Catholic vs. Atheist - 2019-01-26 - John B.

Author Recorded Saturday January 26th, 2019

There are 47 episodes in the Versus:Atheist series.

Recorded February 9th, 2019

Catholic vs. Atheist - 2019-02-09 - Greg

Recorded September 11th, 2016

Catholic vs. Atheist - 2016-09-11 - Renaud

John reached out by email and I invited him to be my guest. He and his wife both studied chemistry and both were raised Catholic, but both are now agnostic atheists. John and I spoke about free will and the first cause primarily. A fun chat. • Support the CVS Podcast: • Be a guest on a livestream:

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hi my name is John and you're listening to Catholic versus atheist just start by telling the listeners a little bit about yourself who you are what you believe and how you came to believe what you currently believe are you sure so I am from New Zealand I was raised in a place called Hamilton I was raised Catholic I went to a Catholic Primary School and then I went to a secular sort of high school I lost my faith about 15 there's logical reasons and there's sort of accidental reasons for making me question my faith and as 15s going through a little bit of a tough time and you know I talked to God I I don't know if you do this but you just sort of have conversations as you're walking down street not really conversations more of a monologue but you assume someone was listening and I was getting quite analytical about my problems like what happened here okay why did that happen why did that happen and I was like okay why am i talking to you about this then okay do you exist okay I don't really know like God gods was hidden so there's a whole lot of other things people believe they don't see it so I was wondering okay why God and then I thought about I guess if I was born in another place I'd be brought up with quite different beliefs I might believe in different sort of metaphysics maybe not God maybe multiple gods maybe something else and that gave me enough to sort of question where I was at and I thought okay maybe I should see a priest and talk to him about this or my family and I thought nah this would hurt my family and then I thought about the priest and I thought this seems like pretty good arguments against God I don't want to hurt this person's career and destroy him so I'll keep it to myself for a bit so from there I was agnostic for about 10 years and then later on my my wife started reading The God Delusion and I think Dawkins has something about if you don't believe in God you're an atheist so if you notice the S you're an atheist and I was like oh yeah that sounds all right we'll be an atheist and then since then I've been you know interested in the question and why people do believe in God it seems really interesting to me and you know pleasant to find that there are some really smart theists around I saw that fully understand their point of view but they quite good at knowing say what atheist think and defending against it and defending their own position did you talk to your parents did you sort of come out of the closet as having questions about about God or was it just mixed in with all the other angst and rebellion and you're not cleaning your room and you're not going to church and it's all just mixed in with that sort of rebellion well yeah I kept going to church and I I didn't want to bring it up because it just seemed like it would be missing painful so to this day you've never talked about it no to this day I mean there's one point where my dad said something like my my wife's parents are also Catholic but they know and I don't know I'm just a bit weak like that you know how did you meet your wife why were you attracted to each other and what was sort of the magic moment where you said you're the one yes sir we both worked at a supermarket and we it's in a staff room one day talking about the book she was reading and she visited me in the the tree department and one day I asked for a number and turns out we were both studying chemistry at University one year apart and we sat hanging out and um yeah that happened does your wife practice her Catholic faith or no oh no she's not she's am an agnostic oh okay okay what would you do if she later in life she converted or reverted back to her Catholic faith what would you do how would you react I'd be fine with it you know it'd be slightly slightly inconvenient that'd be okay that's fine would you go to church with her maybe if she really wanted me to bet otherwise probably not okay I'm just curious by the way when you when you were walking along and having an analytical discussion with God and then you started to think maybe I'm talking to myself here where were you walking and by the time you arrived had you lost your faith I was walking home and I don't know if I quite lost it or not it was okay I'm not sure I'll have a think about it some more and then I think it was like a slow progression - okay I'll consider myself agnostic now can you just compare and contrast your adult view of metaphysics with your fifteen-year-old view have you matured have you grown have you read a lot of books I know you said you read Dawkins have you continued to read and research and watch youtube videos and debates and the sort of thing or is religion an interest for you as a hobby yes religions are interests as a hobby I don't read that much I more listen to quite a few podcasts I try to get things from different sides and just trying to get people's views from people who are interested listen to I listen to some philosophy podcasts that aren't specifically about religion but also ones that are so and I have listened to you know a fair number of debates but not awesome the William Lane Craig the debates tend to be quite good and he's good at defending against atheist arguments generally so I think that those are good ones too to listen to before we get into philosophy how do you like chemistry I hate chemistry I studied physics at University I had to take a chemistry course I hated it why do you like chemistry or do you I do love chemistry it's just interesting to see how things work out like physics is also great too but I since Kim shook so is good at and I liked it so it's organic or inorganic well I did my master is in organometallic chemistry which is under the inorganic heading that has organic elements because I like to gain a chemistry and organic chemistry is good as well though most of my jobs have been had had to do with analytical chemistry which Kimmie's both so I've done technician roles and both will be using organic chemistry and inorganic chemistry so yeah okay generalist what's your favorite molecule I'll probably say Ellen which is it's a funny molecule it's got three carbon atoms like in a line and four hydrogen atoms sort of at right angles to each other if you look along the line it's just quite simple but it's got a quite an interesting symmetry and my Master's project looked at some molecules with this particular on system so that's what comes to mind right now are there any good chemistry jokes groaners whatever just the classics okay his his one what's the formula for water and you go h i j k l m in oh and the funny thing is it's h2o okay so that's good you enjoy your work and that's pretty cool and is your wife still working in chemistry or no yes she's officially atmospheric physics now so she did a PhD and a postdoc in chemistry climate modeling and now she's employed as a lecturer for atmospheric physics and chemistry so it is my firm conviction that if there is no supernatural there can be no free will what is your take on free will as an atheist so by free will you mean a sort of uncool sort of free will like you just saying that's not caused by other things that's all you're saying whatever the will is yeah I don't I don't define freedom positively i define it negatively it means it not determined it's not inevitable you have to understand from the Catholic perspective freedom is a mystery it's not something that we can wrap our minds around we cannot understand freedom but we can even though we can't comprehend it we can still apprehend it we can still say I don't understand my freedom but I know that I'm free hmm right so you'd say it's necessarily indeterminate and some respect so the ability to be free might have been caused by God but there's something that is unpredictable about it that if you knew everything about everything you wouldn't know what somebody would do there's more to it than indeterminacy because we could set up a program that has a seed a random seed that will generate unpredictable output based on the clock of my CPU but that doesn't mean my computer suddenly has free will right it's just like quantum physics just because there's a certain level of unpredictability it doesn't mean that there's free will in the universe because of quantum physics no freedom is a mystery but basically intuitively it's self-evident we know that we are we have agency and that we can choose and there's a morality we have responsibility we know these things it's absurd to me that the Atheist even wants to put that into question I'm not saying that you do but I'm saying that when I talk with hardcore atheists they want to put a great big question mark over agency and over freedom and at the same time they want to have a moral high ground and to make moral judgments but when I ask them if morality is an objective in eternal they say no so there's a lot of dancing around that I find not very useful when I talk with most atheists about free will and I don't want to pigeonhole you but I'd like to get your opinion about hard determinism versus freewill yeah I think determinism is is likely true now whether that's compatible with some sort of concept of freedom I think it is compatible with the concept of freedom it might not be freewill it might be a constrained will I think when we make choices it seems to me the choices are determined on things like our preferences or our nature and our nature seems to be determined from a biology from our environment you know from our culture so when we talk of freedom in this sort of determined framework as long as you're not doing something else you will that's freedom it's constrain we'll but you're still free in that respect yeah are you comfortable with the compatibilist view of free well do you know what it's well I haven't read read all the literature on the free will and so I guess it depends on what you mean by free will and I think from what I understand the compatibilist just define free will there's a different way to the hard to terminus there's my understanding yeah have you ever seen a German cuckoo clock where the little dancing men come out and do the little thing at certain times of the day have you seen that yep so the the compatibilist view of free will is that those little guys are dancing because the conditions are right for them to dance and that it is a dance and that's reality okay so that's what they focus on they say look we're not denying that there's a dance the dance is real the dance is cute and the fact that it's just a machine inevitably following as the gears grind on that fact is completely compatible with the fact that these cute little guys doing a cute little dance at the right time at the right place and if a cat were to jump on the cuckoo clock and crush the little guys as they're dancing inhibiting their freedom then they'd have a little bit less free will but it is nonetheless a dance so that's how I see compatible is free will it's sort of like yes everything is a machine everything is determined but look how cute it is look how fun it is look how messy it is and complex it is and wow you reach out and you touch another human being it's very soft and moist and interesting isn't it and you can get lost in that clockwork this biochemical robot that you're interacting with especially if you're having sex with them it's like wow you can really get lost and caught up in that biochemical machine but these compatible lists will say that's just part of the machinery I get this feeling that love and I get this urge to reproduce and I get this impulse to go and pull my child off the railroad tracks when the train's coming it's all very dramatic and it's all very exciting and juicy but it's just a great big machine yes we enter into these feelings we have our desires we have our preferences and as long as I'm not being constrained then I am free well there's you know missing pieces in that account like these things we don't know about what we are and how and what explains experiences as we review them you know there's some mystery there and whether that can only be accounted for through supernatural explanations I don't know did you happen to listen to my interview of Graham RP yep he really emphasized this compatibilist view and he emphasized that what you're talking about the history these things that we can't analyze in the lab we cannot reduce a person to biochemical stuff because there's something always going to be missing and my counter-argument was it's just because if you're correct and that everything is determined then it's only a question of technology we don't have the right technology to access these sophisticated levels of human experience but he wanted to sort of hide I think behind the complexity and say oh there's something mysterious in there but it's completely natural but it's mysterious but it's natural but it's mysterious but it's all determined but it's free but you know it's frustrating that I can't get a straight answer life is very very rich and very complex and at the heart of life life itself is a mystery from my perspective so on the one hand I shouldn't be frustrated because it's perfectly natural for an atheist to acknowledge the mystery but the cognitive dissonance I see is if you're acknowledging the mystery then why are you denying the mystery do you know I mean like the the why are you denying the supernatural I don't I just don't understand well I think what is natural and what supernatural seems to be quite a hard thing for people to demarcate and I've heard you know a few definitions it's just seems problematic so I'm interested in how you define that and supernatural the key component with the natural is that it's spatial-temporal composed of parts contingent defective so this supernatural is not complex it's simple the supernatural is not material it's immaterial and pure reason forces us to come to that conclusion because when we look at the natural world the natural world points to the supernatural world the image that I like to use in the image that one of my favorite Saints and philosopher st. Anselm of Canterbury used is the hierarchy of superlatives for example good better best the other thing to look at is being itself like ontological e we can look at being itself there is in organic matter there is plant life there is animal life and there is human life and we can see how one is more real or more more alive than the previous category as we move up and if we align ourselves with this progression we look along that line what do we see we see being itself we see Supreme Being and we see something that is not contingent that is not finite and limited and passing away like the pre-socratic philosopher has talked a lot about these sort of metaphysical concepts what is the ultimate reality is it water as it wind is it fire is it this is that and there was a famous philosopher at that time who said that you never step into the same river twice because it's changing everything is in flux right so this is a this is an essential philosophical component of justifying belief in the supernatural is that everything here is in flux everything's passing away I don't know if you've heard the paradox of the shipbuilder who wanted to repair his ship and so he borrowed planks and he replaced them and no no no no this is what's happening with our bodies right and so we cannot be just a physical configuration of matter and energy so I hope that gives you some hint as to why I'm very very very very convinced that the supernatural is a distinct realm and that it's a higher realm so like things like maths would you say oh cool a supernatural or the mind by which we do math the mind in which we apprehend math that is supernatural the the actual numbers themselves are relations which are abstract right so in your definition of the natural you said contingent so in terms of contingent what do you mean by contingent dependent there are many many many many many factors that sustain us here even if we take god of the equation which is impossible but if for the sake of argument if we consider the universe to be 100% natural we depend on the Sun for the energy and the light and the warmth and all these sorts of things and the the plants use all of that energy to produce oxygen for us and on and on and on and on and on and as one of my guests said recently there is no one particular thing that we could remove that would instantly snuff out our life for example if we were to remove all the oxygen out of the room that I'm sitting in it would take a couple of minutes for me to die right it's the same thing with food it's like I haven't eaten for you know an hour but I'm still here and I haven't had a drink of water for three minutes but I'm still here so do I need water do I need food do I need shelter do I need the Sun I mean this network of contingency this network of dependence that we have on everything is very complex things that depended on each other in the natural round so I would say that a naturalist would say that the universe in itself isn't dependent on anything else so as a whole it would be considered non dependent but everything within would be dependent on the other parts the universe and everything in the universe is sustained by the love of God there is no possibility of anything maintaining its own existence it's absolutely impossible categorically the natural depends on the supernatural in that moment to moment sustaining way I mean there is absolutely no doubt about that can I convince you of that probably but yeah I understand that to position I guess the necklace will probably say it doesn't need sustaining it's just self-sustaining well not even self-sustaining it doesn't need sustaining it it just is it is what it is so you mentioned in your last meter thing about your argument from entropy and how eventually things will have to go back to a first cause otherwise the past would have gone on for an infinite amount of time so the way I understand it is if the Big Bang is the beginning of the universe it's same time again in the Big Bang when you mentioned that time and space one in the same thing without space there's no time so there has to be a first cause if things haven't gone back infinitely in the past and so if we trace things back to the first point in time it seems to me that the initial state of things at time zero might not need a cause as there's no prior to the first point in time and this is this is the interesting question that you bring up maybe there's a first cause but maybe that first causes that singularity that is natural it just happens to be at the beginning it's the beginning of time it's the beginning of space and it just is okay and the way that we can easily and quickly understand that that is not possible is by examining that first cause that natural first cause and asking ourselves is it part of the fabric of space-time yes or no and you're gonna say yes so it's part of the fabric of space-time space and time are not separable it is the fabric of space-time it's the totality it's the totality of the fabric of space-time it is space and time are interwoven and we cannot separate them and so this this singularity is all of space-time it is by definition spatial it is by definition temporal some people look at that and say oh it's really really small and time is really really hard to grasp in the beginning and all these sorts of things but who cares I mean it I don't care how small it is it's infinitely big it's everything the relative size of the singularity is irrelevant to the question is it spatial and is it temporal yes it is because it is space-time it is space-time it's all of space-time so if you want to say that it has no beginning then what you're saying is that there's a temporal material object which we call the universe that singularity there's a temporal material object which has no beginning but when you combine that notion of temporal with no beginning what do you have you have infinite time for the sake of argument let's do a thought experiment and let's picture an hourglass where there's sands falling down from the top chamber to the bottom chamber this is a way of counting time yeah you've seen these our glasses right mm-hmm the entire universe and the entire history of the universe from its beginning until its end is nothing but a bunch of sand going from the top chamber to the bottom chamber okay that's what the universe is so never mind that we have planets and biological life never mind delay the universe is just this hourglass and I'm saying it cannot be uncaused because there's still grains of sand falling and that bottom chamber is not full yet therefore if we reverse if we go backwards in time we're going to see those grains of sand flying up into the top chamber until the bottom chamber is empty and then what you can't just conveniently dismiss the temporal aspect then it just doesn't make sense to say then what because there was no thin so it seems like you're admitting that the first cause is not natural because it's not spatial it's not temporal is that correct well it might have a spatial or temporal point that might not have much magnitude at all I don't know yeah if you explore this idea of the natural first cause I'm pretty confident that even though it's my boggling I'm pretty sure that you can come to a firm conviction that the first cause cannot be natural because if it's natural it is necessarily temporal and if it's necessary temporal and it has no beginning than it necessarily is infinite in time and I know that you want to come back to that this is the edge of time it's the beginning of time and all that sort of thing but in doing so what you are actually admitting is that it came into being from nothing well yeah in a way it came from nothing because nothing caused it another way I'm never saying that it was ever nothing to begin with in this thought experiment where the first cause is natural do you admit that it's necessarily temporal or not it's the first point in time so I guess that would be considered within time yeah okay you know the difference between a line and a ray yeah yep so it could be a ray that potentially alive okay okay yeah so we didn't really make any progress there but it's fun to chat about it another thing I like to talk about is reason itself reasoning try to make a case for me if you would please that reasoning has any value whatsoever apart from the freedom to choose between different paths in an argument how can we have reason absent freewill I might get you to expand on that a bit so what do you see is the difficulty between reason existing without free well well when you weigh the options in your mind and you go hmm maybe this maybe that well that seems to be a process that involves free choice and exploration okay so I think I've got the idea so say we are determined and we've got this phenomenon where we make choices we're not sure which way to go that we choose something in the end so in that case there's a calculation in our brain that and it comes up with it just just because the options are so close together that it takes more processing that's what you're thinking about you don't know which one and in the end there will just be something in your nature or some other causal thing which will make you choose one over the other that's how I would pass it under determinism there's a book by John hi called the righteous mind and he mentioned say our subconscious in a conscious or one sort of automatic thinking process where we make choices and the other rational process to justify our choices so maybe there's some sort of hardwired heuristic sort of rule of thumbs for making decisions in there and then the analytic mind to sort of come up with the reasoning after the fact would you want to live in a world where you only have the illusion of freedom or would you prefer to live in a world where you truly are free even though I can't understand what freedom is which world would you prefer to live in a deterministic one or one with freedom well say it is a deterministic world like I think it is I enjoy it here and I don't understand what it would mean to be free and save the little bit Aryan since then you know I'm happy with the way it is so if it is deterministic now that's fine I'm happy with it and I wouldn't really understand what it would mean to be free do you have a favorite religion and if so why why is it your favorite possibly Mormonism the Mormons you may tend to be very pleasant people and have got a strong sort of community it's a very good fit for you Norman ISM because they believe the first cause is natural there's no spiritual yeah well next time they were around and we can chat about it so at the end of my interviews I always ask my guests to give a little closing thought so what's a nice little parting message he could leave for my guests I think it's good that you listen to David rocks on Catholic verses because he's got a strong will of you but he puts it out for criticism and I think it's a good learning experience for everyone so yeah all you gotta do is all you got to do is all you got to do is