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John Henry Newman: Real, Rational, Religion

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John Henry Newman

In the late nineteenth century, Catholic-convert Blessed John Henry Cardinal Newman published one of the all-time greatest works on the epistemology of faith. Essay in Aid of the Grammar of Assent was written in response to trends in thought widespread in 19th c. Oxford. Since the Enlightenment (and before) the Catholic Church has been criticized for the dogmatic structure of its faith and morals. People like Immanuel Kant and David Hume have spoken of dogma as if it were a leash or blinders, as if the Church believed that without its dogmas the faithful would simply run amok—or worse!—leave.

This idea about dogma is inherent in what Newman called liberalism, and it is still alive and well to this day. When I say liberalism, I am not speaking politically. Newman uses the term liberalism throughout his work, and I want to stress that I am not, and nor was he, talking about political liberalism.This “philosophical liberalism” is found on both sides of the aisle, as it were. I’d find a substitute word if I could, but the only one that comes to mind is “adogmatism,” which I think we can all agree is an ugly and stupid word.

Not sure if you’re this kind of liberal? Here’s a brief questionnaire for you:

  • Do you think that reason can trump doctrine?
  • Do you think no one can believe in something that he or she can’t understand?
  • Do you think theological doctrine is nothing more than an opinion held by a vocal group of people?
  • Do you think it’s dishonest to believe in something that hasn’t been proven?

If you answered yes to any of these, then Newman was talking about you!

Liberalism Defined

For Newman, liberalism is the belief that nothing outside of science has a certain answer, which in essence puts all religions in the “made-up stuff” bin. This is not just the claim of atheists and agnostics; it’s also common to many Protestant denominations (universalists, as opposed to exclusivists).

Newman found certain principles that he saw as fundamental to liberalism. In the appendix to his auto-biographical work, the Apologia Pro Vita Sua, Newman lists just shy of two dozen tenets of liberalism. The first four form the basis of the rest:

1. No religious tenet is important, unless reason shows it to be so.
2. No one can believe what he cannot understand.
3. No theological doctrine is anything more than an opinion which happens to be held by bodies of men.
4. It is dishonest in a man to make an act of faith in what he has not had brought home to him by actual proof.1

We all know (or are) people who hold these tenets either explicitly or implicitly. To demonstrate the rationality behind dogmatic religion, Newman reaches deep into the way we know, and lays out a comprehensive epistemological system that seeks to disprove the assertions of liberalism.

The Different Kinds of Propositions

Newman points out that there are three kinds of propositions that can be made by a person: Interrogative (a question is asked), Conditional (a conclusion is drawn) and Categorical (the proposition is asserted in itself). There are also three internal acts associated with these propositions. The internal act made with an Interrogative is doubt, a Conditional is accompanied by inference, and a Categorical statement comes with assent (assent for Newman means simply belief/acceptance). The three types of propositions, and their accompanying internal acts, are each distinct from the other.2 These form the epistemological foundation that Newman uses throughout his work, and if you don’t remember these terms as you read this, you won’t get it. I’m relying on his terms for precision of communication. This is not a proof for God’s existence, it is an explanation of the rational process of faith.

Apprehension: How to Believe in What is Not Understood

The first part of Grammar of Assent, Assent and Apprehension, addresses skeptical epistemologies with the goal of demonstrating that belief in what is not understood is not only permissible, but necessary. In Newman’s view, what is necessary for assent is not understanding the proposition, but apprehending it (The reason for this distinction is that the term understanding is “of uncertain meaning, standing sometimes for the faculty or act of conceiving a proposition, sometimes for that of comprehending it, neither of which come into the sense of apprehension.” 3 Apprehension “is simply an intelligent acceptance of the idea, or of the fact which a proposition enunciates”,4 and it allows us to internally assent to what has been externally asserted.

Cardinal NewmanNewman classifies apprehension into two kinds, notional and real, corresponding to abstract concepts and concrete experience, respectively. We can notionally apprehend a proposition such as “London is a beautiful city” without having been to London, since we have in our mind the concept of “beauty” and the concept of “city”, but real apprehension would require us to have been to London, and to recollect our mental image of London as beautiful. After several related experiences, we begin to form general rules about individual propositions, abstracting broader and more general propositions from our individual experiences, and these are what we notionally apprehend.

Here of course it is easy to see how Newman has structured his argument along similar lines as Hume. For both, experience is the starting point of our knowledge, and our apprehension (though Hume doesn’t use that term) is surer of the former than the latter. Newman comes to the opposite conclusion of Hume though, and the lack of clarity surrounding the term “understanding”, is crucial as to why.

According to Newman, assent to the dogmata of the Christian religion requires both a real and notional apprehension of the principles contained within the dogmata, real assent being necessary for a relationship with God, and notional assent being necessary for theological thought. He goes on to investigate the operations of the intellect when it makes an act of faith.

Newman explains that to come to a notional apprehension of a personal God is easy (atheists can do it, through intellectual exercise and extrapolation, without giving assent (believing it)). The tougher task is to demonstrate that theists have real apprehension of God, when it is clear that we cannot perceive God by means of our senses. However, this is not the only time the senses have failed to discern what is truly there. Our senses can only perceive phenomenal reality (in the Kantian sense), so we are perceiving the “true substance” of things through our own subjective lens. He uses Kant’s theory of perception, but shows that even if we cannot come to a real apprehension of God through our physical senses, there are other faculties we possess which will allow us to perceive a transcendent God, like our conscience.

These admonitions for actions that are clearly seen to come from outside of our own desires and wishes provide the experience of God to us that allows for real apprehension of Him, and therefore real assent. There is no other mental faculty –aesthetic sense, common sense, etc.—which arouses such fear and guilt as conscience, and this is our internal impression of one facet of God: “Supreme Law-Giver”. This allows for real assent through a real apprehension of this aspect of God (I will let others speak to your ability to de-sensitize your conscience. This is merely an indicator of the kind of apprehension we can have of a personal God). Now we have real assent (remember, assent comes through apprehension).

A Clarification of the Relation of Inference to Assent

The latter portion of Grammar of Assent shifts the focus from the relation of assent to apprehension, to the relation between assent and inference. The Enlightenment thinker views assent as conditional, based on the strength of certainty of the premises, and a conditional conclusion would result in conditional assent, much the way Hume describes his principle of probability. Newman rejects this view because it in no way differentiates assent from inference; he argues that either we need to strike out the term assent from the language of philosophy because it is redundant, or else we need to discern the difference between inference and assent.

Since the characteristic of an inference is that it is conditional, assent must be unconditional. While generally assent follows inference, the two are not indissolubly bound together. Furthermore, since assent is unconditionally given, to assent to a truth necessitates a dismissal of contrary opinions, for if you believe that someone else who disagrees with you may also be correct then you have not truly assented to your proposition; you merely assert it (say it), while still doubting its truth.

The conclusiveness of a proposition is not synonymous with its truth, for something is true objectively, regardless of whether or not it has been proven. While that which is truly disproven cannot be true, it is not false because it was disproven.

We have seen how inference and assent are distinct, but the two are both tied up as a complex action. Christianity addresses minds both through the intellect and through the imagination through arguments too various to list directly, too personal and deep for words, too powerful and concurrent for refutation. Reason is not needed first and faith second (though this is the logical order), but one and the same teaching is in different aspects both object and proof, and elicits one complex act both of inference and of assent.5

The two acts are distinct but must work together in conjunction, for each informs the other. Newman describes this complex interaction as the Illative Sense.6 The illative sense is the collection of all indicators and proofs, logical, experiential, and notional, when looked at as a whole. Through both the notional apprehension of the theological system, and the real apprehension of the presence of God in our hearts (conscience), we can come to truly believe in Him with certainty based in that ‘illative sense.’


The beauty of Newman’s epistemology is that his foundations are the same as those of the philosophers with whom he is engaging. He confronts them using their own terms and language (such as the experiential inferences of Hume and the phenomena of Kant) showing the inconsistency of their own philosophy and proving the integrity of his argument.

Newman sees that liberalism is based on a misunderstanding of assent. Liberal philosophers understand assent as something that we cannot give to religious principles, either because we cannot understand their subject matter or because the propositions are not scientifically demonstrable. Newman shows that assent only requires apprehension, rather than complete “understanding” (that ambiguous term).

Regardless of whether you believe in God or not after reading this (it is not meant to convert), the point is that there is a rational explanation for belief in a personal God. This is not a “proof for God’s existence” as you’ll find elsewhere on the site. It’s an apologia of reasonable faith.
(Image credit: UCD and National Catholic Register)


  1. Apologia, 122.
  2. Newman, John Henry. An Essay in Aid of a Grammar of Assent (London: Longmans, Green, and Co, 1903), 6.
  3. Grammar, 19.
  4. Grammar, 20.
  5. Grammar, 492.
  6. Ian Ker, Healing the Wound of Humanity, (London: Darton, Longman and Todd, 1993), 8.
Daniel McGiffin

Written by

Daniel McGiffin graduated the University of Notre Dame with a degree in the Program of Liberal Studies. While working as a full-time fundraiser, he runs the blog Backroom Catholic and writes about politics and philosophy for the Apostolate. He currently lives in Washington D.C. with his beautiful wife and son. Follow Daniel online through his blog or on Twitter at @EpicusMontaigne.

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

  • It's worth reiterating that the book, An Essay of a Grammar of Assent, if a masterpiece that I completely fail to do justice to, either in my thesis or this blog post. I can't stress how important a work it is to anyone who wants to understand a faith-based epistemology.

  • Rationalist1

    The tenets that Newman proposes seem reasonable. They would be tenets one would hope one's doctor would follow, the engineer that designed bridges would follow and the mechanic that fixes your car would follow. Why should religion be different? And perhaps should is the wrong word to use, perhaps it's better phrased as why do we allow religion to be different?

    • This is something I had to unfortunately chop from my initial draft (around 5,000 words ago). Newman talks about the application of various faculties to various problems. He never bashes science, and even the tenets are wrong, not in and of themselves, but because they are applied to God, who is beyond the confines of this world. If you're studying something non-physical, you can't use physical means to understand it.

      • Rationalist1

        Not bashes science but if the statement "For Newman, liberalism is the belief that nothing outside of science has a certain answer" is true then he misrepresents science. Science doesn't give certainty. All knowledge is conditional. It's greatest admission of weakness is its greatest strength.

        • He doesn't misrepresent science, he calls out the people who think that science is the only way to certainty, and people who attribute to science certainty.

          He's critquing a subset of people (specifically academics of his time) who think this way. He doesn't say "science can acheive certainty" but that people who say it can (or is the only qway to) are wrong.

          • Rationalist1

            Thanks for the clarification.

      • primenumbers

        "If you're studying something non-physical, you can't use physical means to understand it." - which leaves the question of "how" are we meant to study something supernatural, and by what reliable methods can we determine our studies are leading us towards a true comprehension? It seems to me that such people who engage in such studies do so as a mental exercise without due care and attention to the known cognitive biases that effect us all.

        • The question of "how" is addressed in the article.

          • primenumbers

            Are you referring to this: "These admonitions for actions that are clearly seen to come from outside of our own desires and wishes provide the experience of God to us that allows for real apprehension of Him, and therefore real assent." - if so how does that take into account known cognitive biases, and by what means do we know such a method produces reliable results?

          • That is a part of the process, perhaps the first part of the process (an internal recognition of some outer law). If by cognitive bias you mean some people find some things ok and other things not ok, that's a little irrelevant since the fact that there are an intimations of conscience at all would point towards an outside "law-giver".

            The question here, about conscience, is a strict yes or no dilemma. But you can't "test" the method scientifically, but that is not a necessary component of knowledge, or apprehension to use a term with a set definition.

          • primenumbers

            When someone says "clearly", it sets alarm bells off for me, because it's not clear at all to me that they either come from outside or provide an experience of God for us. That people would agree with the (clearly) statement and think so would, to me, be engaging in a confirmation bias (to their pre-existing God belief).

            But as we're talking about an epistemology, I don't think we can theorize one and suggest people use it without demonstrating reliability, or it becomes the light which you're looking for your keys under, being not where you dropped the keys...

          • I'm not saying you will find God, but that you can know God. It's an epistemology, and I'd say a legitimate one, but it allows for different conclusions. It's simply showing that it can be a rational process.

          • primenumbers

            A process can be rational and yet still lead to erroneous results. I think that you can think you know God without actually knowing God, or knowing if there really is a God.

            I don't see how you can get to the epistemology being legitimate if you cannot demonstrate how it copes with known cognitive biases or that it is reliable. I mean, random guessing is an epistemology, but I think we can agree it's a very poor one. That doesn't mean "guessing" can't get the right answer some times, but even if it does, it doesn't even allow us to know with any reasonable chance of success if we got a right answer. "Guessing" as an epistemology works for both natural and supernatural, but when we actually test it, we find it's not reliable. We have no reason to assume that it works any better for super-natural than natural. However, it is rational (in a sense) to use "guessing" as a epistemology for the supernatural as "guessing" will lead to answers.

            It would seem, as R1 above points out, that Newman's epistemology can be used by other religions, by believers of other Gods (and God's plural and other concepts of God other than the Catholic one). I don't see why the epistemology could no be used for other things too, and tested just as we can with "guessing" to see how reliable it is.

          • Again, this is one part of the epistemology: establishing a theistic God.

            See my posts to R1, I had two ones that demonstrate how the illative sense can be used or tested, I apologize that I don't want to write a third, yet. Let me get some work done here first! Haha

          • Max Driffill

            By cognitive biases Primenumbers means a suite of psychological processes that cause us to deceive ourselves, often unintentionally. We tend to favor ideas we like and give them more wiggle room. These biases are really problematic where evidence cannot be adduced to settle matters (as in most of theology). Scientific methods tend to control for these foibles of our cognition, but not totally, which is why scientists are always checking each other's work (by trying to duplicate it say, or test an idea in a different way to see if it really works) and are pretty rough when critiquing each other's ideas.

          • Rationalist1

            Until any field embraces the fact that fooling ourselves is the easiest thing to do, no progress is made.

          • I see what you're talking about now. I'd say, in short, that I need to reread the book to be able to answer it as gracefully as Newman would, but he does control for cognitive bias. I'm going to post a link to the book (all of Newman's books are available for free on the internet).

          • primenumbers

            I'm sure the cognitive biases we know about today were not known in Newman's time. There's been a lot of recent work in experimental psychology that has taught us much in this area.

            If you have a specific reference to Newman's approach to dealing with cognitive biases, I'd be happy to read that section, but I don't have the bandwidth to go looking for myself I'm afraid.

          • Sure, I'll definitely try to find it for you.

          • Max Driffill

            Beat me to it.

        • Rationalist1

          The large diversity of outcome from those who attempt to study the supernatural through non-physical means should give any prudent person pause as to the efficacy of this approach. Now of course their particular method may be the right one, but honesty should bring it into serious doubt.

          • primenumbers

            Well R1 that's just it, and that's why faith is a poor epistemology.

          • The large diversity results from logic further down the line. The whole second half of his work is devoted to showing why Catholicism instead of any other religion. The first half merely why God instead of not-God, or rather instead of saying "there's no way you can no God".

            Again, this isn't supposed to convert you, I can't stress this enough. People can have the same epistemology and come to different conclusions and the epistemology is still solid.

          • Rationalist1

            So this position of Newman would apply to Adventists to Zoroastrians?

          • Yes? I don't see a problem with that. The conclusion is "You can apprehend God". He doesn't say what kind of God.

          • Andrew G.

            People can have the same epistemology and come to different conclusions and the epistemology is still solid.

            Can't disagree with this strongly enough - the only possible test of a "solid" epistemology is in producing agreement.

          • To be honest, I was about to call b.s. on myself.

            But a solid epistemology only works if applied properly. Newman's complete epistemology leads to only one belief: Catholicism.

            The part that I've presented is only the first step. After that step, without following through on the rest, people can go anywhere except to atheism :)

          • DAVID


            Thanks for the article. Let me quote your comment:

            The part that I've presented is only the first step. After that step, without following through on the rest, people can go anywhere except to atheism :)

            If an atheist follows what Newman has said, couldn't they appropriate it to atheism? Couldn't they acknowledge that they infer some things, assent to other things, and conclude that atheism is the best overall explanation of reality? Or does the reality of the conscience make this impossible?

          • Rationalist1

            Again, it's a form of epistemological relativism. That sort of defeats the purpose of epistomology.

  • Rationalist1

    Cardinal Newman, a brilliant man, who wrote some fascinating books and essays. In particular I'm partial to his "Idea of a University" as his thoughts on education. It's still on my bookshelf.

    But religion can lead to excesses. The following quote from Blessed Cardinal Newman might be dismissed a hyperbole, but one has to wonder how such a statement could ever be made and made by such a thinker and to state it in anyway as a moral statement.

    "The Church holds it better for sun and moon to drop from Heaven, for the earth to fail, and for all the many millions on it to die of starvation in the most extreme agony... than that one soul... should commit one single venial sin, should tell one willful untruth or should steal one poor farthing without excuse".

    • Josh

      It's a corollary of Matt. 10:28.

    • If you accept the premise of a loving God, to whom you owe everything, then this conclusion, while shocking, makes sense. Almost anything is preferable to spitting in God's face, which is what sin is.

      All sin is a form of blasphemy. Luckily, the Church will never be put in a position to enact such a disaster to prevent such a sin.

      • Rationalist1

        But what if people took it seriously and believed it to be true. Think of all the things you could do to prevent someone from sinning.

        • But what could you do to prevent someone from sinning without sinning? If everyone took it seriously, they would never sin.

      • Sage McCarey

        But we atheists don't accept the premise of a loving god. I don't owe anything to an imaginary being who is so insecure it demands constant praise and worship, esp since it gave such unclear instructions about itself, what it is and what it really wants. It is a shocking statement and it doesn't make any sense to me. Sin is spitting in god's face? How very dramatic.

    • VelikaBuna

      Benedict has said religions without reason can
      lead to fanaticism, while rational thinking without faith can lead to
      excessive pride and intolerance.

    • But this^^^ is how we get off-topic, now isn't it, rationalist?

      • Rationalist1

        It is off topic but it's a contrast to his other very solid reasoning.

        • Yeah, but let's try and focus it on the discussion of his epistemology, and continue this conversation elsewhere. I think I've seen you post that quote elsewhere on the site, and I know you'll get a chance to do so again haha.

  • I'm going to have to read this a few more times before I have enough confidence to say that I really understand it, but I have a few initial thoughts. I don't think Newman is necessarily giving a rational explanation for faith because his underlying epistemology already depends on faith. This illative sense idea could be summarized as "trust your gut," and I'm highly suspicious of arguments relying on abstract neo-Platonic notions of beauty. As I said, I plan to read through this again, but for now it looks like big philosophical linguistic word-game.

    • Hey Kacy,

      The illative sense is not "go with your gut" as it is, examine all the evidence, not just scientific, but logical, approximative, allegorical, notional, literally ALL aspects of a problem. The scientific ones are included in that as well, just not to the exclusion of the others.

      • Rationalist1

        But is that a methodology that applies to any other area of human inquiry except theology?

        • Yes, especially in day-to-day things. You use it all the time. Figuring out how long it'll take to get to work, for example. You take prior experience, abstractions about this day (say, Friday) the weather (rainy), the construction in your subdivision, your estimation of how long it takes you under "ideal conditions", and a thousand other variables that have been approximated and abstracted that lead you to say "it'll take 45 minutes to get in to work today". Unless you live in the DC area, in which case you say "I'm never getting to work".

          Or when you're cooking, and you're not strictly following a recipe, but combining things that, through abstraction and experience, tell you it'll be tasty, or you'll need this much food to serve this many.

          These two examples don't provide certainty, and I'm sure there are better examples. The illative sense is the amalgation of all information, reasoning, data, intuition, abstraction, et al. You use it all the time without realizing it.

          • I agree we do this in every day life, but when presented with more scientifically accurate information, we adjust our actions and beliefs accordingly. I modify my baking recipe, or take a new route to work if there is an obstruction. Science can give us a more accurate way to do these things, whether its proportions in a recipe (Afterall, baking is a form of chemistry.) or the speeds we should go to properly time trafic lights (granted one rarely drives under conditions that can serve as a control). This is why I asked about a heirarchy in ways of knowing.

          • But I'm saying science is folded into the illative sense, not opposed to it.

          • I'm granting the illative sense, but simply saying that scientific knowledge is its most accurate facet.

          • I agree, in terms of physical things. But I maintain there's more to us than simply physical, and there are areas where science should bow to a higher thing, such as ethics.

          • Rationalist1

            But ethics is all physical. There is not an ethical action that does not have a physical manifestation.

          • But ethics should admit to something higher than the merely physical. The reason behind the things we do is immaterial, even if there is a physical consequence.

          • Susan

            I'm not sure what you mean by "higher than" or even "immaterial". These are concepts that are used frequently with the assumption that their meaning is clear.

            It isn't. I think it would be useful if you took the time to define them.

          • Higher than - of greater importance, priority, urgency.

            Immaterial - Not housed strictly in the physical realm.

          • Susan

            Not very clear though, Daniel. Thank you for responding.

            "Of greater importance" than the physical realm doesn't explain anything.

            "Not housed strictly in the physical realm" just tells me what something is not. It doesn't explain it on its own terms.

          • Alright, let me try again (sorry, I'm at work and this is totally distracting me (and I love it)).

            Higher Than: Superordinate: Federal Law is higher than state law.

            Immaterial: Actually, this word is literally a negation of the word "material". So it's "not material". I'd interpret it as spiritual. Or idealogical. Or just an idea, abstraction.

          • Rationalist1

            That ethics have to deal with something higher than merely physical is open to debate but all ethical actions are physical. Can you give a counter example?

          • I don't disagree, but the reason why this and not that aren't physical, nor is the question of "what is good" simply answered in the physical realm.

          • Rationalist1

            Speaking of "What is good" I just read Plato's Meno to my 14 year old and he loved it. All of the examples there and any I can think of for the good are physical actions. Can you name a good that has no physical attribute.

          • No matter what I name, are you going to chalk it up to dopamine and seratonin?

            Happiness and love come to mind. Companionship too, though I guess that's "physical" since its brought on by proximity.

            We have discipline, dedication, etc. All of these things manifest in physical ways, but I don't believe that's where they stem from.

          • Rationalist1

            No. I'm not going to chalk it up to chemicals although those chemical exists. But when a something like love can only be described in physical actions. Could a person be described ad loving without a physical action. Even a stylite isolated from the world on a pole could be said as loving (albeit I would say unrequited) as they are physically praying.

          • Does writing have a physical action? I mean yes, putting words to paper. But composing? Construction arguments? Cognitive abilities?

          • Rationalist1

            Only if the paper and pen is physical, not metaphysical.

          • But thinking and imagining. Physical?

          • Rationalist1

            Yes, compose inside an MRI machine and you can see what's happening.

          • Alright then. The effects are physical and the origins aren't.

          • Rationalist1

            The latter is the subject for another discussion.

          • You're right.

          • Susan

            But you've given no explanation for the origins not being physical.

            You just seem to be saying they aren't.

            This is where you lose me.

            Depending on what you mean by physical.

          • I didn't mean for my question about seratonin to be confrontational, I'm sorry about that

          • No matter what I name, are you going to chalk it up to dopamine and seratonin?

            Our feelings about the good can be. But, what about "the good" itself? R1 asked, "Can you name a good that has no physical attribute."

          • "Can you name a good that has no physical attribute."

            What about justice or compassion or mercy? I have to say that I am not sure whether they exist, but if they do exist, they don't have physical attributes. (Does the number 1 exist? It is a difficult question. Certainly in science fiction there is often the assumption that in attempting to communicate with an alien race, one way to start out is with mathematical concepts, which it seems perfectly reasonable to expect another intelligent species to understand.)

          • Rationalist1

            Can you define justice or compassion or mercy without resorting to describing a physical action? Can justice or compassion or mercy be manifested for a person living alone isolated from other people. How would he or she exhibit those attributes?

          • Can you define justice or compassion or mercy without resorting to describing a physical action?

            No, but I can't define the number 1—or anything else—without any physicality at all on my part. If I were trying to describe the number 1 to a child, I would use one item, I would produce words by breathing and using my vocal cords and lips and tongue, I would use drawings, and so on. But that doesn't mean the number 1 itself, or any other abstraction, is physical.

          • The reason behind the things we do is immaterial, even if there is a physical consequence.

            Got evidence?

          • Rationalist1

            Also to echo Kacy in eveyday life we get that feedback and (hopefully) alter our actions based upon revised knowledge. We can probably list scores of ways we alter our approach to things based upon new information. How is this manifested in this epidemiologist or is it?

          • Again, you refine your theories in line with science, as the Church has done. Science is part of the illative sense, so of course it informs your final decisions. Its just not the only thing that informs your decisions.

          • Rationalist1

            My question was not inform, but alter. In everyday life as you say we use all these factors (let's assume that now). But in everyday life we get feedback and change our views/opinions/beliefs. Does that happen in theology or is the end product defines and one has to revise one's factors to obtain the endpoint?

          • Hasn't it happened with the Church? From where I see it, the more we learn about science, the more sublime and beautiful His Creation is, and theology has changed to reflect (some people's theologies, anyway).

            Theology is distinct from doctrine in many ways. Theology has certainly changed.

          • Rationalist1

            So do Newman's arguments only apply to theology and theologians and not belief and doctrine/dogma?

          • Are you trying to trap me into saying something silly?

            Newman's argument applies to epistemology. Doctrine/dogma, being Revealed by God, is not the purview of epistemology, because these things weren't "discovered" or "thought of" (in the Catholics viewpoint).

            Discipline, devotions, ways of thinking/talking about God... as long as these things don't contradict dogma, they are informed by theology. Dogma also informs Theology.

          • Rationalist1

            Not trying to trap, just trying to pin down and this helped. So Newman's approach to epistemology has nothing to do with doctrine and dogma. One just accepts those as given. But if dogma informs theology then oes it trump any epistomelogical methodology.

          • Any theology must be in line with doctrine, doctrine does not answer to Theology.

            Theology can explain doctrine, the rationale behind it, etc, but it can't change it.

            Doctrine and Dogma aren't the realm of speculation, they're given packaged up and presented with a little bow on top. They also aren't the realm of theology, but the foundations for it. They're not touched by epistemology because of how we came to know them.

          • Rationalist1

            I mean this question honestly, why do religious people care about epistemology (within the religious realm) then, if knowledge is handed to them.

          • So why aren't we all just fundamentalist?

            The short answer is that I believe God gave us reason for a purpost. He made the universe complicated, but decipherable, and wonderful to decipher. He gave us imagination to think up things that were unthinkable to people one lifetime ago.

            I don't think He gave us these things for no reason, and I think it's almost blasphemous to not use them.

            He gave us dogma as a foundation, but He wants us to build the structure.

          • Rationalist1

            So it's like science and engineering. Science determines the laws and engineers apply them and mess them up. :->

          • Actually, yes. That relationship works nicely.

          • Rationalist1

            Great, Science is God. Engineering is the work of the devil. :->

            I was a physic major at an university filled with engineers.

          • Many saints have compared theologians to devils Hahah.

          • articulett

            And you imagine that you-- like all those theists of conflicting faiths-- have deciphered right-- unlike all those "others".

            But why should those outside your faith think you are any different than those "others"?

            And why would any god who wanted people to believe certain things be so vague and cryptic. Does he enjoy holy wars? Or is he imaginary?

          • You're right, articulett! I never had that objection raised before. I guess I'm going to become the first atheist moderator on this site!

          • articulett

            Yes-- but how could you find out if you were wrong?

            With faith-- you never test the null hypothesis. But science does. It would devise a test-- "if X is true I should expect to see Y when I do Z, but if X is false, then I should expect to see A when I do Z"

            Theists seem to make it so that all answers confirm their faith.

      • Thanks for the clarification. I know this is an introduction to Newman's epistemology, but I'm curious how he would handle a sitution in which faith, beauty, approximative, logical, or moral senses of understanding come in conflict with scientufic evidence. Most people come to their understanding of the world through methods that are not scientific. Does this illative sense give room for a hierarchy of understanding?

        • I paraphrase him as saying something disproven cannot be true, but something that cannot be proven is not therefore false. This is faithful to the way he approached the world.

          The illative sense, insofar as it applies to the act of inference (rather than assent) does supply a conditional response. Assent, however, requires an unconditional response (like yes/no). So illative sense works with either, it depends on the question asked.

          • My atheist view isn't a positive claim about the non-existance of God. You cannot prove a null hypothesis, but I see no reason to believe that conscience/morality/the illative sense can draw a positive conclusion for God, especially in light of modern anthroplogical research which shows that the god idea is not universally evident. At best, this is inconclusive support, in which case I default back to the null hypothesis.

          • And I see the conscience as an internal manifestation of an external law-giver. I want to do something, but something else makes me feel guilty, and that something isn't me, because I want to do this thing.

          • Susan

            You haven't explained why that requires an "external" lawgiver.

            >I want to do something, but something else makes me feel guilty, and that something isn't me, because I want to do this thing.

            You want to do it and you don't want to do it. You are conflicted. Why is that something not you?

          • Because if it was an internal law giver, that wouldn't make sense. If I want it to happen, why would I stop myself.

          • Rationalist1

            If you ask that question that more than just rhetorically then you need an external law-giver.

          • I'm sure I understood your post, R

          • Rationalist1

            If you cannot impose restrictions on your actions independent of an external law giver, then you probably need an external law giver. (Note : In no way do I think this would apply to you)

          • Ah I see sorry about that.

            Even in relatively small matters, this can be seen. Stealing a candy bar leaves me with a heavy feeling on my chest, even if I know I got away with it clean (I haven't done this in years, this was back in grade school, and I still very much remember the feeling). I did it several times all the same. Sometimes I ate it, sometimes I snuck it back, sometimes I just gave it away.

            Anecdotes aren't the source of Truth and Knowledge, but it was little experiences like these that Made me sure my conscience wasn't there for *my* pleasure.

          • Susan

            But all you have identified here is inner conflict.
            How does that connect to a lawgiver at all? It's quite a leap.

          • Because the force that opposes my will is not mine, because my will is for this thing. Like stealing the candy bar.

            Really, I shouldn't give two seconds thought to pocketing a candy bar and walking away with it. But I do. In fact, it might weigh me down for days. But why should it? It was exactly what I wanted to do.

            My will should all be in line with stealing it: I want it, no one is hurt, and it cost .50. It's absurd that it should make me feel guilty, and yet it does. That interior conflict shouldn't exist. At least, that's how I see it.

          • Rationalist1

            No. Because reason has led us to realize that in order for a society to work to benefit everyone certain rules need to be followed. And the fact that "even" atheists who acknowledge no higher power controlling their actions come to the same conclusion points away from needing a law giver.

          • Susan

            I agree Rationalist1. But I'm not sure it's just reason that creates this conflict.

            We are social animals. It doesn't seem surprising that we would have conflicting impulses, the impulses that appetites bring and the pull to behave "fairly", not steal candy bars from our fellow primates. Even without reason, the inner conflict would seem a likely thing to experience as our brains process our decisions.

            There seems to be more evidence for this than for an "external lawgiver".

          • Rationalist1

            Of course it;s more than reason, it's empathy, experience, ethical discussions as well as reason.

          • It's like, the illative sense, man.

          • Susan

            I assumed that you understood that. I wasn't really making the point for your sake. Sorry if it seemed that way.

          • Rationalist1

            Thanks. I concur.

          • severalspeciesof

            Daniel, I see what you are driving at. That there must be something 'external' that is giving you this conflict, but this 'external' is actually 'you within society'. Here is a thought experiment. Suppose tomorrow when you wake up, everyone is gone. You are the lone survivor. You know this to be utterly true. Now aside from the fact that that would obviously give you the creeps [it would myself ;-) ] as you walk by that same candy bar, and if you wanted it, I'd bet you would take it. The difference is that you would no longer be in a 'society'...

            Does this help?

          • If I ate another person's body, I'd probably feel guilty.

            The candy bar belongs to no one anymore. I do understand what you mean, and society plays a role in it, but by the time I'm in middle school, I understand that one candy bar doesn't affect anyone else in a meaningful way.

          • Rationalist1

            "If I ate another person's body, I'd probably feel guilty." You go to communion, right? :->

            "one candy bar doesn't affect anyone else in a meaningful way." But it affected you and it affects other as they learn that if you steal you can't be trusted.

          • Touche. If I had to cook another persons body for physical sustenance. There we go.

            It wouldn't affect others, I knew I wouldn't be caught, I literally knew no one would know (I'd never do it if there was a risk). So my rep was safe, but it did affect me, to a degree I'm surprised at even today.

            Mind you, stealing was never a huge thing for me, so my parents never had to tell me stealing was wrong (I mean, I'm sure they did, but I have no memories of it outside of memorizing the 10 commandments (no, I'm not saying the 10 Commandements are the only way we know how to do ethics)..

          • severalspeciesof

            I'm sure you would feel guilty, as I would. But I think (pertaining to the candy bar, not cannibalism *...ooo, brains... shakes head...* Sorry ;-) ) it's the concept of stealing that was bothering you, not the fact that you felt there was nothing intrinsically valuable in the candy bar. But actually, I disagree with your take on stealing the candy bar not affecting anyone in any meaningful way. There IS an effect, however small...

          • It's not meaningful though. .50 less income. I didn't mean no effect, but no lasting/serious effect. I didn't feel guilty about what I inflicted on the man selling candy

          • severalspeciesof

            I understand that, but the meaningful part is part and parcel to the concept 'stealing creates mistrust' even mistrust on oneself as the thief...

          • articulett

            Really? I have no desire to steal. Societies work better with trust; and I don't think I'd feel very good about myself if I was a thief. But when theists tell me that they resist temptation because of god, I sort of feel like I should encourage them to keep believing. They sound like they'd have no empathy or inner direction without envisioning an invisible overlord keeping score. Why do you think Norway is so peaceful with so many atheists. http://img835.imageshack.us/img835/4691/norwayhell.jpg Do you think it's god or belief-in-god that is keeping as moral as they seem to be naturally?

            Of course even my dog looks guilty when I scold her. I think she'd steal a candy bar, but I'd blame myself if I left "forbidden food" in her path.

            I think you are confusing your lack of understanding about why you feel a certain way as a justificatioin for your belief-- sort of the way people might attribute their sexual impulses or sex drive to the devil--

            Religions and other superstitions seem to hijack our "need" to understand where our thoughts, feelngs, and fears, are coming from.

          • I have no desire to steal for its own sake, but there are things I want that other people have, and they won't even miss them much!

            I'm kidding, but in middle school that was definitely the case. It didn't happen often, but it happened.

            This has nothing to do with what we were talking about, articulett. I have no lack of understanding for why I feel a way, I understand the Kantian moral imperative, I understand how society must be built on trust, and yet I can't understand why the feeling of guilt exists. It's unlike any other emotion. It's not fear, not sadness, maybe a little of both with some oppression and remorse mixed in.

            Regardless, if you've come here to simply call religion "superstition", it doesn't seem like you're *looking* for meaningful dialogue. But that's just from where I'm sitting.

          • Susan

            >Regardless, if you've come here to simply call religion "superstition", it doesn't seem like you're *looking* for meaningful dialogue. But that's just from where I'm sitting.

            how would we distinguish religion from superstition?

            I think that's what articulett keeps getting at. She's not trolling. It's a perfectly fair question. But that's just from I'm sitting. :-)

          • I don't see how a productive conversation can come from two people when one party thinks the of the other person as a "basically-Santa-Clause-believer.

            I don't ask every atheist I talk with to prove to me that they're moral, or that it took something more than just a bad run in with religious folk to turn them off to God, or anything like that. I try to talk to people as individuals, and on this blog, there are quite a few of the atheist commenters I look forward to talking to everyday.

            And then there are the ones who tell me I think and reason like a child.

          • Susan

            Daniel, if I thought articulett was bringing this up as a cheap, disparaging tactic, I wouldn't support her. But as this is supposed to be a respectful dialogue (and I agree and am glad that most of the exchanges here are), what she is saying does get to a key issue.
            How do we tell one imaginary being from another? This is not meant as insult.
            This article is an examination of epistemology, isn't it?

          • primenumbers

            We can respect people and people's right to their beliefs without actually respecting the belief itself. If a belief evolves from a demonstrably poor (as in unreliable) epistemology, should we respect that belief - I think not.

            So yes, you can have a good dialogue even without respecting beliefs as long as we keep to the subject and don't attack people. Set the tone and the discussion will mostly continue accordingly.

          • Kevin Aldrich

            I think it makes sense to assume that guilt for stealing is just built into human nature. Because we are social beings, we have inhibitions and guilt to dissuade us from screwing over other people.

            If God exists, we can say the moral sense is in us due to his design-creating evolution. If God does not exist, they are there due to the designed-looking-outcome nature of evolution.

          • primenumbers

            I don't see how you can think that such an internal dialogue should or should not exist. It's not as if there's a mental blueprint we can look up to see how our brains should perform in optimal circumstances.

            It sounds like what you're feeling when you talk about being weighed down for days is cognitive dissonance, where you're trying to manage the dissonance of doing something you think is wrong with your image of self as a good person.

            To suggest that the part of the dissonance that is against your wrong-doing is not your self-image of being a good person but some external entity seems to be confirmation bias on your pre-existing religious beliefs.

            Your argument seems to be from interior conflict, what I would call cognitive dissonance, to God. For a good understanding of cognitive dissonance, try "Mistakes were made (but not by me)"

          • Max Driffill

            "Because the force that opposes my will is not mine,"
            This is mere assertion isn't it? How can you say this? How can you know it?
            "because my will is for this thing. Like stealing the candy bar."
            Is that candy bar all you want? ever?

            "Really, I shouldn't give two seconds thought to pocketing a candy bar and walking away with it. But I do. In fact, it might weigh me down for days. But why should it? It was exactly what I wanted to do."
            But there are also a host of other things you want to do. The human brain is not ever tethered to one thing, we are always battling with competing wants that cannot all be satisfied.

            "My will should all be in line with stealing it: I want it, no one is hurt, and it cost .50. It's absurd that it should make me feel guilty, and yet it does. That interior conflict shouldn't exist. At least, that's how I see it."

            It really isn't absurd. Stealing the candy bar (most of which haven't cost .50 pennies in a long while I will remind you) can have a great many consequences, no least of which is feeling that you have violated your own integrity. You can lose freedom, more money that the cost of the stolen item, you can loose friends, or at least take a severe decline in the level of their esteem. I am really surprised that you don't see it. Have you just not thought it through?

          • Phil Rimmer

            I don't want to draw attention away from the more philosophical responses to this issue lower down, but it might be helpful to describe a little of how the human brain often generates conflicts and how we have evolved to resolve those conflicts. How, in fact, some of our most recognisably human attributes are hard wired into us.

            We have many primitive motors for action, bequeathed us by our deep ancestors, hundreds of million years ago. Early on what is now our brain stem originated actions like feeding with little or no thought (sic). Slightly later specialised brain organs like the amygdala overlaid the stem and helped identify threats in our environment and equip us to flight or fight type responses and such like, with precious little more thought. Much later we started to develop a sophisticated, inference generating, problem solving rind to cover all of this rather simplistically automatic stuff of basic needs, desires and defences. The simple basics worked fast because it was simple and because it was near to the levers operating our body mechanics.our body, and it needed to be for competitive reasons.

            The smart Alec stuff sitting on top of this could only start to work on these visceral impulses once they had manifested themselves, and because the rind contained quite a sequenced stack of inferences drawn from earlier inferences its final outputs could well be too late to contribute for or against an initiated impulsive action.

            The human brain contains two beautiful sorts of cells that define the behaviours we most identify as human. Mirror neurons, a mainly mammal invention, are wildly more present in humans and help us feel what others feel and copy what they do and Spindle (Von Economo) cells, which are broadband data carriers that speed our slow-coach but deep thinking cortex outputs to areas like the Anterior Cingulate Cortex, the brain's error checker and veto-er of impulsive actions.

            Mirror neurons both help us feel others pain and form cultures of shared values and behaviours. It is a source of our mutual and co-operative selves. We know and understand (but only after much whirring of cortical cogs) that theft will hurt someone like we've been hurt in the past and risk getting us ostracized. Late in the day this "don't do it" signal is rushed to the ACC veto-er to stay our impulsively kleptomaniac hand.

            Next time your elderly mum or nan says something a little thoughtless, remember that signal from the cortex to the ACC was probably on its way to stop that impulsive comment on your haircut. It just arrived a bit too late.

            We have two thoughts about the action spread out in time because of the evolutionary nature of our brain.

          • Susan

            Thank you Phil Rimmer.

            Excellent post.

          • Phil Rimmer

            V. kind, Susan.

          • I often consider that lower layers of our brain provide a "world" for successive layers, and that makes the abstraction happen, just from structure. What if we grew a whole new layer that had its "world' be the thought processes we currently have at the top, but to which we have no conscious access?

          • Phil Rimmer

            1. I think it entirely right to see them as worlds because of how they evolved and because layers have to deal with only outputs from other layers and often have no deeper "insight" (in many instances, at least).

            2. I think our cortices already sit under a further superstructure forming a hierarchical inference stack quite akin to our own cortex. Its a bit ropey and thin, but its getting cross coupled quite quickly now. It is human society/culture. A shared super cortex...It creates interesting identity problems.

            I could almost see stand up comedians serve the role of the spindle cells feeding straight in to our ACC error checkers. A couple of serious papers point to fMRI response in the ACC to comic material.

          • Cool.

          • Susan

            I hope that this exchange between you and Q. Quine doesn't disappear in the disqus vortex. It's terribly important in terms of Cardinal Newman's and Daniel's assumption that the feeling of conflict implies an external lawgiver.

            It's an example of the way in which humans can be terribly wrong when we are confused by our own experiences and our tendency to look for simple answers that free us from confusion, whether those answers are rational or not.

            So much easier to look for an emotionally comfortable answer than to really analyze the question.

            This is not meant disrespectfully. I've been guilty of the same many times. We are very quick to fool ourselves.

            There is no line to be drawn between inner conflict and an external being who creates laws.

          • Phil Rimmer

            Absolutely right, Susan. I think we often do ourselves a disservice of simplification when imagining ourselves as mere meat machines plus a shiny essence. By truly understanding why we or others might be inclined to do x or y against our better judgment, we can better free ourselves from some of the accidental and less helpful aspects of our genetic heritage.

            The long evolutionary history of oxytocin and oxytocin like hormones is another area key to our humanity and both "good" and "bad" behaviours. Co-opted probably first in mammals as a childbirth facilitator, it was later employed to create the calm patient bond between mother and suckling off-spring. Still later it appears to have been co-opted within wider families and tribes to create an as-if-kin level of bonding eg between non-kin mating couples. Humans uniquely share child rearing with non kin, an absolutely essential behaviour to reduce the equally unique burden of slow to mature off-spring. This could not happen without the trust of others as-if-kin, as-if-parent wrought by the hormone.

            The dark side to oxytocin is that in creating in-groups, it must by default create out-groups.

            It is sobering to think that our warm fuzzy feelings, our empathies for some, might not be the most honest basis for our morality.

            If Newman places reason above faith (#4) he gets my vote every time. Beautiful as a Shakespeare Love Sonnet or the Song od Songs is, necessary as Love is, the warm feelings of faith, as-if-a-child, as-if-a-father, must step back to let morality through, championed as it must be by cool, clear reason.

          • severalspeciesof

            Very good Phil, I just learned a lot there...

          • Michael Murray

            I don't understand why you think conflicting impulses in your brain can only be explained by an external source for the conflict. Phil Rimmer gives an excellent explanation of the complicated "mess" which is the brain. Is it any surprise that some parts are in conflict with other parts ? Or that an internal check on our behaviour would be a useful thing to develop amongst social animals rather than it always being the lead animal that has to give us a thump to get us to conform ? Monkeys show signs of guilt and conscience.

            At a personal level, as a mild sufferer of OCD, I'm well aware of my brains internal conflicts. Usually they are about should I or should I not go back and check the door is locked. I can have in my mind both a whole load of emotion that screams for resolution by returning and checking the door and also the knowledge that the best thing for my mental health is to keep walking.

            There is of course another whole conversation to have about the statement "isn't me". What's me ?

  • Rationalist1

    Can this epistemology be used to justify all religions or only Catholicism? I think I know the answer but why couldn't a Presbyterian use it or a Christian Scientist or a Muslim equally make these statements?

    • This first part can be, yes. Or it can be used to justify atheism, it simply shows that there is a rational thought that goes into faith, even if its in the background.

      The second half of his book lays out the argument for Catholicism over all other religions, but this being an atheist/Catholic site, I (mercifully) wasn't required to try to cram that in here too.

      • Rationalist1

        If it can be used to justify anything, why does only theology need it? Science doesn't, medicine (save for some new age holistic types) doesn't and I would drive across a bride built by someone who based their design on approximate, allegorical and notional means.

        • Because those things are completely physical. Physical problems have physical solutions. Metaphysical problems don't. See my responses to you below haha. I think between these three we should be able to put together one holistic response.

  • Kevin Aldrich

    I going to read this piece carefully (it's long!) but I want to raise an objection on behalf of all my atheist friends. ANOTHER COLUMN BY A CATHOLIC! When will an atheist be enlisted to argue something?!

    • Andre Boillot


      Have you drafted and submitted a column? Have you submitted or recommended columns by atheists? Have you contacted any atheist bloggers / writers about contributing to this site?

      Just curious.

      • Kevin Aldrich


  • For anyone who actually wishes to engage with Newman instead of my brief excerpt, you can read it online, for free, here. http://www.newmanreader.org/works/grammar/

    • Longshanks

      The pay-wall of having to buy it on Amazon was going to be my only comment on the substance of the article.

      • So you don't have a comment?

        • For the record, I was looking for your comments. I want your comments, Longshanks.

          • Longshanks

            Er...I can't tell...if...jokes.

            Is a comment indicating a lack of a comment a comment?

            But seriously, I work 3rd shift, it's close to bed time, and the article deserves more time and thought than I have at the moment.

            I should've said earlier that the only thing that jumped out that I felt comfortable offering a comment on was the pay-wall to access the subject matter.

            You've fixed that, so....I'm out.

          • It jokes, don't worry.

  • Also, here is his note on the alternative between atheism and Catholicism. To him, they are the only two choices.


    A perfectly consistent mind must embrace the one or the other. So kudos to everyone here.

    • Octavo

      "A perfectly consistent mind must embrace the one or the other. So kudos to everyone here."

      I read the linked article, but I'm not sure I follow this argument. What makes pagans, Hindus, or Buddhists less consistent than Catholics or atheists?

      ~Jesse Webster

    • josh

      "And then I reflected that a
      law implied a law-giver, and that so orderly and majestic a growth of
      doctrine in the Catholic Church, contrasted with the deadness and
      helplessness, or the vague changes and contradictions in the teaching
      of other religious bodies, argued a spiritual Presence in Rome, which
      was nowhere else, and which constituted a presumption that Rome was
      right..." - Newman

      I'm kind of blown away by how audaciously wrong this is. I don't know if I should start on the completely unmerited 'law implies a law-giver', the absurdity of the 'law' being averred, the ahistoric belief that Catholic doctrine grew in an 'orderly and majestic' fashion, or the cultural ignorance to think that other religions are full of 'vague changes and contradictions' by contrast. This is not a man with a good epistemology.

      • Rationalist1

        One wonders why the followers of other religions/denominations don't see the illogic, vagueness, contradictions, disorderlyness and lack of majesty in their doctrines. These people are not fools, they are intelligent, thoughtful, prayerful, sincere people. Is there a take away for us in that observation?

        • josh

          Something about motes and beams comes to mind. :)

      • primenumbers

        Reads like special pleading to me for his rationalization of why only Catholicism.

    • articulett

      In my world, the choice is between naturalism and supernaturalism. All the supernatural believers belong in the same category-- Mormons, Muslims, Catholics, Voodoo practioners, rain dancers, Scientologists, believers in New Age thingies, believers in Santa, etc. They all believe in things that cannot be established to exist. Moreover, many feel special-- "in on secret knowledge" and "saved" for having such beliefs.

      But there is no valid method for distinguishing true supernatural things from illusions of such. There is no way to distinguish real immaterial beings (whatever that means) from mythological beings or imaginary beings or non-existant beings. When we've found out the real reasons for things once attributed to gods, the answer never turns out to be something supernatural! It turns out Zeus doesn't cause lightening afterall. And demons don't cause disease. And Santa is not the one putting presents under Christmas trees each year! Prayer performs no better than wishing on a star when tested and there probably are no such thing as witches either. I can't prove that there are no real curses or magic spells, but that is not a valid reason for anyone to think that there is.

      And yet ever believer in the supernatural imagines that THEY have found a way to distinguish real supernatural things from illusions of such-- unlike all those others who believe different religions, myths, superstitions, schizophrenic delusions, obvious mispereptions and the like. I guess they think they are smarter to have found the true "woo" while all those other poor saps just THINK that theirs is truer. The supernatural believer doesn't think they can be fooled the same way most of the people throughout history have been fooled.

      Every believer in the supernatural envisions a false dichotomy whereby their the world is divided between those who believe their beliefs and those who don't-- and then they mistakingly conclude that having 2 options means that each has an equal liklihood of being true. As if "Invisible penguins exist" and "Invisible penguins do not exist" have an equal chance of being truth-- a 50% chance. But this is very poor reasoning indeed. I would say that the chance that the immaterial beings you believe in (gods, ghosts, demons, etc.) has an exactly equal chance of existing as the invisible penguins you don't believe. I don't see a reason to believe in souls-- much less all the gods, demons, afterlives, superpowers and stuff people glom onto this notion.

      To me "woo" reasoning is always backwards... someone is convinced to believe via someone they trust or feelings or fear-- and then they look for rational reasons to support those beliefs. They are more interesting in keeping the faith, then finding out if they might be wrong.

      • I don't think that's a fair generalization to make.

        • Octavo

          It seems like a fair criticism to me. What is insufficient about it?

          ~Jesse Webster

          • I don't see myself in the same camp as Santa Clause believers.

          • Octavo

            Fair enough - Santa Claus is a fictional hybridization that is not really intended for adult belief. What about the others, though? Aren't you in the same camp as other supernaturalists, such as practitioners of ceremonial magick, Hindus, Houngans, and animists?

            How do you decide whose experiences are more valid?

            ~Jesse Webster

          • No. Maybe we're near the Hindu camp, but we're not in the same state park as the others (though I confess to ignorance of Houngans).

            But if you don't see that about Catholics, then I don't know how to convince you, but I'm not sure why you're here instead of a nature-pagan site.

          • Octavo

            A lot of the discussion so far has been very dualistic. Atheists vs. Catholics. Natural vs Supernatural. However, there are more than two choices in religion and philosophy and the others are worth exploring since they can tell us more about where the various supernatural epistemologies can take people.

            I am trying to find out what sort of epistemological system you use to figure out which religion is true. How do you determine whose divine revelation counts as divine? What mistakes are the other religions making in their epistemology that the Catholics do not make?

            ~Jesse Webster

          • articulett

            Exactly! This is what bothered me as a kid. Each religionist had their own way of confirming their faith was true. My Mormon friend said to pray and read The Book of Mormon and god would tell you it was true via some sign-- and if you still didn't believe it, you couldn't go to the highest heaven.

            It seems to be a very willy nilly way for learning the truth, and sort of sadistic to think of a god (that wanted to be "believed in") involved in such a crazy game-- especially if the stakes were ETERNITY.

            Clearly, if scientists truly believed the stakes were ETERNITY, they'd be doing every test they could think of to make sure they had the right faith... since everyone is going to hell according to somebody's religion!

            Even as a kid, I could see it was a no-win game... the guys all seemed so sure that they had the really true religion (so much so that they fought wars over it) and the women in my life seemed more afraid NOT to believe-- just in case hell was real...but this was as true with conflicting faiths as it was with my own. And there was no test or rubric to tell us the right beliefs from the wrong ones-- nor was there a way to fix things if you couldn't make yourself "believe in" the right invisible guy with the right amount of fervor/piety.

            Every religionists seems to imagine that the people of their religion are the most moral of all-- that they are the "good guys". I thought this myself back in my Catholic days and, later, when I believed New Age thingies because they "felt" true-- and a lot more "spiritual" than Catholicism. But I don't believe in "spirits" any more. And I now realize that every believer in the supernatural is fooling themselves in a very similar way.

          • Octavo

            That's why I think it's important to use some of the methods of science when trying to build an epistemology.

            As Richard Feynman said "Science is a way of trying not to fool yourself. The first principle is that you must not fool yourself, and you are the easiest person to fool."

            I don't see that goal in epistemologies that include mysticism or divine revelation. Rather, the goal often seems to be to prove that one's existing religious beliefs are "reasonable" and therefore ok to believe in.

            ~Jesse Webster

          • articulett

            Exactly-- the rational is always post hoc. "It makes sense for me to believe this because..."

            But these are never the reasons they believe whatever supernatural beliefs they believe in the first place!

          • articulett

            Is this site supposed to be "trying to convince" me? That would take evidence, I'm afraid.- the same sort of evidence that you would require to believe those other faiths. If the goal of this website is to convert atheists, it should say so up front.

            I'm open to being convinced-- probably much more open than you are to learning you might be wrong... but that would take real evidence-- the kind that can be tested. I am pretty sure that if there was any real evidence, scientists would have jumped upon it by now.

          • articulett

            By the way-- are any nature-pagan sites advertising that they want to engage atheists? I'd be glad to visit them too.

          • Octavo

            I doubt it. Pagans tend to not be a big fan of proselytizing or debating with atheists. If you're interested in visiting neat pagan sites, I recommend the pagan portal at Patheos: http://www.patheos.com/Pagan.

            They have some really fascinating debates because their site hosts humanistic/naturalistic pagans who revere gods as ideas or jungian archetypes, hard polytheists, pagan reconstructionists, and syncretists of various stripes.

            I don't go there to debate or argue atheism/supernaturalism with them though since they're not really convert focused. The diversity and novelty of thought is worth it, though.

            ~Jesse Webster

          • articulett

            I think Jesus is a fictional hybridization...

            Many religions/myths/superstitions mix the real in with the fantasy and add to a pre-existing supernatural narrative (see Mormonism as a modern example).

            And to me, the reincarnationists wake way more sense that this cartoonish idea of heaven/hell. But I don't believe there is any evidence for souls... (or any other immaterial being)... so it's all rather moot to me. Anyone claiming to know anything about souls (or anything else supernatural) is lying; they are pretending to know something they do not actually know. If there was something that could be known, scientists could know it-- and test it-- and expand upon it. (See atoms, for example.)

          • Octavo

            I don't think every supernaturalist is lying. I think there's a lot of misapprehension of phenomena. For instance, I have relatives who are absolutely certain that their faith helped raise someone from the dead. I think this person is wrong about bringing someone's soul back from death and magically healing their body, but there's no reason to think they're lying.

          • articulett

            Yes-- lying is the wrong word. Moreover, many religions encourage people to claim to "know" things when they really just "believe" them. Certainly many people think they have seen chupacabras and that they know about them...and the same for alien visitors. I can believe that these people really believe these things, without believing they exist myself.

            So yes-- lying was the wrong word. But from my perspective, the information they have to offer me is no more useful to me, then the information that conflicting faiths might offer them. I know THEY think it's "wisdom" or "a true bit of higher truth"-- but I don't believe in divine knowledge of any sort.

          • Octavo

            "But from my perspective, the information they have to offer me is no more useful to me, then the information that conflicting faiths might offer them."

            Exactly. I agree.

    • To him, they are the only two choices.

      Not all atheists make the "choice" of Atheism. Many of us simply don't believe in the supernatural. I have written about that here.

      • I wrote something similar in another comment, about how I couldn't "choose" to not be a theist. But they're the two internally consistent positions (per Newman).

        • I wrote something similar in another comment, about how I couldn't "choose" to not be a theist.

          That is good. It is certainly honest to admit that, and I respect people who are in that positing vs. those who either choose not to look at evidence, or choose a religion based on the social/political connections it would provide.

          • though in my case, I will say while I cannot choose to be anything but a theist, I could choose any other religion. Or rather, if it turns out catholicism is false (which is won't but I've already laid out the conditions for its falsification), I would become simply a theist, with no religious attachment and a lot of Catholic guilt :)

          • ... with no religious attachment and a lot of Catholic guilt :)

            Well, many of us who started off as Catholics know that feeling, because the realization that Catholicism is not true came before the realization that none of religion is true.

          • I wonder how many of the atheists on here started as Catholics, you'd think this kind of site would attract them.

            My parameters for the falsification of Catholicism are probably different from yours though, though I'd love to know what started the wedge with you.

            Of course, that'd be getting off topic though.

          • I wonder how many of the atheists on here started as Catholics, you'd think this kind of site would attract them.

            I think that is the case. We don't have to go study Catholicism from a dead start to feel confident to comment here.

            ... though I'd love to know what started the wedge with you.

            See, now that would be a good article for you to put up here. There are plenty of example stories you could site, and then we could all put our own stories in the comments. In line with the epistemology topic of this thread, I will suggest that most will say it started with finding out that something taught by the nuns or the priests was simply inconsistent with actual fact.

  • Rationalist1

    In science when a topic is not understood often examples are given. Can any Catholic here give examples of approximate, allegorical and notional means by which they discern the existence of a theistic God?

    • Dcn Harbey Santiago

      Hi R1:

      Perhaps I do not understand your question but, I don't think this question has an answer. Or better any answer given would only be of value to whom is offering it. I can provide examples that are valid (or enough) to me but to you might sound like madness. Here is an example: been from the island of Puerto Rico I can provide an example of the most delicious food I have ever experienced: Pig Kidneys soup with a side of deep fried Pig intestines stuffed with blood and rice sausages. Of great value to me who grew eating this stuff but for most people not that helpful.

      "Viva Cristo Rey!!"
      Deacon harbey Santiago

  • • Do you think that reason can trump doctrine?

    • Do you think no one can believe in something that he or she can’t understand?
    No. As someone who reads a lot of popularized accounts of contemporary physics and modern cosmology, I can't claim to understand everything I believe.

    • Do you think theological doctrine is nothing more than an opinion held by a vocal group of people?
    No. Theological doctrine may contain a certain kind of wisdom or truth, but I do note that since there is no unanimity of opinion among theologians even on some of the most basic propositions, when two theologians are in fundamental disagreement, they can't both be right. But they can both be wrong.

    • Do you think it’s dishonest to believe in something that hasn’t been proven?

    No, I don't see how the word dishonest even applies, but depending on what it is that you believe without proof, it may not be prudent to believe it. Also, proof is a very strong word. We all believe things of which there is no proof. But some people believe things for which there is no evidence, or even believe things (like astrology) where the evidence against them is compelling.

  • It would have been nice to have an article about the subject and history of epistemology, prior to the presentation of this particular case of an idiosyncratic epistemology from J.H. Newman. I see he published this in 1870, which was around the time when there was a big push to formalize our use of logic and take a hard look at what makes our thoughts have validity in the real world. For contrast, l suggest three papers written by C.S. Pierce in the 1868 to 1869 time frame, that you can read here, here and here.

    In the early twentieth century symbolic reasoning was formalized and intuition was recognized as valuable for generating things to further analyze, but unreliable for the justification of knowledge. By mid twentieth century we were starting to understand more about meaning itself (see W.V.O on that) and how or brains latch on to beliefs and why susceptibility to superstition was wired-in by biology (see the famous paper 'Superstition' in the Pigeon).

    When we get to the late twentieth century, brain analysis is in full swing, and we start to see modules that give us our feelings that something "makes sense." Of course, things are not easy to keep straight when we are trying to think about what makes sense in how our brains tell us what makes sense.

    The big difference between now and 1870 when J.H. Newman was writing is that we expect knowledge to be tied to evidence that can be presented and examined by anyone. Internal introspective experiences don't count as such.

    • Rationalist1

      More reading for later, thanks.

    • I agree, there's a lot that's very important in epistemological evolution to this conversation, since Newman is arguing against the emerging epistemology that is purely science based that he sees in a nascent form in his fellow academics at Oxford.

  • Here is something about the terminology we are using that does fall into epistemology. It is about the word "material." I try not to use this if I can avoid it because of the confusion it has among those who equate it with "wealth." I would prefer to speak of a physical world in relation to a purported spiritual world, or just "the supernatural."

    When religious people say "immaterial" I hear "spiritual." Unfortunately, I have come to understand that they sometimes mean "abstract." So, if I am holding five marbles, the marbles are a concrete example of things, but the number of them or the pattern of their arrangement is abstract.

    The existence of the abstract does not falsify, Physicalism whereas the existence of an "immaterial mind" would. The physical world includes all our thoughts and abstractions. It includes all the patterns we see in Nature and all the ones we generate as dance and painting and music and literature and law, etc. In our computers we write "agents" that can do things in the real world, even though they are only patterns of bits. That does not make them "ghosts" in our machines.

    • Michael Murray

      I've noticed this as well. The cynic in me thinks it's an attempt to slip in the supernatural via the world of ideas. But setting that aside perhaps a useful difference is the order in which things appear. For a materialist it's stars, planets, life, intelligent life, ideas. Whereas for a theist it seems to be more "In the beginning was the word" . Of course you can argue that that the ideas were always there because 1 + 1 = 2. But I think that's just because if you define 1, 2, + and = carefully enough then that statement is a tautology.

      • But I think that's just because if you define 1, 2, + and = carefully enough then that statement is a tautology.

        Yes, I am in the group that holds all of mathematics as tautology based on the generating postulates. People argue with me that it must have its own "special existence" because it works so well. I answer that it works so well because if it did not, we would select different generating postulates so that it did. It is a bit like the puddle fitting the pothole so well.

        • Michael Murray

          There is argument over whether you "discover" new mathematics or "create" new mathematics. I've think in some sense both of those things are true. Once you set up some axioms then the theorems (Godel aside) are essentially determined so you could just go out and find them. But the path you take, the definitions you tend to emphasise along the way is your creative choice.

          • There is argument over whether you "discover" new mathematics or "create" new mathematics.

            Yes, that is one of the classic false dilemmas. Makes a great subject for an epistemological discussion of ontology. I remember my daughter's high school calculus class debated it one day in class. By the way, no need to put Gödel aside.

          • Yes, that is one of the classic false dilemmas.

            I don't understand why it is a false dilemma. Discovering something is quite different from creating something. I have not read enough about this to say anything very intelligent, but it seems to me that if there are other intelligent species in the universe (which seems very likely to me), then we would not be surprised to find that they have something exactly equivalent to calculus. But we would be astounded, I think, if they had something exactly equivalent to, say, Canasta. If so, the explanation would be that calculus is discovered but Canasta is invented.

            Of course I suppose there could be things that are so useful that intelligences with no contact with one another might invent them independently. As I recall, we learn in Guns, Germs, and Steel that writing was developed independently twice (and I think only twice). I would say writing was an invention, not a discovery.

          • Longshanks

            "I don't understand why it is a false dilemma. "

            Quine, maybe you should submit an article about....

            "Makes a great subject for an epistemological discussion of ontology."

          • Longshanks

            Godel hurts my brain.

          • Rationalist1

            Kronecker said "God created the integers, all else is the work of man". But then he was a rather singular man (very subtle math joke).

      • articulett

        Yes... they'll slip in concepts and abstractions and emotions like "love"--

        You can't see these things they'll note--

        I tell them that I agree that their god is just like those abstractions and such... and I'll throw in a few abstractions of my own for good measure... (yesterday, destruction, relationships, music). I agree that these things exist... and that I agree that their god "exists" in the same sort of way. Of course, Superman also exists in that same way.

  • Kevin Aldrich

    I read the article three times (with interest) and have enjoyed reading the comments, but I don't see how it helps me understand the Catholic faith better or have much bearing on Catholicism vs. atheism.

  • Through both the notional apprehension of the theological system, and the real apprehension of the presence of God in our hearts (conscience), we can come to truly believe in Him with certainty based in that ‘illative sense.’

    Or, our feelings of the numinous are generated by a module in our brains that we can artificially activate.

    • articulett

      Feelings and strong opinions feel more real or like "realer truths" than facts-- leading to this idea that we should be able to "feel" the truth-- that it should "resonate" with us. But if that was real way to know anything then people would be on the same page when it came to which invisible agents were real and what they wanted-- rather than having all sorts of conflicting beliefs that each person "feels" certain is true. (And science would be able to test this "method" for getting at the truth and refine it.)

      • But if that was real way to know anything then people would be on the same page when it came to which invisible agents were real and what they wanted-- rather than having all sorts of conflicting beliefs that each person "feels" certain is true.

        Indeed, and then most people would not be necessarily wrong about religion (could still be wrong, though).

    • Or, our feelings of the numinous are generated by a module in our brains that we can artificially activate.

      Got evidence? :P

      Based on the Wikipedia entry, I'd say anyone who uncritically accepts the assertions made in this film lives in a glass house and better not throw stones at others for being too credulous. (Note especially the section titled "Failed replication and subsequent debate.")

      Also, even assuming feelings of the numinous (or other feelings) can be generated in our brains by electrical stimulation, drugs, or other means, does not demonstrate in any way that those feelings are never genuine. That Pavlov's dog was conditioned to salivate at the sound of a bell did not prove that there was no such thing as food.

      • David, did you notice that the first word of my comment was, "Or,"?

        • No, and that does make a difference. But I hope that "or" was not intended to be an "exclusive or." That is, I hope you did not mean in any way to imply that if Newman is wrong, Michael Persinger's "God Helmet" is then necessarily a credible piece of scientific work. It seems to me to be on a par with Wilhelm Reich's orgone accumulator. I am impressed by the depth and breadth of your knowledge, and so I was surprised you linked to something as dubious as that little film.

          • articulett

            Well it certainly does imply that what we think of as a souls is just a brain state... and that our consciousness doesn't exist without a brain... just as the consciousness of the cow you ate for dinner no longer exists.

            And if souls don't exist... then there is no reason to try and have the right faith in the right god to avoid suffering in hell for all eternity. Without souls... gods are pretty irrelevent. There'd be no need to try to manipulate anyone into faith. What would it matter if they believed in 0 gods, 1 god, a 3-in-1 god, or a whole pantheon of gods? If souls aren't real, we can wave away anyone claiming to know what god(s) want.

          • Octavo

            I don't think it implies anything, since the effect hasn't been replicated in double-blinded trials.

          • articulett

            We know transcendant feelings can be caused by drugs, seizures, and other manipulation of the brain. We have no reason to posit that they are caused by immaterial entities nor that they can exist absent a brain. Sure-- you can believe in such things...

            but for myself, I will assume all phenomena has a natural explanation until the evidence warrants changing my mind. I understand that nothing is likely to change your mind in regards to the invisible beings you believe in-- but I think they are as imaginary as the ones you don't believe in. If souls are real, I trust that evidence will accumulate. The same for gods. But so far the evidence for both is pretty much on par with other delusions and misperceptions.

            You have a vested interest in maintaining your faith, but I hae a vested interest in understanding what is objectively true regardless of what people believe.

          • If materialism is correct (and it very well may be), not believing in God is just as much a brain state as believing in God. So demonstrating that belief in something is a brain state does not in any way invalidate the belief. If materialism is correct, virtually every thought and feeling you have is the direct result of a brain state. That wouldn't mean nothing was true.

          • articulett

            Correct-- it just means that I have no more reason to believe in the supernatural stuff you believe in than to believe in the stuff you dismiss as myth. I have no more reason to believe in your gods than I have to believe in someone else's reincarnation stories. I have no more reason to believe in your demons than to believe in someone else's fairies. You might put on that helmet and think aliens were having a mind meld with you. I couldn't prove it to be false-- but that doesn't mean there's that I would believe that your interpretation of events was true. Instead I'd just conclude that the helmet inspires intersting brain states.

          • If materialism is correct (and it very well may be), not believing in God is just as much a brain state as believing in God.

            Not quite the same; would be if you had put "believing there is no God is just as much a brain state as believing in God." I can explain that, but suspect that you will see it perfectly well.

          • I agree.

          • Susan

            Agreed David.

            But that's why epistemology is important.

            How do we know what's true?

            How do we refine our methodology so that we can make more accurate maps and better predictions about things that don't rely solely on individual brain state that fails to account for the blind spots inherent in brains?

            I think Daniel's and Cardinal Newman's bee-line to an "external authority" are an example of making assumptions without doing the work and then proceeding on that assumption.

          • articulett


          • It might be fair to call me for going straight for the jugular, but before you critique Newman's epistemology you really should read it through. There's only so much I can get in 1800 words. I hope this post at the least serves as a jumping off point into his work.

          • Susan

            >You have a vested interest in maintaining your faith, but I hae a vested interest in understanding what is objectively true regardless of what people believe.

            I'm not sure Octavo's contributions imply that he has a vested interested in any sort of faith.

            He's just pointing out that without replication of the data in double-blind trials, the results of THIS particular experiment don't imply anything.

            In that sense, he shares your vested interest. :-)

          • Octavo

            Thank you, Susan. That is correct.

          • articulett

            Yes-- you're correct. I apologize.

            My bad.

          • Octavo

            No problem.

          • articulett

            You know.. I did think that after I wrote that... but I got mixed up because I've been have "dialogue" with David Nichols.

            Thanks for the correction,

            Yes-- the helmet only adds possible data to the notion that there is a naturalistic explanation for transcendent feelings.

          • Susan

            Twice, I replied to you but my computer likes to freeze and disqus randomly spits things out if it feels like it.

            Suffice it say that I'm confident that we're on the same page.

            Also, as much as I generally disagree with Daniel, I think he was fairly keeping things on track and that you have very good answers for the questions he posed and you should respond to those questions specifically.

            Last thing, your repeated references to the 3-in-1 deity is important and fair as it should not be smuggled in under a capital "G" deity which likes to shapeshift. It's perfectly reasonable and useful that you remind us all of the specs of the catholic deity every time "G"od is mentioned.

            I really, really, really hope that this isn't a third version (reworded) of a post that I assume never showed up in the first place.

          • The post on Newman is not about souls or about avoiding hell. It is about how we know.

          • articulett

            Right... it's a convuleted argument justifying a belief in a particular brand of god because he needs to find a reasonable explanation for his faith. It's not meant to convince skeptics that he really "knows" anything about any gods-- it's meant to make believers feel rational about believing irrational things.

            Whe I was a Catholic I did similar things because I was taught that faith was a virtue and good things come from faith and that loss of faith leads to immorality and possibly hell. I had a vested interest in convincing myself my faith was reasonable so I could keep my faith in spite of glaring problems with theology.

            I extrapolate that most other Catholics are doing the same whether they are aware of it or not.

            But they wouldn't do it if they didn't believe in souls-- you don't need to try and make sense of the miasma of theologies/gods/afterlives if souls aren't real... and there's no hell to go to for non-belief. You can wait for the evidence to accumulate in favor of one faith or let go of belief in the supernatural all together! You can bite from the tree of knowledge... believe what you want... try paganism... and then change your mind-- without fear of everlasting torment. You can really understand the discoveires of knowledge without trying to fit the facts into the story you were told you must believe to be "saved".

          • Thanks, David, for bringing the skepticism. I presented it as an alternative, and you are right to point out that it is not replicated, and thus not at a level that I would consider dependable evidence. I meant it as at the anecdotal level that so many of the "personal experiences of the numinous" also are. I should have been more careful and stated that. Mea culpa.

  • Roger Hane

    It looks like a hugely important book for skeptics who like logic to read and pick apart. It's on my reading list now. But who knows when I'll ever get to it?

  • Rationalist1

    Perhaps I might be as so bold to summarize how I see this discussion has described Catholic epistemology. It uses science but combines it with other factors including reason, notions, allegory, desires, etc, in varying weightings to arrive at knowledge. But the substance of what is already established through the deposit of faith (Scripture and magisterial teaching of the Church) is not the subject of its inquiry. The substance of what can be learned and discussed is limited to disciplinary practices (no meat on Friday, clerical celibacy, etc.) and devotional practices (Shroud of Turin, Lourdes or Fatima, etc.) The epistemology can also be used to discover new ways to explain existing truths, in some ways less a epistemology and more a pedagogy. It seems to bring my understanding back to what I learned in catechism class so many years ago that theology was "faith seeking understanding". The truths of faith are there and established. One needs to formulate a coherent framework to support them, but not to question them.

    • primenumbers

      So not so much an epistemology but a confirmation bias then?

    • I agree. I would add, though, that Newman examines the deposit of faith as a whole. As in, whether or not a deposit of faith could exist.

      From his previous conclusion of "There is a personal God," Newman follows an argument that I will paraphrase and summarize (its long. And beautiful, but long): Because there is a Theistic God, He must want to have a relationship with us, since we are societal beings who live in relationships, and in many ways are defined by them. If He wants us to have a relationship with Him, then He wants us to know Him, because you can't have a relationship if you don't know the object of the relationship. If He wants us to know Him, then He must give us enough information to know Him, because we could not come to know Him on our own (because He is transcendent). If He gave us enough information to know Him, the only responsible thing would to do would be to centralize the teaching in a single corpus, to preserve the knowledge from corruption. The last two conclusions lead Newman to conclude that the deposit of faith and the Magesterium must be part of a Theistic God's plan.

      It's far more involved, he addresses the questions of "What about pagans/non-Christians" and other objections, but if you so desire, you can read it here (http://www.newmanreader.org/works/grammar/chapter10-2.html) and here (http://www.newmanreader.org/works/grammar/chapter10-3.html)

      • Rationalist1

        When I took physics in university and wrong my exams my favourite type of question was a proof. The question would ask the student to show that the electric field around a current carrying wire was equal to such and such. The teacher wanted to see the logic, not the answer and since the answer was given you knew when you got the logic right by getting the desired answer.

        Then one 4th year exam in classical mechanics we were given a answer to to obtain that I couldn't get. Try as I may, it just didn't work out. Then I just did a dimensional analysis of the required answer and the units of measure didn't make sense. With a bit a trepidation I raised my hand and when the teacher came to my desk I asked him if the answer we were to obtain was correct. He went back to his desk, worked for 10 minutes and then told the class that in question 8 we were to derive the answer he then put on the board.

        When, in Catholic theology do you raise your hand and question the given answer?

        • When the logic doesn't match the answer. Which in Catholic terms would be that the doctrine or dogmata are incompatible with each other, or reality, or when the "teacher" has to write a new answer on the board, aka changes dogma.

          Whether or not you agree with Catholicism, its premises, its conclusions, they *are* compatible with the world. If it is ever demonstrated otherwise, then I wouldn't raise my hand; I'd drop the class.

          Now, this applies to the things central to the faith. The absolute core. Which is, I think I can say, primarily dealing with metaphysics and therefore very difficult for science to disprove. But that's not "hiding from science", they are two distinct spheres of existence.

          But, if somehow dogma changed, or refuted by science (I'm not even sure what dogma *could* be refuted by science, but there it is), then that's game (again, these are my thoughts, I'm not speaking definitively for "the Catholic side").

          • Rationalist1

            A priest I knew said other Christians denominations change their teachings, Catholic teaching evolves. If it's gradual enough, one doesn't notice the change.

          • It is refined, I wouldn't say evolves (at least, there's no macro-evolution). It is refined because Catholics like science, and we like our theology to go with science, and as long as the core isn't changed, we're still set.

            Protestants have changed all sorts of beliefs. Some hugely, some not so hugely. Throwing the priesthood out, the sacraments, adding in predestination, subtracting tradition and elevating Sola Scriptura. It's gone everywhere. And it keeps going.

            There's a difference between refinement and change.

          • Rationalist1

            Would an example of this be the "extra ecclesiam nulla salus" doctrine? Originally meant to threaten the Eastern Orthodox schismatics, it has been refined now to mean the even atheists, according to some, can make it to heaven.

          • I haven't read the documentation, so I can't speak to its original intent. It's still true, but you can receive grace and be saved, and this is through the Church.

            So... maybe? It'd depend on how much credence I give to your claim that it was ( I presume you mean) solely meant to threaten the Eastern Orthodox. But the substance of the teaching hasn't changed.

          • Rationalist1

            But the idea of what it means to be "outside of the Church" has changed

            From Pope Eugene IV "The most Holy Roman Church firmly believes, professes and preaches that none of those existing outside the Catholic Church, not only pagans, but also Jews and heretics and schismatics, can have a share in life eternal; but that they will go into the "eternal fire which was prepared for the devil and his angels" (Matthew 25:41), unless before death they are joined with Her; and that so important is the unity of this ecclesiastical body that only those remaining within this unity can profit by the sacraments of the Church unto salvation, and they alone can receive an eternal recompense for their fasts, their almsgivings, their other works of Christian piety and the duties of a Christian soldier. No one, let his almsgiving be as great as it may, no one, even if he pour out his blood for the Name of Christ, can be saved, unless he remain within the bosom and the unity of the Catholic Church."

            No one would preach that now, I trust.

          • No, that's true. But is this writing doctrinal? Can you give me the source text so I can do some research?

          • Rationalist1

            Pope Eugene IV, the Bull Cantate Domino, Council of Florence, 1441


          • Fr. Most at EWTN gives this example of an early Church martyr who says what Vatican II said (so this is to demonstrate that the teaching didn't change, as much as was clarified):

            We begin with St. Justin the Martyr who c. 145 A. D. in 1. 46, said that in the past some who were thought to be atheists, such as Socrates and Heraclitus, who were really Christians, for they followed the Divine Logos, the Divine Word. Further, in 2. 10 Justin adds that the Logos is in everyone. Now of course the Logos, being Spirit, does not take up space. We say a spirit if present . What effect? We find that in St. Paul, in Romans 2:14-16 where he says that "the Gentiles who do not have the law, do by nature the works of the law. They show the work of the law ." and according to their response, conscience will defend or accuse them at the judgment.

          • Rationalist1

            Do it's okay to proclaim the teaching of the Council of Florence and say hell awaits Jews, heretics, schismatics "unless before death they are joined with Her". While I can see how a special dispensation would exist before Christ and before the gospel has been preached to a person. but now that it has been done to most in the West here, why risk their eternal life by watering down the teaching?

          • The whole point is that people can be in the Church through a pursuit of the Divine Logos. People, for all sorts of reasons, may not belong to the Church. The Church doesn't ever talk definitively about who is damned, because its impossible to know the state of the soul. They have never proclaimed that "these people are in Hell". Even what you've quoted is a warning, he doesn't say all schismatics are in Hell.

            If someone left the Church because of scandal, say sexual abuse to them or a loved one, that's a hugely mitigating factor I would say. Likewise if they were taught falsehoods about the Church, or in some other way didn't have absolute clarity of the Church's stance/position/role.

            You can still be saved, and it's still through the Church, since the Church isn't just the building or the priests but "the Mystical Body of Christ".

          • Longshanks

            "there's no macro-evolution"


            This was my clarion call for so long: the embarrassment: it burns us.

            ID, wherefore art thou Intelligent?

          • To be fair, I was using a metaphor to explain evolving Church teaching, not actually talking about the natural process of evolution.

          • Longshanks

            It's jokes, don't worry.

          • And now it comes for circle. Got me.

        • Longshanks

          I think you'll find that the popes offer their 'ex cathedra' or 'infallible' proclamations infrequently enough and ambiguously enough that there is very seldom a genuinely smashing question to be asked of the 'given answers'.

          "It is better to be thought a fool and be silent than open one's mouth and remove all doubt."

          At least, that is my impression.

  • Kyle Donahue

    But doesn't history contain enough stories of exceptional men and women devoted to faith to prove that faith is necessary and beneficial to humankind?

    • Michael Murray

      No. But even if it did that would not mean there is a god. Money in my bank account is beneficial but that doesn't mean there is any. For an atheist the issue of the benefits or lack thereof of religion are a secondary question. The first question is whether there are any gods.