Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Bayes and God

I know a lot of my posts are just quotes of different ideas. But it at least puts them somewhere where I can find them.

3. He accepts without question Dawkins's arguments and doesn't mention that probability is a form of *logic* which governs our beliefs, it doesn't tell us what to start out believing. No one reading has any rational credence in flying spaghetti monsters or fairies, etc. so there is no appreciable decline in the prior of theism even using a form of the principle of indifference. (Trent Dougherty, at Prosblogion)

Did God commanded genocide?

A common method to cast doubt on Christianity is to proof text (in a fundamentalist type of way) passages that show that God commanded genocide or some other atrocity. I have never met a Christian who has interpreted these passages as such. Viewed within the context of the Bible, God is ruthlessly just but this must be learned first before his mercy can be fully known. Taken in isolation these passages do become problematic. I think that William Cowper’s poem "God moves in mysterious ways" speaks to this difficulty.

Judge not the Lord by feeble sense,
But trust him for his grace;
Behind a frowning providence,
He hides a smiling face.

His purposes will ripen fast,
Unfolding every hour;
The bud may have a better taste,
But sweet will be the flower.

Blind unbelief is sure to err,
And scan his work in vain;
God is his own interpreter,
And he will make it plain.

Religion and Disadvantaged Youth

Hmmm maybe religion isn't all that bad.

The Role of Religious and Social Organizations in the Lives of Disadvantaged Youth

---- Abstract -----

This paper examines whether participation in religious or other social organizations can help offset the negative effects of growing up in a disadvantaged environment. Using the National Survey of Families and Households, we collect measures of disadvantage as well as parental involvement with religious and other social organizations when the youth were ages 3 to 19 and we observe their outcomes 13 to 15 years later. We consider a range of definitions of disadvantage in childhood (family income and poverty measures, family characteristics including parental education, and child characteristics including parental assessments of the child) and a range of outcome measures in adulthood (including education, income, and measures of health and psychological wellbeing). Overall, we find strong evidence that youth with religiously active parents are less affected later in life by childhood disadvantage than youth whose parents did not frequently attend religious services. These buffering effects of religious organizations are most pronounced when outcomes are measured by high school graduation or non-smoking and when disadvantage is measured by family resources or maternal education, but we also find buffering effects for a number of other outcome-disadvantage pairs. We generally find much weaker buffering effects for other social organizations. Rajeev Dehejia, Thomas DeLeire, Erzo F.P. Luttmer, Joshua Mitchell

A Darwinian society = fascist state

My favorite example comes from an interview Richard Dawkins, England’s most pious atheist and loudest Darwinian, gave to an Austrian newspaper, Die Presse (July 30, 2005), where he made this whopper of a concession: “No decent person wants to live in a society that works according to Darwinian laws. . . . A Darwinian society would be a fascist state.” With that move Dawkins has undercut his whole project, which requires that Darwinism be made applicable in all areas of life. His ethical critique of Darwinian dystopias itself testifies to man’s uniqueness, specifically his possession of a conscience independent of evolutionary forces. And once conscience asserts its independence, it’s but a short step to establish that the same holds true of man’s natural desire for God. (Edward T. Oakes, First Things)

This is a great argument.

Monday, October 22, 2007

Improving Pascal’s Wager

I think I got this argument from Peter Kreeft but I don’t remember which one of his books. For those who don't know Pascal's Wager it is an argument for believing in God. The basic argument is to look at the big scheme of life as a bet. If you place your bet on there not being a God and are wrong, then you are in trouble. If you are right you gain nothing. But if you place your bet on their being a God and there is in fact a God you gain eternal happiness. If you are wrong then you loose nothing.

The only logical bet is to bet on God. The logic behind this argument is strong but I never thought this argument was convincing for a couple of reasons.

1. The faith is not a saving faith motivated by love but only a cover your butt type of faith. This isn't a huge problem because in reality we probably all start our faith here and at least it gets us searching and listening for God to knock on the door.

2. The whole thing seems conniving and self-centered.

3. It does not really inspire people to change because the argument is based on a low self-centered motive.

4. It does not show what God to bet on.

But there is an angle that satisfies at least some of the weakness I found in the argument. There is an argument that has its core in Pascal's wager but is based on the higher and more altruistic motive of justice. If there is a God, justice demands total faith, love, hope, obedience and worship. If we do not worship and there is a God then we commit an infinite injustice against an infinite being. The only way to be just is if we worship. To be infinitely unjust, is to not worship.

Journal Question: You Da Man!

Today’s confirmation class question was, what Old Testament figure do you like the most and why?

I personally like the prophet Nathan because he used what I would call indirect apologetics to correct David. Here is the example that I am thinking of:

The LORD sent Nathan to David, and when he came to him, he said: "Judge this case for me! In a certain town there were two men, one rich, the other poor. The rich man had flocks and herds in great numbers. But the poor man had nothing at all except one little ewe lamb that he had bought. He nourished her, and she grew up with him and his children. She shared the little food he had and drank from his cup and slept in his bosom. She was like a daughter to him.

Now, the rich man received a visitor, but he would not take from his own flocks and herds to prepare a meal for the wayfarer who had come to him. Instead he took the poor man's ewe lamb and made a meal of it for his visitor."

David grew very angry with that man and said to Nathan: "As the LORD lives, the man who has done this merits death!

He shall restore the ewe lamb fourfold because he has done this and has had no pity."

Then Nathan said to David: "You are the man! (2 Samuel 12:1-9)

If you don't understand what Nathan is talking about go read 2 Samuel 11

A Problem of Language?

Our ancestors tended to personify objects. At least this is my impression of our ancestors. Ships were referred to as women. St. Francis would be a prime example. He made poems about brother sun and sister moon. He preached to birds and admonished wolves. Our current culture seems to go the other extreme. It views things as mere objects or machines. Even other people are viewed in the context of what can it do for me. Here is a quote that I think is insightful:
...but the same problem applies to most of the technological changes we embrace and many of the material and spatial ones. The gains are simple and we know the adjectives: convenient, efficient, safe, fast, predictable, productive. All good things for a machine, but lost in the list is the language to argue that we are not machines and our lives include all sorts of subtleties—epiphanies, alliances, associations, meanings, purposes, pleasures—that engineers cannot design, factories cannot build, computers cannot measure, and marketers will not sell. What we cannot describe vanishes into the ether, and so what begins as a problem of language ends as one of the broadest tragedies of our lives. (by Rebecca Solnit)
So the question that comes to my mind is, why didn't our ancestor's have this problem of language? Or could it be because the concepts of sacred, soul, sin, and sacrifice were not then viewed as outmoded?

An Apologetist's Anthem

Well I wont back down, no I wont back down
You can stand me up at the gates of hell
But I wont back down

Gonna stand my ground, wont be turned around
And Ill keep this world from draggin me down
Gonna stand my ground and I wont back down

Hey baby, there aint no easy way out
Hey I will stand my ground
And I wont back down.

Well I know whats right, I got just one life
In a world that keeps on pushin me around
But Ill stand my ground and I wont back down (Tom Petty - I Won't Back Down)

Paris Hilton's Wager

Pascal’s wager is a well known argument that it is rational to bet on God because there is no possible payout with atheism. That is, until now. Paris Hilton has placed her bet on Cryonics. That is, she is going to have her body frozen and stored in liquid nitrogen in the hope that science will one day find a way to bring her back to life. What a great incentive for the people of the future to solve the problem of death. I sleep better at night knowing that the future has this going for it.

Paris Hilton wants to be frozen with her beloved pets when she dies.

The hotel heiress is keen to live forever and has invested a large sum of money in the world's biggest suspended animation cemetery, Cryonics Institute.

She wants her body to be preserved and then brought back to life, along with her favourite pets, including her famous Chihuahua Tinkerbell and new mutt, Yorkshire Terrier Cinderella.

'The Simple Life' star said: "It's so cool. Almost all the cells in the body are still alive when death is pronounced.

"And if you're immediately cooled, you can be perfectly preserved.

"My life could be extended by hundreds and thousands of years."

Earlier this week, Paris revealed her partying lifestyle left her feeling "empty inside". Link

Saturday, October 20, 2007

Abortion and Social Justice

My sister sent me this link. The article explains why this issue is so important from the point of view of social justice.

3. A third factor separating abortion from other justice issues is its legal status. Unlike other instances of massive killing of human life, like terrorism or serial killing, which stand clearly outside the law in advanced nations, abortion enjoys legal sanction. Pope John Paul wrote of the novelty of such “scientifically and systematically programmed threats” (“Evangelium Vitae,” No. 17).
4. A fourth distinguishing aspect of abortion is its arbitrary division of human beings into those worthy of life and those unworthy. Abortion deals not with the random killing of unrelated individuals, but with the circumscription of an entire class of human beings (the unborn) as non-persons, excluded from the basic rights and protections accorded to all other human beings.
If human dignity depends on anything other than simple membership in the human race — be it intelligence, athletic ability, social status, race, age, or health — we immediately find ourselves having to distinguish between persons who count and those who don’t.
5. Abortion even distinguishes itself from related questions of medical ethics, such as euthanasia and assisted suicide, by the absence of any possibility of informed consent. The status of the unborn as voiceless and most vulnerable adds a further dimension to discussions of the morality and gravity of abortion. Here the bioethical category of “autonomy” cannot be applied, since unborn children have no way of speaking for themselves.
6. Finally, abortion differs from other major social ills such as unemployment and divorce because of its relative invisibility. Abortion takes place behind closed doors, and is hushed in public. As in the case of slavery, ending the social injustice of abortion relies mainly on the courage and willingness of persons and institutions not directly involved in abortion to speak out. Rev. Thomas D. Williams, L.C.

Horror Movies and Indirect Apologetics

Fr. Erik Richtsteig, a priest that I personally know and love was recently on The Journey Home. It is an interesting show and can be seen here. Father Eric was born into a Mormon family and his conversion from Mormonism to the Catholic faith is the main focus of the show. An interesting aspect of Father Eric’s conversion was what I would consider a type of indirect apologetics. He talks about how the classic old time horror movies influenced him towards the Catholic Church. He explained that these movies always showed the reality of good and evil and that it was the priest with his crucifix that scared Dracula.

Fr. Erik has his own blog this is always fun to read. Orthometer

Friday, October 19, 2007

The Aged Lover

I LOATHE that I did love,
In youth that I thought sweet,
As time requires for my behove,
Methinks they are not meet.

My lusts they do me leave,
My fancies all be fled,
And tract of time begins to weave
Gray hairs upon my head.

For age with stealing steps
Hath clawed me with his crutch,
And lusty life away she leaps
As there had been none such.

My Muse doth not delight
Me as she did before;
My hand and pen are not in plight,
As they have been of yore.

For reason me denies
This youthly idle rhyme;
And day by day to me she cries,
``Leave off these toys in time.''

The wrinkles in my brow,
The furrows in my face,
Say, limping age will lodge him now
Where youth must give him place.

The harbinger of death,
To me I see him ride,
The cough, the cold, the gasping breath
Doth bid me to provide

A pickaxe and a spade,
And eke a shrouding sheet,
A house of clay for to be made
For such a guest most meet.

Methinks I hear the clark
That knolls the careful knell,
And bids me leave my woeful wark,
Ere nature me compel.

My keepers knit the knot
That youth did laugh to scorn,
Of me that clean shall be forgot
As I had not been born.

Thus must I youth give up,
Whose badge I long did wear;
To them I yield the wanton cup
That better may it bear.

Lo, here the bared skull,
By whose bald sign I know
That stooping age away shall pull
Which youthful years did sow.

For beauty with her band
These crooked cares hath wrought,
And shipped me into the land
From whence I first was brought.

And ye that bide behind,
Have ye none other trust:
As ye of clay were cast by kind,
So shall ye waste to dust. (Thomas Lord Vaux "The Aged Lover")
What does this poem have to do with Catholic indirect apologetics?

Our culture tries to deny the reality of aging which is really an attempt to escape the reality of death. The fact is that we all have a terminal illness. We are all going to die but there is good news. Christ concurred death and made death a new birth into eternal life. To someone who is unable to face the reality of death this is not good news but non-news. This poem faces the reality of aging and death.

G K Chesterton "A Ballade of Suicide"

The gallows in my garden, people say,
Is new and neat and adequately tall;
I tie the noose on in a knowing way
As one that knots his necktie for a ball;
But just as all the neighbours on the wall
Are drawing a long breath to shout "Hurray!"
The strangest whim has seized me. . . After all
I think I will not hang myself to-day.

To-morrow is the time I get my pay
My uncle's sword is hanging in the hall
I see a little cloud all pink and grey
Perhaps the rector's mother will NOT call
I fancy that I heard from Mr. Gall
That mushrooms could be cooked another way
I never read the works of Juvenal
I think I will not hang myself to-day.

The world will have another washing-day;
The decadents decay; the pedants pall;
And H.G. Wells has found that children play,
And Bernard Shaw discovered that they squall;
Rationalists are growing rational
And through thick woods one finds a stream astray,
So secret that the very sky seems small
I think I will not hang myself to-day.(G K Chesterton "A Ballade of Suicide")

(Hat tip The Blue Boar)

What does this poem have to do with Catholic indirect apologetics?

Chesterton uses some humor in this poem to affirm that even a new way to cook mushrooms is a reason that life is worth living. Life is good. Modern man, with all his comforts and possessions seems to have a problem with suicide which is really a problem with finding meaning in life.

Thursday, October 18, 2007


... I coined the word 'eucatastrophe': the sudden happy turn in a story which pierces you with a joy that brings tears (which I argued it is the highest function of fairy-stories to produce). And I was there led to the view that it produces its peculiar effect because it is a sudden glimpse of Truth, your whole nature chained in material cause and effect, the chain of death, feels a sudden relief as if a major limb out of joint had suddenly snapped back. It perceives – if the story has literary 'truth' on the second plane (....) – that this is indeed how things really do work in the Great World for which our nature is made. And I concluded by saying that the Resurrection was the greatest 'eucatastrophe' possible in the greatest Fairy Story – and produces that essential emotion: Christian joy which produces tears because it is qualitatively so like sorrow, because it comes from those places where Joy and Sorrow are at one, reconciled, as selfishness and altruism are lost in Love. - The Letters of J.R.R. Tolkien, # 89 (7-8 November 1944).

10 Typing Monkeys to the exponent power of 700

I found this article from Catholic Educator's Resource and I think it is interesting.

Stephen Hawking in his A Brief History Of Time taught the world that given enough time, monkeys hammering away on typewriters could type out a Shakespeare sonnet.
Let's consider a grab bag with the 26 letters of the English language in it. I reach into the bag blindfolded and pull out a letter. The likelihood that it will be 's' for the first letter of the sonnet is one chance in 26. The likelihood that in two draws I will get an 's' and then an 'h' is one chance in 26 times 26. And so on for the 500 letters. Neglecting spaces between the words, the chance of getting the entire sonnet by chance is 26 multiplied by itself 500 times. That number comes out to be a one with 700 zeroes after it. In conventional math terms, it is 10 to the exponent power of 700.

To give a sense of scale for reference, the known universe including dark matter and black energy weighs in the order of 10 to the power 56 grams; the number of basic particles [protons, neutrons, electrons, mesons] in the known universe is 10 to the power 80; the age of the universe from our perspective of time, 10 to the power 18 seconds. Convert all the universe into micro-computers each weighing a billionth of a gram and run each of those computers billions of times a second non-stop from the beginning of time and we still will need greater than 10 to the power 500 universes, or that much more time for even a remote probability of getting a sonnet; any meaningful sonnet. Chance does not produce intelligible text and certainly not a sonnet, not in our universe. (Gerald Schoeder, When Pigs Fly and Monkeys Type)

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Cuz it ain’t over tell Jesus returns

Well yesterday in my confirmation class we did the big picture view of salvation history. I showed them some of the basic covenants that God has made in history to bring humanity back to him. My journal question to them was what part did they now play in salvation history? They told me that this was a lot like the question, “What is your purpose?” but I told them that in this context that they would give me more profound answers related to their oath towards Christ. I told them that the story is not over and that the book of Acts was not really completed because the story is still going. When the story is finally told what part will you play in Salvation history?

Materialism's search for Magic

At times materialist's will make the charge that religion is just a belief in magic. To say that the human mind is non-material, in this view, is the same as believing in pixie dust. The ironic thing is that religion is what stops me from believing in magic and is what the materialist is in fact searching for. Let me quote C.S. Lewis to make this point.

There is something which unites magic and applied science while separating both from the wisdom of earlier ages. For the wise men of old the cardinal problem had been how to conform the soul to reality, and the solution had been knowledge, self-discipline, and virtue. For magic and applied science alike the problem is how to subdue reality to the wishes of men: the solution is a technique. (The Abolition of Man)

Materialist Philosophy

The major problem with this restrictionist philosophical method is that you end up being a Procrustes. Focusing on one part of the data at the exclusion of other parts means that you end up with a half truth. The cost/benefit is this, the more object knowledge you have the less subject knowledge, the more analysis the less syntheses, the more quality the less quantity.

For example, you can reduce music down to its objective elements. You can say that this song has this frequency and then this one and then the next. But by doing this you kill the existential aspect of the song. The subjective element is what makes music, music.

Soren Kiekegaard talked about how the more objective a fact is the less existential personal relevance the fact has and vise versa. The fact that 2+2=4 is highly objective but it has little meaning to me on an existential level on the other extreme my eternal salvation has a lot of existential importance to me but it is unprovable. A philosopher to sacrificing the intuitive (existential data) comes at too high of a cost. A philosopher is a lover of wisdom, as such a philosopher needs not to look for a wisdom to serve him/her but a wisdom to serve. The truths found by a restrictionist philosophical method are below man and are not worthy to serve. Link

Faith in Cutting Your Roots

There is much to be said for the claim that modernity is a kind of faith that depends on the very faith it had rejected. link

Faith in "promissory materialism"

But the materialists have two problems. Their certainty of victory is, for the moment, a leap of faith. There is no clear scientific consensus on how the brain produces the higher functions we call being human. And, second, the great mystery, the ultimate hard question, remains: How does matter produce mind, how can it? Irrespective of religious belief, immaterialism cannot easily be dismissed. What is the nature of what I am thinking and feeling now? To tell me that it is all a by-product of my brain is to tell me nothing. What I am is at least as real as the chair I am sitting on, and what I am seems to be immaterial.

Hard scientists and militant atheists tend to dismiss this as spilt religion or philosophical hair-splitting, a futile pursuit of an artifact of language. But all serious thinkers understand the problem. Most, however, will fall back on what the philosopher of science Karl Popper called "promissory materialism." We will, one day, find the material answers because, in essence, we must. There simply cannot be anything other than matter. Bryan Appleyard book review

Tuesday, October 09, 2007

Dreaming of Systems

Why should men love the Church? Why should they love her laws?
She tells them of Life and Death, and of all that they would forget.
She is tender where they would be hard, and hard where they like to be soft.
She tells them of Evil and Sin, and other unpleasant facts.
They constantly try to escape
From the darkness outside and within
By dreaming of systems so perfect that no one will need to be good.
But the man that is will shadow
The man that pretends to be.

–T. S. Eliot, “Choruses from ‘The Rock’”

Thursday, October 04, 2007

Rationalism and Fundamentalism are Mirror Images

I got this graph from this blog. I think this is a very interesting concept by Soren Kiekegaard. The graph shows an inverse correlation between certainty and personal importance. A quote from the blog explaining the graph...

On one extreme you have the facts of logic and mathematics; ultimately provable and objective, but not at all important to me as an individual existing human being. This is the realm of logic. On the other extreme is my eternal happiness; ultimately important to me, but not at all provable or objective. This is the realm of faith. (In the middle lie facts of science and history, childhood memories, and whether my wife loves me.) Link

I think this concept relates to rationalism. Rationalism tends to cut off or reduce the existential side of human life because it is uncertain. They are really acting like Christian fundamentalist who ignore science but they are its mirror image. They reject faith instead of science but both parts are true and important.

Nazi’s, Jews, and Catholics

The Catholic Church often gets slammed for not speaking out against Nazism during World War II. History is never as black and white as popular cultures likes to think. The Catholic Church did try to stay neutral during World War II. The Vatican was surrounded by Nazi allies and to choose sides would have made it a target. There was three options that the Church had. The Church could, 1. Choose sides and speak out against Nazism and be shut down and likely sent to concentration camps. 2. Take an official stance of neutrality but work behind the seen to help the Jews. 3. Do nothing and risk nothing.

So what would have happened if the Church would have taken option # 1 and publicly condemning Nazism? I don’t know if it would have saved a lot of Jews. The Vatican spoke out against the current American war in Iraq and this did not seem to impede the war. I find it unlikely that the Nazi’s would have shut down the furnaces of Auschwitz because the Catholic church condemned what they were doing. I do believe that this is the position that Christ himself would have chosen though. This would have been a hard cross to bare when it’s your own women and children being lead to the concentration camps. (3000 Catholic Priest were killed by the Nazis) If I was Pope during that time, and I’m glad I’m not, I don’t know if I could have chosen this hard road. I don’t think I would have the strength.

I believe that option # 2 is what the Catholic Church did. If you look for where the Catholic Church acted to try to help the Jews you will find some really admirable acts by the Catholic Church. (see this Jewish perspective) If your question is where did the Catholic Church failed to act, you will find plenty as well (another Jewish perspective).

If you look at option #3 it is really hard to say that this is what the Catholic Church did. The truth is that the Catholic did act and it did take risks to help the Jews although it could have acted more. Popular culture likes to believe that the Catholic Church did not act at all and this is simply untrue (as the first link above shows)

Wednesday, October 03, 2007

Apologetics Sabotaged

I had a discussion last week were I made some good arguments but I sabotaged them. At the end of my arguments I made a joke. I told the person the following...

The rest of what you wrote sounds like you're pulling numbers out of your arse. The last sentence should be read in your best Norse tribesfolk accent.

And this was his response....

Cure of Ars, I should prefer it if you no longer commented on my posts. There may be a place on Overcoming Bias for Catholics; but none for those who despise math they don't understand. Link

I originally was going to say that he was pulling numbers out of thin air. But instead, I went with a smart ass remark. This did a couple of things that were counterproductive.

1. The person did not have to focus on my arguments. He was able to exclusively focus on my smart ass remark.

2. A joke like this just makes someone defensive, in affect, putting more between himself and the truth. Apologetics is supposed to take away barriers not make them.

3. This gave the person the justification to ask me not to comment on his posts anymore.

On a personal level, I learned that I have a big ego. I need to become more humble if I am going to be a good apologist. So the question then becomes how do you become humble? I don’t think beating myself up or feeling sorry for myself is going to do the trick. I decided to do two things. I have decided to go to confession more often. Every Saturday I will be in the confessional at 4:00. I personally do not enjoy confession (hurts my ego) but it is the sacrament that I feel the most spiritual consolation afterwards. I also decided that I was going to increase the amount of time that I pray. Every night I will say a rosary. I am writing this, in part, so that I have a public commitment to do this. It’s now out there so no backing out.

Genital Mutilation: A White Wedding

I have had debates with people who believe that there is no objective morality and that no one culture is superior to any other culture. Slavery has been the example I have used to show why this is untrue. A culture that holds the intrinsic dignity of all humans is superior to a culture that enslaves a portion its population. This is really the ABC’s of morality. I think in the future I am going to give the follow as another example.

genital mutilation a white wedding

To me this shows how you have to be disingenuous towards your own integrity to really hold this view.

Monday, October 01, 2007

Journal Question (3)

Today’s Conformation class question is the following, “Why did God make you...what is your purpose?”

It was a good class today. We had a lot of discussion. Their answers to the journal question ranged from playing video games to making this world less boring.

I gave them the text book answer of to know, love, and serve God in this life and the next. I also gave the specific of how this plays out in my own life. I need to go shopping with my wife or I would go into details.