• Strange Notions Strange Notions Strange Notions

What Faith Is and What it Isn’t

Hands

The Protestant theologian Paul Tillich once commented that “faith” is the most misunderstood word in the religious vocabulary. I’m increasingly convinced that he was right about this. The ground for my conviction is the absolutely steady reiteration on my Internet forums of gross caricatures of what serious believers mean by faith.

Again and again, my agnostic, atheist, and secularist interlocutors tell me that faith is credulity, naïvete, superstition, assent to irrational nonsense, acceptance of claims for which there is no evidence, etc., etc. And they gladly draw a sharp distinction between faith, so construed, and modern science, which, they argue, is marked by healthy skepticism, empirical verification, a reliable and repeatable method, and the capacity for self-correction. How fortunate, they conclude, that the Western mind was able finally to wriggle free from the constraints of faith and move into the open and well-lighted space of scientific reason. And how sad that, like a ghost from another time and place, faith continues, even in the early twenty-first century to haunt the modern mind and to hinder its progress.

This wave of contention comes at a time when the Catholic Church is winding down its own "Year of Faith.” Which makes it a good time, it seems to me, to clarify what Catholics do and don’t mean by that obviously controversial word.

I will begin with an analogy. If you are coming to know a person, and you are a relatively alert type, your reason will be fully engaged in the process. You will look that person over, see how she dresses and comports herself, assess how she relates to others, You'll Google her and find out where she went to school and how she is employed, ask mutual friends about her, etc. All of this objective investigation could take place even before you had the opportunity to meet her. When you finally make her acquaintance, you will bring to the encounter all that you have learned about her and will undoubtedly attempt to verify at close quarters what you have already discovered on your own.

But then something extraordinary will happen, something over which you have no real control, something that will, inevitably, reveal to you things that you otherwise would never know: she will speak. In doing so, she will, on her own initiative, disclose her mind, her heart, her feelings to you. Some of what she says will be in concord with what you have already found out, but much of it—especially if your relationship has deepened and your conversations are profound and intimate—will be new, wonderful, beyond anything you might have discovered on your own.

But as she speaks and as you listen, you will be faced with a choice: do you believe her or not? Again, some of what she says you might be able to verify through your own previous investigation, but as she speaks of her feelings, her intentions, her aspirations, her most abiding fears, you know that you have entered a territory beyond your capacity to control. And you have to decide: do you trust her or not? So it goes, whether we like it or not, anytime we deal with a person who speaks to us. We don’t surrender our reason as we get to know another person, but we must be willing to go beyond our reason; we must be willing to believe, to trust, to have faith.

This is, I think, an extremely illuminating analogy for faith in the theological sense. For Catholics (and I would invite my Internet friends to pay very close attention here), authentic faith never involves a sacrificium intellectus (a "sacrifice of the intellect"). God wants us to understand all we can about him through reason. By analyzing the order, beauty, and contingency of the world, there is an enormous amount of “information” we can gather concerning God: his existence, his perfection, the fact that he is endowed with intellect and will, his governance of the universe, etc. If you doubt me on this, I would invite you to take a good long look at the first part of Thomas Aquinas’s Summa Theologiae.

Now one of the truths that reason can discover is that God is a person, and the central claim of the Bible is that this Person has not remained utterly hidden but has, indeed, spoken. As is the case with any listener to a person who speaks, the listener to the divine speech has to make a choice: do I believe him or not? The decision to accept in trust what God has spoken about himself is what the Church means by “faith.”

This decision is not irrational, for it rests upon and is conditioned by reason, but it presses beyond reason, for it represents the opening of one heart to another. In the presence of another human being, you could remain stubbornly in an attitude of mistrust, choosing to accept as legitimate only those data that you can garner through rational analysis; but in so doing, you would close yourself to the incomparable riches that that person might disclose to you. The strict rationalist, the unwavering advocate of the scientific method as the only path to truth, will know certain things about the world, but he will never come to know a person.

The same dynamic obtains in regard to God, the supreme Person. The Catholic Church wants people to use reason as vigorously and energetically as possible—and this very much includes scientific reason. But then it invites them, at the limits of their striving, to listen, to trust, to have faith.
 
 
Originally posted at Word on Fire. Used with author's permission.
(Image credit: Fine Art America)

Bishop Robert Barron

Written by

Bishop Robert Barron is Auxiliary Bishop of the Archdiocese of Los Angeles. He is an acclaimed author, speaker, and theologian. He’s America’s first podcasting priest and one of the world’s most innovative teachers of Catholicism. His global, non-profit media ministry called Word On Fire reaches millions of people by utilizing new media to draw people into or back to the Faith. Bishop Barron is also the creator and host of CATHOLICISM, a groundbreaking, 10-part documentary series and study program about the Catholic Faith. He is the author of several books including Thomas Aquinas: Spiritual Master (Crossroad, 2008); The Strangest Way: Walking the Christian Path (Orbis, 2002); and Catholicism: A Journey to the Heart of the Faith (Image, 2011). Find more of his writing and videos at WordOnFire.org.

Enjoy this article? Receive future posts free by email:

Note: Our goal is to cultivate serious and respectful dialogue. While it's OK to disagree—even encouraged!—any snarky, offensive, or off-topic comments will be deleted. Before commenting please read the Commenting Rules and Tips. If you're having trouble commenting, read the Commenting Instructions.

  • I prefer Lara Buchak's definition of faith (this time taken from her paper http://philosophy.berkeley.edu/file/490/Buchak_Can_it_be_Rational_to_have_Faith.pdf ):

    A person has faith that X, expressed by A, if and only if that person performs act A when there is some alternative act B such that he strictly prefers A & X to B & X and he strictly prefers B & ~X to A & ~X, and the person prefers to commit to A before he examines additional evidence rather than to postpone his decision about A until he examines additional evidence.

    I think this can be interpreted for regular discussion without losing too much*:

    I have faith in a certain idea or person, expressed by an action, if and only if I prefer to take that action when there's some sort of risk and when an alternative action is available, such that if I did not have the faith, I would want to take the alternative action. Also, I prefer to take the action instead of looking for further evidence for my faith beforehand.

    I think that this definition allows for both rational and irrational faith. Buchak says that whether faith in X expressed by A is rational:

    depends on two important factors: (1) whether one has a high enough (rational) degree of belief in X, and (2) the character of the available evidence. Specifically, faith in X is rational only if the available evidence is such that no possible piece of evidence tells conclusively enough against X.

    I have faith that my wife won't cheat on me, expressed by my remaining married to her. I think that my faith in my wife is rational. There may even be some cases, which Buchak argues for at the end of her paper, where having faith is more rational than not having faith.

    ---------
    *My redefinition does not reproduce Buchak's definition perfectly. For those who which to critique this definition in any substantial way, please use her formulation, and not mine.

    • felixcox

      This article makes assertions without backing them up. He asserts "Now one of the truths that reason can discover is that God is a person, and the central claim of the Bible is that this Person has not remained utterly hidden but has, indeed, spoken."
      But a reasonable look at early christianity must include all possible explanations of the known facts, and must also take such facts in light of all we have learned about the origins of all religions. Christians reject mundane explanations and embrace second-hand hearsay accounts of the impossible, without sufficient evidence. Also, there is no reasonable or possible way to verify if ANYONE is without sin, least of all someone who hasn't walked the earth in 2000 years. Reason tells us all people make mistakes. To claim somebody is perfect requires massive evidence, when there is no possible way Jesus's thoughts, for example, could be scrutinized by an outside party. Therefore christianity rests upon unreasonable suppositions.

      The now-standard appeal to Aquinas is getting tiresome. His arguments fall apart on close inspection, since they lie on unsupportable premises.

      • Was this meant to be a reply to me or a stand-alone comment?

        • felixcox

          stand-alone, sorry.

      • Chicagoish

        You also make assertions without backing them up. "his arguments fall apart on close inspection, since they lie on unsupportable premises." I only point this out because I find it interesting that an unbeliever would hold a believer to a higher standard than he holds himself. That doesn't make the thesis of the article true, or even relate to the article in any way. Just something to think about.

        • felixcox

          True, in response to a post that asserts without evidence, I dismissed without evidence.
          I know this will deprive believers of one of their typical responses, but merely saying, "go read Augustine" is not a rebuttal that deserves a lengthy response.
          Believers are the ones making extraordinary claims, and as much as it frustrates them to be asked to provided extraordinary evidence, it's still necessary in order for their position to be reasonable.
          If you've read my posts you will know that in addition to dismissing Augustine as flippantly as he was introduced into the discussion, I give several points demonstrating the inherent impossibility of catholic claims. Interesting and perhaps revealing that you don't address those!
          If you have a change of heart, perhaps you can elucidate on how the church can say with dogmatic certainty that Jesus was perfect and committed no sin- despite the fact that PROVING such is absolutely impossible (since sin can be as unwitness-able as thinking lustfully). Good luck with that! I'm sure you'll have a thoughtful, rational response beyond "go read augustine..."

          • Alden Smith

            Also stop repeating that same atheist line over and over again its getting tiresome

          • felixcox

            I'll repeat it until you answer it. You can't, so instead you demand that I stop asking those pesky questions! LOL, thanks for once again demonstrating the intellectual weakness behind christianity!

            I'll say it again, got anything beyond ancient hearsay? Nope.

          • David Nickol

            I'll say it again, got anything beyond ancient hearsay?

            Of course, for almost all of history, all we have is "ancient hearsay." In fact, for almost everything we know, all we have is "hearsay." There is no possible way to prove anyone is without sin. (What is sin, by the way?) There is no possible way to prove anyone is not a total fraud. You can't know what is in a person's mind or heart, even if you know him or her personally and intimately. And as for historical figures, two biographers may depict the same person in totally different ways. Sometimes after a business meeting when I would talk with my colleagues, I would be amazed at how different people interpreted what had happened totally differently.

            I can find it very irritating when people claim to to know "religious truths" with absolute certainty and talk about what "God says" or "the Bible says." But on the other hand, if you scoff at people for believing what they believe without "proof," you really have to scoff at almost everyone for believing almost anything.

            Why does it make you angry that people believe things you don't? And would you have similar arguments with Jews, Muslims, Hindus, and Buddhists? Or is it only Christians you hold in contempt for believing what you do not?

          • felixcox

            LOL, I'm not angry! I'm amused at the outrage of believers here who get defensive when they make extremely improbable, not to mention physically impossible, assertions, and are asked to provide intellectual justification for said beliefs.
            I don't hold believers in contempt- my entire family is devout and I love and respect them. Why do you hold unbelievers in contempt? (see what I did there)
            I'm interested in ideas. Believers here make extraordinary claims and they claim it's reasonable to hold such. When pressed, they cannot show any medium-to-strong evidence that justifies the beliefs. but they want to have their cake and eat it to- they hold unreasonable positions but still rhetorically claim that they are indeed reasonable. Of course I have similar quibbles with the devout of any religion.

            I agree that our knowledge of history is dependent on hearsay. But we filter it through common sense; we should take all ancient accounts with a grain of salt. When Herodotus claimed an army numbered five million, historians believe it physically possible but extremely unlikely, for demographic reasons. Without further evidence, historians dismiss the number as exaggeration. If an ancient text makes a claim that we know is physically impossible, we should then ask for even more evidence. The claims that Mohammed or Jesus rose into outer space, for example, fly in the face of absolutely everything we know about physics. Therefore, we should apply a healthy dose of skepticism to such claims; they should be dismissed as fanciful legends until new evidence corroborates the claim. Miraculous claims are in a different category then ordinary claims- or do you disagree? Are all historical claims equal? I think not. I think we should apply common sense to all claims and see if they are consonant with the laws of nature, for starters. Of course, Christians normally do this with every other claim outside of their religion. But they lower the bar with anything Jesus-related and dig in their heels when challenged. It's an intellectual blind spot. But as I said, I understand the need to feel like your beliefs are reasonable. I had the same urge as a believer to have it both ways. Just putting your fingers in your ears and repeating, 'my faith is reasonable and I don't need extraordinary evidence' doesn't make it so.

          • Alden Smith

            You sound angry.

          • felixcox

            I could say you sound ignorant, incurious, and extremely poorly-schooled in logic, history, psychology, and sociology- but I wouldn't want to descend to your level.
            I made substantial arguments and you respond with shoddy videos and one-liners...
            I think you made your point!

          • Alden Smith

            Those shoddy videos are of men with Ph'Ds in their fields and hundreds of peer reviewed articles.

          • felixcox

            when your experts claim absolute certainty of supernatural events with nothing more than hearsay, then, yes, they are shoddy experts. There are many more persuasive, and most importantly, PHYSICALLY POSSIBLE explanations for christianity's origins.
            I could get an advanced degree in astrology and publish hundreds of astrologist-reviewed papers in astrology journals, and that would say nothing about my truth claims...
            Wishful thinking is wishful thinking, no matter how many advanced degrees it's buried under.

          • Alden Smith

            Thank you Felixcox you just proved me right again.

          • Susan

            Thank you Felixcox you just proved me right again.

            'Bout what? How so?

          • Alden Smith

            An external agent [external to space and time] intervened in Cosmic history for reasons of its own. Again three atheist astrophysics.

          • David Nickol

            Why do you hold unbelievers in contempt?

            I am somewhat of a believer on some days, and somewhat of an unbeliever on others. What bothers me are believers and/or unbelievers who are so certain they are right that they scoff at people who do not see things their way. When it comes to religious belief or unbelief, I don't think anyone has the right to claim certainty and scoff at people who don't agree with them.

            I am quite willing to acknowledge that people who put their trust in God, whether they are Christians or adherents of some other religion, may be putting their trust in a being who doesn't exist. But it seems to me the nature of human trust is that it it always rests on a personal decision that is not particularly rational. How many times in a movie or a television show do you do you see someone in a desperate situation say, "You just have to trust me"? And usually it is trust they have not earned. And usually they get the trust they ask for, and they don't betray it. Of course, television and movies are not real life, but I think it is true that trust is often given (explicitly or tacitly) in situations where there is no proof it is warranted, and lots of evidence of untrustworthiness in the past. Faith and trust and belief are not things we usually review all the evidence for and then make a calculation. They are matters of intuition, emotion, and gut feeling.

          • felixcox

            "Faith and trust and belief are not things we usually review all the evidence for and then make a calculation. They are matters of intuition, emotion, and gut feeling."

            I agree. But there's a world of difference between trusting in real, tangible people and trusting a hyper-specific narrative about perfect, death-defying man-gods in the ancient world.
            I've said here repeatedly I could be wrong- I'm simply trying to assert belief when it's warranted by evidence. The people here who assert certainty are the religious who insist impossible things happened, even though there are no rational reasons for such assertions. They admit no doubt. I haven't heard committed christians here say, "well, maybe Jesus didn't really rise from the dead," or any such statement of epistemological modesty. On the contrary.

          • David Nickol

            Well, 2 billion people in the world seem to believe being Christian is "reasonable." If you want to say they are all "unreasonable," and the 1.6 billion Muslims are "unreasonable," you certainly have a right to your opinion. But who gets to define what is "reasonable" and what isn't?

          • Susan

            Well, 2 billion people in the world seem to believe being Christian is "reasonable." If you want to say they are all "unreasonable," and the 1.6 billion Muslims are "unreasonable," you certainly have a right to your opinion.

            If we're talking about "reason", argumentum ad populum is a disappointing approach.

            A large percentage of the 3.6 billion people to whom you've referred (I always wonder where people get these numbers and what they represent.. I am told I am counted among the catholics simply because I was baptized as one) might be reasonable on many subjects but not on the subject of deities.

            But who gets to define what is "reasonable" and what isn't?

            Who gets to define anything?

            What do you mean by "reasonable"?

          • felixcox

            Newsflash: christianity and islam are mutually incompatible belief systems- so we can say with absolute certainty that a large chunk of humanity is wrong about some assumptions. Humans are not perfect; why would anyone expect otherwise?

            And yes, it's no secret that humans use rhetoric to justify all sorts of zany beliefs. Who's to say that believing in leprechauns is unreasonable? I'll use my own judgment, thank you. If you disagree, that's ok.

          • bbrown

            "They admit no doubt. I haven't heard committed christians here say,
            "well, maybe Jesus didn't really rise from the dead," or any such
            statement of epistemological modesty. On the contrary."

            But this is because these are core areas of belief or assent for a Christian. It is usually a long process of weighing the evidence and rational reasoning that brings anyone to the point where these core beliefs are assented to as truth. Not clear why then the need to question them would be an expression of humility. Sure, if the weight of evidence clearly indicates that the belief is false, then integrity demands a reevaluation.

          • Susan

            Faith and trust and belief are not things we usually review all the evidence for and then make a calculation. They are matters of intuition, emotion, and gut feeling.

            This can serve us fairly well in local matters although it can backfire.

            When it comes to making ultimate moral claims and claims about the origins of all things, it seems to be a very sketchy approach.

      • Alden Smith
        • felixcox

          A link to a two hour lecture is not a rebuttal.

          • Alden Smith

            No but consider this guy is the Worlds leading expert on the resurrection what he has to say counts more than anyone else does. So enjoy.

          • felixcox

            You have me confused with someone else- I didn't say Jesus didn't exist.
            I'm sorry you are unfamiliar with elementary rules of logic, but if YOU assert a historical figure is perfect then YOU must prove it. All I have to do is ask you is simply ask for the evidence for such an impossible claim. The ordinary assumption is that humans are humans, and humans are imperfect.
            I watched 8 minutes of that guy, and if he's your best expert, then I can see why christians are so uncomfortable when asked to present, you know, actual evidence justifying their claims- because they have NOTHING EXCEPT ANCIENT HEARSAY. That's not extraordinary evidence- on the contrary, that's precisely the same "proof" that devout muslims claim to prove the supernatural claims of their religion. And mormons. and every single other religion. You got bupkis and wishful thinking.
            This site has confirmed that christianity rests on special pleading and rhetorical contortions to rationalize belief where reason would instead warrant skepticism. Obviously, you feel a need to tell yourself your belief is rational- I understand it because I once was the same way. Some day, you might wake up and realize that you are using a very low bar when evaluating the hearsay of this religion. However, when you evaluate the truth claims of any other religion, all of a sudden you have reasonable standards of evidence. With christianity, all that skepticism goes out the window because of some subjective feelings you experience. That's fine, maybe it's true; but it most certainly doesn't make it reasonable.

          • Alden Smith

            In a sense, this is a strictly hypothetical question, since the Bibleclearly teaches that Jesus never sinned (Hebrews 4:15). However, theologians have discussed it at length. In technical terms, “impeccability” is the doctrine that Christ could not sin, though he could be (and was) tempted.

            Christian churches generally agree that:

            Jesus never sinned, but he was tempted.

            For we do not have a high priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who has been tempted in all things as we are, yet without sin(Heb. 4:15 NASB).

            Any temptations he faced were directed at His human nature, rather than His divine nature.

            Let no one say when he is tempted, ‘I am being tempted by God’; for God cannot be tempted by evil, and He Himself does not tempt any one (James 1:13NASB).

            Some theologians, such as Charles Hodge, have argued that Christ could have sinned. Their main argument is that temptation is not real unless there is a possibility of yielding to it.

            Others (with whom I agree) make the following case for the idea that Jesus could not have sinned.

            It is possible to attempt the impossible, and temptation is merelySatan’s attempt to lead us astray. Temptation and susceptibility do not have to go together; only successful temptation always goes hand in hand with susceptibility.

            All the temptations Jesus faced in Matthew 4 were legitimate offers. The struggle in Gethsemane was a real, difficult experience. One might even say that Jesus experienced worsetemptation than we do, because we usually surrender before the devil brings out his worst weapons. Jesus stayed firm through the most powerful temptations in Satan’s arsenal.

            Although the human nature of Jesus may have had desires which temptation could target, His divine nature would ensure that He would never actually decide to sin. It is impractical to speculate on what Christ’s human will might have decided if it were operating independently of His divine nature; such a situation never arose.

            Christ’s divine attributes would make it impossible for him to sin:

            Immutability - His basic nature never changes (Hebrews 1:12;13:8). He was holy in eternity past, and He would remain holy now.

            Omnipotence - Falling to temptation shows moral weakness or lack of power and ability. Christ had infinite power, and was therefore not susceptible to sin.

            Omniscience - Satan tempts us by attempting to deceive us. Jesus had infinite knowledge, so he could not be deceived.

          • Alden Smith
          • Alden Smith

            First, it seems to me that we have no choice but to take common sense and intuition as our starting points. I very strongly suspect that even those who claim to place no stock in common sense and intuition in fact rely on them all the time with respect to unconscious metaphysical assumptions. So when a philosophical viewpoint flies in the face of common sense and intuition (e.g., that the external world does not exist), then we may justly demand a very powerful argument in favor of that viewpoint. In the absence of some defeater of what common sense and intuition tell us, we are rightly sceptical of that viewpoint and perfectly rational to reject it. So while the deliverances of common sense and intuition are certainly defeasible and may on occasion need revision, still they are an indispensable starting point which should not be lightly abandoned.

            Are the laws of reason and the laws of reality the same, as people in Aristotle’s time believed? Nothing has happened since the time of Aristotle that has undermined the truths of logic or logic’s applicability to the world. Aristotle’s logic is called syllogistic logic. He identified valid argument forms which are still recognized today, e.g., All As are Bs; no Bs are Cs; therefore, noAs are Cs. This is an undeniably valid pattern of reasoning. The principal advance of modern logic over Aristotle’s is that modern logicians came to realize that the premises of syllogistic reasoning like “All As are Bs” have themselves a logical structure which Aristotle’s logic failed to disclose. A statement like “All As are Bs” has in modern sentential logic (the logic of sentences) the structure of a conditional: “For any item x, if x is an A, then x is a B.” This allows us to make inferences that Aristotle’s syllogistic logic cannot express, e.g., “Whatever begins to exist has a cause; the universe began to exist; therefore, the universe has a cause.”

            Formal logic has become a discipline of incredible technical precision and rigor, akin to mathematics. Indeed, formal logic often goes by the name mathematical logic. There is nothing in the advance of this discipline that should lead us to doubt reason’s ability to make valid inferences about reality. Indeed, the development of subdisciplines like modal logic (the logic dealing with the necessary and the possible) and counterfactual logic (dealing with subjunctive conditional statements) has been a great asset in our being able to reason more carefully and rigorously when doing metaphysics.

            Don’t confuse Aristotelian logic with Aristotle’s physics! Aristotle was not only a great philosopher but a natural scientist as well. As you might expect, his scientific work has been superseded by subsequent science, as more sophisticated instruments for probing the physical world have developed. As science advanced in our understanding of nature’s laws, Aristotelian physics was replaced by Newtonian physics, which was in turn replaced by Einstein’s physics, which will soon, we expect, be superseded by a quantum gravitational unified physics. In each successive scientific revolution, the earlier science is not simply abandoned; rather its truths are recast and preserved in the theory that supersedes it and its inaccuracies abandoned.

            I hope you can see that none of this gives any cause to doubt the efficacy of human reason in knowing reality; quite the contrary, this is testimony to the incredible power of human reason!

            The lesson here for the natural theologian is that he needs to be scientifically literate and to keep abreast of current discoveries and new theories in science. For that reason I have striven to be responsible in this regard. I want to have a theology that is scientifically informed and so to present an integrated perspective on reality.

            Now you remind us quite rightly that when it comes to subjects like God and creation, we are doing metaphysics, not physics (though physics may provide evidence in support of premises in a metaphysical argument leading logically to a conclusion which is of theological significance). So if we have plausibly true premises which imply by the standard rules of logic a conclusion of theological significance, why should we resist that conclusion?

            Here’s where your Kantianism enters the picture. You assert, “When thinking about the beginning of time and about creation and God our reason actually generates contradictory ideas.” You’re claiming that reason leads us into antinomies and so cannot be trusted. I have responded to this Kantian claim in The Kalam Cosmological Argument (1979), Appendix 2: “TheKalam Cosmological Argument and the Thesis of Kant’s First Antinomy.” KS, if you’re serious about getting your reservations resolved, please read that section. I show that there is no antinomy because there is nothing incoherent about a beginning of time. Kant thought that in order for time to have a beginning, there had to be a time before time during which nothing existed. That is a mistake. All that is required is that there was a time which was not preceded by any prior time. Far from being incomprehensible, this is precisely the concept of a beginning to time that is used in contemporary astrophysics. For example, the agnostic cosmologist Sean Carroll characterizes cosmological models which feature a beginning of the universe by saying, "there was a time such that there was no earlier time.”1

            Similarly, there’s no problem about postulating a Creator or first cause who exists timelessly sans the universe. Again, Carroll uses precisely this notion with respect to a boundary condition on spacetime: “There is no logical or metaphysical obstacle to completing the conventional temporal history of the universe by including an atemporal boundary condition at the beginning.”2 God’s eternal, atemporal state is, as it were, such a boundary condition to time. God’s act of creating the universe is simultaneous with universe’s coming into being. So God is atemporal sans creation and temporal since creation. So where’s the problem?

            As for the argument from contingent being to a metaphysically necessary being, what is the difficulty supposed to be? Many philosophers think that abstract objects like numbers and other mathematical objects exist necessarily. So where is the incoherence in the idea of a necessary being? It’s a being which exists in every broadly logically possible world. (Here the advances in modal logic that I spoke of earlier actually help us to better understand this notion of a metaphysically necessary being.) So what’s the objection?

            These pseudo-antinomies thus do not support the radical conclusion that “we shouldn't really pursue our intuitions to their logical conclusions beyond the limits of the natural world.” Indeed, when you assert, “reason is trying to deal with a realm that doesn't work in human logic after a point. We may feel we are onto something, but that is just an illusion,” we may justifiably turn the tables and ask you, “How do you know that? How, on your view, can you know anything about what that realm is like? How do you know human logic doesn’t work there? Indeed, how can logic ‘not work’?” KS, you, like Kant before you, are in the self-refuting position of making metaphysical claims yourself!

          • felixcox

            Lots of words. Your first giant leap comes in insisting it's reasonable to assume a god or creator exists. You don't have evidence for it; I don't have evidence against it- but I'm not going to assert something without evidence. YOu go further and assign qualities to this uproven god (that he's omniscient or omnipotent). Again, you are making logical leaps. Doesn't matter if Kant agrees. It's a leap. You weren't there before time; therefore you can't assert what was there...

          • Alden Smith

            If the Universe was still eternal in the past you are right I would not have evidence but that kind of ended it when the Big Bang Theory was first thought then proven by Hubble then proven beyond a doubt with the discovery of Dark energy.

          • felixcox

            But you are asserting you know what was before the big bang, and you are calling it god, and declaring that this god is omniscient and omnipotent. Without evidence, of course...
            I'm detecting a pattern here

          • Alden Smith

            I love how you keep proving me right about you.

          • Alden Smith

            If the Universe contains mass and if general relativity reliably describes cosmic dynamics then space and time must be created by Causal Agent transcending space and time.

            Dyson, Kleban, and Susskind. All of them are Astrophysics and are all atheist.

          • Alden Smith

            Arranging the Universe as we think if is arrange would have required a miracle. Same guys

          • felixcox

            For every one of those guys, you can find dozens more who don't insist on god. argument from authority doesn't work when there is not a consensus in your favor!

          • Susan

            Arranging the Universe as we think if is arrange would have required a miracle

            What do you mean by "miracle"?

          • felixcox

            Ergo, Jesus!

          • felixcox

            Who are you quoting the bible to? Unless you can prove the bible is inerrant, then you are wasting your time. It's like a muslim trying to prove to you that the quran is true by quoting the quran. Not remotely persuasive...
            I can cite ridiculous things from the NT that would have been recorded by contemporary historians, if only they were true (like the sun stopping, or a giant star over Bethlehem, or the dead leaving their graves). These are mythical, wild, and preposterous claims that no serious person should take seriously on nothing more than ancient hearsay. They all fit in a long tradition of humans making things up. It's as old as history itself, but christians delude themselves into believing that the normal patterns of human behavior were mysteriously absent in palestine for a few decades a few thousand years ago. As I said, it's special pleading. Just admit you don't have reason, but you have faith. That's enough.

          • Alden Smith

            No I have reason too, has Dr. Craig clearly states on his site. Because its say it is the Word of God. The Historical evidence clearly shows that Jesus Christ said that he was the son of God. And the evidence also shows that he was crucified by Pontus Pilate in 30 AD. And that his disciples clearly said that they saw the risen Jesus appear before them. 2/3 of New Testament critical scholars say so too. Both Christian and non Christian. Which you would know if watched the entire video rather then dismissing it after watching only 8 minutes of it.

          • felixcox

            Oh dear, you believe everything that they tell you about the NT and you've never studied the origins of other religions. Tell you what, do some serious reading about the origins of islam, mormonism, branch dividians, hindu mystics, harry krishna. Then do some basic reading on human psychology, sociology, and anthropology, then we can have an adult discussion.

          • David Nickol

            Christ’s divine attributes would make it impossible for him to sin

            If it is impossible for a person to sin, then what credit does that person deserve to get for not sinning? I suppose it would be a sin to use x-ray vision to look through people's clothes to see them naked, but I can hardly be commended for not looking through people's clothes to see them naked, since I don't have x-ray vision. Children who have not reached the "age of reason" cannot sin. They don't deserve any credit for it. They simply don't have the capacity.

          • David Nickol

            So is it your theory that Jesus existed and he committed sins? It seems to me if there is no God, there is no such thing as a sin.

          • felixcox

            Whether or not I believe in god, I still recognize the list of behaviors and attitudes that christians label sin. For example, I believe humans lust. In the NT, Jesus declares that lusting internally is just as bad as consummating the lust. I disagree with that big time, but I can recognize the thought pattern and assert that it's impossible and preposterous for ANYONE to declare that Jesus never lusted.
            And just because I believe in no god, i'm still very much against murder! Please don't tell me that i need a god to keep me good...
            that's been debunked so many times that it would reveal you haven't interacted with any atheists.

          • David Nickol

            Whether or not I believe in god, I still recognize the list of behaviors and attitudes that christians label sin.

            Sin is a theological concept, so it is not enough to know what things Christians consider to be sins. It is also necessary to know precisely what Jesus meant. He certainly didn't mean "lusting internally is just as bad as consummating the lust." If it is just as bad to think of doing something as to do it, then one might as well go ahead and do it. Also, I certainly wouldn't define lust as "feeling sexual desire." And it is not even preposterous to imagine that some people never feel sexual desire.

            Obviously, it is impossible to know every thought that goes through another person's head. If I say someone is the kindest and most thoughtful person I know, I can't rule out that the person occasionally thinks unkind thoughts. I can't absolutely rule out that the person is putting on an incredible performance and is actually deliberately giving the false appearance of being kind for some wicked ulterior motives. For that matter, I can't even prove that you are an automaton and I am the only truly self-aware person in the world.

            Whether or not you are angry, it seems to make you angry that people can claim Jesus never committed a sin, but the burden of proof you are laying on them is impossibly high. You want them to have access to every thought Jesus ever had. Why you seem so incensed that people might believe Jesus never sinned without their knowing every single thought he ever had puzzles me. Nobody is asking you to assent to the proposition that Jesus never sinned.

            By the way, there are varying concepts of what it means to sin, and it seems to me the Jews of Jesus's time, and Jesus himself, thought that to sin was to violate one of the 613 commandments in the Torah. I think by that standard, there were many Jews who did not commit any sins. It seems to me that it was quite within the realm of possibility for Jesus or Mary to have kept all of the commandments.

          • felixcox

            This board is supposed to allow interfaith dialogue with respectful disagreement. I'm sorry you are baffled that someone like me might enjoy a robust exchange of ideas. I'm not angry- are you? Is it relevant to the points I'm making? Try to stick with substance over style. It makes for a better debate.
            Whether or not I believe in god, I recognize that christians define sin by way of action and thought. I suggest that so defined (as elucidated in the NT, including from the mouth of Jesus himself), nobody can say that another has not sinned. Yet christians do that all the time! Am I angry? No, it's amusing to me to see them try to claim that such a declaration is indeed reasonable when they know they have nothing but ancient hearsay. And it's okay to disagree about this, so calm down. Nobody is forced to participate here.
            I'm not sure why this is confusing for you, but it's the ones making the extraordinary claim who have to provide extraordinary evidence. It's that simple- you see, if I claim "That man has never ever sinned, he is perfect!" then I need to prove that. A skeptic is doing nothing illogical by asking for, you know evidence of such a claim. It is a sensible approach that christians do with every other religion. As I said, it's an intellectual blind spot.

          • David Nickol

            Please don't tell me that i need a god to keep me good...

            I am not sure that, if there is no God, saying something is morally good or something is morally evil is a meaningful statement. I am not sure it is not meaningful. People can be conventionally good without God. They can behave according to a consensus of what, say, the majority of people in Western democracies consider to be good. But where does that consensus come from?

          • felixcox

            I have no simple answer. How nice, though, to have the certainty of the devout. When presented with complexity, you can just assert, "god made it so!" and that's that.
            Whatever the case may be, societies primarily comprised of atheists are doing just fine in northern europe.

          • bbrown

            "Whatever the case may be, societies primarily comprised of atheists are doing just fine in northern europe."

            Define "doing just fine".

          • Alden Smith

            I didn't become a Christian because of special feelings. I became one because of all the of the other religions this one makes the most sense. In this religion all modern science came out of it and everything else.

          • felixcox

            As I said, if it works for you, fine. But none of your posts reflect that you've done any serious examination of other religions. Which did you study, and to what extent?

    • Ben Posin

      If "faith" is just reason and reasonable trust, we need to ditch the word, because it's confusing people. But it's really not. You can see that by how completely the "getting to know a person" analogy fails.

      "Getting to know" God isn't at all like getting to know a person. When I meet someone, I can see them (and importantly, others can too!). I can actually talk to them and learn about them. I can look at pictures in their wallet, meet their family, pet their dog. And even if I don't know that much about them, while I can decide to believe statements they make without knowing for sure if they are true, I don't ascribe 100% belief to them; if I find out things later that make me think they were lying, I won't cling to that belief. Furthermore, the strength of my initial belief will probably depend on whether the kind of thing they tell me is credible, if it matches my previous experience, is consistent, etc. But sure, because I have met lots of people and am a person, I have a pretty involved idea of the sorts of things that people do, have happen to them, or are like; this makes me inclined to initially accept claims from other people that match my understanding of what people are like.

      None of this is true for religious people claiming to "get to know" God. God isn't hanging around where we can see him or talk to him (I think if I told a Catholic that I could see God standing in the corner of the room, and hear him talking right now, he'd call me crazy or a liar). As anyone who has argued with atheists knows, it's really not accepted that God has left any sort of conclusive proof of his existence, and there's no one around to talk to who we reliably think has had personal encounters with God (in the way that I might meet someone at a bar), or seen such conclusive proof. We don't have a background of experiences as to what a God or Gods is really like to draw on, the way we do with people.

      Be serious. SOMETHING different is going on when a person is willing to initially accept that a person they meet at a bar is from Buffalo and has two cats, and when a person accepts that there is a God that is omnibenevolent, omnipotent, omniscient, eternal, has the bewildering aspects of the Trinity, and is against gay marriage.

      • [Something] different is going on when a person is willing to
        initially accept that a person they meet at a bar is from Buffalo and
        has two cats, and when a person accepts that there is a God that is
        omnibenevolent, omnipotent, omniscient, eternal, has the bewildering
        aspects of the Trinity, and is against gay marriage.

        I think that both are instances of faith, although one is more manifestly rational than the other.

        • Ben Posin

          It sounds to me like you agree with the distinction I'm making regarding different types of belief, but prefer different vocabulary. What bothers me about using the word faith for both types of belief is that theists of various stripes frequently equivocate the two sets by using the one word faith, then say --see? Faith doesn't have to be irrational--as if that wipes away the distinction between the sets, and as if religious belief doesn't typically fall into the irrational set.

          • I think that if someone wants to have a meaningful discussion with theists about whether their faith can be rational, that person shouldn't define faith as irrational from the outset.

            An atheist could adopt Buchak's definition, and could then meaningfully argue that theistic faith is always irrational because theistic faith does not meet Buchak's criteria for rational faith. Then, at least, it's possible to have a discussion about the problem of rational theistic faith without defining the solution one way or the other at the start.

          • Ben Posin

            That's a fair point. It leads me back to wanting to insist on the definition of faith that I put forth in an earlier thread: a belief that is stronger than the available evidence warrants. Someone here wanted to know what I'd say to someone who DOES have evidence for their faith (he had in mind the so-called Fatima miracle), to which my response is that if you are relying on evidence to support your belief and its strength (whether about God or something else), then we're no longer talking about faith--we're making a claim of a belief based on reason and evidence. The door is then open to try to work out what the evidence actually supports.

            But that doesn't change the fact that the anology put forth in the above article is a bad one, and wrong; one intended to disguise the fact that religious beliefs really do not tend to be like our other everyday beliefs.

          • Vasco Gama

            Let me make you a question, if someone holds a belief that God doesn't exist, how strong are the available evidence warrants? Stronger than those that believes that God exists? If yes, then why?

          • Sqrat

            Let me make you a question, if someone holds a belief that God doesn't
            exist, how strong are the available evidence warrants? Stronger than
            those that believes that God exists? If yes, then why?

            I will answer your questions with a couple of my own.

            1. How strong are the available evidence warrants that your thoughts can be controlled by an intelligent being residing on a planet somewhere in the Andromeda galaxy unless you wear tinfoil on your head?

            2. Do you wear tinfoil on your head?

          • Ben Posin

            To echo Sqrat:
            What evidence do you have that the flying spaghetti monster isn't real? Russell's orbiting teapot? That we all aren't hooked up to some sort of Matrix like system? Etc. There's pretty much an infinite amountof things that anyone could believe in. Do you really think the burden is on you to disprove the flying spaghetti monster, or do you think it's reasonable for you to say: I don't see any compelling reason to believe that exists, so until you bring me some I'm not going to accept that as true.
            I look out into the world, and see no compelling reason to believe any sort of God exists. And so I don't belive in any God, and won't until I see sufficient evidence to justify such a belief.

            Now, that's not to say that there CAN'T be evidence weighing against specific religious claims. For example, biblical contradictions and inaccuracies weigh against any religious claims that rely on the inerrancy of the bible; medical evidence weighs against any religious beliefs that involve life after death or immortal souls; and so forth. It depends what religious claims are being made (for antoher example, if you claim that God heals ailments as a result of prayer, studies show that you are wrong).

          • Do you think that faith is always irrational? Because unwarranted belief seems generally irrational to me.

          • Vasco Gama

            That is an impression you have, maybe if you look into it you can have surprises.

            The idea of assuming that thoughts that contradict our beliefs is quite appealing (of course even if true, this on its own is meaningless)

          • Do you think that your Christian belief is unwarranted?

          • Vasco Gama

            No, not at all.

          • Then hopefully you would agree with me that we shouldn't define "faith" as "unwarranted belief", as Ben Posin does?

          • Vasco Gama

            Surely faith is a rational attitude. It is a normal (and rational) source of knowledge, that is present on our everyday life (sometimes we find it reasonable others not so much, however we live with it and we even don’t bother to question it).

            For instance if I tell my child not to cross the street, and explain him that that is dangerous, and that he should not do it alone. The reasonable thing for him to do is to have faith in me, and whatever I tell him as he knows that I love him and that it would not be possible for me to lead into harming him. Or with another example when my teacher told me the relation E=mc2, or any other physical law, the reasonable thing is to take that on faith. The unreasonable thing to do would be questioning that, on basis of lack of confidence on the teacher, or what else. If our wife is attentive and caring the idiotic thing to do is to question her love, … . Of course we know that a blind faith is unreasonable, and that someone might find a motive to trick us into deception. Then we must be careful, we know that, but would it be reasonable (or possible) to dismiss faith (that would be a pretention, but, even if possible, I think life would turn into a living hell).

          • Surely faith is a rational attitude

            I think that goes too far. I may have faith that my friend will keep my secret. If my friend has blabbed every secret I've ever told them, then my faith is irrational.

            Instead, I think that faith can be rational.

            Can Christian faith be rational? I don't know. Also, it's possible to be rational and wrong.

          • Vasco Gama

            My point is that it is not reasonable to dismiss faith (surely, I am not implying that all faith is rational).

            As for your question ”Can Christian faith be rational?” Of course it can (in order to be irrational the basic assumptions would have to be not just plain wrong, but to be absurd, or that what was derived from those assumptions would be irrational or incoherent), neither of these possibilities applies (to the best of my knowledge).

            Although many people pretend that it is reasonable to dismiss the rationality of humans (as if it was conceivable, that this particularity was the privilege of a few). That in fact is very unreasonable (besides being a preposterous exercise of unjustified presumption).

            The problem of human activities never was the lack of rationality, we are experts in rationality, we can find rationality in doing extraordinary and wonderful things as to do evil and eventually monstrosities. The problem with human action is much more the easiness in justifying things that are wrong (and to accept misleading justifications). No problem with human rationality (we are experts in rationality, and each one may very well assume that he is much more rational than the fellow that is facing him).

          • I'm not so convinced that Christian faith can be rational. That's one of the reasons I'm here. To find out. But I think we may be using the term rational and irrational differently also. I don't take irrational to be identical to incoherent. People can have coherent and irrational beliefs.

            For example, Kyle believes in Islam because the Qu'ran says so and he simply knows that the Qu'ran is trustworthy, although he cannot defend it further. That's the only reason he has. His belief is coherent. I understand what he's saying. His argument is valid, even. But he hasn't satisfactorily justified his belief in a key premise. His belief is irrational.

            Believing that Jews are less than human is irrational. It is a belief without a good defence.

            Does Christianity have a good defence? I don't know. Are there good arguments for God's existence? I don't know. I'm here to find out.

          • Vasco Gama

            I see what you mean. I guess that Strange Notions is a good "place" to inquire about the defense of catholicism, or at least to get an idea abot that. God luck for your search.

          • Ben Posin

            One of the purposes of this website seems to be so that Catholics have an opportunity to show atheists that their beliefs are warranted, and not just a matter of dogma and doctrine, but based on reason and evidence. Thus we amultitude of articles about historical evidence concerning Jesus, and purported proofs of God's existence. To me this shows a recognition by Catholics that those who do not have faith in their religion need to be able to buttress these potential beliefs with something else.

            I'm enjoying talking to you about this, and having fair pot shots taken at my thoughts on this. But I am still a little confused, or perhaps uncomfortable, by your formulation of "rational faith" and "irrational faith." There are warranted and unwarranted beliefs, there is warranted and unwarranted trust, what meaning is added to this by saying there is warranted and unwarranted faith? Is faith just a synonym for trust or belief, even in the context of religion?

          • Please understand that I am not saying this is the right way "faith" is defined. I don't think words are like that. This is just the way I use the term. I find it useful, meaning that it captures most of what people mean when they say faith while excluding most of what people mean when they simply say belief.

            According to my definition, given at the beginning of this strand of comments, faith involves belief. But it's different than believing that there are, say, 52 cards in a random deck you see on a table (by itself anyway), because that belief isn't linked to any particular action. The belief needs to involve action, , such as believing you have the best hand in a game of Texas Hold'Em, and it needs to involve risk. If I believed the negative, I wouldn't be doing this same thing. If I didn't believe I had the best hand, I'd act very differently than if I did.

            Finally, what makes "believing that I have the best hand" different from "faith that my wife isn't cheating" is the last part of the definition, that I don't actively seek out new evidence. In a poker game, I'll always seek out new evidence. I don't hire a private investigator to follow my wife around. When I do that, even though I may still believe that my wife isn't cheating, I no longer have faith that she's not cheating.

            That's the way I use the term. It encapsulates faith in relationships, political faith, faith in nations, faith in a process, faith in the economy and religious faith. It also manifestly keeps open the possibility that some kinds of faith are not unreasonable.

            Is religious faith, specifically Christian faith, always unreasonable? I don't know.

            I've really enjoyed our conversation here as well.

          • Ben Posin

            Yes. That is absolutely what I am doing. If your belief is grounded in faith, it is not rational. That's what a leap of faith is: jumping out past what is rationally grounded. That's what it is to have faith in something: to believe beyond what you can reasonably support. Otherwise we are talking about something else, such as everyday trust.
            But again, this is playing with words. The important thing is that there are at least two sets of beliefs, those that are warranted by the evidence and those that are stronger than warranted by the evidence. When someone tells you that you that you need to take something on faith, what set of beliefs are they talking about? Or to get back to my more basic gripe: do you think a persons' beliefs about his family members fall into the same category of his beliefs in, say, the Trinity?

          • I think definitions aren't right or wrong. Instead they're more or less useful. A definition is useful if it helps focus the conversation on something more interesting than the definition.

            Your definition of faith may be useful in some circles, but I think it will not be useful here, because someone will say "I have faith in God." You could answer "Faith is by definition irrational." they say "That's not what faith means." and then you end up in a conversation about what faith means.

            How should we then make the distinction you want to make? Why not just distinguish in terms of "rational belief" and "irrational belief"?

            I want to say that I have faith in my wife, and that my faith in my wife shares some important similarity to a Muslim's faith in Allah, or a Christian faith in Jesus. This way, I can have a conversation about which if any of these faiths is rational, without defining the answer beforehand.

            I'd also like to think that my faith in my wife is warranted.

            As you said, though, it's a matter of definition. It boils down to how useful a given definition is. If you find your definition of faith to be the most useful for conversations here, then by all means, stick with it.

          • felixcox

            Paul, are you seriously suggesting there is NO difference between 'faith' in real people who conform to the laws of physics, and faith in supernatural deities that are beyond the senses? You seriously see no epistemological difference??! If not, okay, we'll agree to violently disagree. If so, then surely you can see the linguistic utility of distinguishing those different types of belief by using different terms. Traditionally, faith has been used to assert a belief in religious claims. When you use a word out of context, whether it's to make you feel like your faith is reasonable, you simply make discussion harder by conflating terms for your peace of mind.

          • Paul, are you seriously suggesting there is NO difference between 'faith' in real people who conform to the laws of physics, and faith in supernatural deities that are beyond the senses?

            I'm not suggesting that, no.

            If so, then surely you can see the linguistic utility of distinguishing those different types of belief by using different terms.

            Yes. I just don't think faith is the most useful term with which to provide the distinction. The difference between "faith that my wife isn't cheating on me" and "faith that Jesus loves me" is the object of the faith. I think that the epistemological attitude is pretty-much the same in both cases.

            Now, maybe faith in supernatural deities is always irrational faith. That's something interesting to talk about.

          • felixcox

            You are contradicting yourself. In one sentence you agree there are epistemological differences about statements regarding humans and the supernatural. Then, once again, you try to equate faith in a real, observable, objectively real person, and faith in an invisible deity.
            Why do you object to faith referring to religious matters? It seems that you are broadening the definition merely to assure yourself that it is a reasonable thing to have.

          • To clarify. I think that there is a major difference. I don't think that the difference is one of epistemological attitude.

            You are welcome to "violently disagree" with me.

          • felixcox

            You just clarified that you see a major difference. But you simply assert it's not one of "epistemological attitude." Hmm, if you see a major difference, then what is it? And if they are indeed different, how is it NOT by epistemology?

          • The definition again:

            A person has faith that X, expressed by A, if and only if that person performs act A when there is some alternative act B such that he strictly prefers A & X to B & X and he strictly prefers B & ~X to A & ~X, and the person prefers to commit to A before he examines additional evidence rather than to postpone his decision about A until he examines additional evidence.

            In one case: X = my wife isn't cheating on me. A is remaining married. B is getting a divorce.

            In another case: X = the Catholic Church is the one true religion. A = going to mass on Sundays and Holy Days of Obligation. B = Staying home.

            One major difference between the two is the object. My wife's not cheating on me is not identical to the Catholic Church's being the true religion.

            This is not to say that all Catholics have identical epistemologies to all married men and women (of course!). Indeed, different married men and women may have different epistemologies to one another, and entirely different reasons for having faith that their spouse may not be cheating on them. Some may not have that faith at all, and may simply believe it. Some may not believe it. Some may hold that faith irrationally (his or her spouse has been caught cheating every week for the past three months).

            This is to say that the epistemological attitude entailed by having faith is similar between spouses, deities, and Scientology. The objects are different.

          • felixcox

            I'm not persuaded, but thanks for trying. I'll just repeat that no matter how many paragraphs of 'proofs' you muster, that will never overcome the fact that believing a two thousand year old prophet never committed sin is an unreasonable belief, since there is absolutely no possible way to verify such a claim, and that flies directly against everything we've learned about human nature. And such beliefs, which lay the foundation for christianity, are epistemologically distinct from those that claim a verifiable fact about living, breathing people. It's night and day.

          • I appreciate that. Let me just leave you with one last example, to ponder, for what it's worth.

            Imagine three people, Achmed, Barbara and Chen. Achmed holds to a strong empiricist epistemology, Bob to a Thomist epistemology and Chen to a fideist epistemology. All three have faith that Jesus came back from the dead such that the three of them devote their lives to evangelism. They have faith in the way defined above.

            Achmed believes that Jesus came back from the dead because Jesus appeared to him and told him so. Jesus appears to Achmed frequently and performes miracles in front of him all the time.

            Barbara believes that Jesus came back from the dead because of the classical philosophical arguments for God's existence, the knowledge of the miracles performed in Jesus's name, such as Fatima, and the historical account of the resurrection.

            Chen believes that Jesus came back from the dead because the Bible says so.

            All three of these people have the same epistemic attitude toward their belief. They think Jesus physically came back from the dead. They've changed their lives in similar ways. None of them are actively looking for more evidence to confirm their beliefs. And yet each of them has a radically different epistemology.

            Keep in mind I'm not arguing that any particular faith is reasonable or not (except for my faith in my wife). I'm just saying that the way Buchak defines the term is useful, especially when talking with theists. It has a much lower potential to be offensive, if nothing else.

          • Vasco Gama

            I guess that the best approximation to religious faith, is the knowledge of someone else’s love and our trust in this love, such as the love of one’s child, mother, father, wife, husband, lover.

          • Ben Posin

            This is where I start heaving sighs. This sentiment seems to ignore everything that I and others have said about the difference between someone's relationship with other people and his "relationship" with God. Some people rightly trust in the love of their family, and some people rightly do NOT trust in the love of their family, based on their experiences with that family member.

          • Vasco Gama

            You can sight as much as you want, but that was the best analogy I could derive. There is no reason for you to agree with me.

            About the trust in the love for our family (and I am not implying to teach you anything), definitively if there is something right about that is that one must trust in the love of our family. Diverse situation only signal that something is not right.

          • felixcox

            Wow, the believers here keep trotting out the same arguments that have been refuted over and over again. No, trust in real, observable people is not the same as faith in an invisible deity. You can say it till you're blue in the face (I think that's probably happening right now), but won't make it the same. They are indeed distinct.

          • Alan Wostenberg

            I suppose if one adopts the rule "I shall only trust in real people, and only observable people are real", he would withhold trust in God, for "no-one has seen God". But why adopt that rule?

          • felixcox

            Why not? no reason, if you are comfortable remaining gullible. If someone says there are fairies in the garden, I guess you might as well believe it. If someone asserts that there are invisible dwarfs that guard gold under rainbow, ya better start believing. Why not? If someone asserts it, it must be true!

          • Alan Wostenberg

            Felixcox, is the choice really between being "comfortable remaining gullible" and hyper-skepticism? Might there be a middle ground?

            If somebody I trust says X is true, I'm likely to believe X, even if X is an invisible entity. For example, I believe the scientists and textbooks testifying such invisible entities as black holes exist. I've not worked through the evidence to transform that belief in to knowledge proper, and why should I? I've no reason to distrust the scientists.

            Likewise, I've no reason to distrust the testimony of credible competent sources about such incorporeal persons as God and the angels.

            As for your example of "garden fairies" and "invisible dwarfs guarding the pot of gold" nobody I trust has claimed they exist.

    • Kevin Aldrich

      I agree that is a very interesting and helpful analysis.

      I love her concluding point that "Individuals who lack faith because they insist on gathering all of the available evidence before making a decision stand to miss out on opportunities that could greatly benefit them."

      And she is referring not just to religious faith but also "natural" faith, that is, accepting as true things which could be rationally proven but we don't personally have the resources to exhaustively do so in the time available.

  • David Nickol

    As is the case with any listener to a person who speaks, the listener
    to the divine speech has to make a choice: do I believe him or not? The
    decision to accept in trust what God has spoken about himself is what
    the Church means by “faith.”

    This, of course, presupposes the person of faith already believes that the Christian God exists and has spoke about himself. The analogy between meeting a new person and believing her or trusting her, on the one hand, and "meeting" God and believing him or trusting him, on the other, is somewhat problematic, since we know when we meet another human being.

    And according to the Bible, God said the following:

    Keep my statutes: do not breed any of your domestic animals with others of a different species; do not sow a field of yours with two different kinds of seed; and do not put on a garment woven with two different kinds of thread.

    Why did God forbid wearing a garment woven of two different kinds of thread, and is this binding today?

    Should we execute sorceresses?

    How do we know it is God speaking in the Bible?

    • "Why did God forbid wearing a garment woven of two different kinds of thread, and is this binding today? Should we execute sorceresses? How do we know it is God speaking in the Bible?"

      These would only be problematic questions if God did not provide an authoritative institution to answer them and teach in his name. But he did. The answers to the first two are, very simply, no and no.

      But your last question requires more refinement. Which passages in particular are you referring to? Are you asking whether the *entire* Bible is God's divine word, similar to what Muslims believe about the Koran?

      • Andre Boillot

        "These would only be problematic questions if God did not provide an authoritative institution to answer them and teach in his name."

        And since there's no question as to the authority of the Catholic Church...

        • "And since there's no question as to the authority of the Catholic Church..."

          Why is this relevant? Does the fact that people question the Catholic Church's authority mean its claims are false?

          David asked questions for which I offered coherent answers. My aim was to show that his questions are not troubling or unanswerable to most Christians.

          • Andre Boillot

            Brandon,

            First, some general points:

            - You dismissed his concern by claiming that the Catholic Church had answered the question, without giving any explanation.

            - Explanations, even good ones, don't automatically render questions un-problematic (take that pesky 'Problem of Evil', for example).

            Why is this relevant? Does the fact that people question the Catholic Church's authority mean its claims are false?

            - David raises questions concerning passages found in the Book of Leviticus which, as you know, is a shared text of both Judaism and Christianity. It's relevant to wonder, for example, how Jews and Protestants might view these passages.

            EDIT:

            My aim was to show that his questions are not troubling or unanswerable to most Christians.

            You succeeding in showing that some curious passages could be disregarded without substantive explanation.

          • "You succeeding in showing that some curious passages could be disregarded without substantive explanation."

            I wasn't aware he was looking for one. He asked a yes or no question. My aim was no to dismiss his question but to respond concisely.

          • Andre Boillot

            Brandon,

            I wasn't aware he was looking for one. He asked a yes or no question. My aim was no to dismiss his question but to respond concisely.

            If you want to say you missed his query, that's fine. However, it was certainly not simply a yes/no question:

            "Why did God forbid wearing a garment woven of two different kinds of thread, and is this binding today?"

          • felixcox

            The Church makes many claims for which it has no evidence and for which it is impossible even to gather evidence. And it derives its authority from such claims. Yes, it's self-proclaimed authority is dubious, at best.

      • robtish

        David actually asked four questions, not three, and the first one is not yes/no.

        • Rob, my fault. I missed the two-questions-in-one-sentence. Nevertheless, I hope my answers were still clear. To recap:

          "Why did God forbid wearing a garment woven of two different kinds of thread?"

          Christians read this commandment allegorically. Its purpose was to teach the Israelites not to join any false worship or heresy with the worship of the true God. They were to remain pure and unadulterated.

          "And is this binding today?"

          No.

          "Should we execute sorceresses?"

          No.

          • robtish

            Thanks Brandon. Can you direct me to a place where I can learn more about the process by which some Leviticus verses are decided to be allegorical and others literal?

          • Andre Boillot

            Googling: "Biblical Interpretation Flow Chart" didn't yield any hits?

          • The Church doesn't deliver a verse-by-verse checklist that defines how each particularly verse is to be read. This is mostly because many verses can legitimately have several different meanings.

            If you're sincerely interested in how Catholics read the Bible, though, I'd first recommend Dei Verbum (Vatican II), Divino Afflante Spiritu (Pope Pius XII), and then Verbum Domini (Pope Benedict XVI).

            Also, read paragraphs 101-141 in the Catechism of the Catholic Church which covers Sacred Scripture.

            Finally, the best books on this topic are Mark Shea's Making Senses Out of Scripture: Reading the Bible as the First Christians Did and The Word of the Lord: 7 Principles of Catholic Scripture Study by Steven Smith.

          • robtish

            Thanks!

          • Geena Safire

            RobTish, If you're interested in which Bible passages to read about first, you might check out Contraditions in the Bible. It's a PDF files with lines visually connecting the relevant passages, plus specific questions and all the verses that (differently) answer the question.

          • Chicagoish

            If I were an atheist, I would not point them to that particular pdf. While I'm sure the content is quite interesting, the presentation is lacking. Why would someone who is starting with reading the bible read a pdf with a 2pt font? Seems like an odd way to jump into things.

          • Geena Safire

            When the document is opened, it is at about 23% of full size because it is a very large format page. At the top of any pdf document is a magnifying glass and a plus sign (+) and a minus sign (-). Press the plus sign several times until it is legible for you.

      • David Nickol

        Are you asking whether the *entire* Bible is God's divine word, similar to what Muslims believe about the Koran?

        I think the very first question I would like to know the answer to is whether God himself actually commanded his people in what we think of as Old Testament times to execute sorceresses, execute people who engaged in homosexuality or bestiality, or execute a child who struck his parents. Did God himself actually will and command his people not to wear garments woven of two different kinds of cloth or not to eat pork or shellfish. I think we need to answer that before we answer the question of whether such commandments are binding today.

        If such commandments were directly from God, were they arbitrary tests of obedience, or were they justified, and if so, how were they justified? And if they were justified commands of God, we then have to ask what justified them then that does not justify them now. And where exactly does God rescind them? If the God of the Old Testament didn't rescind them, and Jesus is God, where and how did Jesus rescind Old Testament commandments. He seemed to me to require in his preaching that all the commandments be kept.

        • David, thanks for the reply. There's simply too much here to comment on. I detect no less than thirteen serious questions, and I'd like to do them justice, but don't have time.

          So I'll propose two solutions. First, can you pick just one of those questions to ask? I'd be happy to respond.

          Second, I highly recommend Paul Copan's book, Is God a Moral Monster? which spends entire chapters addressing those questions. If you're sincerely interested in how Christians would respond to OT morality and dietary laws, you'd read that book.

          • David Nickol

            If you're sincerely interested in how Christians would respond to OT morality and dietary laws, you'd read that book.

            My question was not how Christians respond, but where either the God of the Old Testament or Jesus rescinded Old Testament commands. It seems quite clear to me they didn't. Paul and others in the early Church devised various rationales for dispensing with the Law, but it seems to me that Jesus never failed to stress keeping the commandments (of which the Decalogue is only 10 out of 613).

      • felixcox

        shorter Brandon: We know Catholicism is true because God provided an authoritative institution to answer problematic questions and to teach in his name. If you have doubts about this, see the Catholic Church for clarification....

        If the Catholic church asserts something for which absolutely no evidence can be found, should we trust its divine authority? For instance, RC asserts that Jesus was/is God and never committed sin. How does the RC know this?? It cannot read minds, so it cannot have read Jesus's mind. Yet the entire catholic faith rests on similar declarations. It would be one thing if the RC said that it's likely Jesus was god, that he committed no sin, but, hey, we MIGHT be wrong. That would be appropriately respectful of the limits of man's knowledge about ancient historical figures. But asserting that we KNOW with absolute certainty something as impossible as the incarnation, well, no. Authoritative, or presumptuous?

        • Felix, I'll say the same thing to you I said to David: you've loaded this comment with two many questions. It's not conducive to dialogue, especially in a comment box. If you could choose just one question, perhaps of most interest or importance, I'd be happy to reply.

          • felixcox

            If the Catholic church asserts something for which absolutely no evidence can be found, should we trust its divine authority?

          • What do you mean by "evidence"? For example, when the Catholic Church teaches that murder is intrinsically evil, what evidence would you expect to validate that claim?

          • felixcox

            by 'evidence' i mean anything other than personal revelation.

          • Then assuming that broad definition of "evidence," no Church teaching is pronounced without it. The Church has never taught anything solely on the basis of personal revelation, if by that you mean the private revelation of God to a particular human being.

          • felixcox

            I'll repeat:
            The Church asserts, for example, that Jesus was perfect. The church has NO EVIDENCE that he was perfect. No evidence that Jesus was perfect is even possible to exist. Even if disciples followed him around every second of J's adult life, that would not reveal what he was thinking. And nobody, not even the church asserts that witnesses followed J around all the time. So, this is simply one out of dozens of assertions about which the church has NO EVIDENCE. Yet it claims that it is reasonable to believe such. It's not. Just asserting something is reasonable is not the same as demonstrating it so.

          • Chicagoish

            The Church isn't arguing a priori from this particular point of reference. What I mean is this: That Jesus was and is perfect is a secondary (in terms of level) belief based upon a primary acceptance of other beliefs. If one accepts that Jesus was and is God, then the assertion that he was and is perfect naturally follows. So your statement, "Even if disciples followed him around every second of J's adult life, that would not reveal what he was thinking." doesn't relate to the evidence that he was perfect. For the evidence that he was perfect is based upon the evidence that he was and is god. If, he is God, as is asserted, then he was perfect. That god is perfect and Jesus is god require their own set of proofs, but again, that Jesus was "perfect" naturally follows from accepting that he was and is God.

          • felixcox

            There's no evidence that Jesus was/god, at least nothing beyond ancient hearsay. And it has not been proven that should a creator/god exist, he must be perfect. And using the gospels it is much much much easier to argue that Jesus is a secondary god subservient to the father, rather than the doctrine of the trinity, which is certainly not directly supportable from the gospels. Only resorting to complicated metaphysics and resorting to Paul do you get the trinity- yet Paul never even saw or met the living Jesus. You can keep opening the can of worms and saying it's reasonable, but each assertion you provide screams for extraordinary evidence; which you don't have (ancient hearsay is NOT extraordinary evidence....).

          • Octavo

            The gospels don't count as private revelation?

            ~Jesse Webster

          • No, they're public documents recounting public events. More so, their inclusion in the canon was a public decision.

          • Octavo

            Good points. What about Revelation? It's canonicity was publicly decided, but it is the personal account of a private revelation, right?

            ~Jesse Webster

  • David Nickol

    And how sad that, like a ghost from another time and place, faith
    continues, even in the early twentieth century to haunt the modern mind
    and to hinder its progress.

    The above post appeared on Fr. Barron's web site on October 20, 2011, but even back then it was the early twenty-first century, not the early twentieth.

  • Loreen Lee

    I would like to explore the opportunity to distinguish between 'natural faith' and 'theological faith'. I would like more illumination in order to understand better the basis for this distinction.

  • josh

    I think Fr. Barron is confused because critics of religion are using 'Faith' sociologically. That is, they look at how religious people act when they say they are 'having faith' or 'being faithful' in a religious context and they conclude that these actions and beliefs are unreasonable. Defining 'True Faith' as something that comports with reason is a No True Scotsman. So defined, we can't show that any such thing exists, but atheists' criticism of what they call faith would still need to be addressed.

    Barron thinks his beliefs are justified by reason and his critics don't. That is where the argument is. One can't sidestep it by pointing out that religious people don't think their beliefs are unreasonable. (Well, there's Kierkegaard I suppose.)

    • I agree with you, Josh. It's the mirror image of a logical fallacy some atheists commit.

      Defining faith as rational commits No True Scotsman fallacy. Defining faith as irrational begs the question.

      If we are to have a meaningful discussion about whether a particular instance of faith can be rational, then faith needs to be defined independently of rationality.

    • Kevin Aldrich

      If God is Truth and if God reveals truth, than it is perfectly reasonable to assent to what he reveals. That is the faith a true Scotsman should have.

      It would then also be reasonable to use reason to draw out the implications of that revelation. That is the theology a true Scotsman should do.

      Whether these conceptions of faith and theology are themselves reasonable depends on how reasonable those two "if" statements are.

      • David Nickol

        If God is Truth and if God reveals truth . . . .

        What does it mean to say God is truth or, for that matter, God is love? Are they metaphors?

        • Kevin Aldrich

          I think you know that Catholic theologians argue that when they are applied to God in himself, the terms truth, goodness, beauty, being, love, and even wrath, are convertible.

          • David Nickol

            I think you know that Catholic theologians argue that when they are applied to God in himself, the terms truth, goodness, beauty, being, love, and even wrath, are convertible.

            My main interest is the historical Jesus, and I don't pretend to be that much involved with theology. So my question still remains as to what it means to say that God is love or God is truth. If it means, "God is the most loving (truthful) being imaginable or possible and in fact infinitely loving (truthful)," then I suppose it has some reasonable meaning—kind of like the song You Are Love from Showboat.

          • Kevin Aldrich

            I've always found you to be highly informed about anything that interested you, David.

            "God is love" is more than God loves as perfectly as can be conceived. It is a statement about the very identity or being of God. So, we could say "David loves" but not "David is love." We *can* say, "God loves" and "God is love."

            I guess it means that the human experiences of love, beauty, goodness, truth, and so on, are our participation in created forms of these transcendentals. So, our ability to participate in them is part of the meaning of being made in the image of God.

  • Marcus Otte

    I think most of the objections posed by commenters so far fail on one
    important count: they are addressing matters the original post is not
    concerned with. It is true that Fr. Barron does not provide reasons for
    thinking that God speaks through the magisterium of the Church, or the
    Scriptures, etc. He takes it for granted here, though I imagine he has
    argued for it elsewhere.

    His only aim is to clarify the respective natures of faith and reason, as held by the Catholic Church. This is important so as to avoid miscommunication- we don't want our interlocutors to attack a straw man, believing they have defeated the
    real man. In other words, this post lays the groundwork for discussing the reasonableness of Catholicism, it doesn't establish it.

    Fr. Barron's words reminded me of David L. Schindler- there's a pretty good
    summary of his theology (including his thoughts on faith and reason)
    here:
    http://www.theimaginativeconservative.org/2013/05/philosopher-of-love-david-schindler.html

  • Sqrat

    I think understand: "faith" is like the trust that Manti Te'o had that what Lennay Kekua told him was true.

  • Paul Boillot

    We don’t surrender our reason as we get to know another person, but we must be willing to go beyond our reason; we must be willing to believe, to trust, to have faith. This is, I think, an extremely illuminating analogy for faith in the theological sense.

    I agree with Fr. B that his choice of analogy is illuminating, but perhaps not for the reason he thinks.

    He is wrong that we "must be willing to go beyond our reason," with regards other humans' stories AND faith.

    If I'm meeting someone new, the fact that I was not a fly-on-a-wall for all their past experiences means that I have to rely on a huge variety of non-verbal factors about their person to assess the likelihood of them believing the story they tell me to be true, subconscious indicators which are not "data that you can garner through rational analysis" .

    Additionally, if they are telling me a story which seems unlikely to be true, I must gauge the weight of their prose and sub-rational communications against my knowledge of the world, and the way it has, in the experiences I was present for, worked to-date.

    If they tell me a story which I find hard to believe, I am not bound by some mystical assent of will to accept what they tell me, or remain forever untrusting. I will first try to determine whether they actually believe what they are telling me, then whether they aren't fooling themselves. If they pass both of those tests, then I have to think about potentially amending my view of what is or is not likely to have occurred.

    Simply hearing another person start to tell a story does not entail a singular, binary, never-to-be-reconsidered test of trust/don't trust. The claims of religion, prima facie, are fantastical, and the "subconscious" "nonverbal" modes of communicating their tenets which the various sects and creeds have used throughout human history add a second layer of distrust.

    In couching his argument for faith in the terms of human relationships, Fr. Barron has given us a great framework for explaining why the religious experience is one not worth going "beyond our reason" to obtain.

    The reason I haven't sent all of my money to down-and-out Nigerian princes who could turn it all around with my help (and in so doing net me a tidy profit) is that I "remain stubbornly in an attitude of mistrust" towards their claims of plight and promise; for them refuse to open my wallet or my heart.

    *Edits for editing*

  • David Nickol

    What could be more frightening than believing there exists an all-knowing, all-powerful God who tells us things about himself and is not to be trusted?

    • Sqrat

      Genesis 2-3 portrays a God who is not to be trusted. However, the God portrayed there is neither all-knowing nor all-powerful.

  • Geena Safire

    By analyzing the order, beauty, and contingency of the world

    I agree that the world is terrific. But the order comes from the laws of nature. The perception of beauty is because of how we evolved. And there's no satisfactory argument in favor of contingency. Why can't the universe have existed eternally until the Big Bang instead of a deity?

    Now one of the truths that reason can discover is that God is a person, and the central claim of the Bible is that this Person has not remained utterly hidden but has, indeed, spoken.

    You cannot, logically, both use the Bible to prove God exists and use God to prove the Bible is true.
    Faith -- and not reason -- is required to consider either one of these 'proofs' to be valid, much less both of them.

    • Vasco Gama

      Geena,

      Saying that the order comes from the laws of nature (doesn't really explains the existance of laws).

      But what really troubles me is what do you mean by «The perception of beauty is because of how we evolved», how is it possible that evolution could lead to the insight of beauty we came to developed (isn't it absurd?), does our amazement with art (can be in any way even remotely related with evolution? Are you serious? I mean it could lead to the recognition of beauty in our potential sexual partners (or to our family or clan, perhaps), but in reality our perception is quite universal, as we recognize beauty everywhere even in the beasts that were potentially dangerous to us.

      When it is said that the universe is contingent, it is so because it is not necessary to exist. We know it exists and we know this universe is contingent, as it could fail to exist.

      • Geena Safire

        It would be nice to have explanations for everything. So sometimes people make things up so they aren't anxiously wondering. But if we don't have answers yet, the proper response is "I don't know."

        The universe exists. It operates in certain ways, some of which we're beginning to understand. We describe how it works as "laws of physics." But these are descriptive laws, not prescriptive laws. That is, the universe is telling us how it behaves; we are not telling it how to behave.

        Maybe there isn't an answer we can know now for how our universe has these particular laws of physics. But the proper answer to the question, 'What is the explanation for the laws of physics?', currently, is "We don't know. Yet. And we might never know."

        But it is not proper to say, "Someone or something must have made them or decided for them to be that way." Why? What is the justification for claiming that? We only have our own universe to observe, so we cannot extrapolate from our knowledge of other universes. It is almost never appropriate to extrapolate to any whole the features of its parts, so it's just silly to say, "Things happen this way on Earth, so things ought to act this way at the beginning of a universe." I think it would actually be pretty surprising if they did, particularly if the person positing that claim is not a cosmologist or particle physicist.

        Perhaps that's just what universes do. Perhaps, when a universe comes into existence, due to some yet unknown feature in the expansion, the laws of physics for that universe just happen. Perhaps, in most universes, those laws will make the universe not last very long or do anything we would consider interesting. But in our universe, interesting things happened.

        Beauty is a perception. It is something our minds do. We are built to be attracted to certain things and disgusted by others. That is, our minds give us unpleasant feelings when we smell feces and pleasant feelings when we taste sugar, for example. But for most things, our culture teaches us, when we are small, what is attractive and what is unappealing. That learning engages the same parts of our brain, giving pleasant and unpleasant messages, as our innate responses, which are the result of natural selection.

        The emotional responses to stimuli are processed mainly in the insular cortex (or insula). A very interesting part of the brain. It also processes/generates our feelings of disbelief and, apparently, the feeling of being in union with God.

        When it is said that the universe is contingent, it is so because it is not necessary to exist. We know it exists and we know this universe is contingent, as it could fail to exist.

        How do you know that? Perhaps the universe has existed, in some form, eternally and is not contingent. What proof do you have that universes are contingent? It's an interesting philosophical game, but it has no necessary application to reality at the scale of the universe.

        Just because a screw has threads doesn't mean a Boeing 747 has threads since it contains lots of screws. That's a logical fallacy. We can only say, "If the universe is like other things that make up the universe, then it is contingent." But that's the same thing as saying, "If the universe is contingent, then it is contingent."

        • Vasco Gama

          Geena,

          I very much agree with you, « But if we don't have answers yet, the proper response is "I don't know."», above all that is honesty and it is a way to prevent fooling ourselves. However humans face a strong discomfort in dealing with what we don’t know, and are terrified of what we can’t control, and many times we find reasonable to pretend that we (somehow) know or that we have the ability to control.

          The belief in God, in no way explains the things that science can explain, or pretends to be an alternate explanation for nature (and doesn’t even pretend to explain those things that only can be explained by science), or dismiss whatever science can discover about reality. It might however provide some coherence of our knowledge of reality that is quite fragmented, this is a common description from people that go into a conversion process. It might also provide some comfort to deal with the things that we don’t know and don’t control.

          But as I addressed to your comment it was concerning to affirmations such as «the order comes from the laws of nature», this means nothing, as the laws of nature are what describes that order (and this is the common understanding of that fact). Or that «the perception of beauty is because of how we evolved», with evolution we pretend to account the biological changes that lead to variations in one species or to the transformation from one species to a different one. Does that account everything (not the case) or will it account for every biological change (surely it won’t), yes but that is the best account we have so far. Is it possible that eventually evolution will be successful to explain the existence of beauty (I seriously doubt, unfortunately there is a lot we don’t know and that seems impossible to know, we may very well know what we are, but we don’t know what we were before being human, or what could possibly lead to our perception of beauty). But then we may guess, we may but, at this point saying that it “is because how we evolved” is like accepting a promissory note from someone we don’t even know to exist (not just someone we don’t see but we know is around there), if anything else it requires a large amount of faith (quite loosely grounded it seems to me). Beauty, in itself, is quite trickier than you pretend, it is just not simply that we recognize it in the natural world, and the wonder and joy that the beauty makes us feel. We sense beauty in nature but also in concepts, in theories, in thinking, in symbols, sounds, patterns, it is present all around us, sometimes we feel it, or are more predisposed to it, but sometimes it seems banal and meaningless. We don’t limit ourselves to admire it, we create it, and find an amazing source of pleasure while doing it (and it doesn’t concern only to naturalistic representations it is well far beyond that, is concerns abstract symbols, the bizarre, the fantastic,…). We study and theorize beauty, created a variety of areas of knowledge devoted to it. Does it sound reasonable to say that we developed it to reproduce, survive, or for the sake of socialization, and even if it was that simple how could we account for it? Surely there is one simple way, which is to dismiss it (as something that we are somehow attracted to), but is it reasonable?).

          The concept of contingency is something that was recognized a long time ago and could be generalized, as we don’t consider possible that magic may possibly make things appear out of nothing or make things change without an efficient cause (which pretty much one basic assumption to science, that whatever changes as an efficient cause that is responsible for the change). As far as I know the tricky part of the argument from contingency is the extrapolation from the things we know (or can observe) to the “universe” as a whole, but even so the presumption that if an universe is made out all the contingent things is reasonable (we don’t know any other kind), then the universe itself is contingent.

          I am not contending that there is no escape from this (the argument), but in some sense it requires the appealing to something either mysterious or magical (which could be less rational than the assumption of a necessary existence).

  • If faith simply means trust, we wouldn't need a separate word for it.
    Yes, people who empirically exist can gain my trust after a significant amount of interaction with them in which things they claim are verified.

    If the woman in the analogy never confirmed anything she said about herself, never introduced me to her friends let me see where she worked or lived, never showed me photos of herself, and kept responding to my enquirer with "have faith in me", no I would not trust her.

  • Faith devoid of reason becomes blind superstition. Reason devoid of faith becomes self-absorption with a detachment from reality.

    • Faith with reason becomes sighted superstition, reason devoid of faith leads to unbiased objective findings.

      • I can give you all kinds of faithless objective findings to justify all kinds of atrocities. A madman is not someone who is lost his reason; a madman is someone who has lost everything but his reason.

        • My original post was designed to show you how unconvincing posting platitudes and deepities is.

          I can give you all kinds of faith-based findings to justify all kinds of atrocities. A madman is not someone who is lost his faith; a madman is someone who has lost everything but his faith.

          • My original post was designed to show you how both Faith & Reason are needed. Not reason alone, and not faith alone.

          • I know you are saying this, but I have no idea why. If I have a car and the fuel light comes on, reason tells me to refuel. How does faith help this decision or any other? I can't think of any circumstance where reason cant get it right without faith. but i can think of many where faith works against the best result. If i have faith that my car is so great that it can make it another 30 miles where the gas is cheaper and I run out of gas. I have faith that my prayers have cured my child of diabetes. I have faith that I am called to jihad, to a crusade. Such people can and do explain their actions as reasonable interpretation of scripture when done in faith. I can use reason to challenge these actions, but I can't question their faith.

          • Brain,
            Yes, you can (and should) question anything.
            We all believe things we can’t prove. We all have a worldview. Using reason alone I can justify cannibalism as a good evolutionary strategy to eliminate a competing tribe and obtain a good source of protein at the same time. Using faith alone, can say cannibalism is good just because I believe it is and God told me so. Reality is a combination of physical laws and spiritual laws. We need more than only calculating logic to understand the reality of cannibalism or any other worldview. Reason alone is never enough.

          • Actually both justifications you proposed for cannibalism are based on reason. If god exists and you have good evidence that he told you you should eat people, it is reasonable to do so.

            Depending on what you mean by prove I don't think one needs to prove things to believe them. you do need a reasonable basis though, but once you have this, there is no need for faith.

            If you don't have a reasonable basis to say God told you to eat people, I don't care how much faith you have, I won't let you do it, because I have good reasons to stop you that have nothing to do with subjective faith.

  • dripgrind
    • Kevin Aldrich

      That is an interesting article, and I think the author is correct that one of the unspoken aims of apologetics of any kind--religious or not--is to bolster the faith of the one who already believes or wants to believe and needs additional support.

      However, in the Catholic view, the aim of apologetic is to show anyone who wants to know (including Catholics) that the Catholic faith is reasonable, that is, that its tenets can either be shown to be true (if it is a natural truth) or reasonable (if it is a supernatural truth) and that attacks against the reasonableness of the Faith can be refuted.

      Successful apologetics can remove barriers to faith but they can never cause faith.

    • Fr.Sean

      hi Dripgrind,
      I think the article in a sense could have been summarized that if faith could be proven emperically through philosophical or scientific means than it would no longer fall into the faith realm?

  • dripgrind

    I've seen the gambit of conflating "faith in a person" with "faith in God" wheeled out many times on this site.

    The technique is to point out that there's a certain amount of faith required to build a relationship with another person, so (it's implied) how can having faith in God be a bad thing? If you don't have the capacity for faith, that means you must also have no faith in your friends or your wife, so you must be a terrible person.

    Of course, the fallacy is that 'faith' in another person is qualitatively and quantitatively very different from faith in God. I might doubt whether my friend's faith in her husband is justified, but I wouldn't be doubting that the husband exists, just that he was trustworthy. Whereas my doubt that her faith in God is justified hinges on entirely different issues.

    To make Barron's analogy about getting to know someone more applicable to the believer's relationship with God: "If you are coming to know a person, and you are a relatively alert type, your reason will be fully engaged in the process. Although you never meet the person, you will deduce hints of her personality from conflicting ancient texts, and work out her system of ethics from the reasoning of mediaeval philosophers then campaign to impose that system on everyone else."

    Also, once again, we're told that God's existence can be deduced from observing the natural world and from the reasoning of Aquinas. If God has left such unmistakeable fingerprints on the universe, why do the Catholic thinkers on this site only ever site Aquinas in defence of this proposition? Given that we have found out a lot more about the nature of reality since the 13th century, you'd think all the other philosophers who came after him would have found more and more support for the existence of God. Yet that's not the case at all.

    And similarly, if you can deduce the nature of God from the nature of the Universe, why did the Catholic church strongly oppose heliocentric model of the solar system, and the theory of evolution, before then accepting them but NOT changing their conception of God? It seems an awful lot like they are starting with the idea of God agreed upon in the 4th century after they'd liquidated all the competing Christian viewpoints, then claiming that the universe supports that, no matter what new information about the universe comes to light.

    • dripgrind

      And in addition, if as Barron and the Catechism says, we can deduce that there is a God and a lot about his nature just from observing Nature, then shouldn't belief in God be an empirical matter, of the same epistemological status as belief in black holes or quarks? Why is the concept of 'faith' attached to religion in the first place? We could just talk about belief.

      If apologists could just outline the empirical evidence for God, then they could convert me to believing, with no faith required. Yet there's also a lot of talk about the virtue of faith in the Bible and Catholicism (the character of Doubting Thomas is seen as bad for trying to confirm Jesus's resurrection empirically). It seems self-contradictory.

      • Randy Carson

        Doubting Thomas is not seen as "bad" for doubting something he had not seen; he is "bad" in that he HAD seen and heard Jesus with his own eyes and ears and yet resisted committing to what he knew to be true. The actual incident goes like this:

        John 20:24-29
        24 Now Thomas (also known as Didymus), one of the Twelve, was not with the disciples when Jesus came. 25 So the other disciples told him, “We have seen the Lord!”

        But he said to them, “Unless I see the nail marks in his hands and put my finger where the nails were, and put my hand into his side, I will not believe.”

        26 A week later his disciples were in the house again, and Thomas was with them. Though the doors were locked, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you!” 27 Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here; see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it into my side. Stop doubting and believe.”

        28 Thomas said to him, “My Lord and my God!”

        29 Then Jesus told him, “Because you have seen me, you have believed; blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed."

        The distinction is that the Apostles no longer had to "believe" by faith - they "believed" by direct experience of seeing and touching the risen Jesus. We believe through our acceptance or faith in the message the Apostles preached. Jesus called us "blessed" and prayed for us:

        John 17:20-21
        20 “My prayer is not for them alone. I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, 21 that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me."

        • dripgrind

          "Doubting Thomas is not seen as "bad" for doubting something he had not seen; he is "bad" in that he HAD seen and heard Jesus with his own eyes and ears and yet resisted committing to what he knew to be true."

          This is completely contradicted by the passages you quote. They say that Thomas HADN'T seen Jesus at all when he said that he wanted to check for nail holes and wounds. He pre-committed to an empirical test to eliminate the possibility of an imposter/lookalike/secret twin (unless it was a very committed imposter, willing to undergo serious wounding). That's very sensible, especially since in John and Luke's stories, Mary and two of the disciples didn't immediately recognise Jesus, raising the possibility of an imposter or just a mass delusion. Then Thomas saw Jesus, and Jesus invited him to do the test and Thomas immediately accepted the evidence.

          So Thomas is being very reasonable in this story, asking for a high level of evidence for a very improbable event, yet the fact that he's traditionally known by the perjorative "Doubting" label shows that the various later interpretations of this story have emphasised that seeking empirical confirmation of beliefs makes you a bad person.

          Of course, these stories we are discussing are written decades after the supposed events by Jesus followers, so I don't think they're good evidence about what really happened.

          • Randy Carson

            Ah. My apologies for not being more clear in expressing myself.

            Thomas had lived with Jesus for three years. He had seen the miracle of the multiplication of the loaves and fishes, the walking on the water, the healing of the blind, and the raising of the dead.

            So, Thomas had SEEN all this...and yet, he still doubted that Jesus was "the Christ, the Son of the Living God" as Peter had confessed (cf. Mt. 16:18). Happily, for him and for us, he was able to put his fingers into Jesus' side where the lance had pierced him and have his doubt turned to believe that Jesus really was risen from the dead. Thomas exclaims, "My Lord and my God" - one of the clearest statements of Jesus' divinity in the New Testament.

          • dripgrind

            Logically, though, Jesus could have had special powers, but the 'Jesus' that Thomas had heard about could still have been an imposter who had shown up before the real Jesus resurrected or something. So it's still sensible of Thomas to check.

            I mean, for all we know, the Jesus who showed up after the resurrection could have been an imposter. I mean, why would he encourage his followers to pass down a story about how it's MORE blessed to just accept him on faith instead of checking out his wounds, unless he had something to hide? I think this story is very suspicious.

          • Randy Carson

            But once they had checked his wounds and seen that he was not an imposter, that matter was settled, correct?

          • dripgrind

            Well, if we believe the account in John is in any way true, and that Thomas actually checked the wounds (it doesn't say he actually checked, just that 'Jesus' offered - perhaps it was awkward to start poking his fingers into his spiritual leader), and that the imposter wasn't fanatical enough to mutilate himself, or was a crucifixion survivor with healed wounds... Or a time traveller with advanced makeup or medical technology... There's lots of possible explanations that could account for this story.

          • felixcox

            Not to mention the gospel accounts could simply be fabrications, the way we know hundreds of other supernatural accounts are. It's possible they are true- improbable, but possible. The mundane accounts are also possible and way more possible. Occam's razor would favor ordinary explanations. The alternatives have nothing but ancient hearsay.

          • Mikegalanx

            Probably invented in response to the claims by many Christians at the time that Christ's resurrected body was spiritual not physical ( following Paul?) The story and the denigration of Thomas was useful later to quash doubters who demanded evidence of the miraculous.

      • Kevin Aldrich

        "If as Barron and the Catechism says, we can deduce that
        there is a God and a lot about his nature just from observing Nature,
        then shouldn't belief in God be an empirical matter, of the same
        epistemological status as belief in black holes or quarks?"

        Actually, the philosophical conclusion "therefore, God exists" is *similar* but not *identical* to the scientific conclusion "therefore, black holes exist" in the sense that neither is empirically verifiable. We can't directly see God and we can't see black holes. And both rely on empirical evidence (in the case of philosophical arguments). These are both examples of different kinds of "natural faith" or belief based on natural evidence.

        • dripgrind

          So both are beliefs inferred from natural evidence about things we can't see directly - why are they different kinds of belief? Why is belief in God 'philosophical' whereas the existence of black holes is scientific?

          Cosmologists look at the distribution of matter in the universe, extrapolate from local experiments and the resulting theories and so on, make certain assumptions and models, and conclude that black holes exist. A proponent of the first cause argument looks at the distribution of matter in the universe etc. etc. and accepts the Big Bang theory, then goes on to extrapolate using certain assumptions that God exists.

          What's the difference?

          • Kevin Aldrich

            I think the difference is the difference between philosophy and natural science. They have different objects. The object of natural science is to know the truth about the physical universe (often in order to dominate it). The object of philosophical theology is to know the truth about God who is not in the physical universe. Black holes, if they exist, are unseeable natural entities. God, if he exists, is an unseeable supernatural entity.

          • dripgrind

            But in both cases we can observe the physical universe and use reason to decide whether or not the entity in question exists? So the objects are qualitatively different, but the processes used to reach a belief (or a 'natural faith' if you prefer) are not qualitatively different?

          • Kevin Aldrich

            I can't go much farther because I'm not a specialist.

            I'll just venture to say that the "set" is everything that can be known by reason and within that are two interrelated "subsets," namely philosophy and science.

          • Fr.Sean

            Dripgrind,
            In a hypothetical way, If in fact the spiritual world existed, and if in fact Jesus is the God, that there is a Heaven and Hell etc. how do you think you could prove it?

          • Kevin Aldrich

            In fairness, Fr. Sean, it would be up to the person who asserts that something unobservable exists to prove it, not the one who assumes it does not.

          • Fr.Sean

            Hi Kevin,
            I think you might be right, too specific. i should say in a hypothetical situation if a spiritual world existed how could you prove it?

          • David Nickol

            i should say in a hypothetical situation if a spiritual world existed how could you prove it?

            I would say that you would prove it in much the same way you would prove any other "invisible world" existed. For example, we cannot see electromagnetic waves, and for most of human history it was not known that they existed, but their existence can be easily proven nowadays, and in fact we depend on them for our everyday lives (radio, television, microwave ovens).

            The problem with proving something like Catholicism is that none of its alleged effects are discernible. There is no way to tell if someone is baptized, absolved in confession, ordained a priest or consecrated a bishop, or "sacramentally" married. There is no way to tell if bread and wine become the body and blood of Christ. There is no way to tell if prayer works. I can think of interesting experiments that would be suggestive of at least limited efficacy of sacraments, but they would be unethical.

            What is frustrating is that people who are not taken seriously by Catholics—for example, faith healers, psychics, and mediums—offer much more "evidence" than conventional religions like Catholicism.

            When things that are supposed to be "efficacious" (prayer, sacraments) have no discernible effects, and when there is an elaborate system in place to explain why they have no discernible effects (e.g., God answers every prayer—but sometimes he says "no"), there simply can be no proof. And many of us are left wondering why there is this elaborate system of "efficacious" rituals that have no discernible effect. What makes it particularly suspicious is that prior to the rise of Christianity, Old Testament and New Testament accounts are filled with instance of indisputable miracles and tell of a God who revealed himself in various indisputable ways—as a burning bush, as a voice, as a pillar of fire, as a human being who worked miracles—but not even the pope would claim to have a back-and-forth conversation with God as did, say, Adam or Moses or Abraham.

          • Fr.Sean

            HI David,
            Electromagnetic waves are of the material world, or have material causes that can be measured. If a spiritual realm existed, how could you prove it existed?

          • David Nickol

            If a spiritual realm existed, how could you prove it existed?

            By demonstrating that it interacted, as claimed, with the material world. It is true that electromagnetic waves (of certain frequencies, of course) are part of the physical world, but like many parts of the physical world discovered by modern science, radio waves (for example) are not visible to the unaided senses, but they interact with other parts of the material world in such a way that they can be made apparent to the senses. This is very similar to what is claimed about the spiritual world. All the time on the news, after a natural disaster, you see people attributing their survival to divine intervention. People of many religions pray to the gods or to God for fair weather for the crops they have planted. Catholics have even promoted novenas for the last two presidential elections. However, none of these activities have any discernible effects. Did God exert a positive force that aided Obama's election in 2008 and 2012? Or did God exert a negative force but the people of American, having free will, resisted God's efforts to cause McCain and Romney to win? There is absolutely no way to know.

            Now, in biblical accounts, when God speaks directly to individuals, or parts the Red Sea, or bargains with Abraham over the destruction of Sodom, or causes plagues to befall Egypt, or (as Jesus) cures the sick, calms storms, raises the dead, and so on, that was certainly proof of the existence of God. But of course we have no way of knowing if those things actually happened, and things like that simply don't happen any more. In fact, according to the Catholic Church, "public revelation" ceased with the death of the last apostle. God has stopped revealing himself. Now, of course, that could actually be true, or it could be a very convenient explanation of why God's presence, so manifest in the Bible, is no longer discernible.

          • Fr.Sean

            Hi David,
            I'm a little fuzzy on physics, but i'm still reasonably sure an electromagnetic wave still has material causes that can be tested. If in fact a spiritual world existed though, one could look at others who have claimed they have had a connection with a spiritual world, but how could one prove it himself/herself? Let me give you one of the best objective examples i know of; when i was in a former parish i counseled a woman who lost her only child (i'm going to change some of the details for her sake) in a boating accident. the woman was so grief stricken as you can imagine it was hard, or nearly impossible to move on in life. years went by when one day after Mass a woman on the choir came up to this woman, were call her elizabeth and said that the night before she had a dream. in the dream her son (we'll call him bob, he played an instrument on the contemporary choir) came to this woman and said that before he died he had written a letter to his ex-girlfriend (they had just broken up before the accident) but never had an opportunity to give it to her. the letter was in the top drawer on the right side in a white box (bob's mother kept his room the same). Naturally Elizabeth went home as fast as she could, opened the top drawyer and found things exactly as the woman at church recounted. Naturally that whole event was extremely healing for elizabeth. but anyway, as i can see it there are only three possibilities; 1. the woman at church was extremely lucky in that she had a dream that had exact details to the existence, information and placement of the letter. 2. the woman broke into the house and placed, or found the letter there (the two woman were not friends just acquaintances at church). 3. bob really is in the spiritual world and relayed the info to the woman at church through a dream. Now, that's as about as close as i can get of using a personal actual occurrence of proving a spiritual world, but can you think of any others? (i know you mentioned some prayers not being answered, but still that's an outside view just as events in the bible are an outside or observers view)

          • Paul Boillot

            I can see another possibility, one which seems infinitely more likely to me.

            4. At some point in the progress of this complicated story, someone (you, 'bob', 'elizabeth', or 'the woman') has relayed false information knowingly or not, through active falsehood, mistaken perceptions or faulty memory.

            Every claim of 'esp', psychic powers, communicating with the dead, near death experiences, etc.. which has been tested by modern methods has been conclusively proven to be an active or passive falsehood.

          • Fr.Sean

            Hi Paul,
            I suppose i may have missed the fourth possibility, that one of us is lying. what i can tell you is that i counseled the woman before it occurred, and saw the effect it had upon her. again, it can't be faulty memory. the only connection those two woman had was that her elizabeth's son played an instrument on the contemporary choir to which the other woman was also a part of. she gave her details of what was in the letter as well as the letter's location. from your perspective i could be lying but i'm not, other than changing the names and color of the box. i knew both women in the parish which makes it a possibility that somehow the woman got into her home and put the letter there. but the letter was in bob's hand writing. i suppose there is a possibility that she went into the home and found the letter then made up the dream part, but I don't know how she would have gotten into the home when the woman's elderly parents live with her and are always home (as well as the woman, she's almost always home caring for them). with respect to the other things you mentioned those other events may have been conclusively "proven" to be false, but what makes this event important are the details of the letter, and the letter's placement in her home, drawer, and box.

          • David Nickol

            When I was in high school, I had a dream that I walked into the living room of a former next-door neighbor (we had moved away from the neighborhood some years previously) and saw lying in a casket surrounded by glowing candles. I told my family that someone we knew was going to die. A few days later, we got a call from someone who had also once lived in the neighborhood and known the woman, and it turned out she really had died. How can this be explained? I don't know.

            If those kinds of stories have any significance, there have been numerous television shows that relate them or dramatize them. The first I can remember was called One Step Beyond, which ran from 1959 to 1961, and if you subscribe to HuluPlus, you can watch 53 old episodes.

            I would be the last to claim that everything that happens has a "logical" explanation. When real "paranormal" occurrences, or ones invented out of whole clothe (like Twilight Zone) are dramatized, no matter how bizarre and mysterious, there is always someone who expresses certainty that a "logical" explanation can be found. Whether or not one can find a "logical" explanation for every "paranormal" occurrence, it seems to me that when you take them all together, they don't add up to anything resembling a coherent picture of the paranormal or the "spirit world."

            Some highly educated and intelligent people (William James, for one) were impressed by the famous "medium" Leonora Piper, whom skeptics believe they have exposed to have been a complete fraud. I have known people who have taken astrology quite seriously, when I think it can be said reasonably and fairly to be total nonsense. It seems to me if you add up all the reports about spirits, ghosts, demons, and the paranormal, you have a lot of intriguing "evidence" of something, but as I said, if you try to draw some kind of coherent theory of of the "supernatural" world, you get very little, and it certainly doesn't support Catholicism.

          • Fr.Sean

            Hi David,
            I agree, there is a lot of strange stuff out there. When i was younger a friend of mine said she went to see a psychic and the psychic told her things about herself and her life. i told her i thought most of that was nonsense. she insisted i listened to the recording of her session (i hadn't realized she recorded it). the psychic would mention something and my friend would say, "no, awe, that doesn't ring a bell", but then when she would say something remotely close to my friends life she would say, "yes..that's right, that's amazing!"

            anyway, she was frustrated because i just kept reiterating what i thought the psychic's method was. i've also noticed that you can read just about any horoscope for any day and somehow it may apply to you.

          • Fr.Sean

            Hi David,
            The one other aspect though, at least i've noticed with myself and with others, is that when discussion a topic, if i feel my position isn't all that well thought out or even flawed, it's natural to changed the subject. Lawyers often do that when attempting to confuse a jury (as they should i suppose). but anyway, with all of the psychic or metaphysical theories one could use those people or beliefs as an example of how all of it is nonesense, but one could also use that as an example of how humanity is made to search for another "spiritual" world and those other imitations simply distract the person from the real spiritual world.
            I suppose to cut through the other issues there's one point i am attempting to make and one question i am attempting to ask. For the sake of argument, just to look at the argument in a pure form we'll leave the possibility of a spiritual world in the 50/50 category. thus; the woman lost her son,

            another woman related a dream that she claimed came from her son.
            the dream contained details about his life and stuff that only he would know; i.e. the letter, the contents within the letter, and the location of the letter.

            now, if we were to remove the other prejudices (mine and yours) of a possibility of a spiritual world, which possibility is most likely;

            1. somebody is lying, (if the woman planet the letter etc. however as i said those two woman were not acquaintances other than choir)
            2. the woman simply had a very remarkable dream that happened to be a coincidence.
            3. bob did relay info to this woman in a dream about his life here.
            if the possibility of a spiritual world was a 50/50 this would not be a difficult case to judge.

            Secondly, if in fact there was a spiritual world, logically it would appear that the only way one could know about it is through one's own personal experience. Now, i know there are other psychological effects when people are together, or alone (like praying) but if one just stays on that individual topic, what evidence would one have of a spiritual realm? would it seem likely that a spiritual realm would reveal itself in a material way? Is the previous mentioned occurrence an example of evidence of a spiritual realm?

          • Kevin Aldrich

            "God has stopped revealing himself."

            I would say we live in the age of grace. Grace acts invisibly on the soul, which is itself invisible. Grace can also always be resisted, so that it only has an effect on your behavior if you want it to. Thus, we only can see the effect of grace in the lives of people who cooperate with it. Maybe the most dramatic effects are seen in the lives of the saints. There are living saints all around us if we seek them out. (On the negative side, this is why, in my view, some have attacked Mother Teresa so vehemently.)

            I would also say we still live in the age of miracles; however, they are of such a character that there is no way to prove beyond any doubt that there is not a natural explanation. As has been pointed out here in the past, we don't know of any instances of an amputated limb being restored. The most dramatic evidence of miracles can probably be seen in Lourdes and in the process of beatification and canonization of saints, but they can always be disputed. After all, even if you directly observed a brain dead person regain consciousness, all you would observe are natural events.

            I also would say we still live in the age of answered prayers. However, as you point out, sometimes our prayers are answered the way we want and sometimes they do not seem to be answered at all. My take on this is that the main function of prayer is to lead us to the point at which we ask for what God wants to give us, which is himself. Personally I ask God to give people who pray whatever they ask for, even if it is something silly, to confirm their faith.

          • felixcox

            "Now, of course, that could actually be true, or it could be a very convenient explanation of why God's presence, so manifest in the Bible, is no longer discernible."

            I wonder which is more likely?

          • dripgrind

            All beliefs are fundamentally probabilistic, but there are some things that would make me increase my probability estimate.

            It would depend exactly on what is claimed about the spiritual world. If people can get accurate messages from the dead through dreams, that is testable, but after a century of parapsychological claims being tested, generally when these things are investigated in detail or tested systematically, they don't hold up.

            Or if the Bible contained accurate information about physics, cosmology, biology etc that couldn't have been known to the authors, that would be evidence. You'd have to account for the odd coincidence (like how Swift somehow accurately predicted details about the moons of Mars, seemingly out of nowhere). But the fact that Jesus is going round treating people with demonic possession makes it seem like he didn't have any particular insight. If Jesus had taught that people with apparent demonic possession have a brain malady and then described the chemical structure of an anti-psychotic drug to help them, that would be evidence that he was God.

    • Fr.Sean

      HI Dripgrind,
      You've covered a lot of issues but if you don't mind, just focusing on one (could handle the others later) might be beneficial rather than confusing issues. Fr.Barron's main focus of the article was to point out that what atheists/agnostics understand as faith is not what we understand as faith. We understand our faith to be based on historical events that reveal revelation as well as what nature, our universe and our conscience implies about a creator. you might say that in his analogy, the googling info about her, or asking others about her, what she's like etc. points to the aforementioned data. Then as you learn about her, she speaks, in which case i believe Fr.Barron implies one discovers she is real and speaks directly to you. that is fundamentally what we mean by faith and why we desire for you to come to discover how real God is.

      • dripgrind

        So whether we want to call it faith or belief, what you're saying is that examining the evidence - historical record, observing the world/universe, using introspection (examining one's 'conscience') - is what leads you to believe in God.

        In other words, the processes you use to decide if God exists are the same processes that a reasonable person would use to decide on any theory (although I'd suggest that experimental psychology suggests human 'conscience' and 'intuition' is an evolutionary adaptation to group living that is often self-serving, not a reliable source of information - and of course sociopaths lack a conscience, so they can't use that method at all).

        The problem is that we've studied the natural world in great detail, and mainstream biologists and cosmologists and so on wouldn't say it points to the Catholic God. It's possible to study the Bible and related historical documents in great detail without being convinced that Catholicism is true - in fact, my former Oxford theology student friend tells me that studying theology deconverted most of the Christians in her year, and the lecturers tend to be agnostic at best.

        So if 'faith' is based mainly on evidence, why is it that Catholics can look at the world and the universe and the historical record and come to very different conclusions from the experts on the exact same evidence? Either 'faith' is just a process of faulty reasoning, or there is some other process or information you're using to reach the conclusion that God is real. As a skeptic, I'd say that process is motivated reasoning where you fit the facts to your existing predilection to believe (for social or emotional reasons).

        • Kevin Aldrich

          I think this is the heart of your argument:

          "The problem is that we've studied the natural world in great detail, and mainstream biologists and cosmologists and so on wouldn't say it points to the Catholic God."

          That is false. No part of the proper work of biologists or cosmologists and other scientists involves any God, Catholic or other. Human beings might use the findings of the sciences and argue philosophically that they point to God or away from him.

          Individual scientists may or may not believe in God.

          • dripgrind

            If the natural world implies the Catholic God, as Fr Sean says, then wouldn't the people who know most about the natural world see the implication most clearly? And yet most of them aren't Catholic - it's 70%+ atheists among senior US scientists. Knowledge about the natural world reduces religious belief.

            I agree that you can cite facts about the natural world in the service of making an argument that God exists, like Craig does using various long-falsified concepts from mediaeval philosophy like "events must have a cause". But the argument doesn't really depend upon the observed facts.

            Example: The Church condemned a heliocentric solar system as heretical, then accepted it, but didn't change its conception of God.

            If we can reason that God exists from a geocentric Solar System and all the scripture that supports that, but then when we find out the solar system is heliocentric, we don't change our ideas about God at all, then we're not really reasoning from the facts, are we?

          • Kevin Aldrich

            dripgrind, I invite you to apply the same rigor to your own statements that you demand Catholics apply to theirs.

            For example, many reasons can be brought forward as to why the human beings whose professional work is in the field of science hold the religious beliefs they do.

            Your example doesn't exemplify anything. I've never heard an argument made that "God exists" because "the solar system is geocentric."

          • dripgrind

            Yes, for example, it's possible that scientists don't want to admit that nature points to God because of social pressures against believing in God.

            But even in the US, a society that's still largely hostile to atheists, the level of atheism is high. And it also varies between scientific fields in ways that would seem to have more to do with the content of the discipline than any social explanation.

            Nobody argues explicitly that "God exists because the solar system is geocentric." However, if you believe that the solar system can't be geocentric because of your beliefs about God - as the Church did, since it labelled Galileo a heretic - and then it turns out you're wrong, you need to revise your beliefs.

            If you make predictions about the solar system based on the authority of the Bible and they turn out wrong, then the honest thing to do is to admit that's evidence that your worldview is wrong. After all, wouldn't a holy book inspired by a God tend to be right about the physical world?

            Of course, the easy way out is to reinterpret the difficult passages as "allegorical" or something, but then you need to stop claiming your Church is authoritative. Or carefully limit your pronouncements to things that are impossible to test, to avoid further embarrassment. Hmmm.

          • Kevin Aldrich

            YOU WRITE
            Belief or not in God "would seem to have more to do with the content of the discipline than any social explanation."

            MY RESPONSE
            This is a sociological question, isn't it? All factors would have to be taken into account, including talking to the scientists themselves.

            It could be that certain people might choose certain disciplines for the same reasons they choose certain religious positions, rather than believers go into a certain discipline and that disciple builds up or erodes their faith.

          • Kevin Aldrich

            In regard to Galileo, I might be making a big mistake by taking the bait, but here goes.

            Educated persons, including the Catholic clergy, largely accepted the Ptolemaic model because it was the prevailing scientific model and because it seemed to accord with the view of the cosmos assumed in the Bible.

            A geocentric cosmos was never a Catholic dogma.

            This may sound ridiculous to you, like it is splitting hairs, but I think it is important: The Inquisition which examined Galileo found his position "vehemently suspect of heresy." Not "heretical" but 'very strongly suspect of being against Catholic dogma.'

            The judgment was a prudential one which admitted the possibility of being wrong. Suspicion can never render a definitive conclusion. The judgment was wrong. The fact that it could be wrong was admitted at the outset.

            This is why the Church could accept the heliocentric view of the solar system when it was seen that the scientific evidence supported it and that it did not actually contradict anything the Church taught about Divine Revelation.

          • dripgrind

            That's a revisionist, face-saving interpretation for the Church, but you just have to read the original documents to see that it's not true:

            http://web.archive.org/web/20070930013053/http://astro.wcupa.edu/mgagne/ess362/resources/finocchiaro.html#conreport

            "the Assessor Theologians assessed the two propositions of the sun's stability and the earth's motions as follows:

            That the sun is the center of the world and motionless is a proposition which is philosophically absurd and false, and formally heretical, for being explicitly contrary to Holy Scripture..."

            EXPLICITLY CONTRARY TO HOLY SCRIPTURE. Doesn't sound like they're hedging their bets or admitting the possibility of being wrong. (And yes, we now know the 'world' is bigger than the solar system and the sun isn't motionless, but the point is that Galileo's more accurate model was condemned as definitely heretical.)

            The reason Galileo was found 'suspect of heresy' is because (with his liberty at stake) he was trying to make out that he didn't really believe in heliocentrism, he was just presenting the case for it:

            " Likewise, you confessed that in several places the exposition of the said book is expressed in such a way that a reader could get the idea that the arguments given for the false side were effective enough to be capable of convincing, rather than being easy to refute. Your excuses for having committed an error, as you said so foreign from you intention, were that you had written in dialogue form, and everyone feels a natural satisfaction for one's own subtleties and showing oneself sharper than the average man by finding ingenious and apparently probable arguments even in favor of false propositions."

            So it's historically the case that the supposedly authoritative Church was misled by the Bible and its philosophy into supporting a false theory of the solar system. (And do I need to mention the fact that Catholicism also claims to have ethical insights, yet they ended up depriving Galileo of his liberty just for writing a book?)

            We could also discuss the case of Giordano Bruno, burnt at the stake in part for advocating a "plurality of worlds": http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Giordano_Bruno#Imprisonment.2C_trial_and_execution.2C_1593.E2.80.931600

            In short, I don't see how anyone can simultaneously claim that:

            1. The Catholic Church's interpretation of the Bible is authoritative
            2. The information in the Bible doesn't conflict with what we know understand about the natural world

            The Church's theology experts, based on 'Holy Scripture' were convinced that the sun revolves around the Earth, and that there isn't a 'plurality of worlds'. The Church was so keen on these wrong ideas that it was willing to imprison and torture and kill to defend them. That's hardly in line with the modern line that faith and reason are in beautiful harmony.

          • Kevin Aldrich

            Thanks for this, dripgrind. I've been in error in what I wrote above.

            Clearly the *assessment* of "the Assessor Theologians" that Galileo's two propositions were philosophically absurd and contrary to Sacred Scripture was a wrong assessment.

            I think you are right and I was wrong in my interpretation of what "suspect of heresy" meant. I assumed it referred to the propositions and not to the man, but you have clarified that it refers to the man's state of mind.

            YOU WROTE:
            So it's historically the case that the supposedly authoritative Church was misled by the Bible and its philosophy into supporting a false theory of the solar system.

            MY RESPONSE
            I don't think you are putting this in the right way.

            The Church doesn't have a philosophy of her own but, yes, the philosophy those assessors were using led them to reject Galileo's positions on philosophical grounds.

            "The supposedly authoritative Church" was *not* misled by the Bible; rather, these assessors, acting within their scope of authority, misinterpreted the Bible. They took literally what ought to only have been taken as describing things the way they appear (the sun does appear to rise and set).

            YOU WROTE
            Catholicism also claims to have ethical insights, yet they ended up depriving Galileo of his liberty just for writing a book.

            MY RESPONSE
            At the highest level of her authority, the Church does claim the ability to teach infallibly on matters of faith and morals. The Church teaches that heresy is a bad thing. Galileo's assessors were fallible in attributing their vehement suspicion of heresy on Galileo.

            Here is a longer quote which discusses the implications of the errors which the judges made:

            The conclusions to be drawn are perhaps obvious. First, the declaration that Galileo's propositions were heretical was never published as a teaching of the Church, and it was never intended to be such. It was intended and taken as the advice of certain theological experts who worked in the Holy Office, of value in a legal case, but hardly a norm of faith for the Church as a whole. Second, as noted earlier, Pope Paul V did not endorse this theological opinion, but rather ordered in an in-house directive only that Galileo be commanded to stop holding and advancing his own opinion. This action, then, stemmed from a judgment of prudence about the promotion of ideas which could not be easily reconciled with Scripture. Even as a private document, therefore, the declaration of heresy received no formal papal approval. Third, there is no evidence that Pope Urban VIII ever endorsed any public document which included the declaration of heresy, especially the sentence at Galileo's trial. That no pope ever promulgated any condemnation of Galileo's ideas removes the Galileo case entirely from discussions on the historical character of the Church's teaching authority.

            It is clear, then, that not even the ordinary Magisterium has
            ever taught or promulgated the idea that the propositions of
            Copernican-Galilean astronomy are heretical or errors in faith. Thus it can in no way be claimed that "the Church" has taught that such views are heretical. To make such a claim would require that we locate the teaching authority of the Church in those theologians who claim expertise, a mistake which many make today, but one which the Galileo case should, at long last, serve to correct.

            Source: http://www.catholicculture.org/culture/library/view.cfm?recnum=559

            YOU WROTE
            In short, I don't see how anyone can simultaneously claim that:

            1. The Catholic Church's interpretation of the Bible is authoritative
            2. The information in the Bible doesn't conflict with what we now understand about the natural world

            MY RESPONSE
            For the reasons given above, it is possible to hold these two positions simultaneously.

          • dripgrind

            First of all, I want to say that I really appreciate that you're willing to have a reasonable discussion about this, and actually change your position based on new evidence. That's not something that's easy to do, exactly because "everyone feels a natural satisfaction for one's own subtleties and showing oneself sharper than the average man by finding ingenious and apparently probable arguments even in favor of false propositions". True rationality depends on the ability to update our views based on the evidence, no matter how painful it is, but evolution (or God or nature) didn't make it easy for humans to do that.

            It seems to me that the Catholic Church likes to limit its infallible pronouncements to very specific and unfalsifiable issues - it's not taking a huge risk to endorse the doctrine of the Assumption of Mary (although the Orthodox Church believes she has a verifiable tomb: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tomb_of_the_Virgin_Mary ). It's not entirely clear what pronouncements are claimed to be infallible, but they're certainly very limited in scope: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Papal_infallibility#Instances_of_infallible_declarations

            Even if the Popes involved in the cases of Galileo and Bruno didn't explicitly endorse their punishments, they certainly were complicit in allowing them to take place. If I were Catholic, I'd question if the behaviour of those Popes - letting a man be burnt alive, for example - is really consistent with their claimed status as the Vicar of Christ.

            I don't believe that the current teachings against contraception and homosexuality are claimed to be infallible - so If heliocentrism and 'many worlds' were condemned by some in the Church, but are now accepted, then how much authority does the Church really have?

          • Kevin Aldrich

            It's hard to be wrong, but our first loyalty has to be to the truth.

            More information on infallibility can be found in this official document (with examples at the end): http://www.vatican.va/roman_curia/congregations/cfaith/documents/rc_con_cfaith_doc_1998_professio-fidei_en.html

          • Fr.Sean

            Hi Dripgrind and Kevin,

            You cover a lot of topics, but i'll try to be brief with a few of them.

            1. When Christians say faith in God they believe that God has revealed himself through history, our universe, and our conscience. The events in history we believe point to Catholic notion of revelation, but it's important to remember that Catholics do not believe every other faith is "wrong" it's just that various faith's have a certain amount of revelation or truth. Truths about God that can be deduced from nature, the Universe, and conscience do not necessarily (although the conscience may) point to the Catholic notion of revelation, but rather to a creator who is good and wants us to be good or unselfish. Now, whether we are wrong about any particular aspect of this revelation or wrong about he whole thing is another matter, but what is important is that we do not understand our faith to be based on a mythical person who probably never existed etc. one may be able to argue the substance of this revelation but one must accept our understanding of faith as it is and not as it is perceived to be. I suppose a good analogy would be that if i asked a fundamentalist, who was a young earth creationists how an evolutionist atheists think or asked him/her about evolution i would probably not get an accurate understanding of how an evolutionists who is an atheist thinks.

            "I agree that you can cite facts about the natural world in the service of making an argument that God exists, like Craig does using various long-falsified concepts from mediaeval philosophy like "events must have a cause". But the argument doesn't really depend upon the observed
            facts."

            That is our subjective opinion, i tend to think those arguments have stood the test of time because they are true.

            "Of course, the easy way out is to reinterpret the difficult passages as "allegorical" or something, but then you need to stop claiming your Church is authoritative. Or carefully limit your pronouncements to things that are impossible to test, to avoid further embarrassment. Hmmm."

            The bible teaches faith, not science or history verbatim, although it may refer to those events.

  • Randy Carson

    Fr. Barron-

    Would this analogy apply to Christianity v. Paganism? The Christian worships a God who has spoken through the Word and continues to speak to us individually today through prayer and scripture, etc. The pagan worships gods who do not speak (unless there are actually demons masquerading as the gods) to those who worship them. Consequently, the pagan is stuck in the "Google" phase...learning more about the history of his or her god, but never hearing his voice.

    • felixcox

      Paganism encompasses many many traditions; some involve alleged encounters with the supernatural.

  • Alden Smith

    A hyper-skeptic is someone who will not ever consider any evidences, arguments, or reasoning given for Christianity.

    • Mikegalanx

      Whereas a normal skeptic will consider them by the same standards they use for everything else, including the religious beliefs of the majority of humanity who are not Christian.

  • Alden Smith

    Fr. Barron thank you for the article.

  • Gordon Reid

    This article purports to provide the Catholic answer to the question “What faith is and what it isn’t?” The question is raised because you apparently believe non-Catholics (especially atheists) have some misunderstanding on what faith is to a Catholic. You rightfully direct our attention to the central claim of your article.

    For Catholics (and I would invite my Internet friends to pay very close attention here), authentic faith never involves a sacrificium intellectus (a "sacrifice of the
    intellect").

    Unfortunately, this claim is demonstrably false. Please note the word “never’. This is a very specific word that means not ever. When Savita Halappanavar died in Ireland because she could not get an abortion of a pregnancy that was killing her, she was told as she died the reason (i.e., “because this is a Catholic country”) that she would not receive the treatment intellectually known to be best. When Bishop Thomas J. Olmstead excommunicated Sister Margaret Mary McBride because she allowed an abortion to save the life of the mother versus allowing the death of both mother and unborn child, Catholic faith was used to supersede the best intellectual knowledge of proper medical practice.

    If your claim had replaced the word “never” with something like “almost never” then the claim might change from being false to being true. But as it is written, it is false. My problem is not so much with whether the claim is true or false, my problem is with the profound lack of self knowledge reflected in your believing something about yourself that is demonstrably false.

  • Philippe Lestang

    Hi! For those of you who read French, see my comment about this article on http://croistu.wordpress.com/2013/11/01/ce-quest-la-foi/.

    Basically: What is missing in the above text is the notion of "openness": most people are not open. If not christians, they consider God as "impossible" (outside the boundaries of what the reason may accept).

  • Ph.Lestang

    Hi,
    What is missing, in my view, in the above text, is the notion of "openness": most people are not open. If not christians, they consider God as "impossible" (outside the boundaries of what the reason may accept).
    For those who read French, see my book "Le fait Jésus" (Actes Sud ed.)

    (My previous comments didn't appear, it seems)

  • Ph.Lestang

    Hi.
    One aspect is missing in the above post: the openness - or not - of the person. God is considered by many as "impossible". See my book "Le fait Jesus".