A friend has written for advice about how to debate with an atheist mathematician who thinks Dawkins and Co. are quite clever fellows. He is fond of finding inconsistencies and contradictions in Scripture to ‘disprove’ Biblical inspiration. His favorite at the moment is pointing out the contradictions between the geneologies of Jesus in Matthew and Luke.
One hardly knows where to start with such puerile arguments. The geneologies in Matthew and Luke are recorded for particular theological purposes. Matthew wants to show that Jesus is descended from Abraham, and Luke wants to show that he is descended from David and Adam. The geneologies are rough sketches of Jesus’ ancestry to make a point. They are not the complete geneological ancestry of Davidic clan of the sort that a keen family historian might spend hours compiling.
Think of a modern Englishman who wants to prove that he is descended from King Henry VIII. He compiles a partial family tree tracing his desecent from the Tudors. But let’s say his son wants to show that the family is also descended from the ancient Scottish king MacBeth. He traces another strain of the family tree to prove his point. The literalist says the two geneologies are inconsistent and are therefore bunk. Anyone who knows more about geneology and the reason for compiling the list in the first place wouldn’t make such an embarrassingly pedestrian criticism.
Pointing this out to otherwise smart men is embarrassing in itself. Do they really know so little outside their own area of expertise? Apparently so. Furthermore, their arrogance and know it all attitude is also frighteningly immature. Do they really think people in the past didn’t pick this up? Do they imagine that 2,000 years worth of Christians are so blind and dull that they didn’t see the ‘inconsistencies’ and have an answer for them? They blame Christian fundamentalists for being overly literal, and then fall into the same trap themselves. Picking apart the Scriptures to find little inconsistencies is about as smart as the village idiot who took apart a clock to find time, and when he didn’t find it concluded that there is no such thing.
Think how the scientist feels when a fundamentalist non-Scientist looks at, say, the fossil record and draws all the wrong conclusions, or makes some inane observation about science because it doesn’t fit with his religious assumptions. I once heard of fundamentalists, for instance, who thought there were never such things as dinosaurs, but God put the fossils in the ground to give the earth the illusion of great age. The fellow said it with all seriousness, but a scientist would rightly be flabbergasted that anyone can take such a view seriously, and that anyone could possibly be quite so ignorant or blind to anytyhing outside his own world view. Ditto the theologians who have to endure equally ridiculous criticisms of Dawkins and Co.
When large swathes of the population then buy their books and buy their theories it is even more galling—just as galling as when the atheist scientist discovers that a huge proportion of the otherwise intelligent public buy into creationism and extreme Biblical literalism.
Beneath the questions of the modern secularists is the genuine difficulty they have in understanding the ancient worldview, and therefore ancient literature. Because they are trained to be critical and literal in their logical positivism, they have rarely developed a mindset that typifies the ancient mind. The ancient mind was as instinctively religious, symbolic and sacramental as the modern mind is atheistic, literal and materialistic. For them to understand ancient religious writings they would have to first accept that there is a totally different way of looking at the universe (the religious way) and then they would have to accept that this other way of seeing might actually be valid, and then they would have to try somehow or other to actually learn to ‘see’ in this way.
That’s a huge problem, and something a few arguments over geneologies in the gospels is unlikely to overcome.
If he is a mathematician point him to Godels theorem. This proves that science and mathematics are not and cannot be complete systems. He should be able to understand this. There is an argument for completeness in closed systems. Catholics does not deny this we call it Hell.Catholicism is not Sola Scriptura. The Bible was not delivered into our hands by angels and is not the exact literal word of God – unlike the assumption about the Koran :-).As regards evolution theory. It does not make sense. As a logician he should see that straight away. Life is a miracle. Ask him if he were to map out all characteristics of the bodies in the visible universe would he not describe Earth as a mathematical outlier. Mathematically life on earth is the most “unnatural” thing in the universe that we have uncovered so far. However, we cannot deny that life is. Therefore it is perfectly reasonable to describe it as a miracle.DefinitionMiracle, derived from the old Latin word miraculum meaning “something wonderful”, is a striking interposition of divine intervention by God in the universe by which the ordinary course and operation of Nature is overruled, suspended, or modified.Why does evolution not make sense?If I threw a lump of rubble on the ground, would you expect it to arrange itself into a beautiful building in 48 hours. No you would not. How does increasing the time frame for such a event to occur make it any more acceptable to your rational mind. Evolution says that a lump of rubble not only produces form but also turns into sentient form ALL BY ITSELF. This contradicts the 2nd law of themodynamics – Entropy.There is no denying that life systems have a form into which they grow. A chic turns into a chicken and not a dog. This process is communal in the sense that the environment and the organism interact. However, mankind seems a complete exception to other forms of life in his uniqueness. A horse, zebra, donkey, deer, etc . is a good variety of horsey creatures. Other organisms have abundant variety within the family, man seems to have no variety remotely comparable, again he could be reasonably seen as a mathematical outlier, another miracle.Hope these ideas help.
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deleted my old post so that I could expand this one.However please keep in mind literal creationism is not the sole position of the church, in fact, there is considerable room in the catechism to allow for the possibility of Theistic Evolution ( http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Theistic_evolution )This was the ORIGINAL theory of intelligent design, before it was usurped by literal creationists wanting to sound more scientific. I know I am being overly simplistic but because I do not have much time to type this in detail the general theme behind theistic evolution accepts the science behind evolution but also intrinsically assents God as the source of all life, different theories regarding theistic evolution as to the extent of that intervention exist but theistic evolution as a whole is by it’s nature accepted by the Catholic church, in fact it was the rather intelligent way the church reconciled faith and science that led me back to it after years spent as a rather vocal athiest. Yes I would contend life is a miracle, but I just wanted to also illustrate there are also other views within the church as well.Futher reading on the subject can be obtained athttp://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Evolution_and_the_Roman_Catholic_ChurchPope Paul XII’s excyclical on the subject, Humani Generishttp://www.vatican.va/holy_father/pius_xii/encyclicals/documents/hf_p-xii_enc_12081950_humani-generis_en.html
Need to poke at the chinks in their armor. Ask them to articulate clearly how randomness can act as a generative force. No, this is not a suggestion to use the equally puerile appeal to multiplication of independent events to “prove” the reasonableness of creation.Instead it is a challenge to those that profess “the scientific method” to clarify terms and their implications. The proper use of randomness in mathematical & scientific models is as a shorthand for the unexplained. Yet the empty seekers repeatedly commit what Whitehead termed as the fallacy of misplaced concreteness. By invoking randomness to explain, they reify an abstract concept that is meant to encapsulate our ignorance! Evolution *does* make sense and *is* well supported both theoretically *and* empirically when viewed outside the ideological and anti-religious trappings in which it is frequently paraded. Evolution does not speak to the origin of life. The miraculously wonderful can be embraced by an evolutionary account. Each of us survives in a world full of hostile microbes wanting to consume us only because of a system of interactions, responses, and counter-responses that mimics evolutionary processes. Our immune system works, in part, by harnessing the power of directed natural selection.Life is good, but our time is brief. Focus on living the faith and evangelizing through that example.
Fundamentalist Christians who insist on interpreting scripture literally, simplistically make it easy for intelligent skeptics to knock apart their simplistic theology. My first step in debating with a smart athiestic would be to convince them that mainstream Christianity (or Judaism or Islam, for that matter) is not the same thing as the caricature of the faith that is promoted by the most ardent fundamentalists. If you can get the skeptic to accept that there is more complexity, more nuanace, than some Christians accept, you then open them to looking at the faith (and theology) more holistically rather than in that reductive manner which is so endemic to all forms of fundamentalism: fundamentalist belief and fundamentalist non-belief, for instance.Steve
benfan,As various anons do farther down, I would very strongly advise against trying to debate a mathematician attracted to materialist skepticism by throwing in one’s lot against evolution based on the “no complexity from simplicity” and entropy arguments. These are old hats based on very poor understandings of science, and to associate Catholicism does no one a service.
it just gives me a headache..
Sorry to be a purist, but an Englishman who wanted to prove descent from Henry VIII would be setting himself up for disappointment. He had no direct descendants beyond his children. Ancestral uncle’s the best he could hope for.
I cringe when I think of the remorseless logic of the material sciences. I sadly admit I thought I knew everything; the cosmos and everything under the sun, I explained in mathematical expressions. I was a fool. Depression ensued and finally I had to admit to something called Love. The things of faith and love are like the imaginary numbers in a complex algebraic equation, without them the expression doesn’t quite yield the correct answer. So, here I am, balancing the equation.
I created a blog to continue my comments on this post. check out http://friedchickenstrips.blogspot.com/. I haven’t figured out how to create links yet.