Enter your email address to receive updates by email:

subscribe in a reader like my facebook page follow me on twitter Image Map
Podcast Message Line: 512-222-3389
Logos Catholic Bible Software

« Dangerous Secret Societies? | Main | Where There's Smoke . . . »

October 24, 2007



On "feeling like a louse"

Your sister is telling a story in the family. It makes her look good and slanders someone else. She appeals to you to back her up because you were there.

You say that she is lying. Or conversely, you don't. Either course of action can leave you feeling like a louse.


I wonder why Jimmy Akin's been obsessed with materialism and moral arguments for the past few days?


It has been theorized that evolutionary favour can be a swinging pendulum with regards to selfishness/selflessness.

Start with a population divided between altruists and egoists. In general, cooperation will enable the latter group to enjoy greater success, reproduce more, and fill the world with altruists.

However, once the world is full of altruists, a small number of egoists would take advantage of other people's altruism, while never having to sacrifice themselves for the sake of others. Thus egoists would start increasing in number faster than the altruists, until they take over and the cycle starts again.


How many parts is this going to have? Your opponent is going to have far less patience with verbosity than your allies.


How many parts is this going to have?

Jimmy Akin is planning on posting a 76-part series on this topic.

Please be patient.



I found this post quite interesting. A few reactions (I haven't gotten to part 4 yet, so I apologize if some of these issues are raised more explicitly there):

I tend to wince a little bit every time a paragraph begins "From the materialist perspective" and then goes on to assert something as if it is obvious that every materialist must believe it ("From the Christian perspective, the only important thing in life is to treat others well so you can go to heaven" - your reaction to this probably parallels my reaction to the "From the materialist perspective" paragraphs).

There is disagreement among materialists about the central issues you raise - i.e. deontology vs. consequentialism (Kant vs. Mill) - is an action like adultery intrinsically wrong or wrong because it has bad consequences? I tend to be of the opinion that the correct answer is "both" because it depends upon the perspective from which we are evaluating the action (1st person vs. 3rd person). I won't defend that view right now.

I especially latched on to this paragraph:

Someone might contend that she has been "harmed" inasmuch as her husband has brought home memories of being with another woman that she will have to compete with in bed; on the other hand it might be countered that the experience of being with other women could conceivably improve his skill as a lover, and his wife could be the beneficiary of his improved technique.

As a practical matter in almost any situation imaginable in present society, the harm done by the adultery due to the violation of trust in the relationship (and the difficulty of trusting again) would exceed any benefits from improved skill as a lover. Even if the wife were never to find out, the tenor of the relationship would be inevitably changed.

Consider this situation though: imagine that there existed an amnesia pill. So now the husband faces the option of having an affair and then taking the amnesia pill so that neither he nor his wife would ever recall that it occurred and it could not possibly affect their relationship. Suppose further that the woman he is having an affair with takes the pill as well. Would it still be wrong for him to have the affair?

I'm not sure what I think about this. One complication is that even the existence of such an option and the uncertainty as to whether one had exercised it in the past would change the tenor of many of our social interactions. Still, I think it's an interesting scenario to think about and perhaps I'll post some more thoughts later after others have responded.

james mittelstadt

SDG, whoever you might be...

Bearing in mind that I do not know what your definition of "material" is, nevertheless in a few words I am convinced that atheists, etc. can certainly do "good" actions (see Thomas Aquinas). However the subsistence of a valid and all encompassing theory concerning the foundation for ethical principles can only be firmly and adequately rooted in God. Other theories seem to be floating on nothingness when taken back as far as they can go. Nothing can come from nothing. Please note that I am talking about theory not individual actions. I am sure I shall receive a number of "alla Bill Maher" cynical comments from this observation. Sed autem tot capita tot sententiae!

I am sure I shall receive a number of "alla Bill Maher" cynical comments from this observation.

I'd prefer "ala 93% of the national academy of sciences, Hume, Kant, Mill, Spinoza, Russell, Wittgenstein, Rawls and an unknown but probably high percentage of the American Philosophical Association given the general profile of religious beliefs among academics. Is it not the least bit discomfiting to those here that religoius belief is substantially less common the more educated one is, especially uncommon among those whose profession is study, and virtually non-existent among those whose profession is to determine with evidence the nature of the universe?

james mittelstadt


I was not talking about "religious belief" but my thoughts stem from logical conclusions based upon the evidence available. I most certainly have read and have tried to understand the authors you mentioned above -- and many more. When I was young (many, many decades ago) I came to the conclusion that the "tower of Babel" story was about the future of mankind. That is, the day would come when no one understood another even though they were speaking the same language and many would be trying to rise to a "god-like" stature although they would profess that there is no God. At my age I am convinced that much scholarly philosophical thought seems in reality to be pure "entia rationis" and thus complete nonsense babble.



My point was this - you suggested that ethical principles can only be adequately rooted in God and then suggested (admittedly not seriously) that Bill Maher was a leading exponent of the opposing view. I wanted to point out first that this was a view rejected by the many eminent philosophers listed above and second, that this was a view largely rejected by academia - that is, by the people who think about such questions for a living.

I did not list those philosophers to demonstrate my own erudition (I have read very little by Spinoza or Wittgenstein) but rather to make what I consider a justifiable appeal to authority.

I realize that this appeal cuts both ways - you could list many Catholic/Christian philosophers who affirm your position. The fact that so many intelligent people who have thought seriously about this question disagree suggest that our own philosophical musings will arrive at a result determined by our preexisting biases.

As far as I can tell, the only way to escape this conundrum is to attempt to look for statistical trends in belief that isolate the effect of good arguments on belief. The model I have in mind is the following - people are more likely to be swayed by correct arguments than incorrect arguments, so there is a small aggregate tendency for the entire population of people who have been introduced to all of the relevant arguments to trend towards the right result. It is this aggregate trend that I am trying to uncover. I am suggesting that more educated people are less likely to believe in God because they are more likely to have been introduced to and swayed by correct arguments. Of course, there are alternative explanations and I'd be glad to debate their plausibility.


"As far as I can tell, the only way to escape this conundrum is to attempt to look for statistical trends in belief that isolate the effect of good arguments on belief. The model I have in mind is the following - people are more likely to be swayed by correct arguments than incorrect arguments.."

I think this is an overly optimistic assumption, and personally agree with Christ who stated:

"The Stone rejected by the builders has become the cornerstone"


"..But new wine must be put into new bottles; and both are preserved. 39 And no man drinking old, hath presently a mind to new: for he saith, The old is better."

These sayings indicate that mankind, in general, is fundementally conditioned to accept the 'status quo'..whatever philosophy or belief that may be.

I agree very much with Christ in these statements, and even those familiar with marketing know that it is a fundemental principle that recognizable brands are prefered, even if they are actually inferior products.

Just because a majority of people will agree on anything regarding religion or faith, in no way proves anything regarding the truth of the same religion or faith. Faith is not discovered through democratic means, but is rather..as Christ taught, like a "Kingdom", with authority and transmitted by authorized teachers. People will just have to make a choice between the many options available.

I choose Jesus Christ, and the one, holy, Catholic and apostolic Church that He founded to spread His teachings and love until the end of the world.

I also believe in His promise, that ".. the Gates of Hell shall not prevail against it".

james mittelstadt


Sorry if I have offended you. If I were to use my catholic faith principles then I would go in a different direction.Namely, that mankind is subject to original sin and thus tendencies stemming from being filled with PALE GAS. That is, Pride, anger, lust, envy, gluttony, avarice, and sloth. Pride, being the first, strives to maintain that every man is "number one", as the Americans like to propagate.

My theologically thinking friends tell me I am a minority of one. Probably true. I feel I have been burnt my many false teachings after having relyied too heavily upon the "authority" of eminent scholars. Hence I do not wish to fall into the fallacy of authority again.

Of course the Holy Spirit does spread the Light by consensus. Else the authority of all bishope in line with the pope could easily be seen as the so called "wisdom" of the world. However the consensus of the "world" (e.g. an inner oath to uphold the tenets of PC (politically correct)) goes againt my intellectual process. It is too much like the followers of Hitler having to swear an "Eid" to the princiiples of Nazism maintaining that nothing else could be "correct".

I do pray for America and hope that thinkers like you win out.




Don't worry, you certainly have not offended me - I'm actually enjoying the discussions on this blog quite a bit (as must be obvious from the frequency with which I post).

With regard to the points that both you and A. Williams make above, I wonder what both of you think of members of alternate faiths who believe very different foundational propositions on the basis of personal revelation and authority. There are Muslims who believe that those who do not join Allah's army in Jihad against the west are damned. On what basis can you say that your view is true and their view is false is false if both are based purely in personal revelation? (perhaps I have misunderstood your points above and revelation plays a less central role than I thought).

james mittelstadt


I really do not know what you are alluding to about "personal" revelation. I do not recall talking about that, although revelation as received by the individual through the gift of faith is in a sense individually received. Neverthess the truths accepted through faith are "revealed" by God through Jesus Christ ultimately. I live in a Buddhist society, a number of Moslems also here and a few christians. The Koran states that belief in Islam is by faith...the truths cannot be proven. I say the same thing about my faith. I cannot "prove" the truths of faith. I can look reasonably at the evidence of credibity. I can also do the same with the suras in the Koran. Or for that matter the sutras, and so on. Ultimately my faith is a theological gift (i.e. virtue) Perhaps read carefully to start with Pars Prima Secunda of Aquinas' Summa theologiae. But I am sure you know all of this. James



What first convinced me of Catholicism as the only true faith, was my reading of the Lives of the Saints.
I read the life of St. Francis of Assisi even before the Gospels themselves...just stumbled across this biography while browsing in a library, wondering what a Catholic Saint was.

I had previously been reading Greek Philosophy, and quite enjoying Plato and Socrates.

However, St. Francis blew them all away...and pretty much ended my interest in philosophy. Now, actually, I respect philosophy, especially Aristotle, but know that real answers to the meaning of life come from other holy or wise men, and these are particularly the Saints, Apostolic Fathers, Desert Fathers, Martyrs and other holy personages found in the history of Christianity.

Actually, I don't think I started reading the Bible until I had already read multiple books on St. Francis, St. Augustine(Confessions) and the Imitation of Christ(Kempis).

And even when I read the Gospels, I recall how extraordinarily powerful they were for me, almost too much to handle, and so I preferred to mix such scriptural study with Catholic biography, which seemed to teach HOW TO APPLY THE LESSONS OF SCRIPTURE TO REAL LIFE.

Then after reading the Desert Fathers, books written by St. Bernard of Clairveau (about 6 of them), St. Anselm's writings, some history of early English history by Bede, and gradually, more modern writings and lives of Saints....I was convinced that no other church or faith produced such holy, humble, wise and charitable persons as did the Catholic Church.

So, my faith came through the writings and witness found in the lives of the Saints. This was my evidence.. because true wisdom can actually be rather hard to come by, unless we look in the right places, which is why I never found it until I researched Saints. However, it is available, and so I encourage all others to study such lives. They have the power to convince one of the utter truth of the Catholic Church and Faith.

james mittelstadt

A. William,

What can I say? Of course you are right. Like St. Francis said to his friars, "Go out and preach, but don't say any words." So many insights are true. I give up. The gift of faith is so mysterious and I certainly cannot comprehend it. I should not talk about it anymore. Still in addition to St. Francis there was St. Bonaventure, St. Anthony of Padua, etc. Thank you for your spiritual insight.

I really do not know what you are alluding to about "personal" revelation. I do not recall talking about that, although revelation as received by the individual through the gift of faith is in a sense individually received.

James, I apologize, I do not think I read your remarks sufficiently carefully.

Let me try to clarify the view you hold. While you believe your faith cannot be proven, you believe that it can be evaluated on the basis of evidence (and of course shown to be reasonable, otherwise you would not hold it). I would say the same thing about any of my beliefs about the world.

I'm just a bit confused about the role that revelation plays in this picture. Is the idea that without revelation, you would still believe the Catholic/Christian conception to be largely true? Are there any beliefs you hold solely on the basis of personal revelation?


Like St. Francis said to his friars, "Go out and preach, but don't say any words."

Very good point, James. This means that spiritual communication is much more than logic and reason and entails actions and facial and bodily expressions.

Remember Moses?

Why were the Israelites afraid of Him? Not becuse of His words, but because His face GLOWED with the glory of God. He needed to wear a towel on his face after conversing with God in the Holy of Holies!

And this might be one reason that Saints are always portrayed in art with "Halo's".

So how or why one believes will always be a mystery..it even seems that Jesus was surprised when He found it amongs the people whom He preached!

To His apostles He humbly asked : "Are you too going to leave Me?"..after his teaching about 'His body and blood', wherein a large number of his disciples 'walked with Him no more'.

So if the reasons for Faith are mysterious even to the Son of God, should they be easily understood for us?

But we can learn alot about both faith, St. Peter, the Church, God the Father and the Person of Jesus in this one little passage:

"15 Jesus saith to them: But whom do you say that I am?

16 Simon Peter answered and said: Thou art Christ, the Son of the living God. 17 And Jesus answering, said to him: Blessed art thou, Simon Bar-Jona: because flesh and blood hath not revealed it to thee, but my Father who is in heaven. 18 And I say to thee: That thou art Peter; and upon this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it. 19 And I will give to thee the keys of the kingdom of heaven. And whatsoever thou shalt bind upon earth, it shall be bound also in heaven: and whatsoever thou shalt loose upon earth, it shall be loosed also in heaven. 20 Then he commanded his disciples, that they should tell no one that he was Jesus the Christ."


In response to the posts by A. Williams above, I would only point out that wisdom is not the same as knowledge. Someone could be wise - that is, they could know a great deal about how one should conduct oneself in various situations and what constitutes a worthwhile life - and yet at the same time, they could lack knowledge of how the world works; they could know how we should behave, but misunderstand completely why things are the way they are.

I would say that the Bible is full of wisdom (although sometimes mistaken about how to live too), but entirely devoid of knowledge.

james mittelstadt


Wow! Both wisdom and knowledge are gifts of the Holy Spirit. To say the Bible contains no knowledge, to me, is absolute nonsense. I have learned about the meaning of God, Jesus, salvation, grace, gifts of the Holy Spirt, etc. etc. I do not wish to write any more on a blog. If you have quyestion I must write via a person email. But I do not know your email. Godd luck in your qest for truth. James


Hmm. Scientific knowledge is not the only knowledge and if one was interested in the history of the development of ethical monotheism in the light of revelation (and yes, it has a lot to do with how to live) there is no other place to go except the Bible and its exegeses. If one is looking for a scientific treatise on, say - the development of string theory, reading the Bible would be a waste of time.

james mittelstadt

I am sorry about all of the mistypes on my previous message. It will probably happen again. I had a stroke some months back and often my fingers do not go where I want them to go.


I would say that the Bible is full of wisdom (although sometimes mistaken about how to live too), but entirely devoid of knowledge.

This statement seems to me to suggest a conception of the Bible rather at odds with its actual content, perhaps one unduly focused on the wisdom literature and the Pentateuch.

One might reasonably take the position that, say, there is no scientific or historical knowledge to be gained from Genesis 1ff. OTOH, the court records of King David and the companion volumes of Luke-Acts certainly contribute to our historical knowledge of the events they cover.


SDG, Michael and James,

My comment was clearly too extreme. You are right that the Bible is an important source of historical knowledge.

The point I was trying to express (and which I expressed quite badly) was: just because one views the Bible as a source of wisdom, this is not in itself evidence that its truth claims are correct. I think this is quite important because many people view religious metaphysics as plausible primarily because they find the wisdom contained within useful in their own lives.

The comments to this entry are closed.

January 2012

Sun Mon Tue Wed Thu Fri Sat
1 2 3 4 5 6 7
8 9 10 11 12 13 14
15 16 17 18 19 20 21
22 23 24 25 26 27 28
29 30 31