Friday, December 15, 2006

The fine art of defending the indefensible

Steve Hays continues to try to defend James White, who, unfortunately, happens to be just plain wrong. I'm impressed by the effort to render a silk purse from a sow's ear, but it just gets progressively sillier. I previously pointed out that White's argument amounted to a fallacious tu quoque argument. But Hays points out the rather obvious point that tu quoque arguments, and ad hominem arguments more generally, are not even fallacious if used to demonstrate an opponent's inconsistency, thereby requiring him to modify a premise that he believes to fit with another. I entirely agree, although the argument had better identify the dubious premises in question and show that there is some reason for doubting them, on pain of not being effective for the point. But unfortunately for Hays, this has nothing to do with what White is doing.

White is using this argument as either a defense against my argument or an attack against my consistency (the "or" is inclusive; it could be both). If used as a defense against my argument, which certainly appears to be how it is being used, then it is simply fallacious. It can't logically be deployed for the purpose White is advancing it, because my being wrong doesn't have any implications for White's being wrong.

If being advanced as a serious challenge to my consistency, then White must consider the argument both valid and sound (else it wouldn't actually demonstrate that inconsistency). If White is advancing an argument that he himself doesn't consider valid and sound as applied for the purpose you describe, then he would just be dishonest. Ironically, in that case, it would be a legitimate use of Geach's tu quoque rationale against White to point out that he is using an argument which, if he conceded its validity, would be compel him to accept premises that conflict with other premises he holds. But since White himself says he considers the argument to be based on a fallacy, I will assume that he is not dishonestly advancing the argument to show inconsistency in my position, so I have given him the benefit of the doubt for the only honest use he could possibly have (as a defense), meaning that it must be a (fallacious) defense.

I suspect that White is actually trying to render forth some sort of proverbial platitude like "If you attack people with fallacious arguments, then people will attack you with fallacious arguments." There is some practical truth to that: if you can't spot fallacies in your own argument, you probably won't be able to defend yourself when someone uses the same fallacies against you. This might have been useful, had White actually identified the fallacy. But the "make a conclusion in this field of theology, transport it over here and use it as a club to beat someone over the head" fallacy is not in any logical textbook that I have ever seen. It appears to be a species of category error, but that would actually require a demonstration, not an assertion. And of course, White's method has always included mountains of assertion and pebbles of demonstration, so it is entirely consistent with his M.O. to ignore the substance here. Anyway, this use to comment on my tactics in dialogue is not the use that Hays cites either, so his citation of Geach still has no applicability.

Therefore, White's move is not a "legitimate move in a cumulative counterargument," and the only one guilty of a "logical gaffe" is Hays, for citing Geach's position in a situation in which it is inapposite.

Nor is that Hays's only logical gaffe. Regarding my dispute with Perry and Daniel over the soundness of apply their argument to Catholicism, Hays says:

However, a counterargument often proceeds by process of elimination. To knock the Catholic competitor out of the running by turning Prejean’s own argument against him is one stage of a cumulative counterargument in which you both argue against the opponent’s position as well as arguing for your own.

Even though this wasn't what White was doing, it's just irresponsible to use the same argument that is being used as a defeater against you without mounting a defense against it yourself, and most of the time, that will mean that your use of it against someone else would be inconsistent with your own defense. That is why tu quoque actually has some legitimate uses, because people are not always particularly careful about checking their own consistency. Neither you nor White have any responsible use of this argument unless you can show why it is unsound as applied to your view.

Hasker uses the word “creature” at one point, so we need to make a verbal adjustment when we apply his definition to the case of God or God Incarnate, but that aside, if we plug this standard definition into the case at hand, then, even though Christ was sinless, he was not impeccable.

This requires a great deal more than a verbal adjustment, which is why God's freedom qua divine is never defined this way in Catholic theology, but rather in terms of ontological independence. Good and evil actions have different ontological status, so there's no such thing as a freedom to "choose" evil (evil is no power; it is simply the corruption of another power). Mutatis mutandis, the definition holds, but it's more than a mere verbal change.

If God, or God Incarnate, is a libertarian agent, then God’s goodness is entirely tautologous. If he’s a libertarian agent, then he’s pure potentia rather than pure actus.

God's freedom pertains to potentia absoluta, which in turn pertains to ontological dependence. The notion that different possible worlds represent different potentia in God says that God varies from world to world, which is simply modal polytheism. Hays's definition of God's freedom in terms of what might happen in other possible worlds is therefore inapposite. Also, Hays's remark regarding God's goodness here proves that Hays has defined divine goodness solely in terms of the divine will; that's the only way the conclusion follows.

Speaking for myself, God has no “circumstances.” Rather, God is the author of our circumstances. God creates the situation we’re in. God doesn’t find himself in a preexisting situation.

Neither do I. I make no such commitment when I say that God has libertarian free will.

In some ways, God has more freedom than we do, and in other ways less.

Only because people speak less than rigorously about what freedom is.

I think we should view the relation between God's nature and the creation more in proscriptive rather than prescriptive terms. God's nature is such that he will not create a world of pure evil, or a world with gratuitous evil, or a world in which evil triumphs over good, or a world wherein evil overbalances good.God's nature is such that he will not create a foolish or frivolous world.So God's nature is proscriptive with respect to certain logically possible worlds. These are not live possibilities. They would never make the cut.

This is not an explanation; it is a statement of what you must explain. Now explain it.

But it doesn't follow from this that God's nature is prescriptive withrespect to possible worlds.On the face of it, there seem to be alternative goods as well asincommensurable goods. It isn't a choice between good and evil. So God isn’t constrained to choose just one possible world—or any at all.

Possible worlds again. This is just anthropomorphism. The notion of God being "constrained" AT ALL shows that you don't have a coherent concept of what power is in the first place. Lack of a non-power is not a constraint.

i) Prejean is tacitly mapping Catholic theological method onto Calvinism, as if Calvin is to Calvinists what the Pope is to papists.But Reformed theological method takes its point of departure with exegetical theology, not historical theology.Even if Calvin were guilty as charged, this does nothing to overturn Reformed theology, for it does nothing to overturn the exegetical foundation of Reformed theology.At most, it would only mean that Calvin was unsuccessful in presenting a philosophical theodicy.

And that is all I care to show. Why would I even think that I would be able to "overturn Reformed theology?" As far as I have seen, people believe it for no good reason or purpose in the first place, so why would I think that I could reason people who have already chosen to behave irrationally out of their position? It suffices for me to show that it is irrational and unjustified; I have neither desire nor need to show that it is inconsistent with itself.

ii) Prejean makes a string of empty assertions rather than actually interacting with Reformed scholarship, such as chapters 4 and 11 in Helm’s book on Calvin’s Ideas.

And I imagine that Helm will do the same thing that he always does, which is to mumble something about "biblical worldviews" not requiring "philosophical argument" for justification, but how he can mount "logical defenses." Frankly, I'm not all that worried about people like Helm, who more or less confess inability to justify their position with respect to natural theology. But like I always do, I'll buy the book, read it, and if I think that anything in it actually threatens my posiiton, I'll answer it.

Actually, my statement isn’t based on the concept of sovereignty. Rather, it’s based on the concept of causality. In particular, it’s based on a counterfactual (sine qua non) definition of causation—according to which A caused B in case B would not obtain unless A obtained.

Errr, yeah. The metaphysical error I had cited was exactly screwing up God's causality, and defining causation counterfactually might as well be the definition thereof. My view isn't "contracausal." It just doesn't accept a counterfactual definition of causation. I suppose that does make inspiration an "otiose" category to some extent, because God is "otiose" in some sense by His nature, though not in the formal sense.

This is simply a straw man argument because it attempts to redefine the Reformed doctrine of divine sovereignty in coercive, hard deterministic terms whereas compatibilism is a version of soft determination which eschews compulsion.

I can't give any coherent sense to "soft" determinism with a counterfactual definition of causation combined with a compatibilist definition of free will. It simply trying to mix oil and water; I've yet to see any good argument for the consistency of the two. You're simply asserting two prima facie incompatible concepts without argument.

This is simplistic and equivocal because it fails to draw elementary distinctions between means and ends, necessary and sufficient conditions, as well as the prescriptive or decretive meaning of the divine will.

Given your metaphysical assumptions, I don't think it is possible for you to coherently affirm the existence of any of those distinctions. That's why I said what I did. If you can philosophically justify those definitions (not exegesis here), then I might be persuaded. But the mere fact that you draw distinctions without substantiating them doesn't prove anything.

And by the way, not that I would expect you to go to this much trouble just for effect, but I think the Latin translation of my name would be something like "Agroioannis" ("agro" (field) + "Ioannis" (John's), from the French "Prejean," shortened from "pre de Jean," meaning "John's meadow"). It would be something like that anyway, but my Latin knowledge is close to nil, so I might have got an ending wrong somewhere.