Introduction to Plausible Reasoning

I find it very disconcerting (notice I did not say “concerning”) that so many people lack a sense of the complexity of reality and the difficulty of achieving knowledge. Our conclusions are tentative; they depend on the overall plausibility of our data, our perceptions are precarious and limited by the limits of our data set, and new information can and often does change the overall plausibility of our conclusions. We have to be very careful of our first impressions. The Innocence Project is a tremendous blessing. People need to look into the reasoning errors that result in false convictions that cause so much suffering. But that takes work. Unfortunately most people prefer narratives. That’s why I wrote this book. It tries to make difficult thought easy, but “easy” is relative.

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A Thought for Anyone Disturbed by Conspiracy Theories and Messages of Doom

Deacon Doug McManaman

Consider the following verse from Isaiah: “For as the heavens are exalted above the earth, so are my ways exalted above your ways, and my thoughts above your thoughts” (55, 9).

Think of what this means “spatially”. The higher up we go (i.e., on a mountain, or an airplane, etc.), the more ground we behold. We see the larger picture so to speak. While on the ground, however, our purview is very limited. But God’s thoughts are above man’s thoughts, as the heavens are exalted above the earth, and His ways are equally above our ways. So when we consider this biblical point in light of the possible plots, schemes and conspiracies that the wicked are alleged to be engaged in, we should know that God’s ways are inconceivably higher and his thoughts inconceivably above theirs. According to the Psalms, He always uses them, their ways, to defeat them, and their efforts only contribute to the bringing about of the divine plan, in the end helping those they intended to harm. 

So why concern ourselves with all this, unless of course that is our specific vocation (i.e., National Security, etc.)? I think there is a good possibility that excessive preoccupation with the alleged schemes of the wicked might be a distraction, which is one of the ordinary ways the devil uses to divert our attention away from the fulfillment of the will of God in our own lives (see The Devil You Don’t Know). No matter how much we might claim to “know” about the schemes, plots and possible conspiracies of men, three things we do know with certainty are that 1) we do not know whether our information is complete, sufficient, or maximally plausible, and so the narrative could be off (given the laws of probability, there is a greater probability that it is significantly off), and 2) we know that even if we know with certainty that certain global schemes are unfolding, there’s not much you or I can do about it (except vote responsibly, of course), and 3) God knows about it and is in control of it, because God is omnipotent (not to mention all knowing). So it’s best to just pray more, listen to his direction and follow, because wherever He sends us, it is all part of his divine plan which is victorious in the end anyways. 

The Greatest Evil

The Greatest Evil (to be published at
Douglas McManaman

What is the greatest evil of our time? One finds a number of answers online, but what they all have in common is a relationship to human life, i.e., either the reduction of human beings to things to be exploited, or even killed for profit. Some point to China’s organ transplant industry, others point to the Holocaust, while others the reckless destruction of the environment, anthropogenic climate change, or global hunger. The obvious implication is that human life is intrinsically good, and of course it is. The evils typically enumerated are genuine evils, but these answers have to be wrong. 

I am not quite 60 years old, but news of my own murder would not have the disturbing effect on the psyches of those who do not know me from Adam as would the news of the murder of a 9 or 10 year old girl, such as the young Christine Jessop. At least I could have put up a fight, and I do have a voice that I’ve employed in the service of moral truth for a number of decades, and so I could use it to protest my own demise. A nine-year-old girl, on the contrary, could hardly be expected to put up a fight with any reasonable prospect of success, and such a girl would not have had the time to develop her voice or the potential power of the pen, as would an adult. Moreover, I have more sin on my soul; she is innocent, and so people are right to be more horrified at the news of a little girl’s murder. But that is precisely why abortion is the greatest evil of our time, and easily the greatest evil of the 20th century, far worse than the 19th century slavery of black people, and far worse than the Jewish Holocaust and the Armenian genocide of the 20th century. The unborn child, developing in the womb, has absolutely no voice with which to rebuke her executioner, is utterly powerless to defend herself, scratch the offender, run for her life or hide. Everything will be taken away from her; but no killer can take away those 9 years that our little girl has already lived and are now in the past or take away the influence she has had on others up to this point in her life. And no killer can undo the 59 years that I have lived and in which time I have affected the lives of many. But a child aborted in the womb is deprived of all of that. She has been unable to influence anyone on the outside. A reasonable estimate of the amount of time I have left, given that I am not murdered or hit by a car, is at least 20 years, possibly another 10 on top of that. But unlike me, an unborn child has her entire life before her; she who is completely innocent is simply deprived of all that has been given to her in its entirety. If slavery, genocide, environmental destruction, poverty, hunger, and involuntary organ transplantation are evils, then abortion is clearly and unambiguously the greatest evil of this and the last century. That most people can’t see this is arguably the next greatest evil—a blind spot spawned by an inability to make moral distinctions and arrive at moral conclusions on the basis of clear-headed reason instead of sentiment, group think, or a disordered love of one’s livelihood. 

I recently read a column by a Catholic author who claims to have been relentless in his criticism of “Priests for Life”, which in his mind reduces the Church’s public witness to fighting abortion, thereby distorting the fullness of the Church’s teaching. But it has never been my impression that “Priests for Life” distort the fullness of the Church’s teaching or reduce the Church’s public witness to fighting abortion. Ever since I returned to the Church as a teenager, I have been repeatedly scandalized by the fact that the issue of abortion has been so neglected by the clergy. Members of “Priests for Life”, however, were an entirely different breed; for they were precisely those from whom we could expect to receive a much more complete presentation of the fundamentals of Church teaching. They were noticeably different in that they were not averse to the risk of offending some in the congregation. Their fuller exposition included sexual ethics, issues of marriage and family, the Church’s social teaching on the evils of socialism and unregulated capitalism, the lives of the various saints, teachings of the Church Fathers, etc., and their parishes were far more active in terms of poverty relief in its various forms.  

Such priests are the truly “woke”, not at all concerned about revenues, gourmet meals and their holidays, unlike so many clergy who seem to be under a spell, half asleep like the King of Rohan in The Lord of the Rings, asleep to the war going on under their very noses, to the real evils around us, such as the corruption of the young and the subtle and creeping influence of postmodernism—if they were not asleep, their preaching would be far more relevant. The very fact that there exists such an organization as “Priests for Life” testifies to this ridiculous anomaly; after all, shouldn’t all priests be “Priests for Life”. Indeed, but they are not. No one turns on a light in a room lit up by the noonday sun, beaming through an open window; but it makes good sense to turn on a light in the evening darkness.

We continue to hear very little about this issue from those who should be crying out about this injustice from the rooftops. It’s the simplest of moral issues, and without question it is the greatest evil among us. If we lack the courage to defend the weakest and most helpless, the voiceless, the tiniest instances of humanity, all because we value more our own peace of mind, then we are a disgrace to our office and, unlike Theoden, who was eventually awakened to battle but slain in the Battle of the Pelennor, we will go to our fathers in whose mighty company we will feel tremendous shame. 

Marked with the Seal of the Living God

Homily for the Solemnity of All Saints

Deacon D. McManaman

In the first reading from Revelation, we read: “I, John, saw another angel come up from the East, holding the seal of the living God. He cried out in a loud voice to the four angels who were given power to damage the land and the sea, “Do not damage the land or the sea or the trees until we put the seal on the foreheads of the servants of our God.””

In the ancient world, a seal represented the person whose seal it was and his authority. In the gospel of John, we read that the Father has set his seal on Christ. He has been consecrated as Son of God (Jn 10, 36). As such, he has authority over everything in the cosmos; for the divine seal represents his power over all creatures and over history. In him we are marked with the seal of the living God; all those so marked belong to Him and share in the divine nature. That seal is the mark of the servants of God, and it is our safeguard during the time of the ultimate testing; it is our protection, as the first reading makes clear. And that is why we need not be afraid. As the Psalm says: “You shall not fear the terror of the night nor the arrow that flies by day, nor the pestilence that roams in darkness, nor the plague that ravages at noon. Though a thousand fall at your side, ten thousand at your right hand, you it will never approach; his faithfulness is buckler and shield” (Ps 91, 7). Christ came to deliver us from the fear of death, as we read in the Letter to the Hebrews: “… that through death he might destroy the one who has the power of death, that is, the devil, and free those who through fear of death had been subject to slavery all their life” (Heb 2, 15).

From the first reading, we also learn that salvation comes not from our own efforts, but from God and from the Lamb. We cannot save ourselves. The Lamb of God is savior. He is not merely a role model for us, someone we choose to emulate—there are countless role models for us to emulate. In fact, that’s what the saints are. Christ, on the contrary, makes saints. He is the cause, the fount of all holiness. He brings salvation in the here and now; he makes us a new creation. We are not born in a state of grace; we are born spiritually dead, which is why we need to be washed clean in the waters of baptism, which is an entering into the tomb of Christ, into the Passover (Pasch) of the Lamb. 

Furthermore, the first reading points out that this multitude in white robes are the ones who have lived through the time of the great tribulation, not a time of great peace. They have washed their robes and made them white in the Blood of the Lamb. The world is at war, and Christ is at the center of that war, that is, the reason for it. He is the perpetual sign of contradiction. That’s what Simeon said to Mary when he beheld the child Jesus: “This child is destined to be the downfall and the rise of many in Israel, a sign that will be opposed (Lk 2, 34). And so, Christians are not dreamers. We don’t dream of a day when the world will be at peace as a result of our own efforts. On the contrary, we hope for the Second Coming of Christ, the Parousia, when Christ will bring about a new heaven and a new earth: “Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth. The former heaven and the former earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. I also saw the holy city, a new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. …He will wipe every tear from their eyes, and there shall be no more death or mourning, wailing or pain, for the old order has passed away” (Rev 21, 1-2).

Christ makes all things new, not us. Peace on earth outside of Christ’s Second Coming is impossible. If we could bring about peace on earth through our own efforts, then Christ lied when he said: “If the world hates you, know that it has hated me before it hated you. If you were of the world, the world would love its own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you.” (Jn 15, 18).

The world will always hate those marked with the seal of the living God. The reason is that those who belong to Christ are radically different; the fundamental orientation of their lives is different, their thinking is different because their hearts are different, and the Beatitudes in today’s gospel are the basic contours of the heart of one who is a new creation in Christ, marked with his seal. They are poor in spirit, which means they know their utter need for God; those not marked with the seal of the living God are oblivious to that radical need. Those marked with the seal of the living God mourn, for they are not at home in this world, which is characterized by sin and opposition to Christ, and it is this sin and opposition to him that is a constant source of sorrow for them. It does not mean they cannot rejoice—they rejoice in the hope of Christ’s victory, not in the delights and false promises of this world; they are meek, slow to anger like Christ, the Lamb of God, unlike those who are of this world, quick to dismiss and seek the ruin all those who are not part of the world’s ever changing and current “group think”; they hunger and thirst for what is right, with the hunger and thirst of a first century Palestinian under desert heat, unlike those who are less concerned for what is truly right and good than they are for revenues; they are merciful, because they know mercy has been shown to them in the forgiveness of their own sins, unlike the world, which is relentless in the pursuit of the destruction of those who are not of the same mind; they are pure of heart, undivided in their love for God, unlike the world that has made itself its own god; they are peacemakers, because they love all who belong to God, unlike the world, that aborts or euthanizes inconvenient life and that is at perpetual war, a lucrative racket; and finally they are persecuted on account of Christ; they are not tolerated by the world, and any Christian who is loved by the world is probably a Christian in name and appearance only. For all its talk of tolerance, the one thing the world will not tolerate is anyone who stands for Christ and proclaims him as savior of mankind and Lord over all.

There is a price to pay for befriending the world, and that price is a loss of power in the proclamation of Christ, and a serious weakening of our ability to move others to conversion. Christians who try to befriend the world inevitably reduce Christ to suit the world’s taste, to something the world can live with, a Christ that is not the Lord of this world, but one subservient to it. The Church is not a means to world peace, but the means of salvation, the sacrament of Christ’s kingdom. What drives us is not optimism, but the theological virtue of hope in him. Christ is Lord of history, and our task is to allow ourselves to be transformed in him and to be used by him according to his plan in the bringing about of his kingdom, the day and the hour of which only the Father knows (Mt 24, 36).