Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Planning on Watching "A.D. the Bible Continues?" You Won't Want to Miss These Catholic Resources!

This Easter Sunday the secular world, via the never too Christian-friendly NBC network, will be treated to prime time programming that showcases the Acts of the Apostles with A.D. The Bible Continues. Such an opportunity for mass evangelization ought to excite us Catholics called, as we are, to reengage the world in a "New Evangelization" (new in method, new in ardor, new in expression, as St. John Paul the Great commented). Of course, with A.D. The Bible Continues being produced by Protestants we Catholics might have, for just reasons, a bit of hesitancy in celebrating too openly about this project. Will "once saved always saved," a fallacious reading of Paul on "works vs faith," a lack of sacramentality, and an anachronistic proto-Protestant ecclesiology replace the authentically Catholic reality of the first Christians life, beliefs, and worship? I'll admit to not being over-enthused myself by the very real possibility of a pseudo-historical Protestant apologetic whitewashing of the reality of the Early Church (which was very Catholic indeed - just read the Early Christians for yourself if you don't believe me.)

Then I was sent a couple books by Sophia Press to review with you here on the blog. A.D. The Bible Continues: Ministers & Martyrs by Mike Aquilina, who's written several books on the Patristic Church, and A.D. The Bible Continues: The Catholic Viewer's Guide by Veronica Burchard. As these resources are an invaluable companion for any Catholic (or indeed any Christian) watching the series without a first-hand knowledge of Patristics, I thought looking a little at each of them here might be worth the time.

From the back of the book (emphasis mine):
Based on the epic NBC television event, A.D. The Bible Continues: Ministers and Martyrs offers an unflinching look at the lives and sacrifices of those first Christians who were given the task of spreading the Gospel to the ends of the earth.Relying on the ancient documents, as well as latest archaeological findings and scientific research, acclaimed author Mike Aquilina takes you on a journey through the Apostolic Age, bringing to life the ancient streets and crowded marketplaces through which Mary and the Apostles journeyed as they built a Church that lasts even to our day.You'll also discover the beliefs of the early Christians, what they taught about the Eucharist and the Divinity of Christ, how their Church services resembles today's Mass, and how Rome became the spiritual center for Christianity.Read these pages, and you'll come to see that despite the best efforts of their enemies, the blood of the Apostles did not snuff out the Faith but brought forth great saints whose holy deeds and brave examples gave the besieged Church a vigor that lasts even to today.A.D. The Bible Continues: Ministers and Martyrs will give you confidence that the Church is indeed Christ acting in the world, and that no matter how ruthless her opponents, she will endure to the end of time.
Anyone familiar with Mike Aquilina's writing, especially his books on the Patristic period (e.g. The Fathers of the Church or The Mass of the Early Christians) needs no further reason to purchase this book. Aquilina knows the early Church. He can write wonderfully. What more does a Catholic need to decide to pick up this volume to accompany him while watching A.D. The Bible Continues? For those unlucky enough to not have read Aquilina's other works on the early Church (what are you waiting for, exactly?) this is a good place to start. Ministers and Martyrs manages to be incredibly accessible while still being profound. If you know nothing about the first centuries of the Church, you're going to love this book. If you are a seasoned Patristic reader, you're still going to love this book.

A.D. The Bible Continues: The Catholic Viewer's Guide

From the back of the book (emphasis mine):
This beautiful, full-color viewer's guide offers everything you need to fully experience the A.D. The Bible Continues television series.
In these pages you'll take an unforgettable journey through the Apostolic Age as it brings to life the dusty streets and crowded marketplaces through which Mary and the Apostles journeyed as they built the Church.
For each episode you're given . . .

  • A short essay with important historical and theological context.
  • A detailed map that enables you to see where the Apostles journeyed or where important activities happened during the episode.
  • Profiles so you know the role of each Biblical character.
  • Pre- and post-viewing questions for family study, viewing parties or small group discussions.
  • Definitions of words or terms you will hear in the episode but may not know.
  • Connections to Scripture and to the lives and writings of the Saints.
  • Ways in which you can use the principles in the episode to strengthen your own spiritual life.

  • The Catholic Viewer's Guide is absolutely essential if you are to make the most of A.D. The Bible Continues. It's perfect for personal use, group discussions, family study, or small group sessions.
    The Catholic Viewer's Guide is truly a great companion to watching the series, one I'd warmly recommend to all my readers, Catholic and non. For each episode a brief "background reading" (taken from Ministers and Martyrs), a list of "key characters", including pictures, a "Catholic takeaway," glossary of terms, important relevant Bible verses, quotes from Catholic saints (Thomas Aquinas, Josemaría Escrivá, Augustine of Hippo, Francis of Assisi, etc.), discussion questions, and a traditional Catholic "closing prayer" are all provided. Also, and perhaps my favorite element, a "Go Forth and Evangelize" section ties in the episode to the goals of the New Evangelization making each episode into a clarion call to fulfill the Great Commission. I hope to be able to watch A.D. The Bible Continues and will certainly be using the Catholic Viewer's Guide as my Virgil to the series.

    (And remember purchasing on Amazon through our affiliate link helps the blog without costing you a penny, nice deal, no?)

    Monday, March 30, 2015

    Are You Ready? Join Me For the Second Annual Charlemagne Holy Week Lenten Challenge!

    Long time readers of the blog will remember the Charlemagne Holy Week Lenten Challenge I issued last year, and re-issued on Friday. As a rebellion against the laxness many of us modern Catholics have when it comes to "mortifying the flesh" and inspired by the heroic sacrifices of our Catholic forefathers from the Middle Ages, we'll be sacrificing more than just chocolate or coffee for one week. The actual challenge is exceedingly simple (if difficult):
    1) No meat
    2) No eating until nightfall (or at least until "the seventh hour," i.e. noon). 
    Medieval king
    Carolus Magnus "Charlemagne"
    As each Sunday is a "little Easter," today really marks the absolute beginning of our feast (so don't let missing yesterday, or even already having eaten breakfast this morning stop you from joining us. It's never too late!) For those not entirely inspired to jump onto the fasting bandwagon, let St. Josemaría Escrivá encourage you with some profound words from the Twentieth century (mortification isn't something we left behind in the Middle Ages!)

    St. Josemariá makes a powerful, and to many today perhaps surprising, observation on the spiritual life, "unless you mortify yourself you'll never be a prayerful soul." (The Way, 172). Why, we might be tempted to ask. St. Josemariá answers, "no ideal becomes a reality without sacrifice. Deny yourself. It is so beautiful to be a victim!" (The Way, 175). This truth is a meditation on the very teaching of Christ, "If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily, and follow me." (Lk 9:23) Which leads St. Josemariá to remark, "don't complain if you suffer . It is the prized and valued stone that is polished." (Furrow, 235). Why is self imposed suffering, i.e. mortification, so aidful to the Christian faithful? Because it is the most effective way of battling what St. Paul called "sarx" (the flesh). "The body must be given a little less than it needs. Otherwise it will turn traitor." (The Way, 196). 

    Don't allow your body to "turn traitor," to be a Judas. Discipline it. Bring it firmly under the control of your spirit. Remember, the three things that war against us are the devil, the world, and the flesh. Fasting is one of the primary ways of battling the last of these. It is a way of taking charge of our bodies, bodies that once were completely docile to the spirit, but, thanks to the stain of original sin, are now all too frequently in rebellion against it. Purity, which is at the heart of holiness (which itself is the reason for which we exist) is something that primarily concerns man deep in his "heart" (cf. Matt 5:8). Man, however, being a psychosomatic (body-soul) unity (contra the gnostics and their Cartesian and "new age" modern followers), can only achieve inner-purity, inner holiness, by taming the passions that afflict his body. St. John Paul the Great made clear the absolute importance of being interiorly pure,
    It is the purity of the "man of concupiscence," who is nevertheless inspired by the word of the Gospel and open to "life according to the Spirit" (in conformity with St. Paul's words), that is, by the "redemption of the body" achieved by Christ. This is precisely why we find in the words of the Sermon on the Mount the appeal to the "heart," that is, to the inner man. The inner man must open himself to life according to the Spirit, in order to share in evangelical purity of heart: in order to find again and realize the value of the body, freed by redemption from the bonds of concupiscence. (General Audience, April 1, 1981)

    This inner "evangelical purity of heart" can be achieved only when we decide to war against the natural, postlapsarian, tendency to allow the servant (i.e. the body) control the master (i.e. the spirit). Fasting, as our Medieval ancestors, St. Josemaría, and St. John Paul the Great all well knew is one way to right this situation.

    With that encouragement, I invite you to begin today to venture with us this week in mastering ourselves with our Charlemagne inspired fast.

    Friday, March 27, 2015

    Charlemagne Holy Week Lenten Challenge!

    You are probably familiar with the name of the first Holy Roman Emperor, Charlemagne. He was the greatest of the medieval kings, the first man to be crowned a Roman Emperor (on Christmas Day, AD 800) in the west since Romulus Augustulus was deposed by the barbarian Odoacer, King of the Goths, in the late fifth century. Charlemagne, or Carolus Magnus "Charles the Great", nearly single-handedly dragged Europe back from the brink of cultural collapse by largely unifying post-Roman Europe, supporting the Holy Catholic Church, and patronizing learning and the arts. His reign launched what has since been called the "Carolingian Renaissance."

    Holy Roman Empire Map circa 800

    I'd like to take a moment to look at how seriously this great emperor took the season of Lent, in the hopes that we can be inspired by his example. To this end, we're going to look at a few passages written by Notker the Stammerer, a contemporary of Charlemagne. As you read these brief passages, think to yourself, if an emperor, a man who can have anything he wants at the mere snap of his fingers, a man who ruled most of Europe, took Lent with such seriousness, how can I redouble my efforts here in the last weeks of this Lent.
    Charlemagne... had the habit of eating at the seventh hour in Lent, that is after Mass had been celebrated and after evening lauds.By doing so he was not breaking the fast, but was obeying the Lord's command by taking food an hour before the time. (Charlemagne, Notker the Stammerer)
    Emperor of the Romans
    Charlemagne, Emperor of the Romans

    Here we learn that Charlemagne would fast from the time he rose in the morning until "the seventh hour", about noon, every day during Lent. This would be a mighty fast for us moderns, but Charlemagne was actually accused by a bishop for being too lax, for breaking the fast before nightfall. Charlemagne, enraged at being dressed down by this bishop devised a particular means of proving a point
    'My worthy bishop, he (Charlemagne) answered, 'you have been within your rights to criticize me. In return, I order you to eat nothing yourself until the last of the officials who belong to my court here has been fed.' (Charlemagne, Notker the Stammerer)
     At Charlemagne's court kings, princes, dukes, and various servants gathered to eat with their ruler. The meal was served out by rank, with the higher ranking noblemen eating first. Of course, the emperor ate first. Even with Charlemagne breaking the fast earlier than nightfall, the last man served (the bishop who rebuked him) wasn't fed until after midnight. Thus, as the bishop painfully learned, the emperor only ate while the sun was up to make sure the least in his court would be able to eat before the days end. Again, this was a fast every day for all of Lent and was observed on top of abstaining, again everyday for all of Lent, from meat. This later observance was so important to Charlemagne that he required it to be observed in his famous Capitulary on Saxony (AD 785):
    4. If any one, out of contempt for Christianity, shall have despised the holy Lenten fast and shall have eaten flesh, let him be punished by death. But, nevertheless, let it be taken into consideration by a priest, lest perchance any one from necessity has been led to eat flesh.
     While we might at first react with shock at the severity of the penalty, we have to keep in mind that this was the eighth century when use of capital punishment was widely applied to serious offenses due to a lack of other means of punishment (there were no prisons, after all). Lesser offenses were punished with fines. We will also want to keep in mind that Charlemagne was in the process of converting the Saxons from paganism and laws like these were put in place to aid this process. In fact, once the initial shock of the punishment subsides, we might be more surprised at how Charlemagne put two protections into his law. First, to be punishable, the fast had to be ignored "out of contempt for Christianity" and second, the case had to go before a priest to make sure the fast wasn't broken out of necessity.

    Nonetheless, there can be little doubt that both Charlemagne and his subjects took Lent with great seriousness.

    Crowning of Charlemagne
    Coronation of Charlemagne, Christmas Day AD 800

    And so, in the spirit of our heroic Catholic forefathers, I'm issuing a Lenten Challenge to my fellow modern Catholics, let's observe the old time fast for just Holy Week. We'll make it simple and just follow two rules:
    1) No meat
    2) No eating before nightfall (or at least until "the seventh hour" - noon)
    Charlemagne and his fellow eighth century Catholics kept this fast for all of Lent (and abstained from other foods besides). Our challenge is just one week. What do you think?
    It is written, Not in bread alone doth man live, but in every word that proceedeth from the mouth of God. (Matt 4:4)

    Thursday, March 26, 2015

    "A Mass, a Mass, My Kingdom for a Mass!" - Richard III Finally Receives His Due

    Yesterday, on the Feast of the Annunciation (the day our Lord become Flesh and dwelt among us), King Richard III of England received the requiem Mass (in Latin) that he would have wanted had he not been betrayed by the usurper Henry Tudor (father of the arch-schismatic Henry VIII).  As we've been following this story (HERE), I thought it would be well to report the happy news. From Catholic News Agency,

    .- In preparation for the reinternment of the remains of Richard III, a 15th century English king whose body was only recently rediscovered, Cardinal Vincent Nichols of Westminster has offered Compline and a Requiem Mass for the late monarch....Cardinal Nichols noted Richard's achievements, including a development of the presumption of innocence, the concept of blind justice, the practice of granting bail, and translating laws into the vernacular, while adding that “nevertheless his reign was marked by unrest and the fatal seepage of loyalty and support.”... He recalled Richard as a man of prayer and “anxious devotion,” who composed a surviving prayer and established chapels....Cardinal Nichols remarked during his homily that “during this week, Mass is being offered in many Catholic Churches for the repose of the soul of King Richard III. Rightly so. That is exactly what he would have wished, having himself set up at least one chantry chapel for Masses to be celebrated for the dead of both sides of the Battle of Towton in 1461.”
    The whole article, Catholics in England gather to pray for Richard III, one of their own, is well worth reading. Cardinal Nichols had some very powerful things to say. 

    Say what you will about Richard, whose image in the popular conscience is entirely shaped by Shakespeare's great play (people do still read Shakespeare, don't they?), he seems, by all accounts, to have been a faithful Catholic, if a flawed leader of men. Whether or not England would have abandoned the ancient and Holy Faith under the house of York as it would under the usurping House of Tudor is unknowable. However, the lack of respect for the legitimate and lawful spiritual power (The Pope) by Henry VIII is surely reflected in, and maybe would be unthinkable without, the lack of respect for the legitimate and lawful temporal power (Richard III) by Henry VII. What our world (and indeed our country) would look like with a Catholic England is something left for the imagination of a Newt Gingrich "what-if" book. We are instead left to deal with the challenge of reestablishing the Holy Faith in England (which is moving along well, as accounts of more Catholics at Mass than Anglicans at "service" on any given Sunday show).

    Please join me in praying for Richard's soul in word's he would have well known himself,
    Requiem aeternam dona ei DomineEt lux perpetua luceat eiRequiescat in pace.
    Rest in peace.

    Wednesday, March 25, 2015

    A Pair of Atheists Try to Dispute the First Premise of Kalam to No Avail.

    Ladies and gentlemen, we have two more contenders seeking, in tandem this time, to knock out the kalam cosmological argument (original post here). This time, after witnessing the utter failure of their fellow travelers to tackle the second premise, they have decided to mount an offensive against the first premise ("everything that begins to exist has a cause outside itself"). Careful readers will remember my advice on the original post (emphasis added),
    This (first) premise is self-evidently true and cannot be denied by anyone actually interested in getting to the truth. To say things just come into existence for no reason is to embrace the irrational, to abandon all reason. More, it is to abandon all science which is dependent on their being a cause for any effect. If things happen for no reason then we can't say the apple falls from the ground because of gravity, for it might fall for no reason. To meet a man on the street wouldn't be to conclude that he has biological parents or even had a childhood, for he might have sprung out of thin air right that moment. This is worse than magic (which at least has the magician and "magic words" or a wand to explain the effects produced). To stake out this position is to embrace mythological, magical thinking and to reject science and reason. Such people have put themselves beyond the reach of reason and logic and thus cannot be reasoned with. Better to move along to those interested in the truth.
    Sadly, I didn't follow my own good counsel, opting instead to entertain objections to the first premise, even though such objections clearly originate not from a desire to seek the truth, but from a desperation to avoid the conclusion of kalam.

    So, what possible argument has this pair of atheists (one our old friend at Diety Shiemity) come up with a seemingly self-evident truth? You can read the whole, long, conversation on my Google + page (follow me while you are there!), but to summarize, they have demanded some proof to support our first premise. Fair enough. As this is incredibly easy to do, I abandoned my own advice and laid out the obvious,
    Premise 1: There are only four possible answers to the question “what caused the universe to begin to exist:" 
    1. The universe caused itself to exist (while not existing) 
    2. Nothing caused the universe to exist 
    3. The universe doesn't exist 
    4. Something outside the universe cause the universe to exist (see premise one of kalam)
    Premise 2: Not 1, not 2, not 3
    Conclusion: therefore 4.
    We might ask, does the logic workOur argument is a textbook "dilemma" (actually, with four possibilities, we may call it a "quadrilemma") and is logically airtight. The "sound premise" (there's actually 2, one sound premise can prove nothing) is that there are only 4 possible answers to how the universe began to exist, the second "sound premise" is that 3 of the 4 are impossible, the "validly demonstrated conclusion" is that the remaining option must logically be true. We can think of any number of arguments that use the same pattern, for example,
    Premise 1: Socrates is either a man or a woman
    Premise 2: Socrates is not a woman. 
    Conclusion: Socrates is a man.
    How did our atheists respond? Well, the first (of Diety Shiemity fame) demanded inductive (i.e. scientific, "empirical") evidence for substantiation on premise that all knowledge must be so verified to be true. Of course, as we discussed here: Can We Only Know Truth Through the Scientific Method , this claim immediately collapses into self-referential incoherence (the claim that all knowledge must be verified empirically is itself unable to be verified empirically). He then supplied what he thought was lacking by concluding the first premise of kalam must be true because he has never seen anything move from non-being to being (for no reason, from nothing), therefore it is likely nothing can. This does provide supporting evidence for premise one of kalam, but not decisive proof as none of us have actually seen everything begin to exist. Thus, my deductive argument provides the certainty that is supported by, but not dependent upon, the inductive argument supplied by Diety Shiemity.

    Our second atheist, perhaps not the thinker our friend from Diety Shiemity is, simply resorted to an argumentum ad ignorantiam (an argument from ignorance) saying "maybe there is a fifth possibility." Of course, "maybe" (and, indeed, any appeal to ignorance - being a fallacy), does not a refutation make. I'm fairly certain our atheist would recognize this if a theist attempted to prove God by appealing to "maybe He just exists." As that isn't a rational argument, neither is the same tactic when employed by an atheist.

    To rationally pursue a line of attack on premise one, the objector would need to show our quadrilemma is a false one, by enunciating the missed possibility. To return to poor Socrates, an objector could respond, not with "maybe," but by pointing out that Socrates could be a hermaphrodite ("intersex" for the LGBTQLMNOP crowd). This would disprove our dilemma. Of course, we could amend the argument, expanding it to a "trilemma,"to avoid the objection,
    Premise 1: Socrates is either a man, a woman, or a hermaphrodite
    Premise 2: Socrates is not a woman or a hermaphrodite
    Conclusion: Socrates is a man
    However, simply saying, "maybe" is not a rational objection and is unworthy of further comment.

    Could the second premise of our supporting argument be objected to? Neither atheist has, as of the moment I'm writing this, switched gears from attacking premise one to attacking premise two of our supporting argument, however that would seem to be the next logical step, so we might as well examine it now.

    Premise two says that the universe didn't cause itself to exist (when it didn't exist), that the universe wasn't caused by "nothing," and that the universe does, in fact, exist. Thereby, it eliminates three of the four possible answers to the question, "what caused the universe to exist?" and proves the remaining answer must logically be true. Let's briefly look at each one,

    Could the universe not exist?
    For anyone to actually raise this objection to our argument, at least one person (the objector) must exist. Therefore, there must be at least a universe of one, which means the universe exists. In other words, to claim the universe doesn't exist is to immediately run afoul of the "law of noncontradiction."

    Could "nothing" have caused the universe to exist?
    "Nothing" (literally: "not anything," "not something") must, necessarily, lack all causative power. Why? Because it is nothing. If it had causative power (in even a small measure, let alone of the magnitude needed to begin a universe ex nihilio) it would, necessarily, be something (a thing with causative power). Here again we've run smack into the "law of noncontradiction."

    Could the non-existent universe have caused itself to exist?
    If the universe is in a state of "non-existence," then it is, quite literally, "nothing." This option really just restates the one immediately above and also runs into the "law of noncontradiction" for the same reasons. If the universe has causative power, then it isn't in a state of "non-existence." If it isn't in a state of "non-existence," it exists. If it exists, it can't cause itself to exist.

    Therefore, three of the four possibilities are violations of the law of noncontradiction.1 An objector to our supporting argument is then left with a stark choice. Either deny the law of noncontradiction or accept the supporting argument as proof for the first premise of kalam. If the latter choice is opted for, kalam has withstood yet another objection. If the former, if the law of noncontradiction itself is denied, then nothing could ever disprove kalam (the law of noncontradiction is needed for that to work) and thus, kalam yet stands. Either way, the kalam cosmological argument remains untouched.

    1. By tunneling all the way under the first premise of the kalam argument, reaching the very bedrock of all logical discourse (the law of noncontradiction), we've reach a point at which no further argument can be demanded for support. And indeed, as I show above, no further argument is needed, for to deny the law of noncontradiction is to admit that no objection could ever refute the kalam argument. This is important to note as it shows that we need not rely on an infinite regression of deductive arguments to support our first premise. Here we might, once again, remember the inductive support offered by universal experience - that nothing has ever come into being from nothing for no reason, although it is important to remember that such inductive support is merely supportive and not necessary for the argument. Deduction alone can provide all the support we need for premise one of kalam as this blog post should demonstrate.

    Tuesday, March 24, 2015

    Benedict XVI Lays Down His Mighty Pen

    To be placed in the "horribly depressing, yet entirely understandable and even predictable" file comes this from National Catholic Register,
    Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI is no longer writing on theology, as he doesn’t have the strength to continue with this work, his personal secretary has said.... Benedict XVI “no longer dedicates himself to theological or scientific writings,” and with the completion of  his three volumes of Jesus of Nazareth, “he has concluded his theological work.
    “He says he doesn’t have the strength to write anymore,” Archbishop Gänswein said.... A source close to the pope emeritus told the Register that Benedict’s inability to write has less to do with his age than physical state, noting that Joseph Ratzinger had never been physically strong. The pope emeritus also told private visitors at the beginning of last year that he would write no more theology after his trilogy on Jesus.

    Read the whole thing over there. 

    As Papa Benedetto has closed his oeuvre, I though it might be worth revisiting some of his past classics once again by referring you to My Pope Benedict XVI Book Recommendations.

    As readers of the blog well know, Benedict's masterful insights propelled me along the path from irreligion to Catholicism. I must confess that I had secretly hoped that his retirement meant he'd finally get to spend more time with "his books" as he so earnestly desired to throughout his career and as he expressed it to Raymond Arroyo in this interview from before his election to the papacy,

    But we must not be gluttons. Benedict has provided us with a great many writings on a great many topics. How blessed we all are to have lived through his all too brief pontificate. 

    Of course, by way of compensation, the Holy Spirit has gifted us with the very different but nonetheless challenging and invigorating example of Pope Francis, who can inspire us, including our cloistered sisters, with a passion for living the Gospel,

    I suppose that just goes to show us how the Church is always well provided for.

    Please join me in praying for our Holy Father and our Pope Emeritus,
    Lord, you never cease to provide pastoral and intellectual care for your flock. Indeed, you know what we need even when we don't. We thank you for the powerful witness of your humble servant Pope Benedict XVI, who was "the world's professor," teaching us what we can't not know. We also thank you for the ministry of Pope Francis, who is "the world's pastor" calling us to a radical life of self-sacrifice and love. Indeed, Lord, we know that both men displayed both these traits, but you have blessed your Church by allowing each to bring his own talents and abilities into play at the precise time they were needed for the building up of you pilgrim people. Please, if it be Thy Holy Will, grant many more years of service to both these holy men, our fathers in the Faith. Amen.

    Dante - "Poet of the Popes" and a Great Read for Lent

    Long time readers of the blog are probably aware of the impact reading Dante had in moving me from the depths of irreligion to the heights of the One True Faith. As an amateur dantista I can't resist any news article I find on the great Tuscan poet and this latest piece from Catholic News Agency is no different, read the whole thing over there, (my comments in red, my emphases in bold):

    With this year marking the 750th anniversary of Dante Alighieri’s birth, the Vatican is taking a closer look the author of the Italian masterpiece, the Divine Comedy, and his impact upon the popes of the 20th century. 
    “Dante is a universal poet for all people and all times,” according to a Mar. 17 article by L'Osservatore Romano which expounds upon the estimation which Paul VI, along with his predecessor Benedict XV, had for the Italian poet. 
    Once describing him as a “master of exalted lyricism,” Paul VI, who shepherded Vatican II to its close following the death of its founder, John XXIII, so appreciated the works of Dante, he gifted a special edition copy of the Divine Comedy to each of the council fathers... 
    Believing him to be “the poet of theologians and the theologian of poets,” (I love that description) according to L'Osservatore Romano, Paul VI would go on to establish a chair for Dante studies... 
    Paul VI's love for the Italian master was such that he was even known to have requested that his private secretary, Msgr. Pasquale Macchi, read aloud excerpts from the Divine Comedy, as well as Alessandro Manzoni's masterpiece The Betrothed, (another book I love) according to Cardinal Paul Poupard. 
    ...Like Paul VI's successor, Benedict XV (1854-1922) was also an avid follower of Dante's writings, referring to the Divine Comedy as “the fifth Gospel.” (another apt description)
    ... In his 1921 encyclical... Benedict XV refers to Dante as “the most eloquent bard to sing and announce Christian wisdom.” 
    The whole article is worth perusing, check it out there: Dante's biggest fans? The 'poet of popes' and his legacy at the Vatican.  Even more worth your time is Dante's greatest work, La Commedia. I've read it in a few translations and really enjoy Mark Musa's (it also has great notes for those not familiar with the Trecento Italian politics and culture Dante takes for granted), Longfellow's translation is a classic, especially with Albert Dore's engravings, and I've heard nothing but great things about Anthony Esolen's translation. For those of us who read la bella lingua, nothing can beat the rhythm of the original. If you haven't yet touched Dante, let this anniversary be your first, but certainly not last, trip from the pit of hell to the face of God. If you find it hard going, don't "abandon all hope," (Inferno, III) Dante readers have long held that you're only ever really ready to start reading Dante after you've finished reading Dante, but here are some guides to be your Virgil:

    (purchasing on Amazon through our affiliate link supports the blog at no additional cost)

    And there is also this free online course, which I can't vouch for, having not listened to it, but which is offered by a Dominican, Dr. Sebastian Mahfood, OP

    Here are the translations I recommended:

    And for those who've already encountered Dante and want to delve a little deeper:

    And, in case you aren't in a Dante mood, here is a link to Manzoni's classic I Promessi Sposi (The Betrothed) which is also something everyone ought to read at least twice in their life:

    God bless and remember, E'n la sua volontade é nostra pace (Paradiso, III)! 

    Monday, March 23, 2015

    A Third Atheist Tries to Take Down the Kalam Argument, Irrationality Ensues.

    After the unsuccessful attempts of two previous atheists to avoid the conclusion of the Kalam Cosmological Argument (original post HERE, attempt one HERE, attempt two HERE), a third atheist has decided to give it a go. Rather than a lengthy blog post, this has been a "back-and-forth" on my newly established Facebook page (follow me there if you don't). You can read the whole thing THERE, his primary problem seems to a radical commitment to an a priori naturalism (or perhaps just plain old stubbornness, you decide). Here is the beginning (for context) and my final reply to this objection:

    AtheistHere is a question. Why does god need to even be part of the equation? Why not just have the universe exist? Do we really need a supernatural cause to exist? 
    Me: I address this on the post. Did you read the whole thing? 
    Atheist: Wait wait wait. Your common objection three raises more questions and it doesn't answer the question. You injected being to your list of omnipotent, omnipresent, eternal, personal, immaterial. Can't the universe itself be those things? Why does the cause of the universe need to be outside of space, time and material? Why does the cause need to be personal?
    Maybe a better way to ask is: Does the cause of the universe have to be supernatural? 
    Me: My answer to objection 3 clearly answers all of those questions. Briefly, the universe is all space. Whatever caused all space can't itself be in space. The same is true for time and matter. Why personal? That too is answered on the post. As the cause is eternal and the effect isn't, the effect can't necessarily flow from the cause. Rather it must be something the cause chooses to produce. Lastly, as the universe is everything natural, its cause must be beyond the natural. 
    Atheist: Why? How do you know the cause can't be in space, material, temporal, ect? 
    Me: If something created all space, then it must exist outside of space. Why? Because, to create space, it must have existed before their was any space. IOW, for the same reason we can say that whoever painted the Sistine Ceiling can't be a figure on the ceiling or whoever authored a book can't be a character in the book.
    Atheist: Nathan you already have a conclusion in mind. I am 100% willing to say I don't know. I don't know what caused the Big Bang to happen. Slowly we are learning and maybe we may know in the distant future. It looks like, to me, that you cannot accept that nothing supernatural was a cause to the universe. 
    Me: 1) Whether or not I had a conclusion in mind has nothing to do with whether the argument succeeds. This commits both the genetic fallacy and is an argumentum ad hominem. If that is too esoteric for you, think of it like this, I could have a conclusion in mind and my argument could succeed or I could have a conclusion in mind and my argument could fail. Thus, just saying you "you had a conclusion in mind" proves nothing, and the objection fails utterly. Ask yourself if atheist's anti-theist arguments are all invalid because they are presented by an atheist (who “has a conclusion in mind”).  
    2) Saying someday we may know in the distant future that it is a natural cause also commits two fallacies. First, as demonstrated, nature can’t be caused by (non-existing) natural causes. Second, this commits an ad ignorantiam fallacy, specifically the “science-of-the-gaps” fallacy, saying (without any evidence) “science will some day have an explanation.” Just as arguments from ignorance can't prove God's existence, so too they can't refute arguments for God's existence. Ask yourself, how would you react to a theist who claimed that he believed in God because “slowly we are learning and maybe we may know in the distant future” that God exists. As that is a ridiculous argument, so is the exact same argument you present here for your continued atheism, in spite of the evidence presented. 
    3) In fact, as you have no arguments against the kalam argument, it rather seems that you, irrationally, can’t accept that something supernatural is the cause of the universe. If the word “supernatural” is the hang-up (if it brings to mind Casper the friendly ghost or something) then move past it. Etymologically, “super-natural” just means something “beyond-nature.” As nature didn’t exist before the Big Bang, something “meta-natural” (beyond-nature) must be the cause. This isn’t something science could some day work around, as it isn’t an argument from not knowing something, but from something we already know. Ask yourself could someone born in 1999 be the parent of someone born in 1969? Would it make sense to say that science could someday maybe show us how a person who didn’t exist in ’69 could parent a child?  
    4) Hopefully, you can see the difference between being able to provide evidence for a position (as I did with the kalam argument for belief in God) and, after being presented with evidence, simply refusing to accept the conclusion because you happen to not like it. At this point, you’ve abandoned reason and adopted an atheistic fideism (you lack belief in God in spite of evidence to the contrary). Being irrational isn’t something you can be reasoned out of (thus the last line of my original post). Ironically, it seems you are the one with the “conclusion in mind,” that has no evidence, and that nevertheless refuses to be moved even when presented with an argument that you can’t refute. While this irrational move might, at first blush, seem to protect your atheism, it leaves you with no room to criticize any theist who could also justify his position irrationally, thus you have lost reason and still haven't avoided the conclusion you so desperately want to. Moreover, as you’ve left behind reason (and science), there can be no rational discourse with you, thus this ends this, and all future, conversations. Ask yourself, what’s the point of reasoning with an irrational man? (This post might help answer this last question).

    Sunday, March 22, 2015

    Why is There Something Rather than Nothing? A Look with Leibniz at Evidence for God

    Over the last couple of posts we've been taking a long look at the Kalam Cosmological Argument, a great (and very effective) tool for providing "evidence for God" (most atheists base their atheism not on any proof for atheism, but on what they claim to be the lack of evidence for God1, presenting them with evidence, then, is the best course to take when speaking with them). I enjoy sharing the kalam argument, online and in person, as it is a very quick, simple, and powerful argument. It also can withstand atheist critiques quite easily (as we saw in An Atheist Responds to the Kalam Argument... My Retort Follows and in Another Atheist Takes a Swing at Kalam as well as Dr. William Lane Craig's video (HERE) where he refutes the ten most common internet "pseudo-intellectual" objections).

    Today, for Catholic365, I take a look at another argument for the existence of God, the argument from there being something rather than nothing. It is a bit more complicated, but is logically airtight and requires one less premise (that the universe began to exist) than kalam. Interestingly, this argument shows us the necessity of God even if the universe was itself infinitely old. You can add this to your arsenal for the next time you run across someone ignorantly (and usually smugly) claiming "there is no proof for God).


    Gottfried von Leibniz, German philosopher and mathematician,  famously saw that the question of questions, the most fundamental, most important, most life-changing question of all was simply "why is there something rather than nothing?"1 From this simple question, Leibniz was able to demonstrate the existence of God. As his argument might not be as familiar as some others, I thought I might quickly review it here.... (read the rest at Catholic365)

    von Leibniz


    1. Ironically, this claim, even if true, would fail to establish atheism, as we saw here: Does Lack of Evidence for God Justify Atheism? 

    Friday, March 20, 2015

    Another Atheist Takes a Swing at Kalam (spoiler alert, this atheist's arguments are worse than the last one's)

    Another atheist has decided to step into the batter’s box and take a few swings at the Kalam argument apparently undaunted by the strike out a fellow of his just endured (you’ll forgive the baseball analogy, it is spring training and not all of us are college basketball fans). He’ll get the same treatment Diety Shmiety got - his original post in italics, my commentary in bold.

    This is a post responding to Nathan Baronthini's* blog post "The Heavens Proclaim the Greatness of God - A Look at the Kalam Argument"
    Nathan tries to mount a defense of the Kalaam cosmological argument as defended by William Lane Craig. He makes an arrogant proclamation at the end of his post that "the Kalam argument passes all three "tests," survives all objections, and definitively demonstrates the truth of its conclusion. In other words, Kalam has proven that God must necessarily exist. “
    Argumentum ad hominem to start things off and incapable of correctly spelling “kalam”? This isn’t looking promising… 
    Before I continue, I would like to object in the strongest terms to such declarations. Even William Lane Craig would not make such a bold assertion about the Kalaam, because in philosophy it is almost certain that there will always be objections and unknowns. People like Craig believe that the assumptions (I did say that) of the Kalaam are reasonable ones that we should accept, but that we cannot conclude absolute truths from his arguments. Craig would certainly not present any other argument if his argument was a sure thing. 
    Our author misunderstands the nature of a deductive argument which doesn’t simply supply probabilistic knowledge, but (if the argument passes the three tests I mention in the original post) provides certainty. The classic deductive syllogism:
    All men are mortal
    Socrates is a man
    Therefore Socrates is mortal
    doesn’t just give us a reasonable assumption, but has provided absolute certainty of the mortality of Socrates (as if his being dead for 24 centuries wasn’t enough!) 
    With that aside, my objections follow:
    A rocky start, but this might still get good… 
    " If we take a step back and consider what the universe is (all of space, time, and matter)"
    This is based on a poor understanding of what materialists mean when they refer to matter. Matter is not a collection of the particles we observe. Matter is the fundamental substance of reality. With that in mind the universe as defined by a materialist does not end at the boundary of spacetime, and thus the Kalaam is weakened to include only the observable universe. Nathan's universe is too small, just like the ancient cosmologists who thought that there was a ceiling beyond which heaven existed. The Kalaam is at least as effective at demonstrating that this fundamental material substance is the cause of the universe as it is at demonstrating that a god is, and it wins in the department of parsimony because it doesn't assume that the cause of the universe also had a fish and wine business in the ancient world. It also meets both causal requirements by being both an efficient and material cause.  
    Modern Big Bang Cosmology (and various philosophical arguments which we examined on the original post) demonstrate that the universe (and any multi-verse of which it is potentially a part of) have an absolute beginning from nothing. Or, to use our atheist friend’s terminology, “the fundamental substance of reality” didn’t exist 13.9 billion years ago. It must have a cause… you can finish the rest of the Kalam yourself which rolls on just as inevitably with the shifted terminology. The part about “a fish and wine business” is really beneath comment. Kalam doesn’t prove the divinity of Jesus because it doesn’t seek to. We are simply looking at an argument for theism, not for Christianity. 
    "As the cause created all of time, it must not be contained within time, therefore it must be eternal."
    Maybe I don't understand this bit, but something that seems to "exist" sans time (whatever that may mean) cannot be defined as eternal. It exists at no time. In other words it never exists. 
    A failure to understand the meaning of “eternal” might be the reason our atheist doesn’t understand this. Anything that is eternal must, by definition, exist “sans time.” Far from meaning that something eternal exists at no time, it means something eternal (i.e. not contained in time) exists at all times or, in other words it always exists. A simple dictionary could have supplied the deficiency here. But there’s more… 
    "As the cause created all of matter, it must not itself be material, therefore it must be immaterial. "
    If you understood materialism you would not make this argument. Materialists do not claim that material must be extended in space and exist in time. It just refers to the most basic substance of existence. The material that materialists refer to offers a perfectly valid explanatory framework for the existence of the universe, and although admittedly vague and fraught with conjecture, still relies on less assumption than positing a mind that "exists" somehow in the absence of time and space. 
    This is dealt with on the original post. I do wish people would bother reading before responding.
    "As the cause created the entire universe, it must be inconceivably, indeed all, powerful, therefore it must be omnipotent."
    I don't see how this follows. Do ants in an ant farm that become sentient reason that I, the creator of the antfarm must be all powerful and all knowing? At best I could know everything about the antfarm. What theists presuppose is that yahweh exists ultimately and uncaused, and this assertion is never defended except by sloppily pointing back to the theological definition for yahweh they have crafted, that manages to sneak in the presupposition that yahweh is uncaused even though the entity has not yet been demonstrated. 
    Again, no one (except our atheist friend) is discussing Christianity. Leaving that aside, I fail to see how concluding that the creator of an ant farm isn’t necessarily all powerful at all diminishes the unimaginable power that a cause would need to have to produce everything from nothing. This argument is like saying someone who lifts an automobile over his head isn’t strong because I can lift a beer can over mine and I’m not strong.
    "As the universe doesn't exist eternally with its cause (that is, the cause of the universe doesn't necessarily bring forth the universe), the cause must have a will, it must be personal. "
    This is based on the reasoning that something needs to decide for the universe to come into existence. However if we consider a realm that is timeless (if that is even possible) there would be no time at which such a decision could be made and so such a decision seems impossible and unnecessary. Proponents of the KCA ask us to rely on our intuition when it comes to things beginning to exist but to throw it out when we need to consider things that are supposed to be timeless but at once also be able to make decisions. 
    No one is asking anyone to rely on any intuition (I wonder if our friendly neighborhood atheist would like to cite my original post to show where I even mention intuition in any context - spoiler alert: I don’t) for anything. You see how he can’t answer the actual argument given and instead attacks this intuition nonsense. That coupled to still misunderstanding what it means for something to be eternal and we’ve got a nice "hot mess" here. 
    " Such a being is obviously what men mean when they speak of "God." "
    Of course he means yahweh, but he hasn't demonstrated that, so even if his argument succeeds, it fails to demonstrate that said being is yahweh. It is perfectly plausible that yahweh is a fiction and that the god that created the universe has nothing to do with it. Nathan comfortably ignores any alternate hypotheses in order to reason himself back to the conclusion he so confidently reaches in the final paragraph of his post. We are expected to believe that a god that creates the universe also asked middle eastern people to cut their genitals, which contradicts any kind of common sense. Unfortunately, this is the kind of thing people do when they try to do philosophy backwards. 
    If I meant YHWH, I’d have said so. This is nothing but a straw man. As I said above, kalam simply demonstrates the truth of theism, not of Christianity. Other arguments do that. 
    This is only a treatment of one of Nathan's paragraphs. I don't know if my objections succeed, and I will save any confident pronouncements and leave you, the reader, to make up your own mind. 
    With arguments like those, I’m not surprised he lacks confident pronouncements. 

    An Atheist Responds to the Kalam Argument... My Retort Follows

    As a response to my post on the Kalam Cosmological argument from earlier today, I was pointed to a post from the unfortunately named “Deity Shmeity” blog (unfortunate because the author, who posts on my Google + page from time to time, seems to be a well thought out and rational person, while the title suggests a childish “I just don’t want God to be true” mentality). Nevertheless, I thought I’d review it here, as he has been a good enough chap to comment on several things I’ve posted. My comments appear in bold. His post is in italics.

    At it’s heart, the cosmological argument for God says that anything that begins to exist must have a cause. Used in conjunction with the Big Bang Theory, apologists can rightly argue that our universe at least seems to have a point of origin and therefore a cause. As an atheist, I reject a supernatural creator that did not begin to exist...so, what caused the Big Bang? Well, I don’t know (which is a valid response.) I only know of scientifically informed options. Our first problem crops up rather early. Our atheist friend has, a priori and without any rational basis, determined only “scientifically informed options” will be considered. This proves false, as theism is, as the Kalam argument shows us, a “scientifically informed option.” God might not "fit in a test tube" but science and reason can demonstrate his necessary existence. What the author really means to say is “I only know of options that concord with my a priori atheistic assumptions." This will probably plague the rest of the post, but let’s see… 
    Quantum foam. I can’t explain this better than Lawrence Krauss so I prefer that you come back after reading the book A Universe from Nothing or after watching a relevant lecture. The best layman explanation I can provide is that “nothing” (the absence of conventional matter, energy, space & time) is an unstable state and quantum fluctuations will give rise to something--even the singularity that became our universe.
    This seeks to avoid the argument and the science. “Nothing” is “nothing,” not “an unstable state and quantum fluctuations.” Modern cosmology has shown us that literally nothing proceeded the Big Bang singularity. Nothing can’t be “unstable” and isn’t a “state.” It is simply “nothing”. The equivocation here is actually fairly humorous, in an Abbot and Costello sort of way. One can imagine a person turning to another and saying, “nothing can stop our team from winning the Super Bowl this year!” Comes the reply, “that’s too bad, I was hoping we’d win.” “But I said we would.” “No, you said we’d be stopped.” “No, I didn’t.” “You said ‘nothing’ would stop us.” As the joke demonstrates, “nothing” means “not anything,” it doesn’t mean “something, but with the absence of “conventional matter, energy, space & time." Our author has misunderstood the scientific evidence. In fact, this option, ironically, isn’t a “scientifically informed option.”

    Self-Causation. Violated causality is a logic no-no, however, it is a valid interpretation of quantum mechanics. If A can cause B which can cause A--then the first instants of the universe, while it was still at the quantum scale, could be it’s own catalyst. It’s counter-intuitive, but that’s the name of the quantum game and why we shouldn’t assume we know how things work at the literal dawn of time.
    This also misunderstands the science and was dealt with on my original Kalam post. So far we are 0-2 on an alternative explanation of the origin of the universe that could count as “scientifically informed.”
    Result of a Collapsing Star on a Higher Dimension. I'll be honest, astrophysics is even less my area than quantum mechanics. Read this.
    Ditto. 0-3.

    Result of a Multiversal Event. It has been theorized that bubble universes interacting could cause a new universe. Or a simulated universe could become complex enough to program a nested simulated universe. Or something. Theoretical physicist Brian Greene has suggested that there is a chance every mathematically possible universe exists.
    This is also dealt with on my original post. A multiverse would also need an absolute beginning as proven by scientist Alexander Vilenkin et al. 0-4 for “scientifically informed options.” 
    Big Bang/Big Crunch Cycle. It’s the idea that the universe expands then contracts back into a singularity which expands into a new universe. The cycle is an older hypothesis that is now less likely than once thought.
    Not merely “less likely than once thought” this theory has been rejected by scientists as it fails to explain the low entropy of our universe. 0-5. 
    The universe is essentially eternal and therefore causeless. Yes, there is a point of origin, but I’m not so sure we can regard the movement of time at it’s birth to our standards. For instance, if time moved exponentially slower the closer to it’s point of origin, the 13.8 billion years we think the universe has been around is only correct judging time from our perspective. In fact, it’s essentially eternal.
    0-6. The Big Bang theory isn’t predicated on the speed of time. Even a “slow moving” expansion, when reversed, would demand an absolute beginning. This option, aside from being unscientific, also is completely philosophically unsound as any eternal past time would lead to the absurdity of there being no today. It would lead to other absurdities as well. For example, the orbit of Saturn is more than twice as long as the orbit of Jupiter. Obviously, that means Jupiter will, as time moves forward, have made the trip ‘round the sun more and more than Saturn will have. To simplify the math, let’s same Jupiter takes 12 yrs to circle the sun (it does) and Saturn takes 24 (it actually takes 29). If Jupiter and Saturn have been circling the sun for 100 yrs, Jupiter will have made 8 full completions to Saturn’s 4. If they have been doing so for 200 years, Jupiter will have increased its “lead” even more, from 4 extra to 8 extra. Let’s suppose both have been orbiting from eternity. Jupiter must have a monstrous lead now, right? Wrong. They suddenly have made the exact same number of trips. Such is but one example of many possible examples. But, the fatal flaw of this option is logical. It is simply incoherent to say something has “a point of origin” but is “essentially eternal.” Our author is saying no more than, “the universe has a beginning and doesn’t have beginning.” 0-1 on rational explanations. 
    Magic. Theists draw upon the supernatural in support of their preferred god all the time, so I can just as easily suppose the supernatural as an option that abolishes the need for a god. I firmly believe there is a natural process that resulted in our universe, but even if there isn't, that doesn’t rule out that the supernatural process involved is unguided and spontaneous. Any argument against this can be dismissed with one word: magic.
    We’ve left any sense completely behind now. Why the “cause” must be what men naturally call God is dealt with on my original post. Sorry, but no argument can ever be rationally “dismissed with one word: magic.” Follow science and reason to see that our universe was caused by an eternal, omnipotent, personal, being is not, in any way, similar to stopping your ears (and logical faculties) and screaming “magic!” in the desperate hope that can refute an argument. Could the “supernatural process” of universal causation be “unguided and spontaneous?” No, as addressed on the original post. 0-2 for rational alternatives. Sadly, this is the only possible alternative for atheists - an abandonment of reason and science to believe “something in spite of the evidence.” 
    *Events that precede space and time are nonsensical to our experience. Some of the above options require both a time-like dimension and a space-like dimension independent of our universe, but then so would an eternal deity.
    This grossly misunderstands what theists mean by “an eternal deity.” In fact, it grossly misunderstands what anyone means by “eternal” (which doesn’t require a “time-like dimension” but is exactly the absence of any such dimension). Ditto for space-like. 
    **If you understand the latest in quantum mechanics or cosmology or theoretical physics, please comment with citations. I’ll gladly update this post with more accurate information.
    I believe there are citations backing up my original post nevertheless, I highly doubt this will actually happen.

    Such, we see, are the mental contortions one must be willing to abide to support an a priori atheist position. The original argument stands. The universe has a beginning, thus a cause. Nothing on this post suggests the universe is either eternal or that it lacks a cause. Rather all we have is a "throw enough stuff against the wall and hope something sticks. If nothing sticks say it is 'magic'." Sadly, for atheism, nothing here sticks at all, which means he can either accept the argument or abandon science and reason, either explicitly (by declaring himself an atheistic fideist) or implicitly (by refusing to accept the conclusion of an argument when you can't refute any of the premises).