Monday, August 29, 2005

A change of format

In the interest of getting to the more thoughful monologic conception that I am trying to achieve on the blog in the near future, I am going to more consciously dedicate myself to bringing the Zubirian view into service, not merely in theology, but also more generally in interactions with published works by Christian authors in other areas (e.g., epistemology, hermeneutics). In keeping with Zubiri's notion of the utility of a coherent Christian metaphysics, I will be investigating the philosophical rigor (or lack thereof) in these works and its impact on Christian doctrine (for good or ill) and attempting to extract what might be particularly harmonious with or useful for a Zubirian worldview. These "Zoobie Reviews" will be maintained in a linked list on the right side, beneath major online Zubiri references and my Zubizantine theology series (both of which are also linked there).

Speaking of the links list, I've also cut that down to remove the "hostile" websites that I don't see as promoting discussion in the relevant fields. The Catholic sites that I have linked there are ones that I consider fair and thorough without being excessively polemical. Energetic Procession is a metaphysical examination primarily from the Orthodox perspective (although including the work of Catholics as well) that anyone interested in Zubiri will surely find useful. The Protestant sites (Communio Sanctorum and Societas Christiana) are of interest for seeing a genuine attempt to understand Protestant theology in historical continuity with the Reformers outside of the relatively pecuilar circumstances in which it originated. Apart from Barthian neo-orthodoxy, I am unaware of other such ambitious attempts in a conservative (non-liberal, non-pomo) context, and I think this will bear watching, particularly if it can get out of the anti-Catholic rut that much of Protestantism seems to engender (I'm thinking of the distasteful oneupsmanship in Doug Wilson's "you think Catholics are just spiritual fornicators; I think they're spiritual adulterers" against James White).

I've also removed the links to past entries. That's simply because most of my previous entries were too situationally dependent and responses, and if I rewrite them, I want to do so in a way that removes that baggage. As entries slip off, I will link them on the right if I consider them of lasting value; otherwise, they can go into Blog Limbo, where they can be linked if anyone happens to remember where they are. I plan to keep articles authored before today intact to avoid obsolescence in outside links and pages, and I hereby grant permission for anyone who has quoted such previous articles in the past to preserve such quotations in their current form on the condition that they are not copied or distributed any further. Apart from those situations, if you are quoting material more extensive than fair use would permit in any past, present, or future blog entry (e.g., full-blown dialogues, fisking), please contact me for permission to do so (which I'll probably grant as long as you tell other people not to copy it). Thanks!

Best regards,

Friday, August 26, 2005

Five wonderful years

Today is my fifth wedding anniversary, and I cannot say enough good things about my wife Michelle or the pure joy that these five years have been. Our daughter has been an incomparable blessing, and the ability to spend more time with them now that the law firm life is over is, well, spectacular. In fact, they are so wonderful that this blog has become an awful distraction.

I had resolved to kick the dialogue habit earlier and to wind down the dialogues in which I was already a participant, and I think I've done that. I didn't want to leave any major questions unanswered, but I think that I've covered everything. So from now on, this blog is all about monologue. I don't have time for the demands of responding to others, proselytizing seems unfruitful, and even apologetics seems increasingly futile based on the kinds of arguments (basically talking past one another) that have emerged recently. Email me if you've got questions, but for the foreseeable future, I'm only linking other people, not commenting on them. Otherwise, it's all my opinion all the time. I plan on keeping up with this theme of Zubirian Catholicism, so if you're curious, keep coming by. I also think it might be helpful to highlight some of the really big disparities in the Protestant/Catholic debate, because it's obvious that we simply aren't even living in the same world as far as philosophy is concerned.

Best regards,

Shared and unshared premises

The discussion that I've been having with Steve Hays and Jason Engwer highlights the relatively huge difficulty in having any kind of meaningful discussion between Catholics and Protestants. Both sides have views of revealed meaning that are completely alien to one another, which means its impossible to debate on any of those premises meaningfully. Astute readers will notice exactly what it is that I've been trying to do, which is appeal to areas in which there are shared premises to reason into areas where there aren't. The problem is that my opponents continue jumping into unshared areas as a rhetorical strategy, which may work for "rah rah" effect, but has zero benefit in terms of meaningful interaction between positions. I can't claim "victory" in such an exchange, except to the extent of being able to show that my opponent has failed to achieve dialectical success.

Hays says:
You’re right, Jonathan. This isn’t rocket science. Get with the program! Read the fine print. The GHM is in, the allegorical method is out.

The problem is that we are looking at exactly the same point, and Hays is seeing the GHM as binding and limiting (which is exactly how a Protestant sees the GHM), while a Catholic sees the GHM as a starting point for further analysis, which is exactly the point of the PBC document. The point isn't that we have to accept the GHM uncritically, but that we need to take it into account as a factor, which is all that any Catholic ever said. The GHM isn't exclusive of other forms of interpretation, except in Hays's mind. Catholics see it as an empirical method, to be judged like other empirical methods based on reliability, and Hays sees it as a "hermenutic" for finding "truth." Those two views simply are not compatible for one another.

One of Prejean's problems is that, in deference to Robinson, he's trying to finesse a via media between Rome and Constantinople. The Eastern church never had a Vatican II, so patristic methods remain the norm.

Again, Jonathan, if you want to run away from the Pope and the Prefect, that’s your choice. But it certainly suffices for purposes of interfaith dialogue that the Evangelical dialogue partner is playing by the same rules as the Pope in the Prefect. If you want to be the odd man out, then be our guest.

It has nothing to do with "deference to Robinson" (I'm sure Perry got a chuckle out of that himself), but with being convinced. As a ressourcement theologian, Pope Benedict is hardly incompatible with my own view of the relative compatibility of Catholicism and Orthodoxy; indeed, he's come out on record in agreement with my explanation on several communion-separating matters (notably original sin and the filioque) based on patristic exegesis. Unless Ratzinger is simply inconsistent with himself on a routine basis (which I have no reason to think is the case), then the GHM and patristic exegesis are fully compatible, and the misreading is yours, not mine. Notice that your Protestant cohorts all think that you are exactly right, and your Catholic opponents are repeatedly saying you are completely wrong; that's a powerful sign of worldview incompatibility.

This is a complete non-sequitur. The method is not what makes the meaning binding or nonbinding. That’s not a question of method, but genre. If you exegete an inspired or authoritative text, then what makes the meaning normative is not the method, but the genre of the text so exegeted—assuming, of course, that the method you employ is, in fact, extracting the sense of the text, and not foisting some surplus sense on the text.

And this is another example of where Hays's own view is simply incommensurable with mine. Genre is a question of method, and the philosophically-loaded determinations behind determining what is "authoritative" and in what sense, and what counts as a "surplus sense," can't be reconciled.

In his desperation, Prejean is now resorting to the same tragedy queen histrionics as Armstrong. Whether he’s consciously or unconsciously inconsistent is not for me to decide, and is wholly irrelevant to any demonstrable evidence of inconsistency.

When the question is what counts as "demonstrable evidence," this becomes a rhetorical gimmick. I obviously deny the inconsistency, and my point is that you are trying to foist your criteria on me and then accuse me of inconsistency. I'm trying to remind you what that entails to get across to you how implausible that is. You're clearly imputing your worldview to me in an area where they are incompatible.

Not, it’s not reasonable, because it fails to distinguish between method and genre. That argument has been given on several occasions now. How hard is this for Prejean to grasp?

I grasp that this is a philosophical assumption of your worldview; what I don't grasp is why I should be held to it when I don't agree with it.

i) Once again, Prejean is confounding the probability of a hermeneutical method with the probability of an apologetical method. This distinction has been repeatedly explained to him. I went into extra detail in my very last post on the subject. Truth and meaning are two different things, with methods adapted to each.

And once again, I understand that you believe this and that it is an assumption of your worldview, but I don't agree with this distinction as being a meaningful one. I'm a metaphysical realist; I believe in a fundamental correspondence between rational concepts and the way things are in reality. My entire theory of interpretation is based on that notion, so it wouldn't make sense to separate "truth" from "meaning" in this way. That's why I consider all interpretive methods fundamentally empirical method; it's an artifact of German phenomenology (specifically, Heidegger's rejection of ontotheology) that they are separable in this way. I'm not Heideggerian; I don't share the premise.

Now, Jason has also said that, hypothetically speaking, someone could be the recipient private revelation, but Catholicism formally denies continuous revelation, so what we’re all stuck with is a public historical revelation, the meaning of which is ascertainable, if at all, by public historical exegesis (the GHM).

But "public historical revelation" can be viewed objectively as well. A revelation can be in principle objectively fixed in terms of being in writing with a degree of certainty without having definitively-known meaning. Again, straight incommensurability of the worldviews on this point.

Related to this, but distinct from this, is the further question of why we should believe the exegetical results so derived. Why should we believe in the revelatory status of Scripture? And Jason appeals to historical evidence for that as well, although he does not limit himself to historical evidence alone when it comes to apologetic verification, in distinction to exegesis. That, at least, is what I take him to mean. And I agree.

This is probably THE most important part of the discrepancy, so it bears careful attention. We don't agree on how to draw theological conclusions from a historical record; I simply don't agree that this is an area that is amenable to the use of "ordinary" historical methods. We completely disagree on the probativity of historical evidence from later in time; I consider it highly probative of apostolic doctrine based on my theological model; Jason considers it no more probative than any other sort of historical evidence distant in time from anything else. So when applying the historical method to determine what is apostolic, we are again incompatible. I don't consider apostolic doctrine to be literally limited to what the Apostles themselves taught. This is precisely what I mean by having different (and incompatible) views when theology is concerned. What you consider "the revelatory status of Scripture" is barely even relevant in my paradigm, because revelatory quality is not established by status, but by status and reception.

For a man who butters his bread reading the fine print, this is very odd. I never said that Chalcedon canonized unscriptural refinements. To the contrary, what I said was that Chalcedon doesn’t canonize all of the specialized refinements of a voluminous writer like Cyril, and that we should avoid the temptation to be more precise than Scripture in our dogmatic formulations. I have no problem with the creed Chalcedon. Not that I’m aware of.

It's kinda my point that you are unaware that what Chalcedon canonized in its language because you are not operating based on the most recent historical research of what Chalcedon said. It was my one attempt to appeal to something external that might actually be agreeable to both paradigms.

Whether Scripture is deemed to be authoritative is, indeed, personal-variable. But I’m debating a devout Catholic, not an atheist, right? Or is Prejean a closet infidel?

Nonetheless, I need not agree for the need that God will provide epistemic certainty in any meaningful way. Indeed, the role of faith for most theists is to establish certainty despite epistemic uncertainty, not to argue that God would cure epistemic uncertainty if you trust Him to do so. That's a rather odd consequence of Protestantism.

I’ve already argued against his empirical criterion, which confuses hermeneutics with apologetics.

And if you need a quick and dirty caption for why we're absolutely talking past one another, there it is.

Engwer says in a comment box of a previous post:

As I explained to you on the old Reformed Catholicism blog, and as I explained to Jonathan on Greg Krehbiel's board, people with different worldviews can reach agreements based on areas of overlap between the worldviews, and disagreements over standards can be discussed as they arise. That's why I discussed matters of probability with Jonathan issue-by-issue: the resurrection, the historicity of Jesus' words in Luke 24, etc. If he agrees with me that the matter in question is probable, then we can move on with that agreement in mind.

But agreement on a conclusion doesn't amount to agreement on a method. We can both think that a conclusion is "probable" for entirely different reasons, which is what you seem to be impervious to understanding.

Continuing to Engwer's most recent post:

He still isn't telling us how we can get more meaning from scripture with an approach other than the grammatical-historical method. Instead, he keeps demanding that those who don't agree with him prove a universal negative. We're supposed to prove that no other method exists rather than him proving his assertion that there is another method. Since I don't know of any other method, I'll wait for him to prove his assertion. He hasn't done so yet, and it doesn't look as if he ever will.

My point has always been that what Christians believed was the process for developing binding doctrine ought to be the guide for what is apostolic, what Christianity is. Jason thinks that we ought to be looking for what the Apostles literally taught. Both methods are historical, but they consider historical evidence to be probative in different ways. I take later evidence as more probative than Jason does. It's not a question of "no other method" existing; the disagreement is exactly on the method. I don't accept yours, and you don't accept mine. But it's ridiculous to say that I don't have a method. It's not a question in my paradigm of "more meaning" from methods other than the GHM; it's a question of "THE meaning." The GHM is the first part of the process for getting to revealed meaning, but it's not the last word until you take all of the later belief into account.

And there were Arians who held councils to settle disputes, other groups have held councils that Roman Catholicism rejects, there are portions of the ecumenical councils that are rejected by Catholicism, etc. What does the fact that some councils were regarded as settling some disputes prove? Prejean isn't making a case. He's trying to give the appearance of having an answer without actually giving one.

If you want to make a case for the orthodoxy of Arianism, be my guest. My point is that there is a continuous body of Christians who operated according to a particular form that they believed to have been established by Christ with the power to dogmatize beliefs. In other words, there are institutions with discernible legal structure maintaining historical continuity. Does it prove anything in and of itself, apart from a theologial paradigm? No, of course not. But for those who have a theological paradigm in which such things are probative, it proves a great deal. In other words, if you think that is an important factor, it could prove everything.

As far as apostolic succession is concerned, I answered Prejean's claims on that subject on Greg Krehbiel's board. Prejean changed his argument in the middle of the discussion by first claiming that the concept was universally accepted all along, then claiming that it was universally accepted "after Nicaea". I challenged that claim as well, but Prejean decided to end the discussion by telling me that I wasn't understanding him. He never gave a defense of his false claims about apostolic succession.

I'm not aware of any group, even heretical groups, that persisted in denying the authority of bishops after Nicaea and maintained historical continuity. If you can find one, be my guest. You seem to be arguing that there had to be universal acceptance of the papacy or universal communion or some other such thing, and obviously, that isn't true for the reasons I gave above.

And how does Prejean reach his conclusions about apostolic succession, ecumenical councils, etc.? Through the grammatical-historical method. Or does he want to say that we can interpret the documents allegorically?

GHM applied to mundane historical sources, which I accept on the basis of empirical reliability in that application.

If he's going to say that we can only interpret the Biblical documents allegorically, then how does he know that? He's already said that he doesn't know it by means of popularity, so he can't appeal to the popularity of allegorical interpretation. And if popularity doesn't make the case, then he can't cite it to prove the authority of ecumenical councils either.

Those aren't the only options. I have historical reason (based on the GHM as applied to mundane documents) for believing it likely that the apostolic succession is the accepted form of the church, and accepting that, I can further use mundane information to discern how it operated, how it treated revelation, and the like. Also, the body in question exists today and speaks for itself to some extent. Again, if one has a theological paradigm that looks for an established structure for announcing dogma rather than attempting to root in entirely in what was historically revealed at the time, and moreover a metaphysical reason for looking to the objective presence of God existing today in continuity with a previous communion, then this evidence is highly probative. The real question is whether one ought or ought not be looking for such a thing; that's when Protestantism and Catholicism are purely incompatible.

Where, then, is Jonathan getting his unsubstantiated conclusion that we're to apply one method of interpretation to the Biblical documents and another method to these other documents he's citing to support his theological conclusions? Just saying that the documents are different in some way isn't enough. He has to explain why the difference leads to his conclusion. He doesn't explain it, because he can't. He just makes assertions without evidence.

Of course I can explain it; that's the systematic way the Church has operated. Christian theology, historically, has treated objective norms of the Church as "different" than other documents. They haven't acted as if what was taught by the Apostles was limited to what they literally taught, as if the meaning was absolutely fixed at the time of revelation. On the contrary, they have affirmed the dogmatic conclusions defined later by other entities. So when you assert that this is the proper way to extract theological meaning from Scripture, I have no particular reason to accept it, as it does not appear to be the method of historical Christianity to treat mundane and authoritative documents identically.

NOTE: I'm leaving aside the astrology analogy; it obviously wasn't helpful.

Again, if you want us to believe that there's another way of interpreting the words of Jesus or Paul, for example, then you need to prove that assertion rather than demanding that people like Steve Hays and me prove a universal negative. Nobody is obligated to believe in a second method of interpreting Jesus and the apostles just because they can't prove that a second method doesn't exist under a rock on the back side of Neptune. If we're only aware of one method, and you claim to have another, it makes no sense for you to repeatedly refuse to prove your proposed second method while demaning that we prove a universal negative.

It's rather obvious that I think your interpretation should be informed by Catholic dogma. What you mean by "prove" is paradigm-dependent; I think that the continuity of form in Catholicism means something, and you don't. That's a philosophical question, not a historical one.

I don't know what you have in mind, since you aren't giving us many details. What would qualify as "sufficient objective certainty"? If the grammatical-historical method is giving us probabilities, and you aren't giving us any other publicly verifiable method, then any probability, however low, is better than the nothing you're giving us.

Probability is a function of the information you take into account. I consider it highly probable that what later Christians accepted as dogma is what Christ intended to convey; you don't. I consider my view to have relatively high probability by my standards; you don't by your standards. We can't resolve the problem by appealing to our respective standards; we have to find some common ground for determining the probativity of evidence, which we don't have. You can't just demand people who don't accept your paradigm to produce proof according to your paradigm. Obviously, I haven't proved anything by your view, but what difference does that make apart from showing the tautology that people who agree with you agree with you?

So, the historicity of the Holocaust is just "bare possibility"? Its probability is "a subjective question"? Nobody denies that some subjective elements are involved. But many objective elements are involved as well. Are you suggesting that deciding on an issue such as whether Jesus was Jewish or whether He had twelve disciples is similar to deciding on your favorite flavor of ice cream?

No, but that's an artifact of our paradigms intersecting on matters of mundane history. They clearly don't intersect on the matter of how to ascertain "revealed meaning" (I say look for a dogmatically normative structure; you say apply the GHM to find a probable meaning of Scripture). Those two paradigms don't touch at all on that point.

So, if historical conclusions are just "bare possibility", and viewing them as probabilities is a "subjective" matter, then why did you refer to "reasonably objective historical ways"?

Because as applied to mundane matters, we agree on the general definition of probability. We mean the same thing by it. As applied to revelation and authoritative statements, we don't.

What about your views of apostolic succession, the Christology of Cyril of Alexandria, what the ecumenical councils taught, etc.? Since those are historical matters that you approach with the grammatical-historical method, should we think that your conclusions on those issues are "bare possibility" and "subjective"?

The question of Cyril is mundane (where we agree), and we can even inquire into the historical meaning of Chalcedon (where we might agree), although that is only the first part of ascertaining its dogmatically binding force (we'd also have to look at how it was received).

Your latest reply repeatedly refers to what "many people" believe. But stating that many people believe something, without giving us reason to believe it, isn't a sufficient argument.

When the standard is "publicly verifiable," I assume you're appealing to something that is widely acceptable. The application of the GHM to matters of mundane history is quite common, but the application of the GHM to determine revelatory meaning is not.

If you claim that nobody before the Reformation believed in justification through faith alone, that's a matter of what conclusions those people held, not the arguments that led them to their conclusions. I can respond to your false assertion about conclusions without having to address the arguments that led these people to their conclusions.

Oh, sure, but in context of your position, you have to demonstrate your own view, and my point was that you need to have a competent understanding of the author even to adequately interpret a Clement, for example. That basically means you have to find a qualified historian who takes view on the subject, which means you need someone to support your argument at least on the secondary level. It doesn't disprove my assertion to say "well, Clement says this" unless you have a secondary source versed in his theology behind you. This is why I dislike your patristic spoof-texting when you aren't citing a secondary source for your conclusion.

Evidence for what? It depends on what's being discussed. If the issue under discussion is whether anybody in a particular timeframe held belief X, then we cite people who held belief X, regardless of whether they had different reasons for holding that belief.

That's ridiculous. If they don't have commensurable reasons for believing X, then they don't even really have the same belief.

What you've done in our discussion is change the subject from whether people believed in justification apart from baptism to whether they believed in justification apart from baptism for the same reasons I do. I'm not the one who claimed that I must be able to show that other people agreed with my arguments. You're the one who suggested that standard.

Of course. That is a basic requirement of scholarship.

Many of the historical sources don't even mention what their arguments are. Even when there are disagreements over arguments, there can be some overlap, despite the differences.

If they don't mention the arguments, you have to figure them out; that's what scholarship is ordinarily about doing. The problem is in the case where two people can't possibly mean they are affirming the same thing if both of their conclusions are right. There comes a point where the arguments are so different that it would be irresponsible to think they mean the same thing by the same term.

If a Baptist arrives at justification apart from batism by means of Biblical passages A, B, and C, whereas a Presbyterian arrives at the doctrine by means of passages A, B, C, and D, I don't conclude that their agreement must have no significance just because it isn't complete agreement.

When the Presbyterian says "B and C definitely mean X," and the Baptist says "B and C definitely do NOT mean X," then you've got a problem. The Presbyterian is then evidence against your position, not for it.

What's the relevance of a secondary source if the secondary source has no way of knowing the original source's arguments? What secondary source do you have who can state all of the arguments that led John the Baptist to his conclusion that Jesus is the Messiah? Nobody knows every consideration, every thought process, etc. that led John the Baptist to his conclusions. Do we have to know all of his arguments in order to state that we agree with him about Jesus' Messiahship? No.

I don't say that you need to understand everything that was in the author's head, but you at least need to know the argument he was making for the conclusion in the cited work before you use him as evidence for the conclusion. Again, this is very basic scholarship; I don't know why it's even controversial.

Likewise, we don't have to know every one of Ignatius' reasons for believing in the deity of Christ in order to say that we agree with him that Jesus is God.

That's true, but you absolutely must make your best efforts to understand what his reasons were before you can responsibly cite him. If you can't figure that out, then it doesn't make any sense to cite him as evidence for your position.

Your reasoning here is absurd, Jonathan, and I've never met another Roman Catholic who has said that he agrees with your standard. I frequently see Catholics claiming agreement with historical sources without knowing the arguments that led those sources to their conclusions or without agreeing with all of the sources' arguments. Catholics will claim agreement with a church father on a Marian doctrine, for example, even if that church father relied in part on a spurious apocryphal document to reach his conclusion.

Bad scholarship by a Catholic is still bad scholarship, but the problem is that you (apparently) simply aren't aware of the background reading that goes into these things, creating the erroneous impression that they are simply grabbing proof-texts at random. In fact, it's usually simply a desire not to have to produce a chapter verbatim from some historical resource, so that it will simply include a cursory reference to some historian's argument. I know that they agree with these sources arguments because I've read them. This is part of the problem. Your Catholic opponents all know this stuff and just take it for granted, and you come in without the slightest idea of how responsible people make scholarly arguments, even basic little things like the need to understand a source's argument for a conclusion before you cite them. It conveys the impression that you are simply dishonest, but this is evidence that it is simply ignorance.

Do you agree with all of Thomas Aquinas' arguments for the papacy, such as his citation of forged documents? Must you therefore say that you and Thomas Aquinas don't share a common belief in the papacy? Should we ignore the arguments the two of you have in common, since the two of you differ in some arguments?

Where I disagree with him, I don't cite him. It's that simple. If I think that the citation of pseudo-Isidore wasn't all that important, I might cite him and mention the disagreement, but if that's a major part of the argument, then he simply isn't a witness for my case.

Well, I also have "a reason" for disagreeing with Presbyterians on baptism, for example. Yet, you tell me that I can't claim agreement with them on justification through faith alone. So, why can you disagree with Athanasius and Cyril in some details, yet claim agreement with them?

Same thing I said before: because their reasons don't undermine my argument and/or aren't sufficiently different to suggest that they're endorsing a different conclusion altogether. Just ordinary basic rules of evidence.

In conclusion, the reader ought to note that Jonathan has now written an even larger amount of material in response to me and in response to Steve Hays and others, but still hasn't made a case for Roman Catholicism.

It's a paradigm-sensitive observation, and neither of us have presented arguments for our respective paradigms.

He tells us that we shouldn't limit our interpretation of the words of Jesus and the apostles to the grammatical-historical method of interpretation, but he doesn't make a case for any other method, and he keeps demanding that we prove a universal negative. Yes, it's true, there might be another method somewhere in the mind of a farmer in South Dakota or inside the heart of an angel flying above the skies of Pluto. We can't prove that no other method exists in such places. But until Jonathan Prejean produces a convincing case for a second method, we'll work with what we have, not with the pixie dust of Jonathan's unpaid IOUs.

As I said, it's all about what you consider evidence. Jason hasn't disproved the notion that later evidence is probative of revealed meaning, or that revealed meaning is limited to original meaning, so he's essentially repeating worldview-dependent observations without showing the superiority of his worldview. In other words, this is a massive instance of talking past each other, with a liberal amount of personal attack thrown in.

Thursday, August 25, 2005

Ummmmm, no.

Lots of assertions from Steve Hays again.

I'm supposedly required by a PBC document to accept the GHM. Apart from the non-binding status of the PBC (a matter on which several Catholics have corrected Hays), there's a real simple matter of the quoted language:

Hence the absolute necessity of a hermeneutical theory which allows for the incorporation of the methods of literary and historical criticism within a broader model of interpretation.

I'll capitalize that bolded phrase so no one misses it: WITHIN A BROADER MODEL OF INTERPRETATION

To avoid, then, purely subjective readings, an interpretation valid for contemporary times will be founded on the study of the text, and such an interpretation will constantly submit its presuppositions to verification by the text.

Guess which model is used to submit interpretations for verification by the text. Hmmm, perhaps the BROADER MODEL OF INTERPRETATION. This is not rocket science. Catholicism is not picky about how you choose to reconcile the GHM with your overall theological model of revelation, so long as you don't dispute the magisterial teaching authority in the apostolic succession. There is room for Raymond Brown and Karl Rahner and Joe Fitzmyer and me, all of whom have different broad models of interpretation that include the GHM in different ways. The point is not submission to a common interpretive method, but submission to a common set of actual human beings as authoritative and communion with those human beings as a requirement established by God.

Nor is allegorical exegesis an alternative method to the GHM; rather, it is a supplemental method, and moreover, an accurate method in its proper context. Nothing in any part of the quote statement criticizes "allegorical exegesis as a well-meaning, but obsolete convention," as Hays asserts. Rather, it simply stresses the additional methods we have today. Dei Verbum and Divino Afflante Spiritu are right here; try to find anything that contradicts me.

Hays's argument here, which seems to have impressed some sycophants, is no more convincing:

I have a better idea. Note that Prejean is tacitly operating with the very standard he denies.

No. I operate within that standard where I think that standard is applicable. I emphatically do not consider it applicable as an exclusive limit on how the true meaning of divine revelation can be ascertained nor on how objectively binding dogmas can be interpreted. I have said all along that I consider this wrong, and I repeat it now. I agree with McGuckin's use of the GHM, because I agree with the use of the GHM on uninspired, fallible, non-authoritative statements from one human being to another. I see no reason that the GHM should apply as an exclusive criterion for binding theological meaning with respect to inspired or authoritative statements.

What “people” are we talking about? I thought this was a debate between Prejean and me. Have I ever accused Prejean of being a hypocrite?

Did you or did you not just accuse me of tacitly operating with the very standard I deny? If that's done knowingly, it's the definition of hypocrisy. So do you think that I am an idiot or a hypocrite? I can see no third option.

This is an extremely telling statement in what it simultaneously affirms and denies. Scripture is the inspired record of divine revelation. The original meaning is the revealed meaning—the original context—time, place, culture, language--in which God chose to disclose his message.

To divorce the “message” from the revealed meaning is to identify a non-revelatory message in application to the Christian community.

Note Hays's tactic here. He identifies the revealed meaning with the original meaning, which is exactly what I reject, and then says that messages that don't agree with the "revealed meaning" are "non-revelatory." Of course, I reject the idea that the revealed meaning is limited to the original meaning, so in appealing to later developments, I am not appealing to a "non-revelatory message" except by Hays's own disputed standards for what revealed meaning is. Sheer circularity.

Not a “perceived” need, but an inescapable need. Prejean cannot do without it himself. At every turn, when he interprets what I say, or Engwer says, or McGuckin says, he is depending on the very principles which he denies.

Where the assumptions of the method indicate it will apply! How hard is this? Yes, there are two different standards for mundane documents and dogmatically binding documents. I don't consider the GHM sufficient as an exclusive method to arrive at inspired meaning. That's a reasonable decision; it's not unverifiable by any commonly accepted meaning of the term. Unless you can come up with some actual argument for why it is inconsistent of me to apply different methods for ontologically different documents, then why are you even talking to me?

He seems to be inverting what I said, which was not: their exegesis must agree with their theology, but: their theology must agree with their exegesis. That follows from the assumption that Scripture is authoritative. Therefore, our exegetical findings should govern our theology.

No it doesn't follow from Scripture being authoritative that the GHM is theologically binding. That's the entire point of dispute.

Thus far, it's simply been a bad argument that revealed meaning is identical to (and limited to) original meaning (which would force me to use the GHM as the only tool for ascertaining original meaning, but since I disagree with the premise, I disagree with the conclusion). In that respect, it's simply rehashing the same argument that neither Hays nor Engwer has yet managed to support, except by trying to impose a burden of proof on me that I don't have or a "tacit acceptance" I haven't made. Here's where I don't like the turn the discussion took.

Observe the sudden bait-and-switch tactic. Since when did I—or Engwer, for that matter—ever rest my case for the GHM on “resolving the problems of epistemic fallibility?

I hadn't lost my patience before now, but this is just exasperating. The entire argument is that the only way we can know the original meaning of documents with any reasonable certainty is the GHM, that this is the "ordinary hermeneutical principle" as it were, and that this is the only "publicly verifiable" criterion, and yet now, suddenly, we are supposed to presume that Hays isn't arguing that God provides us with sufficient epistemic certainty to be assured of our faith? That is resolving the problem of epistemic fallibility: we don't have to worry about cognitive limitations because God will provide us with sufficient epistemic certainty for assurance. Sure, maybe you have to trust God to have that assurance, but the point is that you compensate for epistemic doubts by trust in God. The entire Evangelical argument is that if you can't be assured by trust in God for the basis of your faith, then faith is pointless. The "bait-and-switch" is that Evangelicals feel like they can use terms like "assurance" or "reasonable certainty" without being accused of transcending human epistemic fallibility.

That's a bit of an aside from the main argument, but it just irritates me. So back to that main argument, or lack thereof, here's the clincher:

So where the original revealed meaning is indefinitive, the church can upgrade that indefinitive meaning to something definitive. Hence, the input is less than the output. The definitive meaning is not the original revealed meaning, but something above and beyond the original revealed meaning—a surplus sense, which cannot be directly extracted from the original, but is supplied by the church. What we have here is a de facto doctrine of continuous revelation by another name.

Only because you define "revelation" according to "original meaning." Sure, in your view, it's a de facto doctrine of continuous revelation, but since I disagree with your identification of revealed meaning with original meaning in the first place, it's not inconsistency on my part. Now if you can an argument for why revealed meaning must necessarily be limited to original meaning to avoid continuous revelation, then you might have a case.

So even though the purpose and practice of the GHM is widely attested in Scripture itself, Prejean still refuses to apply this to himself or his own communion.

"Widely attested?" "Purpose and practice?" Vague statements do not an argument make. I have seen nothing to the effect that the probable method by application of the GHM is normatively binding, or that other interpretations cannot be binding. Where is that in Scripture?

He also doesn’t explain what he means by an “argument.” To begin with, where there’s common ground, you don’t need to mount an argument.

In addition, if Scripture is an authoritive, and the method in question is widely attested in Scripture, in the practice of Christ and the Apostles and prophets, then that automatically authorizes the practice is question. You need no further argument unless the authority of Scripture itself is at issue. And even the Catholic church doesn’t deny the authority of Scripture.

An argument would give specific and concrete content to a vague term like "widely attested," which I don't concede in the least.

He has not presented any argument to the effect that the Chalcedonian creed, about a paragraph long, incorporates every refinement of Cyrillic Christology.

McGuckin pretty much does, at least to the extent that I am asserting.

How does this help him in the least? He’s a member of the Western church.

No, I'm a member of the Catholic Church.

BTW, I never said or implied that the primary sources were mistaken. The source of error is irrelevant. The salient point is that it took 1500 years for the Western church to correct itself--assuming that, in fact, McGuckin’s reconstruction has achieved official acceptance.

The non-binding error of historians in one part of the Church does not bind the Catholic Church.

Is he attributing to me a Nestorian Christology? Where can he quote me to that effect? All I ever said is that we should avoid canonizing unscriptural refinements in any direction.

I presumed you must, since you're arguing that Chalcedon is not Cyrillene, and it canonized "unscriptural refinements."

Completely misses the point. The fact that McGuckin makes use of the GHM in patrology, and Prejean’s relies on Mcguckin’s methodology, serves to confirm my position and disconfirm Prejean’s.

Scripture. Not Scripture. Scripture. Not Scripture. Is this a hard distinction for you? Do I need to make it more plain?

That, again, depends on the genre of the document. If the document is a theological document, then the application of the GHM will ascertain theological conclusions; and if the document is authoritative, then the GHM will ascertain normative theological conclusions.

There's that purely subjective term "ascertain" again, the way that Evangelicals attempt to get around cognitive limitations by trusting in God to give them what they need. Note also that "theological document" is a subjective judgment about intent, "authoritative" is a subjective determination as well, and the fact that it will "ascertain normative theological conclusions" is assumed without any empirical demonstration. In a word, this is an attempt to foist Hays's peculiar subjective preferences as necessities.

This characterization totters on a tendentious definition of history, by which he surreptitiously means the Catholic philosophy of church history.

Nope, I mean history. When the fact that nobody used a particular method in the past doesn't count against you, it's hard to argue otherwise.

A swift and simple refutation to Jason Engwer

Jason Engwer continues whining.

His argument consists entirely of two points:
1. Apologetics ought to be based on "publicly verifiable" theological principles.
2. The GHM is "publicly verifiable."

Regarding (1), this is entirely based on his own peculiar standards for "publicly verifiable." Plenty of people agree with the apostolic succession being "publicly verifiable," as it is a matter of historical record that ecumenical councils were used to resolve theological disputes. Plenty of people reject the notion that the GHM is a limiting criterion on ascertaining apostolic theology (e.g., they accept natural theology, conciliar declarations, papal pronouncements, etc., as evidence of apostolic doctrine). So I simply reject his idiosyncratic criteria for public verifiability as meaningful or binding on anyone, and I think his demands that I provide evidence of "public verifiability" of the apostolic succession are ridiculous, as I have provided evidence that plenty of people would consider adequate for public verifiability. The fact my arguments aren't what Jason considers "publicly verifiable" means nothing unless Jason can prove that a reasonable person must meet his standard for public verifiability. So yes, the fact that earlier sources are more accurate at describing meaning of a text, for example, is not a publicly shared premise, because it asserts the GHM as a limiting criterion on ascertaining apostolic theology. This is exactly what I mean by the astrological method; it's not a commonly shared premise that the GHM is a limit on ascertaining apostolic theology, so it's an idiosyncratic use of a commonly-accepted method to use the GHM in this way.

Regarding (2), Jason has characterized my objection to his method as that it provides "insufficient certainty." This is only tangentially related to my objection. The point is that it has insufficient objective certainty to justify Jason's stance that only what is "ascertainable" is binding. What is "ascertainable" by the GHM is more or less bare possibility; beyond that, it is a subjective question as to what is "probable," "likely," and whatnot. Moreover, that determination also implicitly includes a determination on what counts as evidence for particular interpretations, and Jason's use of the GHM as a limiting factor excludes evidence that many people consider persuasive for meaning. My point is that he is imposing subjective, not objective, criteria as a binding limit on theological speculation, and that is unwarranted.

Regarding Scholarship 101, there are some very simple concepts I have in mind:
1. Evidence is cited for arguments, not conclusions. The corollary is that citing someone as evidence means that you agree with their conclusions and their reasons for the conclusions.

2. This means that if you don't know a person's reasons for a conclusion, you can't cite that person as evidence. Period. Full stop. If they don't say and you don't have any way to figure it out, you don't cite them unless you intend to make yourself a liar. You can't assume they agree with you; you have to verify it, because you are signing your name to the statement that the author agrees with your reasons.

3. Contrary to Jason's assertion, I never cite a source without a reasonable basis for thinking that I know why they are making the statement (if it's an older source, that always means that I have a qualified secondary source backing up my interpretation), and I never cite a source whose reasons for a conclusion contradict my own. If I do, please call me on it; it's culpable negligence.

4. With respect to Jason's particular situation, he has difficulty as a free-churcher because his view entails two assertions: first, justification by faith alone entails that baptismal regeneration is false, and second, that Scripture clearly and definitively teaches that baptismal regeneration is false and even anathematizes the belief. So when he cites an author for JBFA who also believes in some form of baptismal regeneration (as significant numbers of Lutherans, Anglicans, Presbyterians, the Magisterial Reformers, and virtually all the church fathers do), then he has a problem. He can argue that they are so wildly inconsistent in Biblical interpretation that they missed a clear and definitive teaching of Scripture but managed to get JBFA correct in his mind, which makes them a poor witness for whatever they do testify, assuming that they are being cited as witnesses for correct interpretation. Alternatively, he can argue that they teach his understanding of JBFA, which would simply be lying, as their reasons for thinking Paul teaches JBFA contradict Jason's own. Consequently, I can't fathom how credobaptists could ever credibly cite paedobaptists as evidence for their position on justification or vice versa, because they have contradictory reasons for believing what they believe about justification. Whether it's within the scope of "permissible differences" or not is irrelevant; the fact is that they are two mutually contradictory rationales for the conclusion.

So Jason can whine about his mistreatment at my hands as long as he likes, but whining will not persuade me that his arguments have more force than they do, and I'm sure it won't persuade anyone else either.

Sixteen Word Objection to Evangelicalism

I've distilled my previous objections to Evangelicalism down to a 16-word statement; I don't know how much clearer I can be:

The grammatico-historical method is neither a necessary nor a sufficient condition for objective meaning of Scripture.

This is the super-concentrated basis for the statement.


1. Unnecessary
-- Existing cases of text serving as objective social norm when communicative intent is inscrutable or no information is available (e.g., law); GHM not used.
-- (Historical) Unknown in early church, but theology still formed without and often contrary to results of GHM
-- (Historical) Church acted like a society with bishops as judicial interpreters would be expected to act (viz., treated Scripture as objective social norm rather than communication)
-- Even within GHM, people operate based on speculative reasons as if they are sure despite lack of consensus (viz., in practice, certainty under GHM not necessary even in communities that practice it).
-- Contra a far too common argument, not necessary to resist postmodernism (metaphysical realists can deny postmodernism without difficulty).

2. Insufficient.
-- Justification for GHM undercut because:
* Assumptions that give GHM empirical reliability not met or contradicted in case of divine authorship.
* Even if it were demonstrated that the GHM were necessary for objective meaning, this would not demonstrate that the GHM was sufficient for objective meaning.
* Sufficiency of GHM is entirely contingent on circumstances of historical record (viz., it is not prima facie sufficient for any particular application; it can be sufficient in one case and not others).
* Lack of metaphysical safeguards in method leads to philosophically untenable results
* Lack of demonstrable consensus on detailed standards of the method
* Lack of demonstrable consensus in certainty of outcome of application of the method (high subjectivity)
* Analogical reasoning to apply Scriptural norms to present day entirely subjective
* (Scriptural) Pharisees likely had access to tools of GHM; Jesus and Apostles offered counterinterpretation based on other Christ-centered interpretive techniques (e.g., peshar) and considered Pharisees blameworthy for not following them.
* (Historical) Rejected outcomes of historical application of GHM-like methods (e.g., Antiochene exegesis) in speculative theology. Affirmed outcomes of Christ-centered allegorical methods (viz., interpreting passages in Christological terms, irrespective of original intent).

Those are my reasons for doubt in a nutshell. If some Evangelical can come up with an argument why the GHM is both necessary and sufficient for Scripture to have an objective meaning, more power to them. Note that I am NOT being inconsistent in my application of the GHM to some cases and not others, because: (1) the inapplicability of the assumptions of the GHM in this instance render its application dubious, and (2) the sufficiency of the GHM for any purpose is case-sensitive (viz., it is always debatable whether the GHM will work in any particular instance even if it works in other instances), putting the burden of proof on sufficiency on the one asserting its sufficiency in that case rather than vice versa.

Wednesday, August 24, 2005

The fine art of arguing from ignorance

Jason Engwer's ego notwithstanding, I am not attempting to "proselytize" him. I'm simply doing the same thing I was before: systematically berating him for my own purposes. For example, I will now use him as an example of terminal cluelessness on what the debate is actually about.

"Anybody who has read Prejean's previous replies to Hays and Prejean's posts in response to me at Greg Krehbiel's board will know that Prejean's claim about how he 'loves teaching' is absurd."

I have had tremendous positive feedback on my interaction with you, thank you very much, so quite to the contrary, I think I'm doing an excellent job. I can't teach those determined not to be taught; I can only make an example of you. But even that serves a purpose; avoiding public humiliation is one of the strongest emotional drives in any human being. If I can get you to appreciate just how ridiculous you appear to those out of your little social clique, it would certainly have some effect for deterring your foolishness.

"Prejean often acts as if he's representing what Catholics in general believe, then he proceeds to use argumentation that you never see other Catholics using. How often do we see Karl Keating or Patrick Madrid, for example, taking the approach Prejean has taken? When's the last time you saw a Catholic Answers tract argue along the lines of Prejean's claims about phenomenology, the Christology of Athanasius and Cyril of Alexandria, etc.? Keep in mind that Prejean told me, in our discussion on Greg Krehbiel's board, that I can't claim to agree with other people unless I agree with all of their arguments leading to their conclusion. Yet, Prejean claims to agree with Roman Catholics (and Eastern Orthodox and others) who don't use his argumentation to arrive at their conclusions."

And how often do I cite the arguments of Karl Keating or Patrick Madrid as evidence for my arguments? Oh, wait, that's right; I don't! See, it's that "cite as evidence" part that you don't seem to get. So that's elementary error #1.

People are persuaded by lots of different thing; what I consider convincing, maybe others don't; conversely, what I consider unconvincing others might consider convincing. You seem to be under the delusion that one can't be in a faith without a knock-down argument for being there, and I find that virtually impossible to believe. Catholicism is not identifiable with an argument for Catholicism. I don't speak on behalf of "Catholicism" abstractly; I speak on behalf of my own arguments for Catholicism and answer objections to them. What persuades people is personal, and we're trying to appeal to as many different kinds of personal persuasion as possible. So there's elementary error #2.

There are some views (your own, for example) that are so presuppositionally circular and immune to criticism that it would be almost impossible (if not actually impossible) to construct an argument convincing to you. In those cases, my goal is strictly defensive, because you're hopeless in terms of what I can do offensively. And specifically, I demonstrate that your arguments against Catholicism are circular and question-begging as well, that you aren't appealing to some externality that is ordinarily persuasive to people outside your cognitive fortress. That doesn't actually defeat your view; people may just subjectively like your premises for whatever reason, and I can't do anything about that. But I can prevent you from attempting to bully others into accepting dubious premises by false appeals to externalities.

"Prejean repeatedly refused to defend Roman Catholicism. He repeatedly refused to answer questions about his arbitrariness and double standards. But now, within a few days of 'retiring', he's back with more arbitrariness and more double standards."

I've defended Catholicism more than enough. You just want me to put up a target so that you can distract from the fact that your claims of inconsistency are unwarranted by any appeal to externalities. I refuse.

"Prejean's astrology analogy is ridiculous. Prejean has acknowledged, in a previous discussion with me, that it's historically probable that Jesus rose from the dead, spoke the words recorded in Luke 24:25, etc. Words have meaning. What Jesus spoke in Luke 24 has meaning. If that meaning includes theology, as it does, then we can arrive at theology by means of the sort of historical method I, Steve Hays, and others have described. Deriving theology from Luke 24:25 is not equivalent to deriving astrological predictions from planetary movements."

It depends on how you do it. If you stay strictly within the confines of the historical method and claim no greater certainty than it afford you, then sure. When you, for example, use the GHM as a reductionist criterion for meaning in the Bible, when there's no reason to think that it would be accurate when used as such a criterion, you've got problems.

"So, why can't we arrive at the theology of Jesus or Paul through the historical-grammatical approach?"

We can, to some extent. There's just no reason to think that we will be able to do so at some predetermined level of certainty. Conversely, there's no cause to think that theological methods that accept other evidence are false on their face.

"Is Prejean going to argue that we can ascertain their theology through a historical method, but we can't determine that we ought to agree with their theology unless 'the Church' tells us so?"

Nope. To the extent we can *ascertain* their theology, we are compelled to obey it. My point is twofold: first, you're overstating the extent to which their theology can be ascertained by purely historical methods, and second, you're asserting (without argument) that the GHM is the only "certain" method, when it's not even clear that it is a "certain" method in the way you're asserting it (much less the only certain method).

"If Prejean wants to argue that there might be more meaning to Jesus' words than we can attain through the grammatical-historical approach, then he needs to show us how we get that additional meaning rather than just asserting that it exists."

I've said clearly: you get that additional meaning by the manifested faith of the Church. Pick up a copy of the Catechism if you're interested.

"If Prejean wants us to think that the historical Jesus was teaching something beyond what we can ascertain through the grammatical-historical approach, where's his evidence?"

Well, obviously you think that we can "ascertain" a great deal more than I do. Moreover, when you speak of ascertaining something "through the grammatical-historical approach," I don't recognize in your method the method I apply to ordinary historical documents. What you really mean is how can I dare assert something outside the astrological hermeneutic, and I reply: I don't believe the astrological hermeneutic is a sound theological approach in the first place.

That's why Prejean's fellow Catholics will often take the same sort of historical approach I, Steve Hays, and others have taken in order to argue for various doctrines.

And I think they're wasting their time, not recognizing that the brand of empiricism you practice is not the same one that reasonable human beings virtually uniformly agree is reliable. Notice how surprised they are when you assert something unproved by objective standards or dismiss something that ordinary people consider persuasive. They make the mistake of thinking that you are capable of rational discussion, as opposed to a brainwashed fanatic. Their loss.

If Prejean thinks that the historical Jesus can be shown to have historically made a comment about God, yet that comment about God can't have theological implications that are ascertainable apart from "the Church", then he's arbitrarily putting a limit on the grammatical-historical method.

It's not arbitrary; it's the discipline's own limits. Empirical methods work well when their assumptions hold; they don't work well outside of those limits.

No historian would claim that we can't historically ascertain the theology of Athanasius or the theology of Martin Luther, for example.

They would make that determination based on the available data and the applicability of their methods, not some a priori determination that they ought to be able to do so. Plenty of scholars will admit that they lack sufficient information to draw firm conclusions on matters like this or disagree with the certainty asserted by other historians.

So, why can't we arrive at the theology of Jesus or Paul through the historical-grammatical approach?

Same reason. I'm unconvinced that there is enough information to make definitive (or even reasonably certain) conclusions about the theology of Jesus or Paul though the pure application of GHM.

Is Prejean going to argue that we can ascertain their theology through a historical method, but we can't determine that we ought to agree with their theology unless "the Church" tells us so?

Nope. I'm arguing exactly that we can't ascertain their theology with the degree of certainty you're asserting, and that there is no a priori reason to think that we should be able to do so.

If Prejean wants to argue that there might be more meaning to Jesus' words than we can attain through the grammatical-historical approach, then he needs to show us how we get that additional meaning rather than just asserting that it exists. As I told him repeatedly in the discussion at Greg Krehbiel's board, it's not our responsibility to prove a universal negative. If Prejean wants us to think that the historical Jesus was teaching something beyond what we can ascertain through the grammatical-historical approach, where's his evidence?

I don't think so. You have to demonstrate that your method is reliable for developing theology before you can demand evidence from other people. Thus far, you're just asserting it.

Prejean repeatedly assumes his definitions of the church, who is a Christian, what the correct Christology is, etc. without giving any specific justification. He asserts such theological conclusions and claims to be getting them from the historical record, yet he turns around and criticizes Evangelicals for thinking they can arrive at theology through the historical record.

Of course I assume things; we all have to assume things in forming models, but I don't assume any of the things you assert (at least if you mean it to be assuming my conclusions). I'm not criticizing you for thinking that you can arrive at theology through the historical record; I'm criticizing you for arguing that you have the only possible reasonable method for extracting theological conclusions from the historical record, that any other method requires proof to which yours is not subject, or that your method is somehow "purely historical" where others aren't. You've provided nothing to make that argument compelling, and until you do, you don't really have any standing to criticize.

And he doesn't explain what this correct allegorical method of Athanasius and Cyril is.

Here's a novel idea: read a book! Sheesh, even Evangelicals talk about Athanasius's Incarnational view of Scripture and St. Cyril's homage to Athanasius's method. It's not like this is some hidden, secret, or obscure bit of history.

Did Athanasius and Cyril interpret every passage of scripture in an identical way? Does Prejean agree with every argument of Athanasius and Cyril?

I don't disagree with them without having a reason for doing so. There's the difference.

Remember, Prejean told me that I can't claim agreement with somebody unless I agree with every one of his arguments leading to his conclusion.

... OR provide a coherent reason for disagreement. That's a big phrase to leave out.

How does Prejean go about applying the allegorical method of Athanasius and Cyril to arrive at conclusions such as the papacy and the Immaculate Conception?

How does Engwer move from asserting his own theological method (without proof) to demanding proof of mine? Turns out that those two aren't all that difficult, but it's entirely irrelevant, because Engwer hasn't shown his assertion that anything outside the GHM is inadmissible as evidence of apostolic theology.

If the method doesn't necessarily lead to such doctrinal conclusions, then where is Prejean getting those doctrines?

It's not a requirement of belief that one's method necessarily leads to doctrinal conclusions. What is this, "make up what the other guy has to prove" day?

How does he know that he should be following the scriptures in the first place, which he would need to know before looking for a way to interpret them?

Again, this is because you made this up? There's no logical basis for that claim.

If he's going to say that he knows that the Christology of Athanasius and Cyril is correct because it became popular, then he's contradicting what he told me about popularity not being the determinitive factor. So, how does Prejean know what the correct Christology is?

Ever hear of ecumenical councils? That's not the same thing as popularity.

I also expect him to change his standards in the middle of the discussion, as he so often does. Add a qualifier you didn't mention previously, claim that you agreed with your opponents all along on an issue where you actually disagreed with them, etc.

... misunderstand your opponent, accuse him of being inconsistent based on your misunderstanding. Oh wait, that's you.

He'll continue to try to put forward an image of being confident in his conclusions, even though he has no reason to be confident. With Prejean, it's more about appearances than substance.

You wouldn't know substance if it beat you upside the head. I know, because I've beaten you upside the head with it.

The fine art of hand-waving

Contrary to one Jason Engwer's suggestion, I have, in fact, given up on trying to proselytize anyone. I don't see any hope of anyone in the Baptist/free-church camp converting from the astrological hermeneutic anytime soon. My purpose now is strictly defensive, which is a relatively easy position to take, as there hasn't been a substantive argument made against my objections to Evangelicalism. Steve Hays has tried to mount one several times, but he hasn't managed to do it yet. Indeed, his responses thus far have been a classic demonstration of what those of us in disciplines demanding analytical rigor call "hand-waving."

"Hand-waving" is the process by which someone substitutes assertion for argument. I've always understood is as an analogy to what magicians do to distract the audience while the trick is being performed, sleight-of-hand. Regardless of the origin of the phrase, the analogy is apt: Hand-Waver assembles a pile of evidence, waves his hands over it, and announces his conclusion. Problem is that if you do it in front of people trained to spot the trick, it ain't gonna work. Grizzled old veterans of this kind of analytical endeavor, like Perry Robinson and myself, tend to catch it. And of course, even the smartest people get caught in hand-waving sometimes; it's just part of being a fallible human being. Generally, when someone is flat-out busted, the standard response is to murmur some kind of a response and never to raise that argument again. But sometimes, people are really attached to (and really convinced by) their own argument, which, if the argument truly is hand-waving, amounts to "CAN'T you SEE that I'm WAVING MY HANDS?!"

Unfortunately, Steve Hays opted for the latter in his last response to me. So here's an object lesson on how hand-waving works:

He’s raised that objection before, and I answered him. What I said was:

Prejean is mashing together a couple of quite distinct issues: in particular, he is confounding a hermeneutical method with an apologetical method.

I can understand the source of the confusion inasmuch as the debate over at Crowhill went back and forth on these two issues as though they were synonymous, but they’re not.

i) The hermeneutical question is the question of how we ascertaining the meaning of a document—especially a document from the past, whether the Bible or the church fathers or a church council or a papal encyclical, &c.That’s what the grammatico-historical method (GHM) has reference to.

ii) The apologetical question is how we verify or falsify the truth-claims of a document.

Historical evidence (evidentialism) may figure in the answer, especially in the case of historical revelation, but that is not at all the same thing as GHM.

iii) GHM and evidentialism may intersect at various points. This can happen, for instance, when GHM is used to ascertain the meaning of a documentary truth-claim, while evidentialism is then used to verify or falsify that truth-claim.

Incidentally, this is applicable to his astrological illustration (see below).

Of course, this all fails to account for the fact that I completely reject the notion that the GHM is anything other than an empirically grounded method. In other words, my point is exactly that the hermeneutical question IS an evidential question, so the distinction Hays draws is spurious. Moreover, by abstracting the GHM into some hermeneutical principle that stands above evidential reliability, Hays has effectively immunized his view from evidential criticism, something that he is quick to accuse others of doing. So this isn't an answer, it's simply a reassertion of exactly what I reject. No proof, no argument, nothing. Hence:

Why does Prejean repeat himself when his objections have been answered? If he disagrees with the answer, he should explain why.

Reasserting the controverted proposition in another way is not an answer.

Once again, he’s raised that objection before, and I answered him. What I said was:

Unity, inerrancy, inspiration, and authority are exegetical results of applying GHM to the text of Scripture. They figure in the self-witness of Scripture. When we exegete Scripture, using sensible and responsible methods, we discover what it has to say about itself as well as other things. These are not theological assumptions, but exegetical end-results of the GHM.

The fact that this doesn’t come up in a historical text about Abraham Lincoln is irrelevant to the method. It doesn’t come up, not because the methodology differs, but because no such claim is lodged in the text.

Here, the wave of the hand is "sensible and responsible." What this hand-wave does is to sneak in the astrological hermeneutic based on the evidential reliability of the GHM. Problem is that it doesn't show that the evidential reliability of the GHM is applicable in this case, nor does it demonstrate that the conclusions drawn are within the scope of the GHM's reliable area. Similarly, "self-witness" is used equivocally; it assumes that the self-witness is what results from the application of the method. Still no argument, just hand-waving.

To repeat: there are two distinct issues here:

i) The identification of a truth-claim, and:

ii) The verification of a truth-claim.

(i) is a prerequisite for (ii).

Note the artistry in this simple hand-wave. By putting (i) apart from (ii), he effectively takes the verification of his method for identifying truth-claims outside of the scope of evidentialism, which is simply reasserting the same distinction that I reject. There's actually even more hidden in (ii), because you would see in practice that if a "sufficient" demonstration of "authority" is made per (ii), then one doesn't need to independently verify all of the truth claims of a source, something that would violate my own view of (i). At any rate, once again, he blows by the point in issue without argument.

[Regarding my argument that the condemnation at Constantinople effectively condemned Antiochene exegesis in speculative theology] There’s no real argument here. It simply begs the question in favor of Catholicism.

Here's a defensive hand-wave. Of course there is a real argument. Presuming that Antiochene exegesis is a reasonably well-defined phenomenon, then I made a historically testable claim that the Christological conclusions drawn by the condemned parties by that method were precisely the ones condemned at Constantinople. I'm speaking strictly of the historical fact of whether that condemnation was directed at conclusions that were by historical fact derived from distinctive methods of the Antiochene school. Even apart from any value judgments involved on whether Constantinople is or ought to be persuasive (the significance of the historical facts), there is a historical question here that is well within the competence of the historical method.

I’d add, though, that all arguments ultimately appeal to our intuitions of veracity and validity.If I find X obvious, and Y denies that X is obvious, then there’s not much more I either can or should do to make it obvious to him. We have to agree to disagree, and leave it to the individual reader to judge who had the better of the argument.

Which is exactly the point of stating reasonable objections. Hays doesn't get to accuse people of being irrational, hypocritical, or inconsistent for reasonable objections. I've seen no reason to think that my objections to Evangelicalism aren't reasonable, regardless of whether they are compelling or not, which means it's time to stop throwing potshots around. It simply isn't unreasonable to deny the separation that Hays asserted between hermeneutics and evidentialism, and if one denies it (and I do), then it isn't inconsistent for someone to reject astrological hermeneutics as a sound theological method. Unless there's some unbeatable argument for the separation between hermeneutics and evidentialism (and thus far, it's been entirely hand-waving, as I documented in my objections to Evangelicalism), then this argument that we are somehow hypocritical in our use of GHM needs to be retired. The hand-waving here is in the suggestion that this somehow excuses him from reasonable standards of civil discourse in making claims.

So if, for example, Prejean refuses to admit that Kenneth Kitchen (Egyptologist) has an advantage over a 5C Greek Patriarch when it comes to the interpretation of Exodus or the Joseph cycle, or that Donald Wiseman (Assyriologist) enjoys a similar advantage, then there’s really nothing more to be said.

The hand-wave here is equivocation again. They may have an advantage on what it means in the original context, but that isn't necessarily an advantage on identifying what the "message" of Exodus is to the Christian community, which is exactly the subject under discussion.

If Prejean denies the primacy of original intent, then there’s nothing I can do to make him agree with me, although I can point out that his denial is a universal solvent which will spill over and erase the ink on his Petrine texts and church fathers with equal efficiency.

But can he show it based on my premises? That's been the big failure of Hays's replies both to Tim and to me. He purports to "confront us on our own ground" and then resorts to hand-waving to display the supposed contradictions. Note that here he's even used a classic hand-waving metaphor: "point out." :-)

He may suppose that Mt 16 teaches papal primacy, but I’m an allegorist, you see, so I think that Mt 16 is really a repair manual for a busted carburetor.

Unless you can ground that interpretation in Cyrillene Christology, that doesn't show much of anything. The most obvious hand-wave: talk about something else entirely.

In that respect, GHM is true by default in the absence of a viable alternative. That’s not the only reason, but one reason.

No, that's not even one reason. As I said, it's fallacious to conclude that there is a viable alternative based on a perceived need for the method. "Ta da! I don't have to follow any reasonable standards of evidence!"

Prejean needs it just as much as I do, for without it he lacks epistemic access to the church fathers and church councils and papal encyclicals and canon lawyers and patrologists, &c.

Reasserting what he needs to prove, again without proof. See how it works?

i) The GHM isn’t predicated on “definitive” findings. You won’t find that presupposition in either Catholic or Protestant commentators. Where does Prejean come up with this qualifier? Not from actually reading the way it is done, evidently.

I never said that it was. I said that this was a theological method for culling what conclusions of the GHM can and can't be disputed. Misunderstanding isn't really hand-waving, though, so I can't pick on him too much for this one.

ii) There is, indeed, a threefold difference. For conservative evangelicals, their theology must agree with their exegesis.

And for people who don't agree with the original distinction (and concomitant hand-waving) that Hays offered but instead view the GHM as an empirical method, this is actually a bad thing. The necessity of theology and exegesis agreeing would, in my view, skew the objectivity of the interpreter's conclusions. IOW, this would make the astrological hermeneutic less convincing from a reliability standpoint than other practitioners of the GHM. ISTM that the more "objective" way to do it is to let the GHM say what it can say, and if there is no definitive answer, then there's no definitive answer. What Hays describes is, again, reasoning from a perceived need of a method to the existence of a method.

For liberal Protestants, they may let the text speak for itself, but they don’t feel bound by the teaching of Scripture.

True. But they're also not liable to make the text say more than it says. That's valuable in its own way.

For Catholic exegetes, they can deny that Scripture inculcates certain Catholic dogmas as long as they don’t deny the dogmas. Instead, they just refer that to the development of doctrine.


iii) If there’s an element of uncertain here, it spills over into Catholicism, for whether it’s a text of Scripture or a patristic text or the text of a church council or the text of a papal encyclical, all the same hermeneutical apply to any historical document.

Sure does. That's why, despite there not being a principled ontological need for an objective interpreter, it certainly makes life better from a practical standpoint.

iv) I’d add that the same uncertainties extend to textual criticism as well. Text-critical questions aren’t limited to the text of Scripture. They can also be raised with respect to the text of the church fathers or early councils, &c.

Yep. See how assertion of the GHM doesn't really resolve problems of epistemic fallibility?

v) Without a doctrine of providence, we’re all up a creek without a paddle.

I'd say that without the objective presence of God in the Church, we're up a creek without a paddle. But I fail to see how application of the GHM is God-dependent.

vi) The teaching of Scripture is redundant. It doesn’t turn on any one word or verse.

I think we all know that.

vii) But if God has left something uncertain in Scripture, then we should leave matters where he has left it.

Hand-wave again -- that word "uncertain" sneaks the astrological hermeneutic in without argument.

viii) Notice how Prejean treats the church as a makeweight for what is otherwise indefinite in Scripture. But the church cannot muster certainty out of thin air. That would require a booster shot of divine revelation to add to the deposit of faith.

This is a sneakier hand-wave; there's a real argument here that is not made explicit. Hays is arguing, based on his view of revelation as a fixed meaning at a fixed point in time, that later certainty is "new revelation." Since the disputed point is whether that is, in fact, what revelation is, it's begging the question (reasserting the disputed point).

All I can say is that Prejean is welcome to his opinion. For an evangelical, if a rule of faith is good enough for Christ and the Apostles and prophets, then it’s good enough for us.

And likewise, you are welcome to your opinion, but for myself, I see no reason to think that it was "good enough for Christ and the Apostles and prophets."

Notice the bait-and-switch tactic. While I’m talking about Chalcedon, he slips Cyril under the table as if the creed of Chalcedon codified every last detail of what Cyril had to say on the subject.

And notice the failure to mention the historical argument I have for believing that. Another defensive hand-wave: ignoring the opponent's evidence for no good reason.

The historical process doesn’t pick out winners and losers—people do. History is a descriptive discipline, not a normative discipline. It tells you who believed what. But history cannot tell you who was right and who was wrong. It cannot pole-vault from is to ought. That’s not a historical judgment.

But I'm not jumping from an "is" to an "ought;" this is something that Hays has imputed to me. Whether Constantinople rejected Diodore and the two Theodores based on conclusions from Antiochene exegesis or whether Chalcedon was intended to affirm St. Cyril's Christology are legitimate historical questions to ask. The significance is debatable, but I'm not asserting significance. I'm simply asserting what the fact of the historical happening was. The hand-wave is blurring historical methods and conclusions from those methods.

I believe that Prejean is referring to a book which came out in the 1990s. Cyril died in the 5C. So he’s saying that the church had to wait 1500 years to find out where the truth lay in the Nestorian controversy. Doesn’t he realize how deadly that is to his thesis of definitive conclusions?

This gives me a little bit of a laugh, because no one actually thought otherwise in the East the entire time. The West had an incentive to emphasize Leo's role, and that in turn influenced the compromise theories of Harnack and Grillmeier, but my entire point is that the West had this wrong the entire time. Far from being a case of the sources closest historically to the controversy being mistaken, it is exactly the later interpretation, distanced from the historical facts, that strikes me as inaccurate. And this from someone who is arguing from a "philosophical hermeneutic" method that appears to date to the 20th century, BTW, as far I can tell. But to be fair, this is an actual argument, just a mistaken one.

Okay, if he doesn’t like the “arbitrary” adjective, I’ll call his argument circular instead. Remember what I said? So this is how the game is played:

i) Arbitrarily privilege your favorite outcome.

ii) Discount any authorities who disagree with you.

iii) Pick out the historical precursors who just so happen to chart a pathway to your preferred outcome, to the exclusion of all other precursors and historical outcomes.And see what he’s just done? He’s reasoned backwards from his Cyrillene Christology to “the moderate Alexandrian method that produced” it.

He first selected the outcome, then selected the method—picking out church fathers who line up with that particular trajectory. He did this, not the historical process. What is “correct” or “excessive” is relative to his freely chosen point of reference.

The losing party—the monophysites—didn’t disappear after Chalcedon. They’re still around—Copts, Armenians. The tree has many twigs and branches.

So are Gnostics and Arians and (in Hays's case) Donatists and Nestorians. But this is all the more vigorous hand-waving on Hays's part. He hasn't shown that McGuckin departed from ordinary historical methods in making his argument and responding to objectors, so this is a response only if we are willing to move out of reality and into pure abstraction. Pardon me for preferring the real. The mere existence of monophysite communions doesn't really detract from the fact that they have been rejected by the rest of the Christian community. To the extent that heretics can be excluded from the Christian communion, they were and are.

Incidentally, there is no such thing as “moderate” allegorization. That’s Prejean’s make-up distinction. Once you cut the text free from its historical moorings, you’re at sea without a map, compass, or coastline.

Here, he's just given up on argument entirely. "Look at me waving my hands! I am clearly waving my hands here!"

[Regarding Vigilius] It’s only a cheap resort if your opening gambit is to claim the historical process does privilege one outcome over another; that's the entire point of competing historical theories, only to immediately insulate your own guy from the competitive pressures.

Technically, this doesn't deserve an answer as a fallacious (tu quoque) argument, but I will once again state the matter, because it illustrates the problem.

There is a difference between historical conclusions and theological conclusions drawn from those historical conclusions. The historical conclusion, that Vigilius was condemned, is not even a matter of debate. The theological conclusion drawn from that historical conclusion (e.g., that the papacy's claim of infallibility is unwarranted) is a question of theological method. I never said that historical conclusions definitive resolve theological questions; I only said that it is an appropriate question to inquire as to whether Constantinople in fact did condemn Diodore and the two Theodores on the grounds I described or whether Chalcedon did in fact endorse Cyril's Christology. Maybe this bit of hand-waving comes from Hays's own confusion of empirical methods with theological methods (as with the GHM), but it's still not an argument to assume the conflation of the two (which I don't share) and then attack me based on it.

Like all devout Roman Catholics, Prejean practices double-bookkeeping. There’s one set of rules for the papacy, and another set of rules for everyone else. Whenever the papacy is in peril, the papist will declare a state of martial law. Ordinary due process is suspended.

No, I simply affirm the limits of empirical methods to answer theological questions, whether they are GHM or historical methods. Empirical methods work well when used where their assumptions hold, and they work poorly elsewhere.

I’ve already argued that GHM is the method of Scripture itself. He simply ignores the argument because he can’t answer it.

No, Hays has asserted that the GHM is the method of Scripture itself. I can grant that there are numerous explanations of past times in a present context within Scripture and still deny the conclusions. That means Hays doesn't have an argument.

Prejean is conflating his own position with mine. I’m not the one who’s mounting an argument from authority, he is.

Well, yeah, but I thought that the soundness of historical methods was a nice, shared empirical basis for authority. On the other hand, the application of the GHM in cases where it wouldn't obviously be reliable strikes me as a rather naive appeal to authority.

Also, I didn’t say “question” GHM. I said those who conscious go against the grain of the text. Even in medieval exegesis, the literal sense was still treated as foundational. In principle, the medieval exegete was not supposed to swap out the literal sense for the allegorical.

More hand-waving by equivocation. First, "the literal sense" is not "the most probable meaning by the GHM." Second, "foundational" doesn't mean the same thing for astrological hermeneutics and Catholics. Third, we mean different things by "swap out."

Once again, he’s conflating his own position with mine. I don’t care whether GHM enjoys traditional precedent or not. I brought that up as an ad hominem argument, reasoning from his own premises.

Ad hominem is ordinarily fallacious, but even the attempt to demonstrate inconsistency in my position fails, because I have historical warrant for disagreeing with the premises of the refutation and philosophical warrant for my theological criteria. But I'm am thrilled to have the admission that the use of the GHM is immune to history, that it's a castle in the air that Hays believes because he believes it. Sundering Baptist/free-church ecclesiology from reality is very convenient for my arguments.

i) Historical events are empirically equivalent. They don’t come stamped with “right” or ‘wrong” on their surface. That’s a value-judgment we bring to the historical process, not one we derive from the historical process. Empirically speaking, there’s no outward difference between the two thieves and the person who died between them.

The unique significance of that particular death is not inscribed on the event itself, but in the written record of the event.

I agree that significance is independent of whether an event actually happened. Fortunately, my arguments are about what happened, not what significance it has. Red herring here.

ii) The outcome is not a theological criterion. For one thing, there is often more than one outcome. And even if there were only one outcome, that would not make it right. The winners are not always right, the losers are not always wrong.

The False Decretals were very helpful to the cause of Roman primacy. The outcome was founded on a falsehood.

After the falsehood was exposed—which men like Bellarmine fought tooth-and-nail, the outcome remained intact despite the fraudulent foundations.

As a patent law attorney, Prejean should find this unsettling.

Errr, why? As a lawyer, I recognize the contingent nature of legal development; I'm not one of the Enlightenment-spawned enthusiasts of the "brooding omnipresence in the sky." But I agree that the significance of the outcome based on a theological criterion; I just have no idea why Hays considers my theological criteria unreasonable. I can see why Hays disagrees, but I can see no argument for considering them unreasonable. I'm not rationally obligated by Hays's criteria, and there's no rational obligation for me to reject my own criteria, so how does Hays come off saying that I am being inconsistent or unreasonable?

iii) Prejean is also confusing the difference between the right interpretation of an event and the rightness of the event itself. Suppose that McGuckin’s theory is right. That doesn’t prove that Cyril was right.

No, I'm not. Hays thinks I am, but all I'm saying is that McGuckin's interpretation of the events is correct. You can think that Chalcedon was wrong, but the question is what Chalcedon said.

iv) In addition, a “growing consensus” 1500 years after the fact is a recipe for skepticism. The “definitive” conclusion is always in tomorrow’s edition, never today’s.

When the growing consensus is that a later theory is false, and an interpretation that has been consistently offered since the event was right all along, it's a bit of a different case.

*whew* Following all that hand-waving is like being in an aerobics class! Hope that an actual argument is coming somewhere.