Friday, February 23, 2018

Opposite Communion

Another story from the Opposite Files. For newcomers, the opposite files are my record of double standards and hypocrisy. You can click on the link to see the whole list - and more are being added all the time.

Saturday, February 17, 2018

Evidence Part 6: Existence

In the last post we covered contingency. This time it's existence.

OK, so having dispelled some myths about science and cosmology, let's get philosophical. Why is there something rather than nothing? As shown earlier, science can't answer a "why" question, although that doesn't stop people who believe in Science™ from trying. People like Richard Dawkins will say that the laws of physics require that the universe spring from "nothing" - and then famously go on to define "nothing" as "something." If you haven't watched it yet, go back to part one and you'll find his ridiculous remark in the video.

"But Mike, didn't you just spend the last post talking about how the universe needs a creator? Isn't this the same thing?" The argument from existence isn't about how things came to be, but about why they exist. To use an analogy, the light in the room came on because I flipped the light switch, but the light exists in the room now because the power company is producing electricity. This question is not did things get created, but why do they exist, even now?

Or, more generally, if there is something, why is there something? There could as easily be nothing. If there was nothing, how is there something now?

There are only two possible answers to the question of "why something rather than nothing?" The first is that everything that could be, is. Sounds crazy, but this is a viable answer to the problem of existence. The second answer is that there is one thing that is existence itself, that gives rise to the universe. That second thing is the thing we call God, by definition. If you try to say there are two (or more) things that gave rise to the universe, then you have to ask how there could be two or more things. We don't have that problem with one thing, because there is nothing to distinguish that one thing from itself. If we have two or more things, then they have to be distinct from each other in some way (otherwise they'd be one thing). And that distinction is something that needed to exist apart from the two things. For instance, if there were a "male" and "female" god, then there would have to be such a thing as "maleness" and "femaleness" existing apart from these gods, and the issue of existence is not solved.

So, what is existence; one thing, or everything? Occam's razor states that if there are multiple hypotheses, the simplest one tends to be the correct one. One thing is infinitely simpler than everything... but Occam's razor isn't the only thing pointing to one thing. Saying "everything exists" leads to a number of problems. First it is another "turtles all the way down" kind of answer. Secondly, we have the self-contradictory notion that if everything that could be exists, since God could be, then God exists, and therefore not everything exists. But perhaps even more convincingly, if everything exists then we have an inescapable conclusion that God exists when we look at the argument from design (which is the topic of another post, for now take my word for it).

This is far from a rigorous treatment of the argument from existence, and I am not a philosopher, but I hope it gets you thinking about the issue, maybe enough to learn more about it.

In the next post, a retrospective and on to more evidence.

Sunday, February 11, 2018

Opposite Sitting

Another story from the Opposite Files. For newcomers, the opposite files are my record of double standards and hypocrisy. You can click on the link to see the whole list - and more are being added all the time.

Friday, February 9, 2018

My second favorite season!

Lent starts next week - on Valentine's Day - early this year. Lent is a (nominally) 40 day period leading up to Easter. It is a time to spiritually prepare oneself for Easter, and that preparation consists of three practices - Fasting, Prayer, and Almsgiving. Let's go over the rules:


The Catholic church uses two terms, abstinence, which is avoiding meat, and fasting, which is avoiding food.

On Fridays in Lent Catholics must abstain from meat. No, this is not because the Pope's brother owned a fish store, but because meat was considered a more luxurious food. Since the whole idea behind Lent is to master one's appetites I would suggest that, although lobster fulfills the letter of the law, we should try to live the spirit of the law and eat simple plain meals on Fridays. Children under 14 are not required to abstain from meat.

There are two days on which Catholics must abstain and fast. They are Ash Wednesday (the beginning of Lent, which is February 14th this year) and Good Friday, the Friday before Easter and the day on which Christ died.

Fasting does not necessarily mean avoiding all food. One can have one "normal" meal and two small meals and avoid all snacks, and that is considered fasting. People under 18 or over 58 are not required to fast, nor are people who are sick (for example, diabetics who need to keep blood sugar constant), pregnant, or who perform manual labor. The idea is to master your body, not do damage to it.

Those who cannot or are not required to fast or abstain are still encouraged to perform some other penitential or spiritually beneficial act. That could mean things like abstaining from television, reading the Bible, or volunteering at a charity.

Note that these are the minimum requirements. You wanna go the whole "bread and water" route for 40 days, you are welcome to, provided you do not endanger your health or well being.


There are no specific requirements for praying. Catholics are required to receive Holy Communion worthily at least once during the Easter season, but we're talking Lent here. The idea is to up the ante on your spiritual life. Here are some ideas:

  • Almost all parishes hold Stations of the Cross services on Fridays in Lent - check with your local parish. Stations of the cross consists of praying at the 14 stations set up in every Catholic church commemorating fourteen events during the Passion and death of Jesus Christ.
  • Attending a weekday mass is a good way to get closer to Christ. Most parishes will have extra masses during Lent. A web site like can help you find one near you at a convenient time.
  • Many parishes will also hold Bible studies or faith sharing groups during Lent. Again, check with your local parish.
  • All parishes have extended times for Reconciliation or Penance services during Lent. Check with your local parish. Catholics are required to go to Confession at least once a year, or when aware of having committed a grave sin. Lent is a great time to get yourself right with God. 
  • Many parishes have Adoration at certain times, or a dedicated Adoration chapel where you can go any time day or night to spend time with Our Lord in prayer. has an option to find them. 
There are many more options. The important thing is to do something.


Again, there are no specific instructions for almsgiving. You should not give away necessities but you should give "until it hurts" or at least give something. Your almsgiving can be monetary or you can donate your time and goods in other ways. The important thing is to support charitable work to care for the poor, the sick, the imprisoned, the suffering. This is part of a Christian life.

Other stuff

You may look at the above and say "18-58? Seriously? Why can't we all just love Jesus?" Why do we Catholics spell out all these rules? Several reasons.

First off the Catholic church has a mandate to govern the faithful. The church does not see herself as a collection of like minded believers, but as the fulfillment of the Davidic kingdom on earth. As such, there needs to be a system of laws. Christ gave His Apostles the power to "bind and loose" and as the successors of the Apostles the bishops have the right and the obligation to make rules for the well being of their flocks.

Secondly, having objective standards guarantees that when people fast they can tell objectively that they have done what they set out to do. Otherwise one person's idea of fasting is skipping the second piece of pie and another is going 24:00:00 with no intake whatsoever. Things get even worse when someone asks their parish priest what to do. Without some standard people in one parish would be treated differently than people in another. That's why there are so many rules and definitions.

Lastly, what do you have against rules? Ever try to play a (pretty much any) game without rules? Try to drive a car without rules? We are not alone on this planet, or in the church, and we need rules to live together in harmony.

There are all sorts of other traditions people follow around Lent. In the early church it was common for people to abstain from all animal products for the entire 40 days. This is the origin of the Easter egg (since nobody had been eating them, eggs were a treat, and were in abundance.). There is Mardi Gras (fat Tuesday) when everyone would eat the foods they were abstaining from for Lent, in order to get them out of the house. In recent years it has grown int something of an excess - not in the spirit of the thing at all. Hence the need for objective guidelines.

Sunday, February 4, 2018

Evidence Part 5: Contingency

In the last post we covered cosmology. This time it's contingency.

The argument from contingency is an attempt to get around the "turtles all the way down" problem of infinite regression (see the previous post int this series for a definition of turtles all the way down). The argument is pretty simple, and goes like this:

I exist, but I didn't have to exist. If my parents had not gotten together I would not exist. Likewise they didn't have to exist. If their parents had not gotten together... you see where I am going with this? Likewise for the clouds, moon, sun and stars; they are all contingent upon something else bringing them into being. The thing that brought them all into being is what we call "God."

Here's a video where Bishop Robert Barron explains it far better than I can.

"But Mike, why does it have to be God? Couldn't it be 'the universe' that brought everything into existence?" What we are talking about here is something or someone that is not contingent on anything else - does not depend on something else to bring about its existence. This is not a proof of an old guy sitting on a throne, this is proof that something exists - be it a force or a person.

But all of matter space and time are contingent, according to physics. It can't bring about itself without being "turtles all the way down." So no matter what "God" is in this instance, it is not the universe or anything in it.

Stephen Hawking famously declared at one point that "gravity" created the universe. Think about that. The two currently accepted ways of thinking about gravity are that it is a curvature of space-time (Einstein) or that it consists of particles called "gravitons" (quantum theory). If gravity is an effect of space-time (Einstein) it can hardly exist without space-time. If gravity exists withing space-time (quantum physics) it can hardly have created space-time. Either way, and though Hawking may be a brilliant man, this statement is nonsensical.

Next up, existence!

Opposite Pain

Another story from the Opposite Files. For newcomers, the opposite files are my record of double standards and hypocrisy. You can click on the link to see the whole list - and more are being added all the time.

 Cruel because creatures can feel pain without a cortex.
What we think is just a reflex is really pain.

OK to dismember, because cortex not developed enough to feel pain.
What we think is pain is just a reflex.

Opposite Colonization

Another story from the Opposite Files. For newcomers, the opposite files are my record of double standards and hypocrisy. You can click on the link to see the whole list - and more are being added all the time.