Friday, July 26, 2013

Against the Atheistic Notion of Faith

I was not always a person of faith, as I have noted in some of my past writings.  In fact, it seemed that the only “religious faith” I used to have was that my quasi-mighty Portland Trailblazers were going to win the NBA championship each and every new season that started.  Talk about misplaced faith!  In fact, being the arrogant snot that I was, I tried to “prove” that God didn’t exist while still in my late teens and early twenties; something which now seems as utterly preposterous as it was arrogant.  Needless to say, I have thankfully matured (some) intellectually, emotionally, and definitely spiritually over the years since.

All of that said, I have run into and debated more than a few atheists in recent years, long after my conversion to faith in God and Catholicism.  Sadly some of those atheists are members within my own extended family.  One of the reoccurring memes that keeps arising from many of my atheistic debating friends, either implicitly or explicitly, is this twisted notion of what they think faith is.

Many atheists and agnostics today seem to be of a similar mindset that faith is nothing more than an appeal to superstition.  To them, it is a naivety that is born of ignorance or a disdain of science.  And while it is accurate to say that certain religious faiths could indeed be construed in such a way, the cardinal theological virtue of faith as taught by the Catholic Church is nothing of the sort.  (The other two of the three cardinal theological virtues are hope and love, in case you cared.)

What faith truly means in the context of that theology is not some archaic medieval reliance on God as an all-encompassing explanation because we don’t understand the esoteric realities of the physical world.  True faith is not irrational or sub-rational.  It certainly does not lie below the threshold of reason.  Indeed the virtue of faith is a surrender on the far side of reason.  It is informed in its foundation, and as such it is merely a “leap beyond the place currently illumined by philosophy and science,” as Father Barron has so eloquently said.  Further paraphrasing him, this created war between faith and  reason is a matter born of a misunderstanding of what faith truly is by an ever-growing secular society.

Most atheists seem to think that faith is the antonym of reason.  It is contrary to science in their estimation.  The irony of that mindset is not lost on those who truly do understand the virtue of faith.  Indeed it was belief and faith that were often the catalysts for many brilliant scientists to want to discover the intricacies and explanations of our Devine Creator God and his universe.  It was men and women of faith, specifically in the Catholic mold, that were responsible for the creation of many of the modern sciences and even the university system via the Catholic Church. 

The list of luminaries in the history of the sciences often show people of true faith to be the very founders of certain branches of study or discoverers of new scientific theories.  Indeed, it is interesting to note how many fathers of the various sciences were actually Fathers (priests).  Father Gregor Mendel was the founder of genetic science.  Father Georges Lemaitre was the scientist that proposed the big bang theory.  Father Roger Joseph Boscovich was responsible for the precursors of atomic theory, as well as being a brilliant astronomer and polymath.  Father Roger Bacon is credited with being the father of the modern scientific method.  The list of Catholic scientists that understand and are practitioners of the theological virtue of faith is impressive, even into these modern times. 

So you see, faith is not an anti-science and anti-reason philosophy or mindset.  On the contrary, it is by that light of faith that we can see past the darkness on the path that science and philosophy has not yet illuminated the way for us yet in order to make ever greater discoveries and thereby further substantiate our faith in God and his creation.  True faith and reason are not only compatible, but as history has shown, are often a great catalyst in the furthering of science – in great spite of all atheistic claims to the contrary.


Jerry Critter said...

It seems your explanation of faith is based on what it is not, rather than what it is, a curious line of reasoning.

T. Paine said...

Jerry, with all due respect, you just illustrated perfectly the premise of my post.

Jerry Critter said...

In other words, you are proving a negative? Or maybe faith is what is left after you eliminate everything it is not.

T. Paine said...

The cardinal theological virtue of faith (the opposite of a vice) is based on reason. It is not a blind acceptance of some theological idea or principle that flies in the face of and is contrary to informed reason, history, and science. Faith merely expands on that foundation of reason and leads one further down the path that is not yet illuminated by our own intellect and reason.

Faith as a virtue in the context of which I was speaking, is not a “religious denomination” like Mr. Deming erroneously posited. It is certainly not thinking that the earth is only a few thousand years old in contrast with everything that science has taught us. It is a philosophical explanation and belief that furthers our understanding based on the foundation that our God-given intellects have allowed us to already discern regarding the world He created for us.

And it certainly is not proving a negative, such as Keynesian economics working in the real world as an example, sir.

Jerry Critter said...

"Faith merely expands on that foundation of reason and leads one further down the path that is not yet illuminated by our own intellect and reason. "

So, faith is fluid, changing as intellect and reason increase, always staying one step ahead of actual knowledge?

T. Paine said...

Well, not precisely. Faith’s ultimate goal is a belief in God. That belief is buoyed and supported by fact, logic, and reason. As we expand what we know and can logically deduce, it only strengthens that faith in better understanding God and his creation.

jim marquis said...

I'm an agnostic rather than an atheist because at this point in time I think it's impossible for humans to either prove or disprove the existence of God.

One thing that had really been troubling me lately was the whole thing about being asked to pray for people after some kind of natural disaster. But somebody on Facebook pointed out to me that even if you're not religious you can still send positive energy out to those who are hurting. I know it sounds kind of New Agey but at least it made feel better about the concept of prayer.

Jerry Critter said...

So, when an element of faith is proved wrong by fact, logic, and reason, it is supposed to increase faith? I don't see how that works.

T. Paine said...

Jim, I understand your premise; however, I think if one were to honestly and objectively look at man-kinds current full understanding of science and philosophy, logic would absolutely point towards the existence of God. Indeed, with all of the facts in evidence for a creator of the universe, it strikes me that it would take a far greater leap of faith to NOT believe in God then it would be to embrace His existence.

Jerry, I cannot honestly think of any core element of faith that has ever been proven wrong by fact, logic, or reason. That’s not to say that it hasn’t happened, but only that I cannot think of any such examples. Further, if I were to find such an example, I suspect it would not harm that virtue of faith, but rather clarify our understanding in seeing the big picture regarding God and his creation. In other words, it would correct our current understanding and the faith derived from it so that we will have even better understanding and thus even greater faith. The virtue of faith has nothing to fear from seeking understanding and seeking truth. God is truth. Seeking him in faith will always eventually lead to His truth accordingly.

Jerry Critter said...

Heresy - Belief or opinion contrary to orthodox religious (esp. Christian) doctrine.

People have been excommunicated and/or killed for heresy because they violated a belief of the church, a belief later proven by fact, logic and reason to be wrong.

It appears that the core is shrinking, since the core consists of those beliefs yet to be proven wrong. Or we have been punishing people for transgressions of "minor" beliefs, ones that are not really that important except to maintain control of the masses.

T. Paine said...

Actually, heresy has one more element to it. One has to at first be a believer in that particular faith and then espouse an opinion that is contrary to the doctrine or dogma of that faith to accurately be labeled a heretic. If one never believed in that faith from the start and espoused opinions contrary to its doctrine, one would be an infidel to that faith and not a heretic.

Next, I have no problem with heretics being excommunicated from any faith of which they don’t hold to the orthodoxy thereof. Such is the right of various faiths to expel members who espouse doctrine contrary to what that given faith’s authority teaches as authentic. And while what you said about people having been killed for heresy is undoubtedly true in history, I bet you would be hard pressed to give me examples off of the top of your head of the Catholic Church doing so without doing any research on the subject. Again, any institution comprised of humans, even churches, will be corrupt to various degrees simply by mankind’s fallen nature. I further bet you would have a REALLY hard time coming up with a Catholic heretic that was proven correct in his theological understanding.

“It appears that the core is shrinking, since the core consists of those beliefs yet to be proven wrong. Or we have been punishing people for transgressions of "minor" beliefs, ones that are not really that important except to maintain control of the masses.”

I can poke serious holes into the middle of several other various faith’s doctrine both theologically and scientifically, but I challenge you to present one element of dogma of the Catholic faith that has been shown to be scientifically wrong in its two thousand year history.

Lastly, I would agree that the core of orthodox Christianity is indeed shrinking, but not because the faith seeks to “control the masses”, but rather people have abandoned those long held morals and principles and instead have turned to their own desires, whims, and uninformed consciences in today’s secularly humanist society in how they now choose to live their lives. As for them leaving Catholicism because those beliefs have been “proven wrong”, the onus is upon you to support such an assertion, sir. I would humbly submit to you that is those that are leaving because of some perceived dogmatic error who are actually the ones that are wrong.

Jerry Critter said...

So no one was ever harmed for saying the earth was not the center of the solar system?

T. Paine said...

Galileo, I presume? Galileo’s discovery was groundbreaking and scientifically revolutionary at the time as most of his scientific colleagues all held to a geocentric instead of a heliocentric view of our solar system. Galileo’s scientific discoveries and observations were actually encouraged by the Catholic Church originally. What got Galileo in trouble was his attempts to make controversial theological statements while mocking Pope Urban in the process. If he would have stuck to science, he would have been fine. Instead, he wandered into theology where he should not have tread. That said, Galileo was not tortured nor excommunicated for this. He was effectively placed under house arrest, complete with his own servant. Despite this, he remained a devout Catholic, partaking of the Eucharist until he died.

Also, Galileo’s finding seemed to refute a literal reading of scripture. While back in his day, there were plenty of clergy that thought this way, many others did not. Catholicism today does not necessarily subscribe to a literal interpretation of the Bible, particularly regarding the Old Testament. That said, in light of revealed Faith, nothing Galileo said changed or disputed any core tenet of dogma or doctrine.

dmarks said...

Jerry said: "Heresy - Belief or opinion contrary to orthodox religious (esp. Christian) doctrine.

People have been excommunicated and/or killed for heresy because they violated a belief of the church, a belief later proven by fact, logic and reason to be wrong."

More people have been killed in the last century for heresy and other nonconformity by Atheists than for any other reason in the last 100 years. This total might be the largest in all history.