Materialism and Cognitive Dissonance

This is a post in response to an atheist claim for rationality as against the supposed Christian irrationality.

On the issue of cognitive dissonance, it would seem clear that materialism relies on a foundation that supports nothing else, since it cannot justify reason itself. A materialist, by virtue of his own creed, “believe[s] something [i.e., reason] for which the evidence wasn’t present”. As Darwin himself stated:

With me the horrid doubt always arises whether the convictions of man’s mind, which has been developed from the mind of the lower animals, are of any value or at all trustworthy. Would any one trust in the convictions of a monkey’s mind…?

As well, materialism is monistic – for a materialist, there is only ever one thing: matter. If rationality and knowledge of truth involves making distinctions, it’s doomed in such a task right from the outset.

‘Rationality’ so-called in materialism, then, involves cognitive dissonance at two most defining points – in its foundation, and in its end (knowledge of things).

The Catholic Faith site update

The Catholic Faith project page has been updated, with a new logo and with the addition of several new sections. You are encouraged to download and disseminate the pdf booklets for you evangelical pleasure. From the About page:

The Catholic Faith project aims to assist the lay faithful – the ‘sleeping giant’ of the Church – to know, love, defend and proclaim the Catholic faith.

The greatest commandment given to us as Catholics is to “love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind” (Matthew 22:37). As such, we must first know our faith, for it reveals God – we cannot love what we do not know.

As we continue to grow in knowledge and love of the faith – which naturally includes living it to the full – the Scriptures also call us to, “go into all the world and proclaim the gospel [euangelos] to every creature” (Mark 16:15), and, “always be prepared to make a defense [apologia] to any one who calls you to account for the hope that is in you, yet do it with gentleness and reverence” (1 Peter 3:15). This is the work of evangelisation and apologetics to which we are all called, as part of the volitional faith that saves us and brings salvation to others (James 2:26, Matthew 25:31-46); but we must first know and love our faith – we cannot give what we do not have.

This is a not-for-profit (other than winning souls!), self-propagating (reader-distributed) project aiming to inform and equip the Catholic fathful for this glorious task at hand!

Introduction to Death

This post may be more properly called the Introduction to the Problem of Death.

Death, as we know, is a horrible thing: why would God allow it?

In a debate with an atheist, the objection was raised that it is absurd to think that deaths in cases such as those in the recent Christchurch earthquake could be compatible with a benevolent God who would intervene to save some people.

Part of the difficulty would be the same problems faced from the presuppositions of philosophical materialism and their implications, one of which would be the finite nature of all embodied things. If human existence is limited to the material, of course it would seem that a benevolent God would have to intervene in order to safeguard people from an ultimate demise.

However, often, I would posit, the issue is not so much with the objective case at hand, but with the projections of such a philosophy and world view. Once the material-tinted glasses are put down, it might be seen that the difficulty is somewhat negated. As Socrates (who is, of course, a preeminent and pre-Christian Greek philosopher) states in Phaedo:

And the true philosophers, Simmias, are always occupied in the practice of dying, wherefore also to them least of all men is death terrible.

Although Platonic dualism is, as I understand it, not compatible with Catholicism, such a philosophical insight into the formal aspect of a living entity does touch on the truth of the possibility of life apart from the material part.

I would suggest that, if this is taken into account, the problem of death begins to resolve itself, at least at the philosophical level (psychological is another matter).

Scripture and Bias of Tradition?

One of the nuances on the Sola Scriptura doctrine I recently come across is to acknowledge the role of tradition in scriptural interpretation, but as a source of ‘bias’ (correct or incorrect).

As a believer, I would be asking if all tradition is ‘bias’, or can it be more? As a believing Catholic, but also as a believer open to the objective data, I would say it is more. Let me outline a few reasons and data which seems to me to indicate this.

First is Scripture. Upon examining the case of Bereans (Acts 17:11), one sees that these Jews are examining the Apostolic teachings with the Jewish scriptures. Would it be true that “the Bible has authority over church tradition”? This would seem to me to be hasty generalization, for a few reasons. Firstly, the Apostles were teaching new doctrines that went above and beyond the Old Testament, of the Christ who authoritatively fulfilled and also superceded the Law of Moses. The Bereans, in this sense, were checking for consistency with the prospect of Messianic doctrine that would supercede the limitation of their scriptures. Secondly, the Apostolic teaching as superceding the Old Testament is explicitly acknowledged and, in fact, proclaimed, as coming in two modes: “So then, brethren, stand firm and hold to the traditions which you were taught by us, either by word of mouth or by letter” (II Thess 2:15). Indeed, this Apostolic word of mouth is considered to be divine revelation: “And we also thank God constantly for this, that when you received the word of God which you heard from us, you accepted it not as the word of men but as what it really is, the word of God, which is at work in you believers” (I Thess 2:13). If one is to go by the scriptural practice of the Bereans, then, it would stand to sense to allow authoritative Apostolic teaching to properly guide scriptural interpretation.

Now, this is not some isolated theory, but, again, found in historical data in the early Church:

Papias:

Whenever anyone came my way, who had been a follower of my seniors, I would ask for the accounts of our seniors: What did Andrew or Peter say? Or Phillip or Thomas or James or John or Matthew, or any of the Lord’s disciples? I also asked: What did Aristion and John the Presbyter, disciples of the Lord say. For, as I see it, it is not so much from books as from the living and permanent voice that I must draw profit (The Sayings of the Lord [between A.D. 115 and 140] as recorded by Eusebius, Ecclesiastical History, 3:39 [A.D. 325]).

Irenaeus:

For even creation reveals Him who formed it, and the very work made suggests Him who made it, and the world manifests Him who ordered it. The Universal [Catholic] Church, moreover, through the whole world, has received this tradition from the Apostles (Against Heresies 2:9 [A.D. 189]).

True knowledge is the doctrine of the Apostles, and the ancient constitution of the Church throughout all the world, and the distinctive manifestation of the body of Christ according to the successions of the bishops, by which they have handed down that Church which exists in every place, and has come even unto us, being guarded and preserved, without any forging of Scriptures, by a very complete system of doctrine, and neither addition nor curtailment [in truths which she believes]; and [it consists in] reading [the Word of God] without falsification, and a lawful and diligent exposition in harmony with the Scriptures, both without danger and without blasphemy…(ibid. 4:33 [A.D. 189]).

Origen:

Seeing there are many who think they hold the opinions of Christ, and yet some of these think differently from their predecessors, yet as the teaching of the Church, transmitted in orderly succession from the Apostles, and remaining in the churches to the present day, is still preserved, that alone is to be accepted as truth which differs in no respect from ecclesiastical and apostolic tradition (On First Principles Bk. 1 Preface 2 [circa A.D. 225]).

So, historically, Apostolic tradition was not seen as merely a basis for ‘bias’ – no; according to historical and Scriptural data, this view is novel and foreign to both. Church has faithfully obeyed the Apostolic exhortation to “stand firm and hold to the traditions which you were taught by us”, since they recognized the Apostolic teaching as “what it really is, the word of God”.

Growth and Orthodoxy

To add to the previous post, here’s an article on Liberal Religions in Free Fall:

Beginning with the work of Dean Kelly in the 1970s, it has been empirically obvious that those religions which have experienced the greatest proportionate decline in membership are generally the most progressive or liberal in their teachings; conversely, conservative-oriented religions have fared comparatively well. The latest data from the Yearbook proves this to be true again.

…With the exception of the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod, and to some extent the American Baptist Churches, all the other churches with declining membership hold liberal views on abortion and gay rights. Moreover, the smallest decline among the Baptist churches was registered by the most conservative among them, the Southern Baptist Convention (down .42). By sharp contrast, all the religions that experienced a growth in membership are pro-life and pro-marriage (normatively understood).

Orthodoxy (among the conservatives, in this case) flourishes, because we are made to know and seek the truth.

As the article claims, this is consistent with the past findings, tracked by ad2000: for the Crisis magazine (2007);

The better-known orthodox bishops and dioceses – such as Archbishop Chaput (Denver) and Bishop Bruskewitz (Lincoln) – ranked well, while long-time liberal dioceses, such as Milwaukee, Albany and Rochester, fared very poorly. Not all dioceses fitted this pattern, due to other factors, but there was an evident correlation between success and strongly orthodox leadership.

Catholic World Report (2005);

Ziegler’s analysis took account of factors like the selection processes in different dioceses, the numbers accepted from other dioceses or overseas, the effects of clerical sex abuse scandals and rapid changes in population. However, these did not substantially affect the likely ingredients of success.

Successful seminaries were linked for the most part with strong, orthodox episcopal leadership, the witness of devout, enthusiastic clergy, focus on the indispensable role of the priest, effective programs in schools and parishes, and spiritual practices such as Eucharistic adoration.

and Human Life International;

2. The proportion of diocesan priests in orthodox dioceses has remained steady, while the number of diocesan priests in progressive dioceses has been continually declining for four decades. In orthodox dioceses, there were 1,830 diocesan priests per million active Catholics in 1956, and 12 percent more (2,057) in 1996….

1. There are currently nearly five times as many ordinations of diocesan priests per million active Catholics in orthodox dioceses as there are in progressive dioceses (53 vs. 11); and

2. The rate of ordinations of diocesan priests in orthodox dioceses shows a strong upward trend, while the rate in progressive dioceses, relatively low four decades ago, continues to decline. In orthodox dioceses, there were 34 ordinations of diocesan priests per million active Catholics in 1986, and 53 in 1996 – an increase of more than 50 percent. In progressive dioceses, the rate was 16 in 1986, and only 11 in 1996 – a one-third decrease.

This is consistent with the claims in Goodbye Good Men, which notes that the vocation crisis is artificially created by dissenting factions who turn away orthodox candidates as being “rigid”. Such dissenters forget that “liberal” flexibility and open-mindedness are, again, “values” that are relative and limited; by their very nature, they are never, nor can they ever be, absolute as to supersede universal truths.

Values v.s. Virtues

Many common errors today are the result of a failure to distinguish between values and virtues, or between things which are relative and things that are universal.

‘Values’ such as ‘open-mindedness’ and ‘tolerance’ are, unlike virtues, relative. While it would be good to be ‘open-minded’ with regards debatable or uncertain matters, it would be foolish not to decide on a matter after a thorough investigation. Likewise, being ‘tolerant’ is good in certain matters, but not in others (like abuse cases). Thus, such values are not universally applicable, and so should not always be held, but are relative to the circumstance. Virtues, on the other hand, are universal. It is always good to practice prudence, justice, fortitude and temperance, no matter what the situation.

‘Liberals’ often take certain ‘values’ and apply them as if they were virtues, but they are not. This is why their namesake itself is a relative ‘value’ – one cannot equally liberalize economy and sexual abuse, for example. To be liberally ‘tolerant’ of these two areas equally is to be woefully irresponsible and unjust.

The same criticism can be applied to ‘conservatives’. Conservation, again, is a relative term; it is not universally a good thing. Again, to conserve the environment and chattel slavery equally would be an woeful injustice.

What applies to Catholics is to seek after its namesake – the things which are catholic, or universal; after ‘principles’, which are unchanging. This is what it means to be ‘ortho-dox’, to adhere to ‘right-speech’, to touch on what is true in all places and in all time. It does happen that ‘conservation’ touches on this, since Tradition (with capital “T”) is part of the revealed faith, alongside Scripture and the Magisterial teaching authority of the Church. However, the central concern is still to be ortho-dox – to think out of, and seek after, what is “right”, according to true and authentic faith and reason, rather than to be concerned about relative values – with the universality of the virtues mentioned above, and especially also of faith, hope and charity.

Gloria in excelsis Deo et in terra pax hominibus bonae voluntatis.

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