meeting God’, I suggest you read this:

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Salah

    In the meantime why don’t you consider visiting a mosque, a synagogue, or a Hindu temple, and participating in the rituals there?

  2. I appreciate your kind words, but rest assured I am just as confident today as I was when we began this conversation. Again, there is no point continuing if you “have no need of that hypothesis”. If you don’t see the evidence, I suggest that it might help to open your eyes.

    As far as my “poor opinion of the intellectual rigor of atheism”, I maintain no such opinion. I’m simply saying that I know Someone whose existence you deny, and I’m telling you where you can meet Him. Why not any of those other ceremonies? Because no one else has ever made the claim I’m making except Catholics.

    He’s real, and He’s waiting for you. If you’re so confident that I’m deluded, then certainly you shouldn’t mind my small challenge to your beliefs and will have no qualms about going and refuting my claims.

  3. corio37 permalink

    Two quick points: 1) Consider Aquinas and Augustine officially not “abandoned”. I am merely saying they weren’t privy to the scientific knowledge that we are, and so can’t be expected to make scientific jumps no one in their time was making, particularly considering the fact that they weren’t scientists but theologians. There is no difference between the teachings of ancient Catholicism and modern Catholicism; Mother Church has always maintained the same teachings on faith and morals, which is in large part why She exists. You are quick to point to papal infallibility: I suggest you try to learn about the actual teaching of the Church on when popes are infallible and why before you use the term.

    What does science have to do with it? Aquinas and Augustine and the Popes were allegedly in contact with an omniscient God, and if that God had wanted them to know about evolution he could have told them about it, and given them enough evidence to back it his claims. The fact that he didn’t merely reinforces the obvious point that despite allegedly knowing everything and being able to do anything, your God — like everyone elses’s — never does or says anything that couldn’t have been said or done by human beings at that point in their history. The Bronze Age God ‘reveals’ only things that humans could have known in the Bronze Age; the Victorian God ‘reveals’ only things that humans could have known about in the Victorian Age. Why doesn’t your God ever tell anyone anything they couldn’t have worked out for themselves? As for ‘maintaining the same teachings on … morals’, I note that Pope Paul III endorsed slavery, and that some Jesuit provinces maintained slaves up till the 19th Century; so presumably slavery is OK with the modern Catholic church too? Or has it in fact changed its teachings on morals when they too became too embarrassing to maintain?

    2) I never said my belief in God is what keeps me from raping and murdering, but rather my innate understanding of Natural Law which must come from some sort of immaterial existence. I don’t think “Jesus wouldn’t kill this person, so I won’t.” I know, naturally, that to do so would be wrong. Not just “This person would prefer me not to” but “I ought not to”. You want a practical difference between the two, but it is precisely the fact that we feel compelled to do these impractical acts of charity towards one another that indicates a presence that transcends practicality, that points to a reality that works in conjunction with what we see and feel but ultimately supersedes it.

    The human moral code is obviously internalised to a large extent, just as language is — we don’t usually have to think “Do I use the pronoun ‘his’ or ‘her’ now?”. Your ‘impractical acts of charity’ are just the by-products of an internalised code which is extremely useful for the survival and prosperity of society, just as, say, spontanous swearwords are the by-products of a useful language.

    3) I see the social benefits of morality; I’m simply saying that there is no biological or evolutionary reason supporting the necessity of a moral code. Biology will lead us to care for ourselves and our immediate helpmates, but how does it benefit the propagation of the species to believe that we ought to care for the weak and poor? Where does it help our species to serve the disabled and sick? Those people in fact hinder us from propagating the species, taking time and resources that could be devoted to the strong and able. We act contrary to the basic evolutionary premise of the survival of the fittest, for no other reason than we can’t shake the idea that we ought to.

    I find it hard to believe that you don’t see the advantages to everyone of living in a society with a moral code. Imagine two societies separated by a river. In one, the elderly and sick are looked after; in the other they are left to die. I’m neither elderly or sick, but I know I will be one day, and when I am I won’t be able to travel; doesn’t it make sense that I’ll seek out the society with a moral code now, while I can, in the certain expectation that they will look after me when I need it? Won’t I take the wife and dependent children whom I love to a place where I know they will be reasonably safe when I am away and can’t protect them? How many more people will survive to have children, and achieve the prosperity to feed and raise them, in a society with a moral code than in the anarchic village ruled by thugs on the other side?

    Evolution is a process involving species, not individuals. A species that has genes which further the propagation of that species will survive and prosper as well as, and probably much better than, a species whose individuals lack any kind of gene for altruism. If you don’t understand that, then your understanding of evolution is deeply flawed. In the context of social genetics, let me refer you to Proverbs 6:6.

    But let me point out too that you were the one who brought up evolution. My position is merely that what you call a ‘moral code’ is a useful piece of social technology that enables societies to prosper, survive and grow much better than they do without it, and — however it came about in the first place, via evolution or simply a conscious consensus — once established in a society, it is likely to be retained in place and transmitted to the young via their cultural upbringing. We don’t need God to explain why killing your neighbours is really not a good idea.

    But here’s the real point, and until we deal with this there’s really no point in continuing the discussion (although I must thank you for your kindness and dedication during this exchange; it has been fruitful for me, as I hope it has been for you). You are willing to believe in invisible realities whose effects you can see on material beings, including humans. Gravity exists, and you know this because humans and other things don’t float off the earth and because the planets behave in certain ways. But the invisible reality of some sort of God you deny because you say you see no evidence to support it. And yet humans continue to act as if God does exist, as if there is a spiritual realm, as if there is something other than matter present in our lives.

    Which humans? Humans act in a variety of different ways, some of which are directly opposed to the goals of other humans’ actions.

    People throughout the history of the world have devoted their entire lives to discovering the truths about God, just as they have to discovering the truths about science. They might do it wrongly, they might do it poorly, they might do it slowly (as we often do with science as well), but this desire to find the truth suggests that the truth exists. The innate desire to understand the physical world suggests that there are truths about the physical world to understand; the innate desire to understand the spiritual world suggests there are truths about the spiritual world to understand.

    Humans throughout history have spent a great deal of time defending slavery, defending racial discrimination, defending gender discrimination and discrimination against homosexuals. We recognise now — in the West, at least — that although they were sincere and believed they had reasons to do so, they were wrong. And we recognise that fact because the opponents of those views patiently and persistently put forward the truth, over and over again, until it became impossible to convince people otherwise. This, of course, is precisely what is happening to religion in the West.

    I can understand that people don’t like the idea of extinction when they die; they don’t like the idea of injustice; but to go from that to an imaginary being who will keep us alive and rectify all injustices is to go well beyond the evidence. It’s called ‘wishful thinking’, and it’s responsible for a great deal of avoidable misery as well as unjustified optimism.

    It’s not that evidence doesn’t exist to support the fact that there is a spiritual reality, but that your predetermined conclusion prevents you from accepting that evidence as valid. Why don’t you think the spiritual reality exists? Because you don’t think it exists. You made the conclusion ahead of time, and so you discount all of the evidence that suggests it does. Millions claim eyewitness testimony to miracles that cannot be explained by any material cause; you discount them because you don’t think miracles possible. These same people whose testimony you would trust on matters of scientific discovery you dismiss on matters of spiritual discovery. If I told you I was cured of a disease through the intercession of a saint, cured in a way that doctors have not been able to explain or even postulate about, you would dismiss me, not because you don’t trust me as a source of information about events (odds are you would believe me if I told you I ate breakfast this morning), but because you think an event such as the one I described is impossible.

    Like most atheists today, I once believed in God. A friend told me that he didn’t when I was about fifteen, and after a brief emotional jolt I realised that he was quite right, and like Laplace I had no need of that hypothesis. I have seen no requirement to reinstate it since.

    If you told me you had been cured of a disease, then I would believe you; but how could you possibly show it was through the intercession of a saint, rather than spontaneous remission? We observe spontaneous remissions every day, but we never observe the intercession of saints, at least not in any way that convinces those who are not already predisposed to believe. If, say, your newly-healed duodenum was miraculously signed on the inside with the name of St. Barnabas, then we would have a lot more reason to believe you; but if all you can point to is getting better, well, people get better every day, and most of them don’t believe in your God or your saints. I don’t think it’s impossible; I just don’t see any reason to believe it is true.

    If your God really is all-powerful, then why does he never do anything that only a powerful God could do, like raise a mountain overnight in the Australian desert, or carve his name across the Moon in letters 100km high? Why are his ‘miracles’ always so piddling and pathetic, so localised and human-centric, so much like conjuring tricks?

    You say I am being selective about God’s nature and what I attribute to Him; but why talk about the fracture of the relationship between God, man, and nature caused by Original Sin if you deny God in the first place? It’s not that I don’t have satisfactory answers for you on such questions; it is simply that this first premise is vital, this first agreement must be reached before any sort of a complete picture can be painted.

    You put forward a hypothesis. I discuss the implications of that hypothesis and demonstrate they are implausible and mutually incompatible. It’s a standard technique of logical analysis called ‘reductio ad absurdum’.

    Why do I believe God exists? Because my reason tells me that He could, and perhaps must; because I have experienced Him and His love in my life daily; and because I have heard the testimony of humanity throughout history corroborate what my experience and reason already taught me.

    Now explain why other equally reasonable people don’t; and why there are now more ex-Catholics — many of whom presumably felt the same way — in the US than practicing Catholics. We know that wishful thinking makes people believe weird things, and all of us believe some weird things for that reason. But it’s a very poor position from which to try and defend those beliefs.

    But you want evidence. So if you really want to answer this question, if you really want to know if God has entered this time and space, then I can tell you where to meet Him. Go to a Roman Catholic mass. He is there; He is real. And in my faith and hope I trust to the power of Christ that He will make His presence known to you if you but make this tiny act of investigation. Set aside your presuppositions for one hour, go to mass in humility and openness, and see if you do not meet Him. You will be in my prayers.

    You have a very poor opinion of the intellectual rigor of atheism if you think that an hour at Mass will somehow set aside the accumulated evidence of forty years. Let me return to the point I made at the very beginning: why Mass? Why not a Hindu cleansing ceremony, or a Jewish prayer meeting, or a Buddhist retreat, or an Islamic service? Do you really believe that all the people who attend these and all the other rituals are ‘faking it’ as it were, even though they would claim their feelings and faith are as strong as yours? I simply don’t have time to indulge the whims of everyone putting forward unsupported claims for their own particular cult. In brief: do you not agree with me that a) many of these people are as sincere and involved and passionate about their own beliefs as you are; and b) they are wrong? And if they can be, why can’t you?

    But I wish you well, and if our discussion has made you a little less confident in asserting your certainty about things you can’t possibly know, then I am quite satisfied.

  4. Two quick points: 1) Consider Aquinas and Augustine officially not “abandoned”. I am merely saying they weren’t privy to the scientific knowledge that we are, and so can’t be expected to make scientific jumps no one in their time was making, particularly considering the fact that they weren’t scientists but theologians. There is no difference between the teachings of ancient Catholicism and modern Catholicism; Mother Church has always maintained the same teachings on faith and morals, which is in large part why She exists. You are quick to point to papal infallibility: I suggest you try to learn about the actual teaching of the Church on when popes are infallible and why before you use the term.

    2) I never said my belief in God is what keeps me from raping and murdering, but rather my innate understanding of Natural Law which must come from some sort of immaterial existence. I don’t think “Jesus wouldn’t kill this person, so I won’t.” I know, naturally, that to do so would be wrong. Not just “This person would prefer me not to” but “I ought not to”. You want a practical difference between the two, but it is precisely the fact that we feel compelled to do these impractical acts of charity towards one another that indicates a presence that transcends practicality, that points to a reality that works in conjunction with what we see and feel but ultimately supersedes it.

    3) I see the social benefits of morality; I’m simply saying that there is no biological or evolutionary reason supporting the necessity of a moral code. Biology will lead us to care for ourselves and our immediate helpmates, but how does it benefit the propagation of the species to believe that we ought to care for the weak and poor? Where does it help our species to serve the disabled and sick? Those people in fact hinder us from propagating the species, taking time and resources that could be devoted to the strong and able. We act contrary to the basic evolutionary premise of the survival of the fittest, for no other reason than we can’t shake the idea that we ought to.

    But here’s the real point, and until we deal with this there’s really no point in continuing the discussion (although I must thank you for your kindness and dedication during this exchange; it has been fruitful for me, as I hope it has been for you). You are willing to believe in invisible realities whose effects you can see on material beings, including humans. Gravity exists, and you know this because humans and other things don’t float off the earth and because the planets behave in certain ways. But the invisible reality of some sort of God you deny because you say you see no evidence to support it. And yet humans continue to act as if God does exist, as if there is a spiritual realm, as if there is something other than matter present in our lives.

    People throughout the history of the world have devoted their entire lives to discovering the truths about God, just as they have to discovering the truths about science. They might do it wrongly, they might do it poorly, they might do it slowly (as we often do with science as well), but this desire to find the truth suggests that the truth exists. The innate desire to understand the physical world suggests that there are truths about the physical world to understand; the innate desire to understand the spiritual world suggests there are truths about the spiritual world to understand.

    It’s not that evidence doesn’t exist to support the fact that there is a spiritual reality, but that your predetermined conclusion prevents you from accepting that evidence as valid. Why don’t you think the spiritual reality exists? Because you don’t think it exists. You made the conclusion ahead of time, and so you discount all of the evidence that suggests it does. Millions claim eyewitness testimony to miracles that cannot be explained by any material cause; you discount them because you don’t think miracles possible. These same people whose testimony you would trust on matters of scientific discovery you dismiss on matters of spiritual discovery. If I told you I was cured of a disease through the intercession of a saint, cured in a way that doctors have not been able to explain or even postulate about, you would dismiss me, not because you don’t trust me as a source of information about events (odds are you would believe me if I told you I ate breakfast this morning), but because you think an event such as the one I described is impossible.

    You say I am being selective about God’s nature and what I attribute to Him; but why talk about the fracture of the relationship between God, man, and nature caused by Original Sin if you deny God in the first place? It’s not that I don’t have satisfactory answers for you on such questions; it is simply that this first premise is vital, this first agreement must be reached before any sort of a complete picture can be painted.

    Why do I believe God exists? Because my reason tells me that He could, and perhaps must; because I have experienced Him and His love in my life daily; and because I have heard the testimony of humanity throughout history corroborate what my experience and reason already taught me.

    But you want evidence. So if you really want to answer this question, if you really want to know if God has entered this time and space, then I can tell you where to meet Him. Go to a Roman Catholic mass. He is there; He is real. And in my faith and hope I trust to the power of Christ that He will make His presence known to you if you but make this tiny act of investigation. Set aside your presuppositions for one hour, go to mass in humility and openness, and see if you do not meet Him. You will be in my prayers.

  5. corio37 permalink

    Being selective again…

    1) He can reveal Himself inside of space and time by entering into space and time, just like a human being standing outside of a house can reveal himself to those in the house by entering it. Also, a God outside of time and space can cause events inside space and time the same way the man outside the house can cause events inside the house; by entering and acting.

    Ah, by magic! I see! Look, we know the material physical processes by which a man outside a house can be seen from inside a house, and we know the material physical processes by which a man can enter a house from outside. Once you can explain the material physical processes by which something ‘outside space and time’ can enter space and time or be perceived in space and time, you will have answered the question. Till then you are merely waffling.

    Every modern Catholic that I know of, that is, every Catholic since the acceptance of the theory of evolution in the scientific community, has understood the Creation story as expressing truth through its symbolism.

    But if ‘modern Catholicism’ is different from ancient Catholicism, what happens to the eternal truths vouchsafed by God to the early Popes? Did they get them wrong? I thought they were infallible! Now, if the Catholic Church had embraced evolution before Darwin, that would have been good evidence for an omniscient God; but as it is, the Catholic God seems to get the news a lot later than anyone else. You quoted Aquinas and Augustine approvingly earlier — how quick you are to abandon them when their shortcomings become apparent!

    But language is a human instrument that serves a human purpose. I was merely demonstrating to you that your example was poor. Morality doesn’t serve an evolutionary or biological purpose the way language does.

    Of course it does. If a society is to live and work together there need to be rules about what kind of behaviour the people in that society can reasonably expect from each other. Some people will give up some of their immediate opportunities in return for long-term benefits for themselves and those they care about. I’m quite happy to give up the chance to rape or murder someone in return for official protection against their attempts to rape or murder me or the people I love; aren’t you?

    [What is it about theists that they get so hung up on their desire to murder and rape? How would it possibly benefit me to murder or rape someone, even if I wanted to? What would be my rational justification? It’s very worrying to think that millions of potential rapists and murderers all over the world are apparently kept in check by nothing but their unsupported belief in a deity. Do you really think that’s how it works?]

    If you really can’t see the social benefits from developing what you call a ‘moral code’, then try this thought experiment: imagine a thousand isolated islands, each randomly seeded with a thousand newly-created people, and each group of people given a different ‘moral code’. Which groups do you think will still be around in twenty years’ time? The ones whose moral code just happens to match that of a particular hypothesised deity, or the ones whose moral code combines tolerance, mutual obligation and support for the less able with sanctions against murder and other socially disruptive actions? Do you honestly not see that a society which develops and enforces generally-accepted codes against, say, murder and rape, is more likely to have happy, healthy citizens, to attract newcomers, and to be around this time next year than one which doesn’t?

  6. 1) He can reveal Himself inside of space and time by entering into space and time, just like a human being standing outside of a house can reveal himself to those in the house by entering it. Also, a God outside of time and space can cause events inside space and time the same way the man outside the house can cause events inside the house; by entering and acting.

    2) Every modern Catholic that I know of, that is, every Catholic since the acceptance of the theory of evolution in the scientific community, has understood the Creation story as expressing truth through its symbolism. The men you mentioned all lived before this theory was even understood to be possible. And, since you mentioned it, the Galileo Incident was a question of theology, not science. To quote from my favorite blogger, “Bad Catholic”, on the topic:

    “The Church did not say that Galileo was teaching heresy. They rightly pointed out that if the earth did orbit the sun then there would be a shift in the position of a star observed from the earth on one side of the sun, and then six months later from the other side. Galileo was not able with the best of his telescopes to discern this “stellar parallax.” (This was a valid scientific objection, and it was not answered until 1838, when Friedrich Bessel succeeded in determining the parallax of star 61 Cygni.)
    The Church gave Galileo the following offer: Copernicanism might be considered a hypothesis, one even superior to the Ptolemaic system, until further proof could be adduced. He refused it. Everyone had to believe in Copernicanism, despite the lack of evidence, and despite Galileo’s obviously wrongheaded claim – that the planets orbit the sun in perfect circles. This still wasn’t a problem until he tried to make his argument on theological grounds. (An irony that atheists remain blissfully unaware of, that the man they lift up as a martyr for scientific discovery was actually a martyr for bad theology.)”

    3) But language is a human instrument that serves a human purpose. I was merely demonstrating to you that your example was poor. Morality doesn’t serve an evolutionary or biological purpose the way language does. It doesn’t benefit me or the immediate need to propagate the species for me to not steal or rape, and yet I can’t seem to shake the idea that I ought not to. So if morality exists in each of us from birth and it serves no material purpose, one can deduce that it has an immaterial purpose. And an immaterial purpose suggests immaterial realities. To use your cooking meat example: we cook meat, which is physical, to meet a physical need. We act based on a moral principal, which is not physical, to meet a need which is not only not physical but in direct conflict with what our biological and evolutionary instincts suggest we do. So if it’s meeting a need that is contrary to our biological instincts, it must be connected to something outside of this physical, biological reality.

  7. corio37 permalink

    This is getting a little unwieldy. Let me try and pick out your major points:

    He has revealed himself to us in a variety of ways, some of which I elucidated in my last response.

    Who is ‘us’? He certainly hasn’t ‘revealed himself’ to me. And how can a being ‘outside space and time’ reveal himself inside space and time?

    every Catholic philosopher, theologian, and member of the congregation in general that I have ever encountered believe that the theory of evolution is accurate and that the proper interpretation of Genesis is one of symbolic truth rather than historical.

    What, even Aquinas and Augustine? And Urban VIII, who prosecuted Galileo? Or is this a later doctrinal accretion developed to avoid the increasingly embarrassing consequences of denying the obvious?

    I present to you people acting based on their ideas of morality as existence of the idea of morality.

    I can present to you people using languages as evidence of the idea of language. I can present to you people engaged in playing Warcraft as evidence of the existence of Warcraft. But that doesn’t mean that languages, or Warcraft, or morality, derive from supernatural sources.

    And, by the by, people are born with an understanding of and desire for communication via language. Sure, language has been codified and elaborated upon over the centuries, but man has presumably always had this innate understanding of language.

    I believe that’s open to dispute, but assuming it’s true, so what? Humans have evolved a capacity to learn language, just as they have evolved a capacity to learn to juggle. If you want to claim that humans have evolved a capacity to learn a moral code, I’m happy with that. But how does that get God into the picture?

    It’s not that these kids weren’t born with a concept of language; it’s that it wasn’t fostered, and therefore lost.

    Again we have this difference that makes no difference. If something’s not there when I’m born, then I’m not born with it. If it appears at age two and then disappears again, it would be reasonable to say that it was innate, but atrophied; but if it never appears — like language or moral codes in highly deprived children — then what’s the sense of saying we are ‘born’ with it?

    I would say that every part of nature is a communication of some part of who God is.

    This is just the ‘God is mysterious’ schtick, though, isn’t it? You don’t understand why a supposedly rational and benevolent God is doing all this violent, evil stuff? Golly, you’re just looking at the wrong bits! I mean, when a benevolent, rational doctor occasionally kills people just because she can, we don’t count that against her, do we? Oh, that’s right — we do.

    The simplest explanation for random events is that events happen randomly, not that God is acting in random ways.

    And again: how can a being ‘outside space and time’ cause events to happen within space and time?

    the reality of humans’ consistency in moral codes that were codified in completely independent times, situations, geographical locations, etc:

    If moral codes have common features it’s presumably because humans are all similar animals (much more genetically similar, than, say, chimpanzees, for instance), and they find the same kind of behaviours of benefit in achieving their goals. All human societies cook meat: but that doesn’t mean that God invented cooking.

    You still have to connect up the laws of physics with behavioural choices.

  8. Sorry, I tried to italicize and respond below like you do, but the italics didn’t work for some reason. Hopefully it’s still comprehensible.

    I have fixed that for you.

  9. Your ‘thoughts’ so far on how we could come to that conclusion are ‘we could come to that conclusion’. Which is merely the same as saying ‘it is possible’. And if you are going back to the cause argument then we need to get our terminology clearer. Objects are not caused; events are caused. Your claim, I take it, is that the coming-into-being of the universe was caused by an entity whose coming-into-being was not caused? But what does that give us? We still have an uncaused event, so either your claim that ‘every (event) we know of has a cause’ must be wrong, or we have an entity that we know nothing about. Neither of those claims pays off in any way with any kind of benefit or progress in what we know. Material Universe + Ineffable Creator = Material Universe.

    I made two separate but related arguments: the Uncaused Cause argument, which concerns the events in this time and space, and the Uncreated Creator argument, which concerns the objects in this time and space. So consider our terminology cleared. And I think I made it clear that “every event we know of has a cause” was about every event in this time and space and not about God, who is outside of time and space, a God that you admitted could exist. And He is not an entity we know nothing about because He has revealed himself to us in a variety of ways, some of which I elucidated in my last response. Regrettably, this part of your response did not accurately depict any part of my actual argument.

    Quite so. We know gravity exists because it has effects on objects within space and time… Clearly if the universe was not ‘ordered’ in some way we would never have come into existence. It’s a fairly obvious fact, and you really can’t claim brownie points because your religion recognised it. Everyone else’s religion recognised it too. So did many non-religious philosophers. But the specifically Christian claims — that the universe was manufactured over seven days in two contradictory ways, including one in which light existed before any light-emitting bodies came about — are clearly and demonstrably wrong. Sorry, no points for Christianity there.

    Your “specifically Christian claims” are too general: the Catholic Church teaches that either a literal interpretation or symbolic translation of the creation accounts is acceptable, although every Catholic philosopher, theologian, and member of the congregation in general that I have ever encountered believe that the theory of evolution is accurate and that the proper interpretation of Genesis is one of symbolic truth rather than historical.

    And this claim has no empirical foundation whatsoever. I don’t see an argument here. And again, how is this hypothetical difference supposed to work out in practice? What difference does your ‘difference’ make?

    When you say there’s no empirical foundation, I’m not sure what to say. Morality is an idea. I can give you the billions of pages written about morality, or the trillions of anecdotes about people acting based on said moral code. You point to objects accelerating as evidence of the existence of acceleration; I present to you people acting based on their ideas of morality as existence of the idea of morality.

    Moral codes are like languages: they grow up as a community develops. I can violate a moral code, just as I can deliberately use the wrong words, and I can experiment at the edges of the moral code, just as I can experiment at the edges of language. But both are simply community constructs. And of course languages vary from region to region, just as moral codes do…People almost never argue that language doesn’t exist, but that doesn’t prevent them from spelling words the way they want to.

    Unfortunately for you, I think your example of language works in my favor. While there might be some differences from place to place in how language is used, the basics are all the same. People use sounds in structured methods to communicate ideas and connect with each other. And, by the by, people are born with an understanding of and desire for communication via language. Sure, language has been codified and elaborated upon over the centuries, but man has presumably always had this innate understanding of language.

    But clearly we are not ‘born’ with an understanding of ‘a’ moral law, since babies show no understanding of any moral law, and children who grow up in different regions grow up with different moral laws. Just as we are not born with ‘a’ language, but grow up learning the language of the people around us. Children who grow up in highly deprived situations — with uncaring deaf-mute guardians, for instance — show no more knowledge of ‘moral law’ than they do of language.

    Sorry, but you will have to direct me to the studies done on children with deaf-mute guardians and their comprehension, or lack thereof, of the moral code. Perhaps it is also important to point out that children in these instances are born with an understanding of language, but when it’s not fostered during critical periods of life, they lose it. It’s not that these kids weren’t born with a concept of language; it’s that it wasn’t fostered, and therefore lost. I would suggest morality acts much the same in cultures that don’t foster the innate understanding of human morality.

    In a word, no. What is the ‘moral code’ that caused a meteor to hit the Earth sixty-five million years ago, wiping out most of the macroscopic life? What is the ‘moral code’ that will eventually cause the Sun to go out, destroying any life that remains on this planet? What is the ‘moral code’ that induces tsunamis and hurricanes?

    The moral code is something unique to humanity, as is our reason. To ask where the moral code is in nature is a bit confusing. Perhaps you are wondering how I can claim that the moral code flows from God’s nature when nature is so wild? In response to this, I will keep it as simple as possible, because a true understanding of natural disasters requires one to understand some things you are currently denying. But for now, I would say that every part of nature is a communication of some part of who God is. The fact that nature demonstrates a capacity for power that is dangerous demonstrates that God has that same capacity. His capacity and embodiment of morality and Natural Law is embodied in humanity’s understanding of morality and Natural Law.

    We observe certain regularities in the way things behave. That’s a necessary condition of us being here to observe them in the first place. But observed regularities are evidence of nothing but observed regularities. Equating them with the wide variety of socially-constructed set of behavioural rule sets which exist among one species on one small planet in an obscure corner of a mediocre galaxy is hubristic in the extreme. It’s like saying ‘the stars must communicate in English’.

    Your basic premise that morality is a socially constructed set of behavioral rules as opposed to an innate understanding of an objective right and wrong ignores the reality of humans’ consistency in moral codes that were codified in completely independent times, situations, geographical locations, etc: what C.S. Lewis refers to as the Tao. If you want to, you can pick up a copy of his work “The Abolition of Man”; the following link is to a summary of that book.
    http://www3.dbu.edu/naugle/pdf/3303_handouts/abolition_summary.pdf

  10. corio37 permalink

    So taking your very qualified “yes” to the question “Is it possible that God exists and created the universe?”, we can move forward. You kept speaking of a vacuous possibility, but of course, the idea that God exists is not vacuous (which means mindless or lacking thought); I told you my thoughts of how one could come to that conclusion (so the presence of thought precludes the possibility that the idea is vacuous), and the only response that you essentially came up with is that we don’t know enough to make the jump. “Everything we know of has a cause so the universe has a cause” is certainly not an illogical or “vacuous” conclusion; you simply think that if we knew more, we might think otherwise.

    Your ‘thoughts’ so far on how we could come to that conclusion are ‘we could come to that conclusion’. Which is merely the same as saying ‘it is possible’. And if you are going back to the cause argument then we need to get our terminology clearer. Objects are not caused; events are caused. Your claim, I take it, is that the coming-into-being of the universe was caused by an entity whose coming-into-being was not caused? But what does that give us? We still have an uncaused event, so either your claim that ‘every (event) we know of has a cause’ must be wrong, or we have an entity that we know nothing about. Neither of those claims pays off in any way with any kind of benefit or progress in what we know. Material Universe + Ineffable Creator = Material Universe.

    So since it is possible that the invisible reality of God exists, how could one determine if that possibility is reality? Well, one can use gravity as an example: it’s an invisible possibility, so how do we know if it’s real? We know it’s real because everything around us behaves as if it is real. Everything, all the time, acts like there is an invisible force that pulls bodies towards each other in proportion to their mass. So let’s apply this principle to God.

    Quite so. We know gravity exists because it has effects on objects within space and time.

    We can know if an invisible reality exist if everything behaves as if it does. The Christian says that God exists and has revealed Himself in various ways. Let’s take a look at the world and see if things behave as if this God, which you begrudgingly agreed could exist, does exist.

    The Christian claims that God created an ordered and understandable universe, of which man is unique and special in his capacities. Obviously, this is true: as much of the universe as we know is ordered, behaves according to laws, etc., but we appear to be the only part of that creation capable of reason. So that part adds up.

    Clearly if the universe was not ‘ordered’ in some way we would never have come into existence. It’s a fairly obvious fact, and you really can’t claim brownie points because your religion recognised it. Everyone else’s religion recognised it too. So did many non-religious philosophers. But the specifically Christian claims — that the universe was manufactured over seven days in two contradictory ways, including one in which light existed before any light-emitting bodies came about — are clearly and demonstrably wrong. Sorry, no points for Christianity there.

    The Christian claims that part of the order and law inherent in the universe is a moral law that flows directly from God’s nature, and that man is born with this sense of the moral or natural law. That’s why I brought up your idea of morality before: practically speaking, would you act differently if you thought people ought not hurt you as opposed to simply preferring them not to hurt you? Of course. If you simply prefer people not to do things, then you make claims on their actions based on yourself (“Honey, I’d rather have pizza tonight” becomes the same as “Honey, don’t stab me in the chest”). If you appeal to people based on what they should or shouldn’t do, your appeal takes on a whole new weight and the two statements become different in kind (“Honey, I’d rather have pizza tonight” is a statement of preference, “Honey, don’t stab me in the chest” becomes an appeal to a moral standard that you assume she shares).

    And this claim has no empirical foundation whatsoever.

    On a practical level, the difference comes in how you respond when your “honey” asks “why not?” In the first instance, you don’t want to be stabbed because it would hurt. She really has no reason not to go on stabbing you, because if you don’t want her to do something that she wants to do, why should your desire override hers? But in the second instance, you are saying she shouldn’t stab you because it’s not right, and if you are saying that, you are appealing to an idea of right and wrong that you assume the two of you share. I have never met a person who was not a committed nihilist (which of course is a philosophy that is the shining example of a contradiction in terms) who would say that the above situation didn’t include some sort of agreed upon moral code. And if we all (or almost all) have this invisible reality of a moral code imbued in ourselves, it begs the question “Where did this invisible reality come from, and upon what is it based?”

    I don’t see an argument here. And again, how is this hypothetical difference supposed to work out in practice? What difference does your ‘difference’ make?

    So the world has an order, man is capable of understanding that order, and man has a shared idea of morality that is agreed upon even when unspoken. But there are daily occurrences, as you point out in your blog, of people who ignore this agreed upon moral code: it would seem you are offended by this not because these people do something you would prefer them not to do, but because you think they ought not to. So it seems that while people have a moral understanding that we all assume everyone else should know, we also are able to ignore that moral law if we like. And when that moral law is ignored, people and things get hurt.

    Moral codes are like languages: they grow up as a community develops. I can violate a moral code, just as I can deliberately use the wrong words, and I can experiment at the edges of the moral code, just as I can experiment at the edges of language. But both are simply community constructs. And of course languages vary from region to region, just as moral codes do.

    And when you see people ignoring the moral law, they almost never argue that the law doesn’t exist. They usually argue that the law doesn’t apply to them in their particular situation: “Yes, I did this, but I did it because he did it first/I was desperate/I have a mental disorder/God told me to do it.” When people contradict the law, they don’t say it’s not there: they say that their situation is the exception to the rule.

    People almost never argue that language doesn’t exist, but that doesn’t prevent them from spelling words the way they want to.

    So there you have the Christian idea of free will and sin: We all are born with an understanding of a moral law, but because of a history of humans ignoring this moral law for their own ends, there are a lot of bad things in this world.

    But clearly we are not ‘born’ with an understanding of ‘a’ moral law, since babies show no understanding of any moral law, and children who grow up in different regions grow up with different moral laws. Just as we are not born with ‘a’ language, but grow up learning the language of the people around us. Children who grow up in highly deprived situations — with uncaring deaf-mute guardians, for instance — show no more knowledge of ‘moral law’ than they do of language.

    Does not everything behave this way? Do your abilities to reason and observe the world not indicate that this universe has an established order, an order which includes an invisible but understood moral code, and that man has a choice of whether to follow that code or not? I will hold off there before going any farther, but I just want you to answer that question: Does the world not behave in the ways I listed above?

    In a word, no. What is the ‘moral code’ that caused a meteor to hit the Earth sixty-five million years ago, wiping out most of the macroscopic life? What is the ‘moral code’ that will eventually cause the Sun to go out, destroying any life that remains on this planet? What is the ‘moral code’ that induces tsunamis and hurricanes?

    We observe certain regularities in the way things behave. That’s a necessary condition of us being here to observe them in the first place. But observed regularities are evidence of nothing but observed regularities. Equating them with the wide variety of socially-constructed behavioural rule sets which exist among one species on one small planet in an obscure corner of a mediocre galaxy is hubristic in the extreme. It’s like saying ‘the stars must communicate in English’.

    So here are your main points, as I understand them:

    1. Physical objects in the universe tend to behave in regular predictable ways which we can summarise with a set of observations we call ‘laws’.

    2. Most of the human beings in any given society contribute to and adhere to a loose but mutually-recognised code of behaviour, presumably because it provides net benefits to their society as a whole.

    Now connect the two, if you can.

  11. Science (from Latin scientia, meaning “knowledge”) is a systematic enterprise that builds and organizes knowledge in the form of testable explanations and predictions about the universe.

    Philosophy (from the Greek φιλοσοφία (philosophia), which literally means “love of wisdom”) is the study of general and fundamental problems, such as those connected with reality, existence, knowledge, values, reason, mind, and language.

    It would seem that questions of existence are, by definition, questions of philosophy.

    So taking your very qualified “yes” to the question “Is it possible that God exists and created the universe?”, we can move forward. You kept speaking of a vacuous possibility, but of course, the idea that God exists is not vacuous (which means mindless or lacking thought); I told you my thoughts of how one could come to that conclusion (so the presence of thought precludes the possibility that the idea is vacuous), and the only response that you essentially came up with is that we don’t know enough to make the jump. “Everything we know of has a cause so the universe has a cause” is certainly not an illogical or “vacuous” conclusion; you simply think that if we knew more, we might think otherwise.

    So since it is possible that the invisible reality of God exists, how could one determine if that possibility is reality? Well, one can use gravity as an example: it’s an invisible possibility, so how do we know if it’s real? We know it’s real because everything around us behaves as if it is real. Everything, all the time, acts like there is an invisible force that pulls bodies towards each other in proportion to their mass. So let’s apply this principle to God.

    We can know if an invisible reality exist if everything behaves as if it does. The Christian says that God exists and has revealed Himself in various ways. Let’s take a look at the world and see if things behave as if this God, which you begrudgingly agreed could exist, does exist.

    The Christian claims that God created an ordered and understandable universe, of which man is unique and special in his capacities. Obviously, this is true: as much of the universe as we know is ordered, behaves according to laws, etc., but we appear to be the only part of that creation capable of reason. So that part adds up.

    The Christian claims that part of the order and law inherent in the universe is a moral law that flows directly from God’s nature, and that man is born with this sense of the moral or natural law. That’s why I brought up your idea of morality before: practically speaking, would you act differently if you thought people ought not hurt you as opposed to simply preferring them not to hurt you? Of course. If you simply prefer people not to do things, then you make claims on their actions based on yourself (“Honey, I’d rather have pizza tonight” becomes the same as “Honey, don’t stab me in the chest”). If you appeal to people based on what they should or shouldn’t do, your appeal takes on a whole new weight and the two statements become different in kind (“Honey, I’d rather have pizza tonight” is a statement of preference, “Honey, don’t stab me in the chest” becomes an appeal to a moral standard that you assume she shares).

    On a practical level, the difference comes in how you respond when your “honey” asks “why not?” In the first instance, you don’t want to be stabbed because it would hurt. She really has no reason not to go on stabbing you, because if you don’t want her to do something that she wants to do, why should your desire override hers? But in the second instance, you are saying she shouldn’t stab you because it’s not right, and if you are saying that, you are appealing to an idea of right and wrong that you assume the two of you share. I have never met a person who was not a committed nihilist (which of course is a philosophy that is the shining example of a contradiction in terms) who would say that the above situation didn’t include some sort of agreed upon moral code. And if we all (or almost all) have this invisible reality of a moral code imbued in ourselves, it begs the question “Where did this invisible reality come from, and upon what is it based?”

    So the world has an order, man is capable of understanding that order, and man has a shared idea of morality that is agreed upon even when unspoken. But there are daily occurrences, as you point out in your blog, of people who ignore this agreed upon moral code: it would seem you are offended by this not because these people do something you would prefer them not to do, but because you think they ought not to. So it seems that while people have a moral understanding that we all assume everyone else should know, we also are able to ignore that moral law if we like. And when that moral law is ignored, people and things get hurt.

    And when you see people ignoring the moral law, they almost never argue that the law doesn’t exist. They usually argue that the law doesn’t apply to them in their particular situation: “Yes, I did this, but I did it because he did it first/I was desperate/I have a mental disorder/God told me to do it.” When people contradict the law, they don’t say it’s not there: they say that their situation is the exception to the rule.

    So there you have the Christian idea of free will and sin: We all are born with an understanding of a moral law, but because of a history of humans ignoring this moral law for their own ends, there are a lot of bad things in this world.

    Does not everything behave this way? Do your abilities to reason and observe the world not indicate that this universe has an established order, an order which includes an invisible but understood moral code, and that man has a choice of whether to follow that code or not? I will hold off there before going any farther, but I just want you to answer that question: Does the world not behave in the ways I listed above?

  12. corio37 permalink

    Thanks for the clarification on the aims and goals of science. I honestly appreciate the learning that this dialogue has facilitated. So thanks.

    You’re welcome. It’s always pleasant to have an opportunity to pontificate. 😉 As I’ve indicated, misunderstandings of science are endemic, and not only among theists.

    Ultimately, however, this argument is one of philosophy and not of science. I merely brought up science because it is a means of knowing things, different in scope and nature than philosophy, but of course interrelated. So back to philosophy.

    An argument about what is the case — or what exists — is an argument of science, because science is the only way we have of establishing what we can legitimately claim to be the case. I don’t know what you mean by a ‘philosophical argument’, but if you mean the expression of your unsupported opinion, then that’s not an argument, just speculation.

    I think it would perhaps be wise to sum up where we are before we go any further so that I can be sure I am addressing your specific concerns with my arguments. You disagree with my assertion that all things must have a cause because we don’t know enough about the universe to make those claims; all we have is a local and limited understanding, and while all things in our consciousness have causes, that is not enough to generalize that all things everywhere have causes. And even if we do look at all the things available to us, they all have material causes within this time and space, so how can I make the jump to something outside of our time and space causing the creation of the universe?

    Hopefully that is accurate. That is the point from which I am proceeding.

    Largely so; but there is also the related point that postulating something ‘outside time and space’ is vacuous: it doesn’t add anything useful or significant to what we know. It’s like specifying your own version of the rules of chess, in which the queen has to wear a green hat. OK, why? Who benefits, and how?

    So either this universe was not caused but simply exists, a possibility of which we have no evidence of being possible within our time and space but which you hold as possible because there might be examples of it elsewhere in this universe that we are not aware of, or something outside of this universe caused it. You ask what the difference is between something existing outside of time and space and it not existing at all; a fair question. It is possible to conceive of a lot of things that “could exist” outside of this time and space, such as God or unicorns or Wookies. So what’s the difference between the Trinity and Chewbacca?

    Well, there’s no reason to believe that Chewie must exist. If this universe was created, then something must exist separate from it to have created it, which would necessitate the existence of a being like the Christian God who has power and desire to have created the universe. To my knowledge, there’s no evidence of the work of Wookies or Ewoks; I present to you the universe as evidence of the work of God. Based on your previous arguments, can I infer that you believe that while we can’t know for sure, that God is at least possible? Is it possible that a being outside of time and space exists that created the universe? If you say yes, then we can look to see if there is any more specific evidence of His or Its existence.

    But 1) if there is no reason to believe this universe was created then 2) there is no reason to believe that anything created it, just as if there is no reason to believe in the Star Wars universe, there is no reason to believe that Chewie exists. Establish that we have reason to believe 1) and then you can go on to try and support 2). Till then you are just speculating. The existence of the universe is not evidence for anything except the existence of the universe.

    An analogy: if I say “Somebody put a spell on the town from the old Miller house,” you could reasonably deduce that IF what I say is true it must have been old Mr Miller, because he’s the only one there. But what reason do you have to accept my premise in the first place?

    Yes, it’s possible that something answering to the description of God exists, minus the contradictions, but it’s a vacuous possibility: and from a vacuous possibility nothing follows. It’s on a par with the bare vacuous possibility that your house might be hit by a meteor in thirty seconds, and requires the same level of respect and consideration: i.e. none.

    So before we go any further, I am looking for an answer to that question: is it possible that my explanation is correct? Not “Do you think it’s correct?”, but “Is it possible that it’s correct?” If you say it’s possible, we can proceed from there.

    See above.

    Also, back to your idea of morality: I get the “Why don’t I want to be hurt? Because it hurts. That seems pretty fundamental to me” argument, but that seems like a morality of “I don’t want you to hurt me” as opposed to a “You ought not to hurt me” or “You shouldn’t hurt me” argument. Perhaps you could clarify that.

    I don’t see what’s to clarify. Can you give me an example of how you think the two would work out differently in practice, and why?

  13. First, I think it’s important to point out that Lady Gaga is my musical idol. I often dress like her in my basement as I write my songs and choreograph dances with my pet Flobbs. They have a fantastic musical sense, as I’m sure you know as a fellow Flobb owner.

    Thanks for the clarification on the aims and goals of science. I honestly appreciate the learning that this dialogue has facilitated. So thanks.

    Ultimately, however, this argument is one of philosophy and not of science. I merely brought up science because it is a means of knowing things, different in scope and nature than philosophy, but of course interrelated. So back to philosophy.

    I think it would perhaps be wise to sum up where we are before we go any further so that I can be sure I am addressing your specific concerns with my arguments. You disagree with my assertion that all things must have a cause because we don’t know enough about the universe to make those claims; all we have is a local and limited understanding, and while all things in our consciousness have causes, that is not enough to generalize that all things everywhere have causes. And even if we do look at all the things available to us, they all have material causes within this time and space, so how can I make the jump to something outside of our time and space causing the creation of the universe?

    Hopefully that is accurate. That is the point from which I am proceeding.

    So either this universe was not caused but simply exists, a possibility of which we have no evidence of being possible within our time and space but which you hold as possible because there might be examples of it elsewhere in this universe that we are not aware of, or something outside of this universe caused it. You ask what the difference is between something existing outside of time and space and it not existing at all; a fair question. It is possible to conceive of a lot of things that “could exist” outside of this time and space, such as God or unicorns or Wookies. So what’s the difference between the Trinity and Chewbacca?

    Well, there’s no reason to believe that Chewie must exist. If this universe was created, then something must exist separate from it to have created it, which would necessitate the existence of a being like the Christian God who has power and desire to have created the universe. To my knowledge, there’s no evidence of the work of Wookies or Ewoks; I present to you the universe as evidence of the work of God. Based on your previous arguments, can I infer that you believe that while we can’t know for sure, that God is at least possible? Is it possible that a being outside of time and space exists that created the universe? If you say yes, then we can look to see if there is any more specific evidence of His or Its existence.

    So before we go any further, I am looking for an answer to that question: is it possible that my explanation is correct? Not “Do you think it’s correct?”, but “Is it possible that it’s correct?” If you say it’s possible, we can proceed from there.

    Also, back to your idea of morality: I get the “Why don’t I want to be hurt? Because it hurts. That seems pretty fundamental to me” argument, but that seems like a morality of “I don’t want you to hurt me” as opposed to a “You ought not to hurt me” or “You shouldn’t hurt me” argument. Perhaps you could clarify that.

  14. corio37 permalink

    > I’m not certain your claims about science are accurate. Now I’m no scientist, so I will admit that I might be wrong here, but don’t scientists make claims about the creation of stars, planets, and galaxies hundreds or thousands or millions of light years away from us? Don’t we take what we know about the properties of light and apply it to the light we see coming from all corners of the universe, estimating distances assuming that light acts the same there as it does here or as it moves through space?

    What scientists claim, when they are acting as scientists and not, say, advocates, is that from what we think we know about local phenomena, we can deduce what possibly might be the case about non-local phenomena that appear to resemble these. But the claim is always provisional: it acknowledges that we might be wrong about the local phenomena, about our observations of the remote phenomena, or about the perceived similarity between them, Science, as science, doesn’t set out to prove anything; it aims to provide useful information. But since there is nothing in our local experience that resembles the creation of the universe, no responsible scientist would attempt to extrapolate to the cause of it from local events.

    What a scientist might legitimately do, however, is to point out that every event we know of that has a cause has a material physical cause that exists in time. So IF we allow ourselves to speculate about the cause of the coming-into-being of the universe, it seems reasonable to assume that it too has a material physical cause that exists in time.

    What you want to do is straddle the fence: to try and exploit science to assert that everything ‘must have’ a cause — which no scientist would officially endorse for a moment — and ignore science when it points out that everything we know about causes indicates that they are always material and physical. That’s not a tenable position.

    > We do the same with gravity, don’t we? Again, serious question. Perhaps I’m wrong. I’m a Literature teacher, if that tells you anything about my scientific background. But from what I understand, we discuss other galaxies behaving in the same way as ours, theorize about black holes and the birth and death of stars, all based on an understanding that gravity works the same throughout our universe.

    I understand your position, but I also know that many theists demonstrate an ignorance of science that could easily be fixed by reading a few good books and consulting a few websites. It’s really not difficult to acquire enough knowledge about the way science is done to avoid making embarrassing mistakes about it in public. As it is, there’s a whole book to be written about the mistakes most theists (and many atheists) make in understanding science.

    Briefly, scientists assume gravity works the same on Betelgeuse as it does on the Sun because we know (or believe) that there are similarities between Betelgeuse and the Sun. If we discovered that Betelgeuse was something entirely different, then we would drop that assumption. If and when we can measure the gravitational field of Betelgeuse then we will no longer have to assume because we will know. And if it turns out that gravity is radically different in that part of the universe, that will be a new fact to incorporate into science. Again, science is just a set of provisional hypotheses that represent our best guesses at the time — and ‘best’ in this context is a objective and clearly defined criterion. Where there is no basis for guessing, there is no science, just making stuff up.

    >
    >So you can keep saying that nothing like the creation of the universe has ever happened that we know of and that that prevents us from making assertions regarding how it happened, but I would respond that every act of creation is unique. Maybe you will say the creation of every song is pretty much the same; I, as a person who writes songs, would disagree. My creation is unique, followed a once-in-a-lifetime process that resulted in a once-in-a-lifetime song, but what my song has in common with every other song and every chair and blanket and statue and garden is that they have a creator. I understand what you are saying: we are only aware of one creation of one universe, so how do we know that what is true about all the other creations we see on a day to day basis applies to that one? But that’s what logic and science and philosophy and social sciences try to do: take one, two, or a thousand instances of a phenomenon that we are aware of and see if it can inform us on ones that we have yet to see.

    No, what they try to do it take some instances of a phenomenon that we are aware of and use them to make useful predictions (or retrodictions about what happened in the past) about other phenomena that are similar in some way. Creating one song is similar in many ways to creating another. I can’t say what song you will come up with next, but I’m prepared to bet that it won’t be anything like the song Lady Gaga comes up with next. I know very little about either of you, but I know enough to be reasonably sure of that.

    The coming-into-being of a universe, though, is not similar in any way to anything else, and thus it’s simply not possible to draw any kind of comparison which might inform us about its causes, other than the simple observation that it’s an event. Do we know that all events have causes? No. But we observe that when they DO have causes, those causes are invariably material. Your non-material cause is caught between a rock and a hard place.

    >
    > My claim of God being outside of this time and space is not contradictory: it’s just a statement that things can exist beyond what is contained by this universe. And while we can show through logic that at least one such thing must be there, we can’t know anything else about it or her or him unless they enter into the reality and demonstrate that they hold the type of power over this time and space that they must have if they created it. Which brings us to what I talked about a couple of posts ago and will return to if we ever get to a point where we agree that God exists.

    This is getting close to a word salad. Let me try and keep it simple: what is the difference between an entity ‘outside space and time’ and an entity that doesn’t exist? How can I or anyone else distinguish between the two? I say I have a pet Flobb which exists outside space and time: you say no, I don’t have a pet Flobb. What criteria is an impartial judge going to use to decide which of us is telling the truth? As far as I can see ‘outside space and time’ has exactly the same implications and connotations as ‘non-existent’. If you think they differ you need to spell out how and why.

    > As for your final paragraph, I guess we will just agree to disagree on that point. Some of those words represent ideals that we know through Natural Law, that man has always sought and tried to describe but which exist separately from any object and can be usefully discussed as such. Words like acceleration and temperature are abstractions describing purely material phenomena.

    But the notion that there can be any non-material kinds of phenomena is unproven, and equally open to question as the existence of God. You need to establish that there are non-material phenomena first before opening a discussion on how we can describe them.

    > Final question: based on the premise of your blog, you seem to think that some actions are right or moral and others are wrong or immoral. What is the basis of your ideas of right and wrong?

    OK: in a nutshell, things that hurt me are wrong and should be stopped. Things that hurt people I like or love are wrong because they hurt me indirectly. Things that hurt other people are wrong because a) they distress me and b) if those things are permitted I might end up getting hurt by them too. Things that benefit me are good unless they produce a net hurt to me or other people. Ditto for things that hurt or benefit animals. In general suffering is bad unless it results in greater-than-offsetting benefits, and pleasure is good unless it results in greater-than-offsetting suffering.

    Why don’t I want to be hurt? Because it hurts. That seems pretty fundamental to me.

  15. I’m not certain your claims about science are accurate. Now I’m no scientist, so I will admit that I might be wrong here, but don’t scientists make claims about the creation of stars, planets, and galaxies hundreds or thousands or millions of light years away from us? Don’t we take what we know about the properties of light and apply it to the light we see coming from all corners of the universe, estimating distances assuming that light acts the same there as it does here or as it moves through space?

    We do the same with gravity, don’t we? Again, serious question. Perhaps I’m wrong. I’m a Literature teacher, if that tells you anything about my scientific background. But from what I understand, we discuss other galaxies behaving in the same way as ours, theorize about black holes and the birth and death of stars, all based on an understanding that gravity works the same throughout our universe.

    And gravity is a good thing to bring up here. How do we know gravity exists? Because everything around us behaves as if it does. You could say that at some point an apple will fall off of a tree and go up instead of down, or that I will jump and not return to the ground, but there’s nothing that has ever existed that would suggest that your assertion is true. So you can keep saying that nothing like the creation of the universe has ever happened that we know of and that that prevents us from making assertions regarding how it happened, but I would respond that every act of creation is unique. Maybe you will say the creation of every song is pretty much the same; I, as a person who writes songs, would disagree. My creation is unique, followed a once-in-a-lifetime process that resulted in a once-in-a-lifetime song, but what my song has in common with every other song and every chair and blanket and statue and garden is that they have a creator. I understand what you are saying: we are only aware of one creation of one universe, so how do we know that what is true about all the other creations we see on a day to day basis applies to that one? But that’s what logic and science and philosophy and social sciences try to do: take one, two, or a thousand instances of a phenomenon that we are aware of and see if it can inform us on ones that we have yet to see.

    My claim of God being outside of this time and space is not contradictory: it’s just a statement that things can exist beyond what is contained by this universe. And while we can show through logic that at least one such thing must be there, we can’t know anything else about it or her or him unless they enter into the reality and demonstrate that they hold the type of power over this time and space that they must have if they created it. Which brings us to what I talked about a couple of posts ago and will return to if we ever get to a point where we agree that God exists.

    As for your final paragraph, I guess we will just agree to disagree on that point. Some of those words represent ideals that we know through Natural Law, that man has always sought and tried to describe but which exist separately from any object and can be usefully discussed as such. Words like acceleration and temperature are abstractions describing purely material phenomena.

    Final question: based on the premise of your blog, you seem to think that some actions are right or moral and others are wrong or immoral. What is the basis of your ideas of right and wrong?

  16. corio37 permalink

    I’m quite happy to accept the findings of science; but those findings are always provisional and pragmatic. They take us from observations of certain phenomena to useful explanations and predictions of other phenomena which we have reason to believe are related to them. But the coming-into-existence of the universe is entirely unique, and as such we’re not entitled to assume that our local observations of other events can be generalised to cover it.

    Similarly with cause and effect. No responsible scientist would attempt to generalise from a minuscule and highly selective proportion of the available observations to ‘how the Universe works’. The observations of humans on Earth have told us a bit about how things work on Earth and its near proximity right now: but there’s no reason to assume they cover events far away in space or time, and no scientist I know of would claim they know that every event, at any point in time, always had a cause. That’s not science: that’s fantasy.

    But if you really want to insist on ‘scientific’ generalisation, then why not go further and assume that since every cause and effect relationship that we know of involves physical interactions between material objects, the coming-into-being of the universe did too? That seems to cover the ‘discoveries of science’ pretty well. Otherwise you’re being very selective in choosing what you think constitutes science.

    Do you remember that I specified your definition of God should not be contradictory, and open to empirical investigation? I suspect you’ve jumped those boundaries already with your claim that God is ‘outside time and space’. I can think of a lot of things that are ‘outside time and space’, but none of them actually exist. But if you think you can reconcile the two, go ahead. Explain what ‘exists’ means, how something with no physical embodiment in the dimensions we dwell in can possibly be said to do so, and how we can verify that.

    And finally: “Love, beauty, truth; these are terms not meant to describe a physical action or event, but are used to talk about realities separate from any physical thing.” Yes, quite so. So are ‘acceleration’, ‘temperature’, ‘evolution’, ‘democracy’ and all the other abstractions that all of us — materialists included — use quite happily every day to describe the world around us. That’s what ‘abstraction’ means. Separate but not detached: since if ‘love’ never had any connection to any physical thing whatsoever, it would be a useless and vacuous word.

  17. As for points 1-3, I made no attempt to explain any of those things in my previous post because there’s no point talking about them unless you agree on the existence of God. Why talk about His nature if you don’t think He exists? So have patience with me. Let’s take this one step at a time.

    As for your fourth and fifth points, I guess I’m not sure what to say. Do you not believe science is capable of leading us to truth? The whole concept of science is that we can study particular instances of some action or phenomenon and use those observations to inform us on how the world works. I’m not sure how else we can speak intelligently about the topic of God if you’re not willing to trust the observations of humans for the last several thousand years to inform us on how the universe works.

    For 6, the Uncaused Cause is not contradictory because it assumes, as I stated, that the Cause is outside of this time and space, separate from the reality it has Caused. So while the reality of cause and effect is necessary and ubiquitous in this universe, it is possible to conceive of a being outside of this universe to whom this does not apply. Everything that exists is created or caused by something that is separate from itself; this universe exists; therefore it is caused or created by something separate from itself.

    And for 7, the idea of Plato’s forms has been expounded upon by Augustine in a beautiful way. As far as ideas like acceleration or gravity or invisible phenomenon related to the physical world that cannot be seen or touched, they are different in kind than what I referred to. Love, beauty, truth; these are terms not meant to describe a physical action or event, but are used to talk about realities separate from any physical thing.

  18. corio37 permalink

    Well, this is an argument which has been refuted on the Internet and elsewhere many, many times before, and the fact that you apparently haven’t bothered to research it before suggests that you don’t take the defence of your fundamental beliefs very seriously. But I’m happy to go through the well-established paths of refutation once again.

    Since there are several ways to approach this argument, depending on which of your assumptions I accept, I’m going to start by being as generous as possible, assuming most or all of your assertions are true and verified, and pointing out that this still doesn’t get you very close to where you want to be. I’ll then retreat, step by step, and question each of your doubtful assumptions in turn.

    1. Let’s assume the Universe was created by a sentient being who is still around today. So what? How do you get from that to the purely local God of the Israelites who showed Moses his bottom and couldn’t handle iron chariots, or the Sky Daddy whose edicts motivate your fellow Catholics to picket abortion clinics? You have an awful lot of dots to connect up. Since as far as I know your Creator is compatible with Hinduism, Islam, Buddhism and Scientology, you’re a long way short of establishing Catholicism or Christianity is true. Yes, the Bible claims that Jehova is the creator of the Universe, but the Bible claims a great many things that are self-contradictory or physically impossible, so there’s no particular reason to accept its authority on this. It might have passed muster a few hundred years ago when the creation of the universe and of human beings were regarded as contemporary events, but what your creation story gives us now is a God who made the universe and then sat on his hands for fourteen and a half billion years before the appearance of the species for whom the whole show was taking place. That’s a little hard to swallow, isn’t it?

    2. Let’s assume the Universe was created by a sentient being. Okay, what possible reason do we have to think that being is still around? We don’t know of any living being that can survive for more than a thousand years or so; why do you imagine the creator is an exception? Sure, if we make prior assumptions about the lifespan of a creator, we can postulate that he’s still in existence: but what possible grounds do we have for that? Prior assumptions are what we are trying to avoid.

    3. Let’s assume the Universe was created by a being. What grounds do you have to claim that being is sentient? Most of what goes on here on Earth, and all of what goes on in space, as far as we know, is caused by events occuring within and between non-sentient entities. In terms of the sheer number of cause-event pairings, non-sentient entities have the edge by a factor of billions to one. Clearly — in the absence of prior evidence — that’s the way to bet.

    4. But do we need to assume the Universe was created by a being? You point out that paintings and tables don’t just appear, but paintings and tables aren’t universes. There’s only one Universe, as far as we know, so its creation was a unique event, and nothing like it has never been repeated since. On what grounds, then, can you claim that this particular type of event needs to follow the same rules as the very different local events taking place on planet Earth? You simply can’t generalise.

    5. In fact, do we need to assume the creation of the Universe was caused at all? You claim that ‘each event and movement is caused by something before it’, but what proportion of all the events taking place in the Universe have you, or Aristotle, or Aquinas, actually observed? Something around .000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000001%, or thereabouts. What you mean is “All the events I have personally witnessed in my immediate vicinity on the surface of a small planet over a few decades — and bothered to verify — have been caused”. But this is like saying “I see two red ants on my pot plant; therefore all ants in this galaxy are red”. Once you have observed a substantial fraction of the events taking place throughout the universe over a substantial proportion of its history, then you can reasonably make claims about whether or not they are all caused. Till then you have no grounds at all for your assertion.

    6. And let’s finish with an old favourite: if events need to be caused, then obviously the actions of your Creator are caused, and an Uncaused Cause is a contradictory concept. On the other hand, if the actions of a Creator can be uncaused, then the coming-into-being of a Universe can be uncaused too. You can’t simply stipulate that causes are necessary for one hypothetical type of event and arbitrarily rule them out for another; you need to supply some reasons why this should be the case.

    7. As for your Platonic ‘invisible reality’, I’m happy to discuss that in more detail if you want to pursue it, but even Plato was able to see the problems with it. Abstraction is merely a linguistic technique that allows us to talk about things that we find difficult to point to. One of these, for instance, is ‘acceleration’. There is no such object as ‘acceleration’ in the Universe, but materialists don’t have any difficulty in talking about it. Why, then, do you think we should have difficulty talking about love or hope or truth or beauty?

  19. As for the existence of God, I’m going to stick with reason for now. I just wanted to make sure we were on the same page as far as the existence of objective truth and the means through which we can access it. It would seem that we are, and both with the understanding that logic is typically more reliable than personal experience or the experiences of others.

    So let’s see if I can do what you asked.

    I will begin by defining God as a person, spirit, or power responsible for the creation of this universe. Most people come to the question of the existence of God through the means of wondering where we came from. So let’s ask that question.

    There needs to be an explanation for the existence of this universe. The only two explanations are that it exists of its own accord (materialism, naturalism, etc) or it was created by someone or something. So we look to our reason and our experiences: for every creation, there is a creator. Paintings don’t happen; they are made by painters. Tables don’t just appear; they are crafted by someone. And that which creates is always separate from that which it creates. Novelists exist outside of the worlds they scribe. Poets are not one and the same with their poems. They created them, and the creations might tell something about their creator, but they are not the same thing or being. So if that’ true about every creation in this reality, it would stand to reason that it is true about this reality itself. There must be a Creator, outside or separate from this time and space who created this time and space.

    Or, to go about it a different way: others along a similar vein are Aristotle’s Prime Mover argument and the similar Uncaused Cause argument of Aquinas, which both essentially say, “Everything is caused or moved by something or someone else, and if we go back and back far enough, from me to my mom to her mom to the first mom to monkeys to amoebas to the Big Bang, each event or movement is caused by something before it. Eventually, there must be a mover that is not itself moved or a causer that is not itself caused.

    So that’s where I begin. Nothing new; arguments that have been made before. But the ideas of materials or naturalism which claim the self-creation of a contained system or universe seem contradictory to both reason and experience within this universe. I don’t know of anything in this existence that self-creates or spontaneously begins existing, and if there is something it would certainly be the exception to the rule. Everything I see and know was created by someone. Deduction leads to the idea that this universe was also made by someone.

    While these arguments are enough in my opinion, there is plenty of other evidence. Any time that we are appealing to any transcendent ideal or abstract concept, it would seem that we are appealing to an invisible reality, another layer of existence. If materialism or naturalism were true, then there is no such things as love or truth or beauty or hope. Our understanding of these realities and experience of them daily indicates a deeper world than what is available to the eye.

    So if materialism or naturalism don’t work, then what else does in explaining the universe’s existence other than some sort of God?

  20. corio37 permalink

    “So tell me if you agree with this before we go any farther: God either exists or does not, and we can use our reason, experience, and the reason and experiences of others (otherwise known as their authority) to determine the objective truth regarding this issue.”

    Well, let’s see.

    1. In the first place, before we can discuss whether (a) god exists or not, we need to agree on a definition of what a god is. So, as the proposer of the motion, I think the onus is on you to provide a definition.

    2. That definition should not be self-contradictory, since we can, I hope, agree that an entity with contradictory properties cannot exist.

    3. The entity you define should be open to some kind of empirical investigation, since otherwise there is no way of reaching a conclusion on this: for instance, if I define a ‘bandersnatch’ as ‘a big pink rabbit which can never be detected or observed in any way’ it’s clear that debate about its existence is futile.

    So come up with a definition of (a) God which meets those criteria and I’ll gladly discuss it. But note that:

    4. The authority of those who claim X is defeated by the authority of those who claim not-X. If you are going to use the ‘authority’ of Catholic believers from history to support your claim that the Catholic God exists, that leaves me free to use the ‘authority’ of Buddhists, Muslims, Hindus, and atheists to refute it. And I don’t have to show that atheism is correct, merely that Catholicism is not. You can try to play the ‘authority’ card if you like, but I suspect you’ll find it very difficult to come up with an ‘authority’ we can both agree to credit.

    Having said that, the floor is yours.

  21. So let’s start from the beginning.

    We should define our terms first. What I believe we are doing here is seeking the truth about the existence of God. By truth I mean an objective reality outside of what you or I believe to be true: what actually is. For instance, I could believe the remote to my t.v. is in my couch cushions, you could believe it is in my recliner, but the truth has to be one, the other, or neither. Regardless of what we both “believe” about the remote, what actually “is” is the truth. And this applies to the question of the existence of God. He/She/It either exists or doesn’t; there is no third ground. One of us is right, and the other is wrong. Now, after we get past this question and talk about God’s nature (assuming we get there), then there are multiple options: I’m right, you’re right, the Muslims are right, the Hindus are right, we’re all wrong, etc. But the idea that we can both or all be right when we have contradictory opinions is contrary to truth.

    So if truth exists outside of what we believe it to be, how do we know it? I spoke in a previous post about the three sources of knowledge: our reason, which is simply saying that there is an order to things and that contradictory ideas typically or always indicate that one or both of them is false; our experience, including our sensory experiences; and the authority of others. While perhaps reason is the most reliable of the three, I don’t think the other two should be discounted. To go back to the remote instance, we can use our reason to figure out that the remote is likely in the couch, or I could go look in the couch and see if it’s there, or I could ask my wife, who was the last to use the remote, if she knows where it is. All three could lead us to the truth about where the remote is.

    So tell me if you agree with this before we go any farther: God either exists or does not, and we can use our reason, experience, and the reason and experiences of others (otherwise known as their authority) to determine the objective truth regarding this issue.

  22. corio37 permalink

    I’m going to respond to this now because I’ll be out for the rest of the day:

    1) It is not that the Christians sacrificed their lives, but how. They were inherently different than the Muslims and Kamikaze pilots you refer to in that their sacrifice was not an act of irrationality. Those people you cited are all suicides; certainly there is a difference in kind between a suicide and a martyr. The Christians were persecuted and murdered while persevering in their hope and peace; these others killed themselves in the name of something else.

    I didn’t ‘cite’ any one person, but there are plenty of examples of non-Christian martyrs who did not commit suicide: see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Category:Muslim_martyrs, or http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Category:Hindu_martyrs, for example. But why should seeking death in one way be deemed ‘rational’ when seeking it in another way is not? Both seem like pretty irrational behaviours to me.

    2) I am perhaps not as ignorant of history-biblical study as you suggest, but I am certainly no expert. Perhaps my point would be better stated as such: if we are to trust any historical events as having happened, such as the Civil War (I wasn’t there, you weren’t there, we trust that it happened), then I can have complete confidence at the very least that Jesus of Nazareth was real using the same criteria applied to the Gospels, non-religious accounts, non-canonical religious works from eyewitnesses, etc. It’s not that I’m not aware that some people dispute that Jesus exists; it’s just that I’ve read some of them and they sound very much like the people who think America didn’t land a man on the moon. It just doesn’t hold up to scrutiny. So if this man really existed, then we need to deal with what the earliest Christians did. If all of these people acted as if the Gospel accounts were true, as if Jesus lived and died and was Resurrected and proved His divinity beyond their doubt, and they were able to provide such an account of themselves as to convince and convert so many who were not in their family or tribe or nation (as happened with Islam and other faiths), that seems to lend credence to the fact that the Gospel is true. Let’s use the Civil War as an example: I have all these accounts that it happened, and everyone behaves as if those accounts are true, and it’s been verified by eyewitnesses and their descendants and others, then it seems to me it is reliable.

    OK: how many independent eyewitness accounts and contemporary records and attested copies of contemporary records of the Civil War are there? And how many independent copies of contemporary eyewitness accounts and records do we have of the miraculous nature of Jesus Christ — not merely the existence, because that’s not the issue, but the miracles and the resurrection? Bear in mind too that relatively few people stand to benefit by promulgating myths about the Civil War, while a great many people depend on religion for their livelihood and psychological comfort.

    All that your accounts demonstrate is that the early Christian martyrs — at least, those whose stories we have some reason to believe — held powerful beliefs. But that’s not in dispute. What is in dispute is whether those beliefs are true. And let me point out that Mohammed’s miracles and conversations with God are just as well-attested as Christ’s. Why do you believe one and not the other?

    3) Your third point is really inconsequential to this argument, because you are arguing for a nature of God that is inconsistent with Christian thought. If what Christ was God, then what He taught was true, and what He taught about suffering is true. What He promised was the cross. He promised persecution. The idea of Christian love is not one of feeling good or even necessarily happiness in the way the world today sees it; it is the idea consistent with even the great Greek philosophers that love is willing the good of the other. Love involves choice and selflessness. It involves the risk that others can hurt you. And so if the world hates Christians and Christianity because they offer them the choice to turn away from their pleasures and attachments, then Christ’s predictions are true.

    I’m not arguing for any ‘nature of God’ — I’m pointing out that if you want to argue for the existence of God, then making prior assumptions about God’s nature and desires simply begs the question. Establish that God exists first, and then we can go into details of what he’s like, what he wants and how you know that.

    Do you understand the concept of unfalsifiability? If everything that happens is consistent with a theory X, then theory X is useless because it cannot explain or predict anything. One way for you to prove the existence of God is to explain what you would expect to see if your God didn’t exist — and why. Is there any observable state of the world which would do that for you?

  23. A more elaborate response will follow, but I will address your three final points quickly.

    1) It is not that the Christians sacrificed their lives, but how. They were inherently different than the Muslims and Kamikaze pilots you refer to in that their sacrifice was not an act of irrationality. Those people you cited are all suicides; certainly there is a difference in kind between a suicide and a martyr. The Christians were persecuted and murdered while persevering in their hope and peace; these others killed themselves in the name of something else.

    2) I am perhaps not as ignorant of history-biblical study as you suggest, but I am certainly no expert. Perhaps my point would be better stated as such: if we are to trust any historical events as having happened, such as the Civil War (I wasn’t there, you weren’t there, we trust that it happened), then I can have complete confidence at the very least that Jesus of Nazareth was real using the same criteria applied to the Gospels, non-religious accounts, non-canonical religious works from eyewitnesses, etc. It’s not that I’m not aware that some people dispute that Jesus exists; it’s just that I’ve read some of them and they sound very much like the people who think America didn’t land a man on the moon. It just doesn’t hold up to scrutiny. So if this man really existed, then we need to deal with what the earliest Christians did. If all of these people acted as if the Gospel accounts were true, as if Jesus lived and died and was Resurrected and proved His divinity beyond their doubt, and they were able to provide such an account of themselves as to convince and convert so many who were not in their family or tribe or nation (as happened with Islam and other faiths), that seems to lend credence to the fact that the Gospel is true. Let’s use the Civil War as an example: I have all these accounts that it happened, and everyone behaves as if those accounts are true, and it’s been verified by eyewitnesses and their descendants and others, then it seems to me it is reliable.

    3) Your third point is really inconsequential to this argument, because you are arguing for a nature of God that is inconsistent with Christian thought. If what Christ was God, then what He taught was true, and what He taught about suffering is true. What He promised was the cross. He promised persecution. The idea of Christian love is not one of feeling good or even necessarily happiness in the way the world today sees it; it is the idea consistent with even the great Greek philosophers that love is willing the good of the other. Love involves choice and selflessness. It involves the risk that others can hurt you. And so if the world hates Christians and Christianity because they offer them the choice to turn away from their pleasures and attachments, then Christ’s predictions are true.

    Just some initial thoughts. I’ll be back soon. If you don’t mind, let me get a more full response to you before you respond to these points. That will just help me keep things straight in my head. Thanks for the thoughts and discussion.

  24. corio37 permalink

    And by the way — just as an afterthought — let me point out what a strange argument it is to say: ‘Christians have suffered more than the followers of other religions; therefore their God must exist.’ One would suppose that a loving God who was doing his job would be trying to reduce the suffering of his believers, or at least redirect it on to infidels. It’s like saying “Our police force must be harder on criminals than yours, because my house has been broken into ten times, and yours only twice.”

    But that brings us to the bizarre and inherently contradictory properties of God, which is a topic for another day.

  25. corio37 permalink

    OK, let’s take this paragraph by paragraph:

    1. I’m going to assume that you are a theist, given that most philosophers would agree that the existence of God can be philosophically known with certainty (Prime Mover, Uncaused Cause, Designer of the Universe, etc). But even though we can know that some infinite and unchanging Creator Being exists, it would be impossible to know anything about Him/Her/It unless He/She/It revealed their self to us.

    I. Than you assume wrong, as you would know if you had read more of my blog posts. I don’t know what your authority is for claiming to know what ‘most philosphers would agree’, but that’s beside the point anyway. I’m not interested in ‘what most philosophers would agree’: I’m interested in what you can show to be the case.

    2. God has revealed himself to us. We can know this the same way we know anything: through our reason, our experience, and our trust in authority (how do you know the Civil War happened? You trust the authority of historians…same principal here). Our reason leads us to know His existence, and that logic, along with our experiences and trusting the authority of others’ experiences, lets us know who He is.

    II. Who is ‘we’ here? I certainly don’t know any such thing. If God had ‘revealed himself to me’ I would believe in him; since I don’t, clearly he hasn’t. MY reason has led me to the conclusion that God doesn’t exist. If yours has led you somewhere else, then you need to explain how and why.

    3. Many religions claim that God has revealed Himself to them, so how do we discern between them? Well, there’s a number of ways. Logic easily eliminates any polytheistic religions, since the very nature of an Uncreated Creator means that there can only be one eternal and omnipotent power (to have more than one omnipotent being would imply that they have power over each other, which would imply a limit on their individual power, which would create a contradiction in terms). So we are left with, essentially, Judaism, Christianity, and Islam (I know I’m super simplifying things, but there’s a reason people usually write about this stuff in books instead of blog comments). The current existence of the Jewish people is almost argument enough for legitimizing their claim as the Chosen People of God. That this tiny tribe of people survived numerous attempts at their genocidal elimination, outlasted the kingdoms of Babylon, Egypt, Greece, and Rome that enslaved and persecuted them at various times, and did all this with essentially no rational explanation other than the only one they’ve ever clung to (that God ensured their safety and success) is a fact that must be reckoned with. But if I can convince you of the legitimacy of the claims of Jesus Christ, then the claims of Judaism necessarily follow, so I won’t spend much time on them.

    III. But who says God is an ‘Uncreated Creator’? Certainly not the Hindus, or the Buddhists, or any of the animistic tribal religions. This is a comparatively late claim made by the Christian religion only, as far as I know. Take it away and there is no more reason to disbelieve any of those than Christianity. If your proof of Catholicism relies on the properties of God you need to prove first that God a) exists and b) has those properties. I can ‘prove’ that Islam is true by an unsupported claim that God has all the properties assigned to him by Islam; but so what?

    As for the survival of the Jews; it’s like winning the lottery, isn’t it? If there are enough ‘tiny tribes’ then some of them will survive, and those will be the ones that get to write history. If another ‘tiny tribe’ had survived and prospered instead, you could now be trying to convince me of the truth of Baal-worship, or Zoroastrianism.

    4. That Jesus existed is not really seriously debated in academic circles. From the numerous canonical and non-canonical gospels and scriptures about him to the completely historical accounts from the likes of Josephus and Pliny the Younger (among others), clearly this man truly lived where and when the Gospels claimed.

    IV. Oh, yes it is. Spend some time at http://www.freeratio.org/forumdisplay.php?f=60 . The existence of Jesus is a matter of hot debate, and so are any and all of the characteristics and behaviours attributed to him.

    5. So if he existed, we need to decide whether he was God or not. Certainly there are only two options: he was either God Himself or a maniac. To speak in the ways that He did, claiming the authority to forgive sins, saying that He is the Way, Truth, and Life, saying that eternal salvation could only be found by eating his body and drinking his blood, either inspires dedicated followership or horror at the arrogance and brash nature of what he was saying. To say that he was simply a moral teacher is preposterous: every other moral teacher, from the Buddha to Confucius to Mohammed to the Dalai Lama, all pointed to something outside of themselves (either God or a Way or a Path or something to that effect). But Jesus said that he was the Answer. Surely this makes him different in kind than any other teacher, and flies in the face of the traditional humility displayed by all of these others. If he’s not God, then he is so egomaniacal as to be completely dismissed (as many he preached to did).

    V. No, there are many options. Here are some of them:

    i) ‘Jesus’ never existed but was completely fabricated at a later date.
    ii) Someone called ‘Jesus’ existed but all of his sayings and actions that have come down to us were fabricated at a later date.
    iii) As above, but some unknown proportion of those sayings and actions were fabricated.
    iv) Jesus’s powers were real but were supplied by some non-supernatural force that we haven’t yet discovered.
    v) Jesus’s powers were supplied by Zeus as a cosmic practical joke on the Jewish faith.

    And I can think of many more. Your ‘lord or lunatic’ is a false dichotomy.

    6. But if He was God, how would he communicate that to us? We would expect miracles that demonstrated power over men, sickness, nature, death itself; in essence, miracles of every kind that Jesus was said to have performed. So then, how to know whether the Gospels can be trusted? Much study has been done regarding the historicity of the Gospels and their authors, but that’s a longer road to go down. Let’s consider what we would expect out of the eyewitnesses of such miracles if they actually happened. We would expect either devotion and discipleship at the cost of everything else or claims of devilry and the persecution of the performer of such deeds, both of which we see in those same Gospels.

    VI. I don’t know what I would expect from the eyewitnesses to a miracle — although I note from modern accounts that many people who claim to have seen a miracle at the time subsequently change their minds. We don’t know if there were any miracles, or any eyewitnesses, or any disciples, or if there were, what they got out of their discipleship — perhaps three square meals a day and a bed at night was attraction enough. Note too that at least one of the disciples clearly DIDN’T believe the claims made by Jesus to be God on earth. One out of twelve of his closest confidantes thought he was a thumping liar — that’s not such a good ratio, is it?

    Once you have established that Jesus existed and the account of his life given in the Bible is entirely true (and what about all those Apocryphal stories that never made it in?) THEN you are in a position to demonstrate what it implies. Till then you are in the same situation as someone saying “Harry Potter MUST have been really powerful, because even Voldemort was afraid of him!” You’re pointing out that the story is internally consistent. Well, yes — that’s what makes for successful stories.

    7. And if the Gospels themselves are discounted, what are we to do with the early Church? How do we explain the actions of all of the Christian martyrs in the early years of the Church who died with a peace and confidence that unsettled and converted many pagans throughout the ancient world? What is it that convinced them so completely if not the historical miracles of Christ and the Apostles? Why is it that the followers of Jesus of Nazareth felt so compelled to dedicate their lives, even to the point of death, to spreading his story, when followers of other men who claimed to be the Messiah of Judaism, such as Barkhokba (who had a wide following, coins minted with his face on them, etc.), trailed off into history? In essence, it is the Resurrection.

    VII. Many of our accounts of Christian martyrdom are written by Christians, so it’s not surprising that they sound heroic. Many more are now acknowledged to be spurious, or adapted from earlier pagan myths. But again, this is beside the point. We know that people will suffer appalling pain and even death for their beliefs. Kamikaze bombers in World War II died for their faith in the divinity of the Emperor. Suicide bombers in the Middle East are dying for Islam every week. Does that make Islam true?

    8. Only a man rising from the dead of his own accord could astonish, shock, and convert so many so quickly and so thoroughly. The Resurrection is what separates Jesus from so many others who claimed power and authority from God. It is what separates Him from all other religious founders. He claimed to be God, and proved it through the actions of his life. Here God entered history from his existence outside of time and space to reveal his very nature and personhood to us. He wanted to enter into relationship with His creation.

    VIII. How many, and how quickly? I’m not an expert, but I understand there is considerable disagreement about the size and growth of the early Christian church. Did it grow as fast as Islam? In any event, it can’t possibly have grown as fast as Mormonism or the Jehova’s Witnesses faiths. And neither of those are based on a resurrection. Your equation resurrection = rapid growth is simply and demonstrably wrong.

    9. So, in essence, the history of Christianity, particularly of the early Church, indicates the veracity of the story told in the Gospel. Those Christians would not have done what they did with such astounding success if they were not convinced of the divinity of Christ and the legitimacy of His message. And if the Gospel account is true, then Jesus is who He said He is: God Incarnate. And if Jesus is God Incarnate, then His words must be adhered to as such, including His words to Peter in Matthew 16 where he establishes his Church and gives it power to speak on behalf of his Holy Spirit.

    IX. I’ve given reasons above why ‘success’ is not synonymous with truth. The Islamic religion has been spectacularly successful in its spread and growth — far more so recently than Christianity. Why don’t you believe in that instead?

    10. I would imagine that you will say something along the lines of the early Christians being deluded or manipulated, but there is nothing to indicate that this is the fact. So many have been converted through witnessing the lucidity and true humanity of these saints and their martyrdom that you would have to be deluding yourself to discount them all. It is the same problem I had with your comments about my friends, saying that I couldn’t know if they were sex offenders: you only assume such because of your prejudice. You must escape your biases and evaluate the facts, in particular the establishment and successful spreading of the Gospel of Christ and His Church from a small group of devoted followers to a worldwide faith community. How does the Early Church accomplish this without complete certainty in their God?

    X. Replace ‘Christianity’ with ‘Islam’ in this paragraph and ask yourself the same question.

    11. To disprove Christianity (or at least this simple and incomplete argument for it…certainly there are others), you have to explain away the early Church. What else could explain the dedication and discipleship but the miracles of Christ and the apostles, the witness of the martyrs, the experience of a personal God alive in our world?

    XI. Ditto.

    12. So these reasons, combined with my personal experience of Jesus Christ’s saving power and my personal relationship with Him, leave me with no doubt in the claims of Catholicism. The story of man can be summed up as such: God created the world good, man made evil enter through his own free will, and God entered into history to save us from the consequences of our own sin. Now we live in the age of the Spirit, the age of the Church, which is always inviting us back to Christ. We must decide how we respond. We must decide whether we will return home to the Father.

    XII. Let me extend the utmost generosity and assume that all your points above are true and verified. What have you proved? That a man who lived 2000 years ago and could work miracles, including his own resurrection, told convincing stories about a certain kind of God. That doesn’t answer the question as to whether those stories were accurate, and how you or anyone else can possibly know that.

    As far as I can see, your points boil down to these:

    A) Nobody would sacrifice themselves and/or undergo serious suffering for a religion that wasn’t true.
    B) No religion would grow as fast as Christianity if it wasn’t true.

    But of course there are numerous counterexamples from religions you don’t believe in which disprove both these claims. And you show a disturbing ignorance of the current state of biblio-historical scholarship. You will need something seriously better than this to change my views.

  26. So here’s a jumping off point for discussing the apology for Catholicism.

    I’m going to assume that you are a theist, given that most philosophers would agree that the existence of God can be philosophically known with certainty (Prime Mover, Uncaused Cause, Designer of the Universe, etc). But even though we can know that some infinite and unchanging Creator Being exists, it would be impossible to know anything about Him/Her/It unless He/She/It revealed their self to us.

    God has revealed himself to us. We can know this the same way we know anything: through our reason, our experience, and our trust in authority (how do you know the Civil War happened? You trust the authority of historians…same principal here). Our reason leads us to know His existence, and that logic, along with our experiences and trusting the authority of others’ experiences, lets us know who He is.

    Many religions claim that God has revealed Himself to them, so how do we discern between them? Well, there’s a number of ways. Logic easily eliminates any polytheistic religions, since the very nature of an Uncreated Creator means that there can only be one eternal and omnipotent power (to have more than one omnipotent being would imply that they have power over each other, which would imply a limit on their individual power, which would create a contradiction in terms). So we are left with, essentially, Judaism, Christianity, and Islam (I know I’m super simplifying things, but there’s a reason people usually write about this stuff in books instead of blog comments). The current existence of the Jewish people is almost argument enough for legitimizing their claim as the Chosen People of God. That this tiny tribe of people survived numerous attempts at their genocidal elimination, outlasted the kingdoms of Babylon, Egypt, Greece, and Rome that enslaved and persecuted them at various times, and did all this with essentially no rational explanation other than the only one they’ve ever clung to (that God ensured their safety and success) is a fact that must be reckoned with. But if I can convince you of the legitimacy of the claims of Jesus Christ, then the claims of Judaism necessarily follow, so I won’t spend much time on them.

    That Jesus existed is not really seriously debated in academic circles. From the numerous canonical and non-canonical gospels and scriptures about him to the completely historical accounts from the likes of Josephus and Pliny the Younger (among others), clearly this man truly lived where and when the Gospels claimed.

    So if he existed, we need to decide whether he was God or not. Certainly there are only two options: he was either God Himself or a maniac. To speak in the ways that He did, claiming the authority to forgive sins, saying that He is the Way, Truth, and Life, saying that eternal salvation could only be found by eating his body and drinking his blood, either inspires dedicated followership or horror at the arrogance and brash nature of what he was saying. To say that he was simply a moral teacher is preposterous: every other moral teacher, from the Buddha to Confucius to Mohammed to the Dalai Lama, all pointed to something outside of themselves (either God or a Way or a Path or something to that effect). But Jesus said that he was the Answer. Surely this makes him different in kind than any other teacher, and flies in the face of the traditional humility displayed by all of these others. If he’s not God, then he is so egomaniacal as to be completely dismissed (as many he preached to did).

    But if He was God, how would he communicate that to us? We would expect miracles that demonstrated power over men, sickness, nature, death itself; in essence, miracles of every kind that Jesus was said to have performed. So then, how to know whether the Gospels can be trusted? Much study has been done regarding the historicity of the Gospels and their authors, but that’s a longer road to go down. Let’s consider what we would expect out of the eyewitnesses of such miracles if they actually happened. We would expect either devotion and discipleship at the cost of everything else or claims of devilry and the persecution of the performer of such deeds, both of which we see in those same Gospels.

    And if the Gospels themselves are discounted, what are we to do with the early Church? How do we explain the actions of all of the Christian martyrs in the early years of the Church who died with a peace and confidence that unsettled and converted many pagans throughout the ancient world? What is it that convinced them so completely if not the historical miracles of Christ and the Apostles? Why is it that the followers of Jesus of Nazareth felt so compelled to dedicate their lives, even to the point of death, to spreading his story, when followers of other men who claimed to be the Messiah of Judaism, such as Barkhokba (who had a wide following, coins minted with his face on them, etc.), trailed off into history? In essence, it is the Resurrection.

    Only a man rising from the dead of his own accord could astonish, shock, and convert so many so quickly and so thoroughly. The Resurrection is what separates Jesus from so many others who claimed power and authority from God. It is what separates Him from all other religious founders. He claimed to be God, and proved it through the actions of his life. Here God entered history from his existence outside of time and space to reveal his very nature and personhood to us. He wanted to enter into relationship with His creation.

    So, in essence, the history of Christianity, particularly of the early Church, indicates the veracity of the story told in the Gospel. Those Christians would not have done what they did with such astounding success if they were not convinced of the divinity of Christ and the legitimacy of His message. And if the Gospel account is true, then Jesus is who He said He is: God Incarnate. And if Jesus is God Incarnate, then His words must be adhered to as such, including His words to Peter in Matthew 16 where he establishes his Church and gives it power to speak on behalf of his Holy Spirit.

    I would imagine that you will say something along the lines of the early Christians being deluded or manipulated, but there is nothing to indicate that this is the fact. So many have been converted through witnessing the lucidity and true humanity of these saints and their martyrdom that you would have to be deluding yourself to discount them all. It is the same problem I had with your comments about my friends, saying that I couldn’t know if they were sex offenders: you only assume such because of your prejudice. You must escape your biases and evaluate the facts, in particular the establishment and successful spreading of the Gospel of Christ and His Church from a small group of devoted followers to a worldwide faith community. How does the Early Church accomplish this without complete certainty in their God?

    To disprove Christianity (or at least this simple and incomplete argument for it…certainly there are others), you have to explain away the early Church. What else could explain the dedication and discipleship but the miracles of Christ and the apostles, the witness of the martyrs, the experience of a personal God alive in our world?

    So these reasons, combined with my personal experience of Jesus Christ’s saving power and my personal relationship with Him, leave me with no doubt in the claims of Catholicism. The story of man can be summed up as such: God created the world good, man made evil enter through his own free will, and God entered into history to save us from the consequences of our own sin. Now we live in the age of the Spirit, the age of the Church, which is always inviting us back to Christ. We must decide how we respond. We must decide whether we will return home to the Father.

    I hope this is a good starting point for our discussion. I look forward to your response.

  27. corio37 permalink

    The rates of pedophilia are not at all similar: on the one hand we have an estimate of the actual number of (known and unknown) pedophiles in the community (‘under 5%’), on the other we have the proportion of people in a given profession actually discovered and acknowledged to be pedophiles (‘about 4%’). Do you seriously believe that ALL the pedophiles in the Catholic priesthood have been discovered and outed? If not, what proportion do you think have — half? a third? a quarter? Whatever you believe the proportion is, you need to multiply your 4% by the reciprocal to come up with a reasonable estimate of the prevalence of pedophiles in the priesthood. I am not making any claims or ‘assumptions’ about any individuals whatsoever: I am pointing out a statistical anomaly that needs to be explained.

    As a married man I can testify that marriage and a happy sex life don’t always go together :-). You can’t assume that someone who is married is not celibate, or otherwise sexually dysfunctional. In fact there are more than enough dysfunctional marriages to produce the estimated number of pedophiles, without having to call on the ranks of those in happy fulfilling sexual partnerships.

    And once again, I did not so much as hint that celibacy is a ’cause’ of pedophilia: what I said, and what I repeat, is that any employer which recruits its staff on the condition that they agree to relenquish their sex lives is soon going to be staffed by some very peculiar people. You seem to think that this makes them peculiarly good: I beg to differ. And again, your personal observations about your friends in the priesthood are worthless as arguments: firstly because they don’t address the statistical anomaly, and secondly because you have no way of knowing whether your friends are pedophiles or not. (Do you imagine they are going to tell you? Do you think the friends and families and congregations of the hundreds of priests already convicted of pedophilia knew them as anything but normal, healthy people?)

    Would I regard Aquinas, John Paul II and Augustine as deluded? Yes, certainly, since they make claims and endorse statements which are demonstrably wrong, and back them up with nothing but wishful thinking. Intellectual prowess and delusion are not mutually exclusive. And your attempt to link scientific progress with religious belief is disingenous: in a world where most people spend their time keeping themselves alive, those with leisure to read, write and research are going to make most of the intellectual achievements. Until the 19th century at least, most of the leisure time was available to those inside the Church. One might as well say that because scientific progress is mainly made in wealthy nations, science should pay particular honours to the rich. Opportunity matters.

    Have I or those close to me been ‘personally hurt’ by religion? No, not particularly. I resent the free coverage and air time given to religious promotions, and the tax dollars spent on hosting and cleaning up after religious events, and the deductions given to religious bodies to help further their aims, but I have no personal animus. My main aim in the blog is just to expose how damaging, how silly and how pointless the whole thing is. And if I can get a few laughs out of it along the way, that’s a bonus.

    However, these are all side issues, and could be applied equally well to Buddhism, Islam or Mormonism. I await your attempt to defend your own belief, in your own words, by arguments that couldn’t be equally well applied to these faiths or any other.

  28. Sources
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pedophilia#Prevalence_and_child_molestation (estimated at under 5%, but mentions anywhere between 3% and 9%)

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Catholic_sex_abuse_cases (4%, as you noted)

    So, the rates are statistically similar. And even if the rate is double, as you suggest you think it is, the rate would still be within the range of the estimated percentage of the general population (assuming of course that those estimations are correct…certainly it’s just as likely that there are more cases within the general population than are accounted for in those statistics).

    I also feel compelled to include the fact that 58% of those who abuse children either are or were married. So if most child rape happens by those who were at some point within the context of what most would consider the most normal sex life a person could have (not to mention the fact that presumably most of the remaining 42% were sexually active outside of their abuse and not celibate), it seems to lend more credence to the fact that celibacy is not the cause of the sexual abuse, but rather the individual person’s issues and/or sicknesses. http://silentnomore.org/information/statistics/

    I will post another comment in the near future with as much of a full apologetic argument as I can muster in my own words, but in the meantime, I will just say this. You appear to have some pretty extreme biases and prejudices against those who join the clergy, perhaps understandably, given the many articles you’ve cited in your blog. And while you call my comments about priests “strikingly naive”, regardless of the fact that you have no knowledge of my personal experience with sexual abuse and/or the sexual abuse scandal within the clergy, I would encourage perhaps a more emotionally detached approach to this topic if it is going to be efficacious at all. You are making assumptions about thousands of men based on your experience with one priest forty years ago and what you read in the news. I have personal relationships (none of them sexual, just to close the door to any possible jokes there) with many priests and religious. One of my best friends is a monk, another was ordained a priest this year, a third is in seminary. Four students that I have taught are currently in the seminary. I know these people on a deeply personal level: they are neither deluded nor liars. They are broken, to be sure. We all are. But to paint the clergy with such a wide brush is dishonest. Certainly you would not consider such intellectual giants as Aquinas, Augustine, John Paul II, etc as deluded? These men (not to mention the numerous other male and female celibate Doctors of the Church, saints, blesseds, etc) have contributed to the philosophical and scientific thought of all of the western world. From Catholic priests and monks came the Big Bang theory, genetics, and the first elucidation of the scientific method. Are these the actions and thoughts of deluded men? Are these men committed to lies? I think you’d have a hard time convincing anyone, including yourself, that all clergy fall into these categories.

    It would appear that you have personally been hurt or seen others close to you hurt by actions of people who are religious or act in the name of religion. Or, perhaps you have a truly compassionate and empathetic heart for all those who have. Either way, I’m truly sorry for the pains caused in your life and others’ in the name of religion. But remember, focusing on the actions of broken people will not help you understand ideas. As a Catholic, I firmly believe that we should judge ideas as true or untrue, actions as immoral or moral, and people…never. I want to talk about the ideas of Catholicism, and will leave a post to that effect soon. But if we are to engage in this discussion honestly, it’s important to remember that those people, whose actions are so often sinful (as are mine), are complex individuals with their own stories. It is not those stories I set out to judge, but the ideas and implications of the story of God. Thanks for the discussion so far. I’ll be back soon.

  29. corio37 permalink

    I don’t see any citation for your assertion that rates of sexual abuse are no higher among Catholic clergy than in those of other faiths; but since I don’t believe in or support any of those other faiths, that’s not really the point, is it? The question is whether rates of child sex abuse are higher among Catholic priests than in the general population, and it’s pretty clear to me that they are. Wikipedia gives the figure at about four per cent — and remember that these are only discovered and acknowledged cases. Since we have clear evidence that many unsuccessful attempts have been made by the Church to cover up their abuse of children. it’s reasonable to assume that there have been many successful attempts too, and the rate may well be double this. Do you know any other occupational group in which the percentage of acknowledged child molesters is as high as four per cent? In particular, do you know of any secular group to which this applies?

    Your point about the priests you know is strikingly naive. Do you imagine that successful child molesters — and those who abet and facilitate their wickedness — are anything but polite, cheerful and ‘normal’ on the surface? You may know one for years and never realise it. I’ve only known one Catholic priest. He taught Scripture at my school forty years ago, and yes, he was known to touch up girls in his classes. Later his misdemeanours emerged in public and he left the clergy, but at the time he’d been a respected member of the clergy for at least twenty years.

    I never suggested that candidates for the priesthood are looking for ‘a way out of the unemployment line’: I pointed out that putting obstacles in the way of your recruits will reduce the number you have to choose from, and excluding anyone who wants a normal sex life will necessarily leave a very small and atypical set of people. High barriers to recruitment are a luxury that the Church could afford when there were millions of believers willing to put themselves through painful constraints in order to obtain high-status and relatively well-paid jobs. Now it’s simply acting as a valve that admits the lying and the deluded and excludes nearly everyone else.

    As for your other claims, again I simply don’t have time to read all the millions of pages of apologetics put forward by religious apologists. Why can’t you explain simply to me in your own words why the claims of Catholicism are true while the claims of, say, Islam, are not? What is the fundamental difference between them, and how can I verify that it does, in fact, confirm the one and repudiate the other? Since you don’t believe in Islam, but do believe in Catholicism, you presumably have some solid logical principle underlying your choice. OK, what is it?

    In other words, how is it that the Church knows more about the consequences of abortion than a woman who wants to have one? What gives it the right to say that a man facing irreversible neurological decline must be kept alive when he wants to die? Why won’t it let two consenting adults have sex for fun without running the risk of pregnancy?

    In your own words, please.

  30. Long response coming at you. Sorry…I have a lot of thoughts.

    I appreciate your candor and the calm tone of your writing. I was afraid that this was going to get too confrontational to be of any worth, but you appear to be a person of good will. So thank you.

    As for the points you brought up: they are all excellent on the surface, but don’t hold up to examination. The first one, that being that the Church, as do most organizations, provides valuable services and guidance, I have no qualms with, although I feel compelled as a proud Catholic man to mention that no other organization or religion in the history of humanity has done more work for the poor, oppressed, and needy than the Church, not to mention Her gifts to the social, scientific, and artistic aspects of the civilized world. So, while Catholicism is like many other establishments you mentioned in these respects, She has exceeded them in size and scope of service to the world.

    As far as the sexual abuse scandal amongst the clergy, I posted a link to a blog I wrote on the topic, but I will include a few of those points here. First, the rates of sexual abuse amongst Catholic priests are statistically similar to the rates amongst the general population, amongst clergy in religions that don’t require celibacy, so clearly the celibacy is not the mitigating factor here. The factor is…they are human. Is it excusable? Of course not. It’s despicable, should never have happened, and as a Catholic man, I apologize that even one child had to be hurt by someone who should be a spiritual leader. But there is no evidence to indicate that celibacy is the issue is what caused the abuse.

    As far as the cover-up, when it happened, again, it is inexcusable. However, when you say that nobody took action, that is incorrect. Many people covered up what was happening, which was wrong, but to say that there were no people in the Church hierarchy who advocated for these kids and worked to stop it is an oversimplification. Also, to say that Pope Benedict XVI intentionally covered up abuse is an oversimplification at best, and patently false at worst (depending on what source you are looking at). Again, I’m not trying to excuse anything that happened; I’m simply saying that it’s not a situation of complete organizational corruption or inherent falsity of the faith in general.

    Next: “As for how the Church managed to recruit such a high proportion of weird and evil priests in the first place, that’s not rocket science either. I guarantee that if I set up ANY kind of business or organisation, and offered jobs to people only on condition that they a) were male and b) officially renounced sex for the rest of their lives, I would quickly end up with a workforce highly skewed towards weird and scary people, including a high proportion of skilled liars. Abnormal recruitment practices produce abnormal recruits.” There are a lot of false assumptions going on all at once here. First, do you know any Catholic priests? I know dozens personally and would not describe any one of them as weird or evil, even though they are male and have renounced sex for the rest of their life. They are normal people, trying to live up to a high standard. Most priests succeed spectacularly in this mission: some fail horrifyingly. And the priesthood is not a job, but a vocation: by and large, the men who enter the seminary and become priests aren’t doing it as a way out of the unemployment line. On the contrary, most in the US have to pay their way through seven to eight years of formation in the seminary, so it is in fact a decidedly poor financial move. So if you wanted to open a cake shop employed by men who have renounced sex, that could end up poorly, but this is inherently different. They are men called by the Divine, sacrificing a good reality (sex) for a higher reality (their Heavenly reward). It is different in kind than a job.

    Now, as far as the Church’s teachings on sexual morality: they are all one hundred percent rational, assuming that you agree with the basic premise of all Catholic teaching on sex (and every other issue of morality, for that matter): humans have an inherent dignity, and that dignity necessarily precludes the possibility of any human using another human being in a moral way. If you agree with the presupposition that it’s immoral to use another human, then all the other Church teachings follow. Also, I’m going to throw this website at you (1flesh.org); check it out for all of the massive amounts of scientific research that support the beauty and health of Church teaching on sex.

    So, to sum up: check out the link I put in my last post for more thought on the sex scandal of the Church; check out 1flesh.org for arguments and science supporting Catholic doctrine on sex and morality; and if you agree with me on the premise of human dignity, then I would love to elucidate the rationality of Catholic doctrine on sex.

    The story of Christ and His Church is different than anything the world has ever seen. It is the story of God’s entry into human history, a reality that many, many men and women have died defending and spreading. I beg you to check these sources out, and let me know what you think.

  31. corio37 permalink

    But of course there are good and bad people in the Catholic Church: any organisation with more than a couple of dozen members can say exactly the same thing. The issue is whether the organisation can be seen as responsible for the good and bad actions of the people it contains.

    Let’s take the good actions first: yes, the Catholic Church does support and encourage its members to do good works. But so does every other major religion, and so do many secular organisations. It’s the primary reason for setting up and maintaining an organisation, if you like: it enables you to provide more benefits to your members than they would be able to obtain acting as individuals. So nobody seriously wants to claim that Catholic social policy as a whole is actively evil.

    But — compared to other religions and other organisations — does the Catholic church promote and encourage evil-doing among its functionaries? We have a long record of sexual abuse of children carried out by Catholic priests, with more coming to light every day; and an increasing amount of evidence to show that these abuses were covered up by higher-level functionaries, up to and including the current Pope. Obviously nobody told Catholic priests that they were allowed to molest children; but when that molestation was detected, nobody in authority took any action other than to cover it up and shift the offending priests elsewhere. If that’s not organisational wickedness, and conniving at evil, what is?

    As for how the Church managed to recruit such a high proportion of weird and evil priests in the first place, that’s not rocket science either. I guarantee that if I set up ANY kind of business or organisation, and offered jobs to people only on condition that they a) were male and b) officially renounced sex for the rest of their lives, I would quickly end up with a workforce highly skewed towards weird and scary people, including a high proportion of skilled liars. Abnormal recruitment practices produce abnormal recruits. Again, no evil intentions — just a wilfully stupid failure by the hierarchy to foresee the implications of their decisions.

    The other specifically destructive aspect of the Catholic Church is its opposition to medical procedures such as abortion, contraception and euthanasia, which — combined with its waning but still strong influence over political decision-making — have condemned hundreds of people, mostly women, to unnecessary suffering and despair. Is this the result of evil policies? No — just the natural consequence of a fixed and unsupported belief that the Church has access to information that other people don’t, and is in a better position to decide what is right and wrong than the medical profession or the victims of its own policies. And this, of course, is something the Church shares with all other religions.

    Unfortunately your claim that Church teachings are correct is repeated by the believers in every other religion, and I simply don’t have the time or interest to examine all of these claims. If you have some objective, empirical, verifiable evidence that the claims of the Catholic Church are true then I would be pleased to review it: till then I am going to take the same attitude to those claims that you presumably take to the claims of Hinduism, Islam, the Mormon church and the human sacrificers of Machu Picchu.

  32. If I may, I’d like to respond first to your response to me and then a comment on your posts on Catholicism in general. First, I was referring to states which were officially atheistic, such as the USSR under Stalin and Cambodia under Pol Pot, who committed genocide and other such atrocities. But if you’re willing to discredit Communism, then we can move on past that point.

    I read five or six of your posts about the Catholic Church, and I only have one comment for your consideration. (Most of) The articles you cited were examples of Catholic individuals, be they bishops, priests, or laity, doing (mostly) terrible things. But of course, even a cursory understanding of Catholicism begins with the understanding that people do terrible things. After all, Catholicism is the story of God saving man from the mess man has gotten himself into through his free will, and, as Jesus says, it is the sick who need a physician, not the well. So to continually point at all of the stupid, sick, or downright wrong things that Catholic people have done is to point to the basic premise of Mother Church: come, all you who are burdened, and you will find rest in Christ.

    As a Catholic, am I horrified by what many of my brothers and sisters in Christ have done?

    http://thedeathofcatholicism.wordpress.com/2012/04/14/response-to-a-response-the-sex-scandal-of-the-catholic-clergy/

    Of course. Am I horrified by my own sins? You bet. But that is all the more reason to turn to Christ, not to dismiss His Church.

    You would be better served examining the ideas of Catholicism, rather than the actions of her congregation. Did the man named Jesus live? And if so, was He right to claim that He is God? Begin there, and I would be happy to “give reason for my hope”, as St. Paul says.

    No Catholic (save for Mary, the Mother of Christ) has ever claimed to be perfect. I’m not excusing the actions of my congregation: we sin, every day, and are in desperate need of redemption, and I apologize on behalf of my Church for all the people who have been hurt by Catholic individuals. But it is the beliefs the Church upholds that you should examine, and do so from the beginning, which is whether the claims of Jesus of Nazareth are true. Only then can you understand what the Church teaches, why She teaches it, and just how beautiful Her message is. I’d love to discuss more if you are interested.

  33. corio37 permalink

    What ‘murder and genocide’ has been done ‘in the name of atheistic fascism’? If you are referring to the atrocities committed before and during the Second World War by the Nazis, then you are barking up the wrong tree altogether: not only was Hitler officially a theist, running a theistic state — remember the ‘Gott Mit Uns’ motto on German Army belt buckles? — but he and Mussolini obtained a great deal of support from the Roman Catholic Church up until his declaration of war on Catholic Poland. Hitler’s private beliefs may remain a matter of dispute, but at no time did he attempt to link his social or military aims with atheism — quite the reverse.

    If you are referring to the USSR under Stalin — not a ‘fascistic’ state, surely? — then yes, Stalin was allegedly an atheist, but he was also a paranoid psychopath in a position of great power, which is surely far more important. However, if you want to argue that hardline Communism is just as silly and irrational as any religion — and just as dangerous for that reason — then I will happily agree with you.

    As for my ‘beef’ with the Catholic Church, I suggest you read some of the articles you can find links to from my blog:

    https://religiousatrocities.wordpress.com/category/religious-beliefs/catholicism/

    If you don’t find adequate foundations there for a ‘beef’, then I’m not sure we have anything further to say to each other.

  34. catholicapologies permalink

    So what exactly is your beef with the Catholic Church? The idea that more people have been killed or hurt in the name of religion than anything else is not only irrelevant to whether religious beliefs are true, but also patently false. More murder and genocide has been done in the name of atheistic fascism than anything else, including religion. I’d love to discuss any ideas or beliefs of the Catholic Church that you disagree with. You might be surprised by what you find.

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