Tuesday, June 14, 2005

Aw, Shove It

I may come to regret posting the following; 20 years from now, I can just see some jerk in some law office or newsroom (depending on where I end up) dredging this up and trying to ruin my career with it. So be it.

I've been a Catholic my entire life. Since that life has only spanned 22 years, it's fair to say that well over half of my experience of religion and faith has been at least partially involuntary - I was put into Catholic grade school and followed everyone I knew into Catholic high school. This had quite a bit more to do with the relative quality of Philadelphia Catholic schools and private schools than with faith, but I have fashioned a religious experience of my own nonetheless. I despise much about the Catholic Church, but beyond that, struggling with the most elemental aspects of Christian faith is an increasing ordeal, as my curiosity about the world and its complexity intensifies. I'm not certain I buy any of it (Christianity) anymore. I'm not certain, to cite one conundrum, that I can much longer accept a moral system which segregates itself into two components: the precepts to which Christian morality binds mere mortals on one hand and the blanket exoneration of the omnipotent divinity from any coherent moral responsibility of any kind on the other. (To put that more simply, doesn't God have any rules to follow?)

So I am an "agnosto-Catholic" - because there are aspects of my life as a Catholic which I not only am unable to abandon but which exert a visceral and even an intellectual power over me I can't explain. That, to me, is the crux of my own faith - the imagining of a space of inexplicability - bringing me directly to my point.

I'll try not to bandy about much rhetoric. In the debate between creationists and atheists, the latter have won. No contest. This article explains why (via Julian Sanchez):


Science is everyday proving huge swaths of religious conviction dead, flat wrong. But here is what I do not see budging on my side of the fray. When at a given point in history, the total aggregate quantity of scientifically-vindicated knowledge X reaches the point X+1, how does this inestimable achievement of human ingenuity and reason prove (scientifically, mind you) that what lies far, far, far beyond this frontier will not eventually defy those very faculties of ingenuity and reason completely? Because that proof is the primary necessary premise of the claim "There is no God." As best as I can reason through it, it cannot supply this proof, it can only augment skepticism. The chasm between the two is huge, particularly if science is the blunt object purportedly bludgeoning Christianity to a pulp. Taken as a theory (as the article defines the non-scientific sense of the word) the narrative of creationism - that God created all that exists in a matter of days and from that point nothing quantifiable about the physical universe has changed - has been obliterated completely. This proves what God didn't do. Science has always proven what God didn't do, and thus what God is not. The Earth wasn't placed at the center of the universe by this omniscient being, or even at the center of this galaxy. And science argues persuasively that Christianity had better think about reformulating its teaching of God's relationship with the human condition if it actually wants to lay claim to a semi-plausible doctrine.

But here is what the methodological precision of science and reason is, in my view, unable to prove. It cannot prove that God is a fictional contrivance. It does not prove that the causal links that explain science naturally are not themselves causally linked to something unaccountable to human intelligence. It does not prove that this divine entity wishes to cover his tracks, never to be 'found out' by the intelligence of humanity - an undeveloped supposition of atheism, it seems. (To put it differently, couldn't the very spontaneity of the Big Bang, punctuated evolution, etc. be this divine creator's precise intention?) It does not prove that whatever body of verifiable facts the human race can freely deploy as truth are not the result of God's design. As much philosophical argument as I have read disputing these conclusions (the breadth of such writing has dwindled in recent years), I am having a hard time being convinced. And I am looking to be convinced. If anything, my faith is the result of gravitation toward, not away from, skepticism. I am deeply skeptical of the faith that invests itself in the assumption that there is no realm of existence beyond what is provable, definable, quantifiable. Reasonable believers are not looking for science to validate our beliefs. We are just looking for them not to mock us in public. This mockery, for the reasons I've stated, seems a little on the presumptuous side.

For the record (and not to be conciliatory), I admire much about atheism and find great wisdom in it, much to contend with in its ethical/ontological/teleological collisions with theism. Christopher Hitchens is far and away my favorite journalist working today. And this is only one simple component of how I conceive of the entire question of God and faith - I am completely adrift in this regard. I am far more settled and confident in the thoughts and intuitions that persuade me against religious faith than in those that draw me back in. I am in full acknowledgement of the fact that my faith is predicated on a pervading sense of confusion and limitation. But that's the single most personally attractive thing about believing in the supernatural.

But then, my favorite song is Kansas' "Carry On, My Wayward Son". So an anti-ontological defense of belief might be biting off more than I can chew. Weekly reports on my sanity to follow.


At 1:13 PM, Blogger rob said...

John- Great post. I found your blog through Tom Palmer's site (I'm currently an intern at the CATO institute myself) and I've been thoroughly impressed. Keep up the good work.

At 7:40 PM, Blogger Tony said...

I've really enjoyed reading your blog. Very interesting.

My earth science article site has lots of info pertaining to earth science article.

Come visit sometime :)


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