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Does the Cosmic Census Bolster Atheists’ Claims?

Milky Way

The galactic census data is in! According to an Associated Press article released recently: “Scientists have estimated the first cosmic census of planets in our galaxy and the numbers are astronomical: at least 50 billion planets in the Milky Way.”

When I would hear that kind of thing when I was an atheist, I’d muster up my most condescending facial expression and turn to the nearest believer to say: “You still believe all that Bible stuff now?” To my way of thinking back then, the vastness of the universe debunked the Christian worldview. Obviously we’re nothing special in the grand scheme of things. Obviously there’s not some Creator out there who values us over everything else—otherwise, why would he have bothered messing around with making all this other stuff? Why create the Triangulum Galaxy and the Horsehead Nebula and the 50 billion other planets here in the Milky Way if you’re mainly concerned about the goings on at tiny little planet Earth?

It’s too bad I hadn’t read Chesterton. He addresses that kind of argument with his typical wit when he writes in Orthodoxy:
 

"Why should a man surrender his dignity to the solar system any more than to a whale? If mere size proves that man is not the image of God, then a whale may be the image of God; a somewhat formless image; what one might call an impressionist portrait. It is quite futile to argue that man is small compared to the cosmos; for man was always small compared to the nearest tree."

 
Exactly. What I was missing back then was an openness to contemplating just what kind of God we might be talking about. I pictured that Christians believed in a man with a flowing white beard who lived off in the clouds somewhere. Sort of like my uncle Ralph, but with magic powers. With this limited, facile view, it’s no wonder I couldn’t get past the vastness of the universe. Uncle Ralph wouldn’t waste his time creating a bunch of planets no one was ever going to use, so, presumably, neither would this supposed God.

What I see now is a universe that gives us an ever-present reminder of who and what God really is. The vastness of the universe is unfathomable; to try to contemplate every detail of every object in existence is an exercise in futility. The human mind has nowhere near that kind of capability, and that understanding should inspire us to humility about our own intellectual powers. And so it is when we contemplate God.

It’s a perfect plan, really: the smarter we get, the more we can know about the universe around us. Yet the more we study and measure and chart the heavens, the more we realize how incredibly tiny we are, how very much there is that we will never, ever know. We get a glimpse of the reality that the sum total of human learning cannot ever scratch the surface of what there is to know. We see that we are surrounded by an unfathomably wonderful creation; which points to an unfathomably wonderful Creator.
 

“As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways, and my thoughts than your thoughts” (Isaiah 55:9).

 
 
Originally published at National Catholic Register. Used with author's permission.
(Image credit: Wall Desktops)

Jennifer Fulwiler

Written by

Jennifer Fulwiler is a writer and speaker who converted to Catholicism after a life of atheism. She's a contributor to the books The Church and New Media (Our Sunday Visitor, 2011) and Atheist to Catholic: 11 Stories of Conversion (Servant, 2011), and is writing a book based on her personal blog. She and her husband live in Austin, TX with their six young children, and were featured in the nationally televised reality show Minor Revisions. Follow Jennifer on her blog, ConversionDiary.com, or on Twitter at @conversiondiary.

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  • BenS

    I was going to demolish this massive non sequitur of an OP but until I find out why epeeist has been canned I can't be bothered expending my energy. If atheists are just going to be prevented from posting on a whim then why waste our time in the first place?

    • Vicq_Ruiz

      ditto that

      • Michael Murray

        Yep.

        • C'mon gang--if y'all leave, who will I get to ignore? :-)
          [*totally* just kidding--but hope I got your attention]
          Hang in there--this is a fair-minded site, please be a bit more patient and give the moderators a chance to chime in...

          And remember what a harsh mistress "disqus" is--could be something funky going on with the comment environment...

          • Andrew G.

            Some of us are being patient - we're registering our disapproval and awaiting an explanation, rather than just leaving.

            Suspending other discussion for a few hours won't hurt anyone.

          • Firs this is an Internet comment box, not a union strike. There's no need to make demands or threats. If you don't want to comment simply...don't comment. You're not hurting anyone either way.

            Second, please see my explanation above.

          • M. Solange O’Brien

            I don't see anyone making demands or threats, but you seem to choose to see it that way.

          • Jay

            Brandon, I know you're trying your best and for what it is worth I greatly appreciate the time and effort that you have put into this website.

            God bless,
            James

          • Sample1

            Jim, as a Catholic, you have zero idea how patient freethinkers have been in this environment. I've enjoyed seeing some of our discussions progress to meaningful exchanges even if we don't agree on things.

            This isn't a disqus problem.

            Mike

    • Rationalist1

      Agreed.

    • primenumbers

      Why should we respond to posts if we're going to get banned?

      • You won't get banned if you don't violate the commenting policy. It's pretty straightforward.

        • Sample1

          May I suggest a fresh look at moderation rules? That's the second physicist gone not to mention others of very fine caliber postings.

          It's probably fair to say that this site needs atheists more than we need Strange Notions. I've seen "collapse thread" options or "ignore" that could give all interlocutors censoring power rather than a select few. And it would lighten moderation duties too.

          Finally, while I'm not exactly ready for six months on the couch about the word, "banning" freethinkers, on a Catholic-centric site, brings up nasty images of your organization's infamous power. What would Francis do?

          Just a thought. My main point is to reconsider moderation rules.

          Mike

          • Sample1,

            I agree with you. One of the reasons I do not participate more in discussions is the fact that I can not block certain commentators. (If Disqus has this option, I have not found it).

            "Viva Cristo Rey!!"
            DHS

          • Linda

            I agree.

          • "It's probably fair to say that this site needs atheists more than we need Strange Notions."

            I don't think it's fair to say. Neither *needs* either. This is simply a website offering interesting articles and fruitful discussion. If people stop commenting, no big deal--the site doesn't *need* to exist. And if the site shut down, I doubt many atheists would say, "Well, that's horrible! I needed that site!"

            "Finally..."banning" freethinkers, on a Catholic-centric site, brings up nasty images of your organization's infamous power."

            Nobody is banning "freethinkers" for simply thinking free. However, we've banned some commenters--Catholics and atheists--for the tone and style of their comments. We welcome all ideas, opinions, and arguments, but not constant snark.

        • primenumbers

          Unfortunately it would seem that the commenting policy is enforced somewhat subjectively.

        • Andre Boillot

          What about repeatedly re-posting deleted comments? What's that get you?

        • primenumbers

          Atheist posters have been banned without warning, yet the moderation rules against snark, sarcasm and straw men have not been applied not just in the comments (here's a straw man and called as such: http://strangenotions.com/do-atheists-have-faith/#comment-980437582 from Fr. Sean ) but in the actual articles themselves, like this one: http://strangenotions.com/cosmological-argument/

          The stated major aim of this site has been discussion. One of the greatest disappointments of that aim of discussion is you @bvogt1:disqus who have never really engaged to a sufficient extent, merely popping up to fire off a quick response (usually a punt to Aquinas or to Feser), rather than make the argument yourself. I don't really think I've had a conversation more than two responses deep with you, and that's sad. I've had better discussions with some of the other Catholics here, mainly @disqus_jl2DEZXddy:disqus, but with one or two others too.

          I have seriously tried to engage you in discussion, especially on how (what methods you use, how reliable are they, and do they take into account cognitive biases) you know what you claim to know, about equivocation and word-play (especially on the word exists) in arguments for God, yet there's been a total lack of serious engagement.

          The upshot of all this is I'll have to say goodbye, but I'm leaving with the sadness that you never really engaged with me.

          Goodbye.

          • primenumbers, sorry to see you go. But I'm even sorrier to see the misunderstandings in your final post.

            Nobody has ever been banned without warning here. We (the moderators) have gone out of our way to provide long leashes and always issued several warnings and removed multiple individual posts before taking the severe action of banning someone. So your first sentence is simply and demonstrably untrue.

            Second, I'm sorry you don't think I've engaged you (or others) to a sufficient extent. I've done the best I can with my limited time and expertise. Besides raising a young family, working a full-time engineering job, writing an active personal blog, finishing up a couple books, speaking around the country, and soliciting and formatting articles for the site, I just don't have much time left over for hours of combox discussion. I'm so glad, however, that you've been able to find fruitful dialogue with other commenters.

            I honestly wish you the best and hope our paths cross soon again.

          • Corylus

            This is evidently no longer productive.

            Brandon, I strongly suspect you are classifying as 'snark' any comment that does not:

            a) give religion (and their practitioners) automatic authority
            b) show willing to accept an argument to catholic tradition as sufficient evidence for validity in a given argument.

            While I do think you understand that have not been dealing with idiots over the recent few months, and that some atheists on here actually have some experience and qualifications, what I don't think you understand is that this means it is not appropriate to treat these people as children.

            Sent to the naughty step for asking inconvenient questions - or worse - stating inconvenient facts is not the way to go. Not least because you yourself learn nothing, but also because many of these people recognize these tactics from their actual childhood - and are distinctly unimpressed.

            There is a moment in every adult's life when we first hear our parent's speech patterns coming out of our mouths (yes this has happened to me!) ... and we pause.

            And we should keep on pausing.

            -=-=-

            Right, unsolicited advice giving to Brandon all over! I am away now.

            I have made my normal effort to be polite, and show reciprocity, and am pleased to think I have succeeded here. I hope others concur with this assessment.

            Best wishes to all :))

          • Corylus,

            I am not sure the banning of epeeist was fair, but I do recognize gross unfairness when I see it, and you are being grossly unfair to Brandon and the other moderators. I have been in many forums over many years, and of all those with moderation, this is surely one of the most permissive I have seen. I think that is appropriate, given that it invites dialogue with unbelievers, but in terms of snark and insult to people's beliefs, commenters here almost get away with murder.

            As someone who wavers between the "atheists" and the Catholics, I can see how hurtful much of what nonbelievers say to believers is here—and unnecessarily so. Perhaps it is just because I had a Catholic education that, as an "escaped Catholic," I haven't shaken. But a fair amount of what the nonbelievers say to the believers strikes me as condescension and even contempt. Whether it is intentional or not I don't want to judge. Whether I am misreading people and being overly sensitive, it is hard for me to judge. But believers here would have to have very thick skin not to be offended by what many nonbelievers say here. And I don't mean the ideas themselves. I mean the way they are expressed.

          • Corylus

            I am not sure the banning of epeeist was fair, but I do recognize gross unfairness when I see it, and you are being grossly unfair to Brandon and the other moderators.

            Then I was evidently mistaken in not linking to evidence of Brandon being economical with the truth regarding giving warnings. (Scroll for familiar names).

            I thought to save his blushes, but will not be accused of being grossly unfair myself.

            Side effect of disqus: click on a name and see what is being said elsewhere.

          • Corylus, I issued epeeist several public warnings both by responding to objectionable comments, pointing out unnecessary sarcasm and snark, and by deleting individual comments which blatantly crossed the line.

            I'm surprised eppeist would go to another website to slander this one by playing the innocent victim card. He's better than that.

          • Corylus

            Then I suggest you discuss this with him, (elsewhere of course) rather than slandering him where he cannot reply.

            I am sure you are better than that.

          • Then I suggest you discuss this with him, (elsewhere of course) rather than slandering him where he cannot reply.

            With so many demanding to know why epeeist was banned, it is rather unreasonable, is it not, for Brandon not to make some reply?

          • I thought to save his blushes, but will not be accused of being grossly unfair myself.

            The following is part of what I consider to be grossly unfair in your message.

            Brandon, I strongly suspect you are classifying as 'snark' any comment that does not:

            a) give religion (and their practitioners) automatic authority
            b) show willing to accept an argument to catholic tradition as sufficient evidence for validity in a given argument.

            As I have stated, I am not sure the banning of epeeist was fair. But the above is clearly and grossly unfair.

          • Corylus

            Dammit man, you are messing up my dignified exit here :)

            Apologies for evidently not addressing the part of your post you found most important. Let me look again at what you said:

            I think that is appropriate, given that it invites dialogue with unbelievers, but in terms of snark and insult to people's beliefs, commenters here almost get away with murder.

            Goodness me. Get. Away. With. Murder. Strong words indeed!

            I doubt I will get around you instinctive reaction to beliefs being questioned, but I would ask you to consider the following:

            a) Is is possible to deliver an insult to a belief as opposed to a person? Is there a possibility that there is a categorical error being made here?

            b) When you get out-raged at 'snark and insult' please assess whether you would be similarly vexed at 'snark' related to an assessment of politics, economics, or a sport of your choice.

            While I am very, very sympathetic to calls for general manners (I try to show these myself) I am less sympathetic for calls for certain types of ontological positions to be treated as, by definition, requiring special handling.

          • Dammit man, you are messing up my dignified exit here :)

            Having indignantly quit many of the forums I have participated over the years—some of them multiple times—I know how satisfying it is, and I apologize to whatever extent I am ruining the fun for you. :-)

            Goodness me. Get. Away. With. Murder. Strong words indeed!

            Amost.Get.Away.With.Murder, though, is not quite as strong. Also, according to the Cambridge Dictionary of American Idioms,the idiom get away with murder means "to not be punished for bad behavior" [as in, for example], "It seems to me that kids these days really get away with murder in the classroom."

            I doubt I will get around you instinctive reaction to beliefs being questioned . . .

            I question beliefs all the time! Name me the most sacred belief you can think of, and I will question it! But I will do it (I hope) in such a way that it won't offend people who believe it.

            a) Is is possible to deliver an insult to a belief as opposed to a person? Is there a possibility that there is a categorical error being made here?

            It is possible to express disbelief in a way that is unnecessarily offensive to believers. It is also possible to express belief in a way that is unnecessarily offensive to nonbelievers. Both sides do it here all the time. And neither side gets called on it very often, in all fairness to the moderators.

            b) When you get out-raged at 'snark and insult' please assess whether you would be similarly vexed at 'snark' related to an assessment of politics, economics, or a sport of your choice.

            Long, long ago, on Prodigy, one of the first online services, there were often flare-ups on the Religion "Bulletin Boards" (as they were called back then). People were always saying, "Why are we always fighting here?" One day someone said it for the umpteenth time, and another person responded, in all seriousness, "If you think things are bad here, you should see what it's like over on the Pet Care Board." People take a lot of things very personally, and political discussions (or discussions about pet care) can get very heated, but I think religion is more personal, for many reasons, and the odds of hurting someone's feelings are not only higher, but I think the tendency to want to hurt someone's feelings is stronger.

          • Jay

            Gosh, I decide to spend a few days watching cutscenes from zombie apocalypse video games on youtube instead of going to strange notions and when I get back a mass exodus has occurred from this place :P

            Sorry to see you and so many of the other people from this site with such good commentary have decided to leave!

            Not that it matters... but I (heart) your picture!

            Take care :)

          • severalspeciesof

            I am not sure the banning of epeeist was fair,

            You and apparently the vast majority on here, to which I also agree...

            but I do recognize gross
            unfairness when I see it, and you are being grossly unfair to Brandon
            and the other moderators.

            I can't speak for Corylus, but I see Brandon's response (paraphrasing: 'he was warned') to all this as not being at all truthful. Scanning the past 21 days of comments by Brandon, I didn't come across any such warnings (though to be fair, I may have missed them, or maybe other mods may have warned him). I understand that Brandon is a very busy man, so maybe he would be well advised to just stick to either commenting or moderating so as to not spread himself too thinly. Less chance for kneejerk (as I see it) reactions perchance?

            Glen

          • To clarify, I was saying the following comment by Corylus was grossly unfair to Brandon:

            Brandon, I strongly suspect you are classifying as 'snark' any comment that does not:

            a) give religion (and their practitioners) automatic authority
            b) show willing to accept an argument to catholic tradition as sufficient evidence for validity in a given argument.

            If Brandon and the other moderators believed this and deleted all comments that were allegedly snarky under this definition, probably 50% to 75% of the comments on Strange Notions would have been deleted.

            Where (to ask what many here seem to consider the single most important question) is the evidence that Brandon uses these two criteria to classify comments as snarky?

          • Corylus

            I am not sure the banning of epeeist was fair, but I do recognize gross unfairness when I see it, and you are being grossly unfair to Brandon and the other moderators. I have been in many forums over many years, and of all those with moderation, this is surely one of the most permissive I have seen. I think that is appropriate, given that it invites dialogue with unbelievers, but in terms of snark and insult to people's beliefs, commenters here almost get away with murder.

            Would you care to revisit that view in light of recent events, David? No need to answer it if on a flounce - this question is merely rhetorical and aimed at putting a view across. I wouldn't want to rain on your parade :)

            Once can be an aberration, yes, but twice can be the start of a pattern. Absolutely no more comments from me, even if tempted by a harmful view. I am not prone to banging my head on the wall, being very fond of both the Einstein quote:

            Insanity: doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.

            and the W.C. Fields one:

            If at first you don't succeed, try, try again. Then quit. There is no point being a damn fool about it.

            N.B. The above does not apply to my being here now (I am sure this comment will be deleted), I post as I know you will receive it via disqus nonetheless.

          • Nobody has ever been banned without warning here.

            Perhaps moderators should consider making warnings public rather than private. Then other commenters would not be caught by surprise when someone was banned. It has been a long, long time, but I believe one of the first online forums I participated in had designated moderators who issued public warnings. A strict limit has to be imposed on discussing warnings in the thread itself, otherwise the forum turns into a discussion of warnings rather than topics.

            Someone needs to write the Robert's Rules of Order for Internet discussions

    • Andrew G.

      Indeed. Until we get an explanation, there should be no other topics of conversation.

      • Vicq_Ruiz

        Absolutely. If you see a post by Susan, Quine, or others, point 'em over here.

    • alexander stanislaw

      Gosh, epeeist was banned? His comments were always a breath of fresh air - he cut straight through to the heart of the issue without resorting to ad hominems.

      I looked through his last twenty or so comments to make sure he didn't cross the line somewhere but I couldn't find anything remotely inflammatory.

      • ladycygnus

        Technically if all of his worst comments have been deleted then wouldn't looking through his "last 20+ comments" be subject to selection bias and only show the best ones?

        Note - I am a newbie to this site and have have no basis for judging mod policy one way or the other.

    • epeeist was banned for repeatedly violating the comment policy. While I appreciated much of what he had to say, he seemed unable to comment without resorting to snark or needless sarcasm. That sort of tone is simply not conducive to fruitful dialogue and it's not welcome here. We gave him multiple warnings, removed several individual comments, but the snark continued. So for the sake of respectful dialogue, we've prevented future comments.

      • BenS

        And yet you have one Catholic commenter who openly admits here:

        http://strangenotions.com/does-immaterial-exist/#comment-983362991

        That they have had scores of comments deleted and yet they're still kicking around. Presumably because they're 'on your team'.

        If you're banning epeeist, I'm out. Enjoy your 'dialogue'.

        • Michael Murray

          Me too. Bye everybody.

          • Best of luck, Michael. Hope you enjoyed the conversations here. If not, I apologize and hope you find better ones elsewhere.

          • Sample1

            Brandon I'm fascinated by the way you've chosen to respond to an exodus of wonderful people. I see it as a combination of stubborness, ignoring the elephant in the room, and a bit of insincerity. I could be wrong about all of those things, but that's my first impression.
            I am thankful for the time I spent here. I hope you have a healthy and fulfilling lifetime of adventure, discovery and surprise. I really do.
            Cheers! (Bye all).
            Mike

            For the physicists and in particular, all who have been banned on this site: Thanks for the conversations.

          • Thanks for the comment, Mike. We'll miss you, but best of luck!

          • Sample1

            Implosion indeed. See you back at the base camp. :-j
            Mike

          • Implosion indeed. See you back at the base camp. :-j

            Over a year ago I started a thread at the Richard Dawkins site to ask people there how they talked to their religious friends and neighbors about these subjects. I had been doing so, myself, and years ago started keeping notes on my discussions with my Christian missionary neighbor in hopes of putting those together for a future book. This site has been very helpful, to me, along those lines. I now have plenty of material to go over in my own DISQUS thread, which will provide me with topics, so it is back to work at my own blog for me.

            So long, and thanks for all the fish.

            http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ojydNb3Lrrs

          • Loreen Lee

            Gee. Just after my 'joy' in you taking such an interest in my progress. Is there a way that I can keep in touch? By following your blog or something? I too am writing a book.

          • Susan

            Hi Loreen,

            Is there a way that I can keep in touch? By following your blog or something?

            That might work.

            He put a blue link to it above.

            Here, just in case:

            http://quinesqueue.blogspot.ca/

          • Loreen Lee

            Thanks Susan. Checked it out. It's not really a blog, but a platform for posting various articles that he may or may not have written. I'm going to miss him and epeeist. I just learned that they were both committed atheists, but they have been more helpful to me than any. Besides I've spent most of my life with philosophy, etc. Yet I am searching for 'links' between naturalism and theism. So I'm almost living two lives, since I started exploring Catholicism and living it over the last couple of years.

            I understand better now, for doing this, the source and reasons for the guilt and shame that arose from my childhood experience with same. But I'm really 'studying it' now, including some of the responses I have received in the confessional, which hopefully I will have justification to avoid as much as possible.

            Yet there is such depth etc. in the metaphysics, but there too I must sort out the distinctions between reality and ideality. Thus my indebtedness to Kant.

            I wonder on the other hand, whether I can every get a better grip on the scientific topics raised by these two. I think Quine left in solidarity with Epeeist. I've been reading his responses over the last hour. I think the irony was valid and did not have the tone of sarcasm. But as my daughter has pointed out with respect to my satire, often it is almost unavoidable not to sound 'mean' to the recipient. I hope the moderators rethink and reassess this situation.

            Thanks again Susan, you and Vickie are great..

        • Thanks, BenS! Hope to see you around some time.

      • alexander stanislaw

        Needless snark? I contend that many Catholic commenters are far snarkier than epeeist. Would you like to give some examples?

      • severalspeciesof

        he seemed unable to comment without resorting to snark or needless sarcasm.

        As someone else has repeatedly said:

        "Got evidence?"

        Ciao,

        Glen

      • TristanVick

        You banned someone for whit and a sense of irony?

        We wouldn't want ridicule to do what it does best, point out the ridiculous.

        No place for that here.

    • John Bell

      May I suggest that you go out in a blaze of glory?

      • BenS

        I'm not sure what that means - but I'm not going to exit by shouting and swearing and cursing at everyone. I've made my displeasure with the policy enforcement apparent and no longer wish to post on a site that exercises such discriminatory and subjectively enforced policies.

        I can still behave like an adult as I leave, though. :)

        • Mikegalanx

          Me, too- not just the banning, but the level of original posting has deteriorated so badly. With most of the interesting commenters leaving, not much point sticking around.

          Bye

    • Octavo

      On the other hand, Rick DeLano got banned. Sounds like we can stop complaining so much about balance.

  • GreatSilence

    I'm not sure what the great GKC knew about the cosmic census, so although I am a great fan of his I still struggle with the size of it all, the apparent waste. One Rich Deem (a creationist, if I remember correctly) once argued that to get to us we need all of that, that it could not have been otherwise. That, so far, is as close as I can get to a meaningful Catholic answer.

    • ladycygnus

      I prefer the answer of "God likes making things" We don't *need* daisies, obscure bugs in the amazon or even Pluto (the planet). But God loves creating things. What follows is a very long quote from Chesterton (I cut it down as much as possible).

      "All the towering materialism which dominates the modern mind rests ultimately upon one assumption; a false assumption. It is supposed that if a thing goes on repeating itself it is probably dead; a piece of clockwork.

      "...The sun rises every morning. I do not rise every morning; but the variation is due not to my activity, but to my inaction.

      "...A child kicks his legs rhythmically through excess, not absence, of life. Because children have abounding vitality, because they are in spirit fierce and free, therefore they want things repeated and unchanged. They always say, "Do it again"; and the grown-up person does it again until he is nearly dead. For grown-up people are not strong enough to exult in monotony.

      "But perhaps God is strong enough to exult in monotony. It is possible that God says every morning, "Do it again" to the sun; and every evening, "Do it again" to the moon. It may not be automatic necessity that makes all daisies [stars, planets, nebulae, galaxies] alike; it may be that God makes every daisy [star, planet, nebula, galaxy] separately, but has never got tired of making them. It may be that He has the eternal appetite of infancy; for we have sinned and grown old, and our Father is younger than we."

      • Loreen Lee

        Even as a atheist-Catholic, I shall respond with a naturalist answer. There is the saying that nature/God abhors a vacuum. This was even the rational behind the population of the universe with angels. So even the philosophers 'do it'. We have 'presumably' evidence of intelligence in our own minds. Why then could we not populate the universe with angels that are so numerous they could never fit on the head of a pin!!!!!

        • Vickie

          Loreen, are you a paradox? An enigma? I love those.

        • ladycygnus

          pardon...but what *exactly* is an atheist-Catholic?

          • Loreen Lee

            I believe despite Church dogma, and rejection of God by the atheists, that these two 'perspectives' are compatible. Please see the beginning of a series of posts in regard to finding common ground, in one of the comments in this post.

          • ladycygnus

            And how do you define those perspectives? How is it you are defining what it means to be a Catholic or an Atheist?

          • Loreen Lee

            I have defined nothing. I merely stated that it is possible to find compatibility between the atheist and theist perspectives. I have definitely not defined what it 'means' to be a Catholic or an Atheist. To find common ground is to search for 'meaning', to search for areas of agreement.

          • ladycygnus

            You have defined yourself as both - ergo you must have an idea in your mind of what the definition of each is to have claimed joint membership in both.

            Further - how do you define "common ground" and "compatible"?

          • Loreen Lee

            I have not given a 'definition' of myself as both naturalist and theist. I have said that I have beliefs which are congruent with both of these two perspectives.

          • ladycygnus

            No, you said you were an atheist-catholic, which is essentially saying you are an atheist-theist. Since this is an obvious contradiction I figured you had a different understanding of what each of those words means.

            Further, you use "common ground", "congruent", and "compatible" as if they are interchangeable; however, if using the common definitions of the terms they are not.

            In short, "you keep using that word, I do not think it means what you think it means."

          • Loreen Lee

            I had a similar confusion when I noted on the comment stream that a chap was surely using an oxymoron when he said he regarded himself as a metaphysical naturalist. And yes, he did give me an explanation, or definition as it were, and even Quine helped out with a feed to demonstrate to me that metaphysics no longer adheres to the Aristotelian 'definition'.
            Following the antinomies of Immanuel Kant, we have demonstrative evidence, that the positions of atheism and theism can both be proved and disproved. We can also distinguish between the understanding, reason, and faith, within three separate categories which cannot be gone into in detail on this post.
            Rather therefore, than give a definition of common ground compatibility et al, may I rather suggest that these are perspectives towards which one can be directed in both philosophic and life pursuits. They could be regarded as the 'modus operandi'[, rather than the definitive solution. To search for common ground, etc. is to have an open mind, even on questions that at first instance may not appear to be congruent with one's own. But because this involves an individual perspective, as well as collaborative effort, I do not feel it is incumbent upon me to provide a 'definition'. As I said, I began a series of posts today on the subject of finding common ground. Perhaps, if you search for it, the original posting in the series can be viewed as an attempt to give you an answer to your perplexity. There will be l0 posts in total. Thank you.

          • ladycygnus

            I'm sorry - I don't have a degree in philosophy and have the foggiest clue what you are talking about. Can you repeat that using one-syllable words?

          • Loreen Lee

            Have faith. You don't 'have' to understand my perspective on these issues. Do the best you can with what you are given. You are correct in that there are differences in the meaning of common ground, compatibility and all these other words. But it will perhaps help you in this and other quandries if you also look for 'similarities'. Unfortunately, I cannot repeat the above explanation in one-syllable words. That would be impossible 'for me'. if not 'definitely' impossible. Thus, I direct your attention again to the comment on common ground that I posted today on this site.
            When my son was a teenager he came to me after attempting to read the latest Scientific American magazine, and said it was impossible for him to understand any of it. Fortunately, I found I was able to give him the advice to continue to read, and eventually his 'understanding' would increase. Now he is a cognitive scientist. There is no 'easy' route to knowledge or salvation. Have faith.

          • ladycygnus

            You keep directing me to that post - I read it. It was just a bunch of quotes interspersed with big fancy-sounding words. I could go and look up those definitions, but given that you do not use words I DO know in any proper sense, why should I?

            compatible: Able to exist or occur together without conflict.
            congruent:In agreement or harmony;(of figures) Identical in form; coinciding exactly when superimposed.
            common ground: a basis agreed to by all parties for reaching a mutual understanding.

            theism: belief in a god
            atheism: rejection of belief in a god

            Based on these definitions one could say that theism and atheism could find common ground in rationality, logic, mathematics, science (strictly speaking), and many other such things. But you cannot say they are without conflict for they conflict in their very essence; nor can you say they coincide since they are most certainly not in agreement on the fundamental aspect of their definition.

          • Loreen Lee

            compatible: Able to exist or occur together without conflict.
            congruent:In agreement or harmony;(of figures) Identical in form; coinciding exactly when superimposed.
            common ground: a basis agreed to by all parties for reaching a mutual understanding.

            Now look for the similarity, the likeness, what they all 'have in common'.

            theism: belief in a god
            atheism: rejection of belief in a god

            Faith is not belief.

          • Boiling it down to one question, how might there be any potential compatibility between the Catholic view of God and the atheist view of "not-God"? Even at its simplest, they seem to be mutually exclusive concepts and realities...
            While I'd readily agree on the compatibility of faith and reason, I'm not understanding at all the concept of "atheist-Catholic"...

          • Loreen Lee

            I have spent much time being involved in different religious perspectives. I believe I can have faith in the Catholic church, and even accept the Credo, (other wise I would not be adhering to the magisterius?) but that even in the event of serious 'sin' in this regard, I was still baptized a Catholic and have not been formally excommunicated. I also go to church every Sunday, and spend much time contemplating the life and 'Personhood' of Jesus. I find Catholicism to be the most develolped, complex and comprehensive religion, and thus believe I have faith in the 'true' religion. Indeed this faith grows even as my understanding of the logical parameters which define atheism and theism develop. I have just recently learned that I can distinguish between the logical parameters of the understanding, and theoretical knowledge, and the formalities of faith, and as it is defined by Kant reason. I can in this regard consider myself a true Catholic, following its moral precepts to the best of my ability, and the truth of it's metaphysical structure. This Faith is beyond the understanding, I 'believe' because it is not the same as the logic of the understanding, and thus the proofs of God's existence or non existence. I can in other words have my faith, without any dependence on atheist/theist proofs, and indeed I find these quite beside the point. I am basically interested in developing my understanding (I still need logic) of structures: metaphysical, naturalistic, what have you. These I believe are 'beyond' the atheist/theist 'determinations'.which are defined on the basis of logical 'proof'. But I am only beginning my quest.

          • Loreen Lee

            I believe it is a possible that this 'dilemna' can be found to rest on language and translation. I don't believe it is possible to have a 'definition' of God, beyond that of I am 'who/that' I am and the Islamic 99 attributes, etc. Do we not 'define' God through positing generally what God is not. Apart from proofs of God's necessary being, perfection, etc, definition of God, can only be achieved through the development in practice of our capacity to 'love' in God's image. Notice that I am purposely attempting to avoid pronouns in this discussion!!! From the perspective of human understanding, I am more interested in understanding what atheists think, believe and have faith in. Also by example how they live their lives. Perhaps such understanding can even contribute to my understanding of what 'God' 'could BE'.....and how I may better meet the challenges within my own life.

          • Still trying to digest this further:

            So, am I correct then to presume, as a Catholic, you profess the Nicence Creed and believe in God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit?
            If so, then why the modifier "atheist" in front of Catholic?

          • Loreen Lee

            Because I have 'sympathy' with the naturalist perspective. And I 'believe' I cannot hold/entertain an idea without it being part of my 'being' - without it 'defining' me, as it were in some way. I have no 'problem' with the Nicene creed, (actually a little at the moment with 'apostolic' although I would not want the church to admit females into the priesthood), and so this is perhaps an example of my tendency to be 'ironic'.

            I would rather prefer to 'embrace' the naturalist/materialist/atheist than condemn or be critical of them. (The adherence to any perspective/ideology/dogma is necessarily limiting in the sense of being defined by these criteria) Indeed, I do not find it a contradiction to 'identify' with their physicalist perspective, especially when I have the assurance of the 'faith' that even the cosmos will someday be transformed.

            But by the same 'token' I feel my understanding and knowledge would be limited if I did not attempt to understand their world view from their perspective. After all, as we are 'all' made in God's image, do we not have a challenge to understand how an extension of our understanding can aid in seeing the 'human image' within the limitations inherent in being a finite being.
            Much time and effort is needed in developing knowledge of the physical universe. Perhaps an extension of understanding can be just as limited because of this, as can be the perspective of any religion towards the faith and belief of other spiritual understandings.

            Why not then take the opportunity to understand why a person thinks the way they do. I can 'understand' what it means to be an atheist. I have let them knows I am sympathetic by identifying with them. I can 'understand' that it is not a question of faith, but a logical distinction, and a necessary limitation of perspective that is fundamentally a reflection from the limited capacity of the human to know all and to experience all. But I find no contradiction in saying that I am both an 'atheist' and a Catholic if this entails the challenge of reaching out to embrace another human universal..

      • Linda

        Lovely

  • Vicq_Ruiz

    Brandon:

    I'm taking this site off my bookmark list. Will be back next week to see if epeeist is posting again. If it is your intent that he never post here in future, please feel free to treat me in the same way.

    • Thanks for the note, Vicq. Hope to see you back!

      • Andrew G.

        We await your explanation with bated breath...

  • My goodness!

    I leave for a few hours and the atheist camp is on strike!

    May I humbly suggest that you take a minute and think if perhaps this site has become so significant in your life that you want to impose your will on it?

    Repeat after me...

    Its only a hobby...

    Its only a hobby...

    Its only a hobby...

    "Viva Cristo Rey!!"
    DHS

    • Rationalist1

      I bet I would be banned if I called your Catholicism only a hobby.

      • Dani

        Ooooo sunshine, Dcn was calling being/commenting on this site a hobby, not your precious Atheism.

        • Rationalist1

          Now there's an example of snark.

          • Dani

            You did completely misread what Dcn was saying. I say "was" since he now removed the comment so as to not annoy atheists. Not sure if this really is an open forum or not.

  • Linda

    Thanks for this. I was just thinking along these lines the other day. Such an amazing place we live: recognizable patterns that catch our attention, but with complexity and depth to infinitely fascinate. Just one example: pi. Circumference is just about three times the diameter of a circle, and yet not quite. And in fact infinitely, non-repeatingly not quite. Captivating.

  • Loreen Lee

    The following series of quotations have been given me by Mike Sherlock who has a blog called: Basic Philosophy.

    What can We Agree On? Searching for Common Ground between Naturalists and Theists.

    "No useful discussion is possible unless both parties to the discussion start from the same premise." Medieval Maxim.

    Considerations that might provide common ground:
    l. The word "prove has two distinct meanings, one strict and one colloquial, that have very little to do with one another. The strict, technical meaning of the word "prove" as understood by logicians and mathematicians, is to proceed by one or more logical inferences to a conclusion that states explicitly something that was already implicit in the premises. The colloquial meaning of "prove" is to ascertain knowledge with a high degree of probability through evidence and reason.

    Some statements that seem to support the above consideration:
    l. If nothing is self-evident, nothing can be proved. There are some premises that can't be reached as conclusions. C.S. Lewis.
    1b. You can only find truth with logic if you have already found truth without it. G.K. Chesterton.
    1c. The word 'proof' is not ordinarily restricted in its application to demonstratively valid arguments, that is (arguments) in which the conclusion cannot be denied without thereby contradicting the premises. Anthony Flew.

    Some statements that seem to violate the considerations above.
    l. Upon the whole, then, it appears that no testimony for any kind of miracle has ever amounted to a probability, much less to a proof: and that, even supposing it amounted to a proof, it would be opposed by another proof; derived from the very nature of the fact, which it would endeavor to establish. It is experience only which gives authority to human testimony; and it is the same experience which assures us of the laws of nature. David Hume.
    lb. I have learned that arguments, no matter how watertight, often fall on deaf ears. I am myself the author of arguments that I consider rigorous and unanswerable but that are often not so much rebutted or even dismissed as simply ignored. Daniel Dennett.

  • mgcruss

    I'm an avid lurker, ex-Catholic, who tries to maintain some perspective on my religious upbringing to keep me from thinking it was a horrible , misdirected waste of cognitive and emotional energy. I have been impressed by the willingness of the Catholic moderators to remain calm in the face of what I see as relentless, insightful, knowledgeable refutations of the OPs. This calm steadfastness was one trait I admired and gave me some new respect for some people's approach to their Catholic faith. But banning Epeeist comes across to me as petty and defensive and really dashes any hope that I had that this would be a truly open dialogue. For what it is worth , I'm taking a long break from this site as well.

    • Sorry to see you go, mgcruss. Hope to see you back!

  • Jonathan West

    This appears on the About page of this site.

    Our goal is not to defeat anyone, embarrass them, or assault their character. Our goal is only the Truth, and to pursue it through fruitful discussion. Like Socrates, like Jesus, we embrace healthy dialogue as the path to Truth, even and especially with people we disagree with. That's why the comboxes at Strange Notions are so central and important.

    If Catholics are wrong about God, then we hope our critics can correct us so that we will no longer be ignorant. We hope atheists will be open to the same kind of correction. The goal here isn't to win an argument, but to help each other find the Truth.

    It is quite clearly a lie. I'm out.

  • 42Oolon

    First, atheists make only one claim in common: that we are not convinced that any gods exist.

    Second, this estimate of the number of planets in the galaxy tells us nothing new about the scale of the Universe, which is much, much more vast. This is looking at one galaxy, of which there may be 500 billion. And that is peanuts to the much more vast areas of "empty space" that is uninhabitable.

    IF Catholics believe that the Universe was built with the sole purpose of human life, I would point our one usually does not design an environment where almost all the territory of it is uninhabitable and inaccessible. What is the purpose of the 50 billion other planets in this galaxy and likely trillions more in other galaxies? If it was to show us how grand the creation is, why make it in such a way that we could not see how vast it was for centuries and likely never detect most of it? And even now, why hide most of his creation from us?

    The scale of creation makes little sense if humanity on Earth is its sole purpose. Or, the purpose is so weird to our minds that we don't really understand what "purpose" is. However, it makes perfect sense if there is no such purpose.

    • Or, it makes perfect sense from the long-term perspective. The "eternal" perspective--in which a "new heaven and new earth" come to be, prefigured by our existing universe....

      • 42Oolon

        The question is, why create a temporal universe like this? Uninhabited without life for 9 billion years, without intelligent life for 13 billion years, without communicating to the intelligent creatures for 13.5 billion years. And why make most of it empty of life forever? And we are not talking about human life existing on 1%, the Universe is so vast, quite possibly infinite, that when you calculate the population density, it is almost zero. It is like finding a single bacteria in the Sahara and maintaining that that vast desert was designed for that one cell. If you are going to make that claim you should have some explanation.

        • Linda

          If you are eternal I would think you'd want to savor the development of it all. What's the rush?

          • Linda,
            Sometimes the shortest answers are the best.
            "Viva Cristo Rey!!"
            DHS

          • 42Oolon

            Savor what? Remember, God is a timeless being. He has already savoured everything for all eternity.

          • Linda

            Since He is eternal, is "savoured" the correct tense? Perhaps will have savoured? Or will have been savouring? Though perhaps the correct tense for the Eternal One is perpetually present: is savouring. :)
            Glad you agree on an Eternal God!

          • 42Oolon

            I do not agree on an eternal god. I'm trying to understand what you believe in. Some apologists like Craig think an eternal God is impossible. I guess you are saying that the God created all this inhospitable emptiness because it somehow pleases him. Of course this means that most of creation is for him, not us. I don't think this argument is a good critique of theism. Not surprising as it came from an apologist.

          • Linda

            I was just teasing you. You said "since" instead of "if" so I thought I'd give you a hard time. I didn't really think we agreed there.
            I do think God created all of this, but from an eternal, omnipresent standpoint I doubt it seems vast or inhospitable. I think He created it for us. Sure gives us something to talk about.

        • 42O.

          You are basically saying "If I were God I would do it differently". I'm reminded of the many times I as a child thought "If I were my parents I would do it differently".

          Just because we do not understand the purpose of an action, does not mean this action has no purpose.

          "Viva Cristo Rey!!"
          DHS

          • 42Oolon

            But if we cannot even conceive of a purpose, we are reasonable in saying there appears to be no purpose.

          • "we are reasonable in saying there appears to be no purpose."

            In the same way my teenage sons think it is perfectly reasonable to think the only purpose in me not letting them stay away over night in town with their buddies, is to feed the ego of the despotic irrational tyrant they happen to have as a father.

            I secretly smile every time I see myself reflected in my sons. I wander if God does the same every time He sees us trying to figure out His purposes.

            "Viva Cristo Rey!!"
            DHS

          • 42Oolon

            The difference is that your son can actually have a conversation about the purpose of your rule. I can easily conceive of good reasons to have this rule.

            A more apt analogy would be like building a house for your son 10 years before he is born, that is the size of Russia, in which only one small room is not completely toxic for human life. Then giving it to your son and saying, "the only purpose of this house is for you."

            Your son then asks you, "Ok, but why did you build this enormous house for me if I can't live in the vast majority of it."

            In answer, you point to a book that other people wrote based on your actions, in a foreign language, years before your son was born. When your son reads this book, it doesn't say much on this, but appears to say that the house is in fact way way smaller and completely different than it actually appears to be.

            Your son says, "Dad, I am confused, can you just explain this?" but he is gone and all you have left is the book and lots of people who tell you what they think it means, and they are utterly at odds on most interpretations. Most people reject the book completely as being an explanation for the house.

            Meanwhile, your son keeps learning that the house is larger and weirder than he initially thought and less and less of it can be used by him. When he keeps putting this to the people interpreting the book, they say things like:

            "The vastness of the [house] is unfathomable; to try to contemplate every detail of every object in it is an exercise in futility. The [offspring's] mind has nowhere near that kind of capability, and that understanding should inspire us to humility about our own intellectual powers. And so it is when we contemplate the intentions of [your father]."

          • Sid_Collins

            That's a great analogy. I've often been puzzled at the eagerness of Christians to compare their God to a parent, as they would promptly call Child Services if they met a human parent who neglected a child so callously--not even bothering to deliver rules in person.

            I do agree with believers who say that we can't expect to fathom the mind of an infinite being. That is a difference not in magnitude but in kind. There would be infinitely more difference between a human and this mind than between a human and a virus. Of course all humans can imagine is a great big Person who is (surprise!) extremely concerned with human welfare, but who has an infinite number of excuses for giving the appearance of not being concerned.

          • Loreen Lee

            This was a brilliant analogy. But we are talking about 'houses' - the cosmological structure as it were. I would be far more interested in the reasons for it, and the actual interpersonal relationship between the father and the son. Was the father motivated by greed, to make more and more material (money investment) or by a need to create in a more positive sense, each new invention being different, (he is that creative) from the other. If so perhaps he demonstrated that from the son's perspective, these creations do not always embody his idea of 'perfection'. But was his intention perhaps so good, (despite the consequences) that we could even say he did it from love.
            Don't know the interior motivations of either father or son.
            This is the prime focus of spirituality/religion. That and

            morality and the development of life, in both the physical sense and as a 'signature' of sanctification, or wholeness or holiness.
            And who knows perhaps all these investments will some day bring great reward on the material market, as well as the house of honor and happiness.

          • 42Oolon

            Who knows indeed. Of course it would all make perfect sense if he had just given him a regular house, as Christians believed for many centuries. Instead we have this very strange arrangement and he won't explain. The size of the universe suggests some other explanation than it was created for humans.

          • Loreen Lee

            My initial response was of course, an extension of your brilliant metaphor. May I attempt another tactic. We say that God 'created' the universe. May I interpret 'create' as another word for the exercise of a will, in the case of the real house of the universe, may I postulate a 'divine will'. This will is associated within Catholicism, I believe, with Love. But the definition of love, is best given in St. Paul of the Corinthians. I hope you can find a bible handy. This brilliant scripture models love after the Greek agape. As St. Paul says, it is a capacity of which we fall 'short'. We do not yet know 'how' to love, nor what is entailed by it. In the same way, we can only conceive of an ultimate purpose as union with the divine One, and with an ultimate happiness, beatitude etc. etc.

            The concepts of infinity and eternity, matter and consciousness are not recent constructs. Their use extends into past ages that can only be characterized by evidence as an increasing consciousness. This is actually called 'revelation' of God's plan, by Christians. We use this word, 'revelation' colloquially, even in our reference to what might be 'revealed' by gossip. But I would suggest that it is the same sense. But 'divine' revelation is considered to be so because it is 'truth/Truth' and not 'heresay'. That is why the bible is referred to as 'the book of God', because it contained developing and transforming interpretations of what constitutes the 'divine' purpose. (My interpretation).. I can therefore postulate that the modern discovery of the physical evidence of infinity offers potential for interpretation that may either be false or true. Revelation may be thought of as subjective interpretation, or objective truth of God's word. I suggest that to call it a strange arrangement also suggests that there has not been revealed an objective revelation. You thus suggest that God will not explain. You are being very theistic in these remarks, I suggest. I am not a mystic, a theologian, or a saint. I do not know the answer. Nor do I assume that God would 'reveal' his plan to me. That is why I have 'f/Faith'. That is why I believe there is an answer, an an 'objective one' a divine truth. There are two possibilities we can be humbled by the size and scope of the universe or we can consider the trials and tribulations of the so called anti-Christ, Frederich Nietzsche.

            For perhaps this brings us face to face with the nihilism of the age, with the consequences of the thesis that God is dead.

            But even Nietzsche said, in his prophecy and illustrations of what was to come within the modern/post modern world, that this could be conceived as a 'test'. For him he went back to the Greek conception of a noble will, and even 'revealed' the propensity within the human condition to have a 'Will to Power'. This is the philosophy of the age. But he also said that he thought that a new man, the uber mensch would have to be a consequence of such a test; a personal capacity to rise above all the detriments and shadows of ill will in a way that would bring us beyond good and evil. I thus feel that he has been variously misinterpreted and represented.
            I hold that the rising to the Newly created uber mensch need involve not only a more developed morality in practice, but a greater capacity for love based not only on nobility of character, but humility and compassion.
            As a friend said to me, we may be star dust, but we also have a spiritual dimension of consciousness and love as well as a physical foundation that is conceived by Christianity as ultimately good. The greatest underpinning within the structural 'paradigm' of Christianity is the ever present faith and hope in transforming love. Not only for ourselves, but for the 'uni-verse'. May the poets be with you.

          • God's purpose may or may not be "conceivable" to His creatures, *but* I'd suggest one immediate consequence of a universe so potentially vast and empty is that it 1) incomparably accentuates our uniqueness and 2) incomparably accentuates the infinitude of God (i.e., God can create all *this*? And this just hints at God's divine infinitude...)

          • 42Oolon

            We would be equally unique in this universe or one in which there was one planet, one star. In fact if the latter were the case we would know we are unique. However, the evidence keeps making it more likely that we are not unique. Instead we learn our sun is one of billions in billions of galaxies. We now know that planets are not unique either. There are billions of these in our galaxy alone. That we have been able to detect earth-like planets in the habitable zone make us less unique.

          • Loreen Lee

            Friedrich Leibniz: The Identity of Indiscernibles: If any two entities were the same we wouldn't be able to distinguish one from the other. They would be identical. (My parsing of this truth). Every snowflake, every leaf, every bug, every constellation, every 'person', every instant is unique.)

          • Vickie

            That is true. In may ways, science has to told us that we are unique from each other. While sharing similaritys in DNA with others mine is unique to me. My fingerprints are unique to me. There are many other example of our individual uniqueness.

          • 42Oolon

            Sure. Our planet is unique in the same way that a leaf is unique? Can't imagine this was Jim's point.

          • Loreen Lee

            God's purpose may or may not be "conceivable" to His creatures, *but* I'd suggest one immediate consequence of a universe so potentially vast
            and empty is that it
            1) incomparably accentuates our uniqueness and
            2) incomparably accentuates the infinitude of God (i.e., God can create all *this*? And this just hints at God's divine infinitude...)(Have copied this here for easy reference)
            Search for meaning: 'vast and empty'. I think of the population by the Aquinas, etc. with angels because like the later scientists who worked on the thesis, that God, the universe, 'abhors a vacuum', would not accept such a postulate. If there is indeed black matter, that would also perhaps account for some of the 'void' that is found to exist within the atomic level of the universe.
            Search for meaning: immediate consequence I would suggest that the consequence or conclusion the author comes to is a description of the thinking of a human individual, and thus may be considered to be personal interpretation, rather than scientific conclusion.
            Definitions of 'unique'
            l. a. being the only one. b. producing only one result (factorization of a number into prime factors. I can understand that the many examples found in such a populated universe may seemingly defeat this definition. But this is a mathematical formal appraisal of the reference to unique.

            2. being without a like or equal. unequaled. This does not give a definitive reference to either the quantitative or qualitative. It suggests however, to my interpretation, another mathematical interpretation.
            3. very rare, uncommon, or unusual. Perhaps you agree that this could possibly be qualitative reference, having to do with realities, limitations, negations, etc. (See Kant's categories). This I suggest is the context that is taken when people for instance refer to themselves, or a person's talent's as unique. It could be thought of as subjective rather than objective, as in more mathematical/scientific interpretations.
            I interpret Jim's remarks to be directed more to the latter interpretation than the former.
            2. accentuating the infinity of God's creation. Infinity I suggest is closer to mathematical parameters, contrasted with the eternal, which "I" interpret as referring to the qualitative categories which include the modal operative of actualities, potentialities, etc.
            To find that one has a uniqueness within such a universe would surely be enough to suggest to me that I am special, that I have even been created in God's image.
            I'm not the best of logicians, but I rest my case.

    • ladycygnus

      We believe in a God who loves creating - There is so much in creation that is strictly speaking "not necessary" yet it is there because God wants it to be there. I suppose I've (note - might not be true Catholic teaching) always believed that all of creation is designed to praise the glory of God and is meant for that purpose. Man is the pinnacle of creation for it was through him that God became incarnate.

      From my comment below:

      "It may not be automatic necessity that makes all daisies [stars, planets, nebulae, galaxies] alike; it may be that God makes every daisy [star, planet, nebula, galaxy] separately, but has never got tired of making them. It may be that He has the eternal appetite of infancy; for we have sinned and grown old,
      and our Father is younger than we."

      • Loreen Lee

        God is love. And Love is boundless!!!!

    • "IF Catholics believe that the Universe was built with the sole purpose
      of human life,"

      Actually, this is not what we believe. From the CCC:

      "353 God willed the diversity of his creatures and their own particular goodness, their interdependence and their order. He destined all material creatures for the good of the human race. Man, and through him all creation, is destined for the glory of God."

      The order of creation is there to show God's Glory. Man was God's ultimate creation in this order.

      "Viva Cristo Rey!!"
      DHS

      • 42Oolon

        That pretty much sounds like it was created for humans to me. But if it was to show God's glory, it is even more confusing as the vast majority of it is inaccessible to us.

        • Was the universe created for humans? Let's consult Colossians 1:15 and following for the Catholic view:
          "He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation. For in him were created all things in heaven and on earth, the visible and the invisible, whether thrones or dominions or principalities or powers; all things were created through him and for him. He is before all things, and in him all
          things hold together."
          All things were created in, through, and *for* Jesus Christ.

          • Loreen Lee

            That is why we believe that Jesus is both human and divine. The Buddhists expressed the relation between the temporal and the eternal very well for me, at one point in my study of them. It made me think that yes, I too have 'always' "existed"

          • Vickie

            Which moves us from the geocentric/egocentic prospective. I would use heliocentric as a play on words but will instead say that many things make more sense to me from a God-centric model. Many of my questions are answered when it revolves around and attributes to God rather than it being all about me.
            For example, I can look at the concept of free will pointed at myself and say God gave us free will out of love for us. Which is true and wonderful. Or I can point it toward God and realize that also makes sense to say, God gave us free will because he is worthy of nothing less than being freely chosen.

          • 42Oolon

            Fine by me, Jesus created a Universe mostly empty of souls for himself. Like I've said, I do not find the scale of the Universe to be a compelling critique of Catholicism, just a critique that the Universe does not appear to be designed for humans. Rather, humans are able to live on a tiny part, for a tiny amount of time.

      • Sid_Collins

        "He destined all material creatures for the good of the human race."

        Presumably that includes alien life forms. Or are they specifically excluded elsewhere?

        I have always joked that if intelligent life is discovered on other planets, the first order of business for the Vatican will be to figure out the reproductive biology of that species, so they can determine which "gender" or "genders" cannot be ordained.

        • Kevin Aldrich

          "All material creatures" participates in the ambiguity we have in normal language when we say "the world." Sometime we mean the universe, sometimes just earth.

          I think the phrase you quote, "all material creatures," refers to the earth.

          If there are aliens, they have their own particular goodness, but that does not rule out that they are not for our good as well, since we can learn and benefit from everything. In addition, the human intellect wants to reach out and embrace everything intelligible.

          • K.

            I was thinking the same thing. I'm waiting until I get home to check the Latin and see from where (and when) this expression comes from and what were the exact words. However I would say, I suspect your assertion is right because of the way the previous sentence talks about " the diversity of his creatures" (General all encompassing statement). The sentence in question comes across as referring to a more specific case of "beings" i.e. "material creatures"

            "Viva Cristo Rey!!"
            DHS

        • Since there are at present no "material creatures" known to exist apart from planet Earth, it's safe to assume "all material creatures" means creatures here.

          • Kevin Aldrich

            I think material creatures includes everything made, so it includes other stars, planets, and everything in between.

          • Actually, yes, you're right, could very well be this--the term "creatures" in Catholicspeak often refers to created things in general...

        • Loreen Lee

          There is work to do sorting our the principalities from the thrones and dominions with respect to the angels - and 'demons'. These intelligibles, these thoughts with being, are only too familiar, in a metaphorical sense, even now.

    • Latitude89

      I don't think the Catholic Church believes that the universe was built with the sole purpose of human life. Rather, they believe He created the universe because he is a Creator who delights in creating. The relative "emptiness" of the universe and the incredible length of time it has existed don't conflict with his creative nature either. Space (extension) and time are themselves creations of God, so it's very conceivable that God delights just as much in 'creating' the almost eternal passage of time and the seemingly boundless expansions of 'empty' space just as much as he enjoys 'creating' every rose.

      At the same time, I don't think this understanding is incompatible with a belief that God also created everything with the good of man in view. If we are the pinnacle of his creation (the only creatures to have ever called God their friend, having broken bread and shared wine with Him), then it seems logical that He would have created the universe with man in mind- but not necessarily in a physical sense, with a universe wholly hospitable to man.

      Obviously, if you believe in God, it is pretty much self-evident that He is a Creator, given that a universe exists. But the nature of that universe can reveal more to us about that God. And if the Catholic God is anything else, he is a Poet. The vastness and strangeness of space and time reveal to the ever-searching souls of men that their Creator is not only a Carpenter but an Artist.

      When a man looks into the night sky and encounters the infinite expanse of the universe, the core of his being is struck with a deep sense of wonder and awe, and he is able to grasp, however incompletely, a better understanding of the creative and infinite nature of God. In this way, the universe is both for God and for the good of man, as the good of man rests in finding his Creator, and the universe helps him do just that by revealing something of His nature.

      • Vickie

        I liked this. Thanks

  • 42Oolon

    I'll say this one more time. Brandon has designed this site to have a high level of decorum and civility. He has been clear that things like sarcasm, ad hominems and insults will not be tolerated.

    In a situation like this, it is up to the commenters to err on the side of caution.There are many fora on the web in which people can be as sarcastic and crass as they wish. There are multiple places to start your own dialogue and set the rules as you wish.

    This site has shown time and again that it will allow devastating rebuttals to theist claims to be posted. If Brandon were trying to ban brilliant ideas that would seriously challenge theists, I would have been banned weeks ago ;).

    • 42Oolon - I disagree that the rebuttals have been devastating (naturally) but thanks for being objective! We're trying our best and really do want a completely open dialogue.

    • Eriktb

      "I'll say this one more time. Brandon has designed this site to have a
      high level of decorum and civility. He has been clear that things like
      sarcasm, ad hominems and insults will not be tolerated." -420olon

      Unless we are discussing the articles themselves which can contain as many ad homs and snark as the authors please. The fact is this site has been insincere from the start.

      • M. Solange O’Brien

        I do agree that the level of snark, ad-hominem, and lack of civility are sometimes higher in the articles themselves than in the responses.

  • The vastness of the universe, its unimaginable scope in terms of both size and age, do not cause me to doubt that God exists. The scale of the universe hints that we are not God's top priority.

    It is difficult to believe that the God who made this universe is also the God who would send his only begotten son to die for some monkeys on the back of one small planet out of billions. It seems out of proportion.

    • Paul,

      See my answer to 42O bellow. I think it applies to your comment too.

      "Viva Cristo Rey!!"
      DHS

      • I'm not saying that you would claim that humans were the sole purpose of the universe.

        But if God's sending his only son to die for a group of people, those people must be very important to him. The kind of God that is interested in humans seems more like Fulwiler's "Uncle Ralph with magic powers" than the transcendent Maker of a Billion Worlds.

        Now, maybe God is very very loving, and has sent his son to die millions of times over? Or maybe all the aliens were much better people and didn't screw things up for themselves. Seems unfair they'd have to live in this sort of universe anyway.

    • Kevin Aldrich

      Since we are not "monkeys on the back of a planet" your difficulty does not hold.

      • What do you think about aliens, on other worlds? Imagine that they exist. Would this invalidate Christianity?

        If not, do you think that possibly some of the aliens would not have fallen from grace, and maybe others have? Would Jesus have died for them too?

        • Kevin Aldrich

          The question is whether there are aliens who are "persons," that is, possessing reason and free will. Only persons can be moral agents.

          If there have been such rational beings, and they were all subject to a test, and some failed, it make sense that God would have devised some way for them to be redeemed.

          But the distances are so vast do you think we will ever know if there is even *life* of any kind on other planets?

          • I think that, if life is plentiful on planets in habitable zones around their host stars, given the number of planets observed, it is likely that we will detect life on other planets within my lifetime.

            I think it is not likely that intelligent life, or at least life as dumb as we are, will be discovered in my lifetime. If it's not too rare, maybe people will find intelligent life in the next couple thousand years. If so, and if there's still a Catholic Church at that time, I wonder what the discovery will do to its theology?

          • Kevin Aldrich

            It is possible that two thousand more years of theology will expose that all kinds of problems we think we face today are false ones.

        • I think C.S. Lewis did a fantastic job exploring this in his Space Trilogy.

          https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Space_Trilogy

          "Viva Cristo Rey!!"
          DHS

          • I have read it. It's interesting and naturally very well written, although the Arthurian element at the end is strange. What do you think about Jesus and aliens?

          • Loreen Lee

            I've heard some opposition to the 'fact' that the Copernican revolution ended the geo-centric conception of the universe. But Kant's complimentary Copernician revolution actually placed mankind at the center of an ego-centric universe.
            We see both God and the universe from our 'human' perspective. I have no more fear therefore, of meeting aliens, who may be more intelligent than ourselves, than I now have fear of meeting either angels and devils. After all, I have the promise that with faith I can conquer all evils with love. So if I need not be in fear of principalities, dominions, et al. why need I fear meeting up with other life forms that are even more intelligent than ourselves. The point is, that within the ego/geo-centric perspective of Life, both as physically and spiritually interpreted, if we are in a unique position with respect to the hosts of angels, this at least is a precedent.

            But perhaps, with the help of the naturalists, environmentalists, cosmologists, physicists, we can learn to have more respect for other 'forms' of life and intelligence, even that of the demon mosquito who kills hundred of thousands of persons every year through the spread of the parasite in malaria. We are no more consciously aware of the vastness of the universe, than we are of the moment to moment 'infinities' within the happenings of even the smallest forms of life on this planet. Blake said a lot when he said, to see infinity in a grain of sand, heaven in a wildflower.
            I think of those constellations millions of light years away, and that they are seen by us as they were millions of years ago. (Don't know the exact mathematics here, so please understand that my reference to millions does not pretend to be accurate). The point is: imagine this scenario; a kind of science-fiction-philosophic perspective on the relation of size to possible transformation in the universe.
            Could you imagine that each of those galaxies is what we once were 'millions' of years ago. And that in looking through our telescopes we really are 'seeing our past'. It is interesting that we cannot see the perspective of what we are today, from the telescopes of a galaxy that exists 'now' within our 'future'. The universe is possibly 'both' trans- formative, and redundant in the sense of Nietzsche's 'eternal return'. If we are made in the image of God, perhaps it is within our free will to see that image around us, not only within the context of human life, but within the universe 'as a whole'. Indeed is this not what we strive for: atheist and theist alike, in both the universe, and in our 'spiritual' quests.

            Do we not then have something in common not only even within our current perplexities, but also our respective purposes: the naturalist perspective to search for the physical unified theory, to search out the limits of the universe in order to satisfy this question of unity, and as well the theist perspective, in which we see even ourselves as an image of something whole and complete, something that I believe atheists as well as theists cannot help but strive for in our individual lives.

        • Sage McCarey

          When we go into space and find others on other planets will we treat them like we treated the native americans, the Africans, the muslims in the past? Will the missionaries cut off their legs to keep them from dancing? Will they kill them without compassion because they worship different gods or no gods? Will they convince themselves they aren't really people and enslave them for hundreds of years and use the bible to justify it?

          • That's what CS Lewis thought would happen. Although in this age of abortion on demand and drone attacks I hardly think that we will need any justification at all.

          • Loreen Lee

            You are being ironic, of course!

        • Christian Stillings

          I've read a bit on this question and encountered some fascinating thoughts. I don't have a citation handy for this (I could try to dig one up), but apparently a while back (either in the 13th century or the 1300s) the Church expressly forbade anyone from saying that there was certainly not life on other planets, which would certainly carry the possibility of Divine interaction with life on other said planets. One writer observed that if the second person of the Trinity incarnated Himself on our planet for a particular purpose, there's no reason that He couldn't do likewise in other circumstances within Creation. The presence of highly-qualified scientists in groups like SETI suggests that cosmic formation patterns may likely allow for the existence of other life-compatible habitats and for the development of life on said habitats, and I personally think it's cool to hypothesize about possibilities regarding Divine interaction with different intelligent life all over the cosmos. :-)

          I recently found an interview with Jesuit astronomer Guy Consolmagno which you might enjoy. A favorite quotation:

          Int: "Does this suggest that there could be a seven-tentacled Jesus landing on the third moon of Saturn?" GC: "For all I know. When you find him, ask me again."

          And a link: http://ttbook.org/book/transcript/transcript-brother-guy-consolmagno-theology-and-astronomy

          As for "does God care about little fellas like us in a ginormous universe?", my best response (as a Catholic) is to point out the extreme difficulty of accounting materially for conscious experience while still allowing for the possibility of actual rational thought. C.S. Lewis excellently laid out the issue in chapter 3 of his book "Miracles,", entitled "The Cardinal Difficulty of Naturalism." The shortest version of the argument is captured in a quotation by J.B.S. Haldane, who was by no means a "religionist": "If my mental processes are determined wholly by the motions of atoms in my brain, I have no reason to suppose that my beliefs are true... and hence I have no reason for supposing my brain to be made up of atoms."

          I think it's an excellent argument for something non-material inherent to the conscious experience, and I don't see how a purely material process of biological generation could in principle fully explain the conscious experience. Interestingly, some atheist philosophers like Thomas Nagel have conceded to this argument that metaphysical materialism is extraordinarily unlikely. The only way out for the materialist against this would be to deny any rational validity to his or her thoughts, which some (as Lewis notes) do, and ultimately thus discredit anything else they might try to say about anything. Plus, how could one possibly rationally arrive at the conclusion that one can't think rationally? It's basically impossible. I think this is one of the best arguments, if not the very best argument, against atheistic naturalism, and I'm disappointed that Strange Notions hasn't had an article on it to date.

          • Loreen Lee

            In response to Dennet's assertion that consciousness is an illusion, it doesn't change the 'fact' that I am conscious of the illusion.

          • Do you think that Brandon should commission an article on the Evolutionary Argument Against Naturalism? Personally, I've not found it very convincing, because it would generally seem to be a n evolutionary advantage to have a realistic impression of the world, and we humans are actually pretty bad at getting a realistic impression. We fool ourselves all the time. If we were good at not fooling ourselves, we wouldn't need a scientific method. We'd just look at things and learn about them.

            I do find Kripke's argument for mind-body dualism convincing, though. I'm a naturalist, but not a materialist. But I'm not a materialist about dogs, either, or ants, and I'm not sure God cares much about these guys either.

            About aliens, I think it's very interesting to think about the variety of religions they may have. If we found an alien civilization and found out that they believed in a crucified savior, I'd find that very strong evidence for Christianity.

          • Christian Stillings

            I think an article regarding the Evolutionary Argument Against Naturalism would be fascinating- I assume we're thinking roughly along the lines of Plantiga's "... Where The Conflict Really Lies"? The bit about Lewis and Haldane, though, isn't about evolutionary fitness and perception of Reality (a la Plantinga); rather, it's about the "cardinal difficulty" (more likely impossibility) of beings in a naturalistic universe, whose mental experiences are completely derived from the material composition of said beings' brains, and whose brain matter is solely impacted by purely natural causes, having any capacity to assess the rationality of any experienced thought propositions. It's an excellent argument but difficult to capture briefly, and I shan't manage it better than Haldane. Again, Lewis captures it very well in chapter 3 of "Miracles", and I strongly recommend that you read the preceding chapters as well to get a precise sense for his selected terminology. I haven't yet read any of it, but I've heard that Victor Reppert develops the argument a bit more in his book "The Argument From Reason".

            One other clarification: the argument Lewis works with isn't so much about "materialism" or "mind-body dualism" (ie "are the mind and brain of different substances?", if I understand correctly) but rather about the necessary implications of a naturalistic metaphysical perspective for the validity (or invalidity) of human thought in arriving at conclusions via a rational method.

            I'm too holding out for SETI (or a similar group) to turn something out. I agree that "a crucified savior" in other terrestrial situations would be fascinating, and such a precise match with Christian theology would certainly be a point in Christian theology's favor. That said, I'm not necessarily holding out for crucifixion, haha. In Christian theology, the second Person of the Triune God has incarnated Godself at least once in order to directly impact a situation among intelligent beings on our planet. Thus, we may hypothesize that God's interaction with intelligent beings elsewhere in the universe may include Incarnation. Any quantity of parallels with Christian theology would certainly be conspicuous, and the more parallels, the more Christianity may be vindicated on earth. We'll just have to see how things play out, won't we? :-)

          • I do not believe that naturalism requires mental experiences to be completely derived from the material composition of the brains (and as I recall Lewis's argument, that's an important premise). Naturalism only requires that there be a natural explanation for our mental experiences.

            Spinoza's position on this is an extreme case, but it's instructive. For him, mind is separate from body, and minds exist, but both mind and body find a common explanation in nature. Minds are governed completely by natural laws; the laws are different from those that govern atomic motion (psychology vs. physic). Spinoza proposed natural laws for the mind so that minds can attain perfect rationality. I don't know how believable that is, but there are some psychologists who consider parts of his psychology helpful.

            Less extreme positions include Aristotle's naturalism, where everything has a nature and a thing's nature explains it, where the soul is the form of the body, and so cannot exist (without divine interference) without the body, just as the body cannot exist without the soul. Naturalists can argue that the mind is an emergent phenomenon, which cannot be explained by any one part of the brain, but instead by the structure taken as a whole.

            Since atoms follow definite rules, and other emergent properties like temperature also follow rules, it does not seem improbable at first glance that the evolved mind, as an emergent phenomenon, would be able to at least partly apprehend these rules. Surprising, yes! But it is difficult to say how likely or unlikely such a thing is. After all, monkeys and dogs respond to nature as it is. If they didn't, they'd die.

            I hope I'll still be alive to see how things play out with the aliens.

          • Christian Stillings

            Hey Paul, sorry for the much-delayed response! I hope you'll still catch this via a "My Disqus" notification.

            I do not believe that naturalism requires mental experiences to be completely derived from the material composition of the brains (and as I recall Lewis's argument, that's an important premise). Naturalism only requires that there be a natural explanation for our mental experiences.

            In a naturalistic system, from whence else come mental experiences if not from the material composition of the brain? It sounds like you're proposing that some influence(s) outside of the material world affect the mental experience. While I think that's a plausible hypothesis, I also think that it certainly sounds nothing like naturalism. If the explanation of some mental experiences lies outside of physical nature, one would need both to expand the definition of "naturalism" to encompass "natures" of different qualities and to say that not all of these "natures" are physical in their composition; I think that sounds more like what's called "dualism" than what's called "naturalism."

            I may respond to the rest of your comment, some of which I do find quite interesting in its own right. However, other conversational obligations beckon at present. :-)

          • Thanks for your insights. There are only two things I see that need much of a response.

            In a naturalistic system, from whence else come mental experiences if not from the material composition of the brain? It sounds like you're proposing that some influence(s) outside of the material world affect the mental experience. While I think that's a plausible hypothesis, I also think that it certainly sounds nothing like naturalism.

            It is possible to be a naturalist and not a materialist. For a naturalist, things can be non-material and still real, so long as they can be explained by some naturalistic process. Two examples of this sort of naturalism:

            1) Spinoza's naturalism. He describes his psychology in Part 2 of his ethics.
            2) Quine's naturalism. Quine believes sets exist, and sets are not made of matter. Their existence is defined by very specific rules.

            There are many more examples of this sort of naturalism.

            The nature of material things is thought by some to include randomness, and if our mental states are determined entirely by material things, then an argument can be made that those mental states are unreliable. The nature of non-material things is not generally thought to include randomness (and according to Spinoza cannot possibly include randomness), and so Lewis's argument cannot be made. Lewis's argument only connects to materialism.

            The broader question of how we know our mental-experiential insights are "Truly Reasonable" is not really solved by any system (Lewis's included). After all, maybe you only believe that God exists because we exist in a program and the programmer wants you to think God exists.

          • Christian Stillings

            Hey Paul, thanks for your response, and I apologize for my again-delayed response. Let us give thanks for Disqus notifications! :-P

            I think I understand, and I accept, the technical distinction between naturalism and materialism. I think what I'm more curious about is how one might conceive of "material" and "non-material" substances interacting in a "naturalistic" metaphysical framework in a way that sidesteps Lewis' objections and allows for the mental experience to probably experience Truly Reasonable insights.

            My understanding is that most non-materialist naturalists are non-materialist because they acknowledge the non-material nature of mental experiences (or qualia). However, they believe (in my understanding) that non-material reality exists in strict causal relationship to material reality. I can think of two metaphysical frameworks which feasibly account for the relationship between material reality and non-material reality:

            Option 1: Non-material reality exists in strict causal relationship to material reality. There is nothing in non-material reality cannot be completely accounted for by a corresponding arrangement of matter in the material realm of existence.

            Option 2: Some non-material reality exists and functions in a way which cannot be completely accounted for by a corresponding arrangement of matter in the material realm of existence.

            If the first option is true, we again meet Prof. Haldane's objection about the (un)trustworthiness of our own thoughts. The second option presents multiple possible metaphysical frameworks; I've thought of the following possibilities: non-material forces somehow direct the motion of matter in the material realm of existence and/or non-material forces influence other non-material existence.

            If naturalism doesn't require that all qualia directly correspond to an arrangement of matter in the material realm (as I believe you suggested at the beginning of your second-most-recent comment in this conversation thread), it sounds as though the latter of my "second option" ideas must be true: non-material forces somehow influence other non-material existence, in this case qualia. Either all mental experience directly corresponds to material matter or at least some of it corresponds to non-material influences/forces/etcetera. You seem averse to the former of those possibilities, but I've never heard of a "naturalistic" metaphysical framework wherein forces/influences affect non-material reality essentially independent of material reality.

            Unless your "naturalism" involves stipulating some entirely-unknowable principles (similar to the principles of physics) of "the non-material realm" which precisely govern the action/interaction of non-material things with other non-material things and with non-material-correspondent-to-material things (such as our qualia), I think you're basically admitting that at least some non-material forces/influences exist as "free agents." However, if such principles exist, there's still no more reason to assume that they will produce Truly Reasonable mental insights than there is to assume that the principles of physics will cause arrangements of brain matter which in turn generate Truly Reasonable insights in one's qualia.

            In short, I think that one must either believe in a system where all things (both material and non-material) are governed by inviolable natural principles (which exclude any action by "free agents") OR one must believe in a system wherein "free agents" truly exist. However, as accepting the former system essentially damns reason altogether (as Lewis observes), the latter system can only be equally reasonable or more reasonable.

            The nature of non-material things is not generally thought to include randomness (and according to Spinoza cannot possibly include randomness), and so Lewis's argument cannot be made. Lewis's argument only connects to materialism.

            On what grounds should the nature of non-material things not be considered random? I'm not familiar with Spinoza's thoughts, so please feel free to share them here if you think it'd be constructive. :-) I think that Lewis' argument can be employed any system wherein the system's operative parts cannot be relied upon to arrange themselves in a fashion which would cause Truly Reasonable qualia. Whether or not a naturalist believes in materialism or not is irrelevant to the principles which he or she believes govern reality and to the reliability of those principles in generating Truly Reasonable qualia. Although he only specifically talks about principles which govern material reality in his argument (as opposed to any principles which may govern non-material reality), Lewis proposes that abandoning naturalistic principles for understanding reality enables a probability of Truly Reasonable qualia which doesn't exist in a naturalistic metaphysical framework.

            Regarding your last paragraph, it's true that neither Lewis nor any other philosopher can demonstrate the validity of thought, and Lewis doesn't set out to do so. He relays (at least in the first edition of Miracles) that some devoted naturalists with whom he's conversed have preferred to call their own thoughts invalid than to give up their naturalistic metaphysical perspective. Lewis simply proffers that a non-naturalistic metaphysical framework allows for valid thought in a way which a naturalistic metaphysical framework can't; thus, if one desires to accept one's own thoughts as valid, one should not hold a naturalistic metaphysical perspective.

          • I assume that my sense and reason are reliable as a foundational basis for philosophy and for science. Those philosophers who are unable to make this assumption will not trust that the little black marks on the computer screen convey anything trustworthy, and will have a hard time responding to my comments here.

            Whatever we find using sense and reason is what we need to provisionally accept as reality. Since we can't be infallible, what we find needs to be constantly revised, and nothing should be accepted with 100% confidence.

            If an explanation suggests that our senses and reason are unreliable, that's not evidence against the assumption, but evidence against the explanation.

            C.S. Lewis asks how likely is the foundational assumption given materialism. He concludes that it is not very likely. Maybe he is correct, although it is difficult to say, since no one knows what sense and reason is made of, let alone how it arises. Nevertheless, maybe his argument holds some water as a broad speculative intuition.

            Spinoza's view is that mind and body are two different things. They are connected to each other such that both are part of a single reality (which Spinoza calls God or Nature). They correspond. But one doesn't cause another.

            Spinoza thinks everything has an explanation, or that things are understood in terms of their causes. So, for Spinoza, every physical thing is connected to a set of mental ideas (its explanation). This means there's a 1:1 correspondence between mental objects and physical objects, even though mental things don't cause physical things and physical things don't cause mental things. He also thinks that there are mental laws as deterministic as the physical laws, and that a separate science (psychology) can explore what they are.

            Is Spinoza right? I don't know. But it doesn't matter whether he's right or not. He's shown that it is possible for naturalism to be true and for our senses and reason to be reliable. If someone holds to Spinoza's naturalism, it would be fair to ask them why they think it's true, but it wouldn't be fair to use Lewis's objection, because that's already been answered.

          • As always, thanks for the excellent comment, Paul! I'm very curious about your last assertion:

            "If someone holds to Spinoza's naturalism, it would be fair to ask them why they think it's true, but it wouldn't be fair to use Lewis's objection, because that's already been answered."

            I'm not aware of any unanswered refutation of Lewis' point (one which has, of course, been proposed by many other philosophers, scientists, and theologians.) Can you briefly and clearly explain to me Lewis' point has been refuted?

            (PS. By "Lewis' point" I mean his assertion that if materialism is true, we have no good reason to trust our minds or capacity to reason. This is because there's no reason to assume purposeless and deterministic patterns of firing neurons would lead to the truth,)

          • The "unanswered refutation" is simply made, and its parts are contained in your response, I think.

            By "Lewis' point" I mean his assertion that if materialism is true, we have no good reason to trust our minds or capacity to reason.

            Spinoza gets around this by not being a materialist. :D It is unanswered because that's not what Lewis was going after.

            I don't think materialists have a good response to Lewis's argument. But I don't know for sure, since I'm not a professional philosopher.

            There's a collection of essays in 2002 about a more difficult-to-address version of this argument and responses from naturalists, called "Naturalism Defeated?" It is possible some new objections are present there.

          • Randy Gritter

            I am confused by "physical things don't cause mental things and mental things don't cause physical things." Isn't the human mind an exception to this rule? It is influenced by mental things and can influence physical things like our limbs. It seems the other way around should be true to. It is influenced by physical things like blood sugar and hormones. It influences mental things. OK maybe mental thing exists independent of the human mind, not sure of you definitions, but I thought the word mental referred to the mind.

          • Isn't the human mind an exception to this rule?

            I don't think Spinoza would have it that way. The correspondence principle will keep the mind connected to the body, although one is never the efficient cause of the other. My body moves the pencil when my mind thinks "my body is moving the pencil". Both are necessarily coincident but neither made the other happen.

            Is it strange? Yes, it's strange. It is counter-intuitive. It seems as though physical things affect mental things (otherwise why am I wasting time drinking caffeine in the morning?) and vice verse. I don't know why Spinoza didn't just go with a sort of hylomorphic system: there's no contradiction in his philosophy if you do this. Maybe he did and I'm misinterpreting him.

          • Loreen Lee

            Thanks Paul. Is Spinoza right? I don't know. But it doesn't matter whether he's right
            or not. He's shown that it is possible for naturalism to be true and
            for our senses and reason to be reliable

            It is more difficult to find a correlation, within my 'imperfect sense and reason' between the reality in which Catholicism holds the 'existence' of God to be, rather than Kant's ideality of metaphysical transcendents, including God, but at least you have given me confidence that my self-analytic signature of being 'a-theist Catholic' can support both 'Faith' (Yes I can accept the Nicene Creed) in the Being (I don't say existence) of God, and my understanding that there is truth within Spinoza's 'pantheism'....

            But I have found time and time, again, that my understanding and support of particular ideas, etc. is not what I hold to be true when I make general statements concerning my 'over-riding' beliefs. The word 'a-theism' even is not an accurate description of some of the interpretations I make of reality.

            But I'm not sure how it is possible to be a naturalist and a 'super'naturalist' at the same time, and so I believe, without having explicit self-understanding that I may lean to a 'naturalist' explanation, and yet hold to the 'being' of transcendent reality/ies.. But again, within particular understandings that have not been assimilated into a 'whole'. If only I could see myself as others see me, or more to the point- how 'God'? sees me.

        • Joseph R.

          I think many of your points were taken up by Mark Shea a couple years ago:

          ...In fact, several things would have to line up for the existence of extraterrestrial life to pose a challenge to the Catholic picture of the universe

          First, it has to exist, which we don’t know.

          Second, it has to be sentient. Alien oysters cannot sin any more than ours do.

          Third, it has to have fallen. An unfallen race is not in need of redemption.

          Fourth, we have to know that, being fallen, it has been denied the chance of redemption by God. How on earth (or Thulcandra) we’d ever figure that out beats me.

          Fifth, we have to know that the redemption will be forever denied this hypothetically existent, hypothetically rational, hypothetically fallen race. After all, if you’d visited earth 10,000 years ago you would not have seen to many obvious clue that redemption was in the works for us. And since the only way to know that God has no plans to redeem them is to know the mind of God, this seems an especially tricky hurdle to get over.

          Sixth, we have to know that redemption via an incarnation, death and resurrection of God the Son in this fallen alien nature is the only way in which God redeems fallen creatures and that such a redemption will never be granted such creatures.

          Read more: http://www.ncregister.com/blog/mark-shea/ignorant_armies_clash_by_night#ixzz2akIiEVaJ
          http://www.ncregister.com/blog/mark-shea/ignorant_armies_clash_by_night

          • Rick Delano can't answer for himself here anymore, but he thinks that intelligent aliens would falsify Catholic teaching. So it's not universal amongst Catholics what such a discovery would mean. This is why I ask.

          • Joseph R.

            Of course! This is simply one of those topics about which it is fun to speculate, and Catholics are free to come up with all sorts of wild hypothesis. I simply think Mark's approach establishes a good starting point for "alien theology." So regarding Rick's opinion (which I don't know and expect to be quite nuanced), there are conditions, as laid out by Mark, in which intelligent aliens could pose a problem. Besides, given that alien theology is mostly conjecture at this point, is there really a reason to suppose Catholics should share a universal opinion about it?

  • Vickie

    I have only been on this site for a couple of weeks. I have to admit that before this I am not sure I recognized when I met a strawman...though I do believe I have met a few good Scotsmen. I am going to have to give the athist credit. You have kept me on my toes, you have made me do my homework, you won't let me be lazy. I can't just pop off with any old comment and have it carried by the weight of my opinion. So in that regard...three cheers for the atheists.(Gasp)
    In the last couple of days there has been a lot of... the problem with this site is this, the problem with this site is that. It has been my observation, however, that the real problem with this site is...us. Not the atheists, not the Catholics...us and our dynamic.
    I have seen the logical argument taken to reductio ad absurdum(see what I've learned) in which the idea or thought gets lost in the attempt to score the debate point. We might be able to soundly refute the article or each other. But what will that accomplish except as a display of how adroit we are with such things. It doesn't make us right and it does not give each other any meat concerning someone's actual point of view. We are so afraid to admit certain things because then the other side will say"Ha. Gotcha. Na nana boo boo you have to believe in God now or you have to abandon your belief in God now" so that discussions often go like a circle in a spiral while we avoid. I have also seen the villagers chase someone with torches for daring to disagree. It's our dynamic that is the problem
    I did like the idea of reading certain books and then giving side by side critiques. Way to offer a solution instead of just voicing a complaint.
    If you don't like what is said in an article, that's fine. It is supposed to be a jumping off point for discussion anyway. Start a new thread and give us some good ideas of your own then, rather than ridiculing by saying that the argument is so weak you're not even going to waste your time. Ok, then don't waste your time, make better use of it by presenting some thoughts.
    Ok. I'll get off the soapbox. Nobody asked for my opinion anyway, so forgive me for stepping up on the soapbox to begin with.

    • Linda

      I like what you said. Thank you.

    • Vickie,

      "I have seen the logical argument taken to reductio ad absurdum(see what
      I've learned) in which the idea or thought gets lost in the attempt to
      score the debate point."

      I agree with you. I have to admit a few weeks back I was falling into this, so I decided to pull back, go into silent mode for a while, if you may. Perhaps those who have announce their departure with so much fanfare will take their time away to reflect on what was the real reason why the left, and why they should return.

      "Viva Cristo Rey!!"
      DHS

    • Loreen Lee

      Keep on 'singing your song'..

  • SJH

    The vastness of the universe has a very important purpose. It provides us with something to admire, to explore, to dream about. If the universe were small and we had gotten to the point where we understood everything about the universe then my son would not be able to dream, to wonder. He would be left to read about everyone else's discoveries, never with the opportunity to dream about exploring and discovering something for himself. What a static, boring universe tat would eventually become. Fortunately God knew what he was doing.

  • Loreen Lee

    Please, please, site supervisors. I believe there has been a terrible mistake. I have just read the comment thread of epeeist, and find that his contributions to this site are among the most valuable we have. Please, please, attempt to get in touch with him. Please, please, look for the positive contributions he has made through out these dialogues. I want to learn from this gentleman.

    • I do think it would be in the best interests of @bvogt1:disqus to make some effort to bring him back.

      I don't know the specifics of why he was banned (what he exactly said or did). Maybe his errors can be forgiven, and he can be invited back here?

      • I for one trust the moderators to interpret the house rules fairly. I believe that self-restraint is one of the most difficult challenges of combox discussions. This site has been a breath of fresh air because it exercises a mature balance of tolerance of highly divergent views as well as a moderate disposition when it comes to keeping civility. Obviously the moderators work hard in private to encourage all commenters to return to civility when a line is crossed, but all commenters should be willing to do everything possible *not* to get as close to that line as possible, but rather as far *away* from the line as possible, if the goal is really dialogue and discussion...

    • Ben

      Loreen, we agree.

      As to the article itself: c'mon. This article just belongs in the trashbin of religious rationalization. We all know if there was some sort of cosmic indicator that the Earth was marked as special real estate, Catholics would be all over it as a proof of God. You've got to be able to ask yourself: if my belief is true, what should I expect the world to look like? In a world where the lives and moral struggles of human beings are a centerpiece of the universe, pretty much the only things of moral significance, would you expect the world to look as it does? No. So yes, it's not a dispositive knock down blow to Catholicism, but the size of the stage is reasonably seen as casting some doubt on the Catholic world view.

      Those supporting the author are now doing their best to scrounge up reasons why the world should look the way it does, but mostly they are saying: God is mysterious, just because you would do it differently doesn't mean God wouldn't do it this way, maybe he just like creating 100s of trillions of barren planets and unfathomable expanses of empty space? That's weaksauce. That kind of thinking lets you explain any outcome that happens, which basically means it lets you predict nothing, and is a useless theory.

      Anyways, in the name of fencing solidarity, I guess I'm gone with epeeist.

      • Loreen Lee

        I will miss you. But this is a moment where I believe 'F/faith' is needed. I have spoken on this issue in today's feed. You can perhaps read my comments by 'mousing' my name, and reading the Disquis collection of these comments of mine. I don't want to be 'redundant'.

        I myself am not perplexed by the size of the universe. We are just beginning to develop a better understanding of the 'meaning' of both the infinite and the eternal, as praeternatural. The more I study Catholicism, the more I understand that the possible meaning of 'image of God', etc. etc. needs to be interpreted with respect to morality, or normative thought, with respect to life both in a physical and 'spiritual' sense, etc.

        Indeed, the challenge of these 'concepts' is, as I expect you believe with respect to the immensity of the university and its demonstration of our 'limited significance' from a physical perspective, is perhaps the same as that which should 'evolve' from a truer understanding of what it 'means' to be made in God's image, from a spiritual or metaphysical perspective.. Could they both not be interpreted as equally demanding of humility. And love. But then we have free will, and we do not always choose to make the better judgment. Indeed, we need to grow in both love and 'understanding'.

      • Kevin Aldrich

        Why epeeist has been banned I don't know because I have not seen the offensive posts which were deleted.

        Why Ben is allowed to continue posting is what I cannot understand. This morning one of his posts ended with "F*ck the pope."

        • Why epeeist has been banned I don't know because I have not seen the offensive posts which were deleted.

          There is a dilemma here. I think it would be wrong of the moderators to make a detailed case against epeeist, especially by citing deleted posts to support their decision. But on the other hand, judging by his messages that I have seen, he seemed to have adhered to the guidelines more faithfully than a number of others.

          Someone has complained that the guidelines are enforced, at least to a certain extent, subjectively. But how could it be otherwise? (One might ask why, if the atheists believe there is no objective morality, there can be objectivity in anything!)

          The main objectors to the decision, and the ones who have bid farewell, have formed a kind of "atheist clique" here, reinforcing each others' points and (somewhat annoyingly, in my humble opinion) voting up each others' messages as a matter of course, as if up or down votes made any difference.

          On the one hand, this site is run by the moderators, and they certainly have a right to make the decisions as to who is violating the rules, from their viewpoint, and who is not. You can't let the inmates run the asylum.

          On the other hand, I think not only must moderation be fair—it must be seen to be fair, and it appears neither you nor I can see for ourselves why epeeist was banned. So it is kind of troubling in two ways that it's basically only the "atheist clique" that is protest. First, it's troubling that there is an atheist clique. Second, it's troubling (to me at least) that they are getting little support.

          I am not sure that banning epeeist was fair, and so I am self-imposing a (probably very brief) moratorium on commenting. Probably most of us would be better off spending less time commenting and more time reading books, anyway. Issues like whether or not morality is objective can be explored more effectively than by arguing with someone who knows just as little about as you do. I think it would be more profitable to discuss a book that both sides could agree to read than to discuss the typical post, since most post here, if they are convincing to anyone at all, seem to be convincing only to those who select them for posting. The Jennifer Fulwiler piece is among the weakest ever to be posted here. If Strange Notions wants to post thought-provoking pieces that stimulate genuinely intelligent discussions with nonbelievers, they will have to mine sources other than the National Catholic Register. Imagine a non-Christian or an atheist with a background in science or philosophy whom you would like to engage with and entice them into the Catholic Church. Would you really give them a subscription to the National Catholic Register?

          P.S. I trust there is something in the above to offend everyone! :)

          • Kevin Aldrich

            I agree.

            I think we also need much stronger theistic commenters: Ones who know math, science, history, and philosophy at an expert level.

            A promising YouTube station I just found yesterday is called PhilosophyCosmology which is a series of mini-seminars by philosophers and scientists at Oxford and Cambridge on these kinds of questions.

            Hope you won't be gone long because I enjoy your comments immensely.

          • Vickie

            I have not been here long enough to give anyone my personal support. I have not said anything because, well, because I am a mom and I recognize when it is a good idea for somebody to go off and cool off when something has made them angry.

            As far as fairness goes. I believe that I have been guilty of at least one snarky remark. I have gone back to try and find it. So far I have not been able to so I am believing that it got deleted. That has been my personal experience so far.

            - Imagine a non-Christian or an atheist with a background in science or philosophy whom you would like to engage with and entice them into the Catholic Church. Would you really give them a subscription to the National Catholic Register?

            You are correct I would not. But I have also never enticed them into the Catholic Curch by proving the existence of God. It has always been a let your light shine kind of thing.

          • But I have also never enticed them into the Catholic Curch by proving the existence of God. It has always been a let your light shine kind of thing.

            I think you are right. I think the most effective way for Catholics to draw people to the Catholic Church (or for any member of a religious group to draw people to that group) is to live (and that includes communicating online) in such a way that people say, "I wish I could be more like that." Trying to convince people intellectually is not illegitimate, but it seems to me it is secondary.

          • Vickie

            That is why I decided to enter into these discussions. I was hoping to intellectually stimulate and sometimes provoke further thought. But to do it in my own unique way as a Catholic. To let my own light shine. It might not entice you to enter the Catholic Church. It may only give futher understanding into who a Catholic might be and why they would believe what they believe.

      • Kevin Aldrich

        "If my belief is true, what should I expect the world to look like?"

        This species of argument has been invalid since we discovered QM, in which things simply do not look like we should expect them to look from ordinary experience.

  • Andres Rodriguez

    I'm brand spanking new and not as philosophically knowledgable as almost all you posters. Please bear with me, I'm just a dumb ole' landscaper from Texas playing arm chair philosophy/theology professor. Some of the posters asked why the vastness of the universe if we can't see it all or explore it all? Some have made the comment that it " is just a waste". Perhaps we were/are meant to explore and enjoy it all? Maybe that was the plan after all?

    • Welcome to the site, Andres! It's so good to have you. I think your suggestion is valid and quite plausible.

    • Vickie

      don't worry Andres, I'm a mom and a grandma who spent the last 35 years raising children. Which is where, by the way, I honed most of my discussion skills... lots of teenagers and they have never met an ad hominem they didn't like. By the way, I had to look up ad hominem.
      I like this point. I have to admit that we seem to have an inate drive to seek out and explore.

    • Actually, given what we know about the rules governing the Universe, we are hopelessly equipped to be any more than remote spectators, and will likely remain so for as long as human beings exist.

      The pre-1923 Universe (thought to be the size of our own Milky Way) is daunting enough, but the chances of us ever reaching Andromeda, the nearest large galaxy to our own, are essentially zero, and it is squatting on our doorstep in universal terms.

      Should we ever have the chance to personally travel the stars, it will be when we have been fundamentally transformed as a species -- living hundreds of years, perhaps even as downloaded minds in silicon brains. Not sure such concepts would be embraced willingly by the Catholic Church (at least not until everyone was doing it!)

      • Andres Rodriguez

        Lol..I don't know about the "downloaded minds"part ..But from a Catholic point of view you could be closer to what we believe. For instance we do believe the human race will change, the saved will change on the day of the resurrection. Our current bodies will become glorified, better bodies than we could have imagined capable of things we cannot do now. Also the ushering in of "the new Heaven and Earth" points to a concept of humans being in harmony with the universe. Yeah I know it's not exactly what you meant, but hey it's a similar concept!

  • Kevin Aldrich

    As it bears on the place of man in the universe, I think the smallness of human beings in terms of physical size and brief lifespan, compared to the vastness of the universe in its size and age, is basically a psychological problem.

    It ceased to be a psychological problem for me when I read a lecture by C.S. Lewis that pointed out that the Ptolemaic conception of the universe, which was the one in vogue when the Church arose, already saw the earth so insignificant in size as to be like a mathematical point compared to the rest of the cosmos. So from the beginning, Christian theologians did not see us as living in a 'cozy little universe'.

    Then, if we consider the extraordinary mental abilities of human beings who can conceive that we are insignificant compared to the great big universe and that the great big universe cannot conceive of us at all, it is not hard to reason that except for selling certain products on the internet, "size does not matter."

  • M. Solange O’Brien

    Well, given the unnecessary banning of epeeist, and the failure of this site to provide an actual forum for civilized discussion between theists and atheists, I will be eliminating it from my bookmarks.

    Brandon, I applaud your attempt to create such a forum, I regret that it does not appear to be succeeding. I wish you all luck.

    • Your choice, M. We appreciated your insights but hope you find good conversation elsewhere.

      • GreatSilence

        Hi Brandon
        Personally I believe that management has handled this conflict and the resultant exodus very badly. Banning people who contributed to the value of the site is so counterproductive that I have to wonder if this was not an intentional tactic to force an eventual closure of the site.
        Your initial goal with the site was a wonderful one, one which as a Catholic I fully support. This is however not, in my view, the way that we Catholics should approach this debate. Of course we were going to have difficult moments, and a high level of tolerance was always going to be necessary from both sides. Your decisions here over the last twenty four hours is exactly the type of response that gives us Catholics the reputation of being closed-minded and unwilling to let the light in.
        What possible value could the site now have, now that the bulk of the knowledgeable atheists have left? We are left with an echo chamber, a mild semblance of what we used to have here. Of course we had snark and unpleasantness, from both sides, but that was a small price to pay for the high level of discourse on the other aspects.
        I'm afraid that you have ruined the best forum for this type of discussion that was available on the internet.

  • Raymond

    The size of the universe is a product of its age (it is expanding). My (non professional) understanding is that it needs to reach a certain age in order for heavy elements to be synthesized in stars and scattered about the universe. Because the universe is expanding, the old it gets, the larger. Hence, given a God who wanted life like ours to exist, then a large universe is not at all surprising.

    Actually, I've heard some speculation that on atheism, a smaller younger universe is far more probable, so the age and size of the universe could actually be taken as evidence of theism.

    • Sounds like no more than post hoc rationalization to me. The length of time it takes to evolve intelligent life in the Universe is essentially a factor of the likelihood of (a) life starting and (b) intelligent life evolving on any given planet. Since we only have a sample of one to work with, we are hopelessly bereft of evidence to judge how long would be reasonable.

      We could be one of the first intelligent species in the Universe, or we could be the 100 billionth (which would still be an average of fewer than one per galaxy), i.e. we could be very early or very late to the party. We have no way of telling at this point.

      • Raymond

        Sure, but your factor (a), life starting, is a product of partly of how long it takes for the materials necessary to life to form. This requires a significant degree of time. Hence, an old universe is actually required for life. Since the universe is expanding, the older it gets, the larger it gets, hence on theism, a large, old universe is not surprising.

  • Francis Choudhury

    Can I posit that it is within the realms of possibility/logic that a vast universe will one day be the domain/dwelling place of (a vast number of ressurected) bodies? Or, we could be freely travelling, investigating and enjoying the universe after the final judgemnet and resurrection of the dead. After all, Jesus did tell us that His Father's "house" has "many mansions"!

    I am led to imagine this when I consider the attributes of the resurrected and glorified human body - to the extent that is knowable/deducible from Scripture.
    Following, for those unaware, are the seven attributes that can be reasonably assumed, I think, for the bodies of those who will rise again to live forever. But first some verses from Scripture:

    He will change our lowly body to conform with his glorified Body by the power that enables him also to bring all things into subjection to himself. (Phil 3:19)

    Beloved, now we are children of God, and it has not appeared as yet what we will be like. But We know that when He appears, we will be like Him, because we will see Him just as He is. (1 John 3:2)

    But someone will ask, “How are the dead raised? With what kind of body will they come?” How foolish! What you sow does not come to life unless it dies. When you sow, you do not plant the body that will be, but just a seed, perhaps of wheat or of something else. But God gives it a body as he has determined, and to each kind of seed he gives its own body… The splendor of the heavenly bodies is one kind, and the splendor of the earthly bodies is another… The body that is sown is perishable, it is raised imperishable; it is sown in dishonor, it is raised in glory; it is sown in weakness, it is raised in power; it is sown a natural body, it is raised a spiritual body. If there is a natural body, there is also a spiritual body. So it is written: “The first man Adam became a living being”; the last Adam, a life-giving spirit. The spiritual did not come first, but the natural, and after that the spiritual. The first man was of the dust of the earth; the second man is of heaven. As was the earthly man, so are those who are of the earth; and as is the heavenly man, so also are those who are of heaven. And just as we have borne the image of the earthly man, so shall we bear the image of the heavenly man… Listen, I tell you a mystery: We will not all sleep, but we will all be changed — in a flash, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, the dead will be raised imperishable, and we will be changed. For the perishable must clothe itself with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality. When the perishable has been clothed with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality, then the saying that is written will come true: “Death has been swallowed up in victory.” “Where, O death, is your victory? Where, O death, is your sting?”(1 Cor 15:35-55 selectae).

    Now using this passage and others we can distinguish seven traditional qualities of a resurrected body. Here we will allow our source to be the Summa of St. Thomas. You can read more at the New Advent Summa online.

    1. Identity – What this means essentially is that the very same body that falls in death will rise to be glorified. We cannot claim that we will get a different body, but rather, that our current body will rise and be glorified. St. Thomas says, For we cannot call it resurrection unless the soul return to the same body, since resurrection is a second rising, and the same thing rises that falls: wherefore resurrection regards the body which after death falls rather than the soul which after death lives. And consequently if it be not the same body which the soul resumes, it will not be a resurrection, but rather the assuming of a new body (Supl, Q 79.1).

    This does not mean that the body will necessarily be identical in every way. As St. Paul says above, our current bodies are like the seed. And just as a seed does not have all the qualities of the mature plant, but does have all these qualities in seed form, so too our body is linked to our resurrected body causally and essentially though not all the qualities of the resurrected body are currently operative. Again, the Summa states: A comparison does not apply to every particular, but to some. For in the sowing of grain, the grain sown and the grain that is born thereof are neither identical, nor of the same condition, since it was first sown without a husk, yet is born with one: and the body will rise again identically the same, but of a different condition, since it was mortal and will rise in immortality (ibid).
    Scripture attests that the same body that dies will also rise. Job said, And after my flesh has been destroyed, yet in my flesh I will see God; I myself will see him with my own eyes — I, and not another (Job 19:26-27). And to the Apostles, shocked at His resurrection Jesus said, Look at my hands and my feet. It is I myself! Touch me and see; a ghost does not have flesh and bones, as you see I have (Luke 24:39).

    Hence the same body rises and so there is continuity. But there is also development and a shining forth of a new glory and capabilities that our bodies do not currently enjoy.

    2. Integrity – We will retain all of the parts of our current bodies. Now this means every physical part of our body, even the less noble parts such as intestines etc. In the Gospel Jesus plainly ate even after the resurrection. He ate a fish before them (Luke 24:43). He also ate with the Disciples in Emmaus (Luke 24:30). He ate breakfast with them at the lake shore (Jn 21:12). Hence it follows that even less noble parts of our body will rise for eating and digestion are still functions of a resurrected body. Now Thomas argues that food will not be necessary to the resurrected body (supl 81.4). But it is clearly possible to eat, for Christ demonstrates it.

    St. Thomas reasons that every aspect of our bodies will rise since the soul is the form of the body. That is, the body has the faculties it has due to some aspect of the soul. The soul has something to say and hence the body has the capacity to talk and write and engage in other forms of communication. The soul has the capacity to do detailed work and hence the body has complex faculties such as delicate and nimble fingers, arms and so forth, to carry out this work. The body is thus apt for the capacities of the soul, though now imperfectly, but then even more perfectly (cf Summa supl. Q. 80.1).

    3. Quality – Age? Our bodies will be youthful and will retain our original gender. Now youthful here does not necessarily mean 18-22. Note that in the Philippians text that began this post, Paul says that our glorified bodies will be conformed to Christ’s glorified body. Now his body rose at approximately 30 – 33 of physical age. Elsewhere St. Paul exhorts Christians to persevere, Until we all meet into the unity of faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, unto a perfect man, unto the measure of the age of the fullness of Christ (Eph 4:13). Hence it would seem that Christ’s resurrected body is the perfect age.

    St Augustine also speculates, that Christ rose again of youthful age … about the age of thirty years. Therefore others also will rise again of a youthful age (cf De Civ. Dei xxii).

    St. Thomas further notes: Man will rise again without any defect of human nature, because as God founded human nature without a defect, even so will He restore it without defect. Now human nature has a twofold defect. First, because it has not yet attained to its ultimate perfection. Secondly, because it has already gone back from its ultimate perfection. The first defect is found in children, the second in the aged: and consequently in each of these human nature will be brought by the resurrection to the state of its ultimate perfection which is in the youthful age, at which the movement of growth terminates, and from which the movement of decrease begins. (Supl Q. 81.1)

    Further, since gender is part of human perfection, it will pertain to all to rise according to the gender we are now. Other qualities such as height, hair color and other such diverse things will also be retained, it would seem, since this diversity is part of man’s perfection.

    Here too we have to realize that merely picturing Jesus as a 33 year old guy is not sufficient. All the resurrection appearances make it clear that his appearance was somehow changed, though also recognizable, and this is a mystery. Further the heavenly description of Jesus is far from simple to decode in manners of age and appearance:

    and among the lampstands was someone “like a son of man,” dressed in a robe reaching down to his feet and with a golden sash around his chest. His head and hair were white like wool, as white as snow, and his eyes were like blazing fire. His feet were like bronze glowing in a furnace, and his voice was like the sound of rushing waters. In his right hand he held seven stars, and out of his mouth came a sharp double-edged sword. His face was like the sun shining in all its brilliance. (Rev 1:12-18)

    Hence we must avoid over-simplifications when it comes to speaking of how our resurrected bodies will appear. We cannot simply project current human realities into heaven and think we understand what a resurrected body will look like in terms of age, stature, and other physical qualities. They are there but they are transposed to a higher level.

    4. Impassability – We will be immune from death and pain. Scripture states this clearly: The dead will be raised imperishable, and we will be changed. For the perishable must clothe itself with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality (1 Cor 15:52-53). And again, He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away” (Rev 21:4). Thomas goes on at some length and you can click on the blue word impassibility to read more. But for here let the scriptural reference suffice.
    5. Subtlety – Our bodies will be free from the things that restrain them now. Subtlety refers to the capacity of the resurrected body to be completely conformed to the capacities of the soul. St Thomas says of this quality, the term “subtlety” has been transferred to those bodies which are most perfectly subject to their form, and are most fully perfected thereby… For just as a subtle thing is said to be penetrative, for the reason that it reaches to the inmost part of a thing, so is an intellect said to be subtle because it reaches to the insight of the intrinsic principles and the hidden natural properties of a thing. In like manner a person is said to have subtle sight, because he is able to perceive by sight things of the smallest size: and the same applies to the other senses. Accordingly people have differed by ascribing subtlety to the glorified bodies in different ways (Supl. Q. 83.1)

    In other words, the Body is perfected because the soul is. And the body is now fully conformed to the soul. Currently in my lowly body, I may wish to go to Vienna, Austria in a few moments to hear an opera, but my body cannot pull that off. It does not currently pertain to my body to be able to instantly be somewhere else on the planet. I have to take time to get there and exert effort. However it will be noticed that Jesus could appear and disappear in a room despite the closed doors. Although, before His resurrection He had to take long physical journeys, now He can simply be where He wants (cf John 19:20, 26). This quality is very closely related to agility which we consider next.

    6. Agility – We will have complete freedom of movement, our souls will direct our bodies without hindrance. St Thomas says, The glorified body will be altogether subject to the glorified soul, so that not only will there be nothing in it to resist the will of the spirit… from the glorified soul there will flow into the body a certain perfection, whereby it will become adapted to that subjection: … Now the soul is united to body not only as its form, but also as its mover; and in both ways the glorified body must be most perfectly subject to the glorified soul. We have already referred to the capacity of Jesus in His glorified body to anywhere at once and not be hindered by locked doors etc. Consider too these descriptions of the agility of the resurrected body:

    As they [on the road to Emmaus] talked and discussed these things with each other, Jesus himself came up and walked along with them; (Luke 24:15).
    Then their eyes were opened and they recognized Jesus, and he disappeared from their sight (Luke 24:31).

    While they were still talking about this, Jesus himself stood among them and said to them, Peace be with you (Luke 24:36).

    7. Clarity – The glory of our souls will be visible in our bodies. We will be beautiful and radiant. It is written in the Scriptures “The just shall shine as the sun in the kingdom of their Father” (Matthew 13:43). And again: “The just shall shine, and shall run to and fro like sparks among the reeds” (Wisdom 3:7). And again, The body is sown in dishonor, it shall rise in glory (1 Cor 15:43).

    • Vickie

      I found this quite interesting

      • Francis Choudhury

        Interesting too that we've always liked to refer to space as "the heavens"! :)

  • clod

    Epeeist banned! You cannot be serious. If ban warnings were issued I'd like to see them. But I'm betting they were not. If this is true, however, I'll take no further part in discussions on this site. Goodbye.

  • I'm chiming in to offer a friendly challenge to those recently commenting at
    Strange Notions who have opted to stop commenting. I assert that the tendency of
    some has been to get as close to the snark "line" as possible without triggering
    warnings or bans. Seems to have not worked so well, I'd say, regardless of what
    else one might say about it...
    I would challenge former SN commenters (as well as newbies) to turn that idea around: Take the next week or so to return to SN for a thought experiment of sorts. Compose comments to content at SN in which the comments are deliberately 100 percent "snark-free". Let the depth and clarity of your reasoning *alone* comprise the substance of your shared thoughts.
    See how it goes. Worst case scenario is that Q Quine would have opportunity to continue peppering SN with "apologetic" links to good atheist content... ;-)
    You might be surprised at how effective an approach it can be.
    It would also go a long way to dispelling a growing "mythos" in the theistic blogosphere that atheism and snark appear joined at the hip. Not that I'm convinced of that, but I think some think that way.
    Regardless of whether you accept the challenge, let me say that I have *really* learned a lot from so many of you in friendly dialogue and discussion--it has not been wasted time.
    Thanks to you.
    ["God bless you" might seem odd here--can I pull a "Spock" and say
    "live long and prosper?! :-)]

    • Vickie

      I have the tendency to be sardonically droll in my sense of humor. Which might not always translate through this medium. I balance that out by being equally self-deprecating as well though. I will do my best to keep that from flirting with the snark line.

    • Well, this is only my second comment here, so I don't know the full story, but I'm not sure this is the best article on which to appeal to atheists to tone down the snark when it begins as a red rag to a bull:

      I’d muster up my most condescending facial expression and turn to the nearest believer to say: “You still believe all that Bible stuff now?”

      I mean, seriously.

  • Max Driffill

    Jennifer Fulwiler has exposed a crucial difference between the way believers and agnostics/atheist/freethinkers view the world. The difference hinges on the conclusions one can draw from data. Namely she is demonstrating the tendency of believers (in all kinds of paranormal things and conspiracies) to see patterns that don't exist and are not justified by the data. The tendency among religious skeptics, skeptics of paranormalism in general tend to stay close to the bounds of evidence, and to really think about why one conclusion must or should flow from a body of evidence. Ms. Fulwiler exhibits no such observance of the general rules of evidence. If this piece is anything it is a triumph of the non sequitur, and poor reasoning from evidence.

    The galactic census data is in! According to an Associated Press article released recently: “Scientists have estimated the first cosmic census of planets in our galaxy and the numbers are astronomical: at least 50 billion planets in the Milky Way.”

    She at least gets this part correct. It doesn't really matter that this is just a conservative estimate.

    When I would hear that kind of thing when I was an atheist, I’d muster up my most condescending facial expression and turn to the nearest believer to say: “You still believe all that Bible stuff now?”

    Would she really do this? This seems unlikely to me. Perhaps she is just that rude. I am an atheist, and when I read stuff like this I just find it fascinating. I don't think about theological implications because in the face of such interesting science discussions of theology are, to me, boring and pale in comparison. I don't think about gods, I think about the Drake Equation. If I bring it up at all to my neighbors it is in an effort to strike up a conversation about wonder, and plum the depths of the universe. If people bring up theology, I am generally not among their number.

    To my way of thinking back then, the vastness of the universe debunked the Christian worldview. Obviously we’re nothing special in the grand scheme of things. Obviously there’s not some Creator out there who values us over everything else—otherwise, why would he have bothered messing around with making all this other stuff? Why create the Triangulum Galaxy and the Horsehead Nebula and the 50 billion other planets here in the Milky Way if you’re mainly concerned about the goings on at tiny little planet Earth?

    This situation does have implications for the Christian god, but not necessarily other conceptions of god, but more on this in a moment, lets let the massive non sequitur play out some more.

    It’s too bad I hadn’t read Chesterton. He addresses that kind of argument with his typical wit when he writes in Orthodoxy:

    "Why should a man surrender his dignity to the solar system any more than to a whale? If mere size proves that man is not the image of God, then a whale may be the image of God; a somewhat formless image; what one might call an impressionist portrait. It is quite futile to argue that man is small compared to the cosmos; for man was always small compared to the nearest tree."

    Or, a careful reader might reflect that it is too bad that you have read Chesterton, because he doesn't really deal with the problem he attempts to deflect it. The approach Chesterton takes is problematic, and sadly it seems to be par for the course among Catholic apologists. This approach involves focusing on what is perceived to be the weakest point of an opponents position, create a straw man out of that position, demolish that straw man, and then a bit too smugly, declare victory.

    The question isn't about dignity. That is neither here nor there. The question is about significance, and this is hard to justify in the face of the vastness of the universe. The theological claim that we were the focus and intention of god was easier to buy when people thought the universe revolved around earth, and when no one had any idea that stars were suns that could have planets, or that the universe ha trundled along for over 13 billion years before there was a peep out of any primate. If we look at the evidence we look incidental. And even if you want to play around with poetic interpretations of Genesis you are still left with the following fact. Self-aware, consciousness possessing, feeling and thinking hominids have been around for a long time, living short Hobbesian lives. Our own species may have been existent for nearly 250,000 years. Think of that. 250,000 years of living lives, painful deaths, fearful deaths, perhaps victim to some of the same tendencies to solipsism we possess, always wondering, curious and questioning the world around them. And this god of Chesterton and Fulwile saw fit to intervene and inform humanity maybe 4-6,000 years ago about this good news? And the allegedly good news doesn't really start until about 2000 years ago does it? Isn't this just the tiniest bit preposterous?

    Exactly. What I was missing back then was an openness to contemplating just what kind of God we might be talking about. I pictured that Christians believed in a man with a flowing white beard who lived off in the clouds somewhere. Sort of like my uncle Ralph, but with magic powers. With this limited, facile view, it’s no wonder I couldn’t get past the vastness of the universe. Uncle Ralph wouldn’t waste his time creating a bunch of planets no one was ever going to use, so, presumably, neither would this supposed God.

    The other danger of tackling propositions in the way of the believer is that when you uncouple questions from checking against evidence you are quite free to come up with whatever you want. This will be demonstrated in the author's very next paragraph.

    What I see now is a universe that gives us an ever-present reminder of who and what God really is.

    No. It. Doesn't. Full stop. Go no further. The universe gives us an ever present reminder of what it is. There is no godly activity to examine. It implies no who, or what kind.

    The vastness of the universe is unfathomable; to try to contemplate every detail of every object in existence is an exercise in futility. The human mind has nowhere near that kind of capability, and that understanding should inspire us to humility about our own intellectual powers..

    Indeed in most of us are in the face of the immensity of the universe. The one who isn't demonstrating humility is the author of this piece who is going to go on and draw grand, unjustified conclusions based on what she calls the unfathomablity of the universe.

    And so it is when we contemplate God. It’s a perfect plan, really: the smarter we get, the more we can know about the universe around us. Yet the more we study and measure and chart the heavens, the more we realize how incredibly tiny we are, how very much there is that we will never, ever know. We get a glimpse of the reality that the sum total of human learning cannot ever scratch the surface of what there is to know. We see that we are surrounded by an unfathomably wonderful creation; which points to an unfathomably wonderful Creator.

    See what I mean? Fulwiler is attempting to allow her god to ride into certainty on the coat tails of mystery. There is no need to contemplate gods until there is evidence of them, and there is no evidence of them, as yet, to be found in space.

    Furthermore, if a thing is unfathomable then it is a deep unknown. and there really nothing we can say about it. We cannot reliably say it is wonderful, or evil, or good, because it is incomprehensible. One can simply not say unfathomably wonderful creation and have that phrase mean very much at all.

    Its also not fair probably to say wonderful creation without parsing that out. What is wonderful about it? What has been wonderful about it for humanity for most of humanity's existence? Fulwiler assumes that it is a wonderful creation (which much then reflect a wonderful, but also unfathomable god). This is not a given, nor does it seem likely to be the case (just ask the prey of the digger wasp). She is also assuming greater unfathomablity than is justified. We actually do know quite a lot despite the fact that mysteries (which should humble us) remain.

    • Sage McCarey

      Wonderful response Max. You have much more patience than do I. Yes, it is a mystery. What is so frightening about just calling it a mystery? I do not understand it, do not pretend to understand it, and I love it. For me, there doesn't have to be a reason for it or a creator of it. It is. It is a mystery for now. It is beautiful.

    • Vickie

      From my first day on this site I have seen that you can mount a very good argument and that you can devastate a weak one with one hand tied behind your back. Thought to myself "I'm not sure I have the chops for this guy". May be I haven't been here long enough to see you express it before but I have finally seen my common ground with you.

      -If I bring it up at all to my neighbors it is in an effort to strike up a conversation about wonder, and plum the depths of the universe.-
      The wonder of it and how humbling that can be. The mind boggling depth of what is out there. Now that is where you and I might be able to meet and converse.

    • Max--good response--I agree with the first observation about difference in interpretation of data. Don't agree with much else (to be expected). I'd also add that a big thing *I'm* learning in discussion is that atheists and theists have to build a more clear common "language" since we use many common terms so differently.
      As to the "full stop" you mention, in which you object to the appeal to the universe itself as evidence of God, I obviously understand why the atheistic view interprets the data atheistically. But surely you can understand why the theistic author interprets the universe theistically: her belief in the existence of God is *not* based entirely on the existence of the universe. Think of deists who, while rejecting all divine revelation, accepted God's existence based on nature *and* reason.
      If one finds philosophical arguments for God to be *reasonable*, then observing the universe and nature as God-created will not be a conclusion exclusively drawn from either revelation or nature, but from reason.
      I'd suggest that the atheistic view, which freely admits it is not possible prove that God does not exist, therefore must at least grudgingly admit that since God is at least "possible" then belief in God at least *might* be shown somehow to be reasonable.
      Thus one really can't just pose an absolute objection to the theist who finds the universe indicative of something about God. You can say you disagree with the conclusion, but you must admit that it still remains within the realm of possibility that the universe does just that...

      • Vickie

        Here is the thing for me as a theist and I have said this before. It just seems so intelligent. How everything works together so interdependently. Which is why evolution is not a stumbling block for me. We need the ability to change as our world changes. That's just smart. But I see the capability of adapting, as being built in to the system. So I see a something, a quality that is intellegent, more intellegent than me. I will also dare say, that things like the scientific method and reason, logic would not work so well without an intelligent framework within which to function.

        • That is just how our minds work. We want to make connections and see order in the chaos. It is the reason why we are so curious as a species. It is also the reason why people often have a very hard believing that random chance was the cause of something bad or good happening to them.

          Yes, the laws of physics have resulted in some spectacular things in the Universe, but what you don't see as easily is all the chaos and destruction it necessarily involves. Planets, solar systems, stars, entire galaxies torn apart in an orgy of gravitational destruction. Gamma ray bursts and supernovae sterilizing and scouring clean any chance of possible life on billions of planets around the Universe.

          Even here on Earth, time and again dominant species have been wiped out by asteroid strikes, super volcanoes, and ice ages, for hundreds of millions of years until we finally came along and threatened to change the rules.

          When we look at colliding galaxies, we see them from afar, beautiful streams of stars twisted into spectacular spirals. What we can't see is the trail of destruction left in their wake.

          • Vickie

            Just because I see an intellegence to how things works does not mean that all I see is sunshine lollypops. I see the tragedies as well. Not just in human life but in the world around me and the universe. Why a tornado hits this house and not that one is random, devastating and tragic. But I also do see symbiotic relationships or how our bodies work with each part in a synergy with the others. I see that things, for the most part follow natural laws. It is difficult for me to reason through the idea that coincidentaly it all worked out so precisely.

          • I think the problem here is that it's virtually impossible to be objective without knowing all the facts. Until 1923, we only knew of one galaxy, and the debate over the nature of the universe was colored by that fact. Similarly before and after the discovery of the "Big Bang". And while some people dismiss it as metaphysics, we still don't know if the Universe is unique or just one of an infinite number of universes of which only a few are conducive for life to evolve.

            And, of course, once one starts asking how likely something like the universe could come about on its own, one has to ask how likely it is that something like god could exist too. More impossible questions.

          • Vickie

            Sure they are impossible questions, I would agree with you wholeheartedly. Just asking that you not assume that I have come to my conclusions just because they are the ones that give me the most comfort. It is possible that we are not the only universe but I would still present the idea of uniqueness in that they will not be carbon copies of each other. Each universe while sharing many similarities would also have their differences.

    • This article does reveal differences in world-views. It seems the best conclusion to take from Fulwiler's article and your response is that the universe does not do much for or against God.

      It may seem that the scale of the universe is out of proportion to the scale of the salvation story, but that's not really an argument. God could have run the salvation story over and over for a billion worlds, or he might have run it just for our's, and the rest of the universe is for some other reason (maybe God is an astronomer, and needed stars for his astronomy?)

      So it seems as though the universe doesn't inform us at all about God, except that if there is one, he either enjoys a lot of empty space, or maybe couldn't have avoided making the empty space.

    • Kevin Aldrich

      Great response to the OP, Max.

      However, I think you are approaching the question from a completely different perspective than Fulwiler. Your approach, if I've ready you correctly, is that if you start from scratch and look at the size, content, and age of the universe, what would it say to you about its origins (especially to someone who is an atheist already).

      Jennifer's approach, if I'm correct, is that if you already believe in God, and new facts come to your attention about the size, content, and age of the physical universe, what does that new data do to your view of God? Does it destroy it or enlarge it?

    • Kevin Aldrich

      Self-aware, consciousness possessing, feeling and thinking hominids
      have been around for a long time, living short Hobbesian lives. Our own
      species may have been existent for nearly 250,000 years. Think of that.
      250,000 years of living lives, painful deaths, fearful deaths, perhaps
      victim to some of the same tendencies to solipsism we possess, always
      wondering, curious and questioning the world around them. And this god
      of Chesterton and Fulwile saw fit to intervene and inform humanity maybe
      4-6,000 years ago about this good news? And the allegedly good news
      doesn't really start until about 2000 years ago does it? Isn't this just
      the tiniest bit preposterous?

      This assumes these 250,000 years worth of hominids are human persons with the same consciousness we share. How do we know they did?

      If we are scientifically honest, what can we actually posit about their mental states and whether they though of themselves as living painful, suffering-filled lives that would eventually result in a fearful death?

      We know, for example that dolphins are quite intelligent, social, and experience passions and emotions, have none of the benefits of modern science or medicine, no nothing of theism or atheism, and yet seem to lead quite happy lives. Why not these ancient hominids?

  • Vicq_Ruiz

    Well, it looks like epeeist got 86'd permanently, so this is my opus out. Wanting to leave on an up note, here's a poem which is very apropos to the article, as well as being descriptive of the only sort of God I could believe in....

    CHRIST IN THE UNIVERSE

    Alice Meynell (1847-1922)

    With this ambiguous earth
    His dealings have been told us. These abide:
    The signal to a maid, the human birth,
    The lesson, and the young Man crucified.

    But not a star of all
    The innumerable host of stars has heard
    How He administered this terrestrial ball.
    Our race have kept their Lord’s entrusted Word.

    Of His earth-visiting feet
    None knows the secret, cherished, perilous,
    The terrible, shamefast, frightened, whispered, sweet,
    Heart-shattering secret of His way with us.

    No planet knows that this
    Our wayside planet, carrying land and wave,
    Love and life multiplied, and pain and bliss,
    Bears, as chief treasure, one forsaken grave.

    Nor, in our little day,
    May His devices with the heavens be guessed,
    His pilgrimage to thread the Milky Way
    Or His bestowals there be manifest.

    But in the eternities,
    Doubtless we shall compare together, hear
    A million alien Gospels, in what guise
    He trod the Pleiades, the Lyre, the Bear.

    O, be prepared, my soul!
    To read the inconceivable, to scan
    The myriad forms of God those stars unroll
    When, in our turn, we show to them a Man.

  • Phil Rimmer

    Sadly one of my main reasons for being here has vanished. (The evidence of who is right under my nose if you click on it.) Here was a man who could drive a debate and would always engage any with a good question and who earnestly sought to do justice to the logic of the situation. It has always deeply puzzled me when, conversely, someone, seemingly knowledgeable, is happy to make assertions that stimulate a debate then fail themselves to respond to that debate.

    Though only an occasional poster myself I have watched the various debates with interest. Of particular delight have been the few earnest Catholic "seekers" wanting to put down roots in a world that now perhaps seems a little bigger than they imagined. Such openness will serve them well where ever they end up. For me, I shall not be seeking anything further here. I expect to find little more.

    • Phil, thanks for the comment. We'll miss you!

    • Sid_Collins

      I debated on whether to chime in on this, since I don't think anyone will notice I am gone!

      I started on forums like alt.atheism back in the wild west internet days. I can't get my head around looking to a moderator to protect me from hurt feelings or being offended by bad language. I am accustomed to ignoring online insults and taking the initiative to step away from non-substantive arguments. I must admit I enjoy a leavening of humor in responses, even at the risk of someone taking it the wrong way.

      I do understand the moderators' goal of eliminating endless "You're another" exchanges. That is why it makes no sense to me to ban epeeist, who, in my view always brought substantive observations to the argument. I suspect this banning reflects, perhaps, not so much Catholic close-mindedness as the feeling of religious believers that their beliefs should be approached with special respect, just because they are religious, as compared to beliefs about ghosts or alien abductions. This probably an expectation that some of us atheists just can't meet.

      Of course the site owner gets to make the rules. I am free to start my own site and make my own rules, so I am not going to complain about censorship. It's too bad. It was fun while it lasted.

      • Phil Rimmer

        You are entirely right, Sid. This is Brandon's Buggy. We have to thank him for the ride, and what he keeps and what he throws out are entirely his affair.

        But...given the bannered aspirations he has for this site. the complete absence of visible due process is somewhat corrosive to those aspirations.

  • This article is nonsense unless we take Jennifer's Christianity seriously as a theory of how reality really is.

    Taking Christianity seriously as a theory, what probability would it give to the galaxy having 50 billion planets? If we consider historical Christianity, which numerologically held there to be seven planets, the answer would be 0%, and Christianity would be decisively disproven. Thus instead we get Chesterton's and Jennifer's newer vague let's-skip-the-logic style reasoning from "God is big!" to there maybe being too many dark round star-circling things in our part of space for human brains to envision. That description matches some sort of flat-ish probability distribution from 200 out to infinity. If we charitably grant that the function converges slowly, and we put nice big error bars on the "50 billion", then a charitably high probability estimate would be something like 100 billionths of a percent.

    What's the alternative theory? I suppose just standard cosmology and standard evolutionary accounts for why humans have limited capacity to envision large numbers. Our brain volume compared to other species' and our social group sizes gives Dunbar's number to within an order of magnitude; and cosmology assigns high probability to "something like we observe" because it's a model based on what we observe. An uncharitably low estimate of the subjective probability for 50 billion planets in our galaxy would then be something, oh, like 10%. Let's call it 0.01% for good measure, to be sure we're biasing the results in favor of Christianity far beyond what's reasonable, so that the results of the next paragraph are that much less disputable.

    So as a piece of evidence, then, the "cosmic census" would favor the alternate theory over Jennifer's interpretation of Christianity by something very roughly like (0.01%)/(100 billionths of a percent), or 100,000:1. That would be utterly overwhelming evidence in favor of the "atheist claims" if anyone took it seriously.

    But of course no one will take it seriously. It's a holdover and fading echo from times when people took Christianity seriously enough to reason from its claims to how the world should look -- that's been a losing strategy for hundreds of years now. Scientifically informed Christians these days have largely moved on to saying that Christianity doesn't make scientific claims.

  • Jay

    “As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways, and my thoughts than your thoughts” (Isaiah 55:9).

    I love that verse :)

    I enjoyed the article, but I'm not sure how the vastness of the universe would be any more or less compelling to the existence of God. I believe Kevin Aldrich said something akin to this from looking at the comments. If God created our planet, then why couldn't He just create a gigantic universe along with it? The existence of more or less stuff in the universe doesn't add to or take away from arguments for the existence of God. It simply means there is more stuff in the universe.

  • Roger Hane

    Jennifer is getting overwhelmed by the largeness and unknowability of the cosmos. But don't reason that because we're finding more and more things to figure out, it means we'll never be able to figure them all out. Patience. We've still come a long way, and we're figuring out more stuff all the time. Who knows what we'll finally be able to figure out. It's hard to realize that we're still just getting started.

    Jennifer didn't seem to notice that this 50 billion number is also an argument about the probability of our non-uniqueness in the galaxy, much less in the universe.

  • Micha_Elyi

    (1) The vastness of God's creation illustrates, among other things, that He is God and we are not.

    (2) Some cosmologists speculate that the universe is roughly the minimum size and age necessary for human life as we know it to exist. One would not expect that if the universe was a random happenstance and not a creation of an intelligence.

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