Reflections of a Catholic Scientist

Robert Kurland who self-describes as a “Retired, cranky, old physicist.Convert to Catholicism in 1995.”responded to a comment I made on an earlier post about his path to religion.

My comment on his latest post was as follows:

Thanks Bob for responding -and for helping me in my (still ongoing) effort to gain a better understanding of the nature of your belief. I hope you don’t mind my repeating some of what I said already in our email correspondence (partly to explain the context, and partly to gain further clarification from you).

One thing I mentioned in our email exchange was that my own understanding of the word “counterfactual” is that it refers to a hypothesis that we know is false (eg that Mount Baker had a massive eruption in 2012) rather than one which we may think unlikely but about which we do not yet have any confirmed facts (eg a story based on the hypothesis that the now very mildly active Mount Baker will have a massive eruption in 2024 – which I would only consider counterfactual if it were the case right now that Baker had been stone cold dormant for long enough for geologists to be almost certain that such an eruption in 2024 is not possible). The only reason I repeat this quibble is because if we are using words the same way, then your use of “counterfactual” tells me something about the strength of your belief – ie that you are essentially certain that no evidence against the resurrection could ever be found which would be able to alter the strength of your belief. Indeed this is one way that I could interpret your conclusion that “I take Alan’s proposition as a counterfactual–conceivable in an alternative (hypothetical) universe, but not possible in ours” – except for the doubt remaining in my mind as to whether it is my hypothetical *premises* which could never be conceivable to you in our universe or just your proposed *conclusion* (which I never actually claimed to follow from the premises – though I certainly meant to imply that they would increase its credibility).

This brings me to a second comment re this post – just that I would like to emphasize again that I wasn’t proposing the hypothetical future evidence as necessarily proving the “Conclusion: Jesus was not resurrected.” but rather just that it if such evidence did transpire then it might serve to weaken the strength of your evidence-based conviction that he was.

I certainly appreciate the sentiment of your final paragraph, and in fact I have often thought that we should draw a distinction between belief and faith. Is it possible to have faith in the resurrection of Jesus as a redeeming concept with which humanity has been blessed, rather than as an actual historical event which we believe really happened? If so, then it may also be possible to retain that faith while believing that the actual physical event did not ever really happen. If so (and if it were widely advertised to be so) then there would be at least two positive consequences – more people could share in the blessings of faith, and fewer people would feel the need to feel that the use of reason would pose a threat to their receipt of those blessings.

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