Good questions from an atheist

November 28, 2006 | Atheism, Struggles | 94 comments

===UPDATE===: Moving this post up to the top because I find the discussion about atheism and free will interesting.

I’ve been particularly enjoying reading the thoughts of one of my new regular commentors, the anonymous Catholic-turned-atheist. It’s interesting to hear his perspective since he’s familiar with Catholic teaching, and, frankly, his calm, civil tone is really refreshing. It’s so nice (and rare) to be able to have a friendly debate with someone who has an entirely different worldview.

He recently left this comment to a previous post, and I thought it was interesting enough to warrant its own post. (I took the liberty of numbering his points since I’ve found that that makes it easier when discussing involved subjects like this in writing.)

(1) One poster, M_David, expressed my thoughts exactly when he wrote, “He’s God! So, we can forget that God lacks the ability to prove himself to us. We have only two options: God doesn’t exist, or God meant to leave us guessing.” I wholeheartedly agree. I choose, with great sadness, the first option. The second option doesn’t make sense, especially for a Christian. God loves us so much that He becomes man so that He can suffer an excruciating and humiliating death stripped naked on the Cross to atone for our sins. And then He leaves us guessing about who He is and what He did?

(2) When Thomas was told by the other apostles that Jesus rose from the dead he refused to believe them. And Thomas knew these guys!!! He knew them and he knew Jesus and he refused to believe their story. So Jesus appears before Thomas and now Thomas believes because Thomas has proof. Thomas didn’t believe because he had faith. Thomas believed because he had proof. Just as the other apostles had proof. They didn’t have faith. They had proof. If Thomas didn’t believe the eyewitness accounts of his fellow apostles how can I be expected to believe hearsay that is a million times and 2000 years removed from its source?

(3) Surely it is within God’s power to provide me with whatever evidence is necessary to permanently convince me that He exists and that the Biblical accounts are true. How would this take away my free will? Adam walked with God and Adam had free will.

(4) As to the broader claim that the world around us provides us with evidence of the existence of God, I must strongly disagree. The world is 4 1/2 billion years old, not 6000 years old as the Bible led us to believe. The sky is an infinite expanse, not a solid dome to which the sun, moon, and stars are attached. Rain is caused by the condensation of water that evaporates from surface water here on earth. It is not caused by God opening up windows in the solid-domed sky so that water held above the solid-domed sky can fall to the earth. The earth revolves around the sun, not the sun around the earth.

(5) To those who claim that the Bible was misinterpreted I ask, “Was God incapable of writing a Bible that would be properly interpreted?”

(6) To those who claim that that God wrote the Bible in such a way that it could be understood by men who lived in ancient times I ask, “Was God incapable of writing a Bible that would ring true for all time?”

(7) The “mystery” of why God does not prove His existence to us is no mystery at all if we just accept the most obvious answer: There is no God.

Again, thanks to Anon for bringing up these points. Interesting stuff. Anyone have any thoughts?

94 Comments

  1. SteveG

    I had responded to some of this in the original post from a few days ago, and will repost here. Not sure that my answers strictly follow the numbering from this post, but it should be easy enough to follow. Beyond that, I want to echo the compliments in Jen’s post regarding the tone and civility of the commenter.

    I am the Catholic-turned-atheist who wrote the post that Jennifer is referring to. One poster, M_David, expressed my thoughts exactly when he wrote, “He’s God! So, we can forget that God lacks the ability to prove himself to us. We have only two options: God doesn’t exist, or God meant to leave us guessing.”

    Is it that God lacks the ability to prove himself to us, or that we fail to accept it? You might suggest that this is simply a reformulation of God being unable to prove himself, but I think there is an important difference (and of course it is tied to free will-which we can get to later). Being that we are free to choose, there must be a point for each of us where we accept what’s offered or not.

    A person can be presented with all the evidence available that the earth really does revolve around the sun, but since none of us can actually have the perspective to observe that occurring, and it sure ‘looks like’ the sun revolves around the earth from our perspective, the most obvious answer is that the sun really does revolve around the earth. Why not just accept it? Well, because it doesn’t explain the whole picture of the solar system and all that we know about it beyond our personal subjective observation.

    So, at some point, the average person weighs all the evidence, the word of scientists who study what is occurring and have earned our trust on other issues (i.e. the fact that they can send a man to the moon and back), and make an informed judgment that indeed what is not personally provable is in fact reality.

    For the person who still insists on a geocentric universe, shall we say that science lacks the ability to prove to them that the solar system is heliocentric, or shall we put some responsibility on the person and say that they are being obstinate in their refusal to believe? If science had some way to ‘enforce’ its understanding of the nature of the solar rotations and imposed that on the dissenter, can we say that the person has really come to that understanding freely?

    I wholeheartedly agree. I choose, with great sadness, the first option. The second option doesn’t make sense, especially for a Christian. God loves us so much that He becomes man so that He can suffer an excruciating and humiliating death stripped naked on the Cross to atone for our sins. And then He leaves us guessing about who He is and what He did?

    I guess I have a difficult time relating to this because it’s based on a very Protestant understanding (and I see that throughout your comment) of what was left to us. We were not left with primarily a book (and in the beginning, indeed, no book at all) that we are supposed to muddle through to guess and figure out what it’s all about. Jesus left us the church itself, a living institution, with a chain of succession from Jesus to the apostles to the bishops to guide us in that endeavor.

    When Thomas was told by the other apostles that Jesus rose from the dead he refused to believe them. And Thomas knew these guys!!! He knew them and he knew Jesus and he refused to believe their story. So Jesus appears before Thomas and now Thomas believes because Thomas has proof. Thomas didn’t believe because he had faith. Thomas believed because he had proof. Just as the other apostles had proof. They didn’t have faith. They had proof.

    Jen has written on this before, but really for the person who comes at things with the presumption of skepticism, no proof will ever be enough, and oddly enough, despite your pointing out that they had so much more than we do, and that’s why they believed, the gospel itself tells us that even at that, they STILL doubted. This from Matthew 28 (post resurrection, pre ascension)…

    16: Now the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain to which Jesus had directed them. 17: And when they saw him they worshiped him; but some doubted.

    …and as I said, it seems that for some, even if presented with the risen Lord Himself, doubt will persist. So this idea that if we just had enough evidence we’d believe is not only unrealistic, but contrary to even what occurred for those who experienced the risen Lord.

    Surely it is within God’s power to provide me with whatever evidence is necessary to permanently convince me that He exists and that the Biblical accounts are true. How would this take away my free will? Adam walked with God and Adam had free will.

    You seem to be offering contradictory arguments here. On one hand you are saying that all we need is enough proof and we’ll permanently believe (i.e. not doubt). But then here you give an example where the story indicates that Adam had absolute proof yet still doubted (I’ve shown another above).

    That was the very nature of the fall after all. That he doubted what God had told him and bought the lie of Satan. It wasn’t strictly speaking ‘doubt that God existed’, but it was doubt that God was who Adam had experienced in those walks (and accepting those smaller doubts as true is almost always the precursors to accepting the big doubt). It’s really not that different.

    So you yourself have shown that no matter how much proof we get, our free will still allows us to have the choice to doubt God (whether it be His existence, or His truthfulness).

    As to the broader claim that the world around us provides us with evidence of the existence of God, I must strongly disagree. The world is 4 1/2 billion years old, not 6000 years old as the Bible led us to believe. The sky is an infinite expanse, not a solid dome to which the sun, moon, and stars are attached. Rain is caused by the condensation of water that evaporates from surface water here on earth. It is not caused by God opening up windows in the solid-domed sky so that water held above the solid-domed sky can fall to the earth. The earth revolves around the sun, not the sun around the earth.

    It’s so surprising to me that an obviously educated, intelligent, and thoughtful Catholic could read the bible with such a fundamentalist mindset. This is not the way that Catholics read the bible.

    St. Jerome in the third century was already saying that it was obvious that Genesis was written in mytho-poetic style to convey underlying truths about the creation and fall of man.

    To object to the bible on these grounds is to cede the point that the bible must be read literally in all cases. This is simply not necessary, and is extremely unwise to do with a book that really isn’t a book, but many books written over many centuries, by many authors, in many different literary modes, in varying language, in varying cultures (and vastly different than our own).

    To those who claim that the Bible was misinterpreted I ask, “Was God incapable of writing a Bible that would be properly interpreted?”

    And again here you are objecting to a Protestant mindset and doctrine (Sola Scriptura) that Catholics don’t hold to. The bible was never meant to be what Protestantism has tried to turn it in to. Scripture is the sacred writings/record of the Church, not the private playground of the individual believer.

    To those who claim that that God wrote the Bible in such a way that it could be understood by men who lived in ancient times I ask, “Was God incapable of writing a Bible that would ring true for all time?”

    Incapable, of course not, but your real objection here is that He didn’t do it in the way you think would have been best. What he did do was provide us with the Church to take those ancient writings and help us to understand them and allow them to ring true for all times. That’s the method he chose whether we like it or not.

    I’d also like to ask if you could elaborate on exactly what this writing that you envision would look like? Would the text miraculously change language, punctuation, and context to meet the reader? Would we see it changing before our eyes?

    What if we read it out loud, would it be heard differently be each hearer so they all understood the words and meaning equally well?

    When I see this claim about what could should/could have been done, I often wonder if the objector has really thought through what they are suggesting. I honestly would like to know how it’s being envisioned, and if it seems 1) moderately reasonable and 2) in keeping with how God has been claimed to interact with man in all other circumstances (assuming for a moment God exists).

    Finally, I really think that you would enjoy and benefit from going back to Jen’s old site at The Reluctant Atheist and following some of the discussions we had on these very topics. They start around September/October and you might find them interesting.

    In particular, these three in particular…
    A Deal Killer?

    Time To Go To Church

    Faith In Humans

    …might be helpful in allowing us to move forward and discuss this without those of us holding to Catholic understanding having to contend with objections that are really only relevant to Protestantism.

    NOTE: With regard to the issue of absolute proof, I have to ask exactly what that is. It seems that the only reasonable definition of that is that we would have the ability to objectively observe God and verify his existence. But to do that, we would have to be something more than God Himself. Could God create something that is more than Himself? Since God can only do what is logically possible, it is in fact incorrect to state in any absolute terms what m_david said that ‘we can forget that God lacks the ability to prove himself to us’. He can and does prove himself to us, but not in a truly absolute/objective way. We are simply not capable of receiving such a proof as it would be like trying to pour the ocean into a teacup (St. Augustine).

    Omnipotence in theological terms has never been understood to be the ability to do anything, but the ability to do anything that is logically possible and conceivable (see Saint Thomas Aquinas).

    God can not create a square-circle because it is a nonsensical challenge. One can not even conceive of a square-circle, but is simply stringing words together in order to make a nonsense word to hold up as an objection. True/Objective/Absolute proof of God (as I’ve described it above) is likewise not really a meaningful phrase as God creating something more than himself is something that is not conceivable (how does one conceive of something more omni than omni).

  2. gabriel

    On biblical interpretation:

    “Was God incapable of writing a Bible that would be properly interpreted?”

    God is, and God did. The Magesterium provides a proper interpretation.

    But perhaps the objection really is “Is God capable of writing a bible that could not be misinterpreted?” And there I’d say no- original sin to a certain extent corrupts our reason; language itself involves ambiguities and non-discrete meanings. The Bible was written not only in different social and historical times, but also often in response to particular events in the Church- context which is not always readily apparent to the reader.

  3. SteveG

    The poverty, disease, homelessless, despair and misery which is evident in the lives of human beings, is not there because a god wills it.

    Do you really suppose that serious believers think differently? It is absolutely the case that God does not will evil. God allows it as a consequence of our free will, and

    It is not there as some sort of supernatural punishment for worshipping the wrong god or in the wrong way.

    Are you sure you are not arguing against a phantom here? Who here has said such a thing?

    It is there because we as human beings allow it to be there.

    And again, do you really suppose we think otherwise?

    Until we realise that human suffering exists because we, as humans allow it to, we will continue to pretend that it isn’t our responsibility, but the vacillating will of a non to benevolent god.

    I’ll ask again, who are you addressing this to? I can think of no one I’ve seen comment on this blog who thinks the responsibility for evil (what we would label sin) lies other than with those who commit it. Who do you suggest is pretending otherwise?

    See, here’s the problem I have with too many former believers turned atheist. They often have just enough understanding of faith to fool themselves into thinking they understand it in far greater depth than they really do. More often than not, I get a strong impression that they don’t really know exactly what it is they left, and in fact left only a caricature of the reality.

    I am not trying to be insulting here beep, I am someone who was raised in belief and like so many others was ‘freed’ by throwing off the shackles of those old-fashioned myths, only to discover later that what I thought I’d thrown off bore almost no resemblance to what orthodox, serious, thoughtful believers had always held to.

    You may in fact know what you gave up far better than this one post leads one to believe, but for someone to suggest that we hold that God wills evil, or that we are pretending that we are not responsible for the evil in the world, it’s hard to imagine that you gave up anything other than a very stunted and immature faith. That’s not meant as an attack. Millions of folks have done the same only to realize later that this was the case.

    You seem to be a seeker of truth, and that is a good thing. Just don’t quit seeking.

  4. ELC

    It still remained beautiful and challenging and mysterious, and I no longer felt an intellectual and emotional disconnect between myself and the natural world. Don’t be silly. It’s all atoms and chemicals and that’s it. There is no beauty, there is no challenge. That’s just your imagination, which is itself just atoms and chemicals.

    You can’t have it both ways.

  5. Eric

    SteveG: Agreed on your response to beepbeepitsme. I’d also like to add that maturity in faith can be very difficult. I lurk on many boards/blogs where I see that the people who post the most are least likely to understand that God is a loving God. This seems to permeate a lot of American culture. I even find myself often wondering why God is punishing me with this or that situation. Perhaps, not in those words, but with that sentiment. This is, of course, a reflection of my own weak faith, but I know from discussing with others that I am considered to be orthodox and faithful. Truly, it seems, that the world needs Christians to really convert. I include myself as one who needs to convert the most.

  6. Dennis

    When Hume, the first serious atheist, wrote his Dialogues Concerning Natural Religion, and provided his proofs against gods or God, he was reacting against his own Protestant upbrining. Everything he accused Christians and other “religionists” of was seen through a Protestant lens, whether he was attacking the idea of the world as proof of God, or the notions of creation found in the Bible or the pantheon of gods and goddesses created by the Catholics (that’s how he understood the Communion of Saints).

    Everything he said depended entirely on a Protestant understanding of God’s omnipotence, a literalist reading of Scripture, and Protestant caricatures of Catholic thought.

    And that’s still what atheism is today. Almost no atheist argues against truly Catholic understandings of things. They are always rejecting Protestant ideas, even if the atheist in question is an ex-Catholic.

    And in a sense, they are right to do so. The Protestant understandings of most things, which even infects the way many Catholics think because we are children of our modern and post-modern culture, is wrong in little ways here and there, and a thoughtful person can sniff it out, and know something’s not right.

    But then they conclude that all religion must be false, just as David Hume did in the 18th Century.

  7. Martin

    Frankly, this is one line of apologetics that I’m not very good in dealing with. So I usually avoid these discussions. The problem with *ME* is that, IMHO, the evidence of God is so overwhelming that I can’t grasp unbelief. Call it intelligent design, or simply seeing all the wonders of life and nature around us. I can’t understand why anyone would think it was all just a series of random accidental happenings.

    One of the better writings I’ve read on the nature of God is from Frank Sheed’s “Theology and Sanity”.

  8. Aliocha

    From my personal experience, there are a few points that may be enlightening to this discussion.

    The first is to take a step back and to look at the history of Israel.
    If we take the story of Israel seriously, God is quite capable of proving Himself. The Exodus is a remarkable proof of God’s existence. Assume for a moment that the crossing of the Red Sea was real. That was quite a piece of evidence! The people of Israel knew God existed as one knows he’s been hit by a bus, not as a result of a deep intelectual philosophical investigation.
    And yet, that was not enough. The people feared Him, but did not love Him, nor obey Him. And at some point, the Bible even attributes to God something like “I don’t want men’s glory, I am not interested in being praised” (I am not very good at quoting Scripture, but I am sure it is there).
    So probably God’s goal is not so much that we may all know He exists, but that we may all love Him, and ultimately that we may enter into a huge eternal brotherhood of love. And love is something that must come out of free will.
    Christmas is coming soon and we should take a moment to think about it: if there were no baby Jesus, would we be able to love God? Not in the same way, I think.
    So the first question I put is: “Assume, for a moment, God exists. Why should He want us to know Him?”

    The “mystery” of why God does not prove His existence to us is no mystery at all if we just accept the most obvious answer: There is no God.

    So Jesus appears before Thomas and now Thomas believes because Thomas has proof. Thomas didn’t believe because he had faith. Thomas believed because he had proof.

    The second insight comes from putting the two above sentences together. The most obvious answer would be that there is no God, if it weren’t for the Apostles. If there were no God it would be quite simple to accept there was no proof of His existence. But if there were no God, then a dozen men in an insignificant corner of the Roman empire 2000 years ago have come up with this incredible story of their tribal-national myth-God, the Creator of Heaven and Earth, becoming a man. All of them, except for one, John, were martyred for it.
    Apparently they would have gained nothing from inventing such a story.
    If there were no God, then St. Paul’s story is even more weird to explain away. “It is no longer I that live, it is Christ that lives in me.” What the hell is he talking about if there is no Christ?
    I challenge anyone to read the biographies of John Paul II, Mother Theresa and Francis of Assisi and afterwards say that “there is no God is the most obvious answer.”

    Also, if you say Thomas believed because he had proof, then you agree God gave us proof, to us as a whole. What He may not have done is to give you, individually, a proof that satisfies you. What kind of proof would you want? Have you asked for it yet? Do you know how many people started their dialogue with Jesus that way. Charles de Foucault is a good example: his first prayer was “My God, if you exist, let me know you!” My own personal story also passed by this phase of addressing God, not knowing if He was there, knowing that I was uncapable to determine if He existed or not and asking Him to show Himself to me, if He was there. I have absolutely no doubt today in assuring you He is. But please, don’t believe me. Do it for yourself. But I warn you it is impossible to do that on a curiosity level only. If I am allowed a scientifical metaphor, this is an experiment where you are the test tube. When you meet God that changes you.

    If Thomas didn’t believe the eyewitness accounts of his fellow apostles how can I be expected to believe hearsay that is a million times and 2000 years removed from its source?

    You’re not! You are supposed to come to a relationship with the living God. You, yourself, directly and right now! That is called prayer and even if a real faith has also an important community side, there is an individual relationship with God that is irreplaceable.

  9. SteveK

    SteveG:
    Spot on as usual. I really got a lot out of your ‘God lacks the ability to prove himself’ comments.

    So you yourself have shown that no matter how much proof we get, our free will still allows us to have the choice to doubt God (whether it be His existence, or His truthfulness).

    Ties nicely with one of my favorite C.S. Lewis quotes: “If nothing is self-evident, nothing can be proved.”

    In the end, it is the individual who decides and that decision reveals what is truly in their heart. Seek God and you will find him, seek atheism and you’ll find that.
    —————————-

    Dennis:
    As a non-Catholic I agree with you that atheists are busy refuting a false understanding of God and Christianity. I see this all too often. I too cringe at some of the Protestant thinking. I guess I’m part Catholic – if there is such a thing.

  10. Tim

    First thing that comes to my mind is Luke 16:29-31.

    And of course Jesus’ response to Thomas: “Blessed are those who have not seen and believed.” John 20:29

    But the thing that always gets me when doubts arise (and they do sometimes) is that Peter and other eyewitnesses decided that they would rather die than deny that Jesus was the Messiah sent by God. They saw everything that He did (miracles, Transfiguration), and they said “He’s the real deal, and if it means I die saying it, then so be it.”

  11. Robert

    Free will covers most of these points pretty well.

  12. Anon

    Robert, I am in complete agreement. I guess the only conflict would be if an atheist didn’t believe in free will (which seems off to me.) But, if the atheist does believe in free will, and we as Christians do as well, then it follows that if God reveals Himself in such a way that there is absolutely no room at all for doubt, then free will would be a lie. There has to be room for doubt for us to have free will, period.

  13. SteveG

    Robert/Anon:
    That’s the very problem here. Logically, atheism can NOT allow for free will. The best one can do from the atheist/materialistic perspective is argue for the illusion of free will.

    So saying that free will covers things probably won’t get us far in answering things to the satisfaction of the questioner.

  14. Robert

    So saying that free will covers things probably won’t get us far in answering things to the satisfaction of the questioner.

    Indeed. The demand for evidence that many atheists make of religion is essentially an unanswerable one; “to convince me, formulate an answer in terms that your conceptual system disallows.”

    OK, well, I’ll admit that I can’t, to our joint detriment. Ah well, perhaps something else will work…

  15. Jerret

    Wait, how does atheism not allow for free will? Seems to me, that’s all there is.

  16. SteveG

    Jerret:
    Wait, how does atheism not allow for free will? Seems to me, that’s all there is.

    I am not an atheist myself, but I’ve had the discussion regarding free will numerous times with those who are and can give you the answer they would likely give.

    Under atheistic materialism, the universe is by necessity strictly deterministic because every ‘decision’ you make is completely the result of previous brain states combined with current sensory and somatic input.

    In a classical physics based model, all inputs are processed in the brain in a deterministic manner. Every step of the processing is completely determined by the sensory input and the previous brain states, which in turn have been determined by sensory/somatic input, genetics, and environmental factors.

    In order to deviate from a strictly deterministic outcome at any of these decision points, some source of information other than the strictly physical is required. By this very definition, the source of the required additional information must be supernatural. So, we have free will if there is a supernatural information source that can inform our decision outside of the dictates of natural law.

    Some unsuccessful attempts have been made to get out of this dilemma using Quantum mechanics. Quantum Mechanics predicts events only in terms of probabilities, which casts some doubt on whether the universe is strictly deterministic. However, if an action is taken due to quantum randomness, this in itself, means that free will is still absent, as such action can not be controllable by someone claimed to posses such free will.

    As I said earlier, for the athiest the best that can be held to is that we possess the illusion of free will, but no true free will can exists.

    Sorry to be so blunt, but if atheism is true, we are nothing but decaying meat robots. ;-D

  17. Anonymous

    steveg thanks so much for your explanation. the only arguments against free will I had ever heard were religious in basis.

  18. Jerret

    I have to disagree with that. Being an atheist myself, as I said it seems to me that free will is extremely evident.

    For example, I don’t always want the same thing to eat. Whemever I’m hungry, I weigh my options, and choose which seems most appealing. You’re right, it is my brain telling me what I want each time, based on the options. But my brain IS me. Even if it’s not neccessarily completely under my control, it’s still what I, at my core, want.

  19. SteveG

    If you wish to disagree, it’s not with me, but with atheists and with the absolutely logical conclusions of atheism on this topic.

    I can point you to discussion on this between knowledgeable atheists (from neuroscientist to philosophers) that will maybe be seen as more trustworthy by you than I am. Let me know on that score.

    In the meantime, I’ll see if I can help shed some additional light on why this is so from your paradigm.

    Remember, I am arguing purely from your stance of materialistic atheism, so no religious arguments are included.

    I have to disagree with that. Being an atheist myself, as I said it seems to me that free will is extremely evident.

    While it indeed may ‘seem’ that way, it is not possible under the philospophical presumption you’ve chosen. I suspect you’ve simply not thought it through all the way.

    Lets’ dissect what you offer below.

    For example, I don’t always want the same thing to eat.

    OK, so you have differing desires at different times. Each desire at any given time is completely the result of previous brain states combined with current sensory and somatic input.

    Whemever I’m hungry, I weigh my options, and choose which seems most appealing.

    How does this deliberation take place? It is a series of deterministic chemical and biological occurrences over which you have no control. Some influence outside of your control (an unbidden memory, a smell, random neural firings, hormones, etc)-i.e. a sensory input of some kind interacting with your current brain state swings the weight in one direction or the other. There is no ‘you’ to decide. It is simply the after the fact perception you have of the underlying chemical and biological interactions taking place.

    It is nothing you do. You ‘feel’ like you are doing something, but you are simply a sophisticated machine responding to some kind of stimuli applied to your current state (even if you can’t perceive where that stimuli is coming from).

    You’re right, it is my brain telling me what I want each time, based on the options. But my brain IS me. Even if it’s not neccessarily completely under my control, it’s still what I, at my core, want

    But now you are talking of the ‘I’ and ‘me’ and ‘my core’ as if it was some outside force that applies itself to the physical/chemical ‘soup’ that is you. But for your ‘self’ to apply stimuli, it would have to be something outside of the system, something non-natural that isn’t captured in the description above. That would be akin to a supernatural soul, which materialism/atheism must reject.

    Your ‘self’ is nothing more than your perception/feeling/illusion that you had some control over your decision. But in fact the deterministic nature of the physical universe (assuming that’s all there is) just won’t allow for this.

    Before trying to respond to this, I’d suggest you read up (at least the Wiki articles) on both Free Will and Determinism. You might want to start here…

    Destiny Theory

    …as a primer and move to the links provided in the article.

    There just simply isn’t much of a debate here for a serious atheist as there is no room in the system for true free will.

    I think you are maybe reacting to stark unpleasantness of that reality than to the substance of the argument.

  20. Anonymous

    Hume wasn’t the first atheist, not even close. Check out some of the Greeks and they had never even heard of the christian god.

    I don’t believe because the basic idea of god has had so many translations/incarnations over the course of history. Civilizations have always been looking for a god to explain the world to them, not to mention what happens why they die. Once absurdity is extablished for one religion it is amazing how easy it transfers to all others.

  21. Dennis

    I didn’t say Hume was the first atheist. I said he was the first SERIOUS atheist.

    By which I mean he was the first person to explicitly claim that God or gods were not possible, and then explain his claim in a sustained, reasoned argument.

    Yeah, there were Greeks who didn’t believe in the Christian God. So what. I’m not talking about the Christian God, whatever you think that means. I’m talking about God or gods, and about a SERIOUS attempt at an atheistic philosophical ideology.

    The Greeks did not talk about atheism the same way. They did not flatly refuse the possibility of God in a systematic way. In fact, serious atheism, historically, was only possible as a reaction against Protestantism.

    See, in Christianity, we have, for the first time, the idea or thought that God might have chosen other than to create. That idea leads to questions of whether God did create or whether God has any being at all.

    Anselm, a great Christian saint, used a thought experiment as his proof for God, and his thought experiment makes atheism possible. He defined God as “that than which nothing greater can be imagined.” If you think of God, and then you think of something greater than God, then the the first thing you were thinking of was not God. That can go on infinitely.

    Now, he reasoned that it was possible that God could exist only in his imagination, but (and this is his big breakthrough) for God to exist only in his imagination is not as great as God actually existing apart from and regardless of his imagination. Therefore, an imaginary God could not be God because it’s possible to imagine God as not being imaginary.

    How’s that for twisty?

    Anyway, his line of reasoning made it possible for the first time, historically, anyway, for people to ask the question of God’s existence.

    And it wasn’t until Hume that someone did a decent job of saying, “No, he doesn’t.”

  22. Jerret

    I think you have a flawed definition of free will. I define it thusly.

    If I want to hit someone in the face, I can. If I don’t, I just won’t. That is my “will”, and I am “free” to act as I please.

    Talking about stimuli and past experiences is irrelevant, in my opinion. No matter what the factors are, you want to do what you want to do. Anything else is irrelevant.

    Just my opinion.

  23. SteveG

    Jarret:
    I think you have a flawed definition of free will. I define it thusly.

    Words mean things, and it is important to take into account context when asking what words do in fact mean in a particular discussion.

    Let’s look at the definition(s) to explain…
    free will:
    1. The ability or discretion to choose; free choice: chose to remain behind of my own free will.
    2. The power of making free choices that are unconstrained by external circumstances or by an agency such as fate or divine will.

    While the definition you offer below is a permissible one for free will, it has absolutely nothing to do with the term as it was/is being discussed here. When you objected to my 1st reference to free will you have to understand the discussion it was in reference to was using free will in the philosophical sense (definition 2).

    If you stumble onto a religiously oriented blog, where theology and philosophy are being discussed, you can pretty much bet that when people start talking about free will, they are talking with reference to definition two.

    Talking about stimuli and past experiences is irrelevant, in my opinion. No matter what the factors are, you want to do what you want to do. Anything else is irrelevant.

    Hopefully it makes more sense why this is relevant, and what I mean by saying that Atheism doesn’t allow for free will (which it doesn’t), now that you know in what sense we are referring to free will.

  24. SteveK

    Jerret,
    Your opinion doesn’t align with what science tells us today. Science says that matter and energy can’t make any choices. Even at the quantum level there are no choices being made.

    You claim to make choices, you say you have a ‘will’ and are ‘free’ to act as you please. As a Christian I would agree with you because I believe there is more to reality than matter and energy. I believe there is a spiritual component that comes from God himself.

    But as an atheist what are you pinning this belief on? You said “it seems to me that free will is extremely evident.” If I could rephrase that, you are saying “I believe it to be true because my personal experience tells me it’s true”.

    I’m in agreement with you but I’m curious how you fit that belief into your atheism where faith and personal revelation take a back seat to science.

  25. Jerret

    Fair point about the definitions, but wouldn’t the first one be nil without the second?

    I wouldn’t say atheism puts science as the be all and end all. It’s just a lack of belief in any gods. Personally, I don’t (and don’t claim to) know how much of anything in life works, and I’m probably happier not thinking about it.

    I find it much simpler to just adopt a mantle of ignorance and apathy. I don’t know, and I don’t care. :P.

    The pointlessness of life does seem a little depressing though. Living for 1-100 years, and probably not being remembered… bleh.

  26. SteveG

    Fair point about the definitions, but wouldn’t the first one be nil without the second?

    Well, yes, but I was trying to let you save face and not be a schmuck about it. 😛

    The truth is that even the first definition might ‘practically’ seem the case, underneath your decision to choose something still sits the question of whether that choice is really ‘yours’ or not, or rather simply a response to stimuli of some sort.

    The first definition speaks to the ‘perception’ that you make your own choice. In a practical sense, when we are having a regular conversation, of course we can say you choose to eat a slice of pizza instead of a cheeseburger.

    But if we push in on that and ask if there is really a ‘you’ which can make such a choice, or if your choice is ‘free’ (meaning independent) then we start getting at what I’ve been describing above regarding definition two, brain states and sensory and somatic input.

    I wouldn’t say atheism puts science as the be all and end all. It’s just a lack of belief in any gods.

    But without the belief in God or gods, which consequently implies no admittance of the super-natural, you are by default left only with purely naturalistic/materialistic paradigm for viewing and explaining reality. That seems an unavoidable consequence of Atheism. Science being the ‘language’ that explains the natural universe, when you get into a discussion like this and contest an assertions such as I’ve made above, you have to do so in scientific terms (as I’ve been doing in your stead).

    If you admit something else and object based on nothing more than your intuition, your sense of self or ‘core’ as if it were something ‘above’ the combination of your brain state and sensory/somatic input, you are admitting something that is outside materialism.

    Once you do that, you are really closer to us than to atheism.

    Personally, I don’t (and don’t claim to) know how much of anything in life works, and I’m probably happier not thinking about it.

    And based on that you choose atheism? Wouldn’t it make more sense to call yourself an agnostic if this is your approach?

    The pointlessness of life does seem a little depressing though. Living for 1-100 years, and probably not being remembered… bleh.

    That is depressing. Good thing it’s not true. Whew! 😀

  27. Jerret

    I just can’t give religion a “Maybe.”. I’ve tried. But, I just can’t say there might be a god/gods. It’s just not logical in my mind.

    Oh well.

  28. SteveG

    Jarret,
    I am not at all trying to pick on you and am rather enjoying the back and forth, but what strikes me is that these two sentences where typed by the same person…

    I find it much simpler to just adopt a mantle of ignorance and apathy. I don’t know, and I don’t care.

    Vs.

    But, I just can’t say there might be a god/gods. It’s just not logical in my mind.

    …which forces me to ask if you are being entirely consistent here.

    You rule out the possibility God/gods as illogical without much ado, but then slough off the consequences of your paradigm on free will on nothing more than and I don’t care.

    Is that logical?

    May I ask, how is it that you can account (logically speaking) for the fact that anything exists without recourse to something outside the materialistic universe? In other words, where/how did the matter of the initial singularity which caused the big bang come from.

    I am not here necessarily arguing for a Christian concept of God, but just exploring the logical foundations of your atheism (since you reject the idea of God on those grounds).

  29. SteveK

    It’s just not logical in my mind.

    Help me out with this, jerret.

    How does this comment mesh with your comment that atheism is merely a ‘lack of belief in god/gods’? Does your lack of belief flow from a logical argument? If so, what is that logical argument?

  30. Jerret

    Not caring what created everything isn’t logical, I suppose. But regardless of any of that, I’d rather live without religion’s influence, since it seems to cause more problems than anything else, and I don’t really like any of the rules I’ve seen in any religion. I guess that’s way off topic, but it helps validate my atheism.

    I’ve never really read up on the big bang theory much, other than what it basically is. Never been a fan of it personally, but I don’t really have the resources to find out for myself.

    Perhaps saying a god existing is illogical was a misstatement, my bad. It’s as equally logical as any other creation theory, I guess.

    I’ve never been a very good writer, I always trip over what I’m saying. Sorry :p.

  31. SteveG

    I’ve never really read up on the big bang theory much, other than what it basically is. Never been a fan of it personally, but I don’t really have the resources to find out for myself.

    If you are interested, but don’t have a lot of resources available to you, the Wikipedia articles really are very good at giving you the basics on this kind of thing. They are definitely worth checking out.

    Big Bang Theory
    Cosmology

    If nothing else, they are fascinating reads.

    I’ve never been a very good writer, I always trip over what I’m saying. Sorry :p.

    You do just fine. And remember the old saying ‘practice makes perfect’ so keep at it.

    And please, stick around. You’ll see some good examples of excellent writing on Jennifer’s blog. Whether you agree with her or not, she is a tremendous writer herself, along with many of her commenters.

  32. Jerret

    When I said “don’t have the resources”, I meant resources to actually research how the world was created, etc. Laboratories, NASA, whatever. :p.

    And yeah, I agree with you completely, Jen’s blog is great.

  33. Dennis

    That’s the underlying contradiction in the empiricist method. I don’t have the time or energy or resources to replicate Schroedinger’s work, or Einstein’s, or Hawking’s. I’m not NASA or the NIH or anything like that.

    I just take their word for it. Yes, supposedly, the idea is that anything that can be observed under specific circumstances should be repeatable.

    But for most of us, even most scientists, we just end up taking someone else’s word for it.

    And that’s not empiricism at all.

  34. SteveK

    Dennis,
    Another problem with empiricism is its self-imposed limitation of possible answers — by definition. I’m not knocking it, just pointing out its limitations.

    Empiricism can never fully explain what love, or pain, or an apple is. It can only describe what these things are made of or what caused them to come into existance. But this is not a full explanation of reality. Reality is so much more than what empiricism can detect.

    For example: Explaining how Coca Cola is made and what it is made of does nothing to explain what Coca Cola is. I can describe it to you in every way possible, using empirical terms, and you will have an incomplete picture of what Coca Cola is.

    It must be experienced in order to be fully explained. Only then are you able to know what Coca Cola is – and even then I think there are some limitations.

    Clearly some things must be experienced in order to be fully explained. God being one of them.

  35. SteveG

    Jerret:
    This phrase just keeps rolling around in my head.

    don’t really like any of the rules I’ve seen in any religion.

    I really don’t want you to feel like you are being attacked, but I wonder if you’ve be willing to discuss this?

    Does whether we like something or not necessarily give us a hint as to whether it is good for us?

    As a really obvious example, I have a rule in my house that my kids can’t play with matches. I suppose it’s possible that they don’t like that rule, but does that mean it’s one that shouldn’t be in place and followed?

    Maybe to keep things constrained, you could pick just one rule you particularly don’t like and we could flesh it out a bit. Whaddya think?

  36. SteveK

    SteveG,
    Jerret’s comment that you referenced reminded me of something I heard. It goes something like this:

    When choosing ice cream, you can choose what you like. When choosing medicine you must choose what will heal. If you choose ice cream instead of the medicine – because you like ice cream – you’re in for a lot of trouble.

    The mature person chooses what is correct/right/true/best – not what they like or dislike. The Christian life is a difficult one when carried out properly. I don’t live the Christian life because I necessarily like it, I do it because it’s the right thing to do.

  37. Anonymous

    stevek:

    Well said!

    I think the problem here though is that before you are willing to take the medicine, you have to recognize that you are in need of healing.

    With the dominance of moral relativism in modern Western society, that’s more often than not the hardest case to make.

  38. SteveG

    Oops! That last anonymous was me.

  39. Darwin

    I think that one of the interesting things we’re seeing here is that there are two very different paths that lead to the same destination of unbelief.

    On the one hand, you have a rigorous set of arguments based on a form of scientific materialism, claiming that all of what we can experience in life is ultimately explainable by physical probabilities and necessities.

    On the other hand, you have an essentially emotional reaction to the idea of, practice of or restrictions of religious belief. This approach similarly asserts that God does not exist, but makes no attempt to explain why we are the way we are within that context merely accepts the basic understanding of person and being prevalent at the cultural moment and says, “I’d like to have this to myself, thank you very much. No God please.”

    The first I can respect in a sense, in that it make a rigorous (though I think flawed) attempt to understand reality. The second strikes me as a profoundly unexamined way to lead your life, and we know what Plato said about the unexamined life…

  40. Anonymous

    This is the Catholic-turned-atheist again. I don’t know what proof of God’s existence that I am rejecting. In fact it’s just the opposite. I accepted God’s existence because that’s what I was brought up to believe. And I live in a culture that supports that belief.

    When I started debating Protestants on the internet I was forced to use the Bible because that was the only authority that they would accept. So I became more familiar with the Bible than most Catholics. I saw how the Protestants were very selective in their use of Scripture, focusing on what Paul wrote in his epistles more than on what Jesus said in the Gospel. And even Paul they misunderstand, just as Peter warned against.

    But the more familiar I became with the Bible the more difficulty I had in believing that it was the word of God. If I were on the local school board I would advocate that the Bible be on the required reading list for high school students. It should be read because of it’s importance in Western civilization and to let students decide for themselves whether or not it has God as its author.

    It was the Bible itself that helped to make me an atheist.

  41. SteveG

    It was the Bible itself that helped to make me an atheist.

    But it still seems from what you write that indeed it was a Protestant understanding of the bible that did that, not the Catholic understanding.

    In fact, your case is the very reason for having the authority of the church to guide us in interpreting it.

    I realize that you take issue with the fact that the church says the bible is the inerrant word of God, but I am curious if you can give any specific examples of how the Church explains things that was so damaging?

  42. Jennifer F.

    Anon –

    I can relate to that. When I first started exploring Christianity, having been surrounded by Protestant culture all my life, I thought that the way to become Christian and know God is to read the Bible. So, having almost no familiarity with it, I picked up my new copy and tried just reading it. Hah! Let’s just say, the results weren’t good.

    Now that I have the Catholic perspective and understand the concept of Sacred Tradition it all it makes so much more sense. I’m actually reading the New Testament cover to cover right now just to familiarize myself with it. I find that 90% of it honestly strikes me as people recording events as they happened, attempting to give an honest recounting of what they learned and saw. If you don’t mind sharing, what issues did you find you had with the Bible?

  43. Mike j

    Hello Jen… and anyone else reading.

    With you being an atheist turned Catholic, and having a Catholic who (reluctantly and with sadness) turned atheist, I figure y’all can help me in thinking some things through.

    This is tough. In short (very short) I’m a Christian (Orthodox) who is going atheist. And I do NOT want to go there. But how to stop? Why to stop? What to do? It may sound odd to some (and it would have sounded odd to me only several months ago) but I’m really pulled apart about this.

    OK. Now a longer version. (But not too long.)

    I have been a Christian for about 25 years now. Before that I was raised in a church-going home but didn’t think much of the faith.

    Around 19 years of age I found some great kids my age who were Christians, who impressed me. They had their heads on right (more than I could say for most of my friends or me back then). They were just solid, good people with goals and purpose and I even dare say, joy. Over the next few years, with various church groups, I found a lot of similar people and I learned about the faith, and studying the Bible, and history, etc. I liked where these people were coming from and going to. I became one of them.

    Over the years I’ve studied a lot. Apologetics, hermeneutics, history, you name it, I’ve probably studied it to some degree. I’ve defended my faith in many venues and grown in it, and I am a much better human being for it than I would have been.

    So what has happened? First I saw the weaknesses and flaws and general degradation of the Protestant parts of the Church. This came mainly from studying liturgy and church history. My wife and I (along with kids) began looking into liturgical churches. As we learned more, we saw that the Orthodox Church had an unbroken history right back to the 1st century, (of course this included apostolic succession), a liturgical tradition almost unchanged since the 300’s, and a clear liturgical path right back to the earliest hints of liturgy (the Didache and Clement). In short we realized that if any church could claim to have preserved “the faith given once and for all by Christ to His apostles”, the Orthodox Church was it.

    So we joined. I distinctly said at that time that the O Church was the “court of last resort” and if they didn’t stack up, I’d have no place to go anymore.

    Well, they don’t stack up. Just like every other church, the people of the O Church pick and choose their beliefs and practices, obey or not at their own whim. The clergy does or does not deal with rebellion or heresy according to their whims. There is no consistency.

    So I finally said, “OK God. After 25 years of seeking you, I’ve found nothing but humans making it up as they go. I can’t deal with it anymore. Either you’ve got to do something to show me you’re real, or I’ve got to give it all up and be an atheist (or at least an agnostic).”

    Of course God has done nothing.

    I can’t tell you how much I don’t want to give up; to take 25 years of pursuit and say, “I was just pursuing a phantasm.” I want there to be a God and a Church. I just can’t make myself believe there is though. I’m an evidentialist from the work ‘go’. I’m a scientist. I’ve lived by the maxim, “Follow the data no matter where it leads you. Even if you don’t like where it leads you. Because it will lead to the truth if you aren’t afraid to find it.”

    And how would I tell my kids, my friends, my family, my wife? After all these years it would seem like a betrayal. Especially to my kids. We’ve raised them in the Faith from the cradle.

    Enough from me now. There’s my story in brief. And I feel like a Martin Luther in reverse. “Here I stand. I can do no other.”

    You and the folks here all seem able to face fearlessly and honestly the hardest issues of God, truth, life, and so on. I’m grateful to find that.

    So can anyone help the world’s most reluctant atheist?

  44. SteveG

    Mike J.
    Your post is stunning in its honesty and emotion.

    Please don’t rush (not that you sound like you are) into anything.

    I really want to respond in greater detail to your post, but time won’t permit me to do it justice right now. Tomorrow.

    I’ll just say welcome and ask you to please stick around. There indeed might be help and healing for you here (I pray it is so).

    Beyond that, I’ll only respond to one thing directly from your post for now.

    Of course God has done nothing.

    Are you so sure? God often speaks in a still, small voice. And often what is done is so subtle that if we aren’t watching very closely we can miss it. A wonderful priest once told me that in confession, and I’ve found it profoundly true.

    Who knows, maybe part of that something is you finding this place. 🙂

    We have to be so careful not to overlook the graces God offers us through our relationships, through our spouse, our children. Look around at those you love, at those who stand by you. See if God is speaking to you through them as well.

    Finally, I’d like to suggest that you go back through the archives at Jen’s old site. I think you’ll find them really interesting.

    In the very first comment to this post (above) I’ve already linked to three of the most tremendous discussions that were had there.

    One of them even discusses in some detail about one of the issues you seem to really be struggling with. That being the scandal of imperfect human beings, especially as it pertains to Church hierarchy.

    God bless, and for what it’s worth, I know I (and likely others) will be praying for you.

  45. Faith

    I have a question for Mike J, because I am just trying to understand your doubting. Is your disbelief in God based in the imperfection of your Church? Did you expect it to be perfect? I am thinking of St. Paul’s words, “Now we see through a glass darkly, but then we shall see face to face.” Perhaps that is somewhat paraphrased. I think I need to hear exactly what the picking and choosing was that made you doubt. Because I think it is entirely unrealistic to test something based on whether it is perfect. Does your love for your wife depend on her perfection? Are you perfect? I think humility, forgiveness and faith are important when it comes to belief in God. I think knowing you don’t have all the answers and neither does your church, but hopefully by the strength of the Holy Spirit things will muddle you through so you can at least see through that glass darkly. I think forgiving those who might be wrong and realizing the truth might not come out for awhile is important. God is a big concept to wrap our puny minds around. There are bound to be mistakes. It takes awhile for things to percolate. Maybe centuries. And also, plain old faith is important, though it sounds redundant to say so. Because it can’t be all rational. Faith can exist alongside of reason but reason won’t do it alone. It is too limited.

    I think, in this day and age, it is hard to be scientist and believe in God. It used to be a scientist was exploring God’s creation but now everything must be empirically determined. When you live in the atmosphere of scepticism, it is a very narrow take on life. It is good for science but not good for spirituality.

    But maybe if I knew exactly what it was that the O Church does that leads you to conclude there is no creator, I could grasp this better. I feel like I am just missing something.

  46. Darwin

    Mike J,

    You might perhaps find this post by an Russian Rite Catholic friend of mine somewhat interesting, dealing with his journey from skepticism to Christianity.

    I seem to recall Stephen Jay Gould (one of my favorite science writers) defining “scientific proof” as “something which is sufficiently well supported by the evidence that to withold provisional assent would be intellectually perverse”.

    In many ways I feel this is the same level of ‘proof’ that we should look for in matters of faith as well. I can’t say that I’ve ever been one with strong religious feeling qua feeling. But the explanation of reality which Catholicism provides makes sense to me at a profound level which I have not found anything else to match. Certainly belief in Christ involves belief in a great many unlikely things. And yet, trying to form a worldview in which Christianity is a mass delusion of some sort makes so very much less sense to me that I can’t imagine following such a belief structure.

    I don’t know if that helps in any particular way, but I’ll keep you in my prayers…

  47. Mike J

    Just some responses before bedtime.

    First: Thank you to those who’ve responded. You are kind and caring and show a real desire to understand. That’s worth 10 tons of gold right there.

    Now to some specifics:
    Steve:
    >Please don’t rush (not that you sound like you are) into anything.<
    Fear not. I’m in NO hurry.

    >Of course God has done nothing.
    Are you so sure? God often speaks in a still, small voice. And often what is done is so subtle that if we aren’t watching very closely we can miss it. A wonderful priest once told me that in confession, and I’ve found it profoundly true.<
    Of course I’ve heard the ‘God is subtle’ line before many times. Heck, I’ve said it. Where I’ve run afoul of it is that it leaves me playing “Where’s Goddo?”: Like “Where’s Waldo?” on a life-wide scale. But the “Oh. I think I saw Him there. Oooh! That must have been Him.” business just doesn’t wash. An omnipresent, omnipotent being who we constantly hear wants a “personal relationship” with me has to be ferreted out like a needle in a haystack?

    And then there are the verses that say things like John 14:11 “believe on the evidence of the miracles” or Hebrews 2:4 “God testifies by signs and miracles” or Galatians 3:5 where Paul talks as though miracles and such are commonly known amongst the believers.

    So where is it all now? Did we loose the true Church somewhen? Did we loose God?

    The anonymous Catholic turned atheist (and was sad about it) had some great questions. And his conclusion was that the simplest answer was that there just isn’t any God. That’s what I’ve come to. And boy do I NOT like it.

    > for what it’s worth, I know I (and likely others) will be praying for you<
    To you and others who’ve said that: It means a fair deal to me because I know that it also means “I care”.

    Faith:

    > I am just trying to understand your doubting<
    Thank you. Francis of Assissi said, “Seek first to understand”

    >Is your disbelief in God based in the imperfection of your Church?<
    It’s only part of the picture.

    > Did you expect it to be perfect?<
    No.

    I’ll try to craft a better response to you tomorrow. It’s complicated even in my own mind.

    >I think, in this day and age, it is hard to be scientist and believe in God.<
    Oddly that has never been a problem before to me. I’ve always found it helpful. But sometimes a strength can become a weakness.

    >But maybe if I knew exactly what it was that the O Church does that leads you to conclude there is no creator, I could grasp this better. I feel like I am just missing something.< You know, I could have written that myself. If I knew exactly… Sigh. Maybe it’s the lateness of the hour. My brain’s been on overdrive for days. (We’ve got a big end-of-the-year crunch at work.) Darwin: Thanks for the post. I printed it and will read it carefully. >In many ways I feel this is the same level of ‘proof’ that we should look for in matters of faith as well.<
    Thanks. I’m glad to know someone else thinks that way too.

    >I don’t know if that helps in any particular way, but I’ll keep you in my prayers…< It all helps. Thanks. Good night, good people.

  48. Anonymous

    Mike J:
    I was a Christian for 30 years. At midlife, the strain of keeping my religious faith compartmentalized from the “hard questions” in my mind about life got to be too much. I just couldn’t go on believing in something that my research showed was so obviously untrue. Like you, I went from church to church, hoping the problem was ME – not religion.

    It wasn’t until I finally started allowing myself to buy reality that I started to feel better. Today, I’m an atheist and proud of it. Damn, it’s great to be free of the shackles of “original sin”!

    Yes, my long deconversion (5+ years) was painful, confusing and sad. But I am so much freer, happier and more true to myself now than I ever was while keeping up the charade of religion, repressing doubt and questions and wearing the “mask” of the good Christian.

    Keep asking questions and follow them where they lead you. Reality is worth it.

    By the way, if you haven’t read him, Dan Barker is a former charismatic minister turned atheist. His story really helped me a lot: http://www.ffrf.org/about/bybarker/

  49. SteveG

    Anon (maybe you should sign in as CatholicTurnedAtheist or something) 😉

    I feel somewhat constrained in responding to you because you already seem to have pre-determined that any explanation offered is an ‘escape hatch.’ I have this suspicion that almost anything I can offer will be seen as some kind of knee jerk reaction to defend the faith. I really don’t know how to mitigate that, but I’ll try my best.

    I’ll start off by mentioning that I have come from the opposite direction of non-belief (agnosticism, not really strong atheism) to Catholicism.

    What troubles me in your comments is that again, and again, what pervades them is what I can only continue to perceive as a Protestant approach to the questions.

    I am sensitive to this because my own journey has its roots in Protestantism prior to my period of non-belief. It doesn’t surprise me that this is the case because normal Catholic formation in the US has been so influenced by the dominant Protestant culture that most American Catholics have absorbed this influence without even realizing it.

    That is especially true of even most good and knowledgeable Catholics who were never left Catholicism. For those of us who’ve actually spent time in the paradigm of Sola Scriptura, this tendency literally jumps out at us.

    Even your description of how your loss of faith seemed to have come about seems to indicate this. You said it began when you started getting involved with apologetic discussions with Protestants. You indicated that your method was to try presenting the Catholic understanding of scripture as a counterpoint. Your words…

    When I started debating Protestants on the internet I was forced to use the Bible because that was the only authority that they would accept.

    But therein is lies the very problem. You ceded the point that everything needs to be shown from the bible. That is a Protestant approach. At that point are already being led down an irreconcilable path. At that point your energies and efforts are bent towards reconciling the problems you discover as you delve into the bible. This is a wholly Un-Catholic approach.

    The other thing that troubles me is that on almost each topic you’ve raised as objectionable you appear to be simply factually incorrect, or at the very least extremely biased. When I see atheists making some of the objection you lay out here, I often wonder if they were sufficiently skeptical of the skeptics from whom they picked up those notions.

    I realize there are some serious limitations to how one can present information in a comment box discussion, so I recognize that the impression I am getting could be entirely off, so please try not to take offense as I am only relaying what I perceive from this limited medium.

    But the Church has a bias towards a literal reading of Scripture.

    This is simply incorrect. People who’ve heard me say this are probably tired of it, but the church has recognized for instance that Genesis was not necessarily literal from very early on.

    I’ve often quoted St. Jerome’s comment that it was obvious that Genesis was written in a mytho-poetic style. Even St. Augustine warned: not to take every passage too literally, particularly when the scripture in question is a book of poetry and songs, not a book of instructions or history. I can get you further commentary from Augustine on Genesis in particular if need be. Have you read the church fathers on this to understand how the early church viewed things to be sufficiently sure of your assertion?

    The reality is that the Church has a bias toward getting at the truth of God. Sometimes that means reading what is meant to be literal as literal (gospels), and other times reading what is meant to be symbolic in that way (Revelation). Each book needs to be evaluated individually if we have any hope of getting things right.

    Let us remember that at the beginning of the Church, there was no ‘bible’ as we conceive it today. The job of the Church is NOT to interpret the bible for us. The job of the church is to lead us into all truth, and ultimately the help us get to heaven. The very reason the church exists is for those purposes and no others. To reject Catholicism based primarily on your issues with the bible (your words again)….

    It was the Bible itself that helped to make me an atheist.

    …leaves me suspicious that something less than a thorough intellectual endeavor was accomplished.

    That’s why the flap with Galileo.

    The issue of Galileo is far more complex than the myth of the story would have it. I’d suggest some balanced reading on Galileo for a better picture of what really occurred. I am not suggesting that the Church hierarchy was innocent of any wrong-doing (but then neither was Galileo), but it is simply inaccurate to say that it was the Church’s bias towards literalism that caused the flap.

    Though not an exhaustive fleshing of the issues involved, the Wiki article give a good summation of what occurred (see the section on Church Controversy).

    Galileo

    We can work with some more ‘professional’ resources on the topic if need be as I know that opinions on Wiki vary widely (though I personally think it is usually pretty decent as a basic resource on ‘most’ topics).

    That’s why we have the doctrine of Original Sin and why Pius XII insisted in Humani Generis (1950) that all human beings are descended from Adam and Eve.

    Again, you are only seeing part of the picture. Pius XII did not mandate Polygenism here. Lest I recreate the wheel, I’ll refer you Jimmy Akin’s excellent essays on this very topic.

    Adam, Eve & Inbreeding
    Mongenism & Science

    Figurative readings are often used as one type of “escape hatch” to avoid conflict with a known truth. After a while I saw that I was using more and more types of escape hatches to avoid the honest conclusion that the Bible is just plain wrong.

    But what if the figurative explanations are correct and appropriate in some cases? Again, and again, this method you seem to have used is wholly Protestant. Instead of accepting the authoritative teaching of the church because that is why Christ gave it to us (the Church that is), you judged the issue on your own understanding of these issues and passed judgment on them, then labeled the explanations ‘escape hatches’ because they didn’t agree with your plain reading.

    But what if you basic assumption that the plain reading is the way to approach things is just wrong?

    With regard to Genesis, God did not have to tell us how He created the world, but He did. It’s one thing to withhold information that we cannot understand but why tell us things that are not true?

    I am curious, what parts do you see as not true? If St. Jerome was correct and the writing of Genesis was intentionally mythic in nature (which it pretty obviously HAD to be, since the author would have not been present at creation to present a historical accounting), then we have to be careful how we approach it.

    If by not true you mean not scientifically accurate, then you are judging the book in a way that it was never intended to be used.

    Ancient near east writers relaying their traditional creation stories were not only not writing scientific treatises, but were not even writing history as we moderns conceive it. You are going to have a hard go of it trying to argue that the writer of Genesis actually intended that he was writing literal history.

    On what reasonable grounds did you judge that it was supposed to be literal or even scientifically accurate?

    This is the year 5767 in the Hebrew calendar. 5767 years from what? From the date of Creation. That’s the way the Jews understood Genesis and that’s the way Christians

    Please show me where the Catholic Church ever bought into, and in particular taught such a thing as doctrine? If you can’t, I can only continue to say that for a Catholic to reject the faith on objections to Hebraic and Anglican understandings seems odd to me.

    It wasn’t until the late 18th century that men began to postulate that the earth was much older than what the Bible was telling us. The Bible was not leading men to the truth. It was leading men away from the truth.

    Yes, it is possibly true that the bible used without the guidance of the church can be perverted to do so, but as I’ve said, if you can’t pin this on the Church as an official teaching, you can hardly say that Catholicism was leading them away from the truth on that score.

    At worst they were silent on this particular issue. And why we should be troubled by the fact that the church was and is more concerned with the truths regarding faith and morality as oppossed to the exact date of the earth, is honestly beyond me.

  50. SteveG

    Dang! I just realized that I posted my response to Anon in the wrong thread. I wonder if we can all consolidate our discussions here?

  51. SteveG

    Of course I’ve heard the ‘God is subtle’ line before many times. Heck, I’ve said it. …. Oooh! That must have been Him.” business just doesn’t wash. An omnipresent, omnipotent being who we constantly hear wants a “personal relationship” with me has to be ferreted out like a needle in a haystack?

    I didn’t mean at all to be trite here. Sorry if it came across that way. It may sound strange for me to say this, but most of the time I don’t feel like it’s looking for a needle in a haystack. When I say subtle, I didn’t mean hidden, but only that we have to be paying attention. I’ve found that when I can’t see it, is usually when I am becoming self-absorbed to the point that I am forgetting to look outside of myself.

    I also guess it depends on what we are expecting to see. I am talking more about the experience and growth in holiness that I see and try to experience. For me, the faith has in the past and continues to be shown in the living of it.

    When I see the profound changes in my formerly atheist wife as she grows slowly but surely in faith and practice, I can hardly help but see God’s grace and presence being lived before my eyes. When I think of the profound positive transformation the same has had on me (granted I still have a Looooong way to go), it’s difficult for me to deny that same presence.

    As my wife and I imperfectly but vigorously attempt to live out our Christian calling, and that profoundly affects the culture of our family (as imperfect as it is), it literally smacks me in the face.

    I am not here talking about ‘divine coincidences’ that need to be hunted out (though I’ve experienced those on occasion), but about the deep, maturing growth in virtue and holiness that happens slowly, but steadily.

    Maybe that helps explain what I meant.

    And then there are the verses that say things like John 14:11 “believe on the evidence of the miracles” or Hebrews 2:4 “God testifies by signs and miracles” or Galatians 3:5 where Paul talks as though miracles and such are commonly known amongst the believers.

    And are you positive it’s not still happening? Have you personally invalidated Lourdes, Fatima, etc.? Personally, I am not a big fan of apparitions and such, but your statement begs the question that we are sure it isn’t happening today.

    Beyond that, would even regular miraculous occurences really satisfy you?

    Please go back and read my earlier response to anon to see what I mean by this(the first post in the thread).

    Even scripture itself shows us that some of the apostles, faced with the risen Christ, after eating and drinking with him still doubted.

    From that post (is it bad form to quote yourself? 😉 )…

    “really for the person who comes at things with the presumption of skepticism, no proof will ever be enough, and oddly enough, despite your pointing out that they had so much more than we do, and that’s why they believed, the gospel itself tells us that even at that, they STILL doubted. This from Matthew 28 (post resurrection, pre ascension)…

    16: Now the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain to which Jesus had directed them. 17: And when they saw him they worshiped him; but some doubted.

    …and as I said, it seems that for some, even if presented with the risen Lord Himself, doubt will persist. So this idea that if we just had enough evidence we’d believe is not only unrealistic, but contrary to even what occurred for those who experienced the risen Lord.”

  52. SteveG

    I am just trying to understand your doubting
    Thank you. Francis of Assissi said, “Seek first to understand”

    I have a lot of the same questions Faith does, so I am really glad she jumped in.

    I’ll try to craft a better response to you tomorrow. It’s complicated even in my own mind.

    I am really looking forward to your response. In the meantime, I’d like offer this exchange between then agnostic German journalist Peter Seewald (since turned Catholic), and then Cardinal Ratzinger for reflection.

    Seewald:For many who reflect on the working of God and the working of man in the world, considerable doubts arise. has the world really been redeemed? Can we really call the years after Christ, years of salvation?

    Cardinal Ratzinger:I think that we must say first that salvation , the salvation coming from God, is not quantitative, hence, not the sum of an addition. In technical discoveries there is a growth that may proceed in fits and starts but is nonetheless somehow continuous. The purely quantitative is measurable, and one can ascertain whether there is now more or less. A quantifiable progress in man’s goodness, however, is impossible, because every man is new and because in a certain respect history begins anew with every man.

    It is very important to learn this distinction. The goodness of man, to put it like that, is not quantifiable. We therefore cannot assume that a Christianity that in year zero begins as a mustard seed ought to be a huge tree at the end and that everyone out to be able to see how much better things have gotten century by century. There can be collapses and repeated ruptures, because redemption is always entrusted to the freedom of man, and God will never annul this freedom.(Salt of the Earth. Page 218)
    ——————————-

    >In many ways I feel this is the same level of ‘proof’ that we should look for in matters of faith as well.<
    Thanks. I’m glad to know someone else thinks that way too.

    Hey, count me in! 😀

  53. SteveK

    As a non-Catholic myself, let me just say that what SteveG is saying about the Bible, apologetics today, literalism, etc. is true and I’m a bit tired of it myself.

    It seems patently obvious to me that you must look to history (ancient culture, traditions, literary styles, church teaching, etc) in order to get the correct understanding of what was written. Some of the stuff I hear non-Catholics say about Bible makes my skin crawl.

    We all speculate and it can be fun to speculate about what certain parts of the Bible mean. But don’t let the speculative bits drown out the stuff we’ve known to be true from the very beginning.

    My suggestion is to stick to the core faith issues and build your faith around that. If you want to believe that Jesus was a white man with blue eyes then go ahead. But don’t pin your faith on it.

    Just my 2-cents.

  54. SteveK

    In case it’s not obvious “and I’m a bit tired of it myself” refers to all the speculative junk I hear today. I wasn’t referring to SteveG’s comments.

  55. SteveK

    Mike J:

    Perhaps my comments will help bring God back into focus. I wrote the comment below in response to the question “How does God reveal himself clearly all the time”. The question really helped me focus. At first it was difficult to come up with a list, but when my hyper-intellectual nature got out of the way it all began to flow…..

    love, grace, mercy, transformation of lives, history, reason, logic, the existance of something rather than nothing, laws of physics, ability of material/energy to contain information, free will, ability of material/energy to form independent/free telic thoughts, consciousness.

    That’s a start.

    I think most of us can’t see the forest because the darn trees are in the way. In most cases WE are the trees that prevent us from seeing God (the forest). We know this from experience – sometimes we overanalyze something to the point of missing the obvious. Sound familiar?

    Now the skeptic will look at my list and say “that proves nothing”, but does it really prove nothing? To say it proves nothing is a gross simplification I think. It certainly gives us a very serious reason to doubt naturalism and a universe without a creator.

    You mentioned that you were trading Christianity for atheism. At worst, I’d think a person would be an agnostic because of this list.

    Have you considered the idea that you, Mike J, have gotten in the way of seeing God? Just a thought….

  56. Jennifer F.

    It wasn’t until I finally started allowing myself to buy reality that I started to feel better. Today, I’m an atheist and proud of it. Damn, it’s great to be free of the shackles of “original sin”!

    Darwin makes a great point about this over at his site.

  57. a jain

    All the debate so far has been about atheism vs. catholicism vs. protestantism.

    Would a Jain/Hindu perspective be relevant or even welcome here?

    I won’t muddle your issues if these perspectives are not really welcome.

  58. Mike J

    Like Steve G I think you should take on an ID. Even just “Anon” would do:

    >the strain of keeping my religious faith compartmentalized from the “hard questions” in my mind about life got to be too much.< D’accord. It’s a bother to me. While I gather that a lot of folks have the seemingly impossible ability to lie to themselves, I’ve never been able to. So I just can’t make myself a “happy Christian”. > Like you, I went from church to church, hoping the problem was ME – not religion.< Different perspectives here. I never have thought I was the problem. My move to Orthodoxy was due to unacceptable errors in the non-liturgical churches and historical shortfalls in the non-Orthodox churches. >It wasn’t until I finally started allowing myself to buy reality that I started to feel better…But I am so much freer, happier and more true to myself now than I ever was while keeping up the charade of religion, repressing doubt and questions< D’accord. I have some sense of that. >Dan Barker< The founder of Freedom From Religion. I’ve known about him for a long time. Wouldn’t touch him with a 30 foot cattle prod. Maybe you’ve never seen him. I did long ago. He is one angry, contemptuous person.
    He’s sort of the atheist equivalent of Cal Thomas or Frank Schaeffer; both of whom I deeply dislike.

    One thing that I must bear in mind is the possible effect on my wife and kids if I openly declared atheism. It would wound them horribly. My kids would feel betrayed. Eventually, if I can’t find reason to reverse course, I’d talk with the wife.

    Ah well, I’ll not borrow those troubles from tomorrow.

  59. Mike J

    Steve G you said
    >I have come from the opposite direction of non-belief (agnosticism, not really strong atheism) to Catholicism. < Do you have your story somewhere? I’d like to read it. Now to some of your remarks to me:
    >I didn’t mean at all to be trite.<
    Don’t worry. I know you didn’t.

    >Are you positive it’s not still happening?<
    [‘it’ here refers to miracles as mentioned by Paul in Galatians 3:5]

    Within my experience and within the personal experience of people I know to be reliable and sound: Yes, I’m positive.

    >Have you personally invalidated Lourde, Fatima, etc.?<
    Neither possible, nor necessary. I can’t validate them either. Whatever happened at those places, happened in the past, and in my absence, and in the absence of any witnesses I know to be reliable.

    >Beyond that, would even regular miraculous occurences really satisfy you?< One will be fine. I have certain criteria that I have established. As a scientist, I’ve thought carefully about the necessary parameters and variables which must be considered in what I’ll call the “God, are you there?” experiment. In any research one must first establish just what to look for and how to be sure when one has seen it, found it, measured it, etc. I suppose I could write it up like a trial proposition. But I have thought about the “maybe I will question myself later or need more later” sorts of issues and accounted for them.
    I also must agree with Anon (as I’m going to call the Catholic-come-atheist) when he asks if God is incapable of giving me a miracle, visitation, etc. that would convince me once and for all.

    >Even scripture itself shows us that some of the apostles, faced with the risen Christ, after eating and drinking with him still doubted.< Yes and? Jesus was still there and could say, “Touch me, talk to me, listen to me, pull my hair, pinch me (or yourself), satisfy your eyes and minds.” (Yeah i know that’s a “bit” of a paraphrase.) Still He was there for them and with them.
    Heck, look at the convincing intro He made of Himself to Saul of Tarsus. Paul never forgot it or doubted it.
    I’m willing to be struck blind and knocked off my donkey.

    > for the person who comes at things with the presumption of skepticism, no proof will ever be enough < I do not mean this in a mean vein ’cause I can tell you’re a real decent chap, but… Bunk!
    Sorry man but I’m a scientist. I approach things as a skeptic all the time. I’ve always got a “show me” chip on my shoulder.
    There are things I was taught years ago that were dogma in my field. If I’d questioned them, they’d have checked me for signs of rabies. Now we’ve all been forced to change our minds by *evidence*.
    (Did you know that Avery was almost driven out of medicine -and his mind- when he told everyone that DNA carried the genetic information? Or that Pasteur was mocked for his ‘germ theory of disease’? Or that McClintock was told she was crazy for thinking genes could jump around within the genome?)
    Sorry man, but I’ve made an entire life and career out of being a skeptic. And I’ve been convinced of things i formerly did not believe. Not just in science either. (If you ask, I’ll elucidate.)
    At any rate, asking me not to be a skeptic would be about like asking me to be shorter or to be Oriental. It’s intrinsic to me. For good or ill (and it’s been both) it’s part of who I am. So we all have to work with it.

  60. Mike J

    OK now. I promised Faith to try to give her a better response. I’m a day or so overdue but here goes.

    Here’s her ending statement:
    >But maybe if I knew exactly what it was that the O Church does that leads you to conclude there is no creator, I could grasp this better. I feel like I am just missing something.< “Exactly”. Mean word that one. I don’t know that I know “exactly”. That means my answer will be long as I must in part, think it through “on the keyboard” as it were. To begin with I’ll borrow some bits from Anon’s post. These express rather clearly some of my issues with God, though not the O Church specifically. I’ll get around to that too. My additions in [] -He’s God! So, we can forget that God lacks the ability to prove himself to us. We have only two options: God doesn’t exist, or God meant to leave us guessing.
    [A clear and valid binary proposition.]

    -God loves us so much that He becomes man so that He can suffer an excruciating and humiliating death stripped naked on the Cross to atone for our sins. And then He leaves us guessing about who He is and what He did?
    [Does seem odd.]

    -When Thomas was told by the other apostles that Jesus rose from the dead he refused to believe them. And Thomas knew these guys!!! He knew them and he knew Jesus and he refused to believe their story. So Jesus appears before Thomas and now Thomas believes because Thomas has proof. [Here’s the important part..] Thomas didn’t believe because he had faith. Thomas believed because he had proof. Just as the other apostles had proof. They didn’t have faith. They had proof. [An ‘amen’ from the choir here. I’m the choir 🙂 ] If Thomas didn’t believe the eyewitness accounts of his fellow apostles how can I be expected to believe hearsay that is a million times and 2000 years removed from its source?
    [Right!
    An interesting note. My patron saint is Thomas. I chose him because he is just like me. A skeptic with Eeyore tendencies. I still sometime pray to him, that if he and God are real, would he (Thomas) please help me out since he has to know just how I feel.]

    -Surely it is within God’s power to provide me with whatever evidence is necessary to permanently convince me that He exists and that the Biblical accounts are true. How would this take away my free will? Adam walked with God and Adam had free will.
    [And many other Old and New testament saints had regular, real communication directly with God.]

    -To those who claim that the Bible was misinterpreted I ask, “Was God incapable of writing a Bible that would be properly interpreted?”
    [Even within the Catholic Church there is plenty of debate about many Biblical passages and many Church traditions and teachings. Can’t God do any better? Back in the days of the OT and of the NT apostles they could deal with such problems. “You did something wrong.” “No I didn’t.” “Oh no? Then why are you suddenly dead on the floor/eaten by the earth/leprous…?” If the Church has apostolic authority, why can’t the clergy do anything like heal, curse, walk on water…? ]

    -To those who claim that that God wrote the Bible in such a way that it could be understood by men who lived in ancient times I ask, “Was God incapable of writing a Bible that would ring true for all time?”
    [Bingo.]

    -The “mystery” of why God does not prove His existence [Silly answer if anyone actually used it.] To us it is no mystery at all if we just accept the most obvious answer: There is no God.
    [And that’s a problem. That answer covers all the bases bar none. I know lots of folks will try to bring up bases it doesn’t cover. Feel free to try.]

    OK I’m done cut/pasting now. Just Mike from here on.

    Problems with the EO (Eastern Orthodox) Church (and others too in some cases):
    1-They claim to have the best direct line back to the apostolic age. (So do the Catholics, the Oriental Orthodox, and the Thomasine Church. The last one has a really solid claim too.) But if they have legitimate Apostolic succession why did none of them receive any power along with the claimed authority.
    Here, try this: 1 Thessalonians 1:4,6 “For we know, brothers loved by God, that he has chosen you, because our gospel came to you not simply with words, but also with power, with the Holy Spirit and with deep conviction. You know how we lived among you for your sake.”
    So we have here the Apostolic seal of evidence as “power”. Other passages from Scripture and from the Ancient Fathers, also indicate that the leaders of the earliest Church exercised supernatural power. So where’s that in the churches of Apostolic succession?

    2-Though the EO Church has some very clear canons to run things by they don’t follow them. E.g. you can’t serve Communion to someone in persistent heresy. Yet, I’ve seen it done. The priest claimed that he thought the “healing of the Eucharist” was needed for that person. Who the Hell told him he could play fast and loose with the canons like that?

    3-The EO Church (and some others) claim the Church interprets scripture. Yet I see laymen and clergy alike taking on other interpretations and not being called on the carpet for it. Once again, heresy is not dealt with.
    Maybe they figure God will deal with it, since they often pray, “may heresy be quickly found and rooted out of your Church”. Of course I think it’s a damnable cop-out to say, “God, we aren’t gonna do squat to deal with heretics, but we expect you too do our dirty work for us.”

    So now that I’ve typed through it a bit, I see that a BIG issue for me with the Church (any denomination) is that they DO NOT CARE enough about the True Faith to stand for Truth (whatever they claim that to be) even when it’s unpleasant. Heretics are coddled AND COMMUNED.
    This goes far beyond hypocrisy. This is abrogation of the sacred responsibility of the clergy.
    If there is a God, and if He did set up Apostolic Authority and Succession, I can see one very good reason why there might be no power in the clergy anymore. They utterly fumbled the ball. Heck they didn’t fumble, they tossed the ball away, ran off the field and started playing a whole new game with their own rules (or lack thereof). (I think they are playing Calvin-ball, for those who know the comic.)

    Yep Faith. I think typing this through has helped me pinpoint more exactly where my problem with the O Church is (and with the C Church and the P churches and the rest). I’ll put it in one accusation (Like Emile Zola’s “J’accuse!”).

    {{{ The Church does not believe what it teaches and preaches. }}}

    So I’ll add one more to Anon’s questions.
    -Is God incapable of preserving His Church?
    If not, where is it?

  61. Anonymous

    Do you have your story somewhere? I’d like to read it.

    I don’t know that I’ve ever fully written it out, but I’ve definitely written large chunks of it here and there. I’ll have to see what I can pull together and maybe I can email it to you somehow. It’d be too long to post here in a comment box I think (you’ve probably noticed one of my admitted flaws is that I am a windbag).

    Within my experience and within the personal experience of people I know to be reliable and sound: Yes, I’m positive.

    Fair enough. As I said, for whatever reason I am not hung up by needing that kind of evidence. I’ve never experienced anything close to what might be considered a miracle. But (and maybe it’s part of my make up), I don’t feel driven to look for such personal confirmation and never have. I feel fairly certain that I wouldn’t trust myself if it happened.

    My own acceptance of faith was come at from an entirely different direction that was largely intellectual (at least as intellectual as a amateur pseudo-intellectual can accomplish:-P ) and which continues to be strengthened for what I can only describe as it’s ability to ‘deliver the goods’ (and that does not mean all I get is ‘good’ in life).

    Neither possible, nor necessary. I can’t validate them either. Whatever happened at those places, happened in the past, and in my absence, and in the absence of any witnesses I know to be reliable.

    This is interesting to me. In an effort to better understand this I hope you don’t mind if I ask a few question and try to explore this a bit.

    So if you got what you are asking for personally (pretend you are the apostle Thomas), how would you go about relaying that to others who hadn’t experienced it as well? How would you pass it on? Wouldn’t the folks you relayed it to view you exactly in the way you view Thomas? How could mankind ever get around that problem?

    I know below you said that you have accounted for the ‘doubting myself later’ effect, but assume for a moment that effect was real. Now just as a thought exercise (mostly for my own benefit probably), let’s apply this to your ‘just experienced personal proof.’ What would the situation now look like?

    We’d have the person experiencing the ‘miracle’ not ever fully convinced of it, and no one fully convinced they can ever trust his word on it.

    With this being the case, it seems that God is now put in the position that he must be performing these proofs 100% of the time for every individual, no? That’s the only way we could ever be absolutely ‘sure.’

    What kind of state would that leave the individual(s) in? What would this look like? What would be the affect on free will?

    One [miracle] will be fine.

    My gut reaction to this is your reaction (in the same spirit of course) to one of my comments. I want to say ‘bunk!’ but will refrain. 😉

    Seriously though, I’ve heard this before from non-believers and have a hard time accepting it for the very reasons you mention below-doubting yourself later.

    Since you’ve obviously thought about it a great deal, and I’ve never heard a good response, I’d be interested in hearing how you approach this.

    In any research one must first establish just what to look for and how to be sure when one has seen it, found it, measured it, etc.

    But once you can measure it and quantify it in this way doesn’t that by definition make it a natural phenomena? I could be misreading you here, so please correct me if so, but it seems to me that you’re framing the question in such a way that God couldn’t exist…at least not a supernatural God.

    I also must agree with Anon (as I’m going to call the Catholic-come-atheist) when he asks if God is incapable of giving me a miracle, visitation, etc. that would convince me once and for all.

    I’ve answered that to the best of my ability (and probably inadequately) in my first response to anon. I can’t add much more, but I am open to criticism on it.

    Yes and? Jesus was still there and could say, “Touch me, talk to me, listen to me, pull my hair, pinch me (or yourself), satisfy your eyes and minds.” (Yeah i know that’s a “bit” of a paraphrase.) Still He was there for them and with them.

    And…He did those things…and…they STILL doubted. At some point he left them (assuming for the moment it’s all true), and they no longer had those things. If some doubted 5 seconds before the ascension why would we expect them to suddenly say, ‘oh, we saw enough in the end that we will never doubt again?’

    Heck, look at the convincing intro He made of Himself to Saul of Tarsus. Paul never forgot it or doubted it.

    I am not sure we can really say that. Surely Paul never explicitly mentions doubting in his letters, but unless he was inhuman, I find it hard to believe that he wouldn’t have those normal moments of doubt like anyone else. And I think there are hints in his letters that he was totally normal in this regard.

    At any rate, asking me not to be a skeptic would be about like asking me to be shorter or to be Oriental.

    I think I have to be more precise in how I present my thoughts to you. I am being a good deal sloppier in my writing/thoughts than I would like because I have three little kids, a wife and a full time job that require most of my attention and I squeezing this in as best I can. I am trying to be rigorous here, but please be patient if I slip up now and then due to my rushing convey my thoughts on what are very deep and serious issues.

    Bottom line is that I actually didn’t mean in the least to suggest you to not be a skeptic. I was just pointing out that the position of the skeptic implies (at least I think it does) that we really can not possibly ever have the kind of proof you seem to be demanding of God.

    And in fact you are demanding something of God that you don’t even demand of science. As a scientist you know better than I that nothing in science is ever truly proven. The best science can due is talk about probabilities, not absolute proofs.

    You may find this hard to believe, but one of the things that started moving me towards faith was my own skepticism (and I greatly value it-my skepticism that is). But it only had that affect when I started applying it rigorously to both sides of the discussions and to my own capacities as well. Not sure that I got my meaning across, but I can elucidate as well if need be.

    But even for the skeptic, at some point in order to believe anything, Darwin’s (or more correctly Gould’s) statement has to come into play.

    I seem to recall Stephen Jay Gould (one of my favorite science writers) defining “scientific proof” as “something which is sufficiently well supported by the evidence that to withold provisional assent would be intellectually perverse”.

    …I think that’s the best we can do.

    P.S. Just out of curiosity, what kind of science do you do?

  62. Jennifer F.

    Would a Jain/Hindu perspective be relevant or even welcome here?

    Sure! Two of my close friends are Jain, I always enjoy hearing about their beliefs.

  63. Anonymous

    Hello All, My name is John.

    Well, since you all have made me stay up very late reading all these interesting posts, I now feel compelled to throw my two cents in. Let me say that I am a cradle catholic, presently a seminarian discerning/studying for the priesthood, who has been inspired by the discussion here.

    I know that in following the argumentation for the past hour or so, I received many insights which will be very useful in my future vocation. (SteveG, how do you do it? Even with all the time I have I can’t seem to crank out solid agruments and refutations at the drop of a hat. It must follow from many years of experience….fantastic job.)

    I’m sure the brief points I will mention have already been discussed in detail in this and many other catholic blogs, but I would like to respond to a few of MikeJ’s points:

    ‘Though the EO Church has some very clear canons to run things by they don’t follow them. E.g. you can’t serve Communion to someone in persistent heresy. Yet, I’ve seen it done.’

    Oh yeah. So have I. And still Christ allows heretics and grave sinners to occupy and control very important and critical positions in the administration of the Church. Why does he do this? Well, for the same reason he selected Judas as an apostle and allowed him to hang around.

    Being ordained does not magically erase free will; nor does Christ pre-determine who will be in charge based on whether they will be faithful and obedient or not.

    Is this irresponsible of him? What about all the people who have lost their faith because of errant clergy? Yes, many have lost their faith, but yet the Church has prevailed throughout the ages and is constantly being renewed by the Holy Spirit.

    Why didn’t Christ ensure that only those who follow him unreservedly will be ordained? The short answer is free will, but think of it in these terms – a priest is holy if he responds to the graces the Holy Spirit pours out him by virtue of him being faithful to his vocation. Such a priest has the power to transform hearts and minds. He does not receive these graces if he does not strive to be faithful, but he does not strive to be faithful if God has pre-determined him to be so.

    I hope you will not leave the Church because some priests have freely chosen to reject the graces of the Holy Spirit.

    (I know you were talking specifically about the EO in this comment, but the same applies to the Roman Catholic Church)

    ‘The EO Church (and some others) claim the Church interprets scripture. Yet I see laymen and clergy alike taking on other interpretations and not being called on the carpet for it. Once again, heresy is not dealt with.’

    First, I would like to clarify something: The Magisterium of the Church has the final authority when it comes to Scriptural interpretation. That is to say, clergy and layman alike are encouraged to interpret and expound on scripture IN THE LIGHT OF SACRED TRADITION. We must fully assent to the authority and all the teachings of the Holy Catholic Church before we can feel free to delve into the Sacred Scriptures and discover the new and radical messages God wants to reveal to us every day.

    I couldn’t agree with you more about those who are not being called out and/or dealt with, although I think that it is now presently and will be in future happening more frequently. Again, on errant clergy see my comment above.

    God Bless. Sorry this was rather lengthy.

  64. Anonymous

    John again.

    Sorry, I feel I should be clear: the interpretations themselves must be in line with the teachings of the Church. I hope someone didn’t think I was saying that a person could offer any interpretation so long as he/she personally assents to the Church’s teachings.

  65. Mike J

    First: Exactly how do you do italics? I know you use an i inside <> somehow.

    Re: Your story: Maybe you can put it in your own blogger account and make it open to viewing.

    > one of my admitted flaws is that I am a windbag < Ah. A kindred spirit. 🙂 >So if you got what you are asking for personally (pretend you are the apostle Thomas), how would you go about relaying that to others who hadn’t experienced it as well?< I’d tell them if there was a good reason to do so. Otherwise I wouldn’t mention it. > Wouldn’t the folks you relayed it to view you exactly in the way you view Thomas? < Again, I wouldn’t mention it barring a good reason. If I did tell anyone, I would not expect them to believe it, nor would I care if they did or didn’t. If they want a miracle, they can ask God for one just like me. > We’d have the person experiencing the ‘miracle’ not ever fully convinced of it, and no one fully convinced they can ever trust his word on it.< Again, I’d not expect anyone to believe me. As for me believing, I can’t predict the future, but I do know myself fairly well. I am reasonably sure that the parameters I’ve set within my mind are sufficient. Maybe I’m wrong. I’d love to test it out. > With this being the case, it seems that God is now put in the position that he must be performing these proofs 100% of the time for every individual, no? That’s the only way we could ever be absolutely ‘sure.’ < Granted. As I look at the book of Acts I see a Church that grew in large part with miracles abounding. It didn’t convince everyone, but I’ll wager a dollar to a donut hole it gave a bunch of folks reason to believe. Did it keep them in the faith? Dunno. Still the passages I mentioned before, and others, and some of the early Fathers writings, make it pretty clear that a goodly number of early Christians experienced miracles and even expected them. And why not? If God is truly amongst us, miracles ought to happen.
    Another point that occurs to me here is: What’s the big deal with God doing a miracle for every individual? It’s not sweat for Him. And in Acts and He was doing them right, left, and center. As I’ve pointed out, they were expected. What changed?
    As I can see it, either God (impossible by definition), or the Church (very possible), or nothing changed and it was just a story all along (also possible).

    > What kind of state would that leave the individual(s) in? What would this look like? What would be the affect on free will?< I think it might look a bit like the first century Church. They seemed to maintain free will OK. > Since you’ve obviously thought about it a great deal, and I’ve never heard a good response, I’d be interested in hearing how you approach this. < The trial proposal shall require preparation as the principle investigator has not yet committed the parameters to paper. In plain lingo; it’s all in my head as yet. I gotta think a bit to write it out.
    >But once you can measure it and quantify it in this way doesn’t that by definition make it a natural phenomena? I could be misreading you here, so please correct me if so, but it seems to me that you’re framing the question in such a way that God couldn’t exist…at least not a supernatural God. < You’re misreading me. I’m not talking about taking a Geiger counter or a pH meter to the lab and waiting for God to show give me readings in mCu or [H+]. What I mean is that one must define *what* one is looking for so that one can know when it has been seen.
    “God do a miracle for me”, is a bit vague and prone to all the failings you’ve mentioned. Now I’m back to writing the proposal abstract for the “God are you there?” experiment.

    > my first response to anon. I can’t add much more, but I am open to criticism on it < The points of your response were that Adam still could doubt and that no proof was enough to eliminate the possibility of choosing to doubt.
    Those are true enough but miss some things. For instance, Adam never doubted God’s existence. He just disobeyed. And… Your answer, in light of the original question, seems to be, “It is *not* within God’s power to provide whatever evidence is necessary to permanently convince one that He exists and that the Biblical accounts are true.”
    That’s a disturbing thought.

    >And…He did those things…and…they STILL doubted. < Some surly did, but not all. Many of them went off and got the Church going. Many of them did miracles themselves. Many saw more miracles.
    Back to your point about God having to do scads of miracles. Why not? He did it before. And it got the Church off to a rousing start, and saw it through persecutions. And the miracles played a part in establishing the Church in new lands.
    Sorry but I can’t get away from this. If the stories of the NT and the Ancient Fathers are true, miracles were seen and even expected in the very early Church. Which is what one would really expect if God were truly among us. I can only conclude that God is not truly among us. Which could lead one to conclude that the Church (any denomination you pick) is not the Church. I.e. it has lost authority, legitimacy, and power. Frankly I don’t find this all that hard to believe. (See my response to Faith.)

    >Surely Paul never explicitly mentions doubting in his letters, but unless he was inhuman, I find it hard to believe that he wouldn’t have those normal moments of doubt like anyone else. < Uncharted waters as far as I know. I actually haven’t the foggiest what, if anything, the Fathers may have said about it. It’s a topic I’ve truly never even thought of before. Hmmm… grist for the research mill. Thanks. > I have three little kids, a wife and a full time job that require most of my attention and I squeezing this in as best I can.< Ah. Again a kindred spirit. I’ve got all those, plus one more kid. 🙂 But you might catch me on that. I have the impression you’re younger than me. >I am trying to be rigorous here, but please be patient if I slip up now and then due to my rushing convey my thoughts on what are very deep and serious issues.< No worry. We all know the difficulties of this medium of communication. Look at the tomes philosophers write in their efforts to be precise. >And in fact you are demanding something of God that you don’t even demand of science. As a scientist you know better than I that nothing in science is ever truly proven. The best science can due is talk about probabilities, not absolute proofs.< I can’t agree entirely. I could give you a huge list of proven things in several fields. Gravity, DNA coding, stoichiometry, the list goes on for miles. I could give you a bigger list of things that are not absolutes or course.
    Your quote from Gould is appropriate here, “scientific proof [is] something which is sufficiently well supported by the evidence that to withhold provisional assent would be intellectually perverse”. And there I run back into the “God are you there?” experiment. It’s not at all intellectually perverse to withhold assent. It’s even logical and sensible on several fronts. (Mind you, the reverse can also be said for a whole different set of reasons.) But for me I want the evidence level to rise to the level Gould speaks of. If I, or anyone, am given a bona fide miracle, then I can’t come back later and say, “I still don’t want to believe.”, without being intellectually perverse. And frankly, I’m no good at that. If I was, I wouldn’t be in my current dilemma.

    >You may find this hard to believe, but one of the things that started moving me towards faith was my own skepticism (and I greatly value it-my skepticism that is). < Not surprising to me. I’ve heard its like many times. Upon reflection I am sufficiently sure of my own mind to say that if God provides a bona fide miracle, visitation, whatever, I would not be able to be “intellectually perverse”. >P.S. Just out of curiosity, what kind of science do you do?< Immunology and cancer biology. I’m out of the lab now and creating materials to teach others about late breaking science.

  66. Mike J

    >Hello All, My name is John< Greetings and welcome. >Well, since you all have made me stay up very late reading all these interesting posts< Heh heh. Your comments put me in mind of the Donatist controversy and other related incidents. How to view clergy who have botched it. I don’t have the answer. I know Scripture says they are held to a higher standard than non-clergy. So i tend to do so myself. “You chose to be clergy. Don’t whine if you get landed on for something I might have just gotten slapped for.” > What about all the people who have lost their faith because of errant clergy?< I dread to think of what a just God would do with those clergy. Dante’s inferno brings ideas to mind but…… >Yes, many have lost their faith, but yet the Church has prevailed throughout the ages and is constantly being renewed by the Holy Spirit.< Now you run into what I just posted to Steve. I’m not so sure the Church has prevailed. There is no power in it. No pope or patriarch or bishop can perform miracles like Peter or Paul or some of their proteges were said to have done.
    I know you might cite some accounts of modern miracles. Don’t. I don’t believe them and will not until it happens before my own eyes.
    Frankly a Church shorn of both evident holiness and shorn of any power, isn’t very convincing. If the NT accounts are true, the Church today is not the Church of the apostles.

    >Why didn’t Christ ensure that only those who follow him unreservedly will be ordained? The short answer is free will, but think of it in these terms – a priest is holy if he responds to the graces the Holy Spirit pours out him by virtue of him being faithful to his vocation. Such a priest has the power to transform hearts and minds. He does not receive these graces if he does not strive to be faithful, but he does not strive to be faithful if God has pre-determined him to be so.< OOF! Free will is why bad guys can be clergy but they don’t receive graces or try to become better because God predetermined them to be bad guys?? >I hope you will not leave the Church because some priests have freely chosen to reject the graces of the Holy Spirit.< To be frank: I don’t think any priests have even received any such graces. Whether that’s because there’s no God, or because God has abandoned the Church (or vice versa) I’m not sure. >(I know you were talking specifically about the EO in this comment, but the same applies to the Roman Catholic Church)< And don’t forget the P’s, the Oriental O’s, the Thomasines, ……… >I couldn’t agree with you more about those who are not being called out and/or dealt with, although I think that it is now presently and will be in future happening more frequently.< Any chance that the future Fr. John might have the courage to deal with it? Might we see people coming up to you for communion and being told “NO”?
    If you turn out to have that amount of courage and commitment, I would watch your parish closely. I’d wager it the most likely place to see a real miracle.

    >God Bless. Sorry this was rather lengthy.< PFAH! You are a mere piker compared to Steve and me. 🙂 🙂 🙂

  67. Mike J

    Just a few thoughts/comments:

    -Thanks to all who are here. I appreciate your help in working through this. Please take nothing I say as defensive, offensive, angry or otherwise negative. I’m a verbal scrapper, and I like lively but civil debate. If I do say something offensive, you can point it out though.

    -Thanks to Jen. I’ve seen a lot of forums over the years and this one is just tops. You’ve made something wonderful here.

    -Just wondering if this topic is getting so huge that some alteration in its format would help. Not sure what that would be. Maybe setting up a forum just for it somewhere? Then again, this is a nice, comfy place. Might be best just to stay. ….. Oh well, just a rambling thought.

  68. Anonymous

    John here.

    A note miracles.

    It seemed that Jesus was often hesitant to do them, in fact, sometimes he refused to do them – he would not give Herod a miracle (Lk 23:9).

    Jesus said two things about miracles that it would behoove us to pay attention to, especially in this day and age.

    The first is in Mt. 11:20: “Woe to you, Chorazin! Woe to you, Bethsaida!For if the mighty deeds done in your midst had been done in Tyre and Sidon, they would long ago have repented in sackcloth and ashes.”

    “Sure,” one might say, “I would not be like Chorazin or Bethsaida – I would believe if I saw a great miracle. But God isn’t doing any right now, so I don’t have to worry about that.” Yet we see throughout history people who witnessed fantastic miracles and still refused to believe. (Pharoah, the soldiers at Christ’s tomb, the people in Jesus’ day, those who thought the Apostles were drunk at Pentecost, etc, etc.)

    Another thing he said is in the next chapter, Mt. 12:39: “An evil and unfaithful generation seeks a sign, but no sign will be given it except the sign of Jonah.”

    Why did Jesus not give the Pharisees a miracle? Because of their hardened hearts. We want God to deal with us on our terms, and often reject the truth right in front of us because we want to believe on our terms.

    It’s true that God could perform a miracle before the eyes of everyone on earth. How do we know he hasn’t done this? Perhaps only those who have had faith believed. What was the key difference between the Apostle Thomas and the Pharisees? Thomas had faith that God would reveal Himself to him; he did have faith in God, he just wasn’t ready to take the apostles at their word.

    Jesus gave many rationales for performing or not performing miracles, and almost all of them had to do with whether the people had faith or not. You get the sense that he wanted to reveal his power to people, (see Mk 6:1-6) but that the people were so set in their ways and their mindset that He didn’t think a miracle would serve any purpose.

    Are we eager to believe, eg., do we have faith, or are our hearts hardened to the truth?

    Revisit Mt. 12:38-42 and read betweem the lines: if we do not first accept the truth, a miracle will be useless.

  69. Anonymous

    This is John. (Sorry, I should probably get a log in name)

    “OOF! Free will is why bad guys can be clergy but they don’t receive graces or try to become better because God predetermined them to be bad guys??”

    Perhaps I worded things poorly. So let me try this again: God does not pre-determine bad guys, but He does not pre-determine good guys either. What I was trying to say is that it is impossible for a priest to be faithful if God has pre-determined that he will be faithful. (This is different from foreknowledge) God certainly allows priests to choose whether they will be faithful or not.

    And yes, if every condition was satisfied, I would most definitely refuse communion to an individual. I would be required to do so.

  70. Anonymous

    One thing that I must bear in mind is the possible effect on my wife and kids if I openly declared atheism. It would wound them horribly. My kids would feel betrayed. Eventually, if I can’t find reason to reverse course, I’d talk with the wife.

    Yes, this is what makes it so terribly difficult: Feeling that we are betraying or disappointing those we adore.

    The good news is that – if you do eventually get to the point of no return – there are coping strategies. My own 23-year marriage to a believer has survived my deconversion intact. My kids still love me just as much, and perhaps admire me more than ever for my honesty.

    I’m bowing out of this site in deference to Jen’s interest in working out her journey with fellow Catholics and not having to rehash god’s existence/nonexistence with atheists at every turn. Very understandable, and I want to respect her wishes.

    However, I don’t want to leave without letting you know about this resource:
    http://groups.yahoo.com/group/exit-fundyism/

    It’s an online support group for people leaving religion (Catholics, Jews, Protestants – no Muslims yet but we do have an ex-Ba’hai) who are dealing with difficult personal and family situations like you mentioned above.

    If and when you ever get to that place, and need a safe haven where you can question, vent, cry, rage, and get advice and support from people who have been there, please consider us as a resource.

    Meanwhile, best of luck to you.

  71. Mike J

    >Mt. 11:20: “Woe to you, Chorazin! Woe to you, Bethsaida!For if the mighty deeds done in your midst had been done in Tyre and Sidon, they would long ago have repented in sackcloth and ashes.”< You brought this verse in, not me. This is a bad one. Here’s the response that jumps out at me.
    “God! You could have done these miracles back at Tyre and Sidon, and they would have repented, and you didn’t do them????!!!!! You mega-cosmic SOB!”
    “So now maybe if you’d do a miracle, I’d repent. But you won’t do one, so I can just wilt?!”
    “All righty then. If you wanna tell me to bug off and go to blazes, you can do likewise.”

    Sorry man. But that one verse in the Bible I never liked. Previously I put it under the “I just don’t get this” category. Now I’m quite willing to dispense with that sort of intellectual perversity and bring it out into the full light of day. If there’s no God, that verse is just part of a story, and is as harmless as any other fairy tale quote. If there is a God, and He takes that attitude toward whole towns He could easily have saved, then I want no part of following such an evil, supreme being.

  72. Anonymous

    Hey, did you catch this?

    “But I tell you, it will be more tolerable for Tyre and Sidon on the day of judgment than for you.” (Mt. 11:22)

    Tyre and Sidon, as well as Sodom, were pagan towns, known for their debauchery. Why didn’t God do miracles there? Well, unlike Nineveh they did not respond to the prophet’s message. It seems that God desires that those who do not know him to hear and respond to the truth before he starts with the miracles. But how do we know that the citizens of Tyre and Sidon are burning in hell? The Church would certainly make no claim one way or the other, and Jesus suggests that they will get a favorable hearing on the day of judgment.

    Either way, how about reading this passage in the light of Mk. 12:38-42? It seems that Jesus is not as concerned with condemming pagan towns as he is towns that have heard the truth and seen miracles.

    “For if the mighty deeds done in your midst had been done in Sodom, it would have remained until this day.” (Mk. 11:23b)

    One way to read this verse is as you have just done: that God could have saved them, but didn’t. Therefore, God is cruel and unusual.

    Here’s another way to read the verse: Wickedness prevails when men turn their backs on the Natural Law. But God, who certainly had every right to condemn them, wanted to make sure that there was no other alternative than physically destroying the city (Gn 18:20-21).

    Yet Jesus seems to think they were in better shape than Capernaum. Who knows? Maybe some repented as the flames were consuming the city.

    Getting back to Mt. 12:38-42, Jesus is particularly harsh on the Pharisees, who lack faith. They need miracles, while the Ninevites converted at the preaching of Jonah.

    Sodom, Tyre, and Sidon were cities that turned their backs on the natural law. Evidently God had run out of time with Sodom, and there is no mention of Tyre and Sidon having been destroyed. Why no miracle? I can’t say for sure, but God takes these things into account, and it is possible he just might go easy on them. But they certainly rejected truth (in their case represented by the Natural Law) and will have to account for that.

    As for us, I don’t know. Most have heard the gospel message, and so far few have responded. What will happen on the day of judgment? Will there be a day judgment?

    We’ll definitely find out.

    Peace out,
    John

  73. Anonymous

    “there is no mention of Tyre and Sidon having been destroyed”

    Whoops, there is a three chapter tirade against Tyre and Sidon in the book of Ezekiel (26-28). So they were definitely destroyed.

    Like Sodom, their time for repentance had come and gone.

    -John

  74. Anonymous

    First: Exactly how do you do italics? I know you use an i inside <> somehow.

    Put a < i > at the front of the text (it’s called an open tag) and a < / i > at the end (closing tag).

    The points of your response were that Adam still could doubt and that no proof was enough to eliminate the possibility of choosing to doubt.
    Those are true enough but miss some things. For instance, Adam never doubted God’s existence. He just disobeyed.

    How do we possibly know that? As I said in that answer (and it is entirely accurate), THE doubt more often than not (maybe always) starts with the little doubts.

    We simply don’t know enough to say that Adam never doubted God’s existence. I don’t find it a stretch in the least that the fallen Adam, like every other fallen human being, would suffer that great doubt at some point(s).

    And…Your answer, in light of the original question, seems to be, “It is *not* within God’s power to provide whatever evidence is necessary to permanently convince one that He exists and that the Biblical accounts are true.”
    That’s a disturbing thought.

    That’s not what I intended. Let me clarify. I was talking about two kinds of proof…absolute and what I’ll label Gould’s proof. The ONLY way we can have absolute proof of anything is if we can objectively observe every single facet of it in every detail.

    We can’t actually do this with anything, least of all God. The only way we could do such would be to be something more than God and then could objectively observe/understand/perceive every facet of God. Such a thing is impossible and illogical, thus absolute proof is impossible.

    Enough proof is possible, but because of free will, it must also be possible that it is may be rejected by the recipient. It’s a paradox no doubt, but I love paradox, and I think it rather obvious that whether there is a God or no, a paradox is somehow at the center of existence anyhow.

    And it got the Church off to a rousing start, and saw it through persecutions. And the miracles played a part in establishing the Church in new lands.

    I want to highly recommend Rodney Stark’s book The rise of Christianity. It’s a non-apologetic look (Stark being an agnostic at the time) at the rise of the early church.

    Miracles surely played a role in the growth of the church, but despite your contention, it seems very likely that it was a very small one indeed. There are a host of sociological reasons why Christianity became dominant. They start and end with the message of the gospel and what that meant in a very practical way in the lives of everyday citizens of the Roman Empire.

    These factors include but are not limited too: vastly better survival rates during ‘rough times’ because of the ethic of the Christian community, vastly better treatment of women in comparison to the irredeemably misogynistic surrounding pagan culture, higher birth rates because of the injunctions (yes, even then) against birth control, abortion and infanticide.

    None of which are ‘the sun danced in the sky’ type miracles, but are rather the kind in which grace builds upon nature, and what I termed before as the gospel ‘delivering the goods.’ That reality is what the church is built on far more than anything else.

    I can’t agree entirely. [regarding proven science]

    There is no doubt that this is a semantic difference and nothing more. I indicated that science can’t prove anything absolutely, and with that you agree when you say that Gould’s criteria is appropriate. Again, it is a true statement that we have absolute proof (strictly speaking) of nothing.

    The probabilities science can provide can be staggeringly high, but they are probabilities nonetheless.

    If I, or anyone, am given a bona fide miracle, then I can’t come back later and say, “I still don’t want to believe.”, without being intellectually perverse.

    It doesn’t have to be due to intellectual perversity. It could be due to the fact that you might experience it and then later honestly conclude that it has a different and more reasonable explanation.

    I’ve been in conversation with one particular atheist (a very bright, very honest person) who told me flat out that he experienced something that he could only explain supernatural. Despite that, he told me that he still didn’t accept it as such. Instead he to simply withhold judgment on what it was under the assumption that his subjective experience was mistaken.

    I know you might cite some accounts of modern miracles. Don’t. I don’t believe them and will not until it happens before my own eyes.

    There is something terribly conflicted here. Throughout your comments you’ve been dogging the modern church because it doesn’t have the miracles of the early church.

    Now you preemptively disallow admission of any modern miracles because you haven’t seen them. It reads to the outsider something like this…

    The modern church doesn’t have miracles like the early church did, and anyway, even if they do, their not as ‘real’ as the early church’s miracles. *scratches head*

    It would seem more consistent to either accept the claims of miracles in both cases, or dismiss them in both cases for the same reason (they didn’t happen before your eyes).

    What your doing seems rather…well…unfair to the modern church.

    Frankly a Church shorn of both evident holiness and shorn of any power, isn’t very convincing.

    On what do you stake this claim of lack of holiness? The church of today still produces a multitude of saintly people. Some are well known (Mother Teresa, JPII, St. Maxmilian Kolbe, St. Maria Goretti, I could give you a list as long as your arm), while most are unknown other than by those whose lives they profoundly touch (many of the wonderful priests I know, a boss I worked for, a former coworker, etc., etc., etc., etc.)

    I have encountered so many holy Christians (both Catholic and otherwise) that I find this claim of lack of evident holiness just jarringly incongruent to my experience.

    If the NT accounts are true, the Church today is not the Church of the apostles.
    It’s so strange how we can read the same histories, scriptures and church fathers and come to such different conclusions. One of the most compelling things I found when I really delved into the church fathers (and I recommend Jurgen’s three volume set for anyone who doesn’t have it) is how much LIKE the early church the modern church is.

    This ideal of some pure 1st century church is nowhere to be found in regards to many of the things you mention. All the garbage we deal with today is evident from the get go.

    The Church isn’t even out of its cradle yet and we have St. Paul putting the smack down on St. Peter for acting like a hypocrite. We have Paul opening the letter to Galatians basically ‘Oh you CRAZY Galatians’. Paul likewise talks about how some (far from being rejected admittance to the Eucharist) were falling ill because they were profaning the Eucharist. And he admonished THEM, not the presbyters, to reflect on what they were doing. St. Peter warns in his letter against the dangers of twisting St. Paul’s writings. I could continue in this vain for many pages.

    John said it and I’ll repeat it. The greatest scandal the church has ever faced is not that you local priest doesn’t turn sinners away from communion, but that one of Jesus’ hand picked twelve betrayed him. The second greatest scandal was that Peter denied him, and those closest to him abandoned him in his most dire hour.

    And how many church fathers should I list whose primary focus was fighting against heresy, and not always so successfully.

    I say this very sincerely…but it is absolutely ponderous to me that anyone can read scripture, history and the early fathers and see anything but an incredible mess just like we have today.

    The notion of the early church as someone pure and pristine in comparison is, well, I wish I could find another word, but….it’s nothing short of ludicrous.

  75. Anonymous

    OH, and by the way…I’ve been meaning to say THANK YOU to John.

    Thank you for the kind words earlier of course, but most importanlty for responding to God’s call to you to discern a vocation.

    God Bless You!

    I would love to hear about where you are in that journey if you don’t mind sharing.

    Are you still in the discernment process? Are you decided to become a priest? If so, how far off are you from ordination?

    I don’t at all mean to pry, but I am certain everyone here would be really interested in hearing the story of how you landed in Seminary.

  76. SteveK

    Mike J,
    Regarding miracles, you said you’d be convinced if you saw one, just one. Let’s see how this might play out in real life. Please give this some serious thought.

    The One-Time Miracle Scenario

    1) You see a miracle event . You’re totally convinced and believe in God with all your heart, mind and strength.

    2) Some time goes by and you don’t see any more miracles occuring. For some reason you don’t hear that soft, still voice of God that you heard before. You start to doubt just a little.

    3) You discuss the miracle with your friends, some of whom are skeptics. They think you never really saw a miracle. “It’s just an unexplained natural event” they say. “Hmm….maybe so” you say. You still believe in God but your doubt grows a little more.

    4) Ten years go by and your doubt has been growing little by little. You pray to God for more miracles to strengthen your faith. Nothing. Skeptics all around you poke fun at belief in God. “Science is the only way we can know something for sure” they say. “That sounds right” you say. Your belief weakens further.

    5) You learn that many others saw a similar miracle. Some are Hindu, some Muslim, some New Age-ers, some Wiccans, etc. etc.. They all claim it’s proof that their religion is the “one true religion”. You see it as proof against the Christian God because they all didn’t come to the same conclusion. Your belief is all but gone.

    The Everyday Miracle Scenario

    1) You see a miracle event. You’re totally convinced and believe in God with all your heart, mind and strength.

    2) You tell a friend and they doubt you because they want the same proof. They pray and God responds with the same miracle for them to see.

    3) You both tell other friends about your experiences. Some believe without any additional evidence, but many doubt your stories. They want to see it for themselves.

    4) God repeats the miracle again and again to you and to others. Many continue to believe, yet some still find a way to doubt. “It’s just an unexplained natural event” they say. “I’m convinced that I saw a miracle from God” you say. They laugh at you and ask you to “prove it”. You can’t so you begin to doubt just a little.

    5) Time goes by and various miracles are happening very regularly – perhaps every day. Everybody sees them because everyone has been praying for God to reveal himself. They happen so often that they appear to be everyday experiences. “See, there’s nothing special about these things” the skeptics say. “Perhaps they aren’t miracles after all” you say. Your doubt grows just a little more.

    6) The skeptics keep repeating their claim: “It’s just an unexplained natural event. Just
    because you don’t know doesn’t mean God did it”.
    You ask god to perform even greater miracles so you can hold onto your faith. God refuses to be your magic genie and responds with more of the same miracles – the same miracles that convinced you he was indeed God. Your faith continues to weaken.

    Is it possible that the miracles of God are staring you right in the face?

    Whatever convinced you in the beginning doesn’t seem all that convincing today. “Why doesn’t God show himself to me?” we ask. “Look around. I show myself to you everyday” God says.

  77. Anonymous

    This is John.

    I really don’t have a dramatic story about how I came to the seminary. I came from a devout family, and I knew some fantastic priests, namely Pope John Paul II. Probably one of the biggest factors was attending catholic youth rallies and World Youth Days, and hearing others promote vocations.

    Certain priests that I knew really emphasized the teachings of JPII, which eventually lit a fire under me.

    As to where I am now, I would say that anyone in the seminary not ordained a deacon is still technically discerning, but some are more sure than others. I pray all the time for God to make His will known to me. I think that its very important in discernment to come to the point where you see and realize the importance of all vocations, and that God calls each person individually.

    I think that catholic bloggers are doing important work for the Church, and I will pray for all of you at this and other sites.

    God Bless

  78. Anonymous

    John,
    Thank you for your prayers, and at least for my part, consider yourself added to my daily prayer list.

    P.S.
    You can ID yourself with a name in the comments without ‘signing on’ if you like. Just click the ‘Other’ option when commenting, then you can type in John (leave the other field blank if you like), and your name will show up on your comment.

    You don’t need to get a login ID in order to identify yourself.

  79. Mike J

    Steve G:
    i entirely grok your scenarios. They have merit.

    My thoughts are:
    1-I’m not at all interested in the “Everyday” scenario
    2-Maybe you’re right about eventually doubting. Maybe not. I’d love to give it a try and see.
    3-If a clear miracle were done in my presence, I would be guilty of intellectual dishonesty (perversion to use Gould’s word). Like I said, I’m not good at that.
    4-I have two Christian friends who say they have experienced miracles like what I’m talking about. Both say they form a strong part of their personal assurance of God’s existence. Both had their experiences over 10 years ago and both say it remains strong and clear in their minds. (And both only let me know this after long acquaintance and trust, and neither will talk about specifics. It’s between them and God basically.)

    So maybe I’m just a greedy pig for wanting a miracle of my own. Waaah, God. You gave D and S miracles. I want one toooooo.

    Sometimes i am a friggin’ baby. I admit it.

  80. Anonymous

    Mike:

    Just wanted to point out that there are two Steve’s here G and K.

    The scenario post was K’s. Just want credit to go where it belongs.

    Cheers!

  81. SteveK

    Mike J
    So maybe I’m just a greedy pig for wanting a miracle of my own. Waaah, God. You gave D and S miracles. I want one toooooo.

    Truth be known, we can all be greedy pigs at times. I know I can be demanding and rather piggish. Just ask my wife and kids. 😉

    As I said, perhaps you’ve been witness to a miracle already. Perhaps it was “small”, but it’s what helped convince you long ago that God is the real deal. But now, for whatever reason, it doesn’t seem very convincing so you want an even bigger one.

    Love is my daily miracle. God allows me to see it and experience it everyday. Chemicals can’t love another being and neither can matter. But man/woman, made in the image of a loving God, can do that.

  82. Mike J

    Steve G:
    I did notice you both. Just mixed up who did that post. …….. So Gee I’m sorry. Hope it’s oK now. 🙂 Yes. Rotten puns are also part of my repertoire.

    Steve K:
    > perhaps you’ve been witness to a miracle already. Perhaps it was “small”, but it’s what helped convince you long ago that God is the real deal.< Never have seen a miracle that I know of. My coming to faith long ago was remarkably similar to some of what Jen has outlined. In fact her latest post was eerily familiar to me.

  83. Anonymous

    I did notice you both. Just mixed up who did that post. …….. So Gee I’m sorry. Hope it’s oK now. 🙂 Yes.

    Ugh! 😉

    Never have seen a miracle that I know of. My coming to faith long ago was remarkably similar to some of what Jen has outlined. In fact her latest post was eerily familiar to me.

    Do you have any thoughts as to why it satisfied you then, but no longer does?

    Also, I dunno if you missed it, but I answered the italics question a few comments back (and responded to a few other things).

    Just an FYI in case you missed it.

  84. Mike J

    Do you have any thoughts as to why it satisfied you then, but no longer does?

    Let me think on that one and get back to you. I’m swamped at work today.

    And I did get you help on italics. It should be in this post. Thanks.

    I think I can do bold too.

  85. Jerret

    Steveg and stevek:

    I’m sorry, I went away for about a week and missed a huge discussion. But to answer your questions from far back, specifically, I have an issue with how the bible portrays homosexuality. I think calling it “abomination” is disgusting. And believe me, this is NOT how I was brought up, this is a personal conclusion.

    I don’t see what the issue is. I don’t know or claim to know what causes homosexuality, or whether it’s chosen, or natural, or whatever, but that’s all irrelevant for this argument. The way I see it, it’s just a personal choice. I liken it to choosing your favorite cereal. I like corn pops, my friend likes frosted flakes. His cereal just happens to have a penis.

    Oh look, a punchline. Yay me.

    Anyway, I just don’t see the big issue with it. You say that we might not like rules, but they may be better for us? I don’t see how that applies here. I think homosexuality improves our culture, or at the least, doesn’t hurt it in the least. At least from a fair standpoint; from a Catholic one it’s taking our country to Hell.

  86. Mike J

    Steve G: I thought a bit about your question Do you have any thoughts as to why it satisfied you then, but no longer does?

    Can’t say I’ve come to a thorough answer, but some thoughts I’ve had are as follows.

    Jen mentioned “living as if God was real”. That’s something that resonates with me. In formal logic there is a method by which you can use the conclusion as a premise. If your logic thereafter is proper, you will end up with either the same conclusion (thereby proving it true) or with a contradiction (thereby proving the conclusion was false). Basically I did that with the question, “Is there a God?” I lived like there was one and watched for confirmation or contradiction. [Please don’t anyone start on the validity of using the logical method of presumptive conclusion here. I know the limitations.]

    There was more. I can give you a lot on why the Biblical manuscripts (OT and NT) are reliable historic documents. I can give you a fine apologetic on most theophilosophical issues (though not all). And it seems that the “not all” part is what’s biting me now.

    I’m one of those chaps who periodically just has to reinvestigate anything I believe. I’ll try to undercut my own cherished dogmas, and doctrines. Not just religious either. For instance, I’ve enjoyed some interesting meditations on the foibles of the scientific method.

    Anyway, I’ve found some issues that are not working out for me. Maybe it’s just years of accumulated experience, thought, knowledge, whatever. Someone once wisely said, “If you view the world the same way at 50 as you did at 20, you’ve wasted 30 years of your life.” I’m not 50 yet, and I’m sure not 20 anymore, but my views on many things have changed hugely.

    So maybe what was satisfactory for my comparatively inexperienced and ignorant 20, 30, 40 year old self is just not enough for me now. Sort of like some of the things I was taught as givens in graduate school, I now know are not so certain.

    I’ve learned more, thought more, dealt with more, sought more. And so I guess I expect more from my Faith. And it isn’t there.

    Honestly though, I can say that the real root of it is just what I’ve been saying all along. A God who is totally non-responsive, or who you have to play “Where’s Goddo?” with, is not satisfactory anymore. I’d be happy with, “the faith given once and for all, by Christ to His apostles”, but that appears to have vanished from the Earth. If indeed it was ever here.

    Well, I said I didn’t have a thorough answer, and I don’t. But thanks for making me think it through a bit.

  87. Mike J

    Jerret:

    I’ve seen your name around here. Glad to see you back. BTW, you’re only 18!? You’re a darn good thinker for one so young…. Or even for one quite a lot older really.

    To the issue now: You put up some fair points/questions about homosexuality. I never thought much on the topic from a Christian standpoint. (Frankly, “the Bible says it’s bad” never worked for me. After all the Bible said it’s so bad to miss the Sabbath that one should be stoned.) It was as a biologist that I did almost all my thinking about it. So here’s my take on it as a biologist.

    First you said, ” I don’t know or claim to know what causes homosexuality, or whether it’s chosen, or natural, or whatever, but that’s all irrelevant for this argument. The way I see it, it’s just a personal choice.”

    As it is largely irrelevant, I’ll be brief. The argument of Is homosexuality inborn or purely learned? presents a false dichotomy. It is most likely a bit of both. And it’s irrelevant at all points to the moral argument. If homosexuality is wrong, or harmful, then those who may be born with a tendency toward it, must override that tendency. (Kind of like those born with a weakness for alcoholism.)

    So your more germane question was, “Anyway, I just don’t see the big issue with it. You say that we might not like rules, but they may be better for us? I don’t see how that applies here. I think homosexuality improves our culture, or at the least, doesn’t hurt it in the least.”

    And here’s where the biologist in me pipes up. There are a large series of facts that somehow get left out of the public discourse on this issue. All relate to biology. I set them forth here only as facts and I will leave to the audience to drae any connections or conclusions.

    -Persistent entry of large, hardened objects into the anus can damage the relatively delicate membranous lining of the terminal portion of the colon.
    -Such damage can allow materials normally limited to the colon to be introduced into the blood. These materials can include bodily wastes, colonic flora, and proteins found in the colon.
    -Homosexual males have significantly increased incidences of hepatitis types A, B, and C. They also have an increased incidence of some other STDs.
    -Homosexuals frequently develop immune responses or immune tolerances toward rare or cryptic substances. (This statement is hard to me to phrase because I have trouble finding non-technical terms for it.)
    -Life expectancies for homosexual men are lower than overall, national averages for the entire male population.

    Like I said, I’ll not elaborate. I will say though that I derive these statements strictly from the research sources. Not from the press nor from non-medical/scientific sources.

  88. Jerret

    First, thanks for the compliments. Yeah, I turned 18 last August.

    Your argument about the harms of anal sex and homosexuality in general are fair points, but look at society as it is now and has been for awhile; Do we really care if some of our actions harm us in the long run? Look at how many people smoke, drink, do drugs, etc. They know the risks, it’s printed right on the packaging. People just don’t care.

  89. Mike J

    >Do we really care if some of our actions harm us in the long run? Look at how many people smoke, drink, do drugs, etc. They know the risks, it’s printed right on the packaging. People just don’t care.< I’m inclined to disagree partly. Naturally a fair number of folks don’t care if something is harmful. That’s why we have fat people, smokers, drug addicts, problem gamblers, and worst of all… soap opera fans. Still a lot of society does care. That’s why there’s an anti-smoking movement, and Alcoholics Anonymous, and health food stores, and so on. (No help for the soaps yet though.) [You may not realize how prevalent smoking once was. It used to be in nearly every restaurant, business place, bowling alley, church, airport, hospital, you name it. Over the past few decades it’s been pushed out of public venues. Today most of the places named above don’t allow it.] I think when something harmful gets a foothold it takes a while for society to work it out. History seems to back me up on this. Will homosexuality be recognized for the harm it causes and go “back into the closet”? I have no idea. But over time I do think the harms of it will become more widely known. What that will yield is anybody’s guess.

  90. Anonymous

    Mike:
    I wanted to bring it to your attention that I bogarted those facts as part of a post in the current topic being discussed in Jen’s latest post. I didn’t use them to bash anyone, just because it was so germane to the discussion.

    I realize now that I should have asked you first. I hope you don’t mind, but If you do, I’ll see if Jen can edit the comment.

  91. Anonymous

    Mike:
    I wanted to bring it to your attention that I bogarted those facts from your discussion with Jerret as part of this discussion. I didn’t use them to bash anyone, just because it was so germane to the discussion.

    I realize now that I should have asked you first. I hope you don’t mind, but If you do, I’ll see if Jen can edit the comment.

  92. Mike J

    Steve:

    I don’t mind at all. I might have done it myself if you hadn’t beaten me to it.

  93. Mike J

    Steve:

    I don’t mind at all. I might have done it myself if you hadn’t beaten me to it.

  94. Jerret

    Whether it causes harm or not is irrelevant, really. It’s what people want to do, and as long as we/they have the freedom to do so, you’ll hear no argument out of me.

    But since people can’t let other people do what they want, I seem to do a lot of arguing.

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