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Why I Love My Invisible Friend

Man

One of the favorite taunts of the New Atheists is that religious people believe in an “invisible friend.” They are implying, of course, that religion is little more than a pathetic exercise in wishful thinking, a reversion to childish patterns of projection and self-protection. It is well past time, they say, for believers to grow up, leave their cherished fantasies behind, and face the real world. In offering this characterization, the New Atheists are showing themselves to be disciples of the old atheists such as Feuerbach, Marx, Comte, and Freud, all of whom made more or less similar observations.

Well, I'm writing here to let atheists know that I think they’re right, at least about God being an invisible friend. Where they’re wrong is in supposing that surrendering to this unseen reality is de-humanizing or infantilizing. First, a word about invisibility. It is an extraordinary prejudice of post-Enlightenment Western thought that visible things, empirically verifiable objects and states of affairs, are the most obviously “real” things around. For centuries prior to the Enlightenment, some of the very brightest people that have ever lived thought precisely the opposite. Most famously, Plato felt that the empirical world is evanescent and contingent in the extreme, made up of unstable objects that pass in and out of existence; whereas the invisible world of forms and mathematical truths is permanent, reliable, and supremely beautiful. You can certainly see two apples combining with two oranges to make four things, but when you grasp the principle that two plus two equals four, you have moved out of the empirical realm and into a properly invisible order, which is more pure and absolute than anything that the senses could take in. Mind you, I’m not denigrating the material world, as Plato and his followers were too often wont to do; I’m simply trying to show that it is by no means obvious that the invisible can simply be equated with the fantastic or the unreal.

Now to God’s invisibility. One of the most fundamental mistakes made by atheists both old and new is to suppose that God is a supreme being, an impressive item within or alongside the universe. As David Bentley Hart has argued, the gods of ancient mythology or the watchmaker God of 18th century Deism might fit such a description, but the God presented by the Bible and by classical theism has nothing to do with it. The true God is the non-contingent ground of the contingent universe, the reason there is something rather than nothing, the ultimate explanation for why the world should exist at all. Accordingly, he is not a being, but rather, as Thomas Aquinas put it, ipsum esse subsistens, the sheer act of to be itself. Thomas goes so far as to say that God cannot be placed in any genus, even in that most generic of genera, namely, being. But all of this must imply God’s invisibility. Whatever can be seen is, ipso facto, a being, a particular state of affairs, and hence something that can be placed in a genus, compared with other finite realities, etc. The visible is, by definition, conditioned—and God is the unconditioned. I hope it is clear that in affirming God’s invisibility, I am not placing limits on him, as though he were a type of being—the invisible type—over and against visible things, a ghost floating above physical objects. The invisible God is he whose reality transcends and includes whatever perfection can be found in creatures, since he himself is the source and ground of creatureliness in all its manifestations. Anything other than an invisible God would be a conditioned thing and hence utterly unworthy of worship.

But is this invisible God my friend? One of the most important spiritual and metaphysical observations that can be made is this: God doesn’t need us. The sheerly unconditioned act of to be itself is in possession of every possible ontological perfection, and hence requires no completion, no improvement. He needs nothing. And yet the universe, in all of its astonishing complexity and beauty, exists. Since God could not have made it out of self-interest, it can only follow that he made it out of love, which is to say, a desire to share his goodness. Though there is always the danger that this sort of language will be misconstrued in a sentimental way, it must be said: God continually loves the universe into existence. Thus, God’s fundamental stance toward all finite things is one of friendship. Can’t we hear an overtone of this in Genesis’s insistence that the Creator, looking with infinite satisfaction on all he had made, found it “good, indeed very good”? If I might stay within the framework of the book of Genesis, the role of human beings within God’s good creation is to be the image of God, which is to say, the viceroy of the Creator, reflecting the divine goodness into the world and channeling the world’s praise back to God. In a word, human beings are meant to be the friends of God par excellence.

Is any of this de-humanizing? It would be, if God were a supreme being and hence a rival to human flourishing. If you want the details on that problem, consult any of the Greek or Roman myths. But the unconditioned Creator, the invisible God, is not a rival to anything he has made. Rather, as St. Irenaeus put it so memorably, Gloria Dei homo vivens (the glory of God is a human being fully alive). So God is my invisible friend? Guilty as charged—and delightedly so.
 
 
(Image credit: Visual Photos)

Fr. Robert Barron

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Fr. Robert Barron 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 emerging technologies to draw people into or back to the Faith. Fr. 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.

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  • Kevin Gregg

    Thank you Father for this article. The idea that God doesn't need us, but rather brought the universe into being through love is a very powerful concept to me.

    • jakael02

      I like that idea as well. If your very essence is love, then by your own nature you would find yourself spreading love, living selfless, and creating others to raise them to your own divine nature.

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

      I agree, but it doesn't mean its true or that god is real.

      • jakael02

        I agree, the truth for oneself arrives when you come to know God's love.

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

          Well if he exists he knows how to get in touch and that I am very interested in receiving any love on offer.

          • jakael02

            :)

          • CoF89

            Here I am! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with that person, and they with me.

            Revelation 3:20

            Jesus loves everyone, just open you heart and let Him in.

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

            I have tried, and I have been as open minded as I can. Either there is no God, his nature is different than I've been led to believe, or I am lying.

          • Karyn

            I never had a hard time believing in God - I couldn't look at the universe without believing Someone had to create/maintain it. But I really struggled with the idea of a personal, invisible friend God (partly because I was waiting for a St Paul-style conversion experience) but found I was still searching. I decided that for one month, I would "pretend" to be a Christian. I would suspend my questions and worries and "pretend" I had faith and I would do all the things I thought Christians did (I wasn't raised with a religion) - I prayed, read scripture, went to Church, etc. I can't say I was completely converted within that month but I can say I had some very powerful experiences and that I felt strongly drawn to continue pretending to be a Christian. Also, Brian, I found it was easier to pray to and think of Jesus instead of "the old man with the beard" or an invisible force -- that was too abstract for me. I apparently am too simple when it comes to faith. Stay open, please, Brian. I'll pray that you a relationship with Him.

          • Brian

            Hi Karyn, after reading your reply I was wondering if you "pretended" to try any other religions as well or just Christianity. Hearing the opinions of someone who has thrown themselves into multiple religions sounds incredibly interesting [to me, at least].

          • Karyn

            I didn't pretend with Buddhism or paganism - I really wanted to become "one of them", but it didn't work out, lol. I visited a Hindu temple and a mosque but those seemed so intrinsically tied to their cultures, I wasn't sure how to really practice them. I visited with various rabbis and strongly considered becoming Jewish -- I really struggled with the "story" of Jesus but not so much with an all-powerful Old Testament God. Strangely, it was actually the Eucharist that brought me to the Church.

            As for the "experiment" - I felt really dumb "praying to the air" but I kept trying to really picture Jesus or Mary sitting next to me. I prayed the "Jesus, I believe, help my unbelief" a lot. I promised myself that I really was going to go all out for that month and really push all my yammering doubts aside. And I also realized at the end of the month that something was happening but it was definitely not as exciting or obvious as a St Paul experience, which is what I was waiting for. Even now, sometimes I can't tell I'm being changed until I look back and some days practicing my faith is downright boring or done out of duty or an intellectual "knowing" instead of real faith. But I can see Jesus at work when I look backwards, if that makes any sense.

          • CoF89

            Or you have tried wrong...We have to stop blaming God and admit our own fault.

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

            Maybe, prayed three times a day asking god to come I to my life, to communicate with me in some way.

            Don't know what else I can do. Should it really be this hard? I don't blame god for not existing.

          • Arden Abeille

            It can be really, really hard. And it can take a long, long time. Sometimes these "St. Paul-style" conversion stories can be really discouraging to those of us who are spiritual slowpokes. But everyone learns differently, and God is doing different things with us--some people need to be "knocked off their horse;" some people need to be "slow-baked," as a friend of mine put it. If you try to quick-bake your souffle at 600 degrees, you'll have a ruined mess. Maybe you and I are souffle's, rather than stiff-necked murderers who need to be stopped short (like Saul was).

            If you are serious about knowing God, the place to start, I think, is with His word. Just as if you wanted to get to know a merely human PERSON who was distant from you geographically, but who, say, wrote often on a blog. You'd read their blog, right? Read the Bible and let it begin to teach you Who God is. You can get one, free, lots of places, if you don't already have one. The Book of John is a great, and unintimidating, place to start.

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

            If a God exists, I don't see why it should be hard at all. It couldn't be easier for him, and he knows exactly what to do to convince me. He also knows I genuinely want to meet him, if he exists.

            I am deadly serious about knowing any and all Gods that exists. I have been studying and reading the Bible for a number of years and I am finding it extremely dull and mendacious. I have no reason to accept that it is "his" word. No one claims He wrote or dictated it.

            Your blog analogy is interesting. If I wanted to know someone in a distant land who didn't write a blog, why would I read someone else's blog about them? Especially if this person I want to meet can has the ability to present himself at my doorstep with literally no effort and so on.

          • Arden Abeille

            It sounds like you are wishing for a kind of "road to Damascus" experience; you want God to "knock you off your horse" and confront you directly; but falling off a horse can kill a person, and God may know that that kind of confrontation would not be what's best for you; may not be the best way to begin to bring you into right relationship with Him; and it IS a relationship, so how you enter into it, and how you proceed, is important.

            You also, if you'll forgive me, sound a bit like a self-centered "lover" to me. You want God to do all the work. You are right that God COULD just make it BLATANTLY obvious; bowl you over so that you COULDN'T mistake Him. But God is not a rapist. He LOVES you--like CRAZY--but He wants YOU to love Him, too! Believe me, He IS "standing at the door and knocking," but YOU have to open the door; otherwise God would be violating your free will, and that would not be loving. A relationship, with any person, God included, requires "relating" on both sides; requires work, in fact, on both sides (not commonly realized these days, but still inescapably true).

            So, although God has been known to knock some people off horses (so to speak) to get their attention, that may not be the right way for YOUR personal relationship with Him to develop. There are three main ways that people can get to know people:

            Reading (as already mentioned): To get to know somebody, you definitely MIGHT read somebody else's blog about them; you would get to know them better that way. But yes, you also want to read their OWN words, if they've written things--and especially anything they've written directly to you. You say you have no reason to "accept that the Bible is God's word." You also say you've read the Bible (although I don't know how, or how much, or for how long), but it sounds like you aren't really reading with a "get to know you" attitude, but, if you'll forgive me for saying so, with a pretty critical attitude--you find it "dull" and "mendacious," which tells me you aren't reading this with an open, questioning attitude--"What does this MEAN? If this really IS the word of God, what would THAT mean?"--but rather with a set of pre-conceived notions about what is interesting and what is true, and, finding something different in the Bible, apply those judgments ("dull" and "mendacious") accordingly.

            This doesn't sound like somebody who really wants to meet God, NO MATTER WHO HE IS; it sounds like somebody who wants to meet a preconceived idea of who he wishes God would be, and, finding something different, chooses to reject that, rather than pursue it to find out if it really might be true. That's like saying, "I REALLY want to get to know Barack Obama," but then, when you read some things he's written, you don't like those very much, so you say, "That's not really him; he didn't really write that." If you want to get to know a real person, you don't get to decide WHO THAT PERSON IS; you have to accept them for who they are, and relate to them based upon who they are, and who you are, and build a relationship based upon who the two of you are together. God's not made up; He isn't just a "concept" or some vague magical force. He's a PERSON (actually, three persons in one, but that's getting way ahead of basic introductions). Reading the Bible with an open and curious attitude can help you to know who He really is. I'd suggest starting with the book of John, if you're finding the O.T. "dull." And just listen to John--a real person--tell you about a man, a real man, who loved him. Him, personally. And who also was the Word (and the Word was with God, and the Word was God). Just "listen" to that brief book, the way you would listen to a real person (because John was a real person) tell you about somebody they knew; respectfully, and not trying to criticize, but just accepting THEIR view as THEIR view. You don't have to agree with it, but it's respectful to listen without judging their experience, and if you REALLY want to know this person they knew, it only makes sense to listen with an open mind ("You know Barack Obama? What's he like?"), rather than a critical one ("I'm not going to believe you if what you say about Obama seems dull to me, or doesn't fit with what I already think about him.").

            But reading isn't everybody's cup of tea, and the Bible isn't necessarily THE right way for you (or any given person) to begin to get acquainted with God, either, so here are some other options (and of course these are not mutually exclusive, you can do them all, in any combination).

            Nature: Another way you might get to know somebody is, if they were some kind of artist, for example, to get to know their work. How much time do you spend in completely natural surroundings? That is one way that God declares Himself directly to us, and the way in which He first made Himself unmistakeably known to me.

            A Personal Introduction: The third way to get to know somebody, and one that works well for many people, is to have somebody who knows the person well introduce you to Him. I highly recommend face to face, real human interaction with mature Christians. The astonishing thing about Christians is that God is living in them in a real and palpable way. That doesn't make them God, per se, and doesn't make them perfect (by ANY stretch of the imagination), but what it does mean is that you can see God at work in the world through them, and hear God speak to the world through them. (Note: there are lots of people who may call themselves Christians, but--as Jesus Himself said--they don't know Him at all ["I never knew you."]--so you do have to be discerning about who you approach for an introduction.) If you haven't visited your local parish church, I highly recommend driving by some time and introducing yourself to the priest. It's his literal, worldly job description to represent God to you, in the person of Jesus Christ, who is the living Word of God. Of course, priests are just flawed human beings doing the best they can, too, so some of them will be more helpful in making a solid introduction than others, but give it a go. If you meet one that just seems weird or you get a bad vibe (or maybe HE seems "dull" or "mendacious" to you!), try another parish. If you don't like this idea at all, then I DARE you to do it. Because if it makes you uncomfortable, that means there's something important you need to find out, there. As I always taught my psych of learning students, "No learning occurs without some discomfort."

            Talk To The Person Directly. Finally, if you are getting frustrated, it's perfectly okay to SAY so, directly to God. God wants YOU, HONESTLY. If what you honestly are is frustrated in your efforts to find your way to Him, SAY SO. "God, this sucks! I'm flailing around trying to find you, and I'm failing at everything I've tried. If you're really there, SHOW ME." (And then don't presume to put limits on God--!--with respect to HOW He "must" show you; open your mind and be ready to receive what He is trying to give you. He may choose to show you through one or a combination of these other things I've been going on about!)

            Do be careful what you ask for, though, because if you really do ask, in all humility ("God, I can't do this by myself; you HAVE TO HELP ME"), He will. Then, you have to make a choice of what to do with that. No more wallowing around in "I can't find Him," no more whining about "where is He, why isn't He doing this FOR me?" Once you know the Truth, the Truth DOES set you free--and (again contrary to what many people seem to think these days) real freedom comes with real responsibilities. Real relationships happen with real people, who are unexpected and surprising and may not be anything like what you THOUGHT they would--or should--be like. Real relationships entail real expectations of what it means for you to "hold up your end" of things. Real relationships require WORK on your part. Real relationships also come with rewards that are literally indescribable to anyone outside the relationship, but real relationships are NOT all "wine and roses," and are sometimes painful far beyond thorns (or, um, hangovers, to follow the metaphor). Always more than worth it, but not without difficulties; sometimes severe ones. Because WE are not perfect, so being in right relationship with a being that IS perfect requires that we make CHANGES in ourselves, to become ever-more-nearly perfect, so that we can be CLOSER to the one we are relating to. Changes that will in the end be glorious and joyful, but don't always feel that way at the time. Fair warning.

            "Delight yourself in the Lord, and He will give you the desire of your heart." Psalm 37:4

  • http://star-www.st-and.ac.uk/~pr33/ Paul Brandon Rimmer

    I have now heard this numerous times, and still do not understand. What's the difference between the answer to the question "why this universe?" and some cosmic principle? Why is this answer a person, or persons? Why isn't the ground of all being simply the ground? Maybe God is a force like gravity.

    Help me to understand: what's the difference between classical theism and pantheism?

    • Hikia

      This is a very valid point, I appreciate it. I don't know your background or what you think so this is a general thing, but here is one particular thing to think about, not so much an argument as a point to consider: Is chance a God? I completely understand the atheistic and evolutionary principle that "given enough chances even the smallest probability will come to happen" and thus saying that if matter was always present constantly reforming itself eventually this earth would come about, thus disproving gods as a whole. The real answer behind the difference of opinion here is "is the world so pointless that the best explanation is that it randomly formed?". Something must have always existed, be that matter and the world or something to create it, if one believes that the point of the world is nil then they are likely to agree that the world came about by a pointless, random chance. If one believes that the world must have a reason or point for existence then there absolutely must be some God who created it with a point.
      In this line of thought I would say that the primary difference between classical theism and pantheism is that pantheism tries to draw middle ground between the two: There is a being that created the world and it is the world itself, which is really deifying the "scientific" understanding of it and, in my humble opinion, is more absurd than either the "scientific" random chance or the religious single god. Religion, particularly Christianity as that is where I come from as well as the author of this article's starting point I believe, believes that the world has a point because a conscious, self aware, living being designed it with a purpose. From a clearly "logical" risk-reward view, random chance says "all is meaningless so attempt to make a meaning of your years that won't matter to you when you are gone" and religion says "all has a point, so work toward that point and it will matter forever", so why not pick the one that has a lasting purpose because even if it's wrong you aren't hurting the result of the other.

      • Jonathan Quist

        In some ways I think that classic theism resembles panentheism though not sheer pantheism, which is to say that God is part of or immanent within creation but extends and is transcendent beyond it. But in the Christian tradition we have to acknowledge the effects of Original sin which darkens creation and separates it from the creator. However, we anticipate the reunion of the created with the creator in the beatific vision. St. Thomas too embraces an exitus-reditus model of creation particularly for human creatures which will eventually participate in the Divine love of the Trinity.

      • Ye Olde Statistician

        "Chance" is not a cause of anything. Neither is "probability." They are epistemological principles, statements of our ignorance.

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

          Great point, Mike. You flipped a lightbulb in my head with your post on causes and predictability:

          "Caused ≠ Determined ≠ Predictable"

          http://tofspot.blogspot.com/2014/07/over-on-another-blog.html

        • http://www.2catholicmen.blogspot.com/ Ben @ 2CM

          Many often forget this. If I roll a twelve with two dice,
          "chance" was not cause. The forces acting on the dice in a precise way was. Beyond this, it all presupposes that the matter the dice is made of and the forces acting on the dice must exist in a precise way in the first place, and what are the odds of that ever happening?

      • Martin Sellers

        It is a more difficult question than you think. You are basically arguing pascal's wager. Christianity asks the believer to "behave" differently than someone without faith. Thus its not a matter of simply picking the more hopeful scenario and then waiting to see if you are correct.

    • Kevin Aldrich

      I think the difference is that in pantheism God and creation are the same thing, whereas in classical theism, they are different. Also, in classical theism, God is a person, so we created persons can have a relationship with him.

      • http://star-www.st-and.ac.uk/~pr33/ Paul Brandon Rimmer

        I just noticed my previous reply seems to have vanished.

        My point of confusion is basically this:

        God doesn't have being. God is being itself. Being seems to be the same as existence or reality.

        God is reality. I am part of reality. I am part of God.

        If instead, as you say, God is a person and God is distinct from me, then it seems as though God has existence, God has reality, God has being. He's a being, much like you or me (except much smarter and more powerful, presumably).

        This is what I don't understand.

        • Kevin Aldrich

          I think when you say something like God is reality, I am part of reality, I am part of God, you are speaking pantheism.

          The Jewish and Christian conception of God is that God is one thing (the word thing is wrong, of course) and creation is another.

          You have existence, but you are a compound of essence and existence. When you are decomposed, you start decomposing.

          God is simple, so he is only one thing (there is that word again). His existence and his essence are the same thing. All of the things we call his attributes or qualities are really the same thing. Philosophers who subscribe to this view say things like, "God is simple, being, goodness, truth, love, beauty, power, and so on--not that he has them but that he is them.

          • http://star-www.st-and.ac.uk/~pr33/ Paul Brandon Rimmer

            So God is not reality. God's something else. God has reality? Wouldn't that mean that God's not simple? If God isn't reality and hasn't reality, is God unreal?

          • Kevin Aldrich

            God has reality only he does not have reality in the same way we do. The kind of reality we have is composed, contingent, limited, transitory, and so on.

          • Antonia

            Paul, what a terrific question! I *think* in this context Fr. Barron might say that God is the GROUND of being, the ground of reality, as distinguished from "reality itself" (which could be confused with the idea that God is merely the "sum of all reality" or the "sum all created things," which would be pantheism - as in Hinduism). The Christian God utterly transcends creation, stands outside of and beyond creation... Like an artist is utterly outside of and beyond and above his art, but can "put himself into" and "love" his art... Except that God has also made living, sentient, and intelligent "art." He has even created beings in His own image that He can really love, profoundly and personally. And who can love Him back! HTH. BTW I was an atheist 4 years ago. Intense conversation to Catholicism turned my life inside out, upside down, and backwards, a thousand percent better. Keep pounding on your top doubts, visit a church, pray, act morally, and God will reveal Himself to you. My advice would be: run, don't walk! Blessings to you & yours.

          • http://star-www.st-and.ac.uk/~pr33/ Paul Brandon Rimmer

            Thanks. This answer was pretty helpful, and I think I might now better understand what Catholics are getting at with this idea of classical theism.

            When I think of an artist giving to his art, the art has some ontological status, and the artist also, and these are not identical. Plainly, it seems as though the artist is a being, and the art is a being. The artist isn't being itself. If he was being itself, it would seem as though the art would be part of him, since he would be the hand and the paint, and anything else that has being would have a part of God (being itself).

            It seems more natural to think of God this way as a person or group of people who made the universe, and by doing so, connected the universe to themselves, like the artist and his art. Artist's aren't part of their artwork, but they exist in much the same way as the artwork exists.

          • Kevin Aldrich

            Imagine if Shakespeare were God.

          • http://star-www.st-and.ac.uk/~pr33/ Paul Brandon Rimmer

            Our universe would be a a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing. ;)

          • Michael Murray

            That's good. Ever thought of writing plays ?

          • http://star-www.st-and.ac.uk/~pr33/ Paul Brandon Rimmer

            That's a great idea. I can playgiarise.

          • Kevin Aldrich

            You can't cherry pick. Shakespeare says it all.

            O, wonder!
            How many goodly creatures are there here!
            How beauteous mankind is! O brave new world,
            That has such people in't!”

          • Arden Abeille

            Oh, not so, not so! That is only the perspective (a momentary perspective, at that), of ONE of Shakespeare's characters! Shakespeare's own perspective (taken as a whole from studying his entire body of work), interestingly enough, is quite remarkably Catholic--very remarkably so, especially considering the political realities of his era. . .

    • Fr.Sean

      Hi Paul,
      I can try to look up a more precise answer, but i think if
      you started with somewhat of a clean slate as to the possibility of
      God's existence it might be helpful. if one notices the laws of physics may not
      be the way they are by mere chance. if one noticed things like "good"
      "love" "compassion" "conscience" "the intellect" all have an ultimate
      source than it would seem reasonable that "God" is at very least
      powerful intelligent entity, and thus a "person" of sorts. now taking
      the next step into which religion most accurately reflects this
      entity is another step, but i would think since prayer seems to be a
      universal notion, and i was to pray to God as formerly described than
      the other answers as to which religion most accurately reflects him
      would eventually come?

      • http://star-www.st-and.ac.uk/~pr33/ Paul Brandon Rimmer

        I don't have a fundamental conceptual difficulty with God being a powerful intelligent entity. God exists much like you or I exist. He's a lot more powerful and intelligent and doesn't have a body somehow, but he's an entity, like you're an entity or I'm an entity. I can understand that.

        What I don't understand is this idea that God doesn't exist, but instead is existence itself. Rather, I don't understand that idea apart from pantheism.

        • Fr.Sean

          Paul,
          I have this theory that before one "converts" there's a process that they kind of started to notice God was there all along. in suprised by Joy c.s. Lewis recounts out he had gotten into a car as an atheist, and by the time he arrived he stepped out as a theist. he says it as if he couldn't resist the awareness any more. Leah Libresco said something similar, she realized the source of "morality" loved her and then acknowledged it was a person. in the first letter of John the text says; "Beloved, let us love one another, because love is of God; everyone who loves is begotten by God and knows God." If one can think of it as love is this entity that we have all experienced (more specifically unselfish love, like the feeling you have of compassion for a poor or suffering individual) Then they discover that this entity is more than just a feeling but rather a person than they can see their in relation with that entity. compassion, justice, empathy etc. all follow the same line of reasoning. if you pray to that source of love, compassion etc. i think it will become more clear. Although i'm not an expert on pantheism i think pantheism is more of an idea that God is in everything, but that's all God is, almost conveying a more "impersonal" type of entity. Does that clairfy it a little?

        • Fr.Sean

          Hi Paul,
          I was thinking, instead of my trying to paraphrase Aquinas does a much better job than myself. most of the links below address your questions, but the bottom link is the table of contents for any other questions. As Catholics we don't think Aquinas was infallible, but he certainly is one of the brightest theologians of his era. Let me know if there are any other question you don't feel are addressed and i'll do my best to get the answers.

          http://sacred-texts.com/chr/aquinas/summa/sum006.htm
          http://sacred-texts.com/chr/aquinas/summa/sum007.htm
          http://sacred-texts.com/chr/aquinas/summa/sum011.htm
          http://sacred-texts.com/chr/aquinas/summa/sum015.htm
          http://sacred-texts.com/chr/aquinas/summa/index.htm

        • Jim (hillclimber)

          I think Jonathan Quist's comment (above, in response to Hikia) is a good way of getting at this. I think that it would within the limits of orthodoxy to say that all of creation, insofar as it really manages to BE through us, DOES partake in God's essence. The only way to truly participate in the "IS-ness" of the universe is to give ourselves over to that which is outside of us, or to love. When we humans do that, we BE, and all of creation then IS through us, and the kingdom is at hand. Original sin is a way of talking about the fact that something has made it difficult for us to fully be (i.e. to not close in on ourselves) / to love. To the extent that reality is captive to that tendency to "not be", it becomes problematic to say that God and reality are the same thing.

          • http://star-www.st-and.ac.uk/~pr33/ Paul Brandon Rimmer

            If giving oneself over to love is what it truly means to accept God, then a couple atheists I know accept God much more whole-heartedly than most theists I know. It would then seem that what one believes isn't all that important. How one loves is much more the point. And that's an idea I could get behind.

    • http://sperolaus.com/ David Rummelhoff

      Imagine a vacuum, a proper vacuum. No matter. No energy.

      Is gravity there? No.

      God is noncontingent Being, by definition. Therefore, in God is no change. Where do we exhibit change? Absolutely everywhere. Thus, the universe cannot be God.

      That doesn't get to personhood, but I hope it helps.

      • http://star-www.st-and.ac.uk/~pr33/ Paul Brandon Rimmer

        God would be a force like gravity in this case, maybe. There would have been no vacuum. There would always have been this force. And this force would have started the cosmos.

        The change in the universe might simply be due to our perception of time. The universe conceived as a block of space-time does not change. Possibly cannot change.

        If the universe is not part of God, how is God "being itself"? What's the difference between having being and being being?

    • Ye Olde Statistician

      Gravity is an attraction between two material bodies. Therefore, there must be material bodies in order for gravity to exist and to have properties. Therefore, gravity cannot be logically prior being.
      This is also so if we imagine that material bodies are certain states in the field of Ricci tensors and the consequent "bending" of spacetime is what we perceive as "gravity." A field of Ricci tensors must "be" before gravity has any properties, and again gravity cannot be prior to being.
      (By "prior" we need not mean "prior in time". It is what we mean in English when we say, "In the first place..." A triangle is "in the first place" three-sided because unless it is, it is simply not a triangle. We might even say, were we inclined to humor, that three-sidedness if the triangles invisible friend.)

      • http://star-www.st-and.ac.uk/~pr33/ Paul Brandon Rimmer

        Why are you going on about gravity? I don't think it's right anyway. If I imagine no bodies, I would think the Ricci tensor still has values.

        It seems that what you say is inaccurate (although I could be wrong), and even if it's accurate, I don't know what it has to do with my question.

        • Ye Olde Statistician

          I don't know what it has to do with my question.

          You were making a bunch of comments about "Maybe God is a force like gravity" and "God would be a force like gravity in this case, maybe." I simply pointed out that gravity could not be God since something must exist that is logically prior to gravity -- either mass-energy in the Newtonian metaphor or the field of Ricci tensors in the Einsteinian -- and therefore it could not be First Mover.

          [The interpretation of gravity as a bending of the space-time fabric stems from general relativity; but most folks still treat it as some kind of spooky force acting at a distance. ]
          + + +
          What is the difference between having being and being itself? Tell me: is "dog" a dog just like Fido and Spot?

          For most things there is a difference between their essence and their existence. For example, most of us here understand the essence of purple unicorns on Uranus. But they do not have an act of existence. (Or else we are in for a big surprise!) That is, a thing may have an essence without having an act of existence. This is known as "contingent being." That is, purple unicorns or flying spaghetti monsters, rhinoceroses and petunias, all have their essences that make them what they are; but some have an act of existence and some do not. That means that they must receive their existence from something else. (Something that does not [yet] exist can't do diddly-squat, let alone bring itself into existence.) This requires ultimately that there be necessary being behind contingent being, and in necessary being, that whose essence just is its existence. Gravity just doesn't fill the bucket. It isn't even a thing, properly speaking.

          • David Nickol

            Tell me: is "dog" a dog just like Fido and Spot?

            You write as if it were a settled metaphysical issue whether, or in what sense, "dog" exists. But it isn't at all.

          • Ye Olde Statistician

            You asked what the difference was between "having X" and "being X." The debate on the universals is another issue entirely. Which of the three positions do you take? Never mind. Off the topic.

          • http://star-www.st-and.ac.uk/~pr33/ Paul Brandon Rimmer

            I agree. Gravity itself isn't God, because Gravity doesn't answer the question "why this universe and not another?" and apparently it's important for Being Itself to answer that question. But a force like gravity might be able to do it.

            As for the rest of it, is God real? Does this mean that God has reality or that God is reality? If God's reality, then I'm part of God (I'm real). If God has reality, then God's essence doesn't seem to be the same as his existence ("reality" is not identical to "god", so god's essence has reality, but God isn't identical to "reality"). I also have odd questions about the essence is existence thing (even talking about categories like "dogness" as though "dogness" has some sort of reality never made much sense to me). For example, did Jesus have to be born at 8:35pm on December 25, AD 1 (assuming that's when he was born)? Did God have to incarnate the date that he did?

            Also, it seems as though God changes all the time. Right now, he knows I'm responding to you. At the time you read this, he won't know that I'm responding to you because I won't be.

          • Michael Murray

            I also have odd questions about the essence is existence thing (even talking about categories like "dogness" as though "dogness" has some sort of reality never made much sense to me)

            Epeeist, one of the banned, pointed me at this article by W. v. O. Quine which is interesting on the question of doghood and related concepts:

            http://tu-dresden.de/die_tu_dresden/fakultaeten/philosophische_fakultaet/iph/thph/braeuer/lehre/metameta/Quine%20-%20On%20What%20There%20Is.pdf

          • http://star-www.st-and.ac.uk/~pr33/ Paul Brandon Rimmer

            Thanks for the link, Michael. It looks like a good read.

          • Ye Olde Statistician

            talking about categories like "dogness" as though "dogness" has some sort of reality never made much sense to me

            Then on what basis do you say that Fido, Spot, and Rover are dogs? The conceptualist answer is that they share a group of similar traits, but that simply begs the question: why that group of traits and not some other? There must be something in Fido, Spot, and Rover in virtue of which we look for their similarities. We don't classify grass, emeralds, and US banknotes as one genus simply because they share the common trait of greeness.

          • http://star-www.st-and.ac.uk/~pr33/ Paul Brandon Rimmer

            The same way my two year old son does it, for the most part. He doesn't have this concept of "dogness" floating around in his head that he's comparing different dogs to. He just learns to group particular sets of sensations in a way that gets him to say "dog" whenever certain sorts of images are shown to him and not others.

            As far as finding out what's a dog and what's not, I'm not much more sophisticated than my two year old. I've never been able to find "dogness" in a dog. I'm not sure what the "dogness" would be, or how this way of talking about things helps. That's not to say it isn't a useful idea for some philosophers. Just that I've never been able to see much sense in it.

          • Ye Olde Statistician

            As far as finding out what's a dog and what's not, I'm not much more sophisticated than my two year old.

            Okay.

          • http://star-www.st-and.ac.uk/~pr33/ Paul Brandon Rimmer

            Thinking about this makes me think about an interesting philosophy question. I'm curious how you would answer. Let's say that dogs turn out to be robots made by aliens. Would this mean that there actually is no such thing as dogs, or that dogs are just different from what we thought they were?

          • Ye Olde Statistician

            That would make them artifacts rather than natural bodies. In the same manner we recognize various kinds of artifacts, like chairs or chariots.

          • http://star-www.st-and.ac.uk/~pr33/ Paul Brandon Rimmer

            But would you say that they are still dogs? Would we be wrong in thinking that dogs are animals? Or would we be wrong in thinking that dogs exist?

          • Ye Olde Statistician

            Scientists have actually built a mechanical cockroach. It is not actually a cockroach. An artificial dog would not be a dog, although it might simulate a dog. We might be deceived into using the same word for both, but it would be a deception.

          • http://star-www.st-and.ac.uk/~pr33/ Paul Brandon Rimmer

            Ok. That's a different answer than I would have given. Different philosophical intuitions.

            I'd say that if it turned out that all dogs were really robots, then it turns out that dogs exist, that dogs really are robots, and that we were just mistaken about what dogs were. That was Saul Kripke's answer to the puzzle. Different people have different intuitions about it, though.

          • David Nickol

            Well, there's "dogness" and "wolfness." When a dog and a wolf successfully mate (which is not at all unusual), the offspring are wolf dogs. Is there "wolf-dogness"? And when did "dogness" come into existence? Since the dog evolved from wolf ancestors, surely there were intermediaries between dogs and wolves. What was their category? How do we know when one of your categories is authentic (e.g., "dog") and when one is not authentic (the set of all green things)?

          • Ye Olde Statistician

            There are as many natures as there are natural things. Fido has a nature; so does Rover. The dog nature is something we abstract from these material instantiations. That is, the specific is Fido and the generic is dog. This is necessary because while one may have a science of dogs, one cannot have a science of Fido. So if these universals are not real, science is placed in a very shaky position.
            Naturally, there are transitional or borderline situations where humans may scratch their heads in their obsession to put things in pre-labeled boxes. Before there was dog there was beardog (or was it dogbear?) a kind of animal prior to both dogs and bears.
            Fido is essentially a dog. But grass is not essentially green. That is, green is what is known as an accidental form. The grass may turn brown or yellow, for example, but it remains essentially grass. Dog exists in itself. When we see a brown dog walk down the street, we do not suppose that we had seen a brown walk down the street, but that we have seen a dog walk down the street.

          • Michael Murray

            I think Paul is suggesting that there never were dogs just robodogs

          • http://star-www.st-and.ac.uk/~pr33/ Paul Brandon Rimmer

            Yes, that's what I'm suggesting, though I'd say that, instead of their never having been dogs, it just turns out that dogs are robots.

          • Michael Murray

            Are you thinking of robot as full of silicon chips and mechanical linkages or android like biological robots that look indistinguishable from other earth biological organisms but where actually made by aliens rather than evolved from wolves ?

          • http://star-www.st-and.ac.uk/~pr33/ Paul Brandon Rimmer

            I think you can make it (almost) as extreme as you like, but I'll just quote directly Kripke's version of the thought experiment and his response. He uses "cats" and "autonoma or demons" instead of "dogs" and "robots".

            "Cats might turn out to be automata, or strange demons... planted by a magician. Suppose they turned out to be a species of demons. Then on Putnam's view, and I think also my view, the inclination is ot say, not that there turned out to be no cats, but that cats have turned out not to be animals as we originally supposed. The original concept of cat is: that kind of thing, wher eht ekind is identified by the paradigmatic instances." - Kripke, Naming and Necessity, 319

            I would tend to take the view that, even if it were obvious upon even cursory internal inspection that dogs were robots, then we would have accepted not that there were no dogs, but that dogs are in fact robots and not animals. Now, once we discover that dogs aren't robots, we would talk about dogs as animals, and the robot dogs as robots masquerading as dogs, instead of robot dogs as a different kind of dog.

          • Ye Olde Statistician

            Gravity itself isn't God, because Gravity doesn't answer the question "why this universe and not another?"

            That's not the reason.

          • http://star-www.st-and.ac.uk/~pr33/ Paul Brandon Rimmer

            Is it because Gravity doesn't have an only-begotten son? Or because it's lacking a large hammer? Gravity wasn't born of a virgin. Or from sea foam. I suppose there are numerous reasons not to call gravity "God".

          • Ye Olde Statistician

            None of the above.

          • http://star-www.st-and.ac.uk/~pr33/ Paul Brandon Rimmer

            How would you answer the question?

          • Ye Olde Statistician

            Which question?
            The argument from kinesis concludes to an unchanging changer that is logically prior to all kinesis, and from this one deduces that it is a being of pure actuality (BPA). The BPA is provably unique, eternal and non-material (hence not subject to time or space), is simple (not a composite), is the primary cause of all powers (hence, all-power-full) and the primary cause of all goods (hence, all-good). Being the source of the powers of intellect and will (among other powers), the BPA possesses something analogous to intellect and will and is therefore a person. There are a number of other characteristics of the BPA, but few of them are characteristics of gravity.

          • http://star-www.st-and.ac.uk/~pr33/ Paul Brandon Rimmer

            As far as we know, Gravity might be unique, it might have been around forever, it's non-material. It's pretty simple to describe (only one equation).

            Gravity can't explain everything, but there might be a force, something like gravity, that does explain everything. It might be that, in understanding this one force, we would get a picture that the cosmos itself is a single simple and eternal entity.

            But one thing Gravity can't do is be kind to people. It's then probably not this "primary cause of all the goods", then. It seems as though Gravity, or rather this most fundamental force, or principle, might check most of the boxes. It does miss the moral dimension, though.

          • Ye Olde Statistician

            Not bad. But gravity is not a thing. And it is posterior to matter. That is, gravitation is a property of mass, not a cause of it. Or to put is another way: matter causes gravity, not vice versa.

          • http://star-www.st-and.ac.uk/~pr33/ Paul Brandon Rimmer

            I don't think only matter causes gravity, since it seems to me that there can be gravity without any matter (an empty region of space-time may have intrinsic curvature). That's besides the point, though, since we aren't really talking about gravity, but about a force like gravity, some force that would explain how the universe started itself.

            Do you think gravity exists? If so, what do you think it is? Do you think numbers are things?

          • Ye Olde Statistician

            Aaargh!! Four times have I started this, and four times have the Norns sabotaged my system! Let us see if the fifth time is the charm. A few points in no particular order.

            1. Einstein said that general relativity had abolished space and time from objective existence. They are metaphysical abstractions with no place in empirical science. If matter vanished, he said, space and time would vanish with it. Hence, in this view, space-time is causally posterior to matter.

            2. If the intrinsic curvature of space-time is to be regarded as a form of gravity, then gravity is again causally posterior to space-time because first-of-all space-time must be for it to be curved.

            3. At this point claims of a fifth force have not panned out, so it is unclear what "other" force you may have in mind to perform the magic. Strong nuclear force, maybe? But the classical view of force requires that things exist a priori to generate the forces; so the forces cannot be the generator of the things. The later view is that forces are warps in the space-time continuum; but to accommodate the E/M, strong, and weak forces would require a passel of Kaluza-Klein dimensions for which there is no evidence.

            4. Weinberg and Salaam achieved the high energy unification of the electromagnetic and weak forces. There is a theory that at even higher energies, the strong force would by united and ultimately gravity. So far, gravity has remained steadily aloof.

            5. The universe could not have "started itself" for two reasons:
            5.1 The universe is not a thing (οὐσία) but a mereological sum of things. What is not a thing does not require a cause. What is the cause of the Rimmermoon, the mereological sum of Rimmer and the Moon? The moon has a cause and Paul Brandon Rimmer has a cause, but the set {Rimmer, Moon} does not. The universe is the set of all physical existants. It comes into existence when any one physical existant comes into existence.
            5.2 Logically, no thing X can be the cause of its own existence. To come into existence requires that X not previously exist, and that which does not [yet] exist cannot do diddly squat, let alone bring something into existence.

            6. Your question about gravity is well-taken. Newton was wise when he said he had no idea what it was, only how it worked.

            7. Then there was:

            "I myself think that gravity or heaviness is nothing except a certain natural appetency implanted in the parts of the universe by the divine providence of the universal artisan, in order that they should unite in their oneness and wholeness, coming together in the form of a globe."
            -- N. Copernicus, De Revolutionibus Orbium Coelestium (Norimbergae, 1543), Book I, Ch. IX

            which is more in line with the analysis here:
            Keck, John W. "The Natural Motion of Matter in Newtonian and Post-Newtonian Physics" (The Thomist 71 (2007): 529-54
            http://www.thomist.org/jourl/2007/2007%20Oct/2007%20Oct%20A%20Keck.htm

            8. But then there is the instrumentalist view, in which such questions don't matter.

            Some scientists (particularly physicists) and certain philosophers of science will say that science is not about finding the truth. In science we do not really know that anything we are saying is the truth—in fact, we often know it is not the truth—but rather we just make models, that is, mental constructs which predict the phenomena, but which we have no reason to believe are faithful likenesses of genuine physical realities.

            Certainly we have to be satisfied with that sort of thing in many cases. Often we can do no better than to construct models which we can’t verify definitively. And sometimes the best we can do is to make models which we know cannot possibly reflect what is really going on in nature, but which predict the phenomena with some degree of accuracy. But that is not the ideal, nor is it all that science ever gets. For example, science has established that water is not an element, and no one is really worried that this view will someday be superseded."
            Augros, Michael. "A ‘Bigger’ Physics," MIT presentation, January 28, 2009

            http://www.isnature.org/Files/Augros_2009-Bigger_Physics.htm

          • http://star-www.st-and.ac.uk/~pr33/ Paul Brandon Rimmer

            (1) Einstein later said pretty-much the opposite, saying that:

            We may say that according to the general theory of relativity space is endowed with physical qualities; in this sense, therefore, there exists an aether. According to the general theory of relativity space without aether is unthinkable; for in such space there not only would be no propagation of light, but also no possibility of existence for standards of space and time (measuring-rods and clocks), nor therefore any space-time intervals in the physical sense. But this aether may not be thought of as endowed with the quality characteristic of ponderable media, as consisting of parts which may be tracked through time. The idea of motion may not be applied to it. (Einstein, Albert: "Ether and the Theory of Relativity", 1920)

            But ultimately it doesn't matter much what Einstein or anyone else thinks about spacetime. What matters is what it really is. If there is some ultimate field theory for the universe, it will be a theory about fields. Gravity seems to be a field. It exists as much as the electromagnetic field or any other field exists, and therefore as much as tables and chairs exist.

            (2) Like I said, gravity itself doesn't turn out to be the explanation, but it would be a force like gravity. Gravity itself wouldn't do too bad. The gravitational field could be seen as identical with the intrinsic space-time geometry. In that sense, because of a force like gravity, the universe could start itself from nothing. The initial state would be a timeless state; the importance is that the 4-space can have a particular geometry. This is Turok and Hawking's model. This space-time would be its own efficient cause, it would start itself, but it wouldn't explain why this geometry and not another.

            (3) This might be the same "force like gravity" that Mlodinow and Hawking refer to in "the grand design"; the single force described by M-Theory that manifests gravity, the electromagnetic, the strong and weak forces at low energies (in many different possible ways, maybe in many different actual ways, one which looks like our universe).

            Really, though, it's whatever the ultimate explanation is for why the universe is the way it is. No one knows what that explanation is. No one even knows if there is one or if we are capable of discovering it. Maybe we will look and look and never find one. But, if there is this ultimate explanation, it should be able to answer the question even of why the universe is the way it is and not another, and should be able to describe where the universe came from. Maybe it's a mystic answer, like God or angels. Or maybe it's a force like gravity. Or maybe it's some physical construct that we haven't even imagined yet. Maybe we will never know the answer.

            (4) So far. Scientists haven't been working on the problem very long. And maybe the answer is beyond human abilities to find it. Then I will have to be content with not knowing.

            (5) (5.1) I suspect that the universe is in fact a single thing, of which we are all parts. Excitations, particular parts, of a single wave-function. I'm a tentative metaphysical monist. There's one substance. It's the cosmos. We are all part of that one substance. (5.2) The universe would have started when time started, so there would be no prior, not even for a god to do something with it. So one way to describe this is to say that the universe caused itself to come into existence out of nothing. But maybe you don't like that. Another way is to say that the universe existed for forever, for all time. Whenever there was time there was the universe.

            (6) Yes, I'm with Newton on that one, I don't know what it is either. It would be amazing to discover if it were the hand of God or of angels. It could be. The space-time understanding is the one I adopt presently, but there are different ways to think of it. Stephen Weinberg thinks that it's a force field just like electromagnetism or the strong force (different mathematically, but the same sort of thing) and that there is no space-time geometry.

            (7) Interesting. If it did turn out that there was this sort of intrinsic curvature to space-time, or alternatively that dark energy is a gravitational force from empty space, how would this picture be revised? Or would it have to be revised much at all? Maybe you say that the vacuum is itself something like a "massive object" or series of "massive objects". What do you think?

            (8) I've found this to be one of the most common views among my colleagues. It seems pretty depressing. Nothing we study in physics is real. Also, it would be hard for me to know what scientific progress is in such a view. How do you know if you're improving? Why not all stay creationists instead? It's just an alternative model.

          • Ye Olde Statistician

            "According to the general theory of relativity space without aether is unthinkable; for in such space there not only would be no propagation of light, but also no possibility of existence for standards of space and time (measuring-rods and clocks), nor therefore any space-time intervals in the physical sense."

            Notice that in this reformulation space and time are still causally dependent a priori on the existence of matter: sec. arg. the aether. And that he seems to be saying that "space-time intervals in the physical sense" depend a priori on "standards of space and time (measuring-rods and clocks)." So:
            aether→relativity space→standards→space-time intervals
            Which is, apart from details, pretty much what Aristotle said. Time is the measure of motion (change) in material being. No material being→No change in material being (= no "clocks") → no time.
            In Greek, the word for aether comes from ἀει θεἳν and means "always running." Aristotle considered something in constant motion to be at "rest", or as we would say "in equilibrium," and by "motion" (κινεσις) he meant something more like our "acceleration," that is, a change in some quality of the thing, including a change in its existing motions. I saw an interesting post once on the similarities between the Aristotelian and Einsteinian concept. Don't know if I can find it.

            This space-time would be its own efficient cause, it would start itself

            This is sticky, since it is a logical impossibility, as mentioned previously. Something that does not [yet] exist doesn't have any powers, let alone a power to bring itself into existence.

            I suspect that the universe is in fact a single thing, of which we are all parts.

            Eek! This is the same organismic universe that stifled the birth of science in so many other places.

            It would be amazing to discover if [gravity] were the hand of God or of angels.

            That's something that science could never discover, since its methodology is unable to deal with it. It's like using a metal detector to find wood.
            It's also something that theologians have not postulated, except insofar as the Godhead is the source of existence of everything, including gravity and its lawful behaviors.

            If it did turn out that ... dark energy is a gravitational force from empty space, how would this picture be revised?

            What empty space? I thought the relativistic aether had to exist in order for space to exist. I think scientists have a funny definition of "empty."

            I've found [intrumentalism] to be one of the most common views among my colleagues. It seems pretty depressing. Nothing we study in physics is real. Also, it would be hard for me to know what scientific progress is in such a view. How do you know if you're improving? Why not all stay creationists instead? It's just an alternative model.

            That's what happens when we abandon a solid metaphysics for the boom and bust in philosophy of the past 400 years, during with nothing has replaced it.

          • http://star-www.st-and.ac.uk/~pr33/ Paul Brandon Rimmer

            Only one comment, really.

            Eek! This is the same organismic universe that stifled the birth of science in so many other places.

            I don't believe in that hypothesis. Besides, Einstein thought pretty-much the same, as when he claimed to believe in Spinoza's God. He was a pretty good scientist, I think.

            At the end, it doesn't matter as much whether a particular was historically good for science, or even whether it will possibly harm scientific progress into the future. It matter more whether the idea is true. I think that this sort of monism is true.

          • Ye Olde Statistician

            Oh, someone may be a pretty good physicist even with a faulty metaphysic. For one thing, the Aristotelian metaphysic has been running silent beneath the Sturm und Drang of Modern philosophy, and is even making a surreptitious recovery in post-Modern science. For another, there is always a great deal of continuity and carry-over, both for good or ill. The ideas that formed the fertile ground in which science could take root and germinate may or may not be needed for any single individual to work within the paradigm nor perhaps for the paradigm to sustain itself after the soil has been poisoned. Although the current trend of subordinating science to political and activist goals is troubling.

          • http://star-www.st-and.ac.uk/~pr33/ Paul Brandon Rimmer

            Oh, and thanks for the response. Those are some very interesting points. We're leaving the topic behind, a bit.

          • Ye Olde Statistician

            We're leaving the topic behind, a bit.
            I noticed. See ya on the next post or something.

          • Arden Abeille

            Re: "dogness," etc., read your Plato.
            Re: God and time; all times are one to God, who exists outside of time, so He knows (present continual) that you respond(ed/ing/will respond) to that post. Always.
            This is a concept that is just at the edge of our limited (stuck in linear time) human minds to even begin to consider, so I don't suppose it has helped much. But the point is that God doesn't change because we do. We move through time, posting things and then later having posted but no longer posting those things; God is outside of time; not trapped in it and swept along in its linear flow, but able to experience all of what we experience as "one thing after another," all at once or in any order. Which is why He can know things "before" they happen; He doesn't know them "before" they happen, He knows "after," but He's able to access that "after" any "time." Or another way to think about it is, in the words of a currently popular Christian pop song, "He's already there." Kind of waiting for us to "catch up," so to speak.
            To clarify Catholic thought on God as the "source of being" (and many other issues!), you might try Frank Sheed's _Theology and Sanity_. Challenging, but quite readable.

  • Glenn54321

    Interesting point of view. I struggle mightily with this. The problem for me is that they've apparently completed verification of the laws of physics for the reality that affects our day to day lives... They've been able to rule out many things, like a "soul" any mechanism for the information representing a soul or person to be transmitted anywhere upon death. See Sean Carroll's talk for the AHA from 2013 for more. Simply put -- it seems we've learned and verified enough to render the competing musings of philosophers to rest and declare some victors. For this issue, reason and intuitional logic seem to have given way to verifiable observation. If God is interacting with us, how does he do so without interacting with nature in any detectable way?

    • blkequus

      is it possible to measure the supernatural with natural means of measurement?

      • Glenn54321

        No. But what you're implying is that the supernatural doesn't interact with the natural. If this is the case, then Deism is all you can hope for. What evidence do you have that there *is* a supernatural? By definition, it is not natural after all.

        In order to make a good case here, you'd need to be able to point to nature and say "here is where the supernatural intersects with nature and here is how it fits into the rigorously verified, apparently non-violable laws of nature"

        You cannot do this, and the case for a personal, intervening God falls apart for the same reason

        • The Fulton of West Sheen St.

          Science can only measure empirical data or that which is observed by the senses. That limits science to the physical world. I think it is an extremely limited view of existence to think that all that is "real" is what we can discover.

          I certainly believe in the existence of the mind and my own free-will. Science has no hope of proving their existence/non-existence. It has tried to disprove them time and time again but most scientist give up after an amount of time (probably due to a weak will).

          So in regards to the interaction of the natural and the super-natural, would you consider those occurrences miracles?

          What would need to take place to convince you of a reality outside of the empirical state of being?

          • Glenn54321

            I think you miss the subtlety of the point I am making.

            There very well may be a "supernatural" -- by definition distinct and apart from the "natural." What would it take to convince me? Any evidence of any kind. Any at all. ..Oops... I suppose once you have evidence, then it's natural, right? I think that for this reason your argument is meaningless. Either God interacts with nature or He doesn't. If he does, then there needs to be a mechanism in nature for this to happen. Otherwise, if there is a supernatural, then it is irrelevant to our lives.

            It is a fact that scientists can and have exposed the underlying physical reality which dictates all of the interactions of everything we've ever experienced at the lowest levels of reality. It is also a fact that none of these interactions requires any explanation other than the ones already established. Reality and our understanding of its fundamental laws is essentially complete as of 2012.

          • Kevin Aldrich

            It is a fact that scientists can and have exposed the underlying physical reality which dictates all of the interactions of everything we've ever experienced at the lowest levels of reality. It is also a fact that none of these interactions requires any explanation other than the ones already established. Reality and our understanding of its fundamental laws is essentially complete as of 2012.

            I doubt that statement is true (why do they exist at all and have the power to interact the way they do?), but even if it is, it only holds for explaining interactions at the subatomic level. There is a lot more to reality that that. What about truth, goodness, and beauty? In what way have particle physicists completed our understanding of them?

          • The Fulton of West Sheen St.

            Ahh, your premise (as I understand it, which certainly could be wrong) is that everything that is currently unexplained by science and discovery will eventually be explained given enough time? So that the supernatural is in fact the natural which has yet to be explained.

            How would science be able to prove free will?

            How about the existence of others minds (not to be confused with other brains)?

            How about objective morality? (Why is murder almost universally accepted as wrong?) (How can there even be a wrong if there is not a right?)

            I'm also not sure how you can claim that science has "exposed the underlying physical reality which dictates all of the interactions of everything we've ever experienced at the lowest levels of reality". "Reality and our understanding of its fundamental laws is essentially complete as of 2012."

            Just think about the outcome of this statement. If this were true, wouldn't be be able to find perfect fulfillment and satisfaction in this life? If we were made for this reality then why are we continually unsatisfied with it? Certainly you can try to blame religion, or culture, or whatever but shouldn't those scientist who have this "higher knowledge" be contempt in it?

          • Glenn54321

            "currently unexplained by science and discovery will eventually be explained given enough time?"

            No. I do not pretend that we have the capacity to understand everything. All I claim is that as history moves on, theology explains less and less while science explains more and more. It has come to the point where the primary defense for theist positions comes down (technically speaking) to emotional appeals and arguments from ignorance.

            How would science be able to prove free will?

            They can't. Why would it matter anyway?

            How about the existence of others minds (not to be confused with other brains)?

            Don't follow.

            "How about objective morality? (Why is murder almost universally accepted as wrong?) (How can there even be a wrong if there is not a right?)"

            This might be the largest hurdle for people to get over -- there might be no objective right and wrong. We're all the same species, so it's not surprising that we all tend to behave the same way (regardless of whatever deity we subscribe to, even none). Aside from vague threats from the pulpit, there is no evidence that there will be any kind of judgement and without your consent to the morality of your faith, you would not consider it binding. Therefore, like it or not, morality is subjective. It has never been demonstrated to be otherwise... claimed? yes. Never demonstrated.

            "Just think about the outcome of this statement. If this were true, wouldn't be be able to find perfect fulfillment and satisfaction in this life? If we were made for this reality then why are we continually unsatisfied with it?"

            What makes you think that the universe is somehow obliged to provide purpose and fulfillment? If you can't find it, do you honestly think that your appetite for it is sufficient proof for anything other than your own dissatisfaction? Just because you think you're broke, fallen, or 'meant for more' than this life can offer doesn't mean anything. It may very well be that there is no purpose in this life other than what you decide.

          • The Fulton of West Sheen St.

            Glenn54321:
            How would science be able to prove free will?

            They can't. Why would it matter anyway?

            Well for anyone living in this world I would think this would be of great importance.

            How can we define anything as criminal if people do not have the ability to make their own decisions? If all we are is ‘the result of our environments and our basic biology’ than theft, rape, and murder are simply outside of our control.

            How could you punish me for something I can’t control, what would it help to punish me? Whether I do it again or not is not up to me.

            If ‘free will’ is not real than the entire focus of science should be to control people into making decisions that benefit society as a whole (or at least I think that is the logical move).

            But if ‘free will’ does exist, than why? What benefit in the evolutionary line would free will have? Then we might overuse our resources, kill each other for no reason, and
            eventually destroy the very planet we live on. Oh wait...yikes!

            So certainly whether we do in fact have ‘free will’ or we are just living in a world of pure determinism with the allusion of freedom is an important thing to understand.

            Fulton: "How about objective morality? (Why is murder almost universally accepted as wrong?) (How
            can there even be a wrong if there is not a right?)"

            I'm holding to an Aristotelian distinction between the physical brain and the form of the mind. But for the sake of this discussions length (which I am at fault for lengthening), let us put this one aside. Until we wish to return to it.

            Fulton: "How about objective morality? (Why is murder almost universally accepted as wrong?) (How can there even be a wrong if there is not a right?)"

            Glenn54321: This might be the largest hurdle for people to get over -- there might be no objective right and wrong. We're all the same species, so it's not surprising that we all tend to behave the same way (regardless of whatever deity we subscribe to, even none). Aside from vague threats from the pulpit, there is no evidence that there will be any kind of judgment and without your consent to the morality of your faith, you would not consider it binding. Therefore, like it or not, morality is subjective. It has never been
            demonstrated to be otherwise... claimed? yes. Never demonstrated.

            If universal morality is not real then why do we not change our entire way of living? If you are an atheist or someone who does not believe that following their conscience makes
            any real difference, than why are they wasting their time?

            Certainly in this world it would be beneficial to lie, steal, cheat, kill, and rape for the individual who is committing these offenses. So our biology and Darwinism should reinforce these behaviors. Yet the over-whelming majority of healthy human beings on this planet know these things are wrong and feel guilt, shame, and disgust when
            they perform them.

            No one should fear judgment, but certainly everyone should fear the loss of the love of their creator. Let us not forget that it was The Church who championed the idea of an after-life with God, or Hope.

            As far as evidence of judgment, I would claim that the mere presence of your conscience should be proof enough
            that there is a right and wrong.

            Fulton: "Just think about the outcome of this statement. If this were true, wouldn't be be able to find perfect fulfillment and satisfaction in this life? If we were made for this reality then why are we continually unsatisfied with it?"

            Glenn54321: What makes you think that the universe is somehow obliged to provide purpose and fulfillment? If you can't find it, do you honestly think that your appetite for it is sufficient proof for anything other than your own dissatisfaction Just because you think you're broke, fallen, or 'meant for more' than this life can offer doesn't mean anything. It may very well be that there is no purpose in this life other than what you decide.

            I suppose I tend to look at the universe in a way that assumes a telos. The idea of an infinite randomness just does not seem to fit with the basic physical make-up of our
            physical universe. Even on an earthly level, processes like evolution point towards an end or goal. Randomness would simply collapse on itself.

            And although I know this kind of argument doesn't hold much for these discussion boards, it is one that really strikes me. “I would say that, 'If I find in myself desires which nothing in this world can satisfy, the only logical explanation is that I was made for another world'
            –C.S. Lewis.

            I know i'm meant for more because I have watched every person I have ever known spend their entire lives looking for fulfillment and joy. Including myself.

            Sorry for the lengthy response, I have been enjoying our discussion very much though. I’m new to the site and have been very impressed with the amount of charity that has been shown in these dialogues.

          • David Nickol

            Suppose a man named Willie makes a critical, yes-or-no decision using his free will. Suppose, then, that after Willie makes his decision, the universe (Universe 1) ends, and an identical one—Universe 2—is begun. Then 13.8 billion years go by, with everything happening exactly the same in Universe 2 as it did in Universe 1, right up to the moment when Willie needs to make his decision. Can we predict that he make the same decision in Universe 2 that he did in Universe 1? What if it were possible to run this experiment a thousand or a million times? Would Willie sometimes decide yes and sometimes decide no? Or does he make the same decision every single time?

          • The Fulton of West Sheen St.

            It's good to know that 13.8 billion years from now, we will still have a few Willies around!

            I suppose my answer would be that although by observing Willie's upbringing and biology we could make a very precise guess as to what Willie would do.

            But the decision would still come down to Willie and Willies....Will haha. So maybe he decides Yes 1 million times and No 1 time or the opposite.

          • Ye Olde Statistician

            everything that is currently unexplained by science and discovery will eventually be explained given enough time

            Hmm. Wouldn't that be a "naturalism of the gaps theory"?

          • Arden Abeille

            "Any evidence of any kind." We have thousands of years of evidence. I think when you use that word, though, you mean by "evidence" only "that which the [extremely limited] methodologies of science can detect and measure."
            "If [God interacts with nature], then there needs to be a mechanism in nature for this to happen." That seems quite upside down to me. That's a bit like saying, "If I draw a picture on a piece of paper, there needs to be a mechanism in the piece of paper for this to happen." Well, no. I act upon the paper with my pen. The paper need do nothing but be there, and be changed by my acting upon it. In the case of God and nature, God made the "paper" (as well as all the laws governing the paper's existence), and thus can do far more than "draw" on it, if He wishes, and since the action is from Him into nature, nature doesn't need a "mechanism" to allow God to act upon it, it need only exist (which it does, by His will).

          • Glenn54321

            Yes. The pencil strikes the paper and leaves graphite. Those are measurable things.

            Which started the interaction is irrelevant -- what is relevant is that there *was* and interaction which can be measured. Again: stop thinking primarily about purpose or motive.

          • Arden Abeille

            Oh, and this:

            "It is a fact that scientists can and have exposed the underlying
            physical reality which dictates all of the interactions of everything
            we've ever experienced at the lowest levels of reality. It is also a
            fact that none of these interactions requires any explanation other than
            the ones already established. Reality and our understanding of its
            fundamental laws is essentially complete as of 2012."
            is quite adorably humorous to me. Browse among the writings of 19th-century scientists and you will see nearly identical language. Have we in fact learned nothing since then? Hmmm. . . come back 100 years from now (if we're still here) and we'll have a companionable laugh about this, as well. :)

          • Glenn54321

            Instead of silly ad hominem attacks, why not investigate it yourself? You're a neuroscientist, not a physicist... Take an hour and watch Sean Carroll's 2013 AHA video and then judge for yourself.

          • George

            First paragraph perplexes me. Catholics use sense experience and data all the time. Look how many people fed/clothed by catholic charity etc. I felt a presence, I had a vision, I heard god's voice speaking to me, etc. and the catechism says god can be discovered through reason.

          • The Fulton of West Sheen St.

            Didn't mean to imply that science and Catholicism were opposed. I just meant to say that reason/science/philosophy/theology should all flow evenly together. But that each on their own have their limits.

            I certainly agree with Aquinas in that knowledge begins in the senses.

          • Vicq_Ruiz

            I think that my wife loves me.

            I can't define "love" as an empirical concept. I can't weigh it on a balance or read its spectrograph.

            Yet if she were to stop loving me and start hating me tomorrow, it would certainly show effects which I and others can hear, see, and feel.

          • The Fulton of West Sheen St.

            Vicq_Ruiz: I think that my wife loves me. I can't define "love" as an empirical concept. I can't weigh it on a balance or read its spectrograph.

            Fulton: Agreed!

            But the effects and the form of love itself are certainly separate. It would be pretty tough to recognize love by its after effects.

            And I would also argue that if your wife just stopped loving you than she didn't actually love you, it was just some shallow imitation of the highest form of love. Probably just a combination of natural attraction, psychological dependency, and some other factors.

            That being said, I don't mean to imply your wife doesn't love you haha!

        • Fr.Sean

          Hi Glenn54321,
          I would argue that God does interact with nature, and with human beings. i suppose faith is the key to seeing it, or the way in which it becomes visible. Naturally miracles would be one way God interacts with nature in a more visible way, but he also acts within the beauty of nature, and with observing how intricate the laws of physics are.

          • Glenn54321

            With respect Father, I don't see an argument in your reply other than "just look at nature!" which, technically speaking, is an argument from ignorance.

            We know how nature got that way, we know how things reproduce and adapt, and none of those mechanisms require any intervention of any kind. So, unless your argument is that God preordained all of this to not need any interaction after the big bang, then I can't accept this as a convincing argument.

          • Fr.Sean

            Hi Glenn54321,
            Well, i was trying to respond to the notion how God interacts with nature. I believe it was saint Augustine who said when one looks at a beautiful scene in nature, it fills them with a sense of awe. it causes them to think; "how could things have become so beautiful?" than further causes them to realize something or someone had to create it to be that beautiful.
            This kind of evidence does not prove God's existence, but it gives a hint to God's existence. when one recieves the gift of faith God becomes more tangible, more real, by experience, by feeling, by cause and effect occurrences. but God doesn't force that on anyone, so he usually doesn't give empirical evidence, but he does give evidence nonetheless after one has made a choice.
            secondly, i would say that we don't "know" how nature got the way it is but we certainly know a lot more than we did in the past.

          • Kevin Aldrich

            So, unless your argument is that God preordained all of this to not need
            any interaction after the big bang, then I can't accept this as a
            convincing argument.

            For purely natural things, the Aristotelian-Thomistic answer is that God *did* preordain all this put putting in the first things themselves the "resources" to become all the things they are not.

            An important caveat is that human beings are not purely natural beings, from that point of view. The rational powers of the human soul of intellect and will did require God stepping in and doing something new.

          • Ye Olde Statistician

            We know how nature got that way, we know how things reproduce and adapt

            But first you have to accept that existence exists. That is, there must be "being."

            none of those mechanisms require any intervention of any kind.

            Why should they? If, as it was said, God looked on all that he made and saw that it was good, at the very least it means that none of it requires intervention in the common course of nature. But to exist at all, even from one moment to the next, that is another story. All the transformations in physics (and even in fields of wannabe physics) there must be something physical on both sides of the transformation: X→Y; matter in one form becomes matter in another form. It can say nothing about "→Y" or about "→" itself.

          • Glenn54321

            You sound like Sye Ten Bruggencate... Just because there is no answer for hard solipsism doesn't mean you get to invoke God in order to stop the infinite regress.

          • Ye Olde Statistician

            I have no idea who you're talking about. And what makes you think God is invoked to stop an infinite regress? Aquinas did not do so. Perhaps Dawkins did?

          • Ye Olde Statistician

            We know how nature got that way
            If we know all about the physics of vibrating strings, do we understand the Moonlight Sonata? You are engaged in what is called "begging the question." That is, you are building your conclusion into your arguments. That natures operate through various "mechanisms" (a very 19th century metaphor) is one thing; but that there are natures at all and that they have mechanisms at all is quite another thing. God is not a material cause in rivalry with other material causes. He is the reason why there are material causes at all. Recall that Aquinas bases his Fifth Way argument for God on the existence of natural laws. That is, he reasoned to God from those very "mechanisms" that you cite.

          • Arden Abeille

            Ye Olde, this is a beautiful answer. "God is not a material cause in rivalry with other material causes. He is the reason why there are material causes at all." Yes, precisely.

          • Arden Abeille

            "We know how nature got that way."

            Really?
            Please explain. You grant the "big bang," apparently, so let's start with that. What caused that "bang?" Prior to that "bang," what caused what went "bang" to be there TO "bang," in the first place?

          • Glenn54321

            Let me see if I understand you -- because neither you nor anyone else can explain why the big bang happened or what came before, the only possible reason left is "God did it." Is this right?

            If so, then this is a perfect example of an argument from ignorance: "I don't know. Therefore, God."

            I was hoping to restrict my comment to how organisms replicate, mutate, and select as a sufficient and satisfying explanation for the diversity of life. Now that we know how these things work and how organisms came to be diverse, the new "I don't know, therefore God" territory is now "where did life originate" whereas before it was all of life, diversity, and replication. And, by the way, they're close to demonstrating where the original cells might have come from.

            Behold the dissolution and retreat of theological explanations for reality.

        • Kevin Aldrich

          How about this? The place you and I normally interact with God is in our souls, understood as the unique human power of intellect and free will.

          • Glenn54321

            What is a soul and how does it interact with the human body? Then, explain why science has not detected anything except the brain with firing neurons.

          • Kevin Aldrich

            The soul can be seen in so far as something is alive. The kind of soul varies depending on the kind of living thing it is: plant, animal, or human being. It just so happens that the kind of thing a living human being is includes rationality, hence the rational soul. Me typing this comment is my soul interacting with my body. Aristotle surmised and Aquinas (and others) was sure the rational soul was immortal because of the kinds of immaterial things it could do. But science is only going to detect the body's actions, like synapses "firing" and blood flowing.

          • David Nickol

            The kind of soul varies depending on the kind of living thing it is: plant, animal, or human being.

            A bacterium is neither a plant nor an animal. A mushroom is also neither a plant nor an animal. (Needless to say, they are not human beings, either.) "Euglena [is the] genus of single-celled organisms with both plant and animal characteristics." Living things do not fit neatly into the three categories you have named. A virus is not a plant, animal, or human being, and it is uncertain whether it makes sense to say it is a living thing. Doesn't this complicate the matter of three types of souls for living things?

          • Kevin Aldrich

            Just think of soul as "life" and there is no difficulty.

          • Michael Murray

            Isn't there a difficult with "life" persisting after you have died ?

          • Kevin Aldrich

            As your probably already know, folks like Aristotle and Aquinas though the life/anima/soul of a human being was such that it could perdure even though the body decayed.

          • Ye Olde Statistician

            No. It just means that humans love classifying things and will always fiddle with the definitions of the categories. But as Brennan says in Thomstic Psychology, nature is a continuum and there will always be "in betweens" and "borderline cases." Besides, while plants have vegetative souls, a vegetative soul does not mean a labcoater would classify the thing as a plant. When I was young, science firmly classified the fungi as plants. Later, someone decided there was enough of a difference to merit an entire Kingdom. Someday perhaps they will do the same with Angiosperms.
            The vegetative soul means only that the thing:
            a) Takes in nutrients, stripping the forms and absorbing the matter.
            b) Converts that foodmatter into its own stuff (its various cells and tissues and so forth) so that it grows and develops.
            c) Reproduces after its own kind, allowing for some variation in details. And
            d) Coordinates all that in a dynamic balance called homeostasis.
            Plants, animals, and humans do all that. Animals and humans do more. That doesn't make Fido a fungus.

            BTW, an interesting aside: plants kept in labs and offices and so forth do not develop the deep, probing root system as plants that have to hustle to make a living. Effectively, they have trained the lab assistant (et al.) to act as an extension of their roots, reducing the need to search for water. In the same way, Pavlov's dogs trained Pavlov to be an extension of their senses, so they would know of food; although Pavlov proved to be less reliable than their noses. LOL

          • Michael Murray

            Me typing this comment is my soul interacting with my body.

            Whereas I don't have one. Yet still I type.

          • Kevin Aldrich

            You are alive, your body is functioning, and you are using your intellect and your will. That describes what a human soul does.

          • Michael Murray

            But you could just say

            That describes what a human soul does.

            Not need for that extra word.

          • Kevin Aldrich

            Correct, but that leaves the question of what a human is.
            I think you are trying to define a human as just a body.

          • Ye Olde Statistician

            Whereas I don't have [a soul]. Yet still I type.

            Apparently, the Zombie Apocalypse has begun!

          • Michael Murray

            The soul is the thing that splits when you commit murder enabling you to store part of it in a Horcrux. I think that's right. Uhm am I on the wrong web board ?

          • Ye Olde Statistician

            explain why science has not detected anything except the brain with firing neurons.

            Because if the only tool you have is a hammer, you will not detect anything except nails.

            Or as Werner Karl Heisenberg put it:
            "What we observe is not nature itself, but nature exposed to our method of questioning." [emph. added]
            Physics and Philosophy: The Revolution in Modern Science

          • David Nickol

            I learned early on in Catholic elementary school—this was in the 1950s—that there was no such thing as a soul.

            The nuns told us there was a Communist surgeon who said, "I have performed thousands of operations, and I have never seen a soul!"

          • The Fulton of West Sheen St.

            Sounds like an experiment I heard about where a doctor tried to weigh the soul. So he weighed a body before it died and the moment after death (when he figured the soul would depart).

            He found there was a loss of almost an ounce!

            Sounds like great science to me...

          • Arden Abeille

            Because science is extremely limited in the kinds of questions it can even ASK, let alone answer (we cannot yet answer all of even the very limited set of questions that we can ask, with science). As many do in our current culture, you seem to be elevating science to a kind of religion, assuming that science can somehow provide the answers to any kind of question, or at least that the kinds of answers that science provides are the best (or highest quality) answers that can be provided. But science cannot even ASK some questions, including what most people think of as the most important kind of question--questions, for example, about ultimate causation or the "meaning of life." Science can tell you about biological (or physical, or chemical, etc.) PROCESSES; it can tell you HOW these things work. It cannot tell you WHY they are there, at all (i.e., why is there anything rather than nothing?; what is the PURPOSE and MEANING of that which is?). Science cannot even ASK these questions, and it is a mistake to assume that scientists could provide answers to questions we cannot even pose with our methodology. (Just for completeness, it might be of interest to you to know that I actually happen to be a Ph.D. neuroscientist). This strange over-reliance upon--indeed, a religious "faith" in--science as "the way" to all knowledge is extremely misguided, and ultimately fruitless. I can tell you quite a bit about how various parts of your brain work, but I will never be able to show you "how the soul interacts with the human body"--not with neuroscientific methodologies, anyway. And that is not a problem with the concept of a soul, it is just a natural limitation of the domain of science. "There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, than are testable by empirical methodology."

          • Michael Murray

            This strange over-reliance upon--indeed, a religious "faith" in--science as "the way" to all knowledge is extremely misguided, and ultimately fruitless.

            Fruitless ? Yet you post on the internet.

          • Arden Abeille

            I didn't say science was useless, just that relying on science as "the way" to all knowledge is fruitless. It is a set of methodologies that is very good at providing specific answers to a very limited set of questions. To expect it to give you "The Answer" is mistaken, and will yield no fruit.

          • Michael Murray

            Why do you expect anything to give you "The Answer" ? Why do you expect there is an answer to questions like "what is the purpose and or meaning of life" ?

            I find that what science tells us about the reality we live in strongly suggests that these questions have no answers.

          • Arden Abeille

            Well, of course what science tells us "suggests" that, because it cannot, in fact, provide those answers. That does not mean that those questions cannot be asked or answered (just that they cannot be asked or answered by science), or that they are unimportant (many questions that science cannot ask or answer are nevertheless important). As for expectations of finding an answer to "what is the meaning/purpose of life," I was referring to many in our culture (Glenn seems to be among them) who mistakenly turn to science to attempt to provide that kind of answer. And personally, I do think that the answer one finds (or the answers one continues to find as one grows in understanding) to that question (or that realm of question) is/are the most important organizing principle of human life. Without that answer, or at least a direction toward that answer, you are just "killing time" here. When you have a notion (even just a developing notion) of what the purpose is for your being alive, that shapes and informs what you do WITH that life. In fact, I'll be stronger than that, and say that everybody actually DOES have some kind of answer to that question, whether or not it is clearly formed in their mind, and their answer shapes what they do with their life, for good or ill, by choice or by default. It seems better to me to seek and clarify that answer, and participate in consciously shaping what you do with your life, rather than let the answer, and thus what you do with your life, be shaped and directed by our ailing culture.

          • Michael Murray

            That wasn't how I read Glenn but I guess we can let him come back and answer.

            I still think phrasing the problem of "what will I do with my life" as "what is the purpose of my life" is a mistake as you will go looking for an answer that might not be there. Better to concentrate on the first problem.

          • Michael Murray

            Well, of course what science tells us "suggests" that, because it cannot, in fact, provide those answers.

            Well it can answer the question "does the universe look like it was designed by a benevolent creator" pretty accurately. That is surely relevant to the kinds of questions you think it cannot answer.

          • Arden Abeille

            Can it? What is the operational definition of "benevolent" in this case? What would the null hypothesis be, and how would we measure our results? What, precisely, would the universe "look like" if it were designed by a "benevolent" creator, and what, precisely, would it look like if it were designed by a different kind of creator? What (dare I? I do) would it "look like" if it weren't created at all? How would we know? What are our instruments of measurement, and what's the design of the experiment? Can we write a grant for enough money to purchase a supply of extra universes, so we can test our hypotheses? Or at least, enough to purchase the stuff to CREATE our own extra universes, so we can see what they look like when we create them "benevolently" vs. otherwise (that is, once we ever decide how to define "benevolent" in this context)? I'm excited; let's do this study!

          • Michael Murray

            What, precisely, would the universe "look like"
            if it were designed by a "benevolent" creator,

            The list is endless but here are a few chosen at random. A benevolent creator would have not bothered including things like: TB and polio, tsunami's and earthquakes, the Loa-loa worm, cancer, Harlequin babies. How do we know your fictional creator could have made a universe without these things? Because we have eliminated some of them ourselves without ill effect.

          • Guest

            It's a little disturbing that a PhD neurologist would hold the process of science in such disdain.

            No one claims that we can arrive at "all knowledge" at all, via science or any other way. Is there a promise in theology that we will arrive at "all knowledge" while we're alive? No, there isn't. So, while I am alive, I will trust the process which has proven to expose how the natural world works.

            You will notice that how we gain "knowledge" about the natural world has been strictly a one way street out of theology for hundreds of years. We live in a time long past the tipping point of when we needed mystical explanations for much of anything, and that's amazing. It's entirely the result of the application of the scientific method.

          • Glenn54321

            Sorry... replied to you instead of Arden...

          • Glenn54321

            If you want to limit yourself and the discussion to the metaphysical realm of meaning and purpose then, yes, Science has no comment.

            However, in the same sense, you cannot hope to convince anyone who has been informed about the current state of genetics, physics, geology, cosmology, etc... that your metaphysical realm explains anything which doesn't boil down to emotion and opinion. I am sure that someone with the intense scientific training you are sure to have received will recognize this.

            The crux here is this: a presupposition that there *must* be a purpose. As a scientist you have to admit that It is entirely possible that there is no purpose... you cannot rule this theory out on the basis of emotion or personal experience.

            If there is a supernatural ream which cannot ever be measured in the natural realm, then its state of being is in all practical terms identical to it not existing at all. If there sits atop this supernatural realm an architect of both realms who will chose to torture me infinitely for not believing in this (apparently) deliberately undetectable realm, then this judge uses a logical paradigm which is infinitely unjust.

          • Glenn54321

            It's a little disturbing that a PhD neurologist would hold the process of science in such disdain.

            No one claims that we can arrive at "all knowledge" at all, via science or any other way. Is there a promise in theology that we will arrive at "all knowledge" while we're alive? No, there isn't. So, while I am alive, I will trust the process which has proven to expose how the natural world works. You will notice that how we gain "knowledge" about the natural world has been strictly a one way street out of theology for hundreds of years.

            We live in a time long past the tipping point of when we needed mystical explanations for much of anything, and that's amazing. It's entirely the result of the application of the scientific method. When I think about this, it makes me wonder if this is why religion in the western world has become so milquetoasty and emasculated -- the banal tunes, self denigration, and happy bible snippets don't explain much any more unless you're in the midst of a crisis and in need of some emotional support.

          • Arden Abeille

            ! I don't hold science in any "disdain" at all; I just recognize its proper limitations. The fact that you see comments clarifying the limitations of science as "disdaining" it pretty well illustrates my point of how science has been elevated to the status of some kind of oracle, promising "all the answers," when in fact, it can only offer SOME answers, to CERTAIN kinds of questions. And I expect you are technically right that "no one claims we can arrive at 'all knowledge,'" but my point is that, increasingly, people hold an orientation (whether conscious or simply accepted uncritically from the culture's increasingly science-worshipping orientation) that, if you have ANY kind of question, you should look to science for the answer, and that science will always have the BEST answer to any question; that scientific evidence is the BEST kind of evidence for anything, and often the ONLY kind of evidence that somebody (including most outspoken atheists) will admit into a conversation. The fact is that science is just one tool for looking at some kinds of questions. It's a good tool! But, like a hammer (which is an EXCELLENT tool), there are only certain things it can properly do. If you try to saw a board with a hammer, you will either have no appreciable effect, or (if you are very vigorous about it) possibly make a mess of your board, rendering it useless for any kind of proper construction. If you try to use science to answer ultimate questions, you will either get no appreciable answers, or very messy (non-useful) ones.

          • Glenn54321

            This analogy of science being simply a hammer (a.k.a blunt, imprecise, myopic) gets pretty old. We both know it's far more pejorative than descriptive.

            Instead of defending against that analogy I'll go with it -- Since the implication is that philosophy/theology are other tools in the human tool belt equally useful to us, tell me: what universal and objective truth have either of those other tools led anyone to? If you have an answer or example, please elaborate on how you know and can show that the discovered truth is objective?

            If you cannot cite an example, then you should admit that all these musings about the supernatural are really just extremely elaborate guesses, yes?

          • Michael Murray

            It's kind of like having a tool belt with a hammer and a wand. Sure the hammer is not the ideal tool for every job but it's always going to beat the wand. Well maybe you can stir paint with the wand.

          • Glenn54321

            Lol nice

          • Arden Abeille

            It certainly IS used in a pejorative manner by many, but I don't intend it that way. Science is one way to learn more about things. Philosophy, theology, and art are other ways. The notion that science is the only or even the BEST way to learn is absurdly limiting to the human experience.

            In answer to your question regarding "what universal and objective truth have either of those other tools [meaning philosophy or theology] ever led anyone to?", my answer is, "Pretty much all universal truth that anyone HAS been led to." (Entire libraries have been written about these; I definitely don't have room here. . . ) Of course, it depends upon what you mean exactly by "objective," and if you are defining that as "empirically verifiable by scientific methods," then you're just stacking the deck so as to re-assert the notion that only science can tell us anything we want to know (begging the question, in your question).

            How I "know and can show that the discovered truth is objective"--will depend upon what you mean, as I say, by "objective."

            Your ball. . . ?

          • Glenn54321

            I don't think anyone is making the case that science is the best method for every possible inquiry. I certainly don't, so we it appears we agree on this point. I am merely making the case that scientific method has so far proven to be the best method for determining the truth of nature. I think we agree on this point too. I accept your reasoning that philosophy is required and science is generally useless when questions regarding the human experience and purpose, etc... are concerned. It seems we agree here as well.

            The sticking point, as you've rightly identified, is on the term "objective." I take that to mean simply that which is true regardless of any (or all) opinions.

            Am I stacking the deck with this definition? I don't think so. Take the question on the table -- Does there exist a supernatural realm? It either exists or it doesn't, right? If it does and if we can know anything about it, then we must be able to experience it in some way, right? If that is true, then there must be an interaction between the supernatural and the natural. Unless there is a flaw in my logic this is why science is fit to comment on the matter. Do you agree?

          • Arden Abeille

            1) I'm happy you are not making the case that science is the best method for every possible inquiry, but in fact, many people do. Or (which amounts to the same thing), they simply assume that there is nothing other than the apparent material world, and that therefore, when claiming that (as you do) "the scientific method has so far proven to be the best method for determining the truth of nature," this de facto means that the scientific method is the best way to find out any truth, since nothing exists other than the material. (Thus begging the question all over the place.)

            2) Not only is science "generally useless when questions regarding the human experience and purpose, etc., are concerned," but science is entirely useless without the philosophical underpinnings that MAKE SCIENTIFIC INQUIRY POSSIBLE and RATIONAL. Without philosophy and theology, there is no truth, there is no "telos," there IS NO NATURE to ask and get answers to questions about.

            3) The question on the table. Does there exist a supernatural realm? If so, it is by definition "outside" of nature, which means, even if science is "the best way to find out about nature," it seems unlikely that science can tell us anything at all about something outside of its proper bailiwick.

            Your notion that "we must experience it in some way," and that therefore "there must be an interaction between the supernatural and the natural" seems to have a missing premise (at least one), which seems to be that "we experience things only through natural conduits." If it is, on the other hand, possible to EXPERIENCE something in a directly supernatural way, then your supposed necessary point of interaction may not be required.

            However, let's say that it is (and I, for one, am not a dualist, so I don't believe that somehow we have a body that exists all independently of the supernatural aspects of reality and of our selves). I think you may still have a fundamental misunderstanding (perhaps stemming from this same dualistic type of error) that there is a "supernatural realm" that somehow exists someWHERE, and then the "natural realm" that exists, well, here, and that therefore there ought to be some "point of interaction" between them, and this will exist someWHERE that we can pinpoint within the natural, with scientific instruments. But (to borrow, God help us, from theoretical physics--and ONLY as an analogy--God help us--JUST an analogy) that's like saying that, if there are multiple universes, then the "other universes" are someWHERE else, in the same way that your house is NEXT TO the house next door. But that's not it at all. The supernatural isn't someWHERE else, interacting with "our world" in some way. It is some WHAT else; and that "what" isn't anything that science can "detect," by definition, because science doesn't do that. So it doesn't "interact" with the natural; rather, REALITY is BOTH "natural"(material) and supernatural, simultaneously.

            Reaching for another analogy. If I mix blue and yellow paint to make green paint, I have green paint, which is made entirely of yellow paint and blue paint. It is both blue and yellow paint simultaneously. This makes it appear green. If I give this paint to you, as a painter (the painter is "science" in this scenario), you can then do anything within your skill set with that paint--you can look at it, feel it, dab it on a canvas with a brush, smear it with your fingers on canvas or walls or other objects, but (as a painter), you don't have any way to personally separate the paint "back" into blue and yellow paint. You have green, and you have to observe it and use it as green.

            Similarly, when scientists are doing what they do, measuring the material, they don't have any way to "get to" the supernatural aspects of reality. They have to use the green paint as given to them. It's all they have to work with. Philosophers and theologians can REASON TO the existence of the blue and yellow paint that comprises the given green paint, the fabric of reality, but scientists can only use the brushes and other tools they have to do things with the paint they have.

            (Note: this analogy harms itself because you want to say, "but scientists could separate the paint pigments chemically. . . blah blah blah. . . " but remember, in this halting, on-the-fly analogy, that the scientist is a PAINTER, not a "scientist" . . . . . . )

            Am I making ANY sense?

          • Glenn54321

            Yes, you make sense.

            #1 -- Here is the logical response to this:

            - Before one can discuss methods of inquiry within a regime one must first objectively characterize that regime.

            - No regime other than the natural world has been objectively characterized within the natural regime

            - Therefore, objective methods of inquiry for non-natural regimes do not exist within the natural regime.

            So I don’t think I’m begging the question. I’m saying that we can’t even begin to discuss inspection of the supernatural because no one can objectively characterize it other than “not natural”. Thus, not a single one of us is qualified to assert anything *at all* as fact about a non-natural while they’re inside the natural regime. Can we guess? Sure. Hope? Ok. Prove? No. Threaten damnation and suffering based on guesses and hopes? Despicable.

            #2 -- I reject this. Just because we can describe to ourselves via philosophy that there is such a thing as truth and use some of the axioms to construct the scientific method does not cause truth to exist. Truth exists and we might use philosophical axioms to arrive at some of it. I don’t see a necessary connection to theology at all. As far as I can tell, theology is the section of philosophy devoted to describing things that no one can prove exist and has proven to be a stumbling block when it comes to understanding nature.

            #3 -- Agree. See response to first rebuttal.

            About the rest… Did you watch the video I referenced? Perhaps you reject that physicists can now rule out certain forces?

            Rather than me being ignorant of some “dualism error,” I claim that you are latching on to a presupposition that there even is a duality to be explained in the first place. Theologians over the centuries have wrestled with this issue because they’ve insisted that there is such a dualism issue to resolve. Instead, consider the possibility that the “self” is a high-level emergent property of your mind. Only then does all (yes all) the data coming in from physics and, yes, neurology make any sense. The mind is the brain and all the experimental data backs this up. No experimental data has pointed to the idea that the “self” resides or comes from anywhere other than your brain. Have you seen any such data?

          • Arden Abeille

            1) "No regime other than the natural world has been objectively characterized within the natural regime"
            Um, isn't that a bit like saying "nothing other than yogurt has been found inside my yogurt container"? Uh, sure. There's not supposed to be anything other than yogurt in there.
            "- Therefore, objective methods of inquiry for non-natural regimes do not exist within the natural regime."
            Well, again, I suspect you are conflating "objective" with "scientific," and I insist that there are objective methods of inquiry that do not lie within the scientific method and that in fact the scientific method depends upon in order to function.

            2) I agree with you that truth is not somehow "created" by philosophy (God forbid!), and apologize if anything I wrote sounded remotely as if I meant that. I suspect, though, that it only sounded that way because we are arguing from perspectives that are so foreign from each other as to be objectively verifiable as essentially upside down:
            http://ardentventure.blogspot.com/2013/04/finnish-underwater-ice-fishing.html
            (there's a video for you)

            "As far as I can tell, theology is the section of philosophy devoted to describing things that no one can prove exist"
            That completely depends upon what you mean by "prove." There are many "proofs" of God's existence. But if you are insisting on scientific "proof," then you are misunderstanding what science does completely. Science cannot, and never does, "prove" anything (not even in purely material circumstances); it only disconfirms hypotheses. At base, all science can do is tell you what ISN'T the case in a given situation, and then build up a kind of "circumstantial" case for what we believe PROBABLY is the case. A well-established theory may have lots and lots of support, but is actually always subject to new data causing a paradigm shift and the overthrow of even very well-established and long-cherished theories.

            "and has proven to be a stumbling block when it comes to understanding nature"
            That has been true, at times; however, theology is also the basis for and the foundation of and was the driving motivation for most of Western science. Without theology (and in particular, the Catholic Church), the history of Western science simply would not be. There are whole books here, I won't try to expound, but suffice (I hope) it to say that, without a darn good reason to believe there is order and truth, there's no point doing science.

            About the dualism thing; I wasn't "accusing" you of it, I was making sure you knew I wasn't doing that, because what I was about to say could mislead in that direction, as it seems to have done. My contention is, like you, that there isn't a "dualism" to be explained, but, unlike you, I don't want to leave out a giant amount of reality in order to avoid making a dualistic error. It's a bit (God help us, physics again) like the physicists suddenly discovering that most of the universe they can't see or measure, so now they have to postulate "dark matter" to explain all that "stuff" that doesn't seem to actually be there. What I'm trying to say (God help me to say it) is that reality is a bit like the iceberg: you only see a bit of it, most of it you don't see/experience through sensory perception/is not able to be measured by science; but that doesn't mean it isn't there.

            Emergent properties. Okay:
            "No experimental data has pointed to the idea that the “self” resides or
            comes from anywhere other than your brain. Have you seen any such data?"
            But you're doing it again; you're assuming that "experimental data" is the best (and really it seems you are saying, only) kind of information that we care about or that means anything. And actually, you're making science even smaller, now, because "experimental" data is only one kind of evidence that scientists may evaluate and use to build hypotheses. But off the top of my (small and finite) brain, no, I can't think of any "experimental" data that would indicate that the "self" may "reside or come from anywhere other than your brain."

            Some anecdotal evidence, however, would include case studies (which neurologists rely heavily upon, as doing outright experiments on human being's brains is Mengele-esque and sternly frowned upon by professional accrediting agencies!) of people declared "brain dead" who later can recount memories of things that happened while they exhibited no meaningful cortical activity.

            I'm sorry, I must have missed the video you referenced; I'll try to go back and find it, but in case I can't, if you still think it pertinent, please re-post the link; I apologize for the oversight. I'm not sure what you mean by physicists "ruling out certain forces," but since I have one in the house, I'll be sure to ask him about it.

            Finally: "Threaten damnation and suffering based on guesses and hopes? Despicable."

            I wholeheartedly agree with this, and I apologize from the bottom of my heart (and brain) on behalf of anyone who ever did this to you. Threatening damnation and suffering is not anything that any mere mortal has a right to do, and even if done with good intentions (yes, it really might be, as wrong-headed as that is), sends entirely the wrong message and (clearly) is vastly more likely to have the completely backwards effect from the intended. Thoroughly despicable, and entirely beside the point, because the Truth is that this "invisible friend" LOVES you. Like crazy. And wants nothing more than your ever-abiding JOY.

          • Glenn54321

            The video I am referring to is:

            http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jar-Wzy1gsI

            It appears we agree. I claim there is no evidence for the supernatural and you say that is because it’s not natural. I accept this. I get that people posit a supernatural reality and claim that, by definition, it cannot be measured or observed. This also means that it is necessarily subjective and unprovable.

            So, the key question is: why do you believe in something which has no objective evidence and how can you hope to convince someone like me to be even slightly concerned about it?

            Regarding the damnation part… Threatening damnation and suffering is a core tenant of Christianity. A rejection of Christ is to invite eternal torment, according to the catechism.

            So what you're asking a non-Christian the believe is that:

            1 - God, omnipotent and omniscient, created everything, including the universe, heaven, hell, and the rules by which people go to their eternity.

            2 - Man offended God so badly at some point that the only logical recourse God had was to punish man forever in hell, and this was to be held against man in perpetuity.

            3 - In order to create a possibility for man to not have himself decide to punish man forever in useless, meaningless eternal torment for temporal crimes (or even just the crimes of his ancestors) God sent a person from himself to a small desert tribe to be butchered and killed.

            4 - If we don’t believe that God did this, regardless of the strength of the second-hand evidence, he will decide to punish us forever.

            5 - God loves us.

            When stated this way, the Christian argument sounds ludicrous. One through four do not imply five. Unless we need a new word for what is felt between parent and child, spouses and friends. This is not a description of love. It is a description of tyranny and the behavior of one who delights in tormenting infinitely lessor beings.

            I have children. No amount of them offending me would ever result it a logical conclusion that I should put them in a furnace, burn them alive forever, and forget about them. Instead, I would always be ready to say “I understand. I watched you grow. I forgive you and love you even if you don’t love me in return. Since I created you and am responsible for you I will find a way for you to be happy even if we cannot be happy together.” This is not the Christian message, so the Christian God cannot be analogized to a father.

            Do no anthropomorphize God. According to Christian theology, he is not human and is *entirely* responsible for creation and the rules of justice. So, it is up to him to decide to send people to hell and he could decide not to just as easily. Free will does not defeat this, since I am both not responsible for my own existence, nor do I will for such a thing to happen to me. Once these proclamations are made, the "ball" is back in the theoretical God's court to decide of his free will to inflict punishment or not. What you end up with is freedom with a gun to your head... which stands up in no court of law.

          • Michael Murray

            If you try to use science to answer ultimate questions, you will either get no appreciable answers, or very messy (non-useful) ones.

            I can see you've not read Sam Harris new book. Chapter one is available free.

            http://www.samharris.org/blog/item/chapter-one

            He's a neurologist so can't be all bad right ?

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

          We cannot rule things out completely. We cannot rule out unfalsifiable claims of some kind of undetectable existence of a soul or a god or that this is all the matrix. We cannot rule out that Obama is a lizard person.

          The question is whether we have a reasonable basis to accept certain claims.

          I disagree that there is necessarily some kind of first cause just because we observe causation. The observation of universal causation, if anything, implies that everything must have a cause, not that there exists something that doesn't need a cause. Not to mention what the nature of this cause would be and whether it has/is a mind, and wants to be friends with me.

          • Ye Olde Statistician

            We cannot rule out unfalsifiable claims of some kind of undetectable existence of a soul

            Look at a dead petunia. It has no soul. If it is alive, it has a soul. Eminently detectable to the extent that life is. (Fuzzy boundaries stiplulated.)

            everything must have a cause

            Geez. Not even Aquinas went that far.

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

            I do not understand your point. Are you saying a soul is the same thing as life? What do you mean by eminently detectable?

            Please read my post carefully, I did not say that the observation of causation means everything has a cause. I said "The observation of universal causation, IF ANYTHING, IMPLIES that everything must have a cause, NOT that there exists something that doesn't need a cause." emphasis added.

            Aquinas infers from the fact that everything he sees appears to have a cause that there must be something that does not have a cause. This is faulty logic in my view. All he is really doing is stating an axiom that an infinite regress is impossible. I do not think it is. I do not think an infinite regress is anymore impossible than an infinite... anything. Infinities are not logically incoherent. Temporal infinities are not even that implausible given our current understanding that time and space are one thing and not fixed but relative. Aquinas was unaware of this an his intuitions may have been different if he had been exposed to Special Relativity.

          • Ye Olde Statistician

            Are you saying a soul is the same thing as life? What do you mean by eminently detectable?

            A soul is the principle of a living body just as three-sidedness is the principle of a triangle. What messes up most Modern thinking is the way Descartes screwed it up and decided "scientifically" that the soul must be a substance in its own right: the res cogitans. Naturally, this was incoherent, and led to all the Modern "problems," like the "mind-body 'problem'," the 'problem' of the qualia, the 'problem' of intention, the 'problem' of consciousness, and so on. None of these make sense in the context of Cartesian dualism.

            A soul is what a living body has when it is alive but lacks when it is dead. Its presence can be detected insofar as life can be detected. No worries.

            Aquinas infers from the fact that everything he sees appears to have a cause that there must be something that does not have a cause.

            No, he does not. To start with, he does not "infer."

            This is faulty logic in my view.

            Then it's a good thing he didn't say that. Quick test: what is the difference in causation per accidens and causation per se?

            All he is really doing is stating an axiom that an
            infinite regress is impossible.

            Except he does not state is as an axiom. In fact, for causation per accidens he explicitly allows that the regress could be infinite.

          • David Nickol

            A soul is what a living body has when it is alive but lacks when it is dead. Its presence can be detected insofar as life can be detected. No worries.

            And yet many priests will administer the last rites (Anointing of the Sick) when they arrive on the scene after a person has died, minutes or even hours later. (They may administer it conditionally.) As I understand it, the theory is that clinical death and the-soul-has-left-the-body death do not necessarily take place at the same time. I am not sure if that is consistent with what you say.

          • Ye Olde Statistician

            Sure it is. It's called why take chances? Many a person called dead has been resurrected. Besides, as Aquinas wrote: "My soul is not 'I'." The human substance is a synole: or we might say a bodysoul. It is not a Cartesian or Neoplatonic spirit imprisoned in a material body watching a bad movie playing on the insides of its eyeballs.

          • David Nickol

            Almost every thing you say about soul makes sense, except for the Catholic belief that the soul can exist without the body. It makes sense to me to say that when life goes out of the body of a human person, the soul is gone. But what does not make sense is to say the soul goes to purgatory or heaven. When a basketball is (say) vaporized, the basketball soul doesn't go to basketball heaven. "Abraham's soul is not, strictly speaking, Abraham himself; it is rather a part of him (and so too for others)." So does it make sense, Abraham's body presumably being long gone, to speak of Abraham at all?

            A human being is a "bodysoul," but there is no longer a human person when the body no longer exists. And yet, Catholics pray to the saints in heaven to intercede on their behalf. But strictly speaking, the living can only pray to part of any given saint, because the soul of a saint in heaven is not, strictly speaking, the saint himself or herself.

          • Ye Olde Statistician

            I suppose that's why the Creed specifies the "resurrection of the body."

            The usual reason is that the acts of intellection, while they reflect on the percepts of the senses, are immaterial acts. Fido exists as a physical substance, but "dog" does not. So while vision and hearing et al., which depend on physical organs for their acts, must vanish with the loss of those organs, it is not clear that the intellect, whose proper objects are universals, abstractions, propositions, and the like, which do not exist as physical objects, do not require a physical organ, and hence there is nothing to decay. (This is a point often confused because the imagination and the intellect are often thought of as being the same thing.)

            But if something is immaterial it does not exist in time, since time is the measure of change in material being, then no time passes for an intellect clipped of its body. We may well think of this diminished existence as being on the equivalent of life support. But certainly the idea that time passes differently for two separated entities is less strange since ol' Einstein came along.

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

            What do you mean "principle of a living body"? I do not see a connection to triangles and 3 sidedness. We label polygons with three sides "triangles" and such geometric forms have certain derivative properties. We label certain chemical reactions "alive" and there is significant dispute over where to draw the lines. When these reactions cease we call it dead. I agree such things exist and are falsifiable, but I think it very strange to use the word "soul" to describe it. I think a better word is "life" and "alive".

            But are you suggesting that flowers and fungi have souls? Is this what Catholics believe?

          • Ye Olde Statistician

            What do you mean "principle of a living body"?

            A principle is something that (as the name implies) is "first of all" regarding a thing.

            I do not see a connection to triangles and 3 sidedness.

            Three-sidedness is the substantial form of a triangle. It is what is "first of all" about that class of shapes that we label "triangles." From this "first-of-all" all the other properties derive, as you have correctly noted and which Euclid spells out in marvelous detail.

            The soul is the substantial form of a living body. Living (animate) forms are of course more complex than non-living (inanimate) forms.

            We label certain chemical reactions "alive"

            This is a category mistake. The chemical reactions are not alive. The organisms are alive. The same reactions, replicated in a laboratory, will not live.

            I think it very strange to use the word "soul" to describe it.

            That's because we no longer speak Latin. The word "anima," which is the Latin word we translate as "soul" simply means "life" or "alive." Hence: "animate" and "inanimate."

            there is significant dispute over where to draw the lines [btw. animate and inanimate].

            Indeed, it is likely to be a continuum. How are viruses to be accounted? What about quartz crystals? Some of these mimic various activities of living things. The problem biology has is that no science can demonstrate its own axioms. (Otherwise, they would not be axioms.) Since biology is the science of living things, it must assume living things from the get-go and has the same difficulties dealing with the definitions that, for example, geometers have had with Euclid's parallel postulate. Mathematicians are fortunate in that they have ways of proving that a proposition is in fact unprovable, making it the one field with a rigorous proof that it must take some things on faith.)

            are you suggesting that flowers and fungi have souls?

            They are alive, are they not? They possess what is usually called a "vegetative" soul (sometimes a "nutritive" or a "reproductive" soul), as discussed by both Aristotle and by Thomas Aquinas. This ψυχή possesses the powers of nutrition, growth/development, and reproduction plus homeostatic control, so that bodies with a vegetative ψυχή can eat, digest, grow, develop, reproduce, and maintain dynamic balance. This ψυχή also incorporates the inanimate powers of gravity, electromagnetism, strong,and weak forces by (for example) recruiting chemical reactions to the digestion of food and its conversion into the stuff of the digestor.

            Biology, of course, studies how these powers are carried out.

          • The Fulton of West Sheen St.

            I have never ruled out the possibility of Obama being a Lizard Person!!!

    • Kevin Aldrich

      It might be helpful to think about your statements in light of Euclidean geometry. A geometric circle is perfectly intelligible and completely abstract. No actual empirical circle exists. It is not verifiable by observation anywhere.

      Who exactly are the "they" who have disproved that there is such a thing as a soul?

      • Glenn54321

        Purpose and the Universe by Sean M. Carroll, Ph.D ... - YouTube

        • Kevin Aldrich

          All one hour and sixteen minutes?

          • Glenn54321

            You can't explain the current state of physics and the implications in 30 seconds ;)

          • Mike

            I'll save you the trouble, I watched the video, and think I understand it. Sean Carroll doesn't prove his hypothesis to anyone who isn't predisposed to his conclusion.

            It goes like this, I understand the universe therefore no God. I fail to see why my ability to understand science undermines God's existence.

          • David Nickol

            Sean Carroll doesn't prove his hypothesis to anyone who isn't predisposed to his conclusion.

            Isn't that the case with all of the proofs for the existence of God that we encounter on SN? I don't think any atheist reading SN has been convinced by a proof for the existence of God, no matter how compelling the theists claim the proofs are.

            But . . . The theists here will claim that the proofs are compelling, and it is intellectual and/or attitudinal problems that prevent theists from accepting them. Why could not those who agree with Sean Carroll say, "Sean Carroll proves his hypothesis to anyone who is not predisposed to reject his conclusion"?

          • Mike

            Hi David. Glad you responded.

            I suppose you're right that I may not be receptive to Sean Carroll's conclusions for the same reasons others here aren't receptive to proof's of God. Perhaps I'm blind to the truth, but I do the best I can with what I've got and struggle to find satisfying answers.

            I've never really been interested in proving God's existence. Perhaps I'm not intelligent enough to really evaluate their conclusions, or that I haven't studied enough metaphysics.

            However, that said, I think Sean Carroll's presentation of why God isn't a good theory, and many of his videos aren't compelling is because he basically says we understand science therefore no God. I find that premise preposterous! Purely from a theoretical standpoint I can't imagine why it would be impossible for humanity to understand all of physics, and still hold that a God exists. It would just be a God outside of the universe and hence immeasurable. I just don't cede science the authority to adjudicate God's existence.

            Lastly, he mixes science and religion and I while I consider him to be a foremost expert in the former, I don't see why I should concede the latter.

            Hope you have a good day.

          • Glenn54321

            This is a critical misunderstanding: Neither Sean nor any other serious atheist professes to have proven there is no God. God is not falsifiable and most openly say so every time they debate the issue. The problem is that we've learned enough about the natural world to say that virtually all the highly detailed understandings and preaching about the nature of such a being and his relationship to us are either baseless or impossible. Could there be a God? Of course. He just cannot be as the preachers claim.

          • Mike

            Hi Glenn. Thanks for your response. If I've misrepresented the issue I appreciate any correction.

            That said, I don't see how science can in principle disprove Christ, for example. Furthermore I don't see God as a science question, therefore he can't have a science answer.

            As such I don't see God as a threat to science or vice versa, and always wonder why scientists in public roles like this spend so much (really any) time on this topic. I'd rather they say here's what the most recent science experiments tell us about the natural world. However that fits into your vision of a diety is up to you to reconcile.

          • Glenn54321

            Nothing disproves Christ. What can safely be dismissed at this point, however, are some fundamental tenants of Christianity. When one really understands what has been discovered about cosmology, genetics, and physics in just the last 10 years, it is clear that much of what is being taught as Christianity cannot possibly be reconciled with reality... That's why this matters so much and why the scientists are trying to be loud and clear about it.

          • Mike

            Hi Glenn,

            A couple of things. 1.) Examples? 2.) I disagree that once one understands those things people would cease to be christian. When did science disprove the possibility that God became man, was crucified, died, and resurrected? I must have missed that edition of science magazine. 3.) I disagree that's why scientists talk about religion. I think they see religion as a threat to human flourishing, for some reason. People are wrong about many things, but we tend not to go out of our way to correct them unless we think it's problematic to their lives.

          • Glenn54321

            1- Nearly all of the book of genesis (via genetics and archeology) the soul and the afterlife, the efficacy of prayer, the method of miracles (all via physics). The only response I've heard against this are essentially "well maybe it happens while no one is looking" or "God just made it look that way". These are not arguments, these are methods of hiding ones intellect.

            But, rest assured, the key tenants of many die-hard Christian sects are conclusively rendered false with these findings... Maybe not as much with Catholicism, but all sects are affected to one degree or another.

            2 - No. But you can't prove it did happen either. That's the problem with human history. All we can do is look at what we know now and the evidence from the event and ask questions. There are plenty of reasons to doubt the ressurection story when one is willing to look at the counter arguments - from the sources, not filtered from the pulpit.

            3 - yes, I agree that many scientists do go beyond simple clarification. But, having seen both sides, I can see why... Many sects encourage willful ignorance and intentionally misrepresent scientific papers in order to keep their flock pointed in the same direction. This is a despicable practice and should raise anyone's cockles. Again, not so much in Catholicism, but this happens commonly in protestant churches.

          • Mike

            Hi Glenn,

            I hope you're well today.

            I think it's a mistake to think that any part of the bible is scientific. I mean what we would consider to be science didn't emerge until say 1500 A.D. (lets be generous it was probably later), but the bible was compiled 1200 years before science as we know it existed, and written long before that. To talk about the bible as a science book is like calling the psalms Shakespearean sonnets. Both atheists and christians I think make this mistake.

            I'm unaware how science has probed, let alone disproven souls, the afterlife, or the spiritual realm in general. It's just not within science's purvue to probe those aspects of reality, if they exist.

            I'm not sure testing the effeciency or prayer is the right method. I think it's bad religion to think of God as this magic genie who will make my hopes and dreams come true, and hence I'm not surprised that the studies conducted don't find prayer to be effective as such. I'm simply not expecting it to be.

            As a scientist I get upset when people misrepresent science, and you're right it does happen. However, you fight bad science with good science not bad religion. All I have seen from scientists discussing religion is a representation I can't reconcile with my own faith.

            Both as a Catholic and a scientist I'm interested in pursuing the truth, whatever that happens to be.

            Notice I haven't attempted to argue for God's existence based on science. God is not a science question, and hence can't have either an affirmative of negative answer. It's like asking science to adjudicate moral matters, or what is beauty. Not what people find beautiful, but the concept itself. Science isn't equipped to deal with those topics, and that's ok.

            Here's the key tenant of Catholicism I can't get around. Whenever I look at the world I see a broken sinful world in need of a savior. I look at my life and see a broken sinful man in need of a savior. Now that the world needs one doesn't prove one exists, but I don't see how science can disprove that tenant. Here's another one. I will be perpetually unhappy if there is no God. I will never be satisfied by physical pleasures. As augustine said "our hearts are restless until they rest in thee". If there is no God I'll never be happy.

            Have a good day.

          • Glenn54321

            Thanks Mike, I appreciate how cordial you've been.

            I think the foundation of this disagreement, as many others so far, is that people keep claiming that there is a supernatural realm which cannot be measured or observed. If this is true, then the supernatural cannot have any impact on our world and is, therefore, irrelevant. Moreover, it cannot even be defined because, by this definition, it cannot be known. Discussions around such a thing, however articulate, are ultimately meaningless. What we have are some very detailed discussions around some guesses and hopes.

            "If there is no God I'll never be happy."

            Depressingly, this speaks volumes. I also believe this is the root of many of the reactions on this forum.

          • Mike

            Lets start with the last part. I fail to see how my logic isn't consistent. Either my desires are satisfied or not. This doesn't ensure a God exists, but it seems to me that Sarte or was it Camus ? would be more correct about life than more contemporary atheists claim. Getting rid of God from culture wouldn't be beneficial, except to give false hope.

            I mean there are lots of things that can't be observed scientifically that we believe. Ethics, good, bad, love, etc. Science isn't the right tool for those topics, but I'd say they are interesting to think about, and concern a good amount of my time. Why couldn't God be among the topics that aren't scientific, but relevant. It seems to me that you're claiming that science has somehow disproved God while simultaneously agreeing with me that science can't in principle probe the supernatural. Which is it? Remember I'm not trying to (or equipped) to prove a supernatural exists, I'm a scientist not a philosopher, but you were the one claiming that science has evidence that God doesn't exist as Catholics understand. I disagree.

            Lastly I think part of the difficulty in discussing this topic is that it's difficult to parse the emotional reaction and the logical reaction to this topic. I'll not put words in your mouth, but rather describe myself. I have usually had good experiences with the church, and tend to think well of it. I have examined it's tenants and agree with them, believe that the church is good for humanity, etc. Now I do my best to disregard that when approaching God, but can I ever really eliminate my emotions, and only think about it logically. I'm not sure I can do that in my marriage, work, workout habits etc.

            In short we all have some baggage, even though we do our best to not consider it. I think it's ok to have disagreements, and be cordial to one another. I also think that Plato (?) was correct in saying the measure of real intellect is putting yourself in the position of the other. I often try to see things from a different point of view, but can still hold to my beliefs. I think all of us here should put ourselves in the other's shoes more often before starting a discussion.

            God I would imagine would have to reveal him/herself rather than be interrogated by science. For example, if God came in human form God could tell humanity about the divine, etc.

    • Ye Olde Statistician

      they've apparently completed verification of the laws of physics for the reality that affects our day to day lives...

      Sure. And if that's all that concerns you, have fun. Lots of people get by in their lives neither knowing nor caring about things like heliocentrism, natural selection, molecular configuration, and whatnot. They "have no need of those hypotheses" in order to do their work.

      They've been able to rule out many things, like a "soul"

      But "soul" is the translation of anima, which simply means "alive." If there is no soul, there is no living thing.

      If God is interacting with us, how does he do so without interacting with nature in any detectable way?

      In the same manner that sphere interacts with rubber to make basketball.

      • Glenn54321

        I see no substance in your comments. This is not an objection based on simple semantics, which is all you seem to be responding too.

        • Ye Olde Statistician

          Is that an anti-semantic remark?

          There are two possible reasons why you might see no substance, and only one of them is that there is no substance.

          For example, you may be so wedded to one category of thought that you cannot see that what you are objecting to was framed in other categories. What exactly is it that you believe is "simple semantics"?

          • Glenn54321

            There is no connection in your reply to my claim. You can't just waive your hand, state one of the dictionary explanations for the term "soul" followed by a meaningless geometric assertion and expect to persuade anyone.

            If the soul is me, and I operate my brain and body, then there would be a detectable connection between the two. My entire argument is that 1-the completed model of physics rules out the soul to the extent that it can be transmitted out of your body anywhere, and 2- there is nothing more than a predictable response of your "self" being altered when the brain is messed with.

            The end result is that there is no such thing as a soul in the "separate from your body" sense and your mind is your brain. That's why this matters so much.

          • Ye Olde Statistician

            You can't just waive your hand, state one of the dictionary explanations for the term "soul" followed by a meaningless geometric assertion and expect to persuade anyone.

            I don't see how it is "meaningless" to mention the definition of "soul" that was used by the people who developed the philosophy in the first place. I wished to rescue you from flailing away at a straw man of your own devising, trampling over the ruins with triumphant shrieks while the Eastern Orthodox and Roman Catholic doctrine of the soul remains untouched.

            I did not "waive" my hand, as I needed both of them to type this response. LOL

            If the soul is me,

            It isn't. You are a synole: a composite of matter and form: of body and soul.

            and I operate my brain and body

            If you plan to demolish the Cartesian error cooked up in the Scientific Revolution, don't let me stop you.

            then there would be a detectable connection between the two.

            Yup. That's the mind-body "problem" that resulted from the Cartesian Thing. You are probably, without realizing it, regarding the soul as a separate substance. No one ever worries about the sphere-basketball problem, even though that is also a form-matter synole.

            My entire argument is that the completed model of physics rules out the soul to the extent that it can
            be transmitted out of your body anywhere

            There's that Cartesian thing again. You are imagining that the soul is a substance that can be "transmitted."

            Physics doesn't even deal with formal causes, let alone with the immaterial and unmeasurable. That doesn't mean there is nothing unmaterial and unmeasurable any more than the fabulous success of hammers means that everything is a nail.

            there is nothing more than a predictable response of your "self" being altered when the brain is messed with.

            I bet Aristotle would be astonished to learn that if an instrument is damaged it becomes difficult to use. He probably never saw anyone drunk or addled. You think?

            BTW, why the quotes around the word "self"? Don't tell me you are one of those characters who believe they don't exist.

            your mind is your brain.

            Doubtful. You can't cook up semantics from a mess of syntax.

          • Glenn54321

            It is clear we're talking past each other, and that you want to engage me on philosophical grounds in matters that have recently been pulled into the realm of science. I'm afraid that involving old philosophers on this particular topic can only be done when one is ignorant of current findings. I understand your arguments - I truly do - but I don't think you're up to speed on the grounds on which I make mine.

            Before we can hope to do any more than trade snark, I encourage you to at the least watch the video I mentioned with an open mind. They know much more than you may think.

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

            "It is clear we're talking past each other, and that you want to engage me on philosophical grounds in matters that have recently been pulled into the realm of science."

            I'm curious how science, which deals exclusively with natural material phenomena, can adjudicate questions concerning immaterial, unmeasurable phenomena like the soul.

            Questions about the soul are engaged on philosophical grounds because science is simply incapable of engaging them. That's not a knock against science, which ably answers many other types of questions. It's just an acknowledgement that it will not--and cannot--answer questions relating to the soul.

            That's why Ye Olde Statistician (Mike Flynn) is correctly referencing philosophy, despite your unfounded protests.

            "I'm afraid that involving old philosophers on this particular topic can only be done when one is ignorant of current findings."

            Current findings in science or current findings in philosophy? If you're referring to the former, then that's irrelevant, for the reasons I listed above. Scientific discoveries won't affect questions about the soul anymore than historical or linguistic or musical discoveries will. If you're referring to the latter, which specific philosophical findings do you have in mind?

            Also, let's be careful not to fall into what C.S. Lewis deemed "chronological snobbery." Brushing away philosophical ideas simply because they were posed by "old philosophers" is no refutation of those ideas.

            "I understand your arguments - I truly do"

            I've read this whole exchange and, to be frank, I'm not sure you do. You're asking the right questions, though.

          • Glenn54321

            And this is why reconciliation here may not happen. I am in no way trying to denigrate the philosophers of the past. But, at one point in human history, the nature of the Sun was an entirely philosophical matter. Then, over time, science has made philosophical musings about it irrelavent. I am claiming that we might be at that point with regard to the idea of the soul. Yet another gap is closing, it seems.

            So if you want to have a purely philosophical discussion about the soul, fine. But be aware that while you're stabbing at each other with finely sharpened mental swords, be aware that there is emerging an entirely supported empirical model on the subject. Shoot the messenger if you want, but it's happening apparently without the awareness of the people in this forum and it will matter.

          • Glenn54321

            One more question occurs to me. You claim that there is a phenomena called a "soul" and which cannot be measured or observed. How do you know you're right, if no one has ever seen or measured it?

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

            "One more question occurs to me. You claim that there is a phenomena called a "soul" and which cannot be measured or observed. How do you know you're right, if no one has ever seen or measured it?"

            First, I didn't claim there was a soul in my comment (although I do believe every living thing has a soul.) I simply claimed that the question of whether souls exist is a philosophical question, not a scientific question. You claimed that matters regarding the soul have "recently been pulled into the realm of science" but when I challenged that, you offered no justification or defense.

            Second, your last sentence is a loaded question because it assumes that things only exist--or that you can only prove whether something exists--if you can see or measure it. That's called materialism (or empiricism) and it's a baseless presupposition. I don't see any good reason to hold it. If you do, please defend it.

          • Glenn54321

            I am not a physicist, so I cannot speak to this as eloquently as others. The lecture I cited far earlier in this/related thread will elaborate on the "justification or defense" as far as I think necessary. Thus, I didn't feel the need to mention it again.

            All I can say about my "loaded question" is to restate it -- since you claim knowledge of immaterial phenomena, how do you know this knowledge is sound if you can never see or touch it?

            Between the two of us; one which claims that he will believe in things which manifest in nature somehow, and one which claims to believe in things in spite of them never, by definition, manifesting in nature -- I am quite sure my position is the one with fewer presuppositions.

          • David Nickol

            I simply claimed that the question of whether souls exist is a philosophical question, not a scientific question.

            It seems to me the existence of a soul is, in some respects, a scientific question if believers in the soul maintain that it is required for abstract thought (on the theory that something purely material is not capable of abstract or rational thought). If computer scientists succeed in building a computer that clearly demonstrates the power of abstract thought, believers in the soul will, I think, have to concede, at minimum, that the soul is in fact not necessary for abstract thought. Either that, or they will have to maintain that God infuses souls into computers of a certain high level of sophistication to give them the power of abstract thought.

            Believers in the soul as the "organ" of abstract thought would have to consider the Star Trek characters Commander Data and The Doctor impossible, it seems to me, since neither one could have a spiritual soul.

    • Conscious Objector

      Ed Feser has a useful commentary (on Carroll's recent debate with Bill Craig) in which he addresses how where Carroll is coming from rather misses the point: http://edwardfeser.blogspot.co.uk/2014/07/carroll-on-laws-and-causation.html?m=1

  • Martin Sellers

    Fr. Barron. You mention that God is not a "supreme being" and thus has no rival, and seeks no rival to human flourishing. This thought always points me to the concept of the Devil. Why has Christianity tended to paint the Devil as "God's Rival" (albeit an inferior rival) when, by your definition, that concept makes no sense.

    • blkequus

      The Devil is God's Rival for our love, not a rival in the sense that he another god.

      • David Nickol

        The Devil is God's Rival for our love, not a rival in the sense that he another god.

        The devil wants our love? That is something I have never heard before and can make no sense of.

        • The Fulton of West Sheen St.

          Rival in the sense that the Devil does not want our love directed towards God but instead towards ourselves in a dysfunctional self-love. A rival in that the Devil wants to defeat God.

          If God is the the National Basketball Association than the Devil is just another team working for God (Probably the Celtics!).

          Terrible analogy but the take away is that God is the game, the Devil is a pawn.

    • jakael02

      Christianity has painted satan as a fallen angel, not a rival to God. The two sides battle for souls, which creates the illusion that they are two equals battling for opposite goals.

    • The Fulton of West Sheen St.

      Christianity (Roman Catholicism to be exact) holds that the Devil is God's creation. Likened more to a dog on a leash than the equal to his master.

      The Devil is considered to be a fallen angel. So his equal would be found among the angels.

  • All4Life

    So, I understand that because God is unseen by our created eyes, He has chosen to make Himself visible and apparent to those around us, by filling us with Him self, His essence. Thus the horror of our choosing sin, our way, over His way.

  • jmm1234

    If God is so satisfied with his creation, why so much evil and suffering in the world? If God loves us why do innocent children suffer?

    • jakael02

      I think we ask this question when we have not yet come to know God's love. God does not cause evil, man causes evil when we pursuit our selfishness.

    • The Fulton of West Sheen St.

      So what is evil? Evil can't just be pain or things we really don't like because that's what suffering is. And if "evil" and "suffering" have the same definition than "evil" is a redundant concept.

      Rather, I think evil just occurs when things aren't the way they are supposed to be. But if the opposite of evil or "good" is the way things are supposed to be and in fact things are supposed to be a certain way, that implies there is a design or a plan for the universe. Which would imply there is a designer or planner....or God.

      So evil rather than showing God does not exist possibly serves as indirect evidence that God does exist. And that He has a plan or design for the universe that evil goes against. And that God can ultimately redeem us from evil.

      The short answer: God allows great evil so that a greater good may come of it.

    • Fr.Sean

      Hi jmm1234,
      That's one of the best proofs against God being omnipotent as well as all loving. the book of Job address is it to some extent. we can't know everything in this life, we simply don't have the ability to grasp everything, but if we're faithful (more specifically we try to be faithful) God will sustain us and restore everything to us. Secondly the incarnation is God's way of saying, "i know you have to deal with this phenomenon called unjust suffering, in order to show you that i am not above or indifferent to suffering i will become one of you and suffer anything you might have to suffer so that you will know i'm with you in your suffering."

  • GCBill

    "The true God is the non-contingent ground of the contingent universe, the reason there is something rather than nothing, the ultimate explanation for why the world should exist at all. Accordingly, he is not a being, but rather, as Thomas Aquinas put it, ipsum esse subsistens, the sheer act of to be itself."
    ...
    "God doesn’t need us. The sheerly unconditioned act of to be itself is in possession of every possible ontological perfection, and hence requires no completion, no improvement. He needs nothing. And yet the universe, in all of its astonishing complexity and beauty, exists. Since God could not have made it out of self-interest, it can only follow that he made it out of love, which is to say, a desire to share his goodness. Though there is always the danger that this sort of language will be misconstrued in a sentimental way, it must be said: God continually loves the universe into existence."

    Understood. Now, pray tell, how is this an answer to the question of contingency?

    Positing a necessary being to explain the existence of contingent beings doesn't explain why any particular set of contingent beings obtain, as opposed to some other set. Your answer, that divine conservation is an act of love, ends up entailing that all visible things should exist. It's logically possible for God to love the entire set of possible contingent beings into existence. Furthermore, if God wants to share his love with non-actualized contingencies, and we (rightfully) assume that this God is maximally loving, we're left with good reason to suspect that God would "want" to create all possible beings. So why didn't classical theists invent their own kind of modal realism long before the analytic philosophers?

    I think the conclusion I've articulated is absurd, but we have strong reason to expect it given the presentation of God in this article and elsewhere. Ergo I propose it as an argument against the God of classical theism.

    • Robert Barron

      Friend, what's absurd is your contention that God is obligated to make all possible finite beings! In point of fact, God is obligated to make anything at all. Why this particular set of finite beings exists is a function of the divine will, which always remains opaque to us. And how do you know that, given sufficient time, God will not eventually make all possible things?
      As to modal reasoning, take a good look at the de auxillis controversy of the sixteenth century. Catholic theologians were practically obsessed with counter-factual conditionals, possible worlds, God's middle knowledge, etc. long before analytical philosophy came on the scene.

      • GCBill

        I deliberately avoided using the word "obligation" because it has connotations that I do not wish to invoke. Rather, I mean to say that God has logical reason to will the creation of all possible finite beings. They needn't all exist on the same timescale, or even in the same universe. Yet, if God is only willing to love some things into existence and not others, I'm not sure how He can be considered maximally loving. For I can imagine a God that 1) fulfills the criteria for the arguments of classical theism, and 2) loves all possible beings into existence. A hypothetical God who loved fewer beings into existence would be opting not to exercise that particular power of His love in cases where it is possible for Him to do so. If God is maximally loving (or perhaps more accurately, Love itself), we should not expect him to only act in accordance with His nature with regards to some things and not others.

        Basically, we have logical reason to expect the willing of all possible contingencies (though necessarily across different universes, and perhaps different timescales). I think that's an absurdly high ontological cost to pay just to answer the question of why anything exists at all.

        I confess myself disappointed by your appeal to opacity. "There's a reason, but we can never know what it is" is an intellectually unsatisfying termination to what was originally intended as a solution to the problem of brute facts. I realize that saying there's an explanation in principle is different than saying there's no explanation, but the end result in both cases is unintelligibility. Furthermore, the option of positing epistemically-inaccessible "deeper reasons" is not only available to the theist. Expect, when naturalists do it, they get accused of being "anti-intellectual."

        In any case, your description of 16th-century modal logic has got me interested. At some point I intend to read more about those thinkers, as I'd like to expand my knowledge of formal logic.

        • Robert Barron

          Again, I would recommend looking at the de auxiliis arguments. Though God can conceive of every possible state of affairs, he is by no means obliged to ratify every one of them. He in fact ratifies the world that he desires. The details of that, I'm afraid, are shrouded in the darkness of the divine will, which we cannot, even in principle fathom. The principle problem with your way of presenting things here is that you are conceiving of action not taken in regard to a pure hypothetical as somehow a failure to love.

          • GCBill

            "The principle problem with your way of presenting things here is that you are conceiving of action not taken in regard to a pure hypothetical as somehow a failure to love."

            If actualizing a purely hypothetical contingent being is an act of love, then I don't see how it couldn't be.

          • Robert Barron

            But that's just the point: it's not necessarily a failure to love. Suppose that God conceives the possible existence of a person who will be supremely wicked or whose existence will preclude some particular good that God wants to see realized. Then it would be an act of love not to ratify that state of affairs.
            Let me get to the deeper issue. To use your language, God already "maximally loves" in the measure that he loves his own goodness. There is no love greater than this, and since God is properly unconditioned, love toward any conditioned object or person does not "add to" this primal love. Therefore, God fully realizes the expectation you have put on him even before he decides to create.

          • GCBill

            God created the world out of love. But He already perfectly loves himself. So God's love of himself + His love of the world = God's love of Himself. So this supposed "act of love" by God yields, on the net, no more love than if He had done nothing for all eternity.

            It turns out I was wrong. Far from God having reason to create everything, it appears He lacks a reason to create anything. Or at the very least, a reason to create this world over one which contains nothing but a floating ball of snakes. Which He ultimately chooses appears to be wholly arbitrary in the absence of any way to discern God's will.

            Of course, you can always appeal to hidden reasons why things must be so. But your worldview is not unique in that regard. I might as well stick with some set of apparently-brute facts if kicking the can down the road leads to a cul-de-sac of ineffability.

          • Robert Barron

            The problem is that you're thinking of God as one big being alongside of others. In point of fact, God is ipsum esse, the sheer act of to be itself. The upshot of this is that creation involves no "increase" in the perfection of being. Therefore, what you say is perfectly right: there is no more love after creation than there was before. The mathematical comparison is helpful here: adding twelve to infinity doesn't make infinity any greater than it was before. Once you grasp this unique modality of God's manner of being, the problems that you pose more or less evanesce.

          • David Nickol

            The mathematical comparison is helpful here: adding twelve to infinity doesn't make infinity any greater than it was before.

            Infinity plus anything is still infinity, but some infinities are larger than others.

          • Robert Barron

            Whatever that means in a mathematical framework, it doesn't apply to God. God plus the world is not greater than God alone.

          • Ye Olde Statistician

            Mr. Nickol is using "infinity" as regards the category of quantity.

          • David Nickol

            And so was Father Barron when he spoke of "adding twelve to infinity."

          • AngelaT

            Though you don't get to those higher levels by addition. Analogies only go so far...

          • GCBill

            I am trying to draw conclusions about God's will given that He is in a separate ontological category. You tell me that my conclusions are incorrect, and furthermore, that I'm not entitled to draw such conclusions because the answer lies beyond what humans can possibly understand.

            I'm left wondering why I should believe in God to explain the existence of anything, given that God's reasons for creating anything are unknowable. The epistemic ticket I'm being offered is only valid for the trip from "no final cause" to "unknowable final cause," and I think the ontological cost is too steep for such a short ride.

          • Robert Barron

            Well you should believe in God because a radically contingent universe cannot finally explain itself. Once we've established God's existence, we can move on to more refined issues, such as the one you've raised. We know that God has made the universe out of love, since God stands in need of nothing outside of himself. Now the precise details of this: why exactly he made the world that he made, why he ratified this or that state of affairs, is, as I've explained, finally opaque to us. I don't know any way around this, since God's mind is infinite and his will is free. What I've strongly resisted is your insinuation that God's failure to ratify every possible state of affairs somehow implies a limitation of his love.

          • George

            "radically contingent" based on what? I've seen you try to defend that assertion on your youtube channel. Did you eventually do more than point to examples of change within the universe?

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

            "radically contingent" based on what? I've seen you try to defend that assertion on your youtube channel. Did you eventually do more than point to examples of change within the universe?

            George, the universe is radically contingent because at it's roots (thus, "radical") it does not have to exist (thus, "contingent"). It came into existence from nothing, roughly 13 billions years ago, and thus doesn't explain itself.

          • George

            "it does not have to exist"

            how do you know that?

            I'm familiar with the cosmic inflationary model. First I'm not sure what you mean by coming into existence from nothing (do you believe that, or do you believe it came into existence from yahweh?). And does the universe being in a denser state further back in time really constitute that?

          • George

            Isn't existing the bare minimum for actions to be taken?

            Or if I keep it really simple, don't delve to deep, and start from "god is the act", well then why not just call everything that happens "god"?

          • David Nickol

            Though God can conceive of every possible state of affairs, he is by no means obliged to ratify every one of them. He in fact ratifies the world that he desires.

            If God is capable of conceiving of every possible reality, but he "ratifies" only one, then it is difficult to imagine that he is not totally and completely responsible for everything that happens. If he conceives of a reality in which his first two material creatures do not sin, and he conceives of a reality in which his first two material creatures do sin, and he chooses to "ratify" the second, then he is responsible.

            I can grasp (I think) arguments for why God's foreknowledge does not determine a freely made choice if there is one and only one reality. But if, from an infinite number of possible realities, God chooses to "ratify" one and make it the reality, then I see no way of saying that everything that happens within that reality was God's choice.

          • Robert Barron

            What he ratifies in regard to human beings is precisely the free response of human beings to his grace. He sees this state of affairs as a conditional possibility in his scientia media.

          • David Nickol

            I am not sure I understand you, but I am also not sure you have understood me.

            If God, out of an infinite number of possible realities, in which he sees how an infinite number of people will "freely" act, chooses to make one and only one of those possible realities the real reality, then he has chosen exactly what will happen.

          • George

            what determines what every possible state of affairs is?

    • TomD123

      (1) Positing a necessary being does not explain why any particular set of contingent beings exists rather than another set. However given that it does explain why the contingent things exist, it is reasonable then to ask why this set rather than another. The answer must lie in something about the nature of the necessary being given that it is the cause of the contingent ones.

      (2) The fact that God's creation is an act of love does not entail that all contingent possibilities should exist. It is logically possible that God loves the entire set of contingent possibilities into existence, that much is correct. I think the problem is in how you define God's maximal love.

      God being maximally loving can mean different things in different contexts. With the background of classical theism, I would argue that there are three main points:
      (A) God's goodness is such that He loves by necessity, His own nature.
      (B) What God wills, He wills in a perfect manner. This basically means He does not "change his mind" or have uncertainties about what he willed, etc.
      (C) God wills that created things manifest the divine goodness. Hence He desires everything to reach its end according to its natural mode of existence.

      I don't see that any of these explanations of Divine Goodness entails that God must create all things.
      You seem to be taking God's infinite goodness to mean something along the lines of
      (D) God desires that His goodness is manifest in every possible way. Yet this does not follow from A, B, or C.

      (3) Maybe another way of thinking about this is that supposing God did create more than He has in fact created. Maybe this would in fact be a lesser manifestation of the Divine Goodness. In other words, maybe this would detract from His overall goal in creation. Hence a limited creation on the whole would be better. It is speculative, but it would block the idea that a theist must accept modal realism.

    • Ye Olde Statistician

      Positing a necessary being to explain the existence of contingent beings

      But it's not "posited." It's concluded. It's at the end of a syllogism, not at the beginning.

      why didn't classical theists invent their own kind of modal
      realism long before the analytic philosophers?

      See "Theory of suppositions." E.g., William of Heytesbury, 14th cent.

  • Chee Chak

    Well, I'm writing here to let atheists know that I think they’re right, at least about God being an invisible friend. One of the most fundamental mistakes made by atheists both old and new is to suppose that God is a supreme being, an impressive item within or alongside the universe.

    Colossians 1:15-18
    He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. For by him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things were created by him and for him. He is before all things, and in him all things hold together. And he is the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning and the firstborn from among the dead, so that in everything he might have the supremacy.

    Well I for one would like to have an invisible all powerful friend/entity who had my back. and who had my bests interests at heart and promised me eternal life. But still sounds like wishful thinking to me or self delusion to me.This article seems only to further obfuscate the question of an entity such as god existing or not.Convoluted head games and "spiritual" gymnastics in my humble estimation.As much as I would would like to believe, there is as yet no compelling evidence or reason to sway me. As Fox Mulder says....I Want To Believe.

    • Fr.Sean

      Hi Chee Chak,

      Well I for one would like to have an invisible all powerful
      friend/entity who had my back. and who had my bests interests at heart
      and promised me eternal life. But still sounds like wishful thinking to
      me or self delusion to me.

      That desire you have is either a possible reality or it isn't. Most desires are present because they have some way to reach fulfillment. Many Christians claim that that desire is fulfilled, or in other words they get evidence of God's presence and God love through making a choice to believe. if you take that desire, along with the awareness of an ultimate good, a source of love, the innate awareness of an eternity and reflect, perhaps even pray about them you may find that the desire is meant to be fulfilled. Please be aware though, that God doesn't expect perfection, or for you to do a whole lot of good things, just humility and an honest search. remember that if Christianity is true than in Jesus' own words, he came to save sinners not the just. in other words, those who know they need his help, and not those who think they can do it on their own.

  • staircaseghost

    "For centuries prior to the Enlightenment, some of the very brightest people that have ever lived thought precisely the opposite."

    For centuries prior to the Enlightenment, there were no dentists, no anaesthesia, no women's suffrage, and people didn't know you had to wash your hands after going to the bathroom. But even before Hume, people could spot a fallacious Argument from Tradition and an Appeal to Authority.

    "One of the most fundamental mistakes made by atheists both old and new is to suppose that God is a supreme being, an impressive item within or alongside the universe."

    And what sorts of websites will I pull up if I google "supreme being"? Nothing but misinformed atheists?

    "[T]he God presented by the Bible and by classical theism has nothing to do with it. The true God is the non-contingent ground of the contingent universe, the reason there is something rather than nothing, the ultimate explanation for why the world should exist at all."

    "At a lodging place on the way, the NON-CONTINGENT GROUND OF THE CONTINGENT UNIVERSE met Moses and was about to kill him. But Zipporah took a flint knife, cut off her son’s foreskin and touched Moses’ feet with it. 'Surely you are a bridegroom of blood to me,' she said. So the NON-CONTINGENT GROUND OF THE CONTINGENT UNIVERSE let him alone."

    "Though there is always the danger that this sort of language will be misconstrued in a sentimental way, it must be said: God continually loves the universe into existence."

    If there is "always a danger", then why keep talking in this way? Seriously. I'm trying to understand why a person explaining workplace safety protocols, or algebra, or how an automatic transmission works would go out of their way not to confuse their audience, but for some reason people describing their religious beliefs feel compelled to take this risk. I'm sure it's not out of any sinister motivation, because you don't seem like a sinister fellow, but I'm just at a loss to understand why someone won't just say what they mean -- especially after opening with a complaint about how atheists old and new keep misunderstanding you?

    • Mary J. Nelson

      Hmmm....and when someone tries to explain what they mean (i.e. "non-contingent ground of the contingent universe"), they get snarky commentary like this. The point that Fr. Barron is making is rather obvious, so you might want to debate that since purposely misunderstanding what a person obviously means while complaining that people don't say what they mean seems...well..sort of silly and counterproductive? [In any case, the misquote from the Old Testament is amusing but one must remember (if one ever knew) that the Old Testament was written in Hebrew, a poetic but not particularly precise, language. One of the reasons the Apostle Paul wrote in Greek is the more precise nature of that language and the greater ease in delivering nuanced ideas. ]

      • David Nickol

        One of the reasons the Apostle Paul wrote in Greek is the more precise nature of that language and the greater ease in delivering nuanced ideas.

        I have never heard this before. Can you cite a source? It seems only reasonable to assume that Paul, as the "Apostle to the Gentiles," wrote in Greek because that is the language that was spoken by the persons he was writing to!

        • Mary J. Nelson

          Maybe I should have phrased the above sentence differently. i.e. "It was fortuitous that the Apostle Paul wrote in Greek since the precise nature of Greek allowed greater ease in delivering nuanced ideas". Though it may have been working of God rather than mere chance that such a precise language had developed by Paul's time and that said language was the common language of the day. (Just to organize his theological concepts in his own mind would have required Paul to have access to a language such as Greek?)

    • Kevin Aldrich

      Fr. Barron is just explaining something about God using philosophical rather than religious language, since atheists don't accept religion but hopefully will accept philosophy.

      In regard to workplace safety protocols, algebra, or automatic transmissions, the average person would be thoroughly confused by unfamiliar terms and procedures that made no sense if he just walked into a class about any one of them.

    • Ye Olde Statistician

      For centuries prior to the Enlightenment, there were no dentists, no
      anaesthesia, no women's suffrage, and people didn't know you had to wash
      your hands after going to the bathroom.

      You have a flawed grasp of history. The dental pelican was invented in the 14th century. Soporific sponges are even older. Women could vote in manorial elections if they were the property-holder. (Women lost the right to vote, and even to own property, in the Enlightenment, when slavery also made a comeback.)

      But even before Hume, people could spot a fallacious Argument

      Indeed. They spotted a fair number in Hume's philosophical writings.

      And what sorts of websites will I pull up if I google "supreme being"? Nothing but misinformed atheists?

      Or their intellectual brethren: fundamentalists. (As evidenced by the same tendency to -snip- proof-texts and present them in isolation, as if they demonstrated something important.) But atheists are not the only folk who are misinformed, especially in the Late Modern Ages.

  • E.F. Paredes

    Father, this is a great article. It's also a reminder for the faithful with regards to our relationship with God. Too often we get impatient when God "doesn't answer our prayers". We need to remember what you told us in your post - that God doesn't need us. Neither does he serve us. It's the opposite that is true.

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

    Lawrence Krauss and Richard Dawkins believe a whole host of invisible things exist, no reasonable atheist would say that such beliefs in Dark Matter, magnetic fields and so on are unreasonable. The distinction is that these things are in some way detectable empirically. Our concern is not with the invisibleness of the friend, but the imaginariness of the friend.

    I think the description of the nature of this friend is too vague to amount to anything that is capable of being called a friendship. And, Fr Barron seems to redefine friendship as to make some kind of sense in this way. Something about us being made in the image of him means we are friends?

    The concern is that billions of people accept that they have a relationship with a mind that can control the cosmos. That this being is in fact imaginary, but reinforced with constant indoctrination and appeals to the mystery and beauty of the universe. This would all be fine and good if people did not believe that this relationship were vitally important and informative in some way to the conduct of humans. That this being is real and makes the words of the bible binding on us in some fundamental way, above and beyond the laws we make ourselves.

    If it is all true, great, show me how, show me why I should believe. If it is not, and you are mistaken, then indeed you are being quite foolish and needlessly dangerous.

    • BrianKillian

      "If it is all true, great, show me how, show me why I should believe"

      What could someone show you or tell you that would convince you?

      "If it is not, and you are mistaken, then indeed you are being quite foolish and needlessly dangerous."

      Well yeah, Paul said as much thousands of years ago - "if Christ has not been raised then we are of all people the most to be pitied".

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

        I don't know what would convince me, but if God exists, he does. I don't even know what it is you believe in really. What is god, love? I believe love exists, but I don't see why I would call it "god", and so on. Make a clear specific claim about what God is and I might be able to explain the kind of evidence I would find convincing.

        So I agree with Paul on that.

        • http://ephesians4-15.blogspot.ca/ Randy Gritter

          "I believe love exists,"

          What do you mean by that? Do you believe it is an objective good or it simply describes certain brain states? That is to ask whether the live you believe exists is non-material .

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

            I use the "love" label for many things, a set of emotions, relationships, yes, brain states and so on. And no, not an objective good or immaterial "thing" that created the universe and told ancient Hebrews to stone disobedient children to death.

            What is God?

          • http://ephesians4-15.blogspot.ca/ Randy Gritter

            You are missing the point. When you say "I believe love exists" do you mean any immaterial thing at all? Is there a virtue called love that exists apart from anybody's brain?

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

            I understand that you may be talking about something else when you use the word "love". No, I am not talking about anything immaterial, I am a materialist. Yes, I am talking about something other than brain states, I am talking about bodies, events, relationships, but sure most of what I call "love" is brain states. All of these are material. I do not see any point in labeling this as "god" as well.

          • http://ephesians4-15.blogspot.ca/ Randy Gritter

            Obviously there is no point in labeling these things "god" if that is all they are. The question comes whether there is any point in labeling them "love?" I mean in the material view "love" reduces to something more akin to nausea than to what the poets write about. It is just a feeling evolution has left us with to help us reproduce more efficiently. If that is all you believe love is then it seems quite inaccurate to say "I believe love exists" without clarifying that you have a radically different understanding of the word.

          • David Nickol

            I mean in the material view "love" reduces to something more akin to nausea than to what the poets write about. It is just a feeling evolution has left us with to help us reproduce more efficiently.

            Love is exactly what it is whether the universe was created by God in six days or whether everything popped into existence for no reason at all beginning with a random quantum fluctuation.

            Would you really stop loving your family if somehow it were conclusively proven that there is no God? Do you thing atheists can't love?

          • http://ephesians4-15.blogspot.ca/ Randy Gritter

            It is not a question of somebody's understanding of love controlling how they love. I am sure it does make some difference but at root we are all either pursing a real virtue or chasing an illusion. I am just trying to be clear about what it is materialism means about love.

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

            I don't know how to clarify it anymore than what I said before, it is a whole mass of experiences, feelings and events. I'm not trying to reduce it to anything, it seems that you believe it is more than these things. What?

          • http://ephesians4-15.blogspot.ca/ Randy Gritter

            I know you are not trying to love reduce it to anything. The question is whether it follows from you materialist assumptions. I think it does. Then the next question is whether that conclusion makes materialism itself implausible.

          • David Nickol

            I don't see how love is any different if you are a materialist or a "spiritualist." What we experience is what we experience. It does not make any sense to me to say, "If evolution is true . . . " or "If materialism is true . . . ." then love is something other than what we all experience it and acknowledge it to be. It is not as if materialists don't love their parents, spouses, and children because they are convinced that love is "just a brain state."

            Then the next question is whether that conclusion makes materialism itself implausible.

            That is a different issue than saying, "If materialists are right, then love is just a complex chemical reaction." But I fail to see how the existence of God explains (or permits the existence of) love any better than the theory of evolution. "God did it" is not really an explanation.

          • http://ephesians4-15.blogspot.ca/ Randy Gritter

            It is not as if materialists don't love their parents, spouses, and children because they are convinced that love is "just a brain state."

            Of course they experience love. Yet how do they understand that experience? Does love obligate you at all? If you see love as a higher good, something that trumps other things, then you will make sacrifices for it.

            If love is just a brain state that comes from some evolutionary history humans have then it is neither higher or lower than anything else. It just is. Maybe we can design a chemical to mimic that brain state. Maybe we can get better feelings from money than we can from love.

            The existence of the non-material world gives you answers for all of this. Then brains states are not the end. They are simply things that indicate you are connecting with this non-material virtue we call love. By manipulating the indicator you have not achieved the same thing.

            Like plugging your nose does not make rotten food good. It just makes it harder to know it is rotten. Same with the brains ability to discern love. Mess with it and you won't know if you are loving or being loved.

            When love is reduced to a material thing that can be manipulated like any other material thing then it cannot be a great good for us to pursue. I am not even saying "God did it" at this point. Just that what we know as love cannot be material. Either we have to say it does not exist or we have to say materialism is false. It does not prove Christianity or even theism. You could believe in something like virtue ethics and still be an atheist.

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

            But we are not talking about my worldview or assumptions. I am happy to do so, but the question is what is God?

            How do I distinguish God from non-God?

          • http://ephesians4-15.blogspot.ca/ Randy Gritter

            Sorry, I just latched onto your statement that you believed in love. If you really believe in love as an objective thing then you are very close to believing in God. God is love. If you think about it, if love is real then does it have to be capable of love? That is to say, does love have to be a person and not a thing? You are closer than you think.

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

            You say God is love, but surely you mean more than that? God entered time, took human form, literally has a resurrected body. I don't believe "love" is capable of these things. I believe jazz exists too, similarly it is not capable of these things. Clearly we are using "love" in different ways. Let's not worry about the labels, can you describe what you mean by "god"?

          • http://ephesians4-15.blogspot.ca/ Randy Gritter

            can you describe what you mean by "god"?

            This is actually an impossible question to answer. God is infinite so the human mind can't grasp who He is. We know what God is not. He is not a being in the universe like a flying spaghetti monster. He is instead the ground of all being.

            Then we have how God reveals Himself to us. God is love. That means how much we love and how close we are to God are the same thing. God comes to us through Jesus, through the sacraments, through His word, through faith, through prayer, etc. So many ways to approach God yet none totally defines Him. That is what you expect from an infinite being.

          • David Nickol

            You are closer than you think.

            I have no doubt that you mean well, but don't you think you are being just a tad patronizing? You are, in effect—or so it seems to me—patting Brian Green Adams on the head and saying, "You're on the right track, son. Just keep going and you will find out how right I am."

          • http://ephesians4-15.blogspot.ca/ Randy Gritter

            Maybe so. To the extent that pride is a factor I guess I should be more considerate. I really do feel that an atheist who is honestly pursuing truth and goodness has a lot more in common with a serious Catholic than he thinks. I don't mean to imply he will become Catholic any time now.

      • David Nickol

        What could someone show you or tell you that would convince you?

        How about the following (Mark 16:17-18)?

        These signs will accompany those who believe: in my name they will drive out demons, they will speak new languages. They will pick up serpents [with their hands], and if they drink any deadly thing, it will not harm them. They will lay hands on the sick, and they will recover.

        • BrianKillian

          Your generally saying that miracles would constitute evidence. But what constitutes evidence of a miracle?

          Judging by the responses to the various miracle articles here on SN, I don't think many of the atheists here would agree with you that the occurrence of those signs listed in Mark's gospel would be evidence.

          • Michael Murray

            The miracles that are reported and discussed here are few and far between and capable of other interpretation. If they were consistent and effective that would be completely different. If every time somebody got cancer they got cured by a Christian laying on hands it would be a phenomena very hard to ignore even for an atheist. Yes we might wonder if it was really alien or future technology but I think nevertheless you would find us lining up for mass.

          • David Nickol

            If Catholic priests could make cancer go away even in cases where oncologists failed, and could restore sight to the blind, and perform the other kinds of healing that Jesus is portrayed as effecting in the Gospels, I think there would be many, many more believers.

            As I read the passage in Mark, Jesus is simply giving to his followers certain of the same kind of abilities he exhibited. But they don't seem to have that same power today. Why not? I have no doubt that priests, bishops, and popes who drink poison react to it exactly like the average atheist or agnostic. Would you slip poison into the water of your local bishop, confident in the knowledge that it wouldn't harm him?

            The problem with trying to use alleged miracles to convince atheists is that they occur very rarely and are generally poorly documented. If a class of people (priests, or bishops) or even one person (the pope) could consistently work the same kind of miracles that Jesus is depicted as working in the Gospels, even the most extreme skeptics would have to admit something was happening.

  • David Nickol

    One of the most fundamental mistakes made by atheists both old and new is to suppose that God is a supreme being, an impressive item within or alongside the universe.

    It seems impossible that atheists would make this mistake. Since they don't believe God exists, they don't conceive of him as any kind of being with any location. Perhaps what is meant is that atheists get the impression from theists that they (the theists) think of God this way.

    Having gone to Catholic elementary school in the 1950s where the Baltimore Catechism was the basis of our religious education, I learned in the earliest grades that God was the "supreme being."

    1. Who made us?
    God made us.

    2. Who is God?
    God is the Supreme Being, infinitely perfect, who made all things and keeps them in existence.

    • Chee Chak

      Having gone to Catholic elementary school in the 1950s where the
      Baltimore Catechism was the basis of our religious education, I learned
      in the earliest grades that God was the "supreme being."

      As was my experience also!...so I suppose we can be forgiven for being dense little petunias in the onion patch:-)

      • Ye Olde Statistician

        Or perhaps for taking the instruction of small children barely at the age of reason as final and dispositive.

        Since [atheists] don't believe God exists, they don't conceive of him as any kind of being with any location.

        Then why are all their arguments predicated against the fundamentalist concept of God? They are for the most part very particular about the sort of God in which they don't believe.

        • David Nickol

          Then why are all their arguments predicated against the fundamentalist concept of God? They are for the most part very particular about the sort of God in which they don't believe.

          I think the "new atheists" are attacking the popular conceptions of God, which almost all believers (or so it seems to me) cling to in one way or another, even the ones who are capable of lofty philosophical discussions filled with Latin terms. The "new atheists" attack the God of the Bible (especially the Old Testament) and what I call the God of everyday piety—for example, the God of people interviewed on television news who thank God for diverting the path of the tornado so it spared their house and family and killed the neighbors.

          • Ye Olde Statistician

            I think the "new atheists" are attacking the popular conceptions of God

            But this would then legitimize attacks on the "popular conceptions" of, say, evolution. And the derogating of those capable of "lofty discussions" filled with Greco-Latin terms.

            The "new atheists" attack the God
            of the Bible (especially the Old Testament)

            Yes. For some reason the Jewish scriptures always seem to draw the most ire.

            During the 19th century a series of novelty religions arose that all seemed fascinated with minutiae of the Old Testament: Seventh Day Adventists, Jehovah's Witnesses, Mormons. The latter even wrote a new old testament in pseudo-King James English! Perhaps they were influenced by the rise of science as a profession, since not coincidentally, science also insists on literal readings of its texts!

          • David Nickol

            But this would then legitimize attacks on the "popular conceptions" of, say, evolution.

            Well, of course, most attacks on evolution are attacks on "popular conceptions" of evolution, or at least the kinds of attacks that I see. But you left something very important out of what I said:

            I think the "new atheists" are attacking the popular conceptions of God, which almost all believers (or so it seems to me) cling to in one way or another, even the ones who are capable of lofty philosophical discussions filled with Latin terms.

            It seems to me it is almost impossible to talk about praying to God, or loving God, or doing God's will, or even to talk about Jesus without pretty much totally abandoning the "God of philosophy." So while I assume to be true what people very knowledgeable about philosophy say about the weakness of "new atheist" attacks on the God of philosophy, it seems to me that the God of philosophy and the God of religion and ordinary piety don't have much in common.

          • Ye Olde Statistician

            It seems to me it is almost impossible to talk about praying to God, or
            loving God, or doing God's will, or even to talk about Jesus without
            pretty much totally abandoning the "God of philosophy."

            It seems to me it is almost impossible to watch "March of the Penguins" or gush about saving the Pandas without
            pretty much totally abandoning the "evolution of science."

            it seems to me that the God of philosophy and the God of religion and ordinary piety don't have much in common.

            It seems to me that the horse of biology and the horse of equestrianism and ordinary riding don't have much in common.

          • David Nickol

            It seems to me that the horse of biology and the horse of equestrianism and ordinary riding don't have much in common.

            It is one thing to view a particular process or animal or person from different angles. There is nothing about the "horse of equestrianism" that is in any way incompatible with the "horse of biology." But it seems to me that a being (if it is accurate to call God a being) that exists outside of time is not compatible with a being of whom you make a request, wait, and either do or do not receive a reply.

            The God of the Old Testament is impossible to interpret as the God of philosophy. He gets angry. He has regrets. He holds conversations. He changes his mind. He allegedly (as asserted in other threads) works with the human race as he finds them, gradually bringing them along from savages to potential saints over long periods of time. The God of the Old Testament (or the OT minus the "dark passages") is largely the God of Catholicism. He is the God who knows everything before it happens. In fact, that is not even correct. He is the God for whom there is no before and after. It seems to me it is extraordinarily difficult to interact with a "supreme being" to whom before and after do not apply.

          • Ye Olde Statistician

            No one ever said it would be easy. Maybe that was the reason for that Incarnation thingie.

            You may be unfair to the Jews. Remember, those narratives were assembled and edited by much later generations, and we would have to ask what they meant to those later generations rather than what they may have meant to the wandering tribesmen to whom they reputedly occurred. Perhaps the Jews kept a record of their thinking on the subject, like a talmud or something. Remember, the content of a religion is not necessarily the naive-literal reading of a text -- especially a tendentious naive-literal reading by hostile outsiders. Even when there is a text, there is also a con-text: that which goes with the text.

            That's why a text like Augustine's On Christian doctrine is useful, as it describes how to read the text, including any "dark parts."
            http://www.newadvent.org/fathers/1202.htm

            if it is accurate to call God a being

            It isn't. Look over there: there is Fido, Rover, Spot, ... Which one is "dog"?

            Ans.: "Dog" is not a dog.

            Analogously: God is not a being. He is Being, a/k/a Existence Itself. (This comes from the so-called Third Way, but can also be deduced from the First.) If you asked him his name, he would probably say something like "I am who is." To ask whether Existence exists is a bit strange.

            it seems to me that a being ... that exists outside of time is not compatible with a being of whom you make a request, wait, and either do or do not receive a reply.

            Don't see why not. In a story I am currently writing (or not, inasmuch as this email has distracted me) one of my characters has made a request of me and I have gone back in the text and made suitable alterations in his story. IOW, time for me is not the same as time for the person in the story. Warning: this is an analogy, not an equivalence. Do not point to the non-analogous parts of the imagery and "discover" that they don't compute. Keep in mind that electrical engineers use hydraulic models for electrical circuits, but they don't plug their toasters into the bathtub.

            What part of a mural happens first for someone viewing it from "outside"?

          • George

            so how does the concept of god mean anything, when it's starting to sound like it means everything. (you know, existence and all)

          • Ye Olde Statistician

            Do you mean "god" or "God"? There's a difference.

          • Greg Schaefer

            Hi Y.O.S.

            You say: "For some reason the Jewish scriptures always seem to draw the most ire."

            Given the vast breadth of the bibliography your comments here the past two or three weeks have displayed, I'd be very surprised to learn that you haven't read Harris' "Letter to a Christian Nation" or "The End of Faith," Dawkins' "The God Delusion," Dennett's "Breaking the Spell" and Hitchens' "God Is Not Great." If you've read them, then you are, in fact, quite well acquainted with quite a few of the reasons they focus so much of their argument on the Jewish scriptures/God of the Old Testament.

            You and Father Barron -- together with so many others (e.g., Father John Haught, Alister McGrath, etc.) -- are, of course, free to take on Dawkins, Harris, Dennett and Hitchens as you wish, to criticize their grounding in and knowledge of scholastic theology, and to ridicule the conceptions of God they pillory in their books.

            But, in looking around at our world, which do you suppose comprise the greater sampling of fervent, committed adherents around the world:

            (1) Christians and Muslims captured in Biblical/Koranic literalism/fundamentalism and cultural Iron Age conceptions of an anthropomorphic God being pilloried by Messrs. Dawkins, Harris, Dennett and Hitchens, or

            (2) Christians steeped in the extremely abstract metaphysical theology of a Tillich, the apophatic God that Karen Armstrong writes of, or the post-modern Christian God conceived of by Bishop John Shelby Spong?

            Which, in your view, pose the greater threat to the maintenance of cohesive, tolerant, free modern societies in which a diverse and complex mix of citizens holding wildly disparate religious, social and political views can peacefully co-exist, at a minimum, or thrive (in the best of all worlds)?

            Which type spawns jihadi terrorists?

            Which type produces those who think themselves doing "God's work" by murdering doctors performing legal abortions?

            Which type leads to rioting over the publication of cartoons and to boycotts and threats to cease funding of museums over exhibitions of art portraying revered religious figures in ways deemed offensive by their religious followers?

            Which type results in the condemnation of and hotile discrimination practiced against those humans having same sex rather than opposite sex orientations?

            "Some reason," indeed.

          • Ye Olde Statistician

            If religion is to be condemned, let it be for crimes peculiar to religion and not for those common to all mankind. For example, consider the Terror carried out by the French adherents of Reason, whose rate of execution would have put the taliban to shame had they not begun to execute one another.

            It is also true that a culture can go mad. No culture was more scientificalistic and modern than Germany in the early 20th century. In fact, when things fell apart in the wake of the Great War, their prejudices had to be framed as "Race Science" (Rassenwissenschaft). But we don't blame modernity as such for the madness.

            The greatest slaughter of human beings in this past century has been carried out by governments; but we don't say that government per se is a problem. Well, unless you're an anarchist; and that carries its own problems.

            It is also true that there is a struggle going on within the House of Submission, a great deal of which is invisible to Western observers. But it is no more a problem with Islam itself than the urban riots of the 60s were a problem with black skin. People driven to desperation -- or who believe they have been driven to desperation -- will often engage in outbursts of self-destructive behavior.

            That said, one must carefully distinguish between Xish acts and acts of an X. For example, in the early 20th century a large number of black men in the US were lynched by mobs of Democrats. But were they Democratic mobs? That is, was their action informed by the principles (if any) of the Democratic Party, or was it simply that some members of that party acted on rumor and prejudice of their own?

            Which is to say that the all-male cast you mention ought to employ sniper rifles, not shotguns for their attacks. "Religion" is too broad and vague to account for the gallimaufry of acts you've mentioned. Is there even any reason to suppose that Finnish shamans and Buddhist monks are even instantiations of the same kind of thing? The set {X| I don't believe in X} does not ipso facto constitute a scientific genus. There might even be racial, national, ethnic, political, economic, and other factors at work.

        • David Nickol

          Or perhaps for taking the instruction of small children barely at the age of reason as final and dispositive.

          You might have a point if it were only the Baltimore Catechism or elementary school texts that referred to God as the "supreme being," but that is most definitely not the case.

          The Proofs for God's Existence
          General Audience — July 10, 1985 (John Paul II)

          When we ask ourselves "Why do we believe in God?" our faith provides the first response. God has revealed himself to humanity and has entered into contact with it. The supreme revelation of God has come to us through Jesus Christ, God incarnate. We believe in God because God has made himself known to us as the supreme Being, the great "Existent."

          Nostra Aetate

          From ancient times down to the present, there is found among various peoples a certain perception of that hidden power which hovers over the course of things and over the events of human history; at times some indeed have come to the recognition of a Supreme Being, or even of a Father. This perception and recognition penetrates their lives with a profound religious sense.

          Catechism of the Catholic Church

          228 "Hear, O Israel, the LORD our God is one LORD. . ." (Dt 6:4; Mk 12:29). "The supreme being must be unique, without equal. . . If God is not one, he is not God" (Tertullian, Adv. Marc., 1, 3, 5: PL 2, 274).

          APOSTOLIC LETTER
          AUGUSTINUM HIPPONSENSEM
          OF POPE
JOHN PAUL II

          Although God is transcendent and ineffable, Augustine is nevertheless able, starting from the self-awareness of the human person who knows that he exists and knows and loves, and encouraged by Sacred Scripture, which reveals God as the supreme Being (Ex 3:14), highest Wisdom (Wis, passim) and first Love (1 Jn 4:8),

          And so on . . .

          • Chee Chak

            YOS:Then why are all their arguments predicated against the fundamentalist concept of God?

            I think that David answers this question very well in his comment above. Church teaching can't get much more fundamentalist than what he quoted above.

          • Fr.Sean

            Hi David,
            I first need to apologize. i mentioned to you before that if you "had" a conversion that we would be pleased, but then later saw that you had written you challenge both theists as well as atheists. I should be more aware and not simply assume. Secondly, i noticed you mentioned how often either the Baltimore Catechism or other church documents use the phrase "Supreme Being" when referring to God. Naturally pointing out that Fr.Barron highlights many of the atheists think theists think of God as a "Supreme Being". I think you're right in that Fr.Barron perhaps should have been more descriptive. In the following video he points out that although theists and atheists use the same word (although here he only mentions the word "God") they really mean two drastically different things. so it isn't the word per se that Fr.Barron is pointing out but rather the meaning that's important. He says it much better than i do though; http://www.wordonfire.org/WOF-TV/Commentaries-New/Who-God-Is-and-Who-God-Is-Not-A-commentary-by-Fr.aspx
            I hope that helps to clarify what he intended to say in his article.

    • Kevin Aldrich

      I don't see why it is such a big problem that when philosophers and Catholic theologians talk about God they know when they are speaking analogously but ordinary folks don't.

      Yes, God is the supreme being but the average person doesn't know, nor does it make any practical difference in our ordinary lives, that "being" is being used in a different way when it refers to God and when it refers to a creature.

      • Michael Murray

        So when we say the Emperor is wearing clothes we don't mean the same kinds of clothes that the ordinary folk are wearing.

        http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Courtier's_Reply

        • David Nickol

          So when we say the Emperor is wearing clothes we don't mean the same kinds of clothes that the ordinary folk are wearing.

          Oh, I like this!

        • Kevin Aldrich

          Is this some kind of atheist inside joke?

          • Michael Murray

            I guess so. It's explained in that link. Richard Dawkin's used to get a lot of flack along the lines of him not understanding the really sophisticated theological approach to God so therefore being unqualified to comment. PZ Myers wrote a satirical (or just sarcastic by standards here) piece called "The Courtier's Reply" from the perspective of a courtier replying to complaints that the Emperor was naked and saying

            I have considered the impudent accusations of Mr Dawkins with exasperation at his lack of serious scholarship. He has apparently not read the detailed discourses of Count Roderigo of Seville on the exquisite and exotic leathers of the Emperor's boots, nor does he give a moment's consideration to Bellini's masterwork, On the Luminescence of the Emperor's Feathered Hat. We have entire schools dedicated to writing learned treatises on the beauty of the Emperor's raiment, and every major newspaper runs a section dedicated to imperial fashion; Dawkins cavalierly dismisses them all. (...) Dawkins arrogantly ignores all these deep philosophical ponderings to crudely accuse the Emperor of nudity.

            It seems however unpopular with the locals

            Philosopher Edward Feser of the American Enterprise Institute, a critic of the New Atheism movement, has called the Courtier's Reply a rhetorical "pseudo-defense", employed more as a "clever marketing tag" in order for members of the New Atheism movement to avoid criticism of their arguments. Feser terms the Reply "the Myers Shuffle".[8]

          • Kevin Aldrich

            Thanks for your honesty in acknowledging the two sides.

            As I'm sure you know, there are three ways natural theologians reason about God's nature. One is taking human excellences and extending them to their limit, as in God's omniscience. Another is taking human limitations and negating them, as in God's immortality. The third is by way of analogy, as in both we and God have being, but our being is radically different than his.

            There are rational arguments, as you probably also know, to reach these attributes as conclusions, not assumptions.

          • Michael Murray

            There are rational arguments, as you probably also know, to reach these attributes as conclusions, not assumptions.

            Yes but not very good rational arguments. The hypotheses are never well defined and the steps in the so-called argument are rarely persuasive. They seem to be, and many other non-believers, as arguments for those who believe for some other reason such as a personal revelation.

          • Kevin Aldrich

            Can you give an example from Thomas Aquinas of an argument that begins with a hypothesis (?!) and then employs weak or faulty reasoning to reach an unpersuasive conclusion?

          • Michael Murray

            I haven't read Aquinas but any of these

            http://www.strangenotions.com/god-exists/

            would do. They were discussed at length back when that was first posted. If any of these arguments were logically compelling there wouldn't be any atheists.

            What about

            --------------------------------
            1. It is greater for a thing to exist in the mind and in reality than in the mind alone.

            2. "God" means "that than which a greater cannot be thought."

            What is the definition of "greater" being used in 1 ? i.e. what is the ordering. How do you know that there is a thing which is greater than all the others. It is being give the name "God" but how do you know there is one ? 2. should really say "If there is a greatest thing that can be thought let us call it "God" or better "if there are maximal elements for this ordering let us call one of them "God" as you haven't got proof of uniqueness or existence.

            ---------------------------------
            1. Real moral obligation is a fact. We are really, truly, objectively obligated to do good and avoid evil.
            2. Either the atheistic view of reality is correct or the "religious" one.
            3. But the atheistic one is incompatible with there being moral obligation.

            1. hypothesis. 2. False dichotomy. Maybe deism is true. Maybe pantheism is true. Maybe reincarnation is true. 3. Nope it's incompatible with moral obligation coming from a God. Atheism doesn't say anything about karma.

            ---------------------------------

            1. Every natural, innate desire in us corresponds to some real object that can satisfy that desire.
            2. But there exists in us a desire which nothing in time, nothing on earth, no creature can satisfy.
            3. Therefore there must exist something more than time, earth and creatures, which can satisfy this desire.
            4. This something is what people call "God" and "life with God forever."

            1. hypothesis. 2. hypothesis. 3. Weak argument it could just be that 2 has just contradicted 1.

            --------------------------------------

            Or have a look at Q Quine's discussion of forcing arguments

            http://quinesqueue.blogspot.com.au/2013/08/understanding-forcing-arguments.html

            --------------------------------------

          • Kevin Aldrich

            None of these have anything to do with the kinds of arguments Aquinas uses to conclude that God exists or to reason to any attribute of God. The first is Anselm's ontological argument that Aquinas rejected.

          • Michael Murray

            Well when I look at the wikipedia argument for Aquinas arguments the first one is summarised as

            1. Some things are in motion.

            2. A thing cannot, in the same respect and in the same way, move itself: it requires a mover.

            3. An infinite regress of movers is impossible.

            4. Therefore, there is an unmoved mover from whom all motion proceeds.

            5. This mover is what we call God.

            We have been over this before I am sure. I don't see that (2) holds because of quantum theory. I don't see why (3) holds. I don't see that (4) holds. Why can't there be two or more unmoved movers ? I don't see why the unmoved mover is what we call God. God has a lot of other properties.

            I know we can argue about this forever and I doubt I have the energy to do that. My only real point is that this is a weak argument with lots of definitional issues and problems. Or at least it appears to be to me and many other ex- and non- believers. A strong argument, of the kind I am used to in mathematics, has no definitional issues and no problems with getting from one step to the next. It is convincing regardless of ones personal feelings about the topic in question. The world of mathematicians doesn't divide, for example, into fermatists and afermatists who squabble endlessly as to whether or not Fermat's last theorem has been proved.

          • Kevin Aldrich

            Here is the whole argument.

            It is certain, and evident to our senses, that in the world some things are in motion. Now whatever is in motion is put in motion by another, for nothing can be in motion except it is in potentiality to that towards which it is in motion; whereas a thing moves inasmuch as it is in act. For motion is nothing else than the reduction of something from potentiality to actuality. But nothing can be reduced from potentiality to actuality, except by something in a state of actuality. Thus that which is actually hot, as fire, makes wood, which is potentially hot, to be actually hot, and thereby moves and changes it. Now it is not possible that the same thing should be at once in actuality and potentiality in the same respect, but only in different respects. For what is actually hot cannot simultaneously be potentially hot; but it is simultaneously potentially cold. It is therefore impossible that in the same respect and in the same way a thing should be both mover and moved, i.e. that it should move itself. Therefore, whatever is in motion must be put in motion by another. If that by which it is put in motion be itself put in motion, then this also must needs be put in motion by another, and that by another again. But this cannot go on to infinity, because then there would be no first mover, and, consequently, no other mover; seeing that subsequent movers move only inasmuch as they are put in motion by the first mover; as the staff moves only because it is put
            in motion by the hand. Therefore it is necessary to arrive at a first mover, put in motion by no other; and this everyone understands to be God.

            The argument makes no sense and so cannot even be analyzed unless you understand the concepts that Aquinas used in the sense that he used them. These concepts are nothing like we assume them to be from a modern standpoint. It would be as though somebody came along and changed all the definitions Euclid provided and then expected you to understand geometry. (Not that natural theology is as certain as geometry.)

            Ed Feser writes exhaustively about this here in all the links he provides therein. http://edwardfeser.blogspot.com/2012/07/cosmological-argument-roundup.html

            The argument about God's existence has gone on for 740 years since Aquinas died. There must be something not quite convincing about his arguments. It can't be all down to nasty atheists disregarding the clear unambiguous light of reason because of their desire for sinful hedonistic lifestyles

            That's not really an argument against Aquinas, is it?

          • Michael Murray

            That's not really an argument against Aquinas, is it?

            No my point is that there are a large group of people who claim to find Aquinas' arguments unconvincing. It could be they genuinely find them unconvincing or it could be they find them convincing but want to reject for other reasons. I claim the former is more likely given the length of time this argument has been going on.

            So it is a comment on the quality of Aquinas' arguments. They are not of the same quality as the kinds of logical arguments used routinely by mathematicians for example.

          • Kevin Aldrich

            I agree with you that they genuinely find them unconvincing--anyway, how could anyone ever judge their internal states?

            I would say this, though. Until one thoroughly understands the arguments, which means really understanding the concepts which under gird them, one cannot conclude they are unconvincing, only that one does not understand them. I'd say I understand them (because of my weak understanding of Scholastic concepts) about 25%.

          • Michael Murray

            Except that amongst all those people who are not convinced by Aquinas must be all the atheist philosophers who I would have thought could understand these notions.

          • Kevin Aldrich

            Isn't that the argument from authority?

          • Michael Murray

            I don't think so. I'm not trying to prove Aquinas wrong by an appeal to authority. I'm just countering your comment that finding Aquinas unconvincing is a result of not understanding his arguments. There are people who I imagine do understand his arguments who still find them unconvincing. Also of course there are people who understand his arguments and find them convincing. To me that implies that the arguments are weak. You don't see this in advanced mathematics where everyone almost always agrees that a proof is either correct or not.

          • Kevin Aldrich

            Why does philosophy suddenly have to have the same rigor as mathematics? Does natural science? Aristotle and Thomas thought metaphysics does have at least a similar rigor as geometry.

          • Michael Murray

            It's not a question of "the same rigor". Either your arguments are rigorous or they aren't. The natural sciences are different in that you can test the argument against the real world. The rigour of physicists arguments is sometimes dubious. Path integrals, renormalisation and various things they do are less than rigorous. But they have physical intuition about how the world works and at the end of the day they do an experiment and check the answer. However I'm always told here that metaphysics is beyond the material world. In such a case I would have thought that, just as in the pure mathematics world, rigor is all you have to rely on.

          • Kevin Aldrich

            Why is the conditioned reality/unconditioned reality distinction not rigorous?

          • Michael Murray

            Not being a rigorous argument was not my only complaint. You have to connect it somehow to reality. I've not read Spitzer's argument but if he has really done this why is the philosophical world not falling over in shock at this revelation after thousands of years? My guess is that the answer is because it is the usual confusion that I have indicated in other examples.

          • Kevin Aldrich

            Please explain "connect to reality." The distinction says something about reality.

          • Michael Murray

            The distinction is a logical statement about concepts. You have to give some argument that those concepts are describing something in the real world.

          • Kevin Aldrich

            You are in the real world. You are a conditioned reality.

          • Michael Murray

            I am in the real world and I am life. It is logical to argue that everything must be life or not life. But when we look we find it hard to make the distinction fit in the real world.

            Again I have to ask why is the philosophical world not reeling in shock at Sptizer's discovery? Why are the only google links to Catholic websites? Why for that matter is this all in his book that has lots of arguments for God ? Wouldn't one true argument be enough? One proof of the Riemann hypeothesis would be ebough.

          • Kevin Aldrich

            >It is logical to argue that everything must be life or not life. But when we look we find it hard to make the distinction fit in the real world.

            So it is difficult to apply in a few hard cases.

            >Why isn't the philosophical world reeling in shock at Spitzer's discovery?

            Consider the philosophical world.

            >Isn't one argument enough?

            If God exists, why wouldn't you expect lots of proofs of that fact?

          • David Nickol

            So it is difficult to apply in a few hard cases.

            A general (universally applicable) rule that is difficult to apply in a few hard cases is one thing. A general rule that is impossible to apply in a few hard cases is another, and is not a universally applicable rule. "A thing is either living or not living" seems to me to be a rule that is impossible to apply in some cases. It is possible (or so it seems to me) to place things on a spectrum that at one end represents "not living" and at the other end represents "living." But somewhere on that spectrum there will be things that have properties of both living and nonliving things.

            If God exists, why wouldn't you expect lots of proofs of that fact?

            I would. But it does not seem to me that there are any. One of the themes of theists here is well put in a recent message:

            God gives us that choice. He can be obvious one moment and we can be tempted to forget about Him the next. At the end of the day you do just decide. Based on the evidence and based on the kind of person you want to be you decide.

            My understanding of the concept of proof is that you do not decide whether a proof is true or not. You determine it. If a proof is obvious at one moment, it should be obvious at all times.

            Imagine a wife who loved her husband but decided to reveal just barely enough love so that the husband had to decide rather than know that she loved him. What exactly would be the point?

            I tend to believe there is something that might reasonably be called God, but I find it extraordinarily difficult to believe such a being would deliberately hide himself so that people had to decide (instead of know) that he existed. If there is a God, surely there must be a better explanation for his hiddenness and silence.

          • Kevin Aldrich

            You may be failing to make distinctions between the knowledge of God and trust in God.

            When it comes to God there is the rational belief that he exists or not. The Church as you know claims the existence of God can be known with certainty through the things that have been made. (To use your love analogy, Othello: "Desdemona is faithful.") Some people may have a hard time seeing that and may have to make an act of faith that God exists. (Othello: "I believe Desdemona is faithful." It is also possible to have your intellect overwhelmed with plausible counter arguments and feelings that make you doubt what you know intellectually. (Othello: "My friends are telling me Desdemona is not faithful!") So again an act of faith might be necessary.

            The other is faith as trust in God who reveals something. The act of faith is the trust in what God has revealed and promised and the steering of one's life along the lines of what one understands God's will to be. I think that fits Randy's "message" better.

            I agree with you that God does not deliberately hide himself so we can decide if we want to believe he exists.

          • Michael Murray

            It is logical to argue that everything must be life or not life. But when we look we find it hard to make the distinction fit in the real world.

            So it is difficult to apply in a few hard cases.

            It's more than that. It's impossible to sensibly apply in a a few cases. Which demonstrates that it is a statement about our ideas about the real world not the real world. It's the map versus territory problem you were discussing with David. These metaphysical arguments are full of it. They are wonderful maps. Of somewhere imaginary.

          • Kevin Aldrich

            It is not an imaginary map. You are alive. A rock is not alive.

            I thought viruses are defined as not alive? If so, they are on the map. The map that is not imaginary.

          • Michael Murray

            "Alive" is a human concept. It's an idea. The territory is the real world. The map is the ideas we have about it. The decision to write "alive" next to me on the map but not next to a rock is like the decision to write "planet" next to some roundish rocks in space and not others. It's a decision made by humans. If humans all died tomorrow in some disaster like a nearby cosmic ray burst the map would disappear. But the rocks in space would still be there oblivious to what a few primates used to call them.

          • Kevin Aldrich

            Right, Michael. But you and are real and all human knowledge, including natural science and mathematics, and Shakespeare, are "maps" of some kind of reality.

          • Michael Murray

            Well I'm real but I'm not sure about anyone else :-)

            What do you mean by

            are "maps" of some kind of reality.

            There is just reality?

          • Kevin Aldrich

            Human life is real, but history books are just maps of one aspect of human life.

            The human mind is real, but psychology is just a map of one aspect of the human mind. Neurology is another map of the real human mind.

            Mathematics is not real at all. It's all concepts in the human mind. Physics isn't real either. It is just a map of reality.

            So why is it so bad that philosophy and metaphysics describe or map certain aspects of reality?

          • Michael Murray

            So why is it so bad that philosophy and metaphysics describe or map certain aspects of reality?

            It's only a potential problem when people try to infer something about the territory from the map. For real maps we know that because we make jokes about people getting lost because they follow their GPS when it's wrong. For maps which consist of ideas it's easier to get confused and want to argue that because something is logically correct it must reflect something in reality. That only works when the map has a good enough fit to reality. Don't look to Shakespeare as evidence of the existence of ghosts and witches !

          • David Nickol

            I'd say I understand them (because of my weak understanding of Scholastic concepts) about 25%.

            Doesn't that mean you can't conclude they are convincing? Doesn't it work both ways?

          • Kevin Aldrich

            I'm about 25% convinced they are convincing.

          • Kevin Aldrich

            I think there are legitimate "forcing arguments" when there really are only two possible alternatives. For example, Spitzer develops an argument for the existence of God beginning with whatever exists is either conditioned or unconditioned. He carefully defines those two terms and demonstrates that those are the only two alternatives possible in reality. He then goes on to develop an argument that there must exist one unconditioned reality and then continues to reason deductively that this one unconditioned reality must a number of attributes.

          • Michael Murray

            Without even looking at his argument (!) I find the statement

            He carefully defines those two terms and demonstrates that those are the only two alternatives possible in reality.

            I find this really hard to accept. We don't even really know what reality is yet. We don't have final theory of physics and maybe we never will. How can anyone make such a statement. You can make a logical statement. Everything either satisfies property P or not property P. But then you have to connect to reality.

          • Kevin Aldrich

            Conditioned reality/Unconditioned reality are complete disjunctions. Everything in reality must be one or the other. Nothing can be both. Whatever new things that are discovered about reality, they must fall into one category or the other.

          • Michael Murray

            Whatever new things that are discovered about reality, they must fall into one category or the other.

            But as I said you have to actually connect to reality. Everything is animal or not animal. It doesn't mean that is a useful distinction that reflects some important aspect of the real world. That is because there are things like viruses which we find hard to classify as one or the other.

  • Mike

    For the sake of argument lets assume that Fr. Barron is correct and God is being itself, which tends to hurt my brain in the same way that quantum mechanics does, I can see several outcomes. I can immediately see how one could straightforwardly abstract a "God of the philosophers". However, it's unclear to me that this is actually of genuine interest, or if one can start there and show God is who Catholics claim as their own.

    The second outcome would be that God can't in principle be scientifically probed. I would imagine that God would have to reveal something about him/herself. Given my training and education, I'm ill equipped to rigorously probe any Gods that may or may not exist by other means. As I often think there isn't a scientific experiment that could prove/ or deny God's existence.

    That said I'm interested in how a sophisticated theologian would move from a God of the philosophers to Jesus.

    • Kevin Aldrich

      Sure. Just read Ed Feser's "Aquinas" or peruse the table of contents of Aquinas' Summa or some of Thomas' other writings.

      • David Nickol

        It is always interesting when Ed Feser writes about Tom Aquinas.

        • Kevin Aldrich

          Have you read it? I have almost choked in twice reading the early chapter of Aquinas' metaphysics but it is really valuable to get a handle on all those seemingly odd terms like essence and being, act and potency, efficient and final causes, and the like.

    • Greg Johnson

      The gap between the two is not as large as is commonly supposed. For we can know, via logical deduction, not only that God exists but also that we have immortal souls, which are things that could only come into being by a special act of creation for every newly conceived human person. This entails that God has an intense interest in us vs the rest of his Creation. We find this affirmed in Scripture- see Genesis. Also, Thomas notes after proving God is Being Itself that this is again supported in the Bible-the Lord said to Moses, "I AM who am"; IOW, I am Existence.

      Further, you are correct; God would have to reveal himself, which is exactly what the monotheistic religions claim. But, do follow up on Kevin's advice.

      Peace

      • Michael Murray

        For we can know, via logical deduction, not only that God exists but also that we have immortal souls,

        Seriously. Even the first of those would rather settle the whole atheist issue. Even wondered why so many people don't agree with you.

        which are things that could only come into being by a special act of creation for every newly conceived human person.

        Why a special act of creation ? God has the rest of the universe running on auto-pilot via natural selection. Why not have the soul creation taken care of similarly ?

        By the way Steve Carroll has a pretty good physical argument for why there are no souls.

        https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Vrs-Azp0i3k

        But I guess metaphysics trumps physics around here.

        • Greg Johnson

          "Why a special act of creation ? God has the rest of the universe running on auto-pilot via natural selection. Why not have the soul creation taken care of similarly ?"

          The reason is that souls are immaterial, and as such, can't arise from pre-existing materials. And natural selection hardly "runs" the rest of the universe. For one, it utterly fails to account for the transition from non-life to life. Also, God sustains the universe in existence at every moment; it is not like a machine which can carry on without the the original builder being present, but is like music that only exists insofar as it is played by a musician, and vanishes as soon as he stops.

          Carroll is a scientistic physicist. He presumes that only what physics says is real, and thus is shocked to discover that it gives us no evidence of souls. Big surprise. But such a view is seriously flawed.

          "But I guess metaphysics trumps physics around here."

          Sure, if you take metaphysics to be more fundamental (not a rival explanation to) than physics (Hint, it's in the name). Certainly physics is very powerful, but not everything.

          • George

            "The reason is that souls are immaterial, and as such, can't arise from pre-existing materials."

            So from what pre-existing immaterials do souls come from? How does all that stuff work? Where is the science of the immaterial? It should be there, given all this talk of observations of it.

            "For one, it utterly fails to account for the transition from non-life to life."

            Nor would inserting the terms "immaterial, God, soul, spirit" etc.

            "Also, God sustains the universe in existence at every moment; it is not
            like a machine which can carry on without the the original builder being
            present, but is like music that only exists insofar as it is played by a
            musician, and vanishes as soon as he stops."

            We can test that in principle. Let all believers ask Yahweh to suspend his support of the universe temporarily in a certain designated location and time that we can observe. (evacuated of people of course) So when god stops sustaining this region, we can witness, uh I don't know, a great big void appearing? perhaps a zone of pure chaos where the laws of physics are inverted or simply cease to be? and all this could be verfied by the catholics writing it all down ahead of time, that this is what they prayed for.

          • Michael Murray

            Tempt Him Not !

            If you have never read it this short story is great

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

          • Michael Murray

            For one, it utterly fails to account for the transition from non-life to life.

            That would be because evolution by natural selection is not a theory of how life started. It's a theory of how it develops once it has started. But you are right I should have said something more precise like

            God has the rest of the universe running on auto-pilot via various devices such as natural selection.

            But I don't see any reason to believe that God had to make a special act of creation for life either. Surely if there was an act of creation it was at the very beginning and the rest just follows. That is certainly how the world looks when we examine it.

            Also, God sustains the universe in existence at every moment;

            You have some proof of this beyond that tautology that God is existence and therefore God is existence ?

            Sure, if you take metaphysics to be more fundamental (not a rival explanation to) than physics (Hint, it's in the name).

            I thought the name meant that you shouldn't read Aristotles Physics until you had read his Metaphysics ? That is supposed to be the history. From what I have read decisions about what comes under the banner of metaphysics since then have been historical as much as logical.

            This was partially an allusion to the fact that Brandon has told me that physically identical particles are not metaphysically identical. So apparently metaphysics is more powerful than physics.

          • Greg Johnson

            "Surely if there was an act of creation it was at the very beginning and the rest just follows."

            No. God creates from eternity, not in a moment in time. Hence he is continuously doing so.

            "You have some evidence or argument for this beyond the tautology that God is existence and therefore God is existence?"

            Yes. It follows from the conclusion of any of the Five Ways. Take the first one. To very briefly summarise, we need an account of what change is and why it occurs, not how it happened in the past, but right now, in front of our eyes, as it were. The question is not "How did change begin?" but "Why does change occur at every moment we note it?" The search for the answer leads to something that not only does not change, but cannot even in principle do so. This is called the Unchanged Changer. When we analyse what this Unchanged Changer is, it turns out to be God. The statement "God is existence" is not presumed; it is concluded. We can discuss this argument properly if you wish.

            "I thought the name meant that you shouldn't read Aristotles Physics until you had read his Metaphysics ? That is supposed to be the history"

            Metaphysics literally means beyond physics, or after physics. For apparently Aristotle wrote Metaphysics after Physics.

            "So apparently metaphysics is more powerful than physics."

            Metaphysics is more powerful than physics in the sense that it addresses not merely the question of how objects move through space, but the nature of their existence. It's deeper.

          • Michael Murray

            Thanks. I don't find any of these arguments which proceed on the basis of pure logic convincing. Our understanding for example of "change" has moved on from the time of Aquinas.

            Metaphysics literally means beyond physics, or after physics. For apparently Aristotle wrote Metaphysics after Physics.

            I think you need to check the etymology of the word metaphysics. This is what wikipedia says and I have read the same elsewhere.

            The word "metaphysics" derives from the Greek words μετά (metá, "beyond", "upon" or "after") and φυσικά (physiká, "physics").[7] It was first used as the title for several of Aristotle's works, because they were usually anthologized after the works on physics in complete editions. The prefix meta- ("beyond") indicates that these works come "after" the chapters on physics. However, Aristotle himself did not call the subject of these books "Metaphysics": he referred to it as "first philosophy." The editor of Aristotle's works, Andronicus of Rhodes, is thought to have placed the books on first philosophy right after another work, Physics, and called them τὰ μετὰ τὰ φυσικὰ βιβλία (ta meta ta physika biblia) or "the books that come after the [books on] physics". This was misread by Latin scholiasts, who thought it meant "the science of what is beyond the physical".

          • Greg Johnson

            What then is change, in your view? Thanks for the etymological corrections there.

          • Michael Murray

            What then is change, in your view?

            I've no idea beyond it being an observable fact that things change. But what I do know is that you aren't going to get a proper understanding of change without a quantum theory of space-time. That means a quantum theory of gravity. We don't have one and I doubt it will happen in my lifetime. What I also know is you aren't going to get such a theory by poking around the ideas of 11 th century theologians who lived before newtonian mechanics, relativity and quantum mechanics. Particularly not when, like all the theists here, you aren't really interested in understanding change you are just interested in bolstering your a priori religious position with philosophising.

            But I haven't even begun to properly outline or defend it.

            You've got something new I haven't heard before? Well feel free to try but I may not respond. I've been over this stuff before here and my tolerance for the lack of answers has worn pretty thin. So I find it's sometimes best to say nothing than risk offending the dreaded snark rule :-)

            If you really want your ideas challenged come over to

            http://outshine-the-sun.blogspot.com

            where all the atheists who used to post here and have been banned hang out. We were going to have all revealed to us about God by some guys from New Apologetics but they've gone quiet for some reason.

          • Greg Johnson

            Let me be very clear: I have absolutely zero interest in arguing with a troll who, much the same as he accuses me of doing, mutatis mutandis, is just interested in bolstering his a priori atheistic position with philosophising (or lack thereof).You tell me straight out in your next response whether you interested in the truth, and ultimate (therefore philosophical) questions in general, and depending, we can continue or not. I'll go either way. Why does this matter? Because I am only interested in what's true, and I hold religion to be true, and hence worth time and effort debating.

            We need to step back and get clear about some ideas at play. You seem beholden to scientism. Give me some reason to think I need to appeal to science to explain change, because at present, all you've got is: "It's an empirical fact." What is it, and why does it occur? These, by the way, are absolutely fundamental questions without the answers to which the practice of science becomes miraculous. They are also questions of general metaphysics, which seeks after the nature of reality. How are newtonian mechanics, relativity and quantum mechanics relevant to the above questions? Unless you think reality as such is purely physical, governed by scientific laws (themselves explanatorily vacuous) and necessarily existing, which is a philosophical position in need of defense.

            I propose an account of change. What do you have as an alternative?

          • Michael Murray

            Thanks for the reply but as you have apparently decided I'm a troll I suggest we just pass on further conversation.

    • Michael Murray

      That said I'm interested in how a sophisticated theologian would move from a God of the philosophers to Jesus.

      It depends on whether they are a sophisticated Christian, Jewish, Muslim, Buddhist or Hindu theologian.

      • Roman

        Michael, your comment doesn't make sense. Why would a "sophisticated Buddhist or Hindu theologian" move from the God of the philosophers to Jesus? Aside from that problem, I notice that you have frequently made similar remarks in an attempt to lump all religions together. All you accomplish, however, is to demonstrate how little you understand about the fundamental differences in the concept of God between these religions. The eastern religions, like Buddhism and Hinduism are easily refuted based on their incorrect concept of God. The god of pantheism is just an evolutionary cousin to the god of paganism. Whereas pagan gods are a part of nature, the god of pantheism is nature itself. But the laws of science govern nature, i.e., the material world. Hence science can be used to demonstrate that these type of gods cannot exist. Not so with the Judeo/Christian/Muslim God which is beyond the reach of science since God properly understood exists outside of the material world for all the reasons Fr. Barron mentions.

        • Michael Murray

          My point is that the theologian will find what they already believe. That is the purpose of theology. It seems you agree.

          • The Fulton of West Sheen St.

            The logical path is the historical narrative of Israel that took place over the course of thousands of years, predicting the coming of the Christ.

            Tell me of another human being who was ever preannounced? The Christ did not simply appear on the World's stage and say "Here I am world! Listen to what God has to say!", like so many before and after Him.

            His birth was foretold and his life and works gave Him credibility.

            Historical fact is not an opinion of the dissenting party.

          • Michael Murray

            I'll leave the question of how much of the OT is historical fact for someone else to answer. Let my just point out that (a) you are confusing the historical fact with your interpretation of it and (b) you are assuming that there was no rewriting of the NT to fit the historical facts and the supposed predictions the OT contains.

          • The Fulton of West Sheen St.

            Well if the NT was entirely a sham then wow, I'm extremely impressed with the way they were able to fulfill the OT in such a seamless and sound way. That must have been a collection of some of the most brilliant minds of the time!

            Of course it does help when you make discoveries like the Dead Sea Scrolls that verify everything you believe in.

          • Michael Murray

            Ah the good old false dichotomy so beloved of theologians. The choices are not just "entirely a sham" or "completely true". Not being one does not prove the other.

          • The Fulton of West Sheen St.

            When a man refers to himself as God the choices are really very simple.

            He is either:
            1. Lord (He is in fact God)
            2. Liar (He is knowingly deceiving people)
            3. Lunatic (He is not God, but still believes it)

            Christianity demands a choice. There is no half belief in Christ. Your options are 1, 2, or 3. Not a little of each or a handful of them.

          • David Nickol

            Christianity demands a choice. There is no half belief in Christ. Your options are 1, 2, or 3. Not a little of each or a handful of them.

            You left out at least one option—that Jesus didn't refer to himself as God.

          • The Fulton of West Sheen St.

            David Nickol: You left out at least one option—that Jesus didn't refer to himself as God.

            No, I didn't leave out any options. You are attempting to change the dynamics of the argument. Which would make it an entirely new argument (was Christ someone other than God?). But the borders of this argument are well defined.

            I said, "WHEN a man refers to himself as God"

            There is no IF.

            What you are presenting is not the question Christianity or Lewis asks. If it helps, take out the name Jesus and insert man. If any man refers to himself as God, he must be 1 of 3 things.

            Lord
            Liar
            Lunatic

          • David Nickol

            I said, "WHEN a man refers to himself as God"

            If you will note, what I quoted from your message was

            Christianity demands a choice. There is no half belief in Christ. Your options are 1, 2, or 3. Not a little of each or a handful of them.

            Where you really talking about a purely hypothetical man who refers to himself as God? It seems clear you were talking about Jesus. And you didn't say your argument demanded a choice, you said Christianity demanded a choice. Does Christianity demand a choice about a purely hypothetical man who refers to himself as God?

            But let's take a purely hypothetical case of a man who refers to himself as God. Must we conclude he is God, a liar, or a lunatic? I don't really think those are the only options. He could be mistaken. He could mean something that would make sense to you if explained in sufficient detail.

            But in reality we all know that what underlies the "trilemma" is the claim that Jesus referred to himself as God, and therefore he must be either "liar, lunatic, or Lord." You seem to be new to SN (welcome!) but the "trilemma" is not.

            You are attempting to change the dynamics of the argument.

            And if I were, who could blame me? It is about as straightforward an argument as "Have you stopped beating your wife" is a question. It's basically a trick.

          • The Fulton of West Sheen St.

            So lets open up the gates than shall we. Is there anything about the person of Christ that you stand by?

            He didn't exist?
            Never said he was a man?
            Was misinterpreted?
            Was a con man?
            Was a mad man?

            Or are you open to all possibilities and unable to settle any one in particular?

          • David Nickol

            It seems clear to me that Jesus existed. It also seems extremely clear that he was a faithful Jew who saw his mission as calling "sinners" (nonobservant Jews) back to the practice of Judaism, as he understood it. He seemed to believe the end of the world (or the end of the world order) was at hand, a new age was dawning, and that hey had a key role in in the coming of the new age (the Reign of God). It is not at all clear to me that he advocated or foresaw the founding of a new religion to recruit Gentiles and to eventually be exclusively a Gentile religion in opposition to Judaism.

            In terms of what he claimed for himself, I do not believe he claimed to be God. Exactly how he understood himself and his mission is difficult to say, but I don't think any 21st-century exegete would claim that ever saying attributed to Jesus in the Gospels was something Jesus actually said. I do not think we have a stenographic record of the teachings of Jesus.

          • The Fulton of West Sheen St.

            So what was it you think that Jesus did that resulted in His crucifixion? If Jesus was merely predicting the coming of a new world order than why have Him crucified? Certainly the people of Israel had been making such predictions for thousands of years. The Romans were well aware of such prophecies about the Anointed One?

            Or is His death also uncertain for you?

          • Michael Murray

            Was he a skilled labourer or an unskilled labourer ?

          • Michael Murray

            Ah CS Lewis good old Trilemma. I guess that is a false trichotomy. As David points out there are other options. You might like to consider the latest book by Bart Ehrman

            http://www.amazon.com/How-Jesus-Became-God-Exaltation-ebook/dp/B00DB39V2Q/ref=sr_1_1?s=digital-text&ie=UTF8&qid=1408227649&sr=1-1&keywords=bart+ehrman

          • The Fulton of West Sheen St.

            I am very well aware of this book which follows in the long line of books attempting to tame/change the person of Christ. Usually released around Christmas or Easter (this one chose Easter, wonder why...).

            And believe it or not the Church doesn't have a massive heart attack every time one of these books come out. Heresy is not exactly a new thing.

            This article pretty much sums up how I feel about Bart Ehrman's book.

            How Jesus Became God: A Critical Review
            http://www.catholic.com/blog/trent-horn/how-jesus-became-god-a-critical-review

          • Michael Murray

            Of course I don't expect you to agree with Ehrman. But why bother posting the Trilemma here when you already know there are other alternatives to the ones you claim are the only alternatives.

          • The Fulton of West Sheen St.

            Refer to my answer to David Nickol below

          • Michael Murray

            Your options are 1, 2, or 3

            My options are not 1, 2, 3 though are they? It could be that the bible has wrongly reported what Jesus (if he existed) said. It could be that that it was correctly reported but Jesus (if he existed) did not mean quite what we mean by God. It could be that Jesus (if he existed) was speaking metaphorically. He was after all inclined to the odd parable or two.

          • The Fulton of West Sheen St.

            Perhaps Jesus (if he existed) was an alien

            Perhaps Jesus (if he existed) was an atheist

            Perhaps Jesus (if he existed) lived in North America

            Perhaps Jesus (if he existed) was a Zealot

            Perhaps Jesus (if he existed) was "only" a rabbi

            Perhaps Jesus (if he existed) was a woman

            Perhaps Jesus (if he existed) was the son of a tax collector

            Perhaps Jesus (if he existed) was a pagan

            These are all ideas people have seriously held to. Do you see where this breaks down into madness?

            And the answer to every single one of the questions is that Christianity has every reason to believe that Jesus said He was God and there were no confusing what He said.

            And please stop with this (if he existed) nonsense. Even the majority of non-believing historians believe Christ existed. Quit muddying the waters Descartes and learn to trust some things as truth. If we aren't seeking Truth than we are all wasting our time.

          • Michael Murray

            My point remains that your options are not just 1, 2 and 3. The idea of this website is you are supposed to be giving arguments that might convince atheists. Not arguments that have convinced Christians. We have heard all of them and we are not convinced.

          • The Fulton of West Sheen St.

            C.S. Lewis was an atheist for a time so I don't think this logic is quite as far from the atheist mind as you would suppose. But let us carry on!

          • Michael Murray

            You might be interested in this reply to your comment

            http://outshine-the-sun.blogspot.com.au/2014/08/estranged-notions-why-i-love-my.html#comment-1545437676

            Unfortunately the author was banned from this site so you have to engage over there.

          • Roman

            Yep. I agree with your first point and to some extent the second point. A theologians job for the most part is to develop a deeper understanding of his own faith, not to prove its true. I don't think it even makes sense to talk about a philosophical route from God to Jesus since, theologically speaking, Jesus is God incarnate and just like some other theological beliefs about the nature of God, e.g., the Trinity, there is not a way to proves these beliefs philosophically. we have to depend on other modes of proof, e.g., divine revelation, the historical evidence, documented (i.e., proven) Eucharistic miracles, and on a personal level, the personal spiritual experience of individuals. FYI, the point I was trying to make above is that even if you are an atheist and believe in no God, it is important to see the fundamental differences in the concept of God between the various religions. Whether you are convinced of the philosophical proofs for the Judeo/Christian God or not, at least we have philosophical proofs. There is no such thing for the gods of paganism and pantheism. Hence my point above that the eastern religions along with paganism are vulnerable to disproof using science as well as a lack of philosophical proof and a lack of historical proof.

          • Michael Murray

            Yes I recognise there are different conceptions of God amongst different religions. In fact from what I can tell hanging around here there are difference conceptions of God amongst Catholics.

            There are also different attitudes amongst religions towards science. I rather like the Dalai Lama's

            "If scientific analysis were conclusively to demonstrate certain claims in Buddhism to be false, then we must accept the findings of science and abandon those claims.”

            Whether you are convinced of the philosophical proofs for the Judeo/Christian God or not, at least we have philosophical proofs.

            Well as a mathematician I don't hold a lot of store in proofs that are incorrect. I can invent lots of those but nobody wants to publish them.

            Hence my point above that the eastern religions along with paganism are vulnerable to disproof using science as well as a lack of philosophical proof and a lack of historical proof.

            Christianity is, in principle, vulnerable to archeological discoveries I would have thought. Or invention of a machine that lets us look backwards in time. Not likely with current technology admittedly.

          • Roman

            Christianity is, in principle, vulnerable to archeological discoveries I would have thought

            Partly true. Certainly, the parts of the Bible that are meant to be historical or historical narrative genres are somewhat vulnerable with respect to archaelogical discoveries. However, every archaeological discovery associated with the Bible (Old Testament and New) has served to support events reported in the Bible as historical as far as I'm aware.

          • David Nickol

            However, every archaeological discovery associated with the Bible (Old Testament and New) has served to support events reported in the Bible as historical as far as I'm aware.

            Check out this article from The Tablet, which begins as follows:

            “Virtually all of the stories in the Torah are ahistorical,” declares a manifesto posted in July on TheTorah.com. “Given the data to which modern historians have access,” the essay explains, “it is impossible to regard the accounts of mass Exodus from Egypt, the wilderness experience or the coordinated, swift, and complete conquest of the entire land of Canaan under Joshua as historical.” Not only did the events in the Garden of Eden and the Flood of Noah never transpire, readers are informed, but “Abraham and Sarah are folkloristic characters; factually speaking, they are not my ancestors or anyone else’s.”

            Such sweeping sentiments might be expected from an academic scholar, or perhaps a critic of fundamentalist religion. But the author of this manifesto is an Orthodox rabbi named Zev Farber. The essay, and much of the work of TheTorah.com, is an attempt by dissident Orthodox rabbis and professors to reconcile the findings of modern biblical scholarship with traditional Jewish belief. . . .

          • Michael Murray

            The point of the "in principle" was that I was thinking something like

            1. finding a tomb with a body in it.

            2. documentary evidence explaining how Jesus body had been smuggled away after the crucifixion.

            3. Roman records showing that they had crucified Jesus and discarded his body in the communal burial ground.

    • jessej

      That said I'm interested in how a sophisticated theologian would move from a God of the philosophers to Jesus.

      One possible reason could be the ucatostrophy Tolkin uses to bring Lewis around and to bring great depth to his own works.

  • Mohammed Hanif

    I'm not sure how many Muslims visit this site but I am continually impressed with how compatible Catholic and orthodox (by which I mean Ash'ari and Maturidi) are - apart from the Trinity, Incarnation and Original Sin.

    Unfortunately, the overwhelming number of Muslim scholars are trained to be lawyers and their studies in logic and theology are not very rigourous - probably as a backlash to the speculative philosophy of ibn Sina and Ibn Rushd (Avicena and Averoes) and because the day to day duties of an imam are guiding lay muslims on practise rather than doctrine. Thus, it is very difficult to find knowlegdeable Muslims to turn to on theological questions or have access to the classical Arabic texts.

    So I want to express my appreciation to every contributor and those who post comments.

  • Sean Wallace

    I think I have become less intellegent just reading this nonsense.

    • The Fulton of West Sheen St.

      Thanks for adding to the debate with that flawless logical retort... You're obviously a man who is to far above such squabble to lower yourself down to the likes of idiots like us.

      Maybe next time try letting us know why this is nonsense instead of assuming the rest of the world shares your narrow view.

      • Chee Chak

        Thanks for adding to the debate with that flawless logical retort.Thanks for adding to the debate with that flawless logical retort.

        Excuse me....I think the is forum meant more for discussion and opinion....not actually only for debate of the philosophical PHD types.

        • The Fulton of West Sheen St.

          "I think this forum was intended more for discussion and opinion"

          Which he still failed to do... He added nothing but ill will to this "discussion". Why is this even a point of contention?

          • Chee Chak

            I just think he was frustrated with all the confusion surrounding this whole issue of who or what god is despite all of the "intellectual" philosophical rhetoric and "spiritual gymnastics" on display here and in the article.

          • The Fulton of West Sheen St.

            Perhaps so haha but I think he should have just bit the bullet on this one.

  • http://theyhavenowine.wordpress.com/ Bob Drury

    Two plus two equals four is a bad example of 'real' in contrast to two apples plus to oranges. The arithmetic is of merely logical being in contrast to the existential being of the fruit.

  • Chee Chak

    Judging from the discussion, not even Catholic apologists can agree on the meaning of words like metaphysical, and soul, nor can they even come to some consensus or explain what they mean by god. They don't know if he is just being, or existence, or a supreme being, a person or simply an imaginary friend. No wonder actual discussion seems possible. No one knows what the apologists are talking about especially if they themselves don't or can't agree on some basics such as is god a person or a real entity or a real being?...and not some ethereal foggy concept.

    • The Fulton of West Sheen St.

      So is your argument that uniformity=Truth?

      • Michael Murray

        No but the police usually regard consistency of the story as a good indicator.

        • The Fulton of West Sheen St.

          Certainly and for good reason, but to expect a uniform understanding of God from 1.2 Billion people who "identify" as Catholic seems to be a lofty request. Even among those who identify as apologists.

          If you are looking for consistency among Catholics than it would be best to look to the lives of The Church's saints.

          If you wanted to understand the game of basketball and all its' rules you wouldn't go to your local YMCA and watch the 3rd graders play. You would go to the Staples Center and watch the Lakers play.

    • Roman

      Catholic philosophical thought is very consistent and logical. Apparently you are the one who is confused, e.g.,

      They don't know if he is just being, or existence, or a supreme being, a person, or simply an imaginary invisible friend.

      Existence and being are the same thing and something can be both a being and a person (case in point - human beings are persons) We don't use terms like supreme being or imaginary invisible friend. We are simply quoting atheists.

  • Linda Dokey

    Thank You Father Barron. You explain everything so well. Yes GOD IS MY FRIEND. I PRAY THAT MEANS I MAY ONE DAY BE WITH HIM. AMEN.

    • David Nickol

      I do not mean this to be irreverent, although it surely will be interpreted to be by some. Does it make sense to say "God is my friend" if there are three persons in one God? Can a "Triune" God be a friend, or is it necessary to say something like "God contains my friends" or "The persons of the Trinity are my friends"?

      I think that many of us with a Christian education think of "God" as God the Father. And even though we view Jesus as God Incarnate, when we mean Jesus, we say Jesus, not God. And in everyday piety, the Holy Spirit is all but forgotten.

      • Roman

        I do not mean this to be irreverent, ...

        I don't know if this is true but I'll play along. You're really asking a grammatical question, not a philosophical one. If you are referring to God, who is a single being, you can refer to him as your friend. If you are referring to any person of the Trinity, such as Jesus, then you can refer to him, i.e., Jesus, as your friend. However, you could also say that God the Father, Jesus, and the Holy Spirit are your friend(s), since each one is a person.

        • David Nickol

          If you are referring to God, who is a single being . . .

          If I understood what certain people were saying in recent discussions, it was that God is not "a being," but rather God is being. I am not sure what it means to say that God is your friend, but it seems to me that only persons can be friends, and a Triune God is not a person.

          I suppose it is partly a grammatical question, and also I doubt that the title Why I Love My Invisible Friend (who is presumably God) was meant to be a theological statement with deep meaning about the nature of God.

          So admittedly this is not the most important topic under discussion. On the other hand, in theological and philosophical discussions of the type that go on here, it is not good enough to say, "Oh, come on! You know what I meant!" Philosophical discussions require being utterly precise about the meaning of every single word. I think if I suddenly found myself to be a 100% orthodox Catholic by the strictest standards, I would probably argue on a number of grounds against calling God a "friend," or God the Father and God the Holy Spirit "friends." One of Benedict XVI's themes was "friendship with Jesus Christ," so I suspend judgment on whether I would say Jesus could or could not be a friend.

          • Michael Murray

            If Jesus is your friend, then he must be your best friend.

            This could be called the proof by friendship.

            1. You have friends.
            2. Some friends are better than others.
            3. There must be a best friend. We call him Jesus.

  • Mike

    Excellent; the accusation has never bothered me bc if christ makes your life better and makes you a better and more holy person, the primary data point is that it works...that's why i always tell atheists to go to church; since they don't believe in any of it it won't hurt them and maybe they may even get something out of it...un-surprisingly not many take me up on my offer...hmmm i wonder what they're worried about? ;)

  • Brian

    Thank you Father, your perspective is refreshing and needs to be assimilated into the groups of Christians that may have incorrect frameworks through which they see God.

    2 main questions arose for me after reading your very well-thought-out article: the first is based on [the then] Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger's "Introduction to Christianity," in which he very similarly to you here described God as that which is always present, always involved, and always beyond the scope of our reasoning capacities to understand Him. "The Mind Behind it All," to borrow from Father William O'Malley. One of my personal issues arise at this point. As the only animals to be made in His image and to be bestowed with the gifts of Reason and Free Will, believing in a God who is by his very nature supra-rational would be fundamentally opposed to the reasoning capacities He Himself bestowed upon me. He most certainly would not want me to suspend [or more accurately] willfully ignore my Reason and Intellect in other aspects of my daily life, so how is it sensible to believe in a God who's very essence lies beyond my reason and the realm of rational thinking, a realm which grows larger and larger each and every day and the only mechanism through which I can understand anything?

    The other issue arises in the move from accepting God as the supreme force in the universe to the concrete ways in which claim he must be worshipped here on earth. Accepting God as the "ipsum esse subsistens," the underlying unifier of the universe does not necessarily lend support support to the tangible, material systems erected to show their faith in Him. Again, if I am to live as the freely Rational human being I think he created me to be, there are many so-called duties of Christianity and Catholicism in particular that are wholly illogical and contrary to my nature.

    I've been trying to reconcile these thoughts among others for quite awhile; I'd appreciate any input or viewpoints you may have.

  • Brian

    Which bible are you studying? The King James was written by humans not messengers of god. And the catholic church has a habit of using the NEW King James in their teachings. I suggest you go back and read the original testament. I see many hypocrisies in this article, if going by the original word of God. You mention a long running atheist joke and legendary philosophers works, such as Plato, to make your point seem more educated. All in all I am only an agnostic 19 year old man, so I have much to learn still. But why do so many Catholics worship a god they know nothing about? I hear a lot of things from Christians about God being all loving, all powerful, all forgiving, etc. But in this very article you, a priest, say that that is not necessarily true. The original testament paints god as a bitter, judgmental, and spiteful being. But over 2000 or so years that word has been manipulated by humans to seem more friendly to attract more followers. I personally think you'd be better off following Buddhism because it teaches a lot of points and life values that all start with your way of thinking. Catholic church does not anymore. As for the other goats who can't form opinions, decisions, or morals without a church, I suggest you go read the original testament.

    • Arthur Jeffries

      The King James was written by humans not messengers of god.

      The King James Version is an English translation. Not everyone can read Greek and Hebrew. Can you?

      And the catholic church has a habit of using the NEW King James in their teachings.

      In the United States the closest that Catholics have to an official Bible is the New American Bible, now in its fourth edition. However, the New Revised Standard Version of the Bible is also very popular. The NKJV is not.

      I suggest you go back and read the original testament.

      Are you talking about the New Testament in Greek, the Old Testament in Greek (which the writers of the New Testament used) or the Old Testament in Hebrew, which most translations today rely on?

  • John Romano

    How is a God that is "being itself" compatible with the God of the Old Testament? For example, God is said to have literally walked with Adam and Eve and physically wrestled Jacob.

    If such accounts are meant to be taken figuratively, then does that apply to all of the Old Testament?

    I do not mean to be snarky, this is simply a question that has been on my mind for some time as I have followed Father Barron's work.

    • Arden Abeille

      That's a really good question, and I don't think it's "snarky" at all. But I do think that your notion that it either needs to be figurative or literal is a false dichotomy, and is "making God too small," so to speak.

      Maybe, first of all, it is better to think of God as "the source of all being," rather than the "being itself" concept? That might help (although, as with all merely human conceptions of God, it will and must fail to be exactly correct; we just can't hold the reality of God in our currently-limited human minds). God IS being-ness (among other things--actually, among ALL things), but God is also (therefore), the source of all that "be's." Then, I think the answer to God "walking" with Adam and Eve, for example, is to imagine God, for want of a better word, "inserting Himself," so to speak, into material reality, in a way that Adam and Eve, in their physical bodies, could easily communicate with and "be with." He can choose to "manifest" to them (again, to use a sadly limited word, but I'm just not finding better ones) as and in a form that could "walk" with them, and still BE be-ing.

      Another thing to bear in mind is that we don't fully understand (limited minds, at this point) our own experiences with God. This is reflected in the Bible (to me, anyway), in places like the other episode you mention of Jacob wrestling with--hmm. . . with whom, exactly? When you read that, it seems like God, but also it's "a messenger of God" (an angel), and I've heard pastors say this was a pre-incarnation appearance of Christ in the O.T., also. I think this "confusion" is an opportunity for humility for us. Even Jacob didn't really know; even the inspired author of the book in question could not (perhaps was not meant to) be quite clear on who exactly that was. Maybe because God is a personal being, but somehow three persons in one, and we just are not going to finally understand that until we can "see clearly" (once freed from our limited, mortal minds).

      So yes, literally, yes, "figuratively," because everything (I increasingly find) in the Bible is both of concrete, material value AND of inestimable, supernatural value as well. It's all real stuff that happened to real people, AND it's also somehow True in a supernatural way that completely transcends the material facts of "what happened." Joseph is a real guy who really got sold as a slave and ended up managing the kingdom; AND he is a "type" of Christ. Both. Mary is a real young lady who gave birth to an actual baby who was Jesus; AND she is a "type" of the Church. Both. God walked with Adam and Eve in the garden; AND God walks with us, now, if we open the door He is knocking on in our souls. We won't see Him (most of us, anyway!) walking along there, with legs and feet and toenails, but that doesn't mean he isn't be-ing there with us.

      Reading that over, I seriously question whether I've been of any assistance at all. Perhaps a wiser one will happen along and clarify this better. . .