Sunday 27 March 2016

Christ is risen!

Happy Easter!

ALMIGHTY God, who through thine only-begotten Son Jesus Christ hast overcome death, and opened unto us the gate of everlasting life; we humbly beseech thee that, as by thy special grace preventing us thou dost put into our minds good desires, so by thy continual help we may bring the same to good effect; through Jesus Christ thy Son our Lord, who liveth and reigneth with thee and in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen. 

(Collect for Easter Sunday from The Customary of Our Lady of Walsingham)


  1. A holy and blessed Easter to you and yours, Lazarus!

    1. Thank you! And a happy Easter to you too! (Lazarus)

  2. I try to keep an open combox so I've allowed this piece of spam/propaganda through. Without attempting to resolve what is clearly a difficult issue that goes to the heart of the Christian message, what this and most atheist apologetics fail to engage with is that Catholics primarily engage with faith not by accepting isolated beliefs, but as trust in the infallibility of a teaching body founded by God. Trust in the resurrection is not isolatable from trust in the reliability of the witness of the Church. (Clearly far more rational than the practice of most atheists in whatever they have just read on some eighteen year old's blog.)

    Apologies for being a little sharp here. But I'm letting you spout mass produced rubbish on my blog so I think I'm probably entitled to indulge in some handcrafted snidery.

  3. '...than the practice of most atheists in *accepting*...'

  4. Yes, I realize that Catholics place a great deal of trust/faith in the Church, but if the evidence indicates that the Resurrection most likely did not happen, doesn't that prove the Church wrong and therefore that your trust is misplaced?

  5. You're conflating two positions. In your commentary on the pastor's defence of the resurrection, you're focused on a Lutheran claim that there is overwhelming evidence for the resurrection, primarily through historical evidence and primarily based on scripture. The other claim (which you're making now) is that 'the evidence indicates that the Resurrection most likely did not happen'. Let's assume (for the sake of argument) that there is no evidence for the resurrection. That would not show that the resurrection did not happen. (I'm open to correction on this but I don't (admittedly on a fairly quick read) see many arguments you've presented that aim to disprove the resurrection beyond the kind of general ones Hume presents in his 'Of Miracles' (I'll accept these for the moment for the sake of argument, but as with your own arguments on your blog, Hume's strike me as flawed.) If so, then you have not disproved the existence of miracles but merely their evidential status for the further truths of revelation (Hume after all accepts that miracles can be accepted on faith: they are not impossible. He merely denies that they can themselves function as rationally compelling evidence.)

    So then we'd be thrown back on the reasons for accepting the authoritative teaching of the Church on this. That's a big question and you haven't addressed it at all. (Understandably since you're tackling Lutheran sola scriptura arguments.)

    BTW, thank you for replying personally this time rather than just 'spamily'! It's of course absolutely reasonable that you tackle some of the weaker positions put out by Christians, but these are not the positions held by orthodox Catholicism. (I'd add that I think you've treated the pastor's arguments even in his own terms unfairly but that's another issue.)

  6. Thank you for your reply.

    I understand that your view of "evidence" is very different from that of the typical Protestant. Whereas most Protestants place their faith in the text of the Bible, Catholics place as much if not more faith in the "witness" of the Church, in this case, the Early Church.

    The problem for your position is this: The Roman Catholic Church has never officially declared the authorship of the Gospels to be those of the traditional apostolic authors. Therefore the belief that eyewitnesses wrote the Gospels is purely tradition. In addition, you have no proof that any eyewitness to the death and post-death events of Jesus was still alive when the first gospel was written to proof read the text. Therefore it is entirely possible that the early Christian Resurrection belief did not include an Empty Tomb, the detailed post-death appearances of the Gospels, or the Ascension from a mountain near Bethany. It is entirely possible that the Early Christian Resurrection belief was based entirely on the vivid dreams or visions of a few of the disciples of Jesus. It is entirely possible that all the other details are embellishments.

    Now, if this is all true, your faith in the "Church" is based on nothing more than the testimony of a handful of grieving, distraught, "unlearned", Galilean peasants who claimed to have received appearances from their recently departed friend/family member.

    So how is your faith in the "Church" any different than someone today who places their faith in some other supernatural story or someone who chooses to believe in a conspiracy theory based on the flimsiest of evidence?

    There is no difference.

    If you want to hold tightly to your traditions just because they are 2,000 years old, that is certainly your choice. But without good evidence to back it up, your supernatural belief is no more likely to be true than modern supernatural tales and conspiracy theories.

  7. Dear Readers: You do not need to be a scholar to disbelieve resurrection claims.

    Two thousand years ago, hundreds of millions of people on earth believed in a god named Zeus who lived on top of Mount Olympus in Greece who performed many fantastical supernatural deeds. The existence of Zeus and the historicity of his alleged deeds have never been disproven.

    Approximately 1300 years ago, a man named Mohammad claimed to have received a visit from a supernatural being who gave him the true word of the creator of the universe and who enabled him to fly on a winged horse into the heavens. Hundreds of millions of people today believe in the historicity of these claims. These claims have never been disproven.

    Approximately 200 years ago, a man named Joseph Smith claimed to have received golden plates from a supernatural being containing the true, updated, word of the creator of the universe. Millions of people today believe that this claim is historical fact. This claim has never been disproven.

    Since these claims have never been disproven, should we believe them? Should we believe these fantastical, extra-ordinary claims that defy the established laws of nature? The proponents of the above claims would say that the possible/probable existence of a Creator greatly increases the probability of these claims being true. But is that really correct? Doesn't the evidence seem to suggest that if a Creator exists, he/she/they/it have chosen to operate, at least within our universe, within the natural laws? How often have experts confirmed that established natural laws have been violated?

    I would therefore suggest that the possible existence of a Creator can in no way be assumed to increase the probability of un-natural events occurring within our universe. We have no confirmed evidence to suggest that a Creator routinely or even sporadically violates the laws of nature. We have no evidence to believe that gods live on Greek mountains; that celestial beings enable humans to ride on winged horses; or that persons in upstate New York receive plates of gold from angels.

    So when another large group of people living today tells you their fantastical, extra-ordinary claim that two thousand years ago a three-day-dead corpse was suddenly reanimated back to life by an ancient middle-eastern deity, broke out of his sealed tomb, ate a fish lunch with his former fishing buddies, and then levitated into the clouds, I suggest that we consider this claim to be just as probable as the three claims above.

    And unlike what you have been told, dear friend, you do NOT need to be a scholar to disbelieve all four of these supernatural claims. Why? Answer: Because the onus of proof is NOT on you, the skeptic. In western, educated society the onus is always on the person making the fantastical, extra-ordinary claim, not on those who doubt it.

    Therefore, the onus is on the proponents of these four supernatural tales to prove their veracity, and so far, the evidence presented by these groups of believers is dismal to pathetic. That is why no public university history textbook in the western world lists any of these four claims as even "probable" historical events.

    You don't need to be a scholar to disbelieve supernatural religious tales of gods living on mountains, prophets flying in the air on winged horses, upstate New Yorkers receiving heavenly messages in cow pastures, or reanimated dead guys flying off into outer space. Don't let the proponents of these tall tales convince you otherwise.

    1. Oi! Quite happy to argue with you, but lay off using my blog as a soapbox! Let me, however, address 'my readers' in equally ringing rhetorical terms as your own.

      'You don't need to be a scholar to disbelieve supernatural religious tales of gods living on mountains...' etc

      Quite right! You don't. Gary is appealing to commonsense here, and the commonsense of our age is what the scholars that Gary rejects would call 'naturalism': a metaphysical commtiment to deny the existence of anything that might be supernatural. Turn the clock back a couple of hundred years or the compass a few degrees to the East or South, and the 'commonsense' you have to appeal to would include belief in fairies and witches. So, 'my 'readers', distrust anyone like Gary who simply appeals to what you already happen to believe or think: we are all creatures of our time and place and none of us have been able fully to check the commonsense we find ourselves in.

      Catholicism in the end is belief in the mystical body of the Church: that here is to be found life and truth. Belief in the resurrection is belief in a mere conjuring trick with bones unless it is seen as part of a worldview where it takes on meaning as (eg) a key event in our understanding of what it is to be human and what it is to fail and to then overcome that failure. Do not allow the obsessions of village explainers such as Gary to distort the issue at stake here. He has already conceded that the resurrection is possible. So why might one believe it to be true? Not (as he would have it) simply because of the testimony of 'a handful of grieving, distraught, "unlearned", Galilean peasants' but because it fits into the noblest and best evidenced worldview that there is. So do not start with the resurrection as an isolated fact but with a broader understanding of Catholicism. And after you have tackled that, perhaps then you will see the point of the resurrection and accept its truth.

      ['My readers' note. On the whole, I dislike the sort of windy rhetoric that Gary indulged in here. I've replied in kind, but I think in general these sorts of discussions are better conducted in more measured tones and more careful reasoning. On the other hand, it was sitting in a pub listening to such tripe from a (fellow) atheist that was a key event in key becoming a Christian and ultimately a Catholic in prompting me to wonder at the paradox that such champions of reason were in real life quite so unreasonable. So I suppose I should probably encourage such atheist sermonising in view of its counterproductive effects.

      Anyway, we're all stuck in little ruts of personality and emotional style. But there are plenty of rather more thoughtful versions of atheism out there than this Gospel Tent rebooted variety, and my own rhetoric above shouldn't be relied on either. Go away and read some proper philosophy of religion if you're genuinely interested (at the moment I'd probably recommend Scruton's 'The Soul of the World' and Smart and Haldane's 'Atheism and Theism'). But for goodness' sake, give yourself time, exercise patience, and don't try and heal whatever psychological wounds we all carry by loudly proclaiming your latest insights to all and sundry. The search for truth, goodness and beauty is too important (too sacred) to be rushed.

    2. "So do not start with the resurrection as an isolated fact but with a broader understanding of Catholicism. And after you have tackled that, perhaps then you will see the point of the resurrection and accept its truth."

      If the Resurrection did not happen, then your faith (and Church) are a joke. That isn't my statement. That is St. Paul's.

      Anything is possible. Fairies are possible. Flying spaghetti monsters are possible. UFO abductions are possible. Resurrections are possible. But if no good evidence exists to support these claims, I suggest we IGNORE them. Ignoring them is not the same as saying they are not real, which is a point you seem to confuse.

      The deadly consequence of belief in the supernatural is all around us: bombings and beheadings in the name of some invisible deity and holy book.

      Just because the Catholic Church has existed for 2,000 years, is not a sufficient reason to cling to it. If the Church is based on superstitions, it should be abandoned by educated people.

  8. 'So how is your faith in the "Church" any different than someone today who places their faith in some other supernatural story or someone who chooses to believe in a conspiracy theory based on the flimsiest of evidence?'

    I'd point out first of all that you seem to be conceding that the resurrection story is possible, but that you are now arguing that the evidence for it is flimsy. (And as I noted before, the general line of argument you are pursuing on this point is similar to Hume's in 'Of Miracles'.)

    The question you raise above is a good one. In essence, the answer is that belief in the resurrection of Christ coheres with other aspects of a Catholic worldview, and that this worldview is (so far as I can judge) the most rationally evidenced worldview I can find. Roughly, you're assuming that we Catholics start with the resurrection of Jesus, believe in this (for the sort of reasons your Lutheran pastor mentions) and then, as a result, believe in the other aspects of Christianity. In reality, Catholics start from an evidenced trust in the Church and, as a result, believe in the resurrection.

    So let's take your two analogies: 'some other supernatural story'; a 'conspiracy theory'. On the first, it would depend on the nature of the supernatural story (obviously as a Catholic, some supernatural stories I believe to be true and some I do not). I would assess how well the story fitted in with what I do know or believe with a certain measure of certainty. (You presumably would reject any supernatural story out of hand on the dogmatic belief in naturalism?)

    On conspiracy theories, again, it would depend on what the evidence was for them and how well it fitted in with the rest of my understanding of the world. For example, I am quite unlikely to believe in conspiracies by Jews and Freemasons because (eg) I know a lot of Jew and Freemasons and a reasonable amount about their histories -and a belief that either is a concerted worldwide conspiracy just doesn't fit in with what I know from elsewhere. On the other hand, I am quite likely to believe in conspiracy theories about the KJB because their use of conspiracies is well evidenced.

    So it depends on the conspiracy theory and the supernatural tale....

  9. 1) Paul actually says: "If Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is in vain and your faith is in vain.... But, in fact, Christ has been raised from the dead" (1 Cor 15:14, 20).

    Although I think the truth can be reconciled with what Paul literally says, as it stands, it's false. All sorts of value might be found in Christian teaching without the factual truth of the resurrection. (Think for example the sort of Enlightenment Christianity moralised and rationalised that you get in Kant or Franklin.) As I say, I think Paul's words here can be reconciled with that observation (roughly by treating them as rhetorically hyperbolic and narrowing the meaning of 'kerugma') but in any case your use of the words to support your misunderstanding of Catholicism is clearly misplaced.

    2) 'Resurrections are possible. But if no good evidence exists to support these claims, I suggest we IGNORE them' That's a new claim. Happy to deal with it, but I haven't 'confused' the point before because you haven't made it before.

    Let's try this. Do ignore the factual basis for the resurrection for a start. See what else Catholicism says about the nature of the universe and anthropology and understand how the resurrection fits into that understanding. Treat it as a hypothesis needed to make a theory work. (I assume you have nothing against Popper's hypothetico-deductive model of scientific reasoning? Well, think of theology like that: try and falsify the theory rather than trying to verify each individual component of the theory.)

    3) 'The deadly consequence of belief in the supernatural is all around us: bombings and beheadings in the name of some invisible deity and holy book.'

    We've had plenty of beheadings and bombings in the name of materialism.

    4)'Just because the Catholic Church has existed for 2,000 years, is not a sufficient reason to cling to it. If the Church is based on superstitions, it should be abandoned by educated people.'

    Yes, agree. But it's not founded on superstitions. (You're confusing beliefs in supernatural events with superstition.)

  10. Alleged supernatural events are superstitions...except when the alleged supernatural event in question is YOURS.

    I can readily admit that the Catholic Church, TODAY, is making many significant beneficial contributions to mankind. But taken as a whole, starting in circa 325 AD, I would bet that most non-Christians would agree that the Catholic Church has NOT been good for mankind. (And I think the same can be said of Protestants.) Hundreds of thousands of people maimed, tortured, and murdered in the name of your invisible deity. If we had video of a couple of the burnings at the stake of the millions of people that Christians (Catholics and Protestants) have persecuted and murdered, I would bet that most people would say: Taken as a whole, the Christian/Catholic Faith has NOT been good for humankind.

    1. 1) On supernatural events and superstitions. You make a charming assertion but any reasons to believe it's true? I can think of many supernatural claims (eg Plato in the Ion on divine poetic inspiration) which are neither mine not which I regard as superstitious. I'm afraid this looks like windy rhetoric.

      2) I'm willing to bet if you asked most people in the world whether belief in God is a force for good, the overwhelming majority would answer yes. I wouldn't take that question or answer much more seriously than yours as I have no idea how either answer could be rationally based. (What's the current exchange rate between one auto da Fe and Mozart mass?) Frankly your line of argument here is more of a parlour game than a serious critique of Catholicism or religion in general.


    2. Depends who you ask and how you ask your question.

      Ask a Catholic, a Protestant, a Jew, or a Muslim if he thinks that belief in "God" is a force for good and you will most likely get an affirmative answer from a majority of members of each of these world religions.

      But, ask a Jew if he believes that belief in the CHRISTIAN/CATHOLIC God has historically been a force of good, and I will bet you will get a very different answer. And I will bet that the Muslim will most likely respond with the same negative answer.

      And Protestants and Catholics will most likely respond negatively about whether or not belief in the Muslim God has historically been a force of good.

      It all depends on how you ask the question.

    3. Yes I agree. That's why I don't think it's a good question (or range of questions). Too broad. Too dependent on the state of the audience's knowledge or prejudices.


  11. "We've had plenty of beheadings and bombings in the name of materialism."

    It is very true that "materialists" can be just as brutal and savage as devout Catholics/Protestants. The difference is that materialists typically do not perform their evil acts in the name of Materialism, whereas Catholics/Protestants have frequently committed their heinous crimes in the very name and for the benefit of their deceased leader, Jesus of Nazareth.

    1. 1) So materialism is as dangerous as Catholicism but its proponents describe their actions in a different way? This is doubtless extremely comforting for your victims.

      2) There are within Catholicism resources and practices which encourage self criticism as well as an awareness of our fallibility. Whatever moral wrongs Catholics have committed -and there are many- we possess the possibility of improvement not least through a coherent and rationally based moral philosophy. It's of course very easy to point out the difficulties in a system (Catholicism) which is entirely open and highly articulate about its beliefs. What do you believe? (Would many (say) academic philosophers agree with you?) Why do you spend so much time critiquing others' views and apparently so little on reviewing and correcting your own?

      We seem to be getting stuck in a typical tit for tat combox debate. That's not good for either of us (and I've done it too many times now to have any illusions about the possibility of success on either side). Why not tell me about what you do believe? For example, if you had to recommend one book to a teenage atheist which would be most useful in promoting their welfare, what would it be and why?


    2. Good question.

      I would encourage persons with questions about non-supernaturalism/atheism to read literature published by the Society of Secular Humanism.

    3. Thank you! Couldn't find that precise organisation. Did you mean this ? My problem with these sorts of bodies is that they close down the philosophical issues too quickly (without the putative excuse of revealed authority!) I'd be particularly worried here about the claims to naturalism and consequentialism both of which are highly problematic (and I don't mean from a theistic perspective but simply on general philosophical grounds). I'll follow up with some links.


    4. I'll restrict this to atheists so you don't feel I'm being parti pris! Bernard Williams is probably the best modern critic of consequentialism (and his own positive ethics of integrity and life as a personal quest has much to commend it). On naturalism Tim Williamson has been a constant critic...

    5. ...and one of his articles can be found here I'm only suggesting these as a start to keeping your mind open -less about theism where frankly at the moment you'd be better off ignoring it since you seem to be obsessing about it- but about general metaphysical and moral issues which the various secular societies have a tendency to shut down debate over far too quickly. You might enjoy Simon Critchley and Julian Baggini: both atheists who concentrate on exploring the complexities of human experience from a non-theistic view rather than simply focusing on religion.

      Apologies if this comes over as patronising: it's not meant to (although I suppose it's inevitable that it will). It's just that I've come across far far too many atheists (particularly from a strict religious background) who damage their lives by focusing on attacking religion. If you're an atheist -fine. Now make sure that you live and understand life as well as you can. It's really not that easy -and that's why I'd be careful with tracts from secularist organisations which are usually fairly shallow.(I accept that my question was phrased as 'reading for a teenage atheist' so you may have pitched your answer at that level. But even so,if a teenager is already an atheist, the crucial question -now that the negative is out of the way- is how to live well in a society where the temptations to live badly are so great.)

      My own recommendation fwiw would be something by Dostoyevsky -probably The Idiot or The Brothers Karamazov. They had a massive influence on me as a teenager. They didn't push me towards theism (the opposite if anything certainly at the time). But they did I suppose unveil and articulate that gnawing individual uncertainty that lies at the heart of the human condition.


    6. Here is an excellent summary of the principles of (democratic) secular humanism from the Council of Secular Humanism:

    7. Here is an excerpt from this document regarding how secular humanists view ethics:

      "The moral views of secular humanism have been subjected to criticism by religious fundamentalist theists. The secular humanist recognizes the central role of morality in human life; indeed, ethics was developed as a branch of human knowledge long before religionists proclaimed their moral systems based upon divine authority. The field of ethics has had a distinguished list of thinkers contributing to its development: from Socrates, Democritus, Aristotle, Epicurus, and Epictetus, to Spinoza, Erasmus, Hume, Voltaire, Kant, Bentham, Mill, G. E. Moore, Bertrand Russell, John Dewey, and others. There is an influential philosophical tradition that maintains that ethics is an autonomous field of inquiry, that ethical judgments can be formulated independently of revealed religion, and that human beings can cultivate practical reason and wisdom and, by its application, achieve lives of virtue and excellence. Moreover, philosophers have emphasized the need to cultivate an appreciation for the requirements of social justice and for an individual's obligations and responsibilities toward others. Thus, secularists deny that morality needs to be deduced from religious belief or that those who do not espouse a religious doctrine are immoral. For secular humanists, ethical conduct is, or should be, judged by critical reason, and their goal is to develop autonomous and responsible individuals, capable of making their own choices in life based upon an understanding of human behavior."

    8. You are asking me what I think NIETZSCHE would think of democratic secular humanism??? I don't know and don't care!

      Listen. Let me break the news to you: Most people in the modern western world do not rely on philosophers to understand the reality of our existence. We base our lives on the Scientific Method and reason. Now, if spending your day debating esoteric theories in order to precisely calculate how many (imaginary) angels can dance on the head of a pin turns you on, go for it. But most people couldn't give a rat's behind what philosophers, today or from the past, think. Philosophy is a dying field of study. In fact, some have alleged that the only purpose of Philosophy is to prop up and give intellectual respectability to its ugly step-sister, Religion.

    9. Fair enough. This isn't a matter of angels dancing on a pinhead, but very commonplace questions about the nature of ethics and rationality. I don't know how you could engage with these issues rationally without engaging with philosophers on them, but good luck in trying.

      The only point I'd make is that these issues are not as straightforward as you seem to think they are. Secular humanism is encouraging you to reject reasoned discussion and reflection on difficult subjects.

  12. If you want to discuss philosophy, here is a list of some of the philosophers who are signatories to this democratic secular humanist document. Maybe a couple of them would be willing to discuss this topic with you:

    •John Anton (professor of philosophy, Emory University)

    •Brand Blanshard (professor emeritus of philosophy, Yale)

    •Arthur Danto (professor of philosophy, Columbia University)

    •Herbert Feigl (professor emeritus of philosophy, University of Minnesota)

    •Sidney Hook (professor emeritus of philosophy, NYU, fellow at Hoover Institute)

    •George Hourani (professor of philosophy, State University of New York at Buffalo)

    •Walter Kaufmann (professor of philosophy, Princeton)

    •Marvin Kohl (professor of philosophy, medical ethics, State University of New York at Fredonia)

    •Paul Kurtz (Professor of Philosophy, State University of New York at Buffalo)

    •Joseph Margolis (professor of philosophy, Temple University)

    •Ernest Nagel (professor emeritus of philosophy, Columbia)

    •Lee Nisbet (associate professor of philosophy, Medaille)

    •W. V. Quine (professor of philosophy, Harvard University)

    •Herbert Schneider (professor emeritus of philosophy, Claremont College)

    •Marvin Zimmerman (professor of philosophy, State University of New York at Buffalo)

    1. Note the caveat: 'Although we who endorse this declaration may not agree with all its specific provisions, we nevertheless support its general purposes and direction.'

      I'd expect atheist philosophers to endorse its general direction. I wouldn't expect many to endorse the details of the statement.

      I can't do much about what you believe about religion: at the moment, you seem to have taken a sudden lurch from a narrow Lutheranism to a narrow secularism. All I'd urge (uselessly I fear) is that you don't take with you the worst aspects of an evangelical past (dogmatism and lack of interest in careful reasoning) and develop a new set of dogmas. The atheist philosophers I mentioned (including Nietzsche) are not trying to lead you back into a religious faith and frankly to suggest 'the only purpose of Philosophy is to prop up and give intellectual respectability to its ugly step-sister, Religion' is ludicrous.

      If you are going to try to lead your life based on reason rather than dogma from now on, please try to be a little more patient and open minded and move on beyond the limits of movement atheism.

      I'm not trying to reason/trick you back into theism here. There are plenty of atheists who live their lives out with integrity. You have my continued best wishes in your attempts to do so.

    2. BTW I've put back comment moderation. Nothing to do with your comments -and I'll go on publishing them and pretty much anything else so long as everything stays with reasonable limits of politeness. But there might be a delay for my approval.

  13. Thank you for your last comment. It was a reasoned and respectful. You are correct, all sides need to be open to the evidence and approach the evidence with an open mind, accepting the findings of the evidence even if it overturns our previous beliefs.

    I wish you well.


    1. Thank you. I really appreciate that. It's too easy to get stuck into our narrow positions and forget our common humanity (and that's more a confession about my own behaviour at times, not a criticism of anyone else). Again, my best wishes.