Friday, August 26, 2005

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.