Tuesday, April 23, 2013

The Fr Copleston SJ TKO of Russell,..

Kirk Cameron always pops up on my radar screen along with his Australian buddy attempting to prove God's existence, you remember my banana example?  (Search Kirk Cameron in my search engine on the site.)  Well, I have decided to publish a paper I did regarding the Fr Copleston SJ vs positivist philosopher Bertrand Russell.  Obviously not an Optimusmastro rant and rave but instead a breakdown of how Fr Copleston PWNS Russells!!!!!!!!!! Booooyaaaaa!  (There are footnotes and a Bibliography as this paper was done as an academic commentary.)


          This paper will seek to analyze whether or not Fr Copleston scored a decisive knockout over Bertrand Russell in their famous debate over the existence of God.  The next question we would have to ask ourselves is whether or not, the media would adhere to such a reality.  Our culrure, educated and modern seems to take a more or less aggressive if not downright condescending attitude toward belief in God. Richard Dawkins, the internet atheist challenge as well as modern science has all too often forgotten that when debating an issue concerning God or a First Cause, this exercise requires not so much a physical endeavor, but instead must resort to using a metaphysical approach.   Too often this same culture wrought with nominalism cannot adequately assign a name for the hybrid belief system that is ‘Atheist’ (False) or more precisely ‘Agnosticism.’  In today’s world, this agnostic position dressed up as so-called atheism seems to be ‘en vogue,’ and to paraphrase Pope Benedict XVI, only adds fuel to the dictatorship of relativism.  Our world’s way to rationalizing is in crisis, in part due to there being a crisis in metaphysics.  This reality is essentially what is causing the reality of God, the belief if you will, to be called into question.  The thesis will highlight not just the deficiencies in contemporary thought, but will attempt a ‘tale of the tape,’ References which will be later expanded upon throughout this paper will be Fr Copleston’s usage of Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz’s ‘Contingency’ argument which seemed to completely catch Russell off guard.  To go one further, we can even go further back to Aristotle, and at one point again, which will later be expanded upon, Russell argues that it is useless to speculate about a ‘First Cause.’  Physicist vs Metaphysicist.  To reiterate the thesis, is that did Copleston score a definitive knockout in his debate with Russell, and the answer is yes.  What remains in this paper is to articulate how that got to be so.  The breakdown will follow the Contingency argument, the Religious Experience argument, and finally the Moral argument. 

The Players 2.
          Bertrand Russell, a contemporary philosopher, versed in various schools of thought and famous for authoring, among other books, his Why I am not a Christian.  In is within this book that Russell includes the transcript from the 1948 BBC(British Broadcasting Corporation) debate.  [1]Bertrand Russell, the child of an aristocratic family is credited as the founder of atomic propositons whereby this becomes evident in his debate with Fr Copleston. 

Father Fred Copleston SJ,(Society of Jesus) a Catholic priest, specifically a Jesuit and convert from Anglicanism.  Fr Copleston was a professor of the history of philosophy and lectured at Heythrop College in England.  Besides his radio debates with notable philosophers, Fr Copleston also was a Thomist scholar who attempted to synthesize Thomas Aquinas 5 Arguments by separating and expanding upon them in an easier format so that a ‘lay’ person could understand.  In this debate, although his thinking is very Thomist, his contingency argument comes from the mind of Leibniz and serves to be the determining factor in what many people see as a knockout of Bertrand Russell.
The Debate 3

          The debate itself took place on the BBC radio in 1948, and transcripts can be found anywhere outlying the various topics.  At the outset, Fr Copleston set the tone by defining what they both mean when they refer to God.  In doing so, Fr Copleston SJ, determines the rules as how both men will proceed within the debate context, which in many respects was along the lines of a back and forth exchange and not much a structured ordered affair.  The follow up was to determine what belief system he (Fr Copleston) was going up against, and after having come to a common definition of God, Russell also was asked whether he fell into the Atheist or Agnostic camp.  Russell answered with the latter.  Russell also fell right into the next issue with Copleston asking if Russell agreed that if God doesn’t exist, human beings and human history as we know would have no other purpose that essentially what they gave themselves.  In this light, Fr Copleston, is drawing a clear line between something that is searching for a truth or a cause of things, as opposed to something that is subjectivist and therefore would have no reason to exist.  Thus no God, no values!  For this issue, Russell disagrees and believes that they can be logically distinct from each other.  Following the fight analogy, Fr Copleston seems to be ‘jabbing’ and ‘hooking’ his opponent, thereby setting up his flurry of big punches, his rights, and his uppercut. 
          Father Copleston begins with the ‘Contingency’ argument right away and is into his assault early and fast, and explains to Russell that he wants to divide the argument, three ways, essentially using Leibniz’s argument as the cannon.  (See Leibniz’s argument)  Russell counters that he doesn’t know how to counter the argument but puts forth the idea of necessary being.  That it can only be applied to propositions.  For this we must know define what a proposition is and do the two players agree to the same definition.  By Russell putting forth the idea of [2]necessary being and having already been clarified at the onset of the debate, he must accept the Thomistic understanding, which is essentially where Fr Copleston is headed.  Russell concedes that the Contingency argument cannot be debated at that time, and that it would be in their best interests to move onward.  Round one,  Copleston scores a knockdown on Russell.

          The second issue to be brought up is the question of the ‘Religious Experience.’  Copleston begins by stating that he himself does not regard this particular point as a ‘proof’ for the existence of God, but seems to venture into the idea of Love in the agapic sense.  Although Copleston readily admits that this can’t be used as an argument to prove God, it is important nonetheless to show that this round in my opinion goes to Russell.  Copleston basically said that the basis of Religious Experiences can point to God, but again , he must rely contextually upon the notion of the Contingency argument, which is still leading the charge.  Copleston begins the ‘Round’ with clarifying what he does not mean, and that is ‘not just feeling good.’  What happens next, is that Russell points and tears into Copleston reasoning by interrupting and equating the ‘feel good’ experience with Japanese novelists unable to feel good unless they have driven many people to suicide. In citing a statement as such, Russell plays into more of the psychological approach, and can lead  to viewing God as the simplistic ‘pie in the sky.’  While Copleston claimed to not see the relevance between the two, and brought into the debate citing the experiences of someone such as St Francis of Assisi, that there was never a serious psychological consideration hampering his view that God (personal Love) must exist.  Russell counters with citing many imbalanced people who ‘hear’ Satan speaking to their hearts and goes on to reassert again, that it is not the existence of God that he is questioning but merely the dogmatic definitions that have been formulated. 

          The third issue tackled within this debate was the argument from ‘Morality.’  In this respect, once again it can be safely said that the edge went to Fr Copleston.  Essentially Copleston argues that mankind’s development of a moral code can be used as a proof for the existence of God.  Russell, weakly counters that that is an assertion which cannot be proven.  Russell believes that morality could have developed as part and parcel of the natural evolution of man.  Therefore, his instinct for survival, (and good government?) would eventually create a moral law regardless of the existence of a God or not.  In this light, [3]Russell clearly shows that he is a relativist. 

          Early on, Fr Copleston, did not let up especially after having established the pace within this debate.  One could easily see that it in many respects transcended the very idea of the simplistic God vs Evolution debate that saturates the modern subjectivist camp in every form of media, print or news program. 

The Knockout/Tap out blow ‘Contingency’ Argument. 4.

            Where Fr Copleston scored his knockout, or as is more accurate, where Russell seemed to abdicate by not being prepared for, or by simply dismissing it, is when Fr Copleston brought up the ‘Contingency’ issue, otherwise known as Leibniz’Cosmological argument.  To leave out an explanation of the Contingency argument would presuppose that the reader already knows the theory.  First we must define what exactly is ‘Contingency.’ From the latin, [4]contingere (to happen).  Therefore inside this logic, an event must be contingent if there is a chance that it might not have happened.  This becomes evident when Russell states that it is useless to argue this point despite the claim from Fr Copleston that he accused Russell of not understanding the argument and that it is, in fact rooted in reason.  This argument, to paraphrase protestant theologian, William Lane Craig reconstructs Leibniz argument basically into four categories., instead of the usual five.
a)    Anything that exists has an explanation or cause for it, whether it be the subject in question or something outside of it, causing it.
b)   Should the universe have an explanation, then that explanation would logically have to be God.
c)    The universe does exist so therefore, we reaffirm the first part, (a)
d)   Therefore the explanation of the universe, its ‘causality’ must be God.

          Boxing has evolved in today’s understanding whereby ‘contact’ sports not only rely upon the knockout, but can also rely upon the ‘tap-out,’ whereby the opponent literally claims he’s had enough.  Fr Copleston’s reference to contingency is in many respects this tap out that is insinuated.  What was most interesting, is that the first actual right hook is thrown by Fr Copleston right at the beginning of this debate, whereby he proposes a definition of God thereby eliminating any chance of Russell attempting to create a straw man argument. 

Conclusion 5
          Too often we are presented especially in today’s high tech information age that belief in a Deity, a personal creator of some sort is at best superstitious while at worst dangerous.  The American Political landscape is littered with political candidates who must present a position of whether or not they are ‘believers’ or not.  Television has its share of controversy with satirists such as Bill Maher claiming to not to believe in the God who sits upon the clouds wearing a grandfatherly white beard and gently watching over all mankind.  To the shock and dismay of such people, the Catholic does not profess this idea of God either.  While Richard Dawkins is promoting his books and agendas, the secular press is busy readying the Theist’s defense with an apologetical strategy consisting of well meaning but intellectually inept characters representing a fideistic view of not just Christianity but of God as a whole.  St Thomas Aquinas five proofs are not cited, not going further back is any consideration given to either Plato or Aristotle.  Therefore the classic search for Truth, ‘Arche’ is not respected.   [5]Philosophy(Lover of wisdom) as a metaphysical(beyond the physical) exercise is not given any consideration.  Why metaphysics?  The answer is quite simple, because metaphysics, in its proper sense is not something esoteric, but is very much a proper science and can go where physics can’t.  The same holds true for [6]philosophy, which is in and of itself another proper science.  Epistomology is the science of knowing things and knowledge can come through experience inside the arena of cause and effect.  It is through this technique that Copleston TKO’s Russell in the debate, as he had no clue about what to do with the contingency argument.
            For anyone who was present for this debate or heard it live, it would seem that Bertrand Russell was 

unprepared to face up to a philosopher of the caliber of Father Copleston.  Bertrand Russell would critique 

metaphysics as a whole in his work ‘Mysticism and Logic,’ and in reality his inability to step up to Fr

Copleston due to his lack of metaphysical training was his own undoing.  Any exercise in attempting to prove

the existence of God, can always make a person think of Pope John Paul II’s Fides et Ratio and thus

through history show that there has never been a conflict between Faith and Reason.  After going through this

debate, an argument can be made, that not only from the Contingency issue which made Russell more or

less ‘TKO’(Technical Knock Out) instead of a full blown knockout.  To conclude, any debate between a

theist and an atheist (agnostic) presupposes both relativism, as well as chaos theory.  If the world is not

ordered, then every other thing that hangs on everything else, (ie Contingency again) will naturally be called

into question.  Something the so-called educated new-atheists have forgotten to think about.  Every effect

has a cause, everything except for the uncaused cause must depend upon something else for its own

existence, it is not itself the cause of its own existence and it is precisely in this light that the atheist 'logic' falls

into an epic fail.


1.      Capaldi, Nicholas, Kelly, Eugene&Navia, Luis E, Journeys Through Philosophy, New York, Prometheus Books, 1982

2.      Fazio, Mariano, Labastida, Francesco Fernandes, A History of Contemporary Philosophy, Rome, Italy, Scepter Publishers, 2011

3.      Honderich, Ted, The Oxford Companion to Philosophy, New York, Oxford University Press, 1995

4.      Kreeft, Peter, Summa Philosophica, South Bend, Indiana, St Augustine’s Press, 2012

5.      Maritain, Jacques, The Degrees of Knowledge, Notre Dame Indiana, University of Notre Dame Press, 6th edition, 2002

6.      Stevenson, Jay, The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Philosophy, New York, Alpha Books, 2005

***Other Sources
Transcript of the debate from BBC availiable at  www.philvaz.com

[1] Fazio, Mariano, Lebatista, Francisco Fernandez, A HISTORY OF CONTEMPORARY PHILOSOPHY, Scepter Publishers, p174

[2] Honderich, Ted, THE OXFORD COMPANION TO PHILOSOPHY, Oxford, p608.
[3] Stevenson, Jay, THE COMPLETE IDIOTS GUIDE TO PHILOSOPHY, Alpha publishing, p331
[4] Reese, W.L.  DICTIONARY OF PHILOSOPHY AND RELIGION, Humanities Press, p105.
[5] Reese, W.L.  DICTIONARY OF PHILOSOPHY AND RELIGION, Humanities Press, p431
[6] Kreeft, Peter, SUMMA PHILOSOPHICA, St Augustine’s Press, p43.


Soooooooo,...Now all you guys know that I'm a Thomist!  I've never hid it from anyone!  Comes back to the old adage,..Why do I believe in God?   Because its true!!!!!!!   To my protestant or other non-Catholic/non Christian friends, Ask your self why I'm Catholic???  And your right, this isn't exactly Kirk Cameron and his bananas,..

St Thomas Aquinas,......................................................................ora pro nobis!

Friday, April 12, 2013

God can and does call the Average 'Joe'

Well, my first year as a candidate for priesthood is now coming to an end, and I can honestly say that I've never been happier.  The danger with a vocation, is that God always leaves our free will intact, and though it is Christ who initiates the invitation to 'Follow Him,' it remains ultimately our own proper decision.

Today's blog won't be long, but will only offer a little reflection.  The past few days, the daily Gospel has been from St John.  Specifically notions such as being 'Born Again'(Born from Above) and the need for conversion.  This general idea needs to transcend the mandatory sports slogan at sporting events.  From my own life, conversion is ongoing, one day at a time.  My prayer life begins with a hour of meditation before the Blessed Sacrament, and truthfully, I can't see that changing.  That concerns the 'Internal' the Spiritual dimension, however from the external, I have noticed a calm and stillness instill itself in my heart,..(St Augustine's quote about our hearts being restless comes to mind,..)  What's the point?  Our world needs an encounter with the Risen Christ, only He can heal.

Herein lies the reality, especially after one meets the Risen Christ, is that we remain who we are!!!  Really we do!  So often I get told by friends, or others that I don't fit the priest model,.well did the Apostles?  Does anybody really fit it?  I've mentioned this waaaay too often, but perhaps its needs to be said, I STILL train, I STILL practice Jiu Jitsu, I'm STILL a comic book geek!  I'm STILL a Transformers afficionado, the difference, is that ALL of it comes second to Jesus!  As for the women?  Guess what?  God does not take away your manhood!  Celibacy is not natural, it is SUPERNATURAL!  So while in discernment, one must see if there is an authentic call to celibacy, and through Grace, can it be lived out authentically and freely!  You take precautions, but that doesn't mean you close yourself off.

St Pio de Pietrelcina,..............................ora pro nobis!

Thursday, April 4, 2013

Pope Fiction and Media Nuttiness,...

     So it would seem that the media will soon be lighting up the message boards with a ‘This just in,..’ or better still, a ‘Breaking News!’  The story is that after a month of gushing from the social justice crowd, That Pope Francis in his Wednesday audience promoted the traditional roles of women as mothers and grandmothers.  The feminazis must be beet red with anger, their pantsuits crinkling with sweat from their furor.  (here)  Obviously in trying to separate Francis from Benedict, the media has all but covered every move the Pope has made, from the foot washing of the juvenile muslim girl yet covered up his positions on abortion, same sex unions, Satan, Confession(that’s biggie!) Eucharistic Adoration and Marian devotion.  Now suddenly, while the Traditional Catholics say ‘duh.’. the Traditionalists complain about his inexperience with the Extraordinary Form of Mass!  Pope Francis will soon be angering both the Rad Tradies and the Extreme Left, the media Honeymoon will soon be over.

     First off Happy Easter!  Christ is Risen!  Indeed He is Risen!  I hope everyone had a Blessed and Holy Easter.  Myself, this was truly a special Easter as it was my first as a Seminarian and sitting in the Sanctuary of the Church was a little surreal and a very intimate and spiritual experience.

     I haven’t blogged since the Easter season, busy with prayer, the Triduum and frankly upset and still hurting over the complete lack of respect shown to the Holy Father by so-called ‘Traditionalist Catholics.   I will not comment upon Pope Francis in any negative way.  Sadly, the Traditionalist movement has not reacted with the same obedience.  ‘But Marco, The Pope needs to,..blah blah blah,..’  Sorry.  The Pope is chosen by the Holy Spirit through the College of Cardinals, (not by consulting certain blogs!)  I for one, am not going to tell God what I think!  Instead, when I don’t understand something, (When Pope Benedict wanted to open a discussion with priests regarding Catholics and the issue of divorce in 2005,..) I take it as an opportunity for prayer and growth in personal holiness/sanctification. 

     We need to draw a distinction between a ‘Traditionalist’ as opposed to a ‘Traditional’ Catholic. A ‘Traditionalist’ to paraphrase a seminarian brother of mine, (Thanks Frank S) subscribes to an ideology. Any Catholic faithful to the Magisterium can rightfully be called a Traditional Catholic, although personally I tend to discourage the label and much prefer Catholic.  Catholic means that I accept the Teachings of the Catholic Church in Her fullness.  Truth cannot change, yet dogmas can and do evolve.  (We must remember that Aquinas at his time was nearly treated as a heretic for using Aristotle as his base.  The common school of thought was Plato and St Augustine.) 

To all the modernist heretics;

     The Pope will not ordain women.  This issue was closed in 1994, despite all the calls for the contrary.  The Pope can wash the feet of all the muslim women in the world, this act was done as a pastoral jest, one of service, not of ordination!  The media should have also said that the Pope is open to ordaining muslim girls to the priesthood,… Yup its that ridiculous!

     To all the angry whacko tradies;

The Pope will not repeal ‘Summorum Pontificum.’  Why would he?  The communities which celebrate Mass in the Extraordinary Form are growing in number, and their age is significantly younger than the people who frequent the Ordinary Form of Mass.  Why would he alienate a large part of his flock?  A Pope doesn’t undo what his predessesor does, he builds upon it!  Obviously this Pope’s charism is not Liturgy, (Monsignor Marini’s face being priceless,..as so far he has remained Master of Ceremonies) so I doubt this will be his priority. 

     To conclude, it will take some time for Pope Francis to learn how to be Pope.  Pope Benedict had his style, and Pope Francis will have his, in many ways the beauty of Catholicism!  To the modernist crowd, despite all your wishful thinking, no Truth will ever change, EVAAAAA!  To the RadTrads, if you don’t like something, sanctify yourself by praying and fasting!  Chill out and breathe!... In the end, its all about Jesus, not about our personal preference.

Our Lady of Fatima,.......................ora pro nobis!