Beware the Proof Police

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I recently joined the RCIA team at our local parish. Each Sunday we meet with the candidates and catechumens to discuss a specific topic on The Faith and review the Sunday readings. The Gospel after Easter was about doubting Thomas (JN 20 :19-31), which led us to a discussion about  “proof”.

“Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands and put my finger into the nailmarks and put my hand into his side, I will not believe.” – John 20:20

A lot can be said about proof from a philosophical or metaphysical standpoint. For example, it can be argued that we can’t prove much (if anything) absolutely.

Example: Imagine that last night, while you slept, you were abducted by aliens who placed your brain into an alien super computer. This computer/device can input the correct electrochemical impulses into your brain to precisely simulate the physical world you know. You think you are reading the American Catholic right now, but it is actually the aliens inputting the data. This might sound irrational, but if you stop and think about it, there would be no way of proving that this artificial reality is false. If all the physical data you have is only virtual data being continuously streamed into your brain, you would have no outside system to use as a relevant basis of comparison.

We did not waste a lot of time on thought experiments during the RCIA session, but we did note two thought-provoking things about people and “proof”.

Life without Proof:

In the gospel, Thomas lays down the conditions for his faith, and people do this today. Skeptics (atheists/agnostics) ask for proof. This is nothing new; but what is interesting is that people (including skeptics) believe and do things without proof all the time. And they are not small things, like saying I believe today will be a good day, they are big things…

– If two people are engaged to be married, do they have proof that things will work out 10 or 20 years from now? They don’t, but proceed anyway without proof. We might say it’s a leap of faith.

– If one believes that abortion is a fundamental human right, do they live out that conviction based on proof? Could they name the scientist that proved it? If this is not a question for science, then from a materialistic standpoint what evidence can be offered that is not just opinion?

– Are your parents really your parents?  Suppose you have no access to a birth certificate or DNA test and you don’t even look like them. Your parents say they are your real biological parents, but you’d have no proof. This relates to why/how we believe things about history. More often than not, the past we know is just based on what other people tell us.

– Even in our judicial system we say things like “proven beyond a reasonable doubt” and no doubt that defining “reasonable doubt” can leave us doubtful.

The Proof Police:

What would it take to convince you? In matters of faith, a skeptic may insist on scientific or clear sensory evidence as Thomas did in the gospel, but when reminded that we live life without proof in so many important ways, skeptics then become self-proclaimed authorities on proof from my experience.

When posed with questions like the ones noted above, especially on marriage and abortion, people will give reasons that are sufficient for them (proof-enough). They lay down the conditions for what they believe, similar to what Thomas did so long ago. One person’s condition may be different from another’s, so in effect it becomes something subjective, like opinion. But proof should be objective; should it not? At least that’s my biased opinion. 😉

As is often the case, we Catholics or Christians are given the burden of proof and put on trial for our faith so-to-speak, so try to turn the tables if you are ever in that position and put the skeptic on the witness stand. If the Judeo-Christian belief system & values should be dismissed by society as irrational due to lack of proof, the skeptics should also dismiss their own belief system & values for the same reason.

The obstacles to faith are not really about proof. Even the hardest heart can be made to understand that in a sense we all… “walk by faith, not by sight” (2 Cor 5:7); it’s part of the human condition. Once this is understood, we can then begin to explore how well someone’s “faith” harmonizes with reason, but in the final analysis can we expect everyone on this side of the veil to be convinced by reason alone? Scripture gives a hint. “…neither will they be persuaded if someone should rise from the dead.” (Luke 16:31)

At the same time we should”…Always be ready to give an explanation to anyone who asks you for a reason for your hope” (1 Peter 3:15)

 

 

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19 Comments

  1. Some of us make the mistake by excepting the premise proposed by skeptics that our faith has to be scientifically proven. All science can do is prove the physical world, not the spiritual world. Using science to prove God is like trying to hammer a nail with your voice. Wrong tool for the wrong job.

    There are many things we accept that we do not see, even for doubters of faith and God. We all agree that there is such a thing as gravity. Yet we do not see it but we do see its effect: keeping us on the ground instead of flying off into space. How big is gravity? What color is it? None of the above. Gravity is not seen but it effect felt and and trusted to work.

    We do not see love, yet we do see its effect on people. What if you’ve never felt or had love in your life? Then perhaps to you it doesn’t exist. But, just because we have never felt love does not mean it doesn’t exist. Just because we have not felt silk against our skin does not mean it doesn’t exist. Millions and millions can attest to the existence of love. Do we just dismiss them out of hand a person never experienced it?//////

    God. What color is it? How big is it? What does it look like? We prove the existence of God by what we do and showing what it makes us do. Even dying for God. Again, just because someone has not been given the gift of faith in God does not mean it does not mean faith does not exist or that God does not exist.

    This whole premise of seeing is believing is so stupid because it is proven wrong everyday by everyone by believing things in things unseen.

  2. Sorry for all the typos….my wife got a new kitten and I’ve been fighting it off the keyboard while typing and losing my train of thought…hence the scatter brained thoughts.

  3. I am an atheist who has no problem with people who subscribe to a faith. I always say that two reasonable can look at the same evidence (especially with something that is both grandiose and nebulous like that of a deity) and come to different conclusions. There are always concerns about things like internal consistency and morals, but most people come to their positions on faith/religion after study and soul searching. One offshoot of that which bugs me is when believers try to undercut the positions of non-believers by claiming that they are not believers because they haven’t studied the matter. What’s worse is when we get that turned to 11 by claiming a hateful canard like non-believers are that way “because they want to sin”. Believers are the same way with each other. People in faith X claim people in faith Y are lazy or stubborn, and vice versa. If you are fine with not have grounded proof for your beliefs, that’s perfectly fine. Just don’t be surprised if other’s don’t follow suit.

  4. Totally OT rant: The only thing more infuriating to me than Senator Edward M. Kennedy’s selfish and callous behavior the night of and in the days following his driving off a bridge and leaving leaving Mary No Kopechne to suffocate in that car is that it took ABC 50 years (10 years since his death) to finally tell the full story.

  5. “…(especially with something that is both grandiose and nebulous like that of a deity) -MOL

    The Christian story removes the grandiose and the nebulous. It shrinks the deity to that of a child yet concretely establishes a universal appeal, that of love par excellence. What’s compelling is that eye witnesses have given their testimony to the events and even more shocking is that this life giving deity continues to give life regardless of it’s own death over two thousand years ago.
    Ask the addict who couldn’t break the chains without relying upon the babe from Bethlehem. Ask the stage 4 cancer patient who wakes up one morning without a trace of the disease. Ask the mother who came within minutes of aborting her child yet a stirring of minuscule hope prodded her to run out of the abortion clinic and twelve years later, with her son at her side, she gives credit to the prayer warriors keeping vigil on the sidewalk. She credits them for saving her son whom she now realizes that her life without him would of been unbearable.

    These are the tangible effects of a tangible God.

    Mike. Please continue to consider that Love had chosen to appear from a cold cave in Bethlehem to take away all doubt and remove all fear. To forgive us when we ourselves couldn’t forgive ourselves no less those who have wronged us. That’s Life giving! Life changing!

    May the giver of all good gifts give you HIS light on your journey.

    Peace.
    Phil.

  6. If you are fine with not have grounded proof for your beliefs, that’s perfectly fine

    Sure. But that sort of begs the question – what is grounded proof? Would you say that a logical proof is “grounded proof”, or are only empirical proofs “grounded proofs”?

  7. We can prove there was a creation,therefore a Creator.Saint Thomas Acquinas did it one way,Hubbel and Le Maitre did it another way.The rest is faith.

  8. Are your parents really your parents? Suppose you have no access to a birth certificate or DNA test and you don’t even look like them. Your parents say they are your real biological parents, but you’d have no proof. This relates to why/how we believe things about history. More often than not, the past we know is just based on what other people tell us.

    Pardon the geekry, but:
    last century, there was a fad for doing blood tests– understandable, it’s just utterly cool. But, the thing is that the most common test is to see if blood type 1 and blood type 2 could result in blood type 3, and the result was, *IF* correctly done, mostly accurate.
    The problem being that doing the test correctly was very hard, so there were a lot of false negatives, some resulting in murders because the kid just discovered that he couldn’t be his father’s son.
    Eventually, they figured out that it WASN’T just user error, and in reality the genetics of blood types were a bit more complicated than they knew. Roughly in line with the “proof of cheating” rate discovered by blood tests…..

  9. Philip Nachazel, yes there are those that attribute their good fortune, healing, etc. to Yahweh. The same is true for those who worship other deities that you and I agree do not exist. In fact, some people claim good things have occurred due to supernatural things that are not deities (e.g. lucky objects, The Secret, crystals). If we were able to convince a person that a tree in their yard answered intercessory prayer, they would very likely attribute any and all positive things to the tree. That is NOT to say Christianity is false or that prayer doesn’t work, but it’s obvious that the claims of answered prayers prove nothing. This is especially true when we consider how often prayers are not answered (called the biggest stumbling block to faith) and what prayers never get answered (see the problem with prayers of amputees).

  10. C Matt, by grounded I mean grounded to solid, incontrovertible evidence. Passages in the Bible are no more solid than passages in the Quran or the Book of Mormon.

  11. ….. (see the problem with prayers of amputees) MOL

    Great example.

    My lay ministry happens to accommodate amputees at The Villas of Traverse. One amputee, Gemini, found himself bathed in Peace moments before his death. I was privileged to get to know him. My visits at the Villas started in 2008. I met Gemini in 2015. His abandonment to hope and abandonment to God was temporary, unlike his severed right leg. He regained his Hope and his trust in Christ after wheeling himself into our Rosary meetings on Tuesday.

    On one occasion he asked me about the seal of confession and if I could get him a copy of the Catholicism of the Catholic Church. I did. We spent times after the Rosary was over talking about the afterlife and heaven. He came back to the sacraments. Had his first sacrament of reconciliation in over 20 years and his first and last Holy Communion as well. He unexpectedly died hours after receiving Jesus in Holy Communion.

    Faith is a gift.

    One must open the door as Gemini did.
    Once it’s opened the God of Mercy enters in.

    I bought Ben’s book, Faith with Good Reason, a year ago or so. It is well written and I hope you enjoy your copy.

    Peace be yours.
    Phil.

  12. Philip, while the aid and comfort to amputees is commendable, it does skirt the problem that I brought up. Beyond that it should be noted that such comfort is not exclusive from Christians or even from religious.

    The problem I brought up about the prayers of amputees is a significant one on this topic of asking for proof. I want to break this down piece-by-piece.

    1. An internet search will show there are people who both had an ailment that limited ability in some way (whether it be use of arms, legs, eyes, or ears) and also say that prayer allowed them to gain that ability. It’s important to note that Jesus is described as the one who made the lame walk and the blind to see. We can definitely say that if these claims are real that Jesus is all for restoring one’s abilities.

    2. Of those people that make these claims, none have them have either regrown a lost limb/body part or one that they were born without. In other words, we have people claiming to regain the use of their legs but not someone growing legs lost in a war.

    3. Many an amputee has sincerely prayed for a miracle to be able walk, hold, hear, or see again just like those with broken limbs/parts. We know from part 1 that, if the claims are true, God has no qualms of helping the latter, but seemingly not the former. Either God is unwilling to help amputees or unable to do so. The dividing line as to what prayer seems to be able to heal matches perfectly with what the body can naturally heal.

    Again, none of this disproves Christianity; but it does offer a very real stumbling block for doubters and (I think reasonably) ask for proof in lieu of platitudes.

  13. Mike O’Leary-
    You fell into the false choice in #3.
    There’s unwilling, unable, or has a reason not to.

    All that is, is a re-framed version of the “if God is real why won’t he appear right now and backhand me so that I can tell he’s real” challenge.

    AKA, “if God is real why won’t He give a proof that leaves me no option but to believe in Him.”

  14. Foxfier, you mentioned that there is a third possibility as to why God will not answer the prayers of amputees: That he is capable and willing, but that he has a reason not to. One thing not mentioned is what that reason is.

  15. For what it is worth;

    Saint Peregrine Laziosi
    Another Saint of the Day for May 4

    Saint Peregrine Laziosi’s Story
    Born in Forli, Italy, Peregrine is the patron saint of persons suffering from cancer, AIDS and other serious diseases.

    As a young man, he was a member of an anti-papal party until he encountered Saint Philip Benizi, the head of the Servite order, who had been sent to try to reconcile the divided community. While trying to preach in Forli, Philip was heckled and even struck by Peregrine, who was overcome by momentary political fervor. But that moment also changed Peregrine. He began to channel his energies in new directions, engaged in good works and eventually joined the Servites in Siena and went on to be ordained a priest. Returning to his hometown, he founded a new Servite house there and became well known for his preaching and holiness, as well as his devotion to the sick and poor.

    One of the special penances he imposed on himself was standing whenever it was not necessary to sit. Over time, Peregrine developed varicose veins and, in turn, cancer of the foot. The wound became painful and diseased and all medical treatment failed. The local surgeon determined amputation of the leg was called for.

    Tradition has it that the night before surgery was scheduled, Peregrine spent much time in prayer before the crucified Jesus, asking God to heal him if it was God’s will to do so. Falling asleep at one point, Peregrine had a vision of the crucified Jesus leaving the cross and touching his cancerous leg. When Peregrine awoke, the wound was healed and his foot and leg, seemingly miraculously cured, were saved. He lived another 20 years.

    Peregrine was canonized in 1726.

    Reflection
    Peregrine got his miracle. His cancer was cured even as the doctors prepared to amputate his foot. But Peregrine had already experienced a more important healing. A softening of his heart rechanneled all his energy into the service of the Gospel. Most of us pray fervently if not for a miracle, at least for some need that lies close to our hearts. And so we should, for God cares about our concerns. But no prayer would please God more than to ask that we might experience an ongoing softening of our hearts.

    A change of heart is the miracle.
    May all of us be transformed into service of God by serving our neighbors.
    Peace Mike..and God be with you.

  16. Philip, would Saint Peregrine Laziosi have gotten his miracle after his leg was amputated? Why is there such a contrast between healing of amputees and non-amputees, especially in cases where a miracle would affect both equally?

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