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The Dawkins Challenge Print E-mail
By William E. Carroll   
Wednesday, 13 June 2012

The noted atheist Richard Dawkins has been very active recently in his campaign to discredit religious belief, in particular Christianity, and Roman Catholicism has been a special target. He had a debate of sorts with Rowan Williams, the Anglican Archbishop of Canterbury, and appeared on an Australian television program, “Q and A,” with Cardinal George Pell, Archbishop of Sydney. His animus against Catholicism was also evident in a joint appearance with Lawrence Krauss, a theoretical physicist and fellow non-believer (as Krauss likes to be called), at the Australian National University.

Krauss is the author of the much heralded, A Universe From Nothing: Why There is Something Rather Than Nothing, in which he argues that it is highly plausible that we will soon be able to understand how the entire universe, including the fundamental laws of physics, can start from “absolutely nothing” without any need to appeal to a creator or supernatural agency.

When he speaks of the irrationality of religious belief, Dawkins often invokes Catholic faith in the real presence of Christ in the Eucharist. The Church teaches that with the priest’s words of consecration the bread and wine really become the body and blood, soul and divinity of Christ.

The rationale behind the doctrine, which is known as transubstantiation, employs categories of substance and accident, which have their origin in the philosophy of Aristotle. According to the Church, the underlying substances of bread and wine are replaced by the body and blood of Christ while the external appearances of bread and wine remain. A scientific analysis of the consecrated host and wine would only detect these external appearances.

Dawkins opined both in Australia and previously at the Reason Rally in Washington, D.C. that people should be encouraged to confront Roman Catholics about transubstantiation. Do they really hold the “utterly nutty belief that a wafer turns into the body of a first-century Jew just because a priest blessed it?” Such a view is “barking mad.” 

He told Cardinal Pell that he could be charitable and accept that the Cardinal might believe that the host came to symbolize the body of Christ, but to think that it became really the body of Christ was absurd. The wafer does not become the body of anyone, he said, given “normal English usage” of the word “body.” 

Dawkins also told the Cardinal that any idea of the resurrection of the body was absurd since we know for sure that after death the body disintegrates. Again, he appealed to a common-sense meaning of the word “body.” How, Dawkins asked, could anyone really defend views so obviously indefensible? Public ridicule of these claims is necessary.


         Atheists Richard Dawkins (left) and Lawrence Krauss, enthroned

Belief in the real presence of Christ in the Eucharist comes from an acceptance, in faith, of God’s revelation. Appeals to divine authority as a source of truth do not fall within the realm of the credible for Dawkins. Any defense of faith in the real presence and of the doctrine of transubstantiation – and the Church does not lack such defenses – involves appeals to arguments in metaphysics and theology, disciplines which people like Dawkins and Krauss dismiss as telling us nothing about reality.

Dawkins and Krauss would first have to see that there is more to what we know about the world than what the natural sciences tell us. But Krauss himself notes of certain effects in modern physics, that “‘nothing’ is every bit as physical as something” and accordingly we need “to understand precisely the physical nature of both these quantities,” that “without science, any definition is just words.” 

To which a Catholic can say: Amen. Reason can refute objections to what is believed. If Dawkins and Krauss want to understand what Catholics believe, there would have to be preliminary discourse about a richer sense of rationality, one not limited to the natural sciences. To say that only the natural sciences reach truth is to make a philosophical claim about truth, which goes beyond the sciences themselves.

In Australia, Dawkins observed that to take seriously the views of contemporary science, especially the cosmology that argues about getting something from “absolutely nothing,” we need to be willing to move well beyond our “common sense” understandings of the world. In this particular case, we will otherwise misunderstand what physicists like Krauss mean by “nothing.” According to Dawkins, the “whole point of modern physics is that you cannot do it by ‘common sense.’” 

This from a man who ridiculed the use of the word “body” in Catholic teaching about the Eucharist because it went against common sense. The vocabulary of faith, like that of physics, needs to be understood in technical terms. But Dawkins does not allow for the kind of specialized vocabulary in theology and philosophy that he is so willing to grant to physics.

The body of Christ, present in the sacrament of the Eucharist, although real (neither symbolic nor metaphorical), is vastly different from the ordinary bodies subject to empirical analysis. It is sacramental presence and theology, aided by philosophy, that help to make intelligible what is believed.

Even Catholics often fail to realize – and defend – this fundamental truth. When a young woman in the audience at the Australian National University, who identified herself as a Catholic, challenged Dawkins and Krauss to distinguish their position from that of a religion, Dawkins asked her directly whether she really believed in the doctrine of the real presence in the Eucharist. She was quick to say that, of course, she did not.

Catholics need to be ready to take up this challenge. The arguments in theology and philosophy may not seem compelling – or even worthy of rational attention – to Dawkins and his followers. But informed Catholics ought to be far better prepared to use reason itself to defend what they believe on faith.

 
William Carroll is Thomas Aquinas Fellow in Theology and Science, Blackfriars, University of Oxford.
 
 
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written by Michael Paterson-Seymour, June 13, 2012
Pascal, as usual, was right, when he said, "I admire the boldness with which these persons undertake to speak of God. In addressing their argument to infidels, their first chapter is to prove Divinity from the works of nature. I should not be astonished at their enterprise, if they were addressing their argument to the faithful; for it is certain that those who have the living faith in their hearts see at once that all existence is none other than the work of the God whom they adore. But for those in whom this light is extinguished, and in whom we purpose to rekindle it, persons destitute of faith and grace, who, seeking with all their light whatever they see in nature that can bring them to this knowledge, find only obscurity and darkness; to tell them that they have only to look at the smallest things which surround them, and they will see God openly, to give them, as a complete proof of this great and important matter, the course of the moon and planets, and to claim to have concluded the proof with such an argument, is to give them ground for believing that the proofs of our religion are very weak. And I see by reason and experience that nothing is more calculated to arouse their contempt.

It is not after this manner that Scripture speaks, which has a better knowledge of the things that are of God. It says, on the contrary, that God is a hidden God, and that, since the corruption of nature, He has left men in a darkness from which they can escape only through Jesus Christ, without whom all communion with God is cut off. Nemo novit Patrem, nisi Filius, et cui voluerit Filius revelare."
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written by Jon S., June 13, 2012
As an orthodox Catholic, I like Dawkins. He is a good old-fashioned Modernist who considers science to be objectively true and theology to be obectively false--as opposed to Postmodernists who consider both science and theology to be subjective. With Dawkins we orthodox Catholics share a conviction that reality is fundamentally objective. And we have a 2,000-year old intellectual tradition with which to engage Dawkins. But let's use Dawkins' challenge as an opportunity to help convert the world from relativism and subjectivism.
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written by Other Joe, June 13, 2012
In the tradition of animal sacrifice, the worshipers ate the burnt offering. It was how the individual participated in the ritual initiated by the priest. Transubstantiation allows the worshiper to participate in and complete the sacrifice of the perfect Lamb in real time - true participation through the centuries with the Body of Christ (His church) in the actual sacrifice. Science has no comprehension of meaning. It must concern itself with observation of physical relationships and must pass on evaluating the rightness and the fullness of those relationships. It describes the needle with near perfection, but misses the point.
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written by Shan Gill, June 13, 2012
There are a number of Eucharistic miracles, including the one of Lancia, Italy, that give humankind a glimpse of a reality that supercedes physics. Prof. Dawkins might want to examine one or more to familiarize himself with the belief in the Real Presence.
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written by Grump, June 13, 2012
After reading the likes of Mencken, Dawkins and Hitchens, I must say that from a perspective of "reason," they usually trump any arguments founded strictly on "faith."

Even so-called believers, starting with Luther, challenged the notion of transubstantiation so it is hardly fair to pick on atheists. Mainline Protestants reject the literalness of the Eucharist and instead opt for something called "sacramental union" whatever that means.

Dawkins is on pretty sound ground on this particular issue but is less effective when taking the standard atheistic position that there is no God. Before he went quite mad, Nietzsche was once a believer in Christ but too much "reason" eventually prevailed. I must say that I, too, lack the faith necessary to accept so-called religious truths that make little or no sense to me.

Aquinas, who put much stock in Aristotle and Reason, said. "Clearly the person who accepts the Church as an infallible guide will believe whatever the Church teaches." But the role of faith, in his view, is the bottom-line answer to Dawkins, et al: "To one who has faith, no explanation is necessary. To one without faith, no explanation is possible."

If faith comes by hearing and hearing by the Word of God, why is it that I, who have read the Bible at least twice through, do not any enough to believe?

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written by Fr. Basil, June 13, 2012
There is a story told of Paul VI, I believe it was, very reluctanty allowing a consecrated host to be examined under a microscope, with the stunning report back that one could see the cells of a human male heart under very serious distress.

This is clearly an urban legend.

The Catholic teaching is that we receive the ENTIRE Christ (not just the heart) under the APPEARANCE of bread and wine in the tiniest recognizable particle of either species. If one of the elements takes on the appearance of ANYTHING else, including human flesh and blood, the Eucharistic presence of Christ ceases.

In any case, heart muscle looks the same under microscopic examination in both men and women.
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written by Davin, June 13, 2012
@Grump It seems to me that your faith brings you to this blog daily.

Many times I have ask just as the apostles did for Christ to, "Increase [my] faith." (Luke 17:5)
I encourage you to do the same.
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written by Linus, June 13, 2012
Oh well. Remember that Nietzsche went insane and died in an asylym for the insane. And his christian and Catholic hating star pupils managed to murder 20 million people before their madness was put down. And look at the glories of all the christian and Catholic haters in history - the pagan era during Israel's history, the Romans, the Muslims, the Soviets, the Chinese since WW ll. So now the athiests are beginning their own persecution by calling for Sal Alinsky tactics against believers. It's all old hat. And it is almost useless to point out how unfair it is, since Our Lord warned us we would be hated and persecuted - but at least we should have our " Reasons for Faith " on the tips of our tongues.
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written by Tony Esolen, June 13, 2012
Hello Grump:

Ol' Dawkins too is a master of the bait and switch. He doesn't really know what he's talking about; he doesn't trouble to learn what it is that Catholics mean by the term "transubstantiation," for instance. He's never read Aquinas' Summa Contra Gentiles, and other such, so he does not really understand what Christians and Jews mean by "creation", and he sneaks back into his thought, which is pretty muddled, his own metaphysical realism and his own teleology. On his own terms, the problem isn't that he concludes that there is no God; it's that he SHOULD conclude, and doesn't, that there is no Richard Dawkins. Don't be buffaloed. As soon as one admits the real existence of personal being -- real, and not merely illusory -- then their cobra-music is silenced. Also, they dodge the question of the ontological status of physical law. They will trot out the word "supervene," as if physical law were somehow a consequence of that which obeys the physical law! That, however, is upside down. What explains and holds true as a law is ontologically prior to that which is explained and obeys the law. And if there is no a priori necessity that applies to the law itself -- as these third-rate fellows themselves cheerfully admit -- then we have again to explain what is in itself and from itself inexplicable, for there is no reason why the laws should be this way and not that. The dodge then is to say that there is an infinitude of universes; but this only multiplies the trouble infinitely (since, mathematically, an infinitude of discrete universes is still as zero compared with a fully continuous infinity; we would now have not just one universe to explain but one and another and another and another), and it comes at the cost of denying that one requires evidence for belief (since by definition there never can be interaction between one universe and another, for otherwise they would not be separate universes).

All that's needed is a single admission of either an existent object that is not material (for instance, the real existence of any law, or any mathematical object), or the existence of real personal being, or the existence of any truth that is not subject to material analysis. I say that human beings cannot take two baby steps in this world without assuming these things and acting upon them. When a Dawkins says, "I see the dog," he has already enmeshed himself in metaphysical assumptions which his own vulgar materialism cannot, logically, allow.

But there are guys who are onto these fellows like white on rice: Edward Feser, David Bentley Hart ...
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written by Grump, June 13, 2012
@Davin. You're right. It is people such as you and others who encourage rather than condemn. For the time being, my best bet is Pascal's Wager.
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written by X Contra, June 13, 2012
How about a defense?

You got your point across, that we need to be ready. OK. How do we defend the real presence? Give some examples, William!
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written by Stuart M., June 13, 2012
Hearts under the microscope in the wafer? Puleez...
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written by Mike, June 13, 2012
I listened to the conversation, both with Krauss and Pell.
I must say that Dawkins made more sense than Pell who seemed to be totally lost. I felt that Dawkins made an extremely good case and never received a convincing argument from Pell who appeared very uncomfortable.
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written by Chris, June 13, 2012
To the other Joe
Your comment about viewing the bible is best approached with 2000 years of Catholic insight and commentary in mind raises a few questions for me. Did the writers think it would need 2000 years and still people would not understand the meaning? The meaining seems to have changed through the intervieining centuries depending upon societies perspective over the years.

Do you think that the meaniing and explanation of the various contradiction and paradox will be the same in 200 years, never mind another 2000 years?
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written by Markus, June 13, 2012
The nothing that you must understand to grasp universal origins is not the bottom of some scale, but the middle. If you add up all the positive and negative energy in the universe get a summation of zero. Therefore there has been no creation, since there has ultimately been no deviation from the initial 'nothing' condition.

Negative energies are perfectly valid in physics. Think of forces, which can be positive or attractive (and are thus given different signs). In energy calculations that involve square roots the negative solutions correspond to perfectly real particles, and these were used by Dirac to predict the existence of antiparticles (he knew that they would be oppositely-charged and have the same mass as their matter partners, and the positron was later discovered as a partner to the electron).

But I know that this will bore some of you, since your emotions are burning elsewhere. Here's where my emotions dwell:

Your race, gender, language, sexuality, and religion are things that you get at or shortly after birth. There are two children, one born a second after you were born, and one before. Are they in Asia, Africa? Are they Hindu, Muslim, or Amish? And getting out of our personal time, babies have been opening their eyes to all kinds of random places: ancient Egypt, Scandinavia, the Australian outback, Mexico, and so on. So these traits of ours are basically just randomly assigned. And holding one as superior to the others without evidence (that is, on faith) is the very definition of bigotry. You should already know to hate racism and sexism, but why stop there? Why is supporting Christianity on faith any better than supporting white supremacy? If faith is repulsive in the defense of those other random traits, why have faith in your randomly-assigned religion?
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written by Linus, June 13, 2012
For X Contra. Catholicism by Fr John Hardon and The Catechism of the Catholic Church explain what can be known about the Real Presence. ST Thomas, the Summa Theoligae gives an excellent explaination. But all this depends on faith. None of these explanations amount to " proofs, " they are reasons which show the plausibility of the truth about the Real Presence. The simplist and most basic " reason " is that Christ ( who is God ) told us he was present. And Christ cannot lie because he is God. And we know from the Gospels how he is present. The Gospels show us he is present under the form of bread and wine, we know something about the manner of his glorified the Resurrection and his presence among his desciples before his Assencention. We know that his body after the Resurrection was a real body, but a body which could pass through solid doors, it did not require nourishment but could take it, that it could appear and disappear at will. This all seems to say that his glorified body was a body that had no physical limitations, he could make it do whatever he wished. Thomas goes into all this in more detail. The Council of Trent also had a lot to say.
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written by Reginald Le Sueur, June 14, 2012
As a Dawkinsesque atheist of 55 years, (age 71), I take a keen interest in what I regard as the total war between atheism and religious belief. Reading down the above comments, I got as far as "Grump", -and would like to congratulate him/her as being the only commentatoe so far examined, with whom I can identify;-with the one criticm that , having read a great deal of Nietzsche, I never gained the impression that he was a believer in Christ during his "sane" period, and that the loss of his sanity was caused by his becoming an atheist (more likely cerebral syphilis).
But this view may be a result of "Grumps" Catholic indoctrination,-so one must make allowances.
Apart from that, the analogy (which I regard as a False Analogy) of Dawkins' suggestion that we have to abandon common-sense when doing science; (not so,-I think he is referring to Quantum Mechanics),--with the abandonment of common sense when considering Transubstantiation,--is an interesting suggestion,- but not valid,-in my not-so-humble opinion.
Catholic philosophy (adopted from a "pagan" philosopher, is characterised by making unwarranted assumptions and using them as foundations for and building castles in the air. Why do you all think Aristotle is God, and his philosophy infallible?
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written by Reginald Le Sueur, June 14, 2012
"written by Rick DeLano, June 13, 2012

Since the premise of Krauss and Dawkins (a universe from nothing) is utterly absurd on its face, "

I always thought that it was Catholic doctrine that God made the Universe "ex nihilo" (out of nothing). Please explain.
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written by YHWH, June 14, 2012
Speaking as a Dawkins fanboi, a couple of points:

1. it's all very well saying they need to know about theology, but no self-respecting religion would ever require that of their believers. To disbelieve you apparently have to be an expert but to believe you can be as ignorant as the day you were born.

2. a great many atheists, myself included, whilst in no way theology experts, know a great deal more about it than many believers. If only because believers' knowledge of their own religion is often circumscribed by their particular variant.

The article says "If Dawkins and Krauss want to understand what Catholics believe, there would have to be preliminary discourse about a richer sense of rationality, one not limited to the natural sciences."

This may be true for some Catholic believers, it may even be true of the core Catholic beliefs, but the beliefs of most Catholics are naive and easy to grasp and the correspondents on this column would probably no more agree with them than does Dawkins.

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written by Reginald Le Sueur, June 14, 2012
"For the time being, my best bet is Pascal's Wager".

Pascal's Wager analysis:
1. A cowardly intellectual cop-out; believe anything, just in case it gets you into Heaven and keeps you from Hell.

2. It assumes God is an idiot who can be deceived into accepting your pragmatic pretended belief, when all you are doing is sucking up to him.

3. This shows believers are dishonest. Maybe God prefers honest atheists who use the brain he (allegedly) gave them, to unthinking robotic "belief"?
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written by Reginald Le Sueur, June 14, 2012
"First you would have to instruct Dawkins in that the meaning of 'substance' is in a metaphysical context and other philosophical terms. Yet he is UNWILLING to learn anything".

This is because Dawkins quite rightly does not want science to become subsumed under "religion" (as it used to be), and have to become mired in what he calls "fairyology", and false or irrelvant Aristotelian categories like "substance" "essence" ""accident". We prefer to get on with the science, (logical model-building, hypothesising and empirical observation and experiment), and cut out 2300 years of metaphysical verbiage which has never been able to demonstrate the existence of God,-hence the need for "faith".
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written by Reginald Le Sueur, June 14, 2012
--and further; the purpose of philosophy is to teach people how to think, not what to think. What a shame that the Church adopted Aristotle and not Socrates,-with his emphasis on critical thinking, and being humble and acknowledging (as he did) that he knew nothing; unlike Aristotle's logorrhoea which gives the impression that he knew everything that could be known, and had it all neatly filed away under "categories, substance, essences" etc. (and Plato was just as bad).
Democritus, Empedocles, Aristarchus etc had all worked out the essentials of modern cosmology (and Evolution), before Plato and Aristotle put science back a thousand years.
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written by Chris, June 14, 2012
It is a fact, and you know it, that the bread and wine is not altered in any way when a priest says some words over it and there's nothing you can say or do to change that. But instead of being honest you pretend to have some deeper knowledge. And you wonder why you are mocked?
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written by Juneau Alaska, June 14, 2012
Theology isn't knowledge, unless you think the color and weave of Santa's trousers are important.



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written by Andy Whittle, June 14, 2012
The author needs to investigate Quantum Mechanics, only then will he realize that "Common Sense" plays no part in some aspects of Physics. We know this because we "Experiment" to find out, we don't just draw conclusions because we have thought about it for a while and that's the way we think it should be!
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written by Grump, June 14, 2012
Now that Reginald has weighed in and mentioned my posts, I feel the need to elaborate. First, although I am agnostic I was born Catholic and have ventured down many paths including atheism but am working my way back to the fold in keeping with St. Paul's advice to "work out our salvation."

Reginald, you are clearly an intelligent and well-read fellow and even go so far as to be able to read my mind by ascribing to me certain views that I do not hold. Pascal's Wager may indeed be viewed cynically because on its face it lacks sincerity but for one who is caught in the dilemma of agnosticism and can go either way it has appeal. Remember, "what does it profit a man if he gains the whole world and loses his soul?" Would you rather have all that is in this world and then die and have nothing or be assured of "eternal happiness" in an afterlife after forsaking the ephemeral of this world?

Secondly, read the "Hound of Heaven" and tell me that you are not moved by Christ's invitation to clasp His hand and come with Him. As a lapsed Catholic, I am hoping I may be a prodigal son who returns to his Father some day. What bars my way is my abundant use of reason and little use of faith.

As Evelyn Waugh put it: "The Roman Catholic Church has the unique power of keeping remote control over human souls which have once been part of her. G.K. Chesterton has compared this to the fisherman's line, which allows the fish the illusion of free play in the water and yet has him by the hook; in his own time the fisherman by a 'twitch upon the thread' draws the fish to land."

In my case the bait and hook are set but I have yet to bite.

Postscript: Nietzsche once believed and fell away. You can look it up.
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written by Reginald Le Sueur, June 14, 2012
"And Christ cannot lie because he is God. And we know from the Gospels how he is present."

The early Docetists and others did not agree with Christ's divinity,(he only "appeared" to be God) on the grounds that humans cannot kill God,--even if only for the weekend.
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written by Reginald Le Sueur, June 14, 2012
"Young's experiment makes perfect sense as Buddhists believe that the universe only exists because it is observed"

Yes but if the Earth (as part of the Universe), existed way back before conscious intelligent humans, when bacteria ruled the Earth, or later Dinosaurs,-then who are we to take as "Observers"?--anybody and anything? Can bacteria observe anything? "Obervation" implies meaningful data-gathering and its interpretation,-not mere photo- or chemo-taxis. Or was it intelligent aliens who observed the Universe? I suppose someone will say it was God; so did he observe it before he had created it?
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written by Reginald Le Sueur, June 14, 2012
" Not much but just enough to maybe make a U-turn before the Grim Reaper calls. It fueled my agnosticism a bit --"

I know theists are eager to make out that Dawkins is doing a U-turn; -nothing of the sort. He points out that he is an agnostic,-well so am I, so is everyone,-in the sense that none of us knows everything about everything. So one can quite validly be an atheist and an agnostic at the same time.
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written by Reginald Le Sueur, June 14, 2012
"written by Mike, June 13, 2012

I listened to the conversation, both with Krauss and Pell.
I must say that Dawkins made more sense than Pell who seemed to be totally lost."

Not really his fault, he just had poor material to work with.
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written by c matt, June 14, 2012
Since the premise of Krauss and Dawkins (a universe from nothing) is utterly absurd on its face, "

I always thought that it was Catholic doctrine that God made the Universe "ex nihilo" (out of nothing). Please explain.

My understanding of the issue is that what is claimed as absurd is the universe making itself out of nothing - i.e. nothing making something out of nothing. God making something out of nothing, or something making something out of nothing, would not be absurd on its face.

What I gather from the comments is that K & D state their claim is "nothing made something from nothing" when their writings actually say, well, it wasn't really "nothing" that did the creating.

Of course, as we all know "nothin' from nothin' leaves nothin'". Who would have thought the entire mystery of the universe could be easliy summed up in a little ditty from the '70s? Billy Preston is the real genius/physicist/philosopher.
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written by Sara, June 14, 2012
During that discussion, Pell also said that Adam and Eve were metaphorical figures.

If so, then how does he account for the original sin of eating the forbidden fruit and Jesus' need to die for us for we cannot be punished for it?
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written by Andrew, June 14, 2012
Science is true whether you chose to believe it or not. Your church burned /persecuted people for saying the earth revolved around the sun, or saying the earth wasn't 6000 years old. Now it fights science stem cell research and contraceptives while it fosters bigotry against gays- the more things change.
The universe is governed by fundamental laws if your belief system requires and magic / miracles it deserves to be mocked.
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written by CMS, June 14, 2012
As a recovering Catholic, I have come to agree with Dawkins's argument. Especially in light of the molestation of children by members the of Catholic clergy; just think of the image of those "priestly" hands and what other things they might have done, other than consecrating bread and wine.
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written by Reginald Le Sueur, June 14, 2012
"If so, then how does he account for the original sin of eating the forbidden fruit and Jesus' need to die for us for we cannot be punished for it?"

Yes quite; or as dsomeone else put it: "Did Jesus die for a metaphor?"
I'm afraid Catholics are stuck with the concept of literal Original Sin, as well as Adam and Eve, without which Christianity is pointless. This you have to believe,-otherwise your faith is vain as St Paul said (when discussing whether Jesus was resurrected). But Adam and Eve cannot be taken literally in the light of what is known about human evolution, and OS is obviously meant as a metaphor to explain the fact that humans (like other animals) prey on each other and play their part as objects at the mercy of natural selection.
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written by Robaylesbury, June 14, 2012
Some interesting comments. As an Ex-Christian I was powerfully challenged some years ago when Sam Harris deftly observed that theists claim to know things they cannot possibly know. This appears still to be the case. The older I get (41 years) the less I realise that I know. This fills me with a passion to discern what is true about the world. And the thing about truth is that it doesn't care about our feelings or biases. I wasted many years wandering down the yellow brick road more commonly referred to a Christianity. Never again. I'll take reality over false consolation any day. If believers have empirical facts to bring to the table I'm all ears. Until then. . . .
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written by Reginald Le Sueur, June 14, 2012
C.matt"My understanding of the issue is that what is claimed as absurd is the universe making itself out of nothing - i.e. nothing making something out of nothing. God making something out of nothing, or something making something out of nothing, would not be absurd on its face".

Firstly: The whole concept of "nothing" in now obsolete since particle physics and Quantum mechanics were developed.

2nd. "Nothing exists" is a logical contradiction. How can Nothing have any attributes,-like existence? (and I know Kant said that "existence is not a predicate").

3rd The Universe did not make itself, since it did not have a prior existence. Something else (not someone) made it; and modern physics says it was a quantum fluctuation that caused symmetry-breaking which lead to the separation of positive mass/energy, and negative space-time, (as I understand it).
There is no reason at all to impute Agency to the origin of anything. The Design (teleological argument) is defunct (sorry Thomas Aquinas and Aristotle). Darwin showed that this is true of biology, and now Evolution can be extrapolated generally to the origins of Everything.
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written by Reginald Le Sueur, June 14, 2012
Postscript: Nietzsche once believed and fell away. You can look it up.

OK Grump, I'll take your word for it.
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written by David OHara, June 14, 2012
Being a former Catholic and Physicist, I think anybody who thinks Physics will ever be able to "explain everything" simply does not understand Physics or math. In the 1890s, Lord Kelvin said, (I paraphrase), "I would not advise any young man to go into Physics because all the important problems have been solved with the exceptions of a minor ones in electrodynamics and spectra of hot bodies". Of course, these minor problems led to relativity and Quantum Mechanics.
People who think Physics can ever explain everything should consider the so called "Incompleteness Theorem" which essentially says that "No formal system of logic is complete because there will always be propositions that cannot be explained by its theorems". Of course, Physics is a formal system of logic. The Incompleteness theorem has been proven but its implications are not understood by most scientists who are simply unaware of it.
Putting myself in the place of God (It isn't blasphemy, I'm doing what he wants me to do), if I was to design a universe, I would have to make sure that it's inhabitants could never prove my existence. Furthermore, I would have to design a universe so that all phenomena could be apparently explained by logical natural processes. The reason for this is that if I allowed them to be certain of my existence, they would appeal to me for everything and not do things on their own.
Is there room for the hand of God in everyday events, ABSOLUTELY. On a quantum scale, events are probabilistic so we cannot be certain that electron will go where we expect it to. We cannot be sure of anything and this is part of the design of the universe (God is a smart guy). So, on a quantum scale, God could nudge events in such a way as to be consistent with physical laws and undetectable as anything unnatural. Remember, the absence of unusual events is itself unnatural.
Why does God allow bad things to happen? If I could see all the possibilities as God does, I might be able to answer that. Further, how can I possibly expect to understand a being who is outside our notion of time.
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written by Eddie, June 14, 2012
This article makes no sense, perhaps largely due to the short format in which it is presented. However, when Mr. Carroll makes is arguement at the end, he states that Dawkins does not allow equal "vocabulary" between faith and physics. However, physics is not based upon vocabulary but observations that takes years to study, develop, and make predictions that can be tested against observations. The mathematics invovled are, from my understanding, difficult to describe in words, but are none the less observable. Drawing false comparisons as such do not further any arguement. The church has it's own cosmologists who readily accept certain premises, unappologetically, as part of thier faith.
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written by Richard Harris, June 14, 2012
Here's a Hudibrastic verse on woo,
for superstitious folk like you.

The Christian’s Jehovah, an Almighty God,
is a capricious and cantankerous clod;
and, so far as I can tell,
the Christian often is as well.
Confused by dogma, the god-fearing fogey
can’t fathom the nature of that Bible Bogey.

Is it a father, his son, and an apotropaic ghost too?
Well, it should be obvious that’s ridiculous woo.
Yet Christians claim this god, in its Empyrean lair,
is omniscient, omnipotent, benevolent and fair,
but, with the unresolved problem of theodicy,
their dogma is eristic, Christian idiocy.

The Jew’s Yahweh, that meshuggeneh, the jerk,
set Jews strict rules on when to work,
how to dress, and what to sup or sip,
and giving baby boys the snip.
The myths of Bronze Age, goat-herding nomads,
have them, metaphorically, by the gonads.

The Moslem’s Allah, a fierce great djinn,
demands under ‘Islam’, literally, ‘Submission’.
Apostasy is treated just like a crime;
they’ll threaten to kill you, to keep you in line,
and if you dare draw Mohammad in a comic cartoon,
there’ll be riots and killings from here to Khartoum.

Hindu, Sikh, Jain, and Buddhist,
Zoroastrian, Baha’i, Mormon, and Scientologist,
Confucianist, Shintoist, and Taoist too,
Spiritualist, Wiccan, and the New Ager into woo.
Yea, verily, those of each and every religion,
are mired in the miasma of superstition.

The gods from the Bronze Age up to modern times,
and from the Arctic down to tropical climes,
have inspired theology that’s unsubstantiated twaddle,
on what an invisible and silent god’ll
devise as its inscrutable, eschatological plan,
but all the gods were made in the image of man.

So, why should yours be the one true faith,
in a magic, phantasmagorical wraith?
Belief, without evidence, is just plain crazy,
ignorant, stupid, or thoughtlessly lazy.
When evolution happens, it’s due to Natural Selection,
so life derives no purpose, at a theistic god’s direction.

The evidence is we have just this one life,
with all its pleasures, challenges, toil, and strife.
As social beings we evolved our moral sensibility
to combat selfishness, lust, and venality.
Religion misunderstands, and so invokes the supernatural,
while Humanism strives to promote the good and rational.
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written by Gragra, June 14, 2012
"The body of Christ, present in the sacrament of the Eucharist, although real (neither symbolic nor metaphorical), is vastly different from the ordinary bodies subject to empirical analysis. It is sacramental presence and theology, aided by philosophy, that help to make intelligible what is believed."

Huh? What on earth does that even mean?

I think the problem here is, "...help to make intelligible what is believed." That's around the wrong way. It has to be made (or more accurately, found) intelligible before it can be believed.
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written by MIke F, June 14, 2012
OK, so Dawkins refuses to even consider a differentiation between matter and substance while, at the same time, believing Schrodinger's Cat is both dead and alive, there are multiple universes, aliens may have implanted life on earth and nothing is something. No wonder his acolytes reject Aristotolean logic in his defense. His opinions are hardly defensible otherwise.
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written by Reginald Le Sueur, June 14, 2012
"I would have to make sure that it's inhabitants could never prove my existence. Furthermore, I would have to design a universe so that all phenomena could be apparently explained by logical natural processes. The reason for this is that if I allowed them to be certain of my existence, they would appeal to me for everything and not do things on their own. "

But they do all appeal to God anyway. All we ever hear is "God does this, that and the other, God-did-it, God loves me, God has a purpose for me, God, God, God.
Could it posibly be worse if we could prove his existence?
Anyway, God is all-loving,and omnipotent, and I am sure he can cope with endless messages from his pets. That is what he is for.
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written by Reginald Le Sueur, June 14, 2012
Putting myself in the place of God (It isn't blasphemy, I'm doing what he wants me to do), if I was to design a universe, I would have to make sure that it's inhabitants could never prove my existence. Furthermore, I would have to design a universe so that all phenomena could be apparently explained by logical natural processes. The reason for this is that if I allowed them to be certain of my existence, they would appeal to me for everything and not do things on their own"

But they all appeal to him anyway non-stop. Sounds like a specious argument to me. It is God this God that and God the other; God-did-it: God loves me, God has a purpose for me. God, God, God. I'm sure that in his omnimaxness he can cope with endless messages from his pets.

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written by T.G. McCowan, June 14, 2012
Dear Grmp

"Andrew, who made the "fundamental laws"? The Big Bang theory makes as much sense as a dictionary resulting from an explosion in a print shop"

One: There does not have to be any being that created the physical laws of the universe.
Two: If there was a god that "created" the universe, why are you certain that it is your Christian god?
Three: You need a bit more education concerning the Big Bang theory. Just because you and I cannot understand string theory does not mean that you get to say "God did it"
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written by T.G. McCowan, June 14, 2012
MLKE F

"...nothing is something."

What does this mean?
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written by T.G. McCowan, June 14, 2012
written by Louise, June 13, 2012
"This article gave me more than a little encouragement that Prof Dawkins is starting to question his assumptions."

Maybe if you went to Richard Dawkins own web site, instead of a Catholic blog, you would see how wrong you are.
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written by Reginald Le Sueur, June 14, 2012
"OK, so Dawkins refuses to even consider a differentiation between matter and substance while, at the same time, believing Schrodinger's Cat is both dead and alive, there are multiple universes, aliens may have implanted life on earth and nothing is something. No wonder his acolytes reject Aristotolean logic in his defense. His opinions are hardly defensible otherwise".

But we already have a differentiation between diffent types of matter. it is the Periodic Table of the Elements, and at a subatomic level it is particle physics. At a higher molecular level it is chemical compounds,and biochemical and biological evolution into complex biological systems. What else is there? What is "substance", that is not already included under varible physical morphologies?
Schroedingers' Cat was invented as a mockery of aspects of QM, like the the collapse of the wave-function, and I doubt if Dawkins or anyone else takes it literally. As Feynman said "no one really understands QM", or something like that.
Mutiple Universe theory is perfectly feasible, as is alien implantation of life, or just passive Panspermia, and there is no such thing as "Nothing". These conclusions are all logically and empirically based, and a lot more reasonable than say, the doctrine of transubstantiation.
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written by George, June 14, 2012
Grump said "Andrew, who made the "fundamental laws"? The Big Bang theory makes as much sense as a dictionary resulting from an explosion in a print shop."

You might want to research Fr. Georges Lemaître.

As for intellect being enough to find God- our intellect is sufficient to lead us to faith, but to believe one must find God with the mind and the heart. Otherwise you are trying to use your eyes to smell a freshly baked pie ;-).
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written by Tim from New York, June 14, 2012
So, to bottom-line this... we have the claim of transubstantiation wherein the LITERAL body of christ is formed AT THE MOMENT of consecration.
Well, that's a very simple and very testable claim. Take a group of unconsecrated wafers (yet humanly handled by priests), examine them. Take a group of consecrated wafers and quickly examine those too.
Find something biological in the difference. Cells from a first century Jew would be an impressive start. DNA that clearly doesn't come from any of the examiners or handlers would be a great other start.
Everything else like that seriously flawed claim "The body of Christ, present in the sacrament of the Eucharist, although real (neither symbolic nor metaphorical), is vastly different from the ordinary bodies subject to empirical analysis. It is sacramental presence and theology, aided by philosophy, that help to make intelligible what is believed." is special pleading. It's NO different from saying "It's really there, only we can't prove it empirically because our definition of IT and REALLY and THERE have been specially redefined to exclude all forms of validation and falsification.
If you rely on philosophy, and assert that A and B are true and that C merely relies on A and B being true, then your argument is VALID and SOUND if (and only if) you can empirically demonstrate that A and B are true. Asserting something doesn't make it true. If it's an extraordinary claim, then it's going to need an extraordinary amount of evidence to substantiate it.
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written by T.G. McCowan, June 14, 2012
Dearest Sara
"During that discussion, Pell also said that Adam and Eve were metaphorical figures.
If so, then how does he account for the original sin of eating the forbidden fruit and Jesus' need to die for us for we cannot be punished for it?"

No Adam and Eve. No original sin. No need for billions of humans to be sent to be tortured.
Do you actually believe there was a REAL Adam and Eve?
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written by Crafty B, June 14, 2012
"written by MarkM, June 13, 2012

A lot of good comments. As for me, I truly to not understand why an atheist would care what a little old Catholic like me thinks or believes.
I hear this comparison...atheism is a belief like not collecting stamps is a hobby. I don't collect stamps, but I certainly don't begrudge those who do. Nor to I harass them. Nor do I buy all the stamps so they can't enjoy them. Nor do i get antsy when a collector friend tells me wbout th rare misprint he just got. Nor do i go out to find verbal challenges in case i encounter a stamp collector. Nor do I give it the slightest thought, in fact."

Mark... an athiest wouldn't care what a little-old Catholic like you thinks or believes if it didn't happen to have a real, sizeable affect on his life. Christian belief has a massive affect on our politics. An athiest trying to win high political office today is about as likely as a black person winning high political office in the 1800's. Many of our laws are biased by religious beliefs of some and restrict the rights of all.

If stamp collecters were the only people viable for pubic office in this country and wrote laws that everyone has to follow predicated on their stamp-collecting habits... if Stamp collecters flew airplanes into the buildings you work in because they thought people there were collecting the wrong stamps... or if they perpetuated ridiculously endless conflicts in far-flung lands that our stamp collecting leaders felt compelled to send your son to die and your tax dollars to be wasted, you might feel differently about stamp collectors.

Understand?
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written by T.G. McCowan, June 14, 2012
written by Rick DeLano, June 13, 2012
Since the premise of Krauss and Dawkins (a universe from nothing) is utterly absurd on its face, and since they must admit that their "nothing" is actually a very special sort of "something" which incorporates both energy and gravity, why would anyone bother to debate them further?
Dear Rick DeLano

You wrote:

"On the other hand, transubstantiation is very easily defended.
God, the Creator of All, has provided us the motives of credibility through the physical Resurrection of Chjrist, to believe what He tells us.
He tells us that the eucharist is His Body and Blood."

Transubstantiation can not be rationally defended. That was Dawkin's point.
You must presuppose that there is a Christian god to believe the magic transubstantiation.

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written by Crafty B, June 14, 2012
"written by MarkM, June 13, 2012

A lot of good comments. As for me, I truly to not understand why an atheist would care what a little old Catholic like me thinks or believes.
I hear this comparison...atheism is a belief like not collecting stamps is a hobby. I don't collect stamps, but I certainly don't begrudge those who do. Nor to I harass them. Nor do I buy all the stamps so they can't enjoy them. Nor do i get antsy when a collector friend tells me wbout th rare misprint he just got. Nor do i go out to find verbal challenges in case i encounter a stamp collector. Nor do I give it the slightest thought, in fact."

Mark... an athiest wouldn't care what a little-old Catholic like you thinks or believes if it didn't happen to have a real, sizeable affect on his life. Christian belief has a massive affect on our politics. An athiest trying to win high political office today is about as likely as a black person winning high political office in the 1800's. Many of our laws are biased by religious beliefs of some and restrict the rights of all.

If stamp collecters were the only people viable for pubic office in this country and wrote laws that everyone has to follow predicated on their stamp-collecting habits... if Stamp collecters flew airplanes into the buildings you work in because they thought people there were collecting the wrong stamps... or if they perpetuated ridiculously endless conflicts in far-flung lands that our stamp collecting leaders felt compelled to send your son to die and your tax dollars to be wasted, you might feel differently about stamp collectors.

Understand?
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written by Sara, June 14, 2012
written by T.G. McCowan, June 14, 2012

"No Adam and Eve. No original sin. No need for billions of humans to be sent to be tortured.
Do you actually believe there was a REAL Adam and Eve?"

No, of course not -- that's my point.

If the archbishop himself does not believe there was a "real" Adam and Eve, then what's the basis of his belief in original sin and then what did Jesus die for?
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written by Sara, June 15, 2012
This article has been reposted on the Richard Dawkins site.
Some of the comments there are very interesting.
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written by kanaadaa, June 15, 2012
As one who follows a timeless tradition well over 5,000 years old - the Hindu Dharmic tradition - I find these questions naive and ill-informed. Well before these arguments began the ancients had decided that a question by itself has no utility unless it is being used to drive in a conclusion that is already resolved. So "why" is meaningless.
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written by Terje_S, June 15, 2012
Dawkins use science and reason, and accept "imaginary" thinking in physics, to understand reality.
William Carroll use theology, another form of imaginary thinking, and philosophy to make old fairy tails sound real.
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written by Otaycec, June 15, 2012
Dawkins is trying to squeeze the unfathomable expanse of existence into the very limited paradigm that is the scientific method. He is like a moth flying around a light bulb and claims the sun does not exist because it cannot be seen.
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written by enness, June 15, 2012
I don't understand, if there is God, why you think He would necessarily fit neatly under a microscope.
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written by enness, June 15, 2012
Although, Lanciano goes unmentioned here -- why?
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written by arensb, June 16, 2012
You write:
"A scientific analysis of the consecrated host and wine would only detect these external appearances."

Then how can we tell whether a Eucharist was consecrated properly or not? Presumably, going through the motions of communion using an ordinary wafer is not the same as receiving communion, with the real presence of Christ in the Eucharist. So it's important to make sure that the host has been properly consecrated. How can one do that?
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written by Rick Baker, June 17, 2012
Trying to be academic and intellectual about faith ie 'pretending to know something that you do not know' is foolish. For some humans to act as though they know something that we 'non believers' cannot know for some reason is arrogant and presumptious. To say substantiation needs more than science to be explained is ok if you can produce some evidence as to what that is. Please share it with us lesser mortals!
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written by robert_d, June 17, 2012
I nearly got thrown out of Sunday school in second grade when I asked for proof that the host and wine turn into flesh and blood. That it what we we told - not some secret "substance" of Jesus - (You're not allowed to call him Christ because that assumes the answer) Worst yet I then asked why anyone would want to be a cannibal? Needless to say as soon as possible I left these baseless claims and moved on to learn more about the real world and real people. To be an "informed catholic" is an oxymoron. If you want to have "informed" catholics, try having them read "The Greatest Story Ever Told" - Dawkins version - so you can have an honest intellectual discussion about when and how human flesh came to be.
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written by Reginald Le Sueur, June 18, 2012
"written by Otaycec, June 15, 2012
Dawkins is trying to squeeze the unfathomable expanse of existence into the very limited paradigm that is the scientific method."

You don't appear to understand that:
1. Dawkins prents the scientific consensus, not just his own quixottic world view.

2. The business of science is to ex[lore all phenomena, of every kind, everywhere, ie "more than is dreamed of in your philosophy".

3, Dawkins asks for Catholic honesty; so please tell us where the scientific method ends, and what are the limite of the natural world beyond which science cannot go, and where would you place these limits, and why?--and also what have you antiscientists discovered that we have not?


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written by An Anonymous Fool, June 18, 2012
How scientific is it to claim that science can explain everything?

Could you apply the scientific method to prove your hypothesis, "Everything can be explained by Science"?

How can a methodology that relies on the senses explain what lies beyond the senses? How can measurements taken based on the senses be used to measure phenomenon that lie outside of our senses?

The reliance on science to explain everything is about as wise as the carpenter that claims he can build anything with just a saw.

The failure of the Hellenists to discover the Truth matches the ultimate failure of the scientists in the same realm. However, the tools of each of those trades and the discoveries of those sciences gives us a greater appreciation of the revealed Truth. That is the way to look at this.

Where Dawkins fails spectacularly is in his self-imposed constraints in employing all the tools available. He is curious to learn the Truth and he is one of the great scientists of our time. Yet he persists in compromising his own rules when it comes to the seeking an understanding of the Truth.

In Christ
An Anonymous Fool.
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written by nick, July 17, 2012
How strange that an intellectual Catholic such as this author can equate faith and reason.
Martin Luther declared famously that "Reason is the enemy of faith" and of course he was right.Faith is a belief in an unlikely event which can never be proved,the more unlikely the event,the greater the faith-so the inanity of transubstantiation fits in well in this context.
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written by Atheist, July 19, 2012
This article is absolute muck. If you watch, on Youtube, all of these exchanges mentioned (instead of cherry-picking things that seem to prove your point), you'll see that the author of this article engages in what I like to call the "fallacy of meta-equivocation"--that is, he takes Dawkins notion of moving outside "common sense," and then tapdances into lambasting him for not understand the "same idea" in Catholic sense. And that is just garbage thinking and writing. Plain and simple. These two men--Dawkins and Pell (or Carroll, in this article) are not at all defending the same idea of "common sense" and "moving outside of it."

To this author, moving outside common sense means "believing that a cracker and booze become the flesh and blood of a man--but in some mysterious way that it can never be proven or tested, and continues to look and smell and taste the same. But somehow it just is flesh and blood."

Dawkins idea of moving away from common sense means understanding that our concept of time, space, and matter are not infinite things and that the quantum physics that led to the development of our universe are mind boggling--because they preceded the laws we all are familiar with today.

So Dawkins is not a hypocrite; rather, he's just not embarassingly and blindly superstitious. It's the author of this article who can't smell what he's shovelling.

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