Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Why it Doesn't Make Sense to Define Atheism as "Lack of Belief"

Recently, thanks primarily to my post Does Lack of Evidence Justify Atheism (spoiler alert: it doesn’t), I’ve encountered many atheists who insist that I’m simply using the term “atheist” wrong. Atheism, according to these wags, doesn’t say God doesn’t exist, it is merely the “lack of belief” in God. This is a surprisingly common atheist refrain, so I thought it might be worth examining a bit closer here on the blog.

The Two Systems

The Common System
The most straightforward, and most common, differentiation between positions on the existence of God is based on the various different answers to a very simple and straightforward question, Does God exist?

Group 1 - Theism - God Exists

Group 2 - Atheism1 (theism’s contradictory) - God doesn’t exist

Group 3 - Agnosticism2 (the skeptics) - We can’t know whether God exists or not

Group 4 - Weak Agnosticism (the ignorant) - God may or may not exist.

Group 1 (theists) answer the question Does God exist by saying “yes.” Group 2 (atheists) answer the same question “no.” Groups 3 and 4 answer our question by saying “I don’t know,” but differ on whether or not they think anyone can possibly know the answer.

This last group is the weakest as it makes no real claim about anything outside their own heads. They say nothing about objective reality preferring to only comment on their own knowledge (or lack thereof). The proper agnostic at least affirms the unknowability of whether or not God exists, and thus can still be argued with. The “weak agnostic” however will not even go so far. This makes this last group not only the weakest, but also, by far, the least important. They are simply ignorant on the issue. Someone from one of the first three groups can seek to enlighten them, but no one can argue with them as they have nothing to bring to the argument except ignorance. Imagine, if you will a group of mathematicians. The first man says the square of the hypotenuse equals that of the two sides. A second man denies this, claiming the math is simply wrong. A third man claims we can have no rule that will always work for all triangles.  These three men can have a conversation and even eventually work toward a solution to the disagreement. Now imagine a fourth man enters the scene who simply says “I dunno”. Is there any meaningful part in the conversation he can play other than being taught by one or all of the other men? In the same way we have three different positions that can have an active role in answering “the God question” while those claiming ignorance on the issue are best left to study the arguments and move into one of the other three camps.

A New System?
Apparently some atheists want to redefine these terms. To broaden out the atheist camp (perhaps in a desperate attempt to gain more numbers?) they seek to include most agnostics as atheists. They’d rather see our terms changed to:

Group 1 - Gnostic3 Theism - God exists

Group 2 - Agnostic Theism - God may or may not exist, but I have a belief in God

Group 3 - Gnostic Atheism - God doesn’t exist

Group 4 - Agnostic Atheism - God may or may not exist, but I lack a belief in God

You probably see the first problem with this proposed system immediately. It has taken the least important group (the ignorant) and made two groups of them, giving them a weight they simply don’t warrant. We’ve also lost an entire group (“agnostics”) with the redivision leading to yet greater unclarity. Where are the people who claim not only that we don’t happen to know whether God exists, but that we can’t know? The new system has not only lost this entire group, but has even appropriated their rightful name as a (more or less useless) adjective.

If we pose our simple, straightforward question, does God exist, to these four new groups we get a simple “yes” from group one and “no” from group 3, while getting no answer at all from the remaining two groups. Group 2 answers, “I dunno, but I have a belief in God.” Group 3, “I dunno, but I lack belief.” Why anyone feels it necessary to add on an answer to an entirely unasked question about they belief/ lack of belief in God is quite beyond me. It is interesting to note that, supposedly, most atheists (or “most intelligent/ educated atheists”) are in group 4, that is they are really agnostics who happen to (mis)identify as atheists rather than being atheists in the full and proper sense of the term as most people use it.

We might also question whether anyone but “agnostic atheists” use this system. Have you ever encountered a self-described “gnostic theist,” “agnostic theist,” or even a “gnostic atheist?”

Let’s Take God Out of the Equation
To see the absurdity of the new system, it might be helpful to leave God (and all the emotions He brings up) out of the equation for a moment. Let’s apply the two systems to something other than God that has intelligent people arguing both for and against its existence - extraterrestrial (ET) life4. The first system would divide people on the question as follows,

Group 1 - those who claim extraterrestrial life exists

Group 2 - those who claim extraterrestrial life doesn’t exist (that life is only to be found on Earth)

Group 3 - those who claim we can’t know whether extraterrestrial life exists

Group 4 - those who don’t know either way if extraterrestrial life exists

As we can see this division is straightforward and provides clarity. Those in the first three groups can be asked to present evidence to back up the claims they make about the universe, while the last group can only be persuaded by one of the first three to join their ranks, they are “on the fence” but are not committed to staying there. 

Now let’s see how the new system proposed by many internet atheists would work.

Group 1 - those who claim extraterrestrial life exists

Group 2 - those who claim extraterrestrial life may or may not exist, but have a belief in ET life

Group 3 - those who claim extraterrestrial life doesn’t exist

Group 4 - those who claim extraterrestrial life may or may not exist, but lack a belief in ET life

I think it is immediately obvious that this second system is significantly inferior to the first. If I ask someone “does life exist outside the planet Earth?” I’m not asking anything about their subjective belief (or lack thereof), I’m asking a question about objective reality. That is to say, I’m not asking about what is or isn’t in their head, but about what is or isn’t in the universe.

This holds true for theism/atheism as well and means there is no justifiable reason to split the agnostics into "agnostic theists" and "agnostic atheists." Better to leave the whole group together under the clear label "agnostic." 

What’s the Motive?
We might wonder why atheists then don’t just call themselves “agnostics” (most atheists are “agnostic atheists” as I've been repeatedly told). It certainly isn’t for the sake of clarity. No one, upon hearing someone declare themselves to be agnostic, follows up with “so do you believe in God?” The question is already answered, no, but they don’t claim to know He doesn’t exist. In fact, I think the atheist would be hard pressed to find more than a small handful of “agnostics” who would also claim to believe in God, to be “agnostic theists.” So what’s the deal? In almost all cases where I’ve run into hostility in using the term atheism to mean “the denial of the existence of God” it is by atheists who are desperate to shift the burden of proof entirely onto theism. They know they can’t actually justify their worldview with any arguments or evidence (unlike theism) so they resort to the cloudy division above to avoid having to. The problem with this, though, is that it makes them very hypocritical. Atheists are among the first to attack theists for believing in God without being able to prove their worldview (we can, but let that slide) while simultaneously believing in atheism without being able to prove their worldview (they can’t, but they assure us that it’s okay). I'll suggest that it would be less convoluted and more honest to simply identify as agnostic and leave it at that. At least, if honestly and clarity were paramount, we'd expect atheists committed to the "new system" to self describe as either "agnostic atheists" or "gnostic atheists" rather than just as "atheists." In my experience, this rarely occurs unless the atheist is specifically prodded on the question.

Is Theism Just a Lack of Belief Too?
Another way of looking at the absurdity of trying to change the definition of atheism to merely mean "lack of belief in God" is to apply the same logic to theism. Just as the atheist can try to evade the burden of proof by claiming he simply lacks a belief and no one needs to have a reason to lack a belief in something, so too the theist can play the same game.

Would any atheist be content with the semantic trick of defining theism as a "lack of belief in an uncaused universe?" Logically, any affirmative statement can be redefined as the "lack of belief" in it's contradictory. For example, geocentrism could be redefined from "the Earth is in the center of the solar system" to "a lack of belief that something other than the Earth is in the center of the solar system" and Holocaust deniers could reword their claims from "there was no Holocaust" to instead be merely "the lack of belief in the Holocaust." In fact, anything can be just a "lack of belief" in something. Should we then not demand evidence and argument from anyone for believing in anything?

More Absurdity
Worse still, the new system would "draft" all kinds of people, and things, into the atheist camp: babies, dogs, cats, trees, flowers, and rocks would all suddenly qualify as "atheists" as they all "lack a belief in God." Of course, they would also all qualify as "theists" if we adopt the definition "a lack of belief in an uncaused universe" and they would also all be Holocaust deniers, geocentrists, etc. What advantage it would be to claim people (or plants, animals, or things) who have never considered the question to be in your "camp" is a mystery to me. The new definition of atheism also undermines atheism itself. Why would an increase in the number of "atheists" be something to celebrate when it only represents the increase of ignorance? 

“Atheism” as Used on this Blog
Thus, I use, have used, and will continue to use the word “atheism” to designate the worldview that claims God doesn’t exist and “agnosticism” for the worldview that claims not to know whether or not God exists. Atheists are free, of course, to use the term in another way, but without any good reason to adopt the less precise system they propose, I will continue to use the more common, more accurate, traditional system.

Recommended Reading (purchase through the link and support the blog at no cost to yourself!!):

1. According to the Online Entomology Dictionary: atheist (n.) 1570s, from the French athéiste (16c.), from Greek atheos "without god, denying the gods; abandoned of the gods; godless, ungodly," from a- "without" + theos "a god"
2. According to the Online Entomology Dictionary: agnostic (n.) 1870, "one who professes that the existence of a First Cause  and the essential nature of things are not and cannot be know" [Klein]; coined by T.H. Huxley (1825-1895), supposedly in September 1869, from Greek agnostos "unknown, unknowable," from a- "not" + gnostos "(to be) known."
3. Another misused term in the new system is "gnostic." The gnostics were not simply anyone who happened to claim to "know" something about God. Rather they were an earlier Christian heretical sect that claim special knowledge about God that was unavailable to other believers.
4. As ET life is primarily a question that needs solved by induction (unlike the God question which must be approached deductively) and as we have the capabilities to explore only a small portion of the universe, group four is where most of us ought to find ourselves.

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Pope Leo the Great Stops Attila the Hun. Catholic Church Saves Civilization.

Interested in learning more about your Catholic Faith and the history of our glorious Church? New president of Catholic Answers (a phenomenal Catholic apostle - check them out at their website), Christopher Check gives a masterful lecture on the very important, and not very widely known, history surrounding the advance of Attila the Hun to the gates of Rome where he was turned back, not by Rome's Legions, which had collapsed, but by one man - the Successor of St. Peter, the Bishop of Rome, the Holy Father, St. Pope Leo the Great. If you have a spare hour, you'll find little better use than learning a bit more about a period in history which still shapes our world to this very day. I highly recommend checking it out,

It is especially important to remember that the Church - the One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Church - centered on Peter, and his successors, that is the light in this dreary and dark world. Christ has entrusted His mission to His Church to be continued on through the centuries by, yes, fallible, men. We, as Catholics, certainly have shown that even high ranking Churchmen can be cads, remembering another Leo (Pope Leo X) will suffice for that, but the Church has, out of all proportion, produced many holy men (and women) who have left an indelible mark on the world we all live in. Even the most virulent atheist must, if he be honest, thank the Church for the great good she has done, and continues to do, in the Name of Christ, in the world. Stopping the Huns from leveling Western Civilization is but one example among many, but one - as Mr. Check brilliantly shows - that has lasting implications today.

Often in the past it has been precisely the Roman Catholic Church who has turned back evil when it has treated to swamp the world and darken the Light (think of the Crusades for example). Pope Leo the Great did it with Attila. Pope John Paul the Great did it with the USSR. And, I suspect, another great pope will be called upon to do so with the ever increasing threat of Islamic extremism.

Friday, February 20, 2015

If Atheists are Good People Too, Why Be Christian?

A few weeks ago I shared a couple short videos made by Dr. William Lane Craig which briefly describe two easy to follow, and explain, arguments for the existence of God. Perhaps, in light of our recent look at the atheist argument that there is no evidence for God, we could calls these two examples of "evidence for God." The second of these two videos looks at the "moral argument" for God (that is, evidence of the existence of God that we find in the existence of objective morality) and begins by answering a common atheist question, one which I myself have been asked numerous times,
are you saying atheists can't be good people? I know atheists that are better people than religious people!
Of course this is exactly what the moral argument does not assert. The moral argument is not saying "religious people are more moral than non-religious people, therefore you ought to believe in God" (which, even if true, would fail to justify belief in God. We should only believe in things that are true. We should never determine our beliefs based on whether something is useful.) Rather, the moral argument is saying there can be no such thing as "being good" without God. Acting morally isn't dependent on God, but the existence of morality is. Just as someone who doesn't understand the law of gravity (and maybe even out and out disbelieves it) can still throw a ball into the air and catch it when it comes back down (even if they can't account for why the ball comes back down), so too someone who doesn't understand the necessity of a moral law giver for the existence of objective morality can still act in accord with objective moral standards (even if they can't account for the existence of those standards). If you didn't have a chance to view the video, you might enjoy it,

While this certainly is a very good philosophical answer to the atheist claim that atheists can be "better people" than Christians, Father Robert Barron has another take on it, one that isn't focused so much on where morality comes from or where it's existence must logically lead us, but one that looks at the relationship between Christianity and morality. It may come as a shock to some, even to some Christians, to learn that Christianity isn't about making us into good little boys and girls,

Father's point, about ethics being a "secondary" or "tertiary" concern to Christianity is a good one. We moderns far too often think that Christianity is about "being a good person," but this is really another religion altogether, one which has been coined moral therapeutic deism. Real Christianity is the antidote to this slide into "let's just be good" modern mentality as the great C.S. Lewis showed in his masterful essay "Man or Rabbit." He admits, as would Fr. Barron, that Christianity will do the believer some good, but points out that
the first bit of good it will do you is to hammer into your head... the fact that what you have hitherto called 'good' - all that about 'leading a decent life' and 'being kind'- isn't quite the magnificent and all-important affair you supposed. It will teach you that in fact you can't be 'good' (not for twenty-four hours) on your own moral efforts. And then it will teach you that even if you were, you still wouldn't have achieved the purpose for which you were created. Mere morality is not the end of life. You were made for something quite different from that. J. S. Mill and Confucius (Socrates was much nearer the reality) simply didn't know what life is about. The people who keep on asking if they can't lead a decent life without Christ, don't know what life is about; if they did they would know that 'a decent life' is mere machinery compared with the thing we men are really made for. Morality is indispensable: but the Divine Life, which gives itself to us and which calls us to be gods, intends for us something in which morality will be swallowed up. We are to be re-made. All the rabbit in us is to disappear - the worried, conscientious, ethical rabbit as well as the cowardly and sensual rabbit. We shall bleed and squeal as the handfuls of fur come out; and then, surprisingly, we shall find underneath it all a thing we have never yet imagined: a real Man, an ageless god, a son of God, strong, radiant, wise, beautiful, and drenched in joy1

Christianity calls us to be more than "a good person" (which usually is watered down so much to mean basically anyone save for Hitler), it calls us to divine filiation, so become "gods." With this higher end in view we can understand why morality is not the end of religion, that Christianity isn't about making people act "nice" and be "tolerant" of one another. It's about much more than that. Lewis leaves us a great image of the relation between morality and Christianity,
in setting up 'a good life' as our final goal, we have missed the very point of our existence. Morality is a mountain which we cannot climb by our own efforts; and if we could we should only perish in the ice and unbreathable air of the summit, lacking those wings with which the rest of the journey has to be accomplished. For it is from there that the real ascent begins. The ropes and axes are 'done away' and the rest is a matter of flying.2 
With that view in mind the whole question of whether a particular atheist is "a good person" melts into absurdity. The ultimate issue isn't about whether belief system x or belief system y makes you a "good person," rather the question must be which worldview corresponds to reality.
The Christian and the Materialist hold different beliefs about the universe. They can't both be right. The one who is wrong will act in a way which simply doesn't fit the real universe.3
Why does that matter you might ask. Why shouldn't we be concerned only with what is useful rather than with philosophical questions about truth? Lewis answers,
One of the things that distinguishes man from the other animals is that he wants to know things, wants to find out what reality is like, simply for the sake of knowing. When that desire is completely quenched in anyone, I think he has become something less than human.4
In the end, then, this particular atheist objection - that atheists can be good people too - is rendered doubly ridiculous. First, it completely misunderstands the point of life, according to Christianity. The atheist, of course, will disagree with our understanding of the purpose of life, but the misunderstanding is enough to refute the argument. Saying atheism leads to "good people" just as does Christianity can only be an effective weapon against Christianity if Christianity is primarily concerned with "making good people." If Christianity is about something else, as Lewis and Barron demonstrate it is, then claiming atheists are "good" too, is a case of entirely missing the point.

Secondly, following the lead of Dr. Craig, we can simply ask "what does it even mean to be 'good'" in a materialist conception of reality? Where does the moral law even come from? How can immaterial things like "justice," "goodness," or "virtue" be accounted for if nothing immaterial can exist?

Either way, the idea that we can, in some utilitarian way, look and see whether religious or atheist people "behave better" and make any argument from there is refuted.

1. Lewis, CS, "Man or Rabbit," in God in the Dock, 112
2. Ibid., 112-113
3. Ibid., 110
4. Ibid., 108

Thursday, February 19, 2015

7 Reasons Pagan Myths Can't Disprove Christianity

Often, in online conversations with atheists, I run across some variant of the following argument,
Horus was born of a virgin like Jesus was (he wasn't1, but let that slide), therefore Jesus never was born of a virgin. It's all made up!
Sometimes the atheist will add up a bunch of supposed similarities, thinking multiple (bad) examples will somehow transform his essentially bad argument into a good one. Whether it is one example or many, however, makes no difference to the underlying assumption of the argument, that something fictional coming before something historical proves the falsity of the historical event. This is absurd for a couple different reasons.

1) It Proves Too Much - The Practical Test
If we accept the assumption of this argument, that finding a fictional account of a later historical event proves the later historical event was "made-up," we can disprove all sorts of things. The moon landing can be shown to be "made-up" by appealing to the Jules Verne novel From the Earth to the Moon, which tells the tale of a group of weapon lovers who, in post Civil War America, decide to launch three men on the first ever voyage in outer space. Verne wrote his fictional account of a trip to the moon from the United States (even having the men "blast-off" from Florida) in 1865, over a century before Americans actually landed there. Does this "prove" the Apollo program was nothing more than NASA "stealing" Verne's plot? Have we refuted the real moon landing? Of course not. The moral of the story? Things that are parts of fictional stories can happen later in history, it, therefore, is no argument against any historical event to point to an earlier fictional account that mirrors the historical event under question. Whether or not the historical events surround Jesus of Nazareth are similar to fictional events from stories told in earlier times has as little relevance to the question of whether those events actually happened with Jesus as pointing to the From the Earth to the Moon has in answering the question whether men have ever actually visited the Moon.

2) Post Hoc, Ergo Propter Hoc - The Logical Test
If this weren't lethal enough to this type of objection, our atheist's argument here also commits a material logical fallacy - post hoc ergo propter hoc ("before this, therefore caused by this"). Just because thing "X" happens temporally before thing "Y" doesn't prove that "Y" caused "X." This is obvious in the natural world (does the rooster crowing before dawn cause the sun to rise?) but holds true in all other fields of knowledge. Just as it isn't enough to establish the temporal priority of From Earth to the Moon in regards to the Apollo program to prove the moon landings were fake, so too it isn't enough to point to the temporal priority of some pagan myth with a, usually overstated, similarity to the life of Christ to disprove the Gospel accounts.

3) An Exception for the Miraculous? - The Circular Reasoning Test 
Some atheists will argue that, unlike the Moon landing, Christ's miracles must be fake because miracles don't happen. This might, at first glance, seem like an importance difference, but it is nothing more than a circular, and therefore invalid, argument. The argument amounts to nothing more than asserting that Jesus' miracles didn't happen because no miracles happen, when Jesus' miracles are exactly evidence for the possibility of miracles. The argument then assumes miracles can't happen to prove that miracles can't happen. It is absurd. C.S. Lewis, an ex-atheist himself, saw through this charade and I direct the reader to pick up his book Miracles and read, if not the entire thing, then at least the third chapter in which Lewis destroys the idea that we could possibly know that nature is a "closed-system," that miracles are impossible.

4) Were the Authors of the Gospels Deliberate Liars? - The Motive Test
Claiming authors of the Gospels "stole" stories from pagan mythology and either appended them onto the life of a historical Jesus or used them to create an entirely fictional Jesus (the latter option for atheists who are completely historically illiterate) runs into yet another problem, why would anyone have done this? It might be easy to imagine a group of conspirators gathering together to "gain power" or wealth (whichever the atheist supposes religion in about) over the masses for someone who looks at the current status of Christianity in our society, but the earliest Christians, the ones who would have "borrowed" from the myths, had nothing to gain from so doing. They were Jews. Jesus was a rejected Messiah. By professing belief in Him they were not shrewdly positioning themselves to gain power or wealth, rather they were faced rather with a bleak future, one summed up nicely by Saint Paul,
I have... been in prison...been flogged...been exposed to death again and again. Five times I received from the Jews the forty lashes minus one. Three times I was beaten with rods, once I was pelted with stones, three times I was shipwrecked... I have been constantly on the move. I have been in danger from rivers, in danger from bandits, in danger from my fellow jews, in danger from gentiles; in danger in the city, in danger in the country, in danger at sea; and in danger from false believers. I have labored and toiled and have often gone without sleep; I have known hunger and thirst and have often gone without food; I have been cold and naked. (1 Corinthians 11:23-27)

Not exactly the benefit package one would craft an intricate lie to gain for oneself.

5) Will the Real Jesus Please Stand Up? - The Historical Evidence Test
And, assuming the original history of Jesus was corrupted by the addition of stories from old myths, we must wonder where any trace is of the original, uncorrupted, "historical" Jesus without the "added myths." The idea that the Gospels were "corrupted" has long been popular with people who seek to deny some inconvenient truth contained within. St. Augustine recounts his experience of this line of arguing in his Confessions, as the answer the Manicheans would give to explain the paucity of support their doctrines have in the Scriptures,
the answer they gave seemed to me feeble - indeed they preferred not to give it in public but only among ourselves in private (remember Augustine was a Manichean before his conversion) - the answer being that the Scriptures... had been corrupted... yet the Manicheans made no effort to produce uncorrupted copies2
Augustine's challenge, produce historical evidence of a Jesus who didn't do what the Gospels report, remains unanswered sixteen centuries on.

6) That's Not How Myths Work - The Time Test
Anyone who is at all familiar with mythology, who's actually read mythology rather than simply reading about mythology on atheist websites and blogs, knows the myths are set in times remote, even "shady," from the days in which they were composed. The myths happened "once upon a time." Such distance in time is necessary to establish their credibility. If I composed a myth about the sun turning blue yesterday, no one would believe it for we all saw the sun remain yellow yesterday. However, a myth about a time "long, long ago" when the sun was blue could be believed. The Gospel accounts of Christ, however, were not written about events that had happened long before the authors penned them, rather they were about events that had just happened. Dr. Peter Kreeft points this out nicely,
The dates for the writing of the Gospels have been pushed back by every empirical manuscript discovery; only hypothesizing pushes the date forward. Almost no knowledgable scholar today holds... what (is) necessary to hold in order to believe the myth theory, namely, that there is no first-century textual evidence that Christianity began with a divine and resurrected Christ, not a human and a dead one.3
In other words, there simply isn't enough time for the myths to have been plausibly added to the historical life of Jesus or for the authors of the New Testament to make Jesus out of whole cloth.

7) What is the Real Relationship Between the Myths and Christianity? - The Alternate Explanation Test
Father Longnecker, a Catholic priest and blogger, provides another objection to our atheist's argument by giving an alternative explanation for the resemblance between the myths of old and the history of Jesus.
On Sunday night I had been reading Mircea Eliade’s history of religion. So many of the themes present within Christianity echoed through the myths and rituals of the ancient pagan world.
Here a god descended to take incarnate form. There a god battled with the powers of darkness. Here a god descended into the underworld to redeem the dead, there a god is brought back to life in the Springtime of the year. Here a king is sacrificed to atone for the sins of the people, there a god ascends back into heaven. Here an innocent warrior is sacrificed, there a scapegoated victim.
The atheist critics say, “You see? Christianity is merely paganism warmed up. All those ancient myths are simply swept up, re-hashed and mashed with added spices and forced into Christianity….kind of like making sausage..."
How little he understands.
Of course this is just where the Catholic needs to stand the whole argument on its head.
Catholicism is not a re-hash of the old paganism. It is a correction and fulfillment of the old paganism. (read the whole article there)
The dim prefigurements and dusky shadows of Christ echoed in the world's psyche to be an argument against Christ, rather it is precisely an argument for the truth of the Gospel. If what Christians believe is true, if man was made for relationship with God and this relationship was broken at the very outset of our common history and the only possible fix was the Incarnation and Resurrection of God Incarnate, we'd expect all men at all times in all places before the coming of Christ to have some faintly expressed hope that such a thing might some day happen. We'd expect to see little signs pointing in the direction of Christ all over the pre-christian world as guideposts, as lights in the darkness, guiding man's thoughts, dreams, and aspirations in His direction. We'd expect to see little "protoevangelions" nestled into the various religious traditions of man. It is exactly this reality that the Father's of the Second Vatican Council referred to when they spoke of the complex relationship the Church has with people in various religious traditions including paganism,
Nor is God far distant from those who in shadows and images seek the unknown God, for it is He who gives to all men life and breath and all things, and as Saviour wills that all men be saved4
If there are "shadows and images" of "the unknown God" scattered throughout pagan religions, we'd expect to find some myths that point us in the direction of Christ. The evidence the atheist presents, then, confirms rather than opposes what we believe.

It's important to note here that it doesn't do for the atheist to simply assert his view or reject our view of the source of the similarities between some pagan myths and Christianity. That there can be another rational explanation for the existence of these similarities is enough to defang his argument.

In the end, this argument simply is a non-starter. If interested in reading more about this and similar issues, I'd recommend the following books.

Recommended Reading (purchase through our link to support the blog at no cost to yourself!):

1. Horus was actually born when his father's penis was severed and thrown into the sea. Hardly similar to the Nativity narrative of Jesus. Many such "similarities" are manufactured to make pagan myths seem much more similar than they really are to Christianity.
2. Confessions, Book V
3. Handbook of Christian Apologetics, 191
4. Lumen Gentium, 16

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

It's All About Love of Christ (A Lenten Reflection with St Josemaría Escrivá)

Here is my latest for the online Catholic article publisher I hope you can join me in meditating on the person of Jesus Christ with St. Josemaría Escrivá (who's writings I've greatly depended upon in my spiritual growth) to prepare for a most Holy and Fruitful Lent. May God bless you all.

It's All About Love of Christ (A Lenten Reflection with St Josemaría Escrivá)

A snippet:
Jesus. That one word sums up all of Catholicism. All the creeds, codes, and cult of the Church - the beauty of Catholic art (unmatched in human history), the glory of the great cathedrals of Europe (peerless among architectural artifacts), the wonderful complexity of Catholic philosophy and theology (you won't find a more rigorous intellectual system), the beauty of the Holy Sacrifice of Mass ("the most beautiful thing this side of heaven"), the disciplines by which Catholics strive to live, the power of the Sacraments, the stunning magnificence of Catholic liturgical music, the heroic and awe-inspiring lives of the saints, all of, all of it, is ultimately about just one thing - Jesus Christ. We are called, as Christians, to love Jesus Christ above all things. (Read the rest there)

St Josemaría, pray for us.

Join Me this Lent in Sacrificing Together for Christ

I don't know about you, but every year when Lent rolls around I find myself wondering what I'm going to change in my life to have a holier Lent. I think about giving up some crutch that I rely too heavily on (like coffee) or adding some spiritual practice in to my daily routine (like praying the Divine Office) and then wonder if I've set myself up for failure by pushing too hard - Dr. Taylor Marshall has a great video on this,

or if I've do too little to make Lent a transformative experience in my life.

I've thought back about the heroic penances and mortification that our forefathers in the Faith used to take on every Lent (like the Emperor Charlemagne who I attempted to emulate last Lent) and wondered at how they could do so much more than most of us even dream of doing today. Then I moved and found myself at a new parish this Lent, a new parish with a new priest who has thought through some of these same problems and hit upon one essential difference between the Lents of yore and those of today - our ancestors all gave up the same things, communally, while we each do Lent alone, individualistically. 

To correct this, Father has challenged us as a parish community to give up the same things each week of Lent, to help and encourage one another, to reclaim Lent as a communal activity and I wanted to encourage you all to join us. Here is what we will, together, be giving up (something different each week):

Week One - Sweets and Treats
No chocolate, no desserts, no candies, no dining out, no fast food, no anything that might be a special treat for yourself. Instead, when you are tempted to gratify some carnal desire, realize that your real desire is for God. Everything we want in this life is really just a confusion of the deep, spiritual hunger we have for God, which is precisely why having God (in the beatific vision) constitutes paradise - the fulfillment of all desire.

Week Two - Unnecessary Spending
Try to spend as little money this week as possible. Buy only the absolute essentials. No books, gadgets, new apps, eating out, "impulse buys," new clothes, etc. If you want to take it to the next level, keep track of the money you would have normally spent and give it to the poor. The idea here is to build on week one realizing that there is only one necessary thing - Jesus (cf. Lk 10:42).

Week Three - Careless Talk, Profanity, Blasphemy
After spending the first two weeks cutting out those material things we use to distract us from our desperate need for God, this week we are seeking to clear out a very common bad habit, that of using our speech for other than praising God and speaking the Truth. Whether we like to gossip, swear, use the Lord's name in vain, or just spend our time "shooting the breeze" this week we are seeking to use our words judiciously - for the greater glory of God.

Week Four - Alcohol and/or Coffee 
This week Father asks us to give up a beloved drink that we daily indulge in. Perhaps, if you're Italian like me, you enjoy a glass of vino with dinner. Or maybe, again like myself, you can't get through the day without drinking 5 or 6 espressi. If neither coffee nor alcohol is your thing, maybe you drink soda or tea or whatever else, the actual type of drink matters less than giving up something we thirst for. Depriving ourselves of that for which we thirst, will give us an opportunity to meditate on the thirst we ought to have for spiritual things. Instead of having that glass of wine at dinner, pray a family rosary or an extemporaneous pray of praise. Instead of the morning "cup of joe," pray an act of love, an act of hope, and an act of faith to get your day started.

Week Five - Entertainment
Now that we've increased our knowledge of our desire for God, we turn to focus on creating more silence in our lives. The modern world is a ceaseless cesspool of constant stimulus almost tailor made to drown the "small still voice" in which God speaks to us (cf. 1 Kings 19:12). C.S. Lewis, writing in a much silenter age, saw this, having a demon say,
Noise which alone defends us from silly qualms, despairing scruples, and impossible desires. We will make the whole universe a noise in the end. We have already made great strides in this direction as regards the Earth. The melodies and silences of Heaven will be shouted down in the end. But I admit we are not yet loud enough, or anything like it.
They just might be loud enough today. To counteract all this noise we will spend the week creating silence.

Father is asking everyone at the parish to either give up a meal a day or to select a favorite food to abstain from for the whole week. This is to focus us on our deeper spiritual hunger for God after all, "it is written: man shall not live on bread alone but on every word that proceeds out of the mouth of God (Matt 4:4)." I think I'll revisit my Charlemagne Lenten Challenge and fast from meat for the whole week and eat nothing before sundown each day. During mealtime, instead of eating, reading from the Bible or some other spiritual classic will help refocus us on the hunger which only the Lord can satisfy.

Monday, February 16, 2015

Is Love Really Just Chemical Reactions in the Brain? A Reflection with CS Lewis

Here is my recent article for,
How often have we been subjected to the "scientific reductionist" account of the world? Mention any topic and it isn't long before some post-modern "thinker" (in quotes for a reason we shall discover below) comes along to tell us what such-and-such experience or object "really is." One famous example is love - the strongest human emotion, one which motivates us to do things we never would otherwise contemplate, such as sacrificing even our own lives. To the Christian, indeed I might say to the sane man, and certainly to all "pre-post-modern" men, love was the highest ideal, the supreme lasting virtue, that which "moves the sun and the other stars" or that which is the essence of the All High God....

Read the whole thing there: Is Love Really Just Chemical Reactions in the Brain?

And for all you Lewis lover's out there, check out this new great book on the man (remember, by purchasing through our link you support the blog at no cost to yourself!)

Friday, February 13, 2015

Where Do You Get Your Catholic News From?

Where do you get your Catholic news from?

Hopefully none of these "c"atholic sources (which are more interested in dissenting from Church teaching than defending it, more interested in changing the Church to fit the world than to change the world through the Church),

And hopefully not any of these sources, which think they are more Catholic than the Church taking their cue not from the One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Church but from the constant temptation to drift into self-righteous "heresy of the right"

Look for faithful Catholic news sources - some of which Voris has an unfortunate, seemingly personal, beef with - sources like EWTN, National Catholic Register, Catholic Answers, Word On Fire, Salt and Light, Catholic News Agency, L'Osservatore Romano, Rome Reports, and bloggers who stay faithful to the Magisterium of the Church expressed through the visible hierarchy of the Church (see my "blogs I read" on the side bar for some good ones).

Say what you will about Voris' The Vortex, which I'm not always a fan of (see HERE), and about his "tone," which many find off putting, he at least seeks to present Church teaching and refuses to attack the Holy Father. I think he is spot on in these two videos, although I would generally recommend the sources bolded above over The Vortex which can occasionally "push the envelope" a bit on respecting the episcopacy of the Church for my tastes.

Which sources do you turn to for news about the Church? 
Leave your favorites in the comments!

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Does Lack of Evidence for God Justify Atheism?

Have you ever encountered the claim that there is "no evidence for God?" This is usually thrown out by undereducated, militant, atheistic, online "trolls" and is meant to be a conversation stopper - an irrefutable argument proving the rationality of the atheist position. Ironically, it manages to do just the opposite.

Is There A Lack of Evidence for God?

The first problem with this line of arguing is simply that it is demonstrably false. Theists have any number, I can think of at least twenty of the top of my head, of arguments that prove the existence of God from various elements of the visible world1. If all arguments for God were of the "I feel God exists/ I want God to exist/ The Bible says God exists/ my parents said God exists" variety then the atheist would have a valid point. Unfortunately for the atheist, this isn't the case. Evidence for God can be found in the fact that the universe has a beginning2 (and nothing can cause itself to begin to exist), in the moral law3, in the beauty and goodness in the universe4, in the intelligibility of the universe5, in the contingency of everything we see around us6, in the history surrounding Jesus Christ7, in the universal testimony of mankind8, in miracles9, etc, etc, etc. The atheist may or may not have engaged some or all of these arguments (more often than not they haven't, at least in my experience) but to simply ignore them all and claim there is no evidence is shockingly ignorant. It would be like a fundamentalist simply saying "there is no evidence for the Big Bang" as a sweeping, and supposedly unanswerable, dismissal of one of the best supported scientific theories. Would this prove young Earth Creationism or would it rather prove the scientific illiteracy of the fundamentalist?

Is the Argument Logical?

Another, and worse, problem for the argument is the bad logic behind it. Even if we granted the atheist the truth of his statement, "there is no evidence for the existence of God," his conclusion, "there is no God," would still not be proven. This type of argument is a logical fallacy, argumentum ad ignorantiam, or "appeal to ignorance10." I usually respond to the atheist by asking if the lack of evidence for extraterrestrial life proves there are no aliens. The atheist typically agrees that this is a bad argument, aliens, after all, could be on a planet we haven't discovered yet.  Absence of evidence, as we can clearly see in the alien example, doesn't equal evidence of absence. We can't argue from ignorance to any conclusion. The most the atheist argument, "there is no evidence for God therefore God doesn't exist," could rationally support is agnosticism, that we don't know whether or not God exists. This wouldn't however, justify a complacent or comfortable agnosticism, far less an absolute agnosticism that claims we can never know whether or not there is a God. At most, this argument would justify a burning agnosticism - one where the agnostic seeks, with all his power, enough evidence to make a decision on the God question, which is the most pressing question any of us are presented with, as it alone carries with it possible eternal consequences. To conclude that we don't know if there is a God and then to live as if there wasn't one is to make a rather poor "wager," as even the honest atheist will admit.11 

Is Atheism Logical?

All of which shows the underlying illogic of atheism. To assert that there are no Gods anywhere, at anytime, inside or outside the universe would require knowledge of all times and all places. Such knowledge would, in principal, only be possible for an omniscient being - a God. Thus, only God could know there was no God, only God could be an atheist, which is immediately self-contradictory. Such an absurdity is the ultimate attraction of the "no evidence equals no God" argument, but, as demonstrated above, that route collapses under its own illogic quite rapidly.

1. For a great summary of the evidence see Kreeft, Peter and Tacelli, Ronald, Handbook of Christian Apologetics  
2. The Kaalam Cosmological Argument - see more HERE
3. The Argument from Objective Morality - see more HERE
4. The Aesthetic Argument see more HERE
5. Pope Benedict XVI famously laid out this one. See more HERE.
6. Aquinas' "Third Way" see Summa Theologiae I, 2, 3 
7. Lord, Liar, Lunatic - see Mere Christianity  
8. Both the "sages" and the ordinary man reject atheism throughout history
9. See Lewis' masterful treatment in his book Miracles
10. From Kreeft's Socratic Logic, "The 'appeal to ignorance' consists in arguing that an idea must be true because we do not know that it is not. It is a fallacy because ignorance can never be a premise or reason. Premises must express knowledge-claims. Nothing logically follow from nothing, i.e. from no-knowledge." (page 86) 
11. For more see Pascal, Rene Pensees   

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Is Divorce Worse than Murder? (6 Things to Know)

A recent conversation on my Google+ page generated a very interesting point of view from one commenter who was scandalized by divorced Catholics being denied the Eucharist while murderers were allowed to still approach for Holy Communion.

That certainly seems scandalous doesn't it? Is divorce worse than murder that divorced Catholics need be punished even when murderers are forgiven? It's seem harsh, unforgiving, and downright unfair (especially to those who don't believe divorce is bad in the first place). As many Catholics might struggle with a similar understanding, I thought it might be worthwhile to look a little more closely at this apparent paradox in the way the Church treats murderers and divorced Catholics.

1- The Church's Teaching on Divorce is More Complex than Many Realize
First, we need to note that the Church's teaching on divorce is rather complex while most Catholics' understanding of her teaching is comparatively simple. The Church, upholding the very teaching of Christ, proclaims the indissolubility of marriage, "what therefore God hath joined together, let not man put asunder.1" However, in her infinite mercy and understanding, she also recognizes that
If civil divorce remains the only possible way of ensuring certain legal right, the care of children, or the protection of inheritance, it can be tolerated and does not constitute a moral offense.2
You'll note the explicit mention of civil divorce. A civil divorce does not end a marriage, it simply safeguards various legal rights and thus can be "tolerated." That isn't a wink and a nod at divorce, as the Church also teaches, in the very next paragraph of the Catechism that,
Divorce is a grave offense against the natural law. It claims to break the contract, to which the spouses freely consented, to live with each other till death.3
And that,
Divorce does injury to the covenant of salvation, of which sacramental marriage is a sign.4
However, the Church also notes the difference between a spouse who freely chooses to divorce and a spouse who is abandoned. Both are technically divorced (thanks to unfortunate "no-fault" divorce laws which make marriage the easiest of all contracts to break), but both are not morally at fault. The abandoned spouse has been sinned against, but has not himself "contravened the moral law.5"

The spouse who does the abandoning, or both spouses in the case of a "mutual" divorce, however are guilty of contravening the moral law and, under normal conditions6, have sinned mortally. Divorce, then, is serious business, but so is murder and murderers can be forgiven. Is divorce the only unforgivable crime?

Divorce Destroys Families

2 - Divorced Catholics Are Not Excluded From Holy Communion
There is an all too common misconception among Catholics that divorced Catholics are barred from Communion, such simply isn't the case. As we saw above some divorced Catholics are the victims of divorce and are not morally culpable for their divorces. Even among those Catholics who have "contravened the moral law" by freely choosing to divorce their spouses are not treated any differently than other Catholics in a state of mortal sin. A simple trip to the confessional, with true contrition of heart for the divorce, is all that is required to bring the morally culpable divorced Catholic back into communion with the Church. A Catholic thus forgiven can receive the Holy Eucharist each week, even every day if he attends daily Mass. In this way, the divorced Catholic is treated no more harshly than a murderer or any other person in a state of mortal sin. All the Church asks of any of her children who fall into mortal sin (which, if we are being honest, is all of us at one time or another) is to repent of our sin and seek Christ's forgiveness through the ministry of the Church.

3 - Divorced and Remarried Catholics Are in a Different Situation
When Catholics talk about "divorced Catholics" they frequently mean "divorced and remarried Catholics." These Catholics are in a more difficult situation than those Catholics who are civilly divorced, but have remained single. The distinction becomes clear when we remember that the civilly divorced are still actually married to their first spouse. The civil divorce creates a legal situation that might be advantageous (and even tolerable to the Church) for the spouses, but they are still married. Not just still married "in the eyes of the Church" or even "in the eyes of God," but actually just as married as they were the day before they civilly divorced on their wedding night. These "remarried" Catholics are not, then, remarried at all. We can only be actually married to one person at a time, any subsequent "marriage" is no real marriage at all. That doesn't mean that children of these pseudo-marriages are illegitimate (legitimacy being a legal recognition conferred by the laws of the State) or that real love and affection can't exist in these relationships, but, regardless of how loving they might otherwise be, marriages they are not.

This leads to the unfortunate situation of a civilly divorced and "remarried" Catholic being married to their first spouse but living with (and having sexual relations with) another person. The civil divorce and civil remarriage mean nothing morally here. This is a clear case of adultery, which is another mortal sin on top of the divorce.

4 - Adultery Can Be Repented and Forgiven
Which, if it were a one time event, would still not lead to a permanent ban on receiving Our Lord in Communion as adultery can also be forgiven in sacramental Confession. But forgiveness can't be granted to those who are not sorry for their sins or for those who do not seek to amend their lives, to "go and sin no more.7" Divorced and remarried Catholics are precisely those who refuse to repent of their sin of having sexual relations with someone other than their validly married spouse and thus cannot be forgiven. Divorced and remarried Catholics who either separate or, for the good of any children they have together, continue living together but resolve to permanently refrain from the marital act (and indeed from other signs of married life that would naturally lead to sin, such as sharing a bed) and who sincerely repent in sacramental Confession can be readmitted to the Sacramental life of the Church, including Holy Communion.

Catholic Reconciliation
All Can Be Forgiven Who Repent

5 - The Difference Between Murder and Divorce and Remarriage
The difference in the Church's treatment of a Catholic murderer and a divorce and remarried Catholic then isn't so surprising. The Church, following the example of Christ, is willing to forgive any sin so long as the sinner is willing to "go and sin no more" and is unable to forgive any sin which the sinner either refuses to recognize as a sin or refuses to make a firm amendment to stop committing. A divorced and remarried Catholic who intends to go on committing "public and permanent adultery8" is not at all like a repentant murderer, but is more like a serial killer who fully intends to continue to kill innocent people. The Church simply lacks the ability to forgive anyone who isn't sorry for their sins.

6 - Is Divorce and Remarriage Worse than Murder?
Looking at sins and wondering which is "worse" than which is ultimately an act of futility. Their are mortal sins and venal sins. The "least bad" mortal sin is enough, if left unrepented, to damn a soul to an eternity of hellfire. While "public and permanent adultery9" is not as bad as murder it can be more lethal to the sinner. As our culture lauds divorce and remarriage, calling that which is evil good and good evil,10 many more souls are likely put at risk though divorce and remarriage than are jeopardized by murder (which everyone still recognizes as evil). In this sense we can say the likely results of divorce and remarriage are "worse than" the likely results of murder. At the same time, murder is, objectively considered, a greater moral evil than adultery as it is worse to steal someone's life than it is to steal his wife.

Divorce Day
Imagine a "Happy Murder" Meme... Unthinkable (still)

1. Mark 10:9, Douay-Rheims translation
2. Catechism of the Catholic Church, 2383
3. Ibid., 2384, emphasis original
4. Ibid.
5. Ibid., 2386
6. Full knowledge and deliberate consent both being present
7. John 8:11
8. Catechism of the Catholic Church, 2384
9. Ibid.
10. Isaiah 5:20