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Interview with Atheist Blogger Chana Messinger

Chana Messinger

Today I have the pleasure of interviewing Chana Messinger, a popular atheist blogger who has written before here at Strange Notions.

Chana is a recent graduate of the University of Chicago with a BA in mathematics. She was the president of the University of Chicago Secular Alliance for two years, a Speaker at the 2011 Secular Student Alliance Conference, a panelist at the 2012 Skepticon Conference, and a speaker at the 2013 Chicago Skepticamp and at Chicago Skeptics.

She describes herself as an atheist, feminist, Jew, and nerd, as well as a blogger and (soon!) high school mathematics teacher. She has spent a great deal of time in secular, Jewish, and Christian communities, and loves learning from all of them.
 


 
Brandon: Let’s begin by discussing your religious journey. You’re ethnically Jewish, and you have many Christian friends. How did you end up as an atheist?

Chana: I am Jewish, to be sure, and was raised in a Reform household, going to a Reform temple and Reform Hebrew School. I think I believed in God—I have a memory of that—but it was never so strong as to be the core of my life. I don't recall ever loving God.

Sometime in my early teens, I adopted a pantheistic belief, believing that God was in and composed of the connections between people, animals, and all of the world around us. It was a pretty shallow belief, created mainly out of a motley amalgam of various books, an admiration of Baruch Spinoza, and a sense of wonder and awe at the world around me.

Upon reading The God Delusion, whose first chapter described pantheism as "sexed up atheism", I decided I agreed with Professor Dawkins that I may as well just admit I didn't believe in something that would reasonably be called God. I've been an atheist ever since. Yet still, I've never lost my love for religious ritual and I gained a love for theological discussion and analysis in college. Hence all the religious friends!

Brandon: What were the most compelling reasons that led you to atheism?

Chana: The strength of any epistemology relies in its ability to act differently in the face of true things and false things. Faith, as far as I can tell, does not do this. Empiricism and rationality do. I have never heard a conception of God that is both coherent enough to test by these methods and that passes these tests. Furthermore, it does not appear that the existence of a God explains anything I didn't know before.

Brandon: What three books best represent your worldview?

Chana: Harry Potter and the Methods of Rationality is a fan fiction of Harry Potter, written in a world where Harry is a rationalist science whiz. It takes the notions of learning about science and trying to develop an accurate picture of the world and magically whirls them into a story that is a beautiful, educational, and addictive besides being, all on its own, a knock-down argument for a rationalist way of living.

How The Mind Works, by Steven Pinker, gives a thorough and thoroughly materialistic understanding of minds and brains. It is part of a canon of science books that provides a satisfying grounding in how the world works, which makes people more educated and obviates the need for supernatural explanations for those same phenomena. I find this especially useful when mystical or dualistic approaches might be tempting, such as in the case of the relationship between the brain, the mind, and consciousness. Thankfully, Pinker and others are there to give the scientific account.

Finally, Phillip Pullman's Dark Materials Series is a brilliant, wonderful fantasy series. It proves by shining example the existence of beautiful atheistic stories about adventure, and difficult choices, and being good people, and truth, and growing up. It calls on humans to be humanists, to think critically about religion, and to explore mysteries with abandon. And I think the picture it gives of religion is deeply sympathetic while being sharply critical of institutions he thinks are harmful. The worldview present in this book is in large part the one I aim towards myself.
 
 
Find more from Chana at her blog, The Merely Real, or by following her on Twitter at @chanamessinger.
 

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.

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  • Rationalist1

    Good interview, thanks.

    • ChanaM

      Thank you!

  • Timothy Black

    Hmmmm. Was hoping for a bit more.

    • ChanaM

      Is there anything I can provide?

      • Timothy Black

        Oh no, not necessarily. Was just hoping for a few more questions and answers. Seemed a tad short is all, but I appreciate what I read.

        • ChanaM

          Ok! Well, I'm happy to answer any reasonable questions, so feel free to shoot me some.

          • Timothy Black

            Thank you. I enjoy the civility of this site. And I like that you qualified that with "reasonable." Seems to be missing in other places.

  • primenumbers

    Chana, that was an excellent way of explaining the epistemological problem of a religious world view compared to an empirical and rational one.

    • I also thought it was an interesting point, but to me it's still a little unclear. Perhaps Chana can expand in the comment boxes on this section:

      "The strength of any epistemology relies in its ability to act differently in the face of true things and false things. Faith, as far as I can tell, does not do this."

      • Rationalist1

        I would guess how science reacts to being wrong and how religion reacts to being wrong.

        • Randy Gritter

          But it is not religion or science. It is religion and science or atheism and science. Atheism does not react to being wrong either.

          • Rationalist1

            The only thing atheists have in common is that we all dont believe in the same Gods. The only thing atheism can be wrong about is if God exists.

            Atheists only assert that there is insufficient evidence for the existence of God or Gods. Believers make thousands of assertions, most of them incompatible.

          • BenS

            Atheists only assert that there is insufficient evidence for the existence of God or Gods.

            Actually, atheists per se don't. Some do, - like myself and, presumably, your own good self - but many (like newborns) are just default atheists. Atheism is technically just lack of belief in a god; it doesn't state in and of itself how that lack of belief was arrived at.

          • Rationalist1

            BenS - I stand corrected. That most certainly is true.

          • Javier Barca

            Hey BenS, why do you say that newborns are "just default atheists"? Apparently it's the other way around. http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/politics/8510711/Belief-in-God-is-part-of-human-nature-Oxford-study.html

      • primenumbers

        Perhaps the lack of clarity lies in how you perceive faith? Do you perceive the use of faith as the outsider (and ex-insider) does, looking at how it's used by religious people in practise, looking at how it has produced the vast chaos of religious beliefs on this planet throughout history? Or do you perceive it as is claimed here? My problem being that I'm beginning to understand what you claim your epistemology is, but I just don't see the evidence that it's actually used. Whereas the rational epistemology we use is actually used as claimed and produces meaningful and working results, corrects for mistakes, revises old decisions in the light of new evidence and generally (if not monotonically) moves forwards.

        • "Perhaps the lack of clarity lies in how you perceive faith?"

          I agree and that's why I asked the question. I don't think Chana is using the word "faith" in the same way I or the Catholic Church would, hence my confusion and request.

          By "faith" I don't mean a blind acceptance of things we know not to be true, or belief in truth claims contradicted by empirical evidence.

          • primenumbers

            Yes, you claim your beliefs are based on evidence and reason. But what is lacking is the evidence and reason that you actually do follow evidence and reason. We use E&R and find the evidence for Christianity so lacking that we cannot make the leap from the evidence we have to the belief that you have. To us your belief is completely out-of-proportion to the available evidence about Christianity.

            Similarly with the reason side, you put forwards arguments to a belief in a creator (of the generic deity kind, because as you know you need another set of arguments entirely to go from your generic creator deity to the belief in the God of Christianity), but we can't reason our way along with you. We come unstuck when we get a temporal and spatial cause called "cause" and a supernatural non-temporal non-spatial cause called "cause" in the same argument. Similarly the arguments will have a real physical object existing in time and space, and later on the same word "exists" is used to describe an eternal non-physical thing that doesn't exist in space or time. I know from earlier discussions you find those arguments convincing, but the explanation I see for rational people not thinking the arguments for God convincing and you do is faith that just as it allows you to weight confirming evidence heavier and disconfirming evidence lighter, it helps you think an argument is less flawed than it is when it confirms your beliefs and more flawed than it is when it disconfirms them.

            So no, faith isn't blind belief - agreed. It's a form of confirmation bias, or at very least that's how we, the outsider to your religion (and remember, most of us are ex-Christians too) see it operating.

      • Kevin Aldrich

        Chana and I discussed this very question above but Disqus must not be letting you see it.

    • Randy Gritter

      I would wonder about that being the only strength of an epistemology. Faith offers us some things that we can be sure of despite our culture questioning them. Is that desirable. GK Chesterton said the Catholic Church is the only thing that can spare us the degrading indignity of being a child of our time.That is because whatever idea are fashionable today are going to hold a lot of sway over you. They will basically convince you unless you have something solid that tells you when an idea is fashionable but wrong. If you epistemology does not have that then you have no foundation. You are just tossed to and fro, carried about by every wind of ideology.

      • primenumbers

        "Faith offers us some things that we can be sure of despite our culture questioning them. " - Faith lacks a checking mechanism, so that indeed people who use faith are very very sure of the outcome, they shouldn't be. There's a vast over-confidence in the results of faith as an epistemology.

        What is desirable in an epistemology is that it's checkable and can reasonably be said to be objective. Faith is too mind-centred and too open to cognitive biases. Now such biases effect us all no matter what epistemology we use, so that is why the corrective mechanism is vital. Without that we get the position we have now where those that use faith are utterly certain of the results, but have no rational grounds for that certainty.

        • Rationalist1

          And people of all different incompatible faiths are equally certain of their beliefs. Without a correction mechanism all have equal claims to validity.

          • primenumbers

            That's what I mean when I talk of "the chaos of beliefs" - and there are some wild ones out there, not just from Christianity, but Mormonism and Scientology too - all formed on the basis of the same epistemology of faith, all claimed to be true, and none with any method of actually checking them to see if they are true.

          • Rationalist1

            How can religion "correct" humanity when they have absolutely no agreement among themselves on any of the modern ethical issues.

          • Luke Meyer

            You speak of a "correction mechanism." As I see it, anything that would correct the reasoning of mankind would have to be greater than mankind itself. If religion is null and void, what else could "correct" mankind in that way?

          • primenumbers

            Reality?

          • Luke Meyer

            Who's to say what is real?

          • primenumbers

            Epistemologies that check against reality tell us what is real.

          • Luke Meyer

            Such as?

          • primenumbers

            Such as empirical scientific and rational epistemologies that have been demonstrated to check against reality because they work to produce meaningful and working results.

          • Luke Meyer

            While I am not going to take the time to try and discredit these "empirical" epistemologies, I would be in error not to point out that not just Christianity, but many religions have furnished the motivation for many great works of science/reasoning.

          • primenumbers

            The motivation to understand our world is a very human phenomena, and although you'll find people who believe that their religion spurred them onwards in this regard, the pan-humanity nature of this phenomena that pre-dates religion and crosses the globe will tell you their beliefs are wrong.

          • Luke Meyer

            Sorry, I worded that poorly. When I said that religion motivated, I should have said inspired. To take St. Thomas Aquinas and C.S. Lewis for example, we have brilliant men who are given the tools by their religion to create profound philosophical works.

          • primenumbers

            Imagine how good they could have been if they'd been unshackled from their religious beliefs though!

            But more seriously, their tools came from their religion, but that religion came from people. It all comes back to people and common human experience and motivations.

          • Luke Meyer

            And it is here that we reach the gray area of whether or not religions were founded by deities visiting Earth.

          • primenumbers

            Not so much a grey area as rather low probability area. We can both agree that most of the religions of history are false, and the new ones that also keep appearing are false. We've seen the birth of religions in our own lifetime, and in the recent recorded history and we know how man invented them.

            We can also look at what a deity-created religion would theoretically look like. There'd be a common experience across the earth, to all people's in their own language, and it wouldn't just be one incident, but something on-going as new people are being born all the time. We can go on with our concept of this true religion, but the further we do so, the more we see it differing from all the man-made religions, and the more the religion you believe looks like the man-made ones.

            This is not an absolute argument as I note at the beginning, but one of probabilities. By my reckoning, the probabilities suggest your religion is also man made. But you can, if you wish demonstrate unequivocal evidence otherwise, but the problem is all those false religions have well-attested miracles too, and in many cases, vastly better attested miracles than Christianity.

          • Luke Meyer

            You raise a couple of very compelling points.

            In fact, the one thing which I can directly dispute is how, towards the end, you seem to equate proof of a religion with the presence of miracles.There's a lot more to it than that (at least for me), but this discussion has definitely given me a broader understanding of anti-theist beliefs. Thank you.

          • primenumbers

            Existence of miracles is often cited as a compelling evidence based proof of religion. There's also belief from personal experience although that does lack any objectivity and is wildly open to interpretation not just by us, but by the person in question. The final category I can think of is the kind of logical proof of God that is often attempted here, but that (if true) would lead only to deism, and I don't happen to think such arguments have an inherent flaw in that they all boil down to circularity.

          • Luke Meyer

            I disagree that such arguments strictly lead to deism. While they might swerve close to deism, I think that it is only to prove at the most basic level that there is a God. From there, the arguments would turn towards refining this Godview.

          • primenumbers

            The arguments themselves only lead to deism. If you want to turn deism into a particular theism, then another set of arguments is needed to go on top of the original ones.

            Of course, the problem being that as soon as move beyond a deity, to a deity with specific attributes you rapidly end up with a deity of logically incompatible properties. If you're honest enough with your logic and think that logical arguments that prove a deity are valid, then you should also treat the logical arguments that show that the specific deity is logically contradictory with similar respect. But how can logical arguments be both valid and lead to such a problematic result? I think it's because that all such arguments that claim to prove a deity are inherently circular.

          • Luke Meyer

            I see. However, have not yet seen compelling arguments for why the Christian (or, more specifically, Catholic) God is self-contradictory.

          • primenumbers

            Well, obviously otherwise you'd be one of us, not one of them :-)

            There's the problem of evil and suffering, for which the Christian solution is basically an ad-hoc un-evidenced rationalization. That's the main one that has probably reconverted more than any other.

            But for each property - omnipotence, omniscience, etc. there's an argument to contradiction, especially when contradicted with the needs of total perfection.

            There's the argument that no self-contained and perfect being would have any need, want or desire to create, and hence wouldn't create a universe.

            There's the contradiction between perfect justice and perfect compassion - one cannot have both.

            And so on...

            Of course, at this point we're not talking about an outsider examining a religion but an insider who has been given all the rationalizations to "answer" the conundrums. The key now is to realize that the rationalizations all rely on un-evidenced ad-hoc assumptions, or in other words, that they're rationalizations (it could be this...) rather than answers (I know it is this...).

          • epeeist

            We can both agree that most of the religions of history are false, and the new ones that also keep appearing are false.

            Religions are contraries, not contradictories.

            One of them might be true, but all of them could be false.

          • Michael Wellen

            Just so you know, C.S. Lewis was atheist from 1913 to 1929.

          • primenumbers

            Obviously not a good enough for he came up with some of the most useless apologetics ever...

          • To take St. Thomas Aquinas and C.S. Lewis for example, we have brilliant men who are given the tools by their religion to create profound philosophical works.

            And, what would they say, today, if they could come back and know what we know today?

          • Certainly St. Thomas would be splendidly vindicated in the work of Vilenkin, Guth, et al, which show that our expanding universe had a beginning, and consequently cannot have brought itself into existence.

          • Luke Meyer

            If they could see how so many people have NOT followed their advice and where society is today, I think that they'd say "Told ya so." C.S. Lewis' last essay, for example, was warning against the sexual revolution.

          • "Told ya so."

            Luke, is that about truth or behavior (or both)? Those are two different issues, and I was writing about the "truth" part. The discussion of how we "ought" to behave is yet another thing and we have other threads going there.

          • Rationalist1

            Luke - " furnished the motivation for many great works of science/reasoning." But not much any more. Religion did when it controlled society, but religion in the West doesn't control us any more.

          • Luke Meyer

            Is C.S. Lewis recent enough to be a valid argument here?

          • Mikegalanx

            "To take St. Thomas Aquinas and C.S. Lewis for example, we have brilliant men who are given the tools by their religion to create profound philosophical works."

            Aquinas, yes.
            C.S. Lewis... not so much, though I do like his fiction..

          • Aquinas, yes.
            C.S. Lewis... not so much, though I do like his fiction..

            Doesn't matter how brilliant you think Aquinas was, he was limited by what was not known in his time. C.S. Lewis, well, I tend to agree, and would add that anyone post Darwin should have known better (and should have stuck to what he knew, i.e. fiction).

          • epeeist

            C.S. Lewis... not so much, though I do like his fiction..

            You have to wonder if Tolkien did, given his attitude to allegory:

            But I cordially dislike allegory in all its manifestations, and always have done since so since I grew old and wary enough to detect its presence
            Foreword to the Lord of the Rings

          • epeeist

            Who's to say what is real?

            There seem to be a lot of radical sceptics on this site. The question is whether they are willing to apply such scepticism to all domains of discourse, such as the existence of gods for example...

          • Luke Meyer

            So, what you're saying is that religion as we know it would be swept away if people began to reason that their gods simply don't make sense?

          • epeeist

            So, what you're saying is that religion as we know it would be swept
            away if people began to reason that their gods simply don't make sense?

            No, I am saying that applying scepticism to one particular domain of discourse, in this case ontology is fine.

            But to not then apply the same level of scepticism to other domains of discourse is disingenuous.

          • BenS

            As I see it, anything that would correct the reasoning of mankind would have to be greater than mankind itself.

            Don't worry, we can correct faulty vision, too. :)

          • Luke Meyer

            Please elaborate.

    • ChanaM

      Thanks so much!

  • Chana - Thanks for sharing your story! About the step from your belief in God (even though it wasn't the core of your life) to Spinoza and pantheism: were there any precipitating events or realizations that caused you to take that step?

    Also, I'm curious about your continued love for "religious ritual" and "theological discussion." Many anti-theists, I think, would argue that these are not worth your time. How would you explain your love for these things, and what rituals and theological topics in particular have kept your interest?

    • ChanaM

      Thank you for reading! What I remember is that I read Orson Scott Card's Xenocide and Children of the Mind, in which the guiding science fiction concept is a pseudo-religious conception of souls, which he calls auias, and they're connected in a vast network to each other and to the center of the earth. This struck me at the time as deeply moving and meaningful, and it's likely that this formed the basis of my so called pantheism. I remember trying to reconcile a belief in a god with this, and so I decided I would call the entire network god. And then reading the God Delusion made me give that up.

      Anti-theists have no control over my utility function. Religious ritual not be worth their time, but singing beautiful ancient songs in concert with fellow Jews to welcome in the Sabbath is worth mine. Theological discussion may seem worthless to them, but taking complex, highly intellectual networks of arguments and examining them closely is worthwhile to me.

      I fast on Jewish fasting days, I pray in a temple frequently, I celebrate all holidays to a fairly high level of observance. I enjoy halachic (Jewish law) discussions of how the law applies to modern issues, I like discussing predestination, sinfulness and the righteousness of Church actions (just took a Calvin class), and really a lot of other things too.

      Does that answer your questions?

      • Yes, thank you!

      • Rationalist1

        I understand that. I'm a former Catholic and although I don't practice any rituals of my old faith I still like religiously inspired music. I listen to Bach Cantatas, adore Mozart's Requiem and think Mozart's Ave Verum Corpus is the most sublime 43 bars of music every written.

  • Rationalist1

    ChanaM - The decrease in religious belief among the younger generation is an incredible change from even a generation ago. Religious belief in Europe, Canada and the US is decreasing, especially among the young.

    I was wondering. Do you have a sense if non religious young people view their non belief as a positive affirmation or a indifference towards religion?

    • ChanaM

      The data seem to suggest indifference. Most of these nonreligious people are "nones", not atheists or even agnostics (at least in how they identify on surveys). Proud atheists are a fairly small (but growing) percentage of the total. I think people are moving away from religious communities but by and large not replacing them with explicitly nonreligious ones.

      • epeeist

        The data seem to suggest indifference.

        Which might be referred to as "apatheism".

        • Rationalist1

          The challenge facing atheists is demonstrating through words and actions the positive and liberating aspect of atheism to let people know "It's okay not to believe"

          • And the challenge facing Catholics is demonstrating through words and actions the positive and liberating aspect of Catholicism to let people know "It's okay to believe."

            ;)

          • Rationalist1

            Fair enough. Believers have been at it longer. It's only recently the non believers were allowed to participate in society. Seven states still have in their state constitution the barring of atheist from holding public office. (Arkansas, Maryland, Mississippi, North Carolina.South Carolina, Tennessee, and Texas).

          • Vuyo

            R1, do they actually bar people though? I find that mind numbing. In Canada you cannot ask someone about their beliefs on an application or during the interview. I'm surprised it still goes on in the states. I guess I'm naïve.

          • Rationalist1

            No, technically they can't (although it's been tried when an atheist has been elected). The federal constitution overrides the state constitution but still they keep it on their books as no one wants to be the one to stand up for the rights of atheists. I couldn't imagine that persisting for any other group in society.

          • Andrew G.

            The barring of atheists from public office in US states is no longer enforceable, though that wasn't established until 1961 (Torcaso v. Watkins) and had to be litigated again in 1992-1997 (Silverman v. Campbell). Both plaintiffs were rejected applicants for the position of notary public; Torcaso had refused to sign a required statement of religious belief, and Silverman had struck the words "so help me God" from the required oath of office.

          • Vuyo

            That's good. Thanks

          • No, they are not barred because the Federal Constitution overrides those laws (they just don't get elected, usually). Also, special Federal rules for Court procedure had to be made so atheists could be witnesses without taking a religious oath. However, I have seen people go take the oath rather than let it be known that they don't believe. I have seen Judges pass out Bibles to jurors expecting them to hold them in their hands while, again, taking a religious oath. I take that as a violation of personal religious rights, in fact, though not actually forced by law.

          • Wow. I didn't know that. Can't say I agree; that's unjustly discriminatory.

      • Rationalist1

        Interesting. I find the same in my age demographic. Most were brought up believing but have drifted away from faith. The other big change I've noticed since my youth was that it's now okay to say "I'm an atheist" and not many care. Forty years ago, admitting to non belief was akin to saying you were a communist.

        • ChanaM

          Very interesting! I think it still depends on where you are in the country, though.

          • Rationalist1

            That's true. I'm in Canada, large urban centre, with upper middle class university educated neighbours.

          • Vuyo

            Oh, I didn't realise you were Canadian.

  • Ben @ Two Catholic Men Blog

    Interesting about what would be “true & false things”.There are so many things people believe with no empirical proof. Using reason alone, we can construe that an unconditioned reality must have been the cause of every conditioned reality, or in other words, there must be something beyond “the physical” which caused “the physical”; something unconditioned by even space & time or the big-bang.

    From here we can look at the odds of an anthropic universe (one that will allow the emergence of ANY life form) materializing by itself as a random occurrence and say it is statically impossible given all the necessary physical constants involved, yet most agree... we are here.

    The existence is of an unconditioned reality that is also intelligent becomes the most reasonable & responsible conclusion given all the inputs we have, including the new inputs from contemporary physics. From here we are right to contemplate what a curious thing this would be.

    • Andrew G.

      "and say it is statically impossible given all the necessary physical constants involved" -- actual physicists generally disagree, sorry

      • Ben @ Two Catholic Men Blog

        So it’s more reasonable to say the origin of everything is
        dumb-luck. Poof – a big-bang and then we’re all running around sipping coffee this morning. I’d recommend a new-ish book called “New Proofs for existence of God” by Fr. Robert Spitzer. It goes heavy into the probability of any anthropic universe.

        • Andrew G.

          Arguments for fine-tuning have generally used two false premises: firstly, taking a value which we have good theoretical grounds to believe is exactly 0 (such as the net electric charge of the universe), and claiming that it's being 0 to high accuracy is an instance of fine-tuning; secondly, taking a number of what may or may not be free parameters, assigning probabilities to their being close to current values, and then multiplying the probabilities (which implicitly assumes that the values are independent, and that the "habitable" universe occupies only one point in phase space rather than an extended volume).

          Redoing the argument with those corrections gives a much more reasonable probability even if all the important parameters are still free; if they are not, then the probability becomes even more favourable.

    • epeeist

      From here we can look at the odds of an anthropic universe

      Which version of the anthropic principle?

      • Epeeist, I may be wrong but I think you're confusing the "anthropic principle" with "anthropic coincidences." Thus what you really mean to ask is, "Which anthropic coincidence?"

        Physicist Stephen Barr explains the difference here:

        http://www.firstthings.com/article/2007/01/anthropic-coincidences-40

        • epeeist

          Epeeist, I may be wrong but I think you're confusing the "anthropic principle" with "anthropic coincidences."

          No, there are several versions of the anthropic principle, Penrose discusses it in The Road to Reality. In the edition I have pages 757-762 amongst others.

  • Kevin Aldrich

    Chana,

    You say, "The strength of any epistemology relies in its ability to act
    differently in the face of true things and false things. Faith, as far
    as I can tell, does not do this. Empiricism and rationality do."

    Could you first define what you mean by "faith" and "rationality"? Then, can you offer an example of each one dealing with a true thing and a false thing?

    Thanks!

    • ChanaM

      Sure! For the purposes of this discussion, "faith" is belief without or disproportionate to evidence or reasoned argument, and "rationality" is here epistemic rationality, the process of using logic and evidence to update our beliefs about the world.

      If I have faith in the existence of Bigfoot and faith in the existence of protons, those faiths may well be indistinguishable. They rely on things I can't see and can't personally test. They feel the same for me. Nonetheless, one is true and one is false. But the way I felt that faith didn't manage to differentiate between them.

      But if I test the existence of Bigfoot with rationality, I should get a negative answer. The evidence I would expect wouldn't occur, my priors would be low to begin with, and in the end I would conclude his existence to be very unlikely. On the other hand, with protons, if I'm a scientist, then the data will support it. For me, not a scientist, I have high priors for scientists being right about things like this, and I can look up the papers myself and so on. This epistemology has behaved differently when given a true input and a false input.

      • Luke Meyer

        Many would argue that you are simply looking for Bigfoot the wrong way.

        • primenumbers

          In that case, the believers of BigFoot can demonstrate the right way to look for him, thus allowing us in on their evidence.

          • Luke Meyer

            Well, yes.

      • Chana, you wrote: ***For the purposes of this discussion, "faith" is belief without or disproportionate to evidence or reasoned argument, and "rationality" is here epistemic rationality, the process of using logic and evidence to update our beliefs about the world.***
        I would call into question one aspect of this description of "faith"--to say that faith is belief that is "without" (or disproportionate to) "reasoned argument" is to veer away from the core Catholic principle that faith and reason do not--and cannot--contradict.
        Reasoned argument and faith actually go hand in hand...

      • Rationalist1

        I think he other very important issue is the knowledge that those who seek to find Big Foot seemingly "know" a-priori that Big foot exists and will accept no counter factual data. Whereas science is always trying to find error and reserves it greatest reward to those who find a problem with the proton.

        • Unlike Bigfoot, which is a "thing among things" that either exists or does not exist, God is not a "thing among things". He is *apart* from all things, by definition. So His existence or non-existence cannot be determined in the same manner in which we quantifiably determine the existence of "things." That makes it very hard to compare with the Bigfoot scenario....but it doesn't make in un-reasonable to infer the existence of God from the available evidence...

          • primenumbers

            What's your definition of God got to do with anything? Until you can prove he exists, your definition is meaningless. It's only real existing things that have actual properties.

          • How is it reasonable to try to prove or disprove something exists *before* having a working definition of what the something actually is (if it exists)?? I couldn't "prove" the existence of an orange, for example, without first proposing exactly what an orange is, if it exists.
            If you refuse to agree on the "definition" of God provided to you by theists themselves, then you can't genuinely engage the question of whether God so-defined exists or not...

          • Rationalist1

            Can you provide a definition of your God?

          • I can provide a description that helps define what God is and is not--while acknowledging that part of God's nature is that He is infinitely beyond our finite categories of description and definition. I merely add this acknowledgment out of respect for the "magnitude" of the question and to make clear that I'm not trying to put God in a box when I claim that some "definition" is the starting point for the question of His existence (or non-existence).
            Monotheists, for example, as opposed to polytheists, believe that understanding the divine nature is key to demonstrating God's existence through reasoned arguments. This is in contrast to a more "anthropomorphizing" instinct of polytheism (think Greece and Rome), whose deities are basically just a bunch of spoiled superhuman-like beings who can't quite get along with each other...

          • Rationalist1

            All that and you still didn't define your God. How can we have a discussion if you can't define your God?

          • primenumbers

            And how can a good definition of God lead to anything other than a disproof of that God via "proof by contradiction", for once you assume properties you must assume existence (so as to have actual properties) and when you assume "God exists" that can only either lead to contradiction or circularity.

          • Rationalist1

            Yes. It;s probably why believers do not like to define their God, even in a rudimentary way. Or if they do it's in language that would make a post modernist critic blush for obscurantism.

          • It's just really interesting how the Judeo-Christian worldview gives rise to the modern scientific method, and centuries later it's the "modern scientific method" that some strive to use to obliterate the Judeo-Christian worldview...
            If the original Judeo-Christian champions of the modern scientific method knew better than to attempt to apply the method to prove/disprove God Himself, why can't the successors of those champions realize how futile the effort is?

          • Daughters grow up and often rebel against Mom.

            Mom is.....not at Her very best just lately.

            Daughter is completely convinced she has no need of Mom or her fuddy-duddy ways and is proceeding to get herself into a very tangled thicket of difficulties.

            Eventually Mom will get her out of them.

            But no telling how bad it gets first.

          • Hey, I wasn't asked to define God; I was asked if I *could* define God. I responded to that question to the best of my ability.

            In that light, I offered one such descriptive factor (the one factor prompting the "definition" issue)--that God is *apart* from all other "things".
            This is of particular importance because it affects the very means of how one might go about "proving" God's existence--and how one ought not go about it.
            If "science" is about measurements and observations and physical/material "evidence," it won't be able to say much about God directly, because God is, by nature, *apart* from measurement, observation, and physical matter....kind of like using a microphone to listen to the sound "yellow" makes...not exactly the right tool for the job...

          • BenS

            I'm afraid this is a massive pile of horseflops*.

            So your description is of a god that is not measurable or observable and no evidence can be provided for it?

            If that's the case then, by all practical standards, it does not exist. If it's not measurable then it has no effect at all on reality. It can't, because if it did, those effects would be measurable.

            If it's not observable then not only does it not affect anything, it can't even be observed. So, its existence is not even of academic value.

            If there's no evidence for it then it's in the same bracket as space ponies.

            Your description of god is that of something that has no effect, cannot be seen and is indistinguishable from nonsense ideas.

            That's really the definition you want to run with?

            ----

            * I'm being polite.

          • You wrote: "So your description is of a god that is not measurable or observable and no evidence can be provided for it?"
            That's not quite what I said. I said science can't say much about God *directly*. I said God can't be measured (how does one measure "spirit"?), can't be observed (how does one observe or detect "spirit"?), and can't be *directly* proved via physical/material evidence. But this doesn't mean God doesn't exist--rather, it means that the *theists* who invented the modern scientific method never intended for it to be applied to the spiritual nature of God Himself...
            So, what sound does yellow make?*
            *Me, too :-)

          • severalspeciesof

            Hi Jim,

            This is interesting. I was just thinking of how the religious now tend to define god in the negative, in other words what it is not: time, space, physical. For myself I think it's an (probably) unconscious attempt to evade giving any 'positive' definition since positive definitions are easier to attack. This is why the religions of the Romans and Greeks and others have gone away, since their gods had 'positive' attributes that were easily debunked (they lived in the mountains for example).

            Just a thought...

            Glen

          • But saying "now tend to define god in the negative" would suggest that the "religious" have changed in this regard, but in the case of the Christian, this is how we've *always* "defined" God--we've always understood the nature of God in this way (having to do with what God "isn't" to help us understand Who He is)...

          • severalspeciesof

            Yes, what I wrote was sloppy, and you are correct in this regard, but I did say that that was why the Greek gods etc. are no longer around as they were defined with 'positive' attributes.

            Though I think a better way of putting it is that the Greek gods were defined with reality in mind, not some far off unintelligible nonspace, nontime, nonsense...

          • But it is not "nonsense."

          • severalspeciesof

            Knew you'd say that ;-)

            I'll retract 'nonsense' and reframe it as 'unknowable'.

            How's that?

            Glen

          • What do you mean by "unknowable"?
            The more science discovers about the universe, the more "knowable" God is to me, for example.
            Not too long ago a PBS science program went to lengths to explain the nature of space-time and even presented its nature from the perspective of being "outside" time and space to help the viewer understand its structure. What was described is precisely the view of time and space we theists ascribe to God.
            God has always been indirectly "knowable" through creation. God became directly "knowable" through Christ. And science can help us at least indirectly "know" God via its ongoing observation and discovery of His creation....

          • severalspeciesof

            What do you mean by "unknowable"?

            Take away space/time and we cannot 'experience'. We can only know the conceptions of nonspace and nontime, if even that, and not any 'actual' nontime' or 'nonspace' itself.

            Not too long ago a PBS science program went to lengths to explain the
            nature of space-time and even presented its nature from the perspective
            of being "outside" time and space to help the viewer understand its
            structure.

            I would like to see that. Do you have the title of that show at hand?

            Glen

          • I know of another upcoming film which provides exactly the same "God like POV", in a demonstration of the so-called "Axis of Evil", the alignment of the cosmic background on its largest angular scales with the ecliptic and equinoxes of Earth.

            In fact, you can see the initial "God like POV" in any Spherical or Mullweide projection of the CMB map, such as the one recently published by the Planck satellite team:

            http://spaceinimages.esa.int/Images/2013/03/Planck_CMB

          • severalspeciesof

            Sorry Rick, since I am in a space/time world, this is NOT the "God like POV" (as I'm not god and neither are you and we definitely don't have or share god-like 'qualities' such as nontime/nonspace). Maybe you see it as such, but I'm stuck in this reality...

          • Kevin Aldrich

            It's an unevidenced speculation.

            In reality, the via negativa has been a feature of Christianity since the time of the early Church.

          • severalspeciesof

            It may be unevidenced, it may be speculation, but it does make sense, don't you think?

            Of course there were other reasons that the old gods have faded away, though apparently not completely, as Sam Harris states in his book "Letter to a Christian Nation", when he disparaged the Greek gods, he received nasty letters from apparent believers: "Anyone caught worshipping
            Poseidon, even at sea, will be thought insane.*
            *Truth be told, I now receive e-mails of protest from people who claim, in all apparent earnestness, to believe that Poseidon and the other gods of Greek mythology are real.

          • BenS

            I said God can't be measured (how does one measure "spirit"?)

            So, can't be measured then. See my first point. If it can't be measured then it has no effect on reality. Your example of 'spirit' is something ELSE that can't be measured and therefore, to all intents and purposes, doesn't exist.

            That's one foot you've shot yourself in.

            can't be
            observed (how does one observe or detect "spirit"?)

            So, can't be observed then. See point two. So if you can't observe it then how can you claim it exists? That's the other foot you've shot yourself in.

            and can't be
            *directly* proved via physical/material evidence.

            Well, what other kind of evidence is there and how do you know it's reliable? You're out of feet so be careful where you shoot. Also, for your wounds, see a medical professional. Faith healers have a poor track record.

          • ****So, can't be measured then. See my first point. If it can't be measured then it has no effect on reality. Your example of 'spirit' is something ELSE that can't be measured and therefore, to all intents and purposes, doesn't exist.****
            Then tell me what the length of "freedom" is. Or how many quarts are in a bucket of "wisdom"? Not sure? Well, I guess neither of these really exist....

            ****So, can't be observed then. See point two. So if you can't observe it then how can you claim it exists? *****
            So apparently subatomic particles didn't really exist in the 19th century, since they couldn't be observed then? Inability to be observed doesn't negate existence; rather, it either requires discovery via the right mechanism of observation, or in the case of the Divine, God's self-revelation to us...

            ****Well, what other kind of evidence is there and how do you know it's reliable? *****
            The kind of evidence that arises from the disciplines of knowledge *other* than those involving the scientific method, the disciplines that helped give rise *to* the scientific method...

          • BenS

            Then tell me what the length of "freedom" is. Or how many quarts are in a bucket of "wisdom"? Not sure? Well, I guess neither of these really exist...

            They're not things. They're concepts. They exist only as concepts. Tell me how 'freedom' can answer a prayer. As soon as it becomes an active agent or a physical thing, it can be tested for.

            So apparently subatomic particles didn't really exist in the 19th century, since they couldn't be observed then?

            You're conflating 'can't be observed' with 'can never be observed'. Subatomic particles COULD be observed then, we just lacked the means to do so. You're placing your god in the 'can NEVER be observed' category.

            The kind of evidence that arises from the disciplines of knowledge *other* than those involving the scientific method, the disciplines that helped give rise *to* the scientific method...

            Answer my question, don't evade. What other kind of evidence is there and how do you know it's reliable.

          • Good, so we've established that we agree that "non-things" can and do exist *despite* not being measurable. That's a start.
            We also agree that non-observation does not necessarily mean non-existence--that the right tool is needed for certain forms of observation. (and my intention is to focus here on *scientific* observation--that God, not being a "thing", can't be observed scientifically or materially...)
            And I haven't been evading, regarding kinds of evidence. But I can spell out the kinds: philosophy, history, metaphysics, and ethics. The modern scientific method came about to help us discover how the observable universe harmonizes not only with God's existence but also with His plan for us....

          • BenS

            Good, so we've established that we agree that "non-things" can and do exist *despite* not being measurable. That's a start.

            Don't try and twist my words or try to draw conclusions that don't follow. Concepts exist, but they - in and of themselves - DO nothing.

            We also agree that non-observation does not necessarily mean non-existence

            Again, don't try to draw parity when none exists. I hold that anything that cannot be observed might exist... but also - and this is the important bit - might as well not exist. If you can't observe it, it has no value other than a concept in the mind. Like a space pony.

            (and my intention is to focus here on *scientific* observation--that God, not being a "thing", can't be observed scientifically or materially...)

            And right back into nonsenseville. If god is not a thing, if it does not interact with the world then it is a concept and does not exist outside sheer thought. It's a waste of time. It DOES nothing.

            It either interacts with the real world or it doesn't.

            Let's make this crushingly simple.

            Does your god interact with the real world? Yes or no.

          • I've not twisted words at all--my hope is for some common ground. If your hope is to just continue denying that with which you already disagree, then why comment?
            You and I both agree that "non-things" aren't measurable yet exist. Concepts exist, for example. Certain non-things are not foreign to human experience. That is as I said a "start" regarding what we both agree on. Where we diverge, obviously, is on the question of whether non-things might include actual beings existing non-materially. I have in mind spiritual beings such as God and the angels.
            But concepts, while not agents, *do* influence agents (such as humans) without "doing" anything directly....
            Regarding observation and existence, I'm surprised to hear you say that un-observed phenomena are akin to "space ponies"--possessing merely conceptual value. Then why build a massive collider to finally "observe" the Higgs Boson? Why seek to observe that which has not been yet observed? It's valueless, right? Or is there is "hope" behind the scientific pursuit of observation and confirmation of hypotheses? Without "hope" there would be no such thing as scientific experimentation...thus the whole of science is predicated upon a "non-thing", isn't it?
            Does God interact with the "real world," you ask. Well, of course. God created the "real world"; God sustains the very existence of the real world by continuing to will that existence into being; God became man in the real world 2000-plus years ago; this God-man Jesus Christ lived, died, and rose again in the real world.
            And from reason alone, one can articulate the *necessity* for the existence of God in order to explain the existence of all things.
            So there's an unqualified "yes" to your question...
            In return, may I ask for a crushingly simple explanation of how something like a universe can create itself and how nothing can become something as result of its own agency?

          • BenS

            I've not twisted words at all--my hope is for some common ground

            You're certainly muddying the water on what are generally simple concepts. If you want common ground then we must agree to use words in the same way. You are not. You are positing something (god) that is not a thing and yet behaves exactly like things do. You want to put forward something that cannot be measured and yet can still have an effect. This doesn't even make sense.

            You and I both agree that "non-things" aren't measurable yet exist. Concepts exist, for example.

            Yes, and if you want to leave your god as merely a concept then I'm in full agreement. However, you don't. You want to say your god is active, has effects but these effects cannot be measured. This is nonsense.

            But concepts, while not agents, *do* influence agents (such as humans) without "doing" anything directly....

            Actually, no they don't. A human will be influenced by their own personal understanding of concepts to guide their actions. If you remove the humans who are acting then the concepts essentially cease to exist / lose all value. This cannot apply to your god because it apparently created humanity and therefore MUST be able to act itself and directly. Therefore, if it has an effect, this effect can be measured. It's not rocket surgery.

            Regarding observation and existence, I'm surprised to hear you say that un-observed phenomena are akin to "space ponies"--possessing merely conceptual value. Then why build a massive collider to finally "observe" the Higgs Boson? Why seek to observe that which has not been yet observed? It's valueless, right?

            I'm not sure if you're just messing around or whether you genuinely haven't grasped the point. I'll try and make it simpler. There is a MASSIVE difference between things that:

            a) can NEVER be observed
            b) have not CURRENTLY been observed
            c) has been observed

            Science often puts forward things that exist in b) and then tries to work out a way to observe them. Things in a) essentially (e.g. to all practical purposes) do not exist. The Higgs Boson was in b) and now is in c). You are trying to put your god in a) but still have it able to affect the real world. This is not possible. If it has an effect then it is either in b) or c). If it's in b) or c), we can test for it.

            So there's an unqualified "yes" to your question...

            Right, so if god has an effect in the world then it can be measured. The existence of god then comes under the remit of science and it's therefore down to you to provide scientific evidence that your god exists. Go do that then.

            In return, may I ask for a crushingly simple explanation of how something like a universe can create itself and how nothing can become something as result of its own agency?

            Firstly, who says either of these things happened, secondly, you should address these questions to a cosmologist and, thirdly, this has got naff all to do with what we were discussing.

            We were discussing the definition of god and whether it can be detected by science. You said god was 'apart from all things'. I've shown this to be false as all things can be measured and, if god has a direct effect, the effect can be measured and therefore god is a thing. Whether I can personally explain the origin of the universe has nothing at all to do with this subject. Stay on topic.

          • Let's boil it down to this: you want to measure the "effect" of the monotheistic Christian God on the universe. Fair enough. Everything I've said so far about God indicates His "effect" on the universe: He caused it to be and continues its being. In fact, this is the basis upon which the modern scientific method was founded.
            Therefore, everything science *does* measure, *does* discover, *does* observe, is in itself a measurement of the "effect" of God on the universe.
            The fact that you *can* measure anything is testimony to God's agency and effect.
            And if you think that our "topic" is not ultimately about this, then you have missed the essential point from the theistic perspective: God's "direct effect" on the universe is not only at its origin but also at every point of its continued existence.
            So while it remains true that God Himself is beyond measurement, His effect on everything is itself the basis of scientific method....

          • BenS

            Everything I've said so far about God indicates His "effect" on the universe: He caused it to be and continues its being.

            Unevidenced assertion.

            Therefore, everything science *does* measure, *does* discover, *does* observe, is in itself a measurement of the "effect" of God on the universe.

            Unevidenced assertion.

            The fact that you *can* measure anything is testimony to God's agency and effect.

            Unevidenced assertion.

            So while it remains true that God Himself is beyond measurement, His effect on everything is itself the basis of scientific method....

            Unevidenced assertion.

            Basically, everything you just said there was utterly pointless. I'm being blunt because it's important you realise that simply saying "god did it and it's all magic and you can't see the magic" is useless. It has no explanatory power at all. It explains absolutely nothing.

            The universe looks exactly as it does without having to posit the existence of a god. Unless you can show where god fits in, show where the 'effect' of god exists then there is no reason to posit its existence.

            And I'll say it again, unless you can point to this 'effect' that god has and we can, in some possible way detect it, then it's simple enough to say 'there is no effect'. If the effect cannot (potentially) be detected then it's not an effect.

            Do you understand? If something is claimed to be affected but there is absolutely no potentially measurable change to it at all then... it hasn't been affected.

          • josh

            "Everything I've said so far about God indicates His "effect" on the
            universe: He caused it to be and continues its being. In fact, this is
            the basis upon which the modern scientific method was founded."

            No. You can't demonstrate that the absence of God would change the universe in any way. So you haven't demonstrated an effect of God by observing the universe's existence. The modern scientific method emerged over many years from a number of sources but in it's modern form it is not based on any assumptions about God. The most you could say is that science emerged from religious society in the same way that democracy emerged from autocracies.

          • Well, actually, *yes*, not "no." The theistic claim is "no God, no universe." And there is no scientific claim that can negate that claim because there is no scientific observation of how nothing becomes something all on its own.
            So the continuing claims that the absence of God doesn't change anything simply do not address the main substance of the issue--the "effect" of God, materially speaking is at the beginning and continues by holding everything in existence.
            So, how does a thing become a thing? How does it keep being a thing? What does science have to offer regarding these questions?

          • josh

            You've got this backwards. The theistic claim has no evidence. How, as you say, could it? Science shows evidence for the universe but not for God. In fact, science shows evidence against specific formulations of God, via the problem of evil/suffering, the ahistoricity of the bible, absence of prayer effects, etc. You want to assert that the universe is evidence for God, you have to show that not-God doesn't give you this universe. Good luck.

            You ask "How does a thing become a thing?" "How does it keep being a thing?" Science replies, "First define your terms so that you are asking a meaningful question. What would constitute a satisfactory answer to these questions and how would you test if it is true? In the meanwhile, just notice that they can equally be asked of God, so they can't be used to argue for God's existence."

          • Obviously I don't agree with you on this. Science doesn't show evidence against God, Scripture, or prayer.
            Again, if the theistic view is that things don't become things and continue being things without God, then the refutation of the theistic view by science necessarily requires a counterclaim or refutation.
            Does science offer a reasonable explanation for the existence of things, and their continuing existence?

          • josh

            I'm asking you to justify your view, not repeat it.

          • The "justification" for my view is the existence of the universe, more or less.
            And I have been asking you to respond to questions regarding whether/how science has addressed the questions of how things become things and how things keep being things. What alternate hypotheses do you find as reasonable or more reasonable than the philosophically based proofs offered, for example, by Aquinas regarding these two important realities (coming into being and remaining so)?

          • severalspeciesof

            ... if god has an effect in the world then it can be measured. The
            existence of god then comes under the remit of science and it's
            therefore down to you to provide scientific evidence that your god
            exists.

            Actually, the Israelites tested for the existence of Baal vs. their god... 1 Kings 18:20-40

            According to the story, it didn't work out at all well for the prophets of Baal as they were killed after the test because they were wrong...

            Glen

          • BenS

            According to the story, it didn't work out at all well for the prophets of Baal as they were killed after the test because they were wrong...

            I have a feeling it would really spice up pharmaceutical research if, when a drug failed a double-blind placebo controlled trial, all the scientists were slaughtered.

          • "First thing, let's kill all the pharmacists......."?

          • severalspeciesof

            I'm a bad boy... I laughed at that... ;-)

          • primenumbers

            It's completely reasonable to set up a working definition to attempt a proof by contradiction to show that such a defined thing cannot and does not exist. However, if you try it the other way around, set up a working definition and try to prove existence, you've basically assumed existence to get the properties you need and your argument now becomes entirely circular.

            I can agree, therefore, to your definition for the sole purpose of proof by contradiction. I cannot agree to use circular reasoning and hence cannot accept any proof of God that assumes God exists.

      • Geoffrey Miller

        I have a completely different epistemology of faith. Faith is the decision to follow teachings and persons that have proven reliable in the past, despite our present doubts or emotional hangups. Faith is nothing but the free assent of the will to the clear, yet personally challenging, revelation of God. Of course, faith must rest on the solid rock of hard fact; if it does not, it is, quite simply, not faith, but delusion.

        In my view, faith is essentially synonymous with trust, and can be falsified by demonstrating through reason and evidence that its object is untrustworthy or has been misunderstood by the believer. The same mechanism of faith is at work when an established scientific theory is challenged by a new study. The benefit of the doubt goes to the old theory until it is toppled when a certain threshold of evidence has been reached.

        This definition of faith accurately matches the behavior, if not always the speech, of believers. I would also argue that it is the definition of faith argued for in the Bible, especially in the book of Hebrews. If you're interested in such a debate, Chana, please let me know.

        • Rationalist1

          But what is the "solid rock of hard fact". I'd prefer one that is modern as oppose to a few thousand years old.

          You mention also that in science one holds the "old theory until it is toppled when a certain threshold of evidence has been reached." What evidence would counter your current religious beliefs?

          • Geoffrey Miller

            Well, historical science must deal with facts that are hundreds to thousands of years old. That's just the way it is. And evolutionary theory relies on piecing together very fragmentary evidence from hundreds of millions of years ago, but I don't doubt we can talk meaningfully about pikaia and and anomalocaris. As Aristotle would say, one must be satisfied with the type and degree of certainty different fields provide when discussing what constitutes a fact.

            Now, in my opinion, the resurrection accounts are fair game for falsifiability. The reason I believe in them is due to my studies of textual and historical criticism. I think the evidence for early dating is compelling. I also don't find philosophies that would preclude the "supernatural" (whatever that means) intervening in history to be convincing.

            If someone could demonstrate to me that there is a better explanation of the resurrection belief than a real resurrection, I would abandon Christianity. And if they could demonstrate that there is good reason to doubt all accounts of the "supernatural," I would embrace naturalism. As it stands though, I think the evidence tends to tilt the other way. Especially since I've had direct experience of the miraculous--something that is not available to everyone.

            However, it's not like historical evidence is irrefutable. This is an area where reasonable people can disagree and still both validly claim to be motivated by good reason. I certainly claim to be driven mainly by observation and logic. It's the reason my worldview is so atypical to include ideas as diverse as evolution, memetics, and Thomistic philosophy of essences. If the reasoning behind it is sound, I adopt an idea. It's that simple. I don't constrain myself to any camp or party.

          • Rationalist1

            But History deals with old facts by looking at old artifacts. Writings from the period are important but they are verified with each other looking for discrepancies and other fields such as archaeology are used to substantiate the claims.

            One can't falsify the resurrection any more than you can falsify Mohamed going to heaven on the back of a winged horse.

            "Especially since I've had direct experience of the miraculous--something that is not available to everyone." Now you're talking. Something supernatural happened in your life. Would you share it and describe why you think it's authentic.

          • Geoffrey Miller

            One can't falsify the resurrection? I'd say showing the accounts are substantially unreliable or fabricated, etc., constitutes falsification pretty clearly. Just as textual studies have already falsified the Book of Moses in Mormonism. It is my understanding that we now have the papyri that Joseph Smith claimed to have translated. They don't say what he said they do. Therefore, he didn't translate them and he falsely claimed the divine ability to be able to translate ancient languages. I could give other examples, but this suffices.

            Archeology plays quite a big role in the historical criticism of the Bible and other ancient documents. I think the weight of the evidence points toward authenticity of the Gospels. I also think books like Joshua are not always historically reliable. It all depends on which book you're talking about.

            As concerns evidence of the miraculous, I saw an angel as a young child. I also saw a kind of dark entity that went through my house later on, and left a door open. Thankfully, I was on the toilet when it happened, because it literally scared the shit out of me.

            I also saw a chaplet in a vision before I'd ever seen one in person, or knew what it was, and I was surprised to encounter one when I first began looking into the Catholic Church.

            I've had countless deja vu experiences of everyday activities, some of which I recorded or told people about before they happened. And I changed a few of them by doing something else right before they occurred. I was well aware of hypothetical neurological explanations for the phenomenon, so I wanted to do a personal experiment. Unfortunately, since the occurrences are already in the past, and I can't consciously trigger new ones, it's not a replaceable, testable thing from your perspective.

            I'm also good friends with a guy named John C. Wright. His case was pretty darn miraculous. Look him up to see why. Through my network, I also know Bonnie Engstrom, a young woman whose son was, beyond the shadow of a reasonable doubt, resurrected from the dead by the intercession of Archbishop Fulton Sheen. And that's something you really don't see everyday. You can look her up too. Both she and John would probably be willing to talk to you.

            Furthermore, a few years ago, as Mom and I were coming up an onramp in a rather large van, an eighteen wheeler cut us off. I cried out in prayer. Somehow, we managed to drive through a space about half the width of our car. I went back and checked. That baffles my mind to this day.

            But most convincing has been my prayer life. From an early age, God told me about stuff like evolution before I learned it in school. I just knew it, almost by instinct. I was absolutely fascinated by the unfolding of life and everything else science-related. In second grade, I had the epochs and periods of the geologic time scale memorized. Which reminds me, I need to brush up on them...

            That I said, "You're wrong, God is a great artist and he painted the world slowly, and it isn't all about humans," in Baptist Sunday school makes me think those communications with the divine were genuine. There is no reason I should've had these ideas in my environment at that age.

            As to why God doesn't reveal himself to more people, I've always had the impression that he prefers working behind the scenes for whatever reason. His interventions seem targeted primarily to teach spiritual lessons. Or in situations that, for whatever reason, make him decide to contradict his typical policy of non-interference. Maybe he's got some sort of spiritual prime directive that permits only certain forms of communication with people under specific circumstances?

          • Rationalist1

            I think God chooses to work behind the scene as it's the only way so many of us would still be convinced that there is no evidence of his existence.

            Now the on ramp is interesting. Would you be willing to repeat that under controlled circumstances?

          • Geoffrey Miller

            Haha! No, because God seems to focus on intelligent life, and by intentionally driving into an eighteen wheeler, I'd remove myself from that category. ;-)

            Anyway, according to Catholic teaching, honest atheism is not a sin. That's not a doctrine that's widely known or proclaimed, but if God hasn't revealed himself, you aren't culpable for not believing in him. God hasn't fully revealed himself to the vast majority of humanity during its time on Earth. Willful or stubborn atheism is the only problem.

            The people he does reveal himself to are supposed to serve and love everyone else. I don't feel threatened by atheism at all. As far as I'm concerned, the few people who have direct experience of God have a higher responsibility to everybody else. In some ways, we may even be the unlucky ones. But, I don't regret that I know God for a second.

            Having God pop in all the time and direct every facet of our existence would make life rather meaningless and unfulfilling. That may be the primary reason for the Lord's hesitancy to overtly involve himself too much. He prefers the Montessori method of parenting. We need conflict and suffering, even death, to really be free individuals.

          • epeeist

            Haha! No, because God seems to focus on intelligent life, and by intentionally driving into an eighteen wheeler, I'd remove myself from that category. ;-)

            Nah, god is really into black holes. There are many more of them than crappy complex arrangements of carbon, they have been around a lot longer than them too and will be around long after they have gone.

          • Geoffrey Miller

            Hey, black holes are awesome. They could be the stems of other universes, so don't be dissing them. Without those black holes, we would not be talking right now.

          • epeeist

            Hey, black holes are awesome.

            Absolutely, which is why god created the universe especially tuned for them.

            The assumption by the crappy complex arrangements of carbon that the universe was created for them is just hubris.

          • Geoffrey Miller

            If you're asking whether I subscribe to anthropocentric universe arguments, many people find them very convincing, but I don't.

          • epeeist

            If you're asking whether I subscribe to anthropocentric universe arguments, many people find them very convincing, but I don't.

            WAP is okay and has led to some valid physics, Hoyle's prediction of the C12 resonance for example. But it really is somewhat of a tautology.

            SAP is a cop out and Martin Gardner got the right acronym for FAP, i.e. CRAP.

          • Geoffrey Miller

            WAP? SAP? ...and, FAP?

            Please enlighten me. What does these acronyms stand for?

            Oh, and how do you do that neat quote formatting in your posts?

          • Michael Murray

            FAP = Familial adenomatous polyposis (FAP) is an inherited condition in which numerous polyps form mainly in the epithelium of the large intestine.

            Or maybe not.

            The quotes are done by putting text in between (blockquote) and (/blockquote) but you need to use instead of ( and )

            There is a bunch of HTML stuff you can use in Disqus

            http://help.disqus.com/customer/portal/articles/466253-what-html-tags-are-allowed-within-comments

          • Geoffrey Miller

            Oh! Thanks. I didn't know HTML was fair game in Disqus. I'm going to have a lot of fun with formatting.

          • epeeist

            Please enlighten me. What does these acronyms stand for?

            WAP - Weak anthropic principle, SAP - Strong anthropic principle, FAP - Final anthropic principle.

            CRAP - Completely ridiculous anthropic principle.

            Oh, and how do you do that neat quote formatting in your posts?

            Wrap the text in blockquote tags, like the text below but take out the spaces next to the angle brackets.

            Text

            You can use other tags as well, this is the list

          • primenumbers

            " I'd say showing the accounts are substantially unreliable or fabricated, " - well, we certainly have "unreliable" in that they claim to document events so significant that it's utterly unlikely that they don't also appear in the contemporary historical record. The accounts are also by anonymous writers, who were not eye-witnesses to the events writing non-contemporaneously. That there is significant copying between those accounts makes for a lack of independence in them too. I'd say that alone casts enough doubt to say we can not really ever know what happened and should therefore be agnostic about it.

            "Archeology plays quite a big role in the historical criticism of the Bible and other ancient documents. I think the weight of the evidence points toward authenticity of the Gospels." - but archeology says nothing to the truth content of the Gospel stories. At most archaeological evidence can tell us that the Gospels were written around the time they were written, and although there's some debate there on precise dates, we have good upper and lower limits on the dating and they date 70-100CE.

            "I've had countless deja vu experiences of everyday activities," - I think we've all had experiences that we cannot explain, but we don't all point them to beliefs in the supernatural or Christianity, because to do so would be to put more weight onto the evidence than it can reliably hold. For me, that I saw a lunar lander type of space-ship on a hill when I was a kid is not evidence of aliens, but that brains are funny things. Similarly that I walked around a house that doesn't exist. In other words I think evidence of unexplained things is evidence for unexplained things and no more.

            " I've always had the impression that he prefers working behind the scenes for whatever reason." - this is the kind of ad-hoc un-evidenced rationalization that can be used to explain away almost anything, and if often used to do just that. Again, this is evidence of placing more weight on confirming evidence than it can hold.

          • Linda

            Thank you for sharing this. I have long felt that God acts in my world as well, though He seems to enjoy irony a bit too much. :)

          • primenumbers

            Sounds like you believe because you want to believe and have pre-supposed a belief and thus, you weigh evidence that confirms your belief too high and weigh disconfirming evidence too lightly.

            "If someone could demonstrate to me that there is a better explanation of the resurrection belief than a real resurrection, I would abandon Christianity." - I think that's just it. The "Christianity is true" explanation could be made to explain absolutely anything you desire. It's so powerful in it's explanatory ability, it in reality explains nothing at all. And we see what absolutely minimal evidence there is for an actual resurrection (late stories, anonymous authors who copied and corrected each other, not eye-witnesses, lack of contemporary historical account) to be not exactly convincing evidence. In other words, there is no need for "a better explanation" as the current one you have isn't good enough to meet any reasonable evidentiary hurdle, especially when we consider by far and a way the vast number of people of the time who could have seen and participated in the stories if they were real, did not believe. But you base you belief on those outliers who did believe, yet we know for any religion, no matter how ridiculous and how incredible the claims and how much evidence is stacked against the claims (see Mormonism) there will be fervent believers who do believe. That you base your belief on these outliers is not rational. It's not rational to trust your knowledge to people who have demonstrated less credulity than you yourself possess.

          • Geoffrey Miller

            "Sounds like you believe because you want to believe and have pre-supposed a belief and thus, you weigh evidence that confirms your belief too high and weigh disconfirming evidence too lightly."

            Okay? I guess this accusation could be directed against pretty much anyone. You'd have to explain what evidence I'm not weighing right, and why I should weigh it differently.

            Anyway, we haven't really discussed the arguments behind why I believe the resurrection accounts, as time and space constraints prevent me from relating them here in much detail. I will say that my arguments are similar to those presented in N. T. Wright's "The New Testament and the People of God/ Christian Origins and the Question of God," "Jesus and the Victory of God," and "The Resurrection of the Son of God." It's a three volume series, but it does require some background in textual and historical criticism to be fully enjoyable. I would still recommend it though, even for a more general audience.

            I typically don't believe things just because I want to.

            Also, I'm not sure I follow some parts of your post. Could you please explain what you meant by, "The 'Christianity is true' explanation could be made to explain absolutely anything you desire. It's so powerful in it's explanatory ability, it in reality explains nothing at all?"

            I'm having particular trouble parsing your statement, "It's not rational to trust your knowledge to people who have demonstrated less credulity than you yourself possess." Should I then entrust it to somebody who has demonstrated more credulity than myself? I thought a little skepticism was a good thing.

          • primenumbers

            Fair enough. That's why we'd have to go through the evidence together and see if it really does weigh as much as you think it does. And it does sound like three books is an awful lot to go through on this forum :-) Perhaps we should look more at the historical methods used and the textual criticism methods used because if the methods are no good, surely no valid conclusion can follow?

            Think for a moment on the "God did it" explanation.... Is there anything at all that couldn't be explained by it? But is it a useful explanation at all because it just pushes the explanation back to God, which is something without explanation, and we also lack knowledge of the mind of God to be able to comprehend any possible explanation from God. That's why I say such explanations that explain everything in fact explain nothing.

            I don't think your parsing is a problem. What is a problem is me getting my words mixed up. Thanks for spotting my error. Indeed we only want to believe things that come from people who are more or equal skeptical than ourselves.

          • Geoffrey Miller

            Oh, I don't subscribe to the "God did it" way of explaining things, since that's just as good as saying, "It just happened" to explain everything. It may be technically true, but it isn't very useful. Of course, ultimately, all science does is sweep things under the carpet in terms of giving explanations, but still...an apparently tidy room is nice to look at and does have its benefits.

            As concerns N. T. Wright's and my own methods, luckily, I found a brief paper online that isn't too flawed of a primer, though it isn't perfect either. Our school of historical approach is called Critical Realism. Sadly, it really can't be spelled out in a single sentence.

            http://ordinand.files.wordpress.com/2008/09/nt-wright-methodology1.pdf

          • primenumbers

            "God did it" is just an easy way for me to explain what I mean when I say any theory that explains everything in reality explains nothing.

            "all science does is sweep things under the carpet in terms of giving explanations" - indeed, there's no ultimate explanations given, but as Douglas Adams pointed out, if we got the ultimate answer, we'd be totally in the dark until we understood the ultimate question... But in reality, science gives working explanations, and that's enough.

            Thanks for the link - I'll read and digest.

          • Geoffrey Miller

            "But in reality, science gives working explanations, and that's enough."

            Of course. And that's why, since science is concerned only with proximate causes, talk about ultimate causes belongs elsewhere. Intelligent Design, etc., isn't science. We're in full agreement here.

          • primenumbers

            Ah, but what would be an ultimate cause, and if it caused itself, isn't that a rather un-fullfilling answer, rather like that first superman movie where he sent the earth back in time and fixed things? So even if you do prove a God and that God is the ultimate answer, does that ultimate answer have enough answering capability to answer itself or is God as mysterious to God as he would be to us if he existed? Does he lie awake at night asking "why am I here rather than nothing?" "but what does nothing mean?" etc. etc.

          • Rationalist1

            And science doesn't over reach. It doesn't make assertions it can't substantiate no matter how much it would like to.

          • Geoffrey Miller

            Well...scientists do overreach quite often, but it isn't science when they do. So, partial agreement.

          • epeeist

            The "Christianity is true" explanation could be made to explain absolutely anything you desire.

            I like this quotation from Marianne Moore:

            [Psychology] which explains everything explains nothing, and we are still in doubt

            And as Popper noted:

            These theories appear to be able to explain practically everything that happened within the fields to which they referred. The study of any of them seemed to have the effect of an intellectual conversion or revelation, open your eyes to a new truth hidden from those not yet initiated. Once your eyes were thus opened you saw confirmed instances everywhere: the world was full of verifications of the theory. Whatever happened always confirmed it. Thus its truth appeared manifest; and unbelievers were clearly people who did not want to see the manifest truth; who refuse to see it, either because it was against their class interest, or because of their repressions which were still "un-analyzed" and crying aloud for treatment.
            Conjectures and Refutations

      • Kevin Aldrich

        I don't want to overgeneralize about people of faith, so I'll only write from my understanding of the Catholic perspective.

        The Catholic understanding of faith is not "belief without or disproportionate to evidence or reasoned argument."

        The Catholic concept of faith is (in part) an assent to claims based on the trustworthiness of the person who makes them.

        The trustworthiness of the authority is actually based on what you call "epistemic rationality," belief based on valid evidence and logic.

        That epistemic rationality for trusting this authority is collected in what Catholics call the Preambles of Faith, that is, rationally demonstrable truths which make this trust justifiable.

        To give an example, Catholics don't need to have "faith" to believe in God. Catholicism makes the more audacious claim that the existence of God can be known through reason. However, we do make an act of faith in the Trinity (a truth which surpasses reason to ever discover on its own) and it is reasonable to do so becasue it is revealed by God, an authority who is trustworthy because (reason shows) he can neither deceive nor be deceived.

        So I think when you use the word faith and we use the word faith, we mean very different things.

        • ChanaM

          Then that's all fine, and I disagree with the rational arguments for God.

          • Kevin Aldrich

            Thank you.

            A second point you make is, "I have never heard a conception of God that is both coherent enough to test by these methods and that passes these tests."

            Could you explain a little more what you mean by "coherent conception of God"? Are you saying that the very notion of God is so incoherent it makes logic and evidence pointless? Or are you just saying the logic and evidence are not persuasive that God exists?

          • ChanaM

            I have never heard a conception of God that is both (coherent enough to test by rationalism and empiricism) and that (passes these tests). Many are not coherent (for instance, I am never given a way the world would be different if this God didn't exist). Those that are coherent, do not pass.

          • Kevin Aldrich

            I don't think the conceptions of God as creator and designer are incoherent.

            In his book, "New Proofs for the Existence of God: Contributions of contemporary physics and philosophy," Robert Spitzer examines indications of creation and supernatural design in contemporary big bang cosmology, taking into account all the current inflationary and string theory scenarios.

            In one of his three philosophical arguments for God's existence, he also builds up a sophisticated metaphysical definition of God as a "completely unique, unconditioned Reality, which is at once unrestricted intelligibility and an unrestricted act of understanding" and sets out to prove it.

            That may sound like an incoherent concept, but he carefully establishes each idea rather than just assuming them to be true.

          • Chana, a couple things in reply:

            "I am never given a way the world would be different if this God didn't exist"

            Have you read St. Thomas Aquinas or any of his popularizers (especially Dr. Edward Feser)? Thomas gives not just one but *several* examples of just what you're asking for.

            Each of Thomas Aquinas' arguments for God, if logically valid, show that the world would simply not exist if there were not an eternal, self-existent, all-powerful, immaterial First Cause holding all things in existence.

            This is precisely the sort of "difference" you seem to be asking for: no God, no world; yes God, yes world.

            Now, you may disagree with Thomas proofs (and you'd then need to show why they're flawed) but I doubt you've never been "given a way the world would be different if this God didn't exist."

            You also say that, "I have never heard a conception of God that is ...coherent enough to test by...empiricism." But that criteria rigs the deck from the get go. It's like saying, I've never been presented a building that can be measured with a tablesaw. Well, of course! To us a tablesaw to measure anything would be to use the wrong tool.

            Empiricism is restricted to what our five senses can detect. Yet God, as Catholic understand him, his intangible and immaterial. That's what we mean when we talk about God. Therefore saying, "I haven't been presented an [immaterial being] I can measure with my senses therefore [the immaterial being] does not exist" is a misguided claim.

          • ChanaM

            I thought I said tested by reason or empiricism, and if I didn't, my bad.

          • JL

            I think Brandon's reply dealt first with reason (St Thomas's proofs), and then with empirical tests (which as he says, is stacking the deck).

          • primenumbers

            "Each of Thomas Aquinas' arguments for God, if logically valid, show that the world would simply not exist if there were not an eternal, self-existent, all-powerful, immaterial First Cause holding all things in existence."

            Brandon - why are you limiting yourself to "logically valid"? Surely what we need are arguments that are sound and lack fallacies? For instance a circular argument can be valid. It can also be sound, but it is also fallacious.

            Logically valid just means you got the logic right. It says nothing to the truth of the premises.

          • JL

            A circular argument isn't logically valid. "A is true because A is true" is absurd.

          • primenumbers

            Validity refers to the logical construction of the argument, if it follows the correct forms of inference to get from one step to the next. Soundness refers to the argument being valid and the premises are true. Again, circular arguments can be sound but they don't actually tell us anything, see: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Circular_reasoning (so not all circular arguments are valid, but circular arguments are not necessarily invalid).

          • JL

            Yes, makes sense.

            "A therefore A" is logical. "A is true because A is true" is absurd though, because A can't cause itself.

          • primenumbers

            Thanks. And please call me on things if I get them wrong. I'm learning a lot on this subject and had just done some research in this area before posting so I was pretty confident I was right, but even still.... So yes, logically valid but utterly absurd... :-)

        • primenumbers

          "The Catholic understanding of faith is not "belief without or disproportionate to evidence or reasoned argument."" - agreed. You are correctly characterizing your understanding of faith. The issue is that the outsider perception of you faith is that you do believe disproportionately to the evidence and place little or no weight on disconfirming evidence.

          I could very well be that in theory, you are correct on the definition of Catholic epistemology, but practically speaking you don't actually use it, you just think that you use it, and that explains how we use evidence and reason and are not Catholic.

          • Kevin Aldrich

            > "[P]ractically speaking you don't actually use [a sound epistemology], you just think that you use it."

            To test this claim, wouldn't we need to look at some heavy-duty Catholic thinkers on the existence of God and see where they blow it?

          • primenumbers

            They don't need to blow it, they just need to put more weight to confirming evidence than the evidence would normally suggest and less weight to disconfirming evidence.

            Indeed, if a Catholic for instance set as the very base of their belief a logical argument for the existence of God, and that that argument was shown to be circular, then that of course would be to show they've blown it!

          • Kevin Aldrich

            The only circular argument for God's existence I am aware of is Anselm's ontological argument, which few if any Catholics adhere to.

            Do Catholics not consider disconforming evidence? Look at the scholastic method. Everything is broken down into a yes or no answer, and every valid objection to the writer's position is stated up front and answered at the end. Disconforming evidence is a built-in feature of the method!

          • primenumbers

            I've got a feeling they're all circular, just some of them hide it better than others....

            "Do Catholics not consider disconforming evidence?" - that's not what I said though. I didn't say they ignored it or didn't consider it, but that they under-weighted it. What we're doing in the end is weighing evidence for and against and if the scales tip over enough either way, we say "belief" and if they don't move or tip back the other way we go from "lack of belief" through to "practical disbelief". Therefore it doesn't take much adding weight to confirming evidence or under-weighting disconfirming evidence to tip the scales in a pre-determined direction.

  • Corylus

    Thank you Chana, a nice article. Good to see you personally addressing responses on here too - that does not always happen.

    • ChanaM

      I'm happy to! Thanks for reading.

  • Linda

    Nice interview. Chana, I like your approach to things. Thank you for following up on the comments, too. It has made this post particularly engaging.

    • ChanaM

      Thank you so much! That's so nice to hear.

  • clod

    Thanks Chana.

    Please could someone please explain 'faith' more. I've seen it described here both as 'act' and 'gift'. Is the first considered an outcome of reason, and the second, well, a gift. If it is a gift, is it conditional? If so, on what? Thanks.

    • Kevin Aldrich

      It's great that you are asking this question.

      The word "faith" as it is used here is an almost meaningless term unless it is first carefully defined.

      A good place to start, I think, is natural faith. Whenever we assume something to be true on the authority of someone we trust we are practicing natural faith. So when teacher says the world is round all the second graders nod their heads because teacher says so and she *knows* and she'd never lie. And they are right to trust her. Similarly when most of us hear about the latest findings of quantum physics we assume they are true because physicists say so and they can basically be trusted.

      Supernatural faith as Catholics conceive it is assent to supernaturally revealed truths based on the trustworthiness of the one who reveals it, God. We also see it as a gift from God.

      However, it is not appropriate to assume that others mean either of these things when they say faith. They may mean religion as opposed to science, what people in different religions believe, what other religions believe an act of faith to be, belief without evidence, something opposed to reason, or something else.

      • clod

        Faith, in the everyday sense, amounts to degrees of trust or certainty. I have a high degree of faith that the climbing rope will break my fall; that my colleagues will do their job properly, etc

        I don't have any faith at all in supernaturally revealed truths. All religions claim those but unless there is a test to distinguish between them I don't see how it possible to have faith in them. Can anything be revealed 'supernaturally', and be wrong?

        Faith as 'gift', I don't understand at all. How does that work?

        • Kevin Aldrich

          For more on faith, scroll down to my reply to Chana which begins, "I don't want to overgeneralize about people of faith, so I'll only write from my understanding of the Catholic perspective."

          • clod

            OK, thanks.

          • clod

            I read the exchange. Still can't comprehend faith as 'gift' I'm afraid. Trust is earned, not projected...otherwise it is too prone to confirmation bias.

          • Still can't comprehend faith as 'gift' I'm afraid.

            It is a difficult concept, and I don't pretend to grasp it myself, nor am I 100% sure that it makes a great deal of sense. But what I believe it doesn't mean is that God decides who is going to believe and makes them (or allows them) to believe, with nothing required on their part. As I understand it, faith is a gift, but it is a gift available to everybody. And it is available in some way to people who have never heard of Christianity or who reject it. Faith is not believing everything the Catholic Church teaches, but rather believing there is something beyond oneself—an ultimate power. The Catechism says the following:

            Faith is a grace

            153 When St. Peter confessed that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the living God, Jesus declared to him that this revelation did not come "from flesh and blood", but from "my Father who is in heaven". Faith is a gift of God, a supernatural virtue infused by him. "Before this faith can be exercised, man must have the grace of God to move and assist him; he must have the interior helps of the Holy Spirit, who moves the heart and converts it to God, who opens the eyes of the mind and 'makes it easy for all to accept and believe the truth.'"

            Faith is a human act

            154 Believing is possible only by grace and the interior helps of the Holy Spirit. But it is no less true that believing is an authentically human act. Trusting in God and cleaving to the truths he has revealed is contrary neither to human freedom nor to human reason. Even in human relations it is not contrary to our dignity to believe what other persons tell us about themselves and their intentions, or to trust their promises (for example, when a man and a woman marry) to share a communion of life with one another. If this is so, still less is it contrary to our dignity to "yield by faith the full submission of. . . intellect and will to God who reveals", and to share in an interior communion with him.

            155 In faith, the human intellect and will cooperate with divine grace: "Believing is an act of the intellect assenting to the divine truth by command of the will moved by God through grace."

          • Kevin Aldrich

            David Nickol has good notes on faith below.

            Faith is not a gift we give God. God gives *us* special helps so that we can assent to what he has revealed.

  • severalspeciesof

    Nice... I peeked at your blog and like that you seem to be careful about how you approach things and question whether that approach is being the best way to it.

    • ChanaM

      That's very much what I aim for! Thank you for the comment.

  • Hi Chana, nice interview. When people ask me the difference between their belief in Big Foot and my confidence in things like the Theory of Evolution, I tell them, "I have reasonable expectations based on prior evidence."

    • ChanaM

      Indeed!

  • Jay

    Love, love, love Philip Pullman's "Dark Materials". Liked the 1st the best though. Thought the others weren't as good. The last was a disappointment, and I found the ending to be.... Ummmm... Different... i do recall them being critical of religion, but not sure I recall the sympathy... Maybe it's just that the critical parts stood out so much more to me. In the end they do end up killing the equivalent of God, which I found to be a little bit of overkill of the anti religion theme (no pun intended :)

    • Michael Murray

      Yes excellent books. The god killed at the end though isn't the creator of the world he is just the first angel to be formed who told the others he had created them.

      • Jay

        Yes, if u r interpreting it literally, then yes that is true; however, I believe Pullman had more metaphorical intentions with that particular character and meant it to be something akin to the Christian God and non existence as well as Nietzsche's "God is dead." Honestly, the series started out so fascinating in such a vivid and vibrant world and then ended in a place significantly less appealing with such dark undertones. Also, while the reading level remained the same, the content level became much more mature as the series progressed. Golden Compass, appropriate for kids and adolescents. Amber Spyglass, appropriate for adolescents. I really felt the same way about the Harry Potter books. The reading level stays the same, but the content changes too much over the series. But I digress...

        • Michael Murray

          Agree with you on HP as well.

          But I digress…

          No this is a website devoted to fantasy!

          • Jay

            You've got a good sense of humor :) I think we'll just have to agree to disagree on whether or not God is fantasy or reality.

  • Joycey

    Why interview an atheist and give free advertising for the anti-theist books of polemics by the likes of Richard Dawkins?

    • Michael Murray

      "StrangeNotions.com is the central place of dialogue between Catholics and atheists."

      • Joycey

        I'm concerned about the FREE advertising for an anti-theist book from the likes of nasty Dawkins who holds "blasphemy" parties on his Facebook page. Any supporter of that nazi gets my down vote.

        • Joycey:

          The atheists have a substantially larger advertising budget these days.

          Nothing SN does is going to change that.

          What SN does is provide a forum where the ideas can be examined and debated.

          Which is exactly what is needed.

        • epeeist

          I'm concerned about the FREE advertising for an anti-theist book from the likes of nasty Dawkins who holds "blasphemy" parties on his Facebook page. Any supporter of that nazi gets my down vote.

          Judgemental much?

          Oh, and congratulations on Godwining the thread.