Notes from Catholic Studies 322 (2013 - January-April)

What follows are the generally unedited and uncorrected student notes of the class. It may provide a guide for what was covered in class. Caveat lector.


Notes for Wednesday, January 9th, 2013   /   David Abraham


Recap from Monday- What is religion?

-              Made by human beings (constructed)

-              Concepts and ideas being constructs

-              Do good and evil exist (God and the Devil)?

-              The concept of eternal life.

*Religion contains these concepts


 What else is constructed?

-              Rules, principles, dogmas

-              Ways of living

-              A community that brings people together. A belief of commitment. “I believe” illustrates practise and worship.

-              A reality that is not just natural.

-              A goal and function. Explains why we are here. Having hope and looking forward to the future.

-              An institution, for example the Holy Catholic Church, a physical concept.


*Religion is an astonishingly broad concept.


What do people believe about religion?


-Psychologists may look at religion as a maladaptive behaviour.

-Theologians may approach religion as finding the truth.

-Philosophers may look at religion as a puzzle.


             Key element of religion is that it is about commitments. For example you can trust and rely on friends and family members to be there for you because you are committed and believe in them. This can be compared with ones commitment and trust in God.


What is Christianity?

It is a set of beliefs, practises, stories, ethical principals, sacraments, dogmas and institutions based on Jesus and his early flowers as recorded in the New Testament. It also includes related religious experiences. It follows on the Hebrew Bible. God is 3 in 1. There is the role of Jesus, as he died for human sin and resurrected to give us eternal life. Through him we can achieve eternal life.


Where does Catholicism fit here?

-Specific kinds of beliefs making it most difficult to compare with science.

-Up until 1000 all Christians were Catholics.

-23 different Catholic Churches.

- This includes married clergy.

-Emphasis on authority. Bishop of Rome is head of Catholic Church. Authority such as the Papacy can possibly make for conflict.

-Disputes over doctrine. For example: The Trinity and the James King Bible. The Catholic Bible has more scripture therefore it has more rules.

-The Church in all believes the past present and future. The Trinity follows with that so the Church is not just an institution.


Scripture and tradition contains the whole of the Catholic faith. Things can not be added. There is no more new. Tradition is key.


What does scripture mean?

-Conflicting views on interpretation.

-Magisterium (authority to interpret) teaches the role of the church, they interpret the meaning of scripture. Scripture and tradition are to be treated equally.

-Magisterium- Has the authority to interpret about faith and morals.


Levels of authority


Infallibility- meaning the belief can not be wrong. This is different from the teaching of the Magisterium authority. For example: Mary rising to heaven after death is infallible (it must be believed). The Pope has authority to make infallible statements, beliefs, interpretations. Once the Pope makes something infallible it can not be overridden by a new Pope after him.


Fallibility- Not infallible, but something to believe


Other- No obligation to believe


*There are approximately 9 levels that influence infallibility and fallibility.


Ex Cathedra- The Pope indicates something you must believe. Whether you agree or not, you must believe.


             Infallibility can happen in different ways but can never be mistaken.

             Popes authority can not extend to unrelated issues.

             Instead of something being called wrong it can be seen as a richer understanding.




-Is what we know brought on us as infallibly? Fallibly ?

-Who is telling us?  Pope, Bishop, Professor.

-What exactly is being said?


*There are authoritative statements but there are also some which are not. For example if you are given an order in war time by a superior officer, you do it without hesitation. Your superior officer is not infallible but fallible.


             Reminder that the Pope is human just like us but has infallible authority.

             Keep in mind the ways the Church interprets matters. Priests and theologians are not Magisterium but a Bishop like Bishop Dunn is.


* This illustrates the complexity of Catholicism and what is being taught or told.


January 23
Wednesday / Dylan MacKenzie

Essay discussion

        possible things to consider for essay #2: that the example of Jesus feeding a significantly sizable group of people with less food than should have been sufficient to do so, is in all four gospels, and is the only one that is in all four (unless the resurrection is considered a miracle also).

        possible things to consider for essay #3: the origin of complexity in biology; how to determine whether ID is religious or scientific, or both.


Review of last class which raises the question: if everything can be explained by physical and natural laws, what room is there for freedom? Love? Ethics?


C. An Ambiguous history (cont'd)


...Anselm does not just talk about understanding the world, but about faith as well.


ex. of Charlemagne and the edicts of 787 & 789: every religious abbey required to have schools teaching the trivium and quadrivium

        recognition/affirmation of it being important for people to know about the world


Education in the middle ages

        -seeking to understand scripture, but also nature (in which God's handiwork is revealed)

        -ref. to Robert Groseteste who wanted to go back to experimentation, explored questions including: what are the properties/origins/meaning of light

        -ref. To Roger Bacon an early founder of natural sciences; and to Copernicus


note that science at one for a period of history was called “natural philosophy” and at this time not in conflict with religion since it was philosophy; i.e. Seeking wisdom


Aquinas & 'no two truths'

        why would God create obstacles by saying two truths could be as such and yet be in conflict with one another?

        Reminds people of the 'unity of knowledge'; it is not the case that something can be true in faith but not in nature

        very often talks about observed reality when going about establishing the existence of God (without scripture)

        science can know some religious truths while there being some that may go beyond science in which case nevertheless they would not be contradicted by science for that reason

        e.g. Cannot prove that God is a trinity because it goes beyond science, likewise with things such as transubstantiation

        hence, for Aquinas there is no conflict between science and religion (although this is not to say that the one always supports the other



        Gen. 1:6

        bible is reliable but not about science so no real issue between the two


hypothesis of some that say Christianity made modern science possible

        intelligibility of the natural world, realism, elimination of the fear of nature

        the transcendence of God (as opposed to pantheism)


natural law (as opposed to constant intervention by God)

        if there is personal progress then there can also be scientific


Nonetheless, a 'sometimes troubled relationship'

        Galileo ex.

                Was asked to be humble about his views

                refused (as opposed to Copernicus)

                more complex situation than most now realize (he was old at the time, his punishment of house arrest...)

        some would say this is a case of religion telling science what it can and cannot do & thereby infringing on its freedom, and would conclude that perhaps it was a fine relationship between the two, but only up until this point



        some say that he put the nail in the coffin of religion with his 'dangerous idea'

        1879: “ I have never been an atheist in the sense of denying the existence of God...”

        I’m just an agnostic


But J. H. Newman

        Darwin tells us a story that does not disprove Creation or the existence of God, rather it would be a different matter if he came into conflict with recorded truth; his principle point only hints at divine prescience & etc...


(now for a murkier period)


-Tennessee’s Butler Act, 1925, which made it unlawful to teach evolution in any state-founded school

        -1926 Mississippi

        -1928 Arkansas statute prohibiting the teaching of human evolutionary biology in its public schools or universities

                unlawful for any teacher or other instructor...

        led to the Scopes 'monkey' trial: American legal case in 1925 in Dayton Tennessee, in which a high school teacher John Scopes was accused of violating the act


some see this as the clash between religion and science

        in the end Scopes found guilty but did not suffer anything for it

        but this did put the nail in the coffin for such acts (were not removed but henceforth neither were they enforced)


-so sometimes suspicion


But not antagonistic: Vatican observatory; Pontifical Academy of Sciences


Vat II: Gaudiam et spes

         world is very different now and we have to respond to the current reality

                have to engage different cultures and traditions & etc (do not have to accept them), and this includes science

        if your going to be a good Christian have to acknowledge some of the benefits of science & recognize some dangers too perhaps


-today: Catholicism's official position, and that of its critics...

        in principle not a problem

                its the application of certain procedures that is problematic


ex. of JP II going back and addressing Galileo problem (had not been excommunicated and neither addressed by an infallible authority & so JP II said well we might have messed up, that is not to say we did not have the authority but that we were too rushed in trying to control things)

        so sometimes authority can make mistakes


next few classes: 3 topics/oppositions

        how did things start (Cosmology & origins): what science tells us, likewise religion, compatible?

        How did (and do) things develop (biology and evolution)

        what comes next (transhumanism)


Monday Feb. 18, (first class back after the 'vacation') Dylan MacKenzie


2nd section of course will get crunched a bit


further paper note which may help in terms of resources: topic #3 Apostle Paul in his letters to the Corinthians thinks there is design in the world (be careful of interpretation), may be great for illustration, but make sure argument rests on more than just scriptural text


Review so far: Christianity as a religion, what is it? Catholicism?

        Distinctive qualities of the latter include the large amount of documentary evidence reflecting on various things; and authority in Catholicism (not quite the same as say authority in a Baptist church for instance)

                        when you have that sort of authoritative reading of a text (and what may follow from that reading), that is where conflicts may arise


science-rather vague and general as a term left as that

        any systematic organized study

                when it comes to science and Christianity then it is more likely that the investigator is interested in physical science & note that science not something that everyone agrees to, and that there is a lot in it


moreover, there has been a historical evolution in science & even today not everything accepted as science (in terms of its laws and etc) will be 'right' as such in the future


science is considered by most to be objective/neutral

        but methodologies will differ

        also, science brings with it its own biases (as we've noted—a scientific worldview) & essentially is not as easy to remove from culture as one might think


Ambiguous history


sometimes one is supported by the other and sometimes vice versa; sometimes mutual benefits and sometimes not


Sec. 2 Creation and Evolution

        a) Naturalism & non-naturalism

        b) Cosmology & Creation

        c) Biology and Evolution


some terminology:


2. Creation a.

        -causing and creating

        -the natural and the non-natural

                some question that arise here: what is nature? Or the natural? What would be something that is non-natural?


Some history:


types of cause-the classical view (Aristotle and the '4 causes')


        what is the cause of the light going on?



May want to distinguish b/w the cause of the thing and the condition


what caused that (event)?

        -e.g. A bomb blast at an embassy

                the bomb itself (the matter)

                the idea that the bombers have in mind (form/intention)

                Their 'nature'-they are a terrorist (agent for chain of events)

                Their ideal-they want to liberate their country (motive)

        Aristotle says that there are man causes of something


        e.g. A sculpture


                the stone is the 'material cause'

                the image in the sculptor's mind of the finished product is the 'formal cause'-the form that he intends to put into the matter

                he is the 'efficient cause'=the agent that brings about the effect

                his “goal”-the purpose for which he makes the statue (e.g. To possess a beautiful object) is the 'final cause'


if discussing God as cause/creator then what exactly is the level of involvement? What is God doing?

        How is God's causality different relative to ours?


Cause and Creation

        God as cause does not entail an effect

                why is there creation at all

        God as creator does entail an effect


What does God create?

        William Lane Craig quote alluding to time, space etc, spiritual beings, abstract objects (all of which being the objects of God's creation)


not just ‘how does God create?’ but also why does he create?

        Not just an efficient cause but a final cause

        and usually ex nihilo (natural cause)

        and God sustains (keeps us in existence)


why would someone write down the story of Jesus turning water into wine?


Are scientific explanations the same thing as a religious story?

        Sometimes there is a further purpose involved with religious story


'Why does God create?': God created everything for man, but man in turn was created to sere and love God and to offer all creation back to him; “the world was made for the glory of God”


is Aristotle's conception of love inclusive of what science now terms gravity (which is attraction)?

        The narratives of creation and of science are different

                i.e. Different kinds of stories

                        consider for example that when it comes to Creation as such faith would have to precede knowledge


what exactly is the purpose of Creation stories?


(lead up to distinction b/w naturalism and non-naturalism):



        “methodological naturalism”


naturalism (in the sense above) is the philosophy that maintains that

        1- nature is al there is and whatever exists or happens is natural;

        2- nature consists only of natural elements...

\       3- nature works by natural processes that form natural laws, and all can, in principle, be explained and understood by science and philosophy; and

        4- the supernatural does not exist, i.e. Only nature is real, therefore supernature is non-real

naturalism is therefore a metaphysical position opposed only be supernaturalism


so cannot be working on a scientific problem and claim some transcendent thing to fill in a gap (cartoon showing the allegation of skipping a step on the chalkboard)


Supernaturalism, the antithesis of naturalism, includes belief in supernatural beings...


cannot hold both positions


Maritain, originally a student of science, becomes a Christian

        sees this above opposition as a problem and asserts that he does not quite buy it...



February 20 / Flora Doohan

On Maritain's essay "God and Science"


- Maritain was primarily interested in the natural sciences (biology). He was first an atheist, then converted to Christianity.


- mathematics have caused science to diverge increasingly from philosophy. can reality be known "ontologically" by philosophers, or only "phenomenally" by science? Does philosophy tell us something more than science alone does?


- Maritain suggests that there are two types of scientists: those who are "exclusive" and those who are "liberal".


"Exclusive" scientists believe that only scientific knowledge is rational knowledge. They are either atheists or fidelists (those who holds a belief in the supernatural/spiritual, but do not claim that their belief is rational - more of a "feeling" they hold on to).


"Liberal" scientists, on the other hand, believe rational knowledge is not restricted to that which is scientific. They believe that there are two levels of knowledge - phenomenal and ontological.


- According to Maritain, philosophical and scientific knowledge do not contradict each other, but are rather two separate ways of knowing reality (although it is possible to examine something in both ways).


- Maritain feels that common people have come to feel that science is the only valid approach to knowing reality; a move away from the "why", away from the "purpose", replaced by a focus on the "how".


- Maritain says that philosophy has three jobs:


1) To enlighten us about the procedures of science. That science is a mix of the phenomenal and ideal.


2) To explain the ontological foundation (the essence) of scientific entities, notions. Ex., numbers, causes, life, nature, etc.


3) To show the connection between its views and those of science.




The issue I brought up in class was about the following lines from 'God and Science': "Yet, as recent studies have shown, he came, with progress of age and reflection, to consider the existence of a personal God (...). As he said in a personal interview in 1950, far from being an atheist he "believed on the contrary in a personal God."" (51-52).


In a 1954 letter to Joseph Dispentiere, though, Einstein is quoted as writing "It was, of course, a lie what you read about my religious convictions, a lie which is being systematically repeated. I do not believe in a personal God and I have never denied this but have expressed it clearly. If something is in me which can be called religious then it is the unbounded admiration for the structure of the world so far as our science can reveal it." (A published source for this quote is 'Albert Einstein: The Human Side' by Helen Dukas).


My issue was that, unless the quote was a mistake on Maritain's part, then it states the exact opposite of what Einstein later stated about his religious beliefs. Maritain's argument isn't overturned by the fact that Einstein was a pantheist, but the fact that he quotes Einstein as believing in a personal God, whereas pantheists specifically do not believe in a personal God, means that it cannot be an accurate quote (unless Einstein really did make two directly contradictory statements). If so, I think that it would call into question the general reliability of facts stated by Maritain in this article.


I apologize if this is a somewhat nit-picky issue; I don't expect an "answer" to it, it was just something that bothered me from the article.