Staying Sane: A Good Reason to be Catholic

By A. David Anders, Ph.D. in ‘Calvin2Catholic’  (And a h/t to Michael Kenny for alerting us to this article.)

StPetersRome

A few weeks ago I saw a bumper sticker that made me laugh and it reminded me why I am Catholic. It said, “Honk if you don’t exist.” If I am not mistaken, the bumper sticker was meant to teach one of the central tenets of Buddhism – the anatta doctrine, or the doctrine of “no self.” This Buddhist doctrine teaches that “I” don’t exist, or at the very least, that “I” ought not to worry about whether or not “I” exist. Needless to say, I found it extremely ironic and somewhat amusing to think that someone would honk in order to signal their conviction that they are not there. It’s as if they were saying, “Look, look at me! Here I am, Not!

Outside the classical Judeo-Christian tradition, philosophical silliness like this occurs with astonishing frequency. The atheist philosopher Alex Rosenberg (professor at Duke University) has gone on record, publically, many times, arguing that there is no such thing as thinking. Thinking, he thinks, is an illusion. In one well-known essay of about 4,000 words (“The Disenchanted Naturalist’s Guide to Reality”), Rosenberg argues that there are no words, no sentences, and no meaningful arguments. (And yet, Rosenberg continues to make arguments, write words, and express both incredulity and moral indignation at those who disagree with him.)

We could easily make a rather long list of this kind of thing. Bishop Berkeley (1685-1753) famously argued that there are no material objects. (Samuel Johnson refuted him by kicking a stone.) David Hume (1711-1776) thought it more sensible to believe that things pop into existence without a cause than to believe in cause-and-effect. I once met a modern gender theorist who stared a beautiful woman in the face and refused to acknowledge that she was female. Tragically, these kinds of mistakes have real-world, moral consequences. Modern “ethicists,” like Peter Singer, rely on them to justify barbarism unprintable in a Catholic paper.

In the face of such absurdity, I reflect frequently on the good sense in being Catholic. Catholicism is, above all, a message about our eternal destiny and the way of salvation. But unlike the nihilistic or world-denying philosophy of the East, Catholicism offers you eternity and affirms the goodness of the material world as well. Along with Buddhists, materialists, and idealists, Catholics acknowledge that that material world on its own is rather hard to explain. But unlike some philosophers, Catholics affirm that language, meaning, minds, intelligence, and matter really do exist. They just don’t exist on their own. We find their meaning in light of the unchanging, immaterial reality of God himself.

The Buddhists, nihilists, and absurdists do make one good point. Life without God is absurd. To live like our pleasures, our bank accounts, or our reputations really matter in some ultimate way is to chase a fantasy. None of these things – on their own – have any eternal significance or any meaning worth pursuing. But Catholicism finds their meaning in light of eternity. Catholic faith sees clearly what every Buddhist or absurdist sees dimly. You shouldn’t live for the things of this world, not because they don’t exist, but because they exist in dependence on God. They derive their meaning from their relationship to the Creator.

Jesus made the point long ago:

Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothes? . . . But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.” (Matthew 6:25-33)

Catholicism does teach many things that cannot be known directly by human reason. Reason cannot discover on its own that God is triune, or that Christ is fully God and fully man, or that the Eucharist really is the body and blood of Christ. But it is remarkable that those who affirm these mysteries of faith are marvelously prepared to resist the absurdities and the irrationality that often accompany unbelief. Those who believe God on the hardest doctrines find it an easy thing to believe in the evident facts of common sense. Those who doubt God end up doubting even that they exist.

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25 Responses to Staying Sane: A Good Reason to be Catholic

  1. toadspittle says:

    “David Hume (1711-1776) thought it more sensible to believe that things pop into existence without a cause than to believe in cause-and-effect. “
    Nonsense. No he didn’t. What Hume did say was (very briefly put) you can’t ever be certain what effect a cause will have. And you can’t.

    “But unlike some philosophers, Catholics affirm that language, meaning, minds, intelligence, and matter really do exist.”
    Massive weasel word here – “some.” The vast majority of philosophers affirm that language, meaning, minds, intelligence, and matter really do exist. As the dolt who wrote this knows.

    “Those who doubt God end up doubting even that they exist.”
    More nonsense – this time of the utter variety. Does Dawkins, Stephen Fry, or any of the current strident Atheists, doubt they exist? No.
    Did Lenin or Marx, Huxley or Darwin, Wittgenstein or Russell, Sartre or Camus, Shostakovich or Prokofiev, Picasso or Bacon, Jeeves or Wooster, doubt they existed? No.
    Does even Toad? No!

  2. JabbaPapa says:

    Nonsense. No he didn’t. What Hume did say was (very briefly put) you can’t ever be certain what effect a cause will have. And you can’t.

    According to Hume, your analysis of his writing is intrinsically unreliable, as being perfectly coincidental.

    Massive weasel word here – “some.”

    Some weasels disagree that it belongs to their vocabulary.

    “Those who doubt God end up doubting even that they exist.”
    More nonsense – this time of the utter variety.

    It’s clearly a rhetorical exaggeration, not intended to be taken literally. But it’s snappier than a discourse about the atheistic angst that it clearly refers to — well, unless your a Humist that is …

  3. toadspittle says:

    “It’s clearly a rhetorical exaggeration, not intended to be taken literally. “
    So you say, like the Bible, or Chesterton, I suppose.
    But I disagree. I think Anders Ph.D means it. So you and I must simply differ, for once.

    “..well, unless you’re a Humist that is …”
    Humist? No. But he didn’t think that “… things pop into existence without a cause…”
    Now did he, Jabba? Admit it.
    Clearly something "caused" the universe. Or it, and we, wouldn't be here. Call it what you like – "God," or "G-Force-X," or "Cyril," or whatever. Doesn't matter.

    It's not as if we're merely the dreams of God, or whatever, is it?

  4. Tom Fisher says:

    David Hume (1711-1776) thought it more sensible to believe that things pop into existence without a cause than to believe in cause-and-effect.

    Yes. That’s right. For 250 years we thought that David Hume had provided a searching and stimulating critique of inductive reasoning. But now thanks to A. David Anders Ph.D we know better apparently

    To include (however badly misstated) a reference to David Humes thoughts on induction in a list of philosophical silliness is a bit like including Paradise Lost in a list of “bad poems”. The judgment reflects nothing but the limitations of the list maker.

  5. toadspittle says:

    …That’s what Toad meant to say. But is too thick.

  6. toadspittle says:

    Reading between the lines here – which is a good deal more pleasant than reading the lines themselves, I get the impression that what Ph.D. is getting at here – is that it’s all right for Catholics to believe six impossible things before breakfast – (“Catholicism does teach many things that cannot be known directly by human reason.” and …“Along with Buddhists, materialists, and idealists, Catholics acknowledge that that material world on its own is rather hard to explain… “) ..but absurd for Atheists to do the same thing.
    Well, yes. Believing impossible things is absurd, whichever way you look at it.

  7. JabbaPapa says:

    So you say, like the Bible, or Chesterton, I suppose

    In what way is the Bible or the whole of the written works of G.K. Chesterton “a rhetorical exaggeration” ?

    “..well, unless you’re a Humist that is …”
    Humist? No. But he didn’t think that “… things pop into existence without a cause…”
    Now did he, Jabba? Admit it.

    That is one school of interpretation of Hume’s notions, given that he claims that causality doesn’t even exist.

    I do agree with you that an effect cannot exist without a cause ; but it’s clear that no cause can possibly exist if there is no causality.

    Or is that the impossible thing you’re asking me to believe before breakfast ?

    it’s all right for Catholics to believe six impossible things before breakfast – (“Catholicism does teach many things that cannot be known directly by human reason.” and …“Along with Buddhists, materialists, and idealists, Catholics acknowledge that that material world on its own is rather hard to explain… “) ..but absurd for Atheists to do the same thing.

    ??? Who do you think that the “materialists” he refers to might be ?

    And what on EARTH does this comment about the limits of human reason have to do with “six impossible things before breakfast”, except as a poor excuse for you to post yet another ill-conceived anti-Catholic jibe from your collection ?

    You really should have done a bit more proof-reading on these latest ones, Toad … they make no sense whatsoever, and I’m not about to start believing the impossible contents of your posts before my own breakfast …

  8. Tom Fisher says:

    it’s clear that no cause can possibly exist if there is no causality.

    Yes, though that is true by definition.

    That is one school of interpretation of Hume’s notions, given that he claims that causality doesn’t even exist.

    Not quite, he was content to demonstrate that there is a problem with demonstrating the existence of causality. As to the biographical question of whether he believed in causality, I suspect he did. But his psychology is of little importance.

  9. JabbaPapa says:

    Not quite, he was content to demonstrate that there is a problem with demonstrating the existence of causality

    There are multiple interpretations of precisely what he meant, or rather of how he should be understood, and I am not prepared to have an argument about precisely what he meant, because all these versions of the Humist theory seem to be equally absurd.

    Without causality, nothing at all can be demonstrated, let alone causality itself.

    Causality is a foundational necessity of all thought, not just internally in the thoughts themselves, but materially as providing the conditions whereby these thoughts are physically possible in the first place hic et nunc. Not even perception is possible without causality, let alone cognition, movement, time, and existence.

    The answer to the question : “why is there something instead of nothing ?”, is not to redefine the word “why” as being meaningless.

  10. JabbaPapa says:

    Not even perception is possible without causality, let alone cognition, movement, time, and existence

    I mean, in this material world, not absolutely, as we have only a confused notion of these things from the perspective of pure Spirit.

  11. mkenny114 says:

    Good morning all,

    Given that I was mentioned (via the h/t) in this post, I thought it might be a good time to come out of retirement from the commentary world.

    So, putting to one side Toad’s bizarre misreading of the text (and the strange repeated emphasis on the author’s having a PhD), I would like to suggest that, contra Tom at 07:28, David Hume’s psychology is not of little importance at all – in fact, it is central to what Anders was trying to say (even if you think he made his point badly and his argument(s) lacked precision).

    The main point he is trying to make here (as it seems plain enough to me anyway) is that there is a manifest absurdity in the conclusions of the non-Catholic philosophies that are mentioned, and a further absurdity in the proponents of said philosophies stating such theories and then proceeding to act otherwise. In the case of Hume, to claim that the inferences we make about causality are unjustified*, and then to carry on acting as if they were justified, is madness, and so his psychology becomes very relevant to the discussion – for if one is willing to accept theories that make nonsense out of basic aspects of our everyday experience, it is certainly worthwhile asking if there are other, more personal, reasons for doing so. None of this is to deny that Hume was thorough in his investigations or anything like that, only that his conclusions do indeed lead to silliness, and that he was wise enough to live according to something other than those conclusions, even if he couldn’t admit their absurdity.

    Anders’ point (which I think IS** justified) is that the claims of other worldviews, taken to their logical conclusions, do in fact result in such absurdities, and it is only Catholicism that provides a robust account of our experience, accepting as it does the reasonableness of trusting our own intuitions about the world (such as the fact that it, as well as we, actually exist, for one) as well as the complex relationship between the intellect and the will.

    *Interestingly enough, after claiming in his study of inference and causality that we cannot assume the uniformity of nature, Hume assumed that very uniformity in his case against the possibility of miracles.

    **Could somebody tell me how to put things in italics or bold in these here commentary boxes? I never did get around to finding out how!

  12. Tom Fisher says:

    **Could somebody tell me how to put things in italics or bold in these here commentary boxes? I never did get around to finding out how!

    Do this (BUT remove the dots)

    Open italics close italics

    Same for bold, but ‘b’ for ‘i’

  13. Tom Fisher says:

    Darn it!! Word press doesn’t display it if you do what I just tried.

  14. mkenny114 says:

    Thanks Tom! I’ll try it now and also this that I just found Let’s see if either works…

  15. mkenny114 says:

    Bingo – they both worked (the other one I tried was )! Thanks again🙂

  16. Tom Fisher says:

    Mkenny,

    .His question can (very simplified) be phrased as is there an account of causation which is not susceptible to the problem of induction?. As Hume argued, it is extremely difficult to come up with one. This does not mean that causation does not exist, it means that it is more difficult to demonstrate than commonsense would have us believe

    Hume of course believed in causation, I was being flippant when I said I “suspected he did”. However the gap between our instinctive understanding of it and our ability to demonstrate it is what interested him:

    As nature has taught us the use of our limbs, without giving us the knowledge of the muscles and nerves by which they are actuated; so she has implanted in us an instinct, which carries forward the thought in a correspondent course to that which she has established among external objects; though we are ignorant of those powers and forces, on which this course and succession of objects totally depends.

    Unfortunately the one claim Anders ascribes to Hume is utterly misguided, and Hume is absolutely not an example of the ((I agree quite plain) point that Anders is trying (and in this case failing) to make

  17. Tom Fisher says:

    So, putting to one side Toad’s bizarre misreading of the text (and the strange repeated emphasis on the author’s having a PhD)

    I think I know what Toad is getting at. Admittedly it’s more common in the United States, but signing off as Joe Bloggs Ph.D rather than just Joe Bloggs or Dr Joe Bloggs, is a habit often associated with the authors of self-help books, — and people writing outside their area of expertise. For example when people with doctorates in Civil Engineering write books with titles like: How the Aztecs built Stonehenge, by Chuck Hunter, Ph.D

  18. mkenny114 says:

    Tom,

    Yes,I think this gets to the ‘nub’ of what the article (or at least the assumptions behind the article) are all about. I know Hume did not actually disbelieve in causation (that he continued to think and act as if it were a valid thing to assume was part of my earlier point) – the point is that his degree of scepticism about whether or not we can trust our reason is itself not warranted. If one proceeds from a materialist standpoint, then of course we cannot give an account of causation from reason alone; nor can we even give an account of reason from reason alone!

    Basically, we must assume some things about reality which we cannot demonstrate via pure reason, and as Hume refused to recognise such a priori assumptions (committed as he was to a philsophical materialism/naturalism) our acceptance of the validity of causality in our thinking became a problem – i.e.; his overall philosophy led to a wedge between conclusions in theory and reality as commonly experienced which is absurd. Which is Anders’ overall point about the various non-Catholic worldviews that he mentions. I agree that what he actually attributes to Hume is not really very helpful, but I think that, given the wider point that he is making, it is fairly safe to assume that he is expressing something more in line with what I’ve just written than that he has just attached an idea to Hume’s name that has nothing to do with him.

    As for the PhD business, that is a fair point. His doctorate (if I remember rightly) is in Church History, which was what led him to convert from Evangelical (broadly Calvinist) Protestantism to Catholicism. Given what else I’ve read by him/seen in interviews, he doesn’t seem like a charlatan, so I think this might just be an American thing, rather than a ‘take me seriously, I am a doctor of something’ thing.

  19. toadspittle says:

    Excellent work, chaps. Toad’s lonely work of bizarre misreading on this topic is done.
    I was just teasing about the Ph.D. Michael. Got one myself, early in the preceding century, in joined-up writing.
    Mind you, can’t do it now.
    Now, let’s get back to the more serious business of the Masonic infestation of the Vatican!

  20. JabbaPapa says:

    His question can (very simplified) be phrased as is there an account of causation which is not susceptible to the problem of induction?

    Emanatist theories can no more escape the problem of Induction than Inductionist theories can escape the problem of emanation — I realise I’m considering induction more broadly than you intended.

    Ultimately, I suppose, Hume is just following Occam, and his notion that nothing exists that is not individual ; which itself leads to a right old can of philosophical worms, Even though Occam claims that our understanding of causality is post rem, he does not claim that this understanding is not itself post causam, and so therefore does not claim that the notion of causality itself might itself be post rem, except in the very limited sense of the development of that notion as a locus and object of thought.

    Occam also tempers his position with the notion of resemblance, and thereby does not reject Wyclif’s table, that these problems seem to be based on ; and without the notion of resemblance, the entire edifice of natural Science would simply collapse.

    It does after all seem difficult to separate the concepts of causality and form the one from the other ; and Occam certainly did not deny that the proper locus of Reason is Truth, whatsoever theory of perception one might use.

    The old arguments were always about the object of understanding, and the relationship between that object, perception, thought, and truth ; not about raising doubts concerning form itself as a source of knowledge and understanding ; the relationship between a cause and an effect being, of course, a form, as is the relationship between multiple similar causes and multiple similar effects.

    And indeed, Hume himself is forced to employ the concept of “similarity”, viz. Occam, in order to explain the existence of our understanding, but seemingly without realising that perception itself is a function of cognition, and that rather than perception preceding and being separate from thought, perception of the mental objects inside the head and perception of the material objects outside are not different to each other in nature, and are therefore inseparable from the thought itself, except post rem.

    Looking at this, I see that Kant came to functionally the same conclusions versus Hume.

  21. toadspittle says:

    “Looking at this, I see that Kant came to functionally the same conclusions versus Hume.”
    Oh, do you now, Jabba?
    I suppose Kant’s comment, “I freely admit that it was the remembrance of David Hume which, many years ago, first interrupted my dogmatic slumber and gave my investigations in the field of speculative philosophy a completely different direction,”
    …might have influenced your “looking at this,” at all?

  22. JabbaPapa says:

    I suppose Kant’s comment …[] … might have influenced your “looking at this,” at all?

    You confuse cause with effect, most ironically.

  23. mkenny114 says:

    I was just teasing about the Ph.D. Michael.

    Yes, just seemed a bit unnecessary to me, that’s all, and smacked a little of the sort of things children do in the playground when they’ve run out other ways to insult the object of their taunting. I suggest writing the words ‘Cause and effect is a justifiable inference’ one hundred times on the nearest blackboard you can find as a punishment. Not in joined up writing though – don’t want to rub salt into the wounds🙂

  24. toadspittle says:

    That’s the Kenny spirit, Michael. Uncle Anthony will be proud.
    And the next time Toad runs out of insults in the CP&S playground, ( which will probably be quite soon) he won’t stoop so low as to accuse the objects of his taunting of being PH.D.’s
    …Even if they are.

  25. kathleen says:

    Some very interesting comments on this thread! Though I think the mockery of Dr. David Anders by T&T is quite uncalled for, even if it was done with no intention to offend. He has a daily programme on EWTN Radio “Called to Communion” on apologetic matters, and he seems to me to be a very pleasant and sincere convert to the faith (for instance, unlike poor muddled Michael Coren!)

    Here’s his conversion story on as told on EWTN’s “The Journey Home”:

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