Scolding an Atheist

I once was an atheist, and I have great respect for the tribe, since my branch of the tribe at least was willing to examine evidence and submit their beliefs to the correction of reason or the influence of proof. Consequently, I have less respect than most Christians for make-believe atheists, people who believe atheism out of blind faith, or for emotional reasons, and who pretend to be submissive to reason as I once was, and am.

Here is one such. I hope I will be pardoned for acting as a public scold, but I sense this is one of those times when a little bit of refreshingly blunt talk might cut through the mental fog, even at the risk of seeming rude or uncharitable.

“But the literalists do have this one advantage, considered as seekers of truth: They are willing to straightforwardly state what evidence would convince them otherwise. “

On this one topic, you argue incoherently. Notice that when a Catholic writer like Mr. Belloc decries the same Biblical Literalism you decry, instead of concluding, “Well, good, here is an ally against Creationism and ‘Young Earth’ nonsense, a man who like me respects science” you conclude, “Well, how dishonorable of him not to misinterpret the Bible and support Creationism and ‘Young Earth’ nonsense; how dare he respect science; it would display and honest concern for truth if he did not take allegorical writings as allegory, etc.”

It appears you are more consumed with distaste for religion than with concern for science or truth. You side with the Literalistic Protestants rather than with  mainstream Protestantism, Catholicism, Greek or Russian or Syriac Orthodoxy, Copts, et cetera, because bashing the Christian religion is more important to you than science or truth. If this is not what you intended, please clarify.

Let me ask you one pointed question: if we were discussing the correct interpretation of a disputed passage of a legal document, such as the US Constitution or the Edict of Milan, would you dismiss as intellectually dishonest those who rely on an authority to interpret the document, when and if such an authority makes reference to the context in which the document was written, the prior art, the terminology as understood by the writers? Or would you favor those who read the document without any examination of the intent of the writer, the surrounding precedent, and so on?

I submit that in an argument between ‘Strict’ and ‘Loose’ construction, you would not start with the assumption that those who, for example, make reference to the Federalist Papers or the Supreme Court opinions in interpreting the Constitution are motivated merely by the convenience needed for their intellectual dishonesty.

You use a different standard when discussing religious matters. You assume that the argument on our side is contemptible, non-existent, worthy of scorn and hatred, and is sufficient evidence of intellectual dishonesty. You would not make this assumption if we were discussing any other document or its interpretation.

“Again, you direct your arguments as though I were a Protestant arguing for Sola Scriptura; I’m not”

No. My argument is that you are misinterpreting the Bible in order to reach a strained and illogical conclusion. I pointed out a number of errors in your logic in the last post: you have not admitted or corrected any of them.

“They believed a certain set of facts as their religion; those facts were disproved; they dropped (most of them) their religion. This is not a comment on the superiority of their religion qua religion; false is false. It is a comment on the superiority of their commitment to truth-seeking.”

Catholics also believe a certain set of facts in our religion. Only an ignoramus would say otherwise.

Indeed, we Catholics have more documentation of our facts, not less. Do you know how long the Catechism is, or to how many volumes the Canon Law, the Bulls and Encyclicals, the writings of the Early Church Fathers happen to run? The many and frequently splintered Protestant groups allow for less, not more, uniformity of doctrine and opinion than do the Catholics, because we rely on both tradition and scripture whereas they rely on scripture alone, which consequently gives them the liberty to disregard more parts of tradition, any writings of the Early Church Fathers, any official teaching on matters of faith and morals, than happen to bind non-Protestants.

What was disproved was that their interpretation of analogical writing as literal writing was not the case.

“What fact would convince you that your religion is false? If there is none, how can you say that you seek truth?”

I am religious for the very simple reason that I saw Christ, and God, and the Virgin Mary, and they told me things that later turned out to be true, and cured me of physical ailment in a fashion that can only be described as miraculous, to the astonishment of the attending physicians. I also had the faith poured into my soul as wine into a dirty cup, and this only once I became aware that I had a soul. It is a primary awareness, like your awareness that you are alive and conscious. What would convince you that you are currently not conscious? If there is none, how can you say that you seek truth?

In other words, I am a Christian for the entirely empirical reasons. I believe because I have proof that is it unreasonable to doubt.

I believe for the very good reason that when I was an atheist and I said “I do not believe because I see no proof; show me the proof and I shall believe” that (unlike some atheists) I was actually telling the truth.

I believe in Christ because I met Him.

Unlike you, I am a strict empiricist. I believe what the evidence supports; I do not believe what the evidence does not support; I do not pick my beliefs based on their convenience or their emotional appeal.

I do not stoop to ad hoc and make-believe explanations to explain away things I find uncomfortable.

In order for me to explain away all these miracles as coincidences, or these visitations as hallucinations, I would have to assume so many unsupported and ad hoc assumptions that I would have to depart from my philosophical honesty and integrity, and indulge in special pleading like you do, you who are a man who sticks to his conclusion no matter what the evidence suggests.

Further, once having become Christian, many things that were either unexplained, or inexplicable, or labored under very cynical and flimsy explanations, are now coherent. My model of the universe is logical and coherent and has explanatory power; your “model” of the universe, if it can be called that, is an incoherent babble of disconnected assertions that explains little or nothing, not even the nature of cause and effect, nor the origin or purpose of natural law, nor the authority of morality, nor why and how you are awake and alive, or what you are nor where you are going, or whence the Big Bang arose.

Proof? We have written eyewitness accounts of the Resurrection, and  these same witnesses have been proven to be willing to suffer torture and die rather than repudiate those accounts. This is what lawyers call indicia of reliability; and they fall under the hearsay exceptions of witness being unavailable, being supported by surrounding evidence, and being dying testaments.

We have the miracles of Lourdes, investigated by the French government for hundreds of years, and doctors who will attests the cure have no medical explanation.

We have the testament of astronomers who can prove that the universe is not infinitely old.

We have the testament of your conscience, which, despite your protestations to the contrary, has some source of knowledge of the difference between good and evil, or else you would not speak in condemnatory tones against those you think do not seek truth.

We have living eyewitnesses like me, who has seen the risen Christ and experience miracles not to be explained otherwise.

We have hundreds, nay, thousands of years of such testimonies.

And we have the fact that the Christian religion is not a scientific theory.

You see, again and again you make what philosophers call a category error. What I have is a marriage to the Living God, a relationship, with all the complexities and moral obligations that relationships imply. It is as if I joined an army or fell in love, and you are asking who I can prove scientifically that I joined an army or that I am in love. We must separate the purely factual claims implied by that relationship from the other elements. Being in an army implies that you think the C.O. exists, which is a matter of fact, and that he has the authority to command you in battle, which is a matter of law. You cannot prove matters of law using the means of proving matters of fact.

Conflating scientific proof with legal and moral and theological proof is the same error you make over and over again, no matter how often it is corrected, and one which you do not make when discussing other topics when the error is not convenient to you, so I am left to assume you love this error more than you love the truth.

What fact would convince you that your blind faith in non-religion is false? If there is none, please admit you adopted you non-belief for personal rather than scientific reasons.

Prove to me now selecting one’s belief based on dishonest convenience is wrong? You have just accused me of this, and criticized me for it, so you must think it is wrong. What?! Is your belief that it is wrong not based on a proof? Where are the facts? Where is the scientific evidence? Where is your telescope that shows why intellectual cowardice and dishonesty is bad, or your microscope?

And if you admit that the moral proposition that lying is wrong is not a scientific proposition, and cannot be disproved by empirical evidence, I will laugh at you without restraint.

Let us start at a more simple level. First prove to me that consciousness exists, and then we can discuss how and where it arises. If you model of the universe cannot handle a simple question like that, then perhaps you should examine your model.

But I will answer your question honestly: show me the bones of the Virgin Mary, I will become a Protestant tomorrow. Show me the bones of Christ, I will become a Jew. Show me that the cave of Machpelah is vacant of the bones of the Patriarchs, and I will become a Deist like Tom Paine. Show me the universe is eternally old, not created, not purposeful, and that human consciousness does not exist and that moral law does not bind men, and I will repudiate even Deism.

Well? Put up or shut up. Produce your proofs. Make your case. Bring out your exhibits. The jurors are waiting.

Perhaps it is difficult to produce your proofs on demand. Perhaps the witnesses are dead or far away. Perhaps the physical evidence is hard to acquire. In such cases as this, honest and adult and rational men understand that the conclusions of rational men can differ. When you hear two witnesses who contradict, it is a matter of judgment about whom to trust, or, to use the older and more precise word, a matter of faith, which witness in whom you have faith.

If your model of the universe is correct, I am an insane man who hallucinates, even though there is no evidence of insanity or hallucination in any other aspect of my life or family history, and, unlike every other hallucination on record, it was one which sobered and improved my life rather than served as evidence of brain malfunction.

In order to believe your model of the universe you must take ON FAITH this unsupported idea that I am a madman, even though there is something of a dearth of evidence. You have not looked at my medical record; you have not spoken to my parents; you don’t know me.

The ground on which you take it on faith is your view or model of the universe. Your model does not have a place for a man who is both sane, alert, oriented as to time and place, aware of the nature of his actions, and yet who says he saw several supernatural events. Your model does not have a place for a man who says a spirit told him something that later on happened to be proved true, because in your model, spirits do not exist, therefore the information the man says the spirit told him must have existed in his mind beforehand, perhaps subconsciously, or his memory of the order of events must be wrong, or somesuch.  Again, these are ad hoc assumptions you make to shore up your model, not conclusions you draw from evidence.

What proof would prove your model wrong to you? The answer is none. Your model rests on metaphysical assumptions about materialism and causation. You merely pretend that your model rests on empirical grounds, or (more likely) you are ignorant of the grounds on which your model rests.

Asking for empirical proof or disproof of your model is futile.