Tuesday, December 18, 2012

If God is real, why is there no evidence for Him?

Q. If God is real, why is there no evidence?

A.  I suppose it depends on what kind of evidence you are looking for. 

A lot of people demand physical, empirical evidence for God.  But God Himself is not physical.  By his nature, he cannot be measured.  And empirical science can only deal with that which can be measured.  Philosophically, God is "existence", and so asking the question "What is the evidence for God's existence" is somewhat like asking the question "What is the evidence for existences existence."

I also do not actually think that there is irrefutable evidence for the existence of God.  Any evidence I could present, someone could say 'yes, but...'.  Christians believe that god is like this deliberately, that God for some reason wants people to have faith in Him, and trust what they do not see.  In deed, Jesus makes a really big deal out of faith, doing works for people with faith, not doing them for people who don't have it, scolding people who don't have it, praising those who do.  For some reason Jesus never made it plainly and irrefutably obvious to everyone that he was the Messiah.  I suspect that that reason is in keeping with why God does not reveal himself in a way that could not be rejected.

That said, I think there is plenty of evidence for the existence of God.  I think it is suspect that the evidence for God is routinely thrown out by those who would deny his existence.

I will start with the weaker evidence to my mind;

I will skip over the whole argument from beauty thing.  I think that arguing that God exists on the basis that there is so much beauty in the world begs the question why is there so much ugliness?

Argument from design-  young earth creationists in particular seem to like this one.  They will point to extraordinary animals; turtles with built in compasses, beetles with explosive compounds in their abdomens, giraffes with an intricate series of valves to allow blood to flow up and down it's neck according to need, wood peckers with tongues that begin by going down their throat, up around their brain, through a nostril, and out their beak... etc.  The argument goes that these animals have irreducibly complex systems-  systems that would fail if not all there at once so cannot be explained by the mechanism of evolution by natural selection.  Microbiologists (notably Michael Behe) will point to the nature of the cell, of blood clotting, of flagellum, and point to the same logic of irreducibly complex systems.   Physicists will describe the laws governing our universe, and the fact that if any of these laws were adjusted by the slightest degree, life would be impossible.  And so they argue "Therefore there must have been an intelligent designer."

But the counterargument comes quickly that if conditions were not just so, there could be no one to ask the question, therefore they must have been so.  And they propose the idea of a multi verse, wherein different universes are potentially popping in and out of existence, and we naturally live in the one suitable for life.  In the end they tend to accuse us of believing in the "God of the gaps".  They suggest that we believe in God simply because we have questions that cannot be answered by science yet, and we assume that they never will be.  Then you get guys like Richard Dawkins who paint Christians as believing in God simply to explain the universe.

I think the 'unanswered questions' argument is fair, but I think it goes both ways.  If we cannot allow for unanswered and seemingly unanswerable questions about science to be evidence for the existence of God, I would challenge that unanswered and seemingly unanswerable questions about God are not evidence against.  Why doesn't God heal amputees? I don't know, but this does not mean He does not exist.   In fact, I would expect that if God were real, there would be things about Him that we could not understand.  If a religion successfully answered every question, I would suspect that it was man made.

Argument from Morality-  I've already exhausted this one in previous posts.  Much of morality, notably sexual morality and the concept of human rights-  depends on the idea that humans have a dignity above that of animals. Catholics argue that morals are intrinsic-  in something called 'natural law', and I think this is demonstrated clearly by the morals of non Christians.  But for Catholics our morals are based in something and are consistent-  atheists are left with the uncomfortable position that morals are subjective and decided democratically.

Argument from History- I would like to suggest that scripture is itself a type of evidence of the existence of God.  It is interesting how the Bible gets treated by those who doubt it.  They say "what evidence was there for the existence of Jesus outside of the Bible?".  And Christians tend to say something about Flavius Jospehus, a Jewish historian who made a very vague and unimpressive reference to Jesus.  But why would we reject scripture as historical documents?  Unlike most historical documents, scriptures have been painstakingly copied and preserved for centuries.  Many of the scriptures- Gospel of John, letters of Paul, Acts- claim to be written by people with first hand knowledge of what they are speaking about.  Others- Gospel of Luke- claim to be well researched.  I would like to suggest that scriptures are rejected as historical documents on the grounds that we reject their conclusions, therefore we cannot accept the documents.  I think rather we should treat them like historical documents, and recognize that this is a form of evidence which should be admissible.

Perhaps the most convincing argument from history is the sudden emergence of the Christian movement 2000 years ago wherein people were killed for making the claim that Jesus rose from the dead. 

Argument from miracles-  At the moment, this is the argument I find most compelling.  That's because miracles- at least the ones I refer to- are scientifically verifiable, and therefore provide the opportunity to disprove Catholicism, and yet they stand up to scrutiny!  In my discussions with atheists, I keep hearing this argument regarding miracles;  "Miracles are by definition impossible. If you rule out the impossible solutions, then whatever remains, however improbable, must be true.  For every miracle there is other possible, though improbable, explanations. We must accept that explanation, and reject the miraculous one."  In other words  "Miracles are impossible, therefore miracles are impossible."

It is remarkable to me that I keep coming across this line of thinking again and again.  I suspect that someone must be teaching it, because so many atheists seem to come to the same conclusion independently.  If what we are discussing is whether miracles are possible, we cannot allow for a premise 'miracles are impossible.'  I even had an atheist argue that Padre Pio's stigmata was not a miracle, because it could have been faked, or it could have been that 'contrary to the laws of nature, holes grew in his hands and in his feet in a way the emulates a crucified man.'  Although that is extremely unlikely, an extremeliy unlikely thing is more likely than an impossible thing, therefore it must be the true explanation.

A parallel is drawn to believing in UFO's based on what evidence is presented, despite the fact that it is extremely unlikely that if intelligent alien life did exist it would be able to visit earth, and would focus all it's attention on Americans.

So let's all agree that the idea of alien life forms coming to earth is extremely unlikely, to such a degree that we would sooner dismiss all claims as being those of lunatics or liars or people with faulty memory.   But supposing they produced evidence-  say they produced a spacecraft with technology hitherto unknown on earth, that could do things that even the American military, though they could duplicate, could only do so with great difficulty.  And let’s say there were some elements that they could not quite duplicate, but could make a fairly close replica of.   From that evidence, which can be scientifically tested, we would have to eliminate the lunatic and liar theories, and develop some others.  I think the reasonable theories to consider would be.

1.       This is an alien spacecraft

2.       This craft was designed by another country (Russia) or secret agency and was not meant to be discovered.

3.       The person holding the technology created an extremely elaborate hoax.
Now supposing the CIA and FBI and foreign intelligence agencies whatever scientific communities have a stake in it all claim to have no knowledge of where the thing came from or how it was made.

I would offer to you that this would be substantial evidence for the idea of aliens.  Not proof- but admissible evidence.  No longer could we assume that aliens don’t exist (or at least don’t travel to Earth), I think we would have to re-examine our biases.
I would argue that the substantial evidence for Catholicism is of that nature!  Not only that, but we have corroborating evidence!  Say in the alien example that we then found a ‘spacesuit’ which would not fit a human, is made of unknown materials, and is very difficult to duplicate, but is found 1000’s of kilometers, say in another country, from the craft find.  Add to this the ‘testimony’ of an eyewitness who says there was an alien in it, who stripped for a dip in the lake, and they stole it.  Then you find that the dimensions of the suit are compatible with the dimensions of the craft. And a photo on the spacecraft mantle depicts an alien wearing that very suit.

Shall we conclude that we have not only a hoax, but a conspiracy of hoaxes?
The Shroud of Turin, taken alone, is that kind of evidence.  So is Our Lady of Guadalupe.  The shroud can be duplicated-  with great difficulty and some level of inaccuracy.  Our Lady of Guadalupe, to my knowledge, cannot be duplicated.  Add to this Lanciano, incorruptibles, exorcisms, Marian apparitions, the confirmed miracles at Lourdes, stigmatists, and 2 scientifically verified miracles for every canonized saint. And they all point to the same consistent reality.  

The Church has had to rule on the subject, and has its own reputation to uphold which would be dubious if it ever claimed a hoax to be authentic.  Note it has not ruled on the Shroud, but did declare Padre Pio a saint.  If Padre Pio can be demonstrated to be a fraudster, then we will know for certain that the Church is wrong!  The Church cannot afford those risks… and so requires a certain level of scrutiny before authenticating something.  So the very fact that the Church would examine a miracle like Pio's stigmata, and still feel compelled to stake it's reputation on canonizing him, is itself an indication of the strength of the evidence.

If the Church were faking her miracles, or they were just fortunate coincidences, I would expect  to find such fortunate coincidences in other religions as well.  (When I've used this argument, people tend to say 'yeah, well there's miracles in other religions.'  So far I have not found a any compelling ones, and I've looked.  I'm open to suggestions.)
Conclusion-  I return then to my original point, which is this-  There is plenty of evidence for God, even a remarkable amount.  I submit that the tendency to reject the evidence outright usually demonstrates that we are using our conclusion as a premise.  It is my opinion that the evidence strongly points to the conclusion that Catholicism is correct, even if it leaves some questions unanswered.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Is it possible for Christians to behave Morally?

I recently posted an article entitled "Is it possible for Non Christians to behave morally?"  Honestly at the time that I wrote it I thought that I would get explanations for foundations of ethics outside of Christianity and the logic of human dignity-  but I didn't!  I did however get one very interesting response, which included a link to this video-  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cumCZ4bAXZA.  In it, Christopher Hitchens (who was among the most respected and vocal advocates of atheism until his recent death) argues that it is in fact impossible for Christians to behave morally.  As usual, Hitchens communicates his points articulately and with a gravity and courtesy which demand respect.  He makes some very compelling arguments, some of which I have already discussed in "Why Catholics are right."  (Interestingly, the video contains a link to the original whole debate, but that link has been severed, so we only get one side of the argument).

However, I found that many of Hitchens' arguments-  in fact, almost all of them, are based on false understandings of Christianity.  Now Hitchens is an extremely intelligent man, and very well informed, so to make such a bold and sweeping statement may seem unfair.  But I think that a cursory examination of the ideas he assumes are Christian beliefs will quickly demonstrate my point.

I have found in my discussions with atheists that invariably when they raise an argument against Christianity, it is against fundamentalism, and not against Christianity as I understand it as a Catholic.  Maybe this is because the fundamentalists are the most vocal Christians, certainly here and in the United States and the UK.  The difficulty is that I disagree with fundamentalists often for the same reasons as the atheists, and can usually offer more reasons to boot!  Within Hitchens' errors most of them fall into that category, but not all.  In this article I intend to explain the Catholic viewpoint as best I understand it.  I do not intend to defend what other Christians believe, or what Hitchens thinks they believe.

The first error I came across is in Hitchens' understanding of redemption by Christ.  There is a very simplistic way of explaining why Jesus' sacrifice is atoning for our sins, and that is the courtroom analogy.  This works great for explaining the concept to teens and to new converts,  but actually what Catholics understand about the nature of Christs redeeming act is much more profound.  At least as far back as St Anselm (1033-1109) Catholics have been articulating why this explanation is insufficient.  I won't get into it all here, except to say that the scapegoat analogy is incomplete, and so the arguments Hitchens has with Jesus redemption are incomplete.  There are 2 major points that stand out to me.  One is that we do not cast our sins upon Christ, but rather He takes them on Himself.  We could not have sacrificed just any human, and indeed the sacrifice of Christ would not have worked if we had tried to make it work rather than Him taking it on Himself.  Secondly, sacrificing any other human would not have done it, and this is precisely why the sacrifice of Christ can carry with it the forgiveness of sins.  Hitchens argues that even if he could take on someone else's punishment, he could never forgive them their sins.  Of course not!  Hitchens is not God.  Jesus is.  The fact that Jesus claimed to forgive sins in his life, and passed that authority on to his apostles, is one of the most outlandish claims possible.  No one but God can do that.  And God forgiving us of our sins does not take away our responsibility for them, as Hitchens suggests.  In fact I would propose that the Christian view holds that we are much more responsible for our sins than a secular view would.  I suspect that this is in part why we ought to fear God, and if we had the slightest grasp of the immensity of our sins it would only serve to increase our aprecaition that he forgives them!

"If I do right it is only to evade punishment".  I highly, highly doubt that you would find a mature Christian that would agree to that summary of Christian morality!  In fact, this is largely the mentality that St Paul was arguing against when he spoke of 'freedom from the law'.  It is difficult to take on errors of such magnitude within a short blog entry, as I have to explain every background idea.  The concept in Christianity is that we have been created good and have been corrupted, and are being restored to our original state by submission to Gods will.  It is not legalistic like the Jews or Muslims.  The process is called Sanctification in the west, Deification in the East.  We were made in the likeness of God and are being restored to it.  And the likeness of God, his nature, is love.  So being sanctified is being restored to love!  Once restored to our original state, we will not even desire sin!  When Jesus speaks of freedom from the law, it is because if I do not desire to murder, than I have no need of the law "thou shalt not murder."  If I have no desire to lust, I don't need the laws regulating sex. It is ridiculous to think that the only reason Christians do not murder if for fear of punishment.  It is also ridiculous to think that the only reason Mother Teresa did what she did was for fear of punishment.  The doctors of the Church repeatedly taught that this servile fear stage is one of the first ones Christians go through, sometimes necessary at the start.  But if you remain in that stage, you will always be choosing good for selfish reasons, which is in fact sin and would frustrate your process of sanctification!

Hitchens also fails to understand the nature of the punishment of Hell.  He speaks of worldly punishments, which as he said 'somtimes follow axiomatically', but he does not realize that Hell follows selfishness axiomatically as well.  God does not send us to Hell, we effectively choose it out of selfishness! (Some of these arguments are so often stated elsewhere that it feels redundant to even bring them up.  I am not bringing anything new to the table, so surely Hitchens should have known better!)

 Hitchens complains about God's totalitarianism.  Why should we be forced to restore ourselves to sanctity-  we did not choose this state!  Why should we have to accept help from Christ.... we weren't there when he was crucified!  As if God were just another human setting up arbitrary laws.  I wonder if Hitchens thought it unjust that he was subject to the laws of physics, when these were not his own idea and he had no say in them?  The reality is for Christians that we are in need of redemption, and Christ gives us grace on the cross to receive it.  That's the starting point.  Arguing that it is not fair because you didn't choose it is like the child yelling at his mother "I didn't ask to be born!".    God wrote both the laws of physics and the laws of morality.  Through studying the laws of physics, we have come to the fascinating conclusion that in fact the universe would only produce life if the laws were as they are.  I suspect that if we accepted the laws of morality as they are rather than attempting to manufacture them we would discover the same principal applies! 

Hitchens argued that Christians think that we as humans have no innate sense of right and wrong, as if we did not know murder was wrong until we got to Sinai and received the 10 commandments.  It is hard to imagine where Hitchens even got that impression!  Christians have long held the principal of "Natural Law", which is precisely that we do have an innate sense of right and wrong. 

With humans being on the planet for 100,000 years, and Jesus only bothered to pop in for the last 2000-  that's his best argument, and I may one day dedicate a whole blog entry to it.  But again he fails to understand that Jesus redeeming act goes both ways, and that it is not necessary to know what Jesus did in order to benefit from it.  That latter notion is popular among fundamentalists and Jehovah's Witnesses but is not consistent with Catholic thinking. 

Lastly, he says that God fashioned us in filth and we are encouraged to be disgusted with our sexuality.  The former notion is held by Lutherans, and Calvinists, but not Catholics. As stated before, we believe that we are in the image of God an damaged by sin, but not disgusting. The latter notion is easily refuted by even a superficial examination of John Paul II's theology of the Body, that clearly Catholicism teaches that Sex is good and to be honoured, and that sexual ethics are routed in this notion, and not the one proposed by Hitchens.

In short, while I have no doubt that Hitchens would have handily defeated me in a live debate, most of his arguments against Christian Morality fall short when considered by someone who has an genuine understanding of Christian Morality. 

For people interested in going deeper into these ideas, I recommend the book "The Fulfillment of all Desire" by Ralph Martin.  It is not an apologetics book, but about maturing as a Christian and how the journey is explained by the doctors of the Church.