Thursday, November 09, 2006

The Probability of the Catholic Church's Authority

A defense of my conversion to Catholicism:

This blog has started out as an outlet for me to vent some of my frustrations with the Protestant church and to give my defense for why I’m converting to Catholicism. I originally wrote a ‘thesis’ like paper for my own benefit on which I based the outline of my posts on. I of course added many other posts on various topics in between. This happens to be my 100th post and although I could write many more on the subjects already covered, it seems fitting now to summarize my defense…

First I posed the question: Is the Roman Catholic Church the One True Visible Church? And if so, why do we care? What does it matter? I also outlined briefly how I thought we ought to arrive at conclusions in general.

Bayesian Method:

Stephen D. Unwin authored a book called "The Probability of God" and I stumbled across it a couple years ago. I found it very interesting and so much so, I have decided to use the same Bayesian method he uses in his book to test my own theory that the Catholic Church is the one, holy Catholic & apostolic church and that it's authority is supreme.

While, few of us if any would ever actually use a method like this in making a conscious life changing decision (like joining the Catholic church), I think it helps me anyway to look at the ‘math’ behind the decision and see if what I’m believing is really a good choice.

So that I don’t plagiarize Dr. Unwin’s book, I won’t go into detail on the math behind the numbers I come up with but I’ll show each of my criterion and then the final analysis.

The Bayesian theorem can be written as follows:

P(A|B) = P(A) x P(B|A) / [P(A) x P(B|A) + P(A*) x P(B|A*)]

In Dr. Unwin’s version of the Bayesian method, he gives each categorical ‘predictor’ a ‘strength’ value rated either (in terms of pro vs con) “Highly pro” , “Moderately pro” ,“Neutral” , “Moderately con” & “Highly con”. These are represented numerically (in the same order) by 10, 2, 1, .5, .1.

In our case, we are asking the question “Is the Roman Catholic Church of today one & the same with the original Church started by Christ through the apostles?”. We will look at each item of ‘evidence’ and assign one of the above values. So if we assign a value of 10 to an item of evidence, this means that this evidence would be much more likely to occur in a world where the Catholic Church was the true Church. A value of .1 would indicate that this item of evidence would be much more likely to occur in a world in which the Catholic Church is NOT the true church. (We’re not going to get into alternate theories here). Each time we do this it will modify the overall likelihood. Our a priori likelihood will be an unassuming 50%.

These are all of course my own personal opinions based on the evidence as I have weighed it in my posts and I don’t pretend to be mathematically proving anything.

Here are the criteria I will use:

Apparent Contradiction From the Holy See, Fulfillment of Scriptures like those above, The Catholic Church’s teachings on the Eucharist, and on Mary, Sola Scriptura, Sola Fide, the size and level of unity within the church, the maintained level of integrity and conservative disposition in the church despite the size, the Catholic rejection of Calvinism, and finally the dark history of the church.

In general, I am considering these items of evidence in as far as they contradict the alternative. That is, I am examining them in contrast to the Protestant beliefs and using this to base my ‘strength value’ for each. For the sake of this post I am not examining the Eastern Orthodox Church or Anglican Church.

So we start with:

P(Catholic Church = True) = 50%
(The probability that the Catholic Church is true is 50%)

Apparent Contradiction & Error From the Holy See

To make things more interesting, I’ll start off with a negative item of evidence. My post on this subject discusses a few apparent 'contradictions' in the Catholic Church.

Before I began writing, I thought that this issue would be strong evidence contradicting the idea of Catholic authenticity. However, as I began researching the topic, I found once again that Catholic apologetics readily available on the subject were adequately strong. My opinion began softening to a ‘moderately less likely’ strength value instead. If only for the topic of contradiction regarding the salvation of non-Catholics, I would have upgraded this to a neutral. However, there are the following quotes from popes which make me seriously doubt the authority or credibility of the papacy since they overly venerate Mary and ascribe to her attributes and roles she is not worthy of (also see the later section regarding Catholic teachings on Mariology):

One can justly say that with Christ, she herself redeemed mankind.
- Pope Benedict XV

Our salvation is based upon the holy Virgin... so that if there is any hope and spiritual healing for us we receive it solely and uniquely from her.
- Pope Pius IX

These two quotes alone have reduced the previously considered neutral value to a value of strong evidence against the Catholic Church. My conscious cannot allow me to accept such blasphemous statements, particularly the second one. However, simply because certain popes make errors, does not conclude that the church itself is in error. (Perhaps these popes were not speaking ex-cathedra) This falls under the section of contradictions within the Church because
the Church teaches that the Pope, when teaching on faith or values cannot be in error. Of course the above statements are in unequivocal contradiction to both reason & Scripture. At any rate, I have to conclude this as evidence against the church and strong evidence at that.

P(Catholic Church = True) = 9.09%

Fulfillment of Certain Scriptures

My post on this subject explains my thoughts on this topic. For more reading on the subject, I would recommend Catholic apologist Dave Armstrong's book "A Biblical Defense of Catholicism"

Seeing as how Protestants have tomes of apologetics ready to explain why all the Scriptures Catholics use are meaningless & for the sake of being conservative, I will limit this piece of evidence to a value of 2. This means I consider it marginally more probable in a world where the Catholic Church is the true church. So now:

P(Catholic Church = True) = 16.67%

The Catholic Teaching on the Eucharist

I have written two main posts on this topic (and have by no means done it justice). But first, I examined the reverence in worship demanded by Catholics and later discussed the Catholic teaching of the Real Presence as a follow up.

In conclusion, I see the Catholic teaching on the Eucharist as evidence in favor of it’s own legitimacy. I see the Protestant’s rejection of transubstantiation, casual approach to the Eucharist and deliberate disobedience to using the prescribed elements as a clear heresy and an abominable bastardization of the most holy sacrament. After much deliberation I have decided to give this item of evidence a score of 10... Meaning that I consider it highly more likely to occur in a world where the Catholic Church is true. So this brings us to:

P(Catholic Church = True) = 66.67%

The Catholic Rejection of Sola Scriptura

This doctrine, the one which originally led me away from the Protestant church has been the specific topic for two of my posts: Sola Sciptura I & Sola Scriptura II and the indirect topic for a third post on the subject of extra-biblical teachings that all Christians agree upon.

I consider this an extremely strong piece of evidence in favor of the Catholic Church. On one hand we have the Protestants believing something utterly ridiculous and absurd that cannot possibly be true (Sola Scriptura) and on the other hand, we have the Catholic Church affirming a 2,000 year old truth that hasn’t changed: Scripture along with Apostolic Authority and church tradition is a three legged stool which God uses to reveal His Word to His people. These three are in agreement and do not contradict each other. Because of the church, the Bible has authority and I can now accept it without question. I will give this evidence a score of 10. (You will see that this greatly increases the probability and you will just have to trust my math ability).

P(Catholic Church = True) = 95.24%

The Catholic Teaching on Mary

Like Scott Hahn says, most Catholics do not realize how offensive Mariology is to a Protestant or a converting Protestant. Though if you get down to the nitty gritty, the Church doctrines are arguably sound on the subject, I have to criticize the Church for not being more vocal and deliberate in dispelling certain 'misperceptions' that we constantly acuse Protestants of. Some of these "misperceptions" especially in the area of Mariology are not far fetched at all. I have two main posts on the topic: Mary the Queen Mother in Catholicism and Mary: Full of Grace? The previously mentioned extra-biblical teachings post also contains some discussion on the topic of Mariology.

Though I do submit to the Church's authority on the subjects, in my own estimation, the core doctrines of Mariology are all false. Thus, I must consider this as evidence against the Church. I will even go as far as to say (again for the sake of being conservative) that I will consider it strong evidence against the church. I am giving this a score of .1. This brings the probability back down to:

P(Catholic Church = True) = 66.67%

The Size & Level of Unity Within the Church

Catholic unity is fascinating to me. Here is my post on the subject.

Again, I am discussing this point in contrast to the disunity of the Protestant church. I mentioned in my post the shear number of denominations. While there are as many Catholics as all Protestant denominations combined, I’d say it’s significant that it’s level of unity is so far above and beyond the Protestant idea of unity that it’s not even worth discussing. However, I’d say this evidence is only moderately convincing. I will give this piece of evidence a score of 2.

P(Catholic Church = True) = 80%

The Maintained Conservative Values of the Church

I consider this issue close but not the same as the previous. Here is my post on the subject.In contrast, here is my post on what is happening to the mainline liberal Protestant Churches.

The Catholic Church stands out among not only other churches, but among all the greatest of mankind’s institutions as a firm and unwavering beacon of truth throughout the ages. This to me, clearly testifies of the working of the Holy Spirit. Although I was inclined to count this a 10, I will play Protestant's advocate and consider this only a 2.

P(Catholic Church = True) = 88.89%

The Catholic Rejection of Sola Fide

I have probably posted on this than any other of the current topics. Here are my posts:

Sola Fide I | Sola Fide II | Sola Fide III | Sola Fide IV

The Catholic teaching is in line with the Scripture on this teaching much more than the Protestant deviation. Still, since in some respect I view this as almost a battle of words (most Protestants believe that good works are necessary results of faith), I will give this piece of evidence only a marginal score of 2

P(Catholic Church = True) = 94.12%

The Catholic Rejection of Calvinism

Now it gets a little more difficult. This was also somewhat of a stumbling block for me since I come from a reformed background. I have basically embraced the five points of Calvinism my whole life. Part of that is for sure due to my upbringing, but another part is that Calvinism fit well with my overall view of life and way of thinking.

At first, I wasn’t sure if I would be able to see it any other way than the Calvinistic way. But that is slowly changing. A friend of mine once pointed out to me that it was fortunate that we didn’t have to know how the eye worked to appreciate the beauty of a sunset. I’ve always considered justification in the same light. I don’t need to know the intricacies of the mechanics behind justification to receive salvation. Thank God!

Here is my post on the subject.

I will give this a score of 1 meaning it is neutral. When I first began the RCIA process I would have given this a .5 at least or maybe even a .1! But now I am much closer to neutrality. So the probability remains the same as before.

P(Catholic Church = True) = 94.12%

The Dark History of the Church

And finally, perhaps the touchiest of all subjects so far: The dark history of the church. No catholic today will deny that the church has had some moments in it’s history that were less than glorious. Real change needed to take place at the time of the reformation but splitting away from the church was clearly not the solution. (Because of that act, we now have heresies rampant throughout Christianity). Even the Catholic encyclopedia says:

It is certain, however, that the seeds of discontent amid which Luther threw his firebrand had been germinating for centuries. The immediate cause was bound up with the odious greed for money displayed by the Roman Curia, and shows how far short all efforts at reform had hitherto fallen.

Pope Leo X was the Pope at the time of Martin Luther. Many have criticized him for his greed. He himself several years later admitted that there were many problems in Rome that needed correction. Two points need to be made on this subject. 1: We need to clear up the misconceptions that most Protestants have about the Curia and specifically the Pope (myself included before coming to the Church). The Catholic Church has never taught that the Pope is without sin. That is, a Pope can very easily be guilty of a sin (such as greed). They teach that the Pope is infallible (in his teaching) while speaking ex cathedra. The second point is that the Church got it right! Yes, there was a dark period in history but it has been mended. Protestants are, to this day, criticizing the Catholics for selling indulgences! Pope Pius V rejected that practice and condemned it in 1567. Again, this is just one of many examples.

So what about the crusades? I like to ask anyone who asks me that: what about them? It’s the same kind of question I like to ask them when they condemn the second Iraq war, “What do you think about the bombing of Kosovo?” The fact is that most people don’t know anything about the Crusades except “they were bad” and “Catholics caused them”. Most people who would criticize the crusades are usually atheists and of course have no reason to believe anything is morally evil (but that’s a different topic).

In defense of the crusades, Catholics were in compliance with the ‘Just War’ doctrine previously laid out by St. Augustine. People need to remember that the Muslims were the aggressors and Catholics merely responded to their conquering of the Holy Land which was previously Christian territory. Of course, many terrible things happened during the crusades and there were large scale incidents of Christians looting / plundering and participating in all sorts of evils such as those that took place during the infamous sack of Constantinople & of Jerusalem. However, these acts were by no means ordered by the Pope! They were not in line with Catholic teaching! The Catholic Church can by no means be held responsible for the actions of every self proclaimed adherent. (The same is true for any religion).

Here is an interesting link (not mine) on the subject.

This is a very brief outline of some of the more prominent negative items in Catholic history. I think I have offered some fair apologies though certainly not exhaustive. I would be most inclined to give this item of evidence a 1 (indicating neutrality). But for the sake of skepticism and conservatism, I will give it .5 indicating that it’s somewhat tainted history causes me to think that the Catholic Church is moderately less likely to be true. (Keep in mind the Catholic Church's history is actually much cleaner than the Protestant church's so I'm being very conservative here) So our grand finale is:

P(Catholic Church = True) = 88.89%

That’s a fairly high probability. So what does this number mean? Again, I don’t pretend to be proving anything mathematically. The theorem is sound of course. If the values I placed on each item of evidence are accurate and the a priori (50%) value is correct, then the result is also accurate. Of course, different people would have different scores for each item of evidence. This process merely helps me to evaluate my own beliefs.

I have found through this process, that if it weren’t for the Catholic teachings on Mary and the statements made by popes regarding her, my probability would have been at 99.88% instead of only 88.89%. I hope that the Church will eventually make some strong statements to a) contradict misconceptions from those outside the Church about Mary & the Saints & b) protect those within the Church from making errors or misunderstanding the Church's teaching.. Still, 88.89% is strong. This shows that even in the light of what I view as very strong evidence against the Church, the remaining pro-evidence is so strong that my over all conclusion must logically be to accept the authority of the Church.

See my recent post: The Church is Our Mother

I will close with this: I have never been so excited about my Christian faith as now with having joined the Catholic Church. The Church has been the missing piece of the puzzle for me in so many different ways. My last few years as a Protestant were becoming increasingly confusing without that missing piece of the puzzle to the point where I gave up my ambition and said “I will settle for the church with the least errors and the most convenient to me” and participated there. Now I have found a true church home within the walls of a parish near my house but I know my home will from here on out be with the Roman Catholic Church. My friend in RCIA put it this way, “Now that I have gone through the door, there’s no way I could ever go back. I know the truth now.”


Anonymous said...

Could you clarify this?:

"Though I do submit to the Church's authority on the subjects, in my own estimation, the core doctrines of Mariology are all false."

Are you saying that the Church's dogmas about Mary truly are false, but because the church is the church you will submit to the church's false teaching anyway? (This is what it sounds like you're saying.)

Or are you saying that if left to your own estimation and powers of judgment, the conclusion you would have reached on your own is that the church's teaching is false; yet despite this you submit anyway and believe them to be true.


TheGodFearinFiddler said...


During my conversion process, I looked at all of the basic Catholic doctrines and after studying up on them (pro & con apologetics) I came to the conclusion that I agreed with every point except for Mariology.

I was not convinced by any Catholic argument on the subject. So I would say my statement leaned towards the latter of your two explanations - if left to my own powers of judgment my own conclusion would be different than the Church's.

However, now I have come to understand the doctrines more and am slowly getting over that hurdle. Intellectually, I agree with all of Mariology now. They're not easy doctrines to begin with but they're especially difficult for reformed Protestants.

Hope this clarifies it some.

Anonymous said...


I too am a bit bothered by your sensitivity to Marian dogma. I suppose I understand your defensiveness having converted from a very self-consciously conservative reformed tradition--I experienced similar incomprehension at the effusive expressions of devotion to Mary in the liturgy and popular devotions, but I never saw it in terms of whether it compromised Catholic truth claims. You are surely familiar with St. Louis de Montfort's famous book on Mary, so I won't try to recommend it, but I think we need to learn to embrace and to ourselves get inside the kind of statements you disapprovingly referenced above to understand that like by analogy to the Church herself, but in an even more perfect way, Mary holds within herself the entire treasury of Christian wisdom. I say attribute to her Grace and Salvation and whatever else pious men deep in the wisdom of the Church are willing say for her, she is the cause of our redemption in a way more than by extension of her consent to maternity. I'll only ask you to consider the prophecy of Simeon and tell me that the Church's Marian dogma does not begin to exhaust the exalted and mysterious role of Mary in our salvation:

And thy own soul a sword shall pierce, that, out of many hearts, thoughts may be revealed.


TheGodFearinFiddler said...

George, Thanks for the comments. I have come a long way since this post and really, this post is my reflective of my initial decision to convert and the "math" behind it. It does not reflect my position now.

I fully agree with Mariology as the Church teaches now, though it has been a difficult doctrine for me along the way.

As for grace, mercy or salvation I don't see those things coming FROM Mary but THROUGH Mary. They are, in fact, God's mercy God's salvation God's Grace - not from man - even the best of mankind - Mary. Only He who can pass judgement is able to grant mercy. Only He who is by His own nature and His own power, perfect, can grant us salvation, and only He who is worthy in and of Himself can truly give us grace.

Steven said...

If you admit the church has messed up in the past i wonder how you can look to the church as the True church. Jesus teaches that the church is made up of all the believers in Him. all who follow scripture and ONLY scripture are his church and since no religious entity can lay claim to that, the church is the followers of Christ who follow him and him alone and do not look to human institutions to give them truth.
"All therefore whatsoever they bid you observe, that observe and do; but do not ye after their works: for they say, and do not. Matthew 23:3

Tim A. Troutman said...


Did you read my post or did you just see that I'm Catholic and that pissed you off?

Jesus teaches that the church is made up of all the believers in Him.

Incorrect. This is what the Protestant ecclesial community teaches not Jesus. While Jesus sojourned amongst us, He mentioned the word "Church" just twice. Matthew 16 and Matthew 18. Look em' up. You might be surprised at what you'll find.

You say that all who follow "only scripture" are the church and only these people are. However in doing so, you follow teaching not found in Scripture so you refute yourself.

If you can show me in the Scripture where it teaches that only those who follow "scripture alone" are the Church, I will happily recant.

Matthew 23 - Jesus affirms the authority of those whom God left to interpret His word. At that time it was the teachers of the Law and now it's the Catholic Church.

Laura Davis said...

I realize I'm coming into this discussion rather late, but I just found your blog through Tekeme Studios. I must say I am intrigued by your conversion and by the discussion here, but especially to the last comment. You pointed out in Matthew 23 that the Teachers of the Law would be the Catholic Church today. Since the Teachers of the Law consisted of Pharisees & Sadducees (The Sanhedrin) and they were all Jewish, and taking into account that the Sanhedrin is now reformed
how do you come to the conclusion that The Catholic Church are the Teachers of the Law?

Love your blog. I'm thinking of hiring Tekeme myself!

Tim A. Troutman said...

Hi Laura,

Thanks for stopping by. I can't recommend Tekeme Studios highly enough. I've had them work on this website and another one where I'm an editor -

As for your question, I don't know anything about the modern Sanhedrin so I can't comment on that. I don't want to draw too tight of an analogy between the two or to try and propose that the Catholic Church is the seamless successor to the Jewish authorities; she is not. The Catholic Church is enacted on better promises and her hierarchy is superior to the old hierarchy.

In Matt 23:1-3, Jesus says that the current leaders of Israel must be obeyed because they 'sit on the seat of Moses' We say the same thing of the Catholic Church - at the time of the Reformation (and now), the current leaders of the Church must be obeyed because they sit on the seat of the apostles. That is why I have come to believe that the Reformer were wrong to split away from the Church (although they were right about many things).

Like Jesus said to the Jewish people "do what they tell you and not what they do." The same goes for Martin Luther et al "Do what the Church leaders tell you and not what they do" because there was a lot of hypocrisy and corruption. Yet the Church leaders were still the rightful leaders as were the Jewish teachers of the Law in the time of Christ.

Hope this is helpful.

Anders Branderud said...

I want to comment about “Matthew 23:1-3” (used in a comment):

Le-havdil, Ribi Yehoshua ha-Mashiakh (the Messiah) from Nazareth taught this in NHM 23:1-3:
”Then Yehoshua spoke to the qehilot and to his talmidim saying, ”The Sophrim and those of the Rabbinic-Perushim sect of Judaism who advocate that Halakhah must be exclusively oral sit upon the bench of Mosheh. So now, keep shomeir and do concering everything – as much as they shall tell you! Just don’t imitate their maaseh because they say but they don’t do.”
The Rabbinic-Perushim taught that one should follow the mitzwot (directive or military-style orders), and Ribi Yehoshua taught that one should listen to that. The Rabbinic-Perushim advocated Halakhah (oral Torah).

The problem is that most people fail to distinguish between the historical Ribi Yehoshua and his pro-Torah-teachings; and the redacted “gospels” of Christianity.
A logical analysis (found in ( is the website of the only legitimate Netzarim-group)) of all extant source documents and archeology proves that the historical Ribi Yehosuha ha-Mashiakh (the Messiah) from Nazareth and his talmidim (apprentice-students), called the Netzarim, taught and lived Torah all of their lives; and that Netzarim and Christianity were always antithetical.

The original words of the pro-Torah teacher Ribi Yehoshua were redacted by Roman Hellenists, and the redaction is found in the “gospels”. J…. is described in the “gospels”, and le-havdil the teachings of the historical Torah-teacher Ribi Yehoshua from Nazareth are found in the reconstruction (using a logical and scientific methodology to create the reconstruction), Netzarim Hebrew Reconstruction of Hebrew Matityahu (NHM).

The historical Jew Ribi Yehoshua is not the same as the Christian "J...." The historical Ribi Yehoshua was a human.
Anders Branderud