Sunday, May 3, 2015

Ongoing Dialogue, Part IV

We continue here. Please make sure to catch all the comments on the last thread (that went over 200 comments) by clicking on "load more" at the end of the thread.

Okay, carry on!


  1. Chris P, you said:

    Is God allowing everyone to die really the same as him directly taking lives? Surely there are some who would have been saved had they been given a chance to live longer. In that case, God taking lives seems questionable.

    Think of it this way: Every breath we take is only because God allows it. No matter how we live or how we die, He allows it. Couldn't you also say "It's not right that he allows us to die of natural causes if we hadn't yet been saved."

    God cannot be unjust or He would not be God. He would be a sinner.

    So, here's the piece that will help: There is no one on the face of the earth, no one who has ever lived, that did not get enough grace (actual grace, as opposed to sanctifying grace) to find one's way to salvation. Everyone gets enough grace to get to God. If one chooses not to cooperate with the sufficient grace given, that is the choice of the individual, not an injustice on the part of a loving God who wants more than anything for all to be saved (so much so that he suffered and died for us).

  2. Sheila, an atheist and a Buddhist have both really applauded your arguments. I can't figure out what they are agreeing with, can you?

    If they are agreeing with the idea that atheists don't argue from God, or believe in God, then that's obvious. So, I'm confused?

    Bottom line: We all know (Nubby, you, me, Johanne, and every commenter on this blog) that atheists don't believe in God and they don't believe that God is the Lawgiver (that is a given). But what Nubby is asking (again and again), is what do they put in the place of the Lawgiver? What is their Lawgiver?

    I can only guess it's these options:

    1) Themselves
    2) Society
    3) Science/material world/nature

    Is there a fourth possibility?

    Nubby has pretty much dealt with the science part (I'm happy to repost those thoughts if needed). As to the other parts, those things are subjective. So, if one's morality is based on one's thoughts (even very scholarly, researched, thoughtful thoughts), then morality is nothing more than an opinion. We all have opinions. So, morality is ultimately meaningless.

    If the source of morality is society, then we have already had someone admit that "he who has the biggest guns win" and "might makes right". And it's all subjective, based on the spirit of the age.

    The other big elephant in the room (and it was right at this point that Matt left) is the question of how something that is intrinsically wrong is not also absolutely wrong.

    But at least Matt agreed that some things are intrinsically wrong (though he cannot name an objective source for that truth), because two of the young atheists on this blog years ago said that essentially any evil can be justified. In fact, they both said that raping and killing a small child would be "the moral thing to do" if they could save innocent hostages by doing so. Yet, they couldn't themselves probably do the "moral thing" to that child, because often it's hard to do the "moral thing" (in this case, raping and killing a child). They had no realization that it was their own conscience meeting Natural Law that would make them "not be able to do the moral thing".

    I pray that these two (whom I like very much by the way) have since changed their minds. One is in med school now, the other a teacher. I'd love for Zach and Michelle to chime in.

    Anyway, I hope all that made sense.

  3. "The reason you've gotten no answer to that question is because atheists do not believe there is one [an objective moral law]."

    Sheila, but yes, at least one of them (Matt) said that some things are intrinsically wrong. But that implies an absolute moral law and he can't say where that comes from (as his entire thesis was about meta-ethics and how we just come to thoughtful conclusions and stick with that, i.e., he said it's just his opinion).

    What Nubby and I (and the Catholic Church, and Chesterton, and Lewis, and others) are asking is that atheists think a little deeper.

    We are naturally truth-seekers (isn't that why they claim to love science?). So, where is the truth-seeking? If there is only truth on the material level, then we can all eat each other if we want, because a moral law does not exist.

    We are trying to spur these folks on to thought that goes beyond opinions and feelings. After all, I thought reason and logic were the strong suit of atheists? I'm not seeing it, if their entire system of morality is built on subjective feelings. How can they be okay with that, and yet hold that religious folks are "superstitious" and base their beliefs on emotions?

  4. In other words, the question here is not so much "How does the atheist mind think of these things?" but rather, "What is the source of the Moral Law? What is the Lawgiver for the atheist?"

    So far, I've heard these answers: feelings (subjective), individual minds (subjective), society (subjective), evolution (how can morals evolve, and where is there any evidence that humans have evolved to be more moral?). And withevolution, that implies that the material world is the giver of the Moral Law. But as Nubby has pointed out time and again, that just does not work (and practically speaking, it's laughable, since we are as murderous today as ever, and more so).

    I am inviting the atheists to think more deeply. Think of the implications of their worldview. Let's go there. Let's take their philosophy to its logical conclusion. Anyone up for it?

    1. "How does the atheist mind think of these things?"

      In other words, I think that is what you were trying to answer, Sheila, but that's not the question.

  5. Some are certainly given much greater burdens, a much harder path, though, right?

    Since we're not Hindus or Mormons we don't believe our particular circumstance of birth is the result of prior judgment. If all souls are born equal and placed without judgment, then it is arguably an injustice that some must overcome more than others in order to be saved. I'm considering an early death as something that most people don't have to beat out, but others do.

    I don't doubt that there's enough grace for all, but this still troubles me. If God wants all to be saved, as we know from Scripture, then wouldn't it make sense for him to go to every length except robbing us of free will to achieve this? But our own will does not seem to be the only barrier to salvation (though it's certainly the biggest).

  6. Perhaps they do not even venture to consider whether absolute evil exists and instead just live their lives by the Golden rule and ignore pondering the question. The atheists I know are exactly like that.

    Pro-ACA, yes. That is right. That is a shame because it means they don't want to THINK about it. And when I finally got an atheist (Matt) to agree that there are some acts that are "intrinsically wrong", but not "absolutely wrong" (???), he fled at further questioning. These are folks who pride themselves on their logic, reason and intellect, but they don't want to think when it comes to the moral law.

    Frustrating! But elucidating.

  7. Chris P, I'm not sure I understand. We are all given different crosses, different levels of suffering. God knows exactly why He is giving us our particular cross, and it's precisely because it's best for us, and best for our sanctity and salvation if we want to turn to Him and cooperate with His grace. If not, a Cross will just weigh us down and kill us. If we carry it in union with Christ's Cross (redemptive suffering) that is what makes us like Christ. It's how we learn to love. My cousin Michelle had an early death. Some would rail against that. She accepted it, she carried her cross, she loved Jesus and did His will instead of her own. She became a very holy woman, the fruits of which are just now being seen in incredible ways.

    And think of this: What if God takes a life early, before that person would have grown up to commit a mortal sin? You can't know this and neither can I. We can only know that God never gives us something for our harm, but only for our good. He loves us more than any human being on earth could ever love us, times infinity. So, we trust. That brings incredible peace and grace! "Thy will, not my will, Jesus." He knows us best, He knows what's best, and He loves us down to the last drop of His blood, that He shed for us. True love. Worthy of trust.

  8. And, He never robs us of our free will. So that confused me. And also, our wills are most definitely our ONLY barrier to salvation. Nothing else is a barrier.

  9. Sorry, poor use of italics. God does not rob us of free will, and I didn't mean to suggest he does.

    And think of this: What if God takes a life early, before that person would have grown up to commit a mortal sin?

    This is a good point. I think that nullifies my argument on that issue.

    And also, our wills are most definitely our ONLY barrier to salvation. Nothing else is a barrier.

    Imagine that one child grows up with loving parents who give him a proper moral grounding. Another grows up with parents who give him a horribly wrong moral grounding. Let's say both live in an environment where outside views are hard to come by--no Internet, few books, no higher education, and peers who have been raised the same way. Although the second child may stumble across truth later, he comes from an environment which actively resists and rejects it. It's not insurmountable, but he has a barrier to face that the first child doesn't.

  10. Yes, but God considers and weighs all those things when looking at culpability. The scariest thing for a Catholic are these words: "To whom much is given, much is expected." :)

    Remember that we are held accountable for what we know and what we are given, and we are also held accountable for what we deliberately decide NOT to know or learn.

    We will be judged on how well we cooperate with the grace and gifts we've been given, how we bend our wills to God's will as best we understand it, and that will look different for everyone. That is why we cannot judge hearts or souls, only God can.

  11. That reassures me. It certainly makes sense that God would be able to judge completely justly, accounting for everything. I'll give it more thought.

  12. Chris P, yes, there is great peace that comes in knowing this. It's one of the big reasons that Jesus said so many times, "Be Not Afraid". He never wants us to be anxious, as long as we rest in Him.

  13. I'm not going to continue this discussion -- my apologies to anyone who was enjoying it. I got called intellectually dishonest and if anyone really believes that, there's no point in my continuing to post, now is there?

    Leila and Nubby, I know that converting people isn't the intent of this blog, but you may still want to consider how your tone, which you are well aware upsets people, affects their view of what Christians are. Do we reflect divine love? Do we show any hint of "absolute goodness"? Or does your example lead people to think that Christians are closed-mined, unwilling to listen, and addicted to the ego rush of being right?

    The same ideas you have, but in a tone that shows respect and humility, would go a lot further.


  14. Sheila,

    First: Please understand that my tone is such that I have made personal friends on the "other side" of the issues, from the debates on this blog. You don't know what goes on on the private side of things, so please don't assume that folks are horrified by what Christians are like by reading this blog (vigorous debate, and asking people to stay on point). If you don't like socratic method, or being challenged, then this is not the blog for you, or for others. That is why I have the "Please Read First" page at the very top of my blog. I wish I didn't have to say that so often, honestly.

    Nubby's problem with the arguments you are making is that they are not germane to what we are trying to get to. Yes, we already know that atheists think a certain way about the material world and morality. We already have that as a given. What we are begging for here is an answer to the question: If not God, then what? What grounds morality? It's not enough to say "me" or "society" --- unless we can take that answer to its logical conclusion.

    I don't really understand why such things are considered harsh and mean?

    Honestly, if we can stay on point, please let's do that. Perhaps Nubby was feeling like she was being condescended to? You have been explaining to her how the atheist mind works but that was not at issue. That's all she/we are trying to say. Please, can we just argue the point?

    I admit to being VERY frustrated, lol. Please, anyone? Can you answer some of the direct questions and then let's take it from there? We understand as a given that Catholics believe in God and atheists do not. But the questions Nubby and I have asked are pertinent.


    1. And even if it feels "mean", I think that vigorous questioning and thought and philosophical dialogue still have a place in this world. I am sure I am in the minority, but thank the Lord, the Church agrees. Man, I miss Chesterton, and I never even met him, lol.

  15. "Or does your example lead people to think that Christians are closed-mined, unwilling to listen, and addicted to the ego rush of being right?"

    I am BEGGING to have someone answer so that I CAN listen, lol. How close-minded of me to invite a dialogue and expect that people hang with us until we exhaust the subject and come to some point of clarity, even if the end is, "Yes, our morality is necessarily subjective" (although then I'd like to explore the implications thereof.)

    And really "addicted to an ego rush of being right"? How bout just an answer to a question so that we can move on?

    It reminds me of a statement that a wonderful young gay man who comments on this blog told me I could tell the Catholic ladies to whom I was giving a talk on Truth. Here is what this young man said for all, even though we agree on .... not much:

    “Even if I don't like what you (Leila) might say, it's more helpful and formative than hearing "I love you and support whatever you choose to do". Not a perfect analogy, but when a kid goes near the hot stove, you tell him clearly to not touch it, because this gives me a clear option and an understanding of the situation. Telling that kid, "well, touch or don't touch it, I support you either way". No! The kid doesn't need to burn his hand to learn that it's a bad idea to touch hot stoves.

    It's the same way with adults, though, even if we add a lot more complexity and nuance. In our personal, social, and cultural debates we need to set up strong positions that we can argue with passion and vigor so that our conversation can move somewhere. Accepting a soft pluralistic "we love everyone and support what you do" cannot move society and if anything it would be detrimental. I appreciate Catholicism so much not only for its historical integrity but also because it’s not afraid to be passionate, compassionate, and intellectual while pushing its views.

    What a breath of fresh air! Zach, I love you.

  16. Lurkers,
    It's typical to be called names or to get accused of a "tone" or to be accused of desiring ridiculous things like an "ego rush" (whatever that is), when you're trying to laser through to get to the actual logic of a point and the opposing party can't supply the answer.

    Did you really think that after 500 comments (and my five years of commenting here) that I really didn't quite grasp how atheists think? Or were you having too much fun working their defense, without your ego involved, of course? You were over-talking points that were not relevant to the main point. And you keep insisting evolution gives rise to morality by describing what you want to believe about group behavior. You have not posited any evidence that that = morality. It's conjecture. And why are you trying to build a quasi-defense for non-believers? They all know that we completely understand their line of thinking. And it is not defensible against logic.

    Is there anyone out there who can point us to:
    The Moral Gene
    the physical attributes of morality
    the physical length, width, depth of morality
    an illustration of what physical morality looks like?

    No to all of it because morality is not a physical thing. It's not given by evolution. And, again, when someone posits that as casual fact, that is being intellectually dishonest. Evolution doesn't give rise to morals. One should never insert that because, again , descriptions of human or animal behavior are in no way indicative of anything moral, and descriptions are not morals. Morals are deliberations of the mind with purpose behind them.

  17. Hello everybody,
    let me introduce myself,
    My name is Emily (obviously), I'm 21, and a practicing catholic. I haven't read all the comments yet, but I'll try to catch up. Thus far I've learned a lot from all involved in the discussion.

    I'd like to add to Nubby's last post:
    Morality isn't a physical thing that is capable of evolution, thought also, is nonphysical. Sure there are many different parts of the brain that are active when a person is thinking, but science can't deduce the exact words or ideas that are going through a person's head. Thought is immaterial.

    One of the logical proofs of God's existence is the existence of thought. How can something that can't be explained by a chemical balance or bodily instincts (such as emotions, reflexes, etc.), something that cannot actually be seen or deduced to the point of its origin, be merely the product of evolution? It can't!

    Humans are material; we can feel, see, smell, taste, hear. These senses are how we take in the physical world. But then, what of our thoughts? OUR THOUGHTS ARE IMMATERIAL, THEY'RE NOT ORDINARY, THEY'RE EXTRAORDINARY. How can we claim that something physical like ourselves is capable of holding something nonphysical within us, but that all other things that are nonphysical -- God, spirits, morality, etc.-- can't be in existence because we can't physically prove it. Preposterous!

  18. I suppose my first comment was a bit off the subject of truth. Let me rectify that.

    It seems that many people here believe in objective truth, great! Is it an objective truth that humans have thoughts? I'd say so!

    Thoughts are immaterial, they are also an objective truth. so ruling out what's an objective truth or not by means of physical proof is a contradiction in itself because we already know of a nonphysical objective truth.

    Just a thought! lol ;)

  19. Emily,
    Right on. Reason, itself, is the gauge. And this ties to the false notion that we can “see moral behavior” in action. No, we cannot see morals in animals’ actions-- and not even in human action.

    One can only observe nature and give an account of it. One cannot posit anything beyond that. It would be completely unscientific.
    The animal is breathing. The animal is fighting. The animal is sharing food. That’s as far as observations go.

    Animals lack the capacity to reason, so therefore they cannot make moral choices, because morality lies in the consideration of the thought (reasoning) before the act of the will.
    You (animal) can’t reason? Then you (animal) cannot act morally or immorally.

    A wolf does not share a slab of meat with the pack because he has deliberated that he ought to do so. He did not think beforehand, “I should really share this meat because it is the right thing to do.” He does not even have that ability. He cannot consider a thing. He behaves in accordance with the hierarchy of the group, according to nature, for means of survival. Morality cannot be supposed simply because of his actions.

    For that matter, morality cannot even be judged by mere human actions. It’s all in the precipitating thoughts and purpose before the act . Do we work at the soup kitchen because it’s going to earn us approval from someone we like, or do we serve out of love for neighbor? Animals can’t reason like that.

    Maybe this thread should start taking off in the direction of “proof” of God. Might be an exercise worth doing.

  20. "Animals lack the capacity to reason" How do you know this? On NOVA Science Now several years ago Neil Degrasse Tyson interviewed a man with a Border Collie that knew 1000 words. In a little experiment Prof. Tyson told the dog to find "Darwin", a doll the dog had never seen before. The doll was placed with several other dolls that the dog knew the names of. The dog was able to identify the doll Prof. Tyson asked for by deduction. Isn't deduction reasoning?

  21. "Animals lack the capacity to reason" How do you know this? On NOVA Science Now several years ago Neil Degrasse Tyson interviewed a man with a Border Collie that knew 1000 words. In a little experiment Prof. Tyson told the dog to find "Darwin", a doll the dog had never seen before. The doll was placed with several other dolls that the dog knew the names of. The dog was able to identify the doll Prof. Tyson asked for by deduction. Isn't deduction reasoning?

    This is your complete data set? A guy brings a new doll (new to the dog’s very sensitive nose) into the mix and the dog supposedly “deduces via reason” the doll by name? Scent was most likely the tool. It was not through complex thoughts as to how he recognizes this new doll by name, see? The dog cannot sit and reason aloud with anyone about the doll.

    Anyhow, is your point here the idea that we can run a test once and prove something? If that’s the case, then you have to say ‘yes’ across the board to only one test about everything, everywhere. What happens if you run the test again and the dog doesn’t find the doll?

    You’re not proving out a mass data set with this. You’re saying “once” proves it’s not a fluke(?) Not robust at all.

    Ex: I pitch one ball with a baseball and the batter hits a double. Therefore, all my pitches will result in the batter hitting doubles. No.

    The dog would have to illustrate reason, not just show sense perception (sense of smell).

  22. Does it matter whether it was by smell or sight? The dog had to put two and two together by linking the command with the unfamiliar object. Is it a law of nature that animals can't reason? If man evolved from lower animals did he one day suddenly develop the ability to reason or more likely did it evolve over time?

  23. It's not just science. The Catholic Church probably also believes it. The Catholic Church teaches the story of "St. Anthony and the Real Presence". I won't get into the whole story but the donkey is starved for three days and is about to go each a bunch of hay. St. Anthony takes out a eucharist and commands the donkey to worship God. The donkey turns around and "kneels" before the eucharist.There's also a story about St. Francis preaching to birds about God. What would be the point if they couldn't reason?

  24. Again , reason is immaterial. It cannot "evolve" from a biological/chemical process. Thoughts cannot be captured, illustrated with a graphite pencil, measured, or weighed, right? That's science. Reason is a gauge of the mind - a capacity, a faculty. Dog's use their senses to learn tricks or commands and they learn stimulus/reward. Sit, get a treat. Fetch, get a treat. It all relates to food or reward. Not to reason . They don't reason how to do so or why to do so . See? What exactly were they measuring for in this dog test? How many times did they run this? Were they trying to prove reason by a stimulus/reward model? Wrong model. They need to show him a Caravaggio painting and ask him what he thinks of the brush stroke technique. Have the dog show his reason that way. See? Higher thoughts. Not obedience = treat.

    The St. Anthony story is a miracle, science doesn't explain that at all. Scripture talks about the Lord opening the mouth of the donkey in the book of Numbers, too (ref: Num 22:28).

  25. * Dogs

    To finish my point re: Scripture - the Catholic Church does not say that people evolved from apes, or that animals reason. The Church acknowledges that animals have souls but not immortal souls.

  26. "
    Maybe this thread should start taking off in the direction of “proof” of God. Might be an exercise worth doing."

    I agree

  27. How is reason immaterial? Reasoning happens in the brain. The brain is material. I haven't seen anything without a brain be able to reason. It's like saying digestion is immaterial. Dogs are simpler than humans. They can't explain a painting but they can reason to get a treat. It's just a matter of degree. Australopithecus and Homo Erectus must have been able to reason in order to build fire and make tools, but they probably couldn't explain a painting. Why does science have to prove something over and over but if somebody says something is a miracle then you believe it even if it's a one time occurrence. It seems religion has low standards of evidence.

  28. Reason happens in the mind. The mind is immaterial (reasoning, judgment, intellect).
    Dogs do not reason to get a treat. They know who holds the food. They're smart enough to survive, but not smart enough to reason. They don't reason morally or otherwise. They go by cues. They go by senses and what they pick up through those limited senses. They do not solve algebra or reason about morals of fairy tales, right?

    Miracles defy logic. They're not set up as science tests or hypotheses. Science "has to prove something over and over" because that is the scientific method. A convergence of agreeable data, from many sources all calibrated to measure for the same thing is what makes up a working theory. A one time shot in the dark is not scientific.

  29. People confuse the brain (material) with the mind (immaterial). Our own Stacy Trasancos, Ph.D, has addressed this on her blog (

  30. If the mind is immaterial then why does general anesthesia work on it?

  31. That's the brain. You're confusing a faculty of the human person (reason) with a physical object (brain).

    Drugs, alcohol, lack of sleep, poor diet, those all impact the body physiologically; they directly affect the brain.

  32. The mind is separate from the brain. The brain is physical but the mind -- thoughts -- are not. Our thoughts don't purely derive from physical processes and physiological reactions to the environment. But of course, our bodies and the environment definitely have an affect on our thoughts despite the mind not being physical. For example, when a person trips, the environment has an effect on the body, and the body informs the brain, which is intricately connected to the mind -- We are informed of what has happened to our body through a physical process, but the individual mind is what decides how to react. Every person will react, at least, slightly different than anyone else in the same situation. If our thoughts came from a purely physical source then we'd be robotic, everyone in the same situation would respond in the same way, but this is not the case. A person's uniqueness is a clear indication that humans aren’t purely physical creatures. Our ability to act and react differently, and also, our ability to choose to do so, is proof that there is a part of us that can't be explained physiologically. Apply this same concept to drugs. Drugs affect our minds because they alter our body, our body let's us know, and we react. Even under the influence of some drugs people are still able to control their thoughts to an extent. Certain drugs alter the body and the brain. Cases in which the brain is affected alter a person’s state of consciousness. When a person’s state of consciousness is altered (drugs, alcohol, sleep) from it’s wakeful, alert, state of consciousness the messages received, by the mind, from the brain are very different because the brain’s perception is altered.

    Our minds aren't physical but this doesn't mean that the mind is unaware and separate from what goes on inside and outside our bodies.

  33. NC -Reason is above the brain, seated in the soul, along with the will and thinking/feelings/memory. We can impair reason or cloud it, of course, through drugs, or even sin. But the seat of reason is the soul, not just the brain. Again, animals do not possess higher reasoning because they don’t possess immortal souls. We possess complex memories, complex thought, we react above mere stimuli. Animals cannot reason, evaluate, or consider anything in a complex sense, because they lack the exact capability (reason itself) that is only present in rational man. You cannot converse with your dog about the events of last Thursday, because he possesses no ability to reason about a calendar, see?

  34. What do you mean by animals don't possess immortal souls? Doesn't the Catholic Church teach they do? In the news a little while back a little boy asked the Pope if his dead dog was in heaven and the Pope said yes. If the dog is buried here on earth then what part of it is in heaven? Wouldn't it be its soul? How would you interact with a dog's soul if a dog was only a body?

  35. Animals have souls but not immortal souls. They don't inherit everlasting life when they die. They cease to exist. This is Church teaching.
    The ability to reason and the ability to love are what distinguish immortal souls from mortal souls.

  36. Night Cruller, the pope never said that. It was a completely (as in, 100%) fabrication. It's proof that we must not trust the mainstream media to report correctly on the Catholic Church. You can read more, here:

    Also, the NYTimes had to retract it as well. Completely false, 100% made up. Ask yourself: How did that false story get out there in the first place? Why did the other outlets not bother to fact check? It's really inexcusable, don't you think?

  37. Sorry, I never read about the retraction. It wasn't much publicized. The media are lazy and have a short attention span. It seems rather cruel to create a creature and just let it be destroyed. That doesn't seem very loving. Especially since many creatures only know suffering for their brief existence.

  38. Seems even more cruel to send your Son to die for a world that hates Him and would reject Him (as Jesus Christ, the Savior of the world, did for us). But He did it out of infinite love. Every person has a choice of free will to enter into that divine friendship and partake of that divine life or not. It's all a choice and a matter of preference of how close a person wants to be to Christ. He takes that risk, that's how much He cares. With that preference comes the choice of Heaven or hell, generally speaking.

    RE: suffering
    The Catholic Church has the only sound explanation for suffering, as far as how it can be redemptive and meaningful if joined to Christ's suffering. Check out the teaching on suffering. Makes great sense in the full tapestry of life, so to speak.


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