14

Finding Truth For a Living

Proof can be a big topic which can easily have you lost in the weeds whether talking about truth with a little “t” or Truth with a big “T”. Whenever I hear skeptics talk about no proof for the existence of God I’m intrigued, and often frustrated, because of what I do for a living.

I’m a technical manager for a very large multinational imaging company and we have a formal process for solving complex problems and making decisions. I’m trained and certified to both use the process and teach it to our techs and engineers. This was the impetus of a book I wrote called Faith with Good Reason, and believe it or not, it all relates back to the human soul.

We have an intellect and a will; we think and then we do. What we think relates to what we believe and what we believe relates to what we do. When our company is faced with a complex technical problem with a particular product or system our superiors are not really interested in our feelings about it, or debating theories or conducting thought experiments. They have two fundamental questions for us…”Why did it happen!?” and “What should we do!?” In other words…they want the truth and once clear about the truth, they want to act in accordance with that truth.

Lacking Evidence:

And so it happens that when trying to solve a problem, we face situations where empirical evidence we would very much like to have is either lacking or impossible to obtain. In fact, I don’t remember a single instance when we had all the evidence we wanted that could answer all the questions we had. Regardless, people still expect us to find the truth. I cannot say we are always 100% successful, but we never report back to our superiors that the root cause of a problem is “nothing,” or “random chance,” or just a “brute fact”. We also never say “Sorry, no way to know.” These kinds of answers are not answers at all and they are unacceptable to explain any observed effect, including the existence of the universe or our own being.

Instead, we have a way to move toward what is more reasonable and step away from what is less reasonable given the available data. This is not done via experimentation or trial and error because these kinds of activities tend to waste company resources. It’s done “on paper” at first to get buy-in that the company should spend the time and money to pursue our conclusion or next course of action.

People generally accept our conclusions. Why? Because accepting some things without complete proof is rational and responsible solely based on the reasoning. We have some skeptical engineers, techs and sales/marketing people at our company. If a technical person were to keep repeating, “I reject your conclusion because there is no proof that it is actually true and I will continue to work as if it were not,” he or she would not be employed with us for long (note that sales/marketing people will normally receive general absolution for this sin).

Of course, the most probable cause of a problem is ultimately proved-out to see if it is in fact the true cause. A decision will also prove itself out over time as a good or bad choice. In the spiritual life this “proving-out” or “moment of truth” relates to the end of our earthly life where the theological virtues of Faith and Hope are no longer needed for a soul in the presence of God. All that will remain is Love (see 1 Corinthians 13:13).

Data Rejection:

I get this same sense of “data rejection” as described above when conversing with skeptics about the existence of God. For example, click HERE for 20 arguments for the existence of God by the fabulous Dr. Peter Kreeft. I would say none of the 20 is absolute proof, but it is all “data” that points in a certain direction. If there are 20 arrows pointing a certain way, a skeptic will find a flaw with each one. This arrow is curved and therefore invalid; this one is bent and this one points in a slightly different direction. This one is so thick that we can’t say it is really an arrow and this one is too thin, and so on. Therefore, the skeptic will reject the conclusion because there is no proof that it is actually true and will continue to live as if it were not.

Incidentally, it can be the same type of thing conversing with non-Catholic Christians. No matter how many roads lead to Rome, a doubter will find ruts in each one, while at the same time ignoring the dead ends when they trace back their own faith tradition.

The following story may help illustrate the frustration when debating a skeptic…

A man and a skeptic are headed to a friend’s house on a dark and stormy night. Their friend is away on vacation and she needs someone to take care of her dog. As they enter the house the man flips the hallway light switch, but there is no light.

      Man:   The hallway lightbulb must be burnt-out.

Skeptic:   No, the storm has caused a power outage in the neighborhood. There is no power.

 

    Man:   Did you not notice the homes in the neighborhood with lights on inside as we drove up?

Skeptic:   Have you not heard of backup generators? That explains why their lights are on.

 

      Man:   But the digital clock on the microwave oven in the kitchen is lit with the correct time as usual.

Skeptic:   Modern clocks have backup batteries.

 

      Man:   I’ve never heard of a microwave clock with a backup battery.

Skeptic:   Well, there is obviously an alternate power supply for the microwave of some kind.

 

      Man:   I just opened the garage door to let the dog out. That needs power too.

Skeptic:   This house must have a backup generator like the neighbors do. This would also explain the clock working on the microwave. Maybe the generator company offered a neighborhood discount for group installations.

 

    Man:   If this house is running on a backup generator, why wouldn’t the hallway light turn on when we first came in?

Skeptic: The hallway lightbulb must be burnt-out.

 

      Man:   ?????!!!!!

Forest vs. Trees:

Note that in the story there is no absolute proof about what the truth really is. There are several things that can keep a light from lighting other than a burnt-out bulb or a power outage, but in my experience committed skeptics are ready and willing to study in great detail and pick apart any given tree, but not so ready or willing to see the forest. It’s almost as if some choose to get lost in the arcane details and want others to follow. The story also ends with the same hypothesis in which it beings. Many skeptics may conclude that certain things are undeniably true as Catholics do (like racism being wrong), but the source of that Truth must come from an internal system like the human mind (internal generator) and not an outside system like God (external generator).

Some very intelligent people think themselves into a corner that says “Everything comes from nothing for the purpose of nothing”. Strong objections to that statement then follow…“Not ‘nothing’, we just don’t know or there is no way to know” and/or “We make our own purpose!” Then I’ll add two words to the statement about intelligence. “Everything comes from nothing intelligent for no intended purpose.” At this, the honest atheist will often reluctantly agree as he sits in his intellectual corner, hugging his purposeless tree, blind to the surround forest.

 

“For if they so far succeeded in knowledge that they could speculate about the world how did they not more quickly find its Lord?” (Wisdom 13:9)

15

Salvation Is Not a Right

My last post spurred some interesting comments about human rights. One commenter in particular made an astute observation about three inalienable rights in terms of our temporal life.

  • The Right to Life: Relates to your future; lose your life and you lose your future.
  • The Right to Liberty: Relates to your present; lose your liberty and you lose your present.
  • The Right to Property: Relates to your past; lose your property (the fruit of your life and liberty) and you lose your past.

And in the end no one, other than God, can justly infringe upon these rights assuming there is no need to take your life or liberty in self-defense or as punishment, and that your property was justly acquired.

But aren’t terms like “life”, “liberty” and even “property” subject to interpretation and understanding? You’d think the right to life would be fairly straightforward, but for some, animals and trees have more right to be alive than humans who happen to be physically located in their mother’s womb. Along these same lines, a sense of entitlement can lead one to conclude that the right to an abortion is part of a woman’s “liberty” and that your property is not really yours, but actually communal property that can and should be distributed equally.

Kids and young adults might express this sense of entitlement more freely than older adults and this can all relate to how we view salvation. My confirmation students will sometimes say what many adults might often think. An example is when we discuss Original Sin in class. Objections to the dogma may go something like this…What’s the deal with Original Sin? Adam and Eve disobeyed, not me. I didn’t do anything, especially when I was a newborn baby, so why should I have to deal with all the ramifications of Original Sin? It’s not fair!!

The attitude above seems to imply that we are entitled to salvation; we have a right to the free gift of grace and eternal life with God. In contrast, St Paul spoke of salvation as more of a process “So then, my beloved…work out your salvation with fear and trembling.” (Philippians 2:12) “Work out” implies a process, and “fear and trembling” implies that it can be lost or never realized.

The following analogy seems to help clear things up in terms of Original Sin and not taking salvation for granted: Imagine your father was an impoverished man who befriended a billionaire long before you were born. They were such good friends that the billionaire made your dad heir to his fortune. One day your father betrayed the billionaire, so he removed him from his will, leaving him in his poverty. Years later your father met your mother and you were born. Eventually, you learned the story of friendship and betrayal between the billionaire and your father. You realize that you would have been next in line for the fortune if your father would have remained a faithful friend, so you say, “My father betrayed him, not me. I didn’t do anything, so why should I have to deal with this poverty. It’s not fair!! The fortune should still go to me.”

The reality is that you never had a claim to the fortune in the first place.

13

Conversing with Skeptics

You may have run into this yourself. If not, it’s at least good to be aware of it. When conversing with atheists and skeptics over the years, I’ve learned to be careful with three terms:

1) God:

The word “God” can be an overgeneralization; it means too many different things to too many different people. One may be thinking of a fairy in the sky or flying spaghetti monster (one thing among many). Another thinks of the ground of all being or being itself, or the one “unconditioned reality”, or perhaps…“Father”. I have been told that is inconsequential in discussing God’s existence, and I always object because thinking matters. What we think relates to what we believe and ultimately what we do. Two people may use the term “fetus”. One is thinking of a person in the earliest stage of life just as valid as any other stage (a person exists). Another is thinking of a non-person with no right to be alive (a person does not exist). The difference is life and death.

Another allegory I use is about two small fish in a vast ocean debating the existence of water. If one fish thinks of water as just another thing in the ocean (one thing among many), then the search for water would be basically the same as the search for a rock, a sunken ship or a swimming seaweed monster. The search strategy would be completely different if the thinking was different. In general we do not think about water being in the ocean. We are more apt to say the ocean is water.

2) Atheism:

Just as there are different kinds of “believers” there are different kinds of atheists. I’ve heard the term “weak atheist”, which to me is basically the same as a lazy agnostic. When pressed with some deliberate questioning, a lot of answers from the weak atheist are “don’t know/don’t care” or “no way to know.” A strong atheist is more “evangelical” and eager to prove their point. In general, if you push with some hard questions about The Good, The Beautiful and The True, you’ll quickly find out if you are dealing with a strong or weak atheist. Lately however, I prefer the term “skeptic” to cover all levels of atheism.

Beware that general topics about The Good, the Beautiful and The True can trigger many tangents about specific Church teachings, Church history, Church scandals and things in the Bible that are positioned as not so good or beautiful or true. Jumping into these topics right away with a skeptic is like debating the interior design of a house before the basic structure of the building is thoroughly considered. All of it is important, but the foundation comes first.

3) Evidence:

Some come off as self-proclaimed authorities on evidence. Only sensory/empirical/scientific data is valid evidence. Data from metaphysics, philosophy, witness testimony, inferences and other modes of reasoning are generally dismissed. This is contradictory because saying empirical data is the only valid way to prove something is a philosophical statement that cannot be proven empirically.

Besides the inherent contradiction, please note that everyone believes things they can’t prove…at least not empirically or via a scientific method. Every skeptic I’ve ever dialogued with was both pro-choice and pro-gay to some extent…if the topics ever happened to come up. Can you name the scientist that proved human life does not begin at conception, or the science that confirmed an unborn baby is actually a non-person? You can’t because there is no such scientist and there is no such science. There is no proof, yet people accept these things as dogma. Is homosexual behavior normal? What do we learn from biology and the design of certain body parts? What kind of behavior is ordered to the design and what kind of behavior is disordered to the design? What does the evidence tell us? I’m often reminded that homosexual behavior is observed in some animals, so this proves it is natural and therefore normal. I often need to remind others that some animals will also eat their young. When we look to animal behavior as a guide for human behavior the effect of original sin that dims the intellect is easy to see.

Conversing with skeptics can be very interesting if it’s done civilly, but it is regrettable how many scholars need to spend a lot of time showing how God exists rather than taking that time to help discern God’s revelation in the modern world. It’d be like continuously debating your own existence as opposed to discerning the best way to live. Years ago I too was a skeptic, but I made a decision to enter the faith experiment in the laboratory of my life. If I had not made that decision, I may have been permanently paralyzed by wrapping my own head around a metaphysical axle, as I see many others doing today. No wonder the end of the Bible seems to push us for a decision…

“I know your works; I know that you are neither cold nor hot. I wish you were either cold or hot. So, because you are lukewarm, neither hot nor cold, I will spit you out of my mouth.” (Rev 3:15-16)

Interesting Aside:

This article from the New York Post describes yesterday’s Texas shooter as a militant atheist. Not to pick on atheists, but if the shooter were militantly religious, I’d bet we’d all know about it quickly. If he were militantly Christian, we’d never hear the end of it.

 

 

Top photo by Deutsche Fotothek‎, CC BY-SA 3.0 de

https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=7937579

 

7

The Occult, R.E. and Me

A commenter on this blog linked an article in MarketWatch entitled Why millennials are ditching religion for witchcraft and astrology. The article was in a business website because of spiking sales among products claiming metaphysical benefits, but it still made some reasonable points about why the ditching is being done.

Summarizing briefly…

  • Young people are looking for a “reference point” to identify with and to place people and events into context.
  • They see the occult as a tangible way for them to take control of their lives when things like politics, economics and the environment seem too big to change
  • There is a “meaning gap”. They might go from work to a bar to dinner and a date with no semblance of meaning. The occult gives the illusion of a way out and a way of putting yourself within the framework of history and the universe.

I get some sense of this fascination with the occult as a Confirmation Catechist. This is my seventh year in Religious Education (RE) and I can tell you it’s sometimes hard to get the attention of a bunch of thirteen-year-olds on a Saturday morning, but when relating the day’s lesson to anything involving the occult, I suddenly have their full attention. This works especially well around Halloween.

We might have some discussion about the origins of Halloween and then talk about All Saints Day and the Holy Day of Obligation, but I’ll also ask the kids what they think about trying to contact any random spirit that might be listening via a Ouija Board or Magic 8 Ball or other means…even if it’s just for fun. Some say nothing; some share an eerie experience they’ve had; some say it’s not such a good idea, but maybe that is said because that is what a catechist would want to hear.

Regardless of the answer we begin with a discussion about angels that goes something like this…The Church teaches that angels are real. They don’t have a body, but are like us in terms of having an intellect and a will, meaning they can think for themselves and then choose what they want to do. Some angels choose not to love and serve God; they are fallen angels, sometimes called “demons” or “evil spirits”.

Now suppose you are calling upon random spirits and one of these demons happens to be in the neighborhood. God or your guardian angel might normally protect you from such a thing, but you have chosen to open a portal via a personal invitation and the demon just might choose to accept the invite. Keep in mind that if an evil spirit hates God, and you are made in the image and likeness of God, then the demon naturally hates you, so you’d be in for rough time. The Church teaches that these things are real, so don’t mess with them! It’s also sinful because you are calling upon spirits instead of calling upon The Lord (see commandment #1).

Mentioning the Catholic Rite of Exorcism and reading to the kids from the Catechism can make it more official. “When the Church asks publicly and authoritatively in the name of Jesus Christ that a person or object be protected against the power of the Evil One and withdrawn from his dominion, it is called exorcism… The solemn exorcism, called “a major exorcism,” can be performed only by a priest and with the permission of the bishop… Exorcism is directed at the expulsion of demons or to the liberation from demonic possession through the spiritual authority which Jesus entrusted to his Church….” (CCC 1673)

I’ll also throw in a story or two written by Exorcist Fr. Gabriele Amorth for good measure:

“One day Father Candidio was expelling a demon. Toward the end of the exorcism, he turned to the evil spirit and sarcastically told him, ‘Get out of here. The Lord has already prepared a nice, well-heated house for you!’ At this, the demon answered, ‘You do not know anything! It wasn’t he [God] who made hell. It was us. He had not even thought about it.’”1

Funny how people poke fun at Catholics until they need an exorcist!

The book of Genesis can provide another teaching opportunity. The seven-day creation story is explained very well in the Great Adventure Bible Timeline during the early world sessions. Day six and day seven can be used to help explain the relationship between God and man and also what certain numbers might mean in an occult-ish sense.

The creation of both man and beast is on the same day; day six (see Genesis 1:24-31). Why is that? Isn’t man set apart from animals with a soul; made in the image & likeness of God? Why don’t we get our own special day?!? Consider this question in light of the 7th day. God blessed the 7th day and made it holy because he rested on that day (see Genesis 2:2-3). God does not need physical rest. The Sabbath day is for us. “The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath.” (Mark 2:27).

The beasts made with man on day six do not know or love God. How many people do we know who relate to God the same way an animal does? They do not know or love God, even though they were given the capacity. Although made on the same “day”, man is called to leave the beasts behind in day six and find “rest” with God in day seven. A relationship in which two parties can “rest” in one another can conjure up images of a comfortable, self-giving union. This may remind us of the Catholic ideal of marriage or the idea of “covenant”, as it should. This also relates to heaven, which is an eternal rest with God.

Finally, I remind my students that “thinking means connecting things”2:

    • The number 7 in scripture can represent fullness or completion.
    • The number 6 (1 less than 7) corresponds to evil or imperfection
    • The number 3 is also for completeness and perfection
    • So the number six three times (666) would represent something perfectly evil or …
    • The Number of the Beast!!! (see Rev 13:18)

So, will you choose to “rest” with God in day seven or remain with the beasts in day six? It’s up you. Just remember…these things are real!

 

  1. Fr. Gabriele Amorth, An Exorcist Tells His Story (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 1999), p.22
  2. G. K. Chesterton, Orthodoxy (New York: Doubleday, 2001), p. 31.
17

Who Are the Christianophobes?

If one were to ban a Muslim group from attending a new student orientation fair at any given college, because the presence of such a group would be alienating for students of other religions and constitute a micro-aggression, I’d suspect such a person might be called an Islamophobe.

If one were to also ban a Gay Rights group from attending the same event, because the presence of such a group would be alienating for students of other sexual orientations and would also constitute a micro-aggression, I’d suspect such a person might also be called a homophobe.

The same logic could apply to any African-American group, except “racist” would be the word of choice or perhaps “deplorable”.

All these examples might be akin to saying you and/or your belief system(s) are not welcome here and you will not be allowed to recruit new members. What if this happened to an atheist group? I’m sure it would get ugly, although the term “atheist-ophobe” doesn’t roll off the tongue.

For some, the logic doesn’t seem to flow so well when the group is a Christian group. When one of the Oxford Colleges banned members of the Christian Union from its freshers’ fair on the grounds that it would be alienating for students of other religions and constitute a “micro-aggression”, I don’t believe the media stormed the internet and airwaves with cries of …“Christianophobe!” In actuality I’d have to say the action by the organizer(s) constitutes more of a macro-aggression as opposed to only “micro”.

To add insult to injury, the organizer argued “Christianity’s historic use as ‘an excuse for homophobia and certain forms of neo-colonialism’ meant that students might feel ‘unwelcome’ in their new college if the Christian Union had a stall.” Imagine if that exact same quote was used referring to a Muslim group.

In the face of perhaps a new era of direct attacks on religious liberty, clear thinking about inclusion becomes especially imperative. Without clarity, the cloud of muddled thinking that billows from all the “inclusion via intolerance” is quickly turning Christianity into society’s second hand smoke. As a people we don’t kill or arrest smokers; we just shame them and make sure they are safely out of the way.

“Marginalizing Christianity from the public sphere is a sign, not of intelligence, but of fear. It is failing to see, through the dark clouds of prejudice, that society cannot help but benefit from Christianity.”

̶ Cardinal Angelo Bagnasco

 

Photo by Tor Lindstrand – SWEATworkshop04, CC BY-SA 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=34812092

2

Of Wind, Culture and Paper Airplanes

This is my first post for The American Catholic and I’d like to start with an excerpt from my book entitled Faith with Good Reason: Finding Truth Through an Analytical Lens; it’s a book about Catholic Faith and Reason in the language of analytical problem solving and decision making, but a bit more in-depth than something like Pascal’s Wager. In the book I relate some aspects of the Catholic faith (and reason) with my experience working for a global 500 company as Solution Development Manager (or Technical Product Manager and occasional complex problem solver).

Once such experience was when a consultant for our company spoke at one of our group meetings about wind, culture, and paper airplanes. Corporate culture might refer to the beliefs and behaviors that determine how a company’s employees and management interact with each other as well as with clients, vendors, consultants, etc. Culture can be subconscious, not clearly defined, and develops gradually over time from the cumulative traits of the people the company hires.

Imagine a paper airplane as a metaphor for an idea, methodology or policy ready to be launched within a company. Imagine the culture of the company as the wind. If there is no wind at all the plane will go anywhere you like with some effort, but there is almost always some wind. If the wind is strong to your back when you launch the plane it has no difficulty going a very long way with very little effort. A plane thrown across the wind may start out in the right direction, but eventually turn and go wherever the wind goes. Launch the same plane into a strong wind to your face and the result is disastrous.

The same goes with how Catholic teaching is viewed in the wind of a given culture. Some things fly rather well. The Church teaches that racism is wrong, that we should help those less fortunate than us, that it’s wrong to beat up homeless people for fun, and I’m sure most would agree with these kinds of teachings. Some things don’t fly so well, like the Doctrine of Just War, teaching on the death penalty and whether or not it’s okay to water-board a terrorist. But most dissent from Catholic teaching involves something to do with human sexuality. Abortion, homosexuality, contraception, women’s ordination, fornication, marriage, divorce and remarriage all have an aspect of sexuality to them.

The term “dissenting issues” is an overgeneralization and like with any good problem solving or decision making technique, overgeneralizations must first be separated and clarified before any clear discussion or action can be taken. Once more specific matters are listed, like those mentioned in the previous paragraph, they can be prioritized by considering the current and future impact of each one. It can be difficult to measure or quantify such things, but we can consider how many unjust wars we are currently involved with or about to jump into, how many people are executed each year and how many people are tortured or likely to be tortured in the future by the government.

Now contrast this with all the effects of the dissenting sexual issues. What are the current and future impacts of all the unwanted pregnancies and the resulting increase in poverty and single parent homes? How about the number of unborn children being killed and that will be killed in the future? Think of the impact from broken homes due to divorce? Ignorance and dissent about the true purpose of sex also brings us pornography, sexual addictions, molestation, sexually-transmitted diseases and marriage confusion. The amount of emotional pain due to fornication is probably not considered by most as something that will impact the rest of the culture in any significant way, but think of the huge number of people bonding and breaking up with different sexual partners over and over again and how this impacts their character? How then, does their character impact everyone else around them?

“Thinking means connecting things…”1 Many, if not most, of the ills in our society can be traced back to sexual confusion or dissent. A game of theological “connect the dots” can help illustrate the connections between God, people, sex, and sin. We can start with the base premise that the devil hates God and if we are all made in the image and likeness of God, we can reasonably conclude that the devil must hate us.

A book called Theology of the Body for Beginners by Christopher West does a good job of explaining how people are created in the image and likeness of God. God is pure spirit and our souls are pure spirit. God has both a will and an intellect, as do we. The Holy Trinity is another way that is not so intuitive, but is the most profound. One way to think of God or the Trinity is as an eternal exchange of love. From the perfect and eternal exchange of love between the Father and the Son proceeds a third person called the Holy Spirit. How can that possibly be like us? In the union of Holy Matrimony, the love between a man and a woman generates a third person called a baby. The purpose of sexual desire is not only propagation, but also the very power to love as God loves.2

Now back to connecting the dots. If the devil hates us because we are like God and we are most “God-like” and mirror the Trinity in the covenant union of male and female, then the devil must hate that about us more than anything else. If this is true then it makes sense that a focus of attack on humanity would involve destroying families via the distortion of sex.3

You may know the acronym WWJD (What would Jesus do?) Stop and think for a moment about WWDD (What would the devil do?) In our culture, what would be the best way to tempt and ultimately destroy the lives of so-called “good people”? What would have the highest probability of success? Should you tempt them to beat up homeless people? You’d likely be wasting your time. How about something sexual? How about sexual temptation mixed in with some sexual confusion? Did God really say that’s a sin? (see Gen 3:1) What’s the harm? It’s only natural. Does male and female really mean anything? Temptation coupled with confusion could do it and do it well!

It’s not that I particularly enjoy writing about these topics. Who wants the wind in their face when it can be at your back? It’s that dissenting issues ought to be written about. No doubt it would be less contentious to write about how racism is wrong, but remember that a given teaching irrespective of a given culture is not true because the Church teaches it…the Church teaches it because it’s true.

 

  1. G. K. Chesterton, Orthodoxy (New York: Doubleday, 2001), p. 31.
  2. Christopher West, Theology of the Body for Beginners (West Chester: Ascension Press, 2004), pp. 27-29.
  3. Christopher West, Theology of the Body for Beginners, p. 12.