Recently, I had the privilege of sitting down with Lex Fridman for a wide-ranging two-hour conversation. Lex is a professor of robotics and artificial intelligence at MIT and an extremely popular podcaster. In this latter capacity, he has spoken to significant players in a number of fields—Joe Rogan, Mark Zuckerberg, Elon Musk, and Sam Harris, to name just a few.
Though his main interests are in the arenas of science and technology, he is quite open to discussing matters of a more philosophical and even religious nature. Fridman has a very engaging style—not argumentative and confrontational, but rather curious, inquisitive. In the course of our two hours together, we talked about God, Jesus, life after death, morality, modernity, Nietzsche, Jordan Peterson, the Bible, faith, and the meaning of life.
Judging from the thousands of comments, the general reaction from his largely tech-oriented audience was quite positive. Many observed that they were pleased to hear a serious conversation about matters that went beyond what the sciences can describe. However, I don’t want to focus on the encouraging reactions, but rather on the critical ones—and there were plenty of them too—for they tell us a good deal about what young secularists are thinking in regard to religion.
Without a doubt, the most common negative reaction was that I was speaking “gobbledygook,” or tossing an unimpressive “word salad,” or “using lots of words to say nothing at all.” Much of this critique was focused on my opening exchange with the interviewer. Lex asked me very simply, “Who is God?” I responded, not sentimentally or piously, but rather in the technical language of philosophy. I said that God is ipsum esse subsistens (the sheer act of being itself), in contradistinction to anything other than God, in which essence and existence are distinguished. I went on to clarify the meaning of these terms in the manner of Thomas Aquinas, attempting to be as precise and technically correct as possible. To be sure, there are many ways to talk about God, but I chose, with Lex’s audience in mind, to use a more intellectual approach.
What most struck me in regard to my critics is that none of them actually engaged the argument I was making or endeavored to formulate a counter-position; they simply pronounced that what I was saying was gibberish. Anyone even vaguely acquainted with the Western philosophical tradition would know that I was, in point of fact, operating out of a system of thought developed by some of the most brilliant thinkers in the tradition: Plato, Aristotle, Augustine, Boethius, Plotinus, Bonaventure, and yes, Thomas Aquinas. It was, to be sure, not scientific speech, but it was perfectly rational, philosophically disciplined speech. That so many in the comment boxes simply did not know what I was talking about was a sobering reminder of how narrow and cramped our educational system has become. In my responses to some of these critics, I said, “Would you accuse a theoretical physicist, who was using the technical language of his discipline, of ‘word salad,’ if you did not immediately understand him? Wouldn’t you perhaps summon the humility to admit that you had a lot to learn?” I am reminded of something Cardinal Francis George used to say—namely, that before we can even broach the question of the relation between science and religion, we have to reintroduce people to philosophy, the rational discipline that effectively mediates between them. Sadly, many in the Lex Fridman audience didn’t know what to do with the sort of philosophical language in which much of our doctrine of God is expressed.
The second most common criticism was that my very Catholicism effectively disqualified me. “How can you listen to a representative of the most corrupt institution in history?” complained one commentator. “Religion—especially the Catholic religion—is responsible for the deaths of millions,” said another. Here is my favorite: “Of all the differing variations of Christianity, Catholicism is by far the most cynical, repugnant, crass variant. It’s done more harm to the human species than any other religion, it’s kept us back from progressing.” Um . . . just off the top of my head: how anyone, after the murderous secularist and atheist regimes of the twentieth century, which piled up tens of millions of corpses, can, with a straight face, argue that Roman Catholicism is the source of the greatest corruption in history simply beggars belief….
The above comes from an August 17 posting on Angelus News.
Word on Fire and Barron are brands that have lost their cache.
Bishop Barron’s Word on Fire institute has aided me greatly in remaining in the Church as a faithful Catholic. Thank you Bishop Barron! May God Bless You in your new diocese!
I believe in God and I think he is speaking gibberish too. But it is probably Latin.
God is the Creator of everything.
God holds everything in existence.
God is Life. God is Love.
The second question is legitimate. How can work for this organization? It’s is not an organization. It is a Communion. It is where God is. Unfortunately, sinners are there, too.
I blew it! I should not say “unfortunately, sinners are there, too.” because is why the Church exists. Unfortunately, some of the sinners did really bad things.
How’s he doing in Minnesota?
Bishop Barron, if you read this: People are not vaguely acquainted with philosophy or philosophers. I took Phil 101 and I did not understand it and nobody did so the teacher dumbed it down so that it didn’t hurt our average. I have only heard of Augustine, Bonaventure and Thomas Aquinas because I am Catholic. All people really know about philosophy is “I think therefore I am” whatever that means. I think people know Plato and Aristotle because they were gay or something. They were ancient Greeks, right? Or if there is a quote on Facebook.
Most of us have not had the education that you have had. And if we did we would probably get a D, if the teacher was being nice.
I have been Catholic for decades and I have no idea what you were talking about.
Hence the need for the New Evangelization
It’s been decades since I took a Philosophy class. I understood little of epistemology and ontology. However, I do understand Bishop Barron when he speaks of “ipsum esse subsistens (the sheer act of being itself)” and other concepts expressed in Greek or Latin because he does take the time to dummy down such concepts and develop them more fully in his WOF and Sunday Sermon podcasts for us dunderheads. Now when I pray the Lord’s Prayer I think of “daily bread” as “supersubstantial bread” (panem substansialis?), Sunday Sermon 285 at 6:50. Check them out.
So if you are a follower of Barron, it makes sense.
I am a follower of Christ. It is not in the Bible or the Catechism. In fact the Catechism of the Catholic Church does not answer the question, Who is God? nor does the Catechism of Pius V. The Catechism of Pius X does a little better.
The Baltimore Catechism 1 Lesson 1 says Who is God? God is the Creator of Heaven and Earth and of all things. Baltimore Catechism 1 Lesson 2 says What is God? God is a spirit infinitely perfect.
Jesus is God, Bishop Barron. That’s the issue. “Whoever sees Me sees the Father.” “I Am Who Am.” “I am the resurrection and the life.”
That and your seeming inability to speak plainly and simply. Who do you say Jesus Is? Why does that seem so hard for you to say.
Then after bearing witness to your Lord, with fit explanation for your highbrow audience, then perhaps you can get to the First Cause and your views on the philosophy of the greatest thinkers in history.
But how can you respond with technical philosophy, and nothing else?
“What most struck me in regard to my critics is that none of them actually engaged the argument I was making or endeavored to formulate a counter-position; they simply pronounced that what I was saying was gibberish. ” There is an intellectual laziness pervading education and media. The first canon of intellectual discourse is that one must understand before one can begin to criticize. See Mortimer J. Adler’s How to Read a Book. It is easier to label intellectual argumentation as gibberish than to do the hard work of learning. Even otherwise very intelligent people often prefer to dodge careful thinking in favor of sloganing, playing to the crowd etc. . It is not B. Barron’s fault that he is speaking to highly educated idiots.
Imagine that. Bishop Barron has an expectation that folks might be willing to do the work to refute his arguments, not to simply sit back and be passively entertained. “The function of education is to teach one to think intensively and to think critically. Intelligence plus character – that is the goal of true education.”. Martin Luther King, Jr.
He did not read the room.
Mike Wilson, I never attended any Catholic school. The function of education was not think intensively or to think critically. It was to pass tests. And get your degree and maybe go to college or get a job.
Back then you did not need to finish high school to get into the military, but now you do.
Test passer is right. I used to teach and then I quit when it became all about metrics and measuring, which meant performance on assessments/tests. All kids are taught to do is fill in blanks. They are not taught to think.
Next time, bring a Baltimore Catechism.
“God is the Supreme Being, infinitely perfect, who made all things and keeps them in existence.” Memorized that in first grade, in 1959.
Offer to go through all of chapter one.
That is not what the Baltimore Catechism says but I found that sentence online in a Revised Edition of the Baltimore Catechism copyright 1941
If you do not know who God is, this is what you need to know:
There is an all-powerful being who loves you. They will help you in everything good. If you do not know what good is, use the principle: Do unto others as you would have them do to you.
Some people feel like “If there is a God, he hates me.” God hates no one. If things are not working out for you, it may be because God is using this time to bring you to knowledge of Himself. It could also be that what you want is not part of God’s plan for your life.
Yes, he created you with a plan. The reason Oprah Winfrey is so successful is that she tries to determine what He who created Her wants her to do.
Some people think that “I have done so many bad things or one really bad thing and God is punishing me”. He forgives anyone who is sorry. He will guide you.
Don’t be scared of him.
1 Corinthians 3:1-3
Brothers, I could not talk to you as spiritual people, but as fleshly people, as infants in Christ.
I fed you milk, not solid food, because you were unable to take it. Indeed, you are still not able, even now,
for you are still of the flesh.
I see that Bishop Barron has two books on Thomas Aquinas. He is always selling books or videos.
Word on Fire is a charitable organization with revenue of close to $10 million.
What you have given freely, you are supposed to give as a gift.
I never watched his Catechism series. It was really expensive.
Oh if the Catholic Church had figured out how lucrative teaching the Faith is.
was that Word on Fire
or…… Word for Sale?
Somebody needs to throw this back at critics. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=36GT2zI8lVA
There’s not much point in asking a question that you’re unable to understand the answer to. And a degree in Engineering has not prepared you to understand the answer.