Friday, March 11, 2005

Selective intelligence

Eric Svendsen recently posted this response to my suggestion that he was incapable of thinking clearly, citing the particular example of his seeming inability to avoid the heresies of Arius and Nestorius:

As for the return insult by Prejean that I don't think with clarity; just because he happens to disagree with me on the issue of the title of "mother of God," and just because he (in so doing) happens to be guilty of the heresy of Apollinarimonophysitism, does not mean that it is I who thinks and writes without clarity. This is the same Jonathan Prejean who a month or so ago commented on Dave Armstrong's blog that I write with "analytical precision." Go figure. Maybe he was just offended because the abbreviation for postmodernist is "pomo," and that sounds too much like another word.

For one thing, it's not a matter of simply happening to disagree on the subject. Svendsen is flat-out wrong, and it's not even debatable. He's completely out of his league here. He has zero qualifications in the field of patristics or church history (his Ph.D. is in New Testament), and his opinion conflicts with the overwhelming scholarly opinion on those subjects without the least bit of justification for doing so. Normally, when one talks about a subject in which one is entirely unqualified, one maintains a certain humility that allows one to be corrected, at least if one is behaving reasonably. Now when someone has been plainly corrected beyond doubt on such a subject (such as would be completely obvious to anyone who consults any scholarly authority on Apollinarism, monophysitism, or indeed any survey of Byzantine Christology) and that same person persists in the plain and obvious error without even a hint of acknowledgment, it is obvious that the person is ranting irrationally, having abdicated the field of reason altogether.

This brings me exactly to the question that I raised, which is that if the excuse for David's alleged "lack of clarity" is his postmodernism, then what excuse does Svendsen have for his departure from logic and reason? As I have said before, there is ample evidence that Svendsen's logical and rational capacity functions normally in other applications (the aforementioned "analytical precision"), so why do we see such blatant irrationalism in this instance? The only factor that I can see in common is irrational antipathy toward anything remotely Catholic, which is so overpowering that it compromises judgment, logic, and reason. This isn't to say that his reason is entirely compromised to the point of lunacy, of course, but it does mean that his judgment, opinion, and interpretation cannot be trusted with regard to any patristic sources, Catholic dogmas, metaphysics, and the like. In addition to the current example, his routine butchery of the Catholic theology of merit and his complete obliviousness to the relationship between his "4.5 point Calvinism" and Catholic/Orthodox soteriology testify clearly to the reality of the situation. That being said, I don't begrudge him his exegetical abilities, but without a coherent metaphysical account of revelation in which to place his exegetical arguments, his arguments will have little or no significance to those who don't share his peculiar philosophical predisposition.

Some people view this brand of irrationalism as amusing. Some are angered by it. Apart from shock that people can continue to nurture such prejudices even today, my central emotion is pity. The notion that one would be so motivated by this mindless, thoughtless drive to attack and attack, heedless of any sense of prudence or shame, is certainly a sad one. One is reminded of an addict who simply cannot help himself, no matter how obvious the problem becomes. As I would in the case of the addict, I exhort all readers to pray for Dr. Svendsen to be released from the grasp of this compulsion. It is something that only the Great Physician can heal.

[N.B., I have just noticed that Dr. Svendsen referred to me as an "anti-evangelical antagonist." Depending on how broadly one reads the term "anti-evangelical," I suppose that I might be in the sense that I (and everyone who is not in the category "evangelical" as it is conventionally used to refer to a certain class of Protestants) must be anti-evangelical in some way, shape, or form, else we would all be evangelicals. However, I suspect that this is part of the entirely disingenuous assertion that Catholics label their opponents "anti-Catholic" as a defensive rhetorical tactic without providing any justification for doing so. I have, in fact, presented explanations both in this post and in previous posts for what I mean by anti-Catholicism, specifically documenting exactly where Dr. Svendsen's antipathy toward Catholicism has undeniably compromised the rational integrity of his arguments. Furthermore, far from being a spurious attempt to avoid discussion of the issue by labeling an opponent, my observation of anti-Catholicism is tied directly to manifest flaws in the argument that Dr. Svendsen is making. Now that I have explained that references to anti-Catholicism actually result from substantive engagement of issues rather than avoidance, I hope that Dr. Svendsen will substantively engage the objections that I have raised to his position, particularly that his denial of the full humanity and divinity of Christ amounts to a denial of our salvation.]

UPDATE -- Exactly as I predicted, Svendsen turned from a substantive attack to a personal one by attacking my personal qualifications. Of course, he completely missed the point that the reason I was attacking his qualifications is because he was running afoul of people who actually do have those qualifications. If I were the one running afoul of Meyendorff, Pelikan, McGrath, Kelly, Sherrard, Schatz, Jurgens, Quasten, Newman, Thunberg, and just about every other patristics or church history scholar of significant repute, then it might be relevant to raise my qualifications. But since I am relying on their arguments, it is *their* qualifications that are relevant, not mine. I'd love to see Svendsen attempt to justify his position using any reputable work, as that would clearly expose how absurd his position is.

To respond to Dr. Svendsen's query of 3/14/05, I refer to my post here, which clearly points out Svendsen's Christological errors (fundamentally based on the complete inability to make a distinction between person and nature, an error that was shared by Arius and Nestorius). As far as my alleged attacks ad hominem, one of them I consider entirely legitimate, namely, calling into question the qualifications of someone who repeatedly asserts a position contrary to the bulk of scholarship without providing any good reason for doing so. If Svendsen can show to me such a deviation from respectable scholarship that would put my own qualifications in issue, he is welcome to respond in kind. Otherwise, he is simply distracting attention from the real issue. The remainder of the negative characterizations were solely directed at the quality of the arguments themselves (which were, in fact, irrational). There is nothing the least bit personal in attacking someone's arguments. And as far as my prediction that Svendsen would retaliate with personal attacks, obviously, one need not hope for something if one does not think that there is a reasonable chance of the contrary occurring. If it was not sufficiently plain from reading between the lines that I did not think much of the likelihood that I would get a substantive response, then let me make it plain that I did not then and do not now expect to receive any substantive engagement of my argument.

UPDATE #2 -- In his last response, Svendsen maintainted that I hadn't presented a substantive argument with which to interact. I have laid out my argument in greater detail in my response.


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