by Massimo Pigliucci
First, it is utterly important to know, to the extent that we can, the fundamental truth about human life: where it came from, what (if anything) it is meant for, how it should be lived. Second, this truth can in principle be supported and defended by human reason. Third, the Catholic philosophical and theological tradition is a fruitful context for pursuing fundamental truth, but only if it is combined with the best available secular thought.Let’s unpack all of this a bit. (1) The fundamental truth(s) about human life: I have written about this very recently, but it seems to me that by far the most defensible answers here are that (a) life came from a process of physical and then biological evolution that had nothing whatsoever to do with supernatural forces; (b) life is not meant for anything, it just is (although we do construct meanings for our own existence); and (c) it should be lived in a way that is both moral and allows individuals to flourish in whatever way suits them best. These three conclusions are in diametric opposition to every teaching of the Catholic Church that I’m aware of (and I was raised Catholic too, though I managed to avoid a Jesuit education in favor of public schooling in Rome).
Traditional apologetics has started with metaphysical arguments for God’s existence, then argued from the action of God in the world to the truth of the Church’s teachings as revealed by God and finally justified the ethics of love by appealing to these teachings. I reverse this order, putting first the ethics of love as a teaching that directly captivates our moral sensibility, then taking the history and metaphysics as helpful elucidations of the ethics.Nice move, but a profoundly misguided one. Let’s agree that the “ethics of love” that is taught by Catholicism is indeed ethical and loving . Even so, one could (indeed, rationally should) accept the ethical teachings, say, of Jesus, but reject both the truth of other Church teachings as revealed by God (because there is no such thing as gods, reason tells us), and of course accept that all the metaphysical arguments for the existence of said God are no better than the exactly parallel arguments one could advance in favor of the existence of Santa Claus (which is why no truly self-respecting philosopher should indulge in apologetics).