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A Dialog of a Freethinker and a Catholic, Continued

By Thomas Storck
Can even a rationalist freethinker avoid believing some things on faith?

Catholic Way -

Bradley and Charles are back again, this time to discuss a few points like Bradley’s irrational prejudice against miracles. The main question between them this time: what does it means for Catholics to “believe” in Christ—and is this any less reasonable than believing scientific and historical facts?  In the end, is Catholicism really more rational than rationalism?

BRADLEY: Well, Charles, I must admit I got a bit off the track yesterday. Taken a bit by surprise. But, you see, the real point, the real difference between us has to do with the ability to think for oneself. Of course, this doesn't apply in scientific matters. Naturally, here we do accept authority since we all haven't got the time to repeat every experiment. But, in principle, each of us could. Just as we could in principle verify for ourselves each of the geographical facts mentioned in an encyclopedia. But about religious matters and stuff, that's another kettle of fish altogether. There, you simply accept an authority you couldn't possibly prove yourself. So, now do you see the difference between us?

CHARLES: It seems to me you've got a dogma operating somewhere in your thought.

BRADLEY: How do you mean?

CHARLES: How do you know that religious matters are simply an irrational adherence to authority?

BRADLEY: They're not subject to the scientific method, are they? They can't be weighed or measured, can they? They can't be verified?

CHARLES: How do you know that those are the only methods for arriving at truth?

BRADLEY: Oh, you mean religious experience and that nonsense, I suppose?

CHARLES: You do have a lot of misconceptions about Catholics, don't you? No, I don't mean religious experience, since that's necessarily subjective. I mean, as I said yesterday, looking at the Gospels as simply historical records and asking whether they are trustworthy. And if they are, then the figure of Jesus Christ looms pretty important.

BRADLEY: I told you I haven't got time for miracles.

CHARLES: Do you accept the accounts of Julius Caesar about his wars in Gaul and elsewhere?

BRADLEY: Well, I guess so. [pause] Yes, I wouldn't have a problem with that.

CHARLES: But why? They can't be proven true by the scientific method or weighed or measured, can they?

BRADLEY: But you can't expect that with history. Something happened only once, and we must rely on human testimony.

CHARLES: You know, if you keep on like that you'll be a Catholic soon.

BRADLEY: Ha, ha. What are you talking about?

CHARLES: Catholics rely on human testimony. That's why we believe in the life and ministry of Jesus Christ and in His miracles and in the miracles performed by many of His saints.

BRADLEY: There, you've said it. You said you "believed" in this stuff. For you it's all a matter of faith.

CHARLES: But what's wrong with believing? Don't you believe your wife when she says she did something? Or any number of other people, too. In fact, isn't that what you're doing with regard to Caesar, believing him?

BRADLEY: But there aren't any miracles involved in those cases. Nothing supernatural.

CHARLES: True. But why should that be an exception? As I said before, you have an irrational dogma against the supernatural.

BRADLEY: It's not irrational.

CHARLES: How do you prove it then?

BRADLEY: Well, the course of nature admits of no exceptions that science is aware of.

CHARLES: Science, of course, is concerned with regularity of natural processes. But unless you can prove that the observed order of nature must always be regular, no amount of scientific observation proves anything. And moreover, as I said, plenty of people have claimed to witness miracles, and in some cases, the evidence is overwhelming in favor of them.

BRADLEY: I don't believe that sort of stuff at all.

CHARLES: Hmm … as for myself, I try to limit my beliefs to what are trustworthy, instead of having a prejudice that I can't justify.

BRADLEY: You pretend to be very rational, but I know that you accept all kinds of silly stuff like miracles, weeping statues, dancing suns, and so on. That's just nonsense.

CHARLES: What a pity. Evidence and reason cannot remove prejudices or unreasonable dogmas.

BRADLEY: Really, Charles, this is too much. I know the Catholic religion couldn't be true, and that's enough for me. I've spent enough time on this already. Maybe later we can talk more. So long. [He goes out.]

Copyright © 2000 Thomas Storck

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