Over the past few weeks, I had an interesting discussion on Facebook with Michael, a militant Catholic, about the Catholic Church’s claim that it is infallible. Like many arguments with believers, this has rapidly morphed from a single simple problem into a full-blown Gish Gallop. I should know better, but I bit. This series of posts is a compilation of my answers to his claims.
When the discussion started, and after trying unsuccessfully to drive home the point that consistency wasn’t sufficient to prove infallibility, I asked Michael to provide an example of a statement that qualified as infallible and that was also falsifiable: after all, it wouldn’t be very impressive to be infallible and only offer inconsequential and unverifiable claims. I offered an example of what it could look like (knowing, I must confess, that the Church had been claiming exactly that):
For example, if the Church were to claim ex-cathedra that Adam and Eve really existed and were once the only two human beings in existence. That's a factual and falsifiable claim.
I got the standard answer that I was expecting:
[…] the church has taught that Adam and Eve were real people. And science has verified Eve: look up 'mitochondrial eve'.
Mitochondrial Eve is a concept that is only describing a most recent common matrilineal ancestor, not a first ancestor or a unique member of a species. It's a useful concept in evolutionary biology, but not especially relevant in this case, especially as her male analog, Y-chromosomal Adam, was not living at the same time as her (missing her by a few dozen or hundred thousand years). We also know that there has never been less than about 1,200 members in the population we descend from. That's pretty much eliminating all possibility of anything remotely comparable to what's in Genesis, and of the Church’s claim being true.
Michael answered this with a long bullet point answer that you can read here: http://dl.dropboxusercontent.com/…/Infallible_Church
In the next few posts, I’ll respond to that, and to the inevitable response to the response.