Our recent excursion into the use of rhetoric in defence of the faith, and the subsequent contributions from you, suggests that we should looking at the subject more thoroughly.
In order to do that I have enlisted the help of my friend, who insists on hiding his identity under the nom be blog of Advocatus Diaboli. I should warn you that he probably knows more than most of our opponents about the shortcomings of the Catholic Church. But he has promised to observe the spirit of charity which is a feature of Second Sight.
It will now be up to you to defend or explain the Church. Welcome Advocatus Diaboli.
O O O
Thank you for welcoming me on your Blog. Let me first assure you that I come with goodwill. Some of my best friends, as they say, are Catholics. But I maintain that we all do better when we face up to the facts, and rid ourselves of superstitious habits of mind. Of course my reasons and evidence for that will become clearer, if I am allowed to write in this Blog again. But I shall start in an area which I hope will not raise too many hackles.
What do we mean when we talk about a fact or a truth? I mean a statement which corresponds to reality. And I can measure this in either of two ways.The first is very simple. It is often called analytical. Thus if I say that bachelors are unmarried men, and that Bill is unmarried – I can conclude with certainty that Bill is a bachelor. What I have done is to apply logic to certain facts and arrive a certain conclusion. In this example the result is trivial but such reasoning can often yield interesting conclusions one might never have expected at the beginning. You can of course attack my argument. For instance you could say that “Bill” might easily be the name of a woman, and so my conclusion does not necessarily follow. That would force me to give a more careful exposition by saying “and that Bill, who is a man, is unmarried”
The second kind of fact is often called empirical. That is simply a statement which can be tested by evidence. If I claim that water boils at 100°C, you can test this with a thermometer. Again, I might be challenged because I have failed to add the phrase “at sea level”. For instance, at 3000m above sea level, water boils at about 91°C. But even that is not right because the crucial factor is not altitude but barometric pressure. While this tends to be lower at higher altitudes the exact level can vary.
So an empirical fact can be measured and refined. We can never be certain that we have it exactly right but each refinement brings us closer and closer to the truth.
But the statement that it is true that God exists comes under neither of these headings. Although many great philosophers have tried to prove the existence of God analytically, they have never succeeded. And no one has even seriously tried to measure the existence of God empirically. The question: “does God exist?” sounds very reasonable until you try to work out how you would test its truth. You will then discover that it has no meaning because there is no way of telling whether the answer is right.
Theists of course claim that their belief gives them certainty that God exists. But all this means is that they have a subjective and unprovable opinion. People have a myriad of different subjective and unprovable opinions – some of them incompatible with the idea of an orthodox God. These opinions can arise from a wide range of motives: upbringing, life experiences, the group of friends they move among, etc. It’s a free world and, as long as it doesn’t affect me, I am happy for them. But objective truth? It doesn’t even get close.