Thursday, August 18, 2005

Quickest retirement in history

Well, I've reassessed the long-term good in proselytizing, mostly because I think the field isn't ready for planting. :-) That, and I'd like to spend more time just doing ordinary things with my family and reading some really good books that have arrived in the mail lately, perhaps posting book reviews when I think they'll be helpful (and some of those will serve the proselytizing function, by critically reviewing them in light of the objections I presented below). I'm still happy with the set of objections I laid out before, which might prove useful for Protestants willing to become versed in patristics, and I'll keep trying to berate Jason Engwer into comprehension. One seriously important objection that I have to many (but not all) Evangelical apologists has arisen on the latter thread, and I will reproduce it here just as evidence that I'm not nuts for thinking that this problem exists.

Jason said:
Secondly, if a Methodist or Presbyterian has a different methodology than I have, why couldn't I cite him as an example of somebody who agrees with me that justification is attained apart from baptism? Your argument doesn't make sense. People can have different methodologies, yet agree on many issues, even the large majority of issues, including most of their methodological opinions.

To which I reply:
Because then he doesn't help your argument. This is one of the most elementary errors made by non-scholars and bad scholars, and far from not making sense, it's probably the most basic and essential requirement for good scholarship. Citing people for conclusions when you don't agree with their methodology for deriving those conclusions is normally worse than citing no evidence at all. It creates an intellectual obligation on you to explain why you credit their methodology for this conclusion and not another, which is why it's ordinarily better never to cite people who come to contradictory conclusions unless you know for sure that you can explain them. Hence, a Baptist/free-churcher citing a Presbyterian, Lutheran, Anglican, or Methodist is almost certainly going to run afoul of this problem somewhere. By contrast, Lutherans and Anglicans, for example, can cross-cite each other a great deal more easily, because they have far fewer disagreements (ditto Catholics and Orthodox). Seriously, this ought to be lesson #1 in any reputable graduate program, and the fact you don't know it means you really need to go back to the drawing board on how you structure arguments, or you will never have a prayer of being taken seriously.

There's lots of slacking out there on this obligation to explain why you're citing someone as evidence, and it needs to get nipped in the bud. PhilVaz is ever vigilant on this subject, having caught Bill Webster and David King in this most elementary of scholarly gaffes:

Here are some Protestant, Orthodox and Catholic scholars that contradict the conclusions of Webster/King. They indeed cite or make reference to all of the following authors and their books. Yves Congar is especially noted in his groundbreaking work on Tradition, but Webster/King fail to quote his conclusions or analysis from the obvious chapters that rebut their entire work: Part I, Chapter 2: The Fathers and the Early Church; and Part II, Chapter 5: Scripture and Tradition in Relation to Revelation and to the Church which has an initial section "The True Position of the Fathers." Schaff and Kelly, two major Protestant patristic scholars and historians are quoted on the authority of Scripture (which Catholics would not disagree with), but they fail to quote or make reference to their conclusions on the authority of Tradition and Church --

And of course, the latter link on Chris Little's (aka, Nevsky) scathing rebuttal of David King's misuse of Pelikan is a classic in apologetic amusement, but frightening in the implications of just how badly basic scholarship can be neglected. And having had my own run-in with David King, in which he tried to cite Norman Russell against John McGuckin on a subject on which they agree, I know it happens. Whether through incompetence or dishonesty (and the quote above makes me suspect the former), there's no question that this has no place in responsible discussions.

Anyway, to wrap up this particular venture, here are some responses to Hays's post "Popery Potpourri" (you've got to give him credit for creativity):

2.As to the legal analogies, it sounds as though Prejean is playing Larry Tribe to my Bob Bork.

Considering that I have great regard both for my former professor's analytical abilities and for Judge Bork's, I take this as a high compliment. As with many great minds, their conclusions diverge radically, but they agree on the basic framework. Tribe knows when he can rationalize and when he has to argue for something to be overruled as inconsistent, for example.

3.One problem with the legal analogy is that it begs the question by assuming such an analogy rather than mounting an actual argument from analogy.

I think this is covered by the analogy of a written text serving as an objective social norm, rather than simply being communicative. I wrote more extensively about it in my objections and in this discussion (and note Fr. Al Kimel's observations here).

4.Presumably, a divine teaching office does enjoy a measure of divine foresight. Therefore, it ought to anticipate future contingencies. If it can’t to that, then wherein lies the divine guidance? Anyone can to do fix-up job after the fact.

First, this construes infallibility epistemically rather than ontologically, which I argued elsewhere is exactly backward (indeed, ISTM that this is the entire problem of Evangelicalism in a nutshell). There is no "divine foresight," no epistemic advantage, and indeed, the miracle is very often that people ended up doing the right thing despite their own sincere intentions to do wrong (which is often the way Providence works). As far as anyone being able to do a fix-up job after the fact, I find that bit of hyperbole often asserted but rarely demonstrated. Some types of arguments simply don't meet the most basic criteria for rationality (see, e.g., examples about Augustine teaching about blue monkeys, in which there is literally no reason offered for the belief), but those types of entirely illegitimate conclusions are extremely rare. Even Roe v. Wade was not that absurd, for example, and I consider it an awful decision.

5.Prejean’s retrojective warrant reduces to a tautology: meaning is whatever we say it is, whenever we say it. Yesterday’s meaning may not be today’s meaning, and tomorrow’s meaning may not be today’s meaning. But that is less an argument than a sanctification of the status quo.

It's not a matter of literal tautology; there are some practical limits as to how far one can stretch this. The important thing is that social legitimacy is not an immaterial factor; plenty of corrupt popes refrained from doing one or another activity simply because they knew they couldn't get away with it, and even if they did, whatever they wrote was going to be interpreted in substantial contravention of their subjective intent. That's the back-pressure that any system of objective law applies on authority; no matter how the authority intends the statement, the society will ultimately have a say in how it is accepted.

And if the meaning of a magisterial document really has such an ephemeral shelf-life, then Catholic claims suffer from built-in obsolescence. So Prejean’s argument seems to be self-refuting.

They are only contingently true, but then again, that much can be said for any human knowledge, what with us not knowing the future. That hardly makes them ephemeral, any more than it makes laws ephemeral before they are tested in application. People adjust their behaviors based on the laws; the society changes even before there is absolute definiteness in the law's meaning.

6.For that matter, retrodictive proof can justify any outcome whatsoever, including contrary outcomes, for any modern-day state-of-affairs has a historical trajectory behind it. If it validates Catholicism, then it validates Calvinism and Lutheranism and Anabaptism and fundamentalism and Pentecostalism and Nestorianism and Mohammedanism, &c.

Hence the importance of continuity of authority. If you can't identify who is in charge based on some form of legitimacy, you don't have a society at all. The common assumption that everyone has to share is at least generally what is a part of the legal system.

6'-8 are covered in my objections to Evangelicalism.

9.It is true that certainty and authority are not the same thing. The question, though, is not about abstract possibilities, but the concrete question of what level of certitude the Catholic rule of faith claims for itself in relation to the Protestant rule of faith.

The question isn't really the level of epistemic certitude, except with respect to the practical question of who has authority. The theoretical epistemic certitude that one's rule of faith gives is more or less irrelevant; reasonable levels of certainty may be obtained in a number of ways. What must be determined in the actual form of the Church that Christ established, where the authority was in it. The historical case for authority in the bishops has so much greater evidence in its favor than any other theory that it is, again, a virtual no-brainer, and that's before you even get into the Christological implications.

10.It is also quite true that you can accept an authority-source without foreknowing every consequence. But that, of course, assumes that you have good reason to credit your authority-source in the first place.

And this is where Prejean’s argument runs razor thin. For it remains entirely on the plane of a purely abstract structure or formalism. We have criteria applied to nothing, distinctions applied to nothing.

What one would like to see is how he applies his own criteria to make a case for his own authority-source. As it stands right now, we are being paid in verbal vouchers unredeemed by concrete content.

As I said elsewhere, this essentially assumes what is attempting to be proved: that epistemic certainty from a written text is the only sound basis for authority. From that respect, my argument is "razor-thin," but I'm not convinced that the Evangelical argument is any more convincing. On the other hand, if you conceive of meaning of written law in terms of an objective judicial authority, then I'm hard pressed to see how any stronger case can be made from history than for the apostolic succession. Indeed, the notion of subjective criteria such as personal holiness was rejected with the Donatists.

Surely Prejean isn’t waiting for the Evangelicals to make their case first. For, if they have failed to make a persuasive case up until now, then that makes his own job all the easier, does it not?

I agree. I have only to state my objections, which I have done. From those objections, it ought to be easy enough to draw the conclusion that a metaphysical system accounting for the epistemic limitations of humanity with respect to God's transcendence, a reasonable epistemic method grounded in objective experience, and a sound Christology is the proper worldview for approaching Christianity.

11.I also don’t see what the trickle-down process and incremental consensus-building has to do with high-placed liberals like Brown and Fitzmyer.

Indeed, the logic moves in the opposite direction. Prejean appears to be setting up a false antithesis between gentle persuasion and forcible intervention.

To simply depose a Brown or Fitzmyer does nothing to build a contrary consensus. But promoting them only has the effect of mainstreaming and standardizing their viewpoint.

I, personally, do not see any definitive error in what Brown or Fitzmyer teach. I don't agree with their historical methodology (they assume far too much), but given the rather peculiar way they extract theological significance from their findings, it doesn't entail any theological error. That's why the Magisterium allows them to teach; debate among scholars about the exact nature of theological method is both salutary and useful.

There is a third way, which is for a curial congregation or a special commission to offer a reasoned rebuttal of erroneous views. And that would give a potential consensus something to coalesce around. You can’t beat something with nothing. If Brown or Fitzmyer are to the left of the magisterium, then in order for a contrary consensus to form, the magisterium needs to speak up and offer an alternative vision.

That would defeat the entire purpose, which is to allow these matters to be discussed. The point isn't to establish a "contrary consensus" by fiat; the point is to let the matters be discussed so as to let a consensus build gradually. You don't impose a consensus unless necessary, particularly when it's not clear that "left of the Magisterium" is erroneous.

12.To say that the Protestants have rejected the rule of law is, I guess, a metaphor for the Protestant rule of faith.But in what sense is sola Scriptura not a common foundation? It is not a common foundation for liberal Protestants, to be sure. But, then, they’re analogous to liberal Catholics who reject the Catholic rule of faith.

A written law serving as an objective social norm for a society absent a judicial body is simply a voluntary association. In other words, it isn't an "authority" in the legal sense at all. Sola scriptura isn't the common foundation; agreeing on conclusions is the common foundation. There's nothing binding except the individual's own will.

The fact is that Protestant theology is quite stable. It takes the form of two-tiered consensus. There is a synchronic/diachronic inter-Evangelical consensual level as well as the diachronic intra-Evangelical consensual level. There is what all Evangelicals hold in common, at any given time, and over time, and then there is the perpetuation of distinct Evangelical traditions over time.

The Protestant Reformation firmed up and settled down very quickly. Calvinism, Lutheranism, and Anabaptism continue to perpetuate themselves. These have, in turn, propagated a number of variants—some more moderate than the original, others more radical, still others a synthetic variant thereof--but all true to type. And even the more radical or reactionary progeny tend, over time, to assimilate with and be reabsorbed into the host.

I'd argue that there is literally no consensus in those groups. What Lutheranism means by JBFA is not what Calvinism means is not what Anabaptism means. Moreover, pietism is another axis, and that also varies widely from Lutheranism to Methodism to Puritanism. Authority, which I would argue is essential for viewing sola scriptura as an authoritative principle, is disputed among them. And contra the Pedantic Protestant, they don't even agree on very basic hermeneutical principles; Law-Gospel is not covenantal is not dispensational is not "already, not yet" is not whatever-the-heck-you-call-what-Baptists-do. There's a limit to variation, maybe, but in terms of what they have in common, "there's no 'there' there." It's simply nominal adherence to "the Reformation solis," with everyone holding contrary definitions of what each of them means.

One can find parallels for this in Judaism and Islam and Roman Catholicism. The religious spectrum repeats itself because human nature repeats itself, and there are only so many viable options. This is a combination of nature, grace, and sin.

It only takes a handful theological traditions within any given religion to exhaust what different personality-types are attracted to. That’s why the religious continuum reiterates itself in every time and place. The variations are cyclical rather than linear, microevolutionary rather than macroevolutionary.

I'll agree that humanity continues to make the same kinds of mistakes over and over again, but the distinguishing feature of Christianity is constantly defeating them and transcending every error. 2 Cor. 10:5 We destroy arguments and every proud obstacle to the knowledge of God, and take every thought captive to obey Christ. Eph. 1:9-10 For he has made known to us in all wisdom and insight the mystery of his will, according to his purpose which he set forth in Christ as a plan for the fulness of time, to unite all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth. Error is inevitable, but Christ's Body becomes stronger and stronger throughout time. This is where Christianity is superior to all other religions; it is historical and thus progressive rather than cyclical. It is constantly moving toward an eschaton, a telos, while all other religions are caught in the pagan cycle of chaos. This static notion (which I assume comes from Heidegger) is atheistic and anti-Christian to the core.

By contrast, the Hegelian model of development which has captured the contemporary Catholic church is linear rather than cyclical, macroevolutionary rather than microevolutionary.

It's not Hegelian by a long shot. Hegel was an idealist; the concept of contingent, historical development in Catholicism (or for that matter, the Church Fathers) is entirely grounded in reality. With the thesis-anithesis model, Hegel set being up in opposition to living; in Christianity, it is exactly the opposite. Actually, if you want a really good analysis of this matter, David Hart's The Beauty of the Infinite takes these guys to task. From my own Catholic phenomenologist perspective, Zubiri has critiqued the metaphysics of both Hegel and Heidegger, and since he studied Hegel under Husserl and Heidegger, he oughtta know. But even Newman's hindsight model depended on contingency; it wasn't a matter of transcending to some hidden principle by application of a metaphysical method.