Wednesday, October 10, 2007

The argument that wasn't

Shane Wilkins at Scholasticus answered a comment I had made at Michael Liccione's blog. "Answered" might be a bit strong a term, as he has (at least to my way of thinking) been talking past Catholic views from the beginning, including my own.

I'll start with the beginning and the end, where Shane says:

In response, let me just note two things: first, I've never made the argument that catholicism as such implies a vice (although clearly I think one is capable of submitting to papal authority in a vicious way). What I'm trying to do is to show that protestantism does not imply a vice, contrary to some catholic detractors. It would also be a secondary goal of mine to show that protestantism and catholicism are on the same plane, epistemologically speaking.
...
I don't think I've ever claimed that all submission to authority ex officio is naive.

This is connected to the foregoing point. I did not try to prove that submission to authority ex officio is inherently naive just because that isn't what I believe. (My object is not to prove catholicism false.) Rather, I took it as sufficient to note that submission to authority ex officio is not always virtuous. (Which I take to be an utterly non-controversial point.) If this is the case, then once again, the onus lies on the catholics to show why submission to the Pope's authority (which is ex officio) is always virtuous. If I were trying to prove catholicism false, then yes I would have to prove that in all cases submission to the Pope's authority is vicious. As it turns out, that isn't the conclusion for which I'm arguing, and therefore I don't have to make that claim.

I would settle for ANY case in which submission to the Pope's authority is vicious, because you haven't done that either. Rather, what you described yourself as doing was showing the non-controversial point that submission to authority ex officio is not always virtuous, which does not prove that submission to any particular human authority is not always virtuous and far less that submission to the Pope ex officio in the relevant manner required by Catholic dogma is not always virtuous. Since the disputed claim is precisely whether submission to the papacy is always virtuous, it begs the question to say that it isn't. To date, you haven't even given us an argument to think that it isn't, nor have you made any effort to answer the Catholic reasons for thinking that it is.


I'm not sure why the onus is on me to prove the church isn't divine. One would think that a casual glance over the history of the church would make it seem extraordinarily difficult for you to prove that it is. In fact, there is no way in which you could prove it to a neutral third party. Belief in the divinity of the church comes by faith not by intellectual demonstration.

I didn't say that the onus was on you to do that, unless you are actually attempting to answer the Catholic view (I admit to being unclear as to what a "neutral third party" has to do with it). But if you are attempting to answer the Catholic view, then it would appear fairly clear that your argument that submission to the Pope in particular can be vicious turns on a disputed premise. As to what that disputed premise is, I can move to the middle of Shane's reply.

But if you have to take the authority of the church on faith, then in what sense is catholicism superior to protestantism, or for that matter the JWs or Mormons? In fact it isn't. We're all in the same fix--we have insufficient evidence to establish the conclusion which we accept on faith.

If we were all in the same fix, then none of us should believe any of them. That's a bit brutal, but so is the natural prohibition on idolatry: you can't worship what you do not know for certain is God. The entire point of Catholic faith is that the divine action of the Church is the cause of all our knowledge of divine things. And the rejoinder to everyone else is "what divine action is the cause of your certain knowledge of divine things?" If the chain terminates on someone's subjectivity, I don't buy it. The JWs and the Mormons didn't receive their apostolate from someone laying hands on them who received it from someone laying hands on them, etc.; they claim to have been inspired directly by the Holy Spirit. You appear to have the same notion of faith as some sort of internal disposition that you think the Holy Spirit gave you. Not good, particularly if you admit that the little bug in your ear is talking you into believing things that you know you don't have sufficient evidence to believe.

Your comment makes it seem that you agree with me 'epistemologically' but disagree 'ontologically'. However, the distinction is incoherent. What access do you have to ontological realities apart from through your knowledge of them? If you say, 'by faith' then you are right back on the same plane as the JW's and everybody else.

One could summarize the Catholic view relatively easily: the Church is the cause of my knowledge of revealed things as revealed. And this notion that we're all in a epistemological crisis because a bunch of people are making claims is, at least as far as I can tell, complete nonsense. The answer is obvious: you believe none of them, until you have actual knowledge that one of them is true. That's not an epistemological crisis, because from the practical sstandpoint, you have no need to make a decision. Sure, we believe all sorts of things on insufficient evidence, because we have to do it. But no one forces you to be religious. There's no practical reason compelling a judgment on insufficient evidence about knowledge of God, because practically speaking, knowledge of God isn't necessary. Consequently, it's imprudent (and dare I say vicious?) to render judgment on a claim prematurely. The Catholic Church caused me to know, so I judged. What caused you to know certainly, so that you were compelled to judge?

8 Comments:

At 6:55 PM, Blogger Shane said...

You are in the grip of a theory.

"I would settle for ANY case in which submission to the Pope's authority is vicious, because you haven't done that either."

Pope tells you to burn a heretic. In other words, the pope orders you as a magistrate in a civil society to arrest an individual for having heterodox theological opinions, tie them to a stake in the middle of town and burn the flesh off their bodies for the glory of God. So, yes, Popes have ordered evil actions, submission to which would be evil.

More than that, Pope Leo X, in his encyclical letter Exsurge Domine asserts that anyone who denies that heretics should be burn is automatically excommunication (sort of like a modern american catholic politician is automatically excommunicated if he supports abortion). (cf. condemned proposition 33).

"I didn't say that the onus was on you to do that, unless you are actually attempting to answer the Catholic view (I admit to being unclear as to what a "neutral third party" has to do with it)."

The notion of 'proof' implies a public demonstration that something is the fact, which does not require any special faith or magical insight. I can prove to you, or anybody (any neutral third party) that the sum of the interior angles of a plane triangle is 180 degrees. The person who possesses a demonstration is said to have knowledge.

You have no demonstration of the truth of catholicism, hence you have no 'knowledge' that it is the case.

In other words, it doesn't believe how unquestioningly, fervently, rabidly you believe your catholicism--you still can't prove it and hence you are in just the same epistemological pit as the rest of us, with the crucial difference that you are in the pit and don't even know it.

 
At 6:57 PM, Blogger Shane said...

last par. should read,

"it doesn't matter how . . ."

 
At 7:20 PM, Blogger CrimsonCatholic said...

You are in the grip of a theory.

Odd that you would say that. I've been accused by other Protestants of being a radical empiricist, and that's probably closer to the mark.

Pope tells you to burn a heretic. In other words, the pope orders you as a magistrate in a civil society to arrest an individual for having heterodox theological opinions, tie them to a stake in the middle of town and burn the flesh off their bodies for the glory of God. So, yes, Popes have ordered evil actions, submission to which would be evil.

Why is that any more evil than executing people for any other threat to society? I don't see anything particularly horrid in being asked to execute criminals, although I would strongly question whether the moral requirements for capital punishment would be met in modern society.

The notion of 'proof' implies a public demonstration that something is the fact, which does not require any special faith or magical insight. I can prove to you, or anybody (any neutral third party) that the sum of the interior angles of a plane triangle is 180 degrees. The person who possesses a demonstration is said to have knowledge.

The person who witnesses something is said to have knowledge as well. That's kind of the point. We're dealing with matters in which the only knowledge one can have is immediately caused, analogous to actually seeing something. If a blind man asks you to prove there is color, you can't. If someone asks me to prove that the Catholic Church is divine, I can't. He either has the supernatural faculty to see it, or he doesn't. All I'm asking is for some articulation of what exactly it was that caused you to believe that you knew things to be divinely revealed.

 
At 7:44 PM, Blogger Shane said...

p.s., empiricism is a theory.

 
At 8:01 AM, Blogger CrimsonCatholic said...

Bowldlerized version of Shane's comment follows, because I don't want to force my audience to read it:
"Why is that any more evil than executing people for any other threat to society? I don't see anything particularly horrid in being asked to execute criminals, although I would strongly question whether the moral requirements for capital punishment would be met in modern society."

Are you kidding me? 'Crimson' Catholic, defensor fidei stained with the blood of the heretics. I love it. I've never met a catholic so relentless on message as to the goodness of the pope as to claim that ("once upon a time. . .") burning heretics was a good idea. Oh those were the halcyon days!


"He either has the supernatural faculty to see it, or he doesn't."

It's almost as if you are saying, "He either has the internal witness of the Holy Spirit, or he doesn't." or "the homunculus inside his head is either pulling the levers to make him think he has a soul or it isn't."

Once you hit the point of having to introduce a supernatural faculty--well congratulations pal, you're part of the club. You might personally (i.e. subjectively) 100% confident of the truth of your theology, Cardinal Torquemada, that you are willing to murder for it. But your subjective confidence proves nothing whatsoever about the objective case of the matter. Think about that on your way to the next auto-da-fé.

No wait, don't think about it at all. Thinking just weakens your nerve, makes you second guess yourself. Makes it hard to stay on message. And you must, at all costs, stay on message.

 
At 8:11 AM, Blogger CrimsonCatholic said...

It's almost as if you are saying, "He either has the internal witness of the Holy Spirit, or he doesn't." or "the homunculus inside his head is either pulling the levers to make him think he has a soul or it isn't."

If you can't tell the difference between a faculty and an internal witness, then I'm sure what I could say.

Once you hit the point of having to introduce a supernatural faculty--well congratulations pal, you're part of the club.

You've said so. An argument would be nice.

You might personally (i.e. subjectively) 100% confident of the truth of your theology, Cardinal Torquemada, that you are willing to murder for it.

If there is a threat to public order, then yes. That strikes me as a much more modest testimony than being able to give up one's own life, which I would hope to be able to do if it were required of me. Subjective confidence is not the issue; it's objective confidence. I judge that reality is what I know it to be. For some reason, you think we don't know what we experience, which is an odd position to say the least.

 
At 9:37 AM, Blogger Shane said...

"If you can't tell the difference between a faculty and an internal witness, then I'm sure what I could say."

There's no point in my trying to explain to you why the two things come out to the same.

"If there is a threat to public order, then yes."

Of course protestantism is a threat to public order. Those damn anabaptist pacifists just sit in their villages praying and singing all the time. We HAVE to capture them and flay the skin off their bodies or civilization as we know it is doomed.

 
At 10:38 AM, Blogger CrimsonCatholic said...

There's no point in my trying to explain to you why the two things come out to the same.

You should try. It might point out to you why they aren't, even though you seem to be assuming that they are.

Of course protestantism is a threat to public order.

I didn't say that. I said that IF it were, THEN it could be justifiable to use execution as a punishment. It doesn't serve your cause as a philosopher to get overheated and miss the argument. That seems to be what happened on this issue from the beginning. The argument offended you, so you weren't careful in responding to it.

 

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