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Catholicism
June 21, 2005 2:16 PM   Subscribe

Some MeFites have expressed an interest in learning more about the Catholic Church's positions on abortion, the death penalty, and other issues. I hope you will all find these links interesting and enlightening. The people and the Church. But, what about how other Christians see Catholics? Can Catholics respond to these claims? Of course, some claims have to be taken with a very large chunk of salt. Some Christians are even changing their minds. Though there is no single kind of Catholicism. Finally, here is a source for further research.
posted by oddman (58 comments total) 1 user marked this as a favorite

 
oddman, thanks. I just had a discussion on these very issues with a friend, and this info. is what I wish I had at the time
posted by Floydd at 2:23 PM on June 21, 2005


A very catholic presentation. Good show!
posted by cortex at 2:26 PM on June 21, 2005


I am not found of this post. There are 12 links-- all coming from basically the same ideology-- covering morality from A-Z. How can one react to this thoughtfully?

Yes, there are all kinds of Catholics, including many I respect greatly. While dissent is mentioned, you don't provide a whole lot of access to minority Catholic opinions.

What bothers me about the term Catholic church is its exclusivity. While Catholics may "accept others," the very term catholic negates their existance. This post betrays a similar attitude. There are all kinds of Catholics, but let's just talk about the ones we like.
posted by gesamtkunstwerk at 2:33 PM on June 21, 2005


Are Roman Catholics Christians? They are if they have trusted in Jesus alone for the forgiveness of their sins. However, if they believe that the are saved by God's grace and their works, then they are not saved -- even if they believe their works are done by God's grace -- since they then deny the sufficiency of Christ's sacrifice.

I loathe this stuff - absolutely nothing to do with living a good life, just fighting over whose doctrine is a ticket to heaven (whatever that is) and whose is a terrible, terrible mistake that needs to be corrected, by preaching, legislation, or bloodshed.
posted by QuietDesperation at 2:38 PM on June 21, 2005


Fascinating. The ironic thing is, of course, that there is no god.
posted by Pretty_Generic at 2:42 PM on June 21, 2005


gesamtkunstwerk: on with those links to minority Catholic opinions, then!
posted by cortex at 2:44 PM on June 21, 2005


Gesam, I am not a member of one of the minority communities within the greater Catholic Church. I'm aware of Eastern Rite churches. Unfortunately I know very little about them. For that reason (my lack of knowledge) I don't think that I'm qualified to select web sites for them. I might pick a site that is misrepresentative of their beliefs. Are there some other kinds of Catholics that you have in mind?

In any case, I think you are right I probably should have included some other lesser known aspects of Catholicism in the FPP. I invite you (and anyone else) to help me correct that oversight and provide us with some links of your own.
posted by oddman at 2:45 PM on June 21, 2005


Pretty_Generic: I could swear I've seen that phrase before...but where?
posted by hototogisu at 2:48 PM on June 21, 2005


Fascinating. The ironic thing is, of course, that there is no god.

::smites Pretty_Generic::
posted by God Almighty at 2:50 PM on June 21, 2005


Also of interest would be the Catholic Church's opinion of other Christian sects - it sounds more interesting when Catholics decry Evangelicals as shallow and bible-obsessed than when secularists do.
posted by QuietDesperation at 3:01 PM on June 21, 2005


I like to apply Occam's Razor to religious belief. Is it simpler to believe that there is an entire plane of existence beyond what we currently know in which all of your life's good and bad deeds are kept tallied up so that, when your life on this plane ends, you will either ascend to heaven for an eternity of good or descend to hell for an eternity of suckage. How does this system run? Who staffs it? Are they permanent staff? Is that hell or heaven? Why would this system come to exist and how would we, inhabitants of this particular plane of existence, come to have any knowledge of the afterlife?

Or is it simpler to believe that there is no heaven, no hell, no God and no Devil and that, when you die, you simply rot in the ground? Which makes more sense? Not which is more desirable, which makes more sense?

Okay then.
posted by fenriq at 3:04 PM on June 21, 2005


Or is it simpler to believe that there is no heaven, no hell, no God and no Devil and that, when you die, you simply rot in the ground? Which makes more sense?

Except that a purely biological existence has trouble explaining consciousness/awareness. We can identify the biological hallmarks of awareness, but biology has a tough time explaining why pain HURTS. Not the neurological process leading to release of transmitters in the synapses of the brain, but why it actually hurts. Which makes more sense? You can come up with good arguments both ways, I'm not trying to prove or disprove anything, just point out that it's not so clear-cut.

Also, the whole concept of a universe... how did it get here and how long has it been around? Again, you can come up with good arguments both ways, I'm not trying to prove or disprove anything, just point out that it's not so clear-cut.

The point is that there are good arguments on both sides, don't be so dismissive of something.
posted by thedevildancedlightly at 3:16 PM on June 21, 2005


While Catholics may "accept others," the very term catholic negates their existance.

Er? Katholikos means "universal".
posted by Captain_Tenille at 3:22 PM on June 21, 2005


Reading the Matthew Slick site (www.carm.org) reminds me of why Irish Catholics hate Protestants. I read that crap and I get that old feeling. . . Why do those bastards still engage in such self-congratulatory theological coprophilia?

I invite Mr. Slick to kiss Balaam's Ass.
posted by rdone at 3:30 PM on June 21, 2005


"I like to apply Occam's Razor to religious belief. Is it simpler to believe that there is an entire plane of existence beyond what we currently know..."
I'd agree with you in principle on doctrine fenriq, but, to add to thedevildancedlightly's comments - there are entire swaths of physical reality to which we are completely ignorant. There were, up until say Paul Dirac, et. al, huge physical concepts to describe the nature of reality to which we had no access.
All this without even addressing the nature of human consciousness and metaphysics.
I will say though I empathise with your view. As a former RC myself, I am irritated that the church tends - still - to lean on an Aristotalian view point.
e.g. "The keenest mind among the ancient philosophers, Aristotle, had conjectured that..." (from the abortion piece)

Some folks need a little ritual to lean on for structure and communal support. I'd like to see it done differently, but I don't have the time or the juice to change a 2000 year old (roughly) institution.
posted by Smedleyman at 3:33 PM on June 21, 2005


HG Wells, Crux Ansata: Why do we not bomb Rome?
posted by meehawl at 3:38 PM on June 21, 2005


Er? Katholikos means "universal".

It means universal as in 'the one universal church.' Many Catholics are very sensitive to this, and refer to the Church as the Roman Catholic Church. As a nominal Christian-- I grew up Quaker-- I bristle that a church that finds me heretical and damns me to hell for being gay (and having sex, even in the context of marriage) calls itself universal. I do not want to trash the RCC. I just wanted to point out that it is not a universal church, nor does this post reflect the Catholic Church in 2005.

What I was referring to are those Catholics who find themselves in heretical courts for political reason, or people who believe in liberation theology, or an increased role for women in the church, or who support Vatican II, and even those who worry about the opposition to condoms in a world ravaged by AIDS.

Some of my heroes are Catholic. But ironically these people are under constant attack by their church.
posted by gesamtkunstwerk at 4:03 PM on June 21, 2005


This is from Rense, but it's pretty interesting and possibly at least half true.
posted by snsranch at 4:11 PM on June 21, 2005


And oh yeah, my favourite piece of Roman Catholic history: an 8th century forgery, the Donation of Constantine, granting Pope Sylvester I and his successors sovereignty and spiritual authority over Rome, Italy, and the entire Western Roman Empire.
posted by meehawl at 4:19 PM on June 21, 2005


Fenriq, it's easy to apply Occam's Razor to compare Catholicism and atheism: Catholicism clearly takes a greater leap of faith. But I don't see why it takes a greater leap of faith to believe that there is some kind of creator that is responsible for creating our mathematically elegant universe than it does to believe that the universe simply exists without a cause.
posted by Chomskyfied at 4:22 PM on June 21, 2005


Fascinating. The ironic thing is, of course, that there is no god.
posted by Pretty_Generic at 5:42 PM EST on June 21 [!]


Fascinating. The ironic thing is, of course, that repeating something over and over again doesn't make it true.
posted by unreason at 4:26 PM on June 21, 2005


I enjoy links like these, thanks. It's so much more convenient than going to the zoo.
posted by Decani at 4:47 PM on June 21, 2005


Fenriq, it's easy to apply Occam's Razor to compare Catholicism and atheism: Catholicism clearly takes a greater leap of faith.

Good.

But I don't see why it takes a greater leap of faith to believe that there is some kind of creator that is responsible for creating our mathematically elegant universe than it does to believe that the universe simply exists without a cause.

But you just said Catholicism clearly takes a greater leap of faith. You zany religious zealots, always contradicting yourselves ;-)
posted by furtive at 5:08 PM on June 21, 2005


All that smiting doesn't seem to be having much effect, God Almighty.
posted by zoogleplex at 5:08 PM on June 21, 2005


It means universal as in 'the one universal church.'
Well, "Catholic" might, but that's not what you said:

...the very term catholic negates their existance.
"Katholikos" & "catholic" still mean "universal, open to all, concerning the whole".
/pedant

I understand your point, though, regarding exclusivity in the Catholic Church-- for instance, are unbaptized babies still doomed to spend Eternity in Limbo? And if not, were the old unbaptized babies grandfathered out when they changed the rule?
posted by obloquy at 5:19 PM on June 21, 2005


To answer my own question: looks like the Church is of mixed opinion on the fate of unbaptized infants. They are excluded from the Vision of God, but may or may not be immune to the pain of Sense (paena sensus), if not the pain of Loss (paena damni). No consensus nor pronouncements on whether unbaptized infants enjoy any "positive happiness" in the next world, either. The latest position on whether salvation is possible for these babies seems to be, "well, we can only hope".

Well. There you are then.
posted by obloquy at 6:00 PM on June 21, 2005


Gotta love stuff like this:

A Catholic may not marry an unbaptized person without dispensation, under pain of nullity ... The invalidity of such marriage, however, is a consequence only of positive law ... When, then, circumstances arise where the danger of perversion for the Catholic party is removed, the Church dispenses in her law of prohibition.
posted by meehawl at 6:25 PM on June 21, 2005


Reading the Matthew Slick site (www.carm.org) reminds me of why Irish Catholics hate Protestants

Most "Irish Catholics" (and I am one - northside Dublin born and bred) do no such thing.
posted by jamesonandwater at 6:42 PM on June 21, 2005


Nevermind the history of how the Bible as we know it came to be.
posted by ddf at 6:48 PM on June 21, 2005


Who cares what the Catholic Church thinks anyway?
posted by clevershark at 7:04 PM on June 21, 2005


But you just said Catholicism clearly takes a greater leap of faith.

I think that person's point was that while specific religious institutions require greater faith, a generic overarching god-mind type of thing is not necessarily more complicated than the idea that the universe just somehow happened to happen, with no cause or explanation. This is the classic position that so many philosophers come to, when they speak of "god". They usually aren't specifically thinking of god as some guy with a hippie son who walks on water, etc. They're using the word "god" to refer to "first cause" or "unified beingness" or whatever...

In other words, while it's simpler not to posit superhero moderators in the sky, that doesn't mean that existence then suddenly makes sense. It's still pretty inexplicable how the universe pulled itself off to start with.
posted by mdn at 7:25 PM on June 21, 2005



Fascinating. The ironic thing is, of course, that there is no god.
posted by Pretty_Generic at 5:42 PM EST on June 21 [!]

Fascinating. The ironic thing is, of course, that repeating something over and over again doesn't make it true.
posted by unreason at 4:26 PM PST on June 21 [!]


Repeating it may not make it so, but the absolute and total lack of even a shred of evidence does. As Sagan said, extraordinary claims require extraordinary proof.
posted by jikel_morten at 7:34 PM on June 21, 2005


Essential additional reading can be found in this June 2002 MeFi post (from me, but whatever): Know-Nothings, Bible Riots and the Catholic Church. Anyone interested in Catholicism should know more than a little about the history of anti-Catholic violence in the United States, including (for just one example) a bloody anti-Catholic mess in 1844 Philadelphia.

None of which excuses the utter horseshit the Catholic Church has been responsible for in recent centuries, of coursee, but it is essential to understanding the position of Catholicism as an institution in the USA.
posted by mediareport at 7:37 PM on June 21, 2005


mdn: well said.
posted by furtive at 7:51 PM on June 21, 2005


Too bad that some people have to go into their kneejerk spiel about how "religion's a farce / God doesn't exist / man, look at those suckers." It certainly doesn't add anything to the conversation - in a FPP like this, even a well-reasoned and very polite argument for atheism is a little out of place. Yes, the Catholic Church believes in God. This thread is all about the Catholic Church. Get over it. Most of you have made your religious views abundently clear on every thread that relates to religion; unfortunately, this FPP isn't about you or your beliefs.

On a more topical note, it's impossible for a handful of links to explain something as ancient and massive and complex as the Church. For example, dff brings up the history of the Bible - but the Catholic Church actually doesn't hold with complete biblical literalism the way that many Protestant churches do. Heck, during religion classes in high school we learned all about the several original sources that scholars think were blended to make Genesis, the political allegory that's the book of Revelation, etc. While they don't go as far as the authors of that link do, it's still a relatively rational and scholarly way to approach a book that they believe to be the Word of God. Actually, the Church's doctrinal emphasis on social justice, the importance of good deeds as well as faith, and so on make it in some ways relatively liberal [although the Panzer Pope and John Paul II have done an impressive job of emphasizing a handful of socially conservative ideologies over all the rest. Sigh.]

Though obloquy's attempt to describe the Church is interesting, it misses a lot. A link to the left-leaning America Magazine, for example, or Catholic LGBT groups, or any number of other links would better describe modern-day liberal Catholicism than the sole link provided. Similarly, while the Catholic Encyclopaedia is a useful resource, it's not without its ideological slant, and taking it as a completely accurate guide to Catholicism is a little dangerous. Given how much history affects the shape of the Church today, some links regarding Church history [and perhaps recent history especially] might have been appropriate. As mediareport notes, the history of the Church in America is certainly interesting - note that most of the anti-Catholic bile comes from American Evangelical Protestant groups.

But in the end, as I said, you can't compress Catholicism into an FPP. You're bound to exclude so many parts as to render the whole impossible to grasp.
posted by ubersturm at 7:53 PM on June 21, 2005


This thread is all about the Catholic Church. Get over it. Most of you have made your religious views abundently clear on every thread that relates to religion; unfortunately, this FPP isn't about you or your beliefs.

Having a thread about X invites comments about it that differ from what you want to read. This is not your Metafilter. Get over yourself.
posted by davy at 7:58 PM on June 21, 2005


Chomskyfied might have meant that it takes a greater leap of faith to believe in enough stuff to make one Catholic, (there are a lot of things), than it does to believe in nothing, which both are less than it takes to believe in a vague, undefined creator.

So I think on a sanity scale (1 being 2+2=4 and 10 being Scientology), he was saying
Catholicism 8
Atheism 4
Tamed God 3

In other words, left in a void without interference, (like atheists must imply that they have been, (unless, Aliens!)), humans would not naturally turn to atheism instantly, but for a time at least, would seek solutions through some form of religion. Not much backs this up, except maybe the entire study of the human experience that I'm aware of.

That said this thread could use some more nice comments and less people trying to see how simplistic they can be in order to imply that their opponents are incapable of rational thought.

(I always liked when C.S. Lewis said that religion must be complex and difficult because the world itself is complex and difficult, and both can stand lifetimes of devoted study).

It is irksome when fallible human beings decide that they know the will of any divine or infallible being. The really interesting to read people, the people I've always thought were closer to God, were the ones who were more than willing to admit that they were fallible. Nobody, (I hope), is going to read/watch the works of Pat Robertson 300 years from now.

The message of Catholicism as I know it is not that a good life isn't worth living, or that it is anything other than the charge laid down to anybody who would follow Christ. They just don't think that humans can ever be wholly perfect, that they must have some sort of redemption. I don't find this personally hard to accept.

(I have a really hard time with the Divine Assumption and other weird Marian doctrines though. They just seem so.... 11th hour and unknowable).
posted by SomeOneElse at 7:58 PM on June 21, 2005


For the record the Catholic Church does not believe that you are condemned to hell for being gay. Nor does it believe that homosexuality is a choice from which one must be swayed. The Church accepts that homosexuality is a part of the intricate psychological make-up of some people that does not by itself call for the condemnation of those people.

The Church believes that homosexual sex is a sin. But this is simply because it thinks all sex outside of marriage is sinful. It doesn't really treat homosexual sex differently from unwed heterosexual sex.

What it does do is deny that homosexuals have a right to be married. This is the only discriminatory stance that the Church takes against homosexuals. Granted, this is still discrimination and therefore may still be objectionable (not all forms of discrimination are bad).

Frankly, the issue is not even settled within the Church itself. May people in the lay community think that there is no real biblical objection to homosexual marriages and are working to get the Vatican to change the official stance on the practice. The Church is a living and evolving (slowly, ever so slowly) entity. Sometimes change comes from the top, sometimes it comes from the bottom. But it can and does change. It may be hard to take right now. It is certainly extraordinarily unfair to ask someone who is suffering to be patient, especially when the person asking for patience is not suffering at all. But the Church's stance on homosexuality will continue to be more and more liberal. So, please do not lump Roman Catholics with certain people who think that the best way to deal with the gay is to brainwash the "afflicted" into being a "normal" person. We think that is abhorrent too.
posted by oddman at 8:12 PM on June 21, 2005


As a member of The Church of the SubGenius™, I am guaranteed entrance to heaven, or triple my money back. If you really think about it, this beats all other religions: if I get in to heaven, great; or if I end up in hell, I will receive a check for ninety bucks! Oh, and last but not least, we don't have a purgitory, so there is no waiting around in limbo for some old guy to decide what happens to you. Best religion ever!
posted by nlindstrom at 8:25 PM on June 21, 2005


Thanks for bringing that up, oddman. I know that most Roman Catholics I know voted against anti-gay-marriage amendments last election, although futilely. You're also very right on the rate of change in the Church - it is glacial. It's an institution, after all, that's lasted longer than pretty much any nation that's around. There's a lot of history, and a lot of inertia. For all that, it's come pretty far. Not far enough, in the opinion of many [including me], but further than most people seem to think.

davy - I'd like to read well-reasoned topical posts. Doesn't matter whether or not I agree with them. Seems to me that there are plenty of "you're wrong!" "no you're wrong!" conversations everywhere online; Metafilter sometimes rises above that, and it would be nice if people could manage that on topics that have to do with religion. Unfortunately, on every thread here I've read that relates to religion, several people pop up to say "Haha, those people have it all wrong though, because God doesn't exist!" Whether or not they're right isn't the issue; it's the way they drag down the level of discourse and turn the topic away from the FPP and towards the predictable discussion about Occam's Razor, Pascal's Wager, etc. [shrugs] But it's not worth derailing any further to discuss what's appropriate or not for Metafilter; I have high standards, unfortunately, so I'm stuck being disappointed a lot. Doesn't stop me from wishing other people had higher standards as well.
posted by ubersturm at 8:39 PM on June 21, 2005


Gee, Oddman, accepting me for being gay as long as I forsake sex forever really doesn't seem like acceptance. But it's just one small part of the universal church's exclusion: We're universal as long as you're not gay, not divorced, not from an AIDS ravaged country, not poor, etc.

You want us to be patient, to listen to your dogma, to respect it. Fuck that. I don't care what you do for my kids. I care about what you are doing to gay kids in Africa, abused women world-wide, and Catholics who challenge Razi the Nazi's doctrine.

Your post isn't about the great diversity in Catholicism. It's about accepting Rome's dogma. Not exactly a dialogue. There's no debate. No intellect. It's not that we haven't heard the Catholic perspective. The Catholic perspective has proved its irrelevance. Sorry.
posted by gesamtkunstwerk at 8:49 PM on June 21, 2005


but further than most people seem to think.

oh tosh. it's gone backwards in recent times, and the current pope looks likely to continue that trend. where i live the church is active in politics. it has fought the divorce law. it has fought any attempt to make abortion legal (chile has one of the highest abortion rates of south america - after all, contraception is discouraged) and all of it is illegal, resulting in one god-awful mess. one current presidential candidate (who came within a few percent of winning the last election) has close links to opus dei (as a measure of the state of free speech here - it was a major victory, after a long court case, when calling a pro-gay paper "opus gay" was finally allowed by the courts).

the catholic church may present a nice friendly face when it has no chance of getting its way otherwise. but when it has political clout it is a reactionary, political, dictatorial, interfering, bigoted, close-minded pile of shite.
posted by andrew cooke at 8:53 PM on June 21, 2005


now for something completely different
posted by telstar at 11:35 PM on June 21, 2005


ubersturm, I'm not trying to describe the Church-- I just want to know about the poor babies! I tried finding a clearer answer in the links you provided, but was either unable to access anything without registering, or found nothing even approaching the subject.

With so many Christians seeming to believe that the Right to Life begins at conception and ends at birth, I'd like to understand modern Catholic thought on the necessity of baptism better, as it's surely related.

But in the end, as I said, you can't compress Catholicism into an FPP. You're bound to exclude so many parts as to render the whole impossible to grasp.
I agree, as this would hold true for most religions (Subgeniuses notwithstanding). That's why I asked a very specific question-- Am I missing something crucial to the understanding of the salvation of the unbaptized?
posted by obloquy at 12:20 AM on June 22, 2005


a generic overarching god-mind type of thing is not necessarily more complicated than the idea that the universe just somehow happened to happen, with no cause or explanation.

Um... yes it necessarily is. Because a "universe with no generic overarching god-mind type of thing" is less complicated than that same universe plus that generic overarching god-mind type of thing. Obviously. In the latter case you have two mysterious, unexplained things instead of one. See it? It's really not difficult. Unless, of course, you're going for the standard religious get-out of "but what if the universe is the generic overarching god-mind type of thing?", in which case I usually say two things?

1. What is it "arching over", then?

2. How about we call the universe "Cedric the giant spacetime clam" instead? Does that work for you?
posted by Decani at 4:30 AM on June 22, 2005


So, if the world is my oyster, the universe is my clam?
Not Holy Trinity but blessed bivalve??
I want to join YOUR church, Decani!
(Hey, give me a light and I'll follow it anywhere....)
posted by Floydd at 6:28 AM on June 22, 2005


"Or is it simpler to believe that there is no heaven, no hell, no God and no Devil and that, when you die, you simply rot in the ground? Which makes more sense?"

Except that a purely biological existence has trouble explaining consciousness/awareness. [...]

Also, the whole concept of a universe... how did it get here and how long has it been around?


I don't think a good counter-argument to the Occam's Razor argument against god is to assert that since we, as yet, do not fully understand the processes involved in the creation of the universe or the machinations of consciousness, arguments for god are therefore equally valid. An effective counter-argument would seek to establish that god would be the simpler explanation with less assumptions. But since the argument for god introduces an alien influence, I don't think that's possible.
posted by effwerd at 7:02 AM on June 22, 2005


The validity of Occam's Razor is unproveable; the decision to apply it is actually a leap of faith. Besides, from what I've seen, O.Henry's Razor seems to rule much more frequently.
posted by klarck at 7:37 AM on June 22, 2005


gesamtkunstwerk, my post was about providing information about Catholic dogma. You are free to accept or not as you see fit. Let me address a few of your points directly.

I think there is a huge difference between the Catholic position on homosexuality and that of other conservative Christians. Catholics don't think you are automatically condemned to hell. Catholics don't think you are automatically perverse (the term "disordered" is a technical term that isn't supposed to have a negative connotation) Catholics don't think that the proper way to deal with homosexuality begins with adjustment camps. Are we perfect? Of course not. Are we doing things the way we should? I don't think so and neither do many others; we are trying to change. Perhaps if you responded to liberal Catholics with less vitriol you could help us. On AIDS in Africa, Nazi doctrines and Pope Benedict XVI. Speaking of which, I have not insulted you nor anyone else, so please don't insult him with derogatory names. You may not agree with his positions but name calling is never a productive way to begin to settle differences.

Here I will admit that the Church's teaching on the sanctity and importance of marriage may facilitate greater abuse. But to say that the Church is the cause of the abuse or is responsible for it is wrong. The abuser is the sole cause and completely responsible. In fact the Church condemns all violence as sinful and attempts to prevent abuse through counseling. I do not think that divorce should be easy (but, then, I think getting married should be damn hard) and that marriage is a sacred covenant. But is the answer liberalizing divorce laws or increasing education and counseling?

Notice I said "may" when discussing the Church's role in abuse. You may find that an act of insufferable apologetics but it is not. To say that the Church's policies (regarding marriage) increases spousal abuse is to also assert that the Church's policies (regarding violence) are ineffectual. So we are to believe that Catholic women are too pious to seek divorce but Catholic men are not pious enough to eschew violence? You probably can't have it both ways.
posted by oddman at 8:28 AM on June 22, 2005


Um... yes it necessarily is. Because a "universe with no generic overarching god-mind type of thing" is less complicated than that same universe plus that generic overarching god-mind type of thing.

you're making an assumption that the universe can exist on its own to begin with and that the philosophical god is an add-on [or, on preview, as effwerd puts it, an 'alien influence']. This may be right, but it is not proven to be right; the opposing position is that the universe needs a cause and this cause is called god. To the person claiming there is an overarching god, your claim is like saying "is it simpler to believe that things just fall when you drop them, or that things fall when you drop them and additionally there's this invisible force called 'gravity' that no one's ever seen? Let's just accept that things fall when you drop them, and stop making up nonsense."

For the record, I generally consider myself an atheist. I certainly do not believe in theistic, personal, incarnated type of gods. However, the more religious philosophy I read, the less convinced I am that deism is crazy - I'm not sure I'd call myself an a-deist, were such a label suggested. It seems to me that in many ways philosophical atheists and deists are saying many of the same things. We get confused over the vocabulary more than anything (i.e., calling something "god" vs. "the organized unity of beingness" or whatever).

I agree that there are people with nutty beliefs out there, but I think there are also people too quick to assume that all metaphysics / theology is just nonsense about superheroes. There is a wide range of beliefs & levels of literalism. Hegel suggested that it was the introduction of atheism that drained religion of its truth by making its practitioners defend the mythology on the same terms as the atheists took it (i.e., as literal, material, causal, logical, rather than poetic, emotional, spontaneous).

Unless, of course, you're going for the standard religious get-out of "but what if the universe is the generic overarching god-mind type of thing?",

isn't it possible that this isn't a "standard religious get-out" but an actual expression of belief?

in which case I usually say two things?
1. What is it "arching over", then?


The idea is usually something analogous to how you 'arch over' yourself - aristotle suggested the soul was the imprint in the wax - not separable from body, but rather the organization or arrangement of body. The soul of the universe would likewise not be the stuff itself, but the way it exists together, its unity.

2. How about we call the universe "Cedric the giant spacetime clam" instead? Does that work for you?

sure, if you want. honestly it doesn't matter to me :).
posted by mdn at 8:39 AM on June 22, 2005


your claim is like saying "is it simpler to believe that things just fall when you drop them, or that things fall when you drop them and additionally there's this invisible force called 'gravity' that no one's ever seen? Let's just accept that things fall when you drop them, and stop making up nonsense."

Adding gravity to the explaination doesn't necessarily discount it in your example because "just accept that things fall when you drop them" is not a very comprehensive argument for why things fall. I don't think Occam's Razor is meant to imply imcomplete arguments are prefered.

Also, gravity is explained within the confines of the system described; the theory of gravity uses verifiable phenomenon as its basis. So, it would then need to be established how a "creator of the universe" could be "within the universe" when it created it.
posted by effwerd at 9:40 AM on June 22, 2005


Reading the Matthew Slick site (www.carm.org) reminds me of why Irish Catholics hate Protestants.

Subsitute "Ian Paisley and his Bob Jones University-loving ilk" for "Protestants" and then you'll have it.
posted by echolalia67 at 10:01 AM on June 22, 2005


No MeFi discussion of Catholicism can be complete without a Jack Chick reference.
posted by meehawl at 10:08 AM on June 22, 2005


you're making an assumption that the universe can exist on its own to begin with and that the philosophical god is an add-on


I'm not making that assumption. I'm pointing out the implications which arise from the assumptions of those who say the universe cannot simply exist by itself. The people I'm arguing against are making that assumption that it cannot. You know, the ones who, as you put it, are:

using the word "god" to refer to "first cause" or "unified beingness" or whatever...

Unless those people next resort to their usual semantic "have my cake and eat it" wriggling and start trying to suggest that a sum can somehow be less than its parts, the positing of a "first cause" implies the existence of that first cause PLUS the thing it caused. Ergo, positing said cause proposes a set of "existing" things which is more complex than that proposed by those who say there is no first cause.

And of course, the other thing those twisters like to duck is that whilst they are positively outraged by the suggestion that thing A (the universe) can have no cause they are mysteriously happy to believe that thing B (God) can exist quite merrily with no cause. This is outrageously irrational and blatantly, shamelessly inconsistent thinking. It is twisting the parameters of the argument to meet a desired conclusion and as such it is deservedly ridiculed.

In other words their argument not only fails to satisfy Occam (which, as someone rightly points out, is not enough in itself to prove the argument wrong) but also fails to be internally consistent. And that's what really kills the "first cause" argument, of course. It essentially posits a "fudge factor" to take care of something that is unknown. And not only is there no evidence for the actual existence of this fudge factor, the "argument" demands that it must be exempted from the very criterion that demands its existence - a cause.

isn't it possible that this isn't a "standard religious get-out" but an actual expression of belief?

Absolutely, yes. In fact I'd say that actual expressions of religious belief are frequently also philosophical and logical get-outs. They need to be. Because there isn't a single philosophical argument for the existence of God which has not been holed below the waterline. And the "first cause" one sank a long, long time ago. Outside of net chat sites, at least.

The idea is usually something analogous to how you 'arch over' yourself

Aristotle notwithstanding, that simply strikes me as a meaningless statement. I do not, in any sense that I see any evidence for, "arch over" myself. I am myself, period. Anything which exists which is part of my person, is part of myself, period. That includes my consciousness and my left big toe. The self is the self is the self. A piece of wax with an imprint is a piece of wax with an imprint. A universe of arrangement "A" is a universe of arrangement "A". If we are going to start claiming that a specific arrangement of matter and energy is a "thing" in and of itself and somehow outside of the entity it forms part of, then we are saying that there are an infinite number of these things in existence at any given instance and that they are changing and rearranging it an infinitesmally high rate. I would also demand that you show me the imprint in the wax when I remove the wax. You know?

Like I said: meaningless.
posted by Decani at 10:20 AM on June 22, 2005


Said much better than I ever could, Decani. I love this:

whilst they are positively outraged by the suggestion that thing A (the universe) can have no cause they are mysteriously happy to believe that thing B (God) can exist quite merrily with no cause.

I've always wondered how ID apologists could say with a straight face that the complexity of the universe implies a creator without ever addressing what the complexity of a creator would imply.
posted by effwerd at 5:46 PM on June 22, 2005


happy to believe that thing B (God) can exist quite merrily with no cause.

You know, deists have long recognised this problem:

???? ??? ???? - Ehyeh-’Asher-’Ehyeh - I am that I am.

Covers all the bases really. As long as you believe in that sort of thing.
posted by meehawl at 7:26 PM on June 22, 2005


Damn. MeFi support Hebrew characters, except on preview.
posted by meehawl at 7:27 PM on June 22, 2005


Adding gravity to the explaination doesn't necessarily discount it in your example because "just accept that things fall when you drop them" is not a very comprehensive argument for why things fall. I don't think Occam's Razor is meant to imply imcomplete arguments are prefered.

Right, that's the whole point. "Just accept that the universe exists" is not a comprehensive argument. There may be no useful way to make sense of the mystery of being, but I still think it's worth recognizing that that is really all philosophical theologians are trying to do.

whilst they are positively outraged by the suggestion that thing A (the universe) can have no cause they are mysteriously happy to believe that thing B (God) can exist quite merrily with no cause.

I think you're misunderstanding the nature of "cause" in this case, though - you're thinking of a chain of events, or what's considered in philosophy an "efficient cause." God is meant to be a "formal" cause or a "teleological" cause, i.e, the nature and purpose of the universe, rather than the thing that happened right before it.

and in a certain sense I agree with you that it's meaningless... that is, I kind of think a thoughtful materialism and a thoughtful deism end up in more or less the same place, just using different language, so which category is chosen doesn't really matter. The only reason I'm defending this is to emphasize the point that we often take for granted the existence of existence, but if we give thought to it, it's not at all obvious how, even what, it is.

I would also demand that you show me the imprint in the wax when I remove the wax. You know?

There are plenty of philosophers, aristotle among them, who do not believe it could - that's kind of the point. Mind could not exist without body - and yet it's still worth trying to understand what "mind" is.
posted by mdn at 7:30 PM on June 22, 2005


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