Faithlessness and Irrationality

One of the surprising things that MAGA antichrist religion is demonstrating to the world is that science, no less than religious traditions, depends on faith and trust in order to function properly.

Science is done by humans, not machines, and, most importantly, its results are received by humans whose social networks are lubricated by trust–or not. You can have the most solid science in the world with irrefutable and reproducible results, but as the idiocy of the anti-vax movement and the climate change denialists and the six day creationist and flat earth movements (movements as much at war with Pope Francis as they are with the results of scientific research) bear eloquent witness, if trust has been poisoned and perverted by paranoia, lies, and perverse spite, your science will no more be received or heeded than the Apostles Creed. Radical skepticism turns out to be, not the chastity of the intellect, but its sterilization. The idiot who “does my own research” because he believes he and he alone is the only one qualified to know the Hidden Truth, turns out to be as full of folly as the one who spits at Jesus Christ. Faith turns out to be a basic condition of human life, even if you have not gotten around to acknowledge that faith in God is part of that.

Now the extraordinary thing about our time is that the people who understand that (judging from their behavior, whatever their words may be) are very often people who see themselves as having no faith, while those who habitually boast of themselves as the Greatest Christians of All Time have proven (by their actions, however loudly they scream “Lord! Lord!”) that they have no faith in either the science or the Christian revelation. Mike Lewis discusses this over at Where Peter Is:

In his Sunday reflection, Fr. Alex Roche wrote about the way our scientific knowledge, like our theological knowledge, is accumulated and built on trusting the work of those who came before us. He explained that “trust is not some irrational concept, foreign to empirical knowledge; it is what binds us who seek knowledge together.”

Those of us who profess the Catholic faith have put our trust in the testimonies of the disciples who said that they witnessed the Risen Lord. We put our trust in Saint Thomas, who doubted until he saw the marks in Jesus’ hands and side, after which he proclaimed, “My Lord and my God!” (Jn 20:28).

Unlike the disciples, we have not seen the Risen Jesus with our own eyes. Unlike Thomas, we will not see his wounds up close. We are separated by many miles and many generations. Those of us who are Catholic must place our trust in the reliability of the successors to the apostles—the bishops. We must especially place our trust in Peter’s successor, the pope, under whom the Church teaches that “the Catholic religion has always been preserved unblemished, and sacred doctrine been held in honor.”[1] To do this is to trust Christ himself, who established that the “See of St. Peter always remains unblemished by any error, in accordance with the divine promise of our Lord and Savior to the prince of his disciples.”[2]

When individual members of the Church decide to reject the instruments of authority and transmission of the faith given to us by Christ, the result has historically been chaos and division. We see this today in the many Protestant denominations that reject the papacy and have been divided many times over. We see it happening in real-time in the various strains of radical traditionalism and reactionary Catholicism, where fierce arguments erupt over the legitimacy of Francis’s papacy, the number of heresies he allegedly holds, and what they should do about all of it.

Like Protestants, the traditionalists have become untethered from the rock, and they hold a wide range of novel beliefs and doctrines that are incompatible with the traditional Catholic faith. They are left facing a future without a clear path back towards full communion with the Catholic Church and the Successor of Peter. They lack trust in the Apostolic See, which was established by Christ as “the rock which guarantees a rigorous fidelity to the Word of God against arbitrariness and conformism.”[3]

As Fr. Roche points out, our understanding of science is also based upon trust, noting that a lack of trust in the scientific knowledge and expertise that humanity has acquired over many generations can cause great damage. He writes:

Consider the scientific method for a moment. Scientific inquiry involves experimentation, falsification, gathering data, and drawing conclusions. But this process is not intended to be undertaken by isolated individuals. How would scientific progress be possible if every scientist felt compelled to prove that the earth was round, or that the sun was at the center of the solar system? How could scientists develop human knowledge if they did not accept germ theory, the existence of electrons, or gravity? Without trusting what others who went before have already discovered and reported, humanity would be limited to what could be confirmed by a single generation. Science tests hypotheses, yes, but it also requires trust. The breakdown of this trust has catastrophic results for science and for society at large.

This point can be applied to the current debate surrounding the Covid-19 pandemic, public health restrictions, and the use of Covid vaccines. In the United States especially, every aspect of the official response to Covid—from wearing masks to lockdowns to social distancing to the safety and efficacy of the vaccines—has been vigorously contested by large groups of people challenging the experts and the status quo. Some even deny the existence of Covid-19 altogether.

Resisting Science and the Church

The Catholic Church has not been immune to such resistance. Even though Pope Francis and many of the bishops have repeatedly encouraged Catholics to get the vaccine, and even though the Church explicitly teaches that receiving the vaccine is morally licit and serves the common good, many Catholics still ignore or reject Church authority and have refused to be vaccinated or to take public health precautions.

And is it no surprise that many of the Catholics who most vigorously oppose the positions of the mainstream scientific establishment are also vigorously opposed to the teachings and decisions of the institutional Church? From Patrick Coffin to Tim Gordon to Taylor Marshall to Eric Sammons to Leila Lawler to Fr. Dave Nix to Bishop Joseph Strickland, there appears to be a strong correlation between Catholics who are passionately opposed to Pope Francis and those who publicly reject the scientific consensus on how we should respond to Covid.

This correlation prompts some questions. For example, is there a logical connection between a lack of trust of Church authority and a lack of trust in the scientific establishment? Where do those who think we should ignore mainstream scientific positions recommend that we place our trust?

Current events prompt even more questions. Was Pope Francis’s decision to enact strict Covid restrictions in Vatican City reasonable? Was an unvaccinated cardinal really denied entry to the Vatican because he didn’t have a valid Green Pass? If Covid is as serious as they say, then why doesn’t Pope Francis wear a mask all the time?

This peculiar situation of non-Christians and even atheists being champions and defenders of both the Pope and the compatibility of science and the Faith while the Greatest Catholics of All Time make idiotic war on both is, so far as I can see, an historical anomaly. I can’t think of a time like it, but then I can’t think of a time when so many Catholics were so dumb about faith and reason. Recently, an atheist reader of mine wrote that

in the intersection of religion and politics I recently came across this article by Rebecca Hamilton:
GQP Whore Bishop Alert: What’s Happening to Disney Can Happen to You.

Her article could be considered prophetic, given what has followed soon after:
Marjorie Greene’s DELUSIONAL Rant On The Catholic Church

It serves as a reminder that for many of these politicians, Catholics are merely tools of convenience, to be disposed of at the earliest opportunity, should one arise.

Seriously, how twisted things have to be for outspoken atheists on a political commentary show, to come out in defense of the Catholic Church and Christianity in general? Its as if the baseline for what was universally seen as moral has receded considerably on one end, to the point where there is less distance between atheists and the Catholic Church, than there is between the Catholic Church and what passes in the US for “Conservative Christianity”.

It goes to show that the labels and categories we use to describe different ideologies can often fall short or be completely misleading when taken at face value.

Indeed. For Jesus, what matters is not what we yak about, but what we do because what we do reveals for certain what we actually believe while what we say is often a very uncertain barometer of that. So he tells, not unbelievers but believers:

“Not every one who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ shall enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?’ And then will I declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you evildoers.’” (Mt 7:21–23)

Conversely, to those who are not believers, the goyim or the “nations” outside the visible Church, he declares that they will be saved on the basis of what they do, not on the basis of what they say. That is the point of this:

“When the Son of man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on his glorious throne. Before him will be gathered all the nations, and he will separate them one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats, and he will place the sheep at his right hand, but the goats at the left. Then the King will say to those at his right hand, ‘Come, O blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world; for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me.’ Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink? And when did we see you a stranger and welcome you, or naked and clothe you? And when did we see you sick or in prison and visit you?’ And the King will answer them, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brethren, you did it to me.’ Then he will say to those at his left hand, ‘Depart from me, you cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels; for I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me no drink, I was a stranger and you did not welcome me, naked and you did not clothe me, sick and in prison and you did not visit me.’ Then they also will answer, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not minister to you?’ Then he will answer them, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did it not to one of the least of these, you did it not to me.’ And they will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.” (Mt 25:31–46)

This is not the opposite of salvation by faith. Rather it is demonstration that there was faith in the light shed by the Holy Spirit in the heart of the sheep, even if he never heard the Name of Jesus or thought erroneously about Jesus due to bad information. In the end, the only thing that will matter is that sheep did his will, which is the measure of all true faith in him whatever our ignorant or accurate theological opinions about him happen to be.

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18 Responses

  1. Great post. Reason without faith can’t get you any farther than “I think, therefore I am,” and even that rests on faith in the axiom that you must first exist in order to do something. (Which seems kind of obvious but has it ever been tested empirically? Show me the studies. Who conducted the studies? Who paid for the studies?)

    Minor quibble, but something being done by machines does not imply that it’s free from bias or from the need to trust anyone, despite what the crypto bros would tell you: You still need to trust the people who built the machine.

    1. I realize it’s very very important to you to miss the point if there is even the slightest danger that it could somehow grant an inch to Christianity or theism. But really, it’s not that hard to understand what I am saying above.

      1. You quote someone saying “scientific knowledge, like our theological knowledge, is accumulated and built on trusting the work of those who came before us.” Then why does the scientific method require reproducibility?

        – joel

      2. Irrelevant to my point. Really, you don’t have to work this hard. It’s okay to acknowledge that science cannot function without faith and trust.

  2. I don’t think its quite accurate to conflate “faith” with “trust” within the context of scientific inquiry.

    The thing about trust in science is that its not primarily about trust in people; its about trust in the process. That’s why when a new study comes out, the most pressing question is not who did the study, but whether or not that study has been peer-reviewed, and even then, the results are considered to be tentative, pending new evidence that could overturn such findings.

    So you could make the case that in a lot of ways, science is about the lack of trust in people, and thus, an attempt to create a methodology that can (eventually) filter out and minimize human bias and error.

    Sure, you can say that faith is a kind of trust, however, the way you go about acquiring that trust is entirely different, and in some ways, diametrically opposed, to the way trust works when it comes to science. With faith, you can only believe in those you trust, but with science, even those you distrust can make you believe.

    But that is all for naught if there isn’t an understanding of the processes involved; its like the difference between truly understanding a subject matter versus merely memorizing the answers for a test.

    Or put another way, while a lack of trust might lead to people being led astray on some areas, its that lack of understanding that prevents them from making any type of course correction, which leads to the current situation of “hyper-rationality” that is really anything but.

    On a slight tangent, here is another clip from John Idarola, who was featured in the video link you posted, but this time on the subject of those people who are “just asking questions”:
    “Republican Fool HUMILIATED By Founding Fathers”

    1. .> With faith, you can only believe in those you trust, but with science, even those you distrust can make you believe.

      That’s a bit rich.

      Ideally, the Catholic faith teaches exactly this. That everybody is a sinner. Catholics believe because Christ died on the cross, not because the Popes and the clergy are holy. Its leaders through history have been a bunch of losers and cowards and sinners who plodded through failures.

      That Catholics have lost this core concept is part of the reason why there are so many crazy Catholics now. They idolize people…the clergy and hierarchy.., and put their faiths is princes and principalities.

      A Catholic’s faith is not dependent on people or the virtue of the clergy, but because of the Catechism and its teachings.

    2. On the contrary, my whole point is that faith (which is all *about* personal trust in persons) absolutely undergirds the scientific enterprise, which is precisely why, as trust between persons breaks down, the enterprise breaks down. The vast majority of human being can no more give an account of how “we” know that vaccines work or climate change is real than they can give an account of the doctrine of the Trinity or the Real Presence in the Eucharist. The real reason humans accept these things as real is because they trust the people who are competent to teach them. And when that trust is destroyed or poisoned, they can just as easily turn a paranoid eye on the science as on the dogma. You’ve been watching it yourself in astonishment for two years. It doesn’t matter a jot, once trust is destroyed, that the process is solid or reasoning is good or the teacher a good one. The audience refuses to hear because the audience has decided it cannot trust the people telling it the information. It’s all a trick. All a lie.

      1. Might I suggest that the problem is not so much related to a lack of trust, as it is to trust that has been misplaced and abused?

        After all, its not like all these people got to be that way on their own. Many, if not most, were led down that path by their religious leaders, political leaders, trusted media figures, favorite news anchors and popular political commentators. They were lied to, by the people in their circle whom society had elevated to positions of trust and authority; all of them, all at once.

        What makes the deception so egregious, is that many of the people who did the deceiving are people who actually knew better, but decided to mislead their audiences anyway.

        Given all that, its pretty hard to characterize their skepticism in authorities as simply a lack of trust. If anything, you could say that their problem was that they trusted some people too much.

      2. Lack of trust can have a lot of causes. But the fact remains that without a capacity to trust or to educate our faculty for trust to seek the proper objects of trust, neither science nor philosophy nor theology (nor any other activity requiring human relationship) can function properly. The notion that science is immune from the need for faith turns out to be a poorly-founded article of faith. There is, in the end, no significant human activity that is not founded on fundamental acts of faith.

      3. Yes, there is a basic level of trust that is necessary for all these endeavors; even if it takes the form of “trust, but verify”. However, the terms “trust” and “faith” are not interchangeable, at least not in this context.

        You have faith in God, but you only trust priests. It doesn’t work the other way around.

      4. Not exactly, since some of the trust in God spill over into trust in certain priestly actions (and even certain actions by lay people and non-Christians, or certain truths about them). I trust, not because of them, but because of their Maker’s word, that every human being is a) made in the image and likeness of God, b) fallen, and c) one for whom Christ died and rose. This last point applies to every human being without any exception whatsoever. Because of Christ and not due to any virtue of a priest I know that when he pronounces words of absolution or consecration of the Eucharist that what Christ promises will occur *has* occurred. So there are certain ways in which I trust in priestly ministry which have nothing to do with trusting the priest (or, for that matter, the atheist who baptizes the dying man. So long as he intends to do what the Church does (pour water on the person and baptize in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit), I have the promise of Christ that what was sought was given. Trust, in the context of Christ, is a more complicated thing than it may appear at first blush. But it all comes down to a personal trust in Jesus, not in the goodness of the priest.

    3. Trust in a process is meaningless if you can’t trust the people who implement that process. What good is peer review if you don’t trust the peers?

      1. That trust is still contingent on our ability to verify their work. The point is that its not dependent on any single person, group or institution. And even when our review process falls short, reality itself becomes the ultimate arbiter.

        I’m not arguing for a complete and absolute lack of trust; after all, some level of it is necessary for a basic functional society, but at the heart of the scientific method lies an acknowledgement of how untrustworthy we can be.

        So at the end of the day, we’re trusting people to not trust themselves.

      2. And that trust has been abused time and again in the scientific method.
        Two examples:
        1. Andrew Wakefield and his article in Lancet that is the basis of all the “vaccines cause autism” hoax. After it was proved that he took a bribe from lawyers representing the families of autistic children who were suing vaccine manufacturers, the conflict of interest led to his article being removed from Lancet and labeled as false.
        2. University of East Anglia has been proved to take grants from corporations for climate change research and to suppress any research that the grant providers found objectionable. Sounds like the Exxon case, except the providers suppressed findings that would contest or disprove anthropogenic global warming (AGW).

        I have some serious problems with these two facts, namely:
        1. While the conflict of interest in Wakefield’s case is obvious and nobody sane would question it, and the link between vaccines and autism has been explored many times and was found to be nonexistent (or tenuous at best), there’s still a huge disproportion of resources on the two sides of the conflict, where multinational biomedical corporations can fund as much research as they need to prove that their vaccines do not cause autism.
        The problem I have with this is that, assuming the consensus is correct, it’s okay to fund research that proves there is no link between vaccines and autism, but it’s unacceptable to fund research that aims to prove such a link.
        This leads to one very uncomfortable conclusion: If there ever is a vaccine that causes autism, this story can be very easily dismissed or suppressed until it’s proved through years of research (if there is anyone willing to do such research in the first place).

        2. UEA has a vehemently pro-AGW stance. If AGW is true, the facts should stand for themselves, why would you need grants or execute the right to suppress research?
        The problem with it is that the scientific consensus is far from being achieved on AGW. What scientists do agree on is that there is climate change and that there exist greenhouse gases which have a certain warming potential. That much is agreed upon by virtually everyone. Fringe beliefs exist, but not among climatologists. It did take some time for that to happen, but it’s pretty much completed by now (much like belief in plate tectonics which were novel in 1950s, and it took decades to make them mainstream).
        With that said, there is contention concerning whether there is a global warming occurring now (pretty graphs notwithstanding) and how much of that is caused by human emissions of greenhouse gases. And that’s before the question of how to deal with AGW if it’s occurring and whether to deal with it at all.

        Facts are unimpressed by beliefs. We can argue all day whether God exists, and even if we agree upon a consensus, this end result will not change the fact whether God does exist or not.
        This works for facts about the physical world. If somebody cuts off his head, his conviction that it won’t hurt him won’t matter a single bit.

    4. Here are a couple of dictionary definitions of “faith.”

      1. confidence or trust in a person or thing.
      2. belief that is not based on proof.

      Trust (from #1) is a subset of the cardinal virtue of Prudence. Who can you trust and how is that trust earned. Trusting wisely expedites life and brings goodness to life. Repeated trust being validated gives rise to definition #2. After a while, we believe persons or things can do greater things based on past performance. So we have faith in the scientific method, faith in medical journals, faith in experts, faith in good people. After a while, we stop asking for every little thing to be proven.

      Here is the CCC definition of the theological virtue of Faith.

      “1814 Faith is the theological virtue by which we believe in God and believe all that he has said and revealed to us, and that Holy Church proposes for our belief, because he is truth itself. By faith “man freely commits his entire self to God.” For this reason the believer seeks to know and do God’s will. “The righteous shall live by faith.” Living faith “work[s] through charity.””

      In other words, the Catholic “commits his entire self to God,” i.e. commits his entire self to truth. The Catholic “seeks to know and do God’s will,” i.e. seeks to know what the truth is, and what the truth requires us to do.

      As the theological virtues undergird the cardinal virtues, Faith (along with Hope and Charity) undergird Prudence. As God is truth itself – good people, experts, medical journals, the scientific method – are all from God. The faith that comes from repeated validations of trust is the theological virtue of faith.

      1. The fact you’re not requiring an explicit validation of trust from someone who has already provided it repeatedly, is in no way the same thing as saying that such trust is being granted without any proof. That just doesn’t logically follow at all. The past performance is the proof; you can’t just conveniently brush that aside just because you want to shift between these two different usages of the word “faith”.

        You’re also using the word “faith” in a manner that is analogous with “ideology”. Now, I’ll concede that for a Catholic, it could be the case that your faith in God informs your Catholic faith, which then leads you to have faith in science. However, I don’t think its either fair or accurate to then project that onto atheists, especially when we’re explicitly telling you otherwise.

        I think this stems from the prevailing apologetics talking point of “everybody has faith”, than it does from an honest assessment of our actual positions.

      2. Except I don’t believe everyone has faith, clearly (if you mean “faith in God or faith in the Blessed Trinity”). I don’t even think everyone is capable of ordinary human trust. That was my point. Some people are so damaged they can’t even trust clearly obvious science because they can’t trust scientists or anybody outside their tribal group. But that does not change a jot my point that normal human functioning rests on bonds of trust and that a world where people *really* reject such bonds of trust will never be the paradise of rationalism some simplistic people imagine it would.

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