Wednesday, July 09, 2008

Soylent Green is.....Jesus!

Today's most hilarious news headline: outrage as man steals magic biscuit. Apparently a student at the University of Central Florida attended a Catholic mass on campus, went up to receive communion, and instead of popping the little wafer in his mouth in the designated manner, walked back to his seat with it. Or, at least, he attempted to, but was stopped by some burly churchgoing chap who was a bit offended by his lack of respect for the Actual Honest-To-Goodness Body Of Jesus. Yes folks, this is all about transubstantiation.

There's been a predictable storm of blogging about this on both sides of the debate (that is to say, the rational side and the utterly insane side), and I'm not sure I have much to add, except a couple of further questions about transubstantiation, which I find fascinating, as it seems to be a place where the claims of religion obtrude into the realms of testable reality (only, as I described in my previous post on the subject, it turns out they don't).

So.....just to be clear, then, it's apparently OK to take a communion host out of a Catholic church lodged somewhere in your oesophagus, or possibly in your stomach, but not in your hand? And this is presumably because if you've got it in your hand you could subject it to some dreadful sacrilegious activity, like, say, dissolving it in concentrated acid, mixing it with a load of other semi-dissolved foodstuffs, shoving it into a long fleshy tube where it's bombarded with more noxious chemicals, and then squeezing it out of your anal sphincter into a toilet, whence it is (eventually) chucked into the sea? Nice. Frankly it makes sticking it in your pocket and taking it away for use in the biscuit game seem fairly mild in comparison.

And what about taking Catholic communion if you're a vegetarian? And if transubstantiation really happens, why bother making gluten-free communion hosts? I mean, Jesus was gluten-free, wasn't he?

The picture above depicts the Purity 125 from Nu-Life Products. This provides the solution to all your low-to-medium-volume consecrated-host-dispensing needs. Also available are the utterly brilliant wine-infused communion hosts. Take two transubstantiated ecclesiastical products into the confessional? No - I just wafer'n'go!


LCB said...

In short, when dealing with transubstantiation, we are discussing a metaphysical reality.

By the nature of such a reality, it is not observed and/or tested through physical means (test tubes, microscopes, etc). Rather, it must be apprehended through other tools that are also of a metaphysical nature (reason, etc.)

Some (properly called either naturalists or materialists) will make the following claim: "There is no such thing as metaphysics."

Unfortunately for them, the statement is self-refuting. To claim "there is no such thing as metaphysics" is, itself, a metaphysical statement.

I hope this helps you better understand the Catholic position on this issue. If you would like, I can further clarify the issue.

Yours in Christ,

electrichalibut said...

Believe me, I understand the Catholic position, in the same way as I understand the position of someone who believes that they are the offspring of the Emperor Hadrian and a gazelle. It's not difficult to grasp.

Let's do an experiment: I'll get the Pope to consecrate 50 hosts and we'll shuffle them together with 50 unconsecrated ones, and then we'll take your blindfold off and see how many mini-Jesus crackers you can "metaphysically apprehend", in whatever way you choose. If you can do it, I know of a Mr. Randi who has a nice $1 million cheque for you.

LCB said...

I'm rather convinced you don't understand the Catholic position, because you continue to treat metaphysical matters as if they were physical emperical matters.

Have you considered the possibility that you might not know as much about the Catholic faith, Theology, or metaphysics as you presume to? One position is opposed by reason, while the other is at least a possibility (however remote you may judge it to be).

The offspring of an emperor and a gazelle is, a priori, an impossibility (unless the emperor is a gazelle or some other closely related species). For a variety of reasons, the natural order does not permit men and gazelles to mate and reproduce.

A priori, the Eucharist is not an impossibility-- unless your starting point is that metaphysics does not exist. But the position is self-refuting precisely because you make a metaphysical statement to assert that metaphysics does not exist.

That is the equivalent of saying, "Scientific experiments show no scientific experiments exist." Whaa? Self-refuting.

And so you issue a demand that a metaphysical matter be tested by physical means. Yet, such a request is an absurdity. You presume that metaphysical apprehension follows the exact same rules as physical apprehension. If that were the case metaphysics and physics would be identical-- yet they are obviously not identical.

Consider it in different terms: measure for me the height of hope, define for me the weight of a soul, calculate for me the amount of time in beauty, determine the color of morality. Such experiments would be misnomers, precisely because metaphysics is above the level of the physical world. So too is your proposed experiment concerning the Eucharist.

It seems that any rational person must at least concede the possibility that metaphysics exists.To claim otherwise would be, ironically enough, a matter of faith.

Here is my challenge to you: prove to me metaphysics doesn't exist.

Remember, a lack of evidence for a positive result is not itself evidence of a negative result. Logic always gets in the way of those tricky dogmas ;-)

Yours in Christ,

electrichalibut said...

It's a little more simple than that. My point about the gazelle thing was that my assertion that he was talking utter crap was not indicative of my failing to understand the subtle nuances of the claim he was making. It was because the claim he was making was utter crap.

As for the rest, metaphysics, angels on the head of a pin yadda yadda yadda. It's interesting in a sense to observe the Church's gradual retreat from "no it really IS Jesus" to "well, in essence but not in substance" and extrapolate ahead a few years to the inevtiable end-point. The cognitive dissonance that is obscuring that must be making your head hurt. Give it up; you'll feel better. The Emperor really is naked.

LCB said...

Transubstantiation, and "essence rather than substance" fully makes the claim "This really is Jesus."

Transubstantiation explains the process by which the change takes place.

Go ahead. Answer my challenge, if you can. It seems that your position entirely collapses under even basic logical scrutiny.

Ultimately a debate about the Eucharist is secondary, because your primary claim is that metaphysics itself doesn't exist. Prove it.

Yours in Christ,

P.S. If you can't, which one of us is adhering to an absurd position unsupported by logic and reason? It wouldn't seem to be the man of faith.

Woozle said...

LCB: I believe it has been pretty thoroughly demonstrated that when it comes to proving unprovables, the party doing the asserting has the burden of proof.

However, as with the existence of God, the claim that transubstantiation is metaphysical and therefore non-empirical is a complete red herring; it does not justify the reactions of the Catholic Church against Mr. Cook.

Civilization does not operate on metaphysics, regardless of how much religious extremists of all stripes -- be they Catholic, Baptist, Scientologist, or Muslim -- might wish it.

You are free to believe what you wish, no matter how loony -- but if you find yourself acting on those beliefs, you had better be prepared to justify your acts with explanations based on observable reality.

"Jesus Christ is not a weapon", and metaphysics is not an excuse -- any more than shouting "witchcraft!" justifies burning someone at the stake.

You'd think that even hard-core religionists would have gotten this point by now.

LCB said...


What, exactly, what those reactions by the Catholic Church be?

Asking the young man to return the Eucharist, and the Bishop privately meeting with him? Not demanding his prosecution under hate crime laws? Not rioting and torching buildings, as would have transpired had a pig been released in a Mosque?

Surely you don't confuse the actions of individuals who attend the Catholic Church with the actions of the Catholic Church itself?

As for red herrings, the debate between electrichalibut and myself has been entirely focused on issues of metaphysics. I make no claim to prove the Real Presence, only that the Real Presence is a reasonable logical possibility (among a multitude of other logical possibilities). On the other hand, Electrichalibut makes an implicit claim that metaphysics itself doesn't exist. The burden of proof clearly lays on him.

Returning to that topic, you reference the following:

1) Justice
2) Reality
3) A moral imperative of defense
4) A truth outside of you

Please prove to me, using observable reality, that any of these things exist. For reality, using the claim "I know reality exists because I know reality exists" is clearly invalid. That would be the same as me claiming, "I know God exists because I know God exists."

Without metaphysics you can not establish actual justice (just a human construct in some individuals' minds, which I myself am free to violate at any time since it is not actually binding on me) or any form of moral imperative. Without metaphysics, WHY should I be prepared to defend my position? Because you demand it? What authority do you have to make demands on me, since morality doesn't exist outside of us?

It seems, friend, that you have put forth a position that is inherently self-contradictory, making appeals to that which you deny.

Ultimately, all persons are making some leap of faith (even a leap of faith that logic and reality actually exist). You yourself, by making logical appeals, are acknowleding a logic that can't be proven to exist.

Your criticism is not of faith itself, but of a faith that is different than yours. One would think that even hard-core religionists would have gotten the point by now.

Is it possible you are mistaken?

Yours in Christ,

Woozle said...

I've been using "actions of the Catholic Church" as a shorthand for "actions/statements of people in the Catholic Church hierarchy and presumed to represent the views of the Catholic Church", since -- as far as I know -- the Church has not repudiated or corrected them.

If the CC does so, please let me know.

The actions of which I was speaking run the gamut -- from personal threats, calling the eucharist removal a "hate crime", pursuing disciplinary action through the university -- down to wailing about how reprehensible it was that he would do this, calling him a "smug jerk", and inviting others to give him a good whack (before turning the other cheek, of course).

Re metaphysics: Nope, the burden still rests on you, and it's still totally irrelevant to what Electric Halibut said in his post. You brought up metaphysics in your initial comment.

His blog entry does assume that metaphysics has no relevance to the morality of Mr. Cook's actions, for much the same reason that we assume the existence of Zeus or Vaal has no relevance to it.

If you can demonstrate some relevance, then we are no longer looking at an untestable phenomenon and we might have something to discuss.

Re "Justice", "Reality", "A moral imperative of defense", and "A truth outside of you" -- do I need to prove these things? I didn't think you were questioning them. If you are, we can have a discussion about that too, but there shouldn't be any need for me to prove something we both agree on; points of disagreement are where we need to start looking at the evidence.

You do make the claim that justice is based in metaphysics. This is an argument-by-definition, i.e. circular; my understanding of justice does not involve the metaphysical.

You can, if you wish, claim that I therefore have no understanding of justice -- which means that we are using the same word for substantially different ideas, but does not in any way convince me that you are now correct.

You must convince me using empirical evidence for the simple reason that if we allow "metaphysical" evidence, then we are each free to make up our own non-testable "facts" about the universe, and we will never get anywhere.

Which is what the religious establishment wants, of course: everyone safely packed into little belief-bubbles where they are controlled by what the hierarchy wants them to believe is true, and where nobody can question "the truth" because it depends ultimately on unprovable assertions.

Maybe you're happy living like that, but I'll be damned before I let that kind of thinking take over my civilization, thanks very much.

LCB said...

You continue to bring up red herrings. Let's cut to the heart of the issue:

Does truth exist outside of us?

It's a simple yes or no question. Your comments indicate that you believe "yes, it does", but I would like to be clear. Only when there is clarity about our views can dialog possibly take place.

Woozle said...

"Does truth exist outside of us?"

Shortest answer: Yes:

More accurate answer: An overwhelming amount of evidence available to me indicates that it does, but there is no way to prove it conclusively.

Please proceed.

LCB said...

If truth exists outside of us (that is to say, truth is objective), then you affirm the existence of metaphysics.

If you affirm the existence of metaphysics, then you must acknowledge that the Real Presence is (at the least) a logical possibility (among other logical possibilities). (Short Chain: God, as understood by Christians, could logically exist--> Jesus could be God--> If Jesus were God, he could do such things to bread/wine)

In other words, the Real Presence is an entirely reasonable position to hold.

That's the entire purpose of my posting here, because electrichalibut has claimed that the Real Presence is "utterly crap." Indeed, you have claimed it is loony, when it is obviously an entirely reasonable position if one accepts that truth exists outside of us.

It's fine to dismiss our detractors positions as unreasonable... if they are infact unreasonable. This is not an instance where the position held contradicts reason.

If you even think it likely that truth exists outside of us, you are faced with a very serious problem. How did it get there, since it is clearly not part of the material order (it is metaphysical and not physical)?

Yours in Christ,

LCB said...

Methinks the two of you may dislike the fact that Christianity has far more too it, and far more heavy-hitting philosophical and theological support, then the strawmen would indicate.

I recommend:

GK Chesterton's "Orthodoxy."

Have you considered the possibility that your views on faith matters are wrong? That is to say, not in conformity with the objective truth outside of us?

Woozle said...

"If truth exists outside of us (that is to say, truth is objective), then you affirm the existence of metaphysics."

Nope. Truth has observable effects; metaphysics -- at least, in the sense in which you seem to be using it -- has none.

Just because something could be true doesn't mean it's sane to assume that it is true. A meteorite could hit my house tomorrow, but in the absence of any evidence that this is likely to happen it would be loony for me to abruptly move all my stuff into a storage bin. I could find a winning lotto ticket in the street tomorrow, but it would be loony of me to go out on a spending spree now in anticipation.

The rest of your argument hinges on your presumed winning of that point, which unfortunately you totally failed to substantiate.

Furthermore, I fail to understand why you (or anyone who isn't just attempting to have a monopoly on truth for the purpose of controlling others) would want society to pay respect to unobservable, unprovable assertions -- because that means that any religion, no matter how barbaric, is just as valid as yours.

If you can invent unprovable facts upon which your morality rests, so can I. So can anyone.

And that being the case, it comes down to rule by the strongest -- which ideology has the most power, the most money, the largest number of followers who will do what you tell them to because they lack the analytical tools to question your judgment. (...Which is why sites like Creative Minority Report don't bother addressing the objections raised against their thesis, but just delete them; CMR knows it doesn't have a case, but doesn't want its readers to look beyond the righteous indignation which is all they really have by way of argument.)

Feudalism. The dark ages.

Again, I say no thanks.

"Have you considered the possibility that your views on faith matters are wrong? That is to say, not in conformity with the objective truth outside of us?" Yes. I am constantly looking for evidence that there is something valid to "faith", and I have found a few ways in which it has something to offer; dogma (unprovable or provably wrong assertions accepted as unquestionable fact) is not one of them.

Have you ever considered that the unprovable "facts" upon which you base your belief system might have been made up by men with an agenda? If they in fact are true, how could you ever be sure, since they are supposedly unprovable? Which explanation is more likely? What does the evidence of the Bible's history show?

LCB said...

Logic and reason are themselves part of the world of metaphysics.

Acknowledging truth, and even employing logic and reason in a systematic way, implicitly acknowledges that metaphysics exists.

And again, the statement "There is no metaphysics" is itself a metaphysical statement, and becomes self-refuting.

My argument (in this case) hinges on the fact that you can not deny the fact that my position is entirely reasonable. Improbability is fundamentally different from Impossibility. One is within the confines of reason, the other is outside the confines of reason. You may deem something to be highly improbable, but it is still possible.

Only by making a severe logical error (assuming a priori that God can not exist, something that can not be demonstrated) can you allege that the Christian position is impossible.

And again, making an appeal to a shared human reason makes an appeal to an objective reality and objective laws beyond the physical.

Finally, what test can demonstrate truth? Please show me a study, an experiment, or some other method that will even suggest that something called "truth" exists. What are its dimensions? What color is it? How much does it weigh? You are clearly dealing with an object of apprehension that is beyond physical (thus, the term meta-physics).

If you are looking for physical evidence of a non-physical reality (truth, beauty, goodness, morality), you will never find any. Either such things have an objective existence of their own outside of the human experience (which humans interact with via logic and reason), or they are entirely subjective. If they are entirely subjective, then there is nothing wrong with committing immoral actions, since morality itself does not exist. Some may say, "it's not good for society." But goodness itself also has no objective existence, and is a word that is purely subjective and devoid of any meaning outside of a constructed context.

You continue making appeals to metaphysical realities while denying metaphysics. Please, teach me how to rectify this seemingly impossible contradiction.

Dan Lacey said...

Man steals Eucharist cartoon

electrichalibut said...

The retreat into "metaphysics", rather than anything impinging in any measurable way on empirical reality, is, to anyone not suffering from a nasty case of authority-figure indoctrination, pretty hilarious. It's symptomatic of a gradual intellectual surrender. It hasn't fully happened yet, and I'm sure there will be a depressingly long period of this sort of hand-waving nonsense before it does.

As an aside, though, and as woozle correctly points out, that wasn't really the main thrust of the post. I'm not seeking to engage in philosophical debate here, particularly (any more than I would with the gazelle guy), I'm just laughing at some idiots. Cheap, but it gets me through the day.

Woozle said...


Just because a concept is metaphysical and some metaphysical concepts are in some sense "real" does not mean that all metaphysical concepts are "real" in that same sense. That would be an association fallacy. Don't they teach this stuff in school?

You're also using two rather different definitions of "real". Truth, God, Jesus Christ, Aslan, Santa Claus, and The Great Scissor-Man are all "real" concepts, but not tangible physical objects or forces which demonstrably exist outside our heads.

We have an abstract idea of something called "absolute truth"; that idea is metaphysical -- but the absolute truth itself, if it exists, is physical (by definition).

Also, I never said anything about "impossibility" -- just the insanity of assuming that something which is demonstrably highly unlikely is unquestionably true. "Remotely possible" is on the same spectrum of certainty as "entirely likely", but that doesn't mean there is no difference between the two. "A meteorite could hit my house tomorrow, but in the absence of any evidence that this is likely to happen it would be loony for me to abruptly move all my stuff into a storage bin. I could find a winning lotto ticket in the street tomorrow, but it would be loony of me to go out on a spending spree now in anticipation."

I can see you've learned your theological concept-mangling well. When I first encountered it in philosophy class, I thought it was a quaint relic of an earlier, more ignorant age; I am sad to see that it is alive and well, and continuing to eat people's brains. I wish you luck in escaping from it. (I suppose that's more or less an atheistic equivalent of "I'll pray for you.")

Dancat said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Dancat said...

Halibut, let me explain the difference between physical and metaphysical in terms which lcb doesn't or can't address; when the Christian Brothers were teaching me about transubstantiation, that was metaphysical. When they were abusing me and beating seven sorts of shit out of me, that was physical.

Funnily enough, I can't remember anybody threatening them with excommunication. Then, as now, the Roman Catholic church was more concerned with dogma than the well-being of their "victims".

The kid who played around with the host was an idiot. Ironically, if he'd "played around" with a six-year old child the church would probably have been more understanding, judging on past behaviour...