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Atheists and the Catholic Church

Vatican II

"What has been is what will be, and what has been done is what will be done; there is nothing new under the sun" (Eccl 1:9). This famous observation of the Book of Ecclesiastes applies, to a certain extent, to the recent upsurge of Catholic interest in and—more importantly, serious engagement with—atheism. Popes announcing that "there should be a dialogue with those to whom...God is unknown", and that atheists are capable of "doing good" and "are able to be saved"? The Vatican sponsoring major dialogue events between Christians and unbelievers? High-profile Catholic and atheist writers and intellectuals coming together to explore (mutually!) "strange notions"? It all leads us to ask the same question as the author of Ecclesiastes: "Is there a thing of which it is said, 'See, this is new'? It has already been in the ages before us" (Eccl 1:10).

I am referring, of course, to the period in and around the Second Vatican Council (1962-1965). For those who don't know, "Vatican II" is the twenty-first, and most recent, ecumenical Council recognized by the Catholic Church, assembling all the bishops of the "inhabited world" (the oikoumene or ecumene, hence "ecumenical"). The first such Council was held in Nicaea, modern-day Turkey, in 325, and is where the Nicene Creed originated. On average, then, ecumenical Councils come along just under once a century; and in modern times, they come along even less frequently (there have been just three—Trent, Vatican I, and Vatican II—in the last 500 years). Which is to say, ecumenical Councils are big deals in the life of the Church. What they actually have to say about things (as opposed to what people assume they have to say) are—or should be—taken very seriously indeed by Catholics. And that is especially true, of course, for those presuming to comment on "what the Church teaches about X."

As it happens, Vatican II had quite a bit to say about atheism and atheists, most of it contained in two documents: Lumen Gentium, articles 14-16; and Gaudium et Spes, articles 19-21. The latter, which contains the Council's dedicated statement on atheism, is particularly important. Almost fifty years later, it arguably remains the longest and most detailed statement of the Magisterium (i.e., the teaching authority of the Church) on what it regards to be "among the most serious matters of our time" (art. 19). According to the future Pope Benedict XVI, Gaudium et Spes 19-21 "may be counted among the most important pronouncements of Vatican II" (Joseph Ratzinger, in Vorgrimler [ed.], Commentary on the Documents of Vatican II, vol. V, 1969, p. 145).

This is the first post in what I intend to be a short(ish) series introducing and commenting on various aspects of the Council's engagement with atheism. Lumen Gentium 16 and Gaudium et Spes 19-21 will obviously get posts (perhaps several) to themselves. But they cannot, I think, be properly understood in a vacuum. Accordingly, my next post will instead focus on Pope Paul VI's debut encyclical on dialogue Ecclesiam Suam, promulgated in 1964 (and thus, in an important sense, "in the Council, but not of it"), and his creation of a "Secretariat for Non-believers" that same year. Both, as we will see, were very influential indeed on the Council's own pronouncements on atheism, as they also were on much of the Church's ongoing engagements with both atheism and, significantly, atheists in the decade or so after Vatican II (this too will be discussed as part of the series).

Inevitably, much of this series will consist of a Catholic talking about other Catholics talking about atheists, humanists, Marxists, and so on. But, of course, and I really hope that this has come across in some of my other posts, one of the main reasons I'm doing this, and the reason why I'm so pleased to be doing it at Strange Notions, is because I'm genuinely interested in what "the ones being talked about" actually think about what's being said. Obviously, I don't expect atheists to agree with everything, or necessarily very much, of what Vatican II has to say about them—since the Church is speaking out of worldview that atheists, ipso facto, don't share. But if atheists don't recognize at least something of themselves in what Christians have to say about them, then that probably suggests that Christians are missing the mark entirely—tilting at unbelieving windmills, so to speak. All which is, of course, a long way of saying: I look forward to our combox discussions.

On that note, it is probably a good idea to give the final words of this introduction over to a bona-fide atheist. The focus of this series is on Vatican II, and as such, I'll be saying almost nothing (except in passing) about the quite considerable Christian-atheist engagement in the decades leading up to it. Suffice it to say that much of the groundwork for the Church's constructive engagement with atheism (and vice versa!) in the 1960s onward was lain in the thirties, forties, and fifties, especially in countries like France and Italy. My favorite example of this—I quote it in my new book Faith and Unbelief: A Theology of Atheism—comes from 1948. The atheist philosopher Albert Camus was invited by a group of Parisian Dominicans to come to their Priory and give his honest views on Christianity. While the entire lecture is very much worth reading, I'd like to end by quoting just one passage, since I think it expresses something important about the kind of authentic dialogue this website exists to promote:
 

"I shall not try to change anything that I think or anything that you think (insofar as I can judge of it) in order to reach a reconciliation that would be agreeable to all. On the contrary, what I feel like telling you today is that the world needs real dialogue, that falsehood is just as much the opposite of dialogue as silence, and that the only possible dialogue is the kind between people who remain what they are and speak their minds."
("The Unbeliever and Christians", in Camus, Resistance, Rebellion and Death: Essays, [1948] 1964, p. 48)

 
 
(Image credit: Most Holy Family Monastery)

Stephen Bullivant

Written by

Dr. Stephen Bullivant is Senior Lecturer in Theology and Ethics at St Mary's University College, England. A former atheist, he studied philosophy and theology at Oxford University, and converted to Catholicism while completing his doctorate on Vatican II and the salvation of unbelievers. In 2010, he was the first non-American to receive the 'LaCugna Award for New Scholars' from the Catholic Theological Society of America. Stephen writes and speaks extensively on the theology and sociology of atheism, and the new evangelization. He has authored two books, The Salvation of Atheists and Catholic Dogmatic Theology (Oxford University Press, 2012) and Faith and Unbelief (Canterbury Press, 2013; Paulist Press, 2014), and is also co-editor, with the philosopher Michael Ruse, of The Oxford Handbook of Atheism (Oxford University Press, 2013). Stephen is 29 years old, and lives in Nottingham with his wife Joanna and daughter Grace.

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  • Casey Braden

    I think that this sounds like it could be a very interesting series, and I look forward to reading the next installments. As an atheist who grew up a very devout Catholic, it often seems to me like atheists and believers begin discussions with two very different sets of incorrect assumptions.

    Something that believers often incorrectly assume about nonbelievers is that we are all moral relativists. While having a very respectful dialogue with a Catholic coworker of mine, I recall how surprised he was when I explained that I did NOT think that morality was relative. The book he was reading, "The Godless Delusion," had lead him to believe that this was the only way nonbelievers could approach morality.

    I find dialogue and respectful debate both important and enjoyable, but all too often others take the fact that I self-identify as atheist as a personal attack against them. This often makes respectful dialogue impossible.

    • http://www.brandonvogt.com/ Brandon Vogt

      Thanks for the excellent comment, Casey!

    • Stephen Bulivant

      Thanks for this response Casey... my own journey sounds like it's been pretty much the opposite of yours, but I absolutely agree with you that often 'atheists and believers being discussions with two very different sets of incorrect assumptions'. I certainly wasn't a moral relativist when I was an atheist either.

      Hope the series doesn't disappoint, and I very much look forward to your thoughts on future posts!

  • David Nickol

    I am wondering what, from the point of view of the Catholic Church, is the goal of dialogue with atheists. "Orthodox" Catholics consider themselves not only to know that God exists. They also consider themselves to have an infallible source of certain truths that they claim cannot possibly be mistaken. What could be the point of dialogue between Catholics and atheists when Catholics are absolutely convinced they are infallible? The only point, it would seem to me, is for Catholics to try to convince atheists that they should see the light and become Catholics.

    There are, of course, matters that the Catholic Church concerns itself with that some atheists might be perfectly happy to join forces with the Church to further common goals—immigrants' rights; care for the poor, the sick, the disabled, and the elderly; freedom for oppressed peoples; an end to war. But it seems to me the dialogue with atheists is intended to be about the existence of God.

    There is a risk—almost a certainty—that the Catholic Church will be condescending in dialogue with atheists. Atheists can be good people, the pope says. I am not sure how grateful atheists should be for that acknowledgment! Atheists can go to heaven if they obey their consciences, the pope said. Or did he? Many conservative Catholics pointed out that the pope said Christ redeemed everyone, but (they said) redemption is not the same thing as salvation. So atheists can be good, and they should follow their consciences, but if they remain atheists, they still go to hell! In any case, from the atheist point of view, how pleased should they be if the pope really means they can get to a heaven they don't believe in?

    If dialogue is "a discussion between representatives of parties to a conflict that is aimed at resolution" (one of the definitions in Merriam-Webster's Unabridged), what is the conflict, and what is the resolution? If the conflict is over whether or not there is a God, or whether or not Catholic dogma and doctrine is true, what kind of resolution can the Catholic Church accept other than to convince atheists they are wrong and should become Catholics?

    • http://www.brandonvogt.com/ Brandon Vogt

      "I am wondering what, from the point of view of the Catholic Church, is the goal of dialogue with atheists."

      To mutually discover the truth. And to better understand each other so that we can discuss the real issues that divide us, and not straw men.

      "If dialogue is "a discussion between representatives of parties to a conflict that is aimed at resolution" (one of the definitions in Merriam-Webster's Unabridged), what is the conflict, and what is the resolution?"

      If we have two conflicting views--and if we both accept the principle of non-contradiction--then at least one of us is in error. That's the conflict. The resolution involves both parties coming to the truth.

      "If the conflict is over whether or not there is a God, or whether or not Catholic dogma and doctrine is true, what kind of resolution can the Catholic Church accept other than to convince atheists they are wrong and should become Catholics?"

      It's an interesting question. I suppose the *Catholic Church* cannot accept any view that contradicts what has been divinely revealed to her. But any individual Catholic, I hope, should be open to the arguments an atheist proposes. Maybe there's something we haven't considered, or maybe there's some flaw in the evidence or experience we ground our belief on.

      • Stephen Bulivant

        Hi David. You open up a lot of big issues, none of which I can do proper justice to in a combox. Brandon's already addressed some of them though, and (as usual) far better and more concisely than I could have.

        The salvation of atheists is a tricky one, but the Catholic Church really does teach that 'those who, without blame on their part, have not yet arrived at an explicit knowledge of God [i.e., are inculpably ignorant atheists] and [who] with His grace strive to live a good life' are *able* to be saved (Lumen Gentium 16). There's a huge amount more to say on that matter, of course (indeed, a whole book's worth, as I've discovered before now) - some of which I'll talk about in this series' post(s) on Lumen Gentium.

        And the existence of God is, naturally, a major point at issue in the dialogue between Catholics and atheists - not surprisingly, since that's the biggest and most obvious difference between the two groups. (Likewise, the doctrines around the Eucharist and justification tend to be major issues in Catholic/Protestant dialogue, etc.) But it's far from the only topic worth discussing. And in fact, Gaudium et Spes' main comment on dialogue with atheists is along the lines of 'further[ing] common goals', such as you talk about in your second paragraph:
        'the Church sincerely professes that all men, believers and unbelievers alike, ought to work for the rightful betterment of this world in which all alike live; such an ideal cannot be
        realized, however, apart from sincere and prudent dialogue.'

        • Casey Braden

          You hit on a couple things here that I was really hoping you would address. But I don't want to jump the gun. I'll wait for your upcoming articles so you can explain these things in greater depth.

        • felixcox

          Hi, I think you are really quite mistaken when you said, "And the existence of God is, naturally, a major point at issue in the dialogue between Catholics and atheists - not surprisingly, since that's the biggest and most obvious difference between the two groups."

          I'll speak for myself, but my problem as a non-believer is not with the idea that there's a prime mover (I have no evidence of the conventional god-type, but i can't say it's implausible), but rather the notion that there's absolutely NO EXTRAORDINARY EVIDENCE to validate the supernatural claims in the bible. Most conspicuously are the specific claims in the gospel, upon which the entire catholic/protestant tradition lies (no pun intended). It is precisely those claims that inform, for instance, the catholic apologists here. They pass off their beliefs as reasonable, yet have not explained why anyone today should believe beyond reasonable doubt 2,000 year old hear-say. They offer some plausible theories based on speculation, but nothing remotely probable or profoundly game-changing to justify belief in resurrections, divine incarnations, water-walking, virgin births...

          • Steve Willy

            The concept of "extraordinary evidence" was invented by atheists to justify their denial of what undeniably constitutes "evidence" in every other context known to man.. The term "extraordinary evidence" does not exist in any other context apart from atheistic hand waving. In law, for example, where highly educated people analyze the concept of evidence every day, the concept of"extraordinary evidence" does not exist. Even a extraordinary claim, like that I murdered someone, is supported by the same kind of evidence as a parking ticket. While the amount of evidence required my differ, that deals with the burden of proof, not the definition of what evidence is. So when the atheist calls for "extraordinary evidence," or cites the lack of same, we should all bear in mind that this is a completely meaningless term designed to allow the atheist to insert their own arbitrary, subjective, and often shifting conceptions of what will and will not constitute proof. It's a tacit concession that there is evidence, just not the "extraordinary" sort that the non-believer can envision post hoc.

      • David Nickol

        Maybe there's something we haven't considered, or maybe there's some flaw in the evidence or experience we ground our belief on.

        So for the Catholic Church, a dialogue with atheists would be somewhat similar to a large company hiring hackers to attack its web sites. If the hackers were to breach the company's security measures, the company could then fix whatever the hackers discover and be more confident that they are less vulnerable than they were previously.

        When you are absolutely sure you are right, you cannot be wrong about what is ultimately true and not true, but you can tighten up holes in your presentation.

        • Casey Braden

          I think one of Brandon's points was that any individual person is always able to change his or her mind. Obviously, the Catholic Church is unlikely to become an atheist organization anytime in the near future, but individual Catholics who are honest and open to new evidence or arguments might change their minds. I think that I am evidence of this, as I was once a Catholic who thought that there was no possible way that I was wrong. And even now, as an atheist, I am always willing to engage in dialogue. I want to believe as many true things and as few false things as possible, so I have to be always willing to change my mind about things based on new evidence or arguments.

          • http://www.brandonvogt.com/ Brandon Vogt

            Casey nailed it. The claims of the Catholic Church are, by nature, objective. The Church's moral and religious teachings do not bend and reverse because of culture or human opinion. So the *teachings themselves* will not change (most especially the teaching that God exists).

            So the real question is not whether the Catholic Church will change her mind through dialogue, but whether the Catholic Church speaks truth?

            Is the Church right about God? Is the Church right about Jesus? Is the Church right about her own authority?

            Those are questions every Catholic and atheist has to wrestle with on their own, ideally through dialogue with those on the other side.

          • David Nickol

            Those are questions every Catholic and atheist has to wrestle with on their own, ideally through dialogue with those on the other side.

            On the questions you list, my understanding is that any Catholic who is wrestling with whether or not they are true is obliged to more fully inform himself or herself, from Catholic sources, so as to confirm their truth. Being a Catholic, as I understand it, requires assenting to all the teachings of the Church. If a Catholic, for example, wants to explore the question of whether or not the Church is right about its own authority, he or she must not approach the question with an open mind and consult atheists, or Protestants, or members of any other religion, to gather a number of points of view and decide which one is true. To do so would be to risk becoming a heretic or an apostate.

            I can't imagine the purpose of Strange Notions is to help Catholics decide whether or not basic teachings of the Catholic Church are true, and if atheists are able to convince them the Church is in error, then it is a good thing for the (former) Catholic to have made up his or her own mind.

            Correct me if I am wrong, but it is the duty of any Catholic who has the slightest doubt that, say, the Church is right about Jesus to do everything in his or her power to convince himself or herself that the Church is indeed right about Jesus. Discussing with an atheist to get a point of view other than the Church's would be to seriously entertain doubt and would no doubt be a sin. Any Catholics who feel they might, though dialogue with atheists, come to disbelieve any Church teaching should no doubt avoid this site. The only Catholics who should enter into a dialogue with atheists are Catholics who are quite certain they can do so without having any doubts or conceding any arguments. This applies, of course, only to Catholic dogma and doctrine.

          • http://www.brandonvogt.com/ Brandon Vogt

            "If a Catholic, for example, wants to explore the question of whether or not the Church is right about its own authority, he or she must not approach the question with an open mind and consult atheists, or Protestants, or members of any other religion, to gather a number of points of view and decide which one is true. To do so would be to risk becoming a heretic or an apostate."

            You invited me to correct you if you're wrong, and I'll take you up on that: you're mistaken :)

            Nowhere has the Catholic Church forbid exploring questions with an open mind and examining the answers other groups have given to those questions. In fact, the most brilliant minds in the Church--Aquinas, Augustine, Newman, Benedict XVI, etc.--did just that.

            "I can't imagine the purpose of Strange Notions is to help Catholics decide whether or not basic teachings of the Catholic Church are true, and if atheists are able to convince them the Church is in error, then it is a good thing for the (former) Catholic to have made up his or her own mind."

            I never said that was the purpose. I said the purpose was to help *each other* come to the truth, whether that be Catholicism or atheism. Certainly I'm interested in examining my own beliefs, to see if they're based on faulty evidence or reasoning, but to the degree I'm confident those beliefs are true, I'd like to help you discover the them. Therefore the purpose of Strange Notions is not only to examine our own beliefs but to help leads others to the truth.

            "Correct me if I am wrong, but it is the duty of any Catholic who has the slightest doubt that, say, the Church is right about Jesus to do everything in his or her power to convince himself or herself that the Church is indeed right about Jesus."

            I'm not sure what you mean by "do everything...to convince himself." Faith isn't an act of the will--it's a gift. Believing in a doctrine like the divinity of Christ, even in the face of difficulty, is a trustful assent. (We should remember Newman's adage, too: "Ten thousand difficulties do not make one doubt.")

            "Discussing with an atheist to get a point of view other than the Church's would be to seriously entertain doubt and would no doubt be a sin."

            This is simply untrue. I'd encourage you to read Pope Benedict XVI's Jesus of Nazareth trilogy where he does just that. He engages the views of atheist, Jewish, and Protestant scholars.

          • David Nickol

            Nowhere has the Catholic Church forbid exploring questions with an open mind and examining the answers other groups have given to those questions.

            What exactly would it mean for a Catholic to explore, say, the Resurrection, the Real Presence, or the Perpetual Virginity of Mary with an "open mind"?

            Faith isn't an act of the will--it's a gift. Believing in a doctrine like the divinity of Christ, even in the face of difficulty, is a trustful assent.

            Faith may be a gift, but assent is given by an act of will, is it not?

            This is simply untrue. I'd encourage you to read Pope Benedict XVI's Jesus of Nazareth trilogy where he does just that. He engages the views of atheist, Jewish, and Protestant scholars.

            I wasn't clear enough about expressing what I meant. Of course a Catholic may inform himself or herself about "non-Catholic" points of view and comment on them. I was referring to a situation in which a Catholic was grappling with a specific doubt, and what I am saying is that a Catholic who doubts a doctrine or dogma would not, with an open mind, seek out "non-Catholic" points of view in order to find an alternative to the Catholic view he or she was having trouble accepting. If Catholics doubt a doctrine or a dogma, they are not permitted to shop around for something they find easier to accept. If I am a Catholic and find the ideas of the Trinity and the Incarnation difficult to believe, I am not permitted to go to someone who doesn't believe them (an adoptionist, say) and say, "Tell me what you believe, and maybe that will be something I can accept." A Catholic may not be open minded about the Trinity and the Incarnation. He or she may not search for less challenging alternatives, but instead is expected to overcome any doubt and assent to the Catholic teaching.

          • Tony Jokin

            Hi David,

            I think you have a valid point and I made a post explaining what is the purpose of dialogue from a Catholic perspective.

            I reproduce it here incase you miss it among all the comments

            ************************************************

            I don't mean to be discouraging (I will explain toward the end) but I think David Nickol makes a valid point. I believe the answers given in reply to David are less than honest as well and gives a false view of Catholicism.

            Catholics do (and should) believe that they are in the true Church. So any Catholic who engages in dialogue with an atheist does have one motive. That is the motive to explain why he or she is Catholic and hope the Atheist will see the validity in what they say. There is no real place for conversion or abandonment to the opposite. Anyone who thinks there is room should probably not be engaging in such dialogue out of prudence and should look to see if they cannot strengthen their faith first under guidance of fellow Catholics. If they find no satisfaction as to what they find as reasons to believe Catholicism, then they do not approach the discussion as Catholics but Agnostics.

            Now an atheist might think this is unfair. Why after all should they engage in a discussion where the only possibility is a win for the Catholic and no possibility of a win for them?

            The problem here is that the Atheists who approach dialogue this way are also looking for the wrong thing. Just as a Catholic who approaches dialogue with an Atheist because he already knows he has the truth, the Atheist should approach the Catholic because he is not sure if he has the truth. So the reason why an Atheist approaches is to ask why the Catholic is so sure and see if they can also find that certainty.

            So there are no victors. Dialogue should simply be something that is born out of a desire to seek the truth. The Atheist, the seeker, then proceeds to dialogue with the Catholic because he wants to really get to know if there is any truth behind it.

            To achieve such dialogue, there is mutual respect, patience, and willingness to understand both sides. The Catholic wants to understand the Atheist better so that they can communicate their position better. The Atheist wants to understand the Catholic better so that he can communicate his problems if he has any or resolve any doubts about Catholicism if possible.

            That is how both sides approach dialogue and they are NOT approached with the same goal. For us as Catholics to pretend otherwise is dishonesty that I am sure our Lord will not appreciate.

          • David Nickol

            Tony,

            I think you are largely correct. It seems to me that some Catholics here are trying to downplay the obligation of Catholics to accept and embrace what the Church teaches. Certainly a mature Catholic in this day and age can delve into just about anything he or she is intellectually interested in, although in times past that was not true. But Catholics do not have the option of exploring Catholic teaching to decide whether or not it is true. Here is some information from By What Authority? A Primer on Scripture, the Magisterium, and the Sense of the Faithful by Richard R. Gaillardetz on levels of Church teaching and the required response of the believer, from highest level to lowest level. I have had to change the format, since in the book it is a chart.

            Dogma - Assent of Faith [The believer makes an act of faith, trusting that this teaching is revealed by God.]

            Definitive Doctrine - Firm Acceptance [The believer "accepts and holds" these teachings to be true.]

            Authoritative Doctrine - "A Religious Docility of Will and Intellect" [The believer strives to assimilate a teaching of the Church into their religious stance, while recognizing the remote possibility of church error.]

            Provisional Applications of Church Doctrine, Church Discipline and Prudential Admonitions - Conscientious Obedience [The believer obeys (the spirit of) any church law or disciplinary action which does not lead to sin, even when questioning the ultimate value or wisdome of the law or action.]

            For the atheist, the idea of belonging to an organization that tells you what to believe and disbelieve is—to borrow a word from the Church—anathema. So I understand the wish of some Catholics to downplay it. But of course for many Catholics, the great attraction of Catholicism is that they believe in the authority of the Church and the Magisterium, and they see it as a very positive thing that they may totally trust the Church to provide them with the truth.

            Yes, Catholics are free to inquire why dogmas or definitive doctrines are true. But they may not inquire if they are true.

          • Tony Jokin

            You are spot on David! The Church does oppose the idea proposed here that Catholics are to look in to their faith with an openness to abandon it.

            That being said, it should be noted that for an Atheist, the dialogue is a chance to ask the Catholic the honest questions. For an example, the question as "Why do you believe in Bishops and Pope to tell you what is true or false with respect to things you cannot see?" would be one such question.

            Today, the problem is that most Atheist (who were Catholics when they were young) do not have much information as to why Catholics hold what they hold. So this form of dialogue gives them an opportunity to see if all of this as they thought it was when they left the Church or if they were misinformed.

            Not to get in to too much detail but to briefly outline the reason why a Catholic is "Catholic" is through the following line of reasoning

            1) The Death and Resurrection of Jesus is true - Conviction of this fact may be historical evidence, personally experiencing the risen Christ, acceptance of the testimony that has been passed down over centuries (as you might accept that XYZ was your great-great grand father etc). Now here in there might be a question of whether simple testimony is sufficient to believe this fact. Christians hold that martydom of Christians, including the first Apostles in testimony of the death and resurrection of Christ is good enough. It seems reasonable to say that you cannot ask for more from an individual who has seen something extra ordinary first hand than be willing to die in testimony to what they saw.

            2) From (1) Christians conclude that Jesus is someone special and a reasonable person to think as knowing things beyond what we know (since he died and rose from the dead)

            3) Since Jesus is not around today, it seems reasonable to listen to the Apostles of Jesus to learn what he taught.

            4) Since Apostles are not around today, it seems reasonable to listen to the Successors of Apostles (Bishops and Pope).

            5) Therefore the Christian gives full assent to everything that is taught by the Apostolic Successors (including which books are in the Bible and the claim that it is the word of God, Doctrine on the Holy Trinity, Virgin Birth of Christ, Jesus claimed he was God etc.). If a Christian does not understand or see how what the Apostolic Successors say is true, it is still held by faith with the hope that it will become clearer in the future.

            So in this line of reasoning by a Christian, the assent to claims of infallibility is also accepted as a teaching regarding the scope of the authority of the Church (Bishops + Pope).

            At this point one could say "Is this reasonable considering the Authority could teach you error?".

            But this is how we base our entire Academic systems and pretty much every school of knowledge today. Perhaps the best place where this sort of assent is evident in our secular world is the medical profession. If I were a carpenter, I would have no choice but to rely completely on the advise of my doctor. Most of the time with critical illnesses, the carpenter will have to trust the Doctor without being able to first verify if the treatment is sound and also the soundness of the diagnosis methodology itself. To draw another comparison, it is also true that the body of medical Doctors themselves define the scope of his expertise and the level of certainty in his claims.

            So in this way, a Catholic is reasonable to have such a form of trust/assent to the Church.

            Here there is usually another common objection: All other religions do not agree with Catholic teaching and is it not possible that they too can make a similar case for their own faith?

            The Catholics answer is that apart from the Jewish faith, no one else can do so. In fact, Catholics will argue that it is trivially obvious that almost every other religion fails to hold up in this line of reasoning. This is why many religions try to play up the role of accepting purely on faith and how reasonable the teachings themselves sound.

            If we were to take the ancient Greek faith of "many Gods" for an example, we have no reason to assent because we have no credible authority to think that they know or witnessed the stories about these Gods. In cases where there are claims of demi-Gods, we have no historical evidence to think these stories true and in cases where there is enough evidence, they do not point to supernatural fiats.

            Anyway, this was not meant as a complete guide to Catholicism but just to clarify the question you have rightly raised many times.

          • Tony Jokin

            I think you are incorrect here Brandon. The Church does discourage dialogue with non-believers if the Catholic is uncertain. In the event that a person has doubts, they are to first turn to those who have the faith. Not non-believers. It would even qualify as putting oneself in near occasion of sin to do otherwise.

            St. Augustine, St. Aquinas and even Pope Benedict XVI did not approach the matter as "lets see if I am wrong". They already had a apriori assumption that the Catholic faith is the true faith and they just need to find a way to address these objections so that the objectors may come to the truth and be saved.

          • mriehm

            Sputter, sputter... "The claims of the Catholic Church are, by nature, objective"???

            So the Fall, the Trinity, salvation through Jesus, heaven, hell, the soul... All that... is OBJECTIVE?

        • Kevin Aldrich

          You theory would be more likely if Brandon was a paid operative of the Magisterium of the Catholic Church but he's just a guy on his own trying to make a living while evangelizing.

          I think SN exists primarily for the benefit that atheists can get out of it. That is to say, it is a service to atheists.

        • mriehm

          Ahh, I see: so the way to find absolute truth in this world is to be 100% convinced that your beliefs are right.

          All good scientists maintain some doubt about their research.

          Many people with mental illness have no doubt about their beliefs.

          I suppose that means that the mentally ill have the truths, and the scientists do not.

      • Sqrat

        "[The goal of dialogue with atheists is] to mutually discover the truth."

        That's how you phrase it when talking to atheists. When talking to Catholics you would say that "The Church exists to evangelize," and that your purpose for engaging in dialogue with atheists, and your particular goal for this site, is to evangelize among atheists. Or at least, as you have said, to "clear the path for eventual evangelization" among atheists. Ideally you would like all of your "atheist friends to enter the Church."

        It seems to me that, since you think you already know, more or less what the truth is, and you goal is plainly evangelization, the actual purpose of "mutual truth discovery" here is primarily for atheists to "discover" that you are right and they are wrong, not vice versa.

        Brandon, really, there's no need to try to sugar-coat the pill in the hope of making it go down easier. It's quite obvious what you're up to -- and it's perfectly OK.

        • http://www.brandonvogt.com/ Brandon Vogt

          "That's how you phrase it when talking to atheists. When talking to Catholics you would say that "The Church exists to evangelize," and that your purpose for engaging in dialogue with atheists, and your particular goal for this site, is to evangelize among atheists. Or at least, as you have said, to "clear the path for eventual evangelization" among atheists. Ideally you would like all of your "atheist friends to enter the Church."

          Sure, I'd totally agree with all that. And it's congruent with helping atheists discover the truth. I'd like to believe my atheist friends think highly enough of me to "evangelize" me with their own seemingly good news.

          I'm convinced the Catholic Church holds the fullness of truth. I visit Strange Notions to share that truth with others, but also to refine my own understanding of it.

          • DannyGetchell

            Actually Brandon, when I was an atheist, any desire to evangelize others on behalf of atheism was practically non-existent.

            What I wanted was to encourage "closet atheists" (many of whom spend their Sunday mornings in church pews) to reveal themselves, and to work toward a society that applied no disincentive to them for doing so.

            Most of the atheists I know (except for an aggressive and very small segment) feel much the same way.

        • bbrown

          Of course, every discussion here and every discussion in life is based on the the assumption that we know something (a truth) that we wish to share. Now, of course, sometimes we are just testing the waters, and the degree to which we hold the belief is less firm than at other times. But, every dialogue is based on assumptions of truth and a desire to challenge, hone, and fine-tune our beliefs.

      • Tony Jokin

        I don't mean to be discouraging (I will explain toward the end) but I
        think David Nickol makes a valid point. I believe the answers given in reply to David are less than honest as well and gives a false view of Catholicism.

        Catholics do (and should) believe that they are in the true Church. So any Catholic who engages in dialogue with an atheist does have one motive. That is the motive to explain why he or she is Catholic and hope the Atheist will see the validity in what they say. There is no real place for conversion or abandonment to the opposite. Anyone who thinks there is room should probably not be
        engaging in such dialogue out of prudence and should look to see if they cannot strengthen their faith first under guidance of fellow Catholics. If they find no satisfaction as to what they find as reasons to believe Catholicism, then they do not approach the discussion as Catholics but Agnostics.

        Now an atheist might think this is unfair. Why after all should they engage in a discussion where the only possibility is a win for the Catholic and no possibility of a win for them?

        The problem here is that the Atheists who approach dialogue this way are also looking for the wrong thing. Just as a Catholic who approaches dialogue with an Atheist because he already knows he has the truth, the Atheist should approach the Catholic because he is not sure if he has the truth. So the reason why an Atheist approaches is to ask why the Catholic is so sure and see if they can also find that certainty.

        So there are no victors. Dialogue should simply be something that is born out of a desire to seek the truth. The Atheist, the seeker, then proceeds to dialogue with the Catholic because he wants to really get to know if there is any truth behind it.

        To achieve such dialogue, there is mutual respect, patience, and willingness to understand both sides. The Catholic wants to understand the Atheist better so that they can communicate their position better. The Atheist wants to understand the Catholic better so that he can communicate his problems if he has any or resolve any doubts about Catholicism if possible.

        That is how both sides approach dialogue and they are NOT approached with the same goal. For us as Catholics to
        pretend otherwise is dishonesty that I am sure our Lord will not
        appreciate.

    • DannyGetchell

      when Catholics are absolutely convinced they are infallible?

      I've never spoken to a Catholic who was convinced that he or she was infallible.

      I've spoken to many who say, "I strive to follow a teaching that I believe to be infallible." Not quite the same thing.

      • David Nickol

        I've never spoken to a Catholic who was convinced that he or she was infallible.

        You must not know many Catholics! :)

        I think my meaning was clear. "Orthodox" Catholics believe they have an infallible source of truth—the Magisterium. Catholics believe the Church is infallible on certain matters of faith and morals. There is no Catholic, including the pope himself, who believes himself or herself to be infallible in all things.

        Not quite the same thing.

        No, it is not. But in a dialogue between a Catholic who claims to have an infallible source of truth and an atheist who is simply a nonbeliever, the "orthodox" Catholic is never going to concede on a point the Church has made an infallible pronouncement about. And of course a Catholic is never going to concede to an atheist that God might not exist.

        So it seems to me the idea of "dialogue" between a Catholic and an atheist is problematic. While individual Catholics may not claim to be personally infallible, they can nevertheless consider themselves to argue without the possibility of being wrong, as long as they argue in accord with the infallible teachings of the Church.

        • Pedro Dias

          "And of course a Catholic is never going to concede to an atheist that God might not exist."

          I beg to differ. I was an atheist before converting, and even though Catholicism hold itself in much more plausible grounds, I don't close the door to go back to atheism (as unlikely as it sounds to happen, honestly). I'm not close-minded, which doesn't really make your statement very true. And almost everyone I know doesn't seem to be either...

          "So it seems to me the idea of "dialogue" between a Catholic and an atheist is problematic. While individual Catholics may not claim to be personally infallible, they can nevertheless consider themselves to argue without the possibility of being wrong, as long as they argue in accord with the infallible teachings of the Church."

          The thing is, the Church has grounds on the statements she considers to be "infallible", from the usage of the New Testament (historical backup on things like the Book of Acts is not that hard to find...) to the ex cathedra proclamation of dogmas. The big trick is to point out where do they have wrong on the grounds they stand on, and that's rarely the case. There's an aim for truth, and the Church works for millenia to find it, using reason and other tools of search. Making such work to just crumble down quickly would be one heck of a miracle. As that is not usual, it may be apparent that people simply refuse to see why the 'infallible' things are wrong, but the fact is that you only scratch the surface, and that's hardly a way to make a case.

          In any case, I never saw any Catholic fully standing and refusing well-founded arguments against theism without at least trying to answer them, or resort to someone who can do it (ironically, I happen to see that with atheists much more often). Discussion is very fruitful, and allows one side to see with a brighter light the other, in order to make their own minds and conclusions. As I have a skeptical nature, I would never accept joining any religion that denied any type of opposition against, and that is saying something. The Catholic Church actually seemed to me back then (and still does) like the one that actually approaches the problems that people point of Christianity, and you can see that in particular in religious orders like the Dominicans or the Jesuits, as well as the many apologists.

          I'm sorry, I just can't seem take any of your points seriously, they're simply not true from personal experience on both sides of the spectrum...

          • David Nickol

            I'm sorry, I just can't seem take any of your points seriously, they're simply not true from personal experience on both sides of the spectrum...

            Let me make it clear that I am not saying there are not individual Catholics who would not say, "Let's discuss all the issues fully and frankly, and let the chips fall where they may. If I enter into a dialogue with atheists, and they convince me to abandon the Catholic faith, then that is a good thing, because being a Catholic is not what is most important to me. Making up my own mind about what is true and what is not is what is most important to me. "

            Of course there are Catholics who feel this way and who convert to other religions or lose their faith. However, periodically I refer to "orthodox" Catholics. An "orthodox" Catholic would abide by this from the Catechism:

            2087 Our moral life has its source in faith in God who reveals his love to us. St. Paul speaks of the "obedience of faith" as our first obligation. He shows that "ignorance of God" is the principle and explanation of all moral deviations. Our duty toward God is to believe in him and to bear witness to him.

            2088 The first commandment requires us to nourish and protect our faith with prudence and vigilance, and to reject everything that is opposed to it. There are various ways of sinning against faith:

            Voluntary doubt about the faith disregards or refuses to hold as true what God has revealed and the Church proposes for belief. Involuntary doubt refers to hesitation in believing, difficulty in overcoming objections connected with the faith, or also anxiety aroused by its obscurity. If deliberately cultivated doubt can lead to spiritual blindness.

            2089 Incredulity is the neglect of revealed truth or the willful refusal to assent to it. "Heresy is the obstinate post-baptismal denial of some truth which must be believed with divine and catholic faith, or it is likewise an obstinate doubt concerning the same; apostasy is the total repudiation of the Christian faith; schism is the refusal of submission to the Roman Pontiff or of communion with the members of the Church subject to him."

            Dialogue with an atheist or someone other than an "orthodox" Catholic to help you decide whether or not Church teaching is correct would clearly be—in my opinion—deliberately cultivating doubt. You may personally feel that as a Catholic, you have the right to decide whether what the Church teaches is 100% true, and to leave the Church if you decide it is not. But the Church teaches that you have no such right. The Church teaches that as a Catholic, you are in possession of certain truth, and should you have any doubts, you have a most serious obligation to banish them.

            I would of course agree that everyone has the right to decide for him or herself whether or not the faith they were raised in, or the faith the converted to, is both true and the most helpful to them in leading the kind of life they value. But the Catholic Church teaches that for Catholics to decide Catholicism is not true or not helpful to them personally and leave the Church, that is apostasy.

            I am quite sure that, officially, the position of the Catholic Church is that if there is any chance that dialogue with atheists or members of another religion might possibly cause you to abandon Catholicism, you must not engage in such dialogue. I am, of course, quite willing to be corrected by anyone, as long as they cite authentic Catholic sources. But I do expect documentation, since while Catholics may not be infallible, I am. :-)

          • Pedro Dias

            My position is not to necessarily or deliberately cultivate doubt, but to let involuntary doubt be cultivated by others, so that I can examine the actual defense of a specific doctrine, and if it makes sense, and I feel many people tend to do this (and some actually come to me to try and have explained their doubts, wheter it was voluntarily or involuntarily placed in their minds). The Catholic teaching is so extensive that it'd take a lifetime (or more) to know every ground that every doctrine is based on. "Deliberately cultivated" doubt is usually done by many people so that they have good answers to their personal questions answered, and have a stronger faith. There's no better way to eliminate the possibility of having spiritual blindness for looking why X is taught, rather than just ignore the objections to X. And that is saying something! :)

            With that in mind, I don't think I'm sinning against faith, as the Cathecism puts it. It's true that it may say that I should reject the views that oppose to it, but in any reasonable mind, not looking for answers as to why a certain view should be rejected doesn't really help your faith anyway. And it doesn't take too much to conclude that neither the average Catholic nor the authors of the Cathecism are unreasonable!

          • David Nickol

            It's true that it may say that I should reject the views that oppose to it, but in any reasonable mind, not looking for answers as to why a certain view should be rejected doesn't really help your faith anyway.

            Would you say it is not true that "orthodox" Catholicism says a Catholic should seek solely to banish any doubts he or she has by simply dismissing them as unwanted thoughts or by seeking more information in order to resolve them in favor of the Church? The minute a Catholic says to himself or herself something like, "I've got to determine for myself whether or not transubstantiation is credible," he or she is cultivating doubt. The "orthodox" Catholic must say, "I am having difficulty accepting transubstantiation," and then say either, "Of course, I know any doubts I may have are unfounded, so I just will dismiss them from my mind," or else say, "I must read a good Catholic book on transubstantiation to find out why my doubts are wrong, and if that book doesn't convince me, I must read another, and another, and another." What the orthodox Catholic must not do is say, "I will go to the library and find the best book for transubstantiation and the best book against it, read them both, and make up my own mind."

            Believing doctrines and especially dogmas is not optional in Catholicism, and therefore setting out to decide whether they are true or not is impermissible. One must assume what the Church teaches is true, and "orthodox" Catholics must must maintain that if they doubt doctrines and especially dogmas, their is something faulty in their own thinking that must be corrected.

            I just had a flashback to the 7th grade when Sister Marion had me stand up in class and say why I liked the poem—by that greatest of all Catholic poets, Joyce Kilmer—that began

            I like to look at the blossomy track of the moon upon the sea,
            But it isn't half so fine a sight as Main Street used to be

            I said, "I don't know. I just do."

            In truth, I didn't like it. But the assignment was to tell why I liked it, not whether I liked it.

          • Pedro Dias

            "Would you say it is not true that "orthodox" Catholicism says a Catholic should seek solely to banish any doubts he or she has by simply dismissing them as unwanted thoughts or by seeking more information in order to resolve them in favor of the Church?"

            Yes I would. In fact, when I was in a retreat for a weekend (it was a sort of a preparation for receiving the sacrament of Confirmation), they placed us in small groups, gave us hard-on questions in what is usually regarded as inconsistencies on faith or those types of affirmations where people may comment "that can't be right!" or even the best opposing arguments, such as the ethics in God's actions in the Old Testament (which was the one my group ended up with) or the problem of evil. We were given these questions, and asked to use our own reason to try and bring some argumentative foundation to answer it given the facts that surround that particular problem (including arguments from opponents), and those arguments were placed under debate in front of the entire group. That's way far from the "simply dismissing them as unwanted thoughts" that you're asserting, people were actually obliged to think about it, and it was really the type of problem-solving that Church Fathers and the scholastics of the Middle Ages did. If the educators of the Cathecism and all that jazz do these exercises regularily with the kids, you have no position to assert that Catholics ("orthodox" ones, if you so insist) are told to dismiss these thoughts. I already gave a proper explanation to this in my last post.

            "Believing doctrines and especially dogmas is not optional in Catholicism, and therefore setting out to decide whether they are true or not is impermissible. One must assume what the Church teaches is true, and "orthodox" Catholics must must maintain that if they doubt doctrines and especially dogmas, their is something faulty in their own thinking that must be corrected."

            You can check the grounds on any dogmas that is established by the Church, and you won't be reprimended by anyone for doing it; as best, they're going to advise that you're about to read some mind-bending arguments. They start as theological theories or ideas, and if they have proper grounds of support and seem to be in agreement with Early Church orthodoxy (i.e. Church Fathers and early sources) and with Scriptures, they're gradually accepted among the Church until the popes declares it doctrine or, in particular in the case of Mary, dogmas. There's a process to it and there's an explanation as well, if such is requested. No one on his right mind will say "You're obliged to believe X and Y and Z and dismiss your own questions about it!". In that particular case, you might wonder how can people like myself are able to convert. I'll give you a hint: we wouldn't.
            But as there are proper explanations and grounds from the most amazing thinkers of the last two millenia, it's excessively hard to properly counter everything, and you can't say that they don't hold consistent truths until you take away the ground they're standing on. ;)

          • Tony Jokin

            Pedro,

            The Catholic position is that you can certainly look but if you do not understand the reasons, you take it as a cross and pray.

            So David is right. We do not approach this dialogue as equals in the sense of the possible end result. We approach it differently. The Catholic is selling his product. The Atheist is going shopping. That is the type of dialogue we are to have.

            If the Catholic is not sure about his own product or the Atheist is not interested in shopping, then dialogue fails!

          • Pedro Dias

            I don't agree. I'm not here being a marketing salesman, I'm here to have a proper discussion, not selling a product (even though I'd love anyone to come into Rome, it's cozy here).
            People need to try and defend their standings on whatever common ground they appear to have. If there is no common ground, only then there's no room for discussion.

            And I never, ever saw the Catholic Church (or any Catholic, for instance) to avoid a question. It may be ankward to sometimes bring such things, but this is usually a topic for discussion (not even if it goes down to the point where they just ask me to investigate, as I studied more on the subjects during my conversion, and I got sources).

            Neither normal churchmen nor the priests ever discouraged me or the others to do this, so I'm not planning to stand on that position. If you see such position arise, you either are in a different Church than me, or you're simply wrong on the topic...

          • Tony Jokin

            As I made it clear to someone else already, I am not giving my opinion here with respect to that matter simply stating Church teaching.

            The fact that you were told to look in to anything you like during your conversion process does not mean you are free to do so AFTER conversion with the possibility of rejecting it. You may do so AFTER conversion in order to learn how to defend the Church. If you feel you are not up for it, the Church advises that you don't get in to it.

            So no, Catholics are not called to engage with Atheist or even non-Catholics for that matter with the hope of seeing if they have some valid reason. That would mean that you are unsure about the Catholic position. If that is the case, you approach discussion as a non-Catholic (far as discussion is concerned) as well.

          • Pedro Dias

            You got it wrong, mate. It's been around a year since my full conversion to Catholicism, and I was given some sources where I can look for answers for my remaining questions last weekend, and I can freely do hard questions on whatever I feel doubt about, with no proper reprehension. Rather, I was able to exchange contacts with a pretty damn qualified theologian (which is one of those who teach seminarians to become priests), which made me run out of objections on basically everything, from simple things to dogmas in about 20 minutes; and I'm redirected to him if I can't find the answer myself.

            So that statement doesn't stand on much ground, and it's contradictory to personal experience. Rather, when discussing in a personal dialogue with atheists (not selling-product type of discussion, actual discussion on Church teachings and theism), the same has happened to them, and they seem to be much more open-minded to Christianity again. And I'm no product-seller, I explain to them what they have doubt on, and give them a reason-based worldview of this, just like I have (and yes, I feel free to answer "I don't know" to the hardest I've got; still doesn't invalidate my position). I support natural theology, nothing else...

            I can approach the discussion in any position I feel like, and reason-based answers have been given to them (and have been actually encouraged to keep on doing that), and no one came to me with that story until David told me. So if you're wondering wheter my position changed, the answer is no. And I say again, it's contradictory to my personal experience in the Church...

          • Tony Jokin

            Lets be a bit reasonable here without even going too deep. It appears to me that by your own claim, you are a recent convert. So it is not quiet possible that you are the one wrong here? hmm?

            The Catholic has no chance of approaching a discussion with the possibility that they will leave ones faith. FYI: It's considered APOSTASY and a quick ticket to hell.

            So I suggest you do more reading about the Catholic faith as you continue your conversion process.

          • Pedro Dias

            "...you are a recent convert. So it is not quiet possible that you are the one wrong here? hmm?"

            I can smell a pretty neat arrogance in that statement. And the answer is no. That suggests that I've been largely tricked by the very notion that they've encouraged (after I made it completley obvious that I am Catholic) of questioning doctrine and understand the whole thought behind it, given that someone had to come up with an answer to problems before a certain doctrine is established, wheter it was purely on reason or theology, and those answers are out there, and questioning them and having a better insight on what they're about can help to make the reasoning behind them more bold, or having an even more orthodox and theologically reasonable answer, if it's possible. The big theologians (shall I summon St. Augustine?) did this all the time, and helped to make a bigger understanding on what Christ taught for the people back then, and for the people of today. Were they tricked as well?

            And let's take it that I have been tricked, for the sake of argument. Why in the world am I being encouraged to do this in the first place (by priests and theologians, keep yourself in mind...), and why was my youth group encouraged to ask questions on the matter, or even try to come up with answers on their own? Unless my local parishes, on a highly Catholic country, turn out to be somehow heretical, I don't see where I'm wrong here. I know what I can see, hear and feel. And nothing points towards to what you're suggesting...

            "The Catholic has no chance of approaching a discussion with the possibility that they will leave ones faith. FYI: It's considered APOSTASY and a quick ticket to hell."

            Oh, forgive me Lord if the fact that I do just that actually makes my atheist peers convert! I've done the hard questions myself and I keep doing hard questions and bring up counter-arguments to theism in order to test their validity and if they can't really disprove God, I won't lack a response to questions the other Christians have failed to answer. Doing what I do, feeding my faith with reason, gives common ground for discussion with who doesn't believe, and if they do have the upper hand on an argument (which they never did as of yet), I'll investigate their argument and evaluate the premises, and see if they have flaws. If I fail to find an answer myself, I investigate for it. If it has no proper answer and I have no refutation, I'll hand it over to them. If they have enough of these arguments that are strong up to the point I have absolutely no answer, I turn agnostic and I re-evaluate the worldviews in an objective manner, and I determine which one of them is more reasonable to believe, based on its consistency and coherence. I show whoever I'm discussing this with how it's done, and they agree to do the same, for the sake of fairness. I don't know about you, but this works far better than trying to sell a product.

            And is this really a quick ticket to Hell for apostasy?
            First of all, you have no authority to make your judgement about me on it, and assuming God's judgement has been considered far more heretical than what I've done, if it's to be considered heretical in the first place. And if I go to Hell for doing this, even though it has been working in discussion for people to become more open to Catholicism, let it be so. That's Christian charity for ya!

          • Tony Jokin

            Pedro my brother in Christ,

            lets not get carried away. I apologize if you felt my last reply came across as arrogant. I simply wanted to point out a very real possibility given your fresh status in the Church. But now I can see how it could have been a bit inappropriate and could have been understood differently.

            That being said I feel that this argument is kind of needless because we are debating Church teaching. Now I understand you do not have a problem with debating Church teaching BUT I DO! Far as a Catholic is concerned, the Church teaching are non-negotiable.

            So let me present to you the problem with your arguments in a very concise manner.

            1) The Church teaches that to Apostatize from the Church is a mortal sin and the person will incur damnation is not repentant
            2) The Church also teaches that it is a SIN to put oneself in near occasion of sin.
            3) To engage in discussion with Atheists without being certain about ones own position and being open to be converted by Atheist arguments is to put oneself intentionally in near occasion of SIN without any circumstantial reason that forces one to do so i.e. now it becomes MORTAL SIN.

            4) Therefore, to engage in discussion with an atheist while questioning Church teaching or open to being "converted" to Atheism is a SIN and is not accepted by the Catholic Church.

            To summarize this in layman terms, don't keep your mind too open that your brains fall out.

          • Pedro Dias

            One thing out of the way before continuing discussion: on your apology, you're forgiven. Don't worry, just try to not make outbursts like that very often. Not that I mind it much, it's just that other people may take more personally. :)

            On the problem about debating Church teaching: you have to understand that no one in his/her right mind will freely discuss any topic if it all goes down to a one-sided conversation. I'm not a preacher or a Dominican friar or anything of the sort, and I think using rhetoric is one heck of a way to take conclusions without resorting to logic (it's kind of how the New Atheists form their "arguments", for instance). If one really wants to make an open discussion in order to make a proper conclusion on what's true, I need to give them common ground so that they have a chance to express their thoughts and for me to express mine and explain the flaws of theirs, if those are present. And I've been an atheist before, and I know the incoherence and inconsistency of such worldview (I literally reduced my own worldview to the absurd as soon as I learned the laws of logic in philosophy), so I always have grounds to not convert, that no one can really refute; atheism IS a flawed worldview. Catholicism presents a much more solid and coherent worldview, so it'd literally take a miracle to make atheism philosophically more plausible than theism, as I have pure knowledge on how to refute their common arguments, and those that I don't, the HS takes personally care of it! You need to understand as well that I've thought thoroughly about what I'm doing before even engaging in such manner, and I worked out the possible arguments that could be brought up against this, and it's veeery likely that having a single argument standing up permanently against me won't ever happen. The very first time I was able to make a discussion of this sort, the guy became a deist. I only didn't manage to make him a Christian because both me and him had other stuff to do afterwards, and we're eager to make a verdict. I'm open minded on the topic, but I have quite some certainty that I'm not wrong about it. However, if all I end up with is "blind faith" on God, which is actually forbidden in the Bible, it may be better to re-evaluate things. I don't want to believe in incorrect things.

            I recognize this requires quite a nerve from my par to be able to do this but hey, that's what faith is about, isn't it? And I let the HS speak for me when I feel Him coming! ;)

            On the arguments you've put up, there's some problems around the premises. Mortal sins means that, in Church terms, I'm under a "latae setentiae" excommunication. That doesn't directly mean that I'm doomed if I die with it, but as far as it is known, you're not really open to receive God's grace either. But it's none of our business wheter a soul goes up or down, that's God's judgement only; we can only assert the best way to go to Heaven, and the ways that aren't really favourable to it.

            On the second premise, I'm not really sure about a NOOS type of situation, but it's a bit doubtful that it is really a sin. I mean, a near occasion of sin being a sin on its own is contradictory to say the least; not quite the type of logic the Church stands on. But hey, I could be wrong...

            On the third premise, let me differ. I AM certain of my position, but I'll keep the doors open for information for the conversation to be fair. We Catholics founded the very concept of reason-based justice, so let's apply it appropriately to this respect, where we're equally scanning for truth. I don't really think that's sinful, even though the blunt way I've put it earlier might have suggested that.

            Having said all this, I have no certainty that my objections to your premises are even valid to begin with, so I won't rely on them. You gave a honest argument about it, and I'll discuss this with my priest to have a final word on wheter this is of sinful nature or otherwise. Thanks ;)

          • Tony Jokin

            Pedro,

            You are indeed correct that Catholics are not called to assent on arbitrary faith i.e. Fideism which is condemned by the Catholic Church. What Fideism means is that no one is reasonable to assent to an arbitrary religion (including Atheism) without reason to think it true.

            However, this search for reason, truth and all sort of other things must be done before you decide to ASSENT to the Church. In other words, the moment you received BAPTISM, the freedom for you to look at Church teaching in a way that "Hey, I might be wrong about the Catholic Church being the true Church" was conceded. This is why in the Early Church, Catechism played an important role. You were not even allowed to participate in the complete mass if you were unsure. So the moment you approach baptism or other sacraments, you essentially say "I have looked in to the Catholic Church and have come to know it is the true Church".

            From that point of assent onward, when and if you do approach objections against Catholicism, it is always with the goal to defend the Church and the Faith.

            Think about it this way. If Catholics are approaching it with the possibility of conversion to the other side, we should be in fear and dread every-time our Pope, Bishop or priest engages in dialogue with an Atheist or even a non-Catholic. There would be a real possibility that they will convert to the other side. Truth is, there is no such fear. We know they approach to defend the Church and explain the faith to others rather than with any possibility of being converted.

          • Vasco Gama

            Tony,

            There is something quite wrong and absurd in your reasoning. It is just not sensable to defend that a conversation or a debate could lead anyone to challenge anyones believes (as fundamental as Catholic faith beliefs or an atheist believe for that matter).

            The debate bewteen believers and atheists doesn't aim to convert (and even worst to be available for conversion).

            You are being arrogant.

          • David Nickol

            If I understand what you are saying, I think you are mistaken. Any Catholic entering into "dialogue" with an atheist (or an adherent of non-Catholic religion) would ultimately hope to convert that person to Catholicism. It may not be the main objective of dialogue, but certainly if you are certain you hold the truth necessary for eternal salvation, you would necessarily want everyone to embrace it. The Catechism says:

            905 Lay people also fulfill their prophetic mission by evangelization, "that is, the proclamation of Christ by word and the testimony of life." For lay people, "this evangelization . . . acquires a specific property and peculiar efficacy because it is accomplished in the ordinary circumstances of the world."

            This witness of life, however, is not the sole element in the apostolate; the true apostle is on the lookout for occasions of announcing Christ by word, either to unbelievers . . . or to the faithful.

            It seems to me that it is the obligation of a Catholic always to act and speak in such a way so as not to drive anyone away from, but to draw everyone to, the Church.

            For an "orthodox" Catholic, living according to the faith, and drawing others to the faith, should be the central purpose of life that takes precedence over every other consideration. That may be difficult to actually carry out, but surely it must be every Catholic's goal.

            If participating in "dialogue" with non-Catholics is in any way a threat to a Catholic's faith—even the least tenet of that faith— the "orthodox" Catholic would not and should not enter into dialogue.

            143 By faith, man completely submits his intellect and his will to God. With his whole being man gives his assent to God the revealer. Sacred Scripture calls this human response to God, the author of revelation, "the obedience of faith".

            2088 The first commandment requires us to nourish and protect our faith with prudence and vigilance, and to reject everything that is opposed to it.

            "Orthodox" Catholics would sooner put themselves in a position of possibly losing their lives than in possibly losing their faith.

          • Vasco Gama

            You are right, the believers must be optimistic; I ultimately hope that somehow my dialogue with unbelievers may help God to concede someone else the grace of faith. Ultimately we all aspire to bear witness of our faith, particularly in the dialogue with atheists and providing them our own experience and knowledge (which is the case in this issue). As to the matter of being up to that expectation, I have to be humble (and realize that it is not reasonable to have very high expectations).

            It so happens that I have a daily contact with atheists and I see that in spite of recognizing that they are wrong on the matter of the existence of God, in general they are quite
            rational, as rational as believers (not more and no less), and their world view is usually solid (although with a few misconceptions and internal incoherencies in their resoning).

            Anyway in debating with them the best way is to respect their beliefs (and disbelieves) and hope that at some point they realize their own incoherencies. The idea of engaging a dialogue with someone (we don't even know) and try to convert him strikes me as arrogant and disrespectful and a perfect non sense (I am quite sure that that would constitute a miracle).

            I myself was an atheist not so long ago and in some sense I understand quite well the problem (without pretending to generalize to others my personal experience), and I have to tell you if I acknowledge understanding what a miracle is, I have to first and foremost to speak of my own conversion (believe me it was God's grace that I have to be thankful for) and to recognize that that was a miracle.

            The idea that somehow the faith of the believers may be challenged in the dialogue with atheists (in the context of a
            discussion in this blog) is preposterous and I wouldn’t call that faith (a vage impression maybe, but certainly not faith).

          • Tony Jokin

            This is your 21st century sensibilities speaking.

            When a Professor teaches the students that they are wrong with an answer in the final exam and engage in discussion to do so, that is not arrogance. That is CHARITY.

            The Professor can be kind in the discussion and entertain questions but the goal is by no means for the Professor to come out of the discussion discovering he is wrong. That is absurd.

            So I think you need to check in your 21st century sensibilities before you enter this discussion. The 21st century sensibilities are built too much on pride. Of course when pride enters the picture, the obvious retort is "how dare someone think they have the truth and want to teach me about it".

          • Vasco Gama

            Tony,

            “This is your 21st century sensibilities speaking.”
            Really?

            Do you know anything about me or my sensibility? How could you get these assertive insights, from a few comments I made?

            “When a Professor teaches the students that they are wrong with an answer in the final exam and engage in discussion to do so, that is not arrogance. That is CHARITY.”

            I totally agree. In spite of the professor may reveal arrogance in showing disrespect for the student, or when he assumes to know more than he actually does and misleads the student. In these cases maybe he presumes to be charitable, but he is wrong, in reality he is being arrogant.

            “The Professor can be kind in the discussion and entertain questions but the goal is by no means for the Professor to come out of the discussion discovering he is wrong.”

            I totally agree also. But in fact a professor may be wrong
            and he must acknowledge his error and appreciate to be corrected.

            But there is something that deeply puzzles me. Does this
            hypothetical situation of “a professor that teaches the
            students”, even at any minimal level has any relevance here. Who is the professor, or who is the teacher, and who determines those roles. This is blog as “contributers” who post texts defending ideas and commentators that discuss
            them. The argument from authority makes no sense here (although it would in the class room, there one knows who are the professors and who are the students). Here,
            the pretention that someone teaches and the others learn is delusional, and although one can recognize that he would learn something from someone is only due to rationality of the arguments, or in some cases from the respect from someone exceptional coherence and knowledge (of a particular commentator), but then here one has to acknowledge it.

            The point in these debates (as those taking place here), is
            very much based on the assumption "how dare someone
            think they have the truth and want to teach me about it" (even if looks so rude as you stated), in this case when someone makes a statement, expresses an opinion, or a belief, anyone else is entitled to ask for a coherent justification.

          • Tony Jokin

            First Vasco, with all due respect, you probably should not be engaging in discussions with an Atheist because I get the feeling (pretty conclusively from our discussions) that you do not really know WHY you are Catholic and not something else. You are not even sure if you should approach the conversation with an open mind to both sides or as a Catholic i.e. not open to be converted to Atheism.

            So I think its safe to say that you need to really know what the heck your faith is teaching you first.

            The Catholic Church believes and holds that it is the ONLY TRUE faith. It also holds that its validity can be demonstrable by reason using many different type of arguments. The point of a Catholic is to convey these arguments to others so that they too can come to be saved.

            So who are the professors (i.e. authorities here), its the CHURCH. You as a Catholic are carrying forward what you have studied to share with non-Catholics. The day you assented to the Church, you accepted that even if you were faced with the most difficult objection toward the Catholic faith, you will REMAIN CATHOLIC!! Your assumption will be that the objection can be overcome rather than "Oh oh. time to jump ship".

            There is no delusion here. Just a call to recognize that one cannot just hold arbitrary positions like Atheism (which depend on absence of proof) without looking in to the evidence/proof to begin with. This mean that the Atheist has to be seeking. You cannot just shove things down the throat.

            For your reply to me (if you are going to reply), please do take a look at my reply to Pedro and address that as well.

          • Vasco Gama

            Tony,

            I thank you for your concern, I apreciate it. I think you don't need to be worried about that. Sorry if I was rude or inconvenient, it was not my intention. I don't engage in discussions with atheists remotly open to challenge my faith. And I assure you that I know why I am a Catholic (and I have to be grateful for the love of God).

            Best regards

          • Geena Safire

            We approach it differently. The Catholic is selling his product. The
            Atheist is going shopping. That is the type of dialogue we are to have.

            I can see that point of view toward me. But that's not my point of view. That is, you may consider me to be shopping or feel that you must consider me to be shopping in order to be in such a dialogue with me. But I'm not shopping.

            My main reason is because I believe in the value to society of productive dialogue between people who disagree. My second reason for posting here is to assist other atheists who may come here to see an atheist's perspective of the various myriad Catholic claims/positions.

          • Tony Jokin

            Definitely. This is why no Catholic should be naive that all Atheists are honestly seeking individuals. There are many like you do feel that they have already heard all the reasons that can be given for Catholicism (or any other religion) and definitely know that they are false. Of course there maybe few mistaken fellow Atheists who also think they have a positive proof against God's existence and that just shows how much a person can deceive themselves.

            But overall, the point here is that dialogue of this sort is for Atheists who are honestly reconsidering and want to see if there is some merit.

            There can be other dialogue between Atheists and Catholics on other subjects ranging from the Superbowl to Fashions but that is not the dialogue we are talking about here. That is the sort of dialogue that keeps society functioning and friendships. But this sort of dialogue is for the serious minded talk.

          • Geena Safire

            [not] all Atheists are honestly seeking individuals

            Just because I'm not convinced by Catholicism does not mean that I am not an honestly-seeking individual. I'm honestly seeking truth as much as the next person.

            Plus, I have zero interest in the Superbowl or fashion.

            But overall, the point here is that dialogue of this sort is for Atheists who are honestly reconsidering and want to see if there is some merit.

            Umm, unless I'm mistaken, Tony, you're not one of the moderators of this site and thus are not in a position to vet which atheists meet the site criteria.

            Plus, you're wrong, The About Strange Notions page says this:

            "This website is designed to mimic that first meeting of Christians and atheists, allowing both to discover intriguing "strange notions" on either side.

            The second meaning acknowledges the fact that both Catholics and atheists think the other side's views are strange.

            StrangeNotions.com is meant to help that strangeness fade away. In the end, we may still disagree, but at least the opposing views won't be confusing "strange notions"—we'll more clearly know what we reject, and thus what we hold, too.

          • Tony Jokin

            I am not sure what your point is. Strange Notions is a private site. The views would therefore not always reflect Catholic teaching.

            What I am presenting is actual Church position on the matter. As far as that goes, Atheist and Catholics do not approach the matter with EQUAL ENDS. We approach it as EQUALS in DIGNITY. I do not need to be a moderator to tell you this because this is what the Church teaches.

            You also seem to have a question what it means to say an Atheist is not honestly seeking. If you were to not become Catholic, it does not mean you are honestly seeking. Nowhere did I actually say that. What I did say is that if you approach the discussion with the Catholic with the hope of converting him/her, you are not honestly seeking. Why? Because there is no positive proof for Atheism, only a proof of absence.

            So what does this mean? IF you really think about it, what it means is that the Atheist is in a bit of a pickle. He cannot exhaust all the evidence so he can rightfully feel doubt about his own position. When he does feel this doubt, he should go and see or re-investigate whether any of the religions (including Catholicism) has an actual reason to convince you to accept the position.

            Now what exactly is the point of dialogue? It is to help you better as a Catholic to understand why Catholicism is true. It is like a friend who is telling you about something you are not convinced about. You lend an ear to see if there is some actual reason to believe. If there isn't you move on. The friend is not going to convert because he/she already has a foundation (ideally) that cannot be shaken by the fact that a positive argument they used to convince you was rejected by you.

            But honestly, if you are an Atheist, I don't think this is such an important discussion to have between you and me (a Catholic). It is not my duty and neither is there any profit in me convincing you that what I am saying is true. I only have a responsibility toward fellow Catholics to make sure they approach dialogue correctly.

            How or for what you want to approach dialogue as an Atheist is really up to you. Ideally you will find it most beneficial if you approached it with an open mind to honestly seek after acknowledging the problems of your own position but if you want to approach for other reasons, its your call.

          • Geena Safire

            Thank you for the clarification. But still...

            I do not need to be a moderator to tell you this because this is what the Church teaches.

            You can tell me what you believe your church teaches. However, I reiterate that it is not your place to tell me what my reason should be in dialoguing here. If the moderators find that I am not contributing to the dialogue according to the goals of the site, they have the right to ask me to leave the conversation.

            [T]here is no positive proof for Atheism, only a proof of absence. ... IF you really think about it, what it means is that the Atheist is in a bit of a pickle. ... He cannot exhaust all the evidence so he can rightfully feel doubt about his own position. Ideally you will find it most beneficial if you approached it with an open mind to honestly seek after acknowledging the problems of your own position

            Please enlighten me, Tony. What are the problems of my position?

             

            (Note: The word atheist is generally not capitlalized unless at the beginning of a sentence because it is not a proper noun.)

          • Tony Jokin

            Geena,

            I think you need to be careful when you interpret what I write (or perhaps I should be more clearer when I make the statements).

            My point is not that you MUST approach dialogue this way. I actually said even in my previous reply that you are free to approach it as you please. What I can say, and have said is that IDEALLY this is WHY and this is HOW you should approach dialogue. Otherwise it is less efficient.

            To give you an example, if you approached a Catholic with the hope to convert him/her to Atheism or with no honest interest, anything he or she says will just look wrong to you. You will present some arguments that may seem to obliterate the Catholic arguments but it could well have been the case that you yourself would have seen the flaw in your own objections. You are less likely to be critical about your own objections you are not honestly giving Catholicism (or whichever other religion that you will be investigating) a look.

            Now you ask what the problem is with your Atheist (I capitalize it because I do think people have made it in to somewhat of a religion today) position is the following.

            1) Atheism today relies on the absence of evidence for God / a particular religion

            2) So the certainty of Atheism is dependent on the existence of non-existence of evidence for God / particular religion

            3) It is logically impossible for an Atheist to look through and even comprehend all the evidence that is present in the Universe

            4) Therefore, the Atheist must always be up-to-date and keep looking at new possibilities of evidence and arguments for the existence of God or a particular religion
            There are other problems with Atheism that should motivate you to look but this is not a post meant to be a comprehensive highlighting of problems with Atheism.

            The Catholic, contrary to the Atheist, is a person (ideally) that has done such work or has been taught and become convinced how Catholicism is indeed the only true faith through reasonable arguments. They approach the discussion to present to you the same faith using the arguments they heard as well as new arguments they think will help you better see the truth of the faith.

            The Catholic is not continuously reanalyzing the position for validity because he/she has

            1) Found a positive argument for the truth of Catholicism and has assented to the Catholic faith => using Reason
            2) Then proceeded to build a personal relationship with Christ => using Faith

            Therefore the person does not approach this discussion in the same way as an atheist. There is nothing that the Atheist can say to an ideal Catholic that can convince them to abandon their faith.

            Now I did explain the positive argument for Catholicism that many use to Dave before. Here is the link to that comment

            http://www.strangenotions.com/atheists-and-the-catholic-church/#comment-1081911075

            As you can see, the argument is a positive argument and when one decides that they have sufficient convincing evidence for the premises, they simply assent and never look back. Their assent is further confirmed by the personal relationship they have.
            You may indeed feel that the argument presented lacks evidence to your liking. That is fine. But it doesn't change the fact that others find enough evidence in it to start believing and having that personal relationship.

            Therefore to ask a good Catholic to later renounce their faith is like asking me to renounce that there is no Geena Safire after I had met you, talked with you and spent time with you and know countless others have as well is kind of pointless.

          • Geena Safire

            What I can say, and have said is that IDEALLY this is WHY and this is HOW you should approach dialogue.

            Again, don't presume to tell me how I should approach dialogue. I'll approach it in any way I choose. Maybe you feel some dispensation to preach to your fellow Catholics, but you have no right to tell me WHY or HOW I should approach dialogue.

            1) Atheism today relies on the absence of evidence for God / a particular religion

            No, atheists don't rely on the absence of evidence. Atheists are merely not convinced that any supernatural deities exist. So we live our lives independent of such beliefs.

            2) So the certainty of Atheism is dependent on the existence/ non-existence of evidence for God / particular religion

            No, atheists don't depend on that. If a deity should make itself known to most of the atheists I know, they would believe in it. Until then, as noted, we simply live our lives independent of such beliefs.

            3) It is logically impossible for an Atheist to look through and even comprehend all the evidence that is present in the Universe

            And the atheist response to that is "So what?"

            If a deity is interested in having us believe in its existence, it should know what kind of evidence would convince us, and it would provide that evidence. We see no benefit in continuing that kind of search.

            4) Therefore, the Atheist must always be up-to-date and keep looking at new possibilities of evidence and arguments for the existence of God or a particular religion.

            Not really, no. Most of us just go on with our lives. Some of us are interested in discussing different views on the meaning of life, or in fighting for rights that various churches are trying to take away, or in fighting against efforts to put creationism in science classrooms, or in educating people about what atheism is because, as you just indicated, many people aren't really clear on what it is.

            There is nothing that the Atheist can say to an ideal Catholic that can convince them to abandon their faith.

            That's very likely true, but actually tautological. However, that is not and has never been my objective anywhere. Like you, I just participate in dialogues on the various topics. If someone indicates further interest in my point of view, then I discuss it further.

            There are other problems with Atheism that should motivate you to look but this is not a post meant to be a comprehensive highlighting of problems with Atheism.

            Oh no, please, go on! Please let me know of these other problems.

          • Tony Jokin

            Geena,

            I think you may have some pride issues here because I certainly can tell you HOW to approach dialogue effectively. You are free to approach it anyway you like but that doesn't invalidate what I say. It just seems plain ridiculous to me that you are obsessed or ticked off that an online poster can tell you how to best approach dialogue. If you don't like the suggestion, move on.

            Now you said

            "No, atheists don't rely on the absence of evidence. Atheists are merely not convinced that any supernatural deities exist."

            I don't know if you understand basic logic but what you said above is basically saying "I rely on absence of evidence i.e. all existing evidence I have looked at is bogus". Your failure to grasp that very simple fact makes me think that this discussion is perhaps not worth continuing. Let me try and make it even more concise

            1) Geena says that Atheists do not rely on absence of evidence for their position
            2) Geena says Atheists rely on the fact that they are not convinced there is a supernatural deity

            3) But this lack of conviction must be due to lack of evidence
            4) Therefore an Atheist is truly a person who relies on the absence of evidence for a supernatural deity to hold his position.

            If you can't even understand that, its more than likely in my eyes that you are not ready for discussion.

            So with all due respect, thank you for the discussion so far but I am not interested in continuing this with you. Everything that needs to be said from my part has been said and I feel that there is nothing constructive to add to it.

          • Geena Safire

            You use the word 'rely' in a very different way than I have seen it used. And using your words precisely your way seems to be very important to you. If it is that important to you, I suppose I can use it that way for the purposes of our discussion.

            It seems that you mean by 'rely on' as similar to 'takes as a given' or 'assumes to be the case' or 'operates as if this were true.' Have I got the gist of it?

            Rather than 'absence of evidence', though, I would say 'insufficient evidence', and instead of 'lack of evidence' I would say, 'lack of sufficient evidence.' (Or you could use 'convincing' instead of 'sufficient.')

          • Tony Jokin

            Sure, let us say "lack of sufficient evidence".

            But this does not change the fact that

            A) You cannot at any given time say you have exhausted all possible evidence and arguments (some may have not even been put forward to you yet and you had simply not heard them)
            B) You may have not been explained the evidence you have already heard by someone who can address your concerns

            What this means is that you as an Atheist when met with a Catholic (or even other religious person) would like to see if they can perhaps give you some different argument/evidence or explain to you how to overcome the already existing concerns regarding the evidence you have heard.

            Does this not sound reasonable to you?

          • Geena Safire

            (A) I likely haven't exhausted "all possible" evidence and arguments for Buddhism, Islam, Christianity, Hinduism, Catholicism, Quaker Friends, Taoism... But I have considered them all with seriousness, some more than others. My opinion is that I have considered them sufficiently.

            Of course, you are likely of the opinion that until I become a Catholic, then I should keep looking.

            (B) I believe that, in each consideration, I got all my concerns addressed to the extent possible by each representative and source, but the information was not persuasive.

            I'm pretty comfortable at this point with secular humanism and skepticism.

            But you were going to tell me more about the problems with atheism.

          • Tony Jokin

            You said

            "Of course, you are likely of the opinion that until I become a Catholic, then I should keep looking."

            No, rather, my point is that until you remain Atheist, you will have to keep looking. See, if my position was based on lack of evidence, then it means that I actually do not have the luxury of simply kicking back and relaxing after I have not found any SO FAR.

            The reason you maybe a little inclined to do so is probably due to the empirical methodology that is very common today. So a key concept in empiricism is that you can continue to kick and relax because the existing theory will break given an exception exists. This is unfortunately not the case with religion. If you kick back and wait, you will realize you were wrong (or right) after its too late.

            You also said

            "I believe that, in each consideration, I got all my concerns addressed to the extent possible by each representative and source, but the information was not persuasive."

            If you feel very confident that you did, then you should indeed sit back and accept that the world has no real purpose other than what you make of it. You shouldn't really think your position anymore valid than the Catholic position. Why? Because validity itself is a personal construct based on some pragmatic notion you invented. Of course, it may seem noble to you that you possess the "Truth" that there is no God. But "knowing the truth" itself has no any real meaning apart from the pragmatic need you have for it.

            You said:

            "But you were going to tell me more about the problems with atheism."

            This entire discussion is a sign of the problems of Atheism. You sound so sure about yourself when your ultimate position relies on one of absence of evidence. You of course do not seem to yet understand that. You also do not seem to realize that in the absence of an actual supernatural Deity, the entire reason behind discussions become a purely pragmatic and personal goal. I can disagree with the priori pragmatic assumptions you have without any care for "REASON" since the "TRUTH" itself becomes of pragmatic value rather than any objective value.

            EDIT: I also wanted to add that this discussion from your last post can be decided to be conclusively pointless. You have looked in to all possibilities for Catholicism (sufficient, you say) to conclude that it is most certainly not ever going have a persuasive argument. Now I am Catholic and I can only offer you persuasive arguments for Catholicism on this matter. Since you are already sure, then this discussion is over. In consistency with what I have said, these discussions are purely for you to learn if there is anything that may convince you of Catholicism. As you have already decided there is none, I see no reason to continue.

            When and if you do feel like really looking in to Catholicism, do let me or someone else know.

    • Randy Gritter

      Catholics would hope for the salvation of the atheist. That can happen 2 ways. The first and normal way is through the church and her sacraments. The second way is through said atheist cooperating with God's grace without knowing it. So even for the goal of salvation, it would not require you to join the church.

      Beyond salvation there are many benefits to dialoguing with atheists. God speaks to every human heart. So if we listen seriously to anyone's contemplation about life and morals we will learn.

      There is also the benefit of society understanding our faith better. If they understand it they might live at least part of it and make the world a better place.

    • kuroisekai

      Hi David. I think dialogue is mutually important between Catholics and Atheists because it will lead to mutual understanding. Catholicism is horribly misunderstood by a lot of people (Catholics included!) and so is atheism. Dialogue can lead to us understanding each other better and not let future encounters devolve into finger-pointing at strawmen.

      Furthermore, as a Catholic, I tend to think that God works not only through Christians, but also through Atheists... While I have always been a devout Catholic, I've never seen any reason to know more about my faith until it has been challenged repeatedly by atheists. Now, I'm not going to assume there will be a benefit to an atheist because of dialogue (I wouldn't call conversion a "benefit" from an atheistic perspective), but perhaps you can take home a better understanding of the human condition - rather than polarizing the world into "enlightened freethinkers" and "deranged zealots" as much of my atheist acquaintances are wont to do.

    • Kevin Aldrich

      One reason Catholics want to dialogue with atheists is because atheists are human beings who we believe can be happier if they discover the Catholic faith.

      Another reason Catholics want to dialogue with atheists is to learn what they think to discover what is true in their views. The Magisterium actually says that some become atheists because of the way Catholics misrepresent the Faith. So in this sense, some atheists reject a false view of the Faith and actually believe things the Catholic Church believes, too.

      While the Church does have (we believe) an infallible Magisterium or teaching authority, we also recognize that our understanding of the Faith can increase over time, often becasue of objections that are raised to it. The New Apologetics, for example, makes the startling claim that many Catholics who engage in apologetics have actually misunderstood Church teaching when it comes to God and evil. In this sense, atheists help Catholics correct their own errors in interpreting what we call the Deposit of Faith.

  • http://briangreenadams.wordpress.com/ Brian Green Adams

    The Gaudium seems to acknowledge a range of positions falling within the term atheist, from ignorance of the Christian Gospel to lack of belief to certainty that no gods exist to outright belief but intentional rejection of the Holy Spirit.

    I'd like to know what the church thinks of each of these positions and, to the extent it knows, what it thinks about the consequences of each on earth and post mortem. E.g, is there a hell, if so does it involve conscious suffering of the damned? Just annihilation?

    • Randy Gritter

      Ignorance of the Christian Gospel is the most talked about one. There is the notion that if a person truly understood the Catholic faith they would want to be Catholic. I don't know that that is dogma but you hear it said a lot. So the assumption is most are ignorant. It sounds like an insult but it is actually a hope. Invincible ignorance is not culpable. So if you don't understand the Catholic faith and that lack of understanding is not because you didn't make an effort to learn but rather because of factors beyond your control then salvation is at least possible. What that looks like is harder to say. It is doing things the hard way. That is the teaching and sacraments and community of the church are supposed to make it easier for you to be saved.

      • http://briangreenadams.wordpress.com/ Brian Green Adams

        You know this idea of truly understanding the Catholic faith is really what this site is about I guess.

        Perhaps I don't truly understand it yet and I might yet be convinced. I'll look around for older posts on the basic and distinguishing tenets of the faith.

      • Steven Carr

        'There is the notion that if a person truly understood the Catholic faith they would want to be Catholic. '

        Of course, we are still waiting for Catholics themselves to pronounce that they now truly understand the Catholic faith , including the bits they call mysteries.

        I wonder if a baptised infant truly understands the Catholic faith.

        Doesn't stop the church including him on their numbers. Got to keep the figures up to make themselves look important, so include all the Catholic toddlers and babies as True Catholics while simultaneously lambasting atheists for not understanding Catholicism.

    • Kevin Aldrich

      Brian,

      To understand the basic tenets of the Catholic faith, you can find out about it here:
      http://www.usccb.org/beliefs-and-teachings/what-we-believe/catechism/catechism-of-the-catholic-church/epub/index.cfm

      If you have specific questions, I'll be glad to try to answer them.

      • http://briangreenadams.wordpress.com/ Brian Green Adams

        Thanks but I'm not going to read a whole book. What I'm getting at is that some forms of Christianity are pretty clear about what individuals need to to do to be saved and hell. There seems to be a lot of uncertainty on this issue for Catholics.

        • Kevin Aldrich

          You don't have to read an entire book! (It has a table of contents and a search feature for browsing.)

          I don't know what is the uncertain you allude to.

          This is what Lumen Gentium 16 (one of the key documents of Vatican II) says which pertains to atheists:

          "Those also can attain to salvation who through no fault of their own do not know the Gospel of Christ or His Church, yet sincerely seek God and moved by grace strive by their deeds to do His will as it is known to them through the dictates of conscience. Nor does Divine Providence deny the helps necessary for salvation to those who, without blame on their part, have not yet arrived at an explicit knowledge of God and with His grace strive to live a good life. Whatever good or truth is found amongst them is looked upon by the Church as a preparation for the Gospel. She knows that it is given by Him who enlightens all men so that they may finally have life.

          • Sqrat

            This particular document is best characterized, not as "uncertain," but as something somewhere between "vague" and "incomprehensible." However, my reading of it is that it is asserting the possibility of salvation through works alone. Is that fair reading?

            Where uncertainty about salvation is plainly acknowledged by the Church is about the fate of unbaptized children. From the Catholic Catechism:

            1261 As regards children who have died without Baptism,the Church can only entrust them to the mercy of God, as she does in her funeral rites for them. Indeed, the great mercy of God who desires that all men should be saved, and Jesus’ tenderness toward children which caused him to say: “Let the children come to me, do not hinder them,” allow us to hope that there is a way of salvation for children who have died without Baptism.

            Under the doctrine of the Church regarding human personhood, the majority of people who have ever lived and died have been children who have died without baptism, about whose salvation the Church is uncertain.

          • Kevin Aldrich

            By "this particular document" do you mean Lumen Gentium 16?

            If so, it is nothing like "salvation by works alone." The Catholic understanding is that salvation can only be by grace, that is, a gift from God. Salvation is achieved by a combination of grace and our response. In the case of someone who is outside the visible Church, the grace works in secret and the person's response is to try to live a morally good life with the help of that grace.

          • Sqrat

            Fair enough, but what I was getting at is the question of what the Church says I have to do, or believe, in order to to be saved. Again, the answer here seems to be that I don't have to believe anything; it is sufficient that I am a good person.

            "Grace," as you have explained it, seems to be an kind of divine interference with my free will that makes it more likely that I will be a good person than I would otherwise be it I were left to my own devices. However, if I am particularly strong-willed, I may be able to resist that interference and be the nasty, rotten sort of individual that I am by nature inclined to be.

            So, If I come home from work and don't kick the dog, that's God's grace in action, but if I do kick the dog, that's just me being me.

          • Kevin Aldrich

            The Church says, in order to be saved, you have to be baptized and then do your best to love God and your neighbor with the help of grace for the rest of your life.

            But God is not unjust so he will help those who are not Catholics or Christians.

            Grace never interferes with a person's freedom, because it can always be resisted. Grace is more akin to medicine for a sick person or food for a hungry person rather than an interference with freedom. The person who comes home and is in the habit of kicking the dog is not as free as he could be since he has the vicious habit of dog-kicking.

          • Sqrat

            I'm puzzled. You seem to be saying that I can't resist the temptation to kick the dog except by God's grace, which seems to be an attempt to interfere with my free will except that it's not. However, if I successfully resist God's grace and give into the habit of kicking the dog, I am less free than if I give into the opposite habit of not kicking the dog, a habit that I can only have because of God's grace, which makes me more free.

          • Kevin Aldrich

            The whole dog-kicking thing has to do with the life of virtue which is integral to leading a moral life. Repeated good actions lead to good habits (virtues) which make it easier to do good. Repeated bad actions lead to bad habits (vices) which make it easier to do evil.

          • Sqrat

            "Repeated bad actions" are what we mean by "bad habits." It would make no sense to say, "Aldrich has a bad habit of kicking the dog. Fortunately he never kicks the dog."

          • Kevin Aldrich

            I don't understand you, Sqrat.

          • Sqrat

            I thought it was quite clear. You only have a "bad habit" to the extent you engage in "repeated bad actions." If Aldrich never kicks his dog, it would make no sense to say that "Aldrich has a bad habit of kicking his dog."

          • Kevin Aldrich

            Yes. The repeated act forms the habit.

          • Sqrat

            Just keep repeating that over and over, and eventually it will become a habit.

          • Kevin Aldrich

            It's how you learn to play the piano, tie your shoe, say "please" and "thank you"--as well as stuff on the dark side.

          • Sqrat

            I once learned how to play the piano, but haven't made a habit of playing it for a long, long time. I suppose that I've pretty much forgotten how to play by now.

            On the other hand, I once learned how to ride a bicycle, and although I haven't made a habit of riding a bicycle for a long, long time either, I suppose I could still ride without any difficulty. You know what they say about learning to ride a bicycle.

          • Tony Jokin

            Hmm, I think its not important to really get in to the nature of Grace to understand why Catholics evangelize.

            Sufficient to say the following. Grace is like a suggestion, a gentle push. So without God's Grace, it is possible that you will not consider kicking the Dog as anything less than not kicking the Dog. You might see them both as equally meaningless actions to be carried out. Even you had knowledge that "kicking = bad", you still may fall in to some erroneous reasoning and justify kicking.

            As you can probably guess, the tendency to do just that is very common, especially among Atheists (since it is very easy to go from Atheism to Nihilism).

            So to present an actual quote from Vatican II as to why the Church evangelizes

            "But often men, deceived by the Evil One, have become vain in their reasonings and have exchanged the truth of God for a lie, serving the creature rather than the Creator. Or some there are who, living and dying in this world without God, are exposed to final despair. Wherefore to promote the glory of God and procure the salvation of all of these, and mindful of the command of the Lord, "Preach the Gospel to every creature", the Church fosters the missions with care and attention."

            Therefore the goal here is to make sure that every opportunity is given to the Atheist or non-Catholic to avoid such a pitfall which they are more likely to fall in to if they were outside the Church.

          • Sqrat

            The question on the table, I thought, was something like "According to the Church, on what does salvation depend?" not "Why do Catholics evangelize?"

            So without God's Grace, it is possible that you will not consider kicking the Dog as anything less than not kicking the Dog.

            I guess if it's merely "possible," then I can't be have a kind of Catholic certitude that my not kicking the dog is evidence of God's grace, can I?

            Do you think it is possible that my not kicking the dog might not be evidence of God's grace?

          • Tony Jokin

            I used the word "possible" to say that it is one possibility. So this is to say that there could be another possibility that you will view kicking the Dog => GOOD, and so forth.

            As to your last question, I think the question itself is wrong. There is no "evidence" for God's Grace in the sense you are asking in this context. You can see Grace through the eyes of faith but not without. To explain, to even think that God helped you out to not kick the dog, you must first hold a belief that kicking the dog is bad. Even more importantly, you will have to hold the belief that you are helpless on your own to do good.

            To give you an example why this is so difficult as an Atheist, take the issue of sexual activity outside of a marriage. For an atheist, it can be very difficult to see why this is wrong. In fact, an Atheist might propose a thousand "reasons" why it should be a good thing. The inability of an Atheist to resist the temptation to engage in such activity will not be seen as a weakness but perhaps even as something normal and good.

            So without that Christian friend nagging along saying "hey buddy, what you are doing is wrong" you are more likely to continue in your own way. This is why most people have no problem with the Catholic Church if she kept her mouth shut about these issues. They hate the Church because she keeps reminding them what they are doing is possibly wrong.

            In this sense, it is hard for an Atheist to see evidence of Grace let alone a need for it.

            But in the general context, miracles would be considered evidence of Grace.

          • Sqrat

            But what about the possibility that I could believe, without God's grace, that kicking the dog => BAD? Are you saying that it is the Catholic position that such a possibility could not exist?

          • Tony Jokin

            The Catholic teaching is that without God's grace, it is not just difficult but impossible to do good works.

            So if you had ever done a good deed, there is no reason to think that you did so without God's help. I understand that this is a supernatural fact and you cannot obviously see this unless you are already a believer.

            But you might see a hint that this is true if you think about the following. Think of the dog situation. For you to not kick the dog at that moment, it must have been the case that you had thought about the act of kicking dogs in the context of good and evil apriori. It should have also been the case that you did not make a mistake in your reasoning and did arrive at the right conclusion from your thoughts. Furthermore, it should have been the case that as you were about kick the dog, you remembered your conclusion about it being a bad act. We can also add to this the need for you to be in sound mind at the time and not have been angered by something else (which could have lead you to completely short circuit your thoughts and just kick).

            All of these had to fall in to place for you to decide that you will not kick the dog. The choice was of course ultimately yours to make but you received all the right pushes (Grace) in the right direction.

          • Sqrat

            99.9% of the time I am not conscious of any decision on my part to refrain from kicking the dog. She rarely gives me cause to want to kick her, and thus -- it seems to me -- there is simply no desire on my part most of the time to want to kick her. But apparently it is Catholic doctrine that I can only not want to kick the dog by God's grace. Without God's grace, I would want to kick her 100% of the time, and indeed I would kick her 100% of the time, at least until I became totally exhausted kicking her and could kick her no more, or perhaps because I had a schedule conflict with some more important evil deed such as stabbing my spouse to death or denying the Trinity).

            So if you had ever done a good deed, there is no reason to think that you did so without God's help. I understand that this is a supernatural fact and you cannot obviously see this unless you are already a believer.

            And a supernatural fact is, as they say down South, a "natural fact," right?

          • Tony Jokin

            Haha, I can see the issue that is bugging you a bit more clearly now and thank you for putting it down in a humorous way :)

            The thing is, when you say without God's Grace I would want to kick her a 100% of the time, you assume you know what it is like to be without God's Grace. But that is possibly something you have not experienced.

            To help explain, Catholic doctrine, unlike the Protestant one, does not believe in man as completely deprived. Catholics hold that man was created to be holy and good. So even in your sinful state, God will give you Graces that you can freely choose to accept or reject. Therefore it is likely that you have been receiving and accepting some of these Graces all your life.

            But at the same time, as I explained with sexual activity, many may easily choose to reject God's Grace. For a Catholic, the encouragement and engagement in such activity would seem equivalent to kicking a dog 100% of the time till tired. But I am sure you won't see it as such an evil act, right?

            On the topic of the supernatural nature of Grace, it should be said that a person does not become Catholic because of this form of an argument. It is something they hold AFTER choosing to become Catholic.

          • Sqrat

            You said elsewhere, "The Catholic is selling his product. The Atheist is going shopping. That is the type of dialogue we are to have."

            The Catholic doctrine of grace will probably appear to most atheists (and to this atheist certainly appears) to be quite peculiar indeed. Therefore I would suggest that, from your point of view, what we have here is epic dialogue fail.

  • Sandro Palmyra

    Atheists not raised in a strong familial and cultural religious milieu are not pugnacious defenders of their philosophies. They simply don't care as about existential spiritualism.

    Thus, religionists and atheists at the forefront of the public debate over the existence of God are coming from the same place, moralistic, institutional, organized religion. Additionally many public atheists and religionists both spend long periods of their lives in vassillation over the proposition of whether or not God exists. The likes of Richard Dawkins and Margaret Sanger share a lot of common intellectual DNA with JP II and Mother Teresa. When they meet and greet they push each others buttons with pyrotechnic results.

    Increasingly, Joe and Joleen Atheist, raised in a secular culture and nuclear family in which religion that is, at most, vestigial, don't see religion as significant enough in their lives to care about participating in debate.

    • GreatSilence

      Some very valid comments there. Apathy will kill religion much more efficiently than passionate evangelical atheism.

      • Randy Gritter

        Absolutely. I am much more frustrated with the Catholic who does not learn hi faith and does not live his faith than I am with the atheist who attacks the church. Bonhoeffer said Sloth is the deadliest of the deadly sins. Worse than anger. Worse than lust. Just not caring about the big questions of life or the spiritual dimension is more deadly than caring and arriving at bad answers.

    • DannyGetchell

      Exactly right. I was raised by atheist parents who quietly chuckled at the mass, just as they quietly chuckled at the five points of Calvinism, at Joseph Smith's golden plates, and at Uri Geller's spoon bending.

    • Paul Boillot

      I agree, though it's a shame.

      Much like Gandalf feels about the insularity of the hobbits; I think it's great that there are people who manage to make their way through life un-damaged by the psychological poison of religion -- but that insularity comes with a cost.

      Without an understanding of how profoundly warped these ideas are, and of the life-taking motivation they are able to produce in the ardent, it will be difficult to grasp the motivations and methods of those whose religious indoctrination is strong enough to overcome their fear of death.

      I'm glad there are people who live free, but their lack of experience gives the other side the initiative.

      • Kevin Aldrich

        Paul,

        One thing I've learned from SN is not to make sweeping generalizations about atheists, other than that they share a lack of belief about God.

        Could you also not make sweeping generalizations about religion being "profoundly warped" and "life taking"? I happen to be a Roman Catholic and I am not aware of *anything* in my Catholic faith that comes under those headings.

        I'd like you to give me an example of something profoundly warped or destructive of life that Catholics supposedly believe and need to be liberated from.

        • Paul Boillot

          Kevin,

          With all due respect -- you seem like a cool cat -- you'll notice that I spoke of "religion," not Kevin Aldrich's version of Catholicism.

          "Life taking" is easier to show *currently* with some branches of Wahabi-ism, and perhaps other sects of Islam, than secularised and denatured post-Vatican II Catholicism, but I could go through several real-life examples where your creed is a catalyst for permanent psychological damage in the here-and-now, and historically....

          To some extent, I think we just had a post on SN where some Catholics seemed to apologize for that fact that, in general, secularists seem more tuned to the nearly limitless human suffering in this world than religionists (and perhaps the palpable suffering caused by them); your reply puts me in mind of their point.

          • Kevin Aldrich

            Paul,

            You are right that I'm way cool. At least my six year old believes this.

            I'm not interested in any personal version of Catholicism, only in Catholicism Catholicism, if you follow me.

            It is understandable, but I think you are locating in religion what really ought to be located in the human condition. Our human nature and the dangerous world into which we are born is the the source of the "warpedness," "lifetaking," and "psychological damage" you rightly abhor. You can blame amorphous "religion" as much as you want, but getting rid of it won't heal the wounds.

            I think the only reason one can say that something else, like atheism, could cure us of these conditions, is that atheism is new enough to hold the promise of utopian deliverance, but every utopia fails.

  • bbrown

    Reading the excerpt form Camus' talk, it seems that he yearns for Christians to be Christians - t speak and act according to their doctrine and belief and not to hide it or water it down. I think there is a lot in that speech, some of it nebulous and some of it incoherent to me. But I sense a longing from an atheist, who has a very pessimistic fatalism, for those who claim truth from God to act on it and not to be afraid. He alludes to how Christians have used encyclicals as a cheap means of proclaiming truths that they don't really wish to live out. At least, this is some of what I hear him saying. Perhaps I misread him on these points.

    • Randy Gritter

      I think we all feel that. We want everyone else to live their deepest truth. We struggle to do it ourselves, or at least I do. Occasionally Catholicism produces a saint.Really we should all be saints. So impressive in virtue that people can't figure us out. Why are we not? Because we don't want it enough. The problem is not with God.

      • bbrown

        Yes, I heard Peter Kreeft say that to be a saint is our purpose for being here. We were made for sainthood. That is our highest calling. And it's not necessarily whether achieve the goal, so much as that we are pointed in the right direction and making progress. It's all subsumed under the twin commands to love God and to love our neighbor.

  • Tony Jokin

    I don't mean to be discouraging (I will explain toward the end) but I think David Nickol makes a valid point. I believe the answers given in reply to David are less than honest as well and gives a false view of Catholicism.

    Catholics do (and should) believe that they are in the true Church. So any Catholic who engages in dialogue with an atheist does have one motive. That is the motive to explain why he or she is Catholic and hope the Atheist will see the validity in what they say. There is no real place for conversion or abandonment to the opposite. Anyone who thinks there is room should probably not be engaging in such dialogue out of prudence and should look to see if they cannot strengthen their faith first under guidance of fellow Catholics. If they find no satisfaction as to what they find, then they do not approach the discussion as Catholics but Agnostics.

    Now an atheist might think this is unfair. Why after all should they engage in a discussion where the only possibility is a win for the Catholic and no possibility of a win for them?

    The problem here is that the Atheists who approach dialogue this way are also looking for the wrong thing. Just as a Catholic who approaches dialogue with an Atheist because he already knows he has the truth, the Atheist should approach the Catholic because he is not sure if he has the truth. So the reason why an Atheist approaches is to ask why the Catholic is so sure and see if they can also find that certainty.

    So there are no victors. Dialogue should simply be something that is born out of a desire to seek the truth. The Atheist, the seeker, then proceeds to dialogue with the Catholic because he wants to really get to know if there is any truth behind it.

    To achieve such dialogue, there is mutual respect, patience, and willingness to understand both sides. The Catholic wants to understand the Atheist better so that they can communicate their position better. The Atheist wants to understand the Catholic better so that he can communicate his problems if he has any or resolve any doubts about Catholicism if possible.

    That is how both sides approach dialogue and they are NOT approached with the same goal. For us as Catholics to pretend otherwise is dishonesty that I am sure our Lord will not appreciate.

    • mriehm

      Well, that's a very self-centered and smug viewpoint. Why can't the atheist be confident in his knowledge of the truth, and be trying to convert the Catholic? To be an atheist is not necessarily to be a seeker.

      • Tony Jokin

        Because there is no positive proof for Atheism at all. Atheism is the position taken by many that they do so because there is no reason to think that God exists, Bible is true etc. (Reasonably, an atheist should then be an agnostic but there is no point in arguing semantics)

        So the point of dialogue is for the Atheist to see if there is really no reason and to get some insight as to why Catholics are so certain. If the Atheist doesn't want to take the time to honestly see and ask those in the faith who are informed Catholics (lets face it, some Atheist do like to ask "Catholics" and set-up a straw man that they just love to pound away), then it is better for that Atheist to not engage in dialogue with a Catholic on religion.

        So as smug as it sounds, its just the truth.

        • Sqrat

          So the point of dialogue is for the Atheist to see if there is really no reason and to get some insight as to why Catholics are so certain.

          What makes you so sure?

        • mriehm

          There is no objective evidence - let alone proof - for Christianity at all. Christianity is the position taken by many because it's the culture they're immersed in.

          The point of dialog is for the Christian to be exposed to logic-based world views, rather than faith-based ones, and to get some insight into why atheists reject their world view. If the Christian doesn't want to take the time to honestly attempt to understand the atheist's position, then it is better for that Christian not to engage in dialog with an atheist.

          • Tony Jokin

            See that is the thing. You believe there is no objective evidence. Now I am here to tell you there is objective evidence and that is why I am a Catholic.

            Then the dialogue begins. You become curious as to whether there actually might be objective evidence. And then the discussion continues. If you fail to be convinced by the evidence, you move on with the same conclusion. I move on with a desire to find more convincing arguments so that I can better explain things to you if we were to ever meet again in discussion.

            It should also be said that there is nothing for a Christian to understand about the Atheist position. The Atheist position is that there is simply no positive proof for the existence of God. There is nothing really difficult about that concept.

            However, the Christian would like to understand the ATHEIST i.e. the person. Why? So that we can try and explain things better to you. For an example, if I were to engage in dialogue with you, I would know that your main stumbling block is the belief that Christianity is completely faith based. I will therefore proceed to start with giving you objective reasons why a Christian assents to the Church.

            Aside: Are you aware that the idea that a religion must be completely faith based is a condemned proposition (known as Fideism) of the Catholic Church?

    • Vasco Gama

      Tom,

      I guess your perspective is wrong and unfair. As a Christian that is often engaged in debates with atheists, I valuate these debates and I appreciate them and I feel grateful to the people who try to find contradictions in my beliefs. I have to find their own believes rational and worthy of respect.

      In fact, to quote your own words “any Catholic (or atheist) who engages in dialogue with an atheist (or Catholic) does have one motive. That is the motive to explain why he or she is Catholic (or atheist) and hope the Atheist (or Catholic) will see the validity in what they say. There is no real place for conversion or abandonment to the opposite.” I think this must be
      valid both ways.

      In this dialogue, the rationality of our arguments can be debated and from this critical assessment of the individual perspectives of the participants in the debate, those perspectives can be further rationalized, and progress can be made (even if the fundamentals of the individual believes remain unchanged, as it is often the case).

      Even if I agree that atheism doen't require a positive proof, it can most surely rely on the belief that there is no God or on the inconsistency of a particular conception of God.

      • Tony Jokin

        Vasco,

        I am not really giving my personal opinion here but pointing out what the Church teaches.

        The Church does teach that you cannot engage in dialogue with the possibility that you might convert to the other side. You must first either seek guidance from fellow Catholics (if you have doubts) or you would approach the matter as an agnostic than a Catholic. I am not sure there is room for debate on that matter.

        As for exchanging ideas, the Atheist cannot approach the debate on such an equal ground because the whole point of approaching it is based on seeing whether Catholicism has any room for certainty. Without getting too much in to detail, Atheism does not have a single positive proof. Its only given reason is the absence of positive proof for belief in God (which many would argue leads to agnosticism and not Atheism but that is not relevant here).

        So an Atheist, if honestly seeking, will always approach any dialogue with a religion to see if they are wrong about the lack of positive proof. The Catholic approaches it with sharing this evidence and giving the Atheist the joy of faith.

        • Vasco Gama

          I see your point and I guess that we mostly agree on this issue. I am sure the Church doesn't expect me to convert atheists, as that is well above my capabilities (however I have to state that I can presume that is possible that my arguments can contribute to the conversion, in spite of my personal opinion that it is very unlikely, taking under consideration that I am a very poor Catholic believer).

          In fact you are quite right, I do not debate with atheists in order to convert them (or to be converted), in this debate mostly try to proof the rationality of my faith and to disproof many misconceptions that atheists have regarding God, the Church and Catholic faith (in general). In the meanwhile, frequently I correct some misconceptions of my own.

          • WhiteRock

            To quote a very beloved Saint, "it is our job to inform, not convince". Conversions come from the will of the person and the grace of God.

            I agree with you, Vasco. I debate with non-believers just to discuss important elements of our ideologies and to better know them. I have been told by one in particular that they do want to "convert" me to their way of thinking, and that they want me to lose my faith. They have this assumption that I will be happier as a non-believer. I find such conclusions to be really insulting, because it assumes something one cannot know. The heart of a person is known by that person alone (and if you're a theist, by God). It's an arrogant assumption to say "I know for a fact you'd be happier without God".

          • Vasco Gama

            I agree with you.

        • Doug Shaver

          The Church does teach that you cannot engage in dialogue with the possibility that you might convert to the other side.

          So, the church tells you that you may not entertain even the possibility that you are mistaken? Is that what faith is all about? If so, then I cannot regard faith as any kind of virtue.

          • Tony Jokin

            Dear Doug,

            This is a 9 month old thread. I usually do not respond in such cases but I would like to address your question if it is of any help.

            First, there seems to be a sort of a self designated authority when you say that you cannot see faith as being any kind of virtue. As a mere human being, your ability to regard something as virtuous is usually based on an arbitrary scheme you constructed from your experience. So you might for an example say a religion that does not recognize gay marriages are evil. But that is just based on your arbitrary experience and the scheme you personally constructed to determine what is good and evil. It is at the end of the day of no value. Reasonably speaking, you yourself should question your own scheme because it is merely something based on your finite experience of the world.

            With respect to Catholic assent, one does not question ones faith because one has already made a decision on it when they enter the Church or been taught 'why' at a young age. To be precise, this process first involves recognizing that no one other than the Catholic Church has a claim to the complete truth about matters of faith. So it makes zero sense to then go and speak with a non-Catholic to see if they have the truth. One already knows that they do not have it.

            In short, the whole issue of "faith" and "assent" is based on first recognizing ones own incompetence on this subject. The only thing one can competently do is discover who or what is competent to instruct on this subject. After one does that, they assent. In the Catholic case, it is to Christ and then to the Church.

            Usually the reason why people are confused is because they have self designated themselves competent in the subject of faith related matters (heaven, does God exist?, what is virtuous?) and then have decided to trust in themselves. That is fooling oneself.

            Anyway, that is all I wish to say on this subject in a dead thread.

          • Doug Shaver

            Anyway, that is all I wish to say on this subject in a dead thread.

            I appreciate the time you took. I'm usually reluctant to resurrect old threads, but I just found this site a few days ago. It seems to me that most of the topics are of continual interest. If you feel you'd be wasting your time responding any further, I'll just have to hope somebody else feels differently.

            So you might for an example say a religion that does not recognize gay marriages are evil.

            I would think a religion evil if it advocated capital punishment for homosexual behavior. The church's failure to recognize gay marriage does not bother me so much.

            As a mere human being, your ability to regard something as virtuous is usually based on an arbitrary scheme you constructed from your experience. . . . Reasonably speaking, you yourself should question your own scheme because it is merely something based on your finite experience of the world.

            I don't appreciate your assumption that I have never questioned my own ethical scheme.

            Of course it's based on my own experience of the world. If someone thinks I should give their experience greater consideration than my own, they are welcome to explain why. But if they say, "My experience includes God telling me what you need to know about these things," I'm going to ask, "Why should I believe that?"

            With respect to Catholic assent, one does not question ones faith because one has already made a decision on it when they enter the Church or been taught 'why' at a young age.

            I have had a similar experience. I made a decision and joined a church when I was young. When I got older, I made another decision. I decided that my earlier decision was a mistake. And, since the church I had joined was not the Roman Catholic Church, I suspect you have agreed that I made a mistake when I joined it. But that church, like yours, told me that it was wrong to question its articles of faith, and that is where my experience differed from yours. I could not comply with the church's instruction to never question the faith.

            This was an evangelical church. We believed we were commanded by God to persuade others to join it. And it seemed obvious to me that in order to do that, I had to not only teach the faith to others but also to defend it with reasoned arguments, and so I engaged in much dialogue with prospective converts. They raised objections to my church's doctrines that I felt obliged to address, and I had to be satisfied in my own mind that my responses to their objections were well reasoned. And the day finally came when I realized that I had no remaining argument except one with which to defend my faith, and that one was to claim that I could not have made a mistake when I joined that church, that I had made an infallible decision when I decided to accept the faith of that church. That was the day I left the church, because I could not make that claim of personal infallibility in good conscience.

            To be precise, this process first involves recognizing that no one other than the Catholic Church has a claim to the complete truth about matters of faith.

            The church of my youth said the same thing about itself. They worded it differently, but they said no one other than themselves had a claim to the complete truth about matters of faith.

            In short, the whole issue of "faith" and "assent" is based on first recognizing ones own incompetence on this subject. The only thing one can competently do is discover who or what is competent to instruct on this subject.

            Why should I consider myself incompetent to judge matters of faith?

            I can stipulate that not everyone is competent. Given that stipulation, it follows that either no one is competent or some people are competent. If no one is competent, then I'm wasting my time asking anybody. So let's say some people are competent. If you point to a particular group and tell me, "Those are the competent people," then I think I'm at least entitled to ask why I should think so.

            Usually the reason why people are confused is because they have self designated themselves competent in the subject of faith related matters (heaven, does God exist?, what is virtuous?) and then have decided to trust in themselves.

            I have mentioned an experience of my youth. I am not young any more, and I didn't stop learning when I stopped being young. Nowadays I know a little more than I used to about my own limitations. Some are just the limitations of experience. A hundred lifetimes would not suffice for me to learn everything I wish I knew. But some are the limitations of humanity. We are all limited by nature, which has provided us with minds that are not only finite but irreducibly fallible.

            Of course I need to trust other people in matters concerning which I have had no opportunity, or have missed opportunities, to educate myself. But I cannot give them any responsibility while I'm giving them my trust. My mind is my own, and any decisions about what to do with it are my own. I will make mistakes, as all humans do. I do my best to assume responsibility for my mistakes. Sometimes my best is rather poor, and I'm not as responsible as I ought to be. But there is one way of avoiding responsibility that I will not attempt, and that is to point to someone else and say, "They were my authority. I was just believing what they told me to believe."

          • Tony Jokin

            Thank you for a comprehensive reply Doug. I wouldn't mind continuing this conversations. I was hesitant before because there is always the individual who just likes to "troll" in internet terms rather than continue a discussion. You on the other hand seem like the genuine person wanting to have a conversation.

            After reading your reply, I think your questions/objections can be boiled down to two main ones.

            Objection 1) Why am I incompetent to judge matters of faith?

            Answer: I would reply that all mere human beings are incompetent since matters of faith cannot be verified empirically. Whether or not there is such a thing as salvation, or whether or not there is such a thing as Angels, a Holy Trinity, or reincarnation as mentioned in Eastern religions, whether x is actually contrary to the will of God (immoral), whether death is the end of a human being and other things are all beyond the empirical realm of verification. One does of course empirically discover the truth after ones death but that is obviously too late for most of us and by human beings we usually speak of those who haven't died yet.

            So is it not true to say that neither me nor you can actually judge matters of faith based on either of our experiences alone?

            2) Doesn't every Church/Religion claim that it is the true Church/Religion?

            Answer: You are certainly right that every religion or Church makes that claim. However, the question is as to why you would accept that claim in the first place.

            In every religion (or lack of religion), one either assents to insights of a person, a story, or a book as revealing truths that are beyond empirical verification. Some will try to prove the validity of the source by asking you to verify a portion of truths they proclaim that are empirically verifiable or some other version.

            Needless to say, such verification gets us nowhere because it may very well be that the empirical portion of truths are indeed true. But that is not proof that the rest is true. I could write a book which has 50% science and 50% my imagination on matters of faith. It certainly wouldn't be true.

            So the only way one can discover which is a true religion, if there is one, is either

            1) Have God himself interact with you and point it out (obviously rare)

            2) Find someone who seems worthy of belief in such matters (using reason)

            The usual path for the Catholic is (2) above. Usually the Catholic believes in Christ because of his death and resurrection. It seems reasonable to hold that Christ is an authoritative source on matters beyond empirical verification because he defeated death.

            So for a Christian, the first assent is based on how reasonable it is to think Christ was killed and rose from the dead.

            After ward, the Christian has to find out a way to learn what Christ taught about himself and the world beyond. The Christian has two options

            1) Listen to the Apostles picked by Christ and the successors instituted by the first Apostles and so forth (Catholic Church)

            2) Try and interpret by oneself (with no regard for the Sacred Tradition) the collection of books that these Apostolic Successors put together called the Bible

            The option (1) seems most reasonable since this is how any academic field operates as well.

            Now I can go and explain why we should disbelieve in most other religions but it will be a long reply. So let me summarize it this way. Catholics know that other religions are false because

            1) There is no good reason to believe that a miracle happened in the cases for the founders of other religions
            2) Some religions have no founders and only have a mythical story with no explanation as to how anyone came to know the story that happened beyond the empirically verifiable realm (Greek mythology)

            I understand that the above is a very short way of putting things and you might be wondering how Christianity itself escapes accusations like that of (1) in a clear fashion than the defense others might offer. We can discuss it but suffice it to say, the Christian is one who has done his homework. If they haven't done it they are not Christian.

            All of this is to illustrate that one does not become Catholic, or leave the Catholic Church because their personal experience of morality or ethics disagrees with the Church. That has to be regarded as an unreasonable decision.

            One should either accept or reject the Church based solely on what reason one has to think her founder and successors authoritative on matters of faith.

          • Doug Shaver

            We can discuss it but suffice it to say, the Christian is one who has done his homework. If they haven't done it they are not Christian.

            I doubt that the church agrees with that last statement. Notwithstanding accusations made by some of her adversaries, I realize that the church encourages its members to do their homework. But I doubt that anyone was ever excommunicated because their thinking began and ended with "The church says it, I believe it, and that settles it."

            One should either accept or reject the Church based solely on what reason one has to think her founder and successors authoritative on matters of faith.

            I can't dispute that. My rejection arises from my failure to see good reason to accept the church's account of her origins. I don't believe her actual founder was the man she claims as her founder.

            Objection 1) Why am I incompetent to judge matters of faith?

            Answer: I would reply that all mere human beings are incompetent since matters of faith cannot be verified empirically.

            That raises the question of why I should believe anything that cannot be empirically verified.

            I won't go into a disgression on the merits of philosophical skepticism. Suffice it say we can have no certain knowledge about anything, if certainty is construed as the elimination of any possible error. There is no belief that we cannot be wrong about, if it means anything to be wrong. (To illustrate the last: I could deny the axioms of logic, but I have no idea what any statement could mean if they were not true.)

            Nevertheless, I don't think it useful to say I do not know some proposition P just because of a hypothetical possibility that P is false. Suppose a skeptic asks me why I believe P. I may say: because I believe Q, and Q implies P. The skeptic then asks why I believe Q, and I say: because I believe R, and R implies Q. This cannot go on forever, but how do we end it? I believe it can end whenever the skeptic asks why I believe some X, and I challenge him to give me a good reason to doubt X, and has no response other than to say: For all you know, it is possible that X is false.

            This is not to fall back on the argument from ignorance. No belief can be proved solely by noting that nobody can prove it false. The fact remains that no belief system can exist without some assumptions in its foundation. We acknowledge our inability to prove these foundational assumptions, but that doesn't mean we believe them arbitrarily. There are criteria, Occam's razor being only one, for deciding whether we would be justified in assuming any particular proposition. But these criteria are not so clear or precise as to compel unanimity in every instance. There are countless propositions about which reasonable people will disagree as to their foundational status, i.e. whether we ought to believe them notwithstanding our inability to prove or verify them.

            I have been debating Christians online for around 15 years. I have many times seen them defend their beliefs by appealing to faith. I have also seen them offer various definitions of faith, some saying it means X, others saying it means Y, etc. They are not all consistent, but what most have in common is some notion akin to an axiomatic belief, something that a person is justified in believing even though it cannot be empirically verified. And as I have acknowledged, none of us can dispense altogether with beliefs of this kind. But one of the issues dividing the religious from the nonreligious is whether certain religious beliefs should be included in this foundational category.

            I will not argue in this thread that they should not. For me, they are not, and if challenged, I am prepared to defend that position, i.e. that I am justified in asking for verification and, pending its receipt, withholding belief.

            2) Doesn't every Church/Religion claim that it is the true Church/Religion?

            Answer: You are certainly right that every religion or Church makes that claim. However, the question is as to why you would accept that claim in the first place.

            In every religion (or lack of religion), one either assents to insights of a person, a story, or a book as revealing truths that are beyond empirical verification. Some will try to prove the validity of the source by asking you to verify a portion of truths they proclaim that are empirically verifiable or some other version.

            Needless to say, such verification gets us nowhere because it may very well be that the empirical portion of truths are indeed true. But that is not proof that the rest is true. I could write a book which has 50% science and 50% my imagination on matters of faith. It certainly wouldn't be true.

            So the only way one can discover which is a true religion, if there is one, is either

            1) Have God himself interact with you and point it out (obviously rare)

            2) Find someone who seems worthy of belief in such matters (using reason)

            The usual path for the Catholic is (2) above. Usually the Catholic believes in Christ because of his death and resurrection. It seems reasonable to hold that Christ is an authoritative source on matters beyond empirical verification because he defeated death.

            So for a Christian, the first assent is based on how reasonable it is to think Christ was killed and rose from the dead.can discover which is a true religion, if there is one, is either

            1) Have God himself interact with you and point it out (obviously rare)

            2) Find someone who seems worthy of belief in such matters (using reason)

            The usual path for the Catholic is (2) above. Usually the Catholic believes in Christ because of his death and resurrection. It seems reasonable to hold that Christ is an authoritative source on matters beyond empirical verification because he defeated death.

            That seems reasonable enough, to a first approximation. If I knew that a man had returned to life three days after being executed, I wouldn't necessarily infer that he was the son of God, nor just take his word for it if he said he was, but he would certainly have my undivided attention.

            But I don't know any such man. I know of some books that say there was such a man, but no one has given me a compelling reason to trust those books.

          • Tony Jokin

            Hello again Doug,

            Thank you once again for a thoughtful reply. I will try to address some of your concerns in this post.

            But I doubt that anyone was ever excommunicated because their thinking began and ended with "The church says it, I believe it, and that settles it."

            The Church doesn't excommunicate those who haven't done their homework. The reasoning being that the Church is more concerned about the salvation of the people. What is important from that point of view is that they believe the things necessary for their salvation. Whether or not they actually arrived at the truth through wrong means in that sense is not that important as long as they have ended up in the truth.

            So just as a Doctor wouldn't turn away a patient who comes to him out of some misunderstood view as to how he can cure him, the Church doesn't do that either.

            The point stressed by the Church though is that for those who want to know which is the true Church be reasonable means, it can be done.

            That raises the question of why I should believe anything that cannot be empirically verified.

            Well, for one, certain logical axioms are held to be true in order to even perform empirical verification in the first place.These logical axioms by definition are not verifiable but simply held as true because they are self evident.

            That being said, the gist of the position "I shouldn't have to believe in anything that is not empirically verifiable" is actually dependent on the idea that if I cannot measure the effect of something, it might as well not exist.

            But the problem with matters of faith is that if they do exist, they do affect the person after their time in this world. So to that extent, it is not reasonable to discard such truths with the same argument of being unable to measure its effects. The effects will be experienced clearly after death.

            So the field of knowledge as to "what lies beyond our empirical world?" or "is there a transcendent God?" while not being empirically verifiable in this life, are still important for humanity because it will be an experience reality after death.

            I will not argue in this thread that they should not. For me, they are not, and if challenged, I am prepared to defend that position, i.e. that I am justified in asking for verification and, pending its receipt, withholding belief.

            But it can be demonstrated that asking for such verification as the sole basis for assent is not justified.

            One can assent based on authority to speak of matters beyond ones own competence and we most certainly do that daily. When an average Joe takes medical advise from a Doctor, his assent to the advise is based on verification of the authority of the Doctor. It would be somewhat impossible for Joe to verify the validity of everything the Doctor says without attending medical school himself.

            So this is where I feel, with respect, most Atheist get it wrong. They are very concerned about the particular truths in a religion. Often times, this is naturally because the desire to leave the religion originated due to some disagreement with a particular truth in the religion. But regardless of why, usually the demand is for verification of religious truths.

            This demand though is unreasonable. Verification is available for all atheists after their death but the only issue is that it will be too late. Similarly, Joe who refuses to believe he has Cancer and will die in a certain way without treatment even after being diagnosed by a Doctor will figure out the Doctor was right as he dies. But it is too late and Joe is unreasonable.

            The concentration should be in verifying the authority of the person who has or is presenting the truth claims. If the authority is clear through reason, one assents by faith.

            But I don't know any such man. I know of some books that say there was such a man, but no one has given me a compelling reason to trust those books.

            Aah yes, perhaps I can help explain this a bit more.

            For any seeker of the truth, it would be completely unreasonable to believe in such a miraculous feat because a book says so. After all, there are other religious figures who are said to have done miraculous things.

            So needless to say, one needs some reason to think that this event not witnessed firsthand did actually take place.

            For Christians, this witness is present in the martyrdom of the first witnesses to the resurrection. The Christian reasoning here is that one cannot ask for more from a first hand witness than they be willing to die for the sake of the truth they claim. Since all the first Apostles gave their lives in martyrdom claiming that Jesus did die and rise from the dead, we have good reason to think they did indeed witness what they testified as seeing.

            This truth has been passed down from one Catholic generation to the next and is now passed down to every Catholic who will pass this truth down to their own children. Of course, the matter of the martyrdom of the first Christians is also part of the historical truths and is reasonably documented.

            So you could say the Christian faith is built on the blood of martyrs as well.
            To this it should also be added that the relationship with God and the saints in the Catholic faith has a personal dimension as well. Just as my existence as a real person becomes more and more concrete to you with my responses to your comments, Christians build such a relationship with prayer.

            Those who are advanced in the faith have built such a relationship with Christ and the saints and they have in a way moved beyond that initial reason for assent. As one relies on God for ones needs in life and one sees the response by God daily, one enters in to a relationship with God. One starts to share in part of that heavenly experience one will discover after death while still living in this world.

            So the life of a Catholic could be described as first assenting to the Christ and his Church through reason. Then one enters in to a very deep personal relationship with God with the guidance of the Church. That personal relationship makes the heavenly realities as true as ones experience of the truth that "other persons exists".

          • Doug Shaver

            The point stressed by the Church though is that for those who want to know which is the true Church through reasonable means, it can be done.

            I'm not sure this is saying the same thing, but I agree that if there is a true church, then the exercise of reason should suffice to determine which church it is.

            These logical axioms by definition are not verifiable but simply held as true because they are self evident.

            Self-evidence is commonly offered as the rationale for accepting axioms, but this is just question-begging in different words. To say that a proposition P is self-evident, i.e. evidence for itself, is tantamount to saying, "P, therefore P." If you and I agree to accept the axioms of logic, it is because you and I both are convinced that we could make no sense of the world if we did not accept them. We could not even talk to each other intelligibly if we thought it even possible that anything we said could be both true and false, or might be neither true nor false. The necessity of our accepting those particular axioms is just a brute fact of our existence as sentient creatures.

            That being said, the gist of the position "I shouldn't have to believe in anything that is not empirically verifiable" is actually dependent on the idea that if I cannot measure the effect of something, it might as well not exist.

            This is probably nitpicking, but in this context, I don't like the specificity of "measure." I would say that if something has no observable effect on anything, even in principle, then it might as well not exist. The "in principle" qualification is vital. During my childhood, there was no way to verify the existence of rings around any planet other than Saturn, but it was not the case that they might as well not have existed. They were not unverifiable in principle, but only in terms of our technological capabilities at that particular historical moment.

            The logical positivists made a serious mistake in trying to tie verification to meaning. If you utter a statement P while conceding that you can suggest no way it could be verified even in principle, then it might be disingenuous of me to say, "In that case, I have no idea what P could possibly mean." But I don't see what objection you could make to my saying, "In that case, I have no idea what difference it makes whether P is true or false."

            But the problem with matters of faith is that if they do exist, they do affect the person after their time in this world. So to that extent, it is not reasonable to discard such truths with the same argument of being unable to measure its effects. The effects will be experienced clearly after death.

            That is a problem, but it's a problem for believers, not for skeptics. I believe that this world, and this life, are the only ones there are. You say there is another world and another life. If you and your fellow believers can provide no evidence beyond your say-so, then I don't see what is so "not reasonable" about my thinking that you are probably mistaken.

            But it can be demonstrated that asking for such verification as the only basis for assent is not justified.

            One can assent based on authority to speak of matters beyond ones own competence and verifiability and we most certainly do that daily. When an average Joe takes medical advise from a Doctor, his assent to the advise is based on verification of the authority of the Doctor. It would be somewhat impossible for Joe to verify the validity of everything the Doctor says without attending medical school himself.

            I don't agree that my acceptance of medical authority is relevantly analogous to your acceptance of the church's authority. Medical science is based on cogent inferences from observable facts. I can verify that those facts have been observed. I can verify that if I could get myself into the right circumstances, I would observe them myself. I can verify that medical schools teach their students those facts, and I can verify the cogency of arguments used to infer from those facts the remainder of what is currently accepted as medical knowledge. But, so far as I am yet aware, I cannot verify that God has revealed, to any human being, any knowledge about himself or about a life beyond the one we get in this world. If I am to believe any man who says, "Thus saith the Lord," I have no option but to just take his word for it.

            This demand though is unreasonable. Verification is available for all atheists or non-Catholics after their death but the only issue is that it will be too late.

            You're telling me that when I am confronted with real evidence that you are telling me the truth, it will be too late for me to change my mind, and so I'd better change my mind right now without confronting that evidence. I'm sorry, but I don't think I'm the one making an unreasonable demand.

            So needless to say, one needs some reason to think that this event not witnessed firsthand did actually take place.

            For Christians, this witness is present in the martyrdom of the first witnesses to the resurrection. The Christian reasoning here is that one cannot ask for more from a first hand witness than they be willing to die for the sake of the truth they claim. Since all the first Apostles (multiple witnesses) gave their lives in martyrdom claiming that Jesus did die and rise from the dead, we have good reason to think they did indeed witness what they testified as seeing.

            Not quite. When someone is willing to die for saying "I believe X," we have good reason to think that they sincerely believe X. Otherwise, the continuing martyrdoms of Muslim terrorists should convince us that Islam is the one true religion.

            There are other problems with Christianity's particular argument from martyrdom. To begin with, outside of ecclesiastical tradition, there is no compelling evidence that any of Jesus' disciples, or anybody whom they might have converted, died of anything other than natural causes. Next, by the time we get any independent confirmation of Christians being persecuted, the sources give no indication that the reason for the persecution had anything to do with what they said about Jesus. In particular, I am aware of no credible report that says any Christian was threatened with death, torture, or any other unpleasantness just because they were saying, "Jesus rose from the dead." The price of avoiding persecution was never, to my knowledge, denying the resurrection.

            Of course, the matter of the martyrdom of the first Christians is also part of the historical truths and is reasonably documented.

            They aren't historical truths just because the church says they are. You may judge the documentation to be reasonable. I don't find it convincing, particularly when it's about the first Christians.

            Just as my existence as a real person becomes more and more concrete to you with my responses to your comments, Christians build such a relationship with God and the Saints through prayer.

            I'm actually getting responses to my comments. Even if you are not who you say you are, I'm getting responses. When I prayed as a believer, I got no response. My experience of praying to God was indistinguishable from an experience of praying to nothing.

          • Tony Jokin

            Doug,

            Hello again. Let me try and address some of your concerns.

            Self-evidence is commonly offered as the rationale for accepting axioms, but this is just question-begging in different words.

            I think it is worth pointing out that arguing whether "self evident" truths beg the question is itself meaningless. Why? Because without first accepting some logical principles self-evidently, it makes little sense to speak of things like fallacies or "begging the question".

            Nevertheless, I think the point made by me was clear that one must accept certain axioms as true without empirical verification. How this acceptance originates as a result of human sentience or something else is really irrelevant to this discussion. I also noted, in case you missed it, that truths of faith are not self evident. So there is no need to get too caught up on this issue.

            But I don't see what objection you could make to my saying, "In that case, I have no idea what difference it makes whether P is true or false."

            That is a problem, but it's a problem for believers, not for skeptics. I believe that this world, and this life, are the only ones there are.

            I am not quiet sure what your reasoning is here. But it seems to me like there is an obvious error/omission in your reasoning. Your logic seems to be

            (1) I don't believe in life after death
            (2) Therefore, it doesn't matter to me if there is anything after death

            The conclusion does not follow from (1) unless what you believe is what is also true. If there is a life after death, you will be affected along with those who believe there is one.

            The real question to ask if why you should be believing that there certainly isn't a life after death when you are just a mere human being who cannot know such things till you are dead?

            I don't agree that my acceptance of medical authority is relevantly analogous to your acceptance of the church's authority. Medical science is based on cogent inferences from observable facts. I can verify that those facts have been observed.

            The point made here Doug is that one accepts information based on authority all the time. No one can insist that every single piece of information they risk their life on is empirically verified before they commit to it.

            While medical Science is based on observable facts by those who are experts in that field of knowledge, you wouldn't know how to even conduct a proper experiment to verify the same truths they inferred from it without any training.

            In any case, for a Christian, the assent is to Christ based on his demonstration of power over death. Then one assents to his Apostles and successors who guard the deposit of truth that he had given them.

            Not quite. When someone is willing to die for saying "I believe X," we have good reason to think that they sincerely believe X. Otherwise, the continuing martyrdoms of Muslim terrorists should convince us that Islam
            is the one true religion.

            I am not sure you understood me properly. They died based on their understanding that Christ died and rose from the dead and therefore believing that he is God as he claimed. The fact that he died and rose from the dead is an observable phenomenon if it happened.

            Muslims die for the belief that Mohammed was a prophet and therefore the faith he handed to them was true. But their reason for considering Mohammed a prophet is not based on anything that one can consider an actual miracle attributable to him. In fact, Mohammed by his own admission says he has not done any miracles.

            There are other problems with Christianity's particular argument from martyrdom. To begin with, outside of ecclesiastical tradition, there is no compelling evidence that any of Jesus' disciples, or anybody whom they might have converted, died of anything other than natural causes.

            And you are speaking of this after surveying the entire body of historical writings from this period? Or are you actually suggesting that all the Jewish records and that of pagan historians at the time detailing the persecution of Christians by first the Jews and then the Roman emperors within the living memory of Christ and first Apostles are all part of the ecclesiastical tradition?

            Nevertheless, the writings of martyrdom of first Apostles and other Christians within ecclesiastical traditions dates back to within living memory of when these events are said to have transpired. So you would imagine that those who come across these things will point out how they are lies. We find no such denials that Christians were falsely claiming martyrdom of their leaders by the Jews and Romans.

            So I think this might be an area you might want to do some more research on Doug. There is much modern and old scholarship available in this area that I am sure you can find in any public library.

            They aren't historical truths just because the church says they are. You
            may judge the documentation to be reasonable. I don't find it
            convincing, particularly when it's about the first Christians.

            Well, sometimes Doug, the great obstacle to discovering the truth lies deep within us.

            I am sure you accept other grand historical truths but you are finding it extremely difficult to accept the fact that some men in the first century died of persecution because of the implications of it.

            But this shows you are thinking about it. I strongly suggest that the best thing for you to do is look at the scholarship discussing this issue and decide for yourself. It is worth mentioning that even texts written by Christians are not necessarily outside of historical documentation either.

            I'm actually getting responses to my comments. Even if you are not who
            you say you are, I'm getting responses. When I prayed as a believer, I
            got no response. My experience of praying to God was indistinguishable
            from an experience of praying to nothing.

            Aah, you probably have no idea how many times I have heard comments like yours.

            I mean no disrespect, but what you have attempted is something like trying to get in touch with the president to see if he is actually real and become friends with him. Because you see Doug, such a prayer relationship comes with time. God is not someone waiting to respond to you the minute you feel like half halfheartedly turning back to him and addressing him to convince you he is real.

            Christian faith is a gift from God for people to use to come to him. It is not God trying to convince you of his existence and force you to come to him or love him. You are given freedom to accept or reject God's gift.

            So any Christian begins by learning, studying the faith, and following the instruction of the Church i.e. accepting the gift. One receives the Sacraments, especially, confession for forgiveness of sins, attending mass, receiving the Eucharist, and so forth. Baptism begins the new life of a Christian and one where he shares intimately in the life of God. When sin disrupts this relationship, confession heals it. The Graces through the Eucharist help a Christian grow in the relationship.

            You skipped all of this and tried to get a response from God :)

            Rarely, some individuals are given the special Grace by God before hand to know his existence even without first asking. Not everyone receives such Graces. There are Atheists and non-Catholics in the history of the Church who converted this way but it seems to be the case, at least so far, that you are not someone God wants to give such a grace to.

            No one should think they are entitled to such Grace and if you are truly interested Doug, you should take the ordinary way of doing things. Does it take time and effort? Yes it does. But if you are old and at the end of your life, what have you got to lose?

            If it's false, you enjoyed your life before becoming a Catholic anyway. If it is true, you have everything to gain.

            Something to think about...........

          • Doug Shaver

            I think it is worth pointing out that arguing whether "self evident" truths beg the question is itself meaningless.

            That depends on which truths we're talking about. But may I note that referring to any proposition as a truth begs the question. If we are asking "Is X true?" or "Should we believe X?" then we should not refer to X as a truth. We should refer to it as a proposition until we have reach an agreement as to whether it is true.

            Because without first accepting some logical principles self-evidently, it makes little sense to speak of things like fallacies or "begging the question".

            Yes, a logical analysis of the principles of logic cannot get us anywhere. But where does that leave any argument of the form, "It is self-evident, therefore it is true"? The very notion of logic presupposes a distinction between truth and falsehood, and the axioms of logic are just a way to encode that distinction in language that we all understand. It is simply incoherent to even ask the question, "Is the law noncontradiction true?"

            So, we accept the axioms of logic or we don't. If we don't, then further conversation about any subject at all is impossible because our language itself becomes meaningless. If we do accept those particular axioms, we therefore do so out of brute necessity, but having done so, then we can sensibly inquire about the logical bases or ramifications of every other axiom offered for our consideration.

            Nevertheless, I think the point made by me was clear that one must accept certain axioms as true without empirical verification. How this acceptance originates as a result of human sentience or something else is really irrelevant to this discussion. I also noted, in case you missed it, that truths of faith are not self evident. So there is no need to get too caught up on this issue.

            We must accept certain axioms, yes. In so doing, we stipulate that they are true. But it is only a stipulation, nothing more. No matter what motivates our acceptance, we don't make them true just by accepting them.

            What you call "truths of faith" I call "articles of faith." I stipulate that they could be true, for all I know, because I know no way to prove them false without assuming their falsity. I cannot say, "They are certainly false" without begging the question. But you beg the question when you call them "truths of faith." I appreciate your concession that they are not self-evident, but whether they are or aren't, the relevant of that point to our present discussion is not apparent to me.

            But it seems to me like there is an obvious error/omission in your reasoning. Your logic seems to be

            (1) I don't believe in life after death

            (2) Therefore, it doesn't matter to me if there is anything after death

            The conclusion does not follow from (1) unless what you believe is what is also true. If there is a life after death, you will be affected along with those who believe there is one.

            That is not my reasoning, but I can see where I failed to make myself as clear as I might have. I'll give it another try.

            Obviously, my not believing in a life after death doesn't imply that there is none. There could be one, for all I can know with certainty. And if (a) there is one, and if (b) what happens to me in that life depends on what I do in this life, then, also obviously, that matters to me. But (b) is irrelevant if I have no good reason to believe (a). Indeed, (b) presupposes (a). If I have no reason to think there is a next life, then it makes no sense for me to concern myself with what will happen to me in that next life.

            At this point, someone will want to remind me of Pascal's wager. I see it has been discussed at great length elsewhere on this website. I have not finished reading all the comments that have been posted to those threads, but when I do finish, I will contribute any thoughts of my own that others have not already contributed. For the moment, I say only that I have examined the wager to the best of my ability, and I have found it wanting.

            When I say I have no reason to believe in an afterlife, your response is: "But you will. After you die, you will have all the reason anyone could ask for. You will be confronted with irrefutable evidence." Very well, but a promise of evidence is not itself evidence. And that is all that you, or your church, is giving me: a promise. You and your church are saying, "Trust us. After you die, you will discover that we were right." But no, I can't go there.

            Perhaps at the end of the day, you have to weigh the reasonableness in thinking that Jesus Christ has authority on the subject vs. the reasons you have to think 'Doug' has authority on the subject.

            All I know about Jesus is what is in the historical paper trail, both canonical and noncanonical. What I see there gives me no good reason to think that the man known to history as Jesus of Nazareth was the actual founder of the religion known to the modern world as Christianity.

            The point made here Doug is that one accepts information based on authority all the time.

            You might accept information from authority all the time. I do not. Sometimes I do and sometimes I don't. When I do, I have good reasons. When I don't, it's because those reasons do not apply.

            While medical Science is based on observable facts by those who are experts in that field of knowledge, you wouldn't know (I am assuming you are not a Doctor but if you are, I hope the point is still clear) how to even conduct a proper experiment to verify the same truths they inferred from it without any training.

            I know what is required for any experiment to be done properly. I am not scientifically illiterate. I do not need the depth of knowledge I would have obtained by becoming a doctor to understand the scientific basis of current medical knowledge. My layman's understanding of science is quite enough to justify the level of trust I place in my doctor. And that level, by the way, is far from absolute. I think she is a good doctor, I but I don't treat her or any other doctor as infallible.

            That is a difference, by the way, between scientific and ecclesiastical authority. The scientific community does not say, "We can't be wrong." The church does.

            I am not sure you understood me properly. They [martyrs] died based on their understanding that Christ died and rose from the dead and therefore believing that he is God as he claimed. The fact that he died and rose from the dead is an observable phenomenon if it happened.

            Church tradition says that is why they died. In the few instances where we have reliable documentation, the record says they died for other reasons, and those reasons would have gotten them killed regardless of what they might have believed or could have been saying about Jesus of Nazareth.

            The fact that he died and rose from the dead is an observable phenomenon if it happened.

            So was Muhammad's conversation with the angel Gabriel. Or, for that matter, Joseph Smith's discovery of the golden plates from which he claimed to have copied the Book of Mormon.

            I have never argued that the resurrection was, even in principle, an unverifiable phenomenon. It was every bit as verifiable as Caesar's assassination. I just don't think the historical record, as it currently exists, provides sufficient verification of the resurrection.

            For Christians, it has always been the central point that if Christ did not rise from the dead, the faith is in vain. Even St. Paul wrote the same in 1 Corinthians 15:14. The Church still states that if the resurrection is shown to be false, then that day Christianity ends.

            On that point, Christianity is pretty safe. At this stage of history, I'd be hard put to imagine any discovery, other than the wildly improbable sort, that even I would regard as proof that Jesus did not rise from the dead.

            But I don't need proof that he didn't. If I'm to believe he did, I need proof that he did. And I'm using "proof" loosely here. We're talking about history, not mathematics.

            outside of ecclesiastical tradition, there is no compelling evidence that any of Jesus' disciples, or anybody whom they might have converted, died of anything other than natural causes.

            And you are speaking of this after surveying the entire body of historical writings from this period?

            No. Have you conducted such a survey?

            I know how to use a search engine, and I have had continual access for about the past ten years to thousands of academic journals through one or more university libraries. I have made a good-faith effort to find the best sources for what we can reasonably claim to know about the persecution of Christians by Roman authorities or, while there were any, Jewish authorities. I have found no account or reference to any account of any first-century martyrdom written by anyone who (a) could have been a witness himself or (b) identifies a reliable source for his report.

            are you actually suggesting that all the Jewish records and that of pagan historians at the time detailing the persecution of Christians by first the Jews and then the Roman emperors within the living memory of Christ and first Apostles are all part of the ecclesiastical tradition?

            If you know of a record that you think proves your point, tell me where I can find it. I'll look at it, if the looking doesn't cost more than I can afford.

            It is worth mentioning that even texts written by Christians are not necessarily outside of historical documentation either and I am sure some scholarly articles will explain the reasoning behind admitting certain evidence even from Christian sources.

            While I was getting my second bachelor's degree, I twice attempted to take an elective in historiography. I was unable (for reasons unrelated to my academic abilities) to complete the course on either occasion, but I did read most of the assigned textbooks. Each course had four assigned texts (without any duplications), and I bought all of them, and have read more than half.

            I'm actually getting responses to my comments. Even if you are not who you say you are, I'm getting responses. When I prayed as a believer, I got no response. My experience of praying to God was indistinguishable from an experience of praying to nothing.

            Aah, you probably have no idea how many times I have heard comments like yours.

            I mean no disrespect, but what you have attempted is something like trying to get in touch with the president to see if he is actually real and become friends with him. Because you see Doug, such a prayer relationship comes with time. God is not someone waiting to respond to you the minute you feel like half halfheartedly turning back to him and addressing him to convince you he is real.

            I mean no disrespect either, but I think you're making some unjustified assumptions about (a) my level of ignorance and (b) the nature and circumstances of my prayers.

            No one should think they are entitled to special Graces and if you are truly interested Doug, you should take the ordinary way of doing things.

            The church says, "You must believe these things." What could be more ordinary than my responding, "Show me why"?

            If Catholicism is true, you have everything to gain.

            If the religion I used to belong to is true, I'm already heading straight for hell, but if I become a Catholic, the fires that await me will burn so much the hotter.

          • Greg Schaefer

            Hi Doug.

            This is an utterly lucid, extremely thoughtful, elegant post. Bravo. One of the very best of the many thousands I've read at Strange Notions over the past 13 months or so.

            I also greatly appreciate David Nickol's many contributions to the discussion at Strange Notions for the amazing breadth of his scholarship, his facile mind, and his astute and thought-provoking comments. I always learn from reading David's posts -- as well as Noah Luck's, Paul Brandon Rimmer's and several others still allowed to contribute at Strange Notions -- and I look forward to continuing to learn from yours as well. (IMO, Strange Notions has suffered significantly because contributors like epeeist, quine, Josh and Geena, among others, were banned from this site.)

            While I appreciate the tone of Tony Jokin's dialogue with you in this thread, and wish ardently that more of the Catholic apologist contributors to Strange Notions would model themselves after Tony's approach as that would immeasurably increase both the civility and quality of the discourse at this site, I generally interpret an ending resort to Pascal's Wager -- as Tony did in his most recent to which you were responding, which we encounter not infrequently in Catholic apologetics -- as tantamount to jumping the shark. I will never understand how otherwise intelligent, well-educated and thoughtful devout Christian believers imagine it to be worth trotting out Pascal's Wager in discussions with non-believers. It seems to me one of the fundamental markers of the kinds of minds that are able to assent to the truth claims made by the institutional, monotheistic religions as opposed to those who remain unconvinced. To my way of thinking, the invocation of Pascal's Wager is akin to the canard of comparing one's "adversary" to Hitler and the Nazis in the context of a political discussion as a "tell" that the invoker has run out of ideas.

            Thank you for your post!

          • Doug Shaver

            You are very welcome, Greg, and thanks back at you for the kind words.

          • Danny Getchell

            We can discuss it but suffice it to say, the Christian is one who has done his homework. If they haven't done it they are not Christian.

            Can an illiterate child, who has been baptized and received the sacraments, be considered a Christian??

          • Tony Jokin

            Yes, baptism is the sacrament for entering the Church. In the case of infant baptism, the parents are the ones who have done their homework and therefore decide to start their child on the right path.

            By the way, perhaps why you are asking this question specifically about an illiterate child is because you are wondering how everyone is suppossed to have done this whole analysis by themselves.

            I think my reply should be clarified in that case. There is nothing that stops a Christian from having an authoritative figure that leads them to the Church. The presence of an intermediary doesn't make the assent unreasonable.

            So if I was illiterate, I might seek the advise of someone else who I think is capable of doing their homework and also know as someone who I can trust. This sort of assent while certainly has an element of risk, is not unreasonable.

            But at the end of the day, the core reason for Christian assent is not really a brain teaser or something very difficult. It is something simple that can be stated as

            1) Christ died and rose from the dead so we are reasonable to believe him
            2) We know he rose from the dead because that is a historical truth passed down to us from those who witnessed it (who also gave their life for this truth) and from generation to generation by Christians
            3) We can know what Christ taught from those he designated to teach (first Apostles) and their own successors (Bishops)
            4) We know where the successors are (Catholic Church) also through what has been passed down to us from generation to generation
            5) So we assent to the Catholic Church to learn the faith

            The above is no different than the reasoning used by ancient societies to determine whom to go to learn a specific craft or skill. It doesn't require an Einstein level of an intellect either.

  • Mikegalanx

    Just read the part of the dialogue here on Grace and salvation- and does the mystery of the Holy Trinity stand in comparison to the mystery of Disqus?-

    A few questions: The Catholic Church, unlike some Prots, and our departed friend Rick Delano, believes that those who have not even heard the Gospel can still be saved- applies these days to a few Indian tribes in the Amazon, but historically to most people.
    Some of these people- pre-Columbus Americans, Chinese, Indians ,Australian aborigines- never could have had a chance to be exposed to Christianity, due to distance, poor communications etc.

    The Church also believes - correct me if I am wrong- that people who are so immersed in their own culture or receive such a distorted view of Christian teaching that they reject its message are also eligible for salvation- this is where the doctrine of invincible ignorance comes in, no?
    (I've posted previously of my own experience in China in the 1980s trying to explain the basics of Christian belief to some post-Cultural Revolution students who had no real idea of what it was, other than a Western imperialist trick to enslave the Chinese.)

    1) What about all the people born before Christ? Are they in the same position?

    2) Percentages- how many would be saved?- roughly of course! Take a slice of the population in Medieval Catholic Europe compared to a similar group in the Ottoman Empire, Ming China or the Incan Empire. Given that people in similar circumstances exhibit roughly equal good or bad behavior the same all over, would far larger numbers of Catholics be saved just because they had the fortune to be born in some nation to which Christianity had already spread?

  • WhiteRock

    On the topic of dialogue with atheists, I have a question for those who linger here! I'm wondering if the following is something that is generally accepted/stated in the non-believing camp.
    I've recently been told that faith is not a virtue. To me, this seemed really, really ambiguous. What did they mean by that? I tried to get some clarity, but a huge tangent appeared and I never got a straight answer. Sure, faith completely on it's own doesn't necessarily mean the person will have high morals, but I have a feeling it's not what they were trying to say. Is this just one of those "soundbites" that are only meant to befuddle because it's so ambiguous, or is it something legitimate and I'm just really missing the point? Thanks in advance!

    • Vasco Gama

      I can only provide a slight insight on what is meant by "faith is not a virtue", in this case this must be referred to the “faith in God” that is considered as a gift from God as opposed to the notion that the person who has faith in God has any particular merit on that faith (that particular faith is considered a grace to this person, that was given because he was in need, or he was looking for it, or for some other reason). I hope this was helpful.

      • WhiteRock

        Hi Vasco, thanks for your reply. I'm still a bit confused, to be honest, but I think the latter suggestion might be more what they were trying to say, because the whole comment came out in, to be honest, a very negative, criticizing way. It would also be inaccurate, since fideism is so not my style!
        I think maybe they were trying to discredit faith as a whole as a virtue, which is quite sad really. I wonder if they would think that having faith in people would also not be considered virtuous. What do you think?

        • Vasco Gama

          Yes I agree with you, I think that faith, as such, is considered a virtue. But the thing is that is not rational to rely just on faith as if it was possible that it could exist in opposition to reason (to empirical knowledge, …), which seems to me is the basis of fideism.

          • WhiteRock

            Certainly. It's not authentic faith if you have to give up reason or "sacrifice your intellect". Fideism is condemned by the Church, right? Christian fundamentalism is rampant with fideism, and I find a lot of the objections Catholic Christians receive come from the understanding of that fundamentalism. It's also why it's really frustrating to be on the other end of, because it does not apply when discussing Catholic tradition, but for some reason, it comes up every time and a huge debate ensues about what Catholics mean by faith vs. the other's understanding of it.

            Since this person painted all faith as not being virtuous, I'm just left wondering if they thought something as simple as "having faith" in someone you care about or in a situation isn't virtuous, either. Eg: "I have faith this situation will work itself out". Indeed, it's very different than faith in God, but my question is only coming from whether or not they thought ALL kinds of faith lacks virtue.

          • Vasco Gama

            I will try to address your questions, but I have to say that I am far from being infallible on matters of doctrine and I will give my thoughts (just based on common sense).

            There is nothing remotely irrational in the Catholic faith. In case somewhere you get this feeling «if you have to give up reason or "sacrifice your intellect"» surely there is something wrong, and either it concerns to a misleading reasoning or to what you consider to know by faith.

            «Fideism is condemned by the Church, right? » You are quite right, Fideism is considered a grave error and is clearly condemned by the Catholic Church, surely since the middle ages.

            The opposition to faith by New Atheists is mythical (and undeserving of discussion, as it is a basic presumption for them, and something that they can’t admit to question), they are so or more predisposed to faith as any other. The thing is that their sources of knowledge and figures of authority are not the same as those that Catholics find reasonable to accept.

            Faith is a virtue (the problem is in what one may have faith). Consider the following, when I speak to my child (imagine he is very young) and I tell him that he must not cross the road alone (I may even say that he is forbidden from doing that), is it rational to consider that he should not trust me or have faith in me, surely not. If he misbehave and choose to ignore my command, he would have done wrong. The reasonable thing for him would have to have faith in his father (and in that sense faith is virtue, as the acceptance of validity of the knowledge of someone that is deserving of this faith).

            I hope that somehow I was able to help you.