Before I Start Reading / First Impressions
The Catholic Church has the Answer by Paul Whitcomb is a booklet, more properly than a book, being smaller than the standard six by nine paperback and weighing in at just sixty pages. It is published by Tan, which is a company famous for putting old Catholic books back on the market, copyright 1986. I’ve read this book before, and enjoyed it so much that I bought 50 copies to give away (many of which I still have). That seems crazy to me now, but at the time, I thought this little booklet was good enough to convince a reasonable and open minded individual of Catholicism.
I haven’t read it in a few years, however, and in that time, I stopped believing in Catholicism and became an atheist. Let’s see how well it holds up to scrutiny under my new perspective.
The Catholic Church has the Answer
“Hence, dear reader, if you are a Protestant, an unaffiliated Christian, or an agnostic, who wants to know the truth about Catholic belief, take this friendly advice: Seek out a Catholic priest and put your questions to him. You will find him a very understanding and obliging person.” -pg 2
As a traditional Catholic, I did try to go to a priest for some counseling. It didn’t help, partially because I knew more about Catholicism than he did.
The author then encourages the reader to read this booklet, because the author converted to Catholicism based on the answers he received to the questions he put forth, and here they are.
“What actual proof is there of God’s existence and omnipotence?” -pg 2
This is one of my questions.
“Through the process of simple mathematical-type reasoning, man inevitably comes face to face with certain indisputable principles: Everything has a cause; nothing can bring itself into existence. Obviously there is a long chain of causes in the universe, but ultimately there must be a first cause, an uncaused cause. This uncaused cause we call ‘God.’” -pg 3
If nothing else can bring itself into existence, how can God? If God can be an uncaused cause, why can’t the universe? This is simply a case of special pleading. This argument asserts a god exists by defining god as an uncaused cause and saying one is necessary. The problem is that we don’t know and can’t know whether everything does have a cause. What if we found out what caused the Big Bang, and there was a natural explanation? What if we found evidence that the universe really is eternal?
“(The theory of evolution, even if it could be proved, would not explain the origin of anything; evolution simply deals with what may have happened after matter came into existence.)” -pg 3
True, except evolution has been proved.
“Further, 1) personal creation (man) presupposes a superior Personal Creator, 2) universal order presupposed a Universal Orderer, 3) cosmic energy presupposes a Cosmic Energizer, 4) natural law presupposes a Universal Law Maker.” -pg 3
1) Man isn’t a personal creation; humans evolved through entirely natural processes. There is no step in our evolution that needs even a guiding hand. 2) What universal order? 3) Why? 4) Natural law is entirely explainable by evolution. Societies with empathy survived better than societies where every being cared only for his or her own interests, so we have empathy. Empathy is the basis for all morality, because it teaches us that others can feel the same pain we do, so we understand that causing pain is bad.
“Then, there is the evidence of Divine Revelation–on countless occasions God has revealed Himself by voice, vision and apparition (by means which are receptive to the human senses), and demonstrated His Omnipotence by stupendous, obviously supernatural miracles. Many of these revelations are a matter of authenticated historical record. The Scriptures, for example, are full of such accounts; and in modern times the world has been witness to such Heaven-sent miracles as those at Fatima, Lourdes, and St. Anne de Beaupré in Quebec, Canada, where the cured have left a forest of crutches in testimony. (The Lourdes Medical Bureau is open for examination by any doctor.) In addition, there is the liquefaction of the blood of St. Januarius which still takes place in Naples each year on September 19, his feastday; the incorruption of the bodies of many Catholic saints (such as St. Bernadette, who died in 1879); and the miraculous Eucharistic Host of Lanciano, Italy, which has been scientifically proven to be human flesh and human blood, type AB–to mention only a few of the miracles still on-going in the 20th century, which point to the existence of a God.” -pg 3-4
I think the most laughable claim here is that the Bible is a historical record. Almost nothing in the Old or New Testament is historically accurate, based on my research of the scholarly consensus. As for miracles, while they do demonstrate a supernatural power, they cannot point to a specific god. They could just as easily be evidence for a bored pantheon that wants to make Catholicism look true. Of course, this is assuming miracles actually do happen. If there were really miraculous healings, why do we need so many hospitals?
Most miracle claims I have examined were not as impressive as claimed. For example, incorruptibles often started to corrupt as soon as they were removed from their burial conditions that kept them preserved.
Do the miracle claims of other religions prove those gods are real as well?
“Psychologists have long known that every human being–the atheist included–intuitively seeks God’s help in times of great calamity, and instinctively pleads for God’s mercy when death is imminent.” -pg 4
This is simply false. I personally know at least one human being who has never sought any god’s help at any time, for he was raised without religion. The seemingly intuitive seeking of god is a learned behavior; it feels like instinct to many of us only because we were raised in a tradition that taught us to do so from infancy.
The booklet then gives two examples of atheists who sought god as they died. I bet the same thing is said about Christopher Hitchens, but I doubt it is true.
I underlined this part, so I clearly found it quite convincing at the time.
“For as hunger for food proclaims the existence of food, man’s intuitive hunger for God proclaims the Reality, the Omnipotence and the Justice of God. Catholic belief in God, therefore, is purely and simply an expression of intellectual sanity.” -pg 4-5
I see three problems with this. First, as I said above, I know someone without this hunger. Is that person defective? Or not a person? Second, my “hunger” for a magical unicorn friend is still and always has been stronger than my hunger for god; does this mean unicorns exist? Or does it mean that humans sometimes want things they can’t have? Third, if the hunger for “god” can be filled with human relationships, and in my experience it can, is it really accurate to say it is a hunger for god?
“Catholics believe there is one God consisting of three distinct and equal divine Persons–Father, Son and Holy Spirit–because on numerous occasions God has described Himself thus.” -pg 5
I would honestly be fine with this explanation if it could be demonstrated that the Bible was written by a god and not men, but it can’t. Parenthetically, the consistent lack of Oxford comma annoys me, even though it is technically optional.
“Why do Catholics believe that Jesus Christ was God the Son–the Second Person of the Holy Trinity?” -pg 6
His answer refers largely to scripture as the only source, and I’m not going to refute every point he brings up because Biblical scholars have already shown that prophecies in the Bible were often twisted or written after the fact and the Gospels (the only source we have for the life of Jesus) are not reliable historical documents.
“[…] fifthly, because only God could have, in the brief space of three years, without military conquest, without political power, without writing a single line or traveling more than a few score miles, so profoundly affected the course of human events; sixthly, […]” -pg 7
I’ll get to his sixth reason momentarily. This fifth reason is wrong. Assuming the man Jesus existed and lived more or less as the Gospels describe, both of which claims I doubt due to lack of evidence, it is still irrefutable that Christianity was a very small cult for nearly three centuries. I recommend the book Not the Impossible Faith by Richard Carrier for a full and thorough explanation. The extremely truncated version is that Christianity only barely survived; it did not become a major religion until there was military conquest and political power behind it.
“[…] sixthly, because only God can instill in the soul of man the grace and the peace and the assurance of eternal salvation that Jesus instills.” -pg 7
This claim is almost as problematic as the last. First, many of us sought for that grace and peace and were refused; I begged for it years ago and received no answer. Second, every religion provides this same comfort; are those religions equally true? Does Jesus fill in for Allah and Vishnu?
The next question is about whether other denominations might also be founded by Christ. I would just gloss over this, but I have an underline that I still appreciate.
“Since Christ roundly condemned interdenominationalism (“And if a house be divided against itself, that house cannot stand.” Mark 3:25), Catholics cannot believe that He would ever sanction it in His Church.” -pg 8
This is a good one for pointing out to those who claim multiple denominations of Christianity might be true; their own book rebuts this. However, doesn’t it seem odd that a god who didn’t want his house divided allowed that in the first place? There are over 40,000 Christian denominations. That’s a lot of division for someone who promised to keep his church safe.
“The so-called bloody Inquisitions, which were initiated by the civil governments of France and Spain for the purpose of ferreting out Moslems [sic] and Jews who were causing social havoc by posing as faithful Catholic citizens–even as priests and bishops–were indeed approved by the Church. (Non-Catholics who admitted they were non-Catholics were left alone by the Inquisition.) And the vast majority of those questioned by the Inquisition (including St. Teresa of Avila) were completely cleared. Nevertheless, the popes roundly condemned the proceedings when they saw justice giving way to cruel abuses, and it was this insistent condemnation by the Popes which finally put an end to the Inquisitions.” -pg 10
Source? This is the typical explanation of the Inquisition by Catholics, but is pretending to be a Catholic really worthy of burning at the stake? What “social havoc” was being caused?
The Inquisition honestly isn’t something I know much about; I haven’t done any research on it. I am skeptical that it was really as justifiable as Catholics would have us believe, though.
“In the case in point, the first act for gaining the indulgence was “giving alms.” If the almsgiver thereafter failed to say the requisite prayers, he would not receive the indulgence because he had failed to fulfill both required acts. The indulgences therefore were not “sold”; the very giving of money was itself the first of two requisite acts for gaining the indulgence in question.” -pg 10-11
“I didn’t sell the drugs, officer; I merely took the person’s money and didn’t give them the drugs until they also wrote a letter to my boss.” That person would still go to jail as a drug dealer. In the real world, when you accept money for a product or service, even if you also accept something else like words of thanks, that is selling.
The rest of the booklet covers common misconceptions and questions about Church teaching, such as whether Mary is worshiped, why Catholics believe in Purgatory, and why contraception is forbidden. The arguments are mainly convincing, I think, to one who already accepts Christianity, but basically irrelevant to one in my position. I find one particular sentence quite amusing still; I marked it, so I’m sure I enjoyed it upon first reading.
“The Catholic Church does not feel free to change the law of God, as do Protestants.” -pg 50
After all, when one feels free to change the law, can one really and honestly claim to believe it comes from god?
The booklet ends with a Conclusion section, which is largely simply a quotation from a Catholic convert named John Deering. He describes becoming convinced of god’s existence through a study of metaphysics, then turning to reading the Bible to learn more about him. He then became convinced of the divinity of Christ, and from there went looking for which Christian Church was the one true church Christ founded. He concluded Catholicism was, for it was the oldest Christian church.
I can only wonder, what if he had read the Quran instead? Or some other religion’s holy book?
In the end, this booklet simply isn’t convincing to someone in my position. Not even close.
For those interested, the full text is available online here. A link to purchase a physical copy is available at the bottom of that page.