Monday, April 2, 2007

Statistical Evidence for the "Real Presence"

SHEER LOGIC

I came to Catholicism out of sheer logic and the beauty of an argument with no fallacious nooks or crannies. Strong faith is built on the strength of reason. (See John Paul II’s encyclical letter On the Relationship Between Faith and Reason). Where reason falters, faith crumbles. Like the wise and foolish men in Christ’s parable, you cannot build a sand castle of fallacious arguments; only brick and mortar on a solid rock will weather the storms. And so I have enjoyed the on-going discoveries of how Catholicism holds together and am amazed at little discoveries with big meanings.

While preparing a presentation for Catholic Home Schooling Conferences on the Fundamentals of Logic and Fallacies I was going through the requirements of a “good” argument.” In a good argument, which is a logical presentation of evidence in support of a position, the evidence must be Relevant, Acceptable, Sufficient, and offer a Rebuttal to the best counter arguments. Under the Sufficiency Principle the evidence must be sufficient in kind, number, and weight to convince a reasonable person of the argument’s validity. Under the “kind” category you have evidence that can be historical, statistical, logical, from an expert witness, and so forth.

I have also been using Dr. Ray Guarendi’s and Fr. Kevin Fete’s What Catholics Really Believe DVD series as a source for the presentation’s illustrations. The argument that Dr. Ray and Fr. Fete were pursuing was whether or not The Eucharist was the Real Presence of Christ or simply a symbolic presence? Many Protestants and all Evangelicals will claim that their communion elements of bread and wine (or juice) are only symbolic, and indeed those of us on the transubstantiation side of the argument would agree. You need a priest for transubstantiation.

But as I considered the Real Presence, I wondered what kind of Sufficiency evidence could be brought to bear that was statistical in nature and significant enough to be an emotional support for the argument. (Yes, I am a biased researcher.)

STATISTICAL EVIDENCE

Statistics look at probabilities, ratios, and comparisons that numerically evaluate one group against another. So, I began to create an elaborate spreadsheet that estimated the number of Christian worship services from 34 AD to the present (2007 AD), and of those that involved a communion service, what percent were celebrated with elements that became the Real Presence of Christ versus those that were only symbolic of Christ’s presence.

The calculations involved the logarithmic growth of the world population (from 200 million in 1 AD, to 6.6 billion in 2007), the ramping up of the Christian church (from 0 in 1 AD to 2 billion in 2007), average size of churches, the Protestant Reformation, and that more than just the Catholic Church celebrates the Real Presence. I also considered the change within Protestantism as it perceived the Real Presence, and in the last few hundred years the decrease in frequency of Evangelical communion services from weekly to one every three months.

I reasoned that if the Real Presence were an important aspect of worship to God, then even in spite of the Protestant Reformation, and the more recent decrease in the frequency of Evangelical communion services, there would still be a significant number of communion services where the Real Presence would be celebrated. Before I began my estimate, which can only be described as rough, I thought the number of Real Presence services would be in the 70-80% range.

The results startled me. Of all the communion services since the beginning of the Church I estimate that 99.2% celebrated the Real Presence and only eight-tenths of 1% were symbolic in nature. Today, because of the relative infrequency of communion celebrations in Evangelical churches the number Real Presence services has inched up to 99.6%.

For me that is a significant piece of evidence from the Sufficiency-Kind-Statistical category of a well-formed argument that the “Real Presence” is a force of Natural Law that has been well protected by the Providence of God.

(I will make my data, assumptions and error analysis available to any statistician or historical researchers for further study and refinement. What I’ve begun could be the focus of an interesting study that considered the more refined movements of people, churches, and beliefs about The Eucharist throughout Church history.)

2 comments:

  1. This is fascinating! I never thought of looking at it that way, but what a lovely statistical argument to add to all the theological and historical reasons for believing in the "Real Presence".

    -- Mary-Eileen

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  2. I appreciate your passion, and the history of the Christian Church. But your article does not hold together logically. Allow me to explain:

    The title of your argument, "Statistical Evidence for the 'Real Presence': SHEER LOGIC" implies that your intent is to use logic to prove, statistically, that "Real Presence" is a real phenomenon. But all of the evidence you put forth relates only to the ratio of those who celebrate the phenomenon of "Real Presence" to those who celebrate Communion with a symbolic understanding of the elements. It's sort of like saying that, at some point, we must believe that the earth is flat if enough people gather weekly to proclaim it so.

    A logical argument requires proof of your assertion(s). And in this case, I am unable to locate logical proof of the actual conversion of the Communion emblems to the body and blood of Christ, no matter how "mystical" that process may be, or what level of "priesthood" may be required to affect it.

    What your argument does effectively assert, logically, is that a large number of Catholics believe in transubstantiation. And we already knew that.

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