Thursday, March 31, 2005

Official Catholic Teaching on Euthanasia and End-of-Life Issues

Life and death issues are dealt with in the Catechism of the Catholic Church: #2258-2301. Euthanasia in particular is dealt with in #2276-2279. #2277 virtually defines what happened to Terri Schiavo as a murder:

. . . Thus an act of omission [in this case, withdrawing routine feeding tubes] which, of itself or by intention, causes death in order to eliminate suffering constitutes a murder gravely contrary to the dignity of the human person and to the respect due to the living God, his Creator. The error of judgment into which one can fall in good faith does not change the nature of this murderous act, which must always be forbidden and excluded.

The Catechism is available online.

Pope John Paul II's encyclical Evangelium Vitae (The Gospel of Life) is also highly relevant. Euthanasia is condemned by the Second Vatican Council:

Whatever is opposed to life itself, such as any type of murder, genocide, abortion, euthanasia, or wilful self-destruction, whatever violates the integrity of the human person, such as mutilation, torments inflicted on body or mind, attempts to coerce the will itself; whatever insults human dignity, such as subhuman living conditions, arbitrary imprisonment, deportation, slavery, prostitution, the selling of women and children; as well as disgraceful working conditions, where people are treated as mere instruments of gain rather than as free and responsible persons; all these things and others like them are infamies indeed. They poison human society, and they do more harm to those who practise them than to those who suffer from the injury. Moreover, they are a supreme dishonour to the Creator.

(Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World [Gaudium et Spes], 27; emphasis mine)
The pope in the above encyclical condemns euthanasia repeatedly (emphases added throughout):

"On a more general level, there exists in contemporary culture a certain Promethean attitude which leads people to think that they can control life and death by taking the decisions about them into their own hands. What really happens in this case is that the individual is overcome and crushed by a death deprived of any prospect of meaning or hope. We see a tragic expression of all this in the spread of euthanasia—disguised and surreptitious, or practised openly and even legally. As well as for reasons of a misguided pity at the sight of the patient's suffering, euthanasia is sometimes justified by the utilitarian motive of avoiding costs which bring no return and which weigh heavily on society. Thus it is proposed to eliminate malformed babies, the severely handicapped, the disabled, the elderly, especially when they are not self-sufficient, and the terminally ill. Nor can we remain silent in the face of other more furtive, but no less serious and real, forms of euthanasia. These could occur for example when, in order to increase the availability of organs for transplants, organs are removed without respecting objective and adequate criteria which verify the death of the donor."

(section 15)

"Aside from intentions, which can be varied and perhaps can seem convincing at times, especially if presented in the name of solidarity, we are in fact faced by an objective "conspiracy against life", involving even international Institutions, engaged in encouraging and carrying out actual campaigns to make contraception, sterilization and abortion widely available. Nor can it be denied that the mass media are often implicated in this conspiracy, by lending credit to that culture which presents recourse to contraception, sterilization, abortion and even euthanasia as a mark of progress and a victory of freedom, while depicting as enemies of freedom and progress those positions which are unreservedly pro-life."

(section 17)

"To claim the right to abortion, infanticide and euthanasia, and to recognize that right in law, means to attribute to human freedom a perverse and evil significance: that of an absolute power over others and against others. This is the death of true freedom: "Truly, truly, I say to you, every one who commits sin is a slave to sin" (Jn 8:34)."

(section 20)

"64. At the other end of life's spectrum, men and women find themselves facing the mystery of death. Today, as a result of advances in medicine and in a cultural context frequently closed to the transcendent, the experience of dying is marked by new features. When the prevailing tendency is to value life only to the extent that it brings pleasure and well-being, suffering seems like an unbearable setback, something from which one must be freed at all costs. Death is considered "senseless" if it suddenly interrupts a life still open to a future of new and interesting experiences. But it becomes a "rightful liberation" once life is held to be no longer meaningful because it is filled with pain and inexorably doomed to even greater suffering.

Furthermore, when he denies or neglects his fundamental relationship to God, man thinks he is his own rule and measure, with the right to demand that society should guarantee him the ways and means of deciding what to do with his life in full and complete autonomy. It is especially people in the developed countries who act in this way: they feel encouraged to do so also by the constant progress of medicine and its ever more advanced techniques. By using highly sophisticated systems and equipment, science and medical practice today are able not only to attend to cases formerly considered untreatable and to reduce or eliminate pain, but also to sustain and prolong life even in situations of extreme frailty, to resuscitate artificially patients whose basic biological functions have undergone sudden collapse, and to use special procedures to make organs available for transplanting.

In this context the temptation grows to have recourse to euthanasia, that is, to take control of death and bring it about before its time, "gently" ending one's own life or the life of others. In reality, what might seem logical and humane, when looked at more closely is seen to be senseless and inhumane. Here we are faced with one of the more alarming symptoms of the "culture of death", which is advancing above all in prosperous societies, marked by an attitude of excessive preoccupation with efficiency and which sees the growing number of elderly and disabled people as intolerable and too burdensome. These people are very often isolated by their families and by society, which are organized almost exclusively on the basis of criteria of productive efficiency, according to which a hopelessly impaired life no longer has any value."

(section 64 [entire] )

"For a correct moral judgment on euthanasia, in the first place a clear definition is required. Euthanasia in the strict sense is understood to be an action or omission which of itself and by intention causes death, with the purpose of eliminating all suffering. "Euthanasia's terms of reference, therefore, are to be found in the intention of the will and in the methods used".

Euthanasia must be distinguished from the decision to forego so-called "aggressive medical treatment", in other words, medical procedures which no longer correspond to the real situation of the patient, either because they are by now disproportionate to any expected results or because they impose an excessive burden on the patient and his family. In such situations, when death is clearly imminent and inevitable, one can in conscience "refuse forms of treatment that would only secure a precarious and burdensome prolongation of life, so long as the normal care due to the sick person in similar cases is not interrupted". Certainly there is a moral obligation to care for oneself and to allow oneself to be cared for, but this duty must take account of concrete circumstances. It needs to be determined whether the means of treatment available are objectively proportionate to the prospects for improvement. To forego extraordinary or disproportionate means is not the equivalent of suicide or euthanasia; it rather expresses acceptance of the human condition in the face of death.

". . . Taking into account these distinctions, in harmony with the Magisterium of my Predecessors and in communion with the Bishops of the Catholic Church, I confirm that euthanasia is a grave violation of the law of God, since it is the deliberate and morally unacceptable killing of a human person. This doctrine is based upon the natural law and upon the written word of God, is transmitted by the Church's Tradition and taught by the ordinary and universal Magisterium. Depending on the circumstances, this practice involves the malice proper to suicide or murder."

(section 65)

"Even when not motivated by a selfish refusal to be burdened with the life of someone who is suffering, euthanasia must be called a false mercy, and indeed a disturbing "perversion" of mercy. True "compassion" leads to sharing another's pain; it does not kill the person whose suffering we cannot bear. Moreover, the act of euthanasia appears all the more perverse if it is carried out by those, like relatives, who are supposed to treat a family member with patience and love, or by those, such as doctors, who by virtue of their specific profession are supposed to care for the sick person even in the most painful terminal stages.

The choice of euthanasia becomes more serious when it takes the form of a murder committed by others on a person who has in no way requested it and who has never consented to it. The height of arbitrariness and injustice is reached when certain people, such as physicians or legislators, arrogate to themselves the power to decide who ought to live and who ought to die. Once again we find ourselves before the temptation of Eden: to become like God
who "knows good and evil" (cf. Gen 3:5). God alone has the power over life and death: "It is I who bring both death and life" (Dt 32:39; cf. 2 Kg 5:7; 1 Sam 2:6). But he only exercises this power in accordance with a plan of wisdom and love. When man usurps this power, being enslaved by a foolish and selfish way of thinking, he inevitably uses it for injustice and death. Thus the life of the person who is weak is put into the hands of the one who is strong; in society the sense of justice is lost, and mutual trust, the basis of every authentic interpersonal relationship, is undermined at its root."

(section 66; emphasis mine)

Lest anyone think that my own call for massive civil disobedience is contrary to Catholic teaching, note the Holy Father's words:

"Laws which authorize and promote abortion and euthanasia are therefore radically opposed not only to the good of the individual but also to the common good; as such they are completely lacking in authentic juridical validity. Disregard for the right to life, precisely because it leads to the killing of the person whom society exists to serve, is what most directly conflicts with the possibility of achieving the common good. Consequently, a civil law authorizing abortion or euthanasia ceases by that very fact to be a true, morally binding civil law.

73. Abortion and euthanasia are thus crimes which no human law can claim to legitimize. There is no obligation in conscience to obey such laws; instead there is a grave and clear obligation to oppose them by conscientious objection. From the very beginnings of the Church, the apostolic preaching reminded Christians of their duty to obey legitimately constituted public authorities (cf. Rom 13:1-7; 1 Pet 2:13-14), but at the same time it firmly warned that "we must obey God rather than men" (Acts 5:29). In the Old Testament, precisely in regard to threats against life, we find a significant example of resistance to the unjust command of those in authority. After Pharaoh ordered the killing of all newborn males, the Hebrew midwives refused. "They did not do as the king of Egypt commanded them, but let the male children live" (Ex 1:17). But the ultimate reason for their action should be noted: "the midwives feared God" (ibid. ). It is precisely from obedience to God—to whom alone is due that fear which is acknowledgment of his absolute sovereignty—that the strength and the courage to resist unjust human laws are born. It is the strength and the courage of those prepared even to be imprisoned or put to the sword, in the certainty that this is what makes for "the endurance and faith of the saints" (Rev 13:10).

"In the case of an intrinsically unjust law, such as a law permitting abortion or euthanasia, it is therefore never licit to obey it, or to "take part in a propaganda campaign in favour of such a law, or vote for it"."

(sections 72-73; my emphasis)

This encyclical provides a wealth of moral wisdom. This is one of the major, major reasons why I became a Catholic. Having been a pro-life activist for eight years prior to my conversion, I wanted to be in the Christian Church that stood for life boldly and without compromise. I dare say that nothing (in the way of an authoritative document) to be found in evangelical or larger Protestantism (where there are indeed many noble and praiseworthy pro-life advocates) can match this document (like Humanae Vitae also) for its majesty and depth of truth and deep understanding of the issues at stake.

If either President Bush (evangelical Protestant) or Governor Jeb Bush (Catholic) had gone in and rescued Terri from imminent death-by-starvation, they would have been violating no biblical or Catholic principle whatsoever. This is not just a "Catholic" thing: it is a general Christian thing that all Christians can (or ought to, I should say) agree upon, in accordance with the Bible and received Christian moral tradition (including Protestantism and Orthodoxy). But (quite predictably) both men decided that man's laws could not be broken, even in such an extraordinary circumstance.

These are perfect, tragic examples of how modern man (even pro-life advocates, Christians, and good men like the two Bushes, who did all they could, legally, to stop the murder) accepts legal positivism: the notion whereby human law is the highest authority over man, rather than the natural law or moral law or God's law, which ought to (and indeed does in fact) lie behind all true and just human law. They were under no moral obligation to obey these obscenely corrupt, anti-life judges or state legislations.

But that's a radical notion, and it will take a long time to sink in. That's why I wrote earlier, that only much more persecution will cause good men to stand up and disobey these abominable, evil pro-death laws. Then something can truly change in our evil, corrupt, humanist, hedonist, idolatrous society.

Wednesday, March 30, 2005

Why I am a Catholic / Why I am a Lutheran / The Protestant Myth of Origins

This is an exchange I had with three Lutherans; mainly Eric Phillips, following up on my paper, Martin Luther Espouses Prayer For the Dead / Retroactive Prayer, and later discussion. I used the original topic, prayers for the dead, as a springboard for the larger discussion of why the Catholic position is (I believe, with all due respect) more plausible and historically-supported than the Lutheran outlook (following up on the first comment seen below). Eric's words will be in blue; those of others in red and green. The original discussion was posted in one of my BlogBack comments sections, and also in a similar one at the Lutheran blog Here I Stand, for the post, "Prayers for the Dead."\


This is why I like being a Protestant. You're allowed to admit doctrinal errors, to re-trace your steps in light of Scripture and reason, and to admit openly that you're doing so instead of pretending that you're only teaching what your church has always been teaching for centuries. Bro. Attwood's approach here is deeply Reformational in spirit, even if it leads to a more "Catholic" result in this case (ditto re sacraments).

Tom R 03.22.05 - 9:18 pm #


And of course one reason I like being Catholic so much is that one can believe that a Church exists in the world which can actually attain to theological / spiritual / biblical truth and preserve it. This keeps us from the time-consuming and (should be) unnecessary task of "reinventing the doctrinal wheel" every generation.

For heaven's sake, do Protestants really believe that God is so weak and ineffectual that no Church on earth could have figured out the entire Christian theology by now? What y'all seem to think is a priori impossible, we accept on faith (corroborated by historical evidences), on the grounds that "with God all things are possible."

And so we see in the present case yet another instance of the glory of Catholicism. We've known about and practiced prayers for the dead from the beginning. But it is some big revelation for some Lutherans to figure this out now? And they have to go against the grain of their own Lutheran denominations to do so? Luther and the Augsburg Confession got it right, but somehow this knowledge was lost, simply because it smacked too much of "Catholicism"?

So Tom thinks this is very "reformational" and much to the glory of Lutheranism or Protestantism or sola Scriptura or private judgment, or however one wishes to characterize it?

I conclude exactly the opposite. In my mind, this is one indication of many many that the Catholic Church is precisely what she claims to be, because she got it right once again, whereas Protestants keep "discovering" what she knew all along.

No doubt this will be perceived by some as a "triumphalistic" remark. But Catholics are always accused of that no matter what we do, so I figure we may as well speak our minds freely. I wasn't trying to be triumphalistic at all, nor was that my intent. It was simply a rhetorical turning of the tables. Tom wrote about why he thought the post reinforced what was good about being a Protestant. I simply responded by explaining why I thought precisely the opposite.

Thus, if my comment was "triumphalistic" then his was equally so, and the complaint ought to be made across the board: "no one may ever speak about why they believe in one variation of Christianity over against others. They must regard all denominations and Christian opinions as of exactly the same validity and plausibility."

As that leads to manifest absurdity in result, I will stick to being a confident Catholic, thank you.

Dave asks,

"For heaven's sake, do Protestants really believe that God is so weak and ineffectual that no Church on earth could have figured out the entire Christian theology by now?"

Not at all. We believe that it was figured out a long time ago, and then overlaid with accretions and bad conclusions that obscured the truth and eventually twisted it, necessitating a Reformation, which produced again a Church that had Christian theology figured out.

Eric Phillips 03.23.05 - 2:34 pm #

Hi Eric,

Ah, but that is not consistent with the present case, so it doesn't help this particular argument.

You give the classic "Reformation" scenario and what I call "the Protestant myth of its own origins." The problem, however, as applied to the present case is as follows:

True theology was "figured out" in the early Church, so you tell us. Prayer for the dead was one of these tenets of true theology and doctrine. Then corruption came along and obscured this truth. But where was that corruption? Catholics and Orthodox have always prayed for the dead.
It was Protestantism which removed this ancient, patristic, biblical practice. As we saw (and this was the great value of Chris's post), Luther actually believed in it in some sense, and the Augsburg Confession followed suit. Yet most Protestants abandoned it.

So tell me, how is that a "Reformation" or a superior situation to the Catholic scenario? We believed in it and practiced it all along. Y'all initially kept it, while ditching many other ancient beliefs and practices. Then it was quickly lost, then recently more historically-minded Protestants found it again (and the process continues in every generation).

So now we are to believe that Lutheranism (of course, LCMS or WELS) has true theology "figured out". It was sure a rocky road to get to that point. How in the world this serves as an indication of the overall superiority of a Lutheran or broadly Protestant viewpoint on theology and epistemology, is, I confess, a great mystery to me.

Obviously, there are many more arguments to be brought to bear on both sides, and we both think our case is best made cumulatively. But this particular instance does not demonstrate at all that the Protestant notion of authority and attainment of truth is superior to the Catholic or Orthodox point of view. In fact, it would suggest quite the opposite: the truth in the matter of prayers for the dead has been obscured for most Protestants throughout its short almost-500-year existence.

Therefore, it is most inaccurate for you to describe the situation as having "Christian theology figured out." In light of the above facts, that is no argument, either logical or historical, but simply the party line. It sounds good, and that's about it. As soon as we examine it with any scrutiny at all, it collapses.

That said, I remain delighted that Catholics and (some) Lutherans (and people like my favorite writer, C.S. Lewis) can agree that prayer for the dead is a good and helpful practice. Praise God for any agreement and unity we can enjoy.

I wasn't talking about Protestantism in general, but about the Lutheran Church, in which the practice has been confessionally approved since the beginning. The fact that many Lutherans do not realize this, and have imbibed non-Lutheran ideas from other Protestants, does not change anything. Surely, as an apologist for the Roman Catholic Church, you are well acquainted with the important distinction between what a Church actually teaches as a Church, and what misinformed members may believe.

Eric Phillips 03.23.05 - 5:08 pm #

Sure, but I was disagreeing mainly with "the Protestant myth of origins," as you presented it. Far too many holes in that for it to hold any water.

Furthermore, what good is a confession if the vast majority of the members of a faith neither know what is in it, in particulars, nor practice it (or they know and reserve the right to dissent, on general Protestant principles, smuggled into the Lutheran rule of faith)?

Even the average Catholic doesn't do that badly. So I must continue to disagree that Lutheranism is some improvement or "reformation" upon Catholicism.

A Roman Catholic is asking what good a confession is if most of the "faithful" don't know it? The irony takes my breath away. You really need answer that question before you ask anyone else to.

As for the "Protestant myth of origins," I'm not about to try to prove the whole thing right here. That would be insane to attempt in the confines of a blog discussion. So go on and call it a myth if you want, but since you KNOW that we hold this "myth" to be true, you really shouldn't ask dumb questions such as
"do Protestants really believe that God is so weak and ineffectual that no Church on earth could have figured out the entire Christian theology by now?"

Not Confessional Protestants, anyway. You know the answer already.

Eric Phillips 03.24.05 - 3:18 am #

"Furthermore, what good is a confession if the vast majority of the members of a faith neither know what is in it, in particulars, nor practice it (or they know and reserve the right to dissent, on general Protestant principles, smuggled into the Lutheran rule of faith)?"

Well as long as everyone just sincerely to believe [sic] as the Lutheran church teaches, the infallible faith of the Magisterium teaching in concert will be imputed unto them.

Actually, the vast majority of Lutherans know what we believe about the essentials. You can boil the entire Lutheran faith down to the Smaller Catechism, which is what, 9 pages long? The fact that you Catholics have turned complicated systems of metaphysics and bizarre constructions of the afterlife into articles of faith is your own fault and cannot be extended to us.

Josh S Homepage 03.24.05 - 9:04 am #

The existence now of non sequitur and Josh's usual sophomoric mockery clearly means that this discussion has run its course.

Your claim is that your overall system is so superior to ours. Yet on this question of prayers for the dead hardly any Lutherans even know that Luther accepted it or that it is in your own confessions.

You can mock lay Catholic nominalism and ignorance all you like. You'll get no argument from me on that. I've written many online papers about it, and a published magazine article (in This Rock: the leading Catholic apologetics periodical), and deal with the problem in sections in my published books.

I am as opposed to it as you are, believe me. I opposed such widespread ignorance in Protestant ranks, too, when I was among your number. Apologists exist to help alleviate such problems in some small way. So why do you keep bringing it up when I agree with you? Desperation in argument?

To get back to the actual topic (rather than this evasive rabbit trail): if you find your own denomination even more abysmally ignorant than us lowly Catholics (at least on this issue), when supposedly committed Protestants are the "cream of the crop" of Christians, then you need to ask yourself some hard questions why that is. I have suggested that it is because your rule of faith is inadequate. I'm as entitled to my opinion as you are to yours.

You can ignore critiques if you like. I love critiques because they help me clarify my own positions. But if you think an answer to such a critique is to simply mock that person's faith community (ironically in a way that is really no cause of significant disagreement — other than the unedifying tone —, because I agree that nominalism is a huge problem), then you need to reconsider your own modes of argumentation and logic (or lack thereof).

If you want this blog to be more than simply a "preaching to the choir" exercise, and desire some good discussion, it seems to me that you would welcome some dissenting opinions once in a while and not sink to these unworthy tactics in reply. It's both more educating and interesting, in my book, if your goal is to generate some good discussion here.

Joshing Josh wrote:

"Actually, the vast majority of Lutherans know what we believe about the essentials. You can boil the entire Lutheran faith down to the Smaller Catechism, which is what, 9 pages long?"

First of all, I wonder whether you or other Lutherans consider prayer for the dead an "essential"? Maybe you do. But if you do, your citation of the Small Catechism is either beside the point or merely provides more ammo for my case (depending on how one looks at it).

If prayer for the dead is an "essential," then why does the Small Catechism not mention it, since you say it boils down "the entire Lutheran faith"? If it is not an essential, on the other hand, then why do you introduce the non sequitur (in that instance) of a catechism which ignores it, while explicating those "essentials"?

Either way, my point is confirmed: the Lutheran system has not in practice worked out any better than the Catholic system. Prayer for the dead provides an example of that. The truncated Mariology of current-day Lutheranism (quite contrary to Luther and many of the early Lutheran luminaries) provides another clear example. I've done much research on that question, citing many Lutheran scholars in the process.

Even the quasi-apostasy of the larger Lutheran denominations also proves my point. ELCA is pro-abortion, etc. If orthodox, traditional Lutherans are confined to small sub-groups of the larger church, which has largely succumbed to liberalism, along with the other mainline denominations, how well can the system have worked out in history?

And that "working-out" in the real concrete world is a key component of what it means to be the true (visible, not invisible) Church of God. This is another reason I am a Catholic, because our Church has uniquely preserved apostolic doctrine and moral teaching. And that has to do with the element of "catholicity" which becomes almost a joke if you wanna suggest that the true remnant, ever tinier and tinier in smaller groups is more "catholic" than my own Catholic Church (let alone "one").

Luther and Calvin thought contraception was murder. Lutherans and Calvinists (along with all other Christians) opposed it as a very grave sin till the Anglicans caved in 1930. Now all that is gone, but the Catholic Church is in the same place she always has been.

This very issue is a huge reason for my own conversion. I wanted apostolic teaching without compromise, and I only saw that preserved in one place.


I didn't mock your faith community. Nor was I the one who was trying to make polemical hay out of the supposed theological ignorance of another church. YOU brought it up with reference to Lutherans, ostensibly as proof of RC superiority. All I did was to point out that you live in a house with very thin glass walls when it comes to this issue, and should not be throwing stones. So don't whine about avoidance and mockery when your own ill-considered polemical tactic comes sailing back into your living room. If a mark of the true church is minimal lay ignorance, then there's no way the RCC is the true church. And if it isn't a mark of the true church, then stop arguing as if it were.

Eric Phillips 03.24.05 - 5:36 pm #

I guess I hit a nerve, because now you're talking nonsense: about your apparent views and about my own.

There are infinitely more important issues going on right now (that I just wrote about on my blog [Terri Schiavo]). If I'm gonna spend time disputing something with a fellow Christian, at least I'll pick one who will make some attempt to understand what I am arguing and offer up a cogent reply, rather than foolishness and preaching to the choir.

God bless you,


Eric, you don't argue with a Professional Apologist. Weeping, you fall on your knees in repentance and return to Holy Mother Church.

Josh S Homepage 03.24.05 - 9:23 pm #

Case in point . . . I concede that "mocking" was probably too strong a word for what Eric wrote, but certainly not with regard to Josh's rather poor attempts at sarcasm.


The problem wasn't with the strength of the word "mocking." The problem was that you aimed an argument at Lutheranism, and when we pointed out that it actually works better against Catholicism, you cried foul. If it was a bad argument, you shouldn't have introduced it to the conversation, right?

Eric Phillips 03.25.05 - 3:32 am #

Okay, Eric, I'll try once again. Now please read very carefully.

If y'all weren't claiming that you were superior to us (which is inherent in the very word "reform", as if Lutheranism is inherently better than Catholicism because it supposedly "reformed" it in a profound way), then you might have a point.

But my argument hinges upon your claim. I was turning the tables, which is one of my favorite forms of argument (along with analogy and reductio ad absurdum). So here was my argument in a nutshell, that still hasn't been adequately replied to, because you obviously haven't yet fully understood it. That's okay; that's why folks need to communicate much more than they do (to explain and clarify), but it is a fact:

1. Lutheranism claims to have a better rule of faith than Catholicism.

2. I used prayers for the dead as a "test case" for this proposition.

3. While conceding widespread Catholic ignorance and nominalism (later mentioning that I have published stuff on this very subject), I went on to make the point that — given the supposed superiority of the system — it is all the more scandalous that Lutheranism as a whole hasn't been able to propagate its own traditional theology to its members to any significant degree beyond that of Catholicism. Prayer for the dead demonstrates this because I highly suspect that any survey of Lutherans would show widespread rejection and unawareness that it is in the Augsburg Confession (you may dispute that contention if you like: that would be one relevant response).

4. Therefore, if this case is at all illustrative (I cited Mariology in passing as another instance of the same dynamic, and also caving on the traditional Lutheran position on contraception — and even abortion, in the ELCA: the largest Lutheran body in America), then the supposedly better system has fared even worse than Catholics, as Catholics are well aware of the propriety of prayer for the dead.

5. Thus, the argument in no way is defeated by mere mention of Catholic lay ignorance and nominalism, which I have conceded over and over (who couldn't? It's so obvious!). In fact, the very fact of Catholic nominalism assists my argument — far from defeating it — because it is presupposed in my argument and is thus part of it! Rather, it is an internal difficulty for you. That's why it is irrelevant to appeal to Catholic ignorance; it has no bearing on the argument concerning the Lutheran difficulty here.

So I stated that you were resorting to non sequitur, while Josh sunk to outright mockery: mocking me because I am a "professional apologist," which is classic ad hominem fallacy. I'm sure he would have made a very different reply if I weren't an apologist, right? I don't buy it. He used whatever tactic he could to avoid the actual argument. Otherwise, why stoop to such childishness? If he thinks I am proud or arrogant or something (as seems to be implied by the mockery), then let him make that case with some documentation, not stupidity and acting like a pompous ass.

In your case, on the other hand, I say that you simply didn't follow my argument properly, and so made statements that had little to do with the actual argument, and did nothing to resolve your problem, in terms of the argument I made. You can dispute fact, premises, or reasoning. But misrepresenting what I was arguing (inadvertently, no doubt) and appealing to Catholic ignorance accomplishes exactly nothing.

Hopefully, this will clarify my exact argument. If you disagree, then by all means, give us your reasons why, with something different than you have been providing thus far.

I should mention the following also, as to my actual argument:

You wrote:

"We believe that it ["the entire Christian theology," in context] was figured out a long time ago, and then overlaid with accretions and bad conclusions that obscured the truth and eventually twisted it, necessitating a Reformation, which produced again a Church that had Christian theology figured out."

That led me to develop my argument, and to talk about "the Protestant myth of origins." You believe the myth above, yet what do we find when we actually look at the Fathers and early Church history? Well, stuff like the following:

1. The early Church accepted episcopacy (bishops) and apostolic succession. Luther rejected this and opted instead for the rule of the oh-so-spiritual secular German princes and a state-church (the latter of which is also, of course, contrary to the early Church). Before they died, both Luther and (especially) Melanchthon issued many statements of severe regret for having done that.

2. The early Church and the Fathers (particularly St. Augustine) did not believe in Faith Alone (sola fide) or imputed, extrinsic justification, whereas Luther, Calvin, and Melanchthon made this one of the two "pillars" of the so-called "Reformation."

3. The early Church and the Fathers (particularly St. Augustine) did not believe in Scripture Alone (sola Scriptura) as its Rule of faith, whereas Luther, Calvin, and Melanchthon made this the other "pillar" of the "Reformation."

4. The early Church and the Fathers (particularly St. Augustine) believed in the Sacrifice of the Mass. Luther and Calvin threw it out as an abomination, sacrilege, and idolatry.

So much for the myth of "reform." This is no "reform" (which brings something back to what it was formerly), but rather, a revolution or revolt (which introduces an entirely new order — in this instance, with regard to the many novel, unprecedented beliefs that Lutheranism introduced, contrary to previous Christian Tradition and the early Church (not to mention, the Bible).

Thus, if we apply this state of affairs to prayers for the dead (as I did, only to be sidetracked into an irrelevant discussion of Catholic lay nominalism), we find that Catholics always believed it. Thus it was never lost (contrary to the Protestant general myth of profound corruption or outright apostasy in some cases). Therefore, Lutheranism didn't "restore" it (and it is hardly believed among you guys now). Instead, Luther opted to throw out purgatory, which was also believed by the early Church (particularly St. Augustine). There is more patristic evidence for purgatory than there is for original sin.

You later wrote:

"As for the 'Protestant myth of origins,' I'm not about to try to prove the whole thing right here. That would be insane to attempt in the confines of a blog discussion. So go on and call it a myth if you want, but since you KNOW that we hold this 'myth' to be true, . . ."

This myth entails the above massive contradictions and many others. I have had discussions with "CPA" about the Fathers and transformational views of the Eucharist. I had a dialogue with you yourself about the papacy. I would be absolutely delighted to discuss any of the above matters, and see you try to prove that the truth of early Church doctrine was contrary to what I have described.

If not, then your "myth" comes crashing to the ground, and your only choice will be to admit that the "Reformation" was in fact a "Revolution," and cannot be traced to the early Church in those areas where Protestants differ from ancient, apostolic, biblical received Catholic Tradition. And that signals the end of the Protestant myth of origins.

Where you agree with the Catholic Church, great, but where you differ, this is heresy, as traditionally defined (particularly by the Fathers). Schism is another grave error intrinsic to Protestantism, of course.


No, I think I was following your argument just fine. Having read your recapitulation, I find nothing new. When you suggest that the gap between Lutheran doctrine and the knowledge of the Lutheran laity proves that our Church is not in fact better than yours, i.e. reformed, you're making an argument that is hypocritical for two reasons:

1) You know very well, and I'm sure you mention it every time you debate someone re: the RCC's claim to infallibility, that any claim to have superior doctrine is just that, a claim to have superior DOCTRINE, not a claim that everyone in your church understands it.

2) No matter what the gap might be like between Lutheran doctrine and the knowledge of the average Lutheran layman, it is a HECK of a lot narrower than the gap between Catholic doctrine and the knowledge of the average Catholic layman. The fact that you are willing to acknowledge and lament the size of your gap doesn't insulate you from the force of this argument: if gap size is one way of determing who has the better church, you lose. If it isn't, then it's not relevant to this discussion.

Then there's also the fact that, even though way more Catholics than Lutherans know it's proper to pray for the dead, some of the reasons that motivate them to pray are based on false doctrine. I would choose a church that didn't pray for the dead at all over a church that thought prayers were necessary to save those who died in Christ from paying the debt for some of their own sins.

As for the rest, sorry. I said I wasn't going to try to argue that here, and I meant it. As individual issues come up, we can run with them, but the whole "myth" of origins is far too large a topic. Especially since you have more time to write long posts than I do, and a library of pre-written essays that you make liberal use of.

Eric Phillips 03.26.05 - 3:03 pm #

Thanks for your thoughts. There is nowhere else to go with this (except to make it a new dialogue for my website). Readers can then decide between the two positions (or collect evidence, as the case may be).

Footnote: meaning of nominalism:

My friend Jonathan Prejean clarified when someone asked how I was using this word:

"It also refers to people who profess to be members of a religion without actually believing the faith (believers in name only). In Catholicism, sometimes referred to as 'cafeteria Catholics,' 'CINOs,' etc.

I concurred and added:

I think the root word means "name," thus the meaning, "in name only." We might also call them "lukewarm," per the biblical usage (where Jesus said He would spit them out of His mouth). I love the term "cafeteria Catholic," because picking and choosing is the essence of heresy (whose literal meaning is "pick and choose") and of selective obedience (and Protestant private judgment, for that matter). It is fundamentally foreign to the Catholic rule of faith. So that term describes in a pictorially vivid and colorful, semi-humorous way, exactly where the problem lies. Whenever something can get right to the point and be a little humorous at the same time, I'm all for it!

My Favorite Atheist, Nat Hentoff, Strongly Protests Terri Schiavo's Torture and Execution

Hentoff is "Exhibit #1" for my contention that atheists often have more moral principle and integrity than Christians.

"Terri Schiavo: Judicial Murder: Her crime was being disabled, voiceless, and at the disposal of our media"

(Village Voice, March 29th, 2005 10:59 AM)

Meanwhile, according to a Time Magazine poll, 53% of those calling themselves evangelical support removing Terri's feeding tube, while 41% oppose it.

It's an odd (as well as grotesque and obscene) world we live in, isn't it? Even pro-aborts like Jesse Jackson (formerly pro-life before he ran for President, just like Clinton, Gore, and Gephardt) and Ralph Nader are speaking out forcefully. But most of us committed evangelical or traditional Anglican or Lutheran or orthodox Reformed Protestant or orthodox Catholic or traditional Orthodox Christians sit on our butts piously reading our Bibles or praying our Rosaries or reading Calvin or the Augsburg Confession or St. Gregory Palamas and doing little or nothing concrete to promote the Culture of Life, while the legal Holocaust continues (now in its 33rd year and counting).

Sunday, March 27, 2005

Why the Culture of Death Keeps Advancing: Christian Apathy and Ignorance Concerning Terri Schiavo

[cited materials will be in blue]

According to ABC poll data: (2nd link)

- 70% of Americans say it is inappropriate for Congress to involve itself in the Schiavo case.

- 67% of Americans “think the elected officials trying to keep Schiavo alive are doing so more for political advantage than out of concern for her or for the principles involved.” (Just 19% believe the elected officials are acting out of concern for her or their principles.)

The charge against Republicans here is self-contradictory and implausible. Politicians are always quite aware of public sentiment. So why would they be acting for purely political advantage if 19% of the public thinks they are acting for the right reasons? Therefore, it is exceedingly likely that they are not doing so, since it is clearly not to their political advantage.

- 58% of Republicans, 61% of independents and 63% of Democrats oppose federal government intervention in the case.

- 50% of evangelicals oppose federal government intervention in the case, just 44% approve of the intervention.

- 63% of Catholics and a plurality of evangelicals believe Schiavo’s feeding tube should be removed.
Another irony here is that congressional Republicans show themselves more ethically correct than Christians of any stripe, considered as a sociological whole, according to affiliation.

Ted Olsen, in a blistering, dead-on Christianity Today commentary (which also provides many great links), wrote:

"Growing up in the shadow of post-World War II America, and many remembrances of the Holocaust, I've often wondered what it must have been like in Nazi Germany for the nation to standby while evil was done in the name of kindness or eugenic ideology," says Touchstone's Ken Tanner. [name linked] "Now we all know how it can happen, what it feels like, and how helpless good people can be in the face of intentional evil."

Around the office over the last few months, we've been talking about the supposed triumph of the evangelical movement. Evangelicalism is now the dominant face of American Christianity . . .
And yet our country's courts are supporting an adulterer [link] to starve and dehydrate his wife to death while she lies helpless. And, apparently, she's aware [link] of what's happening, if you believe the Mayo Clinic's William P. Cheshire Jr. [link] But maybe you shouldn't, says The New York Times. After all, he's religious. [link] "He has to be bogus, a pro-life fanatic," University of Minnesota Medical School neurologist Ronald Cranford told the Times.

"Perhaps you've noticed other bloodless words being flipped at [Schiavo], words like 'viability' and phrases like 'pull the plug,'" writes the Chicago Tribune's John Kass. [link] "These words were once the issue of bloodless people, of clerks and sophists who can prove almost anything with their fine arguments. The rest of us have fed on them until they shape how we think, shaping our options, shaping our future. … Americans have finally been taught to think like bureaucrats." The real word for what's happening, he says, is murder.

According to an Associated Press release:

More than two-thirds of people who describe themselves as evangelicals and conservatives disapprove of the intervention by Congress and President Bush. [further link]

And here's another typical show of American illogic and inability to think coherently on ethics:

More than eight in 10 in that poll said they feel sympathy for Bob and Mary Schindler, parents of Schiavo, who want to keep her alive. And seven in 10 said they're sympathetic for Michael Schiavo, the husband of Schiavo who says she should be allowed to die.

If there is any good news in this sad, disgusting, outrageous tragedy, it is that consistent Christians, who hold to a common traditional moral worldview, are banding together. Laurie Goodstein wrote in the New York Times:

The outcry over Terri Schiavo is a testament to an alliance of conservative Roman Catholics and evangelicals who have found common cause in the "culture of life" agenda.

Alas, there are the usual questions about the polls being taken (examples one / two), but whatever the real numbers are, it is without doubt a scandalous outcome and a disgrace to Christianity and massive Christian ethical hypocrisy and stupefying ignorance. After all, if even a tiny number of committed Christians would not stand for this, and engage in civil disobedience and nonviolent resistance, this wouldn't even be an issue. This would and could never have happened. Let's all pray that that day will come soon.

Thursday, March 24, 2005

Terri Schiavo's Legal Murder: Has the New Neronian Age of Martyrs Begun?

"The fugitive has not been found!" the commandant Karl Fritsch screamed. "Ten of you will die for him in the starvation bunker." The prisoners trembled in terror. A few days in this bunker without food and water, and a man's intestines dried up and his brain turned to fire.

The ten were selected, including Franciszek Gajowniczek, imprisoned for helping the Polish Resistance. He couldn't help a cry of anguish. "My poor wife!" he sobbed. "My poor children! What will they do?"

When he uttered this cry of dismay, Maximilian stepped silently forward, took off his cap, and stood before the commandant and said, "I am a Catholic priest. Let me take his place. I am old. He has a wife and children."

Astounded, the Nazi commandant asked, "What does this Polish pig want?"

Father [St. Maximilian] Kolbe pointed with his hand to the condemned Franciszek Gajowniczek and repeated "I am a Catholic priest from Poland; I would like to take his place, because he has a wife and children."

Observers believed in horror that the commandant would be angered and would refuse the request, or would order the death of both men. The commandant remained silent for a moment. What his thoughts were on being confronted by this brave priest we have no idea. Amazingly, however, he acceded to the request. Apparently, the the Nazis had more use for a young worker than for an old one, and was happy to make the exchange. Franciszek Gajowniczek was returned to the ranks, and the priest took his place.

Kolbe was thrown down the stairs of Building 13 along with the other victims and simply left there to starve. One by one, the men died of hunger and thirst. Maximilian Kolbe encouraged the others with prayers, psalms, and meditations on the Passion of Christ. After two weeks, only four were alive. The cell was needed for more victims, and the camp executioner, a common criminal called Bock, came in and injected a lethal dose of cabolic acid into the left arm of each of the four dying men. Kolbe was the only one still fully conscious and with a prayer on his lips, the last prisoner, Father Kolbe, raised his arm for the executioner. His wait was over ...

So it was that Father Maximilian Kolbe was executed on August 14, 1941, at the age of forty-seven years, a martyr of charity. His body was removed to the crematorium, and without dignity or ceremony was disposed of, like hundreds of thousands who had gone before him, and hundreds of thousands more who would follow.

(Jewish Virtual Library: Maximilian Kolbe: 1894-1941)


How far we have come in our moral progress in Western Civilization (led by the sterling, shining example of "give me your poor" America: bastion of liberty, freedom, and personal rights). What was considered one of the most heinous tortures and executions by the Nazis (and their imprisoned victims) -- starvation and hunger, till death -- is now widely regarded as a "humane, compassionate, painless death with dignity"; indeed, a precious "right." Our legal system would have done the Nazis proud.

Imagine if the Nuremburg Trials were held today. The majority of our own Supreme Court could consistently argue the Nazi criminals' case on the basis of the highest, most respectable legal precedent, and the pro-death, anti-child, anti-life logic that has held sway in our beloved country for more than 30 years now (with more than 48 million legally-slaughtered babies as a result: far exceeding the Nazi body piles and burned human remains: by some eight times).

Rather than hanging the horrific war criminals like Goering, perhaps (ah, the virtue of hindsight) he should have been offered the "humane, painless, dignified" death of dehydration and starvation . . . "If only" . . . But alas, we are a much more progressive and caring people now than we were then. Goering killed himself by lethal injection, as it turned out. Today, many thousands of bleeding-logic, heartless, morally clueless liberal "doctors" would have gladly volunteered to do it for him.

Perhaps Terri Schiavo can be regarded as a martyr (I'm writing before her death, but there looks to be no hope left, on this Holy Thursday, after six days of no food and water)? St. Maximilian Kolbe did, of course, volunteer for his heroic death. Terri was not given even that choice. Her loving, committed husband decided it for her (after having been granted a million dollars in a previous court finding after agreeing under oath to take care of her with the money for a presumed full life of perhaps "70 years").

But of course we also know (on her dear husband's word) that this is how Terri would want to die (coincidentally just as the Jews and Catholics and other unfortunates in the Nazi camps did), so (granting his report, which every court system seems to think unquestionable), she has volunteered for the death that has been the main cause of the canonization of Fr. Kolbe.

What does this travesty of justice and absolute moral outrage tell us about our country and ourselves? I place the blame squarely on the Catholic Church, first and foremost, secondarily on other committed Christian groups, and thirdly, on our morally upright, decent non-believer friends. After all, I believe the famous saying from Edmund Burke: "evil triumphs when good men do nothing."

We are blessed with legal abortion largely because the Catholic Church was so weak in 1973, and was suffering through a huge liberal crisis on the level of the priests and many laypeople (not in its dogma, which has not changed). Such a huge societal shift would have been inconceivable just ten years earlier, when Catholicism had achieved the height of its power and influence, and we had our first Catholic President (albeit a personally nominal one).

But 1973 was an entirely different time. The Church was weak, so the secularist juggernaut (fully in the throes of both the sexual revolution and feminism) acted, and here we are, 48 million citizens (all 32 years old and younger) fewer, and in a wonderful society (almost a Utopia) where we are further blessed with events like high school massacres, and so forth.

Not that other Christians were not to blame, too. Many other groups and influential Christian individuals had caved on abortion, or were actually sanctioning it in individual "hard cases." But "to whom much is given, much is required." The Catholic Church (ironically, given American religious history) was the largest single Christian group in America (and the world).

Yet where were the priests and bishops and influential, important, high-placed Catholic laypeople leading massive, unprecedented public rallies in disapproval (then and now)? Where was the mass protest and civil disobedience? After all, there was much precedent, before and after. The abolitionists caused quite a stir before the Civil war. Their cause was just (though not always their tactics).

As recently as eight years earlier, there had been huge, entirely justifiable and necessary peaceful civil rights rallies and marches and civil disobedience, led by Dr. Martin Luther King (with many Catholics and other Christian activists participating). These included the breaking of unjust laws. Four years earlier, there had been huge (legal) protest rallies in Washington, D.C. over the Vietnam War.

That tragic conflict took only a puny 56,000 lives: a mere two-weeks' worth of work in our legal abortuaries (please excuse my sarcasm: I trust that my very serious point of comparison will be understood). But I guess when big healthy people die, it is much more a cause for alarm and protest than when little and unhealthy and defenseless people do (at least the soldier in Vietnam had a machine gun at his disposal, to fight back).

Why is it, then, that something so clearly wrong and outrageous and contrary to all Christian morality as abortion was not also so protested (then and now)? I think we need to ask ourselves that and take a good, long look in the mirror. Virtually all of us are moral cowards, unwilling to undergo the slightest suffering for the sake of the Church, God, or the most obvious of injustices and suffering of others (up to and including death).

We have all basically sat idly by (like Germans in the 30s) as our nation has sunk to depths that would be the envy of the Nazis and "Uncle Joe" Stalin himself (who once starved 10 million Ukrainians: 10 million Terri Schiavos: maybe this is why the liberal press in America uttered nary a whimper in protest: they were ahead of their time, and were compassionate far more than they knew; better to starve than die in the then-inevitable World War II, right?).

We keep reaching new milestones of butchery, savagery, and barbarism: beyond the ancient Romans, beyond the Nazis and the Communists . . . first legal abortion came in 1973. It then became legal to dismember a ten-week old preborn child, with all its organs in place, a beating heart, and brainwaves, and all the DNA that it would ever need. The next major milestone of the Culture of Death, as I see it, came in 1989, with the Supreme Court Webster case, dealing with abortion. Do you remember that one? After Robert Bork had been denied a seat on the Court after a ridiculous, slanderous Kangaroo Trial in the Senate, Anthony Kennedy got the seat instead. He had been a conservative judge, and was a Catholic. He seemed like a decent choice at the time.

But he voted against life in 1989 when that case came up. There was actually a real opportunity for Roe v. Wade to be overturned then. It failed because (one could argue) the Catholic justice Kennedy voted against it. So did Sandra Day O'Connor (Episcopalian, and a Reagan appointee). Kennedy was key in that development because he eventually became a "swing vote". In 1973, Harry Blackmun wrote the Roe ruling. He was a Methodist. The only two dissenters at the time were William Rehnquist (Lutheran) and Byron White (Episcopalian). See Religious Affiliation of All U.S. Supreme Court Justices.

Along with Chief Justice Rehnquist, the two most conservative justices presently are Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas, both Catholics. It seems to come down to us Catholics, any way you look at it. That's why I say we are most responsible for the New Savagery that we find ourselves in, in America.

So 1989 was a milestone. The chance to overturn Roe and institute any reasonable limits on abortion-on-demand at all was lost. If one Catholic justice had stayed true to his previous legal and moral principles, it may have turned out differently. That was 16 years after legal abortion began. Here we are sixteen years later, passing another pro-death milestone: now a woman is being starved to death in the name of compassion, mercy, and the "right to die with dignity."

And everyone is watching and letting it happen. Her (devout Catholic) parents want to care for her; so do a brother and a sister. They will pay for her care. But an estranged husband, who is living in adultery, with two children, wanted her to die, so his will has reigned supreme (much as any mother can kill her child today, and the husband or grandparents have no say whatsoever). This is the culture of death.

And guess who again played a central role in this travesty and moral and legal lunacy? Anthony Kennedy. He was the Justice who reviewed the desperate appeals from Terri's parents. Great work, Justice Kennedy (and any other Justice who concurred)! I'd like to listen when you explain this to your Maker one day. Let's see how far your sophisticated legal reasoning will get you then (God being not nearly as gullible and sheep-like as the American people). Note: I'm not saying these judges are condemned to hell; but rather, that all our sins will be judged, in any event: for the saved as well as the damned.

The other notable milestones were the advent of "partial-birth abortion," where a full-term child is delivered up to the neck, and then a "doctor" sticks scissors in the back of its neck and sucks its brains out (all because the mother doesn't "want" the child; whereas one million couples waiting to adopt would be more than happy to take the child, and even let the little boy or girl live!). Majorities in the Senate during the Clinton administration refused to outlaw this butchery of the most inhumane, monstrous sort.

After that came the assisted suicide movement, spearheaded by the ghoulish "Dr. Kevorkian," from my own state of Michigan, who killed 30 or so people. At least my state (the land of Carl Levin and John Conyers) had sense enough to convict him and put him in jail. And soon we'll have wholesale harvesting of aborted babies for stem cell research (and no doubt mere commercial reasons, too). Coming up in the next 20 or so years (virtually inevitably, if nothing changes), will be active infanticide of born handicapped children, and euthanasia of older handicapped people, whose worth is decided based on what they can do for society, not because they are made in the image of God and possess an eternal soul.

These instances will be, of course, against the will of the people involved, just as in Terri Schiavo's case. This is perhaps the most frightening development at all. We need only look at Nazi Germany and current "progressive" countries like the Netherlands (formerly a strongly Christian country, much like our own: one which heroically resisted the Nazis). But we know that men won't learn from the past, and so are doomed to repeat it.

Personally, I saw some hope to end the madness of the Culture of Death in 1988, when the Operation Rescue movement exploded nationally. It seemed to be a movement much like the civil rights movement. It involved civil disobedience and biblical obedience. I took part in it (some 24 rescues, and five arrests). That could have been the beginning of what needs to happen. But alas, it petered out within a year and a half because of unwillingness to suffer consequences for doing what is right. Our opponents starting playing hardball and passing laws equating rescuers with organized criminals, and that was the end.

Even then, we could have easily prevailed by adding more bodies (i.e., live ones) to the front lines. What would the police and courts have done? They could have been brought to a standstill in a week. We tied up the courts and jails just with our rescues and some 50-100 arrests. They simply couldn't handle it. The jails didn't have any room. That's why I only spent a night in jail, after being sentenced to a week. Christians and other "good people" could accomplish this goal if we would only get off our butts and stand up and be counted (literally). But we're too afraid, compromised, and cowardly.

I would participate in such a mass movement again, in a second. But I can hardly go out and get arrested and go to jail for a year when I have a wife and four children to provide for. If we had 100,000 people out of the committed Catholics, Protestant, Orthodox, and pro-life non-believers in this country stand up to this outrage, that would be an utter non-issue (strength and safety in numbers) and it would be over in a week or a month (the whole thing: abortion, euthanasia, infanticide, assisted suicide . . . ). There would be no choice (no pun intended). Perverse, corrupt, ungodly laws wouldn't be able to do a damned thing about that sort of massive protest.

But we sit idly by and watch. What does it take to wake us up? People being machine-gunned in the streets? Children being seized and raised by the state? Routine murder of people after they hit 80 (like that movie, Logan's Run, at age 30)? How much more will we sit and watch? Sure, we vote for pro-lifers, and try to live our own lives the right way as Christians. We preach to ourselves and pat ourselves on the back every Sunday. But what good has that accomplished, in terms of promoting the sanctity of life? The courts are running rampant, trampling historic legal principles of protection of life. We see how even President Bush and a majority of Congress were helpless against one liberal "judge" who holds a human being's life in his hands as if he were God Himself (may God have mercy on him at the Judgment too).

Law is obviously not working, and is clearly part of the present problem, because human law is often unjust and contrary to God. At such times massive peaceful, nonviolent societal protest and civil disobedience is necessary. History shows us that such dissent causes a change in the laws. I'm not talking anarchy, but moral and legal reform. I'm not against law per se (not at all), but against outrageous, immoral law. Christians are no more obliged to follow unjust laws than they were in Nero's time, where they had to take an oath to the emperor or be killed. We know what they chose. But will we Christians do that today? I highly doubt it. We're too comfortable and compromised and corrupted by the surrounding society.

Again, I ask: what will it take? Well, historically, it takes the shedding of blood and persecution to wake up sound-asleep Christians. That's why it struck me that Terri Schiavo is a virtual martyr. It could be that this is the event in God's Providence which will finally wake people up to reality and what lies ahead if we continue on this bloodthirsty path of death everywhere: to preborns, handicapped, brain-damaged, quadriplegics, elderly (in due course, conservatives, Christians, pro-lifers, non-feminists, those who deny homosexual "marriage"???); you name it, as this thing continues its diabolical course. Someone said, "the blood of martyrs is the seed of the Church."

Perhaps we are now entering what I call (to coin a phrase) The New Neronian Age of Martyrs. We've now witnessed the cold-blooded murder by the state of a grown woman, by dehydration and starvation. If more people start suffering and dying, maybe we'll wake up and a revival will occur, by God's grace (just as happened in the early Church). Otherwise, we're doomed as a nation; not only culturally and morally, but perhaps even physically. God will judge this nation. I argued that after 9-11, and took a lot of heat for it. All I said was, "why are we so alarmed and mournful at 3000 deaths, when 4000 have been happening daily in abortuaries for 28 years?" I wasn't being callous (I mourned with everyone else); I was simply making a point of moral consistency. If we could mourn those in the Towers, we ought to also mourn babies being slaughtered every day in many of our own neighborhoods.

Then I wondered aloud if this was possibly the beginning of the judgment of America. It's a perfectly reasonable and biblical question and possiblity. But few understood it at the time. Granted, my timing probably left a lot to be desired, but my moral and biblical point stood. How much more corrupt have we become since 9-11? Now we murder our own grown women. We don't even need madman terrorists to do it for us. The whole country is sitting there watching it! At least abortion is mostly hidden, so people can pretend it isn't happening, or isn't morally significant.

I don't want to live the last 30 or 40 years of my life (I'm 46) in a sewer. I don't want my children to live in a culture, when they are my age, which will be even more degenerate and corrupt and evil than our own age (if indeed it is even imaginable to sink lower than we have).

Having expressed myself in no uncertain terms on a very unpleasant topic (many thanks to you for reading this, especially if you have gotten this far, as you seem to have done :-), I would like to actually end on a positive note. The Christian never despairs, and retains faith, no matter what. God is in control, and if it is His Providence that Terri's murder starts a revival, then some good can come out of this outrageous travesty of justice and humanity. I can see at least five "positive things" (believe it or not) that Terri's murder and the Culture of Death may lead to:

1) When we look at Church history; even history in general, we see that after all the most corrupt ages, the next age was one of revival and renewal. We see this also in the Old Testament, in recounting the history of the Jews. This is what we have to live with as human beings. We're so blind that things have to get absolutely awful before we will wake up and start seeing connections between morality and the state of affairs of society and cultures and nations. My spiritual mentor, the late Fr. John A. Hardon, S.J., a very saintly man, used to say that he thought the 21st century would be one of great revival, precisely because the 20th had been the bloodiest in history. So history shows. He was speaking "historically" as much as he was making an observation from faith and hope.

2) This present case excellently illustrates the fraudulent, farcical, morally insane nature of liberal, secularist "compassion." If dismemberment of 10-week old preborn children weren't enough to reveal that, then perhaps partial birth infanticide does, or the spectre of seeing a brain-damaged woman starving to death in agony, with her parents not even allowed (at gunpoint) to put an ice chip in her mouth. Some things cannot be rationalized away: not even by fallen, corrupt, sin-blinded human beings. When we think of such "compassion", we must always keep in mind, Terri starving (like St. Maximilian in Auschwitz) and the full-term baby's brain being sucked out by a "doctor." If those two things won't jar people into moral sanity, nothing (on an earthly plane) will. And that will at least provide some moral sanity and sense from these absolutely monstrous, hideous, ghastly, unspeakable acts of evil.

3) As mentioned earlier, if the time has come for persecution and martyrs, I say, let it come. Praise God! That has always been the cause of great Church growth and individual spiritual growth in the past. If we can't learn by God's great blessing and the Bible and Church guidance, then it will have to come the hard way: by suffering and blood. We're no better than the first century Christians. What makes us think we can escape all these things?

4) Such events lead to a stark contrast between good and evil: far more than apologetic or pastoral rhetoric and arguments or political talk of "culture wars" could ever do. A picture speaks a thousand words. This tends to lead to better Christians, because the ones who decide to be on the Christian side do so at more and more cost these days. And in that scenario there are fewer lukewarm Christians. There's no reason to be a Christian in such a hostile environment as we have today, unless one really means it, and is willing to live it out, not just talk. It's better to have a "darkness and light" society, with very clear opposing choices, than to have a uniformly "grey" world where everyone is pretty nice, and religiously nominal.

Though I would live in the America of the 40s or 50s in a second, if I had the choice (compared to this filled toilet that Americans and most in the developed countries are forced to live in today), in this respect, arguably things were much worse then. Christianity had become mundane and routine. It must be a radical thing, by its very nature, and times like ours tend to foster more commitment and passion in those who do choose to follow Christ (as the Christian philosopher Kierkegaard often argued, in warring against the nominal Lutheranism of his Danish society and time). And that's a very good thing, of course.

5) Lastly, as this senseless, ethically-bankrupt killing continues, it's good to remind ourselves in our mourning and understandable feelings of despair and helplessness, that it is those people who believe in this perverse and wanton killing, who actually do it! In other words, they are killing themselves off. They've already been doing it by abortion. Now they're devising other ways to knock themselves off. So (I speak tongue-in-cheek, with black humor) if liberals and secularists and left-wing ideologues want to kill themselves off and lessen their number, let them do it! If we must endure this moral lunacy, at least we can have the solace that Christian numbers will increase, while non-Christian or nominal Christian ones will decrease (with a corresponding improvement of society and socialo justice).

Demographics is destiny. If only Christians would have more children than secular society (which leads into a discussion of contraception and its ultimately anti-child mentality), then this culture could easily be re-captured in a generation or less. That's great news. But we have to do it. We have to have more children and raise them in the faith, to be dissidents against decadence (say that five times fast!). It's really quite simple. But human beings, unfortunately, often fail to grasp the simplest and most obvious realities, as the Terri Schiavo case sadly proves once again.

Tuesday, March 22, 2005

Martin Luther Espouses Prayer For the Dead / Retroactive Prayer

While y'all are waitin' for my full-fledged return to blogging after Easter, I happened to notice a very interesting piece on the Lutheran blog Here We Stand, from "CPA", with whom I have had a few recent dialogues. It's entitled simply "Prayers for the Dead." I wanted to make note of it before the current discussion over there dies out (and because I have several projects I'll be taking on right after Easter). CPA opened the article thusly:


In what Martin Luther regarded as his final confession of faith in his 1528 work against the Zwinglians, Confession Concerning Christ's Supper, he wrote as follows:

As for the dead, since Scripture gives us no information on the subject, I regard it as no sin to pray with free devotion in this or some similar fashion: 'Dear God, if this soul is in a condition accessible to mercy, be thou gracious to it.' And when this has been done once or twice, let it suffice. For vigils and requiem masses and yearly celebrations of requiems are useless, and merely the devil's annual fair.

(Luther's Works, vol. 37, p. 369)

Luther's approval of prayers for the dead given out of free devotion was shared in Melanchthon's apology to the Augsburg Confession (article XXIV, 94), where he wrote:

Now, as regards the adversaries' citing the Fathers concerning the offering for the dead, we know that the ancients speak of prayer for the dead, which we do not prohibit; but we disapprove of the application ex opere operato of the Lord's Supper on behalf of the dead.

CPA himself makes a rather interesting argument. While thoroughly denying purgatory, which he claims "has no Biblical foundation" (I beg to differ: in my first book, A Biblical Defense of Catholicism, I outlined no less than 25 distinct biblical arguments for purgatory; supported by many Church Fathers, and also many other related Bible passages), he goes on to argue that one can pray for the eternal destiny of persons who have already died, because God is outside of time and thus that such prayers are applied retroactively for the deceased person's benefit. I've made the same argument before (about prayer being out of time because God is). And I agree with this application of the principle. Concluding with stirring words which I found quite eloquent and moving, CPA stated:

* * *

Far more typical is the loyal Christian woman in a mainline church who loved Christ but always indignantly denied the existence of hell, the occasional church-goer who is put into a coma by a stroke and dies without regaining consciousness, the Baptist missionary who spends all her strength winning souls for Christ and taught her converts to reject God's word concerning baptism and the Lord's Supper, the devout Christian man with an undiagnosed depressive condition who disappears for a day and is found dead of a self-inflicted gunshot wound, the grandmother who slipped into mindless senility years before her death, the writer who longed desperately for a faith she mournfully believed that God had never given her, the man of affairs who did great good for humanity and is cut down suddenly just as he seemed to be returning again to the faith of his fathers, a son baptized and raised in the faith who was drowned on a canoing trip with his live-in girlfriend. . . .

In such cases only simple-minded dogmatists would dare say for sure whether they are in heaven or hell. On what grounds then are we denied the right to pray for those we love, that in their moment of death they might remember the Gospel promise of God in Christ and cling to it? And if God tells us to pray persistently for all the concerns of our heart and especially for the salvation of all (Luke 18; Philippians 4; 1 Timothy 2), how can He be angry when we pray for the thing that weighs most on our hearts, something about which we genuinely do not know His will? And who can be confident denying that the prayers of loved ones, whenever they are offered, before, during, or after death, do not by God’s appointment, comfort and uphold those facing death without preparation and without full knowledge of God's grace?

For these reasons, for many years now I have believed that prayers for the dead (which are really prayers for those in the hour of death) are a true Christian practice, completely consistent with the evangelical faith, and have practiced this. As I have seen (on Luther Quest of all places), I am not alone in doing so.

I also found the comments fascinating, as several Lutherans and other Protestants agreed that it was not contrary to the Bible or the Christian faith to pray for the dead.

For related reading, see my papers:

"A New (?) Biblical Argument Re: Prayers for the Dead."

1 Corinthians 15:29 and "Baptism for the Dead": What Does It Mean?

See also: my papers and links on my Purgatory and Communion of Saints topical index pages.

Lastly, in my latest book, The Catholic Verses, I do an extended treatment (pp. 169-174) of St. Paul and what I argue are his prayers for the (likely) dead man, Onesiphorus (which also appeared in briefer form in my chapter on purgatory, in A Biblical Defense of Catholicism - pp. 141-143 in the new edition). So (I maintain) Paul prayed for the dead, as did our Lord Jesus, when He raised the dead on a few occasions. That was my "new" argument (which actually came from a great insight from my wife Judy). The practice, therefore, is supported by explicit biblical evidence. Why, then, we ought to ask, do so many Protestants reject the practice (seeing also that it was very widespread in the early Church)?

Friday, March 18, 2005

Dialogue With an Atheist on the Relationship of Christianity and Metaphysics to the Scientific Method (vs. Sue Strandberg)

From public discussions on an Internet List devoted to the question of God's existence: May-July 2001. Uploaded with the full permission of Sue Strandberg (she refers to herself primarily as a secular humanist). Her words will be in blue:

Slavery would be hard to justify as fair and unbiased if one could not empirically demonstrate that certain races were actually better suited and even better off as slaves. This was one of the most common justifications for slavery in the South, that adult black people were like children and couldn't handle independence -- the other common justification of course was that God created the black race to be the servants of the white race.

Both are nonsense and quite evil, of course.

You could use scientific reasoning to refute the first claim: science is helpless before the second claim -- all you can do is argue scripture and who has the more holy sense of the divine.

Racism has often been quite respectable in scientific circles too. There was this nonsense of measuring skulls and determining "intelligence" and "character" based on that (phrenology). Eugenics was also firmly grounded in supposed "science." The Nazis enlisted scientists and doctors every step of the way to determine whose life was worthy to be lived (one recalls their bizarre experiments). Margaret Sanger (founder of Planned Parenthood) picked up on this approach and utilized it for her notions of population reduction. This was a way to reduce the "inferior" black population.

Steven Jay Gould writes:

Racism has often been buttressed by scientists who present a public facade of objectivity to mask their guiding prejudices.

{The Panda's Thumb, NY: W.W. Norton & Co., 1980, 176}

As religion can be abused for nefarious ends, so can science.

I agree. My point was that if a mistaken conclusion is formed from scientific methods it can be and probably will be corrected using the same methods. Nothing shows the critical, crucial importance of science more than bad science. A continuing discussion and dispute on evidence -- and a strict accountability to demonstration -- will tend to weed out bad theories over time as long as the scientific community is not stifled from open investigation and analysis. The fact that phrenology was discarded by scientists themselves is one indication of this.

I agree; my point was not anti-science, but rather, anti-dogmatism in science (or more accurately, that scientists are no less prone to the usual human shortcomings than the rest of us) - a fact of history which is often unknown or ignored by those who think that such properties are the sole possession of religionists. I would say that such unfortunate occurrences are in a sense even more shocking in science, given the very fact of its strict methodology of proof (whereas religion involves many tenets not empirically verifiable, so that much nonsense may possibly be inculcated). But does dogmatism per se surprise me in any person, even a scientist? Not at all . . .

When religion makes false claims about the nature of reality based on
spiritual insights, however, it is difficult if not impossible to refute them.

If they are irrational or demonstrably untrue, one can (e.g., the Mormon poppycock of founder Joseph Smith supposedly having found tablets of "Reformed Hieroglyphics" on a hill in New York). Other things are matters of historical investigation. With Christianity, there are some unprovable tenets which derive from larger evidences which are demonstrable and verifiable through various means. But this is true of pretty much any view. And the starting assumptions are equally unprovable, even for science. My larger point is that any field of thought shares basic similarities with virtually all others, in terms of the axiomatic nature of starting-points and inability to explain at the deepest - metaphysical - levels of analysis. Some things are simply goofy and intellectually vapid from the outset (flat-earth, KKK, doctrinaire Marxism, occultism, etc.).

In fact, there is no way for us to really know, or prove, that they are indeed false.

That's simply not true in most cases.

For instance, if a religion says that black people have dark skin because they have been cursed by God, no amount of study on melanin or evolutionary origins of race or biology or psychology is going to be sufficient to refute this because none of this addresses spiritual reality. This claim is "outside of science" and yet will impact on how we treat people. I find this dangerous.

So do I. You couldn't prove this particular false view by science - strictly speaking - because it is a religious claim. Yet this claim is made on the basis of certain texts in Genesis, involving the "curse of Ham." It is easily shown that this interpretation is groundless and without any support in Genesis, through the usual means of hermeneutics and exegesis and the linguistic tools brought to bear on biblical texts (even historical factors, such as Moses marrying a black woman, or the irrelevance of race as a social factor in ancient Mesopotamian cultures, etc.). Those things are intellectual, "scientific" methods themselves, so any Christian religion which follows the Bible would be subject to such objective analyses (not to say that there is never any disagreement on interpretation . . . ).

The same method that can claim that it is an empirical fact that God made all men equal can claim that it is an empirical fact that God made some men to rule over others, and there is no way to arbitrate between dueling divine insights.

Again, when it comes to the Bible, it can be shown that it teaches no such thing. It is much more likely, historically-speaking, that Communism or tribalism causes such a view to occur. Religion isn't spotless on this score by any means, either, but the non-religious ideologies have produced far worse fruit.

I agree that tribalism is at the root of many of our aggressive tendencies, religious or not, but I think you have expressed far too much confidence in how easily Biblical disputes can be resolved if one just examines the Gospel clearly and in the light of scholarship.

Naw; you should read my debates with Protestants who espouse a notion called "perspicuity" (clearness) of Scripture, whereby (when all is said and done) anyone can have an essential grasp of biblical teachings without the need of a Church. Catholics deny that, yet agree that the Bible's teachings are relatively clear (my entire website presupposes this), just not sufficiently so to make it unnecessary to have an authoritative teaching Church to be the court of final appeal on true and false doctrine (note: doctrine - not the orthodox interpretation of each and every verse). This is a major difference between Catholics and Protestants: "Scripture Alone vs. apostolic Tradition or succession."

I've noted that Catholics seem to feel they have a means to escape the
problem of competing interpretations of scripture by virtue of interpreting scripture as indicating a final arbiter in the form of an authoritative Church. The problem, of course, is that from the point of view of an atheist or even a non-Catholic there is still a subjective evaluation involved here, and this choice will always rest on various combinations of reason and faith. It is not Catholics (who are all in agreement) vs. Protestants (who differ with each other) but Catholics who agree vs. Lutherans who agree vs. Evangelicals who agree vs. Calvinists who agree and on and on, with each sect having divisions within it who all agree with each other and disagree with the rest, sometimes on minor matters, sometimes on matters they consider very crucial indeed.

People within a church who agree on what God is don't really see themselves as agreeing with each other but as agreeing with God. From within the Catholic religion it is relatively easy to resolve disputes by appealing to the authority of the Church as it has been set up. But whether this Church has indeed been set up by God or by men is the real dispute between Catholics and non-Catholics, and appeals to resolve this can't rest on what the Church says, but on what the Bible indicates as illuminated by faith and reason ...and we are back where we started.

Well, of course this is a very complicated and controversial issue, and is an in-house fight, as you well know.

To sum up very briefly, the Catholic notion of authority is not a circular claim in the same vein as "the Bible says so" (i.e., when spoken to an atheist or someone who doesn't accept biblical authority). The Catholic belief in apostolic succession and Tradition is historically-based, and verified by recourse to Christian history; particularly the Church Fathers.

This was more or less universally the formal principle of authority in Christianity for 1500 years, until Luther and Calvin came around and arbitrarily changed the principle to "sola Scriptura" ("Bible Alone"). That concept itself cannot be shown to be taught in the Bible, which makes it utterly self-defeating. It was adopted at first simply because an alternate to Catholic authority was needed by those who were dissenting against same and (ultimately) setting up their own churches.

Nor does the Catholic Church proclaim an infallible, authoritative interpretation for hundreds (or all) of the passages in the Bible, as is often supposed (in fact, there are only six or so of such non-optional interpretations). Rather, it is doctrine which is proclaimed in a binding sense, and alleged "proof texts" used to support false doctrines are deemed as being used incorrectly, for that reason.

There is intelligent, reasonable disagreement on virtually every tenet in Christianity, and these disagreements are often fundamental, have lasted for hundreds of years, and are unlikely to be resolved given new information or scientific discoveries. And if you bring in conflicts between different religions the probability is even more remote.

See my last response. That said, there is also a significant core area of agreement among all Christians, apart from fringe, heretical, cultic groups. This would be that which is described in C.S. Lewis's Mere Christianity or roughly synonymous with the Nicene Creed.

Certainly there are disagreements in science, but appeals to empirical evidence and insistence on demonstration make it much more likely that consensus will be formed over time.

Great. I don't see that the nature of science has anything particularly to do (epistemologically) with the dogmas of religion and how they are arrived at. Why must you oppose them? They are two different things. I gladly accept both. You accept only science, so you have to run down religion to some extent as an arbitrary, irrational enterprise.

Theism gives 'why' answers in personal terms, as one might tell a story. "Why is the sky blue?" can be answered in concrete terms of atmosphere and molecules and light. Or it can be answered in terms of motivation -- "because God wanted it that way" -- or in terms of teleology --"because it is prettier that way." But when we are talking about giving an ultimate account of something we often mean not just motives (if they apply), but methods (which would always apply.) The nuts and bolts of how something is, and what something is, and the modus operandi. Theism is more or less an appeal to magic in this area.

No; it is a serious attempt to explain the phenomena we observe with regard to ethics and human nature, just as much as atheism is. Belief in the supernatural is not necessarily an appeal to "magic" as if the thought is on the level of a child's fairy tale or something. I know it is fashionable to think in those terms, but I suppose both sides tend to caricature the other.

Furthermore, if we must refer to storytelling and "magic"; well, nothing is a greater fairy-tale than the more fantastic elements of the theory of evolution.

I don't think your analogy holds on the point I am trying to make. The issue is not belief in God vs. Evolution, but the explanatory scope of miracle explanation vs. science explanation.

But who says truth is determined solely by explanatory power? This is one of the fallacies which seems to keep coming up, but to me it appears to be based on the circular reasoning that scientific knowledge is the only sort of reliable knowledge; therefore anything outside of it is either inferior or suspect as irrational and epistemologically unjustifiable, and hence subject to all sorts of excessive and misguided skepticism and cynicism.

If God exists and we have good proof that it does . . .

Which would be what?

. . . then there would be nothing unscientific about bringing God into our explanations: in fact, it would be downright unscientific not to, miracles or not. We would not be able to understand how the miracles work, but we could know that they do, and that they work because they are caused by a Being who is beyond our ability to observe.

Well, of course there are many of us now and through history who do think there are more than enough proofs for God's existence.

What I was pointing out was that Evolution attempts to explain complexity by virtue of being a testable theory which endeavours to unify a large number of observations from geology, biogeography, genetics, zoology, anatomy, molecular and biochemical biology, etc. It tries to break the problem of complex forms of life down into simpler stages in order to understand how and why they formed the way they did through an interaction between genes and environment. And it relies on the same natural laws, interactions, and processes that we can observe today.

That's fine as far as it goes (and remember, I do accept microevolution). I simply deny that it has sufficient evidence and scientific data to explain certain rather extraordinary natural phenomena. It is limited just as is virtually any other theory or explanation set forth by us mere mortals. It can't explain everything. Why this should be such an amazing and terrible thing (to point out the obvious) I know not.

Hard-nosed, skeptical atheists manage to believe in a number of concepts within the sphere of macroevolution which provide absolutely no explanatory value whatever. You think an eye can evolve from a "light-sensitive spot" or a brain from organs exponentially-less complex, or DNA from the initial gasses of the Big Bang, or life itself from the same initially homogeneous conditions, or mammary glands, hair, warm-bloodedness, a different way of hearing, and an expansible thorax in mammals from their alleged ancestors, the reptiles.

I am not really saying that belief in the supernatural is itself an appeal to magic.

Okay; good.

I am pointing out that when it comes to how God actually works theists either deal with natural explanations that can be supported empirically and thus are consistent with nontheism as well or they resort to the claim that God's ways cannot be known by Man. God-explanations are unscientific not because they are supernatural but to the extent that they give no specifics and we cannot ever know how they work.

I think "non-scientific" or perhaps "supra-scientific" would be better terms, because "unscientific" suggests to most people an inferiority or lower level of knowledge and believablity and rationality.

Science might be able to tell us that real magic is afoot, but the magic itself is closed to our scrutiny.

Science and philosophy have their limitations and boundaries just as religion does.

You can simply chant the mantra "evolution" or "chance" and all is explained and answered and all difficulties removed. How is that any different from us positing "God" at the point of a complete lack of explanation (and we have far more serious philosophical proofs than biologists possess demonstrable proofs for macroevolution)? Yet our view is fairy-tale and magic and yours supposedly "science." Why is it that when we come to these topics, suddenly I become the hard-nosed skeptic and agnostic, while atheists are full of wide-open, "anything is possible" "faith"?:

There seems to be no direct proof that evolution can work miracles . . . Is it possible that man, with his remarkable powers of intellect and spirit, has been formed from the dust of the earth by chance alone? It is hard to accept the evolution of the human eye as a product of chance; it is even harder to accept the evolution of human intelligence as the product of random disruptions of brain cells in our ancestors.

{Astronomer & Geologist Robert Jastrow, founder of NASA's Goddard Institute for Space Studies, SCIENCE DIGEST, Dec. 1981, 87}

[Evolutionary theory is] one which cannot be refuted by any possible observations. Every conceivable observation can be fitted into it. It is thus outside empirical science but not necessarily false. No one can think of ways in which to test it. ideas, either without basis or based on a few laboratory experiments carried out in extremely simplified systems, have attained currency far beyond their validity. They have become part of evolutionary dogma accepted by most of us as part of our training. The cure seems to us to be . . . more skepticism about many of its tenets.

{L.C. Birch & P.R. Ehrlich, NATURE, 4-22-67, 352}

This does not mean that it [theism] isn't a true account of how we got to be the way we are, of course; but it does mean that the explanation will of necessity be deliberately incomplete and unanswerable.

Precisely as the theory of evolution is, as some evolutionists themselves admit above. Now, let me point out that I am making an analogy pertaining to the selectivity of skepticism and the "scientific attitude." I say that atheists have a double standard.

But of course, with no God, some sort of naturalistic evolution must be true, so this becomes (in practice) an unimpeachable dogma for the atheist, impervious to any difficulties because it has to be true.

Hence the epistemological and scientific silliness such as we see referred to above; rather like what Bertrand Russell states about Aquinas not being a philosopher because he dares to accept dogmas of Christianity beforehand. :-) Catholics, however, are free to accept evolution with only a few modifications (such as the direct creation of each soul by God), so we don't have to engage in this sort of special pleading and imperviousness to scientific evidence or the essential need for falsifiability (as Popper would say). We can follow the evidences wherever they lead.

An explanation normally seeks to explain something complex in terms
of something simpler, and something unknown in terms of something
better known. "God" is a simplistic answer to questions, not a simple one. It is an appeal to irreducible, fundamental complexity, in that the mysteries we seek to deal with -- life, morals, values, and mind -- have been as they are forever and ever, and are an ultimate mystery.

And this hypothesis is rationally superior to the atheist alternative, especially on moral grounds, more plausible, coherent, and consistent, as I hope to show in due course.

To say that the universe or -- more clearly -- Ultimate Reality is always and has always been puts no unnecessary elements into our assumptions.

Except that it clashes with Big Bang cosmology, which established that the universe had a beginning.

What Reality "really" is can be pragmatically assumed as something uncomplicated and basic from which more complicated things emerge due to simple processes working together over time, a coherent series of cause-and-effect which works across different levels of explanation. We can learn to understand the world in terms of smaller and smaller elements, systems, and levels, and then build our understanding from the ground up.

I find it curious that you have no problem accepting the prior axiom of a grand cosmological process of simple-to-complex, (ultimately) based on (it seems to me) numerous evolutionary assumptions which themselves are unproven, and have little or no explanatory value (the above citations), yet you dismiss the hypothesis of complex-to-complex, which forms the presupposition of theism (cosmological and teleological arguments).

Theism does the opposite. It begins complex, and then derives like from like. This is why I consider it not necessarily false, but nonexplanatory.

No more so than macroevolution, which tells us very little about process, yet claims to be "scientific" and de facto "proven." If the choice is a "science" which gives precious little explanation, and metaphysics/religion, which explains quite a bit within solid philosophical premises, I choose the latter, because it is successful and consistent and coherent within its own epistemological sphere, whereas macroevolution-without-God is not, and involves much faith and incoherence, at least given our present state of knowledge. So I am an agnostic and skeptic in these matters (and also with regard to possible alternative creationist schemas), due to woefully insufficient evidence to justify belief, just as atheists are with regard to God.

If God exists and is capable of effecting events and elements in the
universe, I see no reason why a scientific approach to understanding
would be unable to discover this.

Me neither, which is why I think so highly of the cosmological and teleological arguments.

Empiricism doesn't exclude God, it simply doesn't start out with an assumption that couldn't be disproven even if wrong.

That starting-point has been only since (basically) Darwin's time. Before that, science didn't start with materialistic or naturalistic premises. It acknowledged the limitations of its own field of inquiry (matter) and didn't pronounce on ultimate questions of origin and metaphysics as scientists routinely have the arrogance and chutzpah to do today.

And by demanding that science "explain" DNA or abiogenesis --and by appealing to arguments such as the kalam -- it seems you are already speaking of explanation in empirical terms yourself. It is then a matter of consistency.

Exactly. I love empiricism. I am only demanding that it stick within its own sphere of knowledge, be applied consistently, and not claim to be the sum and total of all knowledge. If evolutionary science claims to explain the universe better than the theistic concept, then we are merely requiring ("demanding") of it what it claims for itself: the ability to explain materialistic evolutionary processes so that no one need appeal to God as the origin and cause of matter and the processes of natural law. But we will not put up with this poppycock (I'm not saying you do this) of claims that the atheist stands on science and rationality and Occam's Razor with no need of God, while the Christian/theist is supposedly standing on "God of the gaps" and "blind [irrational] faith" and "magic" with no need for (or disdain for) science. It simply isn't true. And demonstrably so.

Quite the contrary, actually. In being skeptical of certain grandiose and unsubstantiated claims of the theory of evolution, I vigorously and zealously contend that I am being eminently of a scientific mindset. I simply demand empirical evidence before I grant assent to propositions which are strictly within the realm of empirical observation. Atheists, on the other hand, often demand absolute empirical proof of a Being that is Spirit in the first place, which is irrational and unreasonable (even though good arguments of that sort exist).

I understand that you don't find the evidence for its [evolutionary theory's] truth as compelling as you think it ought to be. But that isn't relevant.

It certainly is, when such a flawed unproven theory is presented as a disproof of God or the need for God. You can't reject God on the basis that He isn't scientifically-testable, and then go on to "substitute" a theory, aspects of which are equally mysterious and untestable, and which involves equally huge or even larger extrapolations, inductive leaps, and faith.

Even assuming you are correct, the extrapolations and inductive leaps in Evolution are still being made in terms of a process. There is nothing
mysterious or mystical about replication, variation, and selection, we
observe them all the time.

But that's beside the point. I reject macroevolution precisely because it lacks these elements and therefore fails the criterion of proof. It's almost as if the atheist or secularist in effect worships science and oftentimes, politics (or something like radical feminism). Those things become lifted up far beyond what their nature would allow.

Has God been rejected on the basis that it isn't scientifically testable? I don't think I meant this. I was pointing out that all other things being
equal, a theory which proposes a mechanism is to be preferred to one that doesn't.

Only if the subject at hand is empirical in its essence. Otherwise, I don't see why mechanism is crucial.

For example, homeopathy, if true, would not only go against what
we understand about physical laws but doesn't propose any process in their place. If homeopathy actually worked over many blind clinical studies, though, this is just tough luck for the scientists (or perhaps an exciting new area of discovery.) They either need to find out now how it works or accept homeopathy as scientifically correct but currently, and maybe even permanently, inexplicable by known laws of physics. And they'll need to build it into other theories.

Being wrong about the existence of God must be a very different thing than simply being wrong about astrology or homeopathy, if you work on Christian assumptions and bring in spiritual 'facts.'

It requires (to some extent) both grace and faith. Astrology, though? That's a weird comparison. I consider it largely hucksterism. I like homeopathy. My wife and I are also into health food, vitamins, herbalism, and chiropractic. I have discovered cures or treatments for hypoglycemia and allergies and depression through these means.

Oops, I would not have used homeopathy as an example if I knew you believed in it!

Well, only because it works. Believe me, when something takes away your 4-year-old's fever, you use it. And a sneeze is a sneeze - not much complexity or ambiguity there. If a little pill takes away my allergies, I use it. I don't care what all the mechanics of that are, or what some doctor or scientist in a white suit thinks about it. When it comes to feeling lousy (whether me, or my wife or kids), I become almost entirely a pragmatist. :-)

No, I'm not going to get into an argument about homeopathy. I was trying to find claims which both you and I agree are false, but the acceptance of which does not put the acceptors automatically into the category of insanity or depravity or any other moral hellhole.

There are many such beliefs. I don't know how many we would agree on, though. You keep exaggerating the role of bad morals or will in my viewpoint towards opinions not my own.

I think you are mistaken about homeopathy, but I understand why personal experience would carry a great deal of weight with you. Personal experience carries the same weight with those who believe in the healing powers of crystals or the safe-keeping powers of rabbit's feet -- as well as with those who are experiencing the very real effects of a medicine which is on the cutting edge of a breakthrough in science.

Why could not homeopathy be an instance of the latter? Something can work before we know why it works, no? Herbalism used to be widespread before modern medicine, too. That was scoffed at, but more and more, science is discovering that these herbal cures were based on very real biochemical factors. Science - again - seems to often have this arrogant attitude that no alternate to it can possibly be legitimate.

So the medical establishment fought chiropractic tooth and nail, as well. Well, it helps my back! It helps my wife's back quite a bit (and she has scoliosis). The critics can go jump in the lake. I'm just trying to feel better, whereas the medical establishment is trying to maintain a status quo where they completely control the healing process, regardless of how many people might suffer in the meantime. They're geniuses and everyone else is a backwoods moron and a snake oil salesman. Who is being more "scientific" and compassionate then?

I don't think there is as sharp a dividing point between religious belief and paranormal belief as you seem to think. Astrology is seen as very respectable indeed by some remarkably intelligent people.

So is atheism. :-) I don't consider either particularly respectable intellectually (in terms of grand theories), but that doesn't mean I have to deny that the believers in them are intelligent. I simply believe that they are laboring under false notions. They might even apply the false premises into theories cleverly and ingeniously, but a house built on sand isn't worth very much.

Strangely -- and unfortunately, I think -- the only two times I have run into Hindus in a debate forum the argument focused on astrology: it is taught as a science at the university level in India, evidently, and Hindus feel it provides clear, clean, consistent and scientific evidence for their spiritual claims.

And Gandhi, I hear, would drink a tea with cow dung every morning. People manage to believe in many different things. Nothing ever surprises me. Hinduism strikes me as a particularly intellectually-bankrupt religion. If one is to go the eastern religious route, Buddhism or Taoism are much more respectable and devoid of the strange rituals and beliefs of Hindus.

We both seem to disagree with this (?)

Yes, I think astrology is part nonsense and part quackery (the columnists in the newspapers). And people believe in it by the millions, because, as Chesterton said (close paraphrase):

"When people reject Christianity, it isn't so much that they will believe in nothing, but that they will believe in anything."

This is interesting, because while Secular Humanists reject Christianity
(provisionally, of course ;), you could not really call us willing to
believe in anything, I think.

I think secular humanists are more in line with 17th and 18th century English rationalism, or 19th-century figures like John Stuart Mill (as I understand it, anyway).

Your major complaint is that we are too skeptical and have thrown the baby out with the bath water, so to speak.

Well, yeah; I think the excessive skepticism is a harmful thing, causing much damage to other areas of thoughts, or (often) an inconsistent application, such as extreme "faith" where doctrinaire evolution is concerned, while exercising extreme cynicism concerning Christianity, miracles, etc.

Astrology, tarot cards, chi energy, crystal power, alien abduction, spirit
channeling, leprechauns, reincarnation, levitation, ghosts, reiki healing,
psychic surgery, angels, numerology, and fortune telling are all connected to mystical, magical, religious, spiritual ways of thinking and
understanding the world, not what you see as an overreliance on science.

I agree, with regard to most of these. But many of them are eastern or New Age or occultic religious concepts, and can hardly be lumped in with western religion and Christianity in particular.

And just as I guessed so poorly with homeopathy,

I know virtually nothing about homeopathy or its supposed principles. I just know that it works. My youngest son had a fever, and these pills took it away. Would you let your child have a fever, because you disagreed with the philosophy of homeopathy? I had my usual allergies, and this worked. I use it because it works. It's as simple as that. The advocates of it may be right (insofar as it heals and cures) for the wrong reasons. They may explain what is a potentially rationally or scientifically explainable process incorrectly, but the process works nonetheless. And if it works, I utilize it, because physical health is a good thing.

I have little confidence that you agree with me that these are probably not real or valid phenomena. You may think some are true, some are false, and some have some good evidence but you're still on the fence: I really don't know for sure where you're likely to jump on any of the above items, which seems to give the lie to the good Mr. Chesterton here.

:-) Cute. Okay; I'll comment on each individually:


Nonsense and (often) quackery. It is also forbidden by Jewish law in the Bible, incidentally. This was the religion of the Babylonians, which was regarded as rank blasphemy and idolatry by the Hebrews.

tarot cards,

Occultic nonsense and (often) quackery.

chi energy

Probably false, insofar as eastern religious concepts are regarded as falsehoods by Christianity.

crystal power,

Ditto. New Age gibberish.

alien abduction,

Absurd and utterly unproven.

spirit channeling,

This would be what the Bible condemns and forbids as necromancy. Christians believe that some of this stuff can occur in the demonic realm, so that it is regarded as real but evil, rather than untrue altogether.


Irish mythology; of no substance. But awful fun, in a fictional, imaginary sense (I got the Celtic in my blood . . . ).


Absolutely false, insofar as eastern religious concepts are regarded as falsehoods by Christianity, and stated as false in the Bible. No self-consistent Christian can believe this.


There can be demonic or Christian levitation (there are reports of saints doing this), so I think it is real.


Ghosts are a permissible concept in Christianity, because we believe that the dead are alive and conscious as souls or spirits.

reiki healing,

I don't know what this is, but we would say there can be both demonic and divine healing also.

psychic surgery,

Ditto. I would think this is a demonic manifestation; thus forbidden to Christians. Weird stuff . . .


Of course we believe in angels.


Nonsense and quackery.

and fortune telling.

Sheer nonsense.

There you have it!

When people reject Christianity, most of them believe in some other
religion. And all the forms of supernatural or paranormal claims I
mentioned above are included in at least one religion.

But you don't seem to make any distinction between the relative validity of religions, as if they were all equally irrational.

The point I was making was that all of the supernatural and paranormal
claims rest on the same kind of evidence. By accepting some through faith and historical and anecdotal evidence and yet rejecting others which rest on the same kind and type of evidence you're being inconsistent. From what I can tell the difference you see is that "well, some of them are true, so in those cases we ought to make an exception to the general rule." But you can only know they are true if you first make the exception.

While some religions -- such as Mormonism -- contain more specific claims that are directly falsifiable than others, at their foundation what
distinguishes a religious belief from a natural one is its reliance on the
subjective. The miracles reported in the Bible contradict what we are
justified in believing based on science. Thus, even if they actually
happened, they can only be accepted on faith. The belief that it MIGHT be true and this makes their acceptance "congruous" with scientific thinking forgets that scientific thought requires strictly disciplined acceptance only of those physical laws which can be open to public demonstration. Someone on this list -- I think it was Len -- noted that "the plural of anecdote is not 'data.'" Indeed.

You have insisted that you believe that knowledge should be a unified
thing, that we ought not to compartmentalize our religious beliefs from our secular ones. And yet by merging the two you end up using one criteria on those paranormal claims you think are True and another criteria on everything else. Bottom line, I do not believe that reason and revelation can be successfully synthesized because the subjective acceptance of private, nondemonstrable knowledge is in conflict with an epistemology that disciplines itself to accept only what can be objectively demonstrated.

I suspect it is not really the religionists, but the Secular Humanists, who seek a unity of knowledge. We attempt to examine all empirical claims about the nature of reality by using the same skeptical standards. It seems to me that Christians pick and choose. From my point of view there is little rhyme or reason for your acceptance of angels and levitation and your rejection of numerology and reincarnation. You seem to examine each claim not in light of the scientific evidence behind it, but whether or not it is accepted as real by Christianity and the Catholic Church. And yet when you reject the unproven you are very quick to point out that it is unproven. A
Hindu would hotly argue that reincarnation has indeed been demonstrated to the level of science, and therefore compels your reluctant acceptance -- and so it has, if anecdotes are included in science.

Science compels our acceptance because it tries to eliminates as many prior commitments as possible. To eliminate your commitments sometimes and yet bring them in other times is not a way to reconcile reason and revelation. It is a way to smash them up against each other and claim they fit.

I personally know Christians who believe in astrology, as well as other combinations of these beliefs.

They are inconsistent and heterodox. But Martin Luther's successor Philip Melanchthon was a strong believer in it, as I documented ten years ago in my research into early Protestantism (Luther and Calvin also strongly denied heliocentrism. Luther called the Catholic Copernicus an "upstart astrologer"). You can always find gross inconsistencies among Christians, just as with anyone else. Ignorance abounds. Shoddy thinking flourishes.

To paraphrase:

"When people reject one form of the supernatural, it isn't so much that they will believe in none of them, but that they will believe in other ones."

Well, yes. 'Cept the Secular Humanists, of course

Turnabout is fair play! :-)

But if [astrology is] true, the fact that the stars and planets have a measurable effect on the lives, fortunes, and personalities of human beings would seem to support a cosmic preoccupation with human interests, a kind of universal one-ness intermixing matter and mind, a fundamental connection between the private inner world of thought and feeling and the remote outer world of object and event -- which would not make a bad apologetic. ;)

Well, the moon affects tides, right (and lunatics, and perhaps love)? I don't think it amounts to much more than that; a function of gravity.

I see a critical difference... and an ethical problem here similar to what
I referred to earlier.

I think atheism has a big intellectual problem: being hyper-skeptical about religious tenets where (in my opinion) one is not justified in doing so.

If all you thought was that atheism has a "big intellectual problem" I would not have as much of a problem with some of the ethical implications in Christianity as I do.

Good, then you won't get mad at my "disrespectful" remarks above. :-)

Heh, I don't think any of your remarks have been "disrespectful," which is one reason I enjoy our dialogue.

Well, what can I say? Great!

And I seldom get mad; I'm too cynical. Idealists get mad; they are so often unpleasantly surprised. ;)

That's weird. My impression of you was that you were quite idealistic, in the 60s sense.

I think there is a big intellectual problem for astrology, but though I may make up my mind about theories I do not at the same time make my mind up about people.

That's where we are alike, and why I enjoy your posts the best.

I do not have to connect either credulity or skepticism with damnation.

Neither do I. I leave damnation up to God. He is in a much better position than I am to make those decisions. :-)

With regard to macroevolution: it needs to be admitted that it is "inexplicable by known laws of biology and genetics." But it can't be shown to "work" beyond doubt. Homeopathy can. It either works or it doesn't. The proof is in the pudding. In my experience it does. So does chiropractic and natural treatments for hypoglycemia, etc. To Hades with doctors and scientists who want to argue with me whether my allergies or my back or my low blood sugar are improved or not. I'm being much more "empirical" than they are at that point. They are being irrationally dogmatic and reactionary.

Personal testimonies, however sincere, are not science,

No, but they may be not-inconsistent with science, as an observational evidence. The true scientific approach would want to pursue that, out of intellectual curiosity and the desire to learn and explain more.

Exactly. And one pursues intriguing anecdotes by testing to see if they
stand up to critical scrutiny. This is why some herbal cures (not all) and
some forms of chiropractic (not all)

The correct terminology is "chiropractic."

are today accepted as part of the mainstream.

Chiropractic still is not (nor herbs, I don't think). E.g., my wife had a severe pain in her shoulder. She went to a "doctor" and he proceeded to more or less brutalize her, by unnecessarily repeatedly doing things my wife said were very painful. He put her down, put chiropractic down (where my wife's scoliosis is greatly aided on a regular basis) and sent us a bill for some $300. Who is the "quack doctor" in this instance? I still get mad today, thinking about this idiot. Not that all physicians are of that ilk (I was referring to his disdain of chiropractors). Our family doctor is a wonderful man.

They were never "alternatives to science," they were untested evidence which stood up to strict investigation and rigid criteria of proof and demonstrated their merit enough to be accepted in the scientific community.

Anything which dares to differ from the medical or scientific establishment is regarded as medieval quackery, alchemy, snake oil stuff, whether it is chiropractic, herbalism, homeopathy, natural childbirth, health food, alternative cancer treatments, vitamins and minerals (this area is the least controversial, thanks to Linus Pauling and others). I know firsthand, because we have explored all of these areas (apart from the cancer treatments, which were used by my brother), to great benefit.

Even your own approach to these things, lumping them in with all sorts of occultic and New Age balderdash, demonstrates a particular type of rationalist intellectual condescension, as if modern science (great as it is) is the be-all and end-all of all knowledge. No one ever figured out how to cure any malady until modern science: all the former healing techniques were mythological nonsense and placebo effect . . .

As one skeptic put it, "there is no such thing as alternative medicine: there is medicine that has been clinically tested and verified and medicine which has not."

I do my own testing and verification by reading and trying different things (and save hundreds of dollars in the process, thank you very much). As I said, I cured my own hypoglycemia in 1983 from self-diagnosis and treatment (no sugar and white flour; whole foods; various vitamins and minerals). My allergies have been greatly helped. I found another pill that helped my back pain, but it aggravated my low blood sugar (it had glucose in it). My wife was taking Zoloft for depression, and it was making her into a "zombie." I found amino acids which took care of the depression, without the side effects.

Now what would you have me do? Ditch all these wonderful discoveries because they don't fit into your neat little, rationalistic scientific world and worldview? I say that all these things can be explained scientifically, now or in the future.

If all these things can be explained scientifically, now or in the future,
then they do indeed fit into my neat little rationalistic scientific world
and worldview. If they really work for the reasons they say they work -- or work, but for different reasons -- then they are not in conflict with
science at all, they are simply unexplored areas of science. Don't confuse our current understanding of what has been scientifically verified with what is scientifically verifiable.

My argument is not with what has not yet been demonstrated, but with what has not been scientifically verified but has been accepted as true
nevertheless by using its own "scientific standards" in its own "scientific community." It is because astrology has not succeeded in convincing the mainstream of cosmological peer experts that it is not up there with astronomy in our universities.

Well, not yet, at any rate: that may change, I've read. Astrologers are
trying to get legitimate academic credentials in the United States, and
appear to be succeeding in India. The humanists will protest, of course,
but it will be hard for Christians to insist that astrology isn't
scientific "enough" to be taught to undergraduates when it already meets those looser standards of truth that allow "observational evidence" that is "not-inconsistent" with rigorous clinical proofs.

E.g., the amino acids have to do with the part of the brain that is connected with anxiety. Amino acids are manufactured by our body, as the components of protein - nothing "unscientific" or "mystical" there. But doctors would rather have her take Zoloft and be a zombie and spend six times as much, than to take a simple pill which costs about $4 per 100. They may be ignorant about these alternative remedies, but I am not. Or they are beholden to the pharmaceutical companies, etc.

Patient reports are accepted as valid reports on how the patient feels or thinks, but just as one ought to be skeptical when people claim that magic crystals work -- and yet say the same thing when ordinary glass is slyly substituted -- we need to be skeptical on cause and effect.

Like I said, isn't the removal of a migraine headache or a constant runny nose or fever or depression sufficient? If you have a migraine and something takes it away, believe me, you take it. I wouldn't care if it was the ligament from a baboon's knee, or ground-up turtle shells, if it worked. It works for a reason (cause and effect). I may not (almost always don't) know the reason, but I believe that it is discoverable through scientific method.

Homeopathic remedies, for example, often contain [no] ngredients other than water and that one special molecule of the active agent -- stuff like aspirin.

It worked . . . I don't care about the details.

Someone once wrote something to the effect that "the halls of medicine are littered with the corpses of infallible remedies that people once swore by, and which nobody uses today." Back at the turn of the century there was a fad for drinking irradiated water after X-Rays were discovered. People slowly died of radium poisoning, of course, all the time insisting that they were feeling oh so much better every day.

So because there was some silliness and falsehood, therefore all non-conventional cures are false and quackery?

And [scientists] are not being irrationally dogmatic or reactionary to insist that homeopathy pass clinical muster.

No, not in the sense of conducting experiments on effectiveness. I am objecting to the mentality that cares not whether people feel better from homeopathy or herbs or vitamins or a hypoglycemic diet (I diagnosed myself - after reading a few books - and cured myself of low blood sugar symptoms back in '83), whatever it is. I guess these folks (and you?) would say my feeling better for now 17 years was all in my head; a placebo effect? My migraines before I did the new diet were not real (they were just in my head, too LOL), so that I didn't know when I didn't have them anymore? And this is another tendency of many scientists and medical professionals. The patient or experimental subject is an idiot. Their report is worth little. To me, all of this is a perversion of science, not the true scientific spirit.

There are other possible causes for your improvement.

Why should I care? All I care is that I felt better.

Sure; as a personal, practical matter, it probably makes no difference. If it works for you, take it, it's a reasonable thing for you to do in the


However, as a general rule to live and learn by, I think it matters because we ought to care about truth.

The truth here is that the remedy somehow effects a cure.

And if it is quackery, you would do just as well or better with something else.

I would only have a problem with psychic techniques, not with any natural product which comes from God's green earth.

When a society as a whole places personal comfort over knowledge and understanding, easy assumptions over caution and care, I think people lose an important part of their integrity. And to quote Chesterton, "they will believe in anything."

But that has nothing to do with what I am talking about. Immoral sex has a lot to do with this, though.

I think this example here of the difference between us in what weight we put in personal experience . . .

Oh, so you wish to assert that one can't tell when they have a migraine headache and when they don't, or a backache, or an allergic reaction where you have to blow your nose 47 times? Do you put less "weight" in those occurrences than I do?

. . . points out what I have long said seems to be one of the main differences between theists and atheists. It is not in our hearts, our morals, or our intelligence -- it is not in the way we see God -- it is in the way we see evidence.

Perhaps so (that would fit in with my primarily "intellectual explanation" of nonbelief), but this line of argument you are currently on is quite underwhelming. I like the way you argue, because you use analogy as I do, and I love that form of argument, but the topical matter in this one is lacking, with all due respect.

Secular Humanists, ironically enough, have far less confidence and faith in the human potential to KNOW than theists seem to.

I don't think this is surprising or ironic at all, because the humanist/atheist is primarily of a skeptical bent, or what I would call "hyper-rational." Humanists are always railing against Christianity. They seem to define themselves largely based on what they are not, rather than what they are.

Yes, this is a failing among all too many of us. I agree that secular
humanists tend to talk too much about what we are against rather than what we are for. You're not the only one to point this out: it is a common criticism we often express to each other, and at least some of us take it to heart.

Glad to hear that. Thanks for sharing it with an "outsider."

But I think it may perhaps be explained in part as a function of what
Humanism is: a search for common ground in all matters. There is nothing in Humanism which is not found in many other philosophies and religions. We see this as a great strength, but it does mean that humanist viewpoints are constantly being promoted by Christians, Hindus, and all sorts of people, even Catholics -- not necessarily as "humanist" views, but what is in a label after all? We share the common true philosophy of humanity, we claim
no special knowledge or revelation.

What is promoted far less among the general public than the humanist
ethical or democratic views, however, are the epistemic views, particularly those that address the scientific investigation of testable paranormal or supernatural claims. The other night on the Larry King Show one of the spiritualists who Talks to the Dead sneered at skeptics as people who "just tear things down, instead of building people up" or something like that. Looking for what is true is not tearing anything down so much as finding the ground on which we can best build -- but the public perception seems to be that only mean, cruel people would cast doubt on stuff like whether or not the spirits of dead pets can communicate through a medium to tell their owners "I play ball lots now."

Silly, sure. Yet what may be a harmless or amusing individual folly can be disastrous when adopted by an entire culture. "If it feels good, believe it" is just as bad as "if it feels good, do it" as a general guide to life. Pleasure is not always the same as Happiness.

I agree completely. But I would not apply this to herbalism, health food, and homeopathy. I apply it to personal behavior and ethical thought.

And of course while there are many other nontheistic philosophies, Secular Humanism is often either misunderstood or vilified in the public
perception, lumped in with devil worship or the totalitarian views of
Stalin or the postmodernist irresponsible liberal feel-good politically
correct philosophies of Anything Goes. So we have to point out we're not that, either. I'll take my knocks from people who disagree with my beliefs, but I hate getting battered by people who disagree with me over things I do NOT believe.

I sympathize. I'm well-acquainted with that process and routine.

I said this [humanist skepticism about human ability to know] is ironic because the stereotype is that theists are humble enough to admit there is a God before whom they are nothing and atheists are arrogant enough to think they can find things out on their own. But I think if you examine the basic disagreement you will see that there is an enormous amount of epistemic pride in the assertion that we can correctly evaluate our own private and personal experiences to the point where doubting them is no longer doubting their source, but the honesty and worth of their Source.

Interesting comment . . .

Science is such a powerful tool because it takes the opposite stance, it works on the assumption that personal experiences need to be examined in the public arena.

But Catholicism is not much different. That's why we draw a clear distinction between private and public revelation. Private revelation (even famous stuff like the Lourdes and Fatima Marian apparitions) are not binding on anyone. This is why we have investigations for scores of years, concerning sainthood, and alleged miraculous occurrences. This is a scientific outlook.

The methods are impersonal, and ought to be capable of being duplicated by anyone. "I tried it and it worked so that is good enough for me" is a common human assumption which is correct often enough that it is trusted in areas where it is often not correct. It is a very personal method of evaluation.

So tell me how I was wrong with regard to, e.g., my hypoglycemia, and how that reveals a somehow-unscientific attitude on my part? Many doctors didn't even acknowledge the existence hypoglycemia back when I was studying about it. Apparently that is changing now.

If God should be "included in science" then this entails that it is a
theory in science. Not having explicable mechanisms is a drawback, but no, this doesn't rule it out.

Okay; well, I would say that religion and philosophy intersect with science at the point of origins and possible teleology. That doesn't "make" them science, but it does mean that science cannot totally explain absolutely everything it comments upon.

You still recognise that evolution makes an effort, failed or not, to give a specific empirical account of how we all became the way we are.

Of course.

Whether you think evolution is bad science -- or even pseudoscience(!) -- you still can see that its method of explanation is one that tries to give an account through specific processes and operations.

More and more it seems as if "explanation" is the new "god." It used to be "chance" or "natural selection." All of these things become the new "omniscient god": sufficient to supposedly explain everything.

There are areas where you agree that the theory can indeed explain a step by step process, what you call microevolution. This kind of particularized explanation is familiar to us. Evolution isn't considered science just because it talks about biology, but because of HOW it talks about biology. And you recognise it as a science.

God explanations don't do this.

To some extent they do; other times they do not. But so what? Unless your point is that scientific/philosophical knowledge is the sum of knowledge (sui generis), then this is of no relevance, and is merely stating truisms. Maybe I am missing your point.

"Like comes from Like" doesn't try to explain the nuts and bolts of why, it simply appeals to the vague intuition of Affinity. There are almost never any understandable processes or operations involved. Any attempt to explain exactly how God works a miracle is going to sound like New Age pseudoscience, so most theists wisely avoid it. Pseudoscience can be critiqued.

I have never said that creationism is science. My position has long been that creationist explanations (to the extent that they exist at all) reduce to philosophy and religion, but also that evolutionary hypotheses at obscure points do the same.

Science itself will reduce to philosophy, certainly, since in order to use
science you have to make certain metaphysical and epistemic assumptions.

We agree on that.

But I did not think that you were trying to argue that science is an
inferior way of knowing things so much as trying to bring God explanations into science.

Again, not into science per se, but into explanations of science which are already going beyond what science has authority to speak on (notably, origins of life and the universe and irreducible complexity).

Both cosmological and design arguments assume the validity and worth of empirical methods such as science: in this thread and others you seem to have been asserting either that science is a path to God,

I think its conclusions lead to (or are at least not at all inconsistent with) a reasonable belief in God.

or that theism is a powerful scientific hypothesis which best explains certain empirical facts about the world and should thus be included in scientific explanations.

No, that's going too far. I think theism picks up where science ends, and that science points to it (if one were to get "metaphysical"). Nothing in theism contradicts true science. Miracles do not because they are exceptions to the rule. Uniformitarianism cannot prove that miracle X will "never ever ever happen."

It is not too far; it is where you have gone. If you claim a miracle has happened and wish to hide behind arguments that say we can't rule anything out (which is true) you cannot then try to gain credence with science, which says we do rule things out on a tentative basis.

Science simply cannot rule out miracles, because they are not part of its study. How could supernatural events come under the category of "natural events"? I explained earlier the distinction between this inability of science to dogmatically say "no miracles/design/creation" and the Christian's perfect right to assert that nothing in science is inconsistent with various spiritual or supernatural occurrences. In other words, it is not a perfect "epistemological symmetry," so to speak.

Untestable claims are outside of science because they are untestable. You seem to be pointing out that they could still be right and then concluding that we can thus give the benefit of the doubt to what we like and dismiss the rest of what we don't like as nonsense or unproven or provisionally unlikely. This is not being "inconsistent" because we use science the rest of the time to assume probabilities on claims that do not purport to be paranormal.

And as I've mentioned before, this makes all untestable paranormal claims equally likely, or allows the individual to make an arbitrary distinction between untestable one-time incidents that are likely to be human error and untestable one-time incidents that are likely to be actual events.

Not at all, because they have to be consistent with reason and existing knowledge. I have shown you how many supernatural claims are either denied as unreal by Christianity or condemned as evil and demonic. Our view does not in fact lead to what you claim it leads to.

And I'm not even going to get into the problems with saying that paranormal claims for religions not your own are tricks of Satan. I'm too damn tired of listening to Fundamentalists tell me that all those visits by the Virgin Mary are real but just the devil's way of trying to get people to be Catholic so they can be damned.

As always, this can be abused too. But the demonic is real. The Exorcist was based on a real, and fairly famous incident. One doesn't have to adopt a ridiculous Flip Wilson "the devil made me do it" mentality in order to acknowledge the presence of personal evil and demonic spiritual forces in life. But can I prove such a thing to you? I don't expect to at all. I'm just sharing how a Christian looks at these various phenomena.

I think you want to have things both ways.

I think you are confused in your categories and epistemology, as I have stated before.

If science is pointing to something then it is pointing to a theory. That is what science points to, theories that might be wrong, not metaphysical absolutes.

Of course. The statement "the Big Bang is a theory" is a scientific one. The statement "the Big Bang is entirely consistent with the concept of creation ex nihilo" is a statement of philosophy of religion, having to do with a scientific subject. Big difference. One can do both. There is no conflict here.

So I don't think it makes sense to both argue that our scientific evidence leads to God as the best explanation for some specific problems in science and at the same time try to undermine science as a good way of knowing things.

How have I ever "undermined" science? To my knowledge, I never have. Simply pointing out what it has not the ability to do is not undermining it, but rather, being truthful and honest about it. I don't respect a tightrope walker by claiming that he is able to walk through thin air without a tightrope. Macroevolution is lousy, rotten science with no basis in experimental observation. You will disagree, but it is still not the case that I am undermining science. From my perspective, I am honoring it by denouncing its "counterfeits."

I understand this. I am saying that I see a conflict between saying that science should be tighter in its demands for proof and evidence in area X, but that area X is outside of science's proper sphere of discovery. Which is it?

Already explained.

When scientists attack creationist theories, it is seen as an attack on religion. But if Creationism were to turn out to be true, I agree with you that it would support science. What is or isn't scientific isn't the conclusion -- "God exists" is a perfectly acceptable scientific conclusion, Metaphysical Being or not -- it is the method. You don't want scientific methods used on God theory, you don't want critical demands for strong evidence, you see this as dogmatic or close-minded or reactionary.

I want consistency and clear thinking; that's what I want. Just as much as you do, I assure you.

Although the theory that God directly intervenes in nature is supposed to be accepted as most likely by scientists when they run up against a problem which is hard to solve, God should not be treated like any other theory in science, it's special. It's outside of science's scope.

That's right, because God is a matter of both science (quite indirectly) and metaphysics (directly). Science is itself the philosophical viewpoint of empiricism. Science is philosophy. When we come to the borderlines and intersections of different fields of knowledge, it gets very complex and tricky.

But I think that if you have two propositions which each seek to answer the same question about facts of nature, the only way they can be truly evaluated against each other is to apply the same standards of inquiry to them. You want to say that evolution has not met its criteria at the same time that you say that God doesn't have to meet any criteria, that we go "too far" when we treat God as a powerful scientific hypothesis and wonder about mechanisms and methods, inquire into how to distinguish the will of an unknowable Being from something that is simply not known. I don't agree. I think you are being inconsistent here.

Well, I've spoken on this before, so I will desist.

Evolution, for good or bad, is a scientific hypothesis, even in the
"obscure points." If a God explanation wishes to compete with it on the
same level, it ought to provide mechanisms and processes that are equally explanatory.

It cannot, and shouldn't be required to. God is no more the end result of a scientific experiment than He is the end result of a clever syllogism. This demand is irrational, because it is unreasonable to accept something merely because it is deemed superior to an alternate explanation, despite its own grave inconsistencies and shortcomings. The rational thing to do is to withhold judgment on those portions of it which are inadequately supported empirically. But I understand the modern scientific mindset. I cited Thomas Kuhn in that regard on this list.

If it can't or doesn't do so that won't mean we don't entertain it as a possibility, of course, but, like homeopathy, it won't tell us much about how the world actually works. And it better have very strong additional proof.

How likely is it that a monkey could sit at a typewriter and type out the US Constitution, word-for-word, or assemble a Boeing 747 from junkyard materials? Genetic codes are infinitely more complex than that, yet materialist scientists think nothing about asserting that they could have come about by random mutations, under the ubiquitous "explanation" of natural selection. The rational thing is to conclude that there must be a Designer somewhere along the way. But if one makes Matter God, with all the powers of omnipotence, even omniscience in a sense, this extreme difficulty is magically annihilated.

I am free as a rational mind, with full respect and admiration for scientific method, to reject what I feel is an inadequate scientific hypothesis (in this case, macroevolution, and origination of the higher complexities of biological life) without immediately adopting another explanation. I am agnostic as to God's methods, and to nature's methods where we don't have enough information to solidly posit a particular process or mechanism of change.

I understand that this is heretical and anathema according to many scientists today, but I don't care. That takes us right back to whether science has the inherent power to determine all knowledge and all truth. It does not, anymore than any other system of thought does. And I say that is self-evident (though rarely acknowledged).

If you are genuinely unconvinced by the evidence for evolution, then by all means you ought to hold back from accepting it, there's nothing wrong with that. But this is different than going on to question the worth of science.

I deny that I have ever done that. Why would you think that I did? I love science and theology alike. It is you who question the worth of theology! :-)

It seems to me that science's validity in its ability to determine that God exists is indeed being assumed in Natural Theology. Is God being used as a type of scientific explanation? I think it is, as long as it is trying to answer scientific questions concerning the universe and man. And that means that the existence of God is a theory which is open to confirmation, refutation -- or being discarded as irrelevant or unknown.

I don't know what else to say. I've written much about these notions. My view must be difficult to get across or something. That's not surprising, since it would virtually never be heard in any public school or university (being contrary to current secularist dogma). What is unfamiliar becomes that much more implausible, by not having been heard enough to even have a chance to take on an air of plausibility, or a ring of truth.

In order to hold God back from being one hypothesis set forth against other hypotheses in science, you will have to keep God safely in the realm of philosophical ethics or metaphysics -- where every observation would look exactly the same if God existed or not. Science can't go there. But as long as you insist that God directly interferes in the workings of natural laws and divine intervention can be the 'best explanation' for facts like the Big Bang or the cell I think you should accept the consequences of bringing a "spiritual" Being into the realm of science.

I agree with the famed paleontologist George Gaylord Simpson that the "results" of metaphysics can be examined by scientific method. That is an intersection of God/metaphysics and science. But even accepting your challenge, how would one go about proving scientifically that God created any particular thing? It can't possibly be done. God is a spirit and any means of creation would (it seems to me) involve extraordinary processes which are not familiar to us. Yet certain phenomena like the Big Bang or the Cambrian explosion are consistent with special creation, and a few brave evolutionists have even admitted as much.

If it can't be proven that God created any particular thing then how can you use it as a theory which explains the Big Bang and the cell? Creation (note: not creationISM) is not a scientific theory.

It is a religious/metaphysical belief which can be shown to be quite consistent with what we know in science presently. That God created is a Christian dogma. One doesn't arrive at these beliefs through scientific experiment, but through other means. When I put forth God as an "explanation" of the Big Bang or the cell it is not a scientific approach in terms of experiment and observation and testable hypotheses. It is a metaphysical belief without knowledge of all the particulars. I have always held this view, ever since I studied the evolution controversies, back in the early 80s.

Because it doesn't claim to be scientific in the strict sense, there is no obligation to prove mechanism, etc. (if indeed that were even possible). "Explanations" of the evolution of the eye or of life and suchlike, however, are of an entirely different order. They claim to be scientific through and through, yet fall short of the mark because they explain little. They are, in effect, metaphysical theories masking themselves as "scientific explanations." But this is intellectually dishonest, because they are not accurately described for what they are, and there is a pretense of detailed, technical, scientific understanding and an unseemly scoffing at those who are skeptical, such as myself. Belief in a Creator involves no such internal inconsistency.

Of course the Big Bang and the Cambrian explosion are consistent with the existence of God: what isn't?

That isn't the claim. It is that these things are consistent with possible acts of creation.

Theologians are on top of all the mountains. And whatever is found or discovered it is still possible to go one step over or above or behind or beyond and say God is the sustaining reality for that.

No different than the inability of so many evolutionists to admit that they don't have a lock on the whole of reality . . .

But using facts in nature to argue specifically for a direct intervention of God over a natural process which is "sustained" by God means you've crossed into an area where different levels of proof are required.

Precisely, because this becomes metaphysics, as I have said all along.

No, I am saying that claiming that God sustains everything that happens or
is "consistent" with everything that happens is a metaphysical claim.


Saying that God intervened directly in nature and did a miracle and that
the scientific or natural theories that account for the same event are
WRONG means that you are no longer in metaphysics. When the claims of
science and the claims of religion overlap and contradict each other you
can't say they are in separate areas, nor can you say they are both in
metaphysics. They are in the area where we deal with empirical epistemic
philosophy; i.e., science.

But they still need not contradict, simply because miracle or divine intervention is an exception to the rule, or interruption of "normality." I don't have to throw out science simply because I believe in the Resurrection of Jesus Christ or the miracle of the loaves (feeding of the 5000). I agree that there is overlap. I strongly disagree that you have revealed some glaring epistemological or logical inconsistency in my thinking in these areas thus far. Perhaps you can persuade me on some particulars in due course . . .

You are arguing against scientific theories you deem to be inadequate, and in order to do that you either have to stand on scientific turf and argue using its methods or stand far aside and scorn science as just one of the many culturally-bound relativistic ways of choosing to see the world.

No, my friend. This is yet another false dichotomy, brought on by an inadequate epistemology and a seeming "science-only" mindset. It only works by assuming your own assumptions from the outset. But I don't accept them, so this has no relevance to my position. It shows quite a bit about the inadequacy of yours, though, I think.

I don't have to (and don't) scorn science at all. I scorn materialistic or dogmatic science, because I think that is not what science is about in the first place. Again, I make arguments along these lines in two ways:

1. When I am critiquing the inadequacy of evolution, I use the criteria which evolutionists themselves use, and cite scientists as to the problems and mysteries therein. It is a critique of the internal consistency, just as Argument From Evil purports to be, with regard to the Free Will Defense. I don't have to mention God at all to do this.

The argument is that your objections have been met, or are not the problem you think they are. But I'm not getting into this thread, which seems defunct now anyway.

2. And when I am positing God in this regard, I am already consciously in the realm of metaphysics, even though there are some connections to science. I don't have to prove God in a laboratory, nor do I think it is even possible. God is a spirit, and it requires some faith to believe in Him. Neither of those entities sound particularly scientific to me.

And I disagree. You are not in the realm of metaphysics when you claim that mysterious spirit actions are a better explanation for an observation than natural scientific theories which may or may not have adequate support. You are in the area of empiricism, since your theory might be proven wrong.

I think I agree. You have spoken so much of this metaphysics vs. science thing that I sometimes get confused as to what point you are making at the moment.

I'll just point out again that while your concern that evolution has not accumulated enough direct empirical evidence may or may not be justified, you are still criticizing evolution on scientific grounds. You are demanding specifics, you want to know exactly HOW it works -- you don't want vague generalizations that it works but we can't really know how. Your skepticism is based on the assumption that evolution darn well better show its work or you won't accept it.


The skeptical equivalent on the nontheist side for the inadequacy of
God explanations is not "prove to us that God exists" but "an
explanation ought to show its work -- HOW does God work?"

But isn't that applying a scientific epistemology and methodology to a non-material entity, and religion and metaphysics? On the other hand, I am criticizing evolutionary theory by using its own presuppositions.

The fact that this can't be known (unless you are going to claim that God works through nature and thus all natural explanations show how God works) is a problem when it comes to deciding which kind of explanation is a "thoughtful explanation" that gives an adequate grounding for our knowledge.

It is a problem only for one who makes science the end of all knowledge. That's what I've been trying to demonstrate: that this demand itself is unreasonable because it is circular; also that it doesn't take into account that the most fundamental scientific presuppositions also are unprovable and are axioms. Everyone accepts something on "faith," so to speak. This has long been a theme of my thought. I love to get to the bottom of things.

I really don't think we are being selectively skeptical to accept evolution but not accept that the existence of God provides an adequate solution to scientific problems.

Again, it is not so much that God gives "solutions" (scientific solution is implicitly implied by you, I think) to "scientific problems." Rather, it is that the God hypothesis or theism provides solutions to philosophical problems which are often falsely believed to be scientific problems (when in fact they go far beyond science proper). To put it more simply: both approaches (broadly: evolutionism vs. creationism) eventually break down into metaphysics. But scientists too often don't admit that their thought is doing that, while the theist freely admits it. So it is a question of intellectual honesty and categorization, to a large extent.


Well, let us cut to the chase on this.

I love that phrase . . . :-)

Do you agree that it is possible that questions such as the Big Bang, abiogenesis, cell formation, and the origins of the human drive to form moral systems MIGHT have a natural explanation which science can discover?

Of course. I have already admitted this on the list. You must have missed it.

I know you think that the current theories on these subjects are not adequate, sufficient, complete -- but is it possible that there COULD be a natural scientific explanation for these factors which would be adequate, sufficient, and complete?


Could there ever be empirical discoveries that would persuade you that naturalist theories on these issues, at least, are scientifically sound ... and that God may exist, but sustains or created or caused the natural means?

All Christians believe that God created and sustains His creation, whether He used evolution as the means or some form of miraculous special creationism. All theistic evolutionists (guys like Kenneth Miller or Lecomte du Nouy) - I believe - would say that God had to put the initial potentialities into matter to make the subsequent developmental evolution possible in the first place. This is no novel concept. Many Catholics and other Christians are evolutionists.

I'm aware that evolution doesn't directly address the question of God's existence -- usually, science itself has nothing to say one way or the other on metaphysical questions which either claim to be about other realities we can't observe or would look the same whether they were true or not. How would one go about trying to prove that everything is, or is not, inside some other totally inaccessible reality, for example? What kind of observation would be to the point?

No scientific one that I can think of. As I wrote before, one can only determine if the scientific explanation is consistent with some brand of creationist metaphysics or theistic evolution.

I claim that these questions are indeed scientific questions.

Again, how would one prove in a laboratory that God is sustaining the existence of any physical thing? That can no more be done than an analysis of the cells of Jesus Christ could prove that He was both God and man.

Yes, one could not prove or disprove that something is being metaphysically sustained. But that is just my point. We cannot imagine what such a proof would look like. But we can both very clearly recognise that abiogensis, the cell, evolution, and cosmological theories like the Big Bang could have supporting evidence one way or the other. A scientific theory can not only be wrong, but can be known to be wrong.


If not, then you should stop demanding evidence you would never accept, no matter what.

This is moot.

Someone years ago could have insisted that the origin and nature of
lightning was not a scientific problem, but a philosophical one. Where is
the demarcation point?

At events and amazingly complex systems where we don't have the slightest clue as to origin or process, and where known laws cannot even begin to explain them. As Michael Behe stated: we should have the courage to go where the facts lead, even though it may make us uncomfortable. This is not true at all with lightning, though it may have seemed so at one time. People once thought comets were supernatural things too. With more knowledge, that was shown to be a false assumption.

And with more knowledge, things like "irreducibly complex" cells might become explained as the result of understandable natural processes in evolution.

Then I might accept the standard evolutionary theory with regard to that point, but not until then.

You say this has not happened yet, but surely you don't mean to then dogmatically claim that it could not happen, especially when so many people are taking reasonable stabs at the question.

Of course not.

Your very demand for stronger empirical proof in evolution shows that you are dealing with a science question and know this.

Scientists are working on the problem (irreducible complexity, etc.), but what they have told us thus far is little more than "empirical metaphysics" at best and fairy tales at worst.

You must have some sort of thing in mind that would persuade you, some finding or experiment or formula or series of discoveries which would give us a "clue" to a natural explanation.

Sure: an explanation which has causal steps and real descriptions of mechanism and process, like that in any number of other scientific areas; something which has some substance and is not simply believed because it fits into a larger theory; something which gives us more than reverent, faith-filled invocations of the goddesses of Mutations and Natural Selection, as if the mere stating of the words solves the problems under consideration.

You can always keep God above science by keeping it in metaphysics. God-as-theory is far too vague to ever be wrong. Evolution could be wrong. This is what makes it a scientific theory.

It almost seems as if you wish to worship science as this amazing thing, because it stresses falsifiability. Well, I agree that it is wonderful, but it is only one means of knowing among many. I don't see why science has to be King, while all other knowledge is inferior and scoffed at.

I don't worship science. How can one worship something that scoffs at blind
obedience and insists you can be wrong?

Just as I can worship a God who scoffs at blind obedience and insists I can be wrong . . .

How can you worship something which has conclusions which are forced to keep changing?

Just as I worship Someone Whose Moral Law "forces" me to keep repenting when I fall short of it.

It's just that I'm very impressed with a method of learning that doesn't worship me.

Me too! I sure know God doesn't worship me! LOL

When you get right down to it, revelation worships Man by demanding that he trust.

I don't follow your point.

You equate trust in an infallible God to trust in a method that insists
that we don't give ourselves too much credit for infallibility, because you
see God as a Being that humbles one in the same way that science can humble
someone. The problem here is that you are putting apples against oranges --
or, rather, apples are being put up against apple-picking.

God isn't a method. God isn't an approach to how we learn and understand
things. God is a claim to knowledge itself, a presumed personal Being that
creates and rules the universe and tells us things so that we may learn and
understand. This use of God as a means to knowledge is different in a very
critical way from the use of our reason to get to the knowledge that God
exists as this means. Humbling yourself before God's revelation is NOT the
same as using a method that humbles you, that takes care that you do not
make claims that can't be corrected. In order to humble yourself before
God's revelation you must simply assume that you are right about what you
see as a revelation from God. Faith is central to this. And faith is a
method that flatters us by telling us to believe.

How can you be so indignant when you see what you think is faith as being
used in evolutionary theory and then indulgent when it is used on miracle
claims? If miracle claims are not in any way inconsistent with science then
why the problem with leaps of faith in any other area? How can you insist
that you don't need to use scientific methods on God because God is a
metaphysical being and then claim that scientific methods are perfectly
capable of showing that it is more likely that God exists than that it

I think you recognise the arrogance of faith when you see it used on
scientific claims. The inconsistency is that you don't see that this kind
of faith is arrogant whenever it is used.

It tells us to admire and cultivate the terrible certainty that one point of view is right -- that revelation is a revelation from God, who cannot be wrong, and not from ourselves, who can.

Such a thing is either possible or not. I say it is clearly possible. Now the trick is to determine whether it is actual. We believe it is, partially based on corresponding reason, and also based on faith. Are 2+2=4 or a=a or e=mc2 also "terrible certainties"?

My complaint is that you are using God as a means to explain nature in direct competition with scientific theories. When God explanations compete with scientific explanations they are no longer metaphysical claims: they are scientific claims. They become another scientific explanation which you feel has more support than different scientific explanations. And there is nothing at all wrong with using scientific criteria on a scientific claim.

I've written enough above about my view of the relationship of metaphysics and science. You seem to want everything to be neatly tucked inside the scientific banner. I would expect that, if you don't acknowledge other forms of knowledge, or don't give them much attention. But you can hardly expect those of us who disagree to adopt your epistemology, just so the argument can proceed further.

This reminds me (here goes my analogical mind again) of Democratic so-called "bi-partisanship." To the Democrats, this means taking the Democratic view (roughly synonymous with political liberalism). I should think that the legitimate meaning of the word, however, is more like ecumenism: working together despite honest and principled differences, to achieve some worthy goal. So if - in order to talk about God as Creator - one must adopt a strict scientific methodology and modus operandi, then the confusion of categories has become victorious and the theistic, Christian argument essentially conceded.

Perhaps atheists would love for God (even in Christian theology) to be reduced to merely a scientific construct, but that is not the God we worship. You can't prove this God in a test tube. To me, this is almost as silly as that cosmonaut (Gagarin, I think) going out in space and saying "see, I looked all around and I didn't see any God." LOL

I don't think we get into the philosophical area of metaphysics until and unless we 1) question the foundations of empirical science as a method

You'll have to explain this. To me it just sounds like fallacious "either/or" reasoning and a false dichotomy; yet another instance of the modern tendency to arbitrarily compartmentalize knowledge. But maybe I am reacting too hastily. We'll see . . .

or 2) assume a basic underlying structure which "sustains" or contains or supports all forms of the knowable universe and thus science can't deal with it at all.

All Christians believe this, but it is not incompatible with natural science (nor necessarily with Darwinism); nor can it be demonstrated or refuted by same. It can at least offer some reason to believe that unknown processes could have occurred in the first place. It can give some account, however meager, for irreducible complexity. To that degree it becomes a teleological argument.

If you try to question the validity of science as part of #1 you undercut your claim that science can support or lead to God as the best explanation:

But I have never done that, and never will. You're right: it lies behind my use of the teleological and cosmological arguments, which are my favorite theistic proofs. These enlist science as an "ally," so to speak, especially in my own formulations of them.

if you try to define God as a metaphysical assumption via #2 then I don't think you can bring in God in the form of observable miraculous supernatural interventions which can be distinguished from ordinary natural occurances and thus lead us to belief in God.

You can neither prove nor disprove God from science. But that doesn't mean that one is prohibited from positing that perhaps some sort of Creator/Designer God can provide a good explanation in terms of First Cause for phenomena which remain quite mysterious to us. Even Einstein spoke of some sort of "spirit" in the universe, and I don't think you would question his commitment to scientific method. Even David Hume accepted a version of the argument from design.

And of course science began in a thoroughly Christian milieu. Naturalism or materialism was not believed to be central or fundamental to the definition of science or its method till basically after Darwin's time. This dichotomy you speak of was not always there. Relatively little conflict between science and God or Christianity was observed before 1859, though there were occasional exceptions, such as the much-ballyhooed Galileo incident. Newton could be a devout Christian, yet discover what he did. Likewise with Copernicus, Mendel, Pasteur (who was very fond of the Rosary), Pascal, Kepler, Boyle, Fleming, Faraday, Agassiz, Maxwell, Linnaeus, and on and on.

What does Athens have to do with Jerusalem? ;)

Early science had very much to do with Jerusalem. This was no coincidence at all. And unless the history of science is understood, then much of what I argue falls on deaf ears, because the presently fashionable categories of thought and fields of study do not permit it. The only place it can be relegated to is "the fundamentalist, backward, anti-scientific mentality." That's because the discussion hasn't even been allowed in schools and universities for several generations now. So whoever talks differently is immediately labelled by many as ignorant of science and its findings, as Behe was when he dared to think differently and not take in the prevailing evolutionary orthodoxy with his mother's milk. I'm not saying you're doing this to me. I'm speaking generally.

Philosophy and science are built upon the contention that knowledge is hard won by human beings here on earth, and that through the competition of minds we come closer to understanding. It encourages disagreement, demonstration, and a willingness to change and be persuaded.

Don't both build on past accumulation of knowledge, too, though, so that - in a certain sociological sense - science and philosophy both develop time-honored "traditions" as religion does?

Time-honored, yes. Infallible, no.

Yet nothing can ever overthrow Neo-Darwinism, no matter how many flaws it exhibits. This may not technically be "infallibilism," but practically speaking, I see precious little difference. It is dogmatic, it functions as a religion for its avid followers, it must be true (for creationism is either unthinkable or virtually impossible, especially for an atheist, who would have to overthrow his atheism to espouse it).

If a scientist succeeds in overturning or (more likely) modifying a major tenet of science he is eventually given acclaim and honor within science. If a theologian succeeds in attacking a major tenet of his religion the religion is in trouble: all it has is what it began with, what follows is an attempt to clarify and understand the true revelation from God and that can only pull so far before it becomes heresy and infidelity.

This is true. But I see nothing wrong with it. I see no reason to regard as impossible a point of view whereby something is revealed and not subject to constant questioning. Not all knowledge is philosophy. If you think otherwise, then try to prove it to me. I challenge you here and now. And if you can't, then revelation is conceivable, and your objection is based on mere personal preference, not solid, irrefutable thinking. Your thought would then be based on the unproven axiom:


"All knowledge must be subject to constant attempted falsification or else it is somehow not believable knowledge."

This you can't prove; therefore your objection collapses. In fact, it is even self-defeating, for if the above sentence is indubitably and always true, then the principle or axiom would be untrue. If it is untrue, then my point stands. Either way, your case for "scientism" collapses.

I have already agreed that revelation and miracles are conceivable. It is
not impossible that something has happened in the past which goes against
the known and accepted laws of physics as understood today, nor is it
impossible that such miraculous events go on today, on a regular basis. The
issue isn't possibility, but believability. Is it reasonable to simply
decide to believe in a miracle, or a revelation, on the basis that it
"might" be true, or is it more reasonable to say that such events are
unlikely till they can be demonstrated in such a way that they leave out
human errors in attribution, memory, and transmission? I say the latter,
you say the former. I base my view on the demonstrated fact that humans
can err in such matters, and often do.

Is all knowledge philosophy? In one way or another, I think so. Your demand
-- or challenge - that I somehow prove that revelation is impossible or
hasn't happened reverses the burden of proof. One person can only prove or
demonstrate the truth of something to another if there is already a
background of agreement from which the probability can be measured, a
common ground of demonstration. You and I already agree that science works
in verifying claims in reality. We stand together here; I needn't prove the
value of empiricism to you.

But you are making an additional claim: there are also such things as
revelations, as mystical ways of knowing that come from a supernatural
world of spirit. Can you demonstrate this to me using the same background
beliefs we both have about the utility of science in weeding out truth from
error? Unless I grant your claims a special status that I don't grant
others you cannot. If you could, you would not suddenly try to shift burden
and say "prove it isn't true."

I know what it would look like to prove the existence of supernatural
claims via science because I know what it looks like to prove natural ones.
I do not know what it would look like to disprove them if the lack of
scientific proof itself is not seen as a prima facie reason to work on the
assumption that they don't exist. Neither do you, or anyone else.

I do not claim that the premise "all knowledge must be subject to constant
attempted falsification or else it is somehow not believable knowledge" is
indubitably and always true. I try not to deal in indubitable postulates,
but work towards general probabilities using induction. Thus the statement
you wrote is a stipulative theory, a working assumption open to being
falsified. In fact, to argue against it you must assume my good will and
willingness to be shown wrong. In order to say that this working guideline
is not legitimate you have to work on the assumption that it IS legitimate,
and that I ought to change my viewpoint when you can logically and
rationally demonstrate to me that there are empirical truths that ought to
be accepted on faith.

As long as I do not insist that the working assumption is Truth that can't
be questioned I don't think I'm involved in any self-refuting circularity.
But when you must assume the truth of what I write in order to challenge
it, it seems to me that you get into such difficulties yourself.


If you succeed in demonstrating the inadequacy of evolution as explanation you will be supporting science, not attacking it.

That's what I've claimed all along.

If an atheist succeeds in demonstrating the inadequacy or irrelevence of
God as direct explanation for something we're not supporting religion.

No; you're not supporting theism. Some religions do not require any sort of god at all.

Religion is built upon the idea that there are eternal truths which are given to us directly through revelation and intuition, and the most important thing is to have faith, to believe, to accept. "Question all things," says Socrates. "Unless ye become as a little child ye cannot enter the kingdom of heaven," says the Bible. At some point any synthesis of these views is going to run into a conflict.

LOL Now Sue, your extreme dichotomies are getting to be a bit too much to take. You act - typically for a modernist or postmodernist - as if science and philosophy involve no axioms and unproven starting-assumptions, and as if religion has nothing whatever to do with rationality and reason. So for you (as with Bertrand Russell) Thomas Aquinas is no philosopher? We believe that there is reason and there is revelation, and that the two do not have to necessarily conflict. They are simply two forms of knowledge.

I'm saying that there is a basic difference in the way science and Greek
philosophy approach truth, and the way religion does.

Of course there is, but so what? What's your point? Are we back to my previous query about your perspective: that science is all there is? Even if atheism were granted as true, this would not be self-evident at all.

The "unproven axioms and starting-assumptions" in philosophy and science -- by which I assume you mean things like the basic reliability of our senses and the laws of logic -- are shared by religion: these are the starting grounds for all knowledge and all methods of knowledge. It is religion that is adding in new elements, new assumptions, new methods -- or trying to.

Yes, and some of those elements are valid and some are not.

Reason is the means of working out solutions to problems. Revelation is the
means of getting an answer without all the fuss and bother.

If God in fact exists, that is the nature of the case, just as I get a "revelation" from a car mechanic or a brain surgeon about my motor or my brain "without all the fuss and bother." And thank God for that! I have less than no interest in either "philosophical procedure."

That the two do not necessarily conflict is not important.

It is supremely important. But the fact that you so easily dismiss this might explain why we keep acting as ships passing in the night.

It is not up to the philosopher to show that revelation is not adequate:

They do all the time by denying that it is a valid category of thought and knowledge.

it is up to the religionist to demonstrate to the philosopher that it is.

One can't do so when the opponent has eliminated the possibility of it by means of a charge (explicit or implied) of "illegitimate category." The atheist obviously has a huge problem with it (it is categorically impossible because there is no God to give it). The deist and the like has less problem, but there is still a huge hurdle to jump. One only has so much time. I can't dismantle Mt. Everest with my hands and rebuild it again.

And without the ability to rationally demonstrate truth, revelation collapses on any terms but its own.

It is testable by things like miracles and fulfilled prophecy; the first is evidence of a superior power over nature, and the second indicates superior knowledge: consistent with omnipotence and omniscience (and possible timelessness).

We already agree that science can give us true knowledge of the world, we
stand on common ground here. You have to show me that revelation can give
us true knowledge of the world, too, and you can't do it by using
revelation, but by using the same approach you and I share for everything
else, that of reason and science.

Its evidences are mainly in the realm of historico-legal evidence, and you don't seem to think much of that, either.

Do I consider Aquinas a philosopher? Yes. However, I suspect he made some
philosophical errors, from what I understand of what he has written. I'm
not well read in Aquinas, or, at least, probably not as well read as I
ought to be if I were to involve myself in a deep discussion on him. But
yes, theologians are philosophers.

Obviously, if you reject revelation as a form of knowledge, then you must place it outside the realm of reason (so that you don't have to deal with its claims at all - they being supposedly purely a matter of faith, and contrary to reason). But again, you characterize entire fields of knowledge as purely faith (which is certainly an essential aspect, but not its entirety), wholly apart from reasonable considerations. That would come as a huge shock to Augustine or Origen or Justin Martyr or the Apostle Paul or Boethius, Bonaventure, Anselm, Albert the Great, all the notable Christian scientists, Ockham, Duns Scotus, Erasmus, Thomas More, Dr. Johnson, and on and on through all the great Christian thinkers.

It is one thing to not accept something yourself; quite another to paint it in surreal, cardboard-caricature colors (reasonable, intelligent open-minded scientists vs. irrational fideistic closed-minded Christians), so that its practitioners would not be able to recognize it in your description.

If I have done this or appeared to have done this I apologise. I have been
trying to point out that there are basic differences between the principles
of reason and revelation, not between the persons of scientists and
Christians, or atheists and the same. I think that people tend to use a
wide variety of positions and beliefs and approaches to the world, and
there are seldom clear distinctions between different types or kinds of
people. We are all fuzzy combinations of reason and irrationality, good and
evil, tolerance and close-mindedness -- scientists and theologians alike.
Principles are not people, and vice versa.

Fair enough. Thanks. But I still think your thought is far too "dichotomous" with regard to this science vs. religion/metaphysics discussion. I didn't believe you were trying to attack people. I think you can grasp the concept that our view is logically self-consistent without adopting the view itself. You don't seem to be able to accept that. I readily grant that humanism or atheism is self-consistent (I deny its premises).

I think Christianity is logically self-consistent only if one accepts that
general consistency is not important or valid, that some claims ought not
be put up against the same kind of standards as similar claims because they
are "special." Christianity is logically consistent if one assumes, as a
postulate, the value -- and virtue -- of faith.

The only means I have to argue for my viewpoint that it is wrong to use
such methods of faith on empirical claims about the nature of reality is
your prior agreement with me that faith is a poor method to rely on when it
comes to scientific understanding, and that it is a poor method to rely on
when it comes to religious, supernatural, or paranormal views that are not
your own.

There is I think a dissonance between most of your secular beliefs and your
religious ones, and to the extent that you value consistency and coherency
in how you approach understanding you will value evidential arguments over
fideistic ones. The combination of the two is not an easy synthesis because
the methods of justification which rely on objective demonstration clash
with the methods of justification that rely on subjective conviction. Once
you bring in faith all beliefs are on equal footing, and you have no means
to separate fact from "flapdoodle" (no, not my own term ) .


Science was done by many Christians, but I do not think it came out of the mystical revelation of Jerusalem; I think it came out of the rational marketplace of contending ideas that was Athens.

It was both. Greek philosophy more fully interacted with Jewish/Christian thought in the Middle Ages. Out of this milieu came modern science. If it was solely Athens, then surely it would have developed back during Aristotle's time. But it required the input of Christianity. Why do you think that is? And how can Christianity be something so allegedly foreign to science, when it was so instrumental in its formation? This is why history is so crucial to study.

I see we have different views on the historical background for the
evolution of science. I'm not sure I want to start another thread here, but
I should probably explain a bit why I disagree that it was both -- or,
rather, that science simply could not have evolved without Christianity.

Modern science does not seem to have come directly from the mystical aspect
of Christian thought, but out of a unique combination of philosophical and
historical factors: the renewal of interest in Greek philosophy and its
replacement of dogma with debate; autonomous, self-governing political
states; capitalism and the rise of a middle class with the leisure and
means to have a scientific community; and even the development of the
printing press. I'm not sure that there was anything unique in Christianity
itself that was instrumental in the formation of science. I think it was
the Catholic Church's attempt to merge Christianity with Greek philosophy
which provided one important framework for its development.

The belief that the cosmos is ultimately understandable doesn't necessarily
need to rest on the assumption that it was set up by a rational and
understandable God who can be arrived at through reason,

Not necessarily, but in point of fact, historically, this is what happened. I don't think that can be so easily dismissed.

because the belief that God is rational and understandable enough to be arrived at by reason instead of faith doesn't seem to come out of scripture, but out of the love the Church developed for the power of deductive and inductive reasoning as espoused by the Greeks. Science is, I believe, an historical fluke, not something that was natural to the progression of human thinking, which is religious in nature far more than it is scientific.

Why, then, if the Greeks - to their great credit - constructed all the essential elements of philosophy over hundreds of years, did science not develop by 300 B.C.?

I mentioned some historical factors in the earlier email, such things as
capitalism and the development of the printing press. If you're interested
in exploring this idea in more depth I would recommend Alan Cromer's
Uncommon Sense: The Heretical Nature of Science. Good stuff.

Christians (even creationists in many instances), in fact founded most of the various disciplines of science, including bacteriology, calculus, chemistry, electronics, electromagnetics, genetics, oceanography, paleontology, pathology, physical astronomy, thermodynamics, systematic biology, and several others. Francis Bacon was instrumental in establishing scientific method itself. Leonardo da Vinci was largely using the experimental method even before Bacon! Your attempted dichotomy of science vs. religion/metaphysics would surely appear quite strange to these men.
And this is why history is vitally important, to show how we got to where we are, in the world of ideas.

Evolution tries to explain complexity through smaller steps which are open to scrutiny and criticism.

In theory, yes. In practice, too often no. Once the dogma becomes entrenched, then it is unthinkable to question it, simply because the overwhelming consensus mitigates against such skepticism. Stephen Jay Gould has written as much about various aspects of science. This is not my own novel idea.

God theory explains complexity by bringing in even more complexity and is not open to scrutiny and criticism.

It certainly is open to criticism, but this is philosophy and religion (and/or theology) - as much of evolutionary theory also is.

A theory that deliberately conceals its methods and processes is a problem in a different way than a theory that hasn't yet firmly established that the methods and processes it is claiming happened actually did happen.

I still say you are applying circular assumptions. Evolution is part science and part philosophy. Creationism or intelligent design is virtually all philosophy (though with an obvious close relation to empiricism or observation), with religious elements to more or less degrees. Therefore, it isn't - strictly speaking - subject to scientific methodology, by definition. But then again, the situation is largely the same with macroevolution and the problem of biological origins and complexity. And that's the double standard I keep pointing out. Our views are required to be able to explain and be tested according to scientific rigor, while the same scrutiny is not applied to the areas of evolutionary theory I mention.

If the Universe is defined as All That Has Existed, Does Exist, and
Will Exist then the Big Bang may properly be understood as the beginning of a form of the universe, the one with the properties we observe. Whether Reality has or had or includes other forms (including God) is an open question.

Okay. I have no particular response.

I don't dismiss it, but I do find the idea of irreducible complexity far less plausible than the idea of irreducible simplicity. This is in part because every explanation I have ever heard builds understanding from the ground up, and I have never encountered a phenomenon that is complicated and involved, but it can't be broken down and understood in terms of its parts and their levels of interaction.

Wouldn't the nature of light, sub-atomic particles (quantum mechanics), black holes, and similarly complex notions qualify for such things? Why not brains, DNA, and eyes? It seems to me that you can't explain any of these things in very simple terms.

There are of course many cases where a level of explanation loses its character when the systems which make it up are examined, but this isn't the same thing because one could at least in theory understand the dynamics of the entire process. We don't appeal to irreducible complexity in anything else besides God,

I think we do with the above concepts, and I'm sure many others could be suggested as well.

unless we are talking about relating to people on a personal level, and then we don't deny that people are the result of prior causes and laws, we simply don't bring it up. When I deal with someone socially I usually don't need to take into account that he is made up of molecules, or was formed by biological processes, etc. And this seems to be the way God is being brought in as explanation. Not as an actual explanation as to method, but a social and psychological explanation.

No; rather, as a philosophical First Cause (Aquinas) or Designer (Hume; even Darwin) or the Ground for objective morality (Kant), or "properly basic" (Anselm, Hartshorne, Plantinga). This is philosophy, my dear, not social psychology.

"Why did the volcano errupt" answered not in terms of geology, but in terms of what those people who died in the volcano did wrong, or what their deaths are supposed to teach us so that we may be better people and improve ourselves in relating to our group and Leader.

That is mythology.

But if God exists and effects the universe, it too would be equally within the realm of empirical observation and explanation. I think you've agreed with this several times.

Indeed; and so have several evolutionists I cited. But it is in a limited sense only, as I have sought to explain.

And if it is possible that God exists and it is also possible that God doesn't exist, it seems eminently reasonable to demand the kind of strict empirical evidence that one would demand for any kind of supernatural claim. It isn't that science has ruled out the paranormal and supernatural by Grand Fiat, but that up till now no supernatural claim has been able to establish itself with the same kind of rigor we expect from unexpected yet true natural claims.

What do you mean by "rigor"? if not again a smuggling in of a scientific/empirical epistemology for a Spirit Being, which is irrational from the get-go. Your entire statement above hinges on that definition, and you must explain it in order to escape circularity.

If metaphysical or spiritual beings, be they ghosts, angels, or gods, are
acting in nature then science should be capable of discovering this.

Not necessarily. It can observe results of such actions (as G.G. Simpson stated), but it can't prove that they occurred as a result of spiritual beings. Questions of origins necessarily reduce to metaphysics, whatever view one takes.

Perhaps questions of Ultimate origins reduce to metaphysics, but if ALL questions of origins reduce to metaphysics then science has answered hundreds and thousands of metaphysical questions to our satisfaction. I think it is very easy to pick and choose which questions are "beyond science." Different theists put the barrier at different places: you yourself are more than happy to move the barrier if new information comes up. If new information can conceivably cause you or anyone else to move the barrier, it's only a barrier of ignorance, not one of absolutes. And yes, as much as I have tried to avoid using this term (since I know you hate it), I think we are indeed dealing with a God of the Gaps Argument (there, I am done).

Am I supposed to be surprised? This is the stock answer of those who seem unable to conceptualize categories of thought and an approach to knowledge which dissents from the post-Enlightenment model. If anything is "god of the gaps," though, it is the twin goddesses of Mutation and Natural Selection, which can explain absolutely anything we see in the biological world. We need merely say these words, and all difficulties instantly vanish.

What science is not capable of discovering is whether or not things that are
natural are "sustained" or part of some larger reality which is closed to

That's right. But the results of scientific investigation can lead one to believe rationally (according to Hume) that the processes are so remarkable as to suggest an Intelligent Designer.

For example, Solipsism, the claim that nothing in the universe exists but your mind, is a metaphysical assumption which no additional set of facts or observations could either prove or overset. If someone comes up with a way to "prove" or demonstrate solipsism it becomes a theory.

Of course that is complete idealism, so science would have even less to do with that than with theism, which involves both matter and spirit.

I do not have to "smuggle" a scientific/empirical epistemology into a
scientific empirical claim. If we can investigate the existence and
behaviors of ghosts, angels, or gods through our scientific observations,
the fact that they are "spirits" whose ways of working are beyond our
ability to understand or discover is irrelevant. God is assumed as a
"metaphysical entity" which is answering philosophical questions on a
higher level than those of mere science at the same time that it is being
dragged in as something which has a direct effect in nature which science can detect. I suspect the confusion is not in how I am dealing with God.

Your confusion is with categories of knowledge, and how they relate to and intersect with each other, in my opinion. This has long been an interest of mine, in conjunction with my love for history of ideas.

The Cosmological and Teleological Arguments examine the results of alleged, theorized creation and we believe they strongly suggest a Creator. They tie into the Big Bang and intelligent design / extreme biological complexity, respectively.

God can be neither proven nor disproven in any absolute sense by science (anymore than science can be disproved by religion or theology), but Creation as a construct can be so examined. If it is then decided that the best explanation for nature is a Creator, then that goes beyond science - but so do Grand Materialist or Atheist Scenarios of the Origins of the Universe and Life. I see no difference whatever once we get back to that initial point of inquiry.

Nothing in science is ever proven or disproven in any absolute sense: science doesn't work that way. But if science has lead one to the conclusion that the "best explanation" for what would otherwise be assumed a natural occurrence is a supernatural one, then nobody has gone "beyond science" at all. Science is not the study of the natural world: it is the study of Reality.

That's an interesting statement. Care to elaborate?

I mean that if there is a supernatural world which can be somehow detected in this one, which has effects we can observe, then science should be able to discover it. This is exactly what you are claiming. I explain below:

Supernatural entities would not be ruled out as long as they are capable of meeting the requirements of natural ones, which, if they exist and act in distinctive ways which mark them as distinguishable from natural events, they ought to be capable of meeting.

What are these requirements of natural entities?

Observable, measurable, and capable of being independently tested and standing up to alternative theories and explanations in order to achieve a consensus of informed opinion by competent researchers, usually.


The existence of God is a theory. It might be right, it might be wrong. If it is wrong, what other theories are likely, and would they be more consistent with our background beliefs, or less? More, I think. You, of course, don't agree. And that's okay: in Humanism, nobody is damned for an honest mistake in epistemology or metaphysics -- they are not even damned for a "dishonest" one ;)

No particular comment springs to my mind.

We are not dealing with an initial point of inquiry that exists in a metaphysical haze where nothing can be determined from observations if we deal with empirical, evidential arguments for the existence of God. We are working within a system that assumes that empirical evidence is not only valid, but ought to be examined in a systematic way. I think you are confusing a nonphysical being that can be discovered through empirical methods with a metaphysical assumption which would be unaffected by any observation whatsoever.


This demand is based on the assumption that humans are prone to error, and anecdotes and personal experiences which can't be shared -- and thus can't be checked -- might be a wrong interpretation of experience. We are very easy to fool, and it is even easier to fool ourselves, as Richard Feynmann once noted.

Oh, I agree wholeheartedly to that. But I apply that to your kinds of folks, too, as well as to my own camp. :-)

Demanding empirical proof of the existence of Spirit does not seem to be unreasonable or irrational to me, but responsible.

Please explain to me how that can make any sense.

Spirit sounds an awful lot like Essence of Personhood, and we have a rather sorry history of injecting Essence of Personhood where it doesn't go.

No particular comment.

My point was that we have both a natural explanation for why we
might feel a need for a God

I don't think so . . .

and a supernatural explanation which includes all the elements of the natural explanation, plus adds in the fact that there really is a God. Occam's razor, as you know, does not tell us what is true.

Nor does an arbitrary acceptance of empiricism to the exclusion of metaphysics, religion, revelation, experience, or any sort of knowledge outside of science.

It simply cuts out the extraneous as unnecessary to the explanation. God might exist, but I don't think its existence is required in order to explain why human beings might have a desire for "God." This desire seems to be plausibly accounted for by elements we experience in our lives, the existence of which elements is not under dispute.

So there is no God in fact, but it just so happens that the vast majority of human beings in all times and places have developed a belief in some sort of God or spirituality. And you find that a plausible reason for there not being a God . . . That's as silly as a scenario where, say 90% of the people were atheists somehow "proved" that God must exist!

I think those religions which insist on complete consistency with secular methods of demonstration are more likely to be trustworthy in moral issues.

I contend that Christianity is more intellectually respectable than any other religion (followed very closely by Judaism).

And when it comes to religions not your own, this would probably be what you yourself would feel comfortable with, too.

I use the normal means of proof and intellectual arguments with any viewpoint I examine. To the extent that they are deemed "secular" (which is debatable) then I am using "secular methods."

Not much you can do about being accused of being a witch.

Nope, but not much you can do about having the misfortune of being in your mother's womb, when she doesn't want you for some reason, either. Talk about the "innocent" being falsely accused . . .

Is scientific knowledge the only reliable sort of knowledge? It may not be the only source of knowledge, but I think we both tend to count it the most reliable source if we are talking about answering empirical questions about the nature of reality.

But of course: that is true by definition, so it is completely uncontroversial. Yet it doesn't rule out things like teleology or a Creator, either, because that is not its domain, and it can't speak on those things (though many atheist scientists deign to do that anyway).

I don't understand. How can you both argue that science and a study of nature can lead one to the conclusion that God exists and there is a design and purpose in the universe and also claim that whether God exists or whether there is design and purpose in the universe are not science's domain and "it can't speak on those things?" According to you it speaks very eloquently indeed.

I was answering specifically your question: "we both tend to count it the most reliable source if we are talking about answering empirical questions." Teleology and God are not directly empirical questions (though, arguably, they are, indirectly, in a sense). All I was saying was that science is the most reliable guide for matter, but that it can't rule out spirit. There is no contradiction here at all. One is a positive assertion, the other a denial of a negative assertion. I think it is common sense and a self-evident truth.

I think that as long as you claim that God is known because it intervenes in the world in a measurable way which can be distinguished from purely natural causes -- as long as you point to scientific evidence for the existence of God -- then it is not only legitimate, but obligatory, for science to question the existence of God the way it would any other theory.

All I'm doing is expecting modern science to be consistent with its materialistic premises. If it wants to claim that it has domain over matter, fine. I have no problem with that at all. But when it claims that it can pronounce negatively and dogmatically on spiritual matters, it is overstepping its bounds. This is a double standard, but not the best science, as I understand it. It is a corruption of science, and hubris. Science needs to understand that it is not the sum of all knowledge, and that it is a branch of philosophy. Philosophy in turn intersects with religion at a certain point. I've gone over these things again and again on this list. I just don't think you grasp the point. It's difficult to see beyond one's paradigm and presuppositions.

And religion intersects with science as soon as it makes claims about the
nature of reality based on observations in this world -- claims that can
support theism against atheism. I'm not sure to what extent we can say that
metaphysical assumptions about the nature of reality are immune to all
criticism. This seems to be a gray area here. If NO observation,
experience, experiment, or scientific finding could impact one way or the
other on the viewpoint, it may be beyond science because it is also beyond
our ability to know.

But this is not true with Christianity. There are a number of things which would theoretically disprove it or cast very strong doubt upon it; e.g,:

1. Produce proof of the existence of the bones of Jesus.
2. Prove that the New Testament was actually written in, say, 600 A.D. (so that no Apostles or eyewitnesses wrote it).
3. Prove that Jesus never existed.
4. Prove that people have existed eternally.
5. Prove that physical reality is an illusion.

For example, if tomorrow I wake up and discover that I am a brain in a vat
-- scientists hold a mirror up to the single eye floating on the fluid (a la
Ronald Dahl) and convince me with strong evidence that all I have
experienced up till now has been fed into me by machines, it would probably
not take long before I begin to wonder if this scenario of my being a brain
in a vat is not itself being fed into my brain by machines, and I am some
other brain in some other vat, perhaps, or a thought that I am a brain in a
vat, or something else very different. Thus, solipsism cannot be completely
refuted by any imaginable evidence whatsoever, and therefore is a
metaphysical belief beyond of reality beyond our observations -- and any
ability to know for sure.

But is metaphysical naturalism a theory that can't be refuted? Not if God
exists, and not if we can know this some way. It's a working assumption, a
theory capable of proof or disproof.

In some sense, maybe, but how does one go about proving that God set in motion and is controlling in some sense all natural laws and all events, in His Providence (as all Christians believe)? If you can give me such a "proof" I would be much obliged.

To say that belief in God is a metaphysical belief can either mean that no matter what, we can always say God exists: or it can be metaphysical naturalism disproven -- which means it is a theory. Evidence counted for it. This puts it on par with other theories. And open to scientific confirmation or provisional dismissal.

I think the evidence counts for it in a cumulative sense (many aspects of thought and observation being consistent with it, and making it more plausible than atheism). One can't absolutely disprove God's existence or naturalism, or much of anything, when you really get right down to it. But we all proceed on the basis of axioms anyway, and we all believe things whether or not we are philosophically sophisticated.

Science can't pronounce negatively and dogmatically on anything. It is not
a means to Knowledge and Certainty, but to Understanding, to tentative
conclusions which can be used as working assumptions to live by. In this it
is far more consistent with the Greek ideals of philosophy than with the
Eastern ideals of religion. It does not start out with indubitable premises
from which all certainty is derived, but with observations and experience
from which testable theories are induced, theories which must be open to
change because the men who form them can be wrong.

Science is thus that branch of philosophy which comes out of the ideal of
discussion, dispute, demonstration, and the competition of ideas in
understanding the nature of reality because it works from evidence
available to all, whatever their "faiths." One can always claim that there
are realities which science can never investigate, of course --

Is that not obvious? Science deals with matter, so that IF there is also a spiritual reality, clearly science can't investigate it except insofar as it affects or interacts with physical reality, where its results could then be scientifically observed. But to get from cause to result in terms of some compelling "proof" is still a huge problem, and the materialistic person will always see the evidence as insufficient to establish that.

and one can then claim through faith any damn thing they want about these realities without fear of contradiction or being proven wrong.

They can and do. For my part, I have argued that Christianity is entirely consistent with logic and science, but that in some respects it transcends science and mere reason. It is not irrational but in part supra-rational. One can go beyond something without contradicting it.

The problem I have with your insistence that science is helpless in understanding spiritual reality is that you don't seem to understand that spiritual reality might
not exist. There might be no God. There might be no miracles, no angel

Of course these things are theoretically possible, but that is another discussion, isn't it? I am trying to show that if these things exist, that they do not inherently conflict with either science or reason. I am arguing (in this dialogue) primarily for the coherence and consistency and rationality (also plausibility) of Christian belief, not that it is true (which I can hardly do in any single discussion because I believe that conclusion is reached on the basis of a multitude of various evidences taken together).

And if there is not you have insulated yourself from criticism, from finding this out, and from being forced to change your view or be persuaded to another one.

Not at all; this doesn't follow. How one approaches reality and truth claims is a distinct proposition from the truth or falsity of the same claims. I have the same approach to evidence and truth and epistemology whether Christianity is true or false, as you also do, whether humanism is true or false.

When religion does not conflict with science, it swallows it whole. All
discoveries are consistent with the existence of God. All discoveries are
also consistent with the nonexistence of God. The problem is that you seem
to want to have it both ways: science can in no way rule that any discovery
is inconsistent with the existence of God -- but there are many discoveries
which are not only consistent with God's existence, but are INCONSISTENT
with atheism.

That shouldn't surprise anyone due to the extraordinary, multi-faceted nature of the Christian God, whereas atheism is simply a negative, "minimalist" proposition, that this marvelous God does not in fact exist. So, e.g., one can observe:

1. The theory of gravity is perfectly consistent with the notion that God could have caused the physical universe to perpetually operate under these laws, as a function of design or teleology.
[note that this is merely a logical claim of consistency; not an alleged airtight, undeniable "proof" - and that is all I have ever claimed in any of my arguments]

But one cannot say:

2. The theory of gravity proves that God does not and cannot exist.
There is no "epistemological symmetry" here and thus no double standard, because proposition #2 is simply a much more difficult thing to prove, by its very nature. You can substitute the "laws of natural selection" or thermodynamics; it works the same way logically. It's the old thing about "it's very difficult to prove a negative."

Sometimes God is in this shadowy spirit realm of gassy metaphysics outside of our empirical sciences and sometimes God is a competing theory of the universe which walks and talks and sounds just like a science theory, but isn't because God is a metaphysical being.

What you see as an ethereal and arbitrary inconsistency seems that way because of the nature of the relationship of philosophy, science, and religion. It gets complicated around the edges, where the different types of knowledge intersect. It's kind of like the edge of a seashore. Where precisely does the shore begin and the sea end? It's not so easy to determine (especially considering tides). Yet we know there is a shore and a sea.

Or, e.g., consider "infinite smallness" (one of my favorite thought experiments in philosophy). If we take any material thing and keep dividing it in half, how far can we go till it becomes nothing? Or is that even possible? No matter how small something is, it can be cut in half, right? So are we able to get to a point where it can no longer be cut in half? Can matter merge into non-matter, by successive gradations?

Perhaps that is the difficulty with science and metaphysics/religion. You have already agreed that science is a type of philosophy, and metaphysics is also a type of philosophy, and arguably religion is a particular sort of metaphysics (at least in part). The edges are blurry, and my comments reflect that. Your task would be to demonstrate that the edges are not fuzzy, in order to establish that my claims in this area are what are fuzzy, illogical, and arbitrary.

Can science rule against the probable truth of astrology? What about the
ability of rocks to think? Can science investigate whether it is likely
that people can communicate through mind alone or can move objects at a
distance with thought?

It could, by observing results and making deductions, yes. I have stated this all along. I even cited noted paleontologist George Gaylord Simpson, saying the same thing.

Can science tentatively rule out the existence of phlogiston, of chi energy, animal magnetism, and the ether? Where does one draw the line?

Where such things are utterly inconsistent with science. I haven't seen where Christianity or God falls into that category. The Big Bang is not inconsistent with ex nihilo creation. Evolution is not inconsistent with a notion of creation (of a particular type; i.e., not instantaneous, but progressive and prolonged; directed by God rather than random mutations) - nor are any natural laws. That may bother you, but this is logical reality, so get over it! LOL

Are fairies on the same side of the line of investigation as angels, or do angels exist in a special category because people see them as proof of God's love?

Fairies are derived from mythology, which process of thought is quite different from revelation, which claims to be based on history and a direct revealing of God to man.

If you strip the idea of God down to its basics, if you pull away all the
bells and whistles and hand-wavings and tears, what is being asserted is
that a Person which consists of Mind and Intention exists without a body in
a way that is obscure, causes effects in a way that is abstruse, and
supports and sustains everything in an ambiguous, vague, unclear,
mysterious, enigmatic way beyond our ability to understand. And yet it is a
person. Like us.

This is what we believe based on revelation (but also partially from natural theology). It requires some faith to believe in the Christian God, too.

I agree that science cannot rule this out completely, but I see no reason
to put this concept into reality. And every reason to think this is simply
another case of human beings trying to egocentrically see ourselves and our
concerns as the center of cosmic interest, the main characters in a
narrative which comes out of our own minds and tries to turn reality into
our image.

That is quite spectacularly ironic, coming from a humanist, who truly puts man "and our concerns as the center of cosmic interest." In humanism, man has to be at the center of inquiry because there is no God to even challenge his preeminence! So if Christianity is egocentric, how much more so secular humanism?!

I think this is a very important confusion here in how one sees Humanism,
and theists are not the only ones to make it. We do not put man at the
center of importance in all things, nor make humanity preeminent, nor do we
consider our concerns to be of cosmic interest. There is not necessarily
any conflict between being a humanist and believing in God.

Instead of seeing atheism as putting man first over God, I see it as being willing to accept an austerity and clarity of understanding that doesn't put man
God but puts self-control in methods first above any conclusion we
make, including whether God exists or not. Human beings are the inescapable
ultimate reference point for their own understanding because human
understanding is always that -- human, and thus fallible.

In science, man tries to take his subjectivity out of the equation as much
as possible. In religion, subjectivity is primary as a method of inquiry,
because in order to say we have methods that go beyond reason we must go
into faith, intuition, and insight, egocentric methods that confirm instead
of public methods that demonstrate. The humility involved in bowing to a
God and rejecting human capacity to understand is not the same thing as the
humility involved in bowing to our fallibility and insisting only on the
strict and rigorous methods of science before we decide whether or not
there is also a God to bow to.

The primary disagreement between us then seems to be this: does rejecting
science and objective means of inquiry in order to have faith and trust in
subjective methods of knowing constitute humility -- or arrogance? When one
decides that certain claims about the nature of reality require that we go
outside of science one is rejecting the methods of community in order to
embrace the methods of the individual. It doesn't matter what the
conclusion is, or how one bows to it. To put methods of subjective
individualism above methods of objective verification seems to me to be
pride of self.


God is not a "purely metaphysical question" any more than other paranormal
or supernatural claims. Questions that are purely metaphysical would be
unaffected one way or the other by ANY scientific finding, any observation
and experience that human beings can have, like solipsism. God is supposed
to be known through experience, and science can "point to God." Science can
point away from atheism. This is what you insist on. Thus I think we are no
longer dealing with a purely metaphysical question now. If I am
inconsistent because I am using epistemic methods on God, then so are you
and all the other theists who are using Natural Theology or other
evidential arguments.

Sigh. Sue, Sue . . . How is it inconsistent to say that the edges of metaphysics and science are blurry and confusing, or that natural theology and things like faith and the ontological argument are not contradictory, but complementary?

If I'm wrong about God I'm open to being convinced, because metaphysical
naturalism is, despite the words "metaphysics" in the name, a theory. It's
a working assumption about the nature of reality.

Fine, then. Tell me how I could possibly overthrow it in your mind? And please, come up with something more realistic and plausible than [philosophy professor] Ted Drange's "cosmic star-writing." I've already given several straightforward, quite theoretically possible ways to disprove Christianity. Now you do me one better . . .

If God exists, one could always put it into a Naturalist metaphysics by
simply defining God as one more natural phenomenon that works according to
natural laws that are less knowable from our standpoint, but of course this
is not what you are asking. You are asking what would prove the existence
of God to me, and I think I have answered this before, if not in this
thread, then in others:

I would want the same kind of evidence that would prove the truth of
astrology, ghosts, fairies, cold fusion, homeopathy, and tarot card
reading. All these things might be true "some of the time" but if they
can't meet scientific criteria we feel comfortable assuming they work "none
of the time." I want public demonstration: replicable, testable, regular,
falsifiable, predictive, and available to all. Not ancient stories that we
can all read; not anecdotes we can all hear; not mystical revelations or
appeals to ignorance or arguments that such a claim is "beyond science and
reason" and backed up with bad analogies.

I don't want "if you believe you will see" or "if part of the belief works it is all true." And most especially I want evidence that can't be just as plausibly explained as the result of natural causes. I want scientific evidence that a Mind is controlling the universe, that the universe was created with intention, and
that everything is part of a Grand Design, not the pattern-seeking
cause-inferring intuitional insight that this must be so or we would not be
here. If God exists it ought to be able to effect the universe in ways that
are specific and verifiable and distinguishable from natural explanations.
I want scientific proof of God or Naturalism wins by default.

So yes, the stars in the sky that spell out "I AM" would be hard to explain
without the existence of a super-powerful intelligence we would call God.
If God exists, the starwriting is not unrealistic, and the theory that God
did it would be by far the most plausible explanation. To demand less than
scientific evidence is not showing love for God: it is showing love for a

Is God a theory?

For those who regard religious matters as merely philosophical propositions and not primarily matters of faith yes. This is the fabled "god of the philosophers."

Could it be wrong?

Theoretically, yes.

Could we know it to be wrong -- or can we only know if it is right?

I think both beliefs require either faith or unprovable assumptions and axioms. There can be no absolute proof or disproof, in my opinion - not in the purely philosophical or scientific realm. On the other hand, I think there are forms of religious "certitude" which are quite different modes of knowing, as explicated notably in John Henry Newman's classic Grammar of Assent.

If we admit that science might actually be a reliable means of understanding ALL of reality

If all of reality is material, maybe, but then there are many mysteries and puzzles in science as well, some of which may never be resolved.

and that metaphysical naturalism is a serious possibility, then theism might win, but it might not. If it is excluded a priori then theism can't lose.

And vice versa. I come down on the side of theism . . . :-)

Science can't deal with metaphysical claims as such, but it can deal with metaphysical claims which have taken on the shape and form of empirically-based theory. If some findings can be said to especially "support" the existence of God,

In the sense of "not inconsistent with" (especially this might be asserted given a lack of empirical, causal explanation, as with irreducible complexity).

then other findings can be said to "go against" it. Science has a voice, because you have given it one.

Well, the distinction would be between "consistency with" (a metaphysical theory, possibly including God) and negatively pronouncing upon purely metaphysical questions from a supposedly empirical epistemology. I think these two things are qualitatively, essentially different. The former is entirely logical; the latter is illogical and even a bit arrogant, in my opinion, perhaps involving a sort of dishonesty or "sleight-of-hand," whether intentional or not (it is usually not intended, but flows from a lack of "metaphysical self-awareness," so to speak, or a certain intellectual naivete, utterly typical of postmodernism).

Revelation, intuition, and inspiration may give us correct knowledge about the facts of the world, but if you want to check to see if they have gotten it right I think you have to use the only method which is open to investigation and dispute.

Isn't historical-legal evidence of any worth? We use that to determine what happened in a certain place at a certain time, and who did what, right? Why can't it be used to verify miracles and suchlike, which are in the domain of religion?

Stories and anecdotes will verify all sorts of claims as long as the listener has little reason to be skeptical. Historical-legal evidence could verify miracles or other unconfirmed phenomenon in the strong sense -- it could persuade critics -- only if the historical-legal evidence was able to meet the strict standards of science, in that it could rule out human error and alternative natural explanations. I don't think it can do this.

It seems, then, that you are of the mindset that science is the key to all knowledge, or all reliable knowledge. I find that to be an absurd proposition from the outset. Do you frown upon all court cases on the same grounds? "Beyond a reasonable doubt" isn't enough? We should not convict any criminal unless "the historical-legal evidence was able to meet the strict standards of science, in that it could rule out human error and alternative natural explanations"?

If a court case contains assertions that the accused flew through the
window and was seen dancing with the devil, yes, I would frown on the
reliability of this eyewitness testimony. If the eyewitness claimed they
saw YOU do this, you would call for scientific backing quick enough, I
think. Spectral evidence was ruled inadmissible after the witch hunts in
Salem. Damn good thing, too.

But I was simply talking about forms of knowledge besides science, not legal evidence of supernatural events in particular.

We can rule out many things beyond a reasonable doubt, we just can't rule
out anything beyond an unreasonable doubt. If we claim that all miracles
and magic and supernatural and paranormal experiences are "beyond science"
then we have no way to draw a line between truth and superstition, real and

Scientific studies done today on paranormal claims show that so far no evidence has been able to confirm the existence of ESP, precognition, ghosts, PK, magic, reincarnation, etc.

Why should this surprise you, all these things being alleged spiritual phenomenon? What does that have to do with science? One might be able to demonstrate - again - that such explanations are conceivably consistent with the evidence. E.g., that the messed-up house from an alleged poltergeist cannot be proven to have been messed-up by any other cause.

I used to try to do telepathy, ESP, the Ouiji Board, astral projection, all sorts of weird occultic stuff, back in the 70s. I was very serious about it. In a way, I see this in retrospect as an openness to possible supernatural realities, a form of open-mindedness, rather than pure gullibility (though it was partially that, too). I simply needed more information, upon which to make rational choices about what I would consider "spiritual realities."

But I would contend that it was post-Christian secular culture which influenced me to pursue these things in the first place. TV shows like The Outer Limits and One Step Beyond and The Twilight Zone - arguably - were means of propagating non-Christian supernaturalist worldviews among the populace. In a truly Christian society, much of this material would be frowned-upon, if not outright forbidden; considered harmful to souls.

If these are real phenomenon this seems suspicious.

I don't see why.

Other studies, however, have been able to demonstrate that humans are liable to confirmation bias, wishful thinking, self-deception, selective thinking, post hoc reasoning, subjective validation, communal reinforcement, urban legends, ad hoc hypothesis, etc. Absolutely. And these would be some of the reasons that could be put forth for unbelief, as well as false religious belief (or true belief, stumbled upon for the wrong reasons).

Supernatural claims are unlike other claims in that exaggeration and error are much more directly connected, and much harder to check. They are singular extraordinary events which can only be believed or not.

Science can "confirm" a miracle in the sense that it can admit that it has not the slightest idea (let alone explanation) how such-and-such an event happened. Medical doctors talk like that all the time with regard to healings. But mainly, miracles are verified by historico-legal methodology.

Miracles are not verified by historico-legal methodology.

You can only say this by defining them out of existence in the first place, as Hume did. Hardly compelling . . .

They are believed by individuals who choose to combine a story with faith.

But there is such a thing as scientific verification. There have been plenty of instantaneous healings, verified (or, not contradicted, at any rate) by medical examination. But atheists and anti-supernaturalists will always find a way to dispute them.

The argument from ignorance is a weak one. When we have strong evidence that people are both ignorant and can err and couple this with an anecdote that does not fit in with our public, shared background knowledge it is more reasonable and consistent to assume an unknown naturalistic explanation over a supernatural one, human error over human reliability.

On the whole, yes, but this doesn't rule out any miracle ever taking place.

Science assumes that people don't know everything and can make mistakes so
we check ourselves against each other. Leaps of faith tell you to put trust
in the promptings of your intimate and personal desires. Such leaps can
take one anywhere.

Well, now you are again trying to construct a huge chasm between scientific rationality and the gullibility of faith. This is probably what I find least attractive in your argument. You show a detailed understanding of many of the Christian arguments, but then you seem to fall prey to rhetorical exaggeration again, which I think is much less helpful than most of your words.

It's a matter of caution: better the discipline of "I don't know but it is
probably a natural occurrence and not a miracle" over "I don't know but I
believe." From my point of view, anyway. :)

Sure; I agree with that, but again, it does not rule out the possibility of a miracle in all times, and places.

It is possible that miracles have indeed occurred and been faithfully recorded in the past.

Thanks for small favors. :-)

But even if this is the case it is not reasonable to believe in them outside of the religion they have supported.

That's not true. They can stand on eyewitness testimony regardless of religion.

You are under no obligation to renounce Christianity if other people from other religions claim that their holy men have done miraculous things. You are justified in being skeptical.

I'm skeptical of particulars until I see the evidence. But my religion doesn't require me to deny all miraculous events technically "outside" of itself. Quite the contrary. These could either be from God or from demonic spirits.

But of course, they might be right. So what level of evidence for miracles in another religion would cause you to reject Christianity and embrace a new belief? I strongly suspect it would not be anecdotes, however ancient, and however well-attested by the devout and pious.

You're right. Miracles alone would not make me renounce Christianity. I would also have to be presented with counter-explanations of the Christian evidences which are more plausible in every case than the Christian ones. I have never come remotely close to that. Mostly I see a bunch of illogical and silly nonsense (many proposed alleged biblical contradictions), misinformation (e.g., Jesus never existed), and sheer ignorance (e.g., Hitler was a Christian) when it comes to the understanding of my religion.

The Bible could be a book filled with contradictions, Jesus a combination
of mythic and historic elements, and Hitler a rabid Christian and
Christianity still be true.

If that was "Christianity," I certainly wouldn't be one.

All irrelevant. Which is why I don't bother with these arguments. Perhaps this is the result of having had most of my early contact with liberal Christians.

Same as me!

It may also, of course, be that neither an inerrant Bible, a founder draped in myth, or an example of a Christian I don't like has anything to say about the basic tenets of Christianity or their truth.

If Jesus was not what He plainly appears to be in the Gospels, then rest assured that Christianity would be fundamentally changed, if not altogether undermined. Remember, we claim to be Jesus' disciples, and we believe Him to be God in the flesh. If indeed He is not, if that was merely a myth created by later zealots unconcerned with truth, then Christianity would collapse. St. Paul basically says that.

One can always simply "increase understanding OF " God and Christ instead of reevaluating the probability that there IS a God or Christ.

Possibilities are fine; demonstration quite another thing. All I've seen in the skeptical theories of Who Jesus Was, is a bunch of nonsense, far more mythological than is claimed for the Bible and orthodox Christianity.

If you begin with the prior assumption that the supernatural is as
plausible an explanation as the natural, it is virtually impossible you
will ever be persuaded to change your mind.

Both exist. Whether the supernatural has occurred in any given instance, is another question, and one where I virtually agree with you.

A fake psychic doesn't disprove all psychics. 1,000 fake psychics and a clear explanation of cold reading won't work against one amazing story. Lack of scientific evidence doesn't say anything about that one special miracle event that can't be repeated. You can believe all supernatural claims or some of them, deciding on whatever criteria you want where you will draw the line between the likely and the unlikely, once you have abandoned the means to restrict yourself
from human error.

But I haven't taken that step; nor has Christianity as a whole. This is where you are mistaken. To accept the reality of the supernatural realm is not the equivalent of being a gullible simpleton who believes every cock and bull story he hears, or believing in any fantastic thing whatever (sort of an Alice-in-Wonderland mentality). You seem to be equating Christian supernaturalist belief with the worst excesses of unsubstantiated evidence. That's unfortunate . . .

If the Mormons claim that there were elephants and steel swords in ancient America and this conflicts with our background information in archeology and zoology, I think neither one of us would be particularly impressed with an insistence that revelation is a better way to know than science so this disparity doesn't count at all against the truth of the Book of Mormon.

Of course not. My view is that science and revelation are both valid forms of knowledge and that it is as nonsensical to speak of science as superior to religion (or vice versa) as it is to speak of the superiority of an apple to an orange, or Bach to Beethoven. They exist on their own and they are both valid. And both can be irrational. Incidentally, I have used this same argument against the Mormons. :-)

If a scientific finding you accept and a revealed truth you accept conflict, however, which one is likely to be revised?

There are many apparent conflicts. If the present physical/astronomical evidence suggested, e.g., that the universe were eternal, you could be sure that the materialists would be loudly proclaiming that there was no creation. But since the evidence shows a beginning at present, we don't hear much about it. Sometimes, things get ironed out in the end. The Christian has faith that both fields of knowledge are consistent with each other. What we see in science at the present time gives no great grounds for doubt of the Christian outlook of the compatibility of science and Christianity, and indeed much support.

I'm not sure what you wish to argue: do you wish to assert that there can be no real conflict between the claims of your religion and those of science because they will always be consistent and supportive of each other,

Yes, we believe this in faith, and nothing we see currently in science has caused us to revise this opinion. On the other hand, atheists are so uncomfortable with the Big Bang theory that they are now coming up with completely fanciful scenarios of the "oscillating universe" and the "hyper-universe" so that no hint of a possible theistic creation would ever be considered for a moment.

or do you wish to assert that there can be no conflict between the
two because they deal with totally different areas and science can neither
support nor undermine belief in God?

Absolutely not. That would be the fideistic or presuppositionalistic or (I say) "irrationalist" positions. It's difficult to comprehend how you wouldn't know this about my views by now. The very fact that I state that science and religion overlap, and my use of the cosmological argument prove that I don't believe the above at all.

Those are two different approaches, I think, and you seem to shift from one to the other.

I hope I have explained why I am not shifting, but merely moving through fuzzy areas, where anyone would not be able to totally nail down the boundaries.

Would an eternal universe cast doubt on your theory that God exists? I suspect not.

It would be difficult to reconcile with creation ex nihilo.

If the Big Bang were to be overthrown, I think that deep reflection would reveal to you that the apparent conflict was not a conflict at all, and the new information is just as consistent, if not more so, with God's existence -- and the Bible.

I would have to see what the alternative is, to even comment. But clearly, materialistic scientists are every bit as reluctant to admit that anything discovered by science, no matter how remarkable and extraordinary, is consistent with a Designer God, as Christians are to espouse the converse. Both sides work within their grand theories.

Revealed truths always bow to observation and test or people end up like the poor Mormons, valiantly digging around in the Mayan ruins claiming to find evidence for great Hebrew civilizations.

This is silly; there is a third way, just outlined.

From what I can tell, your third way consists of "reconcile." Or rethink.
Or redefine. This way "being wrong" is not an option.

"Wrong" is an option, but exceedingly unlikely, just as is the case with atheists. I don't see any big difference epistemologically here, granting initial starting-points.

I would submit that atheists within science have been far more irrationally dogmatic and reactionary than Christians making claims based on science. As soon as Darwinian evolution came around it was proclaimed that there was no longer any need for a Creator, as if the theory had anything definitive to say about that. Both Darwin and T.H. Huxley expressly denied this (so would a guy like Catholic evolutionist Kenneth Miller today), yet that was not enough to stop the nonsense and over-confident claims.

I do not know of nor can I think of any "revealed truths" which have given us any knowledge we could not have gotten without the supernatural revelation -- as long as we are talking about this world.

If you mean strictly the physical world, perhaps not, although creation ex nihilo might be said to have preceded Big Bang cosmology, as agnostic astronomer Robert Jastrow suggested.

As for revealed truths of spiritual realities beyond this world, they don't come in conflict with science, but they don't necessarily say anything significant or true, either.

Not if one is prepared to disbelieve them come hell or high water.

No. If Hell and high water come we'd all be up to our necks in evidence. I am prepared to believe in that case. No problem. ;)

Uploaded on 19 July 2001 by Dave Armstrong from list dialogues.