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Why Miracles are Credible to Catholics

Unlike many other articles dealing with miracles, this one is not actually expected to change minds about the reality of such phenomena. Rather, it is intended to show why miracles are believed and should be believed by believers as well as why miracles are not believed and likely will not be believed by unbelievers. The focus here is less on the extraordinary events themselves and more on the reasons why some people believe the reports about them, while others do not.

The extraordinary phenomena at issue include both preternatural and supernatural events. By the term, “preternatural, is meant events that exceed the common order of nature, although given other conditions, such events might be explained naturally. For example, while humans can fly in airplanes, such flight would be beyond their unaided natural powers.

The term, “supernatural,” is reserved for those events that cannot be explained by natural forces under any conditions whatever. They require the infinite power possessed by the God of classical theism alone, for example, causing the resurrection of a truly dead person. Strictly speaking, the term, “miracle,” pertains exclusively to supernatural events.

Preternatural events stand in an intermediate position between the purely natural and those that are supernatural.

I include preternatural phenomena in this essay, since such realities belong to many reports which natural science cannot explain, and hence, would challenge the metaphysical assumptions of many modern materialists. I realize that naturalists would claim to be impressed by genuine miracles alone.

The Reports

Many reports of miracles are dismissed because things like cancer cures can be explained as mere remissions. Yet, the resurrection of Christ is hotly contested as to fact, since it clearly entails a genuine miracle. Remarkably, there exists a book, Saints Who Raise the Dead: True Stories of 400 Resurrection Miracles by Albert J. Hebert, which presents details of many claimed actual resurrections of the dead down through history. Most appear to be found in the biographies of major saints of the Catholic Church.

Yet, how do we know that the “dead” in these alleged resurrections were actually even really dead? In most cases, absolute verification of death before the resurrection takes place could hardly be expected – especially in past centuries, since who would anticipate ahead of time that someone would be resurrected – thereby causing subsequent need to prove actual prior death?

Nonetheless, a rather strong indication of death is reported in a resurrection attributed to St. Vincent Ferrer (1350-1419). A woman became insane, slit her small son’s throat, dismembered his body, and roasted a portion, which she then tried to serve to her husband. St. Vincent prayed over the remains and the reassembled pieces arose as the living boy. This case was part of the saint’s canonization process.1 In many other cases, the deceased was dead for days, hanged by the neck for days, suffered violent deaths, or even sealed in a coffin for long periods.2 Undoubtable death was evident in most cases. Testimony affirming resurrections was recorded by responsible authorities in many cases, such as in a formal canonization process.

An oddly different set of extraordinary events is the reported appearances of dead persons to living ones in the form of souls allegedly coming from Purgatory or, rarely, even from Hell itself. These apparitions were predominantly visible phenomena or even fully physical presences as “living” human beings. Here again we have another work listing literally hundreds of such instances in Purgatory by F.X. Schouppe. Like the book on cases of reported resurrections, these accounts are assembled from many earlier books, records, canonical investigations, historical testimonies, and so forth.

And then, not surprisingly, we have a number of “encounters” recorded between Padre Pio and souls from Purgatory appearing before him, sometimes so physically present that others could see them.

I will add here a rather curious case of private revelation which is of interest both because it is relatively recent and because of the large number of attesting witnesses. The Miraculous Crucifix of Limpias is found in a church in Santander, Spain. During the period around WWI, thousands of eyewitnesses saw Christ’s body on the crucifix “come alive” and show powerful signs of emotion and suffering, including evident breathing and physical motions.

“The multiple albums that are found in the sacristy of the church of Limpias contain well over 8,000 testimonies of people who had seen the wonderful apparitions. Of these, 2,500 were sworn on oath. Among these witnesses were members of religious orders, priests, doctors, lawyers, professors, and governors of universities, officers, merchants, workmen, country folk, unbelievers and even atheists.”

What is the Point?

I am not trying to produce some kind of direct evidence to prove to the readers the truth of all these reports of preternatural or supernatural events described above. Rather, my focus is on the difference in the reaction of believers and non-believers to these reports.

Many believers are not familiar with all these reported “miraculous” events, but on hearing of them, tend to believe, especially when they realize that such reports have recurred often though history. But, why is there such natural sympathy on the part of believers, especially Catholics?

And why do non-believers express instant skepticism by offering various rationales for dismissing the credibility of such reports? Is it merely pure prejudice, as G.K. Chesterton seems to suggest?

“If we say miracles are theoretically possible, they say, “Yes, but there is no evidence for them.” When we take all the records of the human race and say, “Here is your evidence,” they say, “But these people were superstitious, they believed in impossible things.”

In fairness, I suggest that the Catholic mentality about such accounts of religious prodigies is received with greater acceptance for the simple reason that Catholics understand the nature of the Catholic faith. Now, what I just said is easily misunderstood, since I am not saying that belief in these reports is simply a matter of blind faith. On the contrary, there is a rational process going on here – but one that would, doubtless, not sound equally rational to the skeptic, agnostic, atheist, or unbeliever.

For Catholics, the persons offering these reports are seen to be very holy people for the most part -- indeed, saints! As such, it is expected that they will tell the truth. It is essentially as simple as that.

Moreover, all Catholics know that to tell a deliberate lie in a serious matter -- such as falsely claiming a miracle – is a mortal sin and matter for Confession. That hundreds of committed Catholics would tell such lies separately, and yet, en masse is a moral impossibility. While those who are not practicing Catholics may not understand this simple truth, those who are practicing Catholics will easily see that such uncoordinated mass deception over many centuries could never occur.

Oh yes, some will allege that the witnesses affirming these reports might be hallucinating, mentally obsessed or even psychotic, suffering delusions, or otherwise incapacitated from having normal observational objectivity. The difficulty with those sorts of explanations is the great number of such witnesses and the even greater number of such reports. A few cases may be explained in this skeptical fashion, but surely not in such vast numbers. Moreover, the psychological stability of those witnesses later declared as saints have withstood the careful evaluations of the canonization process.

Even a single authentic report of an apparition or miracle is sufficient to establish beyond question an entire order of reality generally rejected out of hand by skeptics. Unfortunately, for the skeptic, his corresponding task is to refute every single report – a task obviously impossible on its face. Even for the more nuanced position of naturalism, a single authentically-supernatural event (miracle) would constitute absolute refutation.

On the other hand, to the skeptic or agnostic, the entire order of such claims is instantly suspect, since they are not first attending to the standard of holiness and/or veracity demanded of the consciences of ordinary Catholics, say nothing of saints! Rather, what impresses their view is the seeming absurdity or impossibility of the claims themselves – claims which, on their very face, seem to demand incredulity.

Paradoxically, the very practice of his own faith enables the believer to see with conviction the essential truthfulness of all this devout witness testimony – something that is inherently obscure or unbelievable to the skeptic. St. Anselm of Canterbury’s insight, which reveals the inherent connection between true faith and rational intelligibility, now becomes clearly evident: Credo ut intelligam. I believe in order that I may understand.

Fatima: God's "Assist" for Skeptics

Almost as if God chose to answer the skeptics who complained that no easily verifiable major public miracles had occurred in modern times, the twentieth century witnessed the most public miracle of all time.

At Fatima, Portugal, on October 13, 1917, God dramatically removed many of the objections to belief that skeptics raise against the sorts of extraordinary phenomena treated earlier in this essay. As if to answer those who doubt events from hundreds of years ago, this massive “miracle of the sun” occurred in the early twentieth century, when modern means of photography, major newspaper coverage, and electronic communication were available – as well as having testimony taken nearly half a century later when many eyewitnesses were still alive.

Rather than an event observed by a single person or relatively few (except in the case of the Limpias Crucifix cited above), this miracle was witnessed by at least forty and, perhaps, as many as one hundred thousand persons. It was not a genuine motion of the sun itself, since that would have been observed by astronomers and drastically shaken the earth as well. It was some sort of massive visual experience that was not identically, and yet was largely similarly, experienced by huge numbers of those present – an experience that defies natural explanation by various skeptical hypotheses.

What many also do not understand is that the fact that all present did not see the exact same thing is, rather than a cause for skepticism, clear proof that it was a massive set of apparitions following the same theme, but with enough variation to show that no common external physical cause could be responsible. Some failed to see anything. Whatever caused this phenomenon was able to create a generally common subjective experience in tens of thousands of persons simultaneously, but also could make variations therein or even fail to cause any experience whatever in some.

Worse yet for skeptics, the event entails three distinct aspects – any of which by itself could be described as a miracle, but all three variables at once are decisive. They were: (1) the prediction of a stupendous miracle ahead of time (so that both believers and skeptics and reporters came by the tens of thousands from all over Portugal), (2) the visual phenomenon itself, and (3) the simultaneous sudden and complete drying of the people and the muddy ground, which had been rain soaked all morning. Some may try to explain one or another aspect, but the three simultaneously-joined, objectively verifiable, psychic, visual, and physical phenomena present an extraordinary event not seen in human memory.

So, the Fatima miracle stands by itself.

"Thank You, Father"

The following incident took place recently in an American diocese whose locale includes cemeteries dating back to the Civil War.

There is a house in the country on the top of a hill well off a main road with a long driveway from the road to the house. A mother and her son living there appear at their local Catholic pastor’s rectory, clearly upset and shaken – reporting certain disturbing “experiences” occurring in that house. These include such things as lights turning on and off by themselves, a child’s hand prints suddenly appearing on a clean metal door, and the father having an unseen force suddenly thrust him face first into a wall so hard that it dents the wall.

Having related these incidents, the mother and son convince their priest to go out to the house and say Mass and bless everything, which he does – first, by saying Mass and blessing the house, and then, by blessing a cemetery behind the house. The father then led the priest down a side trail -- maybe seventy yards -- to the foundations of an old house, where a thirteen year old girl had lived long ago. Three men had raped the poor girl and then hanged her in a tree next to that second house. They then buried her in a shallow grave right by a creek at that location.

And so, the priest also blessed the murdered girl’s grave.

After all this, having taken his leave, the priest is driving down the long driveway from the top of the hill where the main house is located. He reaches the bottom where it joins a country road. His car’s windows are shut with both heater and radio off. All is dead silence.

At this point, the priest hears clearly the voice of a young woman in his left ear, who says to him, “Thank you, Father.”

Since the reader does not know this priest, it is easy to be skeptical of the whole report. That is the reason, I suspect, that most skeptics and agnostics dismiss stories of Catholic and other miracles or preternatural experiences with a grain of salt – especially, since they know such things are impossible (as Chesterton noted).

Personally, I find absolutely credible the facts as related to me directly by the priest involved. This one incident, all by itself, is sufficient reason for me to believe that Catholic priests do have real powers. And this, in turn, tells me all I really need to know about the truth of the Catholic Church.

The reason I am convinced that the events happened exactly as related is because I have been a personal friend of the priest involved for nearly half a century. I know he is a good priest, who takes his obligations to the Faith and to tell the truth dead seriously. I know he is sane, sober, and has never told me of another similar experience. In a word, I am perfectly confident in his competence and veracity for reasons personally known to me -- reasons which the readers of this essay in no way share.

Conclusion

So it is with the general reaction of believers to the extensive reports of Catholic and other Christian miracles and extraordinary events. Believers know the moral rectitude of the vast majority of those in their faith who experience these things, report them to superiors, and the superiors themselves who conduct such serious matters as canonical investigations. Even if one doubted a few such reports in specific instances, the mere fact that hundreds of such extraordinary religious phenomena have been recorded in history constitutes powerful reason for believers to accept the reality of such preternatural and supernatural phenomena.

That is why believers believe in such reported miracles. Perhaps, also, it is this mechanism of “referred eyewitness certitude” that explains the vivid faith of early Christians that Christ truly rose from the dead. Indeed, this finally makes perfect sense of St. Paul’s unique report that the risen Christ “was seen by over five hundred brethren at once” (1 Corinthians 15:6, New King James Version), since such widespread eyewitness foundation would easily have convinced others that the Resurrection was a fact beyond all doubting.

To the contrary, it is the corresponding lack of confidence in devout witnesses and ecclesiastical investigations and historical records which probably causes unbelieving skeptics to dismiss the whole matter with total incredulity, while they spend their time and energy engaging in speculative disputations about the historicity of Scripture and the existence and coherence of the God of classical theism.

This is also probably why each side, from its own perspective, is so thoroughly convinced that the other side is dead wrong.

Notes:

  1. Saints Who Raise the Dead, 171.
  2. Ibid., 282.
Dr. Dennis Bonnette

Written by

Dr. Dennis Bonnette retired as a Full Professor of Philosophy in 2003 from Niagara University in Lewiston, New York. He taught philosophy there for thirty-six years and served as Chairman of the Philosophy Department from 1992 to 2002. He lives in Youngstown, New York, with his wife, Lois. They have seven adult children and twenty-five grandchildren. He received his doctorate in philosophy from the University of Notre Dame in 1970. Dr. Bonnette taught philosophy at the college level for 40 years, and is now teaching free courses at the Aquinas School of Philosophy in Lewiston, New York. He is the author of two books, Aquinas' Proofs for God's Existence (The Hague: Martinus-Nijhoff, 1972) and Origin of the Human Species (Ave Maria, FL: Sapientia Press, third edition, 2014), and many scholarly articles.

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  • Philip Rand

    Scary stuff... very scary...

    Interesting that the Salvation section of this site is empty...

  • David Nickol

    Suppose an atheist (or any person who was not already a Catholic) concludes that something truly inexplicable, or miraculous, happened involving the sun at Fatima. Would that, of necessity, lead to the conclusion that everything in the Catechism of the Catholic Church or Ott's Fundamentals of Catholic Dogma is true?

    • Johannes Hui

      No :)

      No such necessity.

    • Dennis Bonnette

      There are two aspects to the miracle of the sun at Fatima which I normally address: First, the facts themselves with respect to whether or not this was a truly miraculous event. Second, the theological meaning of the event, on the assumption that it was in fact directly caused by God alone.

      Your question pertains to the second aspect of the October 1917 event. And it is best answered by a careful analysis of the historical details surrounding the event as well as the apparent implications, perhaps, of some of the testimony given by witnesses as to seeing specific visions of members of the Holy Family. But I think the major evidence would be the total context.

      Many people, who accept this as a truly miraculous event, conclude that its significance falls exclusively within a Catholic context and, therefore, would take it as evidence of the truth of the Catholic faith. This is a judgment that each person would have to make for himself.

  • David Nickol

    1022 Each man receives his eternal retribution in his immortal soul at the very moment of his death, in a particular judgment that refers his life
    to Christ: either entrance into the blessedness of heaven--through a purification or immediately -- or immediate and everlasting damnation.

    Given what the Catechism says about what happens after death, how are we to understand the story of the priest in the OP? Assuming the perpetrator of the crime is in hell and the victim is in heaven, how were they able to cause physical manifestations in the areas they had been alive years ago? It is not uncommon in ghost stories for troubled spirits to be somehow unable to leave the areas where they died until something is resolved. But it would seem that according to Catholic teachings, there is no such thing as haunted places.

    Supposing it is the murderer who slams the man against the wall in the house, how is he able to do so? Once dead, how can human beings cause physical events on earth without some kind of "help" or permission from God. Catholics pray to the dead asking them to intercede, but as I understand it, to intercede is to ask God to do something.

    I have no reason to disbelieve the story in the OP, and I believe strange and explicable (and frightening) things do indeed happen, but I don't see how they are consistent with Catholic teaching about life after death.

    • Dennis Bonnette

      Since you are talking about Catholic teaching, what you are missing is the doctrine of purgatory. There is no need to say that any murderers are still at play in this story. First of all, the phenomena I described fall under the heading of the preternatural, not the supernatural. That is, while some of the details appear to require forces not consistent with purely natural physical laws, they need not require the exclusive power of God.

      We should not limit the possible agents of preternatural events to merely God himself, although he can produce such effects. If a preternatural effect occurs, it could be caused by an angel, a fallen angel (devil), or even a separated soul if allowed by the will of God.

      "Once dead, how can human beings cause physical events on earth without some kind of "help" or permission from God."

      You actually hit the nail on the hear here, perhaps, inadvertently. All those cases recounted in the book, Purgatory, which I mentioned in the article, would be instances of souls from purgatory being allowed by God to plead their cases before men -- AND, in some cases, to appear to men to thank them for their successful intercession on their behalf.

      This instance which I recount with the priest appears to fall into that last category.

      • David Nickol

        First, is it Catholic doctrine that "souls" can travel to earth from purgatory? Yes, of course God would have the power to let or make such a thing happen, but that is true of just about any hypothesis.

        Your comments about Purgatory in no way explain the incidents in the home—particularly the father being pushed forcefully into a wall. Who or what caused that? Certainly not the young girl. Why would God permit such a thing?

        • Dennis Bonnette

          Remember, I am not a theologian and some of this is off the top of my head. If you asked me about "ghosts" a few years ago, I would have been very skeptical myself. But it seems, from a lot of anecdotal information, that there are such things as people getting "stuck" here for a while after death, or perhaps, serving part or all of their Purgatory that way.

          If you ask about formal Catholic doctrine, as far as I know it is simply defined that Purgatory exists where expiation for sin is served, and also, it appears that some form of fire that affects the spirit is also present. But I am not looking it all up at present. Usually, Ludwig Ott is the authority to check.

          As for the father being pushed forcefully, you are absolutely right about that having nothing to do directly with the female voice (which, incidentally, sounded like that of an adult with no accent).

          The "malicious" spirit, which I assume pushed the father, would appear to me to be diabolic, since angels are, well,
          angelic, and souls of the dead either are in heaven and behaving themselves, or in Purgatory, hoping to get out, but fully "in tune" with God, or in hell and in no position to do anything. These things are sometimes poltergeist (noise ghosts), or "bothersome," as in this case.

          Why would God allow this? Well, he seems to allow the devil to tempt us or bother us in many ways, since this is part of our test in this life. After all, the devil causes us evil by putting tempting images into our imaginations, trying to get us to sin. This is a more complex topic than I have time to comment on at the moment.

        • Jim the Scott

          >First, is it Catholic doctrine that "souls" can travel to earth from purgatory?

          Briefly. Well we have apparitions in Catholicism so why can't souls in Purgatory participate in that?

          >Why would God permit such a thing?

          David do I have to go get my Brian Davies book out?

          Carry on & peace be with you.

          • David Nickol

            David do I have to go get my Brian Davies book out?

            We all know by now that "God is not a moral agent," but does that mean he doesn't permit some things and not permit others? I have seen it argued here that God would never permit an evil unless a greater good could come from it. Do you oppose that position?

            In the case of a miraculous cure of, say, cancer, we would conclude that God intervenes in the natural order to effect a cure. Yet we know that miracle cures of cancer are rare. Is there any alternative to thinking God chooses to intervene in some cases and not others? If God is not a moral agent (as I understand the argument) it is not that God doesn't effect miracle cures in some cases but not others. Rather, it is that God is not morally obliged to effect miracle cures and he is not morally culpable in cases where he does not effect miracle cures.

          • Jim the Scott

            >I have seen it argued here that God would never permit an evil unless a greater good could come from it. Do you oppose that position?

            Sounds like Theodicy to me? Aquinas said God allows evil so as to bring good out of it. God allows the evil of the Lamb to be eaten to bring about the nourishment of the hungry lion and so forth. I would need so see the context of the statement you remember. The only way what you say taken at face value can be true in my estimation is the supposed Greater Good is ineffable and beyond our comprehension.

            Like a man who takes his sick dog to the Vet who causes the dog pain but heals him. The Dog can't by definition comprehend the good the Vet is doing to him never the less that good objectively exists.

            >In the case of a miraculous cure of, say, cancer, we would conclude that God intervenes in the natural order to effect a cure.

            All God's good act wither within nature or supernatural are gratuitous in nature.

            > Is there any alternative to thinking God chooses to intervene in some cases and not others?

            If He does He can be praised for His charity and not condemned for not giving what is owed since He owes us nothing by nature.

            If God is not a moral agent (as I understand the argument) it is not that God doesn't effect miracle cures in some cases but not others. Rather, it is that God is not morally obliged to effect miracle cures and he is not morally culpable in cases where he does not effect miracle cures.

            > If God is not a moral agent (as I understand the argument) it is not that God doesn't effect miracle cures in some cases but not others. Rather, it is that God is not morally obliged to effect miracle cures and he is not morally culpable in cases where he does not effect miracle cures.

            Correct.

          • David Nickol

            I know that it has been stated many times by commenters here that god would not allow an evil if he could not bring a greater good from it. It's almost impossible to go back and find quotes. I am not sure what you object to. Here is how it is formulated in the Catechism.

            311 Angels and men, as intelligent and free creatures, have to journey toward their ultimate destinies by their free choice and preferential love. They can therefore go astray. Indeed, they have sinned. Thus has moral evil, incommensurably more harmful than physical evil, entered the world. God is in no way, directly or indirectly, the cause of moral evil. He permits it, however, because he respects the freedom of his creatures and, mysteriously, knows how to derive good from it:

            For almighty God. . ., because he is supremely good, would never allow any evil whatsoever to exist in his works if he were not so all-powerful and good as to cause good to emerge from evil itself.

            312 In time we can discover that God in his almighty providence can bring a good from the consequences of an evil, even a moral evil, caused by his creatures: "It was not you", said Joseph to his brothers, "who sent me here, but God. . . You meant evil against me; but God meant it for good, to bring it about that many people should be kept alive."From the greatest moral evil ever committed - the rejection and murder of God's only Son, caused by the sins of all men - God, by his grace that "abounded all the more", brought the greatest of goods: the glorification of Christ and our redemption. But for all that, evil never becomes a good.

          • Jim the Scott

            >I know that it has been stated many times by commenters here that god would not allow an evil if he could not bring a greater good from it.

            Fair enough. I seem to recall a few months ago arguing with some people over at Feser's Blog who where making a similar claim and where fiercely arguing with me over God not being a moral agent. I suspect they where partisans & Fanboyz of William Lane Craig.

            > It's almost impossible to go back and find quotes. I am not sure what you object to. Here is how it is formulated in the Catechism.

            I love the fact you go back to the primary sources. Just thought I would mention that.

            >Quotes etc.....

            Well those citations from the CCC uses the classic formula God allows evil to bring good out of it. There is no formula I know of in Classic Theism God allows evil to bring greater good out of it?

            The only mention of Greater Good is in the specific context of God allowing His Son to be cruelly murdered which by definition is a greater evil which God bring the greater good of salvation out of it. But I don't think would translate into God bringing a "greater" good out of plight of Rowe's fawn or allowing the holocaust. Certainly good came out of it but I don't know I would call it greater good or moral good.

            Certainly a good comes out of evil in that in a material universe some things increase their being at the expense of other things. God doesn't make Evil itself a final cause.

            But I am not sure about the formula "greater good". That God made a greater good from the Death of His was an act of pure charity on His part and His Divine Plan from the Beginning.

            Those are my thoughts. Anyway God is not obligated to stop Ghosts from punching people. But given His Nature God is not gonna allow what you see in the Horror movies where innocent Souls can be snatched by Demons and dragged to Hell apart from being formally condemned by Divine Judgment.

            Cheers.

    • OMG

      I believe strange and explicable (and frightening) things do indeed happen, but I don't see how they are consistent with Catholic teaching about life after death. - DN

      The assent to, then the practice of the virtue of faith, prepares the devout Catholic to accept strange or miraculous occurrences; we see these as within the domain of the transcendental God or other spirits created by Him.

      The devout Catholic believes in an all-powerful, all-good God, and in the truth of His words. The Gospel of Matthew (5:48) has Jesus saying: “Therefore you are to be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect." How does one become perfect? Through sanctifying grace (given through the sacraments developed by the Church) and through the gifts of the Holy Spirit (supernatural strengthening of virtues acquired naturally; this theology developed through early Church fathers' teaching, Scripture, and experiences of saints and martyrs). Perfection takes us closer to the divinized God; in union with Him, we can do what He can do if He does will it.

      Matthew 17-21 [Edit: Chapter 17] has the disciples unable to cure as Jesus did; they asked Jesus why: “Because you have so little faith,” He answered. “For truly I tell you, if you have faith the size of a mustard seed, you can say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move. Nothing will be impossible for you.” Belief implies action. Stronger belief implies more powerful and supernatural acts. Saints perform miracles more readily and more often than average Joe pew-sitters.

      • David Nickol

        The assent to, then the practice of the virtue of faith, prepares the devout Catholic to accept strange or miraculous occurrences; we see these . . . .

        Do you really think of yourself as a devout Catholic?

        What I find so objectionable about your comment and some others is what I suppose I would have to classify as Catholic triumphalism. Aren't there Protestants who have deep and sincere faith? Aren't there Jews? Aren't there Muslims? Buddhists? While Catholics may believe themselves (or the Church) to have the fullness of truth, the Church itself doesn't claim to have a monopoly on either truth or faith or "devoutness."

        • OMG

          I do see myself as a devout Catholic and find nothing objectionable about my comment as it reflects the beauty and truth of the Catholic faith. Everyone is invited to participate in the sanctification of persons it provides. Everyone is promised the love and the guidance of the Holy Spirit which rules and protects it. All are welcome within her loving embrace.

        • Dennis Bonnette

          If you will forgive me intruding here, personally, I tend to equate "devout" simply with someone who takes the Faith seriously and really tries to live it -- whether they fully succeed or not!

          And I agree with you that there can be "devout" members of other Christian sects or other religions, besides the Catholic. I do not see it as triumphalist to say, though, that if the Catholic Church is really what she claims to be, then fully following her way of life should help one to be more fully human and pleasing in the sight of God than an equally serious member of a sect or religion whose tenets are not the orthodox revealed one.

          If human perfection were equally attainable in every religion, what would be the point of God revealing his truth to us or directing us to live in a manner both pleasing to him and more perfective of us as human beings? Why bother revealing anything to us at all if we can achieve the same perfection no matter how we live or what we believe?

          That does not mean that God loves a person in an "erring" faith any less, since he loves all creatures infinitely from his perspective. But there can be "more to love" in a creature who more perfectly fulfills his nature and a life of supernatural grace precisely in the manner in which God created him.

          This is analogous to saying those in Heaven are all perfectly happy, but some are more perfect and more happy than others because they fulfilled their last end more perfectly.

          • David Nickol

            Even if being a Catholic gives one a better shot at achieving something nearer perfection, that is absolutely no guarantee many Protestants won't be far better Christians then many Catholics. And to whom much is given, much will be required. If I were convinced that the Catholic Church was the "one true Church," I would feel a great burden to represent it in such a way as not to drive people away from it.

          • Rob Abney

            >I would feel a great burden to represent it in such a way as not to drive people away from it.< How would you represent the prohibition on divorce, contraception, and abortion?

          • David Nickol

            How would you represent the prohibition on divorce, contraception, and abortion?

            As I tried to explain elsewhere, I was not recommending that Catholic teachings should be sugarcoated or watered down. I was recommending that reaching out to those who are not Catholics should be done with this quote in mind:

            14 Bless those who persecute [you], bless and do not curse them.

            15 Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep.

            16 Have the same regard for one another; do not be haughty but associate with the lowly; do not be wise in your own estimation.

            17 Do not repay anyone evil for evil; be concerned for what is noble in the sight of all.

            18 If possible, on your part, live at peace with all.

            19 Beloved, do not look for revenge but leave room for the wrath; for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.”

            20 Rather, “if your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink; for by so doing you will heap burning coals upon his head.”

            21 Do not be conquered by evil but conquer evil with good.

            I would also emphasize that there are much more important teachings of the Church than the prohibitions against divorce, contraception, and abortion, however important those teachings may be. The Catholic faith should not be thought of as being primarily about sexual and reproductive issues.

          • Rob Abney

            >The Catholic faith should not be thought of as being primarily about sexual and reproductive issues.Why do young people leave the Faith? I was asked that question the other day, and I replied, off the cuff, that it was two things: Their imaginations had not been formed by the Faith and our magnificent heritage of arts and letters, and they wanted to have sex.< https://www.crisismagazine.com/2020/why-do-young-people-leave-the-faith

            And I appreciate your quoting Romans, I believe verse 20 is the point of much of our dialogue here at SN, based upon the interpretation of live coals on the head as remorse for denying the obvious.

          • OMG

            Protestants often hang crosses in their place of worship, with the body of Christ removed from them. Would that be an example of making a religion more attractive to potential believers?

          • David Nickol

            @rob_abney:disqus

            Would that be an example of making a religion more attractive to potential believers?

            I guess my comment was unclear. What I said about not driving people away from Catholicism was meant to be something along the lines of what I take Dr. Bonnette to mean about not wanting to win an argument and lose a soul. It seems to me the essence of evangelizing is not to try to prove to people how wrong they are and how offensive it is that someone should challenge the Catholic Church, but rather (at least in part) to win people over so they don't go away saying, "If that's what it's like to be a Catholic, I don't want to be one."

            By the way, it's my understanding that Protestants display crosses rather than crucifixes because they want to emphasize that Jesus is no longer hanging on a cross. He is risen. Protestants are now considered by the post-Vatican II Church as "separated brethren," not a group of heretics who exist to be used as bad examples.

          • OMG

            Now I'm confused. How or where have Protestants been used as bad examples? In what way did someone try to prove how wrong people were or how offensive it was that someone should challenge the Catholic Church? What souls have been lost? God decides that, doesn't He?

            Cardinal J. Ratzinger discusses 'separated brethren' in his book "The Meaning of Christian Brotherhood." He posits that Christians are brothers to the extent that they share in the Eucharistic sacrifice. He also talks about the love and suffering which true brothers endure, and suggests that it is they who are truly 'catholic.' It's an interesting read if one likes Ratzinger.

          • David Nickol

            Thanks for the book recommendation. I have put it on my Kindle. I will report back when I have read it.

            I have called out instances of (what I consider) Strange Notions anti-Protestant bigotry in previous messages. Apparently you have the misfortune not to have read everything I have ever written here! :-)

          • OMG

            When there is objective evidence of bigotry, I would hope to see it without anyone needing to point it out.

          • David Nickol

            . . . . I would hope to see it without anyone needing to point it out.

            I suppose we would all hope to be aware or our own prejudices, but how many of us are?

          • OMG

            Gauging awareness of one's own prejudice may be difficult, but judging another's awareness is likely more prejudicial.

            I dunno the answer to your query. I imagine the thought police have precise and actual stats on that.

          • Rob Abney

            >All Christians who are baptized and believe in Christ but are not professed Catholics" are separated brethren, according to John Hardon in Modern Catholic Dictionary<
            One important thing that our separated brethren lack is assistance from the church militant to pray and offer masses for those separated brethren in Purgatory.

          • Dennis Bonnette

            This is a bit complex. Divine revelation gives us the rules of how to achieve the greatest human perfection. Obviously, a Catholic that fails to live up to those rules can be less perfect than, say, a Protestant who does so. But the Protestant's perfection does not come from being Protestant, but rather from living up to the Catholic rule better than does the Catholic in question.

            Nonetheless, in the supernatural order, there is no replacing the grace conferred by the Sacraments, especially, the Eucharist. Since this causes a real change in the soul in the direction of union with God, even the most virtuous Protestant who lack the Eucharist, would achieve his human supernatural potential better were he a practicing Catholic.

            As I see it, what God gave to humanity in Catholic revelation was especially the Sacraments, which make it far easier to attain perfection and salvation. Since the Protestant Reformation rejected some four or five out of the original seven Sacraments, that deviation from the fullness of Christian revelation objectively makes it harder for Protestants to achieve the perfection and probability of salvation accorded to those who choose to embrace Catholicism.

            This is not any form of triumphalism, but simply a recognition that God's gift of divine revelation is objectively helpful to individual human beings. For that reason, the most charitable thing a Catholic can do is to invite unbelievers to share the treasures God has given us -- even to the point of showing his love for us on the Cross.

          • David Nickol

            Nonetheless, in the supernatural order, there is no replacing the grace conferred by the Sacraments, especially, the Eucharist.

            On the other hand, the Church teaches that God is not bound by his sacraments. It is not exactly clear to me what grace is, but if God wants to lavish his grace on a Protestant or a Jew or a Buddhist who has never received the Eucharist, he can certainly do so.

          • OMG

            Church teaching on God being 'bound' by Sacraments (CCC 1257 ff):

            “God has bound salvation to the sacrament of Baptism, but he himself is not bound by his sacraments.” [1257]

            The above quote is often misstated and misinterpreted. The misstatement or misquote involves taking away the first part of the assertion (“God has bound salvation to the sacrament of Baptism”), and asserting only the last part (God “is not bound by his sacraments”). Both parts of the quote are true, but each part sheds light on the other.

            “The Lord himself affirms that Baptism is necessary for salvation.” [CCC 1257]

            https://ronconte.com/2016/04/15/can-god-offer-salvation-apart-from-the-sacrament-of-baptism/

            Mr. Conte explains Church teaching on the salvific role of the Catholic sacraments.

          • David Nickol

            Is there no hope of salvation for aborted babies (or any babies who die without baptism)? The Church says there is hope?

            Is baptism of desire impossible for those who don't know baptism exists? What about the indigenous peoples of the Americas before Christianity arrived? Must one know such a thing as baptism exists in order to benefit from baptism of desire?

            I do not know Ron Conte, but he sounds very far to the right to me. I would not accept his interpretation as necessarily the last word.

          • David Nickol

            It appears to me that baptism of desire can be stretched to cover just about any situation.

            1260 "Since Christ died for all, and since all men are in fact called to one and the same destiny, which is divine, we must hold that the Holy Spirit offers to all the possibility of being made partakers, in a way known to God, of the Paschal mystery." Every man who is ignorant of the Gospel of Christ and of his Church, but seeks the truth and does the will of God in accordance with his understanding of it, can be saved. It may be supposed that such persons would have desired Baptism explicitly if they had known its necessity.

          • Jim the Scott

            Yes unless you belong to the restrictivist school of thought that tries to downplay the possibility of persons who are not formally Catholic being saved.

            Provided they don't make the mistakes of the Feeneyite heretics (denial of Baptism by desire, which contradicts Trent, and or the absolute denial of the possibility non-believers by negation being potentially saved) in principle their view is permitted. That is they will admit the possibility of the salvation of some non-Catholics but they argue it is very very rare so it is better to convert people to the Church. Some split the difference and expand the idea of who might go to Limbo beyond mere unbaptized infants.

            Now I don't hold these views at all & I am skeptical about Limbo post resurrection. I tend to hope for the maximal salvation for as many as possible. But all things being equal I don't know which view is true and I believe we are not meant to know. We believers just have to try our best to evangelize and when necessary use words. Preach to them all and pray for them all and let God sort 'em out says I.....

            Other Catholics are free to disagree provided they only do it within the realm of Orthodoxy.

            Cheers guy. Stay safe and stay healthy.

          • OMG

            You are absolutely correct in saying what the Church says. We hope. In 2007, the Vatican published a report by a theological commission which studied the question of baptism by desire or by blood in relation to aborted infants. Basically, their conclusion was that we may hope. The Roman Theological Forum (www.rtforum.org) has two lengthy pieces from 1996 and 1997 on the same issue which basically concluded the same. There is theological foundation for hope of their salvation.

          • BTS

            @David Nickol
            OMG,
            This Catholic concept of baptism as you present it in such litigious language seems far too complicated and mechanical for a god who catholics claim is the essential ground of being. It is egregiously limiting to his powers, methinks. It strikes me as nonsensical and, actually, borderline farcical, that the omnipotent energy giving essence to the universe is going to follow an arbitrary compendium of canonical rules developed by the insignificant "momentary masters of a fraction of a dot." (Thanks, Carl, for the turn of phrase, there)

            I find it far more likely that we have misunderstood and misinterpreted (or invented) god's intentions and plans here. He/she/it can do whatever it wants; the "canonical rules" as it were, are probably human invention.
            My two cents.

          • OMG

            So you aren't keen on the science of theology or canon law! Humans spend many words, much analysis, and many people study and think on such problems for a very good reason which you pinpoint: God is God and we are not.

            That being said, he gave His authority to His church to bind and loose, saying that He would provide the Holy Spirit to guide, protect, and help the Church in its work. The Spirit moves where He wills and moves at God speed, not at man's.

          • BTS

            So you aren't keen on the science of theology or canon law!

            Correct. From where I sit, I just cannot bring myself to see the essential ground of being in the universe as a moral bean counter. Why would a god who can literally control the path of every electron in the universe with its mind want to enforce strict rules on baptism (and/or many other areas)? That is a head scratcher.

            What about 1,000 years in the future when we discover intelligent, non-carbon based alien life on a planet without water? Force them to baptize using an alien (to them) substance?

            That being said, he gave His authority to His church to bind and loose, saying that He would provide the Holy Spirit to guide, protect, and help the Church in its work. The Spirit moves where He wills and moves at God speed, not at man's.

            I have an extremely difficult time finding success seeing the modern Catholic Church as the manifestation of god's favored institution on earth. Not for lack of trying.

          • Mark

            I have an extremely difficult time finding success seeing the modern Catholic Church as the manifestation of god's favored institution on earth. Not for lack of trying.

            As a baptized Catholic I am the Body of Christ, so it seems the man in the mirror is to blame for the ugly manifestation. I tend to agree, I don't see myself worthy of such gratuitous unconditional love considering the amoral abuse of my own free will. Seems a little Holy Water and a humble and contrite heart is too simple of a solution. Or maybe that's not what you meant.

          • BTS

            Great evangelizing, there.
            Just what every Catholic needs, a heaping tablespoon of more guilt.

            humble and contrite heart is too simple of a solution.

            I can have a humble and contrite heart and still have massive doubts about the divine nature of the church. In fact, with all of the massively broken people running about, how is one to tell a divinely founded church from one that is merely human-founded?

          • Mark

            I agree guilt is a good thing when Catholics violate a deeply held value.

          • BTS

            Let's you and I do a reset. We seem to be getting off on the wrong foot a lot lately.

          • David Nickol

            @brian_seiler:disqus

            I think BTS has a reasonable objection, if I understand him correctly. There are two current views of the Church, which I would characterize as liberal and conservative in my own mind, but that's probably not helpful here. So I'll say in the view BTS would prefer, it would be that the Church (like the Sabbath) was made for man. The other view would be that man was made for the Church.

            It seemed to me that in the Ron Conte essay, the effort was to minimize as much as possible the idea that God is not bound to (or by) his sacraments. Conte does acknowledge baptism of blood and baptism of desire, but limits God to those. Of course, if the Church had taken Jesus literally, there would be no baptism of blood or baptism of desire. The fact that the Church affirms them as dogma is an example of the Church being made for man. God did not institute rules so strict that good men who desire to follow them are penalized when it is impossible to follow them. Baptism was made for man, not man for baptism.

            It seems to me that if Conte is correct, there is no hope for unbaptized babies (e.g., abortion victims) to be saved. Yet the Church says there is hope.

            Here, from the Catechism, is another "liberal" interpretation:

            2283 We should not despair of the eternal salvation of persons who have taken their own lives. By ways known to him alone, God can provide the opportunity for salutary repentance. The Church prays for persons who have taken their own lives.

            That is quite a new development, since the 1917 Code of Canon law forbid Catholic funeral services to suicides and did not allow burial in Catholic cemeteries. But those restrictions were done away with in the 1983 Code.

            I probably should have spoken only for myself instead of trying to interpret BTS, but I think he (and I, in my theist moments) would prefer to think of God as a loving, understanding, merciful being who is more interested in the spirit of the law than with the letter of the law as laid down by the Catholic Church.

            Of course, I see the problem and sympathize with the apologists. If you go overboard about the spirit of the law, you may minimize the law to the point where you ignore the law altogether, and then you are left without the law itself, and as a consequence, you have no law from which to glean the spirit of the law.

            In defense of BTS's point of view, it seems clear that Jesus himself spoke out against overly legalistic interpretations of the law.

          • Mark

            I don't know a Catholic who believes man was made for the church. I know people thar believe the hierarchy think this way. To which I'd say come with me to help with prison ministry and stop worrying where Christ isn't present unless he's not present in you.

          • BTS

            David, you have interpreted me correctly indeed. Exegesis can be confounding. Will the real Jesus please stand up? On one hand, we have Jesus saying he will not remove one jot of the law, and on the other hand we have him sticking it to the Pharisees for doing exactly that. (close adherence to the law). It is a tension that is difficult or impossible to resolve because his life is shrouded in the fog of time, and because we cannot ascertain authoritatively which things he actually said.

            (all things that you already, of course, know). I just don't like short replies, ha ha.

          • OMG

            What makes you believe God is a moral bean counter? I see him as ultimate provider and protector. As creator and keeper of life, He is lover, father, brother, friend and family. He is alpha, omega. He is home. As intelligent creatures with free will, we ourselves pile our beans for or against reality.

            In a thousand years, if you're alive on a planet without water, I daresay your life form won't be human. Water is necessary for life. Since baptism benefits man, forcing a baptism on a non-human would serve no meaningful purpose. In any case, here and now and for the past 2,000 years, a forced baptism has not been usual or accepted practice.

          • BTS

            What makes you believe God is a moral bean counter?

            Umm...you are misquoting me. Please read carefully. I said I DON'T believe in a god of that nature. Here's my exact words:

            I just cannot bring myself to see the essential ground of being in the universe as a moral bean counter.

            In a thousand years, if you're alive on a planet without water, I daresay your life form won't be human.

            Your next statement that "water is necessary for life" contradicts this one. Also, humans can live on a waterless planet. They would have to import the water (from an asteroid or moon) or manufacture it.

            Water is necessary for life.

            Scientifically speaking, the jury is still out on that. Other solvents may serve the same purpose as water. Saturn's moon Titan, for example, has lakes and oceans of liquid methane, which may also be a solvent for biological processes.

            Since baptism benefits man, forcing a baptism on a non-human would serve no meaningful purpose.

            Are you suggesting that Jesus only cares about intelligent life on one planet in an essentially limitless universe? And does baptism benefit only man? How do you know this?

          • OMG

            Now it's my turn? Thanks for the opportunity but I'm in the midst of reading "Through the Looking Glass" and cannot be drawn away. Plus there are the children, the piano, the garden, prayers needing saying, and my hair.

            Hoping you have a great day!

          • Rob Abney

            BTS, what is your favored concept of baptism? In other words, how do you think baptism should be made available or do you think that it makes no difference if it’s available or not?

          • Rob Abney

            How would you answer this question, whether Baptism is validly conferred by saying “In the name of the father and mother, the godfather and godmother, the family, the friends, and in the name of the community, we baptize you in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.”

            The Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith answered that that phrase invalidates the sacrament.

          • BTS

            If I (by some miracle) get to heaven and some of my friends or family are missing, having been disqualified by an invalid baptism, I shall indubitably find myself writing a strongly worded letter to the proprietor of said establishment.

          • David Nickol

            Excellent response!

          • Rob Abney

            Fortunately you have been made aware of what is needed and you are now responsible to inform your friends and family so that they have more assurance of that beatific vision.

          • Dennis Bonnette

            "Since Christ died for all, and since all men are in fact called to one and the same destiny, which is divine, we must hold that the Holy Spirit offers to all the possibility of being made partakers, in a way known to God, of the Paschal mystery. Every man who is ignorant of the Gospel of Christ and of His church but seeks the truth and does the will of God in accordance with his understanding of it, can be saved. It may be supposed that such persons would have desired Baptism explicitly if they had known its necessity (CCC 1260)."

          • David Nickol

            Still, where does that leave a person who was (unbeknownst to him or her) baptized with an invalid formula? The one I remember used "Creator, Redeemer, and Sanctifier" (to avoid the male "Father, Son, and Holy Spirit"). An article from the time of the controversy said the following:

            <The most serious practical consequences, he said, are likely to be seen in the area of marriage where no sacrament exists if both spouses had been baptized with an invalid formula.

            Even if only one of the spouses had been baptized with an invalid formula, there still is no valid sacrament of matrimony unless before the wedding the couple had obtained the dispensation needed for a marriage between a Catholic and a non-Christian, the cardinal said.

            Cardinal Navarrete also said that, obviously, the sacraments of confirmation and of holy orders also are invalid when conferred on people baptized with an invalid formula.

            Are we to assume that a person invalidly baptized as an infant who believes him- or herself to have been validly baptized is the recipient of baptism of desire? Is that sufficient for later ordination? Are the examples in the article (abut marriage, for example) presumed to be about people who know their baptism was invalid?

          • OMG

            Canon lawyer Ed Peters and Bishop Finn, who learned of a parish in his jurisdiction where this practice allegedly occurred, say that baptism of desire was operative in such cases where the person did not know of its invalidity. Any person who did learn that they had not been validly baptized should have the sacrament performed with the proper form. Seems that a person wanting to follow God's will would willingly seek a new baptism of the form which Jesus gave at Matthew 28:19.

            http://www.ncregister.com/site/article/baptisms_must_be_redone

          • Dennis Bonnette

            Without judging whether every statement you have made is theologically perfect, I think many of the points you make are valid.

            There can be grave consequences for failure to baptize or failure to use the proper formula in baptism. Just this June a case was decided by the CDC involving the use of "We baptize..." rather than "I baptize...." The decision was that the "We baptize... " formula was not permitted and the baptism itself was invalid. Here is the Vatican response: http://press.vatican.va/content/salastampa/it/bollettino/pubblico/2020/08/06/0406/00923.html#rispostein

            One has to think through the logic of all the implications involved, and you have correctly pointed out some of them. In the case I cite, the implications were immense, since the person left unbaptized later was ordained a priest! You can follow the logic of that one for yourself!!!

            As I said, I don't have the time or energy to work out each case and its exact consequences and needed remedies.

            Nonetheless, two points must be made here:

            First, this is why priests and deacons who decide to engage in ritual "innovations" are gravely bound not to do so with good reason.

            Second, God in his justice will not adversely harm anyone acting without a bad will, and this applies to the fate of unborn babies as well. We can prove that God exists and that he is all good and merciful.

            Since I believe in the overwhelming evidence in favor of the truth of the Catholic Church -- some of which is in my present OP on miracles, I am not going to be imprudent enough to try to find every possible inconsistency in its function following the mandates of Christ -- so that I may somehow then reject what my mind has already shown me to be true.

            In practice, I have found that when you sort through the details of such objections carefully enough, the incoherence disappears. But, since a possible infinity of such objections can be conjured up, it would be foolish to base one's ultimate life decision awaiting the finding of something which can never be found in the first place!

          • David Nickol

            By the way, i believe a recent post by @OMG about baptism (written by Ron Conte) really was in error. I understand his (Conte's) position to be that the only possible way for God to grant salvation is to someone who is baptized by water, blood, or desire. He says

            God cannot change His mind. He is unchanging infinite perfection. Since God decide to bind salvation to the sacrament of Baptism, that cannot change. Salvation is irrevocably tied to the sacrament of Baptism. It is absolutely necessary for salvation.

            His argument is that although it is true God is not bound to (or by) his sacraments, God has bound himself in this case. God has painted himself into a corner. This is no doubt why he (reportedly) claims Mary received baptism of blood, and children who die without baptism receive baptism of blood:

            No unbaptized little children have had ample opportunity to find sanctifying grace by a baptism of water or desire, and so they are given a baptism of blood, sometime prior to death.

            This is not in harmony with the very long Vatican document on hoping for the salvation of unbaptized babies. Both baptism of blood and baptism of desire are seen as problematic "solutions." (See paragraph 29.)

          • Dennis Bonnette

            I am not a theologian, but I am not shocked should you have found something in Ron Conte's theology which does not conform to the Vatican's official documents.

            Anyone who calls himself a "Roman Catholic theologian," but has never received a canonical degree in the field must be viewed with careful caution. Personally, I have found other serious errors in Conte's writings, which is why I am not surprised that you may have done so as well.

            You do excellent research, and I often find myself in agreement with you for that reason. Not always, but often. :)

          • Jim the Scott

            >Is there no hope of salvation for aborted babies (or any babies who die without baptism)? The Church says there is hope.

            In my experience many Trad types who believe in Limbo rather strongly and who are activists in the pro-life movement believe most aborted babies die because of odium fidei..ie..hatred of the Faith. They perceive the Big Abortion Machine, most of the people who run it and the dark spirit behind it hates the Church(can't say I blame them but we can argue that another time & I am not accusing anybody here of hating the Church or Faith whose views on abortion I find questionable...just to be clear). So in their view most aborted Children are Martyrs.

            >Is baptism of desire impossible for those who don't know baptism exists? What about the indigenous peoples of the Americas before Christianity arrived? Must one know such a thing as baptism exists in order to benefit from baptism of desire?

            If we factor in Limbo anybody under the age of reason who dies without baptism goes to Limbo and exists in a state of perfect natural happiness. The old Augustinian view (which in theory you can still hold but virtually nobody does) unbaptized infants suffer in Hell but their suffering is very very very lite (one can sense Augustine embarrassment over this view) is an unpopular alternative. Thought Jansenist heretics like that view and Limbo proponents ripped on them as "tormentor of Infants". Nobody to my knowledge holds this view today. Even Pope Benedict who was an Augustinian personally believes God somehow saves unbaptized infants.

            >I do not know Ron Conte, but he sounds very far to the right to me. I would not accept his interpretation as necessarily the last word.

            He seems to be one of those who leans toward the restrictivist camp & he believes in Limbo. Well good for him. I am an ex-Molinist turned Banezian Thomist. Catholicism had a diversity of opinions on none settled doctrine.

            I believe Aquinas speculated that fetus who has been ensouled but dies in the womb without the opportunity for water baptism can be saved by some extra ordinary manner.

            This Conte fellow calls the Immaculate Conception of Our Lady a Baptism of Blood but I don't understand that? Baptism by Blood is martyrdom last I heard. Our Lady was not martyred (at least not in the classic sense) She suffered watching Her Son die (which has deep spiritual meaning but I digress) etc. Her immaculate conception was due to extra-ordinary grace willed by God for Her.

            Other theologians have extended Baptism of Desire to the will of Christian Parents and the general Will of the Holy Church.

          • David Nickol

            So in their view most aborted Children are Martyrs.

            From an article on a Marian apparition declared false by the Vatican:

            The archbishop [Archbishop Angelo Amato, secretary of the Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith] specifically took issue with the message that De Menezes claims to have received about the “martyrdom of all the innocent children deliberately killed before birth.”

            “A martyr is someone who bears witness to Christ,” he said. “If the victims of abortion were to qualify for martyrdom, it would then seem that all victims of any moral evil should be likewise deemed martyrs.”

          • Jim the Scott

            Well I see Amato's point & His Grace makes a good one but the Abortion Industry is credibly an entity that collectively and overwhelmingly hates the Catholic Church & the witness of Christ. A woman who choses Christ and spares her child denies them money. So some of them could be Martyrs.

            OTOH you will recall I said "their view [is]most aborted Children are Martyrs" so they would not necessarily believe "all" aborted babies are Martyrs as this woman claims.

            Of course I don't believe in Limbo personally(thought on the practical level I act as if it is true. When my eldest daughter was born decades ago I had to leave her in the hospital overnight and take my wife home. So I left instructions if anything life threatening should happen in those 24 hours to please baptized her etc) so it is as meaningless to me as a debate between an Augustinian and a Molinist on Grace and free will since I hold the Thomist Banez view.

            Cheers man. I love how you do yer homework. Even I didn't know about Amato.;-)

          • Dennis Bonnette

            I once edited a book for Fr. Bertrand de Margerie, S,J, who was one of the authentic periti of Vatican II. He once speculated to me that it might be possible that the angels prepared the unborn children for baptism of desire and that is how they are then saved.

            As for Ron Conte, I cannot recall the point, but my reading is that he is not to be trusted at all as what he so calls himself, namely, a "Roman Catholic theologian" (even though, I believe, he holds no doctorate in the field). This does not prevent him from writing some pieces that are quite correct frequently.

          • OMG

            Re: Baptism of Mary, here's a curious fact, from Hymns on the Nativity, Ephrem the Syrian: Hymns, trans. K. E. McVey, CWS, NY, Paulist Press, 1989, p. 150.

            Ephrem (c. 306-373) is said to have used the term "baptized" in relation to a pre-crucifixion application of Christ's merits to Mary. One of his hymns has:

            Handmaid and daughter of blood and water [am I] whom You redeemed and baptized.

          • Jim the Scott

            @disqus_mfm0tDywva:disqus

            PS. My wife tells me she is somewhat familiar with Ron Conte & he believes the Virgin Mary herself was virginally conceived. If that is true then he is too fringe to be taken seriously. That is like saying somebody other than Jesus was Incarnate(not on this planet) or there is a Fourth Person in the Godhead.

            Yeh no.

            That is a bridge too far. In the 17th century the Church condemned the idea Mary was virginally conceived when it sprung up from overly enthusiastic Mary Maximalists.

          • David Nickol

            Conte speculates that Mary was a true offspring of her human parents, but somehow her conception was virginal and miraculous. Of course, in vitro fertilization could be virginal (but not miraculous). He states:

            Mary and Jesus were both born of women, and they are both greater than John. Yet Jesus says that no one is greater than John who is born of women. So we must interpret “born of women” as meaning conceived and born in the usual manner, and we must conclude that Mary and Jesus were each conceived and born in a different manner. They were each conceived and born in a manner which was entirely virginal and entirely miraculously.

            The above is based on an interpretation of Matthew 11:

            Amen, I say to you, among those born of women there has been none greater than John the Baptist; yet the least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he.

            The NAB, however, interprets Matthew 11:11 as follows:

            John’s preeminent greatness lies in his function of announcing the imminence of the kingdom (Mt. 3:1). But to be in the kingdom is so great a privilege that the least who has it is greater than the Baptist.

            Among those born of women would be a figure of speech meaning "among all human beings."

          • Jim the Scott

            Yeh my wife explained that to me but she didn't want me to quote her to that effect because she was telling me from memory & the small doubt she had that was his true view compelled her scruples. His interpretation is at best overly fantastical(like Scott Hahn's speculation the Serpent in Genesis appeared as a huge Dragon who intimidated Adam and Eve) at worst proximate to heresy.

            Cheers man.

          • OMG

            For David and JtS too: Yeh, Conte has a rep, but his reasoning on the baptism quote follows classic theological thinking and in no way represents fringe thought. On the topic of sacramental/God salvation, his article is orthodox.

            The concept causes us pause because of Jesus at John 3:4-8.

          • Jim the Scott

            Well I am not objecting to you citing him dearie. As David once pointed out I cited a guy from the Worldwide Church of God (who was quoting a Rabbinic interpretation of a text).

            His article (on this particular subject) seems Ok. Thought for the life of me I cana fathom why he thinks Mary's Immaculate Conception is a "Baptism of Blood"?

            Ah well......

          • OMG

            For David and JtS too: Yeh, Conte has a rep, but his reasoning on the baptism quote follows classic theological thinking and in no way represents fringe thought. On the topic of sacramental/God salvation, his article is orthodox.

            The concept causes us pause because of Jesus at John 3:4-8.

    • Mark

      @dennisbonnette:disqus

      It's interesting you say:

      "I have no reason to disbelieve the story in the OP, and I believe
      strange and explicable (and frightening) things do indeed happen.."

      Because it seems to undermine the following in the article:

      "This is also probably why each side, from its own perspective, is so thoroughly convinced that the other side is dead wrong."

      It seems as though there is indeed a middle ground, and one need not choose a tribe. The weak agnostic would agree that preternatural and supernatural events do get reported, but there is no way to verify the veracity of such revelations. Furthermore the weakest agnostic could say, if I had such an event happen to me personally I would accept it as personal knowledge of God, but this event is not a knowledge that can be evidenced to others as truth as it is reliant on my personal perception.

      • David Nickol

        It seems as though there is indeed a middle ground, and one need not choose a tribe.

        In much the same way as there are no atheists in foxholes, I think there are no (well, probably very few, anyway) total skeptics when something truly spooky or uncanny or mysterious happens. It is not just Catholics who believe in the supernatural.

  • Johannes Hui

    Miracles (using this word in a non-technical sense), generally, do not establish which religious system is true. Some other religious systems (eg Eastern Orthodoxy, Protestantism, Buddhism, Daoism, Hinduism etc) seem to have their own good-quality reports of miracles. Different miracles occurring in different inconsistent/contradictory religious systems could be consistent with God’s higher purpose, somewhat similar to God’s permitting the successful establishment of different contradictory major global religious systems is consistent with God’s higher purpose, even though these different religious systems would confuse many people in knowing which is closer to the true ultimate reality.

    The miracle of the bodily resurrection of Jesus would be an exception to the “general” portrait I painted above.

    • Dennis Bonnette

      I do not believe that I said anything about miracles being exclusive to the Catholic context. I believe that God works miracles for those outside the Catholic Church -- and, perhaps, frequently.

      Whether a given extraordinary event implies the truth of the Catholic faith depends upon the context and details of a given instance. Such an inference must be made on a case by case basis. Moreover, since most of these instances would be at least analogous to private revelation, they would not normally be binding on an individual's belief.

      • Johannes Hui

        My previous comment was not implying you have said anything about miracles being exclusive to the Roman Catholic system. Rather it was a comment made after reading these sentences of yours: “This one incident, all by itself, is sufficient reason for me to believe that Catholic priests do have real powers. And this, in turn, tells me all I really need to know about the truth of the Catholic Church.” This seems to be similar to a Daoist believer saying “This one incident of successful exorcism done by my Daoist priest, all by itself, is sufficient reason for me to believe that Daoist priests do have real powers. And this, in turn, tells me all I really need to know about the truth of the Daoist worldview.”

        Hence I said that miracles generally do not establish whether a religious system is true.

        • Philip Rand

          Johannes Hui

          Your position is:

          ...miracles generally do not establish whether a religious system is true.

          Looks like a case of Unconditioned Miracles then...and Bonnette agrees...

        • Dennis Bonnette

          This is why I just said that it all "depends upon the context and details of a given instance."

          I was well aware that there are cures and miracles that do not have a Catholic context. My statement in the article referred to that one incident alone. Nor did the other phenomena first mentioned, like the unseen force thrusting the man into a wall, have anything to do with my inference -- since such a preternatural occurrence would be malicious and could be caused by a devil.

          You have to look at the exact incident I reported, with a credible priest having used his ordinary Catholic sacramental powers to say Mass and bless objects. This mysterious voice is not a miracle, but merely a preternatural event -- since it does not take the power of God to produce a voice. But in the absence of a living human speaker or electronic device doing it, it is a preternatural event.

          Now, who would be saying, "Thank you, Father?" It cannot be a soul in hell, since they are not saying "thank you" to anyone and they are still in hell. It cannot be a soul from heaven, since they did not need any help. It would not be a demon, since they certainly would not wish to promote the Catholic faith by praising its priests' powers.

          This is why I -- speaking only for myself -- make the inference that the only remaining explanation is that this grateful spirit must have been a soul imprisoned in the very Catholic place called purgatory. Since it appears that the priest's sacramental actions helped this soul in some manner, the context is specifically Catholic.

          And this is why I said that this incident convinces me that Catholic priests have real powers (over souls in purgatory), which were specially manifested in this case, using this priest's normal sacramental powers.

          This is what causes "me to believe" this is evidence for the truth of the Catholic Church -- evidence specific to this case and convincing to me. What others infer is beyond my sphere of influence.

          • Johannes Hui

            Miracles generally blind/harden people to build a stronger faith in their different religious systems even when their religious systems are significantly false. Miracles that occurred in a Buddhist context would convince a Buddhist that his religious system is true; miracles in an Orthodox/Protestant context would convince its adherent that his system is true; similarly the miraculous event of the voice saying “Thank you, Father” in the Roman Catholic context would naturally convince a Roman Catholic that his system is true. Perhaps then, many such believers of the different religious systems would be convinced by their respective miracles to confirm their respective faiths through CONFIRMATION BIAS. So generally miracles do not help to establish which religious system is true.
            (I am using “miracles” loosely)

            You have reasoned along the line “Who would have said ‘Thank you, Father’?” and excluded various agents from it.

            What reasoning or logic can there be to demonstrate that “Thank you, Father” is impossible to spoken by some other spiritual entities (eg a demon) if, hypothetically speaking, that the Roman Catholic system is false in some significant way? If hypothetically the RC system is significantly false, a demon may well be interested to promote the RC system by saying that. (You can imagine certain types of anti-RC Protestants may sincerely think that it was some demonic agent that said it.)

            Because of the above, miracles generally do not help to show religious people which religious system is probably true. Miracles only show that physicalism/materialism/atheism is false.

          • Dennis Bonnette

            Your argument is very well reasoned, even though I do not think its final conclusion is necessarily true in this instance.

            I wrote, "This is what causes "me to believe" this is evidence for the truth of the Catholic Church -- evidence specific to this case and convincing to me."

            The reason I put "me to believe" in quotes was because I realize that not all would either believe the incident itself or would draw the same conclusion I did from it.

            You write, "...miracles generally do not show a religious person whether HIS OR ANOTHER PERSON’s religious system is in fact true."

            The word, "generally," is important here, since the most outstanding refutation of this claim as universal would be the Resurrection of Jesus. If true, how would one avoid the inference that Christianity is God's genuine revelation?

            You also write, "Miracles only show that physicalism/materialism/atheism is false."

            And that is the point (extending "miracles" as you do "loosely" even to include preternatural events). The moment you allow that even preternatural events occur, you have entered a realm in which materialism is false and, as metaphysics then easily also demonstrates, "atheism is false."

            That is why most miracles prove God's existence and power. But it is also possible for God to go further and affirm specific revelation in the process (as in the case of the Resurrection). Moreover, careful examination of the total events at Fatima or in the case of souls appearing from Purgatory (just off the top of my head) clearly comport solely with the Catholic faith. And God, who is Truth Itself, cannot deliberately directly deceive.

            As to my personal inference from the "Thank you, Father" incident, I was well aware that the greatest objection would be that a demon created the voice. That is one major reason why I say it would convince me, but not necessarily others.

            The most immediate inference that strikes me is that the incident would absolutely prove the reality of preternatural events, meaning that, as you yourself infer, materialism and, by metaphysical inference, atheism are false. This in itself is a huge step toward Catholicism.

            While some of the earlier reported phenomena entailed what appears to be malicious spirits that would fit your objection, there is also an evident context of possible souls detained in that place. What I did not mention in that essay is that the area also has had reports of people appearing in nineteenth century clothing in places they simply should not exist!

            Thus to me the "Purgatorial" context of the story makes perfect sense of priestly powers having the expected Catholic effect.

            It is one thing for God to work miracles for good people while not giving specific approbation of the theology of the human instrument -- as in the case, say, of Protestant ministers. But, for God to give to a devil the power to explicitly affirm a Catholic sacrament or sacramental so as to lead humans into theological error appears to me to be difficult to reconcile with God's essential truthfulness in this specific case.

            Nonetheless, I will concede to you the logical possibility that in some other specific case God might allow a demon to so deceive a person into thinking that Catholicism is not true. Yet, it is the strikingly preternatural character of this voice out of nowhere and demonstrates graphically for me, personally, the existence of the spiritual world.

            And, you are wrong to suggest that there is confirmation bias affecting the rest of my inference about priestly powers and souls in Purgatory. Bias is an unreasoned judgment about something. Granted, my reasoning does not come solely from this particular incident. But now knowing directly from this incident that preternatural incidents are real, I then combine this realization with the many of accounts of souls appearing from Purgatory described above in my article to realize that it is perfectly reasonable to infer that this incident fell into the category of a priest exercising his powers to assist a soul in Purgatory -- a soul now grateful for his actions.

            That priests do have such powers is affirmed in the many credible accounts of souls requesting of Padre Pio and other saints that they say the Catholic Mass for the release of the souls from suffering.

            Thus, it is, admittedly, the combination of this one incident with my background knowledge of the many accounts of priests' exercising their powers in this fashion that led me to infer that this preternatural voice was not produced by some demon, but by a genuinely grateful soul.

          • OMG

            I believe Dr. B. did allow that the voice was 'preternatural' rather than miraculous. As such, the 'unnatural' hearing of a voice when no one was present to produce that voice, would not necessarily be classified as a miracle. The effect here is what should confirm truth. Scripture would has it: A good tree bears good fruit. Many mystical masters suggest that seekers of God NOT attend to extrasensory effects in one's prayer life, whether those effects please or disturb.

            I once heard a voice during my receipt of Holy Communion. "It's ONLY A PIECE OF BREAD!" The (preternatural) voice did not shake my faith in the real presence of Christ. It confirmed my belief.

          • Dennis Bonnette

            You are quite right OMG. I did, in fact, make clear that the voice in question was merely a preternatural event. We can, sometimes, make valid inferences from such events. Surely, the levitations of St. Joseph Cupertino were merely preternatural in nature, but a lifetime of them speaks volumes nonetheless.

            I DID have a reply here to JH's comment, but Disqus seems to have eaten it and I haven't the memory, time, or energy to reconstruct it.

            I envy you your Holy Communion experience since it would surely have confirmed my belief in the Real Presence as well.

          • OMG

            Thanks, Dr. B. I am often a very careless, harried, hurried writer/thinker. I believe I intended to say that we ought not SEEK such experiences rather than not attend. Rather, we accept their occurrence as real occurrences but TEST their effect in order to know their origin.

          • OMG

            Johannes,
            Without time to cogently respond, I'm hoping Dr. B. can find his lost reply to further the interesting discussion.

            I'm editing my earlier comment which was totally inaccurate in saying that mystical masters suggest we not 'attend' to spiritual manifestations. As spiritual manifestations are real experiences not only of individuals but also of groups , to deny their objective reality would be untenable and dishonest. Mystical masters suggest. we do attend to them but test their origin and effect.

          • Dennis Bonnette

            As you can see above, through great serendipity, I did come across a copy of my reply to JH and posted it above. Hope it is what you were looking for. :)

          • Johannes Hui

            Hi OMG,

            Just in case your said “to deny their objective reality would be untenable and dishonest” because you interpreted me to mean that I am denying the objective reality of miracles (I am using miracles in a loose sense this way: a miracle is any alleged phenomenon that would be impossible to happen in the worldview of physicalism/materialism or atheism), I am not denying the objective reality of miracles. What I said was miracles generally cannot establish which faith system is true.

            I will read through Dr B’s comment and give a response ASAP.

            Cheers!

          • Dennis Bonnette

            While it appeared that "the dog ate my homework" some days ago in my reply to your comment here, or, more specifically "Disqus ate my reply," amazingly I did just find a copy of my reply to you and will post it here below now:

            Your argument is very well reasoned, even though I do not think its final conclusion is necessarily true in this instance.

            I wrote, "This is what causes "me to believe" this is evidence for the truth of the Catholic Church -- evidence specific to this case and convincing to me."

            The reason I put "me to believe" in quotes was because I realize that not all would either believe the incident itself or would draw the same conclusion I did from it.

            You write, "...miracles generally do not show a religious person whether HIS OR ANOTHER PERSON’s religious system is in fact true."

            The word, "generally," is important here, since the most outstanding refutation of this claim as universal would be the Resurrection of Jesus. If true, how would one avoid the inference that Christianity is God's genuine revelation?

            You also write, "Miracles only show that physicalism/materialism/atheism is false."

            And that is the point (extending "miracles" as you do "loosely" even to include preternatural events). The moment you allow that even preternatural events occur, you have entered a realm in which materialism is false and, as metaphysics then easily also demonstrates, "atheism is false."

            That is why most miracles prove God's existence and power. But it is also possible for God to go further and affirm specific revelation in the process (as in the case of the Resurrection). Moreover, careful examination of the total events at Fatima or in the case of souls appearing from Purgatory (just off the top of my head) clearly comport solely with the Catholic faith. And God, who is Truth Itself, cannot deliberately directly deceive.

            As to my personal inference from the "Thank you, Father" incident, I was well aware that the greatest objection would be that a demon created the voice. That is one major reason why I say it would convince me, but not necessarily others.

            The most immediate inference that strikes me is that the incident would absolutely prove the reality of preternatural events, meaning that, as you yourself infer, materialism and, by metaphysical inference, atheism are false. This in itself is a huge step toward Catholicism.

            While some of the earlier reported phenomena entailed what appears to be malicious spirits that would fit your objection, there is also an evident context of possible souls detained in that place. What I did not mention in that essay is that the area also has had reports of people appearing in nineteenth century clothing in places they simply should not exist!

            Thus to me the "Purgatorial" context of the story makes perfect sense of priestly powers having the expected Catholic effect.

            It is one thing for God to work miracles for good people while not giving specific approbation of the theology of the human instrument -- as in the case, say, of Protestant ministers. But, for God to give to a devil the power to explicitly affirm a Catholic sacrament or sacramental so as to lead humans into theological error appears to me to be difficult to reconcile with God's essential truthfulness in this specific case.

            Nonetheless, I will concede to you the logical possibility that in some other specific case God might allow a demon to so deceive a person into thinking that Catholicism is not true. Yet, it is the strikingly preternatural character of this voice out of nowhere that demonstrates graphically for me, personally, the existence of the spiritual world.

            And, you are wrong to suggest that there is confirmation bias affecting the rest of my inference about priestly powers and souls in Purgatory. Bias is an unreasoned judgment about something. Granted, my reasoning does not come solely from this particular incident. But now knowing directly from this incident that preternatural incidents are real, I then combine this realization with the many of accounts of souls appearing from Purgatory described above in my article to realize that it is perfectly reasonable to infer that this incident fell into the category of a priest exercising his powers to assist a soul in Purgatory -- a soul now grateful for his actions.

            That priests do have such powers is affirmed in the many credible accounts of souls requesting of Padre Pio and other saints that they say the Catholic Mass for the release of the souls from suffering.

            Thus, it is, admittedly, the combination of this one incident with my background knowledge of the many accounts of priests' exercising their powers in this fashion that led me to infer that this preternatural voice was not produced by some demon, but by a genuinely grateful soul.

          • Johannes Hui

            Congrats on the bodily resurrection of the body of your text!

            You said:

            The word, "generally," is important here, since the most outstanding refutation of this claim as universal would be the Resurrection of Jesus. If true, how would one avoid the inference that Christianity is God's genuine revelation?

            Yes. That was why I kept including the word “general” in my various statements stating that “Miracles generally cannot establish which faith-system is true.”

            For many years in my conversations with atheists, I myself used the historicity of Jesus’ bodily resurrection as an abductive argument against their physicalism and in defence of Christianity. I still continue to use such an argument against atheism. Nevertheless because Jesus’ resurrection and its link to God is not a deductive argument, but only an abductive argument, the inference is not air-tight and the argument can be circumvented.

            God, who is Truth Itself, cannot deliberately directly deceive.

            [paragraph 1]
            God does not involve directly in cases where miracles (I use “miracles” loosely to refer to phenomena which are impossible to happen in the worldview of physicalism/materialism or atheism) were of the type that deceived people into false faith systems; such miracles could have been produced by other powerful “supernatural” agents. Hence generally, miracles of any faith-system can cause its adherents to develop great confidence in their respective faith-systems (be it Buddhism, Roman Catholicism, Eastern Orthodoxy, Protestantism, Daoism, Hinduism, etc) regardless of whether the faith-systems are in error.

            But for God to give to a devil the power to explicitly affirm a Catholic sacrament or sacramental so as to lead humans into theological error appears to me to be difficult to reconcile with God's essential truthfulness in this specific case.

            [paragraph 2]
            a) Since God allows other “supernatural” agents to produce miracles to deepened the faith of Hindus, Daoists, etc which resulted in these believers being led into theological errors,
            b) if hypothetically Roman Catholicism (or replace it with Eastern Orthodoxy or Protestantism) contains errors just as Hinduism, Daoism etc contain errors,
            c) then it would not be surprising for God to permit some other “supernatural” agents to produce miracles that lead Roman Catholics (or replace it with Orthodox people or Protestants) into theological errors.
            {Hi OMG, In case you are reading this, please read this single paragraph [this single paragraph is separated into (a), (b), & (c) for easier reading] very carefully as this paragraph may lead to a misinterpretation}

            [paragraph 3]
            God allows different faith-systems (eg Islam, Hinduism, Christianity, Buddhism) to flourish irrespective whether they are true or false and even when most of these faith-systems would lead people into theological errors. This would seem to include allowing miracles to occur in these different faith-systems to deepen the faith of their respective believers even when this resulted in many people being led to believe in theological errors as theological truth. I see this as the wisdom of God in serving some other higher ultimate purpose of His.

            Nonetheless, I will concede to you the logical possibility that in some other specific case God might allow a demon to so deceive a person into thinking that Catholicism is not true.

            [paragraph 4]
            Logically, not only is there a “logical possibility that in some other specific case God might allow a demon to so deceive a person into thinking that Catholicism is not true” (the implicit premise in your statement is of course “Roman Catholicism is true”); even in the case you described (“Thank you, Father”), there exists also a logical possibility that God might allow a “supernatural” agent to deceive a person into thinking Roman Catholicism is true if Roman Catholicism is not true. Pl refer also to my paragraphs [1] to [3], in addition to this current paragraph [4], that talks about God allowing other agents to deceive people into theological errors. These four paragraphs are to be applied together.

            What I just typed in my above paragraphs [1] to [4] is applicable also to your statement “That priests do have such powers is affirmed in the many credible accounts of souls requesting of Padre Pio and other saints that they say the Catholic Mass for the release of the souls from suffering.” and also to other miracles you mentioned (minus Jesus’ bodily resurrection for the time being). Just as God allows a series of various different miracles in other faith-systems to deepen the faith of their respective faith-systems (assuming their faith-systems are mostly false), there is no difficulty for God to allow a series of such miracles to happen in Roman Catholicism EVEN IF (hypothetically) Roman Catholicism is false.

            To make myself clearer, I present this:

            Premise 1: If Faith-System X is true, then such totality of series of miracles affirming X would occur.
            Premise 2: Such totality of series of miracles affirming X had ocurrred.
            Conclusion: ???????

            As you know and would have taught your students, it is logically invalid to conclude that “Therefore Faith-System X is true” because that would be a formal error of “affirming the consequent”.

            That is why I said that miracles generally cannot establish which faith-system is true.

            On Bias:
            My view of bias is that being biased is not necessarily a bad thing. It depends on whether one is aware of one’s bias, how one is or is not using one’s bias in making a judgment, and whether one has good basis for one’s bias. Some say we are all biased - so we should not assume we have no bias but instead we try to be aware what are our biases and try to reduce any undue or unfair influence by our biases, such as by listening deeply to those who disagree with us because our opponents would tend to be better than us to see our own blind spots which our biases may have prevented us to see. Our background beliefs would contribute to our bias (again, my view on bias is that it is a neutral quality rather than a negative “unreasoned judgment”).

            In my previous comment, I did not suggest that specifically you have fallen into Confirmation Bias. If you read the paragraph in which confirmation bias was mentioned by me, it was a suggested factor on why MANY different religious people of different religions are convinced that their miracles established that their respective religion is true. I quote my previous sentence: “Perhaps then, many believers of the different religious systems are convinced by their respective miracles to strength/confirm their respective faiths through CONFIRMATION BIAS.”

            On what you said about background beliefs affecting judgment of a specific belief:
            Yes, I have what you said in my mind too, right from the beginning of my first comment about “miracles generally do not establish which faith-system is true.” The probability of a specific miracle being supportive of a faith-system is conditional on some prior background beliefs. The relevant type of probability is Conditional/Bayesian Probability.

            While some of the earlier reported phenomena entailed what appears to be malicious spirits that would fit your objection, there is also an evident context of possible souls detained in that place. What I did not mention in that essay is that the area also has had reports of people appearing in nineteenth century clothing in places they simply should not exist!

            What is your view/hypothesis on why those souls/spirits in 19th century clothings were detained in that house/place instead of being detained in purgatory?

            Cheers!

          • Dennis Bonnette

            I don't have time to give as lengthy a reply as is your comment. I think threads work much better addressing more specific points and rebuttals.

            But I have a general concern about your major thesis that “miracles generally do not establish which faith-system is true.”

            You really need to take a closer look at the distinction between preternatural phenomena and genuine supernatural interventions or authentic miracles which I define in the text of my essay.

            You seem to group all extraordinary events under the general heading of miracles, which is a basic error.

            Preternatural events can be caused by God, an angel, or a fallen angel (devil or demon). A true miracle is caused solely by God himself.

            Thus, you must examine all the phenomena you describe to test their proper category.

            False religions can work "wonders" in the form of sheer trickery or even preternatural works effected by demons. God allows people to be deceived in this manner apparently, since they should know of this possibility. Thus we are warned in scripture not to consult spiritists.

            If a true miracle is effected, it may be done in the name of God, in which case it proves only the presence of God affirming the good work and basic theism of the worker. So, too, any Christian can call on the name of Christ to effect a true miracle, which would then prove the power and truth of Christ.

            In other words, a true miracle attests to the veracity of God behind it, but only to the extent that it affirms some truth, such as the reality of God himself -- unless he explicitly includes aspects that are consistent solely with some other revealed truth.

            But when it comes to preternatural events, one must be very careful about interpretation. Thus, you quote me correctly as affirming "the logical possibility that in some other specific case God might allow a demon to so deceive a person into thinking that Catholicism is not true."

            From this concession, you draw the logical inference that, perhaps, in this case ("Thank you, Father"), God permitted a false inference on my personal part that Catholicism is true.

            You are correct in saying that God may allow demons to cause theological deception. Still, this is not because preternatural events have no truth value, but rather is because human beings are drawing false inferences from them.

            The worst mistake is to assume that a merely preternatural event is itself a miracle.

            The second worst mistake is to assume that all preternatural phenomena are from God or an angel. Yes, preternatural effects can be caused by the devil. That is why there is need for careful discernment of the situation involved.

            In this specific case, my own personal inference was that it was not from a demon. I made two points about this incident that impressed me:

            (1) "Yet, it is the strikingly preternatural character of this voice out of nowhere that demonstrates graphically for me, personally, the existence of the spiritual world."

            It would certainly not be in Satan's interest to suddenly affirm the reality of a spiritual world when he need not do so.

            (2) "While some of the earlier reported phenomena entailed what appears to be malicious spirits that would fit your objection, there is also an evident context of possible souls detained in that place. What I did not mention in that essay is that the area also has had reports of people appearing in nineteenth century clothing in places they simply should not exist!"

            This second point is fully consistent with the reality of the Catholic doctrine of Purgatory.

            Here is the key point from my perspective. It is not merely that a demon could be deceiving by affirming a false doctrine of Purgatory so as to lead souls into falsely believing in Catholicism. Rather, I combine the "Thank you, Father" preternatural voice with the additional fact that nineteenth century clothed apparitions were appearing in the same context in order to reach the reasonable conclusion that these were souls in their own form of Purgatory and that, therefore, this priest actually did something to benefit at least one of them!

            Again, for God to so "assist" such an elaborate deception involving multiple preternatural phenomena makes me very skeptical that he would allow such demonic deception. I said this was my personal inference, not that everyone would share it.

            "What is your view/hypothesis on why those souls/spirits in 19th century clothings were detained in that house/place instead of being detained in purgatory?"

            You assume things about the doctrine of Purgatory which I don't think are defined. Given the reports of such souls being so detained on earth, it appears that some people's Purgatory consists of such earthly detention -- possibly with later transfer to the more traditionally conceived location.

            If I personally need objective evidence for Catholicism that the whole world should be able to see, for one example I refer the reader back to my comments about the threefold miracle of Fatima -- a set of true miracles whose implications he can explore on his own.

          • Johannes Hui

            Another body of your text has been resurrected! I aim to respond to this resurrected text within days.

            (I just finished restoring your text imperfectly and was about to post your lost text here, and then I saw your resurrected text. Hence the naughty dog has wasted my past hour.)

          • Dennis Bonnette

            Now my probably inferior replacement text appears to have met the same fate with that incorrigible canine. Sorry Disqus is apparently playing the devil (no pun intended) with both our work! My second version is perhaps no great loss.

          • michael

            Hello Dennis. You once told me every word in The Catechism published in 1990 is considered infallible and binding and cited a source for that. Can you remind me fo the source and demonstrate how it traces back to Scripture and The Tradition of The Twelve Apostles please?

          • David Nickol

            You once told me every word in The Catechism published in 1990 is considered infallible and binding and cited a source for that.

            I can say with absolute certainty that Dennis Bonnette never told you any such thing.

          • Jim the Scott

            > You once told me every word in The Catechism published in 1990 is considered infallible...

            What David Nickol just said........

          • Dennis Bonnette

            I don't know where you think you got this from, but it would never have been from me. The CCC certainly contains a large body of authoritative teachings, but it is not simply a compilation of infallible dogmas.

            The only infallible teachings of the Catholic Church are those of listed dogma, such as Ludwig Ott's Fundamentals of Catholic Dogma give: somewhat over 200 distinct solemnly defined teachings. And if you read his classic text, he lists many other teachings which have lesser degrees of theological affirmation than those dogma.

            Among the theological grades of certainty are the dogmas properly so called since they are solemnly defined by the authority of the Church; teachings proximate to Faith, that is teaching generally regarded by theologians as truths of Revelation, but not yet defined; teachings that are theologically certain, since they are logically intrinsically connected to revealed doctrines; and common teachings generally accepted by theologians,

            While the Catechism certainly contains restatements of a lot of dogmatic teachings, it also contains a lot more of those lesser doctrines which are not styled as dogma and are not infallible. In fact, as I recall, the teaching on the death penalty contained in the original edition was altered by a later papal intervention, which proves it could not have been dogma in the first place.

            So, I really cannot conceive where you got this misstatement of something I not only did not say, but of something that I would never say, since I know it is untrue and why it is untrue.

          • michael

            I recall you'd said it in a conversation with me about whether or not Hell is self-imposed like the CCC says or imposed externally like Luke 13:24-25 says.

          • Dennis Bonnette

            Well, it is one thing to cite something from the CCC to enforce a point, but quite another to make the claim that every word in that source is infallible. I have been well aware of the complexity of the theology of the Magisterium since 1967 and simply could never make the kind of outrageous overstatement which you allege I made about the CCC.

          • BTS

            Thus, you must examine all the phenomena you describe to test their proper category.

            Are you certain you have invested the time and energy into your research of the "Thank You, Father" story to rule out all natural explanations?

            For me, the problem with these types of stories is that very few of us have the time and resources to do a full investigation. And in many cases it is not even possible to do a full investigation, in which case discretion should rule the day, ie, the correct course of action is to accept the incident as possibly odd but not an indication of anything supernatural, preternatural, or godly.

            How do you know there was no speaker in the bushes playing a recording? Did you check? Can you go back now and check? (no). Maybe the priest's car radio malfunctioned. Did he have a cell phone? Maybe that played an audio file unbeknownst to the priest. That voice could have come from anywhere. Audio waves can behave quite oddly based on weather. I live 1.5 miles away from the local high school football stadium, but sometimes on ultra clear nights I hear the marching band playing as if they were one street over.

            As a gentleman I respect your conclusion but thoroughly disagree with it. I think you have set your evidential bar too low.

          • Dennis Bonnette

            I didn't expect that last incident to sway any skeptics, since they will always find "alternative" explanations for everything that is reported in this and similar cases.

            Much like the skeptic Joe Nickell's "explanation" of St. Joseph Cupertino's 35 years of observed levitations, where Nickell claimed it was merely great athletic ability, the actual facts of the case are given a possible explanation and this is supposed to settle the matter.

            But, in St. Joseph's case, any objective observer of the historical record would not accept Nickell's claims for one second, since it insults the intelligence of thousands of witnesses over decades, with some who saw the saint soar as high as 90 feet in the air.
            https://consciousnessunbound.blogspot.com/2018/11/pseudo-skepticism-case-study.html and
            https://www.historicalblindness.com/blogandpodcast//the-feat-of-the-flying-friar-st-joseph-of-cupertino

            Now, I am not saying that your hypothetical alternative is intrinsically impossible. What I am saying, though, is that the priest who had this experience is just as reflectively critical as yourself, although not blinded by skepticism. I accept his judgment as to what happened because I know him well and trust his judgment. But, that is why I said at the end of my recounting that my own judgment is based on my own knowledge of this priest -- a knowledge not shared by readers, like yourself. This includes, not only recognition of his truthfulness, but also his ability to accurately observe and report what actually happened.

            You have a similar problem with any attempt to interpret OMG's own personal experience of receiving Holy Communion and then clearly hearing a voice trying to tell her falsely that "it is only a piece of bread." There is a time when skepticism itself becomes incredible, particularly for those who directly experience something like this or for those who find their testimony trustworthy.

            You ask, "Why would god provide all these rather ambiguous, easily debunkable "miracles" that require an individual to spend a lifetime investigating in order to validate? "

            First, these two incidents are not miracles, but preternatural events. Read my article to understand the difference. Since it appears that such preternatural phenomena are widely well-documented, the answer to your question may simply be that the interface between this world and the spiritual one is so entwined that such incidents take place more frequently than materialist skeptics expect! In other words, they do not take special "effort" on God's part, but are frequently quite natural occurrences.

            If you want a genuine miracle that withstands even skeptical challenges, I refer you to my section on the Fatima three-fold miracle whose entire complex of supernatural phenomena firmly withstands criticism. For, it is its multifaceted content that really defies natural explanation. Fatima is not a private experience had by one or two people, but by tens of thousands. And, it is not merely a visual experience.

            And if you think it is easily "debunkable," try it. But, be prepared to do your homework. And, before you start, take a look at this: https://www.markmallett.com/blog/debunking-the-sun-miracle-skeptics/

          • BTS

            First, these two incidents are not miracles, but preternatural events. Read my article to understand the difference.

            I think the difference for the purposes of this discussion is academic.

            such incidents take place more frequently than materialist skeptics expect!

            This part really bothers me. Being a materialist and/or a skeptic is utterly immaterial here. (See what I did there? :)
            I think that is poisoning the well in your favor. Many Catholics who are not materialists or skeptics but who possess critical thinking skills will also find your 'miracles' totally unconvincing. You slip in that little barb to tip the scales.

            the priest who had this experience is just as reflectively critical as yourself, although not blinded by skepticism

            The use of "blinded" here is poisoning the well. Skepticism is not being blinded, but rather having one's eyes open to the truth. If the miracle is truly a miracle, the skeptic will have to admit it.

            This includes, not only recognition of his truthfulness, but also his ability to accurately observe and report what actually happened.

            OK, let's assume he's the most honest man who ever lived. He could still be terrible mistaken. How should one distinguish the story of the priest as truly supernatural/preternatural/whatever vs. the literally thousands of similar (admittedly highly entertaining) ghost stories on the shelves of the Juvenile fiction section of the library?

            As for St. Joseph Cupertino, who supposedly levitated... that was early 1600's. Lacking any video or photgraphic evidence, I have to chalk it up to superstitious imaginings. Nothing like that happens today, so Occum's razor would lead us to say it is more likely a legend. Perhaps if Lucia at Fatima had levitated 90 feet in the air for minutes on end, video-taped by many...that would be interesting.

            We'll just have to call it a stalemate on Fatima. I have read both sides of the debate and I have a hard time seeing Fatima as little more than a little girl's mischievous imaginings getting blown out of proportion and then weaponized against her, leading to an ambiguous interpretation of a weather event and a series of useless and even more ambiguous prophecies. You and Sample1 already went 15 rounds on that. I have nothing to add.

          • Dennis Bonnette

            If you recall, the main theme of my article was to explain the differences in the reactions of believers and non-believers to reports of genuinely miracles.

            I think the article itself fairly anticipates your response and attitude toward such reports:

            "To the contrary, it is the corresponding lack of confidence in devout witnesses and ecclesiastical investigations and historical records which probably causes unbelieving skeptics to dismiss the whole matter with total incredulity, while they spend their time and energy engaging in speculative disputations about the historicity of Scripture and the existence and coherence of the God of classical theism."

            To your skepticism about the widely documented levitations of St. Joseph Cupertino taking place back in the "early 1600s," you observe: "Perhaps if Lucia at Fatima had levitated 90 feet in the air for minutes on end, video-taped by many...that would be interesting."

            Doubting Thomas could not have said it better.

          • David Nickol

            Doubting Thomas could not have said it better.

            It is interesting to note, though, that Jesus offered Thomas the proof Thomas said he required in order to believe.

          • Dennis Bonnette

            That was due to the overwhelming charity of Christ. But, at the time Thomas so strongly expressed his doubts, his mentality was similar to the thoughts expressed by BTS.
            And, it turns out, according to the Gospel, that Thomas was wrong not to trust the witness testimony of his brethren.

          • David Nickol

            I remember as a teenager hearing a talk about Padre Pio and Therese Neumann, both of them stigmatics about whom remarkable stories were told. Therese Neumann allegedly lived for long periods without any nourishment. (I remember being angry with my "non-Catholic" father for suggesting someone was surreptitiously making trips to the kitchen on her behalf.) Padre Pio is now a saint, and Terese Neumann has largely been forgotten. I remember being told that Padre Pio levitated when he said Mass, and films existed. To the best of my knowledge, no such films have ever turned up. (Why would such films be suppressed?) The Britannica biography for Therese Neumann gives skeptics sufficient reason to doubt something supernatural (preternatural?) was at play in her life.

            Some years ago someone on this very blog (who may even have contributed an OP or two) suggested I pay attention to a site (now gone) called Locutions to the World. I took a look at it for a while, and in September of that year it made some very specific prophecies about Pope Francis's visit to the United States. Mary's alleged message of 9/3/15 read in part:

            The [economic] collapse will not come before Pope Francis comes to America but it will happen while he is in America. I deliberately brought the Pope to America, the world’s financial center, to be here when it takes place. I want him to be part of the picture. I want him to be present. His presence in America will be my sign that the Church is very important in saving mankind from its own follies. Toward the end of his trip, he will have to shift his message and address the new world situation. In this way, I will begin to exalt the Church as a beacon of light in the darkness.

            The quote is from this site, which comments on the utter failure of the prophecy or anything like it taking place.The site (Locutions to the World) abruptly disappeared, and information on those associated with it is nearly impossible to come by. However, somebody is still selling the alleged locutions in <a href="#">Kindle and paperback on Amazon.

            Before the utterly incorrect prophecy, it struck me that Mary and/or Jesus were unlikely to be watching with great anticipation whether the Iran bill (whatever it was at the time) would pass congress. Sometimes it pays to be at least a little skeptical.

          • Dennis Bonnette

            You are quite right that a prudent skepticism should be exercised about all such matters.

            Nonetheless, one can be skeptical beyond all reason. Indeed, perhaps, one should sometimes be skeptical of his own skepticism, as when it flies in the face of too much evidence.

            Regarding the reports about St. Joseph Cupertino's widely recorded feats of levitation, it is possible to be too skeptical, as we see in the following critique of skeptic Joe Nickell's attacks on St. Joseph's preternatural abilities:

            "Among the biggest problems with Nickell’s reading of the facts is that so very many people witnessed and gave clear testimony about Joseph’s ability to fly. Thousands saw his feats, and the written records in court depositions, biographies, letters, and diaries are numerous. Perhaps some of these could be dismissed as poor observers taken in by an illusionist, but could all of them? None record any detail to cast doubt on his flights, and in fact, many describe him not as seeming to float or leaping high, but rather soaring like a bird. Indeed, it is the skeptic Joe Nickell who appears to be dismissing great swathes of the testimony on the assumption that they were fooled or moved by faith and the power of suggestion to give the reports they gave."
            http://www.historicalblindness.com/blogandpodcast//the-feat-of-the-flying-friar-st-joseph-of-cupertino

            (The author of this detailed commentary does not appear to be a Catholic at all. Perhaps, some skeptics would benefit from reading his entire essay on this topic.)

            The mere fact that the witnesses in question made their testimony some four centuries ago does not automatically mean they are not credible. Indeed, every testimony of such events, even today, could be subject to the same objection -- unless there happened to be a video recording or unless one sees it himself. Just like doubting Thomas, some people want to see it for themselves or they will accept nothing -- no matter how strong and rationally compelling may be the evidence for the fact.

            Such an attitude of stubborn disbelief constitutes what I would call an irrational skepticism.

          • David Nickol

            For those who believe in the Incarnation, the Virgin Birth, the healings of Jesus, the Resurrection, and the Ascension (not to mention transubstantiation), aren't stories of a levitating or flying saint four hundred years ago pretty trivial? For those sitting on the fence unsure of whether to believe or not believe in Catholicism, could the story of St. Joseph Cupertino possibly influence them one way or the other?

            It seems to me such stories serve the same purpose of apologetics—heartening those who are already believers.

          • Dennis Bonnette

            As usual, you make a valid point. Remember, I am not a specialist in apologetics. I know there are those who can argue the historicity of the Gospels and make the case for the central doctrines you enumerate above. But not me, except in some cases and perhaps indirectly. For example, I did suggest in the article that the reason for such strong convictions among the earliest Christians that Christ rose from the dead may have come by the kind of trust in the actual witnesses that I argue can exist among Christians.

            This won't convince non-believers, since it is an argument that makes sense of the early believers' faith, but skeptics will still reject it.

            The Cupertino flying case seems to me a strong case for the preternatural, which may sound merely superficial at first glance. But, giving strong evidence of the existence of preternatural forces is also evidence for the existence of a spiritual world, which should break down the materialist assumptions of skeptics. Moreover, it is recorded that St. Joseph did these flights when in deep contemplation of the central objects of the Catholic faith. Again, the skeptics will see nothing. But it builds the Catholic argument.

            Personally, I see the psychological problem for many skeptics to accept things they are already convinced must be impossible -- and which are proposed to them as happening two thousand years ago where there seems no hope of present empirical verification.

            That is why for them I propose a good, logical look at the details of the Fatima events to which I refer in the article. Since they are recent, had many thousands of witnesses, and defy easy explanation, I think that example of a miracle has much more force for modern man to use as a foundation for belief. The context provides the Catholic inference for those willing to do their homework. But the first step is to get people to see that something really supernatural happened there.

            The real skeptics are so uncritical of their own skepticism that they find it hard to see the force of the public evidence there. I am not saying my own entire faith in Catholicism is based on Fatima. Not at all. But I think it is a good starting point for skeptics who can overcome their a priori certitudes that miracles are impossible since they apparently violate the laws of nature.

            One must never forget that it takes but a single genuine miracle to overturn the entire edifice of skepticism and atheism.

          • BTS

            Such an attitude of stubborn disbelief constitutes what I would call an irrational skepticism.

            I find it utterly astounding that in a world with almost 8 billion individuals, none of whom have seen another human levitate/fly/break the rules of physics, you call my argument against such an event "irrational skepticism."

          • Mark

            in a world with almost 8 billion individuals, none of whom have seen another human levitate/fly/break the rules of physics...

            That is indeed an utterly astounding negative claim. The burden of proof (especially hard with negative claims) is on the claimant. I would call universal dismissal of all empirical or experiential evidence that are counterfactual to a negative claim irrational skepticism. I only takes one positive piece of a posteriori evidence to negate your claim. For example, Fr. Amorth or Fr. Thomas who both have published contemporary exorcism accounts and testify of levitation would suffice. So it seems it is rather irrational to defend such a position. I'm not a professional philosopher, but this is just seems a skeptic's ability to universally dismiss evidence with certainty to affirm with certainty a presupposition the skeptic can have no certainty of. But maybe I'm missing something. Either way, good luck with that negative claim.

          • BTS

            Strawman. You know that is NOT my argument. I am not dismissing all empirical evidence.

            I only takes one positive piece of a posteriori evidence to negate your claim.

            Allow me to correct the above to my satisfaction:

            "I only takes one scientifically verified, testable and reproducible positive piece of a posteriori evidence to negate your claim."

            So it seems it is rather irrational to defend such a position.

            Strawman. Not my position.

            skeptic's ability to universally dismiss evidence with certainty to affirm with certainty a presupposition the skeptic can have no certainty of.

            And yet more strawman. I did not universally dismiss anything. Please provide me with a link to a legitimate claim of a human being flying, unaided, with the following conditions:
            1) well documented case
            2) many witnesses
            3) videotape
            4) skeptics present
            5) event is reproducible many times over.
            6) setting and circumstances NOT selected by the so-called "flyer."

            Testimony from a bunch of believers for a supernatural thing is not enough evidence.

            My point is more along the lines of the challenge issue by the James Randi prize.
            https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/James_Randi
            If all this supernatural stuff is really happening, then why can't all these gifted individuals reproduce it when the money is on the line?

          • Mark

            I'm glad to see you retreat to a more rational argument.

            "I(t) only takes one scientifically verified, testable and reproducible positive piece of a posteriori evidence to negate your claim."

            So that makes your claim, "There is not one scientifically verified, testable and reproduced positive claim of levitation under the following circumstances: 1-6." To which I respond, how can something that is supernatural be scientifically tested and verified? It seems a categorical mistake. Dr. B is in no way endorsing charlitans or magicians Randi took on. If you had a video recorder of the skies above San Giovanni Rotondo it may not record St. Pio with his outstretched wounded hands even though everyone in the bomber sees him. I think you presuppose a necessary relationship between the immaterial conscious sense perception and the material physical reality, which is not a commitment I (nor Dr. B I think) make about miracles or preternatural events. Correct me if I'm wrong.

          • BTS

            I was not retreating at all, but rather improving upon my precision of language in order to facilitate better communication.

            To which I respond, how can something that is supernatural be scientifically tested and verified?

            I stipulated my conditions #1-6 below to be my preferred conditions for testing a supernatural claim, yes. Those would be ideal. I may not get what I want, however, and I may settle for slightly less. More on that below.

            1) well documented case
            2) many witnesses
            3) videotape
            4) skeptics present
            5) event is reproducible many times over.
            6) setting and circumstances NOT selected by the so-called "flyer."

            While it may be true that one cannot scientifically "test and verify" a supernatural event, one can certainly use the tools of the scientific method to control test conditions (after-the-fact), investigate the claim, and rule out chicanery, malfeasance, faulty testimony and any natural but perhaps seemingly odd circumstances. In other words, science should be the sharpest tool in the miracle claimer or debunker's toolbox, helping both "sides" to come to the truth.

            As such, science is your tool for ruling out as much as possible. What I think happens, by and large, in all miracle claims is that they are never fully investigated with the proper tools, either because no one has the inclination, time, or ability.

            There's no way to fully investigate flying monks from 400 years ago. So think we are forced to go with Occum's razor, the fewest assumptions, and the simplest explanation: people highly susceptible to superstition created a legend.

            I am in no way whatsoever being hyper-skeptical. If a person flies in the sky tomorrow, and it is able to reproduce the act publicly on demand, and scientists, skeptics, and believers alike conduct a thorough investigation and come away with no natural explanation, I will eat my shorts, my hat, and every post I've ever written on this blog.

          • David Nickol

            To which I respond, how can something that is supernatural be scientifically tested and verified?

            A miracle might not, strictly speaking, be scientifically verifiable, but the results of a miracle in many cases should be. This is taken for granted when the Church investigates allegedly miraculous cures in a canonization process. I someone was miraculously cured of lung cancer, that would mean (in any reasonable explanation) that the cancer had once been present, and now it is gone. One would expect that fact to be scientifically detectable and to be reflected in objective tests such as x-ray exams.

            In the case of levitation or flying, if it cannot be captured on film, then it seems to me it is not levitation or flying. If I appear to all witnesses present to levitate, but a video recording shows no evidence of such, at best the witnesses shared some kind of supernaturally induced vision.

            God, who creates and sustains all things seen and unseen doesn't have to conform to your criteria.

            It seems to me you are trying to change the definition of a miracle. In most miracles that are open to investigation, something empirically verifiable actually happens.

          • Dennis Bonnette

            While I agree with most of your comment here, there is one point that clarification might help.

            "In the case of levitation or flying, if it cannot be captured on film, then it seems to me it is not levitation or flying. "

            The problem in St. Joseph Cupertino's case is that he did his flying before the video recording existed. So, all we can possibly expect is eyewitness testimony. And it seems we have a large amount of that testimony.

            I agree with you, though, that if a video recording is made, then it should record someone physically levitating today.

          • Mark

            In most miracles that are open to investigation, something empirically verifiable

            Sure. But my point was it's only because we have a set of natural laws reality conforms to which began and are sustained for no empiraclly verifiable reason that miracles can be claimed. It's more claiming one miracle against the backdrop of the miracle of existence. Reality isn't necessary.

          • David Nickol

            It's more claiming one miracle against the backdrop of the miracle of existence. Reality isn't necessary.

            Awesome as it may be, I don't think existence, or creation, or reality is miraculous. The concept miracle, contains within it the idea that God created a universe governed by certain fixed laws. It is God's breaking or suspending those laws to take direct action in the created world that makes a miracle a miracle. Otherwise, everything that happens in the created world is miraculous, and so-called miracles are merely rarer events than other, more regular, "law-abiding" miracles. So while creating (or sustaining) the universe displays infinitely more power than, say, the Miracle of the Sun, the act of creation itself didn't break any physical laws, because God was creating them along with everything else.

          • Mark

            I don't think existence, or creation, or reality is miraculous...God created a universe governed by certain fixed laws

            We may be talking past each other a bit. Miracle in the wide sense versus miracle in the narrow sense. Miracle in the wide sense (Greek words terata, dynameis, semeia) according to Catholic teaching means: "wonders performed by supernatural power as signs of some special mission or gift and explicitly ascribed to God." (NewAdvent:Miracles) Creation would fit that bill. Miracle in the narrow sense is the suspension of nature you put forth and to which I can for the most part agree. I don't like the "breaking the law" bit, because God isn't breaking any laws.

            However, taking a step back, miracles in the narrow Catholic sense do not comply to BTS which I paraphrased and he didn't disagree: "There is not one scientifically verified, testable and reproduced positive claim of (the suspension of natural law) levitation under the following circumstances: 1-6."

            And to which you put forth: "In the case of levitation or flying, if it cannot be captured on film, then it seems to me it is not levitation or flying." So God creates and sustains the material and immaterial. God can change or suspend the laws governing the material and immaterial. And it seems to you that God when he performs such miracles necessarily should make it able to be captured on film for a contemporary human to verify it is a "material truth" to be factor in the Providence of God over men? I don't agree with that last sentence, but I want to be charitable and don't want to put words in your mouth.

          • Jim the Scott

            Well said sir.

          • Dennis Bonnette

            You are just giving the standard skeptical position. No one I know has ever seen it happen, and so, it cannot happen.

            In fact, how do you know that none of the people on earth is not presently observing real levitations? In fact, they are attested to in the case of some exorcisms, are they not? Or, do you also a priori rule out the possibility of those preternatural events also?

            I guess you will only believe in levitation when everybody gets out his flying carpet.

            One must expect that preternatural events, even so more the case with true miracles, will be rare events.

            What you are really saying is like what I cite G.K. Chesterton in the article as saying of skeptics:

            “If we say miracles are theoretically possible, they say, “Yes, but there is no evidence for them.” When we take all the records of the human race and say, “Here is your evidence,” they say, “But these people were superstitious, they believed in impossible things.”

            "

          • David Nickol

            This link, with any luck, will go to the old discussion about Locutions to the World.

          • BTS

            "To the contrary, it is the corresponding lack of confidence in devout witnesses and ecclesiastical investigations and historical records which probably causes unbelieving skeptics to dismiss the whole matter with total incredulity, while they spend their time and energy engaging in speculative disputations about the historicity of Scripture and the existence and coherence of the God of classical theism."

            A nice compendium of loaded language.

            Yes, ecclesiastical investigations should be taken with a large sack of salt. You'd say the exact same thing about a Muslim investigation into an unexplained event.

            What does being devout have to do with it? Replace doubt with "primed," perhaps. Being devout is a liability when it comes to assessing a miracle's validity. More likely to 'see' things they aren't really there.

            while they spend their time and energy engaging in speculative disputations about the historicity of Scripture

            That's not accurate or fair.
            What most skeptics engage in is intellectually honest discussion about the probabilities that an event did or did not happen.

            Both you and Mark have accused skeptics and independent thinkers like me of being too skeptical, hyper-skeptical (as Mark calls it), overly skeptical. What does that even mean?
            Is there a handbook on where to draw the line? I just use critical thinking, research and evidence to assign probabilities. I've never seen a man flying around like superman, and no person in living memory has either. So it is not hyper-skeptical to suggest it is merely a fanciful legend. I daresay it is prudent.

          • Dennis Bonnette

            "What does being devout have to do with it? Replace doubt with "primed," perhaps. Being devout is a liability when it comes to assessing a miracle's validity. More likely to 'see' things they aren't really there."

            Your skepticism makes you see "devout" as meaning merely brainwashed in some manner. I see it as meaning simply that devout Catholics are far less likely to lie about what they see or what they make false claims for. You underestimate the value of ecclesiastical investigations, since there you will have philosophers and theologians, who, contrary to your suspicions, are generally neither fools nor knaves, and who can evaluate the honest witnesses' testimony to find the truth.

            Once again, remember, you are looking at a two thousand year history of such investigations. Your skepticism has to be in overdrive to think the positive findings are all "cooked" by superstition, stupidity, and dishonestly.

            Every age thinks its time has come and that we now know things far more perfectly than any preceding age. The meaning of excessive skepticism is that some are so sure the preternatural or supernatural cannot occur that they dismiss all real evidence of its existence as pure fantasy.

            To use your own words, " I've never seen a man flying around like superman, and no person in living memory has either. So it is not hyper-skeptical to suggest it is merely a fanciful legend."

            In other words, your mind is made up before even looking at the facts. If you are so concerned about being open-minded about sorting through the facts, take a look at this web site, written by someone who does an amazing job of sorting out the facts on this very subject matter of St. Joseph's levitations. The very title of the web site is appropriate: "Historical Blindness."

            https://www.historicalblindness.com/blogandpodcast//the-feat-of-the-flying-friar-st-joseph-of-cupertino

            In it, the author takes to task the famous skeptic, Joe Nickell, for trying to explain away the levitations as merely feats of athletic prowness on St. Joseph's part.

            "Among the biggest problems with Nickell’s reading of the facts is that so very many people witnessed and gave clear testimony about Joseph’s ability to fly. Thousands saw his feats, and the written records in court depositions, biographies, letters, and diaries are numerous. Perhaps some of these could be dismissed as poor observers taken in by an illusionist, but could all of them? "

            It seems to me you cannot claim "open-mindedness" and "intellectual honesty" in one breath, and in another, to conclude, "I've never seen a man flying around like superman, and no person in living memory has either. So it is not hyper-skeptical to suggest it is merely a fanciful legend." Like Joe Nickell, are you dismissing all the testimony of thousands of witnesses, merely because they lived long before you do? Sounds like temporal discrimination. :)

          • BTS

            Your skepticism makes you see "devout" as meaning merely brainwashed in some manner. I see it as meaning simply that devout Catholics are far less likely to lie

            It's not about lying necessarily but about bias. Devout people (many, but not all) may not recognize their own biases.

            I've read everything I can find on the webs about super-monk including the historical blindness site. Most google searches bring up superficial Catholic wiki-type articles for believers. Not much historical data.

            I found one skeptic site complaining that this story of the flying monk has not been seriously addressed by skeptics yet. (other than this Nickell guy). I don' think there's enough information out there to really dig into this.

            In other words, your mind is made up before even looking at the facts.

            Far from it. I lean very heavily toward the skeptical viewpoint because in this case we don't have the facts. We have supposed testimony.

            Thousands saw his feats, and the written records in court depositions, biographies, letters, and diaries are numerous.

            Where can I read these depositions in English? I cannot find any of them via internet search.

            At the end of the day, it seems to me that stories like Flying Cupertino are from a different world. They come from a world that does not comport with the way our world works, or seems to work. I just don't see that world.

            It seems to me it is quite difficult to distinguish between a world where ambiguous 'miracles' occur and world where no miracles occur. How should one tell the difference? I don't think it is clever, fair or prudent to label people as a Doubting Thomas as if that is an unfavorable eponym. I take it as a badge of honor.

          • Dennis Bonnette

            The text you cite is taken from the "Historical Blindness" web site, and reads thus about reports of St. Joseph Cupertino's levitations: "Thousands saw his feats, and the written records in court depositions, biographies, letters, and diaries are numerous."

            It would be rather rare, if ever, that the internet would post, in complete form, that much detailed documentation about anything. Nonetheless, that article appears very carefully written by someone who has done his research. Unless he is simply making this up, I see no reason to be excessively skeptical about his clear depiction of the extensive testimonial evidence that St. Joseph Cupertino really flew.

            You want video recording of his flights? You want the documentation in English, when this all took place centuries ago in a non-English speaking nation?

            Consider for a moment this more recent set of facts. Stage coaches were often set upon and robbed by highwaymen in the eighteenth century. Do you believe that is true? Would it not be irrational skepticism to doubt that they did? Yet, do we have even photos of these robberies? I doubt it. What we have is written records of the people on the stage coaches who attest that the robberies took place. And rational people accept the testimony because it is historically recorded and so many people attested to its truth.

            Indeed, would you think it reasonable to be skeptical of these reported eighteenth century robberies, given the historical records which are probably merely summaries of witness reports?

            I think you would call such skepticism entirely excessive
            and unreasonable. And this is precisely because it is unreasonable to question the testimony of a large number of witnesses to anything.

            If so, why are you so skeptical about the many historical records spanning over decades of many witnesses attesting to seeing St. Joseph clearly flying in the air?

            Now, above you have objected: "I've never seen a man flying around like superman, and no person in living memory has either. "

            Yet, we could say the same thing about those old stage coach robberies, which we agree actually took place.

            But, you object, stage coach robberies do not violate the known laws of natural science, whereas flying monks do.

            But that is exactly the point. While flying monks may violate the physical laws of purely physical things, they do not violate the ability of spiritual forces -- if such exist.

            But you would accept the testimony of witness of stage coach robberies, but not of flying monks? So what is the difference?

            The difference is simply that you a priori have assumed that flying monks are impossible. It is not the witness testimony as such, but rather, it is your attitude against preternatural phenomena that stops your acceptance of that testimony.

            So, Chesterton was spot on: "“If we say miracles are theoretically possible, they say, “Yes, but there is no evidence for them.” When we take all the records of the human race and say, “Here is your evidence,” they say, “But these people were superstitious, they believed in impossible things.” "

          • BTS

            If so, why are you so skeptical about the many historical records spanning over decades of many witnesses attesting to seeing St. Joseph clearly flying in the air?

            Now, above you have objected: "I've never seen a man flying around like superman, and no person in living memory has either. "

            Yet, we could say the same thing about those old stage coach robberies, which we agree actually took place.

            Your stagecoach analogy does not hold water. Stagecoach robberies still happen today, probably literal ones in NY City. Many different types of robberies still happen today. Robberies are mundane, and, if you have ever seen the six o'clock news, often captured on videotape. And there's no counter evidence showing that stage coach robberies did not occur then.The difference is so simple I can hardly believe I have to explain it. I can go outside today and commit a stage coach robbery, for heaven's sake. But I would be hard pressed to actually levitate.

            It is not the witness testimony as such, but rather, it is your attitude against preternatural phenomena that stops your acceptance of that testimony.

            This is just a veiled ad hominem. Not even close.
            It is not my attitude toward the evidence that precludes my belief. What precludes my belief is a mountain of counter evidence called reality.

            And, just for fun, here's a youtube video of a guy teaching a levitation trick. Imagine what monk wearing a robe could do.

            https://youtu.be/bhzy1Zx7PvE

          • Ficino

            Stagecoach robberies still happen today, probably literal ones in NY City.

            Despite much in your post that I agree with, I can't include this sentence! We have no stagecoach traffic in NYC. And despite this year's rise in shootings, that phenomenon is occurring all over the US. NYC remains much lower in overall crime than many other cities in the country. So please don't make NYC the default example of a locus of crime!

            OK, back to the discussion, gents.

          • BTS

            I was trying to deflect attention from the big city (The CLE as we call it) a stone's throw from my inner ring suberb...
            I was thinking of a city that has a good deal of those horse-drawn carriages (as depicted in the Seinfield beefaroni episode!). Point taken.

            The CLE has indeed seen a rise in shootings as well. Quite unfortunate.

          • Ficino

            The CLE has indeed seen a rise in shootings as well. Quite unfortunate.

            Not to say too much, for it would derail the thread, but it is hard not to think that the rise in shootings all over the country this year is somehow an effect of COVID. But I read that the rate of other crimes in NYC is flat or actually down.

          • Dennis Bonnette

            You are missing the whole point. First of all, I picked stage coaches only because we don't see them running around today with a bunch of horses pulling them. And then being stopped at gunpoint and robbed.

            The problem with every example is that an example may fail in some respect, while the principle it exemplifies may still be absolutely true and correct.

            I know you were not present when real stage coaches were stopped and robbed in the Old West, but you still believe it happened.

            I could have used the example of the James brothers robbing trains in the 1870's. You believe the eyewitness reports, but you cannot see it happening today. Nor can you verify that those train robberies actually did happen except by believing the records of the eyewitnesses who were robbed.

            "It is not my attitude toward the evidence that precludes my belief. What precludes my belief is a mountain of counter evidence called reality."

            Yes, it is precisely your attitude toward, not the evidence, but what the evidence proves. The evidence is the same: Eyewitness testimonies.

            You are selectively accepting some eyewitness testimony, while rejecting other such testimony because you are skeptical about the possibility of what they say they saw actually happening.

            Yet, the fact remains that normal human reasoning accepts the testimony of hundreds of people when they all say they saw the same thing.

            The only thing that makes it seem impossible for you to believe these testimonies is the fact that they are documenting a preternatural event, and since you don't believe in preternatural events, you discard their testimonies.

            It is solely because you don't witness preternatural events yourself or think they occur today that makes you ignore the recorded testimonies of hundreds of people in order to sustain your disbelief.

            Don't forget we have similar eyewitness recorded documents regarding the crucifix phenomena at Limpias that I included in my article, including hundreds of sworn statements. And the Limpias events occurred merely one hundred years ago in modern times.

            And your Youtube joke is a pathetic joke, since St. Joseph was witnessed soaring huge heights into the air on many occasions.

            Your skepticism clearly excludes all evidence that contradicts your preconceived notions of what must be regular about phenomena. But that is to assume what you hope to prove, namely, that preternatural or supernatural phenomena cannot occur.

            We show you the evidence and you remain totally skeptical.

            This is what is meant by "irrational skepticism."

          • Johannes Hui

            Hi BTS,

            Can you use your sceptical mind to help me see my blind spots in my 3-steps a-posteriori deductive reasoning below? People like you who do not have the same bias as me would be in a good position to see what I might not see as my bias might have resulted in blind spots. In addition, unlike those past events such as the reported phenomenon of the perceived dancing sun which you have no direct personal access to, you have full direct personal access to the following 3 steps which you can point out which premise-step is wrong (soundness in content) or whether the logic-structure is wrong (validity in form):

            My a-posteriori 3-step reasoning

            1. You physical existence is CONTINUOUSLY conditioned on the fulfillment of many CONCURRENT non-abstract conditions in various series of conditions (eg you > warm atmosphere > sun > ...)
            [The ideas behind the two words “CONTINUOUS” and “CONCURRENT” are very impt for the argument; it points to series of conditions existing right now as you are reading this. Think of your reflected image you perceived when you look at a mirror: that perceived mirror image of yourself exists CONCURRENTLY with you and its existence is CONTINUOUSLY dependent on you being present in front of that mirror.]

            2. A series of CONCURRENT non-abstract conditions is either a never-ending series or a series with an ending. It is impossible to fulfill the conditions of a never-ending series as it would be a never-ending task. Since you physically exists now, that means the non-abstract conditions for your existence have been fulfilled and hence such a fulfilled series must be the type that has an ending with a last non-abstract condition (ie a last non-abstract IO entity exists in such a series CONCURRENTLY with you now).

            3. The last non-abstract entity’s ability to exist is either conditioned or not conditioned on some other non-abstract condition. If it is conditioned then the last entity does not exist since there is nothing after it for it to depend on for existence. But the last entity exists so the only logical option left is that the last non-abstract entity is not conditioned (ie unconditioned) on any other non-abstract condition. Therefore a non-abstract Unconditioned Entity exists in such a series right at this very moment in order for you to physically exist at this very moment as you are reading this.

            Feel free to ask me for clarification of any of my expressions that is not clear. Thank you.

            Cheers!

          • BTS

            Johannes, this type of argumentation is not my bag. Some of the other guys like Ficino may be more interested and up to that challenge.

          • Johannes Hui

            ---------- Forwarded message ---------
            From: reasonable mind
            Date: Mon, 7 Sep 2020 at 12:07 AM
            Subject: Fwd: Draft
            To: J H , reasonable mind

            ---------- Forwarded message ---------
            From: reasonable mind
            Date: Mon, 7 Sep 2020 at 12:02 AM
            Subject: Draft
            To: reasonable mind

            In this comment, instead of covering many points, I refer to two issues first (as you said, it is better for a thread like this to not deal with many different points).

            Use of the word Miracle

            You said:

            You seem to group all extraordinary events under the general heading of miracles, which is a basic error.

            ...

            The worst mistake is to assume that a merely preternatural event is itself a miracle.

            It is not a basic on my part because I have already made clear in my various comments that my use of miracle is a non-technical use, referring to any phenomenon that cannot be explained by physicalism/materialism. So I do not restrict miracles to only those extraordinary phenomena that can be produced only by God.

            What is important is that I was confused in my use of “miracle”; I explicitly stated the where, within the semantic range of the meanings of the word “miracle”, does my use of “miracle” lie.

            The way I used “miracle” is the same as how the contemporary wider English-speaking people is using it. Conceptually, a miracle in the wider contemporary human community is understood to be a phenomenon that is unable to be accounted for in a physicalism or materialism worldview/ontology. Such a common usage of “miracle” does not bother with whether it is the type that only God can produce (eg creating the space-time physical universe out of a context without space, time, and matter), or the other type that can be produced by some other beings such as angels of light or demons or other wonder-workers).

            In fact, even in your article, you have use the word miracle in the same way as how I use miracle to denote both of these types of extraordinary phenomena!, despite you having one statement in your article stating that “Strictly speaking, the term, “miracle,” pertains exclusively to supernatural events.” In your article’s first two paragraphs, you wrote that:

            Unlike many other articles dealing with miracles, this one is not actually expected to change minds about the reality of such phenomena. Rather, it is intended to show why miracles are believed and should be believed by believers as well as why miracles are not believed and likely will not be believed by unbelievers. The focus here is less on the EXTRAORDINARY events [emphasis mine] themselves and more on the reasons why some people believe the reports about them, while others do not.

            The EXTRAORDINARY phenomena at issue include both preternatural and supernatural events. [emphasis mine]

            Within the context of your article’s first paragraph, “extraordinary” phenomena was used synonymously as “miracles”, and your second paragraph said these “extraordinary” phenomena include both preternatural and supernatural events. Thus, similar to me, you also have used the word “miracles” to “include both preternatural and supernatural events”. :-)

            Even the word “miracle” in your article’s conclusion seems to be used to refer to both supernatural and preternatural events instead of being used as in the “strictly speaking” sense. I quote part of your article’s conclusion here:

            Even if one doubted a few such reports in specific instances, the mere fact that hundreds of SUCH extraordinary religious phenomena have been recorded in history constitutes powerful reason for believers to accept the reality of SUCH preternatural and supernatural phenomena.

            That is why believers believe in SUCH reported miracles. [emphasis on “such” is mine]

            In my conversation with you, I wanted to use a word that is general enough to include both preternatural and supernatural phenomena. The word “miracles” is exactly the correct word, base on the way it is being used widely used in the contemporary world. Otherwise I would need to coin another word, perhaps “anti-physicalism phenomena” or “trans-physicalism phenomena” or “super-physicalism phenomena”. But since the word “miracles” is widely used in our contemporary world in a manner to include both (1) miracles that can be produced only by God and (2) miracles that can be produced by other beings and not only just by God, then there is no need for me to coin a new word for it.

            If there is a need to refer to the type of “signs and wonders” that can only be produced by God, then one can use “supernatural phenomena” just like what you did in your article. If there is a need to refer to the type of “signs and wonders” that can be produced not only by God but can be by other beings as well, then “preternatural phenomena” can be used. But what single English word can we used that is general enough to include these both types of phenomena?

            If we do not want to coin a single new word but instead to use an existing word that most English-speaking people (especially if they are not Roman Catholic theologians) would have understood it as an extraordinary “non-natural” phenomena without having the concern to further distinguish those phenomena into preternatural vs supernatural, and then the word “miracles” would seem to fit that function well.

            I used such a general word because (a) my concern is not whether the “Thank you, Father” incident is a supernatural or preternatural incident, and (b) I do not want to beg the question on whether any other specific phenomenon can only be caused by God or can also be caused by other beings. So a general word is sufficient. Hence short of creating a new word, the word “miracles” would be appropriate.
            [Using “extraordinary events” is not good because lots of natural events are also extraordinary (ie “extraordinary” is not extraordinary enough; “miracles“ would be more extraordinary than “extraordinary”, haha). To use a single word to capture the essence of a phenomenon being unaccountable by a physicalism worldview, the word “miracles” is more appropriate than “extraordinary events”.]

            But if you prefer a new general word instead of “miracles” to denote both supernatural and preternatural phenomena, then I suggest “anti-physicalism phenomena”.

            Then my thesis becomes: “Anti-physicalism phenomena generally can not establish which faith-system is true.”

            Which Part of Your Article are My Comments Referring To

            Before we forget which part of your article I was referring to, here is a recap.

            As I explained in my second comment to clarify my first comment, my comments are to be understood to refer to these sentences of yours: “This one incident, ALL BY ITSELF, is sufficient reason for me to believe that Catholic priests do have real powers. And this, in turn, tells me all I really need to know about the truth of the Catholic Church.” [emphasis added now by me]

            That whole “Thank you Father” incident, ALL BY ITSELF, does not seem to be warrant even any person who know the priest well personally to be honest and sound-minded, to establish that priests do have real power and that Purgatory or other teachings of the Catholic Church is/are true. That single incident (we can include sightings of ghostly figures in 19th century clothings as part of that incident), ALL BY ITSELF, would be too weak to bear such a great burden. Those 19th century ghostly figures could be demonic tricks, and the voice could also be produced by demonic forces.

            To use that incident ALL BY ITSELF to say Proposition X is true would be to commit the formal fallacy of affirming the consequent:

            Premise 1: If Proposition X is true, then such a preternatural incident would occur.

            Premise 2: Such a preternatural incident had occurred.

            Fallacious Conclusion: Therefore Proposition X is true.
            (Fallacy of Affirming the Consequent)

            Proposition X cannot be established by the incident all by itself.

            That is why I said miracles (or anti-physicalism phenomena) generally cannot establish which faith-system is true.

            Cheers!

          • Johannes Hui

            In this comment, instead of covering many points, I refer to two issues first (as you said, it is better for a thread like this to not deal with many different points).

            Use of the word Miracle

            You said:

            You seem to group all extraordinary events under the general heading of miracles, which is a basic error.

            ...

            The worst mistake is to assume that a merely preternatural event is itself a miracle. [emphasis by you]

            It is not a basic on my part because I have already made clear in my various comments that my use of miracle is a non-technical use to refer to any phenomenon that cannot be explained by physicalism/materialism. So I do not restrict miracles to only those extraordinary phenomena that can be produced only by God.

            What is important is that I was not confused in my use of “miracle”; I explicitly stated the where, within the semantic range of the meanings of the word “miracle”, does my use of “miracle” lie.

            The way I used “miracle” is the same as how the contemporary wider English-speaking people is using it. Conceptually, a miracle in the wider contemporary human community is understood to be a phenomenon that is unable to be accounted for in a physicalism or materialism worldview/ontology. Such a common usage of “miracle” does not bother with whether it is the type that only God can produce (eg creating the space-time physical universe out of a context without space, time, and matter), or the other type that can be produced by some other beings such as angels of light or demons or other wonder-workers).

            In fact, even in your article, you have use the word miracle in the same way as how I use miracle to denote both of these types of extraordinary phenomena!, despite you having one statement in your article stating that “Strictly speaking, the term, “miracle,” pertains exclusively to supernatural events.” In your article’s first two paragraphs, you wrote that:

            Unlike many other articles dealing with miracles, this one is not actually expected to change minds about the reality of such phenomena. Rather, it is intended to show why miracles are believed and should be believed by believers as well as why miracles are not believed and likely will not be believed by unbelievers. The focus here is less on the EXTRAORDINARY events [emphasis mine] themselves and more on the reasons why some people believe the reports about them, while others do not.

            The EXTRAORDINARY phenomena at issue include both preternatural and supernatural events. [emphasis mine]

            Within the context of your article’s first paragraph, “extraordinary” phenomena was used synonymously as “miracles”, and your second paragraph said these “extraordinary” phenomena include both preternatural and supernatural events. Thus, similar to me, you also have used the word “miracles” to “include both preternatural and supernatural events”. :-)

            Even the word “miracle” in your article’s conclusion seems to be used to refer to both supernatural and preternatural events instead of being used as in the “strictly speaking” sense. I quote part of your article’s conclusion here:

            Even if one doubted a few such reports in specific instances, the mere fact that hundreds of SUCH extraordinary religious phenomena have been recorded in history constitutes powerful reason for believers to accept the reality of SUCH preternatural and supernatural phenomena.

            That is why believers believe in SUCH reported miracles. [emphasis on “such” is mine]

            In my conversation with you, I wanted to use a word that is general enough to include both preternatural and supernatural phenomena. The word “miracles” is exactly the correct word, base on the way it is being used widely used in the contemporary world. Otherwise I would need to coin another word, perhaps “anti-physicalism phenomena” or “trans-physicalism phenomena” or “super-physicalism phenomena”. But since the word “miracles” is widely used in our contemporary world in a manner to include both (1) miracles that can be produced only by God and (2) miracles that can be produced by other beings and not only just by God, then there is no need for me to coin a new word for it.

            If there is a need to refer to the type of “signs and wonders” that can only be produced by God, then one can use “supernatural phenomena” just like what you did in your article. If there is a need to refer to the type of “signs and wonders” that can be produced not only by God but can be by other beings as well, then “preternatural phenomena” can be used. But what single English word can we used that is general enough to include these both types of phenomena?

            If we do not want to coin a single new word but instead to use an existing word that most English-speaking people (especially if they are not Roman Catholic theologians) would have understood it as an extraordinary “non-natural” phenomena without having the concern to further distinguish those phenomena into preternatural vs supernatural, and then the word “miracles” would seem to fit that function well.

            I used such a general word because (a) my concern is not whether the “Thank you, Father” incident is a supernatural or preternatural incident, and (b) I do not want to beg the question on whether any other specific phenomenon can only be caused by God or can also be caused by other beings. So a general word is sufficient. Hence short of creating a new word, the word “miracles” would be appropriate.
            [Using “extraordinary events” is not good because lots of natural events are also extraordinary (ie “extraordinary” is not extraordinary enough; “miracles“ would be more extraordinary than “extraordinary”, haha). To use a single word to capture the essence of a phenomenon being unaccountable by a physicalism worldview, the word “miracles” is more appropriate than “extraordinary events”.]

            But if you prefer a new general word instead of “miracles” to denote both supernatural and preternatural phenomena, then I suggest “anti-physicalism phenomena”.

            Then my thesis becomes: “Anti-physicalism phenomena generally can not establish which faith-system is true.”

            Which Part of Your Article are My Comments Referring To

            Before we forget which part of your article I was referring to, here is a recap.

            As I explained in my second comment to clarify my first comment, my comments are to be understood to refer to these sentences of yours: “This one incident, ALL BY ITSELF, is sufficient reason for me to believe that Catholic priests do have real powers. And this, in turn, tells me all I really need to know about the truth of the Catholic Church.” [emphasis added now by me]

            That whole “Thank you Father” incident, ALL BY ITSELF, does not seem to be warrant even any person who know the priest well personally to be honest and sound-minded, to establish that priests do have real power and that Purgatory or other teachings of the Catholic Church is/are true. That single incident (we can include sightings of ghostly figures in 19th century clothings as part of that incident), ALL BY ITSELF, would be too weak to bear such a great burden. Those 19th century ghostly figures could be demonic tricks, and the voice could also be produced by demonic forces.

            To use that incident ALL BY ITSELF to say Proposition X is true would be to commit the formal fallacy of affirming the consequent:

            Premise 1: If Proposition X is true, then such a preternatural incident would occur.

            Premise 2: Such a preternatural incident had occurred.

            Fallacious Conclusion: Therefore Proposition X is true.
            (Fallacy of Affirming the Consequent)

            Proposition X cannot be established by the incident all by itself.

            That is why I said miracles (or anti-physicalism phenomena) generally cannot establish which faith-system is true.

            Cheers!

          • Dennis Bonnette

            I am happy to plead guilty, if what you want me to admit is that, perhaps, there is inconsistency in my own internal use of the terms for preternatural and supernatural events in my article.

            But that in no way diminishes the importance of making a clear distinction between preternatural and supernatural events. Technically speaking. "miracle" refers solely to the latter term. And I made this very clear in the essay:

            "The extraordinary phenomena at issue include both preternatural and supernatural events. By the term, “preternatural, is meant events that exceed the common order of nature, although given other conditions, such events might be explained naturally. For example, while humans can fly in airplanes, such flight would be beyond their unaided natural powers."

            "The term, “supernatural,” is reserved for those events that cannot be explained by natural forces under any conditions whatever. They require the infinite power possessed by the God of classical theism alone, for example, causing the resurrection of a truly dead person. Strictly speaking, the term, “miracle,” pertains exclusively to supernatural events."

            Actually, by saying, "strictly speaking," I left myself some wiggle room to deviate from my own definitions when I wished to be less technical.

            Still, if you fail to make this critical distinction, you wind up having to attribute phenomena to God which may just be the work of angels or demons. This leads to utter confusion, since then people will constantly be thinking that any preternatural event whatever must be the work of God alone. Such confusion of terms leads to total intellectual chaos and misunderstanding.

            I further confess to causing confusion because much of my article discusses preternatural data, but it is data, such as souls of the dead appearing to living persons, which Catholics more readily believe than skeptics do.

            Nonetheless, the common theme of the article was to explain why believers believe in miracles whereas skeptics do not. And that I do explain.

            If you want to look at only the parts dealing with real miracle claims, then look at the sections on resurrections and on Fatima. I have no problem as long as no one confuses the preternatural with the supernatural. And others are welcome to be concerned about finding the right words to use for present day readers who have difficulty understanding the real difference between what is supernatural and what is merely preternatural.

            As for the "Thank you, Father" incident, you correctly impale me on my use of the phrase,"all by itself." But it is a mistake I subsequently corrected in the thread by explaining that I was placing this also in the context of reports of preternatural appearances of "ghosts" in nineteenth century garb being seen in the same vicinity. My mistake was to leave that part of the story out of the essay.

            As I explained in the thread, it is that "purgatorial" evidence that convinces me we are dealing with specifically "Catholic" phenomena here, and that it then makes perfect sense that a soul would thank a priest for some sacramental help. You will have to check the thread to see the full amplification of this point.

          • Johannes Hui

            The Formal Fallacy of Affirming the Consequent

            As for the "Thank you, Father" incident, you correctly impale me on my use of the phrase,"all by itself." But it is a mistake I subsequently corrected in the thread by explaining that I was placing this also in the context of reports of preternatural appearances of "ghosts" in nineteenth century garb being seen in the same vicinity. My mistake was to leave that part of the story out of the essay.

            In my previous comment I have taken into account the apparitions of people dressed in 19th century clothings as being part of the same incident. I quote myself: “That single incident (we can include sightings of ghostly figures in 19th century clothings as part of that incident), ALL BY ITSELF, would be too FRAGILE to bear such a HEAVY burden. Those 19th century ghostly figures could be demonic tricks, and the voice could also be produced by demonic forces.” [emphasis added now to draw attention to what I already mentioned in bracket In my previous comment]. So my previous comment had included your subsequent inclusion in the thread of those apparitions.

            As I said in my previous comment, even after taking into account of those apparitions of beings dressed in 19th century clothings as reported by others (ie not seen directly by your friend the priest - he only heard a girl’s voice while driving), there is nothing to exclude the possibility that those beings were demons or a result of demonic tricks. So overall, if one were to use that incident of the apparitions of those beings in 19th century clothes AND the girl’s voice to conclude that purgatory is true, then one would have committed the formal fallacy of “affirming the consequent” in logic:

            Premise 1: If the idea of purgatory is true, then it those apparitions and the voice would be possible to happen.

            Premise 2: Those apparitions and the voice happened.

            Fallacious conclusion: Therefore the idea of purgatory is true.
            (this is the formal fallacy of Affirming the Consequent).

            •••••••

            Compare:

            P1: If the teacher is very sick, he would not be in class today.
            P2: The teacher is not in class today.
            Fallacious conclusion: Therefore the teacher is very sick.

            The teacher could be absent because of other reasons, such as having to take urgent leave to drive and accompany his wife to the hospital for an unexpected emergency treatment.

            ••••••••

            The above is an illustration of the idea that transphysical phenomena generally cannot establish whether or not a faith-system is true.

            Using “Miracles” In a Non-strictly Soeaking Sense

            Actually, by saying, "strictly speaking," I left myself some wiggle room to deviate from my own definitions when I wished to be less technical.

            That is also how the word “miracles” has also been used by me along with many others: not in the “strictly speaking” sense. What a word means is dependent on how most people. For example, the word “nice” meant ignorant or stupid some centuries ago, but today “nice” has become a good attribute instead. Etymology does not prevent a word from changing meaning. Most contemporary people do not use or interpret the meaning of “miracles” in a Roman Catholic’s sense (eg we can see that in how the word is used among Orthodox and Protestant writings, atheist descriptions, and in a Buddhist definition of miracle). For most people, even “strictly speaking”, a miracle is not necessary caused by God, but rather is simply some transphysical phenomenon. For them, the essence of a miracle, when used non-metaphorically, is simple a phenomenon that could not be accounted for using science or the workings of nature.

            Cheers!

          • Dennis Bonnette

            Since this is American Labor Day, I shall cut to the chase on the meaning of miracle in most people's minds.

            We all recall the movie, "The Exorcist." In it, we saw a lot of preternatural phenomena. I don't thing anyone would have attributed those phenomena to God. I also don't think anyone was calling them "miracles," either. I still think most people reserve the term, "miracle," to events attributable solely to the God of classical theism.

            You have done a good job of making your case about the possibility that the events regarding the "Thank you, Father" incident might have been demonic. I said it was only my personal inference and did not expect others to concur.

            No one thinks what happened there was more than merely preternatural anyway. And i admit that the purgatorial aspect of the phenomena moves me in the direction of reading the data as Catholic in nature. But, that natural inclination of my own perspective is colored by the fact that I know from genuine miracles that Catholicism is true, including its doctrine of Purgatory.

            If you doubt that last claim about Catholicism, I refer you back to my remarks in the article about the genuine miracles (supernatural phenomena) which took place very publicly at Fatima in October, 1917. Not to mention the entire history of the resurrections listed at the beginning of the essay.

            And remember, the entire article is not so much about the miracles themselves as it is about why believers believe and non-believers do not believe.

            Personally, I am more comfortable writing about matters philosophical, where it is not a matter of belief, but of knowledge based on the necessary implications of undeniable sense evidence of normal and natural experiences.

          • OMG

            Johannes,
            Can you give some examples of miracles which have led some to confirm the truth of their (non-Christian) faith traditions? Have those miracles been scientifically scrutinized as have the cures, for example, at Lourdes?

          • Dennis Bonnette

            This may be a space holder. But I did reply to your comment here and, unfortunately, this time I don't think I have a back up copy! That puts me in no mood to recreate my reply.

          • Johannes Hui

            Dun worry, your original copy will resurrect. Even if it does not, I have screen-shots of it. Click the attached files at the bottom of this comment to view it.

            I have prepared my reply to your original copy in my mind but I just need time to transform it into text form and post it.

          • Johannes Hui

            Dun worry, it will resurrect again, Lol. Even if this time it does not, I have already captured it in screen-shots. Click on the files at the bottom of this comment.

            I have already prepared my reply to your original copy, just need to transform my reply into text form before I post it here.

            Edit: The files containing screen-shots of your original copy have been eaten up by the same dog. Nevermind, I will quote your statements accordingly in my reply.

          • Dennis Bonnette

            I begin to suspect the dog's name is Disqus.

          • Dennis Bonnette

            The dog did eat my reply again. Let me give you a very truncated version of what I think I wrote that was deleted.

            First, you have to be careful to distinguish the preternatural from the supernatural. You are calling everything "miracles," whereas miracles belong solely to the supernatural and can be caused only by God. Please reread the section in my essay where I define the differences involved.

            As for non-Christian religions, I submit that the phenomena they present is either simply trickery or preternatural occurrences, which can be the work of demons.

            If God works a genuine miracle it cannot in itself be deceptive. If one misinterprets its meaning, that is not God's fault. If it is simply a miracle, even done through the intercession of a non-Christian, it merely proves God's existence and mercy.

            If a Christian occasions a miracle by calling on the name of Christ, that proves Christianity, but not necessarily his particular sect.

            In the case of preternatural events, they can be caused by God, angels, or demons. So careful discernment is then needed, since, yes, a demon might seek to deceive.

            In my "Thank you, Father" case, two distinct elements are present: (1) a preternatural voice which means that some agent above material nature was involved, which serves the purpose of proving a spiritual world exists, and (2) a context in which we have ghostly apparitions appearing, who arguably would be in Purgatory.

            It is the combination of BOTH elements that convince me personally of the authenticity of the incident, since there is already evidence of Purgatory's doctrine in action by reason of the other apparitions.

            That is why, it is reasonable to infer that the voice this priest heard must have been from a soul in purgatory and not the devil, since their purgatorial existence is already confirmed.

            Once you confirm Purgatory, you have confirmation of Catholicism already. So, any affirmation of the priest's powers would not further be in a demon's interest. In other words, the ghostly voice fits a preternatural context that already confirms Catholicism. The preternatural voice is merely icing on the cake.

            "What is your view/hypothesis on why those souls/spirits in 19th century clothings were detained in that house/place instead of being detained in purgatory?"

            There is nothing in the dogma on Purgatory that says a soul cannot serve or, at least, begin her purgatorial punishment here on earth. Since the souls are evidently here, this must be the case. That again explains the appreciation of this young woman's soul for the priestly intercession on her behalf.

  • I'm going to ignore the specific example of Fatima, as that's been discussed ad-nauseam in the past and I have little to add. Rather, what bother's me here is this particular claim:

    Moreover, all Catholics know that to tell a deliberate lie in a serious matter -- such as falsely claiming a miracle – is a mortal sin and matter for Confession. That hundreds of committed Catholics would tell such lies separately, and yet, en masse is a moral impossibility. While those who are not practicing Catholics may not understand this simple truth, those who are practicing Catholics will easily see that such uncoordinated mass deception over many centuries could never occur.

    Now, I'm a former Catholic so I have a pretty good understanding of the seriousness of lying in Catholicism. Yes, Catholics believe you can go to hell for it and it's forbidden even in minor cases. The only real exception being something called 'mental reservation' whereby one doesn't actually lie but simply declines to correct someone who already has a false belief, (thereby implicitly but not explicitly confirming that belief.) I would argue that this doesn't really suggest that myths can't arise in a Catholic context.

    I'm reminded of the story of St Christopher. The story of St Christopher is almost certainly a legend. He is claimed to be a Canaanite living in the 3rd century AD, long after the term 'Canaanite' had become an anachronism and is also claimed to have served the king of Canaan, a land that never had a single-unified ruler, at least not while it was called Canaan, and during a time that the region in question would have been called Palestine and would have been a province of the Roman Empire. In other words, the story of St Christopher is very bizarre from a historical perspective. Nevertheless, there is a long tradition of venerating this man who almost certainly didn't exist as a saint and treating his story as historical. So it's clear that myths do arise in a Catholic context even do become part of the established 'canon' over time.

    (I'm also aware the Catholic church has been more critical of his historicity lately, but I'm referring the tradition of veneration which is well established.)

    The thing is, so called 'pious myths' have long been encouraged or at least tolerated by the Church. A dedication to telling the truth doesn't seem to prevent the creation and spread of myths so long as people are willing to believe said myths.

    I'm also really skeptical of the claim that simply being Catholic makes people unlikely to lie or exaggerate the truth. Yes, faithful Catholics might be less willing to tell lies than nonreligious people because of their fear of hell or commitment to the faith, but people don't always live according to their stated beliefs. Those priests and bishops who lied to protect their own asses during the various clerical abuse scandals are proof enough of that. If a person's status or situation is dependent on the Catholic Church and they are willing to lie to protect themselves, it seems like they would be willing to lie for the benefit of the Church. And all that is true, even if someone's stated beliefs include an dedication to the truth because a person's stated beliefs don't necessarily match their true disposition.

    But of course, appeals to malice aren't really necessary here, because people frequently lie and exaggerate all the time, sometimes without meaning to. Everybody's heard somebody's 'fish' story. Even Catholics have a tendency to tell them. And they're not always outright lies, people's memories can frequently play tricks on them. Many of those sightings of leprechauns in Ireland were ostensibly made by Catholics. If people are particularly willing to believe fish stories of a religious nature, then it stands to reason that those sorts of stories will spread and gain currency.

    I would take my complaint further than this however and point out that this tendency to believe that Catholics and especially the leadership are unlikely to lie is actually kind of part of the whole problem. You see, in any community, there are people who accept and adhere to the community norms and those that are cynical enough to try to take advantage of those norms. If people are particularly trusting, then people who are particularly brazen liars are likely to go far. How else do you explain the success of the likes of Fr Corapi or Fr Maciel? This effect is really obvious in explicit cults like the Jehovahs Witnesses and Mormons, both religions the prohibit lying, often on pain of hell, but which leadership have taught obvious untruths and probable lies. (Multiple end of the world predictions for JWs and the Joseph Smith Papyrus for Mormons.)

    The end result is that Catholics are vulnerable to deception so long as it comes from someone who appears to be a faithful Catholic, especially in the leadership, and especially if the lie reinforces their Catholic beliefs. This makes Catholics (and many other religious believers, tbh) vulnerable to exploitation by sufficiently cynical liars.

    • Ben Champagne

      No moreso than any other body. And because of their conviction, probably less so. That conviction doesn't presume gullibility, only you do.

    • Dennis Bonnette

      I sincerely complement this tour de force explanation of why one ought not to be impressed by the very substance of my article, the claim that authentically preternatural and supernatural phenomena have been recorded down through history.

      I already anticipated your objection, when I wrote: "To the contrary, it is the corresponding lack of confidence in devout witnesses and ecclesiastical investigations and historical records which probably causes unbelieving skeptics to dismiss the whole matter with total incredulity...."

      I readily concede that down through history one will find much material similar to that which you document above. But that objection has also already been anticipated as representing an impossible task for the skeptic:

      "Even a single authentic report of an apparition or miracle is sufficient to establish beyond question an entire order of reality generally rejected out of hand by skeptics."

      While you may be sick of discussing Fatima, it is clear that there, and in the case of the Limpias crucifix, many thousands of ordinary citizens have attested to extraordinary phenomena -- the sort of reports which, when read as written, you would automatically reject from your epistemic perspective.

      And while most of the reports of souls "visiting" from Purgatory entail single witnesses, many other extraordinary occurrences were investigated by competent authorities in various jurisdictions over centuries -- investigations demanding sworn testimony. Nor are such investigations solely in the hands of a single jurisdiction, such as the Vatican, but rather each local bishop is responsible for his own diocese.

      While you are quite right in noting that some generalized myths have occurred as well as organized deceptions, that does not account for the many hundreds of separately investigated, historically recorded, accounts that defy natural explanation.

      As has been noted, miracles are like counterfeit money. The counterfeits are counterfeit only because the original genuine ones exist first.

      Without repeating the whole article, "... those who are practicing Catholics will easily see that such uncoordinated mass deception over many centuries could never occur."

      These reports span some two thousand years since the Resurrection itself. They are far too widespread and spontaneous to be some sort of coordinated "plot." And as, in the case of Fatima and Limpias, there are too many witnesses nearly in our own lifetimes to be universally swept under the rug of skepticism.

      And yet, it is precisely because different worldviews contemplate the criteria of credibility so diversely that I concluded my article by saying, "This is also probably why each side, from its own perspective, is so thoroughly convinced that the other side is dead wrong."

      As I said in the section entitled, "Thank you, Father," ultimately I trust this priest's "competence and veracity for reasons personally known to me -- reasons which the readers of this essay in no way share.

      • I sincerely complement...

        Thank you.

        "Even a single authentic report of an apparition or miracle is sufficient to establish beyond question an entire order of reality generally rejected out of hand by skeptics."

        These reports span some two thousand years since the Resurrection itself. They are far too widespread and spontaneous to be some sort of coordinated "plot." And as, in the case of Fatima and Limpias, there are too many witnesses nearly in our own lifetimes to be universally swept under the rug of skepticism.

        You are correct that I cannot independently dispute every miraculous claim over the past two thousand years or so, but I don't think that an appeal to volume is a very good argument. There are also quite a few claims to the existence of flying saucers over the past eighty years or so and it's also true that the existence of even one true story of extra terrestrials visiting Earth would prove that they had in fact been here. However, in the face of so many mistaken sightings and outright fakes, I become more skeptical of each subsequent sighting and eventually I have to stop giving credence to such things.

        My main point of contention here, though, is about accepting the testimony of people who want to believe something. Take for example St Bernadette of Lourdes. Supposedly she is an incorrupt saint, that is, her body didn't decompose immediately after death and that there is no naturalistic explanation. You're right that on paper the Catholic Church has high standards what constitutes a miracle and it explicitly states that embalming and well known natural processes that preserve corpses don't count. Bog bodies and mummies for example are not incorrupt because the explanation for their preservation is quite well understood. The standard for miracles is supposedly much higher. (And also the Catholic Church no longer accepts incorruptability as a miracle in cases of canonization either, but that wasn't yet the case when this story happened.)

        So when Bernadette was exhumed for the second time so that her body could be examined, the doctor who did the examination noted that she was covered in salt and 'practically mummified.' That should have ruled her out because salt is a well known preservative but she still passed the examination anyway. People wanted to believe, so they ignored their own standards and rules. This sort of thing makes me especially doubtful of religious investigators of miraculous claims. I don't have to believe that people are trying to deceive me, or that they've take leave of their sense, just that they sometimes lie to themselves. Even people who are otherwise credible.

        • Ficino

          Have you ever investigated the claims that the Shroud of Turin is the actual burial shroud of Jesus?

        • Rob Abney

          >which were probably the result of the body's having been washed the first time it was exhumedOaths were sworn, the vault was opened, the body transferred to a new coffin and reburied, all in accordance with canon and civil law. After the doctors had examined the body, they retired alone in separate rooms to write their personal reports without being able to consult each other.
          The two reports coincide perfectly with each other and also with Doctor Jourdan and Doctor David's report of 1909<
          Again, it seems that your main claim is some sort of intentional deception. That’s an entirely different subject than the assent of belief by Catholics based upon trusted sources.

        • Dennis Bonnette

          I wish I had more time to respond to your good points here, but I must be brief for personal reasons.

          Your comparison to UFOs is interesting and, at least initially, seems impressive. But the problem is that the data, when widely observed, as by pilots or radar operators, is open to dispute. Pilots are well trained, but they are not specialists in optical physics. I have read critiques. The rest of the claims largely depend on many observers looking as celestial phenomena they fail to understand, or else, graphic and dramatic accounts by one or two witnesses, which raises problems of personal credibility.

          Moreover, grant the claim! Let us say we are being visited by aliens! Does that disprove the Catholic Church? We might have to scratch our heads about God's plans and our theology, but it in no way undoes the Resurrection or all the other evidence in favor of such authentic revelation, including all the miracles I refer to in my article.

          When you suggest that what you call my "appeal to volume" is not a good argument, we must distinguish two types of "volume:" (1) sheer volume of witnesses to some occurrence, and (2) volume of reports down through history.

          What am I to do with the manifest "volume" of witnesses to the same events? This is what distinguishes the preternatural or supernatural from the individual claims of UFO sightings. For, at Limpias and at Fatima, we had literally thousands or, in Fatima's case, tens of thousands of witnesses attesting to what had to at least be preternatural phenomena -- all occurring at the same time and concerning the same event!

          To show the preternatural, or even supernatural, character of these phenomena, all one must do is examine carefully the nature of the reports themselves, which can be confirmed at another time. Proof of alien presence you simply do not find in UFO sightings. Sky phenomena whose character is disputed, yes, but people taken aboard spaceships, etc., no, since unlike Limpias and Fatima, you don't have many thousands of witnesses to such alleged abductions.

          As to the volume down through history, again, while some cases may be explained in the kinds of terms you raise -- perhaps. But with thousands or public records and theological investigations extant -- such skepticism is hardly warranted. Many good people can know the truth before their eyes without being overwhelmed by confirmation bias.

          An excellent example is the case of Thomas a Kempis who wrote the famed Imitation of Christ, but was never canonized. It appears that, during the canonization process they exhumed the body. Upon finding scratch marks in the coffin, it was concluded that he was accidentally buried alive and the scratches raised the possibility of despair, which precluded sainthood. The Church investigators were not so overwhelmed by desire for another saint that they closed their eyes to the facts.

          I am well aware of the issue of incorruption you mention as well as the fact that canonization processes do not consider such claims -- at least today. One must also remember that it is the conclusion of the process that should be correct, not necessarily every single element of the investigation. While many bodies are found apparently incorrupt, not all are by any means. Moreover, all bodies are incorrupt after death -- at least for a short time!

          In a word, we have a far wider panoply of preternatural and supernatural phenomena reported than merely bodily incorruption. One thinks of the widely observed instances of levitation by St. Joseph Cupertino -- even before Pope Urban VIII. Joe Nickol tried to txplain that one by leaping between pews in a church and claiming the observers overestimated the "leaps." This is absurd, since the saint often rose in the air to substantial heights!
          https://catholicstand.com/levitation-miracle-or-science-the-life-and-flights-of-st-joseph-of-cupertino/

          Finally, what am I personally to do with the example I gave you from my priest friend? Discard it because it does not fit your skepticism of many other cases? That is why the positive evidence I cited in that case as well as the massive public instances at Limpias and Fatima stand in the way of my dismissing all such evidence, even if I granted that many cases could be explained as you suggest.

          We must always remember that such objections may simply further examples of the counterfeit miracles or money presupposing genuine ones of both types.

    • Mark

      So it's clear that myths do arise in a Catholic context even do become part of the established 'canon' over time.

      The story you evidence as "mythical veneration" has nothing to do with canon. This is a non-sequitur. And it's nothing that is a recent development of Catholicism. Veneration of relics and saints has always been a part of Catholicsm and an imperative aspect of the spread of Christianity and Catholics still very much embrace the practice. They are free not to if they so choose. In fact, they should avoid it if used superstitiously as it is sinful and always has been taught as sinful in the Catholic tradition.

      If people are particularly willing to believe fish stories of a
      religious nature, then it stands to reason that those sorts of stories will spread and gain currency.

      No it doesn't stand to reason if hyperbole is used by the person who reports such a miracle that the everyone who retells the story will do so. Also it doesn't stand to reason any particular miracle has currency. What give miracles currency is when it is verified by the Magisterial authority, which completely circumvents this objection. Lastly, if the exact details of what exactly happened were muddled, but an actual miracle happened it still has valid currency for the belief in God.

      This makes Catholics (and many other religious believers, tbh) vulnerable to exploitation by sufficiently cynical liars.

      tbh, the only thing cynical here is your epistemology. No need to call others liars because they don't comport to your presuppositions.

      • BTS

        tbh, the only thing cynical here is your epistemology. No need to call or assume someone a liars because they don't comport to your presuppositions.

        What? Seriously? Mark, @astine:disqus did not say that. You are strawmanning him here terribly. He said Catholics would be vulnerable to exploitation.

        Nothing he said is untrue or anti-Catholic. I don't see any bad espistemology. You're being really cranky here for no good reason, I'd say.

        Andrew Stine has merely laid out the logic that would protect, say, your grandmother from giving all of her life savings to Joel Osteen. You should applaud that logic, not denigrate it.

        Edit: And Andrew is right that Catholics lie just as much as everyone else.

        • Mark

          "Nothing he said is untrue or anti-Catholic."

          The end result is that Catholics are vulnerable to deception so long as it comes from someone who appears to be a faithful Catholic, especially in the leadership, and especially if the lie reinforces their Catholic beliefs

          That's the end result of his particular which he defines as a Catholic vulnerability. That's not the end result of Catholic teaching from the leadership (Magisterium). It was a false equivocation. Andrew is not right, but rhetorically clever. This sleight of hand maneuver has squat to do with miracles as defined by Dr. B (and the Magisterium) in the article.

          Let me make an analogy. It is common practice among Latino Catholic gang-bangers wear scapula because they think the saint is going to protect them from bullets. Is that a Catholic teaching? Are they vulnerable to this superstition because they are believing Catholic? Does the "leadership" promote it? If they survive a drive-by is it a miracle? Sin is sin. Let's not equivocate sin with Catholic teaching. Let's not equivocate belief in superstition with rational belief. Let's not equivocate fish stories and leprechauns with extraordinary events and miracles. If I sounds cranky, it's because I generally get irritated when someone defines themselves as an ex-Catholic for whatever rhetorical purposes when it's obvious they don't understand Catholic 101 stuff like "canon".

          • BTS

            Catholic gang-bangers wear scapula because they think the saint is going to protect them from bullets. Is that a Catholic teaching?

            No, not a Catholic teaching. It clearly comes from Baz Lurhman's futuristic, stylized Latino take on Romeo and Juliet. :)

            That's the end result of his particular which he defines as a Catholic vulnerability. That's not the end result of Catholic teaching from the leadership (Magisterium). It was a false equivocation. Andrew is not right, but rhetorically clever.

            I'm not understanding your argument. Everyone is subject to being vulnerable to falsehoods, ploys, schemes, and russia hoaxes. Catholics are no different. Andrew's entire point was that everyone including Catholics - but perhaps especially Catholics - are prone to this. I say "especially" Catholics, because protestants don't venerate the saints or relics, etc.

            Note: Russia hoaxes are real.
            Someone please tell Rob Abney that dragons are not real, though. I seriously cannot have that conversation or my head will explode.

          • Rob Abney

            >Note: Russia hoaxes are real.Someone please tell Rob Abney that dragons are not real,<
            I don’t think your head will explode from having to think a little deeper but no one can persuade me that dragons are not real, I’ve seen a Komodo dragon in person.
            My guess is that you no longer believe in Satan and his demons but it is more likely that he appeared as a dragon than for an actual animal to suddenly appear inside of a locked cell. Of course to believe any of this you have to have had trusted witnesses to pass it on to you.

          • BTS

            Komodo dragons were not "named" in English until about 1910. They are not real dragons.

            I'm really not going down this path with you. It is a ludicrous discussion to take that St. Margaret dragon story seriously.

          • Rob Abney

            I’m curious as to what constitutes a Real dragon. But it’s good to see you overcome your doubts and to be so certain about something.

      • The story you evidence as "mythical veneration" has nothing to do with canon.

        Not in the sense of Catholic doctrine, no. I was speaking loosely in the sense of generally accepted beliefs which is why I surrounded the word in quotes. I thought that this was obvious because we are discussing miracles which individually are not usually the subject of doctrine.

        Speaking of the veneration of saint and relics. I spent three months in Rome on a sort of 'pilgrimage,' a little over a decade ago. I made a special point to seek out various relics while I was there. Some standouts were the head of Catherine of Siena (in Siena) and the tonsils of Anthony of Padua (in Padua). I enjoyed that period of my life.

    • BTS

      Speaking of legends...I was hoping you would go with St. Margaret, the patron saint of Sharknado.

      St Margaret of Antioch was a popular saint in the middle ages. Legend states that she was the daughter of a pagan priest, but decided to convert to Christianity. This angered her father as well as a suitor whose advances she rejected. They had her reported to the authorities as a Christian, and she was jailed. In jail she met the devil in the form of a dragon, who proceeded to swallow her whole. The cross she carried however, irritated the dragon’s belly and she was able to tear her way out using the cross and emerge whole from the dragon. Several attempts were then made to execute her by drowning and fire, all of which failed, leading many who witnessed her tortures to be converted. She was finally beheaded. She is often depicted emerging from the dragon’s belly, cross in hand. Appropriately, she is the patroness of childbirth.

      https://listverse.com/2009/03/28/10-strange-legends-and-images-of-saints/

      • Rob Abney

        Which aspect of St Margaret’s story do you doubt, all of it or only certain parts of it? Have you looked into it any further than that simple website? It seems like the OP is written to encourage us to decide about the truth of supernatural and preternatural events based upon the trustworthiness of the witnesses.

      • I didn't know this one ¯_(ツ)_/¯

        • BTS

          If you watch the film Sharknado you'll get the joke :)

          • LOL, though Tremors 3 would have been the reference I'd have thought of.

  • Dennis Bonnette

    @astine:disqus

    I just came across a site that addresses the alleged abilities of St. Joseph Cupertno to levitate. He was alleged to be able to do this many times over a long period of time and before many different witnesses. Now, such an act of levitation is not a supernatural act, but merely a preternatural one, since, while it exceeds the normal order of physical powers, it does not require the supernatural powers of God himself. While such activities might not be outside the realm of naturalism, it certainly appears to exceed the metaphysical worldview of strict materialism

    Indeed, the metaphysical implication of such feats sufficiently concern noted skeptic Joe Nickell that he has written an article in the Skeptical Enquirer (vol. 42, no. 4, July/Aug. 2018) attacking these "Secrets of the 'Flying Friar.'" In it, Nickell claims that these "flights" were merely the product of deliberately-created illusions combined with great athletic prowness. As one source explains:

    " Furthermore, his higher flights can all be explained, according to Nickell, as leaps or bounds made by a clearly very athletic man, pointing out that every time he “flew” to a great height, he did not hover in the air but rather was obliged to grab onto and perch on something. He suggests that the fact Joseph cried out every time he supposedly flew was evidence that they were acts of athletic prowess, requiring great physical effort and eliciting a cry like that of a martial artist striking boards."

    https://www.historicalblindness.com/blogandpodcast//the-feat-of-the-flying-friar-st-joseph-of-cupertino

    But, as this same carefully written source points out, "Among the biggest problems with Nickell’s reading of the facts is that so very many people witnessed and gave clear testimony about Joseph’s ability to fly. Thousands saw his feats, and the written records in court depositions, biographies, letters, and diaries are numerous. Perhaps some of these could be dismissed as poor observers taken in by an illusionist, but could all of them? .... Indeed, it is the skeptic Joe Nickell who appears to be dismissing great swathes of the testimony on the assumption that they were fooled or moved by faith and the power of suggestion to give the reports they gave."

    I cite the above since it underlines why, although it is tempting to dismiss all eyewitness testimony to preternatural and supernatural phenomena, this is hardly a reasonable stance to take.

    In the case of this one Catholic saint alone, it is clear that a massive volume of eyewitness testimony covering long periods of time cannot rationally be ignored.
    Indeed, this singular case of St. Joseph Cupertino is sufficiently substantive to establish the reality of the preternatural phenomenon of levitation.

    This is also why the massive volume of testimony to such events down through the long history of Christianity can hardly be ignored. Yes, perhaps some of it is counterfeit, but just like money, the counterfeit exists primarily as an imitation of the real thing.

    Needless to say, with such massively witnessed extraordinary phenomena as the Limpias crucifix and the miracle of the sun at Fatima waiting in the wings, the "modest" levitations of this 17th century friar are merely the icing on the cake.

    And those who may think the article to which I linked above is written by some devout Catholic, this is clearly untrue. I urge them to read carefully the entire article to which I linked above.

  • VicqRuiz

    In 1983, Pope John Paul II modified the process of canonization so as to reduce the adversarial nature of the process, lessening the role of the official formerly known informally as the "devil's advocate".

    During the remainder of his papacy (22 years) almost 500 new canonizations took place. This is more than took place during the previous 370 years.

    Can we safely exclude coincidence?

    • Dennis Bonnette

      St. John Paul did not abolish the office of Promotor fidei (Promotor of the Faith), better known as "Devil's Advocate." Rather, he changed it from one actively seeking objections to canonization, whose every objection must be met to his satisfaction before the process could proceed, to one who simply points out problems. The process would still address these problems, but the "Devil's Advocate" no longer has absolute veto power over the process.

      The main reason for these changes came from bishops' complaints that the whole process was too difficult. Elements that sped up the process and has produced more saints include (1) reducing the number of required miracles from four to two, (2) faster modern communications speeding up movement of documents between bishops and the Roman curia, and (3) more modern medical oversight and record keeping making for more complete analysis of more cases possible.

      Other than the newer process being more efficient and naturally productive of more declarations of sanctity, canonization still remains an infallible final judgment of the Catholic Church. (Ludwig Ott, Fundamentals of Catholic Dogma, p. 299)

      • VicqRuiz

        That sounds pretty much like the description of the process change as I understood it. Based upon the number of saints produced, it has certainly been a success.

    • Rob Abney

      Fake news! Or at least misunderstood.
      The devil’s advocate was replaced by the promoter of justice.
      >Can. 1435 It is for the bishop to appoint the promoter of justice and defender of the bond; they are to be clerics or lay persons, of unimpaired reputation, doctors or licensed in canon law, and proven in prudence and zeal for justice.<
      JPII “ this ideal of perfection must not be misunderstood as if it involved some kind of extraordinary existence, possible only for a few ‘uncommon heroes’ of holiness.”

  • Phillip Dent

    This site makes it very hard to post.

  • Phillip Dent

    Why should anyone believe St. Vincent's story?

    Catholics don't particularly believe these things more than others. Lots of people believe all kinds of strange things.

    Catholics believe it for the same reason Muslims believe their myths and people believe in ghosts and homeopathy. They promise lots of good things and people don't use critical thinking.

  • I would like to know just what miracles should convince us of, given this law given to the ancient Hebrews:

    “Everything that I command you, you shall be careful to do. You shall not add to it or take from it. “If a prophet or a dreamer of dreams arises among you and gives you a sign or a wonder, and the sign or wonder that he tells you comes to pass, and if he says, ‘Let us go after other gods,’ which you have not known, ‘and let us serve them,’ you shall not listen to the words of that prophet or that dreamer of dreams. For the LORD your God is testing you, to know whether you love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul. You shall walk after the LORD your God and fear him and keep his commandments and obey his voice, and you shall serve him and hold fast to him. But that prophet or that dreamer of dreams shall be put to death, because he has taught rebellion against the LORD your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt and redeemed you out of the house of slavery, to make you leave the way in which the LORD your God commanded you to walk. So you shall purge the evil from your midst. (Deuteronomy 12:32–13:5)

    It seems this is saying that power tells you nothing necessarily true about God, that being able to work power doesn't mean anything about whether you know God. It is as if Jesus had this passage in mind when he said:

    “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?’ And then will I declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.’ (Matthew 7:21–23)

    It gets even worse. Jesus predicted that some Christians would be deceived via miracle:

    Then if anyone says to you, ‘Look, here is the Christ!’ or ‘There he is!’ do not believe it. For false christs and false prophets will arise and perform great signs and wonders, so as to lead astray, if possible, even the elect. See, I have told you beforehand. (Matthew 24:23–25)

    An even more intense version shows up in Revelation 13—"its mortal wound was healed" could indicate a resurrection.

    • David Nickol

      This is why Jesus founded the Catholic Church—to determine for believers what are true miracles from God and to discredit any fake miracle workers or false messiahs.

    • Dennis Bonnette

      "And if Christ be not risen, then is our preaching vain, and your faith is also vain." 1 Corinthians 15:14 King James Version

      • Sure:

             (1) ¬R ⇒ ¬F

        (no resurrection ⇒ no faith)

        However, one cannot just negate both sides and get this:

             (2) R ⇒ F

        That's a formal logical fallacy. As I said, there might be a Satan-executed resurrection in Revelation 13.

        • Dennis Bonnette

          Not every truth is conveyed through logical necessity.

          Rhetoric can be used to support truth as well, even though it is not logically airtight.

          I think St. Paul was just using a rhetorical device to reinforce the intuitively correct insight that, if Christ rose from the dead, this took the power of God and was thus his stamp of approval.

          No, Satan lacks the power to resurrect a human being. You have to distinguish between the preternatural, which Satan can perform, and the supernatural which God alone has the power to effect.

          My suspicion is that God alone has the power over life and death needed to resurrect a body once the spiritual soul has left it and it is beginning to decay. Satan may be able to cause the appearance of a living body, but that is not the same as to reanimate dead flesh so that it becomes a genuinely living person who can then continue with his earthly life.

          • What is the cost about you being wrong—what if Satan really can resurrect in a way that even the best Catholic cannot discern is somehow "false"?

          • Dennis Bonnette

            Please understand that this is not as certain in my mind as metaphysics, since it entail some theological speculation.

            You ask the cost of Satan could really resurrect the dead. If Satan could do what I maintain God alone can do, then Satan could, indeed, deceive anyone into thinking his actions were those of God!

            That is because I think that God alone has the power to raise someone from the dead -- to cause a completely separated soul to reanimate as living flesh a body that has already begun to corrupt at least at a microscopic level. The matter is no longer even fit for the form in such a case, since it no longer belongs to the same species -- unlike what happens in human procreation. (This is a bit technical, but grounded in hylemorphic principles.) A dead body is not any longer human in species, since human beings are, by definition, living organisms.

            Clearly, if Satan could perform a real resurrection, then, not just Catholics, but all men would be deceived. That is another reason God would not permit Satan to do such a thing -- even were it possible, which I contend it is not.

          • Please understand that this is not as certain in my mind as metaphysics, since it entail some theological speculation.

            Sure. My concern here is that miracles being evidence of God is dangerously close to "Might makes right." That is: "Might gives evidence of goodness." Now, if only the might authorized by the Magisterium (or some other organ of the RCC) is evidence of God's working, then it seems like the true standard is how that organ discerns between God-caused and Satan-caused miracles. (Surely we believe that Pharaoh's magicians did true miracles.)

            That is because I think that God alone has the power to raise someone from the dead -- to cause a completely separated soul to reanimate as living flesh a body that has already begun to corrupt at least at a microscopic level.

            This sounds like a metaphysical description, which would be hard to impossible for a Christian to discern. How does one know when the soul has "completely separated"?

            Clearly, if Satan could perform a real resurrection, then, not just Catholics, but all men would be deceived. That is another reason God would not permit Satan to do such a thing -- even were it possible, which I contend it is not.

            Or one could obey Deut 12:32–13:5. Our understanding of God's goodness can lead us to guess which kinds of miracles God might do, but it must go that direction, not the other. “Who is like the beast, and who can fight against it?” comes from those who go the other direction. Might does not make right. Might does not make right. I can repeat that forever. The power of God is not the power of man.

          • Dennis Bonnette

            Of course, might does not make right. But power is a sign of something! If I am right, it takes infinite power to raise from the dead. That would mean God alone can do it. And if God does it, it is good, not because of power, but because of the inherent goodness of God.

            Satan can cause preternatural effects, but God alone can cause supernatural ones. Read my article on the distinction.
            So, whether God causes resurrections has nothing to do with the Catholic Magisterium. It is a metaphysical question of whether it took the power of God alone or not. If it took God's power, then it is a real miracle. If not, then no.

            "(Surely we believe that Pharaoh's magicians did true miracles.)" Absolutely not! At best, those were tricks or preternatural effects caused by the Devil. If they worked true miracles, then God would be putting his stamp of approval on them.

            "How does one know when the soul has "completely separated"?"

            You don't easily. That is why one must be most careful of "resurrection stories" in which the dead might not have been. Look, though, at some of the examples I gave in my article. Death means the separation of the soul from the body. It is a philosophical criterion. it is not simply clinical signs as determined by a medical doctor. In Christ's case, the details make death evident, including signs of total loss of blood.

            "The power of God is not the power of man."

            Indeed! That is why nothing should be termed a miracle unless it is clearly proven that it was an extraordinary phenomenon that God alone could produce, such as a true resurrection from the assuredly dead.

          • But power is a sign of something!

            But which power? According to Paul: "For the word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God." It's not clear how resurrection would constitute folly to those who are perishing. I understand that resurrection would be folly to Gnostics—their whole point in life is to escape entrapment in matter. But what about Epicureans? Surely they'd be happy to be resurrected.

            Satan can cause preternatural effects, but God alone can cause supernatural ones. Read my article on the distinction.
            So, whether God causes resurrections has nothing to do with the Catholic Magisterium. It is a metaphysical question of whether it took the power of God alone or not. If it took God's power, then it is a real miracle. If not, then no.

            If one cannot discern the difference through perception and judgment, I'm not sure how metaphysical distinctions matter when it comes to Mt 24:23–25 and Rev 13.

            LB: (Surely we believe that Pharaoh's magicians did true miracles.)

            DB: Absolutely not! At best, those were tricks or preternatural effects caused by the Devil. If they worked true miracles, then God would be putting his stamp of approval on them.

            Ok, I'll accept your terms. I will switch to the ESV translation of Mt 24:24a, "For false christs and false prophets will arise and perform great signs and wonders". The Septuagint records the same Greek words are used in Deut 13:1 "But if a prophet or one who dreams a dream arises in you, and he gives you a sign or a wonder". Pharaoh's magicians managed to reproduce the first plague and the text indicates no discernible difference between God's execution and the magicians' execution. (Ex 7:19–22)

            Death means the separation of the soul from the body. It is a philosophical criterion. it is not simply clinical signs as determined by a medical doctor.

            In that case, can people ever discern whether the philosophical criterion has been satisfied?

            Indeed! That is why nothing should be termed a miracle unless it is clearly proven that it was an extraordinary phenomenon that God alone could produce, such as a true resurrection from the assuredly dead.

            To me, this is an exceedingly dangerous stance. I see no indication anywhere in the Bible for which miracles Satan can and cannot do. The warnings I see in the text are profound. What this suggests to me is that our confidence in Jesus should not be founded in miracles. And I wonder: how does the faith change if one derives zero confidence from miracles? I don't mean to rule out the supernatural; instead I mean to rule out the notion of power we see in Mt 24:23–25 and Rev 13, which will apparently seduce so many humans.

          • Dennis Bonnette

            Remember, Catholics do not accept sola scriptura, especially since that doctrine itself is not found in the Bible.

            It is reason that tells us that some effects exceed the power of created agents and many do not. Thus the difference between the supernatural and preternatural. The term, "miracle," should, technically, be reserved for supernatural effects alone.

            If St. Paul is correct, the entire Christian revelation is proven by one great miracle, the resurrection of Christ himself.

            While time of death is not a medical judgment, but a philosophical one, this does not mean that we cannot tell when someone is really dead. Marginal cases can always be deceiving to observers. But not all cases are marginal, as in the case of those dead for days or those mangled physically. You have to remember that the Harvard brain death criterion was not designed to establish when to stop trying to save a life, but rather, to allow medical transplanters to obtain vital organs while they are still "warm and dripping." Men have observed death for thousands of years, and not all cases are deceptive.

            I still maintain that resurrection of the authentically dead is an act that God alone can cause. And, it appears that God himself chose to use the resurrection of Jesus as the foundation for belief for a group of disciples who had fled the Shepherd in despair.

          • Remember, Catholics do not accept sola scriptura, especially since that doctrine itself is not found in the Bible.

            That's fine, but I think it's still worth it to acknowledge whether something can be found in the Bible, kinda found in the Bible, or not at all found in the Bible.

            It is reason that tells us that some effects exceed the power of created agents and many do not.

            It's hard for me to accept this appeal to 'reason'; it doesn't seem anything like the principle of non-contradiction, for example. Indeed, it seems to suppose that God would choose to manifest as the most powerful being; that seems pretty dubious, to me. God did so during the Exodus and it didn't really work—just look at the infidelity and failure to remember of the Israelites during the Exodus. God did so on Mt Carmel, and then Elijah had to flee for his life and despaired of his very mission.

            Instead, it seems like we should understand God's goodness as critical to his character and determinative of what God would and would not do. So for example, of the beast humans will say: “Who is like the beast, and who can fight against it?” (Rev 13:1–4) Will God ever require worship on this ground? No!, I say. No!, in the strongest possible terms. That is not the God I worship. Now, I think we should be very careful of what we say God would not do. I'm not sure there's anything other than what I just said, that I would not draw from scripture. An example I would draw from scripture is "a bruised reed he will not break, / and a faintly burning wick he will not quench;".

            If St. Paul is correct, the entire Christian revelation is proven by one great miracle, the resurrection of Christ himself.

            I don't see how it's "proven" in this way. I would be much more inclined to run with N.T. Wright's The Resurrection of the Son of God, where resurrection is something reasoned to by understanding God's goodness and in particular, his justice. Character comes first; miracles that make sense within that character come second.

            Men have observed death for thousands of years, and not all cases are deceptive.

            Who is to say that medical science won't push back the point of rescue further and further? If I see what appears to be a bona fide resurrection and it doesn't seem in God's character (so for example: Rev 13), I'm not going to assume that God did it.

          • Dennis Bonnette

            "...it seems to suppose that God would choose to manifest as the most powerful being; that seems pretty dubious, to me."

            This isn't a problem of divine psychology. It is metaphysics. If authentic resurrection of the dead requires the infinite power of God, then Christ's resurrection must be an act of God.

            If it is an act of God, then our faith is not in vain.

            I don't doubt God's goodness and that all he does he does to manifest his glory and create goodness in his creation. I don't doubt that God's goodness precedes his choice to resurrect someone.

            But the fact remains, that resurrection is an unequivocal sign of God's activity, and this is the foundation miracle of Christian revelation according to St. Paul.

            "Who is to say that medical science won't push back the point of rescue further and further? "

            Medicine can push back the rescue point as far as is possible, but once the soul has actually separated from the body, God alone can resurrect that decaying mass by recreating the presence of the living soul or principle of life within it.

            There is a point after which someone is really dead. We can detect that point in at least some cases. Resurrections after that point are clearly a miracle that God alone can produce.

          • This isn't a problem of divine psychology. It is metaphysics. If authentic resurrection of the dead requires the infinite power of God, then Christ's resurrection must be an act of God.

            When metaphysics is arbitrarily divorced from what people can perceive and discern, I get nervous.

            But the fact remains, that resurrection is an unequivocal sign of God's activity, and this is the foundation miracle of Christian revelation according to St. Paul.

            But Paul doesn't actually say that R ⇒ F. Just that ¬R ⇒ ¬F. Eve got some technicalities wrong and I'm trying to avoid her errors. :-p (Adam was useless, so …)

            Medicine can push back the rescue point as far as is possible, but once the soul has actually separated from the body, God alone can resurrect that decaying mass by recreating the presence of the living soul or principle of life within it.

            Sure. But now consider a secret cabal of scientists who are able to push the resurrection resuscitation point back multiple days. How many faithful Christians could they thereby fool?

          • Dennis Bonnette

            "When metaphysics is arbitrarily divorced from what people can perceive and discern, I get nervous."

            If you are talking about what people "discern," the task gets easier, since most all people fall to their knees before the reality of actual resurrection, like doubting Thomas. Most all people readily admit that, if the Resurrection is true, then so is Christianity.

            "But Paul doesn't actually say that R ⇒ F. Just that ¬R ⇒ ¬F."
            I thought I already answered that objection earlier by pointing out that the negative expression was simply a rhetorical device by St. Paul to point out that the Resurrection makes our belief in Christ anything but "in vain."

            No one ever said Christians could not be fooled. In fact, Christ warns us that then the end times come deceptive wonders will be worked. But that in no way refutes the force of logic for genuine resurrections -- undoubtable ones, such as the one I describe in the article where the insane woman serves up pieces of her victim for dinner!

            Besides, at the time of Christ, there was simply no scientific wonders extant among the Jewish society in which the Resurrection took place. So, the witnesses of that event drew the correct conclusion.

          • If you are talking about what people "discern," the task gets easier, since most all people fall to their knees before the reality of actual resurrection, like doubting Thomas. Most all people readily admit that, if the Resurrection is true, then so is Christianity.

            I guess I'm the odd one out, then. I'm more aligned with “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life, and we have believed, and have come to know, that you are the Holy One of God.” I do believe that ¬R ⇒ ¬F, though. :-) One of my tests for Christian-like life is to what extent it is predicated upon ¬R ⇒ ¬F, or at least something which leads to that.

            I thought I already answered that objection earlier by pointing out that the negative expression was simply a rhetorical device by St. Paul to point out that the Resurrection makes our belief in Christ anything but "in vain."

            I heard you; I just don't agree, for the reasons I've stated. What I can say is that the resurrection of Jesus is required by a correct understanding that the disciples could have had before his crucifixion. Jesus himself used such reasoning when he proved the resurrection by saying that YHWH is God of the living, not the dead.

            actual resurrection … genuine resurrections

            You say these terms as if they're unproblematic from the perspective of perception & judgment. I'm not nearly so convinced. I get that you have a metaphysical distinction. But unless there's a high-confidence way to connect your metaphysics to perception & judgment, I don't know what to do with it.

            Besides, at the time of Christ, there was simply no scientific wonders extant among the Jewish society in which the Resurrection took place.

            There was resurrection before Jesus and Jesus resurrected Lazarus. And yet, it's if Jesus was not resurrected, our faith is in vain.

          • Johannes Hui

            “ There was resurrection before Jesus and Jesus resurrected Lazarus. And yet, it's if Jesus was not resurrected, our faith is in vain.”

            Here is where the difference between the two types of bodily resurrection may be relevant.

          • Dennis Bonnette

            "actual resurrection … genuine resurrections
            You say these terms as if they're unproblematic from the perspective of perception & judgment. I'm not nearly so convinced. I get that you have a metaphysical distinction. But unless there's a high-confidence way to connect your metaphysics to perception & judgment, I don't know what to do with it."

            The problem is that we cannot see the soul leave the body!

            But that does not mean that in most instances, I dare say, we are fully sure someone is dead -- even as Lazarus lay for some time, so much so, Scripture depicts him as "he stinketh!" Again, I treat this objection in the OP itself, by listing several ways death is evident, such as in a brutal murder such as the case I mentioned in the OP. We do get fooled sometimes, but those are the marginal cases. You don't take your evidence from a marginal case.

            Metaphysically, even with a nasty accident, it is possible that the soul does not leave the body instantly, despite the condition of the body. That is why Catholic priests will administer the Last Rites up to hours after apparent death.

            Now, you think I undercut my own argument, right? But if you wait a while, the evident signs of general decomposition become clear. Indeed, if you look at some of the cases in the sources I give in the OP, some of the deceased have been in their graves for some time.

            And, yes, Lazarus was raised before Jesus himself. This proved the infinite power of Jesus, the Man-God. But it was Jesus's own resurrection which was essential to the establishment of the Faith that St. Paul and you and I commit to in its fullest theological expression. That is the Resurrection without which our Faith would be in vain. It was in Jesus's Resurrection that we were all redeemed from sin (Catholics would say original sin here).

          • But if you wait a while, the evident signs of general decomposition become clear.

            I'm still not convinced that in 2000 years, we won't have medical technology which can resuscitate after a shocking amount of decomposition. I actually think it'd be pretty neat if God created reality such that this becomes possible for us. And I see zero need for the spiritual convincing power you want to derive from resurrections of sufficiently-decomposed persons. This just isn't where I get my convinced in Jesus being the God–man who was crucified at the hands of humans, dead for "three" days, and resurrected after to [enfleshed] life eternal. I look forward to being there when Jesus has his first taste of wine after his current teetotaling. I hear he liked the stuff—with the right company, of course.

            But it was Jesus's own resurrection which was essential to the establishment of the Faith that St. Paul and you and I commit to in its fullest theological expression.

            I agree. F ⇒ R. But that's a very different statement than R ⇒ F.

            It was in Jesus's Resurrection that we were all redeemed from sin (Catholics would say for all men's sins, including original sin here).

            I agree with the sentence including parenthetical, but I suspect I fill it with a somewhat different meaning than you—and a lot of Protestants. At risk of starting a new tangent (because you're fun to talk to), I think Adam & Eve accepted a corrupted idea of YHWH by aligning with the serpent and failing to repent. They came to see God as being against them, as an accuser of sin. Hence the hiding in shame. Whether or not A&E understood how contradictory to their model it was for YHWH to give them better coverings, I don't know. But the idea that "good works" are 100% irrelevant to restoring the relationship comes directly from the fact that A&E's deepest error was to think badly of God, subsequently cementing that with action. I think those who crucified Jesus became that corrupted God (to the extent that humans can), each in his own way thinking he was being righteous (more precisely, dikē). Our One True God showed our embodied error for what it was not by accusing, but by letting us carve our sins into our flesh. Afterward, some were "cut to the heart", realizing that those weren't Jesus' sins they were carving.

          • Dennis Bonnette

            "I'm still not convinced that in 2000 years, we won't have medical technology which can resuscitate after a shocking amount of decomposition."

            The problem isn't the amount of decomposition, but rather whether the soul is actually separated from the body. Natural science may produce wonders for a body, but it cannot infuse a departed soul for the simple reason that science operates on matter and the soul is not material. That is why it is God's domain, not man's.

            There is a difference between the soul actually departing and our ability to know when that has occurred. Clearly, many of those who have ever lived are now dead. And most folks don't have much trouble figuring out who to bury and when. If your theory is correct, we are burying a lot of living people.

            Besides, the instances of recorded resurrections do not all fall under death by natural causes. In fact, I somewhat address your very objection in the following passage from my essay:

            "Nonetheless, a rather strong indication of death is reported in a resurrection attributed to St. Vincent Ferrer (1350-1419). A woman became insane, slit her small son’s throat, dismembered his body, and roasted a portion, which she then tried to serve to her husband. St. Vincent prayed over the remains and the reassembled pieces arose as the living boy. This case was part of the saint’s canonization process. In many other cases, the deceased was dead for days, hanged by the neck for days, suffered violent deaths, or even sealed in a coffin for long periods."

            As to your last theological speculations, that is outside my field of competence. There probably is a lot of room for such speculations. We know it probably was not an apple that was at issue, don't we?!

            My main point in writing that article had to do with the reasons why some people accept miracles and others don't. That was a philosophical topic. Now we are wandering in what is to me the wilderness of theological speculation.

          • The problem isn't the amount of decomposition, but rather whether the soul is actually separated from the body.

            Metaphysically, yes. But when it comes to human perception and judgment? What is just a resuscitation could look awfully like a resurrection …

            If your theory is correct, we are burying a lot of living people.

            I am under no illusion that I could not possibly be making grievous errors. I could.

            Besides, the instances of recorded resurrections do not all fall under death by natural causes. In fact, I somewhat address your very objection in the following passage from my essay:

            I still think setting strict limits on the capabilities of reality opens the door to arbitrary manipulation and control if in fact those limits don't exist [there]. F ⇒ R, but R ⇏ F. (Here, R can stand for resuscitation or resurrection, with us not necessarily being able to distinguish.) The difference is in some sense subtle, and yet it makes all the difference when it comes to warnings such as Mt 24:23–25 and Rev 13. Of what help are metaphysical distinctions, if they cannot be turned into reliable judgments of perception?

            My main point in writing that article had to do with the reasons why some people accept miracles and others don't. That was a philosophical topic. Now we are wandering in what is to me the wilderness of theological speculation.

            My point was that I can agree with a sentence for very different reasons than you probably do. I did this with Paul in 1 Cor 15:12–19 and I did this with your own sentence. And I think my stance offers immunity to Mt 24:23–25 and Rev 13 that I don't see in yours—not to mention a grander idea of what creation might permit us to do without law-breaking miracles (if any miracle in fact breaks laws).

          • Dennis Bonnette

            "Metaphysically, yes. But when it comes to human perception and judgment? What is just a resuscitation could look awfully like a resurrection …"

            That is why I gave you some outrageous examples of certain death in the article as cited in my previous comment.

            In light of you skepticism about death, I think I shall revert to the practice of a couple centuries ago and have a bell device attached to my grave so I can pull the chain from my casket. :)

            The warnings Christ gave of the deceptive wonders near the end of time would not pertain to genuine miracles, since they are caused by God alone, but rather to preternatural phenomena that the Devil can perform quite well or possibly even to unexpected human artifices.

          • In light of you skepticism about death, I think I shall revert to the practice of a couple centuries ago and have a bell device attached to my grave so I can pull the chain from my casket. :)

            Sadly, people who are clinically dead but can be resuscitated by today's medical technology cannot pull such bells. :-(

            The warnings Christ gave of the deceptive wonders near the end of time would not pertain to genuine miracles, since they are caused by God alone, but rather to preternatural phenomena that the Devil can perform quite well or possibly even to unexpected human artifices.

            Again, metaphysical distinctions are only helpful here if they inform judgments of perception.

          • Johannes Hui

            Perhaps in your conversation with Luke, it is good to also differentiate between two types of raising/resurrection of the dead into bodily life again:

            1. The type in the situation of a truly dead person being raised back to the same bodily life again but such a body would subsequently suffer decay/deterioration and the person will die again (eg the case of Lazarus). Luke probably thinks that Satan can cause some sort of this effect - whether through some trick or otherwise.

            2. The type in the situation of a truly dead person being raised in a transformed and glorious body - eg in the case of Jesus in the first century, and also that of the elects during the future general resurrection - Luke would probably agree that such type of resurrection could not be caused by Satan.

          • I happen to think that the capabilities of creature are infinite if only we study it carefully enough, so no, I don't accept what you say, here. I believe that character must always and forever precede power. I believe the warnings in Mt 24:23–25 and Rev 13 are very important, and I do not trust my ability to discern between true and false miracles like you and @dennisbonnette:disqus seem to think you (or some organ of the RCC) can. I do believe I am learning more and more to discern between miracles that are within vs. not within God's character. (more here)

          • Johannes Hui

            I also think that a Morally Good Character/Person is more worthy than a Powerful Bad Character/Person. What I said about two types of resurrection does not contradict the priority of moral goodness over raw power.

          • Sure, and yet 1 Cor 1–2 (in addition to other scripture) show that what God means by 'power' is arbitrarily different from what we mean by 'power'.

          • Dennis Bonnette

            "I happen to think that the capabilities of creature are infinite if only we study it carefully enough...."

            This is simply bad metaphysics. If you are talking about the production of an effect that takes infinite power to produce, infinite power simply cannot exist in a finite being, a mere creature -- for the simple reason that what is actually infinite could never exist in a finite being. For, such a thing would be both finite and not finite in the same respect.

            Power means the ability to do something, and power without limit means the ability to produce an effect that only an infinite being could produce. That is why a mere creature cannot create from nothing, since infinite power would be required and the infinite in act cannot, as such, exist in what is finite.

            A finite thing can be infinite in potency, as, for example, if a spiritual creature were to think of a new idea every moment throughout all eternity. But that a finite mind should know all possible knowledge at the same time would be to put the infinite in act in what is by nature limited in being, which is impossible. For, again, it would entail having a finite mind contain infinite knowledge, which is self-contradictory.

          • LB: I happen to think that the capabilities of creature are infinite if only we study it carefully enough

            DB: This is simply bad metaphysics. If you are talking about the production of an effect that takes infinite power to produce

            Sorry, I should have been more precise: I think we can become arbitrarily powerful and do arbitrarily powerful things. The sky is the limit, but we'll only get there in infinite time. This matches up with John 17:3, which states "And this is eternal life, that they know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent." It takes infinite time to know (in the deep, personal sense) an infinite being. And that knowing will almost certainly involve growing in power, just like Genesis 1:28 was supposed to be the most god-like (John 10:34, Psalm 82:6) activity imago Dei creatures could do.

            That is why a mere creature cannot create from nothing, since infinite power would be required and the infinite in act cannot, as such, exist in what is finite.

            I actually see no reason that an imago Dei being could not engage in any creatio ex nihilo whatsoever. Indeed, I have no idea how one gets meaningful free will without creatio ex nihilo. Surely a crucial aspect of the God we worship is that creatio ex nihilo aspect. Why could we not possibly share it? What I can believe is that God doesn't let us have more of that ability than we can safely handle. If you look at things like the Thirty Years' War and the fact that Christians around the globe are nothing like unified in the way spoken of in Jn 13:34–35, 17:20–23, and 2 Cor 5:14–15, you could imagine that we can't be trusted with very much power at all. Enough πίστις, though, and moving the mountain is trivial.

          • Dennis Bonnette

            "It takes infinite time to know (in the deep, personal sense) an infinite being. "

            But the problem is that a finite knower can never know (comprehend) an infinite being. In what we call the Beatific Vision, God is known in his essence, but that does NOT mean knowing the totality of his essence!

            "I actually see no reason that an imago Dei being could not engage in any creatio ex nihilo whatsoever." Please take a look at my article on existential inertia. In it, I give an argument why it takes infinite power (which can exist solely in God) in order to create or sustain the existence of anything at all, even the least of finite beings. I won't repeat the complex argument here, but this is a power God alone has.

            I get your concern about free will and that is a very complex topic in itself, but you cannot solve it by saying a creature can create out of nothing -- or else, the creature becomes identical to God.

            Yes, we stand in awe at God's creative power, but that does NOT mean we can share it. If we did, we would BE him! In fact, I use in multiple places a proof for God's existence based precisely on his ability to create ex nihilo.

            I would like to be able to do this neat thing, but I know it is truly impossible for me as a creature. :)

          • Johannes Hui

            In addition, any task (eg “to know an infinite being”) that requires an infinite time to execute would mean it is a never-ending task. In other words, it is impossible to achieve completion of that task. It is as impossible as trying to finish counting all the positive integers starting from zero.

          • But the problem is that a finite knower can never know (comprehend) an infinite being. In what we call the Beatific Vision, God is known in his essence, but that does NOT mean knowing the totality of his essence!

            I see no limit to how much God can grow us per unit time. And I suspect we need to become more in order to know God more. Well, as t → ∞, you can get arbitrarily much growth and arbitrarily much knowing. Since we have infinite time with God …

            Please take a look at my article on existential inertia. In it, I give an argument why it takes infinite power (which can exist solely in God) in order to create or sustain the existence of anything at all, even the least of finite beings.

            Hmm, I believe that David Braine makes that kind of argument in The Reality of Time and the Existence of God: The Project of Proving God's Existence (Anthony Flood's review). In some sense, what you claim here seems necessarily true per Heb 1:3 and Col 1:17. And yet, God seems insistent on involving us very deeply in creation. So while we should assert that at the deepest level God is holding things together, I'm not sure what that means once you go from metaphysics to physics. Remember: you seem able to live in metaphysics-land for long periods of time; I find the air too rarefied to spend very much time there at all.

            One of the potential problems with your argument is that we seem to need a way to understand God removing his presence. YHWH threatens to do precisely this in Ex 33:1–6, immediately following the Golden Calf episode. But what does it mean for God to not "go up among you"? I can't help but think that God exerts a kind of "holding things together" force which he can remove.

            On a very pragmatic level, any parent knows that it is important to teach his/her children to become more and more able as they get older. A simple way to measure this early on is: how far away will the child venture from mommy or daddy before starting to freak out? Later: how much trouble can the child get into and resolve by his/her own lights? You can say that the parent becomes less and less present to the child on the outside; whether or not the parent becomes internalized more and more on the inside is an interesting question, and has a direct corollary in the New Covenant passages Jer 31:31–34 and Ezek 36:22–32.

            So … yeah, I can't really engage with metaphysics on any useful level, if I can't see how it connects, through however many layers of abstraction, to pragmatic life and to all the different things you read happening in scripture. Such as God removing his presence—even becoming hidden.

            I get your concern about free will and that is a very complex topic in itself, but you cannot solve it by saying a creature can create out of nothing -- or else, the creature becomes identical to God.

            In that case, was sin actualized by God? After all, everything about Adam is the result of Pure Act doing some actualizing. And yet Pure Act is Perfectly Good, and thus only creates goodness. And yet, there was sin. What makes the "freedom of will" that led to the sin, something that can do anything other than creatio ex nihilo? If I drop a glass because of a disease which affects my gripping muscles, I am not morally responsible for dropping that glass. Sin is so terrible because it's an act of the will, yes?

            I sense a fundamental contradiction here, one where it seems you (and probably many before you) shoveled the paradox into "free will", leaving everything else nice and metaphysically clean. But I don't think this does justice to the imago Dei. And it's far too similar to the powerful having their nice pretty ideas, and forcing the little people to deal with all the ways those pretty ideas don't actually work in reality. Sorry!

          • Dennis Bonnette

            There is no way I can force you into doing the needed metaphysics here, but you are dealing with the difference between a finite creature and its infinite Creator.

            There is no way the finite can comprehend the infinite, since, by definition, he is always limited, whereas God in infinite.

            "And yet, God seems insistent on involving us very deeply in creation. So while we should assert that at the deepest level God is holding things together, I'm not sure what that means once you go from metaphysics to physics."

            Yes, God does delve deep into human nature to raise it up back almost to the level of divinity, but the "almost" remains an infinite gap, the gap between the finite and the infinite.

            The key insight is that you don't "go from metaphysics to physics, " but from physics to metaphysics. That is precisely how Aristotle proceeds. It is in seeing that things in motion and time require a transcendent first mover that the mind is raised from the finite physical world to the reality of a transcendent spiritual First Mover, the eternal Pure Act which is God himself. Contemporary natural scientists are forever tempted to commit the sin of Adam all over again by attempting to become as God in claiming to explain why everything exists. But their rightful task is only to observe and describe how it exists. The question of why it exists lies outside their scientific competence and in the hands of the philosopher, who seeks the explanation for the realm of physics itself.

            God hides himself from us so that we may with greatest freedom choose to reach back to him for life's meaning, or, rejecting his loving embrace to try to make the world a product entirely of our own creation in pragmatic terms.
            God may hide himself from us sometimes as a punishment for our sins, since being abandoned in our own sins is one of the worst punishments.

            I always wondered why the Jews actually wanted those pesky Ten Commandments that would regulate their freedom -- wondered until I realized that a nation, like Israel or the U.S. runs well only as long as its people are virtuous. Witnessing the chaos, rioting, and general societal destruction of secular America to day makes me understand why the Ten Commandments were a genuine gift to the Israelites.

          • I'm not saying we become infinite, except as t → ∞. That is, we approach infinity, and nothing less. If we approach something less, we're approaching an idol, and Paul has something to say about that in Rom 1:18–25. And I'm not saying that we comprehend God completely, but instead that "we have the mind of Christ" has to mean something. Paul's command to imitate God has to mean something. Furthermore, the way that God deals with an asymmetric boundary like finite/​infinite is categorically different from how humans tend to, as Jesus explains in Mt 20:20–28.

            You have not explained how the very metaphysics you deduce from physics permitted Adam and Eve to sin. Indeed, the insistence that God is the only unmoved mover suggests that Adam and Eve were moved to sin by a source outside of themselves. And yet they are guilty for this? That violates the principle of non-contradiction like nobody's business. Free will of any creature is contradicted by God being the only unmoved mover.

            There is also a danger that the deduction of metaphysics from physics commits the very act of idolatry that YHWH prohibited in the Decalogue, and then time and time again. I think it's worth quoting in full:

            “You shall not make for yourself a carved image[1], or any likeness[2] of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth. You shall not bow down to them or serve them, for I the LORD your God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children to the third and the fourth generation of those who hate me, but showing steadfast love to thousands of those who love me and keep my commandments. (Exodus 20:4–6)

            I'll add the NET Bible notes:

            [1] tn A פֶּסֶל (pesel) is an image that was carved out of wood or stone. The Law was concerned with a statue that would be made for the purpose of worship, an idol to be venerated, and not any ordinary statue.

            [2] tn The word תְּמוּנָה (tmunah) refers to the mental pattern from which the פֶּסֶל (pesel) is constructed; it is a real or imagined resemblance. If this is to stand as a second object to the verb, then the verb itself takes a slightly different nuance here. It would convey “you shall not make an image, neither shall you conceive a form” for worship (B. Jacob, Exodus, 547). Some simply make the second word qualify the first: “you shall not make an idol in the form of…” (NIV).

            In other words: we must not mistake the fabrication of our minds for being God or being worthy of veneration. Surely this includes metaphysics? Metaphysics which cannot guide one's judgment of perception seems to be in danger of description by Psalm 115. Could God possibly show Godself to be different from your metaphysics?

          • Dennis Bonnette

            "That is, we approach infinity, and nothing less."

            The problem with infinity is precisely that nothing finite can even begin to approach it. The gap itself is always infinite.

            "And I'm not saying that we comprehend God completely, but instead that "we have the mind of Christ" has to mean something. "

            Yes it does mean something, in that having the mind of Christ is to see things the way he does and not our human selfish way. But the Beatific Vision is different in that it is to grasp something of the essence of God itself, rather than merely his effects -- but never completely, which would be to be God. This entails the theologically mysterious doctrine of sanctifying grace, which is above my pay grade.

            "You have not explained how the very metaphysics you deduce from physics permitted Adam and Eve to sin. Indeed, the insistence that God is the only unmoved mover suggests that Adam and Eve were moved to sin by a source outside of themselves. And yet they are guilty for this? That violates the principle of non-contradiction like nobody's business. Free will of any creature is contradicted by God being the only unmoved mover."

            If you look back, I do have an article on SN on free will and the principle of sufficient reason. I see your concern about there being only one first mover unmoved, but the essence of sin and free will is that God moves the free will to move according to its own nature which is to move freely. Thus Adam and Eve and every sinner is moved by a source outside themselves, but only moved to choose a good, a finite good, which allows for choice between finite alternatives. If the good is God himself and fully known, freedom ceases while voluntariness remains. We are always moved toward the good, but confronted by finite alternative goods, we are not necessitated to one rather than another. Still, I am not underplaying the mysterious nature of how God moves the will, yet does so freely on the will's part.

            Conversely, theologically, were you correct, no man could sin and none could be lost.

          • The problem with infinity is precisely that nothing finite can even begin to approach it. The gap itself is always infinite.

            This can be trivially disproven: by adding sides to a square to make it a pentagon, hexagon, etc., you can approach the shape of a circle while never getting there.

            Yes it does mean something, in that having the mind of Christ is to see things the way he does and not our human selfish way. But the Beatific Vision is different in that it is to grasp something of the essence of God itself, rather than merely his effects -- but never completely, which would be to be God. This entails the theologically mysterious doctrine of sanctifying grace, which is above my pay grade.

            It's hard for me to make biblical sense of this; it seems rather speculative. What I do think is true is that when one has access to only a person's exterior, there is much one cannot possibly know about the person. The Enlightenment, as far as I can tell, cannot tolerate such interiority of persons (or God). It is up to persons, and God, to volunteer as much or as little about the interior as they so choose. If one takes the KJV translation of yada to be "know" because it involves a whole-being intimacy, the sin of the Sodomites becomes rather worse than typically portrayed. The Holy of Holies is the antithesis: exactly one person can enter without dying, and then only if YHWH's requirements are respected.

            the essence of sin and free will is that God moves the free will to move according to its own nature which is to move freely.

            That sounds awfully like God granting creatio ex nihilo powers to imago Dei beings. You, however, want there to be a sort of middle ground. I don't understand that middle ground, unless it's something like the ability to effect clinamina, to steal a term from Lucretius. Furthermore, creatio ex nihilo does not seem to entail that God does not help & sustain the result. That seems fully metaphysically separable.

            If the good is God himself and fully known, freedom ceases while voluntariness remains. We are always moved toward the good, but confronted by finite alternative goods, we are not necessitated to one rather than another.

            In the beginning, you said one cannot approach infinity. Here, you seem to think we can move toward an infinite good. In my mind, "approach" and "move toward" are synonyms.

          • Dennis Bonnette

            "This can be trivially disproven: by adding sides to a square to make it a pentagon, hexagon, etc., you can approach the shape of a circle while never getting there."

            Clever. But there are many forms of infinities in finite things, while none of them are the Infinite Being. What I said still stands.

            "It's hard for me to make biblical sense of this; it seems rather speculative. "

            "What I do think is true is that when one has access to only a person's exterior, there is much one cannot possibly know about the person. "

            That is a pretty good insight analogous to the notion of the Beatific Vision. It is to know God himself, not merely his effects. But, since we are finite beings, our knowledge will always be finite -- of the divine essence, but finite.

            "Furthermore, creatio ex nihilo does not seem to entail that God does not help & sustain the result. "

            Free will is not creatio ex nihilo, since God alone can do that. But God can create and sustain the free will of man in making its free choice. We don't need such power, but God does to sustain our act of choosing -- and yet does so in accordance with our natural power to choose freely.

            "Here, you seem to think we can move toward an infinite good. In my mind, "approach" and "move toward" are synonyms."

            When I said "the good is God himself and fully known," it may have been a bit misleading. God is "fully known" here only in the sense that we fully know that he is our true good in heaven, such that we would choose no lesser good. it does not mean that we know God's intrinsic essence fully, since that is impossible. It is just that in heaven we can no longer be deceived by temptation to some lesser good, since deception is no longer possible for us. Face to face with God, no lesser good can move our wills, and thus, though we still love and choose God with perfect voluntariness, we are no longer free to turn from him, since no lesser good holds any attraction for us when compared to the infinite good we then directly apprehend. Self-deception about our true good is possible only in this life, not after we meet God in himself.

          • DB: The problem with infinity is precisely that nothing finite can even begin to approach it. The gap itself is always infinite.

            LB: This can be trivially disproven: by adding sides to a square to make it a pentagon, hexagon, etc., you can approach the shape of a circle while never getting there.

            DB: Clever. But there are many forms of infinities in finite things, while none of them are the Infinite Being. What I said still stands.

            I wonder if this is simply semantic: I can still approach a point at infinity, even though my absolute distance from it is always infinity at any finite time. But this is not like approaching a throne, where unless you're in Zeno's imagination, you get there in finite time.

            But, since we are finite beings, our knowledge will always be finite -- of the divine essence, but finite.

            At this point, I guess I need to know the full entailment of your position, here. I might agree with some of it or all of it, and yet generate it in a different way. I'm very nervous of force-fitting scripture into metaphysical systems; "And this is eternal life, that they know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent." doesn't say "know you partially". Does adding that word change the meaning of the text? Surely Jesus could have said "partially" if that were important. But maybe I'm worrying for no reason; maybe we agree on the full entailment of "humans will always be finite".

            Free will is not creatio ex nihilo, since God alone can do that.

            Here I'm tempted to analyze the concept creatio ex nihilo into constituent parts, to be convinced that free will is similar to none of them. When I first brought this up, you said "it takes infinite power (which can exist solely in God) in order to create or sustain the existence of anything at all". And yet, free will seems to involve the ability to bring something fundamentally new into existence! What else is it? I don't see how you can justify "the free will to move according to its own nature", because surely God does not create natures which naturally sin? God is the source of perfection. When imago Dei beings sin, surely they are acting against their natures? At least, we would say this of Adam & Eve, so as to have no original sin in that 'nature'.

            Do you have a comprehensive view on the imago Dei or even better, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness.”—noting that there are actually two words, there? As far as I can tell, this is an absolutely revolutionary statement. It means the finite can be like the finite. It means the infinite and finite can mix, as they did in Jesus, and as is promised in the New Covenant. I am intensely curious about just how far this similarity goes. The world's way of wielding power is to propagandize qualitative differences between ruler and ruled, whereby a yawning distance grows between them and it becomes an unbridgeable chasm. God's way is very, very different.

            It is just that in heaven we can no longer be deceived by temptation to some lesser good, since deception is no longer possible for us. Face to face with God, no lesser good can move our wills …

            This sounds good, but I'm not sure it explains why we aren't there yet, and why not being there yet is a better thing than being there. When I think of those who chose Barabbas over Jesus, it seems like they were actually employing utterly different standards of judgment, not just choosing a lesser good. It's almost as if we still have some things crucially wrong about God, things that even as finite as we are, we are culpable for not accepting corrections God has offered.

          • Dennis Bonnette

            "I can still approach a point at infinity, even though my absolute distance from it is always infinity at any finite time."

            Yes, this is difficult to comprehend. We may spend eternity learning more and more about God, but there still is infinity to go. I like St. Thomas's late remark in his life when asked what the next world is like. He is said to have replied that it is simply "other." Keeps us humble. :-)

            About knowing God "partially," I suspect we would agree. You know the difference between hearing about someone and getting to know them personally. Now you DO know them. But it does not mean you know all there is to know about them. So, I suspect, it is with God.

            " I don't see how you can justify "the free will to move according to its own nature", because surely God does not create natures which naturally sin? God is the source of perfection. When imago Dei beings sin, surely they are acting against their natures? At least, we would say this of Adam & Eve, so as to have no original sin in that 'nature'."

            I should have been more clear. The will has the nature to make free choices, but that does not mean its choices will always be in accordance with human nature. When we choose freely to deviate from what is proper to our human nature, we sin. That is the misuse of freedom.

            It is not our nature to sin. But it is in our nature to be able to sin.

            I hate to be so mundane, but I think you could explain us being made in the likeness of God merely by noting we have a spiritual soul which is like God's spirit. I am sure one can tease the Scripture to deeper levels of meaning, but just being spiritual sets us apart from all material creation and makes us like unto God in that respect.

            Not sure I grasp your last paragraph. When I said we are free to choose the lesser good, I should also have pointed out that we are free to choose between perfectly good ethical alternatives, such as which chocolate to pick out of a box. It is just that when we see God face to face, there is no alternative good that we might prefer to him. Clearly, even Satan, when he fell from heaven, did not know God face to face, or he would never have rebelled against him. We humans rebel every time we sin by choosing something we know is opposed to true standards of goodness, and, if aware of it, even opposed to God's natural or revealed laws.

          • You know the difference between hearing about someone and getting to know them personally. Now you DO know them. But it does not mean you know all there is to know about them. So, I suspect, it is with God.

            Yes. I also think it's instructive to see how damaging it is to human–human relationships when one side thinks it knows the other fully. It's almost like how we relate to God is supposed to be instructive for how we relate to other humans. "From now on, therefore, we regard no one according to the flesh."

            The will has the nature to make free choices, but that does not mean its choices will always be in accordance with human nature.

            Did God make a single other creature which doesn't develop according to its nature? See, it's just weird to me that the thing that's special to us is that we can ‮wercs‬ up, while other creatures can't. It makes one wonder if there are other ways to understand the imago Dei which are rather more glorifying to God. "For a man ought not to cover his head, since he is the image and glory of God …"

            I hate to be so mundane, but I think you could explain us being made in the likeness of God merely by noting we have a spiritual soul which is like God's spirit.

            Yeah, to me this means almost nothing, because I have very little conception of what 'spiritual' or 'soul' mean. (I'm sorry to say that your blog posts on the matter are generally too metaphysical for me to do much with them.) There are two interesting passages which have been on my mind, lately:

            Then the LORD said, “My Spirit shall not [abide in / contend with] man forever, for he is flesh: his days shall be 120 years.” (Genesis 6:3)

            The natural person does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned. The spiritual person judges all things, but is himself to be judged by no one. “For who has understood the mind of the Lord so as to instruct him?” But we have the mind of Christ. (1 Corinthians 2:14–16)

            What I can say is that there is a serious difference between 'spirit of the law' and 'letter of the law'. The former captures intent, while the latter is more of a … bureaucratic relationship, as it were. The former is suitable for friends, while the latter is required for servants. (Jn 15:12–17)

            Now, I see a lot of true understanding as taking place under the apprenticeship model. You understand the thing if you can do the thing. If you can only talk about it, we should be pretty skeptical. And so when you talk about creatio ex nihilo and sustaining reality, I question what those really mean. But when it comes to humans exercising free will, and whether we sustain the character of society or let it turn into "wild grapes" (Is 5:1–7), I can understand in a deep way. It's also interesting that it's Jesus who sustains reality, given that he was enfleshed, and given that we are his body …

            DB: It is just that in heaven we can no longer be deceived by temptation to some lesser good, since deception is no longer possible for us. Face to face with God, no lesser good can move our wills …

            LB: This sounds good, but I'm not sure it explains why we aren't there yet, and why not being there yet is a better thing than being there. When I think of those who chose Barabbas over Jesus, it seems like they were actually employing utterly different standards of judgment, not just choosing a lesser good. It's almost as if we still have some things crucially wrong about God, things that even as finite as we are, we are culpable for not accepting corrections God has offered.

            DB: Not sure I grasp your last paragraph. When I said we are free to choose the lesser good, I should also have pointed out that we are free to choose between perfectly good ethical alternatives, such as which chocolate to pick out of a box.

            I think we can both agree that we are limited beings, actively being formed by God, by others, and by ourselves. I think there needs to be an accounting for why God isn't more present to us now, if the only thing we can do is either choose the greatest good or sin. And yet, Jesus was called "the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature". This Jesus, who walked the earth. This Jesus, who was passed over in favor of Barabbas. Was Barabbas just the "lesser good"?

          • Dennis Bonnette

            "Did God make a single other creature which doesn't develop according to its nature? See, it's just weird to me that the thing that's special to us is that we can ‮wercs‬ up, while other creatures can't. "
            " I have very little conception of what 'spiritual' or 'soul' mean."

            I put your two quotes together because they are logically connected.
            Simple. We can "screw up" because we have free will. Lower animals cannot because they don't have free will. "Spiritual soul" means that what makes us a person is our intellectual or rational nature, and that is the "I" that survives death to be with God (or not) after death. If you have an intellect, you also must have free will, since it is the intellect that enables you to compare two alternative goods and understand the choice you then can make with your free will.

            "I think there needs to be an accounting for why God isn't more present to us now, if the only thing we can do is either choose the greatest good or sin."

            God is present to us implicitly every time we choose a good, since he is the ultimate good and everything good is good by participating in God's goodness.

            Not every choice is morally significant. Choosing between chocolates in a box does not determine out immortal destiny. But when we sin, it is because our intellect makes the practical judgment that we ought not do this particular thing because it is evil, that is, it somehow violates our own nature or our relationship to God or others. That is when we implicitly "choose God, or not" even if we do not consciously know God in the act itself.

            If I kill or steal from or harm my neighbor, I am aware that I am acting against goodness itself, and God is Goodness in Itself. Hence, such sinful actions alienate me from God, even if I give no thought to God when I commit them.

            Likewise, when I love my neighbor and seek goodness for its own sake, I am drawing myself closer to God by participating more fully in his natural order of creation.

            Man senses this by living his life ethically or not and knows his actions are virtuous, at least by intent, or not.
            If the Jews knew that Jesus was innocent of wrongdoing and that Barabbas was an evildoer, but chose harm for the innocent anyway, then they sinned against the goodness that their own consciences convicted them of -- whether they related it to God explicitly or not.

            We are not animals. That is why our intellective souls become perfected or ruined by our free choices.

          • "Spiritual soul" means that what makes us a person is our intellectual or rational nature, and that is the "I" that survives death to be with God (or not) after death. If you have an intellect, you also must have free will, since it is the intellect that enables you to compare two alternative goods and understand the choice you then can make with your free will.

            This still doesn't help explain why God doesn't help us always choose the best good. We're given this freedom to screw up, and somehow that freedom to screw up is what enables us to be with God after death? The connection seems pretty artificial to me. And so, I'm inclined to think that the imago Dei is a bit more than just this ability to screw up.

            If I kill or steal from or harm my neighbor, I am aware that I am acting against goodness itself, and God is Goodness in Itself.

            Jesus' "Forgive them for they know not what they do" seems to make your claim a bit problematic. Reality often confounds are simple models, and scriptural reality is no different in my experience. :-p

          • Dennis Bonnette

            The phrase, "screw up," was your wording!

            God creates persons, but persons, by their very nature are all beings with free spiritual life principles. Are you complaining because God, in his infinite justice, requires that we earn heaven by freely becoming good persons by making good personal choices -- by actively loving the good rather than evil?

            That is essentially what life is all about. I could detail this at length, but if you are a Christian, you should already know all this stuff.

            "Jesus' "Forgive them for they know not what they do" seems to make your claim a bit problematic."

            I think that applied to those particular Roman soldiers at that moment in time. They, literally, did not know they were crucifying the Son of God.

            God never holds us responsible for what we do not really understand. He judges us for what we do when we know it involves a choice between right and wrong and we are clear-headed and mature enough to know what kind of choices we are making.

            This stuff is not rocket science.

          • David Nickol

            I think that applied to those particular Roman soldiers at that moment in time. They, literally, did not know they were crucifying the Son of God.

            The NAB brackets part of Luke 23:34 as follows:

            [Then Jesus said, “Father, forgive them, they know not what they do.”]* They divided his garments by casting lots.

            The footnote reads

            * [23:34] [Then Jesus said, “Father, forgive them, they know not what they do.”]: this portion of Lk 23:34 does not occur in the oldest papyrus manuscript of Luke and in other early Greek manuscripts and ancient versions of wide geographical distribution.

            I never thought of this before, but it strikes me at the moment that crucifixion was such a deliberately cruel form of torture and execution that it would be difficult to forgive a Roman soldier for carrying it out on even the most evil of criminals.

          • OMG

            Jesus asks God the Father to forgive.

            Mark 10:17 answers your concern about forgiveness:

            Having looked on them, Jesus says, "With men it is impossible, but not with God; for all things are possible with God." (Berean Literal Bible).

          • David Nickol

            I am not sure if you got the point. God, of course, can forgive anyone he wants to forgive for any reason. But what is it they didn't know they were doing?

            Dr. Bonnette interprets it as follows: "I think that applied to those particular Roman soldiers at that moment in time. They, literally, did not know they were crucifying the Son of God." There is an implication in that, though, that nailing someone who is not the Son of God to a cross to die in prolonged agony doesn't require forgiveness.

            You could broaden the words of Jesus to mean the Romans didn't know what they were doing because in Roman culture brutal executions were not questioned. They didn't know that it was wrong to execute even the most guilty of criminals in such a brutal manner. (Jesus was surely tortured, and torture is intrinsically wrong.) But I think most people would go with Dr. Bonnette's interpretation.

          • OMG

            There is an implication in that, though, that nailing someone who is not the Son of God to a cross to die in prolonged agony doesn't require forgiveness.

            Assume that someone has been falsely accused and sentenced to die for crimes which he did not commit. How likely would it be for that accused person to pray God to forgive the guilty?

            The point is that only an innocent man filled with love could ask forgiveness for those who murder an innocent. Mercy begets mercy.

          • Dennis Bonnette

            Reading your interpretation, I can see where it could be correct. Or, perhaps, we have multiple levels of meaning. Or, it may turn out that the text itself is not authentic.

            I am not a scripture scholar, but I do know a little about the complexity entailed in that noble profession. The fact is that the Catholic Church does not place that much emphasis on scriptural interpretation, while Protestants with sola scriptura and private inspiration do.

            Even finding a literal reference to some text in an encyclical is no assurance it must be read as it is found therein. Take the encyclical, Arcanum Divinae , written in 1880 by Pope Leo XIII, which deals with Christian marriage. It has very literal texts describing Adam and Eve's origin and how God takes the rib from the side of the sleeping adult Adam. Yet, not thirty years later, in 1909, the Pontifical Biblical Commission leaves those very texts open to a less literal meaning.

            Catholics are not so concerned about some of these matters, because the Church existed before the New Testament did and we have a teaching magisterium as well.

            So, your interpretation may well be right.

          • Dennis Bonnette

            You could well be right. I have told you before that I am not a scripture scholar. But one of the problems is precisely the kind of "find" that footnote alludes to. Also, we simply do not have the original documents, which means that any really "difficult" texts may simply not exist in the original or, perhaps, in its original form.

            This is another reason the Catholic Church does not rely on sola scriptura as do our Protestant brethren.

          • Are you complaining because God, in his infinite justice, requires that we earn heaven by freely becoming good persons by making good personal choices -- by actively loving the good rather than evil?

            This Protestant doesn't believe we "earn heaven", but I think I can still answer your question. I think there needs to be a better reason for our ability to choose lesser goods, than you have provided. And can you really say that Cain was choosing a "lesser good" when he murdered his brother? That's quite the stretch of my imagination.

            Another way to put it is that I think God wants us to do things in reality which aren't just to qualify for a completely different existence. There's good reason to believe that before the Second Temple, the ancient Hebrews didn't even believe in heaven. (The Resurrection of the Son of God) They did have a notion of YHWH being their god, and of being YHWH's people. But this YHWH would be with them as each has his own fig tree; creation does not go away in the prophets. What I've sketched out here is humans as co-creators with the Creator, which seems to me to be a critical aspect of the imago Dei. This can certainly include choosing ever-better goods (which you can perhaps do by having a history of doing so), but reducing it to that seems to lose much of what you see in the Bible. Maybe I've burst the scope of the conversation in saying this, but I am awful at abstract thinking.

            That is essentially what life is all about. I could detail this at length, but if you are a Christian, you should already know all this stuff.

            I am growing concerned that Christians in the West have made God's expectations for life here-and-now far too small. That may even be a reason for the East–West Schism (or gradual separation), and for the Reformation. We seem to constantly make God's aspirations for this world out to be far too small. Instead, how many of us expect a sort of "flatten & reinstall", to use a term for wiping the hard drive of a virus-ridden computer. Now if God wants more in this life and our own expectations mismatch, what I expect to see is a weakening of Christianity, a loss of vitality overall. And that's what I see. Perhaps the reason for this is that so many Christians in the West no longer expect God to act appreciably, in this world. And yet to mention the OP, I'm thinking cooperation (1 Cor 3:9) which isn't necessarily miraculous.

            I think that applied to those particular Roman soldiers at that moment in time. They, literally, did not know they were crucifying the Son of God.

            Regardless, these were people who did not know that they were "acting against goodness itself".

            This stuff is not rocket science.

            I live in America, where there is a rise of the "Nones". And I notice a significant lack of spiritual zeal in many Christians I know. There are multiple possible explanations on offer, but I'm not sure I accept any of them—isn't one supposed to judge such things by their fruit, and not whether they're intellectually pretty? So I'm sorry, but I suspect there might be issues pretty close to the core.

          • Dennis Bonnette

            "What I've sketched out here is humans as co-creators with the Creator, which seems to me to be a critical aspect of the imago Dei. "

            What you describe here can be explained in terms of secondary causality. Creatures, although sustained in their entire being and actions by God, are still true causes of their own activities. That is because God works in and through our natures. Thus, God enables me to raise my hand, but it is MY hand that is raised.

            Metaphysics insists that we are not co-creators in any literal sense, since God alone can create. But he can also enable us to use our own causal powers to elevate and transform the creation he initially produced. In that somewhat metaphorical sense, we become co-creators of the symphony of created beauty and perfection his providence willed in the first place.

            I am not scripture scholar, but I agree that God put us here, not only to save our immortal souls, but also to bring the elevating message of the Gospel to the whole world and, in so doing, to transform it into his intended vision for mankind. Whether we do it as he wants, or whether he has to call the whistle on a world failing to accomplish its task, I do not know. Time will tell. Clearly, the people of Noah's time might have done better.

            Let me abstractly explain the notion of choosing the "lesser good" a bit more clearly. We always choose what we see as the greater good -- at a given moment. But in so doing we sometimes willfully deceive ourselves.

            I may want to eat a piece of chocolate cake right now, but know that it will destroy my diet in the process. So, objectively eating the cake is a "lesser good." But, we humans can focus our attention to the sense pleasures of eating the cake right here before us to the point that its overall desirability appears greater to us at this moment than does the less sensibly attractive intellectually apprehended good of keeping my weight in line.

            That is how freedom works in practice. We always choose the greater good, but what appears as the greater good can often be the result of us willfully letting the perfection of the lesser good overwhelm our desires at the moment.

            We need to keep these shorter, since I have too much other stuff I presently need to do! Sorry.

          • I agree that this is getting a bit out of control. Do you have suggested reading on how "whatever is moved, is moved by another" is suspended so that we self-move to sin? I'm afraid your brief bit on secondary causation in How Human Free Will Harmonizes with “Sufficient Reason” didn't suffice. When I hear a claim such as "whatever is moved, is moved by another" I expect it to be metaphysical iron law, everywhere. But then, BOOM, there's an exception. And I can't make sense of it, because if I fashioned a lethal robot and unleashed it on a populace, I would be morally responsible, not the robot. Somehow the chain of moral causation has to be cut, and yet this seems like it would simultaneously cut "whatever is moved, is moved by another".

            On choosing lesser goods, I think you're picking an easy one with eating chocolate cake. I think Cain choosing to murder his brother is harder. What "lesser good" was Cain choosing?

          • Dennis Bonnette

            Yes, I have suggested reading on this vexing subject. But, you won't like its length. It is treated with agonizing detail by Reginald Garrigou-Lagrange in his book, God: His Existence and His Nature, vol. II, 465-562.

            It is easy to state the key insight, but takes a hundred pages to understand it! In essence God sustains the will in its free act to choose the good, but permits it to be defective when it chooses evil. Thus God is responsible for the being of the good act chosen (and moves the will to act according to its free nature as it seeks that good), whereas what is defective is on the side of non-being and, as such, need not be sourced in God. God, in some cases, does not give the grace that would move the will to choose the true good.

            All this is why we should be very humble. What is good in us ultimately comes from God. But, what we do evil is our own fault, since it is due to the defective inclination of our will.

            Do not forget that we also have direct evidence of our free will as we actually exercise in when weighing possible choices. So, this is not merely a metaphysical debate between the Molinists and the Thomists as to exactly how this free choice is possible. It is also a matter of finding the metaphysical explanation that comports with out actual direct and immediate experience of freedom as exercised.

            Cain chose an objectively lesser good in getting rid of Abel, but it was a good that he made himself envision as a greater good than the moral law at the moment he committed that murder. We exercise our freedom to do evil by focusing on the desirable aspects of the act, while ignoring those evil aspects which should deter us from so acting.

          • George

            > God sustains the will in its free act to choose the good, but permits it to be defective when it chooses evil.

            the defect is not the thing the will chooses, is that correct?

            > God, in some cases, does not give the grace that would move the will to choose the true good.

            It sounds like that decision can change the outcome in our lived reality. It sounds like that is an influence on how humans behave. A doesn't happen, B happens instead.

            > evil is our own fault, since it is due to the defective inclination of our will.

            I greatly share Luke's curiosity of how this applies to Adam and Eve. in the beginning, did they have these defective inclinations? the defective inclination is not itself what is chosen, that's putting it backwards, correct?

            have you, in the past, ever witnessed an apologetic argument that put the choice before the defect? and if they did, would that be circular, claiming to have argued for a foundation, when in fact they just cannibalized their previous point?

          • Dennis Bonnette

            I am not going to pretend this is not extremely difficult material. That is why Garrigou-Lagrange takes a full one hundred pages to address it in volume II of his book, God: His Existence and His Nature, 465-562.

            There seem to be two parts to deal with. First, how we choose the authentic God with God's help, but it is still freely chosen by ourselves. Second, and more daunting, how we fail to choose the true good when God fails to give us the grace to choose it -- so that we are responsible for our own defect. The defect is both in the object chosen, since it is less than what it should be, and in our will's failure to make the morally good choice.

            The easy answer for Adam is that his intellect saw two alternatives, both of which were finite goods, and thus neither forced his will to choose it. Hence, he was free to choose between them. But you seek a deeper question: was Adam's will defective before he made the original sin?
            And, in what sense is defect to be understood.

            Frankly, I don't at this moment know the answer. It may be in that 100 pages of Lagrange. But I can see that in explaining the good choice, it is possible that God merely affirms the choice that lies within the will for the true good, without, thereby, violating the natural motion of the will.

            To me the more difficult issue is to explain the defective choice. And yet, there is a certain exoneration for God here, since, while he must act as the sufficient reason for all the being that is sought, that is really no problem since everything in the first case is ordered to perfection.

            In the second case, where the will has some defect, since defect is on the side of non-being (that is, that the will lacks somehow the proper ordination that it should have), it does not need to be explained by God, since what does not exist does not need a cause.

            Now you can see why the extensive debate between the Molinists and the Thomists?

            Let me be clear. I am not saying there is not a complete explanation nor that it is not already contained in the Thomistic writings. What I am saying is that I just don't know it because I have not researched that issue myself, which points to no defect except in me! I will have to see if I can find any time to research it. But I do know we have a positive argument for human freedom that flows from our experience, even if the metaphysical puzzle of how it is possible is elusive to solve.

          • OMG

            I'm so glad you took a worthy stab.

          • Thanks for the reference; here's an online version. My remaining question is why it is good for God to give us free will, if the result is either:

                 (1) obedience to God, 100% to God's credit
                 (2) sin, 0% to God's credit

            How is that better than just (1)? An alternative is that God wants us to be able to align with God and humans up to some extent, but also be able to deviate after that point. Here's one version:

            The LORD God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to work it and keep it. And the LORD God commanded the man, saying, “You may surely eat of every tree of the garden, but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die.” (Genesis 2:15–17)

            The alignment with God is literally one thing, in a vast sea of things. And yet, for every tree that A&E ate of that wasn't the prohibited tree, was that 100% to God's credit? I'm not even sure what that locution accomplishes. But anyhow, I can slowly make it through Garrigou-Lagrange,

          • Dennis Bonnette

            This may not be exactly where you want me to go with your question, but the basic answer is not whether we think it is good or not for God to give us free will, but rather, ironically, he had not choice!

            Man's essence is that of a rational animal. Following philosophical psychology's analysis of human nature, it is impossible to create a rational being that does not have free will, since will is simply the name for the intellectual appetite.

            In a word, if God wanted to give us the gift of life and rational creatures, than necessarily entailed that he make us free beings. Since it is good for us to be, then giving us free will is essentially good for us.

            As to how we use it and the results of its use, that is another and rather long story that I hesitate to open up for now. Suffice it to say, our misuse of our free will is not God's fault. And the fact that we have to have some sort of "entrance exam" to pass to get into eternal bliss, doubtless has to do with the requirements of God's infinite justice. It appears that the ultimate prize is too good just to hand out to those who have not proven themselves worthy of it.

          • You didn't actually justify why a rational creature which can both do God's will and sin, is superior to a creature pre-programmed only to do God's will. I see this as one of the most penetrating criticisms by atheists. If as an engineer I could make a machine which always works or a machine which only sometimes works, which would I make if I were the best engineer possible? There needs to be a point to free will. If I were a creature who couldn't sin, and then God "gifted" me free will, why would I see it as a gift and not a curse?!

          • Dennis Bonnette

            Pre-programming us to do only God's will would make a mockery of our natural free will. You have to remember that God has no choice about giving us free will if he is going to create rational creatures at all, since that goes with the territory. That is, to be a person necessarily entails being a free agent.

            Now, some have argued that, while we need to have free will, God could have created us directly in the Beatific Vision, in which case, though still free, we could not but love God so perfectly that sin would be impossible.

            But that scenario appears to bump into the problem that the supernatural last end is so perfect that divine justice demands that we do something to earn it. Thus, the need for a time of testing where free will is open to its own misuse which constitutes sin, which, in turn, risks missing our last end in God.

            We may not like it that way, since we want perfect happiness guaranteed on a gold plate, but God does us no injustice by requiring that we freely love him. That is our problem, not his. His great love for us is to give us this chance and the graces needed to attain our last end should we sincerely desire to do so.

            Hope this helps.

          • What does it mean to make a mockery of the ability to sin? That's the only thing that free will achieves, from what I understand of your position. Free will seems to be exclusively the option to go for less-than-best. Isn't it better if creatures don't do that silly thing?

          • Dennis Bonnette

            We must be careful not to think we know better than God as to the wisdom of the order he has created.

            God could put us all in the position of innocent babies who may enter bliss through no action of their own. (I leave the question of how this relates to Baptism to the theologians.)

            But then, heaven's attainment would have nothing to do with our own choice. We all know that someone who participates in the perfection of their own achievements is inherently a better person than someone who has it all simply handed to him on a silver platter.

            Similarly, God allows man the dignity of choosing his own end and thereby attaining a greater state of perfection than would otherwise be possible. This, of course, presumes the truth that there are degrees of beatitude in heaven based on varying degrees of participation in the knowledge of the divine essence.

            In a word, God wisely prefers a creation filled with the greatest of saints -- souls that have earned higher degrees of happiness through free participation in their just rewards. I don't think you can make the case that he was obliged to force every soul into the same level of heaven.

            This is not unrelated to the topic of hell and God's goodness, which I have already treated: https://strangenotions.com/hell-and-gods-goodness/

          • I am quite aware that my own spiritual progress, or lack thereof, will determine how much I can understand of God's goodness and wisdom. This is true in any area of competence. But another property of steps forward in competence is that one gets a better and better idea of more complex matters. On this topic, however, I have discerned no such thing.

            As far as I can tell, what is praiseworthy in your opinion is nothing more than a servant properly discerning his master's wishes. The servant has no real life of his own; it's all about the master. And every single time the servant does something slightly outside of the master's will, the servant is reprimanded, if not punished. Not only this, but the servant must rely quite a lot on other servants, higher up in the hierarchy, to know what the will of his master is. Everything is about discerning the will of the all-powerful, who is apparently the same as the all-good. When one extrapolates to infinity, might does make right.

            My guess is that you'll somehow disagree with the above paragraph, but I don't know how. My own response would be Mt 20:20–28, where Jesus places himself in the role of servant, even slave. If in fact Jesus is "the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature", then this rather inverts things.

            P.S. @davidnickol:disqus. Dr. Bonnette, you have to type "@" in the Disqus box and see if the name pops up. Otherwise, the person doesn't actually get a notification.

          • Dennis Bonnette

            Thanks for the hint on using the "@" correctly, but I am still not quite sure how it works!

            As to your observation about our servitude to God, I am also not quite sure of your intention. Yes, we are totally servants of almighty God. Any proper grasp of what it means to say God is the Infinite Being who is All Good and absolutely transcendent to all creation demands that we realize we are as dust compared to God himself.

            But I do not see this as demeaning our role as children of God, since he clearly intends that we become "all that we can be" in the process of preparing for eternal union with him. What's the problem?

            As for Jesus placing himself in the role of a servant, we must remember that he is the "God-man," both true God and true man. It is as human that he sets before us the image of humility that befits our truthful status in being. Yet, it is through that same humility that we are invited ultimately to "become as gods."

            Christianity is full of paradoxes which are not contradictions, but mysteries more beautiful than any merely materialist view could imagine.

            In this world, St. John would have close human relation with Christ, but in the Book of Revelations, he addresses his infinite glory with the words: "Holy, Holy, Holy -- Lord God of Hosts."

            No, I don't agree with your depiction above, but not because I think God demands that we be crushed into total servitude, but rather because it is in becoming as little children that we are invited to feast at the banquet of eternal life -- to become "as gods."

          • As to your observation about our servitude to God, I am also not quite sure of your intention.

            What does it mean to be servant to someone who wants to be called "my husband", not "my baʿal"—where "my husband" is an intimate term, rather like "abba" is in the NT? What does it mean to be servant to someone who describes himself as our "ʿezer"? What does it mean to be servant to someone who says "whoever would be great among you must be your servant", himself setting the chief example? Only the last was said by the God–man.

            If it's right to refer to YHWH as Lord, Master, and/or Owner, then we clearly can't be made in YHWH's image in those ways. And yet, those are precisely the senses which show up in baʿal and not "husband". What if YHWH is actually a servant? Then we can be more fully made in YHWH's image.

            But I do not see this as demeaning our role as children of God, since he clearly intends that we become "all that we can be" in the process of preparing for eternal union with him. What's the problem?

            The problem is that the ability to choose other than God seems like nothing other than a deficit. With free will, I can screw up and bring misery upon myself and others. Without free will, I would merely seek God alone and never bring misery to a single human being. How are "rational creatures" better than creatures which do not rape, murder, and torture? Free will, on your account, seems to be a total negative—not just a net negative.

            In this world, St. John would have close human relation with Christ, but in the Book of Revelations, he addresses his infinite glory with the words: "Holy, Holy, Holy -- Lord God of Hosts."

            And yet:

            Beloved, we are God’s children now, and what we will be has not yet appeared; but we know that when he appears we shall be like him, because we shall see him as he is. And everyone who thus hopes in him purifies himself as he is pure. (1 John 3:2–3)

            As to holiness, I like the narrative of the second time Moses drew water from the rock, in Num 20:1–13. Moses addressed the Israelites as “Hear now, you rebels” and YHWH's response is “Because you did not believe in me, to uphold me as holy in the eyes of the people of Israel, therefore you shall not bring this assembly into the land that I have given them.” That's an interesting instance of 'holiness'.

            Yet, it is through that same humility that we are invited ultimately to "become as gods."

            I'm sorry, but I'm not sure what it means to "become as gods", if every single time I deviate from God's precise will, it is an egregious error.

          • Dennis Bonnette

            I was always taught to give an author the best possible reading. Yet, I don't get the feeling you are giving God the best possible reading. And this can be a problem when trying to engage in private interpretation of Scripture.

            How are we in God's image? I always understood that as a basic philosophical reality, namely, that we have spiritual souls and are thus in God's image primarily by being spiritual beings. Any other use seems secondary to me.

            As for free will, again a philosophical necessity. Being a rational creature means having an intellect. Since living things has appetites, we must have an intellectual appetite, which is just the actual power we call a "will."

            Since a will necessarily is free with respect to finite goods, it follows that we are free in this life to choose our actions between alternative options. In heaven, in the beatific vision, we would be so overwhelmed by knowledge of God as the one and only infinite Good that we would choose only the true good in every case. So, sin would be impossible.

            I don't see it as irrational that our present lives are a time of testing, since the infinite justice of God requires that we attain virtue and holiness before we see the All Holy face to face. Could God directly give the beatific vision directly to every rational creature. Perhaps. But this way we can earn our last end and thus the earned reward has greater merit than a pure gift.

            You may not like this plan of divine providence, but then, we do not have God's infinite wisdom and goodness to guide us. Maybe we don't know everything?

          • As I distinguish God from any creation of our hands or minds (including metaphysical systems), my critique is aimed at your metaphysics, not God. Indeed, I am contending that God would not have added a defect to a creature—that defect being "the ability to sin". On your metaphysic, this free will accomplishes nothing beneficial over a creature which always obeys God's will; it is exclusively detrimental. You speak of 'rational creatures' as if they're praiseworthy, but I see them as unambiguously inferior to nonrational creatures who always obey God's will. 'Rational' adds nothing other than "can screw up".

            Now if we switch away from the idea of desiring only the infinite good (anything else would surely be lesser) and instead consider that if God is ʿezer to creation (the other extreme being baʿal), maybe we should imitate that. But then we start caring about creation rather a lot. Freedom becomes something more than just the opportunity to sin. This is something I don't really see in your position, with your constantly playing off finite goods against God.

          • Dennis Bonnette

            "You speak of 'rational creatures' as if they're praiseworthy, but I see them as unambiguously inferior to nonrational creatures who always obey God's will. 'Rational' adds nothing other than "can screw up"."

            The difficulty with what you say is that it simply does not comport with reality.

            If God is going to make "persons," a person is by his very nature a substance of a rational nature.

            What you are missing is the philosophical discoveries of the entire classic period from the Greeks to the high medieval period. The fact is that God can only create persons if they are rational beings, meaning that they must have free wills.

            Free will is not an imperfection, since it enables a person to participate directly in effecting the goods that he wills. He gets to cooperate with God.

            Your concept would make us mere marionettes manipulated by God, but never taking personal part is lovingly create the goodness in ourselves and in the world.

            You see rational creatures " as unambiguously inferior to nonrational creatures who always obey God's will."

            You mean we should be mere animals or plants? That is what is "nonrational." An animal does not even know that it is alive or a monkey!

            What you are missing here are the entire findings of philosophical psychology and metaphysics -- and this leads you to a serious misunderstanding of the entire created order of things.

            Every person has a free will by virtue of being a personal being. And this is not a defect, but a wonderful perfection.

            We get to choose the good and, ultimately, to choose God -- and thereby forever rejoice in the knowledge that we willingly gave ourselves to God and in so doing, attained the perfect happiness of our last end -- the end for which we were created.

            The negative side effect of this amazing good is that God permits us to misuse our freedom with sad consequences in the worst cases.

            I know you are not Catholic, but our theology provides the remedies of forgiveness of sin and even a Eucharistic sharing in God's life while on earth. Moreover, all is not lost even if one does "screw up" to some extent i-- both because of Penance and, in the last analysis, since we have the doctrine of Purgatory that allows sinners to expiate for their sins and still attain the perfect happiness of heaven in the long run -- provided they have not completely abandoned God at the end of life.

            I fear you are too much influenced by the thought of those, like Kierkegaard, who view life in terms only of fear and dreading, while failing to see the bright road to salvation that God's justice and mercy affords to every willing creature.

          • (1) What is the difference between "cooperate with God" and "submit to God"? I was trying to get at this by contrasting the terms ʿezer (helper) and baʿal (lord, master, owner, husband). If you cannot generate a motivating difference, maybe your metaphysic doesn't permit there to be one. There is also the difference Jesus asserts in Mt 20:20–28, between "lord it over" / "exercise authority over", and "serve". But can that difference survive God being the summum bonum? Doesn't that exert authority by its very nature?

            (2) What I keep going back to is that there is absolutely nothing ever beneficial about sinning (because it always chooses a lesser good), and therefore what would be best is for us to unswervingly obey God at every point. But for some reason, God did not create the best, which means that he did not choose the highest good! God's freedom does not require that God be able to sin; I don't see how the switch from infinitude → finitude necessitates that we finite creatures be able to sin. Sin simply doesn't seem to make any sense whatsoever on your metaphysic.

          • Dennis Bonnette

            I keep telling you I am not a scripture scholar, but some of you keep forcing me to pretend to be one!

            "There is also the difference Jesus asserts in Mt 20:20–28, between "lord it over" / "exercise authority over", and "serve". But can that difference survive God being the summum bonum? Doesn't that exert authority by its very nature?"

            I fear you are continually failing to take full notice that Jesus is both true God and true man.

            As God, Jesus does have full authority over all creation. But he is here telling us mere humans that we need to be humble, since to recognize our creaturely position is simply a matter of being truthful. We ought NOT "lord it over" others simply because WE are not the Lord. But he IS!

            That is why Jesus as God "will come to judge the living and the dead."

            It is always critical in reading Christ's words to try to determine when they are spoken as true man and when he speaks with the full authority of his divine nature.

            "But for some reason, God did not create the best,"

            How does the fact that God gave us free will and allows us to sin necessarily imply that he "did not create the best."

            Once again, we are not in a position to scrutinize his providence. God does not make man sin. He creates the human condition in which sin is possible. As long as he does so for a greater good, he does no wrong.

            God may have created us with the ability to sin precisely so that we are also free to choose to become saints when we are not forced to. How could one force sanctity? It has to be a free choice or there is no merit involved for man.

            Yes, God could have made a world in which all human-robots go to heaven. Or, he may have created a world in which quality is valued over quantity -- and world in which is it possible to refuse his love, but one in which it is also possible to achieve great holiness by freely giving ourselves to the infinite goodness of God by living a life of sanctity when we need not do it.

            Only God can make that choice -- and it is clear he has chosen quality over quantity.

            See my book, Origin of the Human Species -- Third Edition (Sapientia, 2014), 211-213.

          • (1) Your refusal to dive into some basic scripture will perhaps run this conversation aground. The following is just not that complex:

            “And in that day, declares YHWH, you will call me ‘My Husband,’ and no longer will you call me ‘My Baʿal.’ (Hosea 2:16)

            The senses of 'baʿal' not found in 'husband' are: lord, master, owner. The is God the Father speaking, not the God–man. If your metaphysic cannot generate a difference between 'baʿal' and 'husband' when it comes to God, then your metaphysic has a problem. YHWH also describes himself as 'ʿezer'—helper. The continuity between YHWH and Jesus in Mt 20:20–28 is complete. And yet, you seem to be making "cooperate with God" indistinguishable from "submit to God".

            (2) You haven't justified why finite beings with freedom must be able to sin. God has freedom and never sins. A world in which sin is possible seems much worse than a world where no sin is possible. The fact of sin just doesn't make sense within your metaphysic. Why must finite beings be allowed to choose lesser goods?

          • Dennis Bonnette

            I think you perceive a conflict where there is none.

            While it may not today be politically correct, the Scripture is also clear in saying that wives should obey their husbands, but at the same time preserves the inherent dignity of wives by requiring that husbands love their wives.

            You speak of my "metaphysic" as if it itself departs from reality, which it does not. There is no way a creature can ever be otherwise to his Creator other than in a state of total submission to the Creator's will.

            But you err in thinking that this somehow demeans or denigrates the inherent dignity and value of the created person.

            The paradox of perfect love of God for man is that there is no submission for the creature when his will perfectly conforms to the will of God, since the will of God is the absolute perfection of the human person.

            You need to penetrate more deeply the mysterious truth that perfect conformity of man's will to God, rather than limiting human freedom, enables it to reach perfect fulfillment. But when that perfect fulfillment in the beatific vision is attained, while the act remains perfectly voluntary, it is no longer morally free, because no lesser good than God himself and the divine will (which is identical to God) has any further hold on our will -- at least with respect to seeking goods opposed to God, which is what we mean by sin.

            Yes, God has perfect freedom and never sins. But even God is not free with respect to willing his own existence and goodness or anything else essential to the divine essence. He is free only with respect to lesser things, such as creating finite beings.

            Does this hamper the true meaning of freedom? Here we need to distinguish what is voluntary from what is free. Any act that flows from the will is voluntary, but not all acts are free.

            God cannot help but love himself, just as we will be unable not to love God once we see him in his very essence. But freedom is inherent in a will with respect to lesser goods, such as choosing between chocolates in a box. One must also distinguish between moral freedom and freedom of choice.

            We have moral freedom because we do not yet apprehend the divine essence. Thus we can still choose moral evil and sin. This does not mean that having free will is an imperfection. It merely flows from having a free will and not yet having the beatific vision.

            As I have repeatedly said, God cannot make rational creatures who do not have wills, since the will is merely the rational appetite. And, as long as we do not have the beatific vision, we can sin by choosing things opposed to God's natural and supernatural laws.

            As to why God puts us in a world in which sin is possible, I already answered you in my previous comment. You need to explain why my answer is not satisfactory. But, in so doing, be prepared to show that you know more than does God in terms of what he is obliged to create.

          • (1) I did not talk about a conflict between 'baʿal' and 'husband', but merely a difference. You have failed to generate any on your metaphysic, and yet YHWH very obviously thinks there is a big difference. I'm opting to focus on Hosea 2:16 (plus ʿezer in Hosea 13:9), since there we're talking about YHWH. You have found a way to dismiss Mt 20:20–28 since Jesus is the God–man, so let's deal with God the Father. I maintain that 'baʿal' does lord it over people, but not 'husband'. That's an important distinction. Going further, the difference between ʿezer and baʿal could not be more stark.

            (2)

            DB: God may have created us with the ability to sin precisely so that we are also free to choose to become saints when we are not forced to.

            LB: You haven't justified why finite beings with freedom must be able to sin.

            DB: As to why God puts us in a world in which sin is possible, I already answered you in my previous comment. You need to explain why my answer is not satisfactory. But, in so doing, be prepared to show that you know more than does God in terms of what he is obliged to create.

            You said "may have" while I said "must be"; the former is weaker and therefore doesn't necessarily answer the latter. You were right to qualify with "may have", as you've already assigned 100% of the credit of good acts to God:

            DB: Thus God is responsible for the being of the good act chosen (and moves the will to act according to its free nature as it seeks that good), whereas what is defective is on the side of non-being and, as such, need not be sourced in God. God, in some cases, does not give the grace that would move the will to choose the true good.

            All this is why we should be very humble. What is good in us ultimately comes from God. But, what we do evil is our own fault, since it is due to the defective inclination of our will.

            There can thus be no earning of anything other than hell. Free will is thus worthless: if we use it badly it's our fault, while if we use it well then God gets 100% of the credit. (I already said this.)

            (3) You bring up obedience; I've mentioned two relevant bits in the Garden of Eden: Genesis 1:28 and 2:15–17. That's not a very specific 'will' to obey. Don't do this one thing out of an infinite number of things, and do four things, three of which are very vague (subdue, have dominion, tend the garden). It looks to me like YHWH is giving A&E a tremendous amount of freedom, with the express direction of pursuing "lesser goods"—that is, goods lesser than God. More specifically, YHWH has tasked A&E with promoting the flourishing of creation. And yet, according to you, isn't that a lesser good than desiring God?

          • Dennis Bonnette

            Frankly, I fear you are trying to get more human certitude out of reasoning about these scriptural matters than we have the right to claim. When it comes to being sure the full meaning of Scripture, it is a good place to remember the virtue of intellectual humility.

            Moreover, I am neither a scripture scholar nor, as a Catholic, operating through private inspiration or interpretation. We have a Magisterium in addition to tradition and Scripture to guide our interpretation of Scripture itself. Perhaps, you would do well to discuss this matter with someone better equipped to deal with it than I would dare claim to be.

            That said, with respect to matters proper to the use of natural reason, you wrote:

            "LB: You haven't justified why finite beings with freedom must be able to sin."

            That is not hard to justify. Since the intellectual appetite or will is ordered toward the unlimited good, no finite good as such can force it to choose it. So, as long as we are confronted with limited goods, we are free to choose.

            And since we do not, in this life, see the infinite goodness of God, we are always free to choose some good that is opposed to natural or divine law. Even when we know what is ordered properly to our last end, we can reject it for some short term evil, such as pleasure, since our knowledge of the relationship of our act to our last end is not absolutely clear. For example, one could commit adultery, even knowing such acts could lead to hell, while convincing himself that he can still repent in time to be saved.

            Unless and until we are immediately experiencing the Supreme Good, sin always "must be" an possibility for a free agent.

            "Free will is thus worthless: if we use it badly it's our fault, while if we use it well then God gets 100% of the credit. (I already said this.)"

            I think that "100% credit" notion comes from you, not me.

            What I actually said was this: "Thus God is responsible for the being of the good act chosen (and moves the will to act according to its free nature as it seeks that good), whereas what is defective is on the side of non-being and, as such, need not be sourced in God."

            Yes, God is responsible for the being of the good act, BUT he "moves the will to act according to its free nature as it seeks that good."

            Nothing prevents that God sustains the whole motion of the will, but it is still the will act of the person doing it -- and hence, can be meritorious.

            That is, it is true that we cannot act or choose the good without God's sustaining creative causation, but it is still our own act. It is just like the fact that I cannot raise my own arm above my head without God's sustaining causality of my entire being and motion, but it is MY arm that is getting raised by ME, not God's arm being raised by God.

            The relationship of divine causality to free will is very challenging to understand and explain, but it certainly does not do away with human responsibility and merit for good acts. The only reason we note that evil acts result from some defect for which we are responsible is to make clear that God is not causing us to sin.

            "YHWH has tasked A&E with promoting the flourishing of creation. And yet, according to you, isn't that a lesser good than desiring God?"

            It isn't merely the choosing of a lesser good than God that is sinful. Rather, it is choosing a lesser good that is OPPOSED to God's natural or supernatural laws.

            Actually tending the garden is a good act insofar as it perfects something in God's creation. Were they to grow trees to make idols to worship instead of God, that would be a different matter!

          • David Nickol

            That is, to be a person necessarily entails being a free agent.

            And yet it seems God (if he exists) created the world in such a way that for a large percentage of human beings, although they may in theory be free agents, they have no chance to make a significant moral choice. Those who die before the "age of reason" (whether baptized or not) have no possibility of making a choice that determines their salvation or damnation.

            . . . in which case, though still free, we could not but love God so perfectly that sin would be impossible.

            First, there is a great deal of room between—on the one hand—our current situation where it is not at all obvious (to many of us) whether or not there even is a God, or if so, what he wants of us, and—on the other—immediate access to the beatific vision.

            Second, it doesn't seem out of the question to imagine a world in which "venial" sins are possible but "mortal" sins are not. Does God want to be loved so "freely" that all free agents have to risk eternal damnation?

            . . . but God does us no injustice by requiring that we freely love him. That is our problem, not his.

            It is difficult for me to think that a creator who allegedly is love itself says to his creatures, "It's not my problem."

          • Rob Abney

            >Those who die before the "age of reason" (whether baptized or not) have no possibility of making a choice that determines their salvation or damnation.
            I don’t agree, these young innocent humans choose the good by only doing what is natural to them.

            >Second, it doesn't seem out of the question to imagine a world in which "venial" sins are possible but "mortal" sins are not.
            I recall that you often quote Saints who are as opposed to venial sins as they are to mortal sins, as we all should be. So all sin causes us to risk damnation if we are attached to sin.

          • Dennis Bonnette

            "Those who die before the "age of reason" (whether baptized or not) have no possibility of making a choice that determines their salvation or damnation."

            I am not a theologian, and so, will not directly address the question of Baptism -- although I think I have seen an explanation consonant with Catholic teaching.

            But, God is all just. He will not damn anyone for what they cannot control. So, one can argue that those that die before the age of reason simply get a free pass into the lowest level of heaven. Not a bad deal, but maybe we can do better. That is where free will comes in.

            "....whether or not there even is a God, or if so, what he wants of us, and—on the other—immediate access to the beatific vision."

            If God exists, and he does, he is just and will give no one a raw deal. We have no right to presume he is unjust. That is presumed when we think he must give immediate access to the Beatific Vision. We are thinking we know better than he why he does what he does. We do not.

            "Second, it doesn't seem out of the question to imagine a world in which "venial" sins are possible but "mortal" sins are not. Does God want to be loved so "freely" that all free agents have to risk eternal damnation?"

            For some reason, everyone seems to think they can come up with a better plan of creation than God himself. Maybe not? I suspect that the ball game is mortal sins, and that a world in which venial sins is also possible just is part of what comes with the possibility of mortal sins. Don't forget the Catholic doctrine of Purgatory, which may "take care" of venial sins.

            See my response to Luke Breuer for a more complete answer as to why God wants us to freely love him. It all has to do with what will enable us to become the most perfect of creatures by participating in our own salvation -- by being able freely to build the virtue and perfection of our own person so as to merit an even higher place in heaven than would be possible if every human being were automatically given an unearned ticket into heaven.

            We are also trying to imagine what heaven really means. We know it somehow means to attain God as our last end, but to say we know what is actually and experientially entailed before we get there is pure hubris.

          • George

            > but the essence of sin and free will is that God moves the free will to
            move according to its own nature which is to move freely.

            does this mean something?

          • Dennis Bonnette

            That is a huge issue. I just gave some indication of where to go for an answer to Luke Breuer somewhere else.

            For a hint, let us just say that God sustains our free choice as we consider alternatives, and moves us to choose because the will is ordered to seek the good. How we do that with God's help gets very complicated, as I explained to LB.

          • George

            > tempted to commit the sin of Adam all over again by attempting to become as God in claiming to explain why everything exists.

            There are also those who say they don't know and even say they aren't sure what makes that a meaningful question. Are either of those positions dishonest?

            > The question of why it exists lies outside their scientific competence and in the hands of the philosopher, who seeks the explanation for the realm of physics itself.

            And in that realm, how does one eliminate false conclusions? Can it ever be a free for all, with competing metaphysics?

            How would we know if you were wrong? I don't see why that can't still be asked.

          • Dennis Bonnette

            "There are also those who say they don't know and even say they aren't sure what makes that a meaningful question. Are either of those positions dishonest?"

            There is nothing dishonest about admitting one does not know something or in admitting something is outside his field of competence.

            This is merely a matter of realizing that the question of why anything exists at all lies beyond the field of physics and enters the realm of metaphysics.

            What one does when you enter that realm is another matter. That is to begin a real philosophical enquiry. Too big to do in this little comment!

          • Johannes Hui

            Was expecting you to comment on that statement about finite creature and infinite capabilities :D

  • Ficino

    It is not necessary to instruct Dr. Bonnette about the fallacy of affirming the consequent. Nor is it necessary to put said gratuitous instruction into boldface. Neither was it necessary some time ago to instruct others about Modus Ponens and Modus Tollens. Charity is a time-honored principle in interpretation of others' writing.

    • Johannes Hui

      Hi Ficino, I understand you are referring to me so here is my response.

      If you apply your own standard of charitable interpretation when you interpret my comments to Dr B, you might have been able to see that I was not instructing Dr B on what that formal fallacy is. In my comment immediately before that, I have explicitly stated that Dr B would have taught it to his students. When I responded to Dr B, I was not thinking also other silent readers. It was mainly for the benefit of some of those silent readers when I elaborated on the fallacy. My bold typeface shows that it is an impt consideration which I wish readers would especially notice in a sea of my long text.

      Having said the above, someone being an expert on a subject does not mean he would be immuned from making errors in the elementary stuff of that subject. You are an example. I know you should know basic logic forms and the basic structural fallacies. But you surprised me greatly when you described my Modus Pollens form implicit in my ontotogical proof as having the form of “Affirming the Consequent” two months ago in this forum.Your error shows that my elaboration on such basic stuff was indeed necessary. I have gone there to drop a comment to make it easier for you to locate that comment to look at your error, in case you are interested.

      I hope you would also continue to maintain a charitable interpretation of my motive or agenda in my participation at Strange Notions (SN), which you have speculated over at the blog “Outside the Sun”, a blog that offers critiques of articles and comments in Strange Notions, by mostly atheists and sceptics commenting there. Over there you speculated:
      “I am starting to wonder whether Johannes Hui's agenda is similar over on SN now, though his methods are quite different. Or maybe Johannes Hui is just an undergraduate wanting to test out his ideas and be taken seriously. In any case, early on I found it a waste of time and a deflection to reply to him. Philip Rand I think is just a troll.”

      And perhaps also be charitable towards one SN article contributor Matt Nelson, who is a chiropractor in his profession. Under his contributed article in SN titled St. Anselm’s God you dropped you seemingly sarcastic comment: “So a chiropractor understands philosophy and Being better than, say, Immanuel Kant. I'm convinced! /s”

      Cheers!
      johannes hui
      [not that Johannes Hui (perhaps he is still an undergraduate student?) which google and YouTube would show when you google that name]