Catholics/Mystery

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Question
QUESTION: Since nature comes up with surprises that far exceed those that the human mind can generate and there is no refuge from fascinating mysteries of nature isn't it possible that humans have mistaken God for the mysteries of nature?

ANSWER: This seems to me to be a variation of the "god-of the gaps" thinking Christian's are often accused of.

Here is a myth:

The people living in ancient times were stupid, uneducated and unenlightened.  They didn't go about scientific inquiry like we enlightened folk do today.  Because they had no real understanding of the world around them they attributed things they could not understand to God.  For example--why does it thunder? Because God is mad.  Why does it lightening? Because God is mad. Why does it snow? Because the angels are washing the dandruff off their skin. On and on it goes.

Of course we now know that thunder is the result of a lightening strike--heating the air as hot as the surface of the sun causing a rapid expansion of the air--the sound of which is thunder.  We know that lightening is a giant electric spark caused by charges on the clouds and ground, and so forth.  We know that snow is a form of frozen precipitation, etc. We know that these natural occurrences are not caused by God.

There are other things in nature that we currently do not understand--but given our track record we expect to understand them.  This includes things like the big bang, quantum mechanics, etc.  

As an aside: every explanation I have read that tries to explain the big bang in terms of a naturalistic account---things such as string theory, the big bang arising from a quantum fluctuation, gravity causing the big bang, etc, all just push the question back. They do not really get to the heart of the issue" why is there something rather than nothing and how does something come from nothing?

Regardless--even if the universe is found to be eternal, for many good philosophical reasons that would do nothing to refute the existence of a god or gods.

The question that needs to be answered isn't "How" but "Why."  Herein lies the thinking of the ancients: when they explained thunder and lightening in terms of God being angry--they weren't attempting a scientific explanation of the phenomenon of thunder and lightening, they were attempting a religious explanation.  In other words they were asking a question of "why" not "how."  

Ask a scientists "why" someone dies and they are likely to respond with an answer that includes "Well, the heart stopped because the electric rhythm failed, and the brain no longer produced the electric impulse, etc."  Notice the scientists did not answer the question.  Did you pick up on the sleight of hand? The scientists did not explain why someone died, they explained how they died.  

Ask a religious person why someone dies and they might say something like "Well, death, suffering and sin entered into the human realm due to the sin of our first parents.  While God has saved us from eternal death he still allows us to experience physical death as a consequence of original sin." Notice the question attempts an answer to the question asked "why."  

The question of "why" is a question of meaning, not a question of mechanism. (How)

The answer to your question is this: scientific discoveries might answer the great mysteries of nature but it does not follow that we have mistaken God for the mysteries of nature for the reasons I explained above.  Most of the mistaken views of nature--weren't attempting scientific explanations of how nature works but were trying to answer the deeper question as to why things are they way they are. No matter how much "S"cience advances it will never be able to answer the question "why."

---------- FOLLOW-UP ----------

QUESTION: Have you read Galen on Jews and Christians? Not all ancient people were unenlightened. Archimedes. The invention of writing and mathematics. Stone tools were created. The wheel was discovered. Humanity learned how to create fire. The ancient Romans made cement. Vellum was created and books. Books were collected and copied by hand. There were great Ancient centers of learning. Perhaps there is no why. Why did a large object from outer space collide with the Earth and eliminate dinosaurs and make it possible for small mammals to grow larger and eventually produce apes? Why have bacteria always dominated the earth? There is no why.
Evolution does not care what it produces or whether there is a complexity. Evolution only produces variety. Do not always expect to find a why. It may not exist. The mysteries of nature have no need of a why. We die because our bodies deteriorate as we grow older. Our teeth spread, our bones be come more brittle, our eyesight begins to fail. There is no why we grow older.

Answer
First: you made my point for me.  The ancients were pretty intelligent people--but they are presented as stupid by many today.

I don't accept the presuppositions surrounding your statement:namely that nature is purposeless, meaningless, etc.

Truth be told, deep down neither do you.  I don't care who the person is or what their IQ.  When people are faced with a great tragedy in their lives, no matter what they have written, published or taught, they all ask the question "why." In asking that question they are not asking a scientific question, but a question of meaning and purpose.  Deep within that question is the hope that somehow there really is a purpose to things and that we will eventually get the answers we want.

Thing is--if it is silly to ask "Why" then why do people ask "why?"  If it is so meaningless to ask "why" and if as you suggest there is no answer to be had, why have the most brilliant people through the ages struggled with this question and continue to do so?

When scientists look to find cures for cancer, etc--implicit in that search is the notion that people should not have to suffer like they do.  However--why shouldn't people get cancer and suffer? Nature tells us, evolution has programmed us (for no reason) to die at some point--if not from cancer from something else.

If I accept the presuppositions surrounding your statement the question needs to be raised as to why people ask why when it is a meaningless question as you say. Why do people waste so much energy on a question there is no answer to according to you?  In fact--given the principles behind evolution--doesn't it seem a waste of energy to engage in such fruitless endeavors? Yet people do---in every generation.  People have not stopped asking "why" and searching for answers.  

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Father Dave Bechtel

Expertise

I am a Catholic priest in good standing and in active ministry in the Diocese of Scranton PA. I can answer most any question about the Catholic Faith, however my area of specialization is Systematic Theology. Systematic Theology is a branch of theology that focuses on the fundamental tenants of the Faith and the Dogmas of the Faith. I have specialization on the Reformation and Catholic vs. Protestant theology/issues and answering Protestant challenges to the Faith.

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I was ordained in June of 2008. Since that time the thrust of my ministry has been specialized. In my first assignment I was an assistant pastor. A year later I was sent to work in education. I spent six (6) years in education and have now assumed my first pastorate. While education was the thrust of my ministry, nevertheless I continued to have a hand in parish ministry, hospital chaplaincy and prison chaplaincy. Now that I am out of education I will obviously be focusing more on parish work than specialized ministry. I have two years of formal Clinical Pastoral Education and prior to ordination I successfully pursued Board Certification for health care ministry through the NACC. My certification needs to be renewed and I plan to seek dual certification in health care ministry (NACC and APC) when I renew my certification. I have a breadth of experience working with Protestant ministers and collaborating with them to achieve the goals of hospital pastoral care and chaplaincy. These ministers run the spectrum from the liberal to the conservative.

Education/Credentials
Bachelors of Science-- University of Scranton PA Masters of Arts Theology--- Saint Mary's Seminary and University Baltimore MD Masters of Divinity--- Saint Charles Borremeo Seminary Philadelphia PA Board Certified Chaplain (up for renewal)

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