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Faith, Reason, and God: A Socratic Dialogue

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Filed under Faith

Conversation

NOTE: This fictitious dialogue takes place between two friends, Chris, a Catholic, and Sal, a sincere skeptic, and centers on some basic questions here at Strange Notions regarding faith, reason, and the existence of God.


SalChris, before we go any further in our conversations about Christianity, I have to ask you a very basic question.

ChrisAsk away.

SalDo you think this is going to get us anywhere, arguing about religion?

Chris: What you mean by "arguing"?

SalFighting with words.

Chris: I don't want to do that. We're friends, not enemies. What I mean by "arguing" is just "giving reasons".

SalTrying to prove something, right?

Chris: Yes.

Sal: Well, I'm not sure that's going to get us anywhere either.

Chris: Neither am I, but I'm not sure it isn't, either. So if there's a chance, let's take it. Let's try.

Sal: Why?

Chris: If a lot of people say a great prize is behind a door, should you try to open it, or not?

SalYou should, but what does that have to do with arguing?

Chris: The prize here is the truth about God and the meaning of our lives, whatever that truth may be. That's what we're both committed to, isn't it?

SalTruth, yes.

ChrisAnd isn't that valuable, like a prize?

Sal: Yes, if we ever find it.

Chris: Shouldn't we try? Shouldn't we knock at the door?

Sal: What's the door?

Chris: Honest dialogue. Looking for reasons.

Sal: Reasons to believe?

Chris: Yes. Or not to believe.

SalI don't think it'll work. I don't think you can reason your way into religion.

ChrisOh, neither do I. But you might reason your way to the place where you can believe - like walking to the beach, and then swimming. Walking to the beach is like reason and swimming is like faith. You have to go to the place where you can swim before you can swim. And you have to go to the place where you can believe before you can believe.

SalYou mean you have to prove it first by reason before you can believe it?

ChrisNo, not at all. But I think it's your reason that's holding you back from believing. I think your reason is asking some good questions that no one has ever answered for you.

SalThat's true.

Chris: So if we can find the answers to those questions, we can at least make faith possible for you. Then it's up to you, of course.

Sal: I see. You agree, then, that religious faith is a matter of personal choice.

Chris: Of course.

Sal: But reason and logic isn't the way we usually make personal choices. Therefore it's not the way to make the choice about religious faith.

Chris: That sounds like pretty good logic, Sal. Let's examine your argument. What do you mean by a "personal choice"?

SalWhat's right for one person can be wrong for another.

Chris: I see. You mean things like getting married or not, or deciding on a career, or how to spend money.

Sal: Right. There's no one right way for everybody.

Chris: But religion isn't like those things, Sal.

Sal: I thought you agreed it was a personal decision.

Chris: I did. But it claims to tell you something that's true for everybody. What's personal is your response to it.

SalWhat do you mean, "true for everybody"? What religious things are true for everybody?

Chris: Things like God and Heaven - whether they're true or not doesn't depend on you, or on your personal choice, any more than the sun does.

SalBut if I believe it's true, then it's true for me, and if I don't then it isn't true for me.

ChrisDo you think that believing something makes it true?

Sal: True for me, yes.

Chris: But really true? Objectively true?

Sal: There's no objective truth. Truth is subjective.

Chris: Really?

SalYes.

Chris: Truly?

Sal: Yes.

Chris: I don't think so. Am I wrong? Is this a truth I don't see?

Sal: Yes.

Chris: An objective truth, then. It's an objective truth that there is no objective truth.

Sal: Oops.

Chris: And you were so logical a minute ago!

SalWait a minute. We're talking about religious truth. That's subjective.

Chris: You mean nobody can be right or wrong about religious truth?

Sal: Right.

Chris: Except you?

Sal: What do you mean?

Chris: You first said nobody can be right or wrong about religious truth. Then you assumed you were right about religious truth when you said it isn't objective.

SalYou're tangling me up in my words.

Chris: No I'm not. You said it yourself. You tangled yourself up. You contradicted yourself.

SalWell, what I mean to say is that nobody can prove whether there really is a God or not.

ChrisOh, but that's a different question, whether anybody can prove it. Surely God might exist without your proving it. Plenty of things exist that you can't prove, don't they?

Sal: Like what?

Chris: Like the fact that I'm thinking about the color yellow now. Or the fact that I honestly care about you. Can you prove those things?

SalNo.

Chris: Then things can be true without our proving them.

Sal: Yes.

Chris: So God might be true even if we couldn't prove him.

Sal: O.K., but we can't prove him. No one can settle religious questions. So I think it's a waste of time to argue about them.

Chris: I see. And why do you think no one can settle religious questions?

Sal: I just think so, that's all.

Chris: You have no reasons to think that?

SalSure I do.

Chris: I think you can guess what my next question is going to be.

Sal: You mean, what are my reasons?

ChrisGood guess.

Sal: Well, you can't prove God like you can prove other things, like galaxies and germs and scientific stuff.

Chris: You mean you can't use the scientific method.

Sal: Right.

Chris: And you think the scientific method is the only way to prove anything.

SalReally to prove anything, yes.

Chris: Can you prove that?

Sal: What?

Chris: What you just said: that the scientific method is the only way to prove anything.

Sal: Hmmm. I guess not.

Chris: Then you contradict yourself again. You say you should believe something only if it's proved scientifically, yet you believe that even though it isn't proved scientifically.

Sal: Pretty clever.

Chris: No. I'm not trying to be clever. I'm trying to show you that your faith in science isn't scientific. It's a faith.

SalLet me ask the questions for a minute.

Chris: All right.

SalDo you think there are other ways to prove things besides the scientific method?

ChrisYes.

Sal: And can you guess what my next question is going to be?

Chris"What are they?"

Sal: Yes. What are they?

Chris: Common sense, experience, intuition, insight, reasoning, and trustable authority. We use everything we have to look at all the evidence.

Sal: And how do you know which of those methods to use?

ChrisYou use the method that fits your subject matter. You don't use the scientific method to understand people you love, for instance, any more than you use love to understand math or chemistry.

Sal: What do you use for God?

Chris: He's a person, so you use the method that fits persons: love and faith.

Sal: That's naive. Unscientific.

Chris: But it's right for persons. Look. Science is rightly critical and distrustful. It accepts nothing until it's proved. Nature treated as guilty until proven innocent, so to speak. But people are innocent until proven guilty. If we treated people the way science treats nature, we'd never understand them. The only way to understand them is to trust them, not to distrust them. And to love them.

SalJust shut your eyes and believe, eh?

Chris: No. Open your eyes and believe.

Sal: But "love is blind."

Chris: Not real love. Real love sees the other person's inside, like an X-ray.

SalBut sometimes it makes mistakes. Sometimes you trust somebody and he lets you down. Trust doesn't always pay.

Chris: But it's a chance worth taking, isn't it? To live without loving anyone, without trusting anyone - that would be Hell, wouldn't it?

Sal: Yes.

Chris: Worse than being let down, wouldn't it?

Sal: I guess so.

Chris: Well, it's the same with God. It would be even worse never to try him, never to trust him at all, never to give him a chance, than to trust him and then be let down. But he won't let you down.

Sal: So you say.

ChrisI'm not asking you to believe it because I say it. I'm asking you to test it, like a good scientist. Faith is like an experiment. It's testable, like trusting a human being. Life is like a laboratory, and loving someone - whether a human being or God - is like an experiment. It's something you do, and you learn by doing.

Sal: I see. It either works or not.

ChrisYes.

Sal: But I have to have reasons for doing this experiment of believing in God because you're asking me to put myself in the test tube. It's not a light little thing.

ChrisI'm glad you see that. It's not a little thing at all. All right, let's look at some reasons for believing in God next time.

Sal: O.K.
 
 
Excerpted from "Faith and Reason" in Yes or No: Straight Answers to Tough Questions about Christianity by Peter Kreeft (Ignatius Press: San Francisco, 1991), 23-30. Used with permission.
(Image credit: Autism After 16)

Dr. Peter Kreeft

Written by

Dr. Peter Kreeft is a professor of philosophy at Boston College and a noted Catholic apologist and philosopher. He is a convert to the Catholic Church from reformed Protestantism. He earned an A.B. degree from Calvin College, an M.A. and Ph.D. from Fordham University, followed by post-doctoral work at Yale University. He is a regular contributor to several Christian publications, is in wide demand as a speaker at conferences, and is the author of over 60 books including Making Sense Out of Suffering (Servant, 1986); Fundamentals of the Faith: Essays in Christian Apologetics (Ignatius, 1988); Catholic Christianity (Ignatius, 2001); The Unaborted Socrates: A Dramatic Debate on the Issues Surrounding Abortion (IVP, 2002); and The Philosophy of Tolkien: The Worldview Behind The Lord of the Rings (Ignatius, 2005). Many of Peter's books are also integrated into the Logos software. Find dozens of audio talks, essays, and book excerpts at his website, PeterKreeft.com.

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  • This is almost enough to make me leave the site. At this point I'd have thought the moderators realized they got into trouble every they started announcing what atheists believe, but here they go a step further and actually put words into an atheist's mouth! And not a particularly bright atheist, either: ("It's an objective truth that there is no objective truth." "Oops." As if we our attitude were, "Well, golly, I never thought about that before!")

    • Kyle

      I couldn't agree more. I have read many articles and many discussions in the comment sections of this site with great interest. This article is insufferable. I am surprised Mr. Vogt even posted it.

      It seems as though it has been a long time since anything was posted by atheist authors. Can we expect anything in the near future?

      • Good point, I expect more Catholics would engage in the site if they had more atheist points of view to respond to.

      • "This article is insufferable."

        Is this hyperbole or are you saying you actually weren't able to suffer through it? :) If the latter, I apologize.

        "It seems as though it has been a long time since anything was posted by atheist authors. Can we expect anything in the near future?"

        The problem is that I've had great difficulty attracting atheist posts. I've always had an open invitation for new articles, an offer I've made explicit several times to our atheist commenters. Unfortunately, most of them feel more content to criticize the articles than produce better alternatives. I'm still waiting for a single submission from our most vocal critics.

        • Touche. :)

        • Andre Boillot

          Brandon,

          Speaking for myself, I generally sympathize with you in terms of what I imagine the ratio of atheist articles submitted vs. critiques leveled to be here at SN - and, in all but the most egregious cases, I try to limit critiques to the specific issues and not the overall lack of pieces by non-theists. As other have noted, this might also be responsible for the disproportionate amount of atheist activity in the comments - as some of us feel it's up to us to "stand up" for our POV. I would welcome more non-theist articles, not so much for myself (as I tend not to comment on those), but more so to get theist onlookers more of a chance to get involved in the discussion.

          That said I do have some questions.

          The problem is that I've had great difficulty attracting atheist posts. I've always had an open invitation for new articles, an offer I've made explicit several times to our atheist commenters.

          Given the lack of original work featured here on SN, I'm not sure what point you are making here. Presumably, you reach out to Catholic blogs about hosting /reposting their work - would you say you've made similar efforts to reach out to non-theist blogs about hosting / reposting articles?

          I'm still waiting for a single submission from our most vocal critics.

          This seems overly specific, have you had a submission from any atheists and/or critics?

        • Peter Piper

          Why not try asking the author of philosophical disquisitions if he will let you repost some of his stuff here? Some of it is not relevant to the Catholic/atheist debate, but a fair amount is.

        • Kyle

          Perhaps insufferable is a little strong, but I must say this article in particular really rubbed me the wrong way. I will try to rein in my hyperbole in the future. And of course the word need not be interpreted literally in terms of suffering...

          I may also take you up on your offer for an article, although I can't promise any time line as my current school project takes precedence.

          • Vasco Gama

            Are you sure (about the article)? You might realize that Catholics are quite critical and are well known to be very nasty.

          • Kyle

            Is that meant to be sarcastic? I'm not sure if I see where you are going there...

            Also, I am not sure about the article. You may have noted my particularly vague language ;)

            Most of the time I like what I read on this site, and find the comments quite interesting.

          • Vasco Gama

            I was joking

          • Kyle

            Ah, fair enough. Sorry for my tone-deafness.

        • Danny Getchell

          The problem is that I've had great difficulty attracting atheist posts. I've always had an open invitation for new articles

          Brandon, it appears to me that a pretty large number of the "Catholic viewpoint" articles on your site are not freshly written for SN, but are instead reposts of material originally created for other Catholic blogs and in books (in this case, a book almost a quarter century old).

          I'm not the first one to notice that some of the Catholic authors whose articles are posted here give the impression of never having followed any of SN's combox discussions, and of being less than aware of which sorts of approaches stimulate respectful engagement, and which disdain. The article above being a good example of the latter.

          Question: Are you willing to invite atheist bloggers to post some of their existing material on SN as you do Catholic bloggers, or do you insist that atheist material be freshly written by active participants on this site???

    • Octavo

      I'm going to have to agree. This is a pretty insulting move. This site's goal of promoting Catholic/unbeliever dialogue is not served by posting a parody of that dialogue in which the wise Catholic rhetorically destroys the foolish skeptic.

      ~Jesse Webster

      • Jesse, nobody "destroys" anyone in this article and that's precisely the wrong lens through which to view it or this site, as a whole. You aren't alone, though. I've see many commenters approach this dialogue in the same way.

        When you understand the search for truth as a battle between two opponents looking to win, "destroy" each other, or make them look "foolish," you've already seriously compromised the search for truth. You've watered down the exciting and fruitful intellectual exchange into a rhetorical contest.

        A far better strategy is to focus on whether each person's claims are true, and if so, what implications they bring.

        • Octavo

          "Jesse, nobody "destroys" anyone in this article and that's precisely the wrong lens through which to view it or this site, as a whole. You aren't alone, though. I've see many commenters approach this dialogue in the same way."

          My use of the word "destroys" is not really the issue. I don't really view these discussions the way you think I am implying.

          The issue is that Kreeft's atheist puts forward the most cartoonish objections to faith - that truth isn't real or objective, and then has his patient catholic poke holes in those arguments.

          I could see this as being a good article if there had been a significant amount of solipsism in the combox discussions.

          ~Jesse Webster

        • Ben Posin

          Brandon:

          I think I'm not the only atheist here a bit surprised that you don't see this article as something of an insulting charicature of an atheist in dialogue. But on reflection, I'd like to think that if it struck you this way, you would not have posted it in the first place.

          So here's my question: now that you've seen the reaction here and had a little time to think about it, do you think "Sal's" answers are the sorts of things you would expect the atheist commenters here to say? If Dr. Kreeft came here and spoke the part of Chris, is this how you think it would go? Because I think it's a lot more likely that "Chris" would be the one to realize his position is unsound.

          • To explain why this seems so insulting, try turning the tables and imagining a dialog that went like this:

            Believer: If there is no God, then who made the world? It can't just appear from nothing!

            Skeptic: But then who made God?

            Believer: Darn. You've got me there.

            Surely theists would object to this crude caricature, and if it were posted as an article here, they'd object that they've shown they do have replies to that (even if atheists disagree with those replies), and it's insulting to offer up this exchange as if it were somehow relevant to the level of their discourse here.

        • Susan

          A far better strategy is to focus on whether each person's claims are true, and if so, what implications they bring

          Not if one of the persons is a strawman.

          If there is an example of the strawman fallacy that is better than this, I'm not sure I've run into it.

        • Geena Safire

          Brandon, it may be that what many of the folks are saying here is that you've successfully attracted a different level of atheist to your site, but sometimes, as with this article, you are offering us baby food instead of something we can really sink our teeth into. You might want to let your authors know that, for your site, they can write for more serious folks than the /r/atheism set. It might inspire them to develop original material of a different caliber just for Strange Notions, and then to participate in our dialogue and get so e serious feedback that could improve their apologetics game.

    • WhiteRock

      They're not putting words into atheists mouths. I'm married to one and I can say that much of what Dr. Kreeft wrote on behalf of the fictional atheist, my husband has said straight to my face (especially the "objective/subjective truth dodging/changing question). Many really do have the attitude, "well golly, I never thought about that before". Maybe this article is reaching out to those who, while sincerely wanting to think about it, either have not (for whatever reason) or don't know how.

      • The problem is, I would say that neither you husband nor dr Kreeft are addressing anything like the best atheist position. It is like when a new atheist makes some point here and we get the common response "that's not what Catholics believe"

        We can understand this kind of of mistake from commenters, but Dr Kreeft is a professional apologist, he should be addressing the best atheist positions not the fringe.

        I've been reading about atheism for several years now and I have never encountered the position that "truth is subjective".

        • Vasco Gama

          Actually it is more common than you seem to suspect (to find someone arguing that truth is subjective).

          EDDIT (added)
          In spite of some people claim that truth in logic seems to have a special status (a sort of undisputable truth)

          • Sure, I think this is easily resolved by clarifying whether we are speaking ontologically or epistemologically.

            I think if something is true it is true independent of any individual opinion, ontologically.

            Epistemically, a view that anything is true, indeed any position at all is an individual opinion and to some extent subjective. Even the temperature that water boils and so on.

          • Vasco Gama

            I don't agree with your view on the epistemological perspective of truth you propose (I support a realist perspective).

          • So... you are saying you have some insight into what is absolutely true which could not be mistaken, even if you are in the Matrix?

          • Vasco Gama

            No, I don't. I merely say that I can know that something is absolutely true. I say that I might think that something is true, and presume that I might think that I have a good justification to hold that something is true, but in fact I may be wrong about that justification, and what I presumed to be truth can be false.

            EDDIT (added)
            not worried with the matrix issue, I would have to see it in the same way, if that was possible.

      • Paul Boillot

        @bvogt1:disqus

        "Many really do have the attitude, "well golly, I never thought about that before"."

        Is that how you're running your site, Brandon? Are we allowed to start brining in anecdotes about what religious people in our lives have done/said?

    • Andre Boillot

      As much as I agree with what you're saying, I think we can both guess what Brandon's response will be :)

    • I actually do not have a problem with people stating their impressions about the other camp, this is the place to dispel these.

    • "At this point I'd have thought the moderators realized they got into trouble every time they started announcing what atheists believe, but here they go a step further and actually put words into an atheist's mouth!"

      Which atheist did Dr. Kreeft put words into? What was his (or their) name(s)?

      This was a fictitious dialogue, a fact clearly stated at the beginning, concerning two fictitious people. Nobody claimed that Sal represents all atheists (or any atheist in particular.)

      Unfortunately, by your overly sensitive criteria--which seems to discourage anyone representing a person or group through fiction in order to make a broader point--all fictitious dialogues (and thus all novels, plays, etc.) would be out of bounds. By this measure, all fiction puts words into somebody else's mouth.

      • Good lord, Brandon, you're way off base with this. First off, Sal is the name of the representative atheist, but you know that.

        As for your notion that I'm saying it's inherently bad to put words in a character's mouth, thus banning all fiction, that's not what I'm saying at all -- not even a tiny bit.

        I'm saying that the theists here at Strange Notions have a bad history of mangling what atheists think, and should by this time have learned to think twice before putting words into an atheist's mouth (or at least the moderators should think twice before posting such pieces).. This is not a condemnation of all fiction very written, but a very specific and weary desire that Strange Notions' theist article writers stop caricaturing atheists.

        Furthermore, putting words into the mouth a character is fine when done well, and ill-advised when done poorly. That's not a controversial notion. And it's done poorly here, unless the goal is to create an insulting parody of how atheists think, in which case it was done quite well.

        • Vasco Gama

          This is a fictional dialogue (the atheist is supposed to be a hypothetical individual, that doesn't exist, neither represents the collective of atheistic perspectives, or any possible reasonable overlap of those).

          EDDIT (added)
          Of course that the dialogue pretends to show the inconsistencies of that hypothetical person.

          • If the fictional character isn't meant to represent any reasonable overlap of atheist perspectives, then what is the point of this piece?

          • Vasco Gama

            What it is. The dialogue between a theist ("Chris") which holds the positions that the fictional character seems to hold and the other one, one atheist named Sal. In the same sense that you don't feel well characterized by Sal I also don't feel well characterized by Chris.

            Of course one could also imagine a dialogue where an atheist (let me call him Joe) could convincingly argue with a theist (say Bill) and present a better argument. It is possible to imagine that. Here it would require a little more imagination to consider that such a hypothetical dialogue would be posted at Strange Notions.

            .

      • Danny Getchell

        Kreeft could have removed all confusion by naming his Catholic and his atheist "Salviati" and "Simplicio" respectively.

    • Timothy Reid

      I am not an atheist, but I do agree that this presentation gives the impression that the atheist hasn't considered things before. I don't know what the answers would be from the atheist who has already considered these things, however. I do agree with the questioning about loving people. One needs faith for that.

  • David Nickol

    First, apologists say things like, "You don't use the scientific method to understand people you love, for instance, any more than you use love to understand math or chemistry." However, are the fundamental questions asked by a skeptic exploring religion the same kinds of questions you would ask to understand the people you love? "Does my wife really love me?" is a very different question from, "Does my wife exist?" On the one hand, apologists argue that religious belief is more about love and trust and the kinds of understandings and interactions that go on between persons. On the other hand, they do not hesitate to pull things like the Kalam Cosmological Argument from their bag of tricks. While it is a philosophical argument and not a scientific one, it is certainly not the kind of argument that has to do with lover or trust.

    Christ says, "I'm not trying to be clever. I'm trying to show you that your faith in science isn't scientific. It's a faith."

    When it comes to apologetics, this is one of my pet peeves. It takes advantage of the many different meanings of the word faith or the many different kinds of faith that exist. The Catechism says the following:

    153 When St. Peter confessed that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the living God, Jesus declared to him that this revelation did not come "from flesh and blood", but from "my Father who is in heaven" Faith is a gift of God, a supernatural virtue infused by him. "Before this faith can be exercised, man must have the grace of God to move and assist him; he must have the interior helps of the Holy Spirit, who moves the heart and converts it to God, who opens the eyes of the mind and 'makes it easy for all to accept and believe the truth.'" [Italics in the original]

    I don't think it is accurate to call "faith in science" a "faith" if that faith is in any way being equated with religious faith. The Catechism goes on to say the following:

    159 Faith and science: "Though faith is above reason, there can never be any real discrepancy between faith and reason. Since the same God who reveals mysteries and infuses faith has bestowed the light of reason on the human mind, God cannot deny himself, nor can truth ever contradict truth." "Consequently, methodical research in all branches of knowledge, provided it is carried out in a truly scientific manner and does not override moral laws, can never conflict with the faith, because the things of the world and the things of faith derive from the same God. The humble and persevering investigator of the secrets of nature is being led, as it were, by the hand of God in spite of himself, for it is God, the conserver of all things, who made them what they are."

    Note that the Catechism doesn't say religious faith is one kind of faith and science is another, or that faith in science is somehow like religious faith. It sometimes seems to me like apologists are trying to knock science down a peg by saying, "Yes, all we religious people have to go on is faith, but those of you who believe in the scientific method are just as poorly off as we, since you also are only operating on faith." But of course "faith" in the scientific method is very different from religious faith.

    I think most of us who comment here are much more advanced than either Chris or Sal, so I don't know that the OP will get us much of anywhere.

    • "But of course "faith" in the scientific method is very different from religious faith."

      I agree that both are different--as in any non-identical comparison--but they are not *very* different. Both are examples of "reasoned trust." For example, scientists have faith in the fact that the world is intelligible and that their findings correspond to reality (as opposed to a fictional world fed into our minds.) They have to assume both facts on faith.

      • Argon

        I agree that there are base metaphysical axioms in any proposition. However, I would not say that base religious and empirical 'faiths' are "not *very* different".

        Empirical or 'scientific' understanding is iterative, provisional and generally much more subject to testing than religious propositions. I would argue that in scientific work we assume that there is an outside reality that operates with underlying regularities or law-like interactions. But this works even if this was all a fictional world fed into our minds. As long as the 'feed' is internally consistent and we have memories that work, we'll likely locate and characterize the regularities.

        I wouldn't argue that scientific reasoning can answer every question or that it's the best possible means of understanding the world. There are limits but in its domain it has a better track record that any other process we know. It's also potentially compatible with some religious accounts of the world. I would say, 'orthogonal' in the sense of 'non overlapping magisteria', I would never attempt to use science to refute religious beliefs (excepting perhaps, Creationism and the like that make specific claims about the physical world). Philosophy, of which science is a sub-discipline, has also been a decent guide to the world or at least thinking about ways of thinking but many of the metaphysical questions like 'is there a God' or 'how would a God act', remain perpetually in the realm of the non-confirmable and hard to 'plant' in anything reliable. One can't just start with the notion that the world is intelligible and get very far with the god of the philosophers.

        Aside: I can see no reason why religious faith requires that our experiences not be illusions fed into our minds. That might actually get around part of the problem of evil. If there are no other 'real beings' in our Matrix-like existences then we can't do them harm -- We can only hurt ourselves. Further, if God is the creator and sustainer of the universe, isn't that somewhat like living in an artificial world presented to us by an outside influence?

      • David Nickol

        They have to assume both facts on faith.

        There is fundamental disagreement between atheists and Catholics that comes fairly close to preventing a discussion of religious faith from getting off the ground. It is Catholic dogma that the existence of God can be known by reason alone. Consequently, faith for Catholics is not an assumption that there is a God. Before faith comes knowing the fact that there is a God. Getting the "gift of faith" for Catholics is something that comes after arriving at the conclusion that God exists. And exercising the "gift of faith" is something that cannot be done without supernatural help from God.

        The atheist does not believe the existence of God can be proven by reason alone or by any other means. So the first step of Catholic apologists is to logically prove the existence of God to atheists, which the atheists don't believe can be done, although there are occasionally people who move from atheism to theism because of logical arguments.

        But faith as it is explained in the Catechism only comes after a person has acknowledged the existence of God. Faith for Catholics is gaining more knowledge (and trust) of the God who is already known, by reason, to exist.

        It seems to me that the assumptions of science are everyday human assumptions—the world is intelligible, inductive reasoning works —that are fundamental to human existence but which were not incorporated into a systematic method of gaining knowledge) until very roughly the time of Galileo.

        • Jim (hillclimber)

          David, what is the basis for your thinking that, 'Getting the "gift of faith" for Catholics is something that comes after arriving at the conclusion that God exists.'?

          The teaching that you cite, that "the existence of God can be known by reason alone" does not imply that anything precedes faith. To put any stock in "reason alone", one must first have faith in reason. Faith therefore precedes reason. I think the claim of the teaching that you cite is that this minimalist faith (i.e. faith in reason only) is sufficient to lead to a fuller faith, including faith that God exists. (Personally, I did not come to faith in the existence of God in this way, and I am not volunteering to defend the teaching, but this is my reading of what the teaching means.)

          I would be interested to know if I am somehow at odds with Church teaching on this point, but I can't imagine how anyone would suppose that knowledge (of any kind) precedes faith.

          • David Nickol

            To put any stock in "reason alone", one must first have faith in reason. Faith therefore precedes reason.

            I am going by the definition of faith in the Catechism of the Catholic Church. Faith is not acceptance of something that can't be proven, and so "faith in reason" does not make any sense (using the Catholic definition of faith). To me, the Catholic concept of faith seems more like "trust and confidence." Faith does have an element belief in it, but it is not (as I see it) belief God exists. It is belief that God has revealed himself plus belief in what he has revealed about himself.

            I should not have made it sound like discovery of God through reason happens (or must happen) chronologically before faith. Certainly the vast majority of believers are raised to believe that God exists and to believe certain things about him. But it seems to me that some belief in God, whether arrived at by reason or accepted as a result of indoctrination, must logically precede faith. Since faith has a large element of "trust and confidence," belief that God exists must logically precede that trust and confidence.

            Here's the pertinent paragraph from the Catechism, although it would be better to quote the whole section.

            153 When St. Peter confessed that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the living God, Jesus declared to him that this revelation did not come "from flesh and blood", but from "my Father who is in heaven". Faith is a gift of God, a supernatural virtue infused by him. "Before this faith can be exercised, man must have the grace of God to move and assist him; he must have the interior helps of the Holy Spirit, who moves the heart and converts it to God, who opens the eyes of the mind and 'makes it easy for all to accept and believe the truth.'" [Italics in the original.]

            Having faith in God is like—in fact, is—having faith in a person. And it is much different to say, "I have faith in person X," than it is to say, "I have faith that reason will yield the correct answer," or, "I have faith that science will fully explain consciousness in materialistic terms." Faith in God, it seems to me, is similar to the attitude small children have toward their parents or the attitude of followers toward a charismatic and superb leader.

            All of that is not what I personally believe faith to be, but rather what I believe the teaching of the Catholic Church to be about faith.

            It seems to me there are serious problems with the idea of faith as a supernatural gift and the exercising of it. I don't think there is anything fundamentally different between the mature faith of a Catholic and the mature faith of a Jew, Hindu, Muslim, Buddhist, Mormon, or any other religion. It seems to me that members of other religions believe in their god or gods in exactly the same way that Catholic believe in God, so if we are to believe Catholics have a supernatural gift that enables them to believe (correctly) in the "true" God, does God give a supernatural gift of faith to people of other religions to enable them to believe in a "false" God?

          • Jim (hillclimber)

            I agree that "faith" is correctly thought of as "trust and confidence", but I don't see how that sets it apart so completely from "acceptance of something that cannot be proven".

            Maybe I missing the distinction that you are trying to make, so let me elaborate my perspective a bit with respect to "faith in reason".

            I have trust and confidence in reason as a path to truth, even though I could never prove that reason leads to objective truth. (As I'm sure you realize, I can't use reason to determine whether reason is informative about objective reality. It is only once I have trust and confidence that reason tells me something about reality that I can then use reason to learn about reality.) So I am both accepting of reason without proof, and I am willing to place my trust and confidence in reason. Moreover, I have no objections if this is described as a childlike belief, as indeed that is exactly how I experience it. Without this childlike faith I would be totally lost.

            It seems to me that "faith in reason as a path to objective truth" is itself a supernatural gift from God, one that apparently not all people receive. Many people (most of them not checking this web-site) go about life as though reason were merely a useful tool to prolong survival and increase pleasure. Theirs is a "natural" faith in reason, as it is reinforced by replication of their natural subjective experiences. But to believe that reason actually tells you about objective reality, that (to me) is a supernatural gift.

            To be honest, I don't see that there is a fundamental difference in "faith" as in, "I have faith in person X", and "faith" as in, "I have faith that reason will yield the (objectively) correct answer". The flavor of those experiences of those two experiences is different, but "faith" means the same thing to me in either case. It is in both cases a trust, possibly "childlike", possibly informed by some data, but unverifiable in either case.

            I would like to address the point about other religions as well, but this message is already outrageously long, so let me save that one for another day.

          • Jim (hillclimber)

            Speaking for myself - and I think this is consonant with Catholic doctrine - I don't think of Jews, Hindus, Muslims or Mormons as "believing in a false God". I believe that their understandings of God are incomplete and perhaps (in some cases) even incorrect in certain respects, but that doesn't mean they worship false Gods. They worship the same God I do. Even for a polytheist who refers to God in the plural - there again I would characterize that as an errant understanding of "what God is like", rather than a failure to worship the true God. I do definitely believe that followers of other religious paths have received faith in God(s) as a supernatural gift from the one true God. Their reception of that supernatural gift of faith does not imply that they have perfect understanding of God, just as my faith in Jesus Christ does not imply that I have perfect understanding of Jesus Christ (I'm certain that I don't).

  • David Nickol

    Since Chris is a Catholic, he no doubt wants Sal to be openminded about exploring God as Catholics see him. But if course if Sal really wants to be open to exploring the existence of God or some other ultimate spiritual reality, he must be open to considering Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism, Mormonism, and a number of other religions that claim to provide answers to ultimate questions. Why assume that if a god or gods exist, it has to be the Christian God?

    • Moussa Taouk

      I dare say that's not the assumption to begin with. The initial step would be the possibility. The next step would be the investigation. The final step would be the recognition that God has infiltrated the world in the person of Jesus.

      • Susan

        dare say that's not the assumption to begin with. The initial step would be the possibility. The next step would be the investigation. The final step would be the recognition that God has infiltrated the world in the person of Jesus.

        You've just ended with the assumption without showing us the steps that would get you there.

        This is how believers in other gods do it too.

        • Moussa Taouk

          Hey, you got EIGHT likes for this post! I got 4 dislikes for my rant about people complaining about the article. New record! Haha.

          I did show you the steps. "Possibility", then "investigation", then "recognition". Ofcourse each of those contains further internal steps.

          The point about other gods... well, that comes under the second step: investigation. I agree with David. An honest seeker SHOULD investigate the possibility of other gods.

          I'm basically simply agreeing that the God as preached by Christians shouldn't be assumed to be the correct understanding of God unless that idea has been investigated.

          Susan, we disagree about a whole bunch of things, but I'm sure this is actually a point we agree on.

      • Michael Murray

        I dare say that's not the assumption to begin with. The initial step would be the possibility. The next step would be the investigation. The final step would be the recognition that God has infiltrated the world in the person of Jesus.

        Isn't the final step convincing us that the Catholic Church is correct and not some other version of Christianity? I think the Catholic Church is only 50% of Christianity. Why aren't one of the others right and the Catholic Church wrong ? The divinity of Jesus doesn't imply the correctness of the Catholic Church.

        • Moussa Taouk

          Michael, if we can agree that there is a God of some sorts we'd be making massive headway. Haha.

          As to the Catholic Church vs other Christian denominations, it's a seperate discussion. One to be had between quibbling brethren! :)

          • jakael02

            And after the label of Catholic is identified on a person, then convincing each other that great levels of holiness is the only key to greater unity and peace on earth.

          • Michael Murray

            So if it turns out Islam is correct and the Catholic Church wrong that would be OK with you ?

          • Moussa Taouk

            That would shock the pants off me, and it would not be ok with me in the sense that it would be far from my preference if that were the case. But ultimately I would assent to the Truth if that were sufficiently demonstrated to be the case.

  • For me, love is a function of experience with a person. What is being proposed here, that we first love God, then use this love to determine that he exists?

    • David Nickol

      I am not sure whether that is what is being proposed here, but it seems to me it is, in effect, often what religious people propose to skeptics. I would imagine that if you go through the motions of being religiously observant (e.g., pray regularly, read religious literature, attend religious services) you might very well come find yourself adapting to that way of life and coming to believe in it. That in no way suggests that the religion you adopt is true.

      • Indeed, it seems to be a way to convince yourself, not for God to convince you.

      • Argon

        Indeed, it can't be true, given the number of religious faiths humans have tried.

        • MichaelNewsham

          Shorthand it as the Manti Te'o Argument.

    • Moussa Taouk

      I think what is being proposed is along these lines:

      Scientific enquiry is good, but it must be restricted to scientifically verifiable matters. That it's no good asking for scientific evidence for something that is not accessible to the scientific method.

      God is not accessible to the scientific method. But He is accessible by other means.

      And the invitation is to open one's mind to the possibility of accessing a reality that is outside the scope of the scientific method, namely the spiritual realm.

      The analogy of loving another person is more of a picture of how one might access the reality of God than the scientific method.

      • Susan

        But He is accessible by other means.

        By what means?

        How reliable are those means?

        • Moussa Taouk

          Man, you're full of good question. I might start calling you Socrates!

          Let me first clarify "accessible":
          - God isn't accessible in the sense that He becomes a subject for us experiment with (He is immaterial, so this is impossible).
          - God isn't accessible in the sense of becoming tangible to our 5 senses. (He is immaterial).
          - God isn't accessible in the sense of being contained intellectually by our minds in the same way that our minds can contain all there is to know about an every-day object (He is infinite and our minds are finite).

          - He is accessible in the sense of the awareness or realisation of immaterial Presense usually brought about by contemplation (and sometimes meditation).
          - He is accessible in the sense of awe... the means is usually tremendous beauty.
          - He is accessible in our fellow man, by means of love.
          - He is accessible in the Bible... or at least His will / revelation to us can be deduced from the Bible.
          - He is accessible in Holy Communion in the fullest sense.

          "How reliable are those means?" - Depends.

          To one with faith, very reliable. To one without faith... perhaps food for thought, perhaps questionable.

      • Michael Murray

        And the invitation is to open one's mind to the possibility of accessing a reality that is outside the scope of the scientific method, namely the spiritual realm.

        Do you have any evidence that what you call the spiritual realm is anything other than patterns in the physical structure of your brain?

        Michael

        • Vasco Gama

          Is there any evidence that it is (or is it a matter of faith)?

          • Michael Murray

            Is there any evidence that it is (or is it a matter of faith)?

            No it's not a matter of faith. It's the simplest assumption following Friar William of Occam's advice not to multiply entities unnecessarily. It's also a matter of experience that reductionism and materialism have been enormously successful in understanding the world around us. They haven't failed yet.

            So the sensible thing, based on that experience, is to start with the assumption that spiritual experiences and the rest of consciousness are patterns in the brain. Call it software running on the brain if you like although I'm a little wary of the brain is a computer analogy.

            Personally if this assumption turns out to be false I would find that really exciting. Not least because I not particularly thrilled by the fact that all the evidence we have points to death meaning annihilation of self. But any desire I might have for immortality of self does't change the facts about reality.

            Michael

          • Vasco Gama

            «No it's not a matter of faith. It's the simplest assumption following Friar William of Occam's advice not to multiply entities unnecessarily. It's also a matter of experience that reductionism and materialism have been enormously successful in understanding the world around us. They haven't failed yet.»

            It is a matter of faith, as much I understand what faith is, and if you search you can clearly assign it to what is defined as faith.

            Occam’s advice is sensible and it a matter of common sense turned into a metaphysical principle, and not more than that.

            I agree with you that « As also a matter of experience that reductionism and materialism have been enormously successful in understanding the world around us.», this success however doesn’t imply that one must be irrational and hold unreasonable expectations on the capabilities of reductive materialism (RM). There is plenty of stuff in reality that RM doesn’t account, or that it is quite difficult to expect that it produces reasonable explanations. I also have a strong faith in the capabilities of RM, and I think it will provide better and better explanations about the material reality. This faith is not so much based in the recent progress of RM, but much more in the my perception that the reality is intelligible and that we are able to perceive the order in the world, it is a philosophical presumption (based on the perception of reality) and it is not the result of a shallow enthusiasm concerning the recent success of RM.

            In spite my believe that there is a correlation between our mid and our subjective experiences (cognition, consciousness and thinking) and the brain activity, my perception is that we are trying to understand it, and we are addressing it at a very elemental level (despite my personal belief that this is a valid way to obtain a better knowledge). And to take seriously any of the findings of RM, and to accept that it might be reasonable to think that it is all we know, and all we might know, it is absurd on itself. As if it was remotely sensible that we should ignore whatever knowledge we have of ourselves, derived from philosophy, is completely irrational.

            «So the sensible thing, based on that experience, is to start with the assumption that spiritual experiences and the rest of consciousness are patterns in the brain. Call it software running on the brain if you like although I'm a little wary of the brain is a computer analogy.»

            I really fail to realize any meaning in your presumption that “spiritual experiences and the rest of consciousness are patterns in the brain” or “software running on the brain”. Or what you find sensible to derive from these poor analogies. I can only guess that they are really meaningful to you, and that you might find some comfort in them.

            Maybe you would be so kind in explaining what does this relates with the desires you might have for immortality?

          • josh

            Ockham's Razor is an epistemological, not metaphysical, principle.

            Aside from that, your position amounts to "I'm going to go with my gut, and ignore all evidence which might prompt me to re-examine my assumptions." This position does not have a winning historical record.

          • Vasco Gama

            You cam claim whatever you want about Ockahm's Razor, as to me it is just common sense. (as nothing is valid by its simplicity alone).

            Please show me evidence, I beg you.

          • josh

            I can claim whatever I want, but I prefer to claim things that are true, or at least probable. The distinction between an epistemological and a metaphysical principle is important I think and I've come across a number of people who make the mistake when talking about Ockham's razor.

            Anyhow, since you begged! You 'fail to realize any meaning in [the idea that consciousness is' "software running on the brain". All available evidence suggests that this is in fact a very useful comparison. The brain behaves like hardware, it has large-scale physical structure and identifiable modules. 'Thoughts' seem to correspond to microscopic patterns in that 'hardware'. If you damage the hardware the patterns go away. There are few phenomena we have more evidence for than the fact that dead people are gone, their minds no longer existent. You can influence the 'software' in broad and subtle ways by messing with the chemical and physical environment they take place in. Drastic alterations in the brain, e.g. cutting the corpus callosum, having a pipe driven through it, losing areas associated with memory formation to disease and such, all lead to dramatic effects on what we would identify as the personality and thought processes of an individual.

            There are all sorts of ways to 'trick' the brain via optical illusions and these are based on knowing the details of how the brain processes visual information and the mechanical basis of vision. Similarly, there are ways to influence peoples' behavior and perception by choice of words and associations.

            Then there is the research showing that the act of deciding and the decision made can be predicted in advance of the decider's being consciously aware of it by brain scanning techniques. Then there is the utility of evolution to explain features of human thought and behavior, like over-consumption of sugar.

            Overall, there is the basic fact that not one thing about human thought and internal experience has been shown to conflict with a picture of physical causation. (This is where Ockham's Razor comes in.) That's not to say that we have an answer to every question you could ask, just that no conflict is evident.

            Historically, we keep finding that the people who take 'reductive materialism' seriously keep being right, while the people who rely on 'knowledge derived from philosophy' keep getting things wrong. But of course, a little philosophy will show you that, whatever you may think is 'self-evident' or irrefutably derived via philosophy, you could always be deceiving yourself. Scientists are those who take this observation seriously.

          • Vasco Gama

            Josh,

            I appreciated your response, but I asked for evidence, not a mere profession of faith. As I said before I have also faith on RM, in spite of not sharing your enthusiasm.

            Besides no one suggested that the brain is useless (or anything like that), or that it doesn’t take part on our mind processes, it is natural that there must be brain activity and it must be related to whatever goes on our mind.

            «people who take 'reductive materialism' seriously keep being right»

            I am not so sure by what you mean with that, if you mean people that take RM seriously is the same as people that accept any nonsense that is supported in name of RM, or if you mean people who consider critically the claims in name of RM, or … , whatever you claim it is not clear, nor what it is it that «we historically.

          • josh

            I listed a lot of evidence above and made no professions of faith. Please be substantive or concede the point.

            "...it is natural that there must be brain activity and it must be related to whatever goes on our mind."

            Well...no. Ancient people had little to no idea that the brain was the cause of the mind. Hence Aristotle thought the heart was the seat of intelligence. If the mind is some kind of distinct thing from the physical brain then there is no need for the physical brain, the mind could just interact directly with the body. (For whatever reason God would want to create a physical body in the first place. How the dualist interaction of the mind (or rational soul if you prefer) with the physical is supposed to take place is never specified by non-physicalists.)

            Moreover, the mind and brain aren't just related, I gave you evidence that the brain is the cause of the mind.

            "I am not so sure by what you mean with that,..."
            I mean what I presume you mean by the 'recent successes' of RM, which would seem to include the last 500 years or so of scientific progress. You are communicating with me via computer thanks to those successes.

          • Vasco Gama

            Josh,

            You provided no evidence. Sorted unsupported proclamations are no evidence.

            Whatever you think ancient people believe one day, is of no interest.

            «I mean what I presume you mean by the 'recent successes' of RM, which would seem to include the last 500 years or so of scientific progress. You are communicating with me via computer thanks to those successes.»

            I deeply apretiate that sucess, it is extraordinary. More even as it allow us to be able to comunicate. however I will not get hysterical on that.

          • josh

            "You provided no evidence. Sorted unsupported proclamations are no evidence."

            Vasco, please argue honestly or go away. I provided you evidence: mutually observable features of the universe that support a particular point of view. I think what you are asking for, (as a way of avoiding the argument), are links or documentation. This is perfectly fine if you aren't sure about the claimed evidence. Maybe you haven't seen the study about detecting decisions before they are made for example:

            http://www.mpg.de/567905/pressRelease20080414

            But I would expect a moderately educated individual to be aware of much of the evidence I mentioned. Unless optical illusions and death are new to you. :) Also, in addition to chatting like this, RM science has given us 'Google', a tool that will help you check out claims you are unsure of.

            For a nice overview of some of these interesting phenomena, I can recommend the book 'Incognito: The Secret Lives of the Brain' by David Eagleman.

            "Whatever you think ancient people believe one day, is of no interest."

            If you don't understand why it is of interest then you aren't following your own conversation.

          • Vasco Gama

            Josh,

            I am arguing honestly (or at least trying to).

            Please tell me one (no more) evidence that you think you provided me (and that I failed to acknowledge). As it was the only thing I asked you.

            Your (or mine) devotion to RM is not very relevant, I always thought that it was the case I don’t pretend to alter your thought, your disposition, or your enthusiasm. I have no concern about that, it is OK.

            Don’t expect me to be a “moderately educated individual”, as it might be the case that I fail to be up to your expectations, the possibility that I might understand what you trying to say is enough.

            I will try to see the link or the book (at least what is it about, can’t promise you more than that). Thank you for the information.

            The matter of what ancient people thought is irrelevant to this point (but we might address it in some other occasion). The fact that in the past people had less knowledge in particular concerning the comprehension of the material reality (brought up by science) is obvious and comprehensible. There is no need to introduce further complications on this matter.

          • Michael Murray

            It is a matter of faith, as much I understand what faith is, and if you search you can clearly assign it to what is defined as faith.

            Perhaps we disagree on what faith is. I don't think assuming something will behave in a certain way in the future based on how it has behaved in the past is faith. But I am assuming that faith on this website means religious faith.

            There is plenty of stuff in reality that RM doesn’t account, or that it is quite difficult to expect that it produces reasonable explanations.

            What kinds of things do you have in mind ?

            And to take seriously any of the findings of RM, and to accept that it might be reasonable to think that it is all we know, and all we might know, it is absurd on itself.

            What is absurd about making the assumption that we will be able to understand spiritual experiences and the rest of consciousness entirely as activity of the brain until we have convincing evidence that is not the case ? That is really the point of Occam's advice is it not ? If I go out in a few minutes and find my car not in the driveway do I immediately ring the police or do I go and see if my son is not in his room ? Surely I pick the most plausible and likely explanation first.

            Maybe you would be so kind in explaining what does this relates with the desires you might have for immortality?

            For me the assumption that we will be able to understand spiritual experiences and the rest of consciousness entirely as activity in the brain means that when the brain decays consciousness disappears and is gone for ever.

          • Vasco Gama

            «Perhaps we disagree on what faith is.»

            Faith is a believe, or a “strong belief or trust in someone or something” (as you might find in a dictionary), that was the sense that I was using for faith.

            « What kinds of things do you have in mind ?»

            Many other stuff that composes our objective reality (not material), that is typically addressed in philosophy and metaphysics, moral and ethics, theology, aesthetics, economics, art, politics, law, psychology, sociology, …

            «What is absurd about making the assumption that we will be able to understand spiritual experiences and the rest of consciousness entirely as activity of the brain until we have convincing evidence that is not the case ?»

            First the problem of spiritual experiences derives from their inherently subjective nature, implying that in order for those experiences can be accessed through RM they must be “objectified”, in a sense that objective criteria and parameters which is still a metaphysical (and philosophical) problem, and there is no understanding as how that might be possible. The nature of subjective nature of conscientiousness has been a traditionally a very hard problem in the very same sense, and has been long debated both in philosophy and RM with very little consensual views on the subject. In the last years there has been a consistent development of neuroscience on the study of the brain/mind related matters, but the real knowledge that has been obtained is clearly limited, although it is significant. You can proclaim that you are very optimistic about RM contributions on this matter; however that is entirely a matter of faith (as there is very long way to go until we can obtain a credible explanation, which might deserve a serious consideration).

            «If I go out in a few minutes and find my car not in the driveway do I immediately ring the police or do I go and see if my son is not in his room ? Surely I pick the most plausible and likely explanation first.»

            As you described you choose what you think to be the most plausible explanation first, not the simple, not the most attractive. But I fail to see your point here, unless you are suggesting that unlike you the people that might disagree with you might prefer other explanations besides the ones that look to them the most plausible and likely explanations first (not very sound, maybe you should avoid to go there).

            «For me the assumption that we will be able to understand spiritual experiences and the rest of consciousness entirely as activity in the brain means that when the brain decays consciousness disappears and is gone for ever.»

            I will not try do demonstrate that it is not the case (I really don’t have any argument you might accept), and for sake of simplicity (Ockham’s Razor) I will not do it.

          • Michael Murray

            Many other stuff that composes our objective reality (not material), that is typically addressed in philosophy and metaphysics, moral and ethics, theology, aesthetics, economics, art, politics, law, psychology, sociology, …

            Ideas are in your head and my head. Take away all the people on earth and there are no ideas.

            Michael

          • Vasco Gama

            «Ideas are in your head and my head. Take away all the people on earth and there are no ideas.»

            so? if you choose to ignore reality, it becomes ilusory?

          • Michael Murray

            so? if you choose to ignore reality, it becomes illusory, or magically non-existent?

            No I'm talking about ideas not reality. Six million years ago before there where any self-aware thinking primates where was art, politics ...

          • Vasco Gama

            and what exactly is the relevance of that, humans need knowledge to cope with reality.

          • David Nickol

            and what exactly is the relevance of that, humans need knowledge to cope with reality

            If morality is objective,didn't it have to exist before human beings came on the scene? Or is morality objective in the way that one might say the rules of chess are objective? Certainly the rules of chess exist in some sense of the word, and they are not subjective. But does something that exists only as ideas in the minds of humans exist objectively? If so, then it's possible to say "It is morally wrong to murder" is objectively true (without God), because it is an idea that exists in the vast majority of minds.

          • Vasco Gama

            Morality is objective (much in the same way as truth is objective), I don’t know if it makes much sense to speak of human morality before the human existence to you (to me it does, but I would doubt that was the case for you). But if it the case that it makes sense to you, such as to consider that the universe creation (or it’s unexplainable existence) had to lead to the appearance of humans. Then yes, you might say that besides objective it is eternal. On the case of Chess it is different as the laws of Chess only exist as much as the contingent fact that the game of Chess was invented by humans. The “objective” qualifier only refers to the fact that it does not dependent on the beliefs or particular dispositions of the individuals.

            Regardless of believing or not in God’s existence, humans consider that «It is morally wrong to murder», and that is what makes it objective.

          • Michael Murray

            You said that there was a part of reality that materialism couldn't be applied to. I asked what. You said (loosely) ideas. I said that ideas depended on people. You said did I mean that reality depending on my observing it. I said no and tried to explain that ideas depend on people. My argument is that before there were people there were no ideas.

          • Vasco Gama

            You didn't understand me correctly, when I mentioned “philosophy and metaphysics, moral and ethics, theology, aesthetics, economics, art, politics, law, psychology, sociology, …" it is not reducible to "ideas", all that is the result of our reasoning and our need to rationally comprehend reality.

            Before humans began to exist and there were in fact ideas produced by humans, the world already existed and it was governed by laws (what we call the laws of nature), and in fact we have successful been addressing past events, much before the appearance of humans, under that assumption.

          • Michael Murray

            There aren't really laws of nature that nature obeys. There are regularities that make nature predictable. The laws that describe those regularities are human inventions.

            all that is the result of our reasoning and our need to rationally comprehend reality

            Sure so fundamentally it exists in our brains.

          • Vasco Gama

            You are right, that is the way we able to understand the regularity of nature.

            "Sure so fundamentally it exists in our brains.", so what? are we presuming that colours cease to exist if you become blind?

          • Michael Murray

            "Sure so fundamentally it exists in our brains.", so what I are we presuming that colours cease to exist if you become blind?

            No. There is more than my brain. I imagine you would still keep seeing blue if I went blind. I'd also be able to think about blue in any case.

          • Vasco Gama

            I like to think that it would be the case.

        • Moussa Taouk

          What kind of evidence would suffice?

          • Michael Murray

            What kind of evidence would suffice?

            Anything would be a good start. But it depends on what you think is in this spiritual realm. My guess is that any spiritual experience involves some activity in the brain and I'd like some evidence for why I might think it was anything more than that ?

            Michael

          • Moussa Taouk

            Anything? Wow. Ok, that's easy. One time in QLD (Australia) I had such an incredible moment during prayer where I experienced something of the presence of God. It continues to be one of the fulcrums for my conviction.

            It did involve my brain. Actually it involved my whole body in a sense. It was through the cooperation of my material self that this thing happened. But it wasn't thought. It wasn't imagination. It was... I don't know how to say it... it was something like... illumination. I mean... UTTER and total awe. Incredible depth of peace. And JOY... oh my goodness, I can't describe the joy that flooded my soul.

            Honestly, I'm not making this up. I'm actually sharing with you a pretty profound moment in my life experience. It's something that brought such a richness to me, that I thought to myself, "if life is for any purpose other than to attain that kind of illumination of God's presence... then it's not worth the bother". Glory to God.

          • Michael Murray

            Thanks for sharing that. I don't doubt at all that you had this experience. I think if you do some research though you will find that kind of experience is common across a range of religions and even "non-religions" like Zen Buddhism. Profound though it is I don't see any reason not to assume it's just something the brain does in certain situations. There is no need to assume a spiritual realm.

          • Jim (hillclimber)

            Perhaps it is not helpful to speak about a spiritual realm, but it does seem necessary to use some sort of spiritual language to provide an adequate description. In saying, "it did involve my brain", I think Moussa is acknowledging the role that neuro-transmitters and neurons and so forth all played. He is just saying (I think) that that language, while correct, is insufficient to describe the totality of his experience. I don't think there is anyway we could *prove* that the language of physiology is insufficient to describe the totality of his subjective experience, but I would be willing to take him at his word on that point.

            I appreciate that similar experiences, e.g. those of Zen Buddhists, can be described in non-theistic language, however I suspect that a Zen Buddhist would also find it problematic if his experience were described in purely material terms. They have a spiritual language of their own to describe such things, and it is very exciting to me that some folks seem to be making headway in translating between Buddhist language and theistic language.

            A related point, borrowing loosely from something I read by Lorenzo Albacete, is that no one says, "My brain loves your brain". The "process of love" may be explicable at the physical level, but that doesn't convey the totality of the experience. (If it did, we might just as adequately say "This brain loves that brain".) There is something more to be conveyed, so we come up with language that operates at a non-physical level, the language of owning our subjective experiences.

          • Michael Murray

            Have you read Oliver Sachs recent book Hallucinations ? A scarily, fascinating account of the things that the brain can make you see and hear which aren't really there. One of the quite common problems is people who hallucinate people who are the wrong size, often smaller. Does that mean there really are fairies ? If you don't take that as evidence of fairies why would you take someones personal religious experience as evidence of God ?

          • Jim (hillclimber)

            Your fairy question is an tough one, so let me start with an "easier" topic, that of standard, vanilla mystical experiences. Then I'll see if I can extend my method to fairies.

            I am willing to give credence to mystical experiences such as Moussa's (and my own) only to the extent that they cohere with everything else that I experience, e.g. through rational reflection, aesthetic intuition, listening to the testimony of others, scientific experimentation, etc. To clarify, when I say "cohere", I don't mean, "fit neatly into my world view neatly like a puzzle piece", I mean something more like hearing a note in a song that doesn't seem to fit at first, but can later be seen to integral or even definitive for the rest of the song.

            As an counter-example, if I had a mystical vision in which God told me to cut down all of the oak trees in New England, I would be strongly inclined to dismiss this as my own delusion, because I can't conceive of how that could possibly fit with everything else that I think I understand about God through rational reflection and public discourse about God's revelations.

            Having said that much, I do think there is a considerable grey area. I think it is vey hard to tell sometimes whether "crazy" people are truly delusional or whether they are actually hearing notes in the song that just don't fit with our limited aesthetic sense of what the song should sound like. If fairy reports are indeed as common as your book suggests, and if those reports aren't clearly contrary to the totality of my understanding of God and nature, then I would be willing to give at least some provisional credence to those reports. Call me crazy :)

            (Side note - if you are looking for a great novel that explores another way the brain can mis-perceive reality, check out "The Echo Maker". Awesome book.)

          • Ignorant Amos

            As an counter-example, if I had a mystical vision in which God told me to cut down all of the oak trees in New England, I would be strongly inclined to dismiss this as my own delusion, because I can't conceive of how that could possibly fit with everything else that I think I understand about God through rational reflection and public discourse about God's revelations.

            Heaven forbid the Oaks get levelled...but then that doesn'r seem to be how Divine retribution works.

            Divine retribution is supernatural punishment of a person, a group of people, or all humanity by a deity in response to some human action. Many cultures have a story about how a deity exacted punishment on previous inhabitants of their land, causing their doom.

            Now those pesky Canaanites had it coming...or Abe's son...or witches...or homosexuals...or adulterers....or non believers...or those that follow other faiths...or those that disrespect Ma 'n' Pa....or the Benjaminites...or blasphemers...or the inhabitants of Lesham...or...or...or...well you get the picture, the Bible is replete with the delusional that can't conceive of how that could possibly fit with everything else that they think they understand about God through rational reflection and public discourse about God's revelations, but hey-hoo, as long as the Oaks are save, that seems rational enough to me. Unless the Bible is full of nonsense? Is it full of nonsense?

            Or perhaps you mean judicium divinum? Which results in an eternity of Hell, if one is lucky that is.

          • Jim (hillclimber)

            Your response is a bit hard to follow ... do you have the gift of glossolalia ?

            I can at least understand the question in your EDIT.

            If I had to guess, most of those languishing in prison for crimes that "God told them to do", never engaged in much of a public discourse about what they thought God was telling them to do. This is precisely why private interpretation of scripture is such a no-no in the Catholic world. We cross-check our understanding of God with each other.

          • Ignorant Amos

            Your response is a bit hard to follow ... do you have the gift of glossolalia ?

            I'll expand.

            Because you can't conceive of such scenario in which God would instruct you to cut down the Oaks of New England.are you saying your God would not instruct such a thing?

            Are you then to dismiss as a delusion such an instruction because you presume to know the mind of God?

            My point being, that such delusional instructions and far worse, were given to numerous characters throughout the Bible, yet were not dismissed.

            So how does the decision making process work when you think you hear your God talking to you and giving orders and how do you know when to dismiss it as delusion?

            I can at least understand the question in your EDIT.

            Tremendous.

            If I had to guess, most of those languishing in prison for crimes that "God told them to do", never engaged in much of a public discourse about what they thought God was telling them to do.

            Guessing isn't great, but anyway, believers are satisfied that Bible characters must have engaged in a lot of public discourse on what they thought God was telling them or is that a guess too?

            This is precisely why private interpretation of scripture is such a no-no in the Catholic world.

            I'm not talking about scripture and neither were you. I thought we were considering what is delusion and what is a bona fide instruction to do whatever from your God.

            When God instructed Abraham to sacrifice Issac, did Abraham hold a council to debate the rationale of the instruction? If not, why not? Would you follow the same instructions?

            We cross-check our understanding of God with each other.

            A sort of consensus then? Such divine ambiguity. I guess that is why the Christian religion is so schismatic, when the cross-checking doesn't satisfy a certain party, they are off to make up their own rules.

            I suppose we should all be grateful that the cross-checking of the understanding of God that you have with each other has improved over the centuries.

          • Jim (hillclimber)

            These are worthwhile and clearly stated questions now IA. I honestly appreciate the clarification.

            This is quite hypothetical (I'm not blaming you for that - I know I introduced this hypothetical scenario), but I suppose if it was ever blindingly clear that God was telling me to do some specific thing, then ... I guess I would do it? It's honestly hard for me to imagine, because my relationship with God has always been much more ambiguous than that. I feel God's presence, I feel Him strengthen me and calm me when times are tough, but so far He hasn't scheduled anything specific on my task list, so I don't know what that would be like. Your example with Abraham is a very good and challenging one. I can't imagine ever getting such a clear signal from God that I would attempt something so clearly offensive to reason and instinct and tradition and communal understanding. What can I say. I'm not Abraham.

            For more ambiguous communiques from God, I cross-check with others precisely because I don't presume to know the mind of God. I guess it is a sort of consensus, but not just a consensus with my immediate contemporaries. I would happily concede that there is ambiguity involved (how could there not be ambiguity, when we are not yet face to face with God), but anyone clearly out of step with scripture and tradition would have a lot of explaining to do before I would buy in.

            I am glad you are grateful that our cross-checking has improved over the centuries. I am too!

          • Ignorant Amos

            These are worthwhile and clearly stated questions now IA. I honestly appreciate the clarification.

            Sorry about that...I'm far less articulate than most here and don't always express what my brain is asking in an erudite manner. Especially when wine is added to the equation.

            Coupled with the fact that I come from the working class sectarian Christian backwaters of working class Belfast and prior to recognising I was atheist and educating myself on allied subjects, my religious experience came from a bigoted Protestant culture.

            So thank you very much for bearing with me.

            This is quite hypothetical (I'm not blaming you for that - I know I introduced this hypothetical scenario), but I suppose if it was ever blindingly clear that God was telling me to do some specific thing, then ... I guess I would do it?

            That is why I got confused, hypothetical and all as your example may have been. It seems to me that when some say they are in communion with God, whatever they do can be excused as Gods will, but when others do similar, they are deemed wicked.

            When you said, "had a mystical vision in which God told me to cut down all of the oak trees in New England, I would be strongly inclined to dismiss this as my own delusion...", I assumed you would recognise the voice of God. To then be inclined to dismiss it as your own delusion rang all sorts of alarm bells in my head and it should have done the same in your own. It speaks to me of not being aware of the difference. As an atheist, I would day the isn't one, as a a theist you example shouted at me that you can't be sure.

            At least you have acknowledged now that you probably would carry out the instruction...or at least you guess you would

            It's honestly hard for me to imagine, because my relationship with God has always been much more ambiguous than that....

            There is those alarm bells going off in my head again. Can't you see why there is a problem here Jim?

            I feel God's presence, I feel Him strengthen me and calm me when times are tough, but so far He hasn't scheduled anything specific on my task list, so I don't know what that would be like.

            You may not know what that would be like, but I'm sure you can imagine it?

            Your example with Abraham is a very good and challenging one. I can't imagine ever getting such a clear signal from God that I would attempt something so clearly offensive to reason and instinct and tradition and communal understanding. What can I say. I'm not Abraham.

            Indeed, it is irrational. It is irrational because you can never be deftly sure of the source of the instruction...one might say Abraham had a gigantic leap of faith...a leap of faith not many have taken. In modern times, those claiming such have been put to death or incarcerated for it, go figure.

            Of course there are a number of theological angle for Abraham's actions. It probably never happened and is a literary device to show just what true faith encompasses...a bit extreme, but that's the way the stories went in those days. Still, not much consolation to our discourse on the subject. I doubt you would cut down the Oaks, like I'm sure you wouldn't harm anyone because a voice you perceived to your God told you to, only the kooks do that sort of thing and there is enough of them about in all world-views to suffice.

            For more ambiguous communiques from God, I cross-check with others precisely because I don't presume to know the mind of God.

            This seems to be a bit contradictory to me. You guess, on reflection, you wouldn't question an instruction you truly imagined came from God, even though your relationship is somewhat ambiguous, yet for even more ambiguous communiques you need to cross-check for verification of veracity I guess,because you don't presume to know the mind of God. Presumably those that you cross-check with do know the mind of God?

            This is why I, and I'm sure many others get confused about all this carrying out Gods will. Sometimes its fine, according to scriptures, sometimes its not, and nobody has the definitive answer.

            I guess it is a sort of consensus, but not just a consensus with my immediate contemporaries. I would happily concede that there is ambiguity involved (how could there not be ambiguity, when we are not yet face to face with God), but anyone clearly out of step with scripture and tradition would have a lot of explaining to do before I would buy in.

            There is no consensus though. Ambiguity, or interpretation, of scripture has been going on from the first scribes put ink on papyrus, velum, or whatever medium, from the oral traditions. Today's ambiguity is different from yesteryears. Although some things some can't let go of whilst others from the same passages were dropped millennia ago. The industry of theology and apologetics arose from the ambiguity and not just in the Christian scriptures.

            I am glad you are grateful that our cross-checking has improved over the centuries. I am too!

            Well, lets face it, rational people cannot condone the stoning of blasphemers, the burning of heretics, the suicide bombing of infidels...or the castigation of homosexuals. I still say there is a long way to go though.

            I'm not sure I'm any clearer on your position viz a viz following what you perceive to be your Gods instruction, ambiguous as it might get, and a delusional episode. Regardless of whatever cross-checking you might do and by what authourity those sources you are cross-checking with have to advise on such important matters..

            Thanks all the same for your patience Jim, much appreciated.

          • Jim (hillclimber)

            Good exchange, IA.

            I can see now how I didn't articulate my oak tree example very clearly. I guess I think there is a lot of variation in the clarity with which God speaks to us (or perhaps it is just variation in our ability to listen), and I wasn't at all clear about the clarity that I was imagining in that scenario.

            Just to elaborate a bit more on what I am saying about clarity and ambiguity:

            Men like Abraham, they were made of stronger stuff than I. I don't think it was ambiguous for them. I think God did speak to Abraham with a clarity that I will never experience in this life. I think the ancients - and probably not just the famous Israelites - lived in a world where some of them were capable of hearing God directly. So, I do think it's possible (that's why I'm willing to think carefully about the testimony of the ancients in scripture), I just don't think it happens to me.

            For those of us who can't hear God so clearly (and I think that is most of us), we have to triangulate the truth. Part of that is understanding the testimony of the ancients, part of that is rational reflection, etc. I know Peter Kreeft is not the most popular guy with some of the commenters here, but one of the bits of writing on his website lists 6 or 7 criteria for figuring what God is telling us. That list rings pretty true to me.

            EDITED for … clarity :-)

          • Geena Safire

            Jim, If it did happen that you got a completely clear, unambiguous message that was clearly and unambiguously from God, and that message told you clearly and convincingly that I am actually an evil person and have done great evil and I am planning to do an act of enormous evil, and God has chosen you, because of your great faith, to kill me before I can act -- would you kill me?

          • Jim (hillclimber)

            Geena, if I do get such an instruction, you can take comfort in the fact that I'm an incurable sinner. I have a bad habit of putting higher priority on my desires than I put on God's desires for me. Since it is my selfish desire to continue our delightful conversations, I think I would have to tell God to take a hike.

          • This reminds me a bit of Hamlet. People have wondered for centuries why Hamlet didn't spent so much time agonizing over what to do, but if you have a vision of the ghost of your father telling you he was murdered and commanding you to kill your stepfather, would you leap into action?

            How would you know the visitation actually occurred, and if it occurred, how would you know the spirit were actually your father, and if were your father, how would you know if he were right?

            These are the same questions atheists wonder about when we hear people say they've gotten instructions from God (Michelle Bachmann, for instance).

          • Ignorant Amos

            Men like Abraham, they were made of stronger stuff than I.

            Fictional characters in literature will sometimes seem that way.

            I don't think it was ambiguous for them.

            I don't think it was ambiguous for anyone who acted upon the voice telling them to irrational actions. I think one would need to be damn sure in their own minds before jeopardising their freedom or lives in the service of their faiths. Either that, or they are brainwashed. It isn't such a big deal for those that condemn in the name of faith from a position of authourity with no consequence for their actions.

            I have no doubt those 9/11 Muslims piloting the planes to their impending dooms believed the nonsense they had been brainwashed with...and they were hardly ignorant goat herders. Did Peter Suttecliffe hear God actual voice instruct him to hammer prostitutes heads in?.How do we know? Did God tell Moses to kill all the Israelites because of their apostasy? How do we know? It is very doubtful if there even was an Exodus. It is all very suspect for the rational to comprehend. It must pickle the head of a believer attempting to come to terms with it all. Especially those as yourself who can't envisage such a God.

            I think God did speak to Abraham with a clarity that I will never experience in this life.

            I think that is the purpose of such stories Jim. You are supposed to strive to be as faithful as Abraham, even if you know you can never achieve such. And it works very well indeed.

            I think the ancients - and probably not just the famous Israelites - lived in a world where some of them were capable of hearing God directly.

            That begs a plethora of more questions than it answers Jim, but it is enough for me to ask "Why?" for now.

            So, I do think it's possible (that's why I'm willing to think carefully to the testimony of the ancients in scripture), I just don't think it happens to me.

            I'm reminded of a quote from one of Mark Twain's last works.

            "(On the Bible) It is full of interest. It has noble poetry in it; and some clever fables; and some blood-drenched history; and some good morals; and a wealth of obscenity; and upwards of a thousand lies."~ Letters from the Earth, posthumously published.

            The problem is sorting the wheat from the chafe.

            For those of us who can't hear God so clearly (and I think that is most of us),....

            The atheist would go farther and say all of us can't hear gods. I'm presuming you can only hear the one?

            That what the theist hears is just their conscience and by all accounts, yours seems to be a pretty good one.

            ...we have to triangulate the truth.

            Why?

            Part of that is understanding the testimony of the ancients, part of that is rational reflection, etc.

            It isn't though. You have attested to this yourself. Scriptures are telling the stories from millennia previous. We are sceptical of histories from decades ago, with all the modern mediums for accurate recording of data. Can you possibly envisage how stories got bastardised of eons, even if written down, which they were not.

            I know Peter Kreeft is not the most popular guy with some of the commenters here, but one of the bits of writing on his website lists 6 or 7 criteria for figuring what God is telling us. That list rings pretty true to me.

            Fair enough Jim, but what god? Kreeft gives a list of 20 arguments for Gods existence, but they are philosophical arguments, or arguments of assertion without evidence. They can easily be applied to any god being posited. Most of the list only get you as far as a deist god in any case.

            Other criteria in Kreeft's articles that ring true to you are a case of confirmation bias. Believers in other gods do exactly the same in convincing themselves that their favoured deity is the true god...to the point of violence in some cases.

            But it is not for me to be judge so long as you are happy with the status quo and are harming no one.

            I would be interested in which of Kreeft's criteria you feel rings true with you though.

          • Jim (hillclimber)

            This is the Peter Kreeft bit I was thinking of:

            "All God's signs should line up, by a kind of trigonometry. There are at least seven such signs: (1) Scripture, (2) church teaching, (3) human reason (which God created), (4) the appropriate situation, or circumstances (which he controls by his providence), (5) conscience, our innate sense of right and wrong, (6) our individual personal bent or desire or instincts, and (7) prayer. Test your choice by holding it up before God's face. If one of these seven voices says no, don't do it. If none say no, do it."

            I don't consult this list every time I make a decision, but the essential point that I am agreeing with is that any one or two of these criteria in isolation are insufficient to make a good decision. You need to consider things from a variety of angles, which to me includes scripture, church teaching, and prayer, in addition to the remaining considerations that you and I could probably agree on.

            (from http://www.peterkreeft.com/topics/discernment.htm)

            In my imagination, the Abraham story (and other stories in the OT where God speaks directly to people) is describing something much more mind-blowing than just someone having a sense of what God wants them to do. So, I am trying to distinguish by saying that we moderns should all apply something like Kreeft's critieria, while recognizing that it's possible that people like Abraham had such direct encounters that there was no need of such criteria.

            (I'm not going to fight you on the historicity of the stories of the Old Testament. I understand that it is mythologized history, but I understand it to have a historical kernel in there. I don't think it is pure mythology in the sense that Greek mythology is, but anyway that is mostly orthogonal to the topic of our discussion.)

            Is your underlying concern the fact that I am more at risk for craziness because I think it is (or was) possible for God to speak directly to people? If so, let me just say this: the way I imagine that experience (and again, I expect that neither I nor any other modern will ever have this experience) is that it would be so overwhelming and powerful that it would simply melt all of the intellectual edifices that I had constructed for myself. It would no longer matter whether I had considered myself Catholic or atheist. All of that would dissolve in the face of unmitigated truth. I think my adoption of an atheistic perspective would be a hopelessly weak inoculation against this. I know you weren't trying to convert me to atheism, but maybe this puts you at ease somewhat?

          • Jim (hillclimber)

            Amos - there were so many more great questions and thoughts in your message that I did not appreciate on first reading. I attempt to address a few more now ...

            "I come from the sectarian Christian backwaters of working class Belfast".

            This is probably a limited basis for a connection, but my life is still shaped by memories of visiting my cousins near Ballycastle. The older cousins (probably in their 50s in 1989) were still making a living by salmon fishing and moored their Currach right near the Carrick-A-Rede Rope Bridge and had a little warming hut right near there. We had a pint before heading out to collect the nets at 8 in the morning. Talk about mystical experiences.

            "You are supposed to strive to be as faithful as Abraham".

            I agree with that, but Abraham had to respond faithfully to his experience of God and I have to respond faithfully to mine. Abraham and I are both called to answer God's calling, but God had a different sort of message for Abraham than He does for me.

            "Why [do you think the ancients were able to hear God directly, while we are not]?"

            I'm interpolating a lot in terms of what you are trying to ask here, but if that's what you were getting at : I imagine God's relationship with humanity as being similar to my relationship with my kids. When they were infants, we had an immediacy to our relationship. Now that they are grown, that immediacy has been replaced by something that is equally beautiful and equally exciting, but undeniably more distant. I appreciate that this is hardly a proof that "that's the way it is", but I guess this is what predisposes me to thinking that things might have been different for our forebears than they are for us. Time passes, and some things are gone forever.

            "by all accounts, your [conscience] seems to be a pretty good one."

            Aww, shucks.

            "Can you possibly envisage how stories got bastardised of eons, even if written down, which they were not."

            I can, but those folks who passed on the stories weren't dimwits. It takes a whole lot of savvy and a good measure of skepticism to survive in the desert. I think they had a keen appreciation for the danger of passing on falsehoods.

            "Fair enough Jim, but what god? ... Believers in other gods do exactly the same in convincing themselves that their favoured deity is the true god...to the point of violence in some cases."

            I'm a big fan of insights from other religions. I am drawn especially to certain aspects of the Hindu tradition. Strange as it may seem, some of the stories about Krishna and the gopis were pivotal to my growth in the Catholic faith. Even more scandalously, the first time I ever had a profound experience at Holy Communion was after watching the Lakota guy in "Dances With Wolves" take a bite out of a still-throbbing buffalo heart. Somehow that is the same reality that is being conveyed through the eucharist, even if the Lakota version didn't involve explicit knowledge of Jesus and the full assent of the faith. So anyway, my thought about those other religions is this: their favoured deity IS the true God. They are actually following Jesus Christ, they just don't realize it. Their failure to realize it, in some cases, leads to a rejection of reason, which Catholicism mercifully does not require. I'm sure some adherents of other religions have a similarly diminishing view of "my deity", and I can live with that.

          • Moussa Taouk

            I agree that these experiences are not restricted to the Catholic faithful. And I agree that the experience is not something seperate to the working of the brain. Here I'm guessing, but I guess it's an interaction between the soul and the brain. As I think all thought, imagination, awe, self-awareness etc is as well.

            The reasons I think that experience was more than "some activity in the brain" (i.e. back to your original question) are as follows:
            - I did not want the experience to happen. As in... I did not WILL for it to happen. It just happened seemingly of it's own accord. Hence I call it a "grace" i.e. a free gift. Kind of like suffused into my mind/soul/body without my request.
            - I didn't even know such experiences existed. If someone had described it to me before then I would have nodded approvingly, but I would have thought that they were dreaming half the story up or at least embelishing it. Only after we had prayed together and I explained to the ladies there what had happened that they said, "you've been baptized by the Holy Spirit". Only after that did I realise that actually quite a number of people had similar experiences, thought each had a unique story regarding the details.
            - It happened at a time when my doubts about God's existence were at a maximum. I had never doubted that much before, and I was struggling to think that such a thing as God existing isn't a bit too good to be true. So I wasn't exactly in the mindset where I was all holy etc. In fact I was half thinking when we began to pray, "this is nice, but yeh, who knows...".
            - The suddenness of it was somewhat shocking. So I didn't slowly think my way into it. IT happened to ME. At one moment I was sitting there enjoying the quiet of the prayer time, and BANG! Like an instantaneous explosion of... light(?) permeated me. Like a thunderbold struck me and I was transfixed in a state that I had never experienced before.
            - I was "on a high" for about a week totally in love with God, and completely amazed that He ACTUALLY exists! But soon after that I started wondering whether it wasn't my mind playing games on me. The more I intellectualised it the more I justified to myself that it was a creation of my mind. But then the next prayer meeting, as a kind of answer to my doubt, it happened again! And at that time, WHILE it was happening, I remember half thinking to myself that this is REAL. This is far from anything one can imagine. I got an intuition like, "This isn't you. This is Me." Like a confirmation that it was a grace... a gift.
            - I have never experienced anything like it since. I've felt great inner peace (especially after receiving Holy Communion at Mass). and I've felt deep amazing joy. But NOTHING like even the shadow of that first experience in Queensland. I've even TRIED to feel it again. But it's no good. I don't have the power to do it. Prayer meetings or not... I can't do it.
            For these reasons it makes sense to me that such an experience, while definitely utilising the functions and participations of my material self, was samething "given" to me "from the outside" so to speak.

            If the brain does all of the above by its own powers, and make it seem like I'm in the presence of God Almighty where even were I to be killed on the spot I wouldn't have flinched... then our brain is miraculous indeed!

          • Susan

            Here I'm guessing, but I guess it's an interaction between the soul and the brain.

            Yes. You are guessing. You have not defined what a soul is nor have you looked into any of the science on the brain. It's not what you think it is.

            For these reasons it makes sense to me that such an experience, while definitely utilising the functions and participations of my material self, was samething "given" to me "from the outside" so to speak

            You mean that it felt like something outside of what you understand as material effects. But that doesn't mean it was outside material reality. You had a powerful experience and you are leap-frogging from that to make off-the-rack claims about one particular mythological deity.

            Feelings are powerful. Humans have powerful feelings. My most powerful feelings came with the awareness of how big and small and complicated reality is (in Algonquin Park and on an Atlantic Ocean beach in Cape Breton, Nova Scotia) which made it gut-droppingly clear to me how small humans are and how much smaller their stories. The difference is evidence. My feelings aligned with evidence(at the time and in retrsopect). They were not based on claims of unevidenced, immaterial beings who made me the centre of the universe. They actuallly (in retrospect and in the moment) didn't need extra, unevidenced claims.

            I am here because of it. It is not here because of me. Simple. It's a stunning awareness.

            If the brain does all of the above by its own powers, and make it seem like I'm in the presence of God Almighty where even were I to be killed on the spot I wouldn't have flinched... then our brain is miraculous indeed!

            Nothing surprising at all. Amazing, yes. Miraculous... what do you mean?

            That the experiences of your brain leave you amazed and surprised? Read the brain links that so many people have generously provided.

            And if you're going to claim that brains are evidence of your deity, please provide evidence. Our brains make big errors when they don't submit themselves to evidence. .

            Got evidence?

          • Moussa Taouk

            Ah I see. So you had an insight into the smallness of human beings and concluded that we're insignificant and therefore God doesn't exist. I can sympathise with that, and I might even have a hint of admiration that someone can go from being the centre of the universe to a meaningless spot of hardly anything and not be phased by it. Unless you WERE phased by it but you accepted it nevertheless. In which case I would still have admiration for that kind of honesty.

            "The difference is evidence." - No, I'm afraid I disagree. Perhaps the kind of evidence IS different, but that's only part of the story. I think the difference is: the eyes with which we view the world.

            block and white, or colourful? Mathematically or poetically. Is the world a poem or an equation, Susan? The poet sees mathematics and is amazed at the beauty of how it reflects the real world. He sees a poem in the equation. The mathematician sees the poem and analyzes the rhythm of it and the rhyming scheme and concludes that it fits an equation.

            Which method is the correct one? They both are correct in different way, yeh? the world is both a poem AND an equation. And both views reveal a certain beauty and a certain accuracy in describing it.

            But who is in a better position? The poet or the mathematician? I venture to say the poet. Why? Because he can appreciate the truth and workings of mathematics (though not as well as the mathematician) whilst the poor mathematician can only analyze and intellectualise. He can't rise on the wings of the poem nor gaze in awe at its sublimity.

            You say humans are small. How true that is. But for you it finally shows that God doesn't exist. For me it shows the opposite.

            Isn't beauty found in fragility? When you see a little helpless little kitten, don't you love it all the more and feed it with that much more affection? The thin petal of a flower waving in the wind is more cause for joy than an entire mountain!

            How glorious if that were true. How glorious if YOU were the reason that the whole universe exists and it is here, laid at your small feet as a pure gift. Not because you're grand but precisely because you're tiny and fragile and small. How incredible that God the infinite should will fourteen billion years to pass just so that creation can serve you and bring you joy. So that the neurones in the brain can make you pause and wonder at the magnificence of matter.

            Evidence? It's everywhere! The air you breathe is evidence. The light from the sun and the little furry animals are evidence. The hysteric laughter of a child and the patient selfless love of a wife serving her sick husband is evidence. The stars that bespeak granduer and the mountains that speak of majesty... the thread of silk and the pillar of granite... the animation of matter into life... the music of Beethoven... the artistry of Michaelangelo... the flourish of nature is all evidence. Beauty. Truth. Goodness. They are evidence. Love... crazy, illogical, insane, self-sacrifical love by one so innocent and pure for the sake of the wretched and fallen... torture and crucifixion for the sake of Truth... Forgiveness even under unbelieveable agony... Here is your evidence, Susan.

            My friend, the evidence is as much as you can hope to have. But like it's impossible for the earth-worm to see the blue of the sky or the crashing waves of the ocean... so with a mathematician's eyes it's impossible to see the beauty of the Artist's poem.

            Open your poet's eyes, friend. The evidence is all around you. Perhaps even... within you.

          • Susan

            So you had an insight into the smallness of human beings and concluded that we're insignificant and therefore God doesn't exist.

            Nope. I became aware of how silly humans are for thinking they are the centre of all things. We just aren't by any measure. Yahweh is a story told by humans to make us feel central and immortal and none of the evidene leads there.

            I told the story because I get tired of theists thinking profound experiences are evidence of their chosen deity. They are profound experiences. That's all. There are similar profound experiences felt by atheists and believers in other gods. I will say that my experience was a sudden awareness of how vast it is, how old it is, how tiny it is, the untraceable patterns of the cycles within cycles and our tiny part in it. All of which lines up with evidence and asserts nothing further. Our stories of deities aren't justified by reality and they certainly don't explain them. They are about us and for us and that seems to be it. They are inadequate.

            Isn't beauty found in fragility?

            Yep.

            When you see a little helpless little kitten, don't you love it all the more and feed it with that much more affection?

            Yep. Yahweh doesn't care about kittens. There is nothing in the Yahweh story that cares about kittens.

            The thin petal of a flower waving in the wind is more cause for joy than an entire mountain!

            As much joy, anyway. I don't know what you mean by more. But the Yahweh story doesn't give two hoots about that. It's all about humans, which makes sense as humans made it up.

            The air you breathe is evidence.

            For Yahweh? How?

            The light from the sun and the little furry animals are evidence.

            For Yahweh? How?

            I could follow each line from your "evidence" paragraph with the same question. No. This is something that theists do. "All that stuff that makes my brain melt and amazes me proves my deity exists." But it doesn't. Not until you show it is so.

            Open your poet's eyes, friend.

            Don't start on poetry, Moussa. What do you know about poetry? I don't find Yahweh very poetic. Actually, crushingly unpoetic as it takes our wonder, our awe, our sense of beauty and squishes them into something unworthy of them.

            But even if Yahweh were profoundly poetic, it wouldn't mean he exists.

            Edit: I should add that when I had those profound experiences, I was a theist and suddenly the god stories showed themselves to be utterly inadequate.

            It's not about me. It's not about you. We are here because it is here. That's all we know. And that's way better than Yawheh. Even if it wasn't, there is no good reason to believe the Yahweh stories.

          • Moussa Taouk

            "It's all about humans, which makes sense as humans made it up." - Can I ask you?

            Would it upset you if you suddenly had an opposite realisation: that it IS all about humans? I don't know if it is or not. But I do think humans have a central part to play in the exhilerating drama. But I mean... is that a bad thing if humans ARE the "centre of the universe"? The "purpose" of the whole thing unfolding as it has done?

            "Don't start on poetry, Moussa. What do you know about poetry?" - Not very much, I'm afraid. But I do think that there's a dimension to poetry that can't be attained by scientific enquiry. No matter how much you understand a poem with your mind, there is a dimension, an aspect to the poem that you can only discover with the... I don't even know what to call it... with the gut, with the heart, with those set of eyes that look BEHIND what one sees to the symbolic and the meaning.

            Mind you, I do know the powem "The road less travelled". It's amazing how such a simple poem can make me stare into space for a good half an hour while the simple message sinks in. (sigh). Amazing. Also, "The Raven" is pretty entertaining. And a bit sad.

            "Actually, crushingly unpoetic as it takes our wonder, our awe, our sense of beauty and squishes them into something unworthy of them." - Oh man... I just can't relate. I look at the sunset almost every evenining while I'm grazing my sheep. And Every time I say, "Glory to God who has given us such wonders". And then I think "I wonder if Susan is right. I wonder if it's no more than light particles hitting the atmosphere at a certain angle, and then hitting my eye, and then that getting relayed to my brain and then the brain is making happy chemicals." How depressing. It makes me lost the "beauty" aspect and wonder not so much at the sunset's beauty but at the perplexing and thoroughly confusing fact that random mindless objectiveless purposeless directionless events have led to this moment. Anyway, I'm amazed that you think God removes the wonder.

            "...when I had those profound experiences, I was a theist..." - Thanks. For letting me into your life just that teeny weeny bit.

            Perhaps much of what we believe is shaped so much by our circumstances. For instance: My parents were peasants in the mountains of Lebanon. They grew up raising some goats and planting some wheat to survive. We're from the Maronite Catholic tradition... a people who have survived hundreds and hundreds of years in the crevasses and valleys of the Lebanese mountains where they fled from persecution. When I think of my parents and grandparents with the rosary in their hand... their patience and kindness to the rejected ones... their simplicity and contentedness and the joy they derive from simple things like their family and the strength they derive from their faith... I see something in them that hits at a reality that is different. A life having an interiority about it. Something there with a depth that one can't quite achieve through investigation. That kind of thing has perhaps influenced me to look at the world and wonder how it's possible that anyone could doubt God's existence.

            Who knows what factors have shaped the lives of atheists? Perhaps they also had simple humble parents and perhaps when they became educated they realised that their parents could provide them with sufficient answers. And perhaps they then concluded (erroneously in my opinion) that therefore their parents' beliefs were for simple uneducated people and that they were all wrong.

            I see many of my cousins making that extrapolation. Alas. I find it an imprudent extrapolation to make.

          • Michael Murray

            We evolved in such a way that certain sights and sounds cause pleasurable chemicals to be released in our brains. The little kitten is a classic. I wonder why primates who are genetically disposed to a pleasurable feedback system that encourages them to protect and nurture small helpless furry things with big eyes leave more surviving offspring and thus increase the frequency of those genes?

            Now you want to turn this all around to construct a proof that you are the point of the universe ? Sorry it doesn't work. It's evolution.

            so with a mathematician's eyes it's impossible to see the beauty of the Artist's poem.

            I'm a mathematician who likes poetry.

          • Moussa Taouk

            "Now you want to turn this all around to construct a proof that you are the point of the universe ? Sorry it doesn't work. It's evolution." - Ummmm....

            Actually at this point I would say that the theory of evolution is being used outside of the realm of science (its proper place) and is intruding into an area that it can't possibly explain (i.e. whether or not humans are "the point" of the universe' existence). This is now more a question for philosophy I would think. Perhaps philosophy informed by the science of evolution... but philosophy nevertheless.

            "I'm a mathematician who likes poetry." - GOOD!!

            When you enjoy poetry, do you enjoy it as a poet or do you enjoy only the mechanics of how it works (rhyme, rhythm, etc)? I'm hoping you enjoy both aspects!

          • Michael Murray

            Perhaps philosophy informed by the science of evolution... but philosophy nevertheless.

            But surely that is the reason evolution by natural selection has always provoked such a negative reaction. It gives a materialistic explanation for apparent design and removes a very good reason for believing in a creator prior to Darwin. Not only does it remove the need for a creator it strips out all purpose. Natural selection just happens --- it isn't aimed at anything. Our self-awareness is just something that happened. Maybe even an accidental side-effect of some other trait that had an evolutionary advantage.

          • Moussa Taouk

            Now these are questions worth grappling with (as we evidently are). Maybe it's all accidental and directionless. And mindless. But either way, it's not a questions that can be answered by saying "evolution exists therefore there's no purpose". Science can say "evolution exists". But it can't inform as to whether or not there's purpose. It can say whether or not it (evolution) is in place to fulfil some purpose.

            To illustrate that this is the case, we see St Augustine proposing that the human body may have came to exist from a pre-human material. It certainly didn't lead to St Augustine concluding that therefore there is no God.

            To know how a process works doesn't answer why the process works (or exists). The process itself can't inform that question.

            (By the way, just add "I think" at the start of everything I write. I'm only offering my own thoughts mixed in with bits and pieces that I've read here and there. I'd hate to come across like I know everything. I definitely don't!)

          • Michael Murray

            I agree you certainly can't deduce "no God" from "no need for God". But the more you chip away at the "need for God" I think the more you are inclined to apply Ockham's Razor to what is left.

            Evolution by natural selection doesn't just remove the need for a designer though. There are other problems it causes for theism.

            1. It amplifies the Problem of Suffering because it makes suffering the driving force in the natural world. Natural selection relies on an enormous amount of suffering to work.

            2. Knowing how humans evolved creates enormous problems for the existence of Adam and Eve, Original Sin and thus the need for Jesus' redeeming of our Original Sin.

            3. Also knowing how humans evolved creates problems for souls. Which primate had the first soul ? Were it's parents without souls ?

            Michael

          • Michael Murray

            Thanks for the long explanation. That's very interesting. If you are interested in this have a look at the book by Oliver Sachs I mentioned before in another reply called Hallucinations. It's not about religious experiences but it makes clear the amazingly real feeling hallucinations the brain can produce. These definitely are not invited in by the people having them. I'm not suggesting you had a hallucination I'm just putting it forward as an example of the things the brain can do.

            Your experience really does sound like the descriptions Zen Buddhists give of "satori".

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

            The book "Snow Leopard" by Peter Mathiessen has a similar description in it.

            then our brain is miraculous indeed!

            I do think our brain is miraculous indeed.

          • Moussa Taouk

            What do you suppose is the purpose of hallucinations or "satori" or other such 'illuminations'? (thanks for the link by the way... that is interesting). I can't think of how that might serve us when viewed from a purely materialistic perspective. I can only gather that it would be a cause of confusion and error. Also a cause of misplacing our energies into trying to achieve these experiences rather than getting on with surviving and living and breeding (as is illustrated by the Buddhist who seem to spend much effort in training themselves to achieve this state quite often).

            I can't think of a practical use for it. Especially when it happens uninvited. From your perspective (I assume you're atheist?) is it just a flaw that has creeped in to the way we're built?

          • Michael Murray

            Yes I'm an atheist. I think it's just the brain making mistakes. I think in the case of hallucinations described in this book

            http://www.amazon.com/Hallucinations-Oliver-Sacks/dp/0307957241

            many of them arose when a person had lost some sensory input. So I would guess that there is a part of the brain that puts together the inputs from your senses and creates the world you see. When someone loses sight progressively they become prone to hallucinations which I guess are the brain continuing to build a world but based on very little actual sensory input.

            There are a number of scientists involved in studying consciousness who are also keen meditators. People such as Susan Blackmore.

            http://www.susanblackmore.co.uk

            Satori type experiences I don't have any ideas. Some seem like a suppression of the part of the brain that is generating our sense of self.

            http://www.samharris.org/site/full_text/consciousness-without-faith

          • Geena Safire

            This kind of experience can also be triggered in many people by stimulating a certain part of the tempo parietal region of the brain. Certain drugs will generate it also in certain people.

            As with Michael, I do not doubt for a moment that you have truly had this experience. What I am saying is that just because you had an experience that, to your brain, felt like a combination of a sense of presence and of feeling awe and possibly of feeling timeless and loved and completely safe, that doesn't mean that there was actually any entity present.

            You may want to read Oliver Sacks' recent book "Hallucinations."

            Hallucinations are in fact surprisingly common.

            As an example of one way a hallucination can occur is if the sensory-interpretation parts of our brain are activated in the absence of actual sensory input. It feels exactly as real as an actual experience, because the same parts of one's brain that interpret sensory input and correlates it with the relevant memory and appropriate type and degree of emotional content and presents the whole package to your conscious mind are operating, but the input was falsely registered.

            As another example, consider the experience of déjà vu. In these cases, the emotional experience of familiarity is inappropriately triggered along with a new visual input. That's not so bad. But the experience can happen the other way, and it's much worse - something or someone that is actually familiar is seen, but the brain does not correlate it with the appropriate emotional content. This can happen randomly in people, and is usually not so bad if it happens rarely.

            But there are some people who have suffered an injury to the pathway between the vision center and the emotional center of their brain. For such a person, she will see her mother or spouse, who is actually standing in front of her, but she will be absolutely sure that this person is an imposter who looks exactly like her mother or spouse, but is absolutely not really that person. If the situation is not diagnosed correctly, you can imagine the paranoia that might develop: Who has kidnapped my real family and why won't anyone believe me?

            Much more comfortable are experiences like yours, which feel wonderful and seem to satisfactorily answer some of life's difficult questions. But your fervent desire to do whatever you can to ensure getting a steady supply of that high down the road doesn't mean that it is actually there waiting for you.

            Again, I don't doubt that you experienced what you experienced and that it was marvelous. And of course I cannot say whether what you think was real was actually real. But if it were me, I'd want to do some more research first to help me to understand what else it might have been, and also what physical and mental practices might be able to generate such bliss in my life on a regular basis.

          • Jim (hillclimber)

            Hi Geena. Totally non-polemical note: The novel, "The Echo Maker" that I mentioned in my reply to Michael Murray (above) is a really cool exploration of Capgras syndrome (which you refer to above).

            Now back to arguing ... I think that the brain research you refer to is fascinating, but I'm missing what you think that tells us about reality. One can study the part of my brain that lights up when I see a dog, and one can probably use some combination of drugs and electrophysiology to simulate the experience of seeing a dog. But what does all this tell me about whether dogs actually exist?

            (This is a sincere question - I think it probably is the case that brain research can offer some insights into "what is real", but I guess it's not so clear to me that it tells us all that much.)

          • Geena Safire

            "It's not so clear to me that it tells us all that much"

            I think it's heading in the direction you mention: Neuroscience may find, after extensive future experiments, how to identify what happens in the brain when a person "feels a presence" when no one is present or "hears voices" when no one is speaking or "sees a figure/person" when no one is present. And/or we may discover how to reliably trigger these experiences.

            (This is a different situation/experience from just thinking about or remembering someone or what someone said, which does not have that feeling of current reality.)

            It may be discovered that there is a difference -- or no difference -- between having a hallucination of something that is objectively known to exist, such as a dog, versus something that isn't objectively known to exist, such as angels, demons, or a deity.

            What that would mean would certainly depend on what is discovered.

            I try to keep in mind, also, what Joan of Arc said, when a bishop asked her whether the visions she was having might just be her imagination. She replied, "How else would God speak to me but through my imagination?"

            (The word 'imagination' then in French had a more serious connotation than currently in English. We might now say "brain.")

      • Susan

        God is not accessible to the scientific method

        Why not?

        • Vasco Gama

          why is it?
          How could it be?

        • Moussa Taouk

          The scientific method is limitted to the material world. But God is not made of matter. Therefore God is not accessible to the scientific method.

          • Michael Murray

            Either God can interact with the material world and thus is amenable, in principle, to being studied by the scientific method or God cannot interact with the material world so is completely irrelevant to our lives.

          • Moussa Taouk

            I'm pretty sure there's a third option in there somewhere.

          • Susan

            I'm pretty sure there's a third option in there somewhere.

            What is it? How does it work?

          • Moussa Taouk

            OOOH! Susan! Be careful there... I think I'm starting to be able to read your mind! Hahaha. I KNEW you'd ask that. :)

            God CAN (and does... always) interact with the material world, AND He is not accessible to the scientific method. The material world and its behaviour are the effects of His will / interaction. THEY are measurable. You could say... we can study His fingerprints. But HE is immeasurable.

          • Kevin Aldrich

            MT, I believe in God but your argument here makes no sense to me.

          • Moussa Taouk

            Kevin, is there a point in particular or just the whole concept of God working within or through the natural world?

            Is it not possible to measure the effects of God without measuring God himself?

            An analogy: Let's say if I inspired someone to go jump off a cliff. You could measure the effects of my interaction with the unlucky fellow to the nth decimal place. And you'd still never measure me (and perhaps you may not even get a hint that I existed). I see God's interaction with the natural world as something like that.

          • Kevin Aldrich

            I think you are saying that the vast majority of God's actions in the world is through secondary agents.

            The problem with this is that God's actions through secondary causes are invisible and therefore undetectable if one is looking at physical, measurable events, which is what physical science does (and the only thing it properly looks at).

            To materialists, then, it is as if God is completely unnecessary and irrelevant and so he might as well not exist. As the coffee drinker above so effectively put it, "God cannot interact with the material world so is completely irrelevant to our lives."

          • Moussa Taouk

            Yes, I guess you're right. I'm talking about God working through secondary causes. Is this a third possibility to Micael's 'either, or' scenario above?

          • Kevin Aldrich

            I think so, but I'm hardly a good enough philosopher or scientist to pull it off (especially since I'm not a scientist at all).

            I think a line of argument would be that the existence of the God of the philosophers can be established through purely philosophical arguments and through philosophical arguments that use evidence from the natural sciences.

            Philosophers can also reason to attributes this god must have if he exists and so construct a bridge to the attributes Catholic theology attributes to God.

            Then, a case can be made for the intervention of God in the world through the life of the Church beginning with Jesus Christ right up to today. One example, would be the reasoning that can connect a healing to God's action through the intercession of a saint.

          • Michael Murray

            Which is ?

          • Moussa Taouk

            Susan just asked the same question right here and I just answered it. I don't suppose you can see my response to Susan? I wish all the replys to a question were kept visible.

          • Argon

            Theism, deism, atheism.

          • Kevin Aldrich

            Michael, in my opinion, this is the kind of argument that the top Catholic apologists should be addressing, not the very simplistic ones that Kreeft dealt with twenty-three years ago.

            Another is the one you raised below: "Do you have any evidence that what you call the spiritual realm is
            anything other than patterns in the physical structure of your brain?"

          • David Nickol

            top Catholic apologists

            This is an honest question, not a sarcastic one or something I ask to set up a trap.

            Who would you consider the top Catholic apologists? (Or were you just speaking in general, without any names in mind.)

          • Kevin Aldrich

            I think the guys whose OPs have been posted here are some of the top apologists. The main problem, in my opinion, is that by and large the OPs are not written for SN and are often disconnected to what the more devastating critiques are. Guys like Michael Murphy make them and the writers are nowhere to be found to respond.

            I think also there are hundreds of top Catholic intellectuals in theology, philosophy, history, and all the fields of science who could be great apologists, but they are busy doing their normal work.

            In my humble opinion, I think the top Catholic apologist in this country is someone hardly anyone has heard of, Chris McHugh.

          • The drummer?

          • Kevin Aldrich

            I think he played bass in some kind of punk rock band at some point!

          • Don't think it is the same guy. Do you have a link?

          • Kevin Aldrich
          • God does interact with the material world. That is what miracles are. Can He be studied with the scientific method. Only if He so chooses. He remains God. He could allow irrefutable proof of His existence. He does not really. He typically leaves room for someone to reject. Will He always? For you or for me He might give proof. I don't think you will ever get a science paper published that nobody can dispute.

          • Michael Murray

            But I am not even sure what God would need to act materially to be relevant. If He just showed us how to act to make our lives meaningful and get us to heaven then could that not be enough?

            My point's more of a philosophical one. If God doesn't act at all by definition He has no influence. If He does interact then statements like "God is not accessible to the scientific method" are incorrect. Of course it might be that "God chooses not to be accessible to the scientific method".

          • I would never say God is not accessible by any method. At least none I can think of. People have come to God through very bad methods.

          • Michael Murray

            It is not a method we should expect to work.

            Why not ?

          • The scientific method involves investigating a question by a series of testable hypothesis. When you are dealing with an omniscient and omnipotent personal being that becomes an issue. Thing about investigating a woman using a series of testable hypothesis. If she knew that is what you were doing and she could manipulate your results any way she wanted then it becomes a personal game rather than a science experiment. It might work but it would not be science. With God you get that issue to a much greater degree. It still might work. I just expect it would work in a way that would only be convincing to you. We have seen that with the tuning of universal constants. Some scientists have been convinced by that but not all scientists en mass. I would be greatly surprised if that ever happens but God has surprised me before.

          • Kevin Aldrich

            I have written an OP for SN on a miracle. It is evidence for God's interaction with the material world. It rehearses the scientific evidence (in this case medical evidence) that establishes the possibility that something supernatural took place. I don't know if or when Brandon is going to post it.

          • Kevin Aldrich

            It think it is illegitimate do expect God's action to be able to be studied by the scientific method. One reason is that you cannot set up an experiment and then "make" God act.

          • Michael Murray

            There are lots of parts of science where that is true though. Like cosmology for example. You could still study God and His effects. At least if he interacted with the physical world.

          • Kevin Aldrich

            Forgive me if we have covered this before, but could you give some examples of how you could study God and his effects on the world if he exists and interacts with the world?

          • Michael Murray

            It's really just a philosophical question. People so often say things like God is not accessible to science and I don't see how that can be if God has any influence at all in our lives.

          • Kevin Aldrich

            Today's post on SN by Fr. Spitzer is an example of how the existence of God is philosophically accessible through some findings of science.

          • Kevin Aldrich

            Even if God could not interact with the material world (which I do not hold), he could be very relevant to our lives if he judges us at the end of our life.

          • Michael Murray

            But there has to be a chain of interactions from my physical being and brain via (presumably my soul) to God's judgement. Somewhere along that chain you have to solve the problem of the material world interacting with the immaterial world.

          • Susan

            The scientific method is limitted to the material world.

            You make the "material" world sound so tiny. What IS "the material world"? What are its limits? How would we know we have made contact with something "outside" of the material world? What does that mean?

            But God is not made of matter.

            What is your deity made of? How do you know? If it interacts with the material world,why wouldn't we see evidence of that? Don't catholics claim "miracles" as evidence? The Big Bang? Is it beyond evidence or not? If it chooses to leave footprints in the butter through miracles and the Big Bang, why does it hide itself in systems that are explained by natural means? Material means?

            Why don't the miracles pan out? How are they evidence for an omniscient, omnipotent, omnibenevolent being? Why does all the evidence seem to demonstrate that what we mean by "mind" is a result of matter, not the other way around?

            How is it different from The Dragon in My Garage? You still haven't addressed that. It's important.

            http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jJRy3Kl_z5E

            Moussa, I have never met a human who gives any indication that they have communicated with a being who is omni-anything, let alone omni-everything and omni-good to boot. I don't even know what those things mean and I've never been given the impression that the people asserting those attributes do either. I've asked what immaterialmeans many, many times. All I get back is "not" material or "beyond" material" or numbers or "justice" and its Platonic pals.

            The first two underestimate my ability to read a prefix and they seem to miss the calling out part that any assertions about "existence" need to meet. If it's not "material", what is it? "It's immaterial" is not an answer. It pretends there isn't a question.

            The second two pretend our brains don't create symbolic representations of reality. That's all they can do.

            Numbers and they're behaviours are representations that work until they don't work. "Justice" is similar. They are descriptions of ideas we have, and they are inadequate but some are more adequate than others. ;-)

            II have met many people who claim that beings exist (whom for some reason, we should call gods) but their claims are inconsistent and/or incoherent.

            I have met many people who believe in one or more of the following things:

            1) ghosts
            2) karma
            3) ESP
            4) The pope is the anti-christ.
            5) Astrology
            6) Fairies

            How should we evaluate their claims?

            Fairies don't want people to know they exist... except for the special people who believe in them.

          • Moussa Taouk

            Oh Susan... so many questions in one hit. I hope we don't get lost in a mess of thoughts. I'll try and answer the key questions as best I can.

            You make the "material" world sound so tiny. What IS "the material world"? What are its limits? How would we know we have made contact with something "outside" of the material world? What does that mean?

            I'm not saying the material world is tiny. It's big and huge and mysterious. I'm just saying that the scientific method is limitted to the material world. So that IF there is a spirit world then it is beyond the access of science. Can we agree on that much?

            As to the limits of the material world - I don't know. As to how we know when we contact an immaterial being - it's a different way of knowing than the way we know with measurement. Let's leave that as an aside for now.

            "What is your deity made of? How do you know?" - God is not "made" of matter. I know that much. I know this because He created matter. Also his nature is non-contingent, whereas matter is contingent.

            "If it interacts with the material world,why wouldn't we see evidence of that? Don't catholics claim "miracles" as evidence? The Big Bang? " - You're right. Catholics claim miracles as evidence of God's interaction with the material world. Miracles, if they exist, are perhaps the best indication for people to recognise the real possibility of God's presence.

            "Why don't the miracles pan out?" - I don't understand what you mean by that question. Please elaborate, as this is of interest and is the closest that science can come to saying anything useful about God.

            "Why does all the evidence seem to demonstrate that what we mean by "mind" is a result of matter, not the other way around? " - I disagree. Not so much about neuroscience... but that matter is not the result of a mind.

            "How is it different from The Dragon in My Garage?" - Well, the dragon in your garage... whether it exists or not, is entirely superfluous and inconsequential. It does not have the validation of any authority except that of a Youtube clip. It does not explain the fact of existence as we know it. It hasn't produced any miracles and has not changed the events of human history in the slightest. In addition, its existence seems to be based mainly on trying to disprove God rather than on any serious conviction.

            "All I get back is "not" material or "beyond" material"." - I'm not surprised. If you're dealing with something that is not available to the senses then it's difficult to describe, seeing as most of our information (maybe even all) is arrived at through our senses. But I think that's exactly what you're asking for. You're saying, "give me something I can relate to with my senses to describe what it is to be immaterial". I'm afraid it's impossible. The word "spirit" comes to mind, but you'll say, "what's that"? See? Because you want to describe it in the same means by which we describe matter. And that makes us stuck in a loop. I'm trying to think of the best way to break out of the loop, but it's difficult.

            "The only thing to test them against is evidence." - Agreed.

            "Their claims are inconsistent and/or incoherent." - Do you mean because they can't define certain concepts without appealing to non-tangible categories, or do you mean there are internal contradictions within the teachings of their faith?

            "How should we evaluate their claims? " - Perhaps a starting point might be the implication of their existence or non-existence. For example I've heard ghost stories. I'm not sure whether to believe them or not. But it's not a big deal whether I believe in them or not. It's impractical to go investigating every single claim that every single person ever makes. But if they have significant implications then it's worth investigating.

          • Argon

            The scientific method is applicable to any realm with an underlying regularity and effects linked to causes. It's particularly effective if one can also manipulate causes.

            If the spiritual world has a noticeable effect, operates by certain consistent 'rules', and can in any way be manipulated or made to elicit a 'response' then it could be subject to scientific inquiry. The study of behavior can be a science.

            One might not be able to determine whether the agent of study actually is God using such methods but the agent's actions and interactions (if any) certainly could be the subject of study.

            It is a dogma of the RCC that God is 'orderly', 'lawful' and has interacted with the universe. If that's the case then at least the minimal requirements for scientific investigation are met.

          • Moussa Taouk

            In theory that's true I suppose. But how would you measure a spiritual reality? You can sometimes measure their effects as with miracles or perhaps demonic posession. You can observe the resulting change in behaviour in someone who has come to know God. That's all true. But God Himself... I would think it's obvious that He can't be even approached let along measured by us. And... definitely not manipulated.

            So I think we pretty much agree (going by your 3rd paragraph).

          • josh

            What do you think matter is? And I'll warn you ahead of time that I'm a physicist. Also, what experiment did you perform to test the proposition that God is not made of matter?

          • Moussa Taouk

            Hey Josh. Thanks for the warning!
            I think matter is all that is tangible. Perhaps also, stuff that is potentially (if we can get to it) subject to our manipulation.

            The only mysterious thing that I don't quite get is the business of gravity. Are there particles involved in that?! It's something that really boggles my mind. But a curiosity of mine is (sorry if this is a bit too far off the line of conversation): how is it that matter is "attracted" to matter? How is it that I'm stuck to the earth. What is pulling me down to it?! What is it that makes the moon in love with the sun?!

            Glad to know you're a phsycist!

          • josh

            How do you know what is tangible? Are light waves tangible?, because they work on the same underlying physics as the fact that you don't sink through the floor. Is gravity tangible? It has effects similar to the electromagnetic force that describes light and the illusion of solidity. Are particles tangible? They can be in two places at once, don't have a definable size, and are described by a very abstract math in our best theories.

            I'm not asking these things to try and show you up, but to point out that the way you probably think of things: that there is everyday 'matter' stuff and then some other stuff or power or force like God, isn't really suitable when we get to the 'big' questions. Science doesn't actually start off by proposing to study matter, or the physical world or any such thing. It doesn't define those terms, or natural vs. supernatural, etc. Science looks at 'what can influence us' and 'how do we choose between two alternative explanations'. So if God can affect us then he's not ruled out of science. And if God exists in some sense but provides no evidence, that doesn't put him in a special category, it puts him in the same scientific category as all failed theories: not supported by the evidence.

            About gravity: I'm afraid it's a long and abstract answer to really get at a good understanding. Basically, the distribution of energy (which includes mass) in space-time determines how that space-time is shaped. Knowing how the space-time is shaped, we can tell, if you start with some particle at one point in space and time, where it will be at some other point. If you have two particles near each other, then space-time is shaped in such a way that moving forward in time (as seen by one particle or the other) is also moving closer together in space. Now why does energy warp the shape of space-time in the particular way it does? At the moment we don't have a deeper description. I have to imagine that if there is one it would be even more abstract, but I think it important to note that even at this level, we are really talking in terms of descriptions and relative relations rather than causes or one things pushing and pulling another.

      • Danny Getchell

        When the claim is made that God has gone beyond the spiritual realm and inserted himself into the material processes of the universe. it's then appropriate to ask for scientific evidence.

        The assertion that "God spoke to me this morning" is, I would agree, not accessible to scientific challenge.

        However, the assertion that "God cured visitors to Lourdes of cancer" certainly is so.

        • Moussa Taouk

          Fiar enough. Purported miraculous events such as cures or other miracles are in the realm of scientific enquiry. Nevertheless the testing can't test God. They can only test whether or the events behave according to the laws of nature. At best they can test the result of God's activity. But God isn't testable as such.

          • Danny Getchell

            They can only test whether or the events behave according to the laws of nature.

            Actually, they start by testing whether or not there is sufficient evidence to conclude that the events actually took place. Other than that I agree with your reply.

      • Science is not the only way to verify the existence of beings. It is certainly not my threshold for forming beliefs. My mind is open but I still have no reason to believe there is an additional reality you describe.

        • Moussa Taouk

          That's one small step for man... :).

  • Science does not consider nature to be guilty until proven innocent. Innocent until proven guilty is a rebuttable legal presumption in criminal cases. Both science and law are the same in this respect, whoever makes the claim must prove their point with evidence. Both have different standards of evidence and proof.

    • Vasco Gama

      I am curious, what has science to do with anything that was written?
      In what sense does science consider nature guilty of something?
      What does it mean "guilt" for science?

      Is this suposed to make any sense?

      • I agree Vasco, but these are Dr K's words not mine.

        • Vasco Gama

          That was a metaphor, the ficticious character Chris said "Nature treated as guilty until proven innocent, so to speak." No need to go any further.

          • josh

            Brian is pointing out that it is not 'so to speak'. It's just a lame bit of rhetoric.

  • Danny Getchell

    Inasmuch as this article is an extract from a twenty-three year old book, I'm willing to allow Kreeft a mulligan for being at that time unaware of the quality of discourse here at SN.

    But that does nothing to make this hypothetical dialogue particularly valuable here and now.

    In particular, his twofold use of the threadbare "road runner tactic" reveals some serious naivete (at least at that stage of Kreeft's career) about what sort of argument is likely to impress any but the stupidest skeptics.

  • Steven Dillon

    Prayer does not seem like a reliable method for discerning whether or not God exists. Nearly every religion comes equipped with recommendations for prayer and anecdotes to back them up. In other words, prayer often yields conflicting results about God. And that's when it yields results.

    A more reliable method is to get an idea of how Theism predicts the world would be, and then observe whether or not it is like that. That's basically what philosophers of religion try to do.

    • Vasco Gama

      As a Catholic, I find it quite consistent, that is not strange (everyone else that is not a Catholic might disagree, of course)

      • Steven Dillon

        Prayer may yield consistent results for individuals (whether Catholic, Orthodox, Muslim or Hindu, etc.). But, that's just the problem. It's not converging all these diverse individuals to the same deity. For one person, prayer says "Allah", and another it says "YHWH".

        • Vasco Gama

          I will not dispute that (I can't verify it, I will say no more, and I will not dismiss it also).

        • Argon

          For one person, prayer says "Allah", and another it says "YHWH".

          Or, "YMMV".

  • Ben Posin

    Jumping past the absurd portion of the dialogue where the atheist for some reason doesn't get that religions are making truth claims about the nature of reality before having it pointed out to him:
    Act I.
    Chris: "Oh, but that's a different question, whether anybody can prove it. Surely God might exist without your proving it. Plenty of things exist that you can't prove, don't they?:
    Sal 2.0: whoops, sorry for my egregious misstatement, proof wasn't the right word to use, as no one absolutely proves anything, we just have to go with the best answer at the time based on the evidence. But no one's provided convincing evidence that God existed!! And we shouldn't believe things without evidence.
    Chris [But we believe things without evidence all the time] Like the fact that I'm thinking about the color yellow now. Or the fact that I honestly care about you. Can you prove those things?
    Sal 2.0: no, I can't prove them, but I could look for evidence of what you're thinking about (such as your statements) or whether you care about me (your words and actions towards me). But if you're some guy I just met off the street, and I haven't built up evidence yet from interacting with you, I DON'T know that you care about me.
    Chris: Gee, I never thought about it that way, I guess we do rely on the evidence available to use when determining what another person is thinking, or whether they care about someone, and shouldn't claim to know or believe things like this absent evidence. I guess believing in people's love for each other isn't a good reason to think it's reasonable to have faith in God.
    Act II.
    Chris:: why do you find these dialogues about God's existence a waste of time?
    Sal 2.0: because theists often try to define or describe God in such a way that his existence is not falsifiable; they trumpet ideas like non-overlapping magisteria once they realize that a study of the universe available to us doesn't provide evidence supporting God's existence.
    Chris: you mean you can't use the scientific method.
    Sal 2.0: Right.
    Chris: But can you prove the scientific method is the only way to prove something?
    Sal 2.0: It's the only method that has a record for success in discovering truth claims about reality. People have tried different methods, like seeking truth in their dreams, in religious faith, and so on, but it's the scientific method that actually has a history of working. I find it trustworthy because of the overwhelming evidence showing such trust bears fruit, whether in trying to cure a disease, navigate the world, or build communication networks like the one we're using. But if you can show me other methods that work as well, I'm open to turning to them. Can you?
    Chris: Huh, I had thought that you had an "unscientific faith" in science, but I see that you're just trusting in methods you've seen actually work. Oops, that would have been awkard. But then you should agree with me that we can use all sorts of methods to figure stuff out, like common sense, experience, intuition, reasoning, and trustable authority.
    Sal 2.0: Uh...no, unfortunately "common sense," personal experience, intutition and even apparently logical reasoning have been shown to be unreliable when dealing with tricky questions about the nature of reality. I could tell you some funny stories about Aristotle and gravity, for instance...but it is true that these are elements that can play a part in different stages of the scientific method.
    Chris: Ah, but it's important to use the proper methods to understand the proper subject matter. For instance, you don't use the scientific method to understand people you love, for instance, any more than you use love to understand math or chemistry.
    Sal 2.0: Well...I don't actually use "love" to understand the people I love, I draw inferences and make predictions based on the evidence available to me (such as their statements, facial expressions, and actions), and then by talking to them or observing them find out how good my inferences or predictions were, and adjust my beliefs and assumptions accordingly. I don't write fancy lab reports like a chemist would, but that's what the process of getting to know someone is actually like in everyday life. It's not really that different from how we understand other parts of reality...
    Chris: Huh, but don't you think that because God is a person we need to use love and faith to understand him?
    Sal 2.0: Well, no, I just explained to you that we don't use love and faith to understand people, but a pretty standard process involving evidence...and anyway, don't you think you've skipped a big step here?
    Chris: What do you mean?
    Sal 2.0: Well, before we consider how to understand God if he is a person, don't we need to first look for evidence that God exists and actually is a person? I definitely don't use love and faith to figure out that the people I love exist! I can see them, talk to them, touch them...wouldn't you think it was strange if I told you I had a wife I had never seen or talked to or had evidence for, but that I loved her anyway and had faith in her?
    Chris: Yes, before your love had any connection to reality you'd have to show me evidence your wife existed. Oh, I see, it's the same with God!
    Sal 2.0: I'm glad you see that. It's not a little thing at all. Ok, let's look into some of the reasons I don't think there's sufficient evidence supporting God's existence next time.
    Chris: OK.

    • josh

      Nicely done Ben. I was going to try something similar and didn't have the patience to write it out.

  • mriehm

    There is so much here that is of the poorest quality of reasoning.

    But reason and logic isn't the way we usually make personal choices.

    Every rational and socially-adjusted person uses reason and logic in personal choices all the time. Those who don't will quickly find themselves failing in jobs, health, and relationships.

  • mriehm

    Sal, the skeptic, says, "There's no objective truth. Truth is subjective."

    Just where did Kreeft dream up this skeptic? Sal is very different from most of the skeptics/atheists who post on this website, who would be the last ones to ever say such a thing.

    In fact, since faith is by its nature subjective, it is much more likely for Chris to use those words.

    • David Nickol

      I don't know how old Chris and Sal are supposed to be, but to be fair, every once in a while I read comments on blogs by people who teach at the college level, and the views of some college students (at good schools, too) can be rather amazing. You would think, for example, that almost anyone would see the problem with a statement like, "It is wrong to make moral judgments." A little trickier is something like, "It is wrong to impose our moral judgments on others." And perhaps even trickier is, "It is wrong to impose our moral values on people of another culture."

      Certainly we have people here who argue there is no objective moral truth, and there is no objective "meaning" to life, consequently each person must assign meaning to his or her own life.

      I don't think I have ever heard someone argue there is no objective truth whatsoever, since all that would have to be done is ask such a person if it was true his or her position was that there is no objective truth. But I do think there are people who would include a lot less than the theists and even atheists here in the realm of "objective truth."

      Having said that, Chris certainly isn't very bright, but obviously Kreeft can't let Sal outargue him, so Sal has to be pretty much a simpleton. But I think the commenters on Strange Notions are considerably more sophisticated than Chris and Sal and aren't going to get anything out of their dialogue.

      • Argon

        I've got no beef with objective truth. Objective morality and beauty are on shaker foundations, IMHO, particularly if one ignores context on which the latter two highly depend.

  • mriehm

    All religious apologists want to bring science and religion to the same plane. So Kreeft has his Chris say, "... your faith in science isn't scientific. It's a faith." This kind of argument is often used by theists when discussing specific scientific findings, such as evolution.

    But there are two things wrong with this: 1) two different meanings of the word "faith" underlie the usages; 2) science is not primarily a set of findings, it is a method.

    For the first point, look at the definition of the word "faith" at, for example, http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/faith. The definition that applies to scientific belief is "belief in anything, as a code of ethics, standards of merit, etc." The definitions that apply to religion are: "belief that is not based on proof"; "belief in god or the doctrines or teachings of religion"; "a system of religious belief".

    So yes, I do have "faith" in science - I believe that it provides valid and extremely valuable explanations of our world (and the proof of its efficacy is everywhere in our modern society; not least in the computer systems involved in this discussion).

    But religious people have a different kind of "faith" - that which is not based on proof.

    Secondly, science is not primarily a set of findings. It is a method by which we can acquire knowledge. Science is a method that requires objectivity, empiricism, logic, and reproducibility. It is a method that demands proof - objective, empirical, reproducible, hard proof. By saying that one has to have "faith" to believe in the scientific method, you're saying that the validity of the scientific method is subjective. Do you really believe that?

    • Vasco Gama

      I wonder what you might mean with the statement that:

      «All religious apologists want to bring science and religion to the same plane.»

      I have to wonder, as it really makes no sense, as those "religious apologists" would have to be quite ignorant about what is science and what is religion, however science and religion are clearly distinguishable (and address very distinct levels of reality, pretend to answer to very diffrent questions, and have very distinct methodologies) it is not really complicated neither confuse. I wounder who those apologists might be.

      • David Nickol

        Trying to bring science and religion "to the same plane" does not entail claiming that they are indistinguishable. The attempt to bring them "to the same plane" entails trying to show that both are based on "faith." Science, it is claimed, yields truths no more certain than religion because you have to put "faith" in science. You have to have "faith" that the world is intelligible, you have to have faith in reason and logic (because you can't prove logic), and you have to have "faith" that the sun will rise tomorrow and that experiments repeated under the same conditions will yield the same results. But you can't prove that. It is a matter of "faith."

        • Vasco Gama

          Science and religion both require faith (but I believe that faith must be reasonable and not blind faith). However it is not the same type of faith, as religion addresses realities that are beyond undisputable certainty, but science could not work, in the absence of faith, on authority, on previous learning and experience reported by others, this doesn't imply that one must have blind faith, as something is asserted as science, to be taken just as blind faith, but the same reasoning applies also to religion).

          • David Nickol

            Science and religion both require faith . . . . However it is not the same type of
            faith . . . .

            I think this is quite misleading and ignores the meaning of the word faith as used in everyday language as well as the special meaning the Catholic Church gives to the concept of faith. I find it somewhat frustrating that Catholics who insist that science and religion both require "faith" keep ignoring what the Catholic Church says about faith. Let me repeat just one more time the definition before throwing up my hands in despair:

            153 When St. Peter confessed that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the living God, Jesus declared to him that this revelation did not come "from flesh and blood", but from "my Father who is in heaven". Faith is a gift of God, a supernatural virtue infused by him. "Before this faith can be exercised, man must have the grace of God to move and assist him; he must have the interior helps of the Holy Spirit, who moves the heart and converts it to God, who opens the eyes of the mind and 'makes it easy for all to accept and believe the truth.'"

            First, as for the use of the word faith in everyday speech, I do not think scientists say, "If it were not for my faith that the universe is intelligible, my faith in the principles of logic, my faith that inductive reasoning can be conclusive, and my faith that mathematics can explain physical phenomena, I could not be a scientist." These basic and usually unstated assumptions about the nature of reality are not matters of "faith." And I would note that is not just atheist scientists who make these assumption, but theists scientists as well, plus basically ever rational human being on the face of the earth. These are not philosophical positions that are learned in school. They are fundamental assumptions of human behavior that are exhibited by newborn babies.

            And faith in Catholicism is not a willed commitment to various principles and beliefs in the absence of sufficient evidence that conclusively confirms them. Catholics do not believe faith is needed to arrive at the conclusion that God exists. That is (according to Catholicism) knowable by reason. "Faith is a gift of God, a supernatural virtue infused by him." Faith is a gift that is accepted. Faith is trust in God—as a person—not the acceptance of a philosophical or metaphysical principles about the nature of reality.

            There seems to be a desire here to define "scientific faith" as the acceptance of certain assumptions about reality that can't be proved so must be accepted by a "leap of faith." That, people seem to think, brings science "down" to the same plane as religion. Both (the argument seems) require taking a "leap of faith" and accepting what can't be proved as the foundation of both systems. It is true that if you quizzed an atheist scientist, he would have a philosophical/metaphysical position. But that would be true if you quizzed a baseball player, a car mechanic, the CEO of a Fortune 500 company, a pastry chef, or an acrobat from Cirque du Soleil.

          • Mike

            Hi David,

            As a theist scientist I would tend to agree with some of what you and Vasco each said.

            First, I do make the assumptions about reality that you outlined above about intelligibility, logic, etc, and you're right that I don't make them consciously. Just as I think many people make the same assumptions about God without them being conscious (I'm not going to weigh in on whether this is good or not, just that it occurs).

            I don't think that science and religion are on the same plane, and as a practicing scientist I don't want to bring science down a peg, and at times have shaken my head about how people comment on the two.

            Science does what is does very well, and has almost since its modern inception say several centuries ago. Science should be elevated for all it has done to raise the standard of living of humanity worldwide, and continues to do.

            I however don't think as some people do that Science can answer all questions, or that it is the end all be all of human existence. Science answers questions about the physical world, but I think there is a place for philosophy/metaphysics/religion to answer questions they would be better at answering. For example, science may be able to tell us what we find beautiful, but not what beauty is from a philosophical perspective. We might have "faith" in the religious sense that beauty exists in an abstract sense, or argue about it.

            That's my random thought for now, its not as great as I would like it to be, but I'm at work and I have to go check on my expt.

          • David Nickol

            Hi Mike,

            You (and many others here) may be interested in some of the approximately 170 responses on Edge.org" to the question, "What scientific idea is ready for retirement?" One, by Martin Rees (Former President, The Royal Society; Emeritus Professor of Cosmology & Astrophysics, University of Cambridge; Master, Trinity College; Author, From Here to Infinity) is We'll Never Hit Barriers To Scientific Understanding. It is slightly confusing, but since the articles are usually named with the idea that the author thinks is "ready for retirement," the stated ideas are not what the authors are arguing for, but rather what they are arguing against. I have recently come across the idea of "cognitive closure" in books by Steven Pinker, and although he is an atheist, he and others who consider "cognitive closure" a possibility believe there are some matters human intelligence simply can't grasp. He says,

            Nonetheless—and here I'm sticking my neck out—maybe some aspects of reality are intrinsically beyond us, in that their comprehension would require some post-human intellect—just as Euclidean geometry is beyond non-human primates.

            What I understand him to be saying is not that science will never be able to explicate poems, or build instruments to detect souls, or discover the meaning of life. Those are not science. What I understand him to be saying is that there are scientific questions that human scientists will never be able to answer because human intelligence lacks the ability to answer them.

            Alan Guth's ready-for-retirement idea is "The Universe Began In A State Of Extraordinarily Low Entropy." Here are some others from "big name" scientists and philosophers:

            Sean Carroll "Falsifiability" (that is, that falsifiability is what makes a scientific theory scientific)
            Lee Smolin "The Big Bang Was The First Moment Of Time"
            Richard Dawkins "Essentialism"
            Patricia Churchland "Brain Modules"
            Peter Woit "The 'Naturalness' Argument" (in which he denounces string theory and much, much more)
            David Deutsch "Quantum Jumps"
            Freeman Dyson "The Collapse of the Wave Function"

            Unfortunately, they are all on one long page, so you have to go to the link I gave above and scroll down the whole page to see them all.

          • Mike

            Hi David,

            Thanks for the link. I might not have some time right now to check it out, but hopefully when work calms down I might have a chance.

            To clarify, I wouldn't state with certainty that there are scientific questions that we can't answer, although some of the quantum mechanics stuff (which is integral to my field of study) hurts my head. But I don't think that science is sufficient to answer all questions. Which I think we agree upon.

          • David Nickol

            I tend not to believe in cognitive closure. Or maybe it's just a matter of what I want to believe. I would like to think that there is no scientific question that cannot in principle be answered because of the nature or limits of human intelligence. I think presently there may be certain kinds of limits, but I would like to think those limits can be overcome by devising ways to expand human intelligence. Of course, even if there are some unanswerable questions, there are plenty of answerable ones to keep humanity busy for a long, long time.

          • mriehm

            There may well be limits beyond which science cannot explore. Not so much because of our limited intelligence, but more because we just can't get evidence beyond those barriers.

            Doesn't mean there's a god, though ;).

          • Susan

            Not so much because of our limited intelligence, but more because we just can't get evidence beyond those barriers

            .

            Doesn't mean there's a god, though ;)

            Yes. I always wonder how humans who claims some god(s) exist use this reasoning.

            On what basis do they claim their god(s) exist?

            There are things which are knowable in principle and things that are not knowable in principle and even things that are knowable in principle which (quite possibly) our little primate brains can't access...

            In the midst of this are people making utimate claims about all of reality.

            On what basis do they make these claims? Claims about "infiniite beings", for instance?

          • Argon

            Hi Mike. Good comments.

            "Science answers questions about the physical world, but I think there is a place for philosophy/metaphysics/religion to answer questions they would be better at answering"

            I'd agree that philosophy and metaphysics confront many of the interesting questions we encounter for which scientific pursuit has a difficult time investigating. I'm not sure about the 'answering the questions' part, however. Philosophy has been good at trying to frame the questions, investigating the underlying difficulties at making progress and perhaps increasing our understanding of our thoughts through contemplation of the problems but actually answering or solving these 'big questions' has never been the strong suit of philosophy (IMHO).

            Which is to say, in philosophy you probably should anticipate getting more out of focusing on the journey rather than the destination because the destination is never reached. Or another way, philosophy is the practice of taking a question and making interesting, other questions out of it.

          • Mike

            I concur that philosophy can be frustrating, and remembering never finding a satisfactory answer as to why it seems to move slowly while I was in college.

            Science suffers from the same problems sometimes. Science is supposed to help us understand the physical reality, and seems (at times) to not make progress. We never reach the final goal but make good progress along the way. Don't get me wrong science has done some great things, but it hasn't reached its final goal, same with Philosophy, but we all do our best to advance towards the truth.

          • Vasco Gama

            David,

            As I said before «Science and religion both require faith . . . . However it is not the same type of faith»

            If you didn’t understood it is not in fact the same type of faith, as you mentioned the faith in God is a gift from God, as God’s existence is something that can’t be proved a priori (in some irrefutable way), no one pretends that it is the case, this is why Catholics refer to that as a gift. In the dialogue with someone that doesn’t believe it is not possible to say that is forced by reason to accept it, all we can allege is that it is consistent with reality. But if you want to deny, by whatever reason even for any particular displeasure, there is no way to convince you (or anyone else) that it is not the case.

            This is one thing, the other entirely different is the dismissal of faith as something unreasonable. Faith is something unavoidable in human existence, children have to have faith in their parents (even if they are wrong), in all education and learning processes we have to have faith on those that are teaching (that they are competent and well informed) and on the support of the educational system (on human knowledge as transmitted). In our social life we have to have faith on those that relate with us (that they are in general fair and moral). It is no different in science, scientists have to have faith that others are doing things correctly and under ethical constrains. Of course faith doesn’t require irrationality, if we find errors, reason to suspect, we can take measures to confirm whatever is claimed by others, faith in no way entails irrationality, in fact is quite rational.

            Despite science and religion are not in the same plane in what concerns to faith (as there are basic assumptions in religion that are not subject to verification), both require faith, and faith can’t be dismissed.

          • David Nickol

            both require faith, and faith can’t be dismissed

            To put it very briefly, science doesn't require "faith." Assuming that the world is intelligible and that truth can be discovered by induction is not "faith." It is part of the mental apparatus sane human beings are born with.

          • Vasco Gama

            You are wrong, science doesn't dismiss faith, when one scientist is reporting something, as the synthesis of a new compund and some properties, and writes an article in scientific journal. The edittors if they consider the what is described is reasonable and coherent with the publication standards they choose between other scientists that they conider able to evaluate the contribution and send him a copy of the paper for evaluation. These reviewers analyse the work that is described and they consider that what was writen is reasonable, well described, and consistent with other findings in the area, and if ackowledge that it is relevant they might recomend that work to be published. They don't verify the validity of what is described, or try to check every statement of what was done and observed, if it looks consistent, they will recomend the publication of the article (in sipte they didn't confirm everything that is claimed by the authors). Faith in this assessemnt is unavoidable.

            Even less in the case of the lay people that read popular science articles or books, they have no way to confirm whatever maybe claimed and take it as truth as it looks reasonable based on their trust and confidence on the person that writes the article or the book. There isn't any sort of evidence whatsoever to be confirmed, it is faith (that is presumed to be reasonable, none the less, faith).

          • David Nickol

            The web site of the New York Times tells me that currently in Bombay it is overcast, the temperature is 75°F/24°C, the humidity is 56%, and the barometric pressure is 29.92 in. I believe those to be facts, even though I am in New York City and (at the moment I am typing this) have no way to verify them. You would call that faith, but it isn't faith. It is belief.

            Faith in this assessemnt is unavoidable.

            I have no major quarrel with your description of peer review. However, I think your use of the word faith is inaccurate. You are really talking about belief and perhaps trust. Faith is just the wrong word.

          • Vasco Gama

            I am not trying to discuss semantics, I was using the common meaning of faith, which is "strong belief or trust in someone or something".

            I would say that unless you have any reason to suspect, it seems wise to trust the weather forecast for Bombay (even if you can't verify it is the case).

          • Ignorant Amos

            I have a a family saloon car in my back yard.

            I have a private helicopter in my back yard.

            I have an intercontinental ballistic missile in my back yard.

            I have an intergalactic spaceship in my back yard.

            I have an invisible pink Unicorn in my back yard.

            Which statement would you accept on faith?
            Which on strong belief?
            Which solely on verifiable empirical evidence?
            And which could I not convince you the veracity of at all?

            Of course I'll also ask why?

  • The result an experiment (natures answer) depends on the question put to it. He who tries to be a mere observer experiences nothing. Even the reality of God can only impinge on the vision of him who enters the faith experiment with God. Only by entering does one experience; only by cooperating in the experiment does one ask at all…and only he who asks shall receive.

    Paraphrased a bit from “Introduction to Christianity” by the Great Professor Ratzinger.

  • Moussa Taouk

    Oh for goodness sake!! There are a thousand and one comments about how offended people are that the atheist in the dialogue was simple minded. Alright, how about everyone summon yourselves a bit of patience and instead of whining just present your case.

    I for one (who, ok, sorry to all the brainy intellectuals out there who are already familiar with the ins and outs of various catholic-atheist principles that have been arrived at over the past 150 or so years) thought the dialogue was a VERY GOOD stepping stone off which we can delve into some half-intelligent conversations.

    To begin with: There is a question of knowing. How do we know stuff in which we believe? Scientific-based beliefs or otherwise. I think that's a key question.

    Further: Do we KNOW anything? Or is some of what we know (if not most) actually belief in something or other?

    I was so glad for this article that is an opportunity to delve into those questions. Now I'm just frustrated at the lack of content and mass of childish complaining that is going on in the comments below.

    If anyone cares to take me up on those two questions I'd be much obliged. thanks.

    • Susan

      There is a question of knowing. How do we know stuff in which we believe? Scientific-based beliefs or otherwise. I think that's a key question

      Do we KNOW anything? Or is some of what we know (if not most) actually belief in something or other?

      Those are both very good questions, Moussa. I would say essential.

      Let's say I have a head cold and I believe it's because my neighbour gave me the Evil Eye. ;-)

      Is that knowledge?

      If I believe it's caused by a virus, is that knowledge?

      Is there a difference? If so, what is the difference?

      You're asking the right questions anyway.

      • Moussa Taouk

        I'm gonna kick the arse of your neighbour for that! (joke).

        I think they're both not absolute knowledge. They are examples of you putting your faith in an explanation. That's the similarity. (Do we agree on that much?)

        "Is there a difference? If so, what is the difference?" - Yes.

        The difference is that one is based on a testable (material) explanation and the other is based on a non-testable (immaterial) explanation.

        So then the question is, does one necessarily preclude the other? If you testify that every single time your neighbour squints at you and tells you how healthy you look, you get sick (and when tested... you discover some kind of virus), and when your neighbour doesn't squint at you and tell you how healthy you look, you don't get sick... and if this happens again and again... one might resist the temptation to call you deluded, and at LEAST conclude, "maybe there's something to this". (by the way, I have no idea what is needed for the evil eye thing to take place!).

        Maybe the business of the evil eye is true. Maybe not. I don't know. I've seen people appeal to the idea too quickly and hurt others' feelings as a result. But surely the fact that we can't measure this phenomenon isn't enough ground to be closed off to the possibility.

        If there is enough evidence by way of testimony etc, then one might build a theory around the possibility that there is something such as the "evil-eye" that hurts others by the means of a virus or breaking a leg or whatever.

    • Susan

      Now I'm just frustrated at the lack of content and mass of childish complaining that is going on in the comments below.

      That's a symptom of you getting here late. This sort of thing has been covered for months.

      Atheists here are being charitable when they give the article a bit of a pass because it was written so long ago. I sympathize with that to some extent but not much.

      The fact is that even 23 years ago, Kreeft could have done the intellectual exercise of understanding the position of someone who didn't accept the assertions he wholeheartedly accepts but he didn't bother.

      He was preaching to the choir and this article makes that clear. It's just lazy.

    • Paul Boillot

      Think for a second, Moussa, about that mass of people complaining childishly about the way Kreeft represents atheists.

      Is it more likely that you, a new-comer and non-atheist, are aware of why they might be offended, or is it more likely that you're getting annoyed by comments you don't understand the background of?

      I submit to you that listening to any justly-aggrieved group voice their concerns will be tedious and annoying if you don't know why they are doing so or what they are talking about.

      Certainly being told that our comments lack content and are childish complaints doesn't, for me anyway, make it easy to speak to you civilly. I will try, however, since you make a good-faith admittance of ignorance.

      "Do we KNOW anything?" - That's a tricky question. Without going too far afield into epistemology, I'll just briefly say "no." At least, "no" to what I assume you mean by all-caps "know"; scientific thinking does not pin-down absolute answers to any questions.

      • Susan

        At least, "no" to what I assume you mean by all-caps "know"; scientific thinking does not pin-down absolute answers to any questions.

        Exactly. Nor does it claim to. That's why we keep doing science.

        But if I say I "know" that I have a head cold because of a virus, it is much closer to knowledge than claims about my neighbour's evil eye.

        There are mountains of evidence that lead to reliable predictions on the subject. This is close enough to "knowing" to be called knowledge. And it is always provisional. That is, it can be falsified at any point and replaced by more reliable theories.

      • "Do we KNOW anything?" - That's a tricky question. Without going too far afield into epistemology, I'll just briefly say "no."

        So you know that we can't know anything?

        • Octavo

          A more charitable way to rephrase his statement would be "I opine on the weight of the arguments and evidence I have seen presented, scientific knowledge is provisional and does not establish absolute certainty."

          ~Jesse Webster

          • Paul Boillot

            I stipulated to a short definition of 'know' using the, I assume, intended version: I don't mind his phrasing.

        • Paul Boillot

          That's a great question, Brandon!

          While I'll open with an 'asterisk' about the meaning of 'know'; if I understand you correctly, and if you're asking if I think we can have 100% certainty about the view that we don't have 100% certainty about anything the answer is 'no'.

          I don't know absolutely that there are no certainties, though I'm asymptotically approaching 98%.

          I've been asking myself, and others, these questions for over a decade now. As a result of these ruminations, I am no longer a Catholic, a Christian, a theist, or a believer in any sort of supernatural claims. All of these things have failed my personal certainty-percentage-cutoff.

          These are not new questions for me, or for most atheists, and I think it's pretty funny that Kreeft, and you, think you've got us in a cul-de-sac here. Word/logic games like this used to entertain me and my friends at our high school lunch table.

          Q"Can you be sure of anything?"
          A"No."
          Q"How can you be sure that you can't be sure!?! Ooooh, score!"

          That imagined contradiction is apparent to almost everyone very quickly, hence my (and I imagine others') annoyance at Kreeft writing down his mental-image of an atheist who was too dull to have noticed it.

          It took us a while as high school students to realize that though we claimed a 'hit' when we sussed-out that denying certainty seems contradictory, it is not.

          The answer to the last question I posed in the dialogue above is "I can't be sure that I don't know at least one certainty."

          It's as simple as that. You and Kreeft think skepticism is self-contradictory. It is not.

          • Danny Getchell

            Nicely analyzed.

            This sort of eleventh-grade word game is the bread and butter of second and third tier apologists like Josh McDowell and William Lane Craig.

            I doubt that the likes of Lewis or Chesterton (both of whom I have read fairly extensively) would so insult their audiences' intelligences.

          • "You and Kreeft think skepticism is self-contradictory."

            I don't believe this, and it's unfair for you to suggest it. I have nothing wrong with skepticism per se, but with absolute skepticism, a skepticism that is not skeptical about itself.

          • Paul Boillot

            Kreeft argues through Chris that relativism is logically incoherent.
            S: There's no objective truth.
            C: It's objectively true that there is no objective truth?
            S: Oops.

            Moussa began asking if we KNOW anything, which I took to mean 'know with certainty," I said "no, we don't know anything 100%."

            You asked me if I know 100% that we don't know anything 100%, which is exactly the same setup as Kreeft uses to prove relativism self-contradictory.

            I'm sorry that you feel I've been unfair to you, but it doesn't seem that way to me. I engaged honestly, and in good faith, with Moussa's question, despite being called a childish complainer, and you joined in using Kreeft's formula.

            My answer is "no," nothing we know is 100% certain. Even the preceding sentence; I might very well know things which are certain, but I'm not sure that I do.

            I am absolutely skeptical, even of my skepticism.

          • Also, I think you're defining the word "know" in an extremely tight and unconventional way. In most epistemology textbooks, "knowledge" is not assumed to mean "I have 100% certainty in this claim."

            If you define knowledge in the way you're attempting, you arrive at all sorts of absurdities like not "knowing" your own name (what if your parents lied to you?); "knowing" that your own children are yours (what if your wife deceived you?); or knowing" that you exist (what if you're just a "Matrix"-like illusion). I think the overwhelming number of people (including) philosophers would claim to know their own name, children, and existence.

          • josh

            Brandon, what comment of Paul's are you reading? He doesn't define knowledge, he points out, correctly, that we don't 'know' anything with 100% certainty, but that we can nonetheless get by because some things are certain enough that we take them as given until forced to re-evaluate them. 'Know' and 'don't know' aren't a terribly useful binary when approaching the topic of actual human knowledge.

            Paul is saying that exactly because we don't have to talk in terms of 100% certainties, the 'How do you know you don't know' gambit is a shallow rhetorical game.

          • Paul Boillot

            First off, B, I want to submit that there's probably not much overlap in the following venn diagram:
            Circle 1: Definition of "know" in epistemological textbooks
            Circle 2: Colloquial use of "know"

            If using epistemological textbooks to define 'know' is your move, I hardly think I need to worry about being accused of overly-specific definitions.

            On the other hand:

            I think my definition of "know" is pretty close to conventional usage. All knowledge is provisional. We convict people in courts of law if the evidence is beyond a reasonable doubt, not if there is 100% certainty.

            I wonder why you included "knowing your own children are yours" in your list of absurdities; given the rates of infidelity I imagine this is a not-so absurd concern for many fathers.

            But that's not your main contention, and my answer to it is that the history of philosophy is filled with serious people discussing all of your purported 'absurdities.'

          • Andre Boillot

            Oh God, never go venn diagram...

          • Paul Boillot

            Additionally, I want to point out that I was responding to Moussa's comment, wherein he wrote "KNOW," emphasis his.

            I assumed by that all-caps emphasis he meant certainty.

            If he has a problem with the way I've read him, let him tell me.

          • Danny Getchell

            So if you, Brandon, were to say "I know that Jesus Christ was raised alive from the tomb", could I infer that what you mean is

            "The preponderance of the evidence has caused me to accept that as historical fact"

            rather than

            "I am 100% certain that it happened"??

          • David Nickol

            I don't know what Brandon's answer will be, but according to the Catechism of the Catholic Church, it seems to me it should be "None of the above." The Catechism says:

            154 Believing is possible only by grace and the interior helps of the Holy Spirit. But it is no less true that believing is an authentically human act. Trusting in God and cleaving to the truths he has revealed is contrary neither to human freedom nor to human reason. Even in human relations it is not contrary to our dignity to believe what other persons tell us about themselves and their intentions, or to trust their promises (for example, when a man and a woman marry) to share a communion of life with one another. If this is so, still less is it contrary to our dignity to "yield by faith the full submission of. . . intellect and will to God who reveals", and to share in an interior communion with him.

            155 In faith, the human intellect and will cooperate with divine grace: "Believing is an act of the intellect assenting to the divine truth by command of the will moved by God through grace."

            So I think if Brandon answers in terms of what the Catechism says, he's going to have to say, "You're comparing apples and oranges to talk about epistemology as it is understood in philosophy and belief as it is understood in Catholicism." If "believing is possible only by grace and the interior helps of the Holy Spirit," then "secular" epistemology does not apply. If you are a nonbeliever (that is, do not have "faith"), then Brandon has supernatural help to believe certain things that you, without supernatural help, can't believe.

            Exactly how the Catholic Church explains the fact that people of other religions exhibit the same kind of belief in (perhaps) less inherently believable religions than Catholicism is a question I have not seen answered. I think, for example, it is easier to believe that the authors of the Bible were divinely inspired humans than it is to believe that the source of the Book of Mormon was a set of golden plates guarded by the Angel Moroni. So does God give Mormons supernatural help to believe in the Angel Moroni and the golden plates, or is it possible for Mormons to believe in supernatural and miraculous occurrences without special supernatural help, in which case, why do Catholics need supernatural help to believe in Catholicism?

        • Argon

          Descartes, dude!

    • Danny Getchell

      Do we KNOW anything?

      Moussa, there is a great quote from Penn Jillette that's directly responsive. It goes something like this....

      "If you were to stop me on a downtown street and ask me 'Penn, can you prove for sure that there is not an elephant in your upstairs bathtub at this moment?' I would have to say, 'No, I can't. I don't know for sure.' But if you asked me instead 'Penn, is there an elephant in your upstairs bathtub right now?' I would unhesitatingly and confidently answer, 'No'.

      If you can understand why these two answers both make sense, then you can discuss whether "we KNOW anything" with unbelievers.

  • Slocum Moe

    From it's inception, this site was extremely engaging, authentic and unlike most religious funded internet outlets. It is degrading rapidly. Too bad. Sorry for your loss, Brandon.

    • Michael Murray

      I've been off the site for quite sometime but was there at the beginning. I don't notice a big difference ? What was concerning you ?

      • Slocum Moe

        There was more of a quest for understanding and less overt evangelization. I think it is safe to say that most Christians and atheists are not going to switch over to the other side and constant evangelical rhetoric is irritant and inflammitory.

  • Andre Boillot

    Brandon,

    I know you're busy, but if you get a chance, I would be really interested in hearing your answers to my earlier questions:

    The problem is that I've had great difficulty attracting atheist posts. I've always had an open invitation for new articles, an offer I've made explicit several times to our atheist commenters.

    Given the lack of original work featured here on SN, I'm not sure what point you are making here. Presumably, you reach out to Catholic blogs about hosting /reposting their work - would you say you've made similar efforts to reach out to non-theist blogs about hosting / reposting articles?

    I'm still waiting for a single submission from our most vocal critics.

    This seems overly specific, have you had a submission from any atheists and/or critics?

    http://www.strangenotions.com/faith-reason-and-god-a-socratic-dialogue/#comment-1198726688

  • I liked this! Quick and easy to read, but still thought-provoking.

    I have read many of the previous comments, and while it's natural that Atheists would prefer a version of dialog where their guy seemed to score points on the Believer, I disagree with the characterization of the dialog as cartoonish or a parody. (It certainly isn't the latter.) This kind of dialog is no more cartoonish than dialog from any novel or script. In fact, the things said by this Atheist are exactly the kinds of things that we hear from Atheists in real life. Including the bloggers here! :)
    Importantly, they are the simplified, but still essential, arguments that you would hear when people are talking. That's the key - These characters aren't writing back and forth, where more depth and nuance could be expected.

    All things considered, it's was worth the 3 minutes to read, and 10 minutes to pound out this thought! :)

    • Susan

      Including the bloggers here!

      Examples?

      • Ah, thank you Susan. Allow me to provide an (extremely recent) example comparing the words of fictional character, "Sal," with the words of actual blogger, "Susan". In each case, notice how the skeptical subject wishes to be provided with more evidence to back up an assertion made by the believer. It is remarkable how similar the queries are:

        Sal (fictional):"Like what?"
        Susan (real):"Examples?"

        Uncanny! ;)

        • My goodness, Dave: both you and Chris used "the" in what you wrote. Uncanny!

          I don't think any of us who objected to the parodic nature of the piece did so because the skeptic was asking for evidence to back up assertions made about the skeptic.

          • Good one.
            Anyway, I have created a helpful tool below so you don't keep misusing the term "parodic."
            -------------

            An 'X' has been placed next to the line which references material of a parodic nature:

            [ ] Dr. Kreeft's dialog.
            [X] Rob's funny joke about the word "the".

          • Parodic: "Being or resembling a parody"

            Parody: "Something so bad as to be equivalent to intentional mockery."

            I think I'm okay.

          • Ha - that's the same definition I was using for your joke!

            Thing is, it doesn't apply to Dr. Kreeft's article. You're just upset because your guy doesn't win the argument.

          • Hey Dave. Inventing motives for what a commenter has said (rather than addressing the content of the comment) is considered an ad hominem argument and is a violation of commenting guidelines. I've explained my objections to this article several times on this thread, and if you care to engage those objections rather than searching out some hidden motivation for them, I'll be happy to discuss them with you.

          • Rob hold on a sec...

            Let me just bask in the irony of an Atheist accusing a Catholic of inventing motives...

            Ok. I'm back. You were saying?

          • Paul Boillot

            Dave H,

            Brandon likes the cut of your jib, he's upvoted some of your other snarky material, so I doubt you're in danger of being moderated any time soon.

            But, for the record, this sort of comment is in violation of what I understand the conduct policy to be.

          • Oh hi Paul. I see no one has moderated your earlier post where you accuse me of lying and "crummy dialogue technique." Someone likes the cut of Paul's jib too!!
            :)

          • Paul Boillot

            I didn't accuse you of lying; 'accuse' implies there's something to be contested. There isn't. I just pointed out that what you were saying was a falsehood.

            Lying like that happens to be a bad way to engage in civil conversation; I know it's harsh to hear it like that, but I promise I'm not trying to be discourteous or uncivil.

            So far as I've seen, your contributions here have relied heavily on snark, sarcasm, and ad-hominems.

            "In fact, the things said by this Atheist are exactly the kinds of things that we hear from Atheists in real life. Including the bloggers here! :)"

            and

            "Let me just bask in the irony of an Atheist accusing a Catholic of inventing motives...Ok. I'm back. You were saying?"

            If you made logical arguments, and I tried to counter your arguments by pointing out discreditable things about yourself as if they mattered to the substance of your concern, that would ad-hominem.

            But, you don't. Neither of those statements were logical arguments. The first was simply an, factually incorrect, opinion of the dialogue at SN, the second was pure sarcasm.

            Is it an ad-hominem to point out ad-hominems? I don't think so.

          • It took you 9 paragraphs to try to wiggle your way out of calling me a liar. Well, 8, if you don't count the paragraph consisting of the word 'and'. Either way, that's not efficient.

          • Paul Boillot

            You continue to misunderstand; don't worry, I'm patient.

            I'm not calling you a liar. I'm merely calling your attention to the fact that you lied.

            I have no idea whether or not you make a habit of it, and I will not let it prejudice me against any future cogent argument you may make.

          • Very kind. You are indeed patient. And you like to type a whole bunch.

          • Paul Boillot

            Thank you; I do try to be patient, with varying degrees of success.

            It must have been a shock to realize you made a mis-judgement, but don't worry, we all do so from time to time.

            As to my predilection for prose: you have me dead to rights. I like to read and write a whole bunch.

          • You can read?

          • Paul Boillot

            Fairly well...I'd say a John Grisham type novel takes me a weekend to finish.

          • Paul Boillot

            Additionally, I didn't say that your not having been moderated was a sign of approval, but Brandon's up-voting of your comments is.

    • Paul Boillot

      " In fact, the things said by this Atheist are exactly the kinds of things that we hear from Atheists in real life. Including the bloggers here! :)"

      Writing the words "in fact" before lying is a crummy dialogue technique.

      • Ouch. Two insults in one sentence!
        :)

        • Paul Boillot

          Is it insulting if I call an elephant "grey and wrinkly"?

          • Oh Paul. I see what you did there!
            ;)

          • Paul Boillot

            Did it seem like I was trying to be obtuse?

            I hope not, my goal was to make my point intelligible to everyone.

            I'm glad you managed to see it!

  • cminca

    Brandon--
    I would call upon you to remark on the lack of moderation to Dave H's comments.
    There is quite a double standard in evidence.

    • Cminca, please read the whole thread. You'll see that the snarkiness wasn't started by me, it began with others and frankly, I played along because it was kind of fun to tease those guys back. I'm sure they can handle it just fine without your intervention. And if they don't like it, they can be respectful from the outset.

      • cminca

        I called it like I saw it.

        You know what amazes me? You "believers" talk and talk and talk and wonder why you don't convert the non-conformists.

        Take a look at your remarks and ask yourself why someone would think you are a "Christian" and why anyone would think that is a good thing to be. Ask yourself if your comments are, in any way, representative of the religion or the Savior you claim to follow.

        Now go on You Tube and watch Father Barron's video about "tolerance". It is amazing how smug, dismissive, condescending and truly nasty he is while discussing the "intolerance" of others.

        Instead of trying to tell other why they should be Christians perhaps you should show people what it means to act like one?

        • Calling Fr. Barron "truly nasty" is bizarre. That has to be a very small group who agrees with you on that one.

          But more importantly, I want to do a math experiment. You claim that we believers "talk and talk and talk" and don't convert the non-conformists (codeword for Atheists?). Anyway, ok, that's 3 "talks".

          However, Atheists post twice as much as Catholics on this blog. Roughly. So let's just say that Atheists "talk and talk and talk and talk and talk and talk". Ok, everyone still with me?

          Now, I will submit to you that it's the conversion ratio that matters. I call it "Conversions-Per-Talk-Unit". I'll be charitable and say that conversions going either way are about equal. I think there have been twelve. Now, here's where it gets good. Catholics, if you go strictly by CPTUs, have out-converted the Atheists four to two!

          If you think Fr. Barron is smug, you can't begin to imagine how I feel after seeing these numbers!

          • cminca

            Your remarks are clearly not intended at respectful dialogue.
            So congrats--you've proven my original point.
            Over and out.

          • Correct. I was teasing you.

          • Ignorant Amos

            And to think that some great contributors have been, scorned, chastised, berated, censored and eventually banned for so much less....so much less in fact that it was mere moderator subjective opinion that even believers disagreed with. Impartial moderation me a**e..

          • You didn't use enough angry verbs. You forgot tortured and burned at the stake. Maybe that's why you still only have 3 up votes by the Atheist Voter Brigade. I'm sure the other 2 will show up eventually. :)

          • Michael Murray

            I've been away. Who are the 12 conversions ? Did Rick convert to atheism -- is that why he is no longer here ? Wow.

            I don't understand why you think the site is about conversions. The description Brandon gives makes it clear it is about seeking the truth.

          • If your questions are serious, you must not have read the original post I was replying to.
            On the other hand, if you're just trying to be funny, I love it! I will definitely up-vote you! :D

          • Paul Boillot

            I don't think there have been any public changes of feeling/position.

            None that I'm aware of.

            Rick, alas, did not convert. He was exiled for being....Rick? (I wasn't privy to the details.)

          • Ignorant Amos

            Well he didn't appear to be a convert by the time he had pitched up at The Friendly Atheist blog shortly after being slated from here....complete with geocentricism in tow. Poor Rick, so extreme a Catholic even Catholics got embarrassed...an internet feat of biblical proportions.

        • Lionel Nunez

          I've seen his video on tolerance in and the way you characterize it; it's as if we saw different videos. I'm sorry but if you want anyone who already doesn't agree with you to change their opinion then you're going to have to walk us through it ,point by point, and explain exactly where he becomes "smug, dismissive, condescending and truly nasty".

          • When he spends most of the time laughing at the bishop, it feels like he is being smug, dismissive, and condescending.

          • cminca

            Thanks Rob.

            Let's not forget the piece is titled "The LIMITS of Tolerance" and one of the first things he references is the "loopy ideology of the theory of inclusivity".

            And yes, he spends most of the time chortling to himself about the silly Episcopalian bishop.

          • Lionel Nunez

            If you came from a Christian background and understood conventional Christian theology, you would understand how ridiculous she sounds from a purely theological perspective. Her comments are so close, or are already, sacrilegious that it's hard for anyone in a more popular, and well-accepted Christian faith tradition to pretend to take her seriously for the purpose refuting her statements. And, I'm sorry to have to point this out, but, not only does your response not fully address what I asking, but I would rather that the original commenter justify his own statements so as to ascertain his reasoning behind them. Thank you for the effort though.

          • I do come from Christian background and I do understand conventional Christian theology, but the question of whether she sounds ridiculous is moot, as it is not her argument that's under discussion, but Barron's attitude he refutes it.

            As for how my reply doesn't fully address what you're asking, I don't see how not. Granted, I did not go through point by point, but that's because you were asking about the emotional tone of his response, not its intellectual rigor. By pointing out his repeated laughing and scoffing (however justified you think it might have been), I pointed the moments where he was smug, dismissive, and condescending.

            Finally, I should point out to you that my reply in no prevents cminca from replying.

          • Lionel Nunez

            Indulge me in a mental exercise for a moment; If a person seriously suggested to you that you should use your own urine to maintain your hygiene in lieu of water, does there exist an objective moral requirement to engage them seriously or should immediately call them out on their buffoonery? If the answer is yes, then I'm sorry, but do not speak to me because I cannot help you. If the answer is no; then Fr. Barron is entitled to think her strange and inconsistent assertions, with respect to mainstream Christian tradition and theology, are ridiculous and treat them as such. If your answer is that her interpretation isn't ridiculous and shouldn't be treated as such then you've betrayed the truth that you really don't know, as much as you think you know, about how the bible is read and I cannot help you.

          • Wow. You're assuming quite a bit. What made you think I'm interested in taking a stand on whether her interpretation is/isn't ridiculous? I haven't gone anywhere near there.

            No, the facts much simpler. You asked why cminca thought Barron's response was "smug, dismissive, condescending and truly nasty." Now I don't think it was necessarily truly nasty, but I thought the other adjective did apply.

            So I answered your question. That is all.

            I don't know why you object to it. In fact, it seems with your use of "buffoonery" that you may think Barron was right to be "smug, dismissive, and condescending."

            I don't know, and in any case, I haven't taken a stand on that. I'm simply asking your question about what it is in Barron's delivery that makes him appear that way.

          • Lionel Nunez

            If you aren't taking a stand as to whether or not Fr. Barron is justified then you're wasting my time and just want to argue for arguing's sake. Because either what she said was ridiculous and people should treat it as such or it wasn't and he was being pompous with his response. Even so, in the case of the former, only the first two assertions about his character could apply if a person was being hyper-literal as to their definitions without regard for the connotations attached to them and even then they aren't necessarily 'inappropriate' sentiments. The "condescending and truly nasty" qualities that cminca claims he has are only applicable if he's wrong in his interpretation.

          • No. You asked a very specific question, and I answered it. Then you speculated on a whole set of opinions that I haven't expressed, which struck me as you wanting to argue for arguing sake.

            If you wanted a conversation about whether Barron's mocking laughter was warranted, then that's the question you should have asked. But it wasn't.

            And by the way, a person can be "smug, dismissive, condescending" while speaking the complete truth. You didn't ask a question about the truth of his statements. You asked about why people perceived his attitude in a certain way.

            You asked a very specific question, and I answered it.

          • Lionel Nunez

            You just like to quarrel, I can't indulge you.

          • You asked a very specific question, and I answered it. And then you introduced a whole new set of issues, initiating a quarrel.

          • cminca

            Lionel--
            Rob responded before I saw you post, and I thanked him. I then added further comments.

      • Paul Boillot

        This was your first post in the thread:

        while it's natural that Atheists would prefer a version of dialog where their guy seemed to score points on the Believer, I disagree with the characterization of the dialog as cartoonish or a parody. (It certainly isn't the latter.) This kind of dialog is no more cartoonish than dialog from any novel or script. In fact, the things said by this Atheist are exactly the kinds of things that we hear from Atheists in real life. Including the bloggers here! :)

        You started off here dismissing atheist concerns about straw men and cartoonish parody as pique for being accurately portrayed as losing the race.

        Far be it from you to read all the atheist comments and notice that they had nothing to do with concern over 'scoring points,' but rather were substantive objections to the clearly-shallow self-depiction they were treated to.

        Not content to merely accuse atheists of being sore losers *and* ignoring everything written before you opined, you then asserted that actually, Sal is not a substantively poor rendition of atheist beliefs, not even of the atheists here!

        So your opening salvo is by turns condescendingly dismissive, ignorant, and objectively false. Insults, followed by lies, followed by: "please read the whole thread. You'll see that the snarkiness wasn't started by me."

        • :) Yikes, Paul - you make me out to be a monster! It's funny but also disturbing that you used all those negative words to describe an innocuous post (which is now buried below…)

          I don't think Dr. Kreeft's dialog was shallow at all. I thought it was a decent portrayal. You disagree. That's fine.

          And of course Atheists hated that Sal wasn't 'scoring points.' You don't need to state it explicitly. It's obvious. :) Even your post here, which I'm responding to, tries to score points by castigating my innocent little "opening salvo". I mean, even the terminology you use, opening salvo, shows you view this as some kind of battle or competition!

          • Paul Boillot

            I know you're trolling, but in engaging you I can continue to show restraint in the face of insults; and patient replies in the face of mockery. Not for your sake, but for the sake of any undecideds reading.

            I don't view these dialogues as a battle or a competition. I am here to share my understanding of the world from an atheist's perspective. There's no winning in 'sharing,' what would it even look like?

            I do, however, care about my position being misrepresented. It seems like a breach-of-terms to be invited to share, and then told that I believe idiocy. That's what the OP here does.

            The rules of discourse and civility which I have agreed to abide by preclude competition; this is not the time or the place to see who can be better at snark. I called your first post in this thread a "salvo," not because I think you are scoring points, but because you opened with insults and lies.

            I don't think of this place as competitive, I regularly up-vote people I disagree with. Your first post in this thread talked about scoring points, my first post in this thread was a call for honesty and a plea for dialogue.

            Frankly, I think it's odd that you and Steve Willy are still allowed to post here with the level of personal attacks, snark, and dishonesty your replies contain.

          • Hi Paul, This is your best post yet, in terms of entertainment value.

            The whole post was excellent, but I think for me, the thing I enjoyed most was how you help the reader understand how virtuous and above-the-fray you are. And so patient too! Certainly not one to engage in petty insults... I almost think to myself, this man is a saint. A martyr even!

            And then it was fun to go read all the places where you say I have 'crummy dialogue technique', call me a troll, tell me I lie, and declare that I'm ignorant. Plus all the stuff you have called me on other pages.

          • Paul Boillot

            Did you lie?
            Is lying a bad dialogue technique?
            Did you troll?
            Did you write ignorant statments?

            If you answered 'yes' to all of these questions, I don't know what your sarcasm is for.

            I will admit it feels odd that I, a godless heathen with no basis for morality, have to explain the rules of this forum, let alone decent conduct, to a turn-the-other-cheek Christian; but it seems like I'm the only one who will.

            No rest for the wicked, eh?

          • Sigh. Good night, Paul.

  • I'm a skeptic rather than a relativist, so I'm quite different than Sal. However, I think the most important divergence would be like this section from a parallel dialogue:

    Chris: And you think the scientific method is the only way to prove anything.

    Sal: Really to prove anything, yes.

    Chris: Can you prove that?

    Sal: Yes, it's been done many times. See E.T. Jayne's famous presentation in the early chapters of his book "Probability Theory: The Logic of Science" for a nice derivation and proof, and the applications in the later chapters to things outside what we normally think of as the scientific enterprise.

    Chris: Oh, that's interesting. I'll have to check out a copy at a library, or buy it from Amazon, or look at a free copy online. Let's talk more after I update what I know about all this.

    • Noah, will you briefly share Jayne's proof that scientific method can prove that scientific method is the only way to prove anything?

      • It's several pages long and contains math formulas, so, er, no, I can't effectively post it here. I can vouch that it is available for download online if you'd rather not try the library; I can't vouch for the legality of that download in all jurisdictions. If you want, I'll describe it qualitatively, however:

        The proof, which was presented well by Jaynes but was not Jaynes's, begins with his formalization of the scientific method as what he calls "extended logic", incorporating mathematical logic plus four desiderata about the ways in which reasoning about plausibility (rather than logical necessity) should be describable and internally consistent. Then in the proof phase he basically examines the types of functions that can satisfy the desiderata, and he concludes that there is a unique such function (up to isomorphism, of course); it happens to also handle reasoning about logical necessity. That is to say, he shows that there is only one possible structure that matches correct, internally consistent attempts to prove things. And that structure is what is historically developed as the scientific method. We could say then that any valid uses of "Common sense, experience, intuition, insight, reasoning, and trustable authority" should indeed rely on logic plus experiment, although it's fine for mundane purposes if the experiment is quite informal and indeliberate.

        • Andrew G.

          I think you really need to go a bit further than that to properly account for the position of science.

          My argument would, just to sketch out the ideas, be something like this:

          1. We have a reasonable basis to claim that in anything like the real world, probability theory is (up to isomorphisms) the unique way to reason correctly about strength of belief. (There are counterexamples to Cox's theorem but only in cases where an agent can't generate arbitrarily small changes in plausibility.)

          2. The crucial aspect of the scientific method is not some philosophical definition, or specific technique, or cultural convention, or whatever, but rather the ability to judge the success of its own methods by testing them against reality. As a result, science is the best route to knowledge (about non-abstracts) we have, simply because if there were ever to be a better way, we would use scientific methods to verify its effectiveness and then incorporate it into the normal practice of science.

          (The study of abstractions is the domain of pure mathematics, but while mathematics can tell you the behaviour of some abstract construct like numbers or topological spaces, it can't tell you which abstractions correctly capture particular features of the universe.)

          3. There are deep connections between the concepts of information and probability, and the concept of entropy in thermodynamics. So much so, in fact, that we can demonstrate via the Szilárd engine that information can be converted into energy, and that loss of information must increase entropy at a precise rate. This means that any method of acquiring knowledge that doesn't involve physical interaction is a violation of conservation of energy - and therefore in principle detectable by experiment.

          4. Likewise, anything that has a cause-and-effect relationship with any part of the local physical universe can be studied in principle, even if the relationship is one-way. (Any cause/effect relationship conveys information.)

          5. Our knowledge of thermodynamics and so on is a scientific theory and therefore tentative, but the only way it could be "wrong" is if it fails to correctly predict the way the real world behaves - i.e. it is subject to scientific testing. It would be meaningless to claim that thermodynamics was "wrong" without being able to point to some sort of consequence not being correctly predicted.

          6. From all the above, it is therefore nonsensical to claim that anything other than science itself can prescribe limits on what kinds of cause/effect relationships can be studied.

          7. None of the above requires an a priori rejection of "supernatural" concepts - unless you insist on a nonsensical definition of "supernatural", such as one violating (6) above. The best definition of "supernatural" remains Carrier's ("ontologically basic mental phenomena") and is fully compatible with scientific investigation (no supernatural entities have been found to exist, but in principle if there were any they could be studied).

          8. By the above, all theistic religions are open to scientific study since they propose cause-and-effect interactions with the physical universe.

          9. Obviously all of this attracts cries of "scientism!" from philosophers, theologians and other pundits who have, provably, no comparably effective access to knowledge-producing mechanisms. Sucks to be them, I guess.

          • Excellent points all.

            I'd never thought about the consequences of information conversion to heat for general epistemology!

        • Noah and Andrew, thanks for taking all that time to provide thoughtful responses.

          I enjoyed reading them, but these types of arguments are rarely persuasive to people who aren't already predisposed to their conclusions. That's because they fall victim to the same fate of all such efforts: They can't get past the basic logic that a thing can't prove itself.

          To build a case for this argument, one must put forth all sorts of complex, impressive sounding definitions and premises (and let's not forget desiderata). But what can prove that these premises and definitions are the right ones? Well, if they want to be internally consistent, only Scientific Method can. But Scientific Method's Prove-All-Things capability is the very thing that these are in the process of proving. It immediately gets circular, and no amount of reasoning can escape from this fundamental fact. Not even with the help of a Szilard Engine!. ;)

          So while Scientific Method is a primary means to gain knowledge about our material universe, it is always misguided to say Scientific Method is "the only way to prove anything."

          • They can't get past the basic logic that a thing can't prove itself.

            Generally, that statement is false. There are of course important kinds of things that can't prove themselves: Godel's infamous theorems and all that. Why do you believe your principle applies here to the scientific method?

          • Actually, that statement is true. If you wish to prove its falsehood with Scientific Method (which, according to you, is capable of the feat), I would love to hear it.

            Thing is, the Scientific Method is so magnificent in its explanatory powers that I can see how Atheists are seduced into thinking it can prove all things, including the existence or absence of supernature. Especially given the emotionally driven mindset of many Atheists who desperately desire a Godless reality.

            Here's some very light reading... Actually talks about Scientific Method (not being capable of) proving itself.

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

          • There are several useful ways to approach this.

            First, your post is intentionally offensive. I have flagged it. I'd rather that, instead of it being deleted, you edited it to state your argument without the imputation of base motives.

            Second, the proof you are requesting was already given higher in the thread.

            Third, you fell into the old "shift the burden" trap of arguing that I have to consider you right until I prove you wrong. I don't have to do any such thing. I am free to remain skeptical, supposing that you might be right, or you might be wrong, until demonstrated one way or the other. Currently my best reasons point to "wrong", and you haven't provided any others.

            Fourth is the part of this post that tries to move the conversation forward. It seems to me that you intended to say something subtly different from what you actually said. You wrote, "a thing can't prove itself," which is false. But then you provided a link to the Wikipedia article on circular reasoning, which suggests that what you really meant was "a thing can't prove itself without any assumptions". And yes, that's true. For that matter, nothing whatever can be proved without assumptions. There are, however, systems that can prove themselves in interesting, non-trivial ways, and that's what I was talking about.

          • Thanks, Noah Luck, for lecturing me in a tidy, four-part post! ;)
            You may be happy to know that I turned off my condescension-detector and actually read it!

            Anyway, it's too bad you flagged my comment for deletion. I don't understand it in this specific case. But you got offended. I probably used to get easily offended when someone had a viewpoint I disagreed with.

            Btw did you edit your earlier post and then forget? I'm wondering because you wrote:
            Second, the proof you are requesting was already given higher in the thread.
            But higher in the thread I only see:
            ...so, er, no, I can't effectively post it here.

            (followed by some info describing his approach.)

            If you wrote his whole proof you should have left it in!

            No big deal. I know Jaynes is popular with some Atheists, so you put some of his stuff out there. Certainly nothing wrong with that!

          • Troll.

          • You have gone from sanctimonious to name-calling! That is a shame.

            As I alluded to in my now-deleted post, emotion is a significant ingredient when evidence, probability, and "proofs" are being considered, especially when it comes to hot-button issues like the existence of God. If that's why you flagged it, I feel vindicated.

  • nowornever

    You know, I came here because I liked the idea of having a good-faith discussion with religious folk (when so much of the internet frequently dissolves into mean-spirited bickering, to put it mildly) and yet the first article I find is an insulting, strawman caricature of a 'fake debate' in which a Catholic imagines a stupid atheist making weak arguments that are easily countered by the wise, superior, patient religious man.

    And then the moderator is purposefully playing dumb in response to the well-deserved criticism. Seriously, I refuse to believe that Brandon isn't familiar with the common idiomatic usage of the word 'insufferable;' when someone says "man, I'm starving" does he immediately call 911 so he can get his friend emergency nutrient therapy? And then the sheer disingenuousness of claiming that looking at this article as a rhetorical contest is wrong, when it so clearly was constructed to make atheist arguments lose. This is just more of the patronizing, insulting attitude that has turned me off all my other attempts to dialogue with religious people.

    But maybe it's actually impossible for Brandon or other religious people to get the problem. In that case, hopefully this will help:

    Atheist: Why do you believe in god?
    Catholic: I don't know, I just kinda feel like he exists.
    Atheist: Are all your feelings always correct?
    Catholic: No.
    Atheist: So maybe god doesn't exist?
    Catholic: You're right! I'll leave the church.

    Do you get why this annoys people now, Brandon? I'm really, really sorry to discover this. I was hoping for something more.

    Lastly, if any Catholic here wants to have an actual Socratic dialogue along the same lines, I'm up for it. One thing I guarantee- the author of this article isn't interested in such an offer, because then he might have to deal with arguments he didn't concoct himself for the purpose of beating.