Concern from within the Flock

knock knock jesusIn response to an open letter written to him by an atheist named Dr. Eugenio Scalfari, Pope Francis urged him and those who do not believe in God to follow their own conscience:

“First of all, you ask if the God of the Christians forgives those who do not believe and do not seek faith. Given that—and this is fundamental—God’s mercy has no limits if he who asks for mercy does so in contrition and with a sincere heart, the issue for those who do not believe in God is in obeying their own conscience. In fact, listening and obeying it, means deciding about what is perceived to be good or to be evil.”

Technically, the pope didn’t chart any new territory here, but the absence of any caveat from him that atheists also need to become sincere and contrite theists to receive God’s mercy and forgiveness has been met with concern from within the flock.

Patrick Archbold, for example, wrote, “Is it too late for me to become an atheist? Do I have sign somewhere? Pope Francis has told us that all that is needed for atheists to get to heaven is to follow their own malformed consciences. I really wish I knew this earlier. I would have avoided a lifetime of difficult Truths in favor of my conscience. My old unformed conscience, it turns out, was fairly forgiving of many things. That seems much easier.”

Taking a different approach, Jimmy Akin assured his readers that the pope did not actually say that those who do not believe in God can be saved.

In the sense that the pope didn’t use those exact works, Akin is correct, but the fact that Pope Francis didn’t use the word “saved” is irrelevant.  Pope Francis encourages people who do not believe in God to follow their own conscience because obedience to (a well-formed) conscience is, according to him, the means by which one develops a contrite and sincere heart capable of receiving mercy and forgiveness.  That’s what matters.  That’s what salvation means: a graceful heart in loving communion with others.

As for Archbold, I would remind him that the Christian life is about living in the abundance of grace. If he really believes that salvation can be received only by those who got the right stamp on their passport and haven’t lost it or thrown it away, then he’s missing the point. The Christian life isn’t about doing the minimum. It’s about participating in the overflowing love life of love itself–emphasis on overflowing.

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92 thoughts on “Concern from within the Flock

  1. Nice, Kyle.

    I think I might grow to like this Pope. But we’ll see how he treats women first, ehh? Leadership roles in the church? Right to contraception? These things matter a great deal.

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  2. Francis is going to break the church, if he hasn’t already. Jeez he acts like Christ, as did his namesake. I can’t see this being tolerated.

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  3. I have a number of sour things that I’m tempted to say concerning Mr. Archbold, but shall restrain myself. Suffice to say that I dispute his assumption that an atheist’s conscience is necessarily “malformed.”

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  4. I want to like the Pope’s remarks, and I am sympathetic to the approach that reminds that we cannot know God’s ways and that we are to work out our own salvation with fear and trembling. But I am also mindful of Paul’s teaching that “what can be known about God is plain within them because God made it plain to them… [being] clearly perceived from the created world, being intellectually apprehended from the things that have been made… so that they are without excuse.” And that “knowing God,” all men “suppress the truth in unrighteousness.”

    http://www.cmfnow.com/articles/PA207.htm

    Given the wide array of tools with which modernity supplies to perpetrate self-deception and to elevate the self above all else, I have trouble signing on to Francis’s remarks about following one’s conscience. The conscience points to a material world, which points to God. Yet, goes the Confucian proverb, “when the finger points at the moon, the idiot looks at the finger.” Having deified the conscience, modernity no longer looks at God, and indeed has lost even its justification for reality itself. The Church should not bend its knee.

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    • The conscience points to a material world, which points to God.

      Well, that’s quite a claim. Those who most closely study the material world, who understand it best, are, on average, signifcantly less likely to believe in God (or gods) than those who know it more superficially. We could, I suppose, conclude from this that they have malformed consciences, but that seems a bit question-begging. Assuming God is real, it is at least an interesting question as to whether, or perhaps why, God has hidden his hand in nature so thoroughly that the more closely we look for it the less likely we are to see it.

      And with all due respect to Paul, he probably knew less about the created/material world than anyone reading this thread (through no fault of his own), so he may not be the most authoritative voice on the matter.

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      • As C.D. Broad is purported to have said, “the nonsense written by philosophers on scientific matters is exceeded only by the nonsense written by scientists on philosophy.” No number of butterflies pinned to a corkboard could ever amount to a metaphysical explanation for anything.

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      • This quip reminds me of Deepak Chopra. Scientists may have written nonsense about metaphysics. Philosophers may have written nonsense about science. But Chopra managed to write nonsense about both, simultaneously, and made beaucoup bucks in the process.

        Which goes to show that truth isn’t always found in the marketplace, either.

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      • Well, Tim, that’s not actually a responsive argument. If the material world clearly points the way to God, it’d be a bit surprising–directly counter to the way all other fields of knowledge work–that it did so most clearly for those who see the material world least clearly, and least clearly for those who see the material world least clearly. For your claim to be persuasive, It’s not necessary that scientists become adept at either philosophy or theology, just that they see God in the world. That they mostly do not is counter-evidence against which Briad’s quip is mere hand-waving.

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      • It is directly responsive to your assumption that scientists “see the material world [most] clearly,” a claim I consider false or at least unsupported, with respect to the manner in which we’re talking about “seeing” the world. Indeed, one cannot see a material world without first having certain metaphysical precommitments, e.g., that there is a material/external world, that our senses furnish sufficiently reliable data about it, that it behaves in an orderly way governed by causality, that the future will resemble the past, etc. Scientists — taken in the narrow modern sense — cannot account for the metaphysical preconditions to do science. A “metaphysics” of pure science would at best reduce to eliminative materialism, though I think even this is optimistic.

        At any rate, this is why, roughly stated, I disagree that scientists qua scientists see the world “more clearly” than anyone else.

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      • Tim,
        That sounds awfully close to claiming that to properly see the material (natural) world, one must first believe in the supernatural world (must have the “right” metaphysical beliefs), which would, of course, mean you are wholly begging the question of whether it is the material/natural world that is pointing us toward God (or whether it is in fact the other way around).

        But the idea that non-scientists see the world as clearly as scientists? That’s pretty straightforward poppycock, of the kind only someone who doesn’t talk to scientists much could believe. For various odd reasons, most of my best friends among my colleagues are biologists, chemists, and geologists. Their understanding of the material–natural–physical–world dramatically eclipses that of philosophers and theologians, all of whom have given it far less study. To suggest that others might see that world more clearly is to argue that less study of something allows you to understand it better than more study of it.

        Is that a principle you’re willing to generalize (could I actually have a clearer view of Catholoc theology than you? surely that’s silly)? But if you don’t generalize it, if it applies only in this instance, then you are making an extraordinary claim that requires a considerably more developed logic to support it.

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      • , I think you’re both talking about seeing different things. I know what you’re seeing; there’s a real world out there to study, to wonder at, to be amazed by.

        I have no idea what Tim sees. But his world, what he calls ‘the real world,’ is only hinted at in this graf: Given the wide array of tools with which modernity supplies to perpetrate self-deception and to elevate the self above all else, I have trouble signing on to Francis’s remarks about following one’s conscience. The conscience points to a material world, which points to God. Yet, goes the Confucian proverb, “when the finger points at the moon, the idiot looks at the finger.” Having deified the conscience, modernity no longer looks at God, and indeed has lost even its justification for reality itself. The Church should not bend its knee.

        I’d suggest what he ‘sees’ as real is self deception, “modernity no longer looks at God, and indeed has lost even its justification for reality itself.”

        In his vision, there is nothing real if it is not seen through the lens of his particular set of beliefs. Any other lens for considering reality seems. . . suspect.

        Sadly, he then goes on to do do the thing he condemns ‘modernity’ for doing; he elevates himself and his church above others, “The Church should not bend its knee.”

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      • Zic,
        That may be. Tim and I usually do fail to understand each other on these things. But he does say the material world points toward God, but then it seems as if it only does so if one assumes God, in which case it’s all begged as to whether it’s really the material world pointing at God or God pointing at God (if indirectly). That is, it seems as though perhaps one only sees God in the material world if one already sees God, which isn’t really saying much.

        And while it might seem I was arguing against the existence of God when I said, “Assuming God is real, it is at least an interesting question as to whether, or perhaps why, God has hidden his hand in nature so thoroughly that the more closely we look for it the less likely we are to see it'” I was actually serious. It can be blamed on the anti-supernaturalistic mindset of most scientists, but that doesn’t explain why God seemingly has chosen not to make such close study more likely than not to result in a change away from that mindset (and of course for some scientists it does, but only for a small minority). I think that’s a valid theological question. Maybe someone has addressed it. But, “their metaphysical presuppositions are wrong” doesn’t suffice in itself, because it either improperly claims an omnipotent God is constrained by their presuppositions (which I can’t actually imagine Tim claiming), or it assumes that God had chosen not to have close inspection of the world normally blast those assumptions to smithereens. Since the latter seems the necessary conclusion, it naturally leads to the question, “why has He chosen so”? That is a fair theological question, onevthat–like so many–stems from observation ofvthe world (just like, “why is there suffering,” although perhaps not as crucial to address). it’s not intended as a gotcha by any means.

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      • Thank you, James, that’s helpful.

        I laughed pretty hard at this whole thread; dark humor, I know. But at the end of the day, we each have our assumptions about what ‘the real world’ actually is.

        I don’t know about you; but I do know that I’ve tried mind-altering substances that suggest just how easy it is to see a reality nobody else sees. I watched a young friend, who we later learned hat a brain tumor, say for two years, “the sky is orange.” At some point, it becomes critical to make sure we’re talking about looking at the same things when we discuss reality and the meaning of.

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      • Zic,
        I think I may be a bit confusing because I’m an agnostic creeping ever nearer to atheism who often scoffs at theological argument, but who is also a former devout Christian and religion major who often takes theological argument seriously from the perspective of, “when I was a believer, and were I stil…” I don’t blame anyone who, like Tim, has known me for a while, for assuming the first when I’m actually doing the second. It’s my responsibility to signal clearly.

        As to mind altering substances, no, because I’ve always felt that mentally I’ve had a fragile enough hold on reality that I didn’t dare risk it. That’s no judgement of others, just fear that I might not be able to handle what some people apparently can.

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      • I don’t think what Tim’ saying implies, without knowing Tim’s own views, that one must believe in the supernatural world to properly see the natural world, but I do think what he’s saying undercuts the assertion that the material world points to God. That is, while if one adopts a metaphysics from a particular set of metaphysics, then the material world certainly does point to God, but that’s because the metaphysics that shape how we see the material world cause it to do so. The metaphysics is doing the real pointing. And I think it’s safe to assume that Tim has adopted a metaphysics from that set.

        If we adopt a metaphysics from another set, then the material world points elsewhere entirely, if it points at all.

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      • My tastes in metaphysics are not exotic. For purposes of this discussion, I adopt the Aristotelian-Thomistic conception, as explicated by Ed Feser in his books Aquinas and The Last Superstition. That conception, or variants of it, was widespread among both philosophers and scientists until Descartes and modern philosophy made a mess of things. Even today, the A-T conception is merely ignored or, worse, reified as a strawman for mindless kicking. Yet no non-ridiculous alternative has been presented to take its place, which is why Darwinism, of all things, is now regarded as philosophy. As philosopher Thomas Nagel wrote:

        o I speak from experience, being strongly subject to this fear myself: I want atheism to be true and am made uneasy by the fact that some of the most intelligent and well-informed people I know are religious believers. It isn’t just that I don’t believe in God and, naturally, hope that I’m right in my belief. It’s that I hope there is no God! I don’t want there to be a God; I don’t want the universe to be like that. My guess is that this cosmic authority problem is not a rare condition and that it is responsible for much of the scientism and reductionism of our time. One of the tendencies it supports is the ludicrous overuse of evolutionary biology to explain everything about human life, including everything about the human mind.

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      • I thought I remembered you being a Thomist of sorts (though didn’t I see you espousing some sort of I.D., or am I mis-remembering?), but I don’t know how to respond to someone who says that all alternatives to a peripatetic metaphysics are “ridiculous.” I imagine this is true, from the Aristotelian perspective, but most philosophies end up that way, so that sometimes one has to take at least a small step outside of one’s own perspective in order to evaluate things.

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      • It is directly responsive to your assumption that scientists “see the material world [most] clearly,” a claim I consider false or at least unsupported, with respect to the manner in which we’re talking about “seeing” the world.

        Science has a pretty solid track record as far as seeing the world goes. If physicists were more than slightly wrong about relativity, GPS wouldn’t work. Equally if scientific knowledge of quantum physics were more than a little off the devices we are using to communicate wouldn’t work. You can tell you know something about reality because you can do one of two things with that knowledge:
        1) You can describe a feature of reality you can’t currently see. This counts as a win only when you later find out you are right.
        2) You can manipulate the world in a way that would be unlikely to work reliably if you were wrong. For example, if you know that many diseases are caused by bacteria, you can use that knowledge to find a drug that will kill the bacteria. After all, it is most unlikely that injecting people with a mild poison would be a sensible solution if the germ theory of disease was wrong.

        What knowledge has metaphysics generated? What predictions have metaphysicists or theologians gotten right? What works have their knowledge enabled? Science (and the modernity it has enabled) has proven it deserves to be taken seriously, I haven’t seen the same from Aristotelian-Thomism.

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      • What knowledge has metaphysics generated? What predictions have metaphysicists or theologians gotten right? What works have their knowledge enabled? Science (and the modernity it has enabled) has proven it deserves to be taken seriously, I haven’t seen the same from Aristotelian-Thomism.

        I’m not sure I disagree, either with this blockquoted part or any other part of your comment. But for a lot of people, there is more to life than predicting the future or conquering/channeling nature to our own ends. Not that I’m against prediction or channeling nature, just that at the end of the day, there are other things, too. I, personally, have a hard time believing that the material is all, or if it is all, that it is as knowable and isolateable as some materialists claim.


        All that said, I don’t necessarily think that looking at the material world compels a belief in god. In fact, from a certain posture, one that assumes a fallen world, we might expect the material world to point away from a belief in God. Also, if god truly is supernatural–i.e., beyond nature–then looking at the material world–i.e., nature–would seem less likely not reveal god, unless he has intervened to disturb it somehow. Most Christians, I understand, believe he has, at least once, with the incarnation. But if those interventions are true facts, then they are disturbances in the material world and not necessarily something logically discerned in the material world.

        I’m on shaky ground here, not knowing either my metaphysics, my theology, or my physics all that well. But that’s how I tend to see things.

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      • That conception, or variants of it, was widespread among both philosophers and scientists until Descartes and modern philosophy made a mess of things. Even today, the A-T conception is merely ignored or, worse, reified as a strawman for mindless kicking. Yet no non-ridiculous alternative has been presented to take its place,

        It’s hard to even know how to address a statement like this. The claim that only A-T metaphysics is “non-ridiculous” is another extraordinary statement that requires extraordinary support, but instead is just left as an assertion absent any evidence or logic. The idea that metaphysics was figured out “correctly” (if such a concept is even meaningful for a non-testable area of study) on pretty much the first go-round and in the 700+ years since Aquinas, much less the 2300 or so years since Aristotle, is rather mind-boggling. It suggests that metaphysics is not a field where knowledge is cumulative, where we can’t really build on what comes before, so that in later years we can confidently claim to have advanced knowledge (even if by standing on the shoulders of giants, as A and T surely are). This essentially damns metaphysics as not being a meaningful area of human inquiry–we don’t need to further consider it, we just need to accept the argument from authority and memorize it as rote learning.

        And of course it lumps in as “ridiculous” the concepts of testability, repeatability and predictability. I find that beyond astonishing. It seems as though Tim wholly rejects the enlightenment. He is truly a medeivalist, perhaps. If do, it would explain essentially all the disagreements he and I have had in the past. I admit that I find contemporary medevialists confounding. They live in a world where they are wholly reliant on, and implicitly trusting of, the intellectual products of the enlightenment, from their cars to their heaters and air conditioners to their foods and medicines, even to the structural engineering of their church buildings, all of which are independent of knowledge of or even belief in God, all derived from a metaphysical perspective he derides as “ridiculous.”

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      • ,
        Also, if god truly is supernatural–i.e., beyond nature–then looking at the material world–i.e., nature–would seem less likely not reveal god, unless he has intervened to disturb it somehow.

        Being supernatural does not mean God is separate from the natural world. He did create it, after all (assuming God, of course), and being omnipresent is often taken to mean he’s not just always present to us (mystically), but that the natural world is imbued with God’s very essence, that he literally is present in every tree, mountain, and fluffy bunny, just as much as he is present in each person (whether we are willing to recognize him within us or not). Literally nothing exists apart from God: he is in everything and everything is within him. It’s from that perspective that the natural world presumably points toward God, because when you look at the natural world you are seeing God’s work, even seeing God Himself, if you only have eyes to see.

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      • Science is engaged in its own forms of Pointing, if not towards God, towards some unifying principle. Let’s attempt to find some common ground.

        “And what is the saint doing in the forest?” asked Zarathustra.

        The saint answered: ‘I make songs and sing them; and when I make songs, I laugh, cry, and hum: thus I praise God. With singing, crying, laughing, and humming, I praise the god who is my god. But what do you bring us as a gift?”

        When Zarathustra had heard these words he bade the saint farewell and said: “What could I have to give I you? But let me go quickly lest I take something from you!” And thus they separated, the old one and the man, laughing as two boys laugh.

        But when Zarathustra was alone he spoke thus to his heart: “Could it be possible? This old saint in the forest has not yet heard anything of this, that God is dead!”

        God is not quite dead, so long as Man believes in him. The star does not shine that we may appreciate its beauty, as Zarathustra said. But the star does shine, converting hydrogen to helium and all the other elements. And Man does observe its beauty, standing on the back porch at 2:00 in the morning, as I do. Their organisations are arbitrary, Standing in the dark, I mentally recite the names of Orion’s stars, Betelgeuse, Rigel, Mintaka, Bellatrix, Saif, Al Nilam, Al Nitak. If it comforts me to recite their names and if their light is ages old, I saw them not six hours ago.

        The material world points to something for we are part of that world and it’s we who do the pointing, the naming, the remembering. I don’t believe in some idiot God made by the hands of men. I point. If the saint praises God and Zarathustra thinks God is dead, I am not afflicted with the sort of hubris which thinks the stars shine for my enjoyment.

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      • James,
        ” he does say the material world points toward God, but then it seems as if it only does so if one assumes God, in which case it’s all begged as to whether it’s really the material world pointing at God or God pointing at God (if indirectly). That is, it seems as though perhaps one only sees God in the material world if one already sees God, which isn’t really saying much.”

        Our world’s innate simplicity (and discreteness) points strongly towards it being a simulation. If one does not see the echoes of a clockmaker god in that, it is not the material world’s fault.

        Of course, this god need not be merciful, or forgiving — and probably does not have an afterlife of any variety.

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      • What you’re describing strikes me more as pantheism, which seems to me distinct from the type of theism I’m talking about, but maybe my philosophy 101 understanding of the terms is carrying more weight than it can bear.

        I do suspect that many forms of Christianity evince a separation between god and nature, although perhaps a separation that can be breached. Otherwise, why would god have to become incarnate, as most Christians believe, if s/he was already present in nature? I also think that the immanent presence of god in nature, which you seem to be describing (correct me if I’m wrong), would mean that god and nature are one and the same, and that god is bound by natural laws and that miracles are therefore impossible.

        I’m not so much trying to proselytize a certain vision (I lean toward a belief in theism, but I’m not there yet) as to suggest that the supernaturality of god can mean separation from nature. However, I haven’t really thought about it in the terms you describe, so maybe it can also mean an immanence in nature.

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      • Pierre,
        No, definitely not pantheistic. There are not different spirits or gods out there, nor is nature itself some sort of god. It’s just that God’s essence imbues the whole world, nothing is truly separate from God.

        Granted there are strains of Christianity that emphasize a divorce between God and the material world as a consequence of the fall, and that Satan has dominion over the earth. But even they will usually agree that God is visible in creation (just look at that rainbow–God’s sign!).

        As to the incarnation, that’s just a manifestation of God done for the benefit of man. It wasn’t really to bridge the gap between natural and supernatural, but so that we limited beings could more easily see.

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      • Aitch,

        I’ll guess I’ll have to brush up on the definition of pantheism, which I used to think meant god’s immanence in nature. At least, that was how I interpreted the 5-page excerpt of Spinoza I read in philosophy 101. (In my adult life, I’ve never really understood the term to mean many gods.) I did just go to wikipedia, and the definition there seems to agree more with you than with what I had in mind.

        To me, though, the claim that god is visible in the world, but is not nature itself, implies a separation, at least enough so that natural laws can be known empirically and the god can be known only partially through empirical means (which is not the point I began with, but I think it doesn’t necessarily contradict the point you brought up).

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      • PC, I think what distinguishes it from pantheism is that God is not himself the natural world, nor is the natural world synonymous with God. While God is within the material of the world, He is more than that, and exists outside that world as well. He is immanent in nature; he is not nature. If that happens to clarify. Part of the difficulty with theology is that it always ends up having to try to use logic to explain mysteries, struggling to explicate the inexplicable.

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    • I’ve most typically advanced Van Til’s presuppositional arguments, but so far as I can tell it’s compatible with the A-T view.

      I’m agnostic on ID. On the one hand, I have no problem with science making certain materialistic assumptions for the purpose of doing science in the narrow view. On the other hand, like Feser, I’m troubled by the modern view of science that adopts a narrow view of materialism and at the same time rejects all other means of acquiring knowledge. It both thinks too highly of materialism and too little of everything else. A terrible form of taking one’s ball and going home, and taking everyone else’s ball on the way. Science used to be broad-minded, not just high-minded.

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      • We probably have pretty similar views of science, despite having pretty different metaphysics.

        I haven’t spent much time thinking about Van Til, but I do wonder how he deals with Aristotle. Though what’s the old quote saying, in essence, that Plato was an unconscious (or proto, or some form of maybe vestigial Christian)?

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      • The problem with all other forms of knowledge is they’re non-demonstrable. I can demonstrate to another person an empirical discovery in a way that compels them to belief (as long as they’re being intellectually honest). I can’t demonstrate to another person a reveation from God in a way that similarly compels belief. Even if the revelation is true, unless God also reveals it to them an intellectually honest person is unable to distinguish between the truth values of my revelation and another person’s delusion. This makes this kind of knowledge very limited. Philosophy and logic are better than revelation, if inferior in this way to empiricism, but then you’ll be hard pressed to find a scientist who totally discounts philosophy and logic.

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      • Aitch,

        I think I agree. I don’t really believe that my metaphysics ought to convince anyone (in part because I simply don’t know how to argue or elucidate them). The best I can do is explain, and maybe try to demonstrate how it works for me in everyday application. I find C. S. Lewis’s apologetics very compelling, for example. They do not convince me on a logical level (I find his trilemma argument and his literary-critical “proof” for the veracity of the gospels to be unconvincing intellectually), but they seem to explain a lot in my daily life. Every single person’s mileage on those apologetics varies, however, and I don’t expect his apologetics to be compelling.

        I don’t think it’s necessarily a question of “revelation” vs. “empiricism/verifiability,” although it is partly that. Part of it is the power of story and framing a narrative about life and meaning, something that is probably subjective, but doesn’t rely on revelation in the same way as, for example, the claim that the sun revolves around the earth because the Bible says so. If that is an argument by revelation, it’s a recourse to revelation that invites the reader or interlocutor to take part and experience where the one sharing the experience is coming from. (I admit I probably sound like a raging postmodernist, but that’s not my goal.)

        When I said I had reservations about “the claims that are made in the name of science,” I should have said I had reservations about some of the value and metaphysical statements some people claim science compels. It’s the type of claim that says “because the universe is so vast, therefore god doesn’t exist,” or the Hitchens-ite “march of reason” claims, in which history ended and began sometime around the birth of Voltaire. Or Carl Sagan’s argument in one of the “Cosmos” episodes that ancient philosophy was going along just fine until the “idealists” took over are directed people’s attention away from the empirical, as if they were just a bunch of ogres who wanted to stop us from exploring space even sooner than we did. (Don’t get me wrong, I like “Cosmos,” but it evinces sometimes a very militant materialism-is-all bias.)

        Perhaps it’s not even scientists who as a rule do this, and I admit that I sometimes subscribe to caricatures of scientists based on the (very few) I have known. And to be fair, the offenses against intellectual honesty from those on the metaphysics side (including me, sometimes) are too numerous to count.

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      • ” the claim that the sun revolves around the earth because the Bible says so. If that is an argument by revelation, it’s a recourse to revelation that ”

        Ack….antecedent!!! By “if that is an argument by revelation,” I meant “if the use of story is an argument by revelation” not “if the claim the sun revolves around the earth because the Bible says so is an argument by revelation.”

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      • Well, there are methods of obtaining knowledge other than science (which we’ll take as a broad term for empirical investigation, encompassing experiments, brute force matching like they use with computers and genome mapping, survey methods like they use in biological field work or looking at areas of distant space, the sorts of theoretical work that many physicists do, etc.) and personal revelation. If there weren’t, we wouldn’t have any mathematicians.

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      • Part of it is the power of story and framing a narrative

        But this is so very problematic, as we now know the power of story and narrative to compel belief in what is demonstrably false. I can’t accept this as a way of “knowing.”

        Re: scientists. Yes, they’re as human as anyone else, as subject to the Dunning-Krueger phenomenon, or simply just as likely to be assholes. And just as capable of abusing the authority of science as others are of abusing the authority of revelation. Not science, not philosophy, not religion, ensures righteousness.

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      • Pascal: “Faith indeed tells what the senses do not tell, but not the contrary of what they see. It is above them and not contrary to them.”

        Where science speaks, religion ought to listen. But science does not have the answers to our deeper questions: how ought we to treat each other, who are we in the larger context of a world where good is not always rewarded nor sin punished.

        Science has no quarrel with faith. It’s to religion’s lasting shame that it’s quarrelled with science but that’s of no consequence. Facts remain facts, let all the world’s doctrinaire idiots yammer against them. In a sense, the scientific method shares one thing with faith: doubt. For without doubt, we should never question. Without a better question, we shall never have a better, more complete answer.

        Science trusts no conclusion beyond the terms of the experiment. Yet both the scientist and the saint walk by faith and not by sight, doubting everything.

        Pascal also said the great men are concerned with the ordinary and the ordinary people with the extraordinary. What does it matter if Christians believe in Sin and a Day of Judgment? We believe God will judge, not men. If the world understands the concept of justice and the faithful extrapolate that justice, reifying it into a Just God, is that such a stretch? The parables of Christ are full of judges, including an unjust judge,

        “There was a certain judge in a certain town who did not fear God and did not respect people. And there was a widow in that town, and she kept coming to him, saying, ‘Grant me justice against my adversary!’ And he was not willing for a time, but after these things he said to himself, ‘Even if I do not fear God or respect people, yet because this widow is causing trouble for me, I will grant her justice, so that she does not wear me down in the end by her coming back!’”

        And the Lord said, “Listen to what the unrighteous judge is saying! And will not God surely see to it that justice is done to his chosen ones who cry out to him day and night, and will he delay toward them? I tell you that he will see to it that justice is done for them soon! Nevertheless, when the Son of Man comes, then will he find faith on earth?”

        Odd conclusion to that parable. Will faith remain while we wait for justice? We must believe in justice and mercy, we must be filled with grace and peace. We must be the change we want to see in the world, for the world neither fears God nor respects the people.

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      • Pierre, one thing Tim and I agree on is that scientists tend to do philosophy really poorly. I saw this a lot when, in the middle of the last decade, Dawkins (who does philosophy as bad as it is possible to do it) made it popular among many scientists to wax philosophical. You ended up with a lot of vulgar positivists who sounded like A.J. Ayer meets the Discovery Channel. But it goes way back to the split between science and philosophy sometime between the late 18th and mid-19th century.

        Also, what about the trilemma speaks to you? Every time I hear it raised, I think, “What about the 4th option? That he didn’t say that at all?”

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      • Ya know Tim, I was gonna write something sympathetic to your views re: the Nagel quote you posted. I didn’t at the time, but Nagel’s comments made two important claims, I think, both of which deserve some consideration.

        The first is the continuing desire to reduce all aspects of human life and the mind to a materialism based on genetics and evolution. I’ve never been a big fan of that pursuit, myself, but I get why people are intent on attempting to explain all this stuff in not only material terms, but also in the terms of science’s most profound theories. I think the project fails (or has, so far), but lots of people disagree that the current failures necessarily mean the project is hopeless. And that strikes as correct. I mean, I don’t think one can construct a sound argument for the conclusion that it’s impossible for science explain, or provide and account of, or even analyze all of human behavior in purely materialistic theoretical terms. So he’s right about that to some extent.

        The other claim he makes is a gesture at the intractability of the mind/body problem, and that accepting that the problem is intractable leads to a form of dualism which can’t be explained or accounted by our current theories of matter and the brain. (Chris undoubtedly knows more about this than I do, so he’s encouraged to correct all the things I’m getting wrong.) So Nagel accepts some form of dualism (and I do too). The sticky part is that his dualism isn’t based on presupposing a metaphysics, it seems to me, but derives from his epistemological arguments about first person awareness and subjectivity. So the point I’d make about Nagel as it relates to your views is that he’s not arguing for any particular metaphysical stuff ought there which exists beyond the scope of science. It seems to me he’s arguing something weaker: that there are facts (true claims) which science cannot provide an account of.

        I think all that’s consistent with much of what you’re arguing – both the theistic arguments as well as the rejection of science arguments – but I don’t think his views take you all the way there.

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      • Also, what about the trilemma speaks to you? Every time I hear it raised, I think, “What about the 4th option? That he didn’t say that at all?”

        Yes, this. The trilemma assumes an empirical fact that we cannot know with certainty.

        But perhaps the way out is to drop it down one level to his followers? That they were deluded (or confused, to be nicer), that they purposefully deceived others, or that they are right about his divinity? Does that save it at all?

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      • “Also, what about the trilemma speaks to you? Every time I hear it raised, I think, “What about the 4th option? That he didn’t say that at all?””

        Actually, I must’ve wrote my comment very poorly. The trilemma doesn’t speak to me at all. To your 5th option, I’ll add my 5th: that he might have been sometimes crazy and sometimes sane; and my 6th: that he might have had mixed motives, both good and megalomania, for example; and my 7th: that in a hellenistic world where mystery religions were becoming popular, it wasn’t as unlikely as Lewis supposes that a Jewish person in Judea might have been exposed to some non-monotheistic ideas.

        “But this is so very problematic, as we now know the power of story and narrative to compel belief in what is demonstrably false. I can’t accept this as a way of ‘knowing.'”

        I’ll certainly agree it’s problematic, but I think it’s something we all engage in and it’s a way we all know at least certain things. Every nonbeliever I’ve known who’s taken the time to explain to me their nonbelief has not relied solely on facts and logic, they have relied on a narrative on how those facts and logic worked on that nonbeliever.

        I’m running up against my ability to explain clearly what I mean (which is probably why I study the humanities and not economics or poli sci!). So I guess I’m at a point where I just have to agree to disagree with you, at least unless or until I can figure out a way to say what I mean.

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      • Still, I did see that, and I thought about saying something, but I basically agree with what you said, and didn’t think, “You are correct, sir” would add much to a good discussion.

        You’re right about Nagel’s dualism: it’s not a metaphysical, or perhaps more accurately, not an ontological dualism. It doesn’t posit any non-physical stuff. It is a metaphysical position, though, in the contemporary sense of the term, in that the mind-body problem is largely considered to be a problem of metaphysics.

        I haven’t read Nagel’s latest book, which has been celebrated by some anti-evolution folks, but I doubt he’s deviating much from his property dualism in there. Nagel’s contributions to philosophy are twofold: moral luck and the impenetrability of first-person experience, which he didn’t so much recognize as provide a really good illustration (the bat). I don’t think either points you in any theological direction, and neither says a whole lot about science other than what I assume many non-dualists would admit: there’s something unique about first-person experience in the realm of nature that may not be amenable to direct scientific observation (which is not to say that we can’t make certain inferences about it via heterophenomenology). If his latest book goes further in a critique of science, I’d be surprised if it had anything that would amount to a lasting, original contribution to metaphysics or the philosophy of science. The only people who seem to think it does are people who already agreed with it, suggesting that they’re wrong by definition.

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      • Thanks Chris.

        And it’s nice to know that you agree with my take on Nagel. It’s been a long time since I read his stuff and I sometimes feel like my memory has a few screws loose. Not that that’s a bad thing!

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    • “Given the wide array of tools with which modernity supplies to perpetrate self-deception and to elevate the self above all else, ….”

      I wouldn’t blame it all on modernity. Doesn’t (most) Christianity hold that we live in a fallen world in which, at least since Adam and Eve, people have indulged in self-deception and elevated the self above all else?

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      • , I’m not sure I feel qualified to do a “review” of Feser, but I might try to work up a post summarizing The Last Superstition, which makes the argument about modernity (beginning with the “father” of modernity, Descartes) mucked up classical philosophy. Of course, original sin plays a role. Perhaps there is an analogy to be drawn between classical philosophy and the Tower of Babel?

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      • Maybe, I haven’t read or even heard of Feser. I just get very suspicious when people invoke “modernity” as if “it” were a giant rupture from history. I don’t usually know what most people mean by “modernity,” although the fault for that lies at least as much as, if not more than, with me.

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    • But for a lot of people, there is more to life than predicting the future or conquering/channeling nature to our own ends. Not that I’m against prediction or channeling nature, just that at the end of the day, there are other things, too.

      Indeed there are, there’s love and beauty and friendship and happiness. Those things are very important, but I was addressing the question of what we can know, and when talking about knowledge I point back to the definitions in my previous comment. If you feel there is an aspect of knowledge I have missed I’d be interested in hearing about it, and how this form of knowledge can be distinguished from ignorance which is a problem I have with metaphysics.

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      • I’ve been thinking a bit about this dispute, and the best I can come up with is this: science has indeed led to some great results, and pragmatically speaking, no other theory has been able to sustain that type of explanatory power revealed in practice.

        I think everyone agrees with that, to a certain extent. I theory about spirituality won’t build you a better toaster. So the dispute, in some sense, resolves to whether or not you believe that science provides a complete description of reality, or that other theories that aren’t inconsistent with science have something to offer. Lots of sciency people discount alternate frameworks for viewing people precisely because they’re not scientific. But that’s a bit circular, no?

        Other theories – about human kindness or Kyle’s theories (views?) about spirituality, have something to say about the total picture of human life. Tim said as much as well in Kyle’s recent post. I tend to agree with them, even tho I’m a strong advocate for science and scientific thinking in general.

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      • That it turns out an institution that is basically built to measure things does better at building and predicting things based on measurements should come as no surprise to anyone. That doing these things has a great deal of practical value, particularly with respect to control of the natural world, shouldn’t either. That some people continue to believe that a particular type of causal relations, along with quantitative measurement, does not exhaust the whole of being, even people who are not theists, seems unsurprising as well.

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      • That some people continue to believe that a particular type of causal relations, along with quantitative measurement, does not exhaust the whole of being, even people who are not theists, seems unsurprising as well.

        True. Lots of unfortunate things are unsurprising.

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      • Heh… I guess I set myself up for that one.

        I have to admit that I’m impressed with how quickly people who are enamored with the knowledge-granting properties of science switch from being positivists to pragmatists.

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      • I dated a woman several years ago who was convinced that she was part of an ongoing psychological study. We had a conversation similar to this several times:

        Deb: Am I just part of one of your experiments?
        Chris: No, of course not.
        Deb: Would you tell me if I was?
        Chris: No, I wouldn’t. That would ruin the experiment.

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      • The ancients who wished to illustrate illustrious virtue throughout the Kingdom, first ordered well their own states.
        Wishing to order well their states, they first regulated their families.
        Wishing to regulate their families, they first cultivated their persons.
        Wishing to cultivate their persons, they first rectified their hearts.
        Wishing to rectify their hearts, they first sought to be sincere in their thoughts.
        Wishing to be sincere in their thoughts, they first extended to the utmost their knowledge.
        Such extension of knowledge lay in the investigation of things.

        The Da Xue observes the return journey begins with

        Things being investigated, knowledge became complete.

        But knowledge is never complete. You can waste your entire life down that Rabbit Hole. At best, you can get to some approximation of completeness. You have to walk in the light you’re given. Spirituality won’t build you a better toaster. Neither will science. Science will give you a monograph on the resistance of tungsten wire.

        Spirituality isn’t really metaphysics. Metaphysics is poor old St. Augustine trying to square the circle, reconciling faith to science, hoping against hope his version of the Da Xue would give us some completeness. It won’t.

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      • I believe by metaphysics we (I at least, and probably Tim as well) mean something like what used to be called first philosophy, but also, at least in my case, what tends to get labeled metaphysics today, which, in addition to dealing with some of those classic problems of first philosophy, might also be called first concepts and first logic — the analysis of logic and concepts that precedes later investigations (like scientific ones).

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      • {{{Chris, have you seen my comment to Tim about Nagel? I’m really curious what you have to say about it, both my interpretation of Nagel as well as your own views on the topic. Go check it out man!}}}

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  5. Is Archbold a respected religious voice? The way I read it, he seems to imply that life is just about figuring out the easiest way to get into heaven; that the those Truths are just an annoying chore he’s been putting up with rather than fulfilling in and of themselves. Isn’t this the caricature that anti-theists paint of believers?

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    • That was how I read it as well. I always thought of a “Truth” as something I believe to be true. Believing a Truth it isn’t difficult because… well… it seems to me to be true. A Truth may make me feel good or bad, but that doesn’t really have any bearing on whether it’s true or not.

      It seems like his definition of a Truth is something more like, “Something I hold in my head and repeat so I can get into heaven.” I can see how that could be frustrating, especially when those Truths are weird and run counter to what you might otherwise believe. I’m not sure what I’d do if somebody credibly promised me eternal suffering unless I stopped “believing” that I have two hands.

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      • I’m not sure what I’d do if somebody credibly promised me eternal suffering unless I stopped “believing” that I have two hands.

        Hah! And that’s the best case scenario. Add in reasonable doubt about Authority and all that, well …

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  6. I suspect Archbold has also forgotten that God will determines who gets into heaven, and his selection process may not strictly follow what any sect teaches, since only he is perfect, not any man or group of men, and so what they divine as the truth of God is also imperfect.

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  7. I reflected on this quote by Kyle for a moment: “salvation means: a graceful heart in loving communion with others.” It’s a really beautiful and empowering notion. The focus is on the manner in which the Saved Christian will live in her community.

    At least to this atheist, Kyle’s definition seems very Catholic, and very not Protestant. Does not Protestant Christianity’s emphasis on faith requires that grace be bestowed from without the self — God must intervene to place the sinner in a state of grace, no? The “salvation” is very literally being saved, by the Savior — grace is a gift from God, not something Man can achieve on his own. (This notion is also congruent with what I understand to be the relationship between the Muslim, Allah, sin, and forgiveness in the tradition of Islam — it is Allah alone who forgives sins, man is powerless to do anything but supplicate himself to Allah’s will.) Perhaps I do Protestants a disservice in implying passivity into their take on salvation, but faith alone without works seems like a passive attitude towards what is supposed to be the most important thing in all of existence.

    It seems far more active, and far more pleasant (although no less morally demanding) to see salvation as a call to live life in a particular way as Kyle describes the Catholic spin on things. That something is pleasant or not has little to to do with whether it is true or not, but I must say that the notion of a call to live life in a particular manner, one filled with love and community, seems strongly harmonious with my understanding of Jesus’ teachings. I see an analogue to the teachings of the Buddha here — you have life, the question is what shall you do with it while it is still yours?

    Or am I just way off in my own private Idaho here?

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  8. I have to admit, I like this Pope a lot more than I thought I would. I also think Kyle’s musings on these subjects is interesting in that it shows an epistemic humbleness that’s rather Niebuhrian.

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