The Trouble with Evidence

The Trouble with Evidence

I am a cradle Catholic. I was baptized as an infant, confirmed and sufficiently catechized. Having been born on the cusp of Vatican II, I can still remember the Latin Mass and the communion rail but the majority of my Catholic experience occurred after the Vatican II liturgical changes. When they came out with the new missal a year and a half ago it took me a couple of months to stop responding “And also with…uh…your spirit”. (Insider reference, Catholics know exactly what I’m saying. Top Gun high five if it took you less than six months to get it right) . Trust me, though, I am far from an indoctrinated Stepford Catholic. Call my mom, she’ll tell you. Better yet, call my younger sister and she will probably give you an earful of my firstborn, alpha you-can’t-tell-me-what-to-do-but-guess-what-I-can-certainly-tell-you-what-to-do behavior. I am what the child behavior books call a strong willed child. It could also be because I was a child of the 60’s and 70’s. You question the Man and show a healthy skepticism of authority. Groovy. Can you dig it?

Around two years ago I began a self study in apologetics. About that time my daughter-in-law converted to Catholicism and was encountering not only well meaning and sincere questions but actual attacks from those with anti-Catholic sentiments and agendas. It was quite distressing to her. Having faced some of the same questions and arguments most of my life I would help her with her questions and concerns. I found myself becoming more and more interested in apologetics as an area of study and so I began to dig deeper into all things Catholic.

Fast forward to last week and my decision to start a Catholic facebook page. I am meandering through Google looking for good Catholic content for my page and come across a site called Strange Notions, a place for discussion between Catholics and Atheists. That’s interesting. Most of my dealings in the past had been with non-Catholic Christians and your garden variety non-believer. I wonder what the Atheists are saying. I read a couple of the articles and all of the comments and I have a strange urge to listen to the song “Windmills of Your Mind” because some of the discussions seem to go “round, like a circle in a spiral,
like a wheel within a wheel, never ending or beginning, on an ever spinning reel”. So I turn on my media player and listen to several versions including the instrumental because, well, that’s just fun for me. I’m kind of partial to the Sting version but I digress. Undaunted I continue reading because, really, on an internet forum with a lot of people conversations tend to go around and by the time you get to the end of the thread you could be talking about something else. Not my first time at that rodeo. Soon I come across a comment that I feel I can make a response to. One of the responses to my comment simply asks me…”evidence?”. Whoa, really, I was just chiming in dude, just putting my toe in the water. After a few more responses I realize that not only am I supposed to support the argument that I presented but I was also supposed to prove the existence of the God that I had defended and on my first day too. You guys don’t mess around. “Just the facts, ma’am” Ok, Joe Friday, I’ll get back to you. I guess this is going to involve a little research. Although I can discuss the evidence of the existence of God, the certainty of that existence is actually a profoundly personal thing and I’m pretty sure the Atheists are prepared for most of those arguments so I decide my best bet is to find an Atheism for Dummies web site and find out what I am up against.

It turns out that most Atheist don’t believe in a God of any kind. Duh. It seems, however, that while they have an issue with God they have an even bigger issue with how we who believe in him define him. They see it as inconsistent. Loving God who will send you to hell kind of stuff. What interested me most, though, was the section on logical arguments and fallacies. For those of you whose last formal debate according to the rules was maybe in high school, a fallacy is an invalid argument, an error in the way you presented your argument or in the line of logic that you used. That doesn’t mean that what you said was not true it only means you committed a blunder in presenting your argument which then can be used to invalidate whatever you said, true or not. As I looked through the index of fallacies I realized that I had seen the logical argument and fallacy thing at work when reading the comments on Strange Notions. This seems to be the schema of things for Atheism. And here I thought we were just talking. I am realizing that sometimes it is more about the validity of the argument than an exchange of ideas. Faux pas, my bad. But maybe they should be careful. I would hate for them to be perceived as the “Wreck It Ralph of religious discussions.”(quote from Mick Jones, my son-in-law) Looks like I need a more academic approach if I am going to enter into discussion with them. I have more research ahead of me and for good measure I might have to dust off my thesaurus and break out my highfalutin booshie vocabulary. By the way, I found out that in my earlier encounter the burden of proof or support had not been on me. In a logical argument the burden of proof is on the first assertion and not on the responder. Prove it was supposed to have been my volley. FYI, you do not have to prove an observation or a personal experience but they are not valued as extremely strong arguments. You are the authority of your own observations and experience. Just so you know.

My next step was to find out what constitutes evidence and fact. Evidence is a thing or things helpful in forming a conclusion or judgment: that which tends to prove or disprove something; grounds for belief; proof. As I research the different kinds of evidence I see that empirical, which would be concrete or scientific, is probably what the Atheists are looking for. I research some science because of poor Galileo and the whole Catholic Church suppresses science thing. After this long and winding road I bump into my problem. The trouble with evidence. It is not reliable. Facts may be true but they are not always the truth and science is not always certain. (Ok, now girl, you just be trippin’!) I’m just sayin’.

Since this is my blog and not a research paper and I will only be presenting what I experienced , there will be no footnotes. I am not going to do much name dropping as I really don’t know who most of those people you guys quote are. Straw man and his friends do not live here. As you may have already inferred by how long it took me to get this far, my thoughts and line of logic are not linear. Finally, as my conclusion is that evidence is not reliable anyway…well, we’ll just see how that goes. Welcome to my world. My rules. Shift the paradigm. Alternate the exemplar. We cool with this? Solid. I am just sharing what I found and observed. We are just talking we aren’t keeping score. Consider this the T-ball game of argumentation.

What I found is that statistics vary according to source and methodology leading to discrepancies and margins for error. I found that evidence is only as good as it’s source, the one who presents it or the presentation itself. I found that we do not believe what we used to scientifically because new information causes science to be ever changing. And then I found Andromeda. The Andromeda galaxy is the furthest thing in our universe that we can see with our naked eye. It is about 2.5 million light years away according to NASA. The articles I read spoke of Andromeda in an absolute way. Andromeda IS this, Andromeda IS that. Then it hit me. There is no IS concerning Andromeda. Andromeda WAS. What we see of Andromeda are images that are 2.5 million years old. We don’t know that in the span of 2.5 million years Andromeda did not experience a catastrophic event. That it didn’t explode, implode or was swallowed up by another galaxy. I cannot prove the existence of Andromeda with certainty and won’t be able to for 2.5 million years. If I live that long. I doubt that I will live that long. I am going to have to accept Andromeda on faith. I bet most Atheist accept the existence of Andromeda. Come to think of it there are probably a lot of things Atheist accept on faith whether they realize it or not. If they will accept those things on faith, why not God as well?

I am going to be blunt here. Let’s quit the game playing. We all know that evidence is only as good as the information you have at the time. What we determine as being so changes as new information emerges. We all know there are unknowns, things that we don’t have answers to. There are abstract concepts and x factors. There are times when we can’t prove it, we can’t give evidence but are certain all the same. That doesn’t mean it isn’t there, that it does not exist. This is the basis of exploration. Without it we may still believe that we were living on a flat earth as we would have never ventured past it. This certainty without evidence is called faith and without it not one discovery we have ever had would even be possible. It is what took us from Flat Worlders to the moon missions. Each and every explorer, scientist, mathematician and philosopher had faith in what there was no evidence or proof of . Maybe it wasn’t always faith in God but it was a faith that there was more than what we had knowledge of and we could only know of it if we sought it out. Coincidently, I watched the movie “Contact” last night and this is the same dilemma Jody Foster’s character faces in the film. Ironically, a point comes when she has to defend her faith, not in God but in her own experience, without evidence. I do love me a good irony. This is what faith in God is as well. Maybe we do not have evidence, or at least not the evidence that you will accept but we know he exists and we can have knowledge of him if we are willing to go beyond our flat world and seek him out.

Some will choose themselves as the authoritative source. What they can see, hear, touch, smell and what they prove through intellect and argument. They will rely on evidence that at first glance is certain but with closer inspection they find that it is ever changing, mercurial, not as reliable as they thought. Others will choose to rely on something greater. The reality of what science only observes and describes. The ignition that set off the big bang. Our universe is vast and beyond our ability to measure. We call that infinite but it is really just beyond our scope of perception. Our universe has a beginning and end as all things do. What was there at the beginning and will be there at the end is the absolute and true infinity. The Infinite One.

I will end with a quote from scripture though an Atheist may not accept it.

“Faith is the realization of what is hoped for and evidence of things not seen….But without faith it is impossible to please him, for anyone who approaches God must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who seek him” Hebrews 11:1,6

I will not be using the Logical Argument system when I talk to people on Strange Notions for I have found it to be too flawed. I know that will probably drive them crazy. Though I do believe that reason and faith are compatible, I will be talking about acceptance in faith that all are free to accept it or reject it. This is actually the only way this God thing works. Welcome to My Catholic Life.







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