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Black and White and Misread All Over

Black and White

NOTE: Dr. Feser's contributions at Strange Notions were originally posted on his own blog, and therefore lose some of their context when reprinted here. Dr. Feser explains why that matters.
 


 

Philosopher Dale Tuggy recently quoted a famous passage from the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius Loyola:
 

"To be right in everything, we ought always to hold that the white which I see is black, if the Hierarchical Church so decides it, believing that between Christ our Lord, the Bridegroom, and the Church, His Bride, there is the same Spirit which governs and directs us for the salvation of our souls. Because by the same Spirit our Lord Who gave the ten Commandments, our holy Mother the Church is directed and governed."

 
This is a favorite quote of skeptics looking for a proof text demonstrating the manifest irrationality of the Catholic understanding of the Church’s authority. Dale does not seem to be making quite so strong or aggressive a claim, but he does regard Ignatius' position as “unreasonable” insofar as it amounts, as Dale tells us, to the view that “tradition trumps sense perception.”

But that’s simply not what Ignatius said. For one thing, he says nothing about “tradition” in the passage quoted. He speaks instead of what the “Hierarchical Church” decides. True, when the Church formally pronounces on some matter in a fashion that requires the assent of the faithful, she always does so in light of tradition. But tradition per se is not what is at issue in this passage. What is at issue is the epistemological status of the Church’s pronouncements themselves. That narrows things considerably, because while the Church does pronounce on many things, and while it is by no means only those pronouncements presented as infallible to which the faithful are expected to assent, the range of actual pronouncements is still narrower than the deliverances of tradition. (For example, there is support for the doctrine of the Immaculate Conception in tradition, but you will not find a formal pronouncement on the matter until relatively recently, which is why Thomas Aquinas was in his time free to disagree with it.)

Secondly, the subject matter of those pronouncements always concerns those areas in which the Church claims special expertise, namely faith (i.e., theological doctrine) and morals—matters which are relevant to “the salvation of our souls,” in Ignatius' words. The Church does not claim special expertise or authority in purely secular matters. This is just basic Catholic theology, with which Ignatius was of course familiar. The stuff about black being white if the Church decides it is meant as hyperbole—which should be clear to any charitable reader, and certainly to anyone who knows that the Church has never claimed any special expertise in the physics, physiology, or philosophy of color perception per se.

Thirdly, Dale suggests that what Loyola says about sense perception would seem to entail as well that tradition “would also trump a strong intuition of falsehood—as when a set of claims appears self-inconsistent." That makes it sound as if Ignatius' view, and the Church’s, is that we ought to ignore what we know about logic if it seems to conflict with Church teaching. But the Catholic position is that even where theological mysteries are concerned, apparent logical inconsistencies can be and should be exposed as illusory. The Church rejects any attempt to pit revelation against reason, whether motivated by skepticism or by fideism. She teaches that while there are theological truths that cannot be arrived at by unaided reason, these truths nevertheless must not and do not conflict with reason. We must accept both the Church’s teachings on faith and morals and logic, and if there seems to be a conflict, the theologian has a duty to show why this appearance is illusory.

Fourthly, the Church’s teaching about the epistemological status of her own pronouncements on matters of faith and morals is itself grounded in reason. She doesn’t say, in circular fashion, “You must accept what the Church teaches vis-à-vis faith and morals. Why? Well, we just told you why: because that is itself something the Church teaches!” The Catholic position rather follows from the Catholic understanding of divine revelation. The Catholic view is that the occurrence of a divine revelation is something that should be and can be confirmed via its association with miracles, where the occurrence of the miracles in question itself can and should be confirmed by rational arguments.

Still, if such revelation is to be efficacious, it cannot come to us merely in the form of a set of prophetic oral teachings passed on from generation to generation, or a book, or the declarations of a series of councils (though of course it can and does include these). For by themselves such sources of revelation are inherently subject to alternative interpretations, and being mere words on a page they cannot interpret themselves. In particular, they cannot tell us what they mean when the meaning is not entirely clear, and they cannot tell us how we are to apply them to new and unforeseen circumstances.

Hence, if a revelation is to be efficacious, it must be associated with an authoritative interpreter. And since the human lifespan is relatively short, that interpreter cannot be identified with some particular individual human being if the revelation is to be efficacious over a period of centuries. It has to be embodied in an ongoing institution, and ultimately in an executive office whose occupants have supreme authority to have the final say in matters of controversy.

Moreover, divine assistance must preserve this authority from error just as it preserved the original revelation from error. For if the authority can err in its interpretation and application of the revelation, the latter will, once again, be of no effect, even if free of error itself. In short, you can’t have an infallible Bible or infallible ecclesiastical councils without an infallible institutional Church and an infallible Pope. Without the latter, the interpretation and application of the former become arbitrary in principle, as every private interpreter becomes an authority unto himself.

Obviously this is bound to be controversial, and various details and qualifications would need to be spelled out in a complete treatment of the issue. The point for our purposes here is that the Catholic position is grounded in an argument about how a divine revelation given at some point in history has to be transmitted and applied if it is going to be transmitted and applied effectively. (If you want a more detailed presentation of the argument, see the book by fellow Strange Notions contributor Mark Shea, titled By What Authority?. It offers an excellent, popular exposition.)

It should be clear, then, that the Church—and Ignatius, in summarizing the Church’s view of her own authority—is not saying “tradition trumps sense perception,” nor, contrary to what skeptics suppose, is it advocating a shrill fideism. Its claim, stripped of hyperbole, is rather: “Given the Catholic understanding of revelation—an understanding the Church herself insists is and must be in harmony with reason—we are obliged to assent to the Church’s formal pronouncements on matters of faith and morals rather than to any private interpretation that might conflict with those pronouncements.” Whether or not one agrees with this claim, it is hardly the jarring call to irrationalist dogmatism skeptics make it out to be.

Now, Dale might respond: “That’s fair enough as far as it goes. But what happens when we apply Ignatius' principle, as you claim it should be understood, to the Catholic doctrine of transubstantiation in particular? In at least that case, isn’t the result pretty much the view I attributed to Ignatius—namely, that we ought to reject what sense perception tells us when it conflicts with tradition, or at least with the formal pronouncements of the Church?”

But that is not the result. Or, if the result is that we ought to reject what sense perception tells us, this is so only in a loose, innocuous, and uncontroversial sense. To see how, consider Jim and Bob, who are identical twins with similar personalities. You approach someone you take to be Jim, begin a friendly conversation, and after a few minutes say “Well, I’m late for a meeting. Nice chatting with you, Jim!” He responds: “I’m not Jim, I’m Bob!” If we conclude that your senses deceived you, are we committing ourselves to a shockingly irrationalist skepticism about sense perception? Are we endorsing a bizarre Bob-oriented fideism according to which “Bob’s say-so trumps sense perception”? Obviously not. Indeed, strictly speaking, it wasn’t really your senses that deceived you in the first place. The man you were talking to really does look like Jim; your senses told you as much, and they were right. The trouble is that you drew the wrong conclusion from this fact, because you failed sufficiently to consider that Bob looks and acts the same way.

Something similar can be said of one’s sense perception of the Eucharist. One might judge that it is bread that one is looking at, touching, tasting, etc., even though it is not bread at all, but the Body of Christ. But to say that one’s senses are deceiving one in this situation is to speak loosely. As in the case of Jim and Bob, strictly speaking your senses are not really deceiving you at all. They told you that the accidents of bread were present, and they really were present. (Aquinas thinks so. Why? Precisely because “it is evident to sense” that they are.)

The trouble is that you drew the wrong conclusion from this fact, insofar as you assumed that the presence of the accidents entails that the substance of bread must be present as well. That is to say, you failed to consider that the accidents might still be present even if the substance is not. As in the case of Jim and Bob, what is going on here is not that what sense perception tells you should be “trumped” by something else. It is, in both cases, something far more mundane—the senses are accurate as far as they go, but haven’t given you the whole story, and since you failed to realize this you drew a mistaken conclusion. This happens all the time, and hardly only when non-Catholics come to Mass.

“But I don’t buy the metaphysics and theology underlying the doctrine of transubstantiation!” you exclaim. Fine, but that is irrelevant to the point at issue, which is that there is nothing in the doctrine per se, nor in the Church’s claim about her teaching authority, nor in Ignatius' colorful statement of that claim, that entails some bizarre pitting of tradition against sense perception. If one wants to reject the doctrine, or the Church’s claims about her own authority, shouting “You claim that tradition trumps sense perception!” is not a good reason to do so.

Dale offers a further consideration against the Catholic position, as expressed by Ignatius. He says: “Suppose, contrary to fact, that Mother Church had long, strongly asserted that uneaten, consecrated wafers never rot. Then, you’re cleaning up the church, and find a wafer that you remember the priest dropping during Mass some months ago. It is rotten—covered with bread mold. You can feel, smell, and see the rot. Surely, you can (and will) reasonably believe that the wafer is rotten.”

Apparently Dale thinks this hypothetical scenario poses a problem for the Catholic view of the Church’s teaching authority. But it’s hard to see how. Consider another hypothetical scenario: Suppose, contrary to fact, that the Bible had asserted that all Volkswagens are poached eggs. Then, you’re cleaning your Volkswagen one day, and you happen to notice that it is not a poached egg. You can feel, smell, and see that the Volkswagen has no poached egg-like qualities at all, and many qualities that are incompatible with its being a poached egg. Surely you can (and will) reasonably believe that the Volkswagen is not a poached egg.

Now, having formulated this scenario, would you rush to the computer and write up a blog post entitled “Protestantism: The Bible Trumps Sense Perception”? Would you think you’ve discovered a powerful objection to the authority of the Bible? Presumably not; in any event, I doubt Dale would think you had. For the argument seems to be: “We can make up a story where the Bible asserts something at odds with a veridical sense perception. Therefore the Bible is not in fact authoritative.” And this argument is clearly no good. What matters to assessing the Bible’s authority is what it actually says, not what we can imagine it saying in some weird story we’ve made up. But this argument seems parallel to Dale’s implicit argument against Ignatius' view of the Church’s teaching authority. If the one argument has no force, then, neither does the other.
 
 
Originally posted at Edward Feser's Blog. Used with author's permission.
(Image credit: Twitrcovers)

Dr. Edward Feser

Written by

Dr. Edward Feser is Associate Professor of Philosophy at Pasadena City College in Pasadena, California. He has been a Visiting Assistant Professor at Loyola Marymount University in Los Angeles and a Visiting Scholar at the Social Philosophy and Policy Center at Bowling Green State University in Bowling Green, Ohio. He holds a doctorate in philosophy from the University of California at Santa Barbara, a master’s degree in religion from the Claremont Graduate School, and a bachelor’s degree in philosophy and religious studies from the California State University at Fullerton. He is author of numerous books including The Last Superstition: A Refutation of the New Atheism (St. Augustines Press, 2010); Aquinas (Oneworld, 2009); and Philosophy of Mind (Oneworld, 2007). Follow Dr. Feser on his blog and his website, EdwardFeser.com.

Note: Our goal is to cultivate serious and respectful dialogue. While it's OK to disagree—even encouraged!—any snarky, offensive, or off-topic comments will be deleted. Before commenting please read the Commenting Rules and Tips. If you're having trouble commenting, read the Commenting Instructions.

  • I'm wondering what this article does to advance the discussion. Granted, Feser offers:

    Given the Catholic understanding of revelation—an understanding the
    Church herself insists is and must be in harmony with reason—we are
    obliged to assent to the Church’s formal pronouncements on matters of
    faith and morals rather than to any private interpretation that might
    conflict with those pronouncements.

    In other words, if we grant that what the Church pronounces is reasonable and true and the Church pronounces that what the Church pronounces is reasonable and true, then it is reasonable to believe that what the Church pronounces simply because the Church pronounces it. I would agree with that, and I think most people would. But this sort of argument isn't going to convince anyone but a Catholic of the rationality of Catholicism.

    Or:

    If one wants to reject the doctrine, or the Church’s claims about her
    own authority, shouting “You claim that tradition trumps sense perception!” is not a good reason to do so.

    Again, I agree. That's not a good reason to reject transubstantiation. A good reason to reject transubstantiation is simply that there is no evidence for it.

    As with the Jim and Bob case, I might mistake Bob for Jim or Jim for Bob, and I'd take their word about which is which. But if I only ever saw one of them, and he claimed to be twins, sometimes Jim and sometimes Bob, eventually I'd ask to see them both at the same time, or ask for ways to tell one apart from the other.

    It's like the psychic who says she's talking to the dead ghost of my father. Eventually I want enough specifics so I can tell whether the psychic is delusional or lying, or whether the spirit of my dad is actually there.

    • Kevin Aldrich

      I suspect that the way this OP "advances the discussion" between Catholics and atheists is that it is one more refutation of the very common argument that goes like this: "The Catholic Church says X. Isn't that stupid?"

      • For which his response is, effectively: "It's not stupid if it's true!"

        Sadly, though, you may be right. Even that kind of contribution may be necessary for furthering the dialogue. It's hard to say.

        • Kevin Aldrich

          Catholics can misunderstand or misrepresent atheist arguments as well, so it goes both ways.

          For example, Catholics might assume that atheists reject the notion of God. Atheists reply (1) there is no "we" in atheists, since "we" are all individuals with our own views and (2) generally "we" only say there is not sufficient reason to say "God exists."

          Or, Catholics might assume that atheists reject objective morality. In fact, we have seen here that many atheists embrace that notion.

    • "I'm wondering what this article does to advance the discussion."

      It seems fairly clear to me. The article refutes a common misunderstanding that Catholics must believe anything the Church teaches even if it's logically irrational. Dr. Feser argues this is an empty hypothetical and therefore it's a poor argument against Catholicism.

      If the goal of this cite is to determine whether Catholicism or atheism is true, this certainly helps advance the discussion.

      • If the goal of this site is to determine whether Catholicism or atheism is true, this certainly helps advance the discussion.

        But Feser never makes an argument that Catholicism is true or atheism false. He just argues that, if Catholicism is right about revelation and its interpretation, then it's reasonable to believe in something because the Church says so.

        I didn't know anyone actually would disagree with that, but maybe some do.

        • "But Feser never makes an argument that Catholicism is true or atheism false. He just argues that, if Catholicism is right about revelation and its interpretation, then it's reasonable to believe in something because the Church says so."

          I never claimed that was Dr. Feser's goal. I very explicitly claimed that was *the website's* goal and that Dr. Feser's intention, contrary to what you suggest, was to refute a common argument used *against* Catholicism.

          Clearly the validity of this argument matters for the question of whether Catholicism is true. If it's a strong argument against Catholicism, it would make atheism seem a bit more likely. If it ends up *not* being a strong argument, then the case for Catholicism appears to stand stronger.

          • I agree with you that the argument:

            "Even if the Catholic Church is right about revelation, it's irrational to believe something because the Church says to."

            is a bad argument. I didn't know any atheist used this argument, although sadly I'm not all that surprised. And I'm happy to stand corrected. This article would be useful for those who would use this kind of argument. It will hopefully get them to stop using it.

            The fact that this is a bad argument doesn't make Catholicism appear any stronger to me. After all, there are dozens of terrible arguments for the Catholic Church. For example, "Catholicism is true because I was born into the Catholic Church." Refuting these kinds of arguments doesn't help atheism anymore than Feser's article helps Catholicism. But it does help dialogue. It gets us to throw out the bad arguments and get to the good arguments.

          • "The fact that this is a bad argument doesn't make Catholicism appear any stronger to me."

            Perhaps not to you. I'll grant that. But if someone only rejects Catholicism for three reasons, and those three reasons can be exposed as *bad* reasons, that would make Catholicism appear stronger to them.

            The same can be said in reverse about atheism. Suppose the only reason I'm Catholic, and not atheist, is because Christians produce better art. Let's say I think every atheist argument is extremely persuasive, but I just think Christian art outweighs them all.

            Now suppose you carefully and charitably show me that this reason for embracing Catholicism is *not* a good reason--it's irrelevant to the question of whether Catholicism is true.

            In that case, I would immediately find atheism more compelling.

            The decisions of whether to be Catholic or atheist is based on weighing the apparent evidence. And if the apparent evidence becomes lighter on one side, it improves the persuasiveness of the other.

          • What I learned is that people presumably think that being Catholic would be irrational even if the Church were right about everything. Since I disagree with that thought, my evaluation of Catholicism is unchanged. I would be happy to hear from any reader who believes that Catholicism is irrational even if the Catholic Church is right about revelation. I'd be very interested to find out what they thought of the article.

      • Doug Shaver

        The article refutes a common misunderstanding that Catholics must believe anything the Church teaches even if it's logically irrational.

        The refutation seems to consist of: If the church teaches it, then it's not irrational.

  • David Nickol

    When I was an editor on my high school paper, our adviser, a Christian Brother, was co-authoring a new religion textbook. We used to pepper him with questions which we would then argue about. One question in particular that I remember was whether, if wood could be "transubstantiated" into gold, should one be willing to pay the current price for gold (today, approximately $1300 an ounce) for something with all the "accidents" of wood but the substance of which was gold. Ac I recall, Brother C. leaned toward valuing it as gold.

    The question for me today is whether it makes any sense, according to our current understanding of what makes a "substance" what it is, to say that the substance can change while all the "accidents" remain the same. Given gold itself as a starting point, is the fact that it consists of a nucleus of 79 protons, 118 neutrons, and 79 electrons that makes it gold, or are the number of protons, neutrons, and electrons themselves accidents, with gold being gold because it has the substance of gold?

    Dr. Feser says that not accepting the metaphysics the Church uses to explain transubstantiation does not invalidate his point. But of course if the metaphysics of "substance" and "accidents" doesn't reflect ultimate reality, then it is pretty much a moot point what kind of intellectual concessions such a doctrine makes of believers. If the belief system is logically consistent, it may require no concessions and may not require the acceptance of any logical contradictions. But it may not be true.

    • "Given gold itself as a starting point, is the fact that it consists of a nucleus of 79 protons, 118 neutrons, and 79 electrons that makes it gold, or are the number of protons, neutrons, and electrons themselves accidents, with gold being gold because it has the substance of gold?"

      I'm no philosopher, nor an expert in Aristotelian-Thomistic metaphysics, but from what I understand of it, the proton, neutron, and electron counts would all qualify as accidents, not substance, just as the protons, neutrons, and electrons in bread can remain the same while, metaphysically, the substance transforms into the Body of Christ.

      • David Nickol

        If that were true, the problem would seem to be that we can never be sure what anything is. We have access only to "accidents," not "substance." If you took your family's jewelry to a jeweler to sell, the most he or she could say is, "I don't know what this is, but it has the accidents of 24 karat gold."

        • "If that were true, the problem would seem to be that we can never be sure what anything is. We have access only to "accidents," not "substance.""

          Only if knowledge only comes through our senses. We can determine what something *is* through reason and, in some cases, divine revelation.

          "If you took your family's jewelry to a jeweler to sell, the most he or she could say is, "I don't know what this is, but it has the accidents of 24 karat gold.""

          That may be true, but if so, what's the problem? The jeweler and the person selling the gold are not interested in substance--only accident. They are interested in things that, to our best sensory estimation, appear to be gold.

          • kuroisekai

            A better analogy would be taking a family heirloom gold necklace to a pawnshop. The pawn broker will most probably only value it for as much as the weight of the gold is worth. Of course, it will be much lower than what you think the gold is worth - the sentimental value of that jewelry is metaphysical and will not change the intrinsic value of the gold. The pawn broker may or may not value it higher because of any metaphysical qualities the necklace has, but at the end of the day, he's still buying for a hunk of metal.

  • David Nickol

    Is this fair?

    We know what the Church teaches is true not merely because the Church says so, but because revelation is associated with miracles, and the miraculous nature of the founding of the Church, which is public knowledge, will confirm the truth of revelation and the divine origin of the Church.

    Furthermore, we know that the Church must speak with authority, because if all we had were the events of revelation (the Old Testament; the life, teachings, death, and resurrection of Jesus; the New Testament), they could be misinterpreted. God wouldn't want us to misinterpret what he revealed, so it's follows that he set up an authority to be the final arbiter of what was and was not revelation, and what revelation implied.

    The Church has never required belief in anything that contradicts reason—although some things the Church teaches are above reason, not against it)—let alone conflicts with our sense impressions.

    The doctrine of transubstantiation does not conflict with our sense impressions, since although when consecrated, bread and wine become the body and blood of Christ, because the doctrine itself explains that a change in substance happens, but also explains that the accidents do not change. Consequently, transubstantiation doesn't have any effect on things that are perceived by the senses.

    Even if we reject a metaphysics in which substance can change and accidents can remain exactly the same, the Church is not teaching something that requires believers to accept something contradictory to their sense experiences, because the Church is teaching the metaphysical concepts of substance and accidents along with the doctrine of transubstantiation.

    • David, a remarkable summary. At first glance, I'd agree with every single line, though more sophisticated Catholics might bicker about a particular phrase or two. Well done!

    • josh

      In other words 'Who are you gonna believe: the Church, or your own lyin' eyes, ears, tongue, knowledge of history, and sense of reason?'

      • josh, once again, a simplistic reduction of the argument. You've created a false dichotomy.

        It's not *either* we trust our senses when they says something looks, smells, tastes, sounds, and feels like bread *or* we trust the Church when it says the conescrated host is substantially transformed into the Body of Christ.

        Both are true. The senses tell us part of the story while our reasoning and, sometimes, divine revelation tell us more.

        I suggest re-reading this paragraph in Dr. Feser's article:

        "As in the case of Jim and Bob, what is going on here is not that what sense perception tells you should be “trumped” by something else. It is, in both cases, something far more mundane—the senses are accurate as far as they go, but haven’t given you the whole story, and since you failed to realize this you drew a mistaken conclusion. This happens all the time, and hardly only when non-Catholics come to Mass."

        • josh

          It was a simplistic argument. And I wasn't referring to just the doctrine of the Eucharist, that's just a particularly egregious example. In fact it is downright bizarre, since here is a case where it would make perfect sense to read the biblical passages as symbolic, but the fideism of your religion has forced you to abandon reason in favor of a mental contortion which exists only to maintain a literal meaning while ignoring the obvious.

          The problem isn't the general claim that one could have a mistaken impression, it is that you are to accept a claim completely at odds with your senses purely on faith. The problem is the completely unreasonable metaphysics which you are also claiming for religious reasons and which you are using to defend a claim against all possible evidence. The Jim/Bob case is resolved precisely because there is sensory evidence to distinguish them.

          An apt analogy to your claims would be if Jim said "Hey, I'm Jim", everyone confirmed it and no one had ever heard of a twin brother. But you, based purely on faith, allege that Jim, before our very eyes, had been replaced with a kumquat, which retained all the accidents of a person, but was now perfectly reasonable to eat.

    • Steven Carr

      The Church is teaching that a miracle is something that cannot be detected.

      I don't see how I could ever be a Christian.

      The idea of repeating the words that Catholic apologists do when explaining transubstantiation would be totally alien to me.

      It makes as much sense as claiming that the Pope is wearing an invisibility cloak when he appears on the balcony of St. Peter's. You can still see him, but that does not mean the invisibility cloak is not working.

      Still, if Catholics want to proclaim that Transubstantiation is something that makes sense, they are entitled to do so.

      And the rest of us can get on with our lives knowing that a lot of people in the world say things that can safely be ignored as totally irrelevant.

  • JohnC

    I am not sure the explanation provided does any favors to Loyola, as it appears to me the response leads to divine command theory:

    We must accept both the Church’s teachings on faith and morals and logic, and if there seems to be a conflict, the theologian has a duty to show why this

    appearance is illusory.

    And that will likely be a non-starter for most non-believers for a variety of reasons (which could be discussed, but that, I think, would be a sidetrack). In short, this article does very little to move an atheist one way or another. Moreover, I suspect it would offer very little to non-catholics. And as it turns out, this argument does nothing for non-catholic christians:

    http://trinities.org/blog/archives/1560

    It would seem then that Dale Tuggy should be given an opportunity to respond as he is a member of a faith tradition in a similar vein, and thus has the ability to make a more persuasive argument against Dr. Feaser's claims.

  • Octavo

    The upshot of this seems to be that the church has carefully structured its teachings in such a way that the magic always happens where it cannot be seen by any living people. Transubstantiation does not affect the accidents of the bread and wine. Life continues on after death in invisible heavens and hells. Jesus was brought back from the dead in a cave 2000 years ago. And so on.

    I definitely agree that the above takes away the common objections to transubstantiation that don't take into account Aristotle's metaphysics.

    ~Jesse Webster

    • "The upshot of this seems to be that the church has carefully structured its teachings in such a way that the magic always happens where it cannot be seen by any living people. Transubstantiation does not affect the accidents of the bread and wine. Life continues on after death in invisible heavens and hells. Jesus was brought back from the dead in a cave 2000 years ago. And so on."

      Jesse, first thanks for using your real name. It's good to know each other as more than anonymous pixels.

      Second, we've discussed this before, but equating religious beliefs with "magic" is a pejorative tactic that doesn't help fruitful dialogue. It's unnecessary.

      Finally, the first two beliefs--transubstantiation and eternal life--can be known on the authority of the Church *if* the third belief is true. If Jesus rose from the dead, then he is God. And since Jesus established his Church to teach and speak in his name, that Church would have authority to transmit divine revelation.

      But here's where you err. The Resurrection is a *historical* claim. We can examine the historically-accepted facts like Jesus' honorable burial, his empty tomb, his post mortum appearances, and the astonishing transformation in his disciples' belief. Then we can put forward all of the possible hypotheses and see which one best explains the data.

      This is far from "magic".

      • David Nickol

        Second, we've discussed this before, but equating religious beliefs with "magic" is a pejorative tactic that doesn't help fruitful dialogue. It's unnecessary.

        I have read some interesting comments (mainly in blog posts, so I have no hope of finding them to refer to now) by very committed Catholics who caution that such things as the effects of the sacraments are sometimes thought of as a kind of "magic" when they should not be. I can think of one example on my own. When we have discussed the efficacy of prayer, it seems to me that empirical tests of prayer treat it as some kind of magic. They seem to imply that praying for people in hospital A and not for people in hospital B should make the patients in hospital A have better health outcomes than the patients in hospital B. That seems to me to be treating prayer as some kind of magical spell that ought to work regardless of the intentions of those who pray, those who are prayed for, and God who is prayed to.

        Certain Catholic practices can seem to be a lot like magic, or can be close to superstition, if not thought of carefully. The wearing of scapulars or medals, making novenas, "first Fridays," prayers to St. Anthony to find lost objects, St. Christopher medals or plastic statues of Jesus on the dashboard of cars, if not thought of correctly, can be as much superstition as a lucky rabbit's foot or an upside-down horseshoe. The one that really rather shocks me is the burying of a statue of St. Joseph (some claim it must be buried upside-down) in the yard of a house you are trying to sell, which allegedly helps to sell the house more quickly. I am amazed at the number of Catholics who laugh at the practice and then say, "But it works!" You can even buy kits!

      • josh

        Brandon, it would be fruitful if you came to understand that your beliefs are equivalent to magic.

        "Finally, the first two beliefs--transubstantiation and eternal life--can
        be known on the authority of the Church *if* the third belief is true. "

        Doesn't follow.

        "If Jesus rose from the dead, then he is God."

        Non sequitur.

        "And since Jesus established
        his Church to teach and speak in his name,..."

        Statement not in evidence.

        "...that Church would have
        authority to transmit divine revelation."

        Ambiguous. Any official Jesus-stamp-of-approval Church wouldn't necessarily be the Catholic one that exists today. (Maybe it's Mormons!)

        "The Resurrection is a *historical* claim."

        Of magic. It's a claim that historically someone did some magic.

        "We can examine the historically-accepted facts..."

        We can, although there aren't many pertinent to the case at hand except the lack of exceptional evidence for magic.

        "...facts like Jesus' honorable burial..."

        Nope. Joseph of Arimathea has every appearance of being a fiction. Typical treatment of a crucified prisoner would be to leave them up to rot, or possibly to take them down and bury them as a criminal. Also note that tombs of the time were almost all sealed by a square stone, not one which could be rolled away. However, the rolling stones became more common in the later era of the gospel writers. (N.b. - There is a claim that the greek verb kulio, 'to roll', could also mean 'to dislodge').

        "...his empty tomb..."

        This is a claim from the Gospels intended to illustrate (possibly spiritually) Jesus resurrection. Like the rest of the Gospels it is religious propaganda and can't be taken at face value. There is no independent evidence of an empty tomb. In other words, it is as historically factual as the claim that Mohammed ascended to heaven on a winged horse.

        "...his post mortum appearances, and the astonishing transformation in his disciples' belief..."
        More of the same, these are stories in a religious tradition, not historical facts. We don't have any records of any disciples beliefs from before the alleged events. One quite plausible possibility is that zealous followers of Jesus maintained their zealotry by believing stories of Jesus postmortem appearances, like people who believe that Elvis faked his death, or that Haile Selassie didn't actually die.

        • "Brandon, it would be fruitful if you came to understand that your beliefs are equivalent to magic."

          I'm curious, how would you define magic? Also, how would you distinguish between "miracle" and "magic"?

          Regarding the rest of your comment, my original comment was not an attempt to *defend* the historical Resurrection. We've done that elsewhere and will do so again.

          Moreover, I was not aiming to create an explicit syllogism, therefore your "refutations" are misguided. For example, I assumed most people participating in this discussion would be familiar with Jesus giving his Church the ability to teach and govern in his name (cf. Mt 16:18-19). You seemingly are not. Therefore next time I make this assertion, I'll consider spelling out my implicit assumptions so I won't be accused of offering a "statement not in evidence."

          In the interest of not spiraling into an even more tangential discussion with you, I'll only offer just one more observation. Your rejection of the four historical facts I mentioned puts you in the extreme minority of historians (I'll give you the benefit of the doubt and assume you're an historian). Almost all mainstream historians, believers and non-believers alike, accept those four facts. In fact, even Richard Carrier, the well-known mythicist, accept the latter three (which you appear to reject). Atheist historians, of course, disagree that the Resurrection provides the best *explanation* of those facts, but they nevertheless accept those four facts.

          Beyond that, many of your claims display a surprising ignorance about Resurrection scholarship. For example, you claim, "There is no independent evidence of an empty tomb."

          This is simply false. We have multiple, independent attestations of the empty tomb. On this point, I suggest reading William Lane Craig's essay, "The Historicity of the Empty Tomb of Jesus" which was published in New Testament Studies. It should be available online. In a later, more popular essay, Craig notes:

          "Mark's Passion source didn't end with Jesus' burial, but with the story of the empty tomb, which is tied to the burial account verbally and grammatically. Moreover, Matthew and John rely on independent sources about the empty tomb. Jesus' empty tomb is also mentioned in the early sermons independently preserved in the Acts of the Apostles (2.29; 13.36), and it's implied by the very old tradition handed on by Paul in his first letter to the Corinthian church (I Cor. 15.4). Thus, we have multiple, early attestation of the fact of the empty tomb in at least four independent sources."

          Before so casually dismissing these four facts, I suggest becoming much better familiar with this area of scholarship.

          • josh

            Brandon,

            I don't see any pressing need to distinguish between miracle and magic. A miracle is a magical claim. God raises people from the dead, a magic spell raises people from the dead. You may wish to make up a theory about how the underlying mechanism is different, but we have no observations of that mechanism and the effects (for which we also have no evidence) are the same.

            You weren't presenting a syllogism, you were presenting a false claim and I corrected you. If you didn't really mean to make that claim then just retract it and let your readers benefit from the correction.

            "For example, I assumed most people participating in this discussion would be familiar with Jesus giving his Church the ability to teach and govern in his name (cf. Mt 16:18-19). You seemingly are not aware of this."

            This is either empty snark or a complete failure of reading comprehension. The claim that Jesus says he will build his Church on Peter derives from the gospel. Whether any such Jesus ever said any such thing to any such Peter, whether this conveys the kind of authority you want to claim, whether the Catholic church can be considered an authentic successor to such authority, these aren't historical facts.

            "Almost all mainstream historians, believers and non-believers alike, accept those four facts." Sheer bluster on your part. What is your source for these claims? Richard Carrier, insofar as he is a mythicist, of course doesn't believe in Jesus's burial, or an empty tomb, or post-mortem appearances, or that he had disciples. The non-mythicists generally agree that Jesus was a preacher with followers, possibly Galilean, crucified in Jerusalem.

            Now as you say, it is conceivable that there was a tomb, or a disappearing body, or post-mortem visions and these things would present no difficulty to a mundane reconstruction of events. But they aren't known facts, they have the character of legends.

            "We have multiple, independent attestations of the empty tomb. On this point, I suggest reading William Lane Craig's essay..." Hilarious. William Lane Craig isn't a historian, he's widely regarded as a huckster. Maybe you need to familiarize yourself with what the word 'independent' means. Multiple sources that derive from the same source aren't independent. We have strong evidence that the gospels borrowed from each other, Luke and Acts are often attributed to the same author (and the passages in Acts from your quote refer to the tomb of David). Cor. 15:4 cites 'according to the scriptures', so not independent, and gives no references to the points in question. There just isn't any evidence that this was more than a story repeated among and elaborated upon by a small group of willing believers. We don't know the origin (or original version) of the story, we simply can't say that it is fact.

          • "Hilarious. William Lane Craig isn't a historian, he's widely regarded as a huckster."

            josh, you've displayed little ability to avoid remarks like this, and we've already warned you several times to tone down the snarkiness and the ad hominem attacks. But yet they continue. Poisoning the well at the beginning of a discussion is one of the surest paths to fruitless dialogue.

            From here on out, I'll be removing any comments of this sort.

            As a side note, William Lane Craig is one of the most respected experts on New Testament textual history. He's published many journal papers in the field. Writing him off as a "huckster" is not only fallacious but detracts from whatever points you're trying to make.

            "Maybe you need to familiarize yourself with what the word 'independent' means. Multiple sources that derive from the same source aren't independent. "

            Again, the sarcasm is unnecessary. I clearly know what independent means, and so does William Lane Craig. Suggesting I'm unaware that multiple sources depending on one source are not independent is to construct a straw man.

            Regarding your actual argument, though, it's clear you did not read (or understand) either source I pointed you to because both admit that while the Synoptic gospels share certain material, we know the passion narratives are, in part, independent. Again, this is the mainstream view.

            There are also independent references in the Acts of the Apostles and the independent tradition cited by St. Paul, who wrote before any of the Gospels were completed. Craig makes all of this clear.

            Therefore it is wrong to suppose Matthew, Mark, Luke, Acts, and St. Paul all derived their material about the empty tomb from a single source.

            Finally, your last paragraph confuses the independence of attestations with their veracity. You seem to agree St. Paul's attestation in Corinthians is independent from the Gospels (though you make a fallacious argument from silence which suggests that since we don't have any evidence the Corinthian story *didn't* rely on the Gospels, it could have). Yet you then conclude by concerning yourself with whether the attestation is true. Now I think it is true, and I think the other independent evidence strongly supports this, but that wasn't what we were discussing. You only questioned whether we had multiple independent sources. I argued that we did, pointed them out, suggested resources for further evidence, and as far as I can tell you've given no compelling reason to think otherwise.

            I'll let this be my last response here. To be frank, while I enjoy fruitful dialogue with many other atheists here, I'm afraid our conversations seem often chilly and unproductive. Perhaps that's my fault, or perhaps we both share the blame, but our dialogue seems more frustrating than fruitful. I, at least, need a break.

          • John Bell

            I think your various conversations with Josh have been very revealing and it would be a shame if you shut them down.

          • John, I agree that josh consistently makes interesting points. I just remain confused at his inability to carry on a respectful and positive dialogue, one built on truth and not snark.

            I've had other commenters complain about his style, and I know I've refrained to engage him sometimes because of it. It's a shame because, as we've said, he's a smart guy who offers insightful contributions.

          • John Bell

            His style is fine. You guys need to grow a thicker skin when someone carefully and meticulously shows why your belief system is wrong. I can understand why it irritates you but I wish you wouldn't always hide behind this "respectful dialogue" and "posting rules" whenever someone like Josh comes along. You've already run off 95% of the smart people so why not try to keep the remaining 5%?

          • John, thanks for the comment. First, josh hasn't carefully *or* meticulously shown Catholicism to be wrong.

            Second, I'm not sure you understand the purpose of Strange Notions. Our goal isn't "to attract smart people" but "to discover the truth through charitable and reasonable dialogue."

            Third, never have I "hid behind" the commenting rules. It's true I reference them often to promote respectful dialogue, but I also engaged josh's points, here and elsewhere.

            Finally, your insinuation that only 5% of the commenters here are smart--and, presumably, that the rest are not--is just one more example of the juvenile smugness we're so eager to eliminate.

            Productive conversation is virtually impossible if one party begins by suggesting the other is stupid.

          • I agree with you that people here need a much thicker skin. I don't agree about all the smart people leaving, or even most of the smart people leaving. The forum rules I think have limited the kinds of people who participate in the conversation, and Brandon thinks that it's made the conversation better and I think it's made the conversation worse, and Brandon and I simply disagree about that. But there's still good smart conversation happening here, and this place looks like it's going to do well, in spite of the limits imposed on it.

            No one's showed that the Catholic belief system is wrong or right, as far as I can tell. Here's a good statement about the way I see religious questions: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3zi699WzAL0 (Feynman), although unlike Feynman, I do like to play around with mystic answers. Ultimately, though, you can't argue people out of the Catholic faith, anymore than people can argue you into the Catholic faith. We just get a broader understanding of each other here. I don't think anything here will change anyone's minds one way or the other, but it will help them see the other side better. At the very best, I think this forum will get people to stop using bad arguments. If it does that, then it was worth it. And that's why I spend my time commenting here. That and the enjoyment I get from talking about the "big questions".

          • Susan

            There just isn't any evidence that this was more than a story repeated among and elaborated upon by a small group of willing believers. We don't know the origin (or original version) of the story, we simply can't say that it is fact.

            Josh has made this very simple point and you have not addressed it.
            .

          • "Josh has made this very simple point and you have not addressed it."

            Susan this is not a very simple point. It's a paragraph loaded with several general, speculatory assertions that would each take whole articles to adequately refute.

            In the interest of giving josh's points the time and space they deserve, I won't try to address them here in a single comment.

            (Though I will say I partly *agree* with josh's first sentence. The story of Jesus' Resurrection *was* "a story repeated among...a small group of willing believers." I struggle to see, however, what that says about its veracity.)

          • josh

            I appreciate the support of commenters below.

            Brandon,

            This is your blog and if you want to kick me off that's your call, I'll consider myself in good company. But I maintain that I don't insult people gratuitously. You appear to have a problem with sustained criticism of your beliefs and a double standard about what counts as 'productive' discussion.

            For example:
            (me:)
            "Hilarious. William Lane Craig isn't a historian, he's widely regarded as a huckster."

            This isn't ad hom. It's a response to your snarky comments about 'assuming you're a historian' and the appeal to the authority of 'almost all mainstream historians'. Your only source after these dismissive remarks? A non-historian, who, as others have pointed out before, is regarded by many as sloppy or even dishonest.

            (me:)
            "Maybe you need to familiarize yourself with what the word
            'independent' means. Multiple sources that derive from the same source
            aren't independent. "

            (you:)
            "Again, the sarcasm is unnecessary. I clearly know what independent means, and so does William Lane Craig. Suggesting I'm unaware that multiple sources depending on one source are not independent is to construct a straw man."

            Note that the snarky phrasing is a direct response to your similar dismissive words above. But it's not a strawman. You claimed that we have evidence from independent sources that supports your alleged 'facts', and so does Craig. But they aren't known to be independent in a way that confirms the pertinent claim. We know some of the sources borrowed freely from other known sources, we strongly suspect that some derived in part from common unknown sources, like the Q hypothesis. We don't know that, say, Mark's gospel and some putative independent source for parts of Matthew don't derive from an earlier common source. None of these are contemporary accounts. If Paul is referencing an older tradition, while somehow managing not to say anything about Joseph or a tomb or any details other than crucifixion, then what we can't assume is that the Gospel's are repeating an independent other unknown old tradition. A known independent source would be something like a contemporaneous Roman or Jewish record that mentions the burial or disappearance of that Jesus guy who was stirring up trouble.

            We are debating what is known to be true, 'historical fact' in your words. The claims I cited are not known to be true. It is not my burden to prove them false, only to point out your lack of compelling evidence. I don't know to what degree 1 Corinthians and the Gospels are independent and neither do you.

            An entirely plausible scenario is that an apocalyptic preacher was crucified. One or more of his followers, unable to accept the death of their would-be messiah, preaches a new doctrine of resurrection where Jesus puts on a new body, triumphing in a spiritual sense, perhaps making a miraculous ghostly post-mortem appearance. This would all be in line with Paul's teachings. Over time, the story is elaborated upon, so that Jesus is secretly given an honorable burial by a heretofore completely unknown benefactor. No mention is made of the location of this tomb. As the story grows, more details and miracle claims are added in: people go to visit the tomb but it is empty, a stone is mysteriously moved, angel's make proclamations, post-mortem appearances are multiplied and elaborated on.

            I don't know if this is exactly how things came about, but it fits the knowledge we do have, and it definitely isn't disproven. Therefore, your claims aren't facts. This is like pointing out that multiple accounts of King Arthur, even when we don't know the original sources, don't make his

            friendship with Merlin a historical fact.

          • Ignorant Amos

            As a side note, William Lane Craig is one of the most respected experts on New Testament textual history. He's published many journal papers in the field. Writing him off as a "huckster" is not only fallacious but detracts from whatever points you're trying to make.

            Be careful about whose mast you tie your colours too Brandon.

            He is on the record as saying that arguments and evidence play only a “ministerial” role, and if they collide with his faith, it’s faith that should take precedence. Not very rational a position

            He has stated...

            "I remember well one of my theology professors commenting that if he were persuaded that Christianity were unreasonable, then he would renounce Christianity. Now that frightened and troubled me. For me, Christ was so real and had invested my life with such significance that I could not make the confession of my professor. If somehow through my studies my reason were to turn against my faith, then so much the worse for my reason! It would only mean that I had made some mistake in my reasoning... If my reason turned against Christ, I’d still believe. My faith is too real."

            In another debate...

            "Consider also Craig’s behavior during his debate with Hitchens where he had the nerve to urge Hitchens to become a Christian and said “If Mr. Hitchens is a man of good will, he will follow the evidence where it leads and all the evidence tonight had been on the side of theism!” It is only when one takes on board fully the fact that this comes from a person who was quoted earlier in that very same debate as saying “Should a conflict arises between witness of the Holy Spirit to the fundamental truth of Christian faith and beliefs based on argument and evidence, then it is the former which must take precedence over the latter, not vice versa.” – the very antithesis of intellectual honesty and what academia stands for, and who’s made it abundantly clear he will not follow the evidence where it leads if it leads away from his faith (The Holy Spirit trumps it all!), and is therefore by his own definition not “a man of good will”, one can truly appreciate the extent of Craig’s utter, almost pathological, shamelessness and dishonesty."

            That alone negates him from the label of historian and over to being a hack.

            Further evidence of his being a lying hack...

            http://www.theaunicornist.com/2013/08/lawrence-krauss-reams-william-lane-craig.html

            William Lane Craig is a lying gish galloping toad with his finger continuously pressed against the reset button. He is self serving and has nothing to offer the dialogue.

            "William Lane Craig is a liar. Here is what he says in a debate with Sam Harris about hell:"

            "Honestly, that just simply shows how poorly Sam Harris understands Christianity. You don’t believe in God to avoid going to Hell. Belief in God isn’t some kind of fire insurance. You believe in God because God, as the supreme Good, is the appropriate object of adoration and love. He is Goodness itself, to be desired for its own sake. And so the fulfillment of human existence is to be found in relation to God. It’s because of who God is and his moral worth that he is worthy of worship. It has nothing to do with avoiding Hell, or promoting your own well-being."

            "Then in a podcast found he openly says that fear of hell was a major factor in his embracing of Christianity, and that it was perfectly valid that many people come to Christ through fear of hell, rather than the love of Christ (from 20:50 to 22:00)" http://www.reasonablefaith.org/rob-bell-and-hell

            Of all the arguments he makes that I know of, only one goes to the assertion of only a capital "G" god. That of his assertion that the most probable explanation for what he calls "evidence" from the gospel accounts of the empty tomb and sightings of a risen Jesus must be of a resurrected deity. That is just rubbish and not even a reasonable historiographical assertion.in higher criticism of the NT.

            So jumping all over Josh for telling you exactly what WLC has shown himself to be, a lying hack, is just wrong.

          • Susan

            I'm curious, how would you define magic? Also, how would you distinguish between "miracle" and "magic"?

            How would YOU distinguish between them?

          • "How would YOU distinguish between [magic and miracles]?"

            Well, to put it simply, magic is attempted by human actors while miracles require a supernatural cause.

            Magic simply claims that the right ingredients and/or words create a desired result. According to the claims of magic the interior disposition of the person does not matter and the desired result must occur if the right ingredients and/or words are present. It's formulaic.

            A miracle comes from God's own free choice to act in a particular way. God is not bound to act in any manner simply because a human person has said or used the right processes. In a miracle it is only God who is acting, the human person has not claimed to have conjured up or harnessed any power.

            The Catechism of the Catholic Church offers more on this distinction:

            2111 Superstition is the deviation of religious feeling and of the practices this feeling imposes. It can even affect the worship we offer the true God, e.g., when one attributes an importance in some way magical to certain practices otherwise lawful or necessary. To attribute the efficacy of prayers or of sacramental signs to their mere external performance, apart from the interior dispositions that they demand, is to fall into superstition.

            2116 All forms of divination are to be rejected: recourse to Satan or demons, conjuring up the dead or other practices falsely supposed to "unveil" the future. Consulting horoscopes, astrology, palm reading, interpretation of omens and lots, the phenomena of clairvoyance, and recourse to mediums all conceal a desire for power over time, history, and, in the last analysis, other human beings, as well as a wish to conciliate hidden powers. They contradict the honor, respect, and loving fear that we owe to God alone.

            2117 All practices of magic or sorcery, by which one attempts to tame occult powers, so as to place them at one's service and have a supernatural power over others - even if this were for the sake of restoring their health - are gravely contrary to the virtue of religion. These practices are even more to be condemned when accompanied by the intention of harming someone, or when they have recourse to the intervention of demons. Wearing charms is also reprehensible. Spiritism often implies divination or magical practices; the Church for her part warns the faithful against it. Recourse to so-called traditional cures does not justify either the invocation of evil powers or the exploitation of another's credulity.

          • Steven Carr

            'Magic simply claims that the right ingredients and/or words create a desired result.'

            I see.

            So, if it is magic, you have to say words like 'Talitha koum' or spit on somebody's eyes before the desired effect happens?

            Without the magic words or the magical ingredients contained in spittle (or Holy Water, for that matter), no miracle would happen?

          • "So, if it is magic, you have to say words like 'Talitha koum' or spit on somebody's eyes before the desired effect happens?

            Without the magic words or the magical ingredients contained in spittle (or Holy Water, for that matter), no miracle would happen?"

            This is not what I said. Whether a particular act uses words or actions is irrelevant to our distinction. What's important is whether the supernatural act is caused by human volition or divine action.

            Magic would be someone attempting to perform a supernatural act by following a specific formula. They would think, "If I spit here and touch there, or if I say these specific words, 'Talitha koum', then a supernatural act will necessarily occur."

            A miracle is a freely-willed decision by God to act supernaturally in our world. Miracles are *not* formulaic--they do not have to be, they are not necessary.

            Does that help?

          • Steven Carr

            'What's important is whether the supernatural act is caused by human volition or divine action.'

            No , it isn't.

            What makes things magic is breaking the laws of nature by using the magical properties of spittle or the magical nature of reciting formulas like 'Talitha koum'.

            It is not - 'Our magic is done by a god , so it is not magic , but a miracle.'

            That is special pleading, and won't fly except among people who think they should be allowed to use special pleading.

          • "That is special pleading, and won't fly except among people who think they should be allowed to use special pleading."

            Steven, it's clear you have your own definitions of magic and miracle which, I would argue, are far different than what they have traditionally meant. That's fine; you're entitled to define words the way you would like.

            I'll only note that I was asked how *I* distinguish the two, and I explained, carefully and repeatedly, how I do. Your only response was essentially, "No, you're wrong....That's special pleading."

            I'm not sure how else to reply.

          • Steven Carr

            It really was special pleading, which is why I called it as it was.

            As it is not 'theologically correct' to use the same word for Jesus use of spittle and magic formulas as other stories of people healing with spit (like Vespasian) , I can understand why you choose to use a different word.

          • Abe Rosenzweig

            There's a massive amount of scholarly literature, from disciplines ranging from anthropology to biblical studies, that discusses the magic/miracle dichotomy, and nothing you say fits into that discussion. If you read primary sources (say, certain New Testament documents) with an eye toward how the two phenomena are treated, an immediate take-away is that rhetoric and perspective are crucial. When Jesus spits into somebody's eyes to heal him...well, if you're team Jesus, that's a miracle, if you're not? It looks like magic. (short version: In the rhetoric of magic vs. miracle, it can really be as simple as, "Our guys does miracles, your guy does magic."

          • Abe, thanks for the comment. I'm not familiar with the "massive amount of scholarly literature" you speak of, so I can't comment on that.

            But I will say that in my experience dialoguing online with many atheists, the "magic vs. miracle" discussion seems to be an attempt to associate Christianity with the word "magic" as used in common parlance.

            The average man today understand the word "magic" to mean either an empty illusion or some formulaic, incantation or act.

            However, by miracle, he means something far different, a supernatural act caused in our world by a transcendent force (typically God).

          • Abe Rosenzweig

            Yes, I think that's right. "Magic" has traditionally held a negative connotation, and associating an opponent with it is a rhetorical maneuver with a timeworn pedigree. It was very common in Antiquity for opponents of Christianity to toss around the magic label, and Christians did the exact same thing--ergo the need to trace the point-of-view and determine the "why" of the term's use in argument.

      • Octavo

        The narrative logic of Christianity allows for the possibility (and history of) evocative public miraculous events. Lazarus publicly came back from the dead after putrefying in a tomb for several days. Moses parted a sea and lead a nation across it. Jesus reattached amputated ears in front of soldiers. Peter fought the magic of Simon with the miracles of God (apocrypha).

        However, when skeptics ask about modern miracles, we're given a lot of explanations about why the miracles happen out of view of any witnesses. God could change the accidents of the bread and wine to blood and flesh, but he chooses to only affect the invisible substance. Faith healing doesn't happen; that's just a protestant error. (I might be off on that point; catholic views on healing are complicated).

        To an outsider, this is like being told that we live in Narnia, but the animals choose to not talk out loud anymore.

        ~Jesse Webster

      • Steven Carr

        'Second, we've discussed this before, but equating religious beliefs with "magic" is a pejorative tactic that doesn't help fruitful dialogue. It's unnecessary'

        In other words, 'magic' is an accurate description of what Christians claim sometimes happens.

        Of course, we can read about the astonishing transformation in the disciples belief, if not for the fact that there is no evidence that people like Thomas or Judas ever existed. Certainly no Christian in the first century was prepared to put his name on any document saying he had ever even heard of Thomas or Judas.

        What is a fact is that it appears that Christian converts in Corinth believed Jesus was still alive, but must have been scoffing at the idea of their god choosing to raise corpses.

        Paul calls them idiots for discussing how corpses could be raised, and uses a 'fish' and 'moon' analogy to show that a corpse turning into a spiritual body is like a fish turning into the moon. They are made of two different materials.

        Paul reminds them that 'the last Adam became a life-giving spirit'....

        • Rebecca Adams

          Going back to the conversation between Josh and Brandon. Even though it was several days ago, it remains posted and people continue to read it. I am not a philosopher and don't perhaps understand all the components of logic or even, necessarily the rules of discussion here. Perhaps in future, another person, not involved in the conversation, should moderate so that one person who is engaged in the argument does not have the ability to withdraw the other's comment. Then the discussion would at least appear more objective and fair.

      • The problem of course is that your four facts are not data or evidence. The evidence consists of ancient supernatural tales of uncertain authorship based on unknown sources which are themselves removed an unknown number of time from the original events by decades of oral tradition.

        Your facts are themselves explanations of that evidence, which cannot be considered any more secure or certain than the evidence upon which they are based no matter how many professors of New Testament studies agree to them..

    • Steven Carr

      'I definitely agree that the above takes away the common objections to transubstantiation that don't take into account Aristotle's metaphysics.'

      Because , of course, Aristotle's metaphysics is really only superseded by several centuries, having been jettisoned by scientists, and only making a last stand in the Church - which has no objection to being associated with ancient relics.

      • "Because, of course, Aristotle's metaphysics is really only superseded by several centuries, having been jettisoned by scientists, and only making a last stand in the Church - which has no objection to being associated with ancient relics."

        Steven, you do realize that metaphysics is not a scientific field, and therefore that scientists cannot "jettison" Aristotelian metaphysics for scientific reasons, right?

        That would make as much sense as the claim, "Euclidean geometry has been superseded by several centuries of progress, and has been jettisoned by musicians."

        • Steven Carr

          Are you claiming that scientists have a view of the world that is governed by Aristotle's metaphysics?

          Only the Roman Catholic Church explains what happens in the world in terms of Aristotle's metaphysics.

          All scientists jettisoned it centuries ago.

          I'm afraid I don't understand your claim that metaphysics is not a scientific field. It seems to be saying to me that the Catholic view of what happens in the world is not based on a scientific field.

          Of course it isn't, as Catholics claim that 'accidents' are things which can appear independently of 'substance'.

          So the power of the alcohol to make you drunk can remain behind even when all the alcohol has been replaced with blood.

          This is such a fundamental clash between science and religion that all the religious can do is declare it out-of-bounds to science.

  • Steven Carr

    ' The stuff about black being white if the Church decides it is meant as hyperbole...'

    I see.

    So if I say that all Christians are ignorant buffoons, I simply claim it was hyperbole.

    You can't say silly things and then claim it was hyperbole as if that magically makes them OK.

    Putting a name on an idiotic statement does not render it non-idiotic.

    'One might judge that it is bread that one is looking at, touching, tasting, etc., even though it is not bread at all, but the Body of Christ. '

    This is because there is no clash between science and theology.

    If science says something is made out of one kind of matter, there is no clash here between theologians who say it is made out of a different kind of matter.

    Because science is based on the idea that the Christian god has arranged the world so that science can discover what things are made out of.

    Atheists who claim science is not based on the Christian worldview are simply ignorant.

    Science would not work if the Christian god had not arranged the world so that scientists can take what looks like a bit of bread and tell you that it really is a bit of bread.

    Except when it isn't.