Sunday, August 24, 2008

The Probability of the Catholic Church - II

In statistics, we use what is called a "null hypothesis" (written as H0) to base our decisions on. That is, in statistics we don't say "H is true" we say that "based on the evidence we are 95% certain that H0 (the null hypothesis) is false". Statistics embrace uncertainty and quantify it. Many people (most) are uncomfortable with using statistics or quantifying any uncertainty as if doing so lessened the validity of results or as if statistics are so easily misinterpreted as to render the research in question meaningless. They say statisticians are boring.. but we have our moments. (I'm not a real statistician of course, I just like stats and that's just a lame statistics joke).

When I was about to convert, I used the Bayesian theorem to weigh the evidence in favor of Catholicism as I saw it. I started with an agnostic 50% probability but it may be more helpful to take the approach of stating the null hypothesis and attempting to accumulate enough evidence to reject it.

With the Catholic question, the null hypothesis (hereafter referred to as H0) would be "Catholicism is not true". Now I'll keep numbers out of this to make it more straightforward especially to an audience not likely as thrilled about numbers as I am. The numbers would only serve to quantify my personal estimations of the evidences anyway - each person needs to come up with their own.

I am not certain that Catholicism is true, but I have personally come to the conclusion that there is enough evidence to base an affirmative decision on (even an important one such as this).

1. What Could Go Wrong?
First we must ask ourselves, as in any important decision, what are the possible consequences of my decision?

The most obvious reasonable danger is that I might be putting my soul in jeopardy by following an apostate religion. This is not a danger to be taken lightly. My reason tells me these things:
1a: If it is an apostate church, there should be perceptible signs. What would an "apostate religion" look like? What would be the signs of something which was leading me astray? If there are no perceptible signs, how can one even be faulted for failing to understand what he was not capable of perceiving since perception must precede understanding?
1b: If the pseudo-neo Platonism which Protestantism embraces is true (that is, the intention is the only thing that truly matters) and I know my intention is good, even if I make a bad decision here, my intentions will trump my lack of discernment. If this is not true, then the only "Christian" alternative to this conversion has fundamental flaws itself.
1c: If my spiritual growth is stunted (that is, I don't lose my salvation but do fail to grow in Christ because of being tricked into saint-worship etc...) then I still go to Heaven, I just won't have as many crowns or as big of a mansion or.. something. At least I won't go to Hell.
1d: If the doctrine of "faith alone" is true, I know I have faith in Christ and that as long as the church in question does not jeopardize this, I can still receive salvation. Again, if "faith alone" is not true, then my current theology is false.
Taking these and doubtlessly other dangers into consideration (such as potential ostracizing from family or friends) and leaving aside, for now, the question of potential dangers of staying a Protestant should it turn out to be false, we shall proceed. I have noted that if at any time I perceive the "church" leading me away from the fundamental faith in Christ, red flags should be going up.

2. What Could Go Right?
This is also important. What are the potential benefits?
2a. If "sola fide" is false, it may well assist me getting into heaven.
2b. Even if a version of "sola fide" is true, it may assist me.
2c. Even if it is true, the "church" may even assist me acquiring faith (though unlikely if a particular "church" rejects a doctrine which is true. Still, "He who is not against is for us" and we Christians are in general agreement that many have been led to salvation through organizations which held imperfect doctrines - even on the "essentials")
2d. I would feel more at ease to talk with my Christian peers intelligibly about the faith.
2e. It could potentially answer a lot of questions and put my mind at ease over various troubling issues (thus again, aiding my spirituality by removing focus from doctrinal dead ends).
2f. It could give me access to the risen Christ on earth through the Eucharist.
2g. To sum these up, it could help make me a saint.
3. Is There Enough Evidence to Reject H0?
If at first it seems that Catholicism just might be right, (which from my experience, all those who ask the question honestly have to wrestle with it more than just casually whether or not they end up converting), then we need to remind ourselves in light of H0, the burden of proof in this case is on the "church" in question (for the skeptic). But this isn't merely being unfairly biased against the church to begin with, it's having a bias towards truth. In our daily lives otherwise, we certainly realize that truth has a way of making herself known. Therefore, if the Catholic Church really is the true church, there would be some way of us knowing (or at least being pretty sure).

In no particular order and certainly not exhaustive:
3a: Having personally experienced Christianity to be true, I take this for granted and no other system makes complete sense of Christianity (especially issues like the canon etc...) Also under this point, she looks more like "the Church" or is a more credible idea of what the biblical "Church" really would look like than any other.
3b: It seems beyond incredible that an organization has lasted 2,000 years with organic continuity at all much less that she has done so without liberalizing or contradicting herself. On the charge that she has contradicted herself (or that she has liberalized for that matter), we can apply the same null hypothesis criteria to the challenge and ask whether we have enough evidence to reject H0. There are only one or two charges of contradiction which even approach credibility. This is certainly not enough evidence to reject H0 in this case and therefore it stands: there is no contradiction, she has not liberalized. In other words, (especially given Christian theology) a man made institution wouldn't have only one or two contradictions per thousand years, she'd have thousands and man made institutions don't just slightly liberalize after 2,000 years, they liberalize to the point of extinction much earlier. This point is especially potent given that she has and continues to make irreversible decisions and statements. By any reasonable estimation she should have worked her way into a corner a long time ago were it not for divine protection. We might object on the liberalization charge that we can't make these types of claims since we don't have a large pool of 2,000 year old organizations to examine but the fact that she is the only one of her age also speaks in her favor.
3c: Almost all Christians of note have either come from her (born Catholic) or gone to her (converted). H0 says this point is null and points to Charles Spurgeon, Billy Graham, John Calvin etc.. but in my estimation, the long litany of saints and converts dwarfs the objector's list by a long shot and therefore I reject H0 here.
3d: She has public miracles even on display while the others have neither the quantity nor the type of miracles claimed by her. (Bodies of dead popes perfectly preserved and on display in Italy, the miraculous staircase in Texas, the image of Guadalupe and countless others that I don't know about). Fatima was witnessed by thousands, Lourdes draws and reportedly cures thousands even today etc...
3e: She promotes the gospel in a way which dwarfs many and rivals any. Most of the world has been evangelized by Catholics. Almost everywhere you go, she is there and there in numbers. I include in this point the fact that she is more pro-life than any others.
3f: If she is wrong she has deceived billions (now and throughout history). If she is wrong, it makes most of Christianity wrong no matter how you look at it and this is not something I can conceive of God allowing.
3g: She is more committed and even (as I have said) more indulgent in Christianity than any other. Her paradoxes speak of her truth. I argued this point more fully here.
3i: Her interpretation of Scripture is at least as tenable as any, and by my estimation seems the best. Her presentation of Christian authority (Scripture, magisterium, Tradition) is unrivaled. Under this point I will also mention that her presentation of the apostolic faith (as interpreted by the immediate successors of the apostles) seems by far the most reasonable.
3j: She embraces beauty and is herself beautiful than the alternatives and in unique ways. (This involves not only aesthetics obviously but the beauty of the saints she has produced. Say what you want about Calvin, who was more beautiful, him or Mother Theresa?)
3k: She makes better sense of doctrinal and hierarchical development than any other. Furthermore, she continues to develop dogmas and no others do. For this reason she seems incomparably more able to deal with future questions.
3l: She has all the right enemies. The world hates her more than anything else and so does Satan. Secular professors don't desecrate Protestant grape juice and Satanists don't steal communion from Protestants. There's a reason for this. Furthermore, she haunts the non-Catholic mind. Non-Catholic faiths don't "haunt" her, they only throw pebbles at her and stick out their tongues.
3m: She is at least leading the way as far as having a reasonable interpretation of the Petrine verses and she has by far the most reasonable implementation of the Petrine ministry. (The others aren't even in communion with Peter's successor!)
3n: She has the fullest and most beautiful (albeit highly controversial and even offensive) implementation of Marian devotion.
3o: She has the best claim to true apostolic succession. She alone can make a legitimate historic claim to being in direct succession with the apostles (building on 3m, taking for granted that the fullness of Apostolicity must be in communion with the See of Peter) and therefore she can also make the best claim for having real, infallible authority.
And I shall end my list here although I could doubtlessly think of others. My fellow Catholics, feel free to append your own "macro-reasons" in the combox.

So if I wrap all of this up, I am left being highly persuaded that the Catholic Church is indeed true. I have determined that for myself, I have more than enough evidence to reject H0. The evidence makes the proposition "the Catholic Church is false" seem beyond unreasonable to me. These are of course, my reasons (as I have said - "macro-reasons") and so I can certainly anticipate many Protestants having "micro-reasons" why they think mine are false but I'm only dealing with these questions on a macro-level at this point.


Kim said...

Good stuff, Tim. You and Thos have been in my head lately it seems.

Ura said...

I'm sure you've already addressed this somewhere in all of your posts, but I have a hard time grasping the idea of prayer to saints, and I suppose that's what steers me far from Catholicism. What exactly is that about? Do they/you believe in prayer directly to God? I'm just not sure how their beliefs on that work....

I've been to mass many times, and I think it's beautiful... but also so ritualistic. I suppose, being raised in a much more "simple" religion (non-denominational Christian), it's hard to grasp the meaning behind all of their rituals and ceremonies.

Many of my ancestors (up to my grandmother) were Catholic, and after her, it just wasn't passed down. I suppose that's why I'm so curious about it though.... sorry to take up so much of your time! I admire you for being so devoted to dissecting and understanding your faith! :)

Kim said...

Ura, I recommend a book called Evangelical is Not Enough by Thomas Howard. If you read it you'll gain a new appreciation for all the rituals.

Prayer to saints is simply asking them to intercede (pray) for you just as you would ask a believer here on earth to do.

Joseph said...

If my spiritual growth is stunted (that is, I don't lose my salvation but do fail to grow in Christ because of being tricked into saint-worship etc...) then I still go to Heaven, I just won't have as many crowns or as big of a mansion or.. something. At least I won't go to Hell.

Brilliant. I first started becoming frustrated with Protestantism as a youth only a few years after my baptism for many reasons. One of them was the inconsistency and complete lack of doctrinal unity between my family members, who all were at least nominally part of different ecclesial communities. Another was the Calvinist version of predestination as explained to me by my very well-read and knowledgeable Christian aunt (no matter how one slices it, taking the Calvinist theory to its logical end means that the all-merciful Creator predestine millions of His most beloved creation to burn in Hell for all of eternity). Another was the multitude of Scripture interpretations, which made reading Scripture reading frustratingly difficult. Another was the rebellious and individual attitude that pervaded all the Protestant communities around me ("Make sure you're well-read in the Scriptures so that when Pastor X says something you don't agree with in his sermon, you'll know it's time to find a different 'church'"... as if it was inevitable... and it was).

But most of all, I got a glimpse of the most shining example of all hypocrisy when at an Evangelical Bible camp, where there is a literal hodge-podge of theological ramifications. After the lecture on how the Catholic Church is apostate and a temptress (they didn't use 'whore' in front of the kiddies), and one of the reasons the Catholics would probably go to hell was because they believed and were taught that they earn their way into heaven by their works, came the discussion of our job of delivering the true Gospel to those deceived souls. But, guess what? I was told that if "I" converted a Catholic to the true faith (a vast ocean of conflicting opinions), then I would earn a crown or a mansion in heaven! I thought that was odd, even as a pre-teen (why would you care about crowns or mansions if you're in heaven?). So, I asked the camp director if that was true. He said, "sure". Then I asked the main preacher if that was true and he agreed as well, though he didn't specify the actual reward. Hmmm... a merit system where you earn something you don't deserve by your works. I think they must have been tempted by the tempress to teach something like that.

Anyway, I'm glad that you're comfortable facing the possibility that, if you get into heaven, you'll probably have to live in the slums or may even be homeless.

Tim A. Troutman said...

Ura: What Kim said. :)

It is something that I had to take into consideration. It is at least possible that prayers to saints could lead me away from devotion to Christ.

In spite of whatever suspicions I had at first though, I have found even Mary to be barely mentioned. Christ is so central to the mass and hence to Catholicism that everything else (including saints) grows dim in comparison.

And again, Kim is right. We don't worship saints or pray to them (even Mary) for their own power, we ask them to pray for us.

Tim A. Troutman said...

Joseph: Hah! the slums of heaven. Maybe that's where we Catholics end up.

George Weis said...

Wow, long and interesting my friend. I'm up at a late hour, and my eyes aren't all that heavy yet. Long day, but it hasn't tuckered me out yet... sure, I'll take some time to dive into the Catholic pool :D

You mentioned the haunting... why does it do that so much? HAHA! I think it is all your fault my friend! I haven't been so haunted, or is it tempted in all my life (a nod to Joseph). Oddly enough, I can't put my finger on it.

As I mentioned before there is a half and half thing at work here. Sometimes I am able to briefly shrug it off... usually due to some oddity that I have a hard time with (beseeching saints is no longer one of them)... 15 room mansion like papal apartments is :\ Now, I know that is micro, but it does lay down some little bumps in my rode.

I wonder if at times the "club" element seems enticing... not sure! I even find myself just looking up old church buildings, or icons of saints... my wife looks at me with perplexed expression. I'm scratching my own head! Why can't I shake this thing? Either it really is a whore, or true as you once put it.

I agree with Ura, it is beautiful and also a touch creepy (I know that wasn't the word used, but still).
So here I am late at night reading your macro points... what to do?

Sorry, that was more of a ramble than anything. I have no real points to bring out. A good post from you as usual. Where in the world are my in laws? I thought they would give a good RA RA by now :)

Anyway, love ya Tim! Keep in touch man!


Rob said...


Your in-laws are still around lurking in the blogosphere. We are all around but lately we have been to the land of protestant over at Pastor Stellmans blog , and Brians blog.

In my observations it seems that Protestants are always uneasy, always searching to validate what they believe or just searching in general. While Catholics who follow the teachings of the church are at peace with themselves
Oh yeah Ra Ra


George Weis said...

HAHA! There you are... at least one of you!

I wouldn't say that the large majority of Prots are searching. I know a great many who are very much at peace. I will say I am at peace, but my curiosity is peeked :)


Rob said...


I did not mean all Protestants, and I did not mean you. You do seem to be at peace , and remember you got that half & half thing going on.

George Weis said...

Yeah, I'm like excellent to add to coffee :)

But yes, my heart is at 100% peace.