Sunday, April 27, 2008

Five Faulty Arguments Against (Orthodox) Christianity (More to Come...)

1. “Miracles are, by definition, impossible, so Christians will believe 1+1=3 if ‘God’ tells them to.”

Reply: Miracles are not, by definition, impossible. There’s a distinction between the Ideal Order and the Existential Order. The first deals with thought laws, like the principle of non-contradiction (a thing cannot both be and not be at the same time in the same way), and mathematical propositions; the second deals with physical matters of fact, like rocks, water, insects, plants, planets, and human beings. The Ideal Order deals with why causes that are self evident, they cannot be denied. The Existential Order deals with that causes, causes we see that occur (we see that rocks fall according to what we call gravity), but the why of which we do not see, and can therefore see no reason they should continue to hold. The Christian miracles concern the Existential Order, and contain no inherent “why” cause contradictions in the Ideal Order. (For more on the difference between orders see David Hume, An Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding, SECTION IV PART 1: .
See also G.K. Chesterton, Orthodoxy, Chapter IV--The Ethics of Elfland, beginning at the ninth paragraph: )

2. “If the Universe needs God as a cause, then why doesn’t God need a cause?”

Peter Kreeft points out “the argument does not use the premise that everything needs a cause… Everything in motion needs a cause, everything dependent needs a cause, everything imperfect needs a cause.” (See , near the bottom of the page, with a dot by it, starting out “Third, it is sometimes argued…”)

3. “Asking me to prove the non-existence of God is forcing me to prove a universal negative, which is like me asking you to prove that unicorns don’t exist when you’re not looking, or that the spaghetti monster isn’t flying about on some distant planet.”

First, you CAN prove a universal negative if it contains an inherent contradiction, but that’s beside the point. The comparison between God as the logical conclusion of various proofs (like the Cosmological Argument, the Argument From Desire, and the Argument From Reason) and the randomly devised spaghetti monster, Santa Clause or Easter Bunny, is a comparison of apples and oranges. The former conclusion is a construct of the intellect, a concept, which is
inherently un-picture-able (unimaginable), like the concept of a triangle, which contains the un-picture-able essence of all imaginable triangles, or, in the realm of the existential order, like the concepts of a black hole and a quark, both of which are inferred by effects, yet are none the less unimaginable. (See William Buckley’s interview with philosopher Mortimer Adler for more on intellect vs. imagination: ).

4. “Faith is blind, irrational; it is believing without evidence.”

A.) Faith is trust in reliable authority. C.S. Lewis wrote, “Ninety-nine per cent of the things you believe are believed on authority. I believe there is such a place as New York… The ordinary man believes in the Solar System, atoms, evolution, and the circulation of the blood on authority-because the scientists say so. Every historical statement in the world is believed on authority… A man who jibbed at authority in other things as some people do in religion would have to be content to know nothing all his life.” (Full quote from Mere Christianity, Book II, Chapter 5, third paragraph: )

B.) Christianity has what are called preambles to faith, also called motives of faith; for instance, God is knowable by reason with the attributes of goodness and truth; and Jesus, who was crucified for claiming to be God (for blasphemy) was indeed what he said he was. A reliable authority is one who has knowledge and veracity (moral integrity): God known by reason together with Jesus of Nazareth who claimed to be God provides us a reliable authority.

C.)“It is only in the waiting, thirsting spirit that revelation can find a reply.” --George Brantl

The need for faith in the Christian God is the result of an attempt to live according to conscience, according to what one knows is right, and the subsequent failure to do so -- in other words, it involves the recognition that one needs a savior who has a direct relationship to his will, not his abstract intellect alone (i.e., not to mental assent to propositions alone). Christianity, says Lewis, "is addressed only to penitents, only to those who admit their disobedience to the known moral law… [i]t offers forgiveness for having broken, and supernatural help towards keeping, that law."

5. “The Soviet cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin didn’t see God anywhere, nor does the Hubble; so show me scientific proof that God exists -- till then I’m a skeptic…”

God is known by His effects, and in two different realms.

First, in the descriptive realm, the realm with which science deals where we describe what is, not what ought to be, we can come to a philosophical understanding of God. One way we (the traditional "we") rationally come to the intellectual construct "God," is a posteriori (after experience). It's method is no different than that by which we arrive at scientific "constructs," the only difference is the particular explanation of observable phenomena for which it is used to account. We start with the empirical world, and see a necessity to explain it's various aspects: science deals with becoming, with what philosophers term secondary causes; philosophy deals with existence, with ontology and metaphysics. It's either bias or misunderstanding, which would discount the one, arrived at by the same method as the other, for the mere fact that it is used to explain a different aspect of observable phenomena. Therefore, if you ask for empirically discoverable evidence for God's existence in favor of the scientific method to the exclusion of the philosophical, you are simply asking to affirm and deny the same method at the same time. In other words neither Yuri Gagarin nor the Hubble can, in principle, see a black hole, and we shouldn’t expect them to – the same goes for God.

Second, in the prescriptive realm, with which personal relations and morality deal; this is the realm of the will, and is really the more important and, as it concerns the existence of God, the relevant realm. Peter Kreeft notes that science operates on the principle of mistrust, but personal relations are just the opposite. If God is not a being with whom we can have a personal relationship, then He’s largely irrelevant in our practical lives; if He is then we need, like all relationships, to trust. But what idea of God do we trust? First, if God exists He is all good, and we must do our best to follow the moral law, which we can never completely uphold. Second, there is only one claim that God has actually come to us and we need to trust Him, and that we need his help to keep the law, and to transcend it in order to find ultimate fulfillment – that claim is made by Jesus Christ. Therefore, when you understand the Christian God to be the only source of the forgiveness and help we need, then it's quite clear that it’s our desperation stemming from the most important and basic attribute of our humanity -- our moral and relational experience, that drives us towards trust, towards a relationship with that "source"; a relationship which beckons: "taste and see," for the evidence will be a transformation of that deepest and most important part of yourself.

(For more on the distinction between descriptive and prescriptive, visit: )

Sunday, April 13, 2008

Why I'm A Catholic Christian

Why? Well, to begin, I am flat out humbled by the mystery of reality, the riddle of the One and the Many, which confronts my intellect; as Peter Kreeft said, "One… specifically Christian mood [is] of joy and wonder at the sheer fact of existence... I love a quotation by Kirkegaard. He said, ‘I am terrified by everything, from the smallest gnat to the mystery of the incarnation.’” I feel no need to reduce reality purely to my own limited number of “clear and distinct ideas”; this is a Cartesian criterion which has become synonymous with “rationalism”, but is in fact an arbitrary and truncated perspective.

In addition to the confrontation of my intellect with the “sheer fact of existence” I also find, thrust upon my experience, the longing for an heretofore “unattainable ecstasy” which, by it’s very nature, cannot be found in the reality given to my senses or any subjective state of my being, and which is the ultimate object of my will.

I consider these two facts of my conscious existence akin to “non-reductive primitives” of the physical world like space and time; that is, they form a fundamental context and general qualification to all other knowledge and action I may consider. I must therefore -- compelled by the undeniable nature of these facts -- live my life driven by a “thirst for a wilder beauty than earth supplies”, beyond the limited scope of my abstract intellect, in pursuit of the mystery at the heart of reality.

Any theory, philosophy or religion which conflicts with these primary data – data which, by the way, include their own implicit philosophies – will a-priori fail to do justice to all the given facts and are, for that reason, automatically suspect to my mind.

These facts taken alone might predispose me to seek Divine Revelation (supra-rational knowledge) as a sort of aesthetic capstone, a pleasant looking cherry on top to complete my worldview. However, I simply cannot take these facts alone, and, though I’ve so far given the impression that these data are convictions chronologically prior to my acceptance of Christianity, quite the opposite is in fact the case.

C.S Lewis, in Mere Christianity, writes, “[there are] two facts [which] are the foundation of all clear thinking about ourselves and the universe we live in: We know the Law of Nature; (we) break it." He goes on to explain why, once given a God-who-is-perfectly-good exists, this “fact” -- which I consider the third “non-reductive primitive,” so to speak, of our conscious existence -- must lead us, in so many words, to either despair or revelatory hope.

When I look back at my experience, first becoming an Evangelical Christian, I see all of these elements implicitly present. My (intellectual) humility, beginning as a child, together with my admitted failure to appease the voice of my conscience and my longing to be happy made me ripe for the reception of – and subsequent and repeated rededications to -- the message of Jesus Christ. Everything else that I accept as revelation is tied to this existential need for a savior met by the factual, historical figure, actions and claims of Jesus Christ.

Now, as to the “why” of Catholicism in particular (from Evangelicalism, Quakerism and Episcopalian-ism – all routes I formerly traveled and from which I gained much)? There are many reasons I chose Catholicism among the various denominations of Christianity, but I can boil it down to one important reason: antinomies of revelation (contradictions in interpretation) need to be resolved by a first principle; a principle which I just touched on and which emphatically determines my choice.

Here’s the dilemma. The Catholic looks to Scripture, Tradition and the Magisterium as vehicles of revelation and interpretation; as the ways in which, to put it in specifically Christian terms, the Holy Spirit speaks to us. The conservative Protestant looks to the Bible alone as the vehicle of revelation, which he then presumes to be able to interpret alone. These are both fine and good as far as they go, and both work – they prove what they want to prove -- if they are just assumed. However, just assuming them begs the question which can only be answered with circular reasoning, which only serves to infinitely beg the question. Neither one, therefore, can be the first principle for grounding revelation (revelation primarily consists of things about God and man we cannot know by experience and reason alone).

Now, all knowledge proceeds from first principles. Common-sense knowledge about matters of fact assumes continuity from the senses to the intellect as it's first principle. Moral knowledge takes the fact that we only desire happiness for itself, combined with the matter of fact knowledge concerning specific desires common to our human nature, as it’s first principle. But what about faith knowledge, that is, knowledge revealed to us (at least in principle)?

Well, to touch on what I mentioned earlier, the first principle, the principle for accepting any further authority (whether Tradition, the Magesterium, and Scripture together, or simply Scripture alone) can only be found in the personal conviction that Christ has offered you grace, you need it, you have received it in faith, and that part of what you have received from the assumed historical reliability of the words Christ spoke includes the promise of your respective authority. In other words this principle must be found reflected as an inherent need in human nature, anchored in our very nature, so that the degree to which the authority of the Good News of Christ speaks to one’s soul and meets this need is the degree to which one will accept the extension of authority given as part of that Good News. It is clear to my mind that the authority Christ extended resides in Catholicism.