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How Can Anyone Say They “Know” That Catholicism Is True?

May 31, 2021


The question is, as they say, “one for the ages”: How can someone know that Catholicism is true and not Buddhism, instead, or some other system of belief? This is a question I asked myself as I journeyed metaphysically from atheism to Catholicism, and it is a question to which I would now like to provide a straightforward answer.

Here is the first thing to understand: Catholicism makes claims open to both philosophical and historical investigation. For example, the claim that God exists and entered human history and did some pretty important things. Also, that God founded the Catholic Church and continues to guide her on essential matters of faith and morals.

To prove these claims are correct, I’ll present a cumulative case argument, trotting out in summary fashion different philosophical views, scientific evidence, and historical data points which all converge upon the conclusion—or hypothesis, if we want to call it that—that “Catholicism is true.”

Think of this. If I walk outside and notice water around my bicycle, perhaps I form the hypothesis: it rained. But as I look around and see there is water nowhere else except around my bicycle, I begin to encounter data that strains my hypothesis. So, I entertain an alternative hypothesis: my wife washed my bicycle. I then predict that if the latter hypothesis is true, I may see further confirmatory signs and, as it happens, I encounter a bucket of suds next to the garage. And then a love note. Thus, the predictive and explanatory power of the previous hypothesis exceeds the former, and so I come to accept it—reasonably and responsibly—even if I have not logically disproven the rain hypothesis.

I suggest a similar move can be made regarding Catholicism. Because Catholicism makes the best sense of how we experience and what we know about the world philosophically, phenomenologically, scientifically, and historically, it becomes an exceedingly reasonable and responsible religion to accept. Plus, it is really good news, and if it is so reasonable to accept such good news, we should be happy to do so.

So here, in no particular order, are those various data points (historical evidence, philosophical arguments, scientific discoveries, etc.—with links for deeper explanations) that I contend best fit (are best predicted and/or explained by) the hypothesis “Catholicism is true”:

Regarding the last point, it helps to flip the question and ask, “If I hypothesize that God does not exist, that miracles are impossible, and that humans are an otherwise unplanned and haphazard ensemble of chemical impulses, particle decay, and so on, would I expect any of the experiences or data points above?

Importantly, even if I thought the experiences or data points above were possible within a broadly atheistic worldview, do I (or you) believe they are nearly as probable as they are in the context of a theistic/Catholic worldview? The answer to me seems firmly negative: I do not believe everything listed above to more probably occur on any other hypothesis aside from “Catholicism is true.”

For example, if atheism were true, I would not expect a moral standard, nor moral communities capable of reflecting upon it and reasoning therefrom (which means I wouldn’t expect evil given atheism, either). Further, I would not expect miracle accounts capable of withstanding scientific scrutiny, nor anything like near-death experiences, mystical experiences, religious experiences, and so on. Surely, I would not expect the emergence of anything close to historical Christianity. What’s more, I would not expect rational agents to transcend their gooey, evolutionary prefigurements, especially given the hard problem of consciousness faced in philosophy of mind.

Nor would I expect evolution itself, since I fail to see any plausible atheistic explanation for teleology and physical fine-tuning, themselves necessary pre-conditions for evolution to take hold. Most assuredly, even if I thought any of the mentioned points were possible on atheism (or the illusion of them, depending how one looks at it), they seem so obviously and enormously less probable that they count strongly against atheism, generally, and toward Catholicism, specifically. All this, I contend, is something one can see—directly, by light of reason—when not blinded by emotion or ideological fog.

Point of clarification: I would like to hedge off one possible confusion before going further. Obviously, if most any one of those points above could be argued for beyond any doubt of its validity—especially something like a Eucharistic miracle—that alone would refute atheism (because atheism has no room for even one miracle occurring) and establish Catholicism, but that is not the argument I am making. Rather, I am asking one to think about a broad “degree of expectation.” This lessens the argumentative load for any point, since I am only asking the reader to consider what worldview hypothesis “best accommodates/predicts/explains” the above collection of data, experience, argumentation, etc.

But there are other worldview hypotheses that are evidenced against by this cumulative case as well, including pantheism (that God just is the universe) or polytheism. And while other monotheistic belief systems and Protestantism can account for some of the data, they fail in other respects (especially concerning the Catholic-specific miracles and historical evidence—e.g., Eucharistic miracles, Marian apparitions, the endurance of the Catholic Church).

Naturally, there will be push back, and perhaps of the following sort: Isn’t evolution more probable on atheism, and, if so, why isn’t that considered? And what about miracle claims of other religions?

To the first objection, I contend that whatever seems more probable on atheism is often only superficially the case but finds ultimately a deeper and more satisfying explanation on theism. It is only upon an insufficiently critical reflection—often when paired with a fundamentalist reading of certain biblical passages—that evolution would appear more probable on atheism than theism. For one thing, what is so improbable about God bringing life about gradually? The answer is hard to discern, unless one is committed to a literalistic creationism, itself a faulty interpretation for reasons independent of the physical sciences. But really, we have just not gone deep enough: for evolution requires teleology and physical fine-tuning, and physical fine-tuning is (as many have argued) far more probable on theism than atheism; for if an intentional intellect is behind the ordering of the universe, we might expect to see precision and hallmarks of design in our fundamental, physical set up and, well, that is precisely what we encounter.

As for other (and possibly competing) miracle claims, these must be taken case by case. But to avoid dragging out this article longer than necessary, I’ll leave that investigation up to the reader and encourage them to take it up. Look into the historical case for the Resurrection of Jesus, the Eucharistic miracles, and the Marian apparition at Fatima. Then see how they compare in terms of historical veracity and/or scientific scrutiny to those miracle claims of other religions. You may be surprised.

To summarize, the case for religious particularism (namely, that one religious may, in fact, be true) is that philosophical reason alongside scientific and historical evidence builds the cumulative and positively powerful case for Catholicism. This does not mean there is no room for doubt, and people can always (and often do) dial up their skepticism when it comes to entertaining positions they may have independent (and perhaps emotional) reasons to reject. But for people who, like my former self, landed rock bottom in their naturalistic atheism, rejected the broad philosophical suite of godless philosophies outright, and then vowed to find answers wherever they may lead, Catholicism is that big, obvious, “look at me!” The church they drive by every day on their way to work, on the street named after some Catholic saint they’ve never paid attention to—that so many people in our modern age assume to be little more than spooky, superstitious nonsense—is the only place (so I contend) that contains all the deep, soul-searching answers they’ve been looking for.