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A Dialog of a Freethinker and a Catholic

By Thomas Storck
Bradley and Charles discuss reason, science, and whether the clouds are made of cotton candy.

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Freethinkers and rationalists are supposed to be the sensible people, who see through all the superstitious nonsense in Christianity, right? But is freethinking the real nonsense? Thomas Storck show us what happens when Catholic thought and freethinking face off over the relationship between reason and faith.

BRADLEY (a freethinker): You know, Charles, why don't you give up all these silly myths, this Catholic nonsense, and become a freethinker like me? It's time you matured intellectually.

CHARLES (a Catholic): A freethinker? That sounds like fun. I think if I were a freethinker, the first thing I would believe is that clouds were made of cotton candy and that on the other side of the moon there lived a friendly giant who owned a big lantern. That sounds neat, doesn't it?

BRADLEY: Ha, ha. Very funny. But you know very well that isn't what I mean. We freethinkers don't go around making things up.

CHARLES: Oh, I'm sorry. What exactly does it mean, then, to think freely?

BRADLEY: Well, you see, we're not bound by myths or old tales told by priests to keep the people in line.

CHARLES: But if you're not bound by anything, if you're free to think what you want, why couldn't I believe that clouds were big pieces of cotton candy?

BRADLEY: I didn't say we weren't bound by anything. The difference is that we verify and prove what we believe.

CHARLES: I'm very sorry for you.

BRADLEY: What do you mean? Are you so intellectually cowardly that you can't think for yourself?

CHARLES: Well, I feel sorry for you because you said you had to verify and prove all that you thought. That's what you said, isn't it?

BRADLEY: Yes, of course. We use science to show us what is true. We don't take things on authority.

CHARLES: Well, I am sorry for you. I guess you spend your whole life proving all the facts you read in the almanac or the encyclopedia. You must have traveled a lot, I mean, to see for yourself all the things you read about foreign countries, mountains, rivers, all the different kinds of animals and plants, the ...

BRADLEY: [interrupting] Don't be silly. Naturally, I don't personally have to prove all these things. Why, we can read the trustworthy record of those who've done the experiments, made the maps, written the histories, and so on. It's all very logical.

CHARLES: Oh. So you say that you accept other people's word for things?

BRADLEY: Why, of course. Haven't got time to prove everything for myself, but fortunately I know where to look things up.

CHARLES: So if someone who was trustworthy were to tell you something he had knowledge about, you'd believe him?

BRADLEY: Sure. That's the essence of logical thought.

CHARLES: I see. But I thought you didn't accept things on authority? Didn't you say that a minute ago?

BRADLEY: Well, hmm, what I obviously meant is that I don't accept the authority of medieval priests and such. Of course I accept the authority of science.

CHARLES: Oh. So being a freethinker means that you accept truths stated by those authorities you think are trustworthy?

BRADLEY: Of course. I told you before that we're not free to think up any nonsense we want—such as apparitions of the Virgin or miracles. But naturally we keep within the bounds of the assured results of science.

CHARLES: But if you accept truths that your authorities tell you, how are you different from me? That's what Catholics do. We accept what the Church teaches because we are convinced that she is trustworthy.

BRADLEY: There's no comparison between you and me. I accept science. You accept myths and dogmas.

CHARLES: But I was only trying to point out that each of us accepts authorities he considers reasonable.

BRADLEY: But you believe on faith. I accept science.

CHARLES: Hmm, what exactly do you mean by faith?

BRADLEY: Well, faith clearly is just accepting what you're told, or made to believe, or something like that. It's just believing, without evidence. That's it.

CHARLES: Well, perhaps for some Protestants it is, but no Catholic, at least no informed Catholic, uses "faith" to mean that.

BRADLEY: Well, what do you mean by the word then?

CHARLES: A Catholic means by "faith," believing the trustworthy word of another person. In the case of religion, the word of Jesus Christ.

But in a sense, the faith we have in Him is the same sort of faith you or I have in someone who writes about some mountain or river somewhere—we believe Him because He knows what He's talking about and isn't deceiving us.

BRADLEY: But you have to have faith in Jesus Christ first, otherwise you'd not believe Him. So your argument is just a vicious circle.

CHARLES: No. Initially we look at Him simply as another historical figure and ask whether the documents that tell about Him are historically reliable, and then whether what He said about Himself, and the miracles He performed, are true.

BRADLEY: There's the difference then. You believe in miracles. I don't. As I said, it's all a matter of faith.

CHARLES: Well, no. I acknowledge the possibility of miracles, if the evidence is good enough. You have an irrational dogma against the possibility of miracles, a dogma, by the way, that could never be proven.

BRADLEY: Me, irrational! How could anyone ever believe in that kind of stuff? Miracles are not logical.

CHARLES: Oh, and which law of logic do they violate?

BRADLEY: Well, they're against science. And against experience. I've never seen a miracle.

CHARLES: Maybe you haven't, but there are lots of people who have claimed to have seen one.

BRADLEY: Foolish peasants and credulous old women!

CHARLES: You know, there are some miracles that have been verified by the strictest scientific tests you could ever want.

BRADLEY: I don't believe that. Name one.

CHARLES: In Italy, in the town of Lanciano, there is a host that ...

BRADLEY: [interrupting] Anyway, they're against reason. And science. I haven't time to talk any more. I must be going. I'm sure they can all be explained by lies or wishful thinking. Call me tomorrow. I have to collect my thoughts. [He goes out.]

To be continued …

Copyright © 2000 Thomas Storck

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