The Secularist Critique
a philosophy of religion blog from a catholic perspective

Thursday, November 27, 2003  

The transcendence of God is strongly emphasized in Western theology, and although God's immanence is also affirmed it never seems to get much attention. The traditional formula is that God is present in all things by His power and causal activity, sustaining all things in existence. But is this really all that can be said about immanence? Surely, immanence should mean much more than that. One may deduce that God is present to things by causing them to be, but this deductive knowledge is far away from the more intuitive experiences that seem to be mediated by nature. It seems to me that too much emphasis on God's transcendence could make Him too aloof from creation, almost a deistic God that is just 'out there' not really having much to do with internal affairs. And to balance it out more would have to be said than just God is everywhere by virtue of causing them to be.

| posted by theist | 11:23:00 PM

Tuesday, November 25, 2003  

The abuse of marriage
Marriage is an institution given legal status, recognition, and benefits because of the recognition that the humane creation of stable families is a basic foundation of a healthy society. Today, the people that have charge of the common good don't know or care about this relationship of marriage and family to the good of society. They are more concerned with placating the ideologies of politically correct bullies. Homosexuals have no right to marriage for the simple reason that they can not contribute to the benefit of society the way a heterosexual couple can, therefore they are not entitled to the benefits given to the married.

But many heterosexual couples also get married without the slightest intention of having a family. They often marry for convenience, to obtain the benefits of combining their incomes, of using each other's bodies for pleasure, and any other benefits that come from being recognized as married by the state. They take the benefits without giving back. These people also should have no right to marriage.

Gays and heterosexual couples that want to live together in utilitarian relationships, if they are to have any recognition at all, should be given a lower status in the hierarchy of legal recognition and benefits. To redefine marriage to accommodate these people is to drag down marriage to the level of these morally inferior relationships. Equality in this case would mean that the relationship of the heterosexual couple committed to family is on the same level as all sorts of sexually sordid relationships, which is a lie.

| posted by theist | 1:52:00 PM

Sunday, November 23, 2003  

The response from
Ironically, the atheist section of has done a critique of my "logic of homosexuality" post. I wonder if I can find a critique of theism at

| posted by theist | 3:25:00 PM

Friday, November 21, 2003  

Sex and love
A commentator on the "logic of homosexuality" post says:

Let me get this straight: You think that because gay sex produces no babies, that it is for no other purpose than "sensation"? And because it is based solely on "sensation" that it couldn't possibly have anything to do with love or commitment? What a load of bull. That logic also says that an infertile straight couple is not capable of love and/or commitment, or that a straight couple that enjoys anal sex is incapable of love and/or commitment.

This raises the question of how sex can relate to or express love. Its an excellent question, one that people immersed in our culture's sexual mores need to think about more deeply. People have a sense that sex can be or should be connected with love but their thinking is fuzzy on how exactly it works. Exactly what is the basis for sex becoming an objective expression of love?

I think the answer has two components. The material basis is the procreative nature of sex. The formal basis is the conscious decision to accept and affirm that procreative nature of sex by two people. Its primarily the procreative power of sex that enables a man and woman to be making love rather than performing meaningless sex. It is the creative power of sex through which the love of a man and woman multiply by being incarnated in children. As their family grows, love is multiplied; a community of persons develops which gives the couple the opportunity to continue deepening their love both to their children and to themselves through their children. As their family grows, the commitment and sacrifice does to, deepening and solidifying their love. This is real love, not ephemeral emotion, feeling, or lust. Objective, ethical, committed, sacrificial, selfless love.

Now if we subtract this reference to the procreative power of sex, is there any remainder left that is capable of objectively expressing love? No, because what is left is sensation. When two people are seeking nothing but the experience of their own subjective sensations to the explicit exclusion of the procreative aspect, that is just lust. Thus what could and should be a relationship of love becomes an instrumentalized relationship between two persons. Sodomy and all forms of contraceptive sex are basically reducible to the mutual satisfaction of private sensations. In this scenario it is not possible for the two persons to transcend themselves; they are locked in the prison of their own subjective experiences of sensation. Even though their bodies are close, they could not be any farther away from each other.

So are infertile people incapable of making love? Not necessarily. The essential thing on the part of the couple is the conscious affirmation of the procreative nature of sex. Some precision is required here. This does not mean that a couple has to desire to have a child every time they have sex, it doesn't mean that they must be fertile all the time, it simply means that they know and accept that sex is something that is procreative by nature. It is part of the nature of sex to be infertile sometimes, thus one can know it to be infertile while still making love, but one can't accept its procreative nature while acting to make what is fertile into something infertile, or by doing something sexual that is not even related to procreation in the first place, i.e. sodomy.

If you think there is a remainder in sex after the reference to procreation is subtracted that is capable of grounding love in an objective manner, than let me know.

| posted by theist | 1:42:00 PM

Thursday, November 20, 2003  

Intellect or will
Maggie at Magdalene is discussing the metaphysics of freedom and the relationship between will and intellect.

In scholasticism the latter took the form of questions like "does beatitude consist in the intellect or the will?" On this question Aquinas takes the side of intellect.

I tend to find that I come to different conclusions when approaching matters from an ethical standpoint. For example, it would seem that truth has more than just a cognitive function, it reaches out to the will, not just intellect. It poses questions to the will of man when he is standing on the precipice of choice. This can be seen by digging into the intuitions that live behind the notion of justice. To be just is to orient ourselves to the Logos in nature, to affirm the eternal in time, which ultimately means to love the Truth. We can not apprehend truth without apprehending it as residing or deriving from Truth, which we want to love.

If this is true, than intellect does not exist for its own sake, it exists for the sake of love; we know in order to love. So Aquinas is right that intellect is necessary for beatitude because we can not love what we do not know, and yet I can't help thinking that will (love) is the essence of beatitude, because it is for its own sake and not the sake of something else.

| posted by theist | 1:29:00 PM

Monday, November 17, 2003  

The logic of homosexuality
As homosexuals continue to push for gay marriage, it always amuses me to hear homosexuals speaking the language of 'commitment', claiming that they can be just as faithful and committed to their partner as any heterosexual couple. Amusing because there is nothing in a homosexual relationship that can ground such a commitment. Promiscuity is an essential part of the logic of homosexuality, and in this context commitment and fidelity would be unnatural and counter-intuitive to being a homosexual.

Sodomy, having no purpose other than the subjective experience of pleasurable sensations and the indulgence of misguided erotic impulses and lust, has no need for commitment. Indeed, the gay that is most affirming of his identity as a homosexual can not accept such trappings of the hetero-world, for it would seek legitimacy for their life style from hetero standards. Much like feminists undermine feminism by aiming at male standards. Promiscuity is an intrinsic part of the homosexual lifestyle, for if sex is all about 'my sensations', than whatever serves to magnify and satisfy those sensations is good. Consequently, it is perfectly natural that the homosexual will have as many partners as possible to maximize the novelty and scope of sensations.

What can be said then, about those homosexuals that speak of fidelity and life-long commitment to one partner? Two homosexuals can of course commit to each other for life if they have the ability to do it, but it's not logical or necessary. It has nothing to do with the egoism and sexual hedonism that is homosexuality. And one would think that a true homosexual would oppose all such talk of commitment as nonsense.

This being the case, why are the homosexuals pushing gay marriage so much? It could only be that they can not stand having something around that smacks of moral superiority. They will apparently stop at nothing short of leveling all forms of meaningful sexuality. So it appears that those generous and liberal powers that be will eventually grant their wish of redefining marriage to mean any form of cohabitation between two 'partners' for the sake of experiencing sensations. Sorry, but marriage will never mean that, the reality will never change despite the manipulations of the sodomy-loving-sophists.

| posted by theist | 2:25:00 PM

Thursday, November 13, 2003  

Some good, substantial, thoughtful posts at Magdalene

| posted by theist | 3:29:00 PM

Getting beyond materialism
Imagine a man sitting at a desk looking at a tree. He is writing down on a piece of paper a description of the tree; its characteristics, shape, attributes, etc. He may hear birds singing in the branches and smell the odor of cut grass, and note these as well on the paper. This is empirical experience, the man is using his senses to gather information and record it on his paper. We are all familiar with this form of experience, and it is the kind of experience that science is based on.

Now imagine the same man at the desk with a fresh piece of paper in front of him. Now instead of looking at the tree he is looking at his idea of trees, and writing down the description of that idea. Just as he wrote down the attributes and characteristics of the tree outside, with its branches and leaves, he is now writing down a description of the tree inside, i.e. in his consciousness, noting its peculiar features and characteristics. He may be noticing its universality in contrast to the individual tree outside the window, or he could be writing down how his idea seems to transcend certain limitations of the tree outside such as not occupying space and time, or not being subject to change. We are perhaps less familiar with this form of experience, but it is exactly the same as empirical experience in one very important way; it is giving the man information and knowledge just as looking at the tree with his eyes gave him information and knowledge, the only difference is the manner in which the facts derive. Both forms of experience are giving the man facts, which he can write down on a piece of paper, and if you put both his papers side by side, you would have two written documents identical in the sense that they are both equally a description of facts. And they are equally a description of facts despite the fact that one was derived with his senses and the other was not. One was empirical, the other was not.

This would seem to make knowledge something that is applicable to the sense-world, but not bound to it, for the man thinking about his idea acquired real data about something without using his senses. Furthermore, the man through his introspection was gaining real knowledge of something that was not an object of sensation, his object was a feature of mind, and the fact he was obtaining was not related to sense. So we can see that already at the most basic level of our being in the world there is a duality; a duality of experience, and consequently a duality of facts and knowledge. Our everyday language testifies to this duality. We have had to use terms like ‘mind’ and ‘mental’, ‘thought’ and ‘ideas’ that contrast with ‘sensation’ and similar terms denoting empirical experience. This language demonstrates that this duality is a natural feature of the world from the moment we are ‘thrown’ into it and start to become aware of the stream of experience. There is an inwardness and an outwardness, each with its own distinctive qualities, each capable of being an object of the intellect, which does not discriminate between the two.

There can not be any begging of the question at this point since we have not made any interpretations of experience, but are merely highlighting certain basic facts of experience. To say that the object of reflective experience is ‘mental’ is simply to give a term to something that is clearly not empirical in nature, not begging the question. That is the purpose of language, to give us terms to denote differences in quality, differences in our experience of reality. Materialists and scientists use and accept this language because they have to admit the difference in quality between the two forms of experience. Nor are we making any ontological conclusions about this difference in experience but only drawing attention to it. Thus to deny anything at this point would have to take the form of a denial of facts.

Materialism states that all of reality is matter. So what is matter? I think the most that can be said of matter from the standpoint of experience is that matter is that which we sense or measure, measurement being an extension of sensation in a way, and always derivative of sensation. The specific qualities that make up the objects of sensation and the models that scientists can deduce from these sensations determine the boundaries of what matter is. Thus matter may be said to be that which is extended (Descartes), or that which has mass and takes up space (dictionary?), but however it is defined we know that the boundaries of our notion of matter is delimited by the experience of sensation. Without sensation we would have no notion of matter and so the phenomena being described the writer looking at the tree is ultimately the foundation of the idea of matter. From these facts of experience several conclusions can now be reasonably made.

1. Empiricism is wrong. If by ‘empiricism’ is meant that all experience is sense experience or the memory of sense impressions, than it is false because it fails to take into account reflective experience.

2. Materialism is wrong. For materialism states that everything is of the stuff of matter, i.e. like the stuff we sense. But obviously there is a reality, i.e. reflective experience that is not the stuff of sensation, therefore materialism is false.

3. Science can not, in principle, establish materialism or disprove dualism because science is based on empirical experience. Thus science simply does not deal with forms of experience that are not empirical, i.e. reflective experience.

4. Science knows nothing about the person, but only about person’s bodies. Only philosophy through reflective experience can understand the nature of the person.

5. Terms such as ‘immaterial’, ‘soul’, ‘spirit’, ‘supernatural’, are at least partially based on concrete human experience, i.e. reflective experience and the philosophical knowledge of the person. Just as ‘matter’ is based on sense experience, ‘immaterial’ is based on consciousness and reflective experience.

6. The ‘view’ that reality consists of at least a dualism and is richer and more sophisticated than being comprised simply of matter is natural, reasonable, and rooted in concrete experience and facts.

A person committed to materialism could object that even though there is this duality in our experience and knowledge, nevertheless it may be ultimately caused by physical causes. What we call ‘mental’ activity and consciousness could be an epiphenomena of the brain. Anyone can make up hypothesis about things, but without grounds for them they are completely useless. I could say that the planet is resting on the back of a giant cosmic turtle, but unless I had some good reason for saying it the statement is nonsense and deserves to be ignored. So are there grounds for asserting that mind is caused by matter? A hypothesis must have some congruity with the experience it is meant to explain, but the duality of our experience rules out any kind of reductive hypotheses. There is nothing in experience to base this hypothesis; mind and matter are irreducible experiences. Thus if it were the case that mind was caused by matter, we would have no way of knowing it, which is to say that the hypothesis deserves to be cut up with Occam’s razor and thrown into the garbage with the cosmic turtle. However, from the side of consciousness we may see why this irreducibility exists in our experience. From the view point of reason, mind and its actions seem not just different but above matter in that they transcend the abilities and characteristics of matter. Thus the material realm of experience has nothing to leverage an account of consciousness because consciousness is ontologically above it.

Any unbiased person that takes the evidence of experience at face value will not be a materialist. Thus a scientist or philosopher that comes across consciousness and interiority and declares it to be reducible to matter is just spouting dogmas. What else can you call something that seems to have no rational justification? The minority of philosophers still hanging on to materialism are reduced to saying that maybe one day in the future there will be a conceptual breakthrough that will give us the ability to reduce mind to matter. The obvious question is why be a materialist at all? What is the basis? What is the explanation for holding on to materialism despite the fact that the facts are against it? If the philosophy of mind does not warrant materialism, than what is the basis for it? It should be apparent by now that we are encountering something here that is more dogmatic than any religion.

| posted by theist | 12:26:00 AM

Wednesday, November 12, 2003  

Getting beyond the proportionalist debate
An example of the fallacy below can be seen in the debate between proportionalists and the traditional moralists. The latter accuse proportionalists of condoning the doing of evil to achieve good. The proportionalists accuse the traditional ethicists of 'physicalism' or labeling acts as intrinsically evil out of all context with the relevant intention. Both these accusations are invalid because they assume their own respective principles to condemn the others conclusions which derive from other principles. Neither camp seem to realize that they are defining the basis of morally good and evil acts in a completely different manner. The proportionalists are not for doing evil to achieve good and the traditional moralists are not physicalists. Again, the first principles must be refuted or the conclusions must be taken down on their own ground.

| posted by theist | 12:11:00 AM

Monday, November 10, 2003  

A common fallacy
I can see on this blog and lots of other places and other contexts a common problem in how various parties argue with each other. This occurs all the time even among scholarly arguments among professionals. It happens when group 1 has a set of conclusions B that derive from a set of principles A, and group 2 has a set of conclusions Y that derive from a set of principles X. What happens is that group 1 and group 2 derides and dismiss each other (or accuse each other of being irrational) on the basis of differing conclusions B and Y. The problem with this is that even though B and Y may be contradictory, they may be perfectly legitimate based on their own principles A and X. It is not legit, however, to dismiss conclusions Y on the basis of principles A or to dismiss conclusions B on the basis of principles X.

The only valid way to proceed is for group 1 to either refute conclusions Y using groups 2's own principles X or to refute principles X. Likewise, group 2 may only refute conclusions B by either assuming group 1's principles A or refuting principles A. In other words, group1 must refute group 2 on their own ground or show that their ground is faulty. Most of the time group 1 and group 2 are not even aware of the set of principles A and X.

| posted by theist | 3:44:00 PM

Saturday, November 08, 2003  

Introduction to the refutation of materialism
Since Raisin Lord and other atheist fundamentalists continue to seem shocked and awed at the prospect that secularism or materialism lacks any foundation, and even more shocked at the proposition that the religious view of the world does have foundation; I will try to write in a systematic fashion what some of those grounds are.

An important point, prior to embarking on the grounds of a religious outlook, is that I don't have the slightest interest in proving the existence of God, or demonstrating beyond a shadow of doubt the existence of supernatural beings, etc. As an atheist I knew on the IRC for many years used to say, proof is for math. God is not a geometry problem to be solved; He is not a problem at all. Thus to stoop to the rationalists level of the discourse of 'proof' and 'evidence' is to already have implicitly rejected the possibility of God.

I would go so far as to say that if God were to be proven, it would not be God. If God could be comprehended, what you comprehend would not be God. It would be something on the same level as you, something occupying the same ontological level in the hierarchy of being. More probably it would be something lower than you (but I am probably already vexing the atheists with my audacity in speaking about higher and lower things; its not PC to state that things are greater or less).

No, my project is not so ambitious as to prove anything, I am merely interested in showing that various positions that are commonly thought to be part of a religious outlook are in fact reasonable. Personally I believe some of the conclusions I will come to are demonstrated pretty conclusively, but I won't insist on it; the conclusions will have served their purpose simply by showing that such conclusions are natural and reasonable conclusions to come to given the nature of the experience being appealed to.

Ironically, while this makes it less ambitious for me, it makes it all the more ambitious for the atheists in attempting to refute it; for its easy to show that an arguments doesn't 'prove' something, compared with proving that an argument is not even reasonable. The burden of proof is on the atheists to show that my reflections are not even rational.

At any rate, God will not even enter the picture for a while, we will start at the beginning; with human experience and the refutation of materialism.

| posted by theist | 4:12:00 PM

Friday, November 07, 2003  

other secular critiques
Some good posts criticizing secularism and its champions can be found at Jottings from Tertius. For example, Tertius takes issue with materialist evangelists like Dawkins.

| posted by theist | 12:04:00 PM

Monday, November 03, 2003  

Should Catholic philosophers be Thomists?
Bill Cork at ut unum sint mentions a debate about whether or not the Church has its own philosophy. It doesn't suprise me that John Knasis was arguing for thomism as the church's philosophy; I've had him for a few classes at UST and he is a champion of scholastic rationalism in many forms, including being a radical a posteriorist. UST is a very thomistically oriented school, and there is pervasive attitude that 'Thomism' is superior to anything and so one should adher to its formulas. This attitude of taking things on authority is the death of philosophy.

It created a straight-jacket for my mind that made it difficult to really do any truly creative philosophical thinking. My liberation came from various sources and influencecs. One of which was reading Cardinal Ratzinger's "Introduction to Christianity". Ratzinger, who is more of an Augustinian than Thomist, spoke of some philosophical matters in a language that was powerful, stimulating, and definitely not Thomist. It opened my mind to the power of language and the power of looking at matters in categories unfettered by authority. That was the beginning of the end of me being a naive Thomist (or Thomist of any kind).

| posted by theist | 3:52:00 PM