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The Dove and the Soapbox

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Early yesterday morning we received our 5,000th comment here at Strange Notions. We're just four weeks in and the response has been stunning. The site has received over 185,000 pageviews, 65,000 unique visitors, and thousands of comments. Contrary to those who claim this is "a one-sided Catholic conversation," roughly 75% of the comments have come from charitable, serious-minded atheists. As far as I can tell, there is no other place on earth where atheists and Catholics have come together in these numbers to engage in such fruitful conversations.

We've done our best to moderate the comments and to keep the discussions on track, but it's been surprisingly civil. We've only had to delete a handful of comments (about half Catholic, half atheist) and we've only banned three users for repeatedly violating our Commenting Rules. It's tough keeping tabs on so many comments—hundreds every day—so if you see a problematic comment that we've missed please "flag" it by clicking the down arrow underneath it.

Four weeks in, I thought this was a good time to reiterate the type of dialogue we're aiming for. A friend of mine, singer and songwriter Miriam Marston, composed a song inspired by Strange Notions. Her haunting and evocative lyrics really capture our vision. So enjoy the song below, and thanks for all your comments, engagement, and everything you've done to make this site an oasis for reasonable dialogue in a mostly dry and contentious digital world.

(Image credit: Iceon Palm Trees)

Brandon Vogt

Written by

Brandon Vogt is a bestselling author, blogger, and speaker. He's also the founder of StrangeNotions.com. Brandon has been featured by several media outlets including NPR, CBS, FoxNews, SiriusXM, and EWTN. He converted to Catholicism in 2008, and since then has released several books, including The Church and New Media (Our Sunday Visitor, 2011), Saints and Social Justice (Our Sunday Visitor, 2014), and RETURN (Numinous Books, 2015). He works as the Content Director for Bishop Robert Barron's Word on Fire Catholic Ministries. Brandon lives with his wife, Kathleen, and their five children in Central Florida. Follow him at BrandonVogt.com or connect through Twitter at @BrandonVogt.

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.

  • Dcn Harbey Santiago

    Every time I see "Chess" and "Catholic" my the Molinist in me smiles :-)

    "Viva Cristo Rey!!"
    Deacon Harbey Santiago

  • Abe Rosenzweig

    I've been reading these entries off and on since this site went live. When this venture was first announced (and it was advertised pretty heavily), I was pretty dubious of its potential to add much of anything new to the bloated Catholic blogosphere.

    Still am, to be honest.

    I think that my biggest concerns revolved around the fact that 1) this is ultimately a tool for proselytizing being promoted as a forum for dialogue, and 2) the failure to have atheists on board as anything close to equal contributors from the beginning. Problem number one is a tiger's stripes problem: it won't change. Number 2, though, should have been solved, but hasn't been. I know that the show-runners here were hearing from multiple quarters that atheist voices need to be more prominent, and it seems as though the idea was that these voices would be brought in soon.

    That, however, hasn't happened. Or am I wrong in thinking you've only had one article authored from the atheist perspective? And one that was paired with a Catholic response, at that (whereas none of the other articles are paired with an atheist response).

    As it stands now, I still think this blog still doesn't do anything new.

    • Luke Arredondo

      Hey Abe,

      Thanks for participating. One of the things that you may not be aware of is how much time Brandon has spent preparing this project. This was no fly-by-night adventure to throw a .com together. He's been preparing this for two years to try and get every detail right, at least as well as he could up front. To that end, most of the articles we've hosted were written for other sites and Brandon got permission from their authors to post them here at Strange Notions. It's certainly been a tedious process, and I'm sure I don't even know the half of it.

      That being said, I know he does want to bring more articles from people with different views, but that will take a lot of time and planning. And even still, the site is, as you mentioned, designed to give people a chance to hear the Catholic perspective on these big questions. I wouldn't call that proselytizing, though. Also, this site is unique in the very conversation we're having now. Many blogs get comments that rack up quickly but nothing like the volume here at Strange Notions. And it has been remarkably civil.



      • David Egan

        Two years and the best he can do is find one article from the atheist point of view?

        • Rationalist1

          Perhaps we should help find some. I'm sure there would be some atheist authors out there that would be willing to repost here.

          • Thanks Rationalist - right on.

          • Also, keep dialoguing and helping Brandon. I suspect we're all in similar boats - not on the best terms with many of those of the opposing view making fruitful collaboration difficult. Let's change that.

        • Luke Arredondo

          I don't know how many articles from atheists he ultimately plans on having. You'd have to ask him. I do know though that he has far more articles ready to go than are on the site. He wants to have fresh material on a regular basis. Publishing everything he has all at once would be much more like dropping a book or encyclopedia in people's hands than trying to engage each topic slowly, in a more conversational approach.

    • Abe, thanks for the feedback. Sorry you're disappointed Read my reply to Longshanks above. If you're still disappointed, and convinced this site offers nothing new, feel free to comment elsewhere. Thanks!

  • “It is not merely true that a creed unites men. Nay, a difference of
    creed unites men – so long as it is a clear difference. A boundary
    unites. Many a magnanimous Moslem and chivalrous Crusader must have been
    nearer to each other, because they were both dogmatists, than any two
    agnostics. “I say God is One,” and “I say God is One but also Three,”
    that is the beginning of a good quarrelsome, manly friendship.” – The
    New Hypocrite, What’s Wrong with the World

    Love this quote and would recommend that people read the rest of the chapter. Clear points/arguments/positions (as opposed to vague prejudices) not only are the materials of fruitful conversation but of lively cameraderie, even amongst very different minded folk.

    (btw, I mean no offense to Agnostics nor I think did Chesterton. The point is that having a position that one understands and can articulate is necessary for real, sympathetic, and fruitful dialogue, as opposed to the modern vague, suspicious, talking past one another that often occurs)

    • Longshanks

      I agree with your sentiment, but if you really feel that way, why the article imbalance?

      I don't much care either way, as for me the interest is mainly in the comboxes...but I didn't make you say that you wanted "quarrelsome" "manly" "fruitful" "lively" dialogue.

      If you, and others here, do...maybe show it.

      • (as a note, my comment wasn't in response to Abe. It wasn't there when I started typing. I'll let Brandon address the scope/nature/goals/methods of the site.

        Beyond that, I don't really understand the rest of your comment - are you saying that it hasn't been "shown"? i.e. that you are dissatisfied with the dialogue thus far?)

        • Longshanks

          I'm not looking to you personally for the overall quality of 'the dialogue', for that, I have to thank the various interlocutors kind enough to give us their thoughts, and to be sure in that scope you are one.

          But I think it would be hard to read what I just wrote and be much confused as to my point; "why the article imbalance?"

          I imagine the mods might have some input on the article selection. I could be wrong in that assumption, so I offer my critique under advisement. I suppose that's why, in reference to the type of dialogue you desired to see, I suggested "If you, and others here, do...maybe show it."

          If we're going for robust, engaged debate, why not allow the humanist/secularist/materialist point of view some room to offer long-form positions?

          If the moderators are noticing wide-spread dissatisfaction with the original posts, not the subsequent exchanges, maybe you should bump the concerns up the line.

          *Edit for more words*

          • (lol, I keep posting before comments come in)

          • I agree. But I have to wonder how many atheists on here have asked to have a guest post posted here. I know quite a few of the most vocal ones here have blogs (and good ones, too), so I'd love to see some of you guys putting up posts.

          • Re "Article imbalance" - I got that. I was just a little confused about the tone of the rest. Got it now.

            I haven't been a terribly active moderator over the past few weeks as we've been in the midst of a move to a new town.

          • Longshanks - I'd say keep talking, offering critique, and getting to know Brandon et all. I would expect as we all get to know each other, a better context will be created for collaborating and contributing.

      • For my part, I agree Longshanks - I'd love to see some more formal point/counter-point articles between Atheists and Catholics.

        Also, I was just thinking the other day with that Chesterton quote in mind how most conversations leap right over any initial explanation or inquiry or acquaintance and right into argument. It would be nice (ideally over a beer and cigars of course) to just hear your story, Longshanks - your beliefs and how you came to them. It is tough to create a context within which people can frankly explain/listen.

      • Longshanks, thanks for the feedback. In the last few weeks you've mentoined (several times) that you're unhappy with the article imbalance. There are a few reasons why the articles skew Catholic:

        1) The Catholic position is almost always the positive position. It makes since then to begin with that and then let responses build in the comment box. Also, from what I've seen in the comments, the Catholic position has been vastly more misunderstood and misstated than the atheist position on any given issue. This site is designed, in part, to communicate accurately what Catholics believe and how that's different than what many branches of Protestantism hold to. We think it's important to note that Catholics don't embrace many of the absurdities held by some Protestants (ideas like Young-Earth Creationism or a "god-of-the-gaps.")

        2) When we began the site, the primary goal was to dialogue with atheists, but also to help Catholics understand and answer the questions from their atheist friends. This naturally required Catholic contributors. Also, when we started, there was nothing to show potential atheist contributors that this was a serious site. We needed (and still need) to build traction before well-known atheist writers will take the site seriously.

        3) Atheists aren't exactly stumbling over themselves to contribute on this site. I've reached out to several, and the responses have been slow or non-existent. Most would rather just post in their own forums, for their own tribes.

        4) It's a lot of work--more than you think--to solicit and coordinate atheist guest posts and responses from our Catholic contributors. The point-counterpoint suggestion is a good one but, given the time and energy I'm able to devote to the site, I can only do so much.

        So again, I understand you're disappointed in the article disparity--I get it. It hardly needs to be said again. Your issues, though, needs to be balanced with the fact that the *comments*, which we both agree are where the real action is, sway *heavily* in the atheists' favor. I think overall we're doing a good job giving voice to both belief systems.

        Finally, I've made this offer before to you and I'll do so again: if *you* would like to contribute a post for consideration, please send it to contact@strangenotions.com. The best way to solve the problem of few atheist guest posts is to write one yourself.

        Thanks again for the feedback!

  • David Egan

    Are there any atheist moderators?

    • Ben

      Look, this is the premiere website for Catholics to tell atheists what to think, with over 5000 comments from as many as 20 different people. It takes two whole years to plan a blog like this. You can't expect him to think of every little detail. Who could predict that atheists would get all weird about being treated as subordinate to Catholics, or that they'd be reluctant to contribute to a site that is 97% Catholic propaganda? What's important is that this is a very serious and important website.

  • Rationalist1

    I find the site interesting but following the discussion threads difficult. I know that's beyond your control but when the threads get too nested it's confusing.

    Specifically to the content more specific articles would be interesting. Rather broad strokes can cause for wide ranging discussion. A more focused article might (?) encouraged dealing with a more specific topic.

    Also, pick a topic where Catholics and atheists can agree. I think we might find that many aspects of our common humanity outweigh our differing religious viewpoints.

    May I suggest one? The importance of history is a proper educations. What does this have to do with science. Because science, at least physics, in my experience was taught historically to show how our current theories developed. Should theology be taught that way as well with more of an emphasis on development rather than a fait acompli?

    • I love that idea, Rationalist1. It would be great to cover some topics of common interest/agreement.

    • Or the dangers of religious fundamentalism.

    • Or "What makes a good argument?" The necessary preconditions for fruitful dialogue.

      • Or maybe establishing some sort of common epistemology so we can stop talking about what is "known" or "proved" when neither side means what the other side thinks it means.

        • Rationalist1

          If we could do that one, this site would be unnecessary. Atheists and scientists operating in science mode have a rather straight forward epistemology (IMHO) , religious people, and I was one for 35 years introduce methods of knowing that are viewed with suspicion by non believers. That's the crux of the difference.

          • I know, I know, its a lot to hope for. But maybe someday you'll all see!

            I kid.

          • But seriously, at least a clarifying of Catholic epistemology (I'm completely shilling for myself here, as I submitted a guest post on this).

          • Rationalist1

            Sounds good.

    • It would be neat to expand the scope slightly and discuss some principles of social justice that Atheists/Catholics may agree on. For example, the principles of solidarity and subsidiarity .

      • Rationalist1

        Interesting you mention those two "S" words. By Solidarity I assume you mean the Catholic Church's rich history of social teaching that doesn't get enough play in the press or taught to enough Catholics. I can sometimes get my conservative Catholic friends riles up by espousing viewpoints of Social Justice and when they ask if that's from Marx refer them to Rerum Novarum.

        As for Subsidiarity, that would appeal to the more libertarian element of atheism but I've never been quite happy with decentralization and a doctrine, I view it as a pragmatic issue. I also thought it was the Church's attempt to bridge the chasm between Communism and Capitalism 100 years ago.

        • Lol, yes I get many of them riled up as well, In fact, per your suggestion of discussing shifts in belief, discovering the Church's social teaching has brought me a long way back toward the center from republican/contented-conservative/libertarian leanings.

          Subsidiarity always seemed to me to be the key that unlocked a false dichotomy between either the more/less government the better. It pulled me back from the edge of my libertarian leanings.

          How would you define subsidiarity?

          • Rationalist1

            I probably have it wrong as it's not my specialty but it involves decentralizing government services to the lowest possible level. Therefore schools, as an example, would be not organized at a country level, or a state/province level or even necessarily at a district level but at the level of an individual school.

            I wonder how many conservative Catholics who decry "cafeteria Catholics" realize the Church supports the rights of workers to organize, is against capital punishment and opposed the war in Iraq (both of them). As an atheist I hope that this current pope is willing and able to educate his flock on those issues.

          • There is definitely a problem of equating conservative Catholicism with conservative politically. While you can hold a wide range of political and economic beliefs without being alienated from the Church (obviously there are exceptions), if your political and economic beliefs are not stemming from a love of man and neighbor, then you're not doing it right.

          • But both previous Popes also spoke for and against those things, respectively. In short, there's no guarantee that the obstinate will cease being obstinate.

          • Rationalist1

            When Sen. Kerry ran for President in 2004 much was made of his going against the Church on abortion (by bishops and media) whereas I saw no coverage of any comment on how he supported capitial punishment and supported an war in Iraq that his Church denounced.

          • There are two factors to that. The first is that abortion, especially in 2004, was far more controversial than either the Iraq War or the capital punishment (the "fact" (I have no numbers, only suspicions) that abortion kills more babies is irrelevant, sadly) so the media will play up the most controverisal issue.

            The second factor is that abortion is always a grave moral evil (caveat for the principle of double intent) where as war and capital punishments are permissable in some situations (but not the ones we're referencing).

            I remember hearing JP II denouncing the Iraq war, and at my very young age I thought "Well, he's a religious leader, he's supposed to say that, but he doesn't understand what we went through."

            Hindsight 20/20, I'm sure many people thought like I did when I was 11, and maybe some still do.

          • Rationalist1

            To the best of my knowledge the Vatican didn't condemn the war in Afghanistan (someone could correct me on that)

            As to unjust war and capital punishment, the Church is capable of opposing those with the same vehemence it opposes sexual issues. And, in my opinion, for what it's worth, it needs to, to restore its credibility.

          • I didn't mention the war in Afghanistan, as I'm not sure either. Also, it's murkier since it was even less of a traditional "war" than the Iraq War was.

            I think the Church does oppose both of those, but again, the Church sees one issue as overridingly destroying cultures. I think the caricature that the Church only cares about sex is unfair, though. A lot of it is the media's "fault". Celibate priests talking about sex is a sexier (sorry) news story than holy men condemning killing.

            But I agree. The Catholics ont he ground, who have conversations with real live people, need to be on the same page as the Church with all these things. I'm finding too often that when I say I'm pro-life, that I have to also add that I'm anti-death penalty, pro-paid maternity leave and assistance to single mothers, etc. And then someone calls "No True Scotsman" on me because I point out that someone who is pro-life and pro-death penalty/pro-war is not really pro-life.

          • Rationalist1

            The mentioning of the war in Afganistan was hoping to have someone clarify the Church's position on it. I view the two actions as quite different.

            I commend you for the consistency of your stand. Although I;m a former Catholic I do take pride in that at least the Catholic Church's position on these issues is consistent and do take a guilty pride (oh those deadly sins) in pointing that out to conservative Catholics who are pro-birth but not pro-life.

          • TheodoreSeeber

            Considering that bin Laden was hiding in Pakistan, I'd say in hindsight, the invasion of Afghanistan was a mistake. It took me until I completed my study of Muwahiddun Theology in 2009 to say it though:

          • Rationalist1

            Bin Laden fled to Pakistan and it was only the coalition's unwillingness or inability to stop that that allowed it to happen.

          • TheodoreSeeber

            And that likely happened within three months of 9-11. Why were we still there after that?

          • TheodoreSeeber

            Not directly- but it was mentioned that Just War Theory doesn't allow fishing expeditions or the type of *criminal investigation* that the challenge of al Qaida style individual jihad requires.

          • stanz2reason

            Daniel... let's try an experiment. Re-read what you wrote here. Try and respond to your own post the way you think I (or another skeptic) might from a pro-choice standpoint. See if you can touch on instances where the statement abortion is always a grave moral evil might not be true. See if you can respond to your own notions of whether the termination of cells without the slightest bit of what we'd acknowledge as consciousness might not actually be worse than the 100-200,000 dead Iraqis (most of whom were civilians) that were killed as the result of an unprovoked invasion.

          • Stanz,

            Thanks for the apparent condescension! First off, your comparison is completely off base. In the past three years, Planned Parenthood has killed just shy of 1,000,000 babies. How does that stack up against the 100-200,000 dead Iraqis over the course of over 12 years?

            Second, I caveated the statement abortion is always a grave moral evil by citing the principle of double intent, namely, if you are trying to save the life of the mother and the baby because of complications with pregnancy/birth that would endanger the life of the mother, there is a case to be made for mitigated culpability.

            Thirdly, one murdered human is too many, but I wasn't comparing abortion to the Iraq War (an unjust war). I said that there are instances where war is permissible or necessary (a just war), whereas a candidate (John Kerry) who is very much pro-choice with little to no restriction can never hold the just position.

          • Rationalist1

            Bit it's not either/or. Once can oppose both. I'm afraid that the reason the church opposes abortion and other sexual sins and doesn't really enforce other legal non sex related sins is that it would lose many on the right. Just my opinion.

          • I'm not sure what you mean by "doesn't really enforce" other legal non sex related sins.

            Also, I don't see how the issue of abortion is tied into sex. Yes, both involve the reproductive system. But I see the issue of abortion as more closely linked to murder than sex.

            Also, the Church is a strong opponent of euthanasia, which (I sincerely hope) is not a sex related sin.

          • Rationalist1

            You are correct on euthanasia But I don't know of anyone kicked out of a Catholic school or a politician denied communion for their position on euthanasia.

          • But how many politicians are pro-euthanasia? Most politicians won't touch the issue, but the ones that are pro-euthanasia, and still claim to be Catholic, are subject to the same penalties (as far as I know, I may be wrong) as their pro-choice counterparts.

            Abortion is probably the most prominent sin in Catholic politicians, maybe other than adultery, but the nature of the two sins is different. You can be forgiven of adultery if you are penitent and have a resolute aversion to sin again. You can't be absolved of promoting pro-choice laws unless you are penitent and have a resolute aversion to sin. But then, they wouldn't be a pro-choice politician anymore.

          • (as a side note though, it is certainly not impossible that the issue is not emphasized as it should be, as you pointed out about Catholic social teaching, Rationalist)

          • stanz2reason

            Re-read what I wrote and imagine I was writing it without condescension. I have no problem being condescending when I think it's called for. This was not such an instance, but one making a serious point.

            That you seem utterly incapable of conceptualizing any sort of pro-choice argument, saying nothing to your agreement with that view, is a sign of immaturity. Your failure to even attempt to consider the ethical implications of terminating an unconscious collection of cells vs. the suffering of conscious sentient human beings is unimaginably narrow-minded. Again, I haven't made a request for agreement with that view, but to understand it and genuinely weight its merits. You seem either unable or unwilling to do this.

            You're caveat of noting double intent is irrelevant to what I've requested of you. I've asked you to note what you think my response would be towards categorizing an abortion at, say 2 weeks after conception as a grave moral evil .

            In my view, which I feel is true for the overwhelming majority of people who are pro-choice (and I'd venture a guess includes pro-lifers as well), is that all abortions are not created equal. I find no ethical equivalence between terminating a pregnancy at 2-3 weeks and terminating one at, say, 25 weeks. On this issue ones ethical positions depend largely on what point you'd consider a cell or clump of cells to be a person.

            You might ask yourself why nearly half of people in the US identify themselves as 'pro-life', yet those who feel abortions should be legal in the first 3 months of a pregnancy are consistently polled around 2:1 in favor (http://www.guttmacher.org/pubs/fb_induced_abortion.html).

            You might also consider that a fairly consistent roughly 25% of people feel it should be legal in all circumstances, 20% feel it should be illegal in all circumstances and a bit of 50% lie in the middle. (http://www.gallup.com/poll/1576/abortion.aspx).
            This alone should make you realize that for most people, abortion is not a black and white issue, but one with varying shades of grey that spread out across the spectrum from conception to birth.

            You don't seem at all willing to entertain an opposing viewpoint. Your response of noting that planned parenthood killed a million babies in response to a request to formulate what you might think a pro-choice viewpoint is made that abundantly clear.

          • You're right, it's hard for me to entertain the opposing viewpoint here. What you call "a clump of cells" I call a human being. I understand that not everybody sees it that way, but I can't understand why they do, in that I could never see it another way.

            I try to avoid an appeal to popularity when I make my decisions, so I might ask myself why the numbers are as they are, but they don't change my thoughts, or sway them in the least.

          • Andrew G.

            Arguably, the problem is not any single ethical position, but rather that the Catholics are operating from a fundamentally diseased ethical framework. When you deny consequentialism, you effectively reject any connection between your ethics and the real-world welfare of other people.

            A summary which I almost entirely agree with can be found here: Consequentialism FAQ.

          • I reject your premise. When does the Church deny consequentialism?

          • That's not supposed to sound as abrupt as it does. Can you give me some examples?

          • Andrew G.

            When doesn't it?

          • All the time.

            This is a productive conversation. Give me something I can rebut!

          • Andrew G.

            Exhibit A: the church's entire position on abortion of non-viable fetuses.

            Exhibit B: the doctrine of double effect.

            Exhibit C: church doctrine on contraception.

            Exhibit D: church doctrine on assisted suicide.

            Exhibit E: church doctrine on sexual orientation.

          • Andrew G.

            Or maybe I should quote a handy Pope:

            Such theories however are not faithful to the Church's teaching, when they believe they can justify, as morally good, deliberate choices of kinds of behaviour contrary to the commandments of the divine and natural law. These theories cannot claim to be grounded in the Catholic moral tradition.

          • Right. Virtue ethics is another form of ethics.

          • TheodoreSeeber

            I find consequentialism to be far more diseased than anything the Church does- Consequentialist pro-choice philosophy killed more women last week than 800 years of witch hunts combined.

          • Andre Boillot


            Personally I vastly prefer contraception to abortion. Once we enter into the pregnancy phase, I'm on a sliding scale that roughly breaks down by trimester: 1st = prochoice; 2nd = 50/50; 3rd = pro-life (w/ exception for life of mother only).

            "What you call "a clump of cells" I call a human being."

            This is what I have an issue with. I think we have to acknowledge that 1) whatever *it* is, it's human, and 2) it's life. However, anyone that looks at the figures surrounding pregnancy, and the rate at which fertilized eggs *naturally* fail to result in babies born is faced with the question of why there's so much waste in this process. Planned Parenthood doesn't come close to preventing as many births as nature does.

            I still need to research this thoroughly, but I recently heard the suggestion that the RCC's teaching on abortion used to be much different, and it's current position is partly the result of a now dis-proven notion that each sperm contained a minature, fully-formed human.

          • I don't think that's right. But I will say (and please don't take this to be as snarky as it may sound) that the Church doesn't find death by natural causes, or even accidents, to be immoral. On the other hand, a deliberate ending of a human beings life at any stage for any reason is evil (though mitigated in circumstances like self-defense, just war, and principle of double intent life of the mother cases).

            I think the distinction is pretty big. Yes, many babies die in the first weeks of pregnancy. But that doesn't make it permissible to kill them.

            Again, Andre, I have the utmost respect for you, so don't take this as trolling or snark.

          • Andre Boillot


            "On the other hand, a deliberate ending of a human beings life at any stage for any reason is evil"

            Right, which is why I disagree with the RCC on this issue. My understanding is that a great deal of these early *natural* deaths are from the result of chromosomal anomalies/abnormalities triggering spontaneous abortions/miscarriages. On the other hand, sometimes these defects trigger no such thing and we get birth-defects. I don't see how it's evil to spare the child and the parents in these cases, when it's just down to chance (or God's plan, if that's your bag) that the child wasn't *naturally* aborted.

            BTW, I realize this - and other examples of medicine increasingly forcing us into life/death decisions - puts us in the uncomfortable position of having to actually think about how to handle these new situations, instead of leaving ourselves at the mercy of nature/God/whatever. I just see no reason to avoid engaging in them just because they're difficult.

          • Michael Murray

            I basically agree with your position Andre. It's interesting that this discussion has focused so much on the foetus but not on the mother. The problem I always have with abortion discussion is that I think the relationship of dependency between mother and foetus is unique and most attempts to compare it to any other human relationships are flawed. There is always going to be a trade-off of rights. I don't mind that as I don't come to the problem expecting to find a perfect moral solution. I think morality is a human construct not an absolute. Mostly I find the world grey not black and white.

          • It is wrong, always and in every case, to murder a human being on the argument that:

            1. The life isn't worth living anyway (Nazi eugenics)
            2. The life is a threat to another life (pre-emptive first strike)
            3. One life is more valuable than another (Animal Farm)

            This is another great advantage of the Catholic world view over the atheist world view.

            In the atheist world view, you can never be completely certain that your right to life trumps some genius' hedonistic calculus.

            That way lies the slaughterhouse.

          • Longshanks

            I mean...you're just....I don't understand why a person would continuously, and unanimously (save on the topics of catholic trivia, which your coreligionists seem reluctant to call you on), pontificate (etymology lesson?) about topics when you so clearly don't understand what you are talking about.

            1) Nazi eugenics has nothing do do with nihilism or dadaism or any other philosophy which might make the claim "life isn't worth living anyway."

            2) If you approach me with a knife with the spoken or clearly implied intent of harming/killing me and I have the means to strike at range, I'm not going to wait for you to swing. This is not evil, this is self defense.

            3) Animal farm is a warning about the Soviet revolution collapsing through power-worship into a cult of personality. It was written by a socialist.

            "This is another great advantage of the Catholic world view over the atheist world view.
            In the atheist world view, you can never be completely certain that your right to life trumps some genius' hedonistic calculus."

            There's so much wrong to unpack here, I simply don't have time. But no.

            Also, your final reference brought to my mind another book, one with that word in the title.

            I trust you'll believe that I know what I'm talking about when I say that it's a book about what a coalition of nations consisting mostly of christians will do to the cities of another nation consisting mostly of christians.


          • Andrew G.

            There is always going to be a trade-off of rights.

            Years ago, before I had actually learned much about the issue, I'd have agreed with that. Now, I don't; based on seeing the consequences and potential consequences of granting "rights" to the fetus, it is clear that all such attempts have net negative consequences.

          • TheodoreSeeber

            The rights of the woman to protect her child make the rights of the child the same as the rights of the mother.

          • Michael Murray

            So you are in favour of abortion at anytime ?

          • TheodoreSeeber

            God's plan is exactly the reason the RCC is against it. But that's not the reason I'm against it.

            I am against it because I, my wife, and my child all have birth defects that YOU would rather have been aborted.

          • Max Driffill

            Explain how we know that (your stance) represents God's plan, how was God's plan discovered.
            Why should a zygote, or a blastocyst have the same moral weight as a mother?

          • TheodoreSeeber

            God's plan is discovered by it happening.

            And because the mother was once a zygote and once a blastocyst. You don't change moral weight because of age alone, unless of course you are a Malthusian Eugenicist.

          • Andre Boillot


            Actually, I would have viewed the benefit of your ability to read minds as outweighing the negative of your defects.

            Ok, but seriously now, I will extend you the charity you refused me, and not presume things about you I couldn't possibly know, such as the nature of your impairments.

            The birth defects I had in mind would preclude the possibility of those fetuses ever surviving long enough to find themselves able to conduct an online debate, for example.

            You say you're not against abortion for the reasons the RCC is. Fair enough. Yet, I don't see you railing against the incredible waste of potential life we observe in nature - sorry I meant God's plan. I'll say it again, nature aborts far more children than Planned Parenthood could ever hope* to (*in the minds of some). Why does God get the free-pass?

          • TheodoreSeeber

            Obviously, because he's God. The real question is why you would expect that the moral rules for a transcendent infinite being would be the same as the moral rules for a limited, finite species.

          • Andre Boillot


            "The real question is why you would expect that the moral rules for a transcendent infinite being would be the same as the moral rules for a limited, finite species."

            So, there's no such thing as objective morality? God is outside the sphere of morality? How then can God be said to be good?

          • TheodoreSeeber

            Objective morality is based on the genetics and good of a given species. God isn't human. Aslan is not a tame lion.

            It is perfectly moral for the scorpion to sting the jaguar.

          • stanz2reason


            What is it about a 'clump of cells' a week or so after conception that fits a definition of 'human' for which we can potentially make ethical statements?

            What benefit is gained by labeling this clump of cells as 'life', a word whose definition includes bacteria or moss or fruitflies? What sort of basis for an ethical position is that?

          • Andre Boillot


            I'm not saying that 'human' or 'life' are sufficient or specific enough to begin making ethical statements with. I'm just saying it seems silly to act like it's neither of those things. The cells are most certainly 'human' and 'alive'. That's all I'm saying. In my experience, pro-lifers are fond of trying to beat pro-choice people with the stick that they are being un-scientific by refusing to acknowledge that the "clump of cells" is human life. I agree on that point, and which to reclaim that ground.

          • stanz2reason

            Why should I assign a higher value to a clump of cells a week after conception than I would to a follicle of hair that also contains such human qualities, specifically DNA?

            Why should I assign a higher value of life to a clump of cells a week after conception that I wouldn't extend to a typical housefly, which is far more complex in comparison at that point and fits any common definition of life?

          • Andre Boillot


            Both of those are valid questions. My point still stands. We can talk about your points too, and I think I understand the broader issue we're dealing with at that stage of life. I don't see the abortion debate in black and white, but I do acknowledge that there are merits to both sides when discussing the issues surround very early and very late stage pregnancies. For me, it seems like one could concede that there's not much distinction between very early pregnancies and the two examples you give. However, at some point, I'm assuming you would get to a stage where those examples are no longer valid, and many would argue about how valid your mechanism for distinguishing when or how this happens.

          • stanz2reason

            I don't see the benefit of assigning the words 'human' and 'life' in this situation. You're suggesting simple word play in reclaiming those words. The versions of those words that we use in ethical discussions (ie. after an emergent consciousness) are entirely different that the technical definitions used to apply to a clump of cells.

            I do acknowledge the merits of both sides of the debate. Due to an uncertainly of being able to pinpoint a certain point when a clump of cells becomes a person, best be safe and start at conception. There's a logic to that that I understand, though strongly disagree with, especially when considering the additional real world cost of any pregnancy.

            I touched on this in a post a few notches above this one regarding the thresholds of peoples individual ethical barometers. My threshold would be no more valid than anyone elses. That most individuals have differing ethical thresholds here, it should ultimately be their choice to a point (hence pro-choice) whether they want to carry a pregnancy to term, however there still is an undeniable point when the emergent consciousness of the baby takes precedence over the wishes of the mother. I think most state laws (with the exception of a few ridiculous ones that have been enacted recently as part of a ) have wisely walked a balance between respecting the private medical choices of a mother on the early end, and protecting the baby at the long end.

          • Andre Boillot


            "I don't see the benefit of assigning the words 'human' and 'life' in this situation. You're suggesting simple word play in reclaiming those words."

            What I'm trying to do is call a spade a spade. The "clump of cells" in this case is human life. I don't have any problem calling it that *and* saying there are situations where it's better to end it. If I were calling it a 'person', I could see why one would take issue with it, but I don't think it's being anything other than accurate to use the term 'human life' in this case. I think this topic deserves to be talked about frankly and, to me, avoiding calling it 'human' or 'life' gets in the way of that.

            "The versions of those words that we use in ethical discussions (ie. after an emergent consciousness) are entirely different that the technical definitions used to apply to a clump of cells."

            With respect, I think both 'human' and 'life' are insufficient terms when talking about emergent consciousness, or ethics in general. You're always going to be modifying or qualifying them to add more meaning. I don't see why this should cause us to somehow try to diminish or ignore their meanings when talking about early pregnancies.

            I think in the big scheme of things we're pretty much in agreement though. We seem to be splitting hairs here, so I'll leave it at that.

          • I think most state laws (with the exception of a few ridiculous ones that have been enacted recently as part of a ) have wisely walked a balance between respecting the private medical choices of a mother on the early end, and protecting the baby at the long end.

            Agreed. I try to look to what are the practical effects of the continuing debate? Word games are not going to change the minds of people who don't see a "clump of cells" as anything that has the rights of a "human being." Religious people have the right to reject abortion in their own lives, and have the right to make their own moral judgements about it. The problem comes up when the religious want the powers of the State to be used in law to enforce their moral opinions upon the population as a whole. That can happen in places that have official religions as part of the government, but States in the U.S. are precluded from doing that under the Establishment Clause of the U.S. Constitution.

          • Michael Murray

            I think most state laws (with the exception of a few ridiculous ones that have been enacted recently as part of a ) have wisely walked a balance between respecting the private medical choices of a mother on the early end, and protecting the baby at the long end.

            This is the balance we need to find. Not attack the problem with absolutist positions. It doesn't have an easy solution and there is no reason we should expect it to.

          • TheodoreSeeber

            DNA is the reason, but you're not smart enough to realize that, of course.

          • stanz2reason

            Way to go simpleton. In typing that sentence skin cells with your dna fell off. When your hair falls out of you head, ears, nose and back these are jam packed with your dna. Good job there adolf, you sneezed. When you relieved youself in the restroom, genocide.

          • TheodoreSeeber

            All of that DNA is the same as other cells in my body. The DNA of even a single celled zygote is *DIFFERENT* than that of the host mother.

          • stanz2reason

            Doesn't each sperm have their own unique DNA, different from the father and from each other? Perhaps it's best then if you don't reproduce... you know, with all the mass murder and all. Though if you got a vasectomy, isn't that like having a few hundred million abortions?

          • TheodoreSeeber

            That is exactly what your side would like, for nobody to ever reproduce- it is the entire purpose of contraception.

            I reject that purpose. What are you going to do to me because I dissent against your dictatorship against heterosexuality?

          • stanz2reason

            Setting aside for a moment those who grant full recognition upon conception, consider the following:

            In my view, the value of a human life lies within many things including our ability to realize the world, to have opinions one way or the other about things, and to engage in activity we find compelling. In otherwords it's the emergence consciousness. On a simplistic level, a newborn child is capable of this. This holds true prior to birth, though slightly less so each day, tracing backwards in time. Eventually a threshold is crossed by which any sort of self-recognition, any meaningful sense of the conscious self is lost. Joy, pain, hunger, or fullness in a human sense are simply not present. This threshold isn't a specific point in time during the pregnancy, but a very gradual process. Everyones ethical barometers for crossing that threshold are triggered at different points. For some it's a primitive heart beat around 5-6 weeks, others its when the fetus looks more 'human' (~10 weeks), others it's the first trimester (~13 weeks), others it's the point of viability (~22-23 weeks), and others it's the point when a fetus can process pain. My point is that were you to plot such thresholds on a chart of sorts, the reality of the picture it would paint is a varying shade of uncertainty over a fairly wide period of time, not the black and white outrage of the few who assign personhood at conception.

            A simple clump of cells no larger than a grain of rice has none of the characteristics of what I value in terms of human life. Assigning personhood because there is specific fully human DNA in those cells ignores the countless acts of subsequent genocide every time you blow your nose. Assigning personhood because there is potential to be a person begs the question of why we don't extend this same regards for to every sperm who carry such potential to fertilize an egg. For me, the value of human life has less to do with drawing a biological line in the sand and more to do with the gradual emergence of consciousness from otherwise raw materials.

            I could get into the subsequent ethical situations arising from this distinction (such as harvesting embryonic stem cells), but that's beside the point. I don't expect you to agree with these views, but when you equate all abortion to killing babies you're making it impossible for yourself to see the value in an opposing viewpoint. Considering the mission of this site, you're then wasting your time.

          • TheodoreSeeber

            Suffering isn't a problem worth killing for.

            I have no interest in any philosophy that tells me that human beings are unfit and unworthy of being born- the pro-choice side as presented by you and anybody else who refers to a human being as "just a clump of cells" due to a temporary stage in development, doesn't have the brains to be worth debating.

          • Susan

            >the pro-choice side as presented by you and anybody else who refers to a human being as "a clump of cells" due to a temporary stage in development, doesn't have the brains to be worth debating.

            That saves you having to actually address anyone else's position and it has the extra bonus of you not having to defend your own.

            Simple. Anyone who disagrees with what I know is just a bunch of dummies.

          • TheodoreSeeber

            No, I was once pro-choice when I was young and stupid and selfish too. Then I learned the cause of the pro-choice movement, and rejected it for the same reason I reject all bigotry.

          • Go easy, Susan. Most people reading the thread do know the difference between a clump of cells and a person. That a few don't is a difference that is not going to make a difference. You are not going to be able to change that, but there is really no point in trying to do so.

          • Susan


          • TheodoreSeeber

            Anybody who thinks there is a difference between a small clump of cells and a larger clump of cells is the one who doesn't know what a species or a child is.

          • stanz2reason

            Nor do I have any interest with trolly halfwits. No ones debating you here as you've just chimed in on a conversation you weren't a part of. Go sell crazy somewhere else.

          • TheodoreSeeber

            I'm not the one proposing that we do away with all people that you personally think do not deserve to live.

          • Max Driffill

            How is it murder if there is no individual present. A fetus is certainly human life, but the earlier we look in the course of a pregnancy, the less likely we can say we are looking at an individual, who can feel experience pain etcetera.

            I think the difference in language produces a very real barrier. When you say baby I am inclined to not take what comes next very seriously, because for me, the word baby and zygote are not equal terms.

          • Max Driffill


            Let me add to this a thought experiment. For the following you can not change any details. You can think about the particulars and make the decision you think is best.

            You are standing on a beach before rough seas. Before you is a dilemma. 15 meters out there is a six year old girl drowning, she has very little time left. If you start swimming right now, you will just barely save her. Obviously you begin to take off your shoes.

            But you notice, 50 meters away from her, but the same distance out from shore, 6 petri dishes, each containing a single human blastocyst, (you have amazing eyesight) and each is about to sink forever below the waves. You have the same amount of time to get to the bobbing petri dishes as you do to get to the terrified girl. You don't have time to get to both.
            You must pick one or the other or none.

            Who do you save and why?

          • TheodoreSeeber

            Let's make it even shall we? Give worst case scenarios for both:
            20,000 dead Iraqis every year for 10 years.
            700,000 dead fetuses for non-medical abortion every year for 10 years.

            That second even excludes cases where the life of the mother is in danger- and incest- and the more controversial rape cases.

            Hmm, no contest to me.

          • TheodoreSeeber

            You were 11 in 2003? I've been an anti-war Catholic since the invasion of Libya and the USCCB document on nuclear war. About 20 years before that.

          • Eh I was 13 in 2003

          • I'm right with you there, Rationalist. I think the pope has been rightly making people a little uncomfortable on both sides of the aisle and expect/hope that it continues.

            On subsidiarity: I think you are on the right track there, although it isn't necessarily a closed issue on whether schools would/should be handled on a particular level. ( I personally think that schools are handled better on a lower level.)

            Regardless of that specific topic, I think the principle is a very sound one. Subsidiarity acknowledges the sovereignty of the individual but also the natural authority of the state. It doesn't do away with either but orders their relationship properly.

          • Hey Rationalist - thanks for the dialogue today. Do you mind if I drop you a note via your email address? (I believe I can see it as a moderator, but wanted to ask you first)

          • Rationalist1

            Go ahead.

        • TheodoreSeeber

          Solidarity- the principle that by banding together with your neighbors you can be stronger than you can standing alone.

          Subsidiarity- the principle that any governmental action should be managed by the least competent authority.

          Both are needed for Catholic Social Justice Teaching, and neither are well understood by those who subscribe to what Pope Leo III called "The Americanist Heresy" (which insists that the Least Competent Authority is always the individual, ignoring the fact that on most topics, most individuals are incompetent).

      • Andrew G.

        That's a more thorny area than you might think - not because there aren't areas of agreement, because there clearly are, but that in many cases there is agreement for the wrong reasons.

        In particular the Catholic rejection of consequentialism is a big, big dealbreaker when it comes to a wide range of social and ethical issues.

  • I am enjoying the site very much as someone who was raised and educated Catholic but has grave doubts about much of Catholicism to the point of wondering if atheism or agnosticism isn't the only reasonable alternative. That often makes me something of a fence sitter, and I assume not the only one.

    What I would like to see are more tightly focused discussions. I have always tended to think the moderator who moderates least moderates best, but it was kind of distressing to threads like "What Is the Soul?" and "Fraught with Purpose" expand (deteriorate?) into more or less open forums for theists and atheists to use whatever arguments they could think of against each other whether they had anything to do with each other.

    I don't know what the solution is, but it is basically impossible to follow threads with hundreds of comments when new comments pop up anywhere among older ones. Discus solves the problem of finding comments addressed to me, but exchanges between other contributors very likely may go unread when a thread has been in existence for a while and has hundreds of comments.

    • Dcn Harbey Santiago


      >>but it was kind of distressing to threads like "What Is the Soul?" and
      "Fraught with Purpose" expand (deteriorate?) into more or less open
      forums for theists and atheists to use whatever arguments they could
      think of against each other whether they had anything to do with each

      I have experienced the same thing. Yesterday I made a comment in the "Fraught with Purpose" post, about a vid posted. I took some time last night to review the vid, checked some good sources to build a solid counter argument, came ready to provide an alternative view and point the inconsistencies in the presenter's argument, only to discover the thread had deteriorated so much that my point was not important anymore. So I just moved along to today's post.

      I think the problem is human nature. It is difficult to present ideas without falling into the "I'm right you are wrong" mode. I think comments should stand by their own weight, and engagement should be limited to answering questions about these comments.

      But that is just me :-)

      "Viva Cristo Rey!!"
      Deacon Harbey Santiago

    • Ben

      The post "Fraught with Purpose" was such vague nonsense that it's not surprising the comments wandered off topic. There was no topic to be on.

  • Rationalist1

    Another topic to foster understanding would be to name one topic you have changed your belief on and why. Not the big one - I used to be a believer and now I;m not (or vice versa) but a smaller one. As a Catholic it might be I thought the Shroud of Turin was legitimate but once carbon dating showed it was of 14th century origin I don't now (The shroud of Turin is deemed a devotional belief and is not binding on Catholics) or as an atheist it could be I used to think all papal pronouncements were infallible now I know it's only very few ( maybe only two).

    Just and idea.

    • Another great idea.

    • Sample1

      In keeping with the imagery of chess at the top of this article, perhaps a running list of apostates (or new free thinkers depending on your viewpoint) could be constructed?

      I'm suggesting this because I just witnessed a former Catholic walk away from faith yesterday on the "An Attempt to Explain Christianity to Atheists In a Manner That Might Not Freak Them Out" discussion.


      • Mike, just to be clear, "the former Catholic" was not (to my knowledge) ever a Catholic. He only described himself as someone with faith.

        More importantly, he didn't "walk from from the faith yesterday." His comment was a bit disingenuous. He had been commenting around the Internet as a confident non-believer for over three years on sites like ExChristian.net. You can click on his Disqus name and verify this for yourself.

        • Sample1

          Perhaps that individual will offer an explanation. Thank you for yours.


          • Perhaps. But I sense his comment was simply a publicity stunt meant to rally the atheist commenters here. His goal was to suggest, "Thanks to this site, I've become an atheist!" which is disingenuous at best. He was an atheist for years before this site went live.

          • Sample1


            What moral responsibility do the owners of a site like this hold should people begin to claim that Strange Notions helped them determine that faith is an unreliable tool to understand the workings of the cosmos?


          • Dcn Harbey Santiago


            "Viva Cristo Rey!!"
            Deacon Harbey Santiago

          • None that I see.

    • Rationalist, great idea. What would it be for you?

      As someone raised Protestant before later converting to Catholicism, two of my biggest "intellectual conversions" surrounded evolution:

      1. For many years I thought evolution was demonstrably false.
      2. For many year I thought evolution stood in conflict to faith in God.

      • Likewise, Brandon.

      • Longshanks

        Oh god. I got told to pipe down in High School biology because I kept asking questions about I.D. from old school phillip e johnson websites.

        • Good for you, Longshanks.

          If there were a stock market for biological metaphysical research programs, ID would be on a terrific bull run here, while the competing Darwinian metaphysical research program would be stuck in a worsening bear market.

          Of course, a lot of that has to do with the relative market caps :-)

          • ZenDruid


          • Not exactly.

            My reference to metaphysical research programs follows Karl Popper's assessment of Darwinism as a metaphysical, not a scientific research program.

            I agree with his assessment.

            I also consider ID to be a metaphysical, not a scientific, research program.

            The key distinguishing mark is found in the methodologies.

            Both programs seek to establish and uphold by arguments (eg "consilience") an hypothesis concerning observed biodiversity.

            Scientific research programs, unlike Darwinism and ID, proceed upon the methodological basis of falsification by crucial experimental test (*with the intention to potentially falsify*).

          • Max Driffill

            How exactly is Darwinism a metaphysical research program? The study of evolutionary biology proceeds in exactly the same way as other sciences, that is by the falsification of crucial experimental tests.

          • Rationalist1

            Exactly - Evolution is quite falsifiable.

          • Max Driffill

            I'm not sure of the tone here, but that is right. Evolutionary ideas are quite testable, have been tested, and not been found wanting. The Neo-Darwinian Synthesis forms possibly the most robust body of explanation all the sciences.

          • stanz2reason

            Yeah... when I think of ID I thinks it's a lot of bull too!!

          • Heh heh heh.......

            Nice one :-)

            While many share your assessment, the fact remains that ID is growing by leaps and bounds, and is preparing a great many young scientists for entry into the field.

            ID's star is rising, and Darwinism's star is falling.

            Again, part of this is a function of relative size and influence.

            For example, Mormons love to say they are the fastest growing religion, and this might even be true.

            But it is much easier to double in size when you have ten million adherents, than it is when you have 1.2 billion.

      • Rationalist1

        When I was a Catholic I had problems with evolution as well. I know now the Church essentially accepts it but at the time the priests and teachers I had viewed with distrust.

      • Dcn Harbey Santiago

        For me it has been the belief in private revelations. To be more specific: Marian apparitions (I'm talking about the ones not approved by the Church like Medjugorje, Garabandal, etc. and not the "Mary in a tortilla" ones). I know there are many good and saintly people out there that swear by them, but the skeptic in me just wont let me trust in their veracity. In my youth I used to think these were self evident manifestations of the supernatural world now I'm not too sure.

        On the other hand the older I get the more I'm convinced of the personal nature of evil, and its effects in our world.

        "Viva Cristo Rey!!"
        Deacon Harbey Santiago

  • Randy Gritter

    One thing Vatican II asks Catholics to do is celebrate areas of agreement. I am not sure what that looks like with atheists. Certainly reason is something both Catholics and Atheists value.

    There is also a sense or justice. Atheists are morally outraged at many things. Often they are right to a point. They see a lot of faults in Catholics that are legitimate faults.

    We can also agree when they point out some of the problems with protestant Christianity. Many times they are the very same reasons we rejected protestant Christianity. They just ran a different direction.

    • Sample1

      Perhaps this has been discussed elsewhere (though I can't seem to find it), but there is a gargantuan problem when it comes to trying to use the word atheist in a manner that has nothing to do with its very short definition.

      As such, I cannot say that all atheists value reason. There are atheists I know who use homeopathy for instance. The latter medical "modality" makes faith claims about the nature of the physical properties of water that, if ever demonstrated to be true, would require a new branch of science. There are many other examples I can give about the lack of reason in some atheists.

      An atheist is just a person who lacks beliefs in gods. To be an atheist is a bit like being a shadow. Without a faith-based religion in its proximity, an atheist disappears. As someone once said, where religion is weak, atheism is weak.

      Being an atheist doesn't tell me anything about a person's environmental stance, whether they are vegetarian, or even if they are a Conservative Republican. It just tells me they don't have a belief in god(s).

      Contrast that with Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI's address to a Head of State (Queen Elizabeth II):

      "Even in our own lifetimes we can recall how Britain and her
      leaders stood against a Nazi tyranny that wished to eradicate God from
      society and denied our common humanity to many, especially the Jews, who were thought unfit to live." "As we reflect on the sobering lessons of atheist extremism of the 20th
      century, let us never forget how the exclusion of God, religion and
      virtue from public life leads ultimately to a truncated vision of man
      and of society and thus a reductive vision of a person and his destiny."

      Having an exchange of words so manifestly wrong about atheism between two public figures who, between them claim some form of leadership of over 3 billion human beings, is impossible to downplay, in my opinion.

      So if you are looking for areas of agreement in the spirit of Vatican II, let's start agreeing on just what an atheist is!


      • AshleyWB

        I'm not sure why that's a problem any more than using the word catholic is a problem when describing people. Not all Catholics value reason (some I've met don't particularly value faith) and some use homeopathic "remedies". Some Catholics are raging misogynists just as some atheists are. Being Catholic doesn't necessarily tell us anything about a particular person's environmental stance, eating habits, support for or opposition to abortion rights, or their politics in general.

        I also don't get the relevance of that rather ahistorical quotation to the issue of what characteristics atheists do or don't have.

        • Sample1

          It need not be a problem when definitions are understood. That's why Pope Benedict XVI's address is problematic. Just what is atheist extremism?

          For a person like philosopher Daniel Dennett, that's about as helpful a phrase as "sleeping furiously."


          • AshleyWB

            Ah, gotcha. Somehow I missed the last two sentences of your original post.

      • Randy Gritter

        Words mean things. Atheism is out there. It refers to a philosophy. Pope Benedict was tying the modern philosophy of atheism to the atheism of Nazi Germany. They both lived through WWII. They get it. Modern atheists simply don't. Atheism does lead to a truncated vision of man. It has the same ability to justify man's inhumanity to man as Nazism had. I don't think he is manifestly wrong about atheism. I think he is right on.

        • stanz2reason

          Nonsense. Atheism is as much as philosophy as A-Santaclaus-ism is and is as directly responsible for peoples inhumanity as a disbelief in fairies. The pope was doing what many conservatives like to do, which is to draw a fantasy equivalency between two unrelated things they don't happen to like.

          Does the following sound like an atheist:

          "My feelings as a Christian points me to my Lord and Savior as a fighter. It points me to the man who once in loneliness, surrounded by a few followers, recognized these Jews for what they were and summoned men to fight against them and who, God's truth! was greatest not as a sufferer but as a fighter. In boundless love as a Christian and as a man I read through the passage which tells us how the Lord at last rose in His might and seized the scourge to drive out of the Temple the brood of vipers and adders. How terrific was His fight for the world against the Jewish poison. To-day, after two thousand years, with deepest emotion I recognize more profoundly than ever before the fact that it was for this that He had to shed His blood upon the Cross. As a Christian I have no duty to allow myself to be cheated, but I have the duty to be a fighter for truth and justice... And if there is anything which could demonstrate that we are acting rightly it is the distress that daily grows. For as a Christian I have also a duty to my own people."


        • Atheism does lead to a truncated vision of man.

          Randy, atheists see that 'truncation' as the loss of unevidenced superstition. Many atheists are Secular Humanists who are completely opposed to what you call, "man's inhumanity to man." You can get a better idea about that if you watch this presentation on the subject by the contemporary philosopher, A.C. Grayling:


          • Max Driffill

            Grayling really frames the alternative to the religious life quite well. And demonstrate it to be morally as full, if not more full than the religious life.
            In any event I would certainly recommend listening to him, even if you anticipate a disagreement. The process is edifying even then.

        • Sample1

          Hello Randy,

          I'm prepared to explore these claims of yours but before I do so, I'd like to know if you are willing to concede that you could be mistaken about them. For instance, do you think you might be wrong about Nazism being atheistic?


        • severalspeciesof

          "...to the atheism of Nazi Germany."

          Of course... all atheists wear belt buckles that say "Gott mit uns"

          • Sample1

            There is a way, (I'm not saying it's a compelling way) to understand how Christians can claim some governmental ideologies that are not founded on Judeo-Christian could be deemed atheistic withing a religio-centric worldview. Marxism comes to mind, but not Nazism.

            However, as Steven Pinker has stated (I'm still reading his book, Better Angels of Our Nature), "20th-century
            totalitarian movements were no more defined by a rejection of
            Judaeo-Christianity than they were defined by a rejection of astrology,
            alchemy, Confucianism, Scientology, or any of hundreds of other belief


        • Max Driffill

          Um What atheism in Nazi Germany? Atheism was not integral to the National Socialist platform. Hitler certainly wasn't an atheist, and while not a standard Christian, he certainly identified with Jesus, and considered his attack on Jews as an extension of Christ's own struggle against Jews. There were weird pagan ideas milling about in the ideas of Hitler and his inner circle but it was not, and this bears repeating, a group dominated by atheists, or atheist thought. Nothing done in Nazi Germany was done in the name of atheist philosophy.

          The focus on Jews as scapegoats is part of a long CHRISTIAN tradition, not an atheist one (there are no atheist traditions, because until very recently we've wielded no significant (any) political power. What was the slogan on the belt buckle of German soldiers? "Got mitt uns." God with us. Whatever that slogan is, we could not call it an atheistic one. But Catholics should already know this. Because your Church made a pact with the Nazi Government, and silenced some significant dissent with the Nazi party originating from Catholics within Germany (I am referring of course to the Reichskonkordat, one of many strange cozy relationships the church would make with fascists). Many morally repugnant things occurred because of this.

          Discussion of this would probably take us too far afield. But it seems positively ahistorical to blame atheism (a minority position, then as now, but also a very quiet minority position) for the evils of National Socialism.

  • Longshanks

    I wonder if a site like Reddit has an API for third-party comment integration, or if you would be willing to think of migrating comments over there.

    While it's not perfect, their nested conversation trees do make discussions a bit easier to follow past 3 or 4 sub-levels.

    • I don't think Reddit has a third-party API. I checked out multiple commenting systems before settling on Disqus because I think it offers the best, though not perfect, nesting system. If you find any better alternatives I'd love to check them out.

  • Dcn Harbey Santiago

    I'm leaving this as an open question for atheists, specially the ones complaining about article imbalance. Have you suggested a potential article to the moderators from one of your favorite bloggers or authors(I know there was a call for book recommendations but that is a different kind of content)? Or have you exclusively depend on the moderator's tastes and discretion? And if you have not... Why not start now and see what happens?

    "Viva Cristo Rey!!"
    Deacon Harbey Santiago

    • Longshanks

      I think Hitchen's entire Vanity Fair archive is up on their site for free.

      • I think Hitchen's entire Vanity Fair archive is up on their site for free.

        Yes, you can get to them from the list at this link:


        One could simply pick one and put up the link to it as the OP, with, perhaps, a brief introduction re why it matters for the topics on this site, and then just launch into comments.

  • Rationalist1

    Another idea is take a moral issue or ethical situation (not sexual related, too fraught with emotion) and discuss the how one would reason it out.

    Here's an example. At the beginning of the last Gulf war in Iraq the US received intelligence that Saddam Hussein and his family were dining at a specific location. Was the "coalition of the willing" justified in launching a cruise missile to kill Saddam and possibly prevent the war knowing that innocent men, women and children who also happened to be at that location would be killed?

    How would you argue for or against it and what moral principles/religious positions do you use to justify your position?

    • Dcn Harbey Santiago

      I like it! I rather discuss open questions like this than critique articles. Although, I'm afraid it will create more work for the moderators.

      "Viva Cristo Rey!!"
      Deacon Harbey Santiago

      • Rationalist1

        If one keeps it not one of the hot topics (anything to do with sex) it could be informative to see how an atheist and a Catholic argues a position and see is there is agreement both winthin and between the two camps.

    • Or take the example of the nuclear bombs, to bring out an even more extreme situation. Is it simply a difference of degree, is there something fundamentally different between the two situations, is it all boiling down to a utilitarian "lives saved"?

      • Rationalist1

        Exactly. The world may face that in North Korea. Would it ever be moral to launch a nuclear weapon against that state knowing that thousands of innocent lives would be taken. Is this against a moral principle or can on employ a utilitarian calculation?

        • It would be mortally sinful to do such a thing, Rationalist. The relevant Catholic teaching on this question is founded upon Augustinian just war doctrine.

          But the profound epistemological error involved in any such "preemptive war" doctrine is that one is taking an action in the order of really existing things, which is claimed to be justified only in the order of potentially existing things.

          In other words, I cannot kill you because I am convinced in conscience you might be planning to kill me.

          This we call murder.

          • Longshanks

            A question of form: can a saint be the author of 'doctrine,' or is that something promulgated by the pontiff?

          • A doctrine proceeds from Scripture or Tradition, and Tradition includes the oral teachings of the apostles as mediated to us by the Fathers, Doctors, Popes, and Councils.

            So yes, a Saint can be the author of a doctrine in the sense of having written it down in a form which achieves universal acceptance and practical implementation by the whole body of the faithful ("ordinary magisterium").

            But all doctrine and dogma- whatever requires the assent of Faith- proceeds ultimately from the sources of revelation; that is Scripture and Tradition.

            Revelation ceased upon the death of the last apostle.

          • Longshanks

            Err, I guess I was curious as to who or what body has the "stamp" as it were to make it known that it is universally accepted.

          • That would be the Pope and the bishops in communion with the Pope- the magisterium.

          • Dcn Harbey Santiago

            "can a saint be the author of 'doctrine'" A saint could be instrumental to the understanding of dogmas and doctrines. They can propose new insights to Revelation which have never been considered before. Take the Doctors of the Church for example, they are given this honorific title because of their contributions to the understanding of a specific area of Revelation.

            Perhaps you know this already but there is no "Official list of Doctrines" in the Catholic tradition. The closest we come to something like this is The Nicene Creed. If you read it you will discover it is just a list of very general statements, principles in which to base our faith (e.g. "I believe in God, creator of heaven and earth, of all things visible and invisible"). This is done on purpose, as an official list of established dogmas will codify knowledge to much and hinder theological development. Very rarely the Church declares a Dogma and only after a long period of consultation and reflection.

            "Viva Cristo Rey!!"
            Deacon Harbey Santiago

          • Longshanks

            Thanks for the clarification!

    • Great idea, Rationalist. Again, it's another I'll consider as the site grows. Right now, I'm doing all I can given limited time.

  • Rationalist1

    One last suggestion (and this is my last). Name a position/belief that you hold to be true and explain what it would take you to not accept it anymore. It could be evolution or intelligent design (if there are any here)? It could be the efficacy or prayer or the limits of science? It could be the existence of free will or the need for original sin?

    Call it epistomological opposition research.

    • Sample1

      Why not cut to the chase? Are there any official dogmas that a Catholic is willing, at least in principle, to say could be wrong?


      • No, by definition.

        • Rationalist1

          What about doctrines? Teachings not explicitly contained in Scripture? (Assumption of Mary, Immaculate conception, papal infalibility, etc.)

          And lastly disciplines (no meat on Friday, clerical celibacy, Holy days of obligation, etc.)?

          • I like that the three doctrines you listed are all papal infallibility related haha. No, no doctrines will be renounced either.

            Disciplines, however, can be. Those are open to change. But doctrines are the direct corollaries of Revelation. They're the conclusion to Revelation's premises. They won't change either.

          • Rationalist1

            But disciplines have changed, clerical celibacy being the most obvious.

          • They have, I said they could be. Why did you begin that with "But"?

          • Rationalist1

            Sorry, i read it incorrectly.

          • Ok, cool, I thought we were on the same page.

          • I suppose an obvious issue with papal infallibility would be a pope that spoke ex cathedra explicitly reversing a defined moral doctrine (e.g. A pope teaching authoritatively that abortion is ok).

          • But that couldn't happen. If it did happen, the Church is broken irreparably, in my opinion.

          • Indeed.

          • David Egan

            If the church isn't irreparably broken after decades of institutionally sanctioned child rape, then it never will be.

          • Andre Boillot

            Quite a difference between official sanction and criminal negligence.

          • David Egan

            These guys were actively protected and allowed to commit their crimes for decades. It wasn't a matter of looking the other way or failing to notice. It was known what was happening and steps were taken which allowed it to continue. As far as I'm concerned, the leadership of the church, through their actions, sanctioned the rape. They had plenty of chances to stop it and did nothing.

          • Andre Boillot


            "They had plenty of chances to stop it and did nothing."

            No, not nothing. In many cases, not the right thing, but not nothing.

            Definition of SANCTION

            : a formal decree; especially : an ecclesiastical decree
            a obsolete : a solemn agreement : oathb : something that makes an oath binding
            : the detriment, loss of reward, or coercive intervention annexed to a violation of a law as a means of enforcing the law
            a : a consideration, principle, or influence (as of conscience) that impels to moral action or determines moral judgmentb : a mechanism of social control for enforcing a society's standardsc : explicit or official approval, permission, or ratification :approbation
            : an economic or military coercive measure adopted usually by several nations in concert for forcing a nation violating international law to desist or yield to adjudication

        • Sample1

          A someone with a naturalistic worldview, I am open that any position I hold could be mistaken. Any position.

          I have a fair degree of certainty on some topics and less in others and in some areas no absolutely nothing about (I think I am channeling a Feynman-esque reply, a hero of mine).

          Anyway, do you see this as a challenge? A challenge for people of faith to be seen as open minded? I do.


          • I can be open minded about many things. My views on economics and politics have changed, my prejudices against liberals and atheists have changed greatly, and I see all of these changes as for the better.

            I don't even know how I could be open-minded about the belief in God. It may be that this is just me, but there is an internal assent to the proposition of God that I could never throw off, even if I wanted to. I know there is a God.

            I think there is plenty of room for more Catholics to be more open-minded, like in the areas I listed. If I didn't want to be open-minded, I wouldn't come here. But at the same time, I could never relinquish my belief in God. I honestly don't even know how I could begin to.

          • Longshanks

            On a personal level, I take this as an open and honest response.

            Gratifying to see a question so prickly asked and answered with candour.

          • Sample1

            Having an open mind isn't dependent on whether one's views change or don't change.

            You're discussing potential subsequent effect of having an open mind such as your experience, views changing about liberals, atheists and economics.

            I'm not asking you, Daniel, to consider what it would be like to change your views about the existence of the Christian Trinity.

            I'm simply asking you to discuss the principle of open mindedness. From what you've previously stated, I'm not sure if you associate the term open mindedness positively or negatively. I hold that the principle of open mindedness is a tool to further ones understanding about the nature of reality. Being open to examine ideas not previously exposed to.

            Would you say that last sentence describes you Daniel?


          • Then I'm having a problem understanding what you mean by "an open mind" most people (I'm not attributing this to you) seem to mean when they say "have an open mind" that "If you'd just listen to me you'd be convinced.

            With some things, listening to the "other side" has lead me to develop and refine my views, and yes I do think this is a positive thing, of course.

            But the propositional dilemma of God/no God cannot change for me. I can see the other side, understand why they don't believe, but I don't think I could ever be convinced that there is no God. Does that make me close-minded? I don't think so.

            I would say your last sentence describes me, though. It is this thing that I have certainty of, this thing of God, and that certainty comes from within, not without, so no reasoning from without could dissuade me.

          • Longshanks

            You sure are, but I've heard it said talent borrows, genius steals.

            His point of view is no less awesome for being absorbed by mortals like you and me.

    • Dcn Harbey Santiago

      This one is a bit more tricky. It sounds to me like " Hey guys, here I am, use me for dodge ball target practice".

      "Viva Cristo Rey!!"
      Deacon Harbey Santiago

      • Rationalist1

        No it's not to attack the other person. Treat it as epidemiological confession.

        • Dcn Harbey Santiago

          I'm glad deacons don't listen to Confessions. I'm not sure I could listen to an "epidemiological confession." :-)

          Sorry... I know what you meant... but the image was to good to let it pass by.

          "Viva Cristo Rey"
          Deacon Harbey Santiago

      • Longshanks

        Why would that sound tricky to you?

        That is exactly what I strive for in my beliefs, convictions strong enough to endure close scrutiny.

    • Here's my answer for you, from below.

      If the Church ever changed its dogma, I don't see how I could accept any of its dogmata anymore.

      • Rationalist1

        That is a problem with religious belief. It doesn't exist in the scientific world. Tomorrow it may be shown that energy isn't conserved or faster than light speed is possible. In fact many scientists would love it.

        Paradoxically it may be why science is uniformly united world wide with the bulk of its knowledge base and religion tends to divide into many different denominations. Beliefs in religion change by adding more denominations. That may be good or bad.

        • For me, the authority of the Church rests with the unbroken apostolic succession and the immutable deposit of faith. No other religion has anything like it (and certainly no religion that has been around for 2000 years).

          But if those things aren't there anymore, then its just a religion. Again, I'm speaking as an individual, and not with any authority over anything besides myself.

          • Rationalist1

            But surely the Eastern Orthodox claim the same apostolic succession (which is true) and their position is the Roman Church has moved from the immutable deposit of faith in the Great Schism of 1054.

          • It's true. But there's only one non-disciplinary distinction between the Orthodox Churches and the Roman one, and that's the Pope.

            So why do I believe the pope instead of the Patriarch? Because in Scripture Christ appointed one head, one rock, and that was Peter. The patriarchs were regional leaders (like uber-archbishops) who rejected that head. They left, Rome didn't.

          • Rationalist1

            Also the nature of the Holy Spirit (filoque). That trumps the pope issue.

          • Yeah, that little thing too, though it more directly relates to Christ's role (the Holy Spirit proceeds from the Father and the Son).

            Though, as a note, apparently filioque is "no longer a Church-dividing issue" according to OrthodoxWiki


          • Because in Scripture Christ appointed one head, one rock, and that was Peter.

            Why do you believe that is true? Have you looked at the texts and their history? Non-Catholic Biblical scholars have done so, and come to a different opinion. How would you defend yours?

          • I wasn't aware that "You are Peter and on this rock I will build my Church" is one such disputed passage.

          • Rationalist1

            Sure it is. Many Christians say the rock is the faith of Peter, not the physical person. And this assertion that Jesus is the Messiah, the son of the living God is the bedrock of Christ's Church.

          • But Cephas means little rock! Jesus has a beautiful turn of phrase, and now these people want to take it away from him...

            But seriously, the fact that we "discovered" 1500 years after the fact that there isn't supposed to be a head of the Church completely demolishes any sort of tracing tradition back to Christ. Without that tradition, and that tracing, I'm outta here.

            It was accepted by the Apostles, by the Church Fathers, and by all Catholics, even Orthodox ones. In a religion of tradition, that counts for a lot more. I have seen no compelling evidence that modern day Biblical scholars know better than the Apostles what Jesus said.

          • Rationalist1

            I;m not endorsing it, I;m just saying that other Christians disagree.

          • Sure, I get you.

            Originally I thought Q. meant that that passage was added late or something (like the Resurrection in Mark's Gospel allegedly is (I say allegedly because I don't know definitively)).

            I did get that not all Christians believe there is a head of the Church.

          • I have seen no compelling evidence that modern day Biblical scholars know better than the Apostles what Jesus said.

            But how would we know what the Apostles thought Jesus said? Presumably, he spoke to them in Aramaic, which no one transcribed at the time, and the first things we have are copies of copies of Greek writings from decades after events. Having major matters of faith turn on the copying and translation histories of individual words of scripture is one of those things that makes me most skeptical. I am sure it is old hat for you, but I strongly recommend all readers carefully review Bart Ehrman's book "Misquoting Jesus" to understand how little we can show we really know about what was said to whom and by whom.

          • But that's why I pointed out that the Apostles went along with Peter being Pope. As did the Church Fathers. And everyone for 1500 years. I think its reasonable to assume that they saw Peter as being charged with being the head of the Church.

          • But that's why I pointed out that the Apostles went along with Peter being Pope.

            How do you know? Paul didn't consider Peter having any special power to dictate dogma. What makes you think the Apostles had any concept of "Popeness" or that it could be handed down? The history of the formal Papacy does not get started until the fourth century. The idea that the 'tradition' of passing on the Church leadership somehow creates the special powers and privileges of the Bishop of Rome, seems to me to have been a convenient political back story to invent after the time of Constantine so as to keep political power and authority in the new religion of the Empire.

          • Constantine made Christianity permissible, not "the official religion".

            What makes me think that the Apostles had a concept of Popeness is that there was one (even if he wasn't called Pope, but "Prince of the Apostles". Wikipedia has a short paragraph with some good source texts linked http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/History_of_the_papacy#Early_Christianity

          • Constantine made Christianity permissible, not "the official religion".

            Who are you quoting, there? Not I. I wrote about "after the time of Constantine" when the Roman form of Christianity spread throughout the Empire.

            What makes me think that the Apostles had a concept of Popeness is that there was one (even if he wasn't called Pope, but "Prince of the Apostles".

            So I have to call you on equivocation. You have not established an equivalence between being the leader of a branch of a cult to establishing the "Chair of Peter" with it's special supernatural powers and privilege. This was one of the main issues that caused the Greek Orthodox to break away, and then again arose at the time of The Reformation.

          • Sorry, I was quoting (but paraphrasing) "the new religion of the empire."

            And you can call me on equivocation, but the Prince of the Apostles, as the rock on which the Church was built, plays a central role in Christianity.

            There are even Protestant Biblical scholars who accept that Peter was the rock on which the Church was founded, but don't accept the Pope these days for other reasons (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Primacy_of_Simon_Peter#Protestant_views)

          • Dcn Harbey Santiago

            I actually read this book and was surprised about Ehrman's faith journey. He jumped from fundamentalist hermeneutics to his current agnostic view completely ignoring what Catholic hermeneutics had said for the 1500 years previous to the reformation!! Most of his problems are with concepts which are just a few hundred years old and are easily solved by applying the Catholic understanding of scripture and not the "Inerrant" view he purported as a young man.

            "Viva Cristo Rey!!"
            Deacon Harbey Santiago

          • Dcn Harbey Santiago


            Actually Catholics believe this too, about this passage. Augustine of Hippo told of this back in the 400.

            When It comes to Catholic interpretation of scripture, we have always taken a "both/and" attitude. It wasn't until a certain Augustinian Monk decided to take an "either/or" attitude to biblical interpretation that both interpretations have been pinned against each other.

            "Viva Cristo Rey!!"
            Deacon Harbey Santiago

          • The reason I ask is because after the usual realization as a child that I was being taught things by the priests and nuns that were obviously not scientifically true, I began checking to see if what they told me about the texts and origins of the religion were also not true. That was a much longer process.

          • I can imagine. I've put in my time studying biblical interpretation (with the estimable Candida Moss, who some of you may have heard of (she has a new book out about the lack of Christian martyrdom that I've seen referenced on several atheist sites)).

          • Of course, that's not to say that I've completed my biblical studies. Just that I've been taught by smart people who don't agree with me.

          • Sample1

            Is authority a good reason to accept a claim as true?

            What if you had an illness and your physician was Deepak? He has the credentials and therefore the authority to write doctor's orders. But would that be enough for you? Wouldn't you want his treatment plan to be evidence-based? What if he said, "Daniel, you can trust me, I belong to an unbroken line of doctors dating back centuries." Would that satisfy you?

            When it comes to Catholic authority claims, I fail to see how you can possibly arrive at an answer that doesn't hinge on being a matter of faith but I'm open to being corrected.

            I don't think it's a good idea to accept claims based on authority sans evidence.


        • Consider:

          1. There is a hierarchy of knowledge domains. Each domain is subject to the authentic knowledge of higher domains, and each domain retains autonomy within its legitimate operational domain.

          2. The highest of those domains is theology, since the data of theology proceed from direct revelation of the Triune God, the Creator and sustainer of all things, Who can neither deceive nor be deceived.

          3. The second highest of those domains is metaphysics, since the data of metaphysics apply the truths of theology to the question of being in itself.

          4. The third highest of these domains in philosophy, including natural philosophy (science). The data of the domain of natural philosophy are quite powerful, since they are objective- that is, the photons are redshifted just the same whether one is Hindu, Catholic, atheist, or Scientologist. But the *interpretation* of the data of this domain will always and in every case reflect the metaphysical/theological worldview of the interpreter.

          Our little slice of time here is characterized by a very impressive four century-or-so run by science.

          But that very success has led science to begin to bump up against questions that are not proper to its legitimate autonomous domain.

          Therefore a large, and steadily expanding, portion of science (eg, cosmology) now consists in metaphysical propositions ("big bang", "inflation", "dark energy", "dark matter", "multiverse", etc) which are typically retailed as if they were science.

          They aren't.

          None of these entities possess ontological existence except as terms in equations- terms introduced in order to bridge the otherwise-insuperable gap between theory and observation.

          Therefore the situation now is quite reminiscent of the period around the time of l'affaire Galileo.

          Science has achieved a complete reversal of the traditional hierarchy of knowledge domains proposed above.

          For example, I suspect far more people believe in gravity, than believe in God.

          However, behind the scenes, it is a fact that our theory of gravity is so drastically wrong at scales nlarger than a stellar cluster (96-99% wrong), that it is quite plausible to imagine a sudden reversal of fortunes for the scientific enterprise, even comparable perhaps to the radical reversal of the Catholic world view in the face of the purported "proofs" of heliocentrism advanced by Galileo.

          • Longshanks

            I commend you on writing a post free from many personal attacks.

            I discount your numbers 1, 2, and 3 as being unevidenced assertions.

            4, that science is nifty, you have my wholehearted support on.

            Incidentally the number, and painstakingly obscure distinctions between, of various religious branches leads me to conclude that physical facts are not the only thing humans can disagree about and have *interpretations* of.

            Science changes its position continually so as to be in agreement with observational data and experiment. The church in the 16th century thought that the sun went around the earth because of Genesis.

          • The assertions are evidenced.

            It is quite true that there are as many disagreements about theology as there are about science.

            It is also true that a magisterium once held sway over Christendom, just as a magisterium now holds sway over science (peer review, tenure).

            Science certainly changes its position based on the failure of its models to correctly account for observations.

            This typically occurs in the form of what Kuhn has called a "paradigm shift", and one such shift indeed occurred at the time of l'affaire Galileo.

            We are ripe for another, very major paradigm shift, I would argue, given the rapid proliferation of modern-day epicycles, and the failure of the scientific world view's fundamental assumption about the universe, the "Copernican Principle", to survive its collision with observational facts, as in the data of Planck2013.

          • Longshanks

            To be sure, paradigm shifts, large changes in consensus are possible.

            I was speaking about the more modest alterations scientists make to their world views on a day to day basis though. I'd say those small daily, weekly updates on what the latest research/understandings of it are are the more "typical" changes vs. major epistemological shifts.

            I think your understanding and interpretation of the Planck data, on top of all the other astronomical/cosmological observations which have been made in 400 years might leave something to be desired.

            In any case, I didn't mean to claim that someone in your shoes wouldn't be able to find evidence that would convince them of these claims, merely that I don't find that any of the things thus posited hold up.

          • It is typical, in the case of paradigm shifts, that only the very discoverers themselves will initially be willing to challenge the paradigm.

            There is a really good movie coming out about the effect of the Planck observations on the Copernican Principle later this year.

            The facts are objective.

            The Copernican Principle is falsified by the Planck observations.

            Whether the observed and factual existence of a preferred direction in the cosmos, oriented with the ecliptic and equinoxes of the Earth, can be accounted for by certain modifications of the LCDM model is still in question.

            The fact that we live in a special location in the cosmos is not.

          • Andre Boillot

            "It is typical, in the case of paradigm shifts, that only the very discoverers themselves will initially be willing to challenge the paradigm."

            Too bad we need to wait for this year's sleeper hit to find out who these discoverers are. Do promise to advertise it's release, on the off-chance that it fails to garner any attention whatsoever.

            "The facts are objective."

            Yes, but one wonders about how valid the interpretations of those facts are when done by laymen vs., say, actual astronomers, physicists, or holders of scientific degrees in general.

          • Interpretation, as I have said, is always a matter of metaphysical world-view, Andre.

            Objectively, Earth is in a special position, since the largest structure in the universe, the CMB, is aligned in its large-angle multipoles with Earth's ecliptic and equinoxes.

            This is such an astonishing thing that the physics community declined to believe their eyes when this was first observed in 2003.

            Another mission was sent up- different orbit, different scanning apparatus, different data-extraction algos- and the Axis is now confirmed.

            You can come see "The Principle" this fall, and hear all of this directly from the actual discoverer.

          • Longshanks

            "The fact that we live in a special location in the cosmos is not."

            Of course we do, I wholeheartedly agree. We live in the only place that we do.

            So far as we know, we are the only extant intelligent life.

            But besides that, I'm sorry you've got me stumped.

            Oh, as a side note; now that we're hearing the rumblings of this great train you're the conductor of...how does this square with what JPII said about Galileo?

            Doesn't the rcc currently teach that heliocentrism/relativity etc are correct?

          • No, the Church has never taught that heliocentrism is correct, and has in fact condemned it in its highest exercise of the magisterium on the question.

            JPII's allocution to the PAS was not addressed to the Church, and hence cannot constitute an exercise of the papal magisterium intended, or sufficient, to overturn prior official exercise of magisterial authority on the question.

            The Church would never teach that relativity is correct, since it is not a datum found in Revelation.

            As far as having you stumped, it really isn't that hard.

            Notice that the Copernican Principle requires Earth to be in no special location wrt the large-scale structure of the cosmos.

            Notice that Planck has confirmed WMAP's earlier report of an alignment between the large-angle CMB multipoles and the ecliptic and equinoxes of Earth ("Axis of Evil").

            That is an observational falsification of the Copernican Principle.

            It might well be, in the end, an observational falsification of the FLRW solution to the Einstein equations.

            And, therefore, a falsification of LCDM cosmology itself.

          • Rationalist1

            Here's the verdict of the inquistion against Galileo.

            "That the sun is the center of the world and motionless is a proposition which is philosophically absurd and false, and formally heretical, for being explicitly contrary to Holy Scripture;

            That the earth is neither the center of the world nor motionless but moves even with diurnal motion is philosophically equally absurd and false, and theologically at least erroneous in the Faith."


          • Exactamundo, Rationalist.

          • Gentlemen, I can't pretend to understand much of the preceding comments, but let us keep it civil and constructive or let us take a break.

          • Longshanks

            Duly noted.

          • primenumbers

            "Who can neither deceive nor be deceived." - so he wasn't deceiving Abraham when he tricked him with the command to sacrifice Isaac then?

          • Certainly not deceiving him, prime, and the proof of it is in His prophetic assurance to Abraham:

            "I will provide myself a sacrifice".

            And so He did.

            His Son.

            On the very same spot.

          • primenumbers

            i don't find your rationalization convincing.

          • That's OK, prime.

            I would find it extremely plausible that you are not here to be convinced.

          • primenumbers

            That would another rationalization as to why you think that I don't find your initial rationalization convincing. What you have to ask yourself is "is my rationalization convincing?" or "am I rationalizing to try to deal with dissonant issues between my concept of God and how the God character is portrayed in the Bible?"

        • Dcn Harbey Santiago

          "Paradoxically it may be why science is uniformly united world wide with the bulk of its knowledge base" I'm not sure this is true. There is much dogmatism in science. Take for example the constant battle of non empirical sciences (such as anthropology, paleontology, etc) to be take seriously by their empirical brethren. Or arguments on cognitive science, or the nature of consciousness.

          Science is not as united as you might think.

          "Viva Cristo Rey!!"
          Deacon Harbey Santiago

          • Rationalist1

            I was referring primarily to the empirical science, physics, chemistry, biology, etc. Although even anthropology and paleontology are fairly well established. As to neuroscience,. the nature of consciousness is not know but there's much agreement on the parts and functioning of the brain.

          • Dcn Harbey Santiago

            Hmmm Someone flagged my response. I guess it proves my point about Scientific Dogmatism.

            "Viva Cristo Rey!!"
            Deacon Harbey Santiago

      • Sample1

        By recognizing a New Covenant, isn't that precisely what the Church did? Or do you distinguish between a covenant and a dogma?


        • Dogma has a very specific meaning in the Church. The New Covenant is dogma, as it belongs to repository of direct revelation.

  • Thanks, Brandon, I enjoyed the song.

    • Rationalist1

      Yes it was a good song. Thanks.

  • Brandon, have you considered applying for a Templeton Grant to help support the site? They might be interested in what you are trying to do.

    • Rationalist1

      Great idea.

    • Neat!

    • Q, interesting idea, though I'm not sure what I'd do with the money.

      • Pay your moderators? Huh? Huh?

      • Andre Boillot

        Buy your own Taco Bell.

        • Longshanks

          Chalupas for lyfe.

        • Mmmm...chalupas....

        • Dcn Harbey Santiago


          Chipotle on the other hand...

          "Viva Cristo Rey!!"
          Deacon Harbey Santiago

      • ... I'm not sure what I'd do with the money.

        Give it some thought. That mystery tends to work itself out. Seriously, I'd just rather see some of their money going to something that promotes public discussion and gives skeptics a fair chance to ask the hard questions.

  • Andrew G.

    I do think something needs to be done about that Rick dude and his insane troll physics - this isn't the right forum to go into long detailed debates about exactly how completely wrong he is, and his insistence in bringing it into every topic is becoming a problem (hence the last comment flag I did).

    • Well, he's stopped the atheist-baiting. Maybe the physicist-baiting will subside too?

      • I typically wait until the atheist baits first, Daniel.

        But physicist baiting?

        Quite to the contrary.

        Some of my best friends are physicists.

        I wouldn't even mind my daughter marrying one.

        • I was mostly teasing Andrew, Rick. No offense intended.

          • Sorry- I do tend to be the slightest little bit touchy- though I am sure you hadn't noticed.

    • In other words, you don;t like Rick's physics, but you can't tell us why, so we ought to take your word on the matter.

      Quite convenient.

      • Seriously, though, Rick. Can we at least try to keep the topics germane (I realize that seems like an unfair thing to ask when literally no one here (self included) does it, but always coming back to the same topic across all the posts is not ideal.) You should write a guest post for SN, then you've got a whole thread there.

        • Seriously, Daniel, can we at least try to discover whether another's posts *are* germane, before appointing oneself magister and adjudicator of the question?

          I am really quite able to allow everyone to make their points, and ignore mine if they wish.

          Why can't you?

          • Longshanks

            How many times would you say that you've made the same point here?

          • How many times would you say is enough?

          • Longshanks

            Would you accept zero as an answer?

            I kid.

            Perhaps enough would be a number sufficient to allow the adequate amount of attention to be brought to bear on the subject at hand.

            With that in mind, one can only assume that Brandon has been incredibly remiss in not deleting every article and post and replacing them all with your name, which will be underlined in blue as a hyperlink to your blog.

    • Longshanks

      The phrase "insane troll physics" really got a chuckle out of me.

      "Before you pass my bridge, you must pay the troll toll. The troll toll is to empirically prove to me that relativity is correct."

  • Beautiful song

  • Claudio Nogueiras

    thanks God! (#5001?)

  • TheodoreSeeber

    I still don't understand the purpose of this experiment. I haven't noticed any particular increase in charity from either the Catholic or Atheist sides, and every time I've brought it up, nobody seems interested in the common cause we have against superstition and fundamentalist Christian prooftexting.

    So could somebody please enlighten me? What, exactly, is this supposed to be about?

    • Susan

      An exchange of ideas, Theodore.

      Some of us think it might be beneficial.

      • TheodoreSeeber

        So far, I haven't learned anything I didn't already know in the 30 years I've been discussing these issues online.

        It boils down to what your definition of evidence is and just how worried you are about superstitions and prooftexting (me I'm very worried, and not just about the Christians):

        • Susan

          >So far, I haven't learned anything I didn't already know in the 30 years I've been discussing these issues online.
          That's nothing to brag about, Theodore.

          • TheodoreSeeber

            Which? And what makes you think it was bragging to have been in generically fruitless discussions in the last 30 years?

            I didn't say I hadn't learned anything in the last three decades- in that time I went from being a naive charismatic Catholic dissenter to an charismatic evangelical to an atheist fed up with contradictions in the Bible to a Wiccan to a Tibetan Buddhist to a Zen Buddhist and then finally back to Novus Ordo Catholic, then Zen Catholic, before finally arriving at my current ultramontaine viewpoints.

            I still see nothing new here. Nothing new under the sun, in fact. Just more disobedience justified by cherry picking of data on both sides.

  • Roger Hane

    You can't persuade people by insulting them. Though political radio talk show hosts seem to think they can.