Friday, October 21, 2016

Abbott and Constello meet Bishop Barron

A friend pointed me to Bishop Robert Barron's "Word of Fire" podcast entitled "Why Young People are Leaving the Church." I enjoy listening to Bishop Barron. He is an extremely intelligent man, who is well educated and a great speaker. However, I think he encounters a more erudite group of lapsed Catholics than I do.

In his podcast he says that one of the reasons people give for leaving the church is that science had proved God doesn't exist. He says that when he asks them for an example, they have none to give. That may be true for him, but when I ask the same questions I get answers. Wrong answers, but answers.

Here are some ways people have claimed to me that science has disproved the existence of God.

1) Evolution is true. Most people today, thanks to popular science explanations, have no idea that there is a difference between evolution (the notion that species change over time) and Darwinism (the unprovable claim that the reason behind the change is "random"). This is coupled with the false notion that belief in God depends on the Bible being interpreted as literalistically as possible, so that if there is evidence of the Earth being more than 5,000 years old, God's existence has been "proven." That has never been the position of the Catholic church.

Evidence does point to the Earth being several billion years old, and species changing over time. However, the mechanism for evolution is unknown, and even if it were known, science cannot address the question of "intent" as that is not a scientific question. Darwin's claim was that there was no intent behind the rules and mechanisms governing evolution (in other words, everything is "random"). That is not a claim science can prove or disprove by any means at its disposal.

However, even if Darwinism were true, it would not prove that God does not exist. It would merely mean that the mechanism for evolution was not being actively directed by God. And even if the only possible reading of the Bible were literalistic, an old Earth would not prove that God didn't exist, but merely that the Bible was wrong. Which brings me to point 2.

2) The Bible is wrong. Genesis is the book most often pointed too, but there are other books that have historical or scientific inaccuracies, either real or apparent. I find it ironic that the same people who argue that archaeology disproves the Bible because "X" does not fit current archaeological theories ignore the hundreds of times archaeology winds up confirming a Biblical account.

But even if we take these archaeological discrepancies as gospel (pun intended) the Catholic church doesn't claim that the Bible a science text or a history book. it is a book about the relationship between God and man. Everything else is merely an affirmation that it is not a mere myth, but describes events that actually happened. And even if the Bible were false, it says nothing about whether God exists. There are plenty of people who believe in God but not the Bible. Which brings me to point 3.

3) There are other religions, that make different claims. This is true, but it says nothing about whether the Catholic church's claims are true, or whether God exists. There was a time when light was "proven" to be a wave, and by some big names and very careful experiments. Other, equally careful experiments, by equally big names "proved" light was a particle. Nobody made the claim that because different people claimed different things about light that therefore light did not exist. The existence of light was taken as a given, and it was understood that any discrepancy between experiments meant one or both theories of light were false. Today we have a dualistic theory of light, which may still be wrong, but that doesn't shake our belief in light itself.

Likewise, if different religions make different claims about God it could be that one or both of them are wrong, or that God fulfills even seemingly contradictory claims (as was the case with light).

4) The church is full of sinners. This is also true, but says nothing about whether it's claims are true or whether you should belong to it, or whether God exists. The Catholic church has never claimed that all of its members are sinless (not even the Pope is sinless). In fact, the reason for being in the church and for having a relationship with God is, in part, forgiveness of sins. Would you really want to join a church where you were the only sinner? That would be incredibly awkward. Or, as the old joke goes:
Man: "The reason I don't go to church is that it's full of hypocrites!"
Priest: "Don't let that keep you away, we have room for one more."
The church is full of sinners, as Alcoholics Anonymous is full of alcoholics. But that's not a reason to not join AA, and it's not a reason to not join the church.

But ultimately I think that all these things are an excuse for the real reason most people leave the church, and the reason why none of these reasonable arguments convince them. Sin. If they put in the effort to follow the arguments and research the question, they would have to address the problem of sin in their lives. It is way easier to remain in ignorance and enjoy the way they live now.

It reminds me of an old Abbott and Costello routine about paying the rent. If you can stick with your mathematical ignorance and pay $28 in rent, why would you spend time learning how you were wrong about math just so next time you would have to pay $91?


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