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.