The Counsel of Trent

writing is thinking

Monday, March 26, 2007

Catholics and Protestants: The Fundamental Difference

This was a reply to a comment on the post below, but it's kind of lengthy, so I'm posting it here. I'm also going to cross-post it over at X-Catholics.



As it so happens, I'm currently composing a post on why I became Catholic in response to many requests. You ask "Could you elucidate why you left protestantism and turned to catholicism?"

As a philosopher I first have to give the obvious answer: because I think the Claims of the Catholic Church regarding her authority are true and incompatible with Protestantism. Note that I designate a sub-class of claims of the Catholic Church, namely those regarding the Church's authority. Most claims of the Church are perfectly compatible with Protestantism (well, with magisterial Protestantism anyway, part of the problem is that there are like 30,000 (literally) different protestant denominations (if you count all the independent ones separately) so making claims about what "Protestants" believe can be tricky: most Catholic doctrine is compatible with Lutheran, Presbyterian, Anglican, and Evangelical beliefs).

What Mother Kirk claims is that she is the fullest expression of the visible Church on Earth and that the Bishop of Rome is the final authority in matters of the Faith and governance of the Church. The basis for this claim is the doctrine of Apostolic Succession. I've got a brief summary of some evidence for this doctrine here, and am working on a draft of a fuller argument. So the basic claims of the Church are as follows:

1. Jesus was the Jewish Messiah, promised in the Old Testament, and expanding his plan to we Gentiles.

2. Jesus founded a visible Church to carry on his teachings and selected the Apostles to govern this body.

3. Peter was the Chief of the Apostles as witnessed by Peter's divine anointing and unique reception of the Keys of the Kingdom (Matt 16) which represent the vice-regent of the King, his special relationship with Jesus ("feed my sheep," Gospel of John, Chatper 21), and his authoritative pronouncement at the Council of Jerusalem (Acts 15).

4. The Apostles anointed new leaders--called Bishops (episkopos in the Greek New Testament)--and when an Apostle died, someone took their place (just like occurred with the loss of Judas at the beginning of The Acts of the Apostles in the New Testament).

5. The line of Apostolic Succession has never been broken.

The doctrine of Salvation among Catholics and Mainline and (many or most) Evangelical Protestants are essentially the same (no more differences than among some Protestants): we are given the Gift of Faith to trust in the finished work of Christ in atonement for our sins. The rest is details.

As a Protestant I already accepted #1 of course, but gradually came to believe the rest of them as well. There's much, much more to the story, but a sufficient condition for my becoming Catholic was being rationally persuaded of #'s 2-5 (in addition to #1).

This is just the bare bones and only states the minimum sufficient condition, so stay tuned for a more robust answer. Hope that helps.

In the news...

The paper I've been referring to in which I (and my co-author) consider the status of the design argument for God's existence has just been accepted for publication in the journal Religious Studies, Cambridge University Press. So I'm happy about that.

The published version of the study only contains a fraction of the total material, but I hope it sparks some interesting thougths.

Also, I've posted replies to comments to the post below.

Sunday, March 25, 2007

Divine Hiddenness

As I've said here recently, I now think the evidence for God's existence is very good. However, this very statement implies that God is somewhat absent. I don't even bother to speak of evidence of my wife's existence because she's present to me. This is one aspect of what's come to be called "The Problem of Divine Hiddenness".

Though provoked in reading today: Are you willing to be judged by God?

If not, then what would be the use of God revealing himself? He reveals Himself in order to transform us. However, He does not wish to do this contrary to our own wills. If we are not aware of our need for transformation, or unwilling to be transformed, then there's no role for God to play in our lives, so he allows us to proceed as if He does not exist.

"You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart" (Jeremiah 29:13).

“I thank you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because you have hidden these things from the
wise and the learned, and you have revealed them to infants. Yes, Father, this seemed good in
your sight” (Luke 10:21; cf. Matt. 11:25-26; Isa. 45:15).

Saturday, March 24, 2007

Out of the mouths of babes

So my newly-turned-six year old just asked me: "Daddy, are there any better philosophers than you?"

"Yes," I avowed, "there certainly are."

"Like that man?" she said pointing to my bronze and marble bust of Socrates on my book case.

"Yeah," I said, "like him." I added, "And there are others, too."

Still, the confidence boost helped me trudge through a "revise and resubmit".

Monday, March 19, 2007

Faith and Rationality

More theological stuff. This time a snippet from a correspondence from the last couple days.
Background: I'd been asked by someone from Europe to answer some questions concerning the application of probability and statistics to philosophy of religion. After doing so, I received the following follow up:

I am very thankful for you giving me these points. They are very interesting and I like it.Also, I would love to get your paper when Swinburne has sent it back to you. I am quite interested in the fine-tuning argument (awaiting Collins' book on the subject). Now a little off-topic question:I am actually a doubting christian which has huge problems at the moment gripping on my christian faith. Books such as Non-existence of God by N. Everitt (have you read it or seen any good reviews of it?) drives me the way more toward atheism. Do you have any advice on how I can tackle the doubt? What arguments do you think is the best for theism? Every argument is so much discussed that it is impossible to conclude anything. Books are critically reviewed so that one stands there not knowing much what to think about that particular issue. Maybe you got some points to make? I would be thankful.

I’m on my way to class, but I want to make some brief remarks. First, I’m privileged to be your interlocutor on this subject. Next, let me say that I don’t think that philosophy of religion has that much to do with the rationality of Christian commitment. I’m not quite the philosophical skeptic that Peter van Inwagen is, but it is true that philosophical arguments are in general unsatisfying on most topics. I do happen to think the Kalam cosmological argument is quite strong, but that is again a technical argument.

It would be difficult to go through my whole epistemological theory, but in the end I think that inference to the best explanation is a legitimate form of inference, and, as I said, think that probabilistic reasoning just makes it more precise. In general, though I do think that the philosophical case for theism is inconclusive, I find atheistic/materialistic naturalism to be utterly bankrupt. The only thing which really causes me grave doubts are cases of apparent gratuitous suffering. This subtracts considerable credence from my confidence in theism. It probably locks up a good 10-20% of my confidence. If I didn’t find CORNEA principles plausible it would probably take up more, occasionally, in dark moments it seems conclusive, but those times have the aspect of emotion/depression/pessimism about them rather than rational insight.

Still, there are innumerable other phenomena which I can’t even come close to reconciling to naturalism: the origin of matter and energy, the kinds of fundamental laws there are, human consciousness, our moral sense, true altruism, the kind of love I have for my children, the life of Jesus and of the Saints, the works of Shakespeare, Michelangelo, milkshakes, umbrellas, and, among other things, this conversation.
True, there are alternative explanations for all these phenomena, but they strike me as pale and strained. *On balance* theism strikes me as the better explanation and so I think it true.

More to come, must go now…

I’ve got two papers I’ve been asked to revise and resubmit and I’ve just been asked to review a MS for a publisher, so I’m just going to have to trickle out thoughts as they come to me, I hope you don’t mind.

Another issue concerns the nature of faith. I do not think faith is a doxastic attitude. I think faith is a commitment one makes to following a certain path. I can do no better than Swinburne has done in the epilogue to the first edition of his _Faith and Reason_. My confidence in Christianity goes up and down all the time, not only from day to day, but from hour to hour (even from second to second when I’m wrestling with evil). But even when it dips dangerously low, perhaps even below half for some brief period of time, I retain my faith because I retain my commitment to the Christian Way. This commitment is quite rational for broadly Pascalian reasons.

Pascal’s Wager has been sorely misrepresented. It is not some kind of crass, mercenary maneuver aimed at “just in case”. Rather, it is a reflection of the fact that rationality in action is as much a function of our desires as of our credence. If I thought there was 1/100 chance that a given guru in Tibet could bring me true enlightenment and lasting happiness I’d be a fool not to go because I so greatly value those things. So even though I’d be pretty certain there was no such Guru it would still be positively irrational not to try and find out for sure, not to make the trek.

In my view, Christianity is a trek. As I go to Mass, pray the Rosary, partake of the Sacraments, I do so with hope. Hope that there is in fact a loving God which has given me the gift of the Church to put me in tangible touch with Christ. My intellectual confidence that this is the case goes up and down, sometimes very high and sometimes much lower. But because I so desire peace with God and because I think Christian Theism to be the best explanation of my life’s experience, it never ceases to be rational for me to walk the Christian Way.


Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Design Argument Update

For those of you who are keeping track, my credence in divine intervention has gone up to a record high.

I'm just bringing to a close a three-year research project concerning design arguments for the existence of God, so I thought I'd throw an update out there.

There's a link on the sidebar under "religious posts" I think which discusses this project. In between then and now it went way down for awhile. I'm not saying I've reached full reflective equilibrium on this, but I expect it will not sink much.

One reason I'm confident in this is that the project considers broadly two kinds of arguments who's strength vary in proportion to one another and considers their strengths for every possible value of their variables.

The result is that I now think that no matter what future empirical research uncovers, there will be at least one kind of strong design argument.