Monday, July 23, 2018


While I'm on the subject of Catholicism, I thought I'd post my opening statement in a debate I had over transubstantiation. I opted to use only philosophical arguments in this debate. The resolution for this debate was The Catholic doctrine of transubstantiation is false. Here's my opening.

According to the doctrine of transubstantiation, when the bread and wine of the eucharist are consecrated, they cease to be bread and wine and literally become the body and blood of Jesus (Catechism of the Catholic Church, section 1376).

To keep things short, I'll refer just to "the bread" instead of "the bread and wine," but whatever I say about the bread should apply just as well to the wine.

There's only one of two ways that transubstantiation could happen. Either the material from which the bread is made (i.e., the molecules, atoms, and subatomic particles) remain there but rearrange themselves so that they cease to be bread and become human flesh, or all of the material from which the bread is made is completely replaced by the material of Jesus' flesh, kind of how wood is petrified by replacing molecule after molecule of wood with molecules after molecule of mineral until there is no longer any wood, but just mineral where the tree used to be.

Either scenario creates problems with identity. By "problem with identity," I mean the problem of what makes the flesh in the Eucharist actually be Jesus' own flesh rather than a replication of Jesus' flesh or somebody else's flesh.

Rearrangement of parts

Let's say transubstantiation works by the bread turning into human flesh by the parts rearranging themselves. Obviously, the bread was not Jesus' flesh before the transubstantiation. So there's nothing that could be done to the bread to make it Jesus' flesh. If none of the parts are members of Jesus' flesh before the transformation, then none of the parts could be members of Jesus' flesh after the transformation. No rearrangement of the parts could cause it to be Jesus' flesh.

If a scientist was able to grow skin in a lab that happened to resemble your flesh down to the DNA structure, but he didn't use any of your actual body parts to grow it from, but rather made it from scratch, then it could not be your flesh. The only way it could be your flesh is if you wore it and it was attached to the rest of the actual body you are animating. If it is completely discontinuous with your body, then it can't be your body. It would be like a person painting a perfect replica of the Mona Lisa. The replica would not be the Mona Lisa itself, but only a perfect duplicate.

Flesh ex nihilo

Now, let's say transubstantiation works by completely replacing all the parts of the bread with human flesh. This creates pretty much the same problem. In this case, the bread basically ceases to exist, and human flesh is created ex-nihilo where the bread used to be. This happens so quickly that nobody who was watching could tell. If that were to happen, then the flesh that came into existence could not be Jesus' flesh. It could, at best, be a perfect replica of Jesus' flesh. Imagine a wizard causes a cat to pop into existence out of thin air, and imagine the cat is an exact duplicate of another cat down to the molecule. It would still not be the same cat because one cat can't be in two different places at the same time. It would just be a duplicate. in the same way, if human flesh pops into existence that's just like the flesh of Jesus himself, then it still can't be Jesus' flesh. At best, it can only be a duplication of Jesus' flesh.

Conservation of mass

The first transubstantiation was supposed by the Catholic Church to have happened at the last supper when Jesus broke the bread, said, "This is my body," and passed it around for the disciples to eat (Luke 22:19). There is no indication in the story that Jesus lost any body parts during this meal, and I've never heard a Catholic claim that's what happened. Jesus' actual body was located at a specific place in space during this meal, so if the bread became human flesh, by either of the means mentioned above, then it could not have been Jesus' flesh. Assuming it became human flesh, that would mean more human flesh came into existence than was there before, and since all of Jesus' flesh was accounted for by being attached to the body he was then animating, the flesh being passed around for consumption could not have been his flesh.

It's even worse today. Mass takes place all over the world on Sunday, and there are probably tons of wafers that are all supposedly transubstantiated. Jesus' physical body is made of a particular amount of stuff--roughly the same amount as any man. So it is impossible that all those millions of wafers around the world could all be Jesus' body. There isn't enough of Jesus' actual body to go around.


But the problem is worse than that because the bread of the eucharist is not human flesh at all because it doesn't have any human properties. Now, Catholics are right to make a distinction between essential properties and accidental properties. An accidental property would be like a round ball of wax being shaped into a cube. Although the wax changes shape, it remains the same piece of wax. So the shape of the wax is an accidental property. An essential property would be what makes it wax. If you changed the chemical composition, then it would no longer be wax.

Catholics claim that during the process of transubstantiation, the flesh retains the accidental properties of bread, but it has the essential properties of Jesus' flesh. But the problem is that it retains all of the properties of bread and it gains none of the properties of human flesh. To be human flesh, it would have to have a human cellular structure with human DNA. But the bread of the eucharist does not. It is impossible for it to be human flesh since it has none of the properties of human flesh.

Imagine if I told you that your computer was actually a Christmas tree, but that it just happened to have all the properties of a computer and none of the properties of a Christmas tree. That would obviously be absurd. Or, imagine I told you that a square could have all the properties of a circle and none of the properties of a square and still be a square. You'd know immediately that I was talking crazy. In the same way, if the eucharist has all the properties of bread and none of the properties of human flesh, then it can't be human flesh.


Therefore, it's impossible for the doctrine of transubstantiation to be true.

Thank you.

Tuesday, July 10, 2018

Catholic vs. protestant interpretation of John 6

I had a debate four years ago with the resolution being, "John 6 is more consistent with a Catholic interpretation". It wasn't that great of a debate, but here's my opening.

The resolution reads that "John 6 [is] more consistent with [the] Catholic interpretation," and since "more" is a comparison word, I'll defend the reformed view against the Catholic view.

John 6 begins with the feeding of the 5000. The next day, the same crowd looked for Jesus who said, "You seek me, not because you saw signs, but because you ate the loaves, and were filled" (6:26), i.e. they just wanted more food. Jesus said, "Do not work for the food which perishes, but for the food which endures to eternal life" (6:27). They asked what works they should do, and Jesus said, "This is the work of God, that you believe in him whom he has sent" (6:29). So believing in Jesus is what leads to eternal life.

The crowd asked for a sign, mentioning the miracle of bread from heaven. Jesus said the Father "gives you the true bread out of heaven," and "the bread of God" that comes from heaven "gives life to the world" (vs. 32-33). The crowd, requests this bread to always be given to them. Jesus responded, "I am the bread of life. He who comes to me shall not hunger, and he who believes in me shall never thirst."

Jesus' use of the words, "hunger" and "thirst" do not refer to physical hunger and thirst, but rather the satisfaction of eternal life. "Come to me" and "believe in me" both mean the same thing. Jesus is telling them that those who believe in him will have eternal life, which is the consistent view throughout the New Testament (e.g. John 3:16). By calling himself the "bread of life," Jesus was telling them that he is the source of eternal life, and it is to Jesus that people must come in order to have it. So "eating the bread of life" means the same thing as "believing in Jesus." There is a strong parallel in John 4:14-15.

In verse 26, Jesus says that even though the crowd had seen him, they did not believe. Then he explains why. He says, "All that the Father gives me shall come to me" (6:37) The reason the crowd did not believe in Jesus is because they were not given to Jesus by the Father. If they had been given to Jesus by the Father, then they would come to Jesus.

Jesus says the reason he came down from heaven is to do the Father's will, which is that of all the Father gave to Jesus, Jesus lose none, but raise them up on the last day. In other words, Jesus' job was to give eternal life to all of those the Father gave him, and not lose any. Then he says, "For this is the will of My Father, that everyone who beholds the Son and believes in him may have eternal life; and I myself will raise him up on the last day" (6:40).

Jesus' meaning in these verses is plain. The Father gives some people to Jesus. Those people will come to Jesus and believe in him. Jesus will raise those people to eternal life. So the whole discourse about Jesus being the bread of life is simply saying that Jesus is the source of eternal life, and eating the bread of life means believing in Jesus.

The crowd objects to Jesus saying he came from heaven. Jesus responded by saying, "Do not grumble among yourselves. No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him, and I will raise him up on the last day" (6:44). Remember earlier that Jesus had explained their unbelief by saying all the Father had given him would come to him believing, and Jesus would raise them up on the last day. So the group of people given to Jesus in verse 37 are the same group of people drawn by the Father in verse 44. So Jesus is again explaining their unbelief. The reason they don't believe in Jesus is because the Father has neither given them to Jesus nor drawn them.

Now look carefully at what Jesus says from verse 47 to 51. He says, "Truly truly, I say to you, he who believes has eternal life. I am the bread of life. . . I am the living bread that came down out of heaven; if anyone eats of this bread, he shall live forever; and the bread also which I shall give for the life of the world is my flesh." Jesus is clearly equating "he who believes has eternal life" with "if anyone eats of this bread, he shall live forever." So eating the bread of life is being used as a metaphor for believing in Jesus.

Again, the crowd objects to Jesus giving his flesh to eat. Jesus did not all of a sudden stop talking about believing in him for eternal life and begin talking about eating his flesh for eternal life. He just continues to use the metaphor. He says, "He who eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day" (6:54). Remember that in verse 40 he had said that "everyone who beholds the Son and believes in him may have eternal life; and I myself will raise him up on the last day." The parallel between these two verses makes it plain that eating Jesus flesh and drinking his blood mean the same thing as beholding Jesus and believing in him. After all, they both result in eternal life, and Jesus will raise them up on the last day.

The crowd persists in grumbling because, no doubt, they mistake Jesus to be speaking literally about eating his flesh and drinking his blood. They have not understood what Jesus said about believing in Jesus for eternal life. They are hung up on Jesus' use of the eating metaphor.

Jesus then says, "It is the spirit who gives life the flesh counts for nothing; the words that I have spoken to you are spirit and are life. But there are some of you who do not believe" (vs. 63-64). If Jesus has meant that literally eating his flesh is what gives eternal life, he would not have turned right around and said, "the flesh counts for nothing." Jesus points to his words as being spirit and life and points out that there are some in the crowd who do not believe his words. So again, it is belief in Jesus that leads to eternal life, not literally eating him.

Next he says, "For this reason [i.e. since they don't believe in him, 6:64] I have said to you, that no one can one to me unless it has been granted him from the Father" (6:65). Again, Jesus is explaining their unbelief. This whole passage is about belief in Jesus for eternal life. The reason some come to Jesus for eternal life and others don't is because it is granted to some people by the Father, but it is not granted to others.

After Jesus had said these things, a lot of people walked away, and Jesus said to the 12, "You do not want to go away also, do you?" Jesus knew they weren't going to go away because he knew they believed in him. And Peter responded just as we would expect. He said, "You have the words of eternal life, and we have believed and have come to know that you are the Holy One of God." Peter was interested in Jesus' words, and expressed belief in Jesus because he had been given and drawn to Jesus by the Father, and the Father granted that he should believe in Jesus.

Problems with the Catholic interpretation:

1. It destroys Jesus' flow of thought. From beginning to end, it is about believing in Jesus for eternal life and explaining why some do and some don't.

2. It makes nonsense of the claim that those who believe in Jesus will have eternal life and makes salvation about eating.

3. If taken literally, Jesus' statements would entail the reverse of what Catholics actually believe. Instead of bread turning into the flesh of Jesus, you'd have Jesus turning into a loaf of bread.

4. Even if taken literally, nothing Jesus said in this discourse could lead anybody to believe it had anything to do with turning bread and wine into the body and blood of Jesus.

Pro makes two arguments for why we should understand John 6 in the Catholic way. First, she points out that Jesus switches from using phago to using trogo. A metaphor doesn't stop being a metaphor just because it becomes more graphic.

Second, she points out that Jesus didn't explain himself more clearly to the 12 after everybody else walked away. But Peter's response reveals that he already understood Jesus to be talking about belief in Jesus for eternal life.