Friday, August 31, 2007

Just to show I'm not completely heartless

I know my rational methodology might make me seem somewhat pitiless, so I want to first say that I do genuinely feel sorry for people who accept nonsense as if it meant something. And I do genuinely feel sorry for Steve Hays, who has been aptly described as a "middle-aged seminarian." If I had sacrificed half my entire life trying to make sense out of hopeless nonsense, I would imagine I would face at least some cognitive dissonance. I certainly felt that when I was trying to extract some sense from Joseph Campbell in my childhood. It sounded good, but when I grew up, I was forced to admit that it was hopeless. So it is with anti-Catholic polemicists; their beliefs are senseless, but they continue the futile pretense of intellectual respectability. But it's a lot like watching my wife's Bayou Bengals take on Mississippi State on Thursday. I feel sorry for the Bulldogs for being vastly overmatched, but not so much that I take my eye off the more important goal, i.e., LSU's opponent getting pounded into the dirt as convincingly as possible.

So it is with Hays. I feel bad for him that he plays for an awful team with no talent, but that's not my problem. So when he throws the theological equivalent of six interceptions, you can pretty much expect that I'm not going to stop punching the ball in the end zone.

Hays begins:

The paradoxical thing about Prejean is that he’s a Catholic apologist who never does Catholic apologetics. He never gets around to defending his own faith.I suppose that there’s a roundabout logic to his roundaboutness. After all, if Catholicism is specifically indefensible, then it would be a suicide mission to vainly defend the specifics of your faith with specific arguments.Prejean doesn’t offer historical or exegetical arguments for his faith since, if he ever got that down-to-earth, his arguments would fall prey to specific counterarguments.

I defend my faith to reasonable people all the time; when they ask why I believe some or another thing, I answer them. Hays isn't reasonable. He doesn't ask reasonable questions; he makes accusations. If you're going to make an accusation rather than ask a reasonable question, then it suffices to simply show that the accusation is unsubstantiated or irrational. That's apologetics in the literal sense: defense.

In that respect he’s several steps ahead of other Catholic apologists like Hahn, Keating, and Armstrong. Realizing the futility of their approach, he tries to put as much distance as possible between his faith and supporting arguments specific to his faith.His strategy is to dig a very deep moat, raise the drawbridge, retreat into the citadel of natural theology, and have an underground tunnel to Byzantium in case the citadel is overrun.

Here we see the contrast with Hays. I asked him what seems to be a reasonable question: justify the authority of Scripture with some compelling abductive or deductive argument. I presented an argument for why I thought that the notion of Scripture as some sort of self-authenticating authority was nonsense. Hays doesn't answer the argument (he simply accuses me of infidelity for denying Scripture as a self-authenticating authority). Hays doesn't answer the question either. Hays just calls me names and makes unsubstantiated personal attacks (e.g., accusing me of "prevaricating"), trying to divert attention from hs delinquency of duty. Complaining about my "moat" when your tent city is getting shelled rings hollow at best. It's not my fault Hays's position is indefensible.

It’s true that, in this case, I didn’t respond to his other argument ("that something can't possible serve as a formal rule unless it adjudicates exactly those sorts of hermeneutical disputes.")And that’s because I was responding to a different argument of his. I didn’t respond to that argument here, because I was responding to this argument—on what sola Scriptura allegedly entails.Notice that Prejean, instead of standing behind his argument, and explaining why his argument was not a category mistakes, simply issues a denial and then changes the subject. So he has done nothing whatsoever to rebut the charge that his contention was a category mistake. Instead, he resorted to a bait-and-switch maneuver, swapping out the argument of his I did respond to, and swapping in another argument of his.Incidentally, I do get around to responding to his other argument as well. Just not here. I’m taking his arguments one a time. If he lacks confidence in his arguments, that’s his problem, not mine.

Then Hays didn't understand my argument in the first place. My point was that if the Jews had anthropomorphic beliefs in their writing, then sola scriptura entails that they will be normative. My statement wasn't that sola scriptura entails the Mormon version of Jewish anthropomorphism, but rather, that their belief that what Jewish anthropomorphism (as they understand it) is philosophically normative is entailed by sola scriptura. I assumed Hays's response, which was that sola scriptura was a "rule of faith" rather than a "hermeneutical prediction," was intended to respond to that argument by suggesting that since one could pick and choose among interpretations, it could not entail that any particular conclusions was normative. But this walked into my own argument, since the assertion that Scripture served as a "rule of faith" foreclosed the possibility there could be legitimate hermeneutical disputes on matters of faith (since a rule by definition mus adjudicate them). So the attempt to create a category error by drawing a distinction between the rule of faith itself and the actual interpretations fails, because the rule itself collapses distinctions between the authority of the source and the authority of the interpretations. Thus, we get back to my point; Jewish anthropomorphism is philosophically normative, even if there might be dispute (which ought to be definitively resolved by Scripture itself on Hays's account) as to what Jewish anthropomorphism itself entails. My point is that I am free to disregard Jewish anthropomorphism as being philosophically normative, because I'm not bound by the OT authors' philosophical conceptions.

This is an assertion in place of an argument—and a question-begging assertion at that...
i) Here he makes a gesture in the direction of explaining himself. Unfortunately, he continues to beg the question.Indeed, he’s using the same argument that atheologians like Kai Nielsen frequently use to prove (to their own satisfaction) that a timeless, discarnate being cannot be a person or personal agent: hence, God does not exist.

Indeed I am. I think Nielsen's argument would probably be correct if applied to the belief that God has real relations to people.

Prejean is assuming, without benefit of argument, that "electing" is a temporal action. Ironically, Prejean is the one who is anthropomorphizing the godhead. It is true that when human beings make choices, there is a temporal process of deliberation, as well as an interval between the mental resolve and its practical execution. But to say on this account that God cannot choose is to illicitly equate the essential nature of choice with an incidental mode of subsistence.Prejean has offered no argument to show that choice is inherently temporal, such that there would be a time before God made a choice, and a time subsequent to his choice. Same thing with "promising." Where is Prejean’s actual argument that only a temporal agent can make a promise?

I'm not talking about the manner in which choices are made. I'm talking about the sort of being that God is. God doesn't choose among things; that would posit the existence of real things among which He chose, which would deny His aseity. Likewise, God doesn't promise in terms of creating a real relation with any created things, because God is not the sort of entity who could even possibly be in real relation to any created things. Literally, these things are not true. We describe them as such in order to explain what sort of relation we experience to God, but it clearly isn't a literal description, as if God chose from among His divine ideas and elected some of what He had created, for example. If we conceived those things as a literal description of God, we would be admitting absurdity.

ii) Likewise, he fails to distinguish between a timeless cause and a temporal effect. God’s intentions are effected in time, without God himself acting in time. His intention is not, itself, temporal.

"Intentions" is another anthropomorphism. Far from failing to distinguish the two, I am pointing out that the relationship between the two is utterly asymmetric. We aren't even real enough for God to have "intentions" toward us.

iii) On a related note, Prejean also fails to take into account the use of second causes to facilitate God’s will.

"Second causes?" Care to justify that metaphysically? And "facilitate?" Is it possible to make things easier for God?

Is the idea of divine speech inherently anthropomorphic? No. Prejean is lifting this verse out of context. Indeed, this very chapter supplies the context.Who is the speaker? Samuel. Samuel is a prophet. He is speaking on God’s behalf—as a mouthpiece for God Almighty.So God uses human beings to communicate his message. There is nothing figurative about that predication or process. The prophets are divine spokesmen. Recipients of visions and auditions. And God has other conduits to convey his message. He can speak through an angel. He can speak by means of a theophany. He can cause letters to be inscribed on stone.

First, the idea of divine speech IS inherently anthropomorphic. At least, Wolterstorff's notion of endorsement of illocutional acts seems to require that, which is why I believe his response to Barth's objection that only God can reveal Himself fails. Divine speech (in the sense of endorsement) isn't actually divine revelation. Second, you have to prove that God actually did these things; saying that he could doesn't prove that He ever did.

Scripture doesn’t describe divine speech in anthropomorphic terms. Rather, it describes a number of different, but literal modes of divine speech. When God inspires a prophet, he forms a set of verbalized thoughts in the mind of the prophet. This is divine speech because God inspired the words and sentences. We can predicate the speech to God because God inspired the words the prophet is uttering. There’s an exact match between what the prophet says and what the Lord caused him to say. Nothing the least bit figurative or anthropomorphic about that correspondence.

Since you have no actual knowledge of any of these things, your assertion is worthless. Suppose that I think you're making it all up and nothing the Scripture describes actually happened. Prove that it did.

Prejean has a very crude, philosophically naïve, and Biblically uninformed idea of what divine speech amounts to. That’s because he disdains the Bible, so he doesn’t make any effort to even understand the nature of the claim.

My concept of divine revelation isn't philosophically naive. Basically, unless you personally experience God doing some act, you have no cause for faith. I consider the notion that you can have faith in someone else's testimony philosophically absurd (and likewise, the notion of divine speech as caused human communication equally so). It's not disdain for the Bible, but disdain for your reasons for believing it, that causes me to disregard your assertions.

So he frankly admits that, from his standpoint, the OT authors were simply mistaken. They meant well. And they genuinely meant to attribute these mental states and actions to God. But they were wrong.We know better. Natural theology has falsified their claims.I’m not going to take the time, here and now, to argue with Prejean’s low view of Scripture. It’s sufficient to merely highlight his infidelity. I appreciate the way in which he candidly distinguishes his Catholic faith from Bible-believing Evangelicalism. He presents the alternatives is refreshingly stark terms.

Evidently, Hays is happy to taunt people for failing to be an apologist, but when he has an opportunity to actually (gasp) argue for his beliefs, he says nothing. I've candidly made the distinction; I've flat out said that his view is absurd. His answer is that he won't take the time to defend it.

It would be viciously circular if I were arguing with an atheist. But when two professing Christians get into a debate, is it viciously circular to assume that both sides take the self-witness of Scripture as a given? Historically, Catholicism does acknowledge the Bible to be the word of God. So, when I’m debating with a Catholic apologist, how is it viciously circular for me to take a doctrine for granted that we both share in common?Or do we? It’s clear from Prejean’s reaction that Catholicism and atheism are interchangeable. Hence, it would be viciously circular to grant the identity of Scripture as the word of God when debating with a Catholic apologist. File that for future reference.Once again, I appreciate Prejean’s frank infidelity. It’s a real time saver.

Of COURSE it's viciously circular when the reason for Scriptural authority is the matter in dispute. You can't take the conclusion for granted when you dispute the reasons, and since Catholics don't see Scripture as having authority outside the context of the Church, you can't take Scriptural authority for granted in your arguments. That's the whole point; you have to prove up the authority of Scripture. Of course we don't have faith in sola scriptura, and you haven't presented a single argument for why we should. In that respect, of course atheists and Catholics have in common that we don't agree with your reasons for granting authority to Scripture.

Prejean is prevaricating. This is what I actually said, in full: "Strictly speaking, there’s no such thing as natural theology. What we have, rather, is a bewildering variety of natural theologies." Notice that he quotes the first sentence, but omits the second sentence—which qualifies the force of the first sentence. So what I actually said is that there’s no such thing as natural theology (singular) because what we have instead is a variety of competing models of natural theology.But Prejean is too dishonest to quote me in full since that would ill-serve his purpose. Not that one must always quote someone in full, but when you partially quote someone in a way that deliberately leaves a false impression, then that is dishonest. Which is fine with me. If Prejean can’t defend his position by honest methods, that’s a tacit admission that his position is indefensible.

I have to say that I have literally never been accused of lying about what someone said in a statement immediately following a direct quote of what the person said, although Eric Svendsen came close once. It's not even clear to me how that is possible, which is why I have taken to quoting every single line of anti-Catholic posts to foreclose even the possibility of being subject to this accusation. I guess logical impossibility is no obstacle to mudslinging. But to be accused of being too dishonest to quote him in full when my remark followed a direct quote of the entire sentence, particularly when the accuser is someone who himself used a dishonest tu quoque argument against me and then lied about what Peter Geach said to justify it, is somewhat akin being lectured on the immorality of betrayal by Judas. I suppose Hays would know what lying looks like, but then again, I'd pretty much expect him to lie about it, and that's what he did here. If my position is so indefensible, one wonders why Hays has to lie about me to defend his own.

What is particularly incredible here is that he has even trumped up the idea that I made an accusation against him at all. What I said was "That's so obviously false that I'll assume that Hays isn't speaking strictly, but instead means that there is a bewildering variety of conclusions of natural theology." I can't see how that charitable interpretation is any different that Hays's own interpretation of his own words: "So what I actually said is that there’s no such thing as natural theology (singular) because what we have instead is a variety of competing models of natural theology." I suppose Hays might actually be so confused that he didn't see this, but having been accused of prevarication and dishonesty multiple times and given Hays's history, I'm not giving him a break this time. I think he's just a liar who deliberately makes false accusations to cover his failures to answer arguments.

Wow, how’s that for a closely-reasoned argument [JP--referring to my statement that innate ideas are nonsense].

If they aren't, you should be able to give a perfectly good argument for them. I'll happily line up with Maritain and Garrigou-Lagrange, who take exactly that position based on act and potency.

i) Another assertion in lieu of an argument. In addition, I didn’t say that indirect realism uses innate idea. Indirect realism is a theory of perception. My immediate point is that some of our knowledge is innate, while some of our knowledge is acquired—via perception.ii) At the same time, there is a relationship between the two modes of knowledge. Unless we were endowed with an innate classification system, we would be unable to classify raw sensory input. You can’t bootstrap a classification system. Without some preexisting categories to sort out the raw data, it remains a jumble. Some slots must already be in place to mentally organize, analyze, and synthesize the input.

I'm aware that indirect realism is a theory of perception. My point is that if you are asserting that knowledge is a mix of innate ideas and perception, and if you are asserting that the innate ideas are required to organize the perception, then you've already broken the logical connection required for Augustinian exemplarism (which is Aristotelian) and alethic realism. You don't need preexisting categories if order is in the things themselves, and that's exactly what the Aristotelian hylomorphic theory of knowledge says. A priori categories, by contrast, make no sense at all.

Natural theology is not generally correct (or incorrect) since there’s no such thing as natural theology in general. To assess the correctness of natural theology, you must begin by selecting the correct version of natural theology.

Saying that there are "versions" of natural theology is like saying that there are "versions" of truth. There's only one reality; natural theology is simply the commitment that one can know things about God from it. The only thing that it presupposes is knowledge about reality, but since you seem to endorse a theory of knowledge that doesn't permit it, I can see where this might be a problem for you.

Yes, if you have a criterion for continuity and progress. Yet he is citing natural theology as his criterion. But when you have a number of competing models, then it begs the question to cite natural theology as the criterion. What is his criterion to distinguish the correct version from the erroneous versions?

How does one decide among competing models in science? By whether they describe reality! Same thing here.

To the contrary, I’m addressing Prejean on his own grounds. He’s the one who is using natural theology as an interpretive grid which he superimposes on Scripture.So, yes, the onus lies on him to specify and defend which version of natural theology functions as his interpretive grid.But, as usual, his response is to indulge in evasive maneuvers. When you confront him on his own grounds, he pushes the eject button and parachutes out of his flaming plane. If I were in his situation, I’d be tempted to do the same thing. But it would be even better not to put yourself in that situation in the first place.

My point is that natural theology isn't superimposed on anything. It's inherent in reality, so if Scripture is in reality, then Scripture abides by natural theology as well. This is like saying that gravity is an interpretive grid superimposed on Scripture in light of which I interpret it. It doesn't even make sense.

i) Once more, this reveals quite a lot about his view of divine revelation, does it not? Reality is one thing, and revelation is another. ii) Of course, from a Christian standpoint, in contrast to Prejean’s, divine revelation is a revelation about reality. iii) And what about his appeal to "experience"? Does "experience" distinguish what is real from what is unreal? Don’t we experience dreams? Isn’t a hallucination a real experience? I didn’t hallucinate that I was hallucinating.
But you can dream about a pair of stilts. Or hallucinate. How does raw experience adjudicate between real stilts and your stilted dream or hallucination?

The point was exactly that reality ISN'T one thing and revelation another. The point is that they can't conflict, because revelation is a part of reality. If revelation is a revelation about reality, then it better not conflict with reality. And the appeal to hallucinations to justify skepticism is the oldest trick in the book. In fact, hallucinations do tell you something about reality; they demonstrate the presence of hallucinogens, brain damage, unconscious perceptual processing, and the like. If you think dreams are the standard of reality (which would fit into that whole psychopolis nonsense), then that shows an error in your thinking, but it's hardly a basis for concluding that experience doesn't map onto reality.

In what sense was the OT rule of faith a failure? What does it mean for something to fail?i) Suppose your hard drive fails. We might chalk that up to a design defect. And the next model should correct for that failure.ii) But suppose it’s one of those counterterrorist scenarios. The jihadis threaten to blow up New York unless we hand over a computer with sensitive military schematics.And suppose the Pentagon gives into the demand, but with a catch. It builds a design flaw into the hard drive to ensure that the hard drive will fail. And this buys us time to track down the jihadis.Was this a failure? The question is ambiguous. In this case, it was designed to fail—like planned obsolescence. iii) And let’s remember the larger context of our debate. The high-church contention is that sola scripture is a false rule of faith because it "fails."Yet Prejean just told us that the OT rule of faith was a "failure." Indeed, it was "doomed" to fail."Does this mean the OT rule of faith was a false rule of faith? Does this mean that God did not institute or constitute the OT community of faith? If the OT rule of faith "failed," that is not because it was flawed. To the contrary, if it failed, then it did so because it was designed to effect that particular outcome.In fact, the OT rule of faith was a success. It succeeded in achieving the purpose that God meant for it.iv) In addition, the word of God was never intended to yield a uniform result. The word of God serves more than one purpose. It is instrumental, both in preserving the elect and hardening the reprobate. It is also instrumental, up to a point, in restraining sin—even among the ungodly.

All of this actually supports my point. People were given rules and allowed to fail in order to demonstrate that human failure is possible even when God Himself is generous. None of that requires that the system was flawed by design. It simply means that it didn't force success. The larger point was that it wasn't even adequate for success (in terms of salvation), nor was it intended to be. It was intended to show what would actually be required for salvation and to show the inadequacy of people even to obey to obtain temporal blessings, leaving aside the spiritual question. But one would expect the new covenant to at least be workable in principle, which the Old Covenant was not.

i) And why didn’t the old covenant work? Did it not work out because the old covenant was never meant to be the true rule of faith for God’s people, at that time and place? Let’s review the church-argument once more:a) The true rule of faith cannot fail.b) Sola Scriptura is a failure.c) Therefore, sola Scripture is not the true rule of faith.Let’s transfer that argument to the OT. Is the Catholic or Orthodox apologist prepared to carry his argument to its logical extreme?ii) Where does Prejean locate the superiority of the new covenant? There were apostates under the old covenant. There are apostates under the new covenant. There were schismatics under the old covenant. There are schismatics under the new covenant. There were heretics under the old covenant. There are heretics under the new covenant.There is no doubt a sense in which the new covenant is better than the old covenant. But that’s not the issue. The issue is whether it is more "successful"—as the high churchman defines success.And, of course, there’s also something to be said for defining success and failure in Biblical terms.

Obviously it wasn't meant to be the true rule of faith because it didn't even provide for eternal salvation. If someone had obeyed the Law perfectly, he still wouldn't have been in Heaven, because the point of the Law wasn't to save souls. It was simply a shadow. And again, I do not say that there cannot be apostates, heretics, and schismatics. What I say is that there must be something in which people who aren't apostates, heretics, and schismatics CAN have faith, a suitable object. My point is that sola scriptura doesn't even give a suitable object. It fails by definition.

i) This assumes that the Messiah was not the object of faith in OT piety. But I’ll pass on that for now.ii) More to the issue at hand, how does Prejean’s explanation militate against sola Scriptura as a rule of faith? If the dispensational improvement lies in a better object of faith, then that, of itself, does nothing to secure faith in the object of faith. A rule of faith doesn’t ingenerate faith in itself and by itself. Making Christ the object of faith doesn’t forestall "anarchy" or "chaos."The rule of faith is objective to the believer. It presents the mind with something to believe. But whether you believe it or not depends on your subjective predisposition to believe it or not. Prejean’s rule of faith is an abject failure according to his very definition of success.

I defined the object in terms of suitability for faith, not whether it produced uniformity among all those having faith in it. The bit about "presents to the mind" just buys into the same conflict on knowledge. I don't believe you can know anything without a proximate object; there must be an actual thing in reality to present this to the mind. The OT believers might well have had a proximate object of faith, but it wasn't the Messiah. Likewise, Christ isn't around bodily, so the only way to know Him is to encounter His action in something outside oneself. Otherwise, there's no external object to know.

Only one problem: I never said what Prejean imputed to me. Prejean is the one who said that "intrinsic authority" and "inherent credibility" are meaningless, nonsense in the most basic meaning of the term.So all he’s done is to draw a conclusion from his own premise, not mine. And, in that respect, his statement is another damning admission with respect to his contemptuous view of Scripture. I’ll have more to say about this at a later point.

Obviously, you're not going to SAY that. I am, as you noted, arguing that you have implicitly said it. And while you have more to say, you haven't answered the premise or presented any argument against it. You simply used a nasty pejorative about my "contemptuous" view of Scripture.

Okay, so his view of Christ is different. But that wasn’t the question. How does this make his view of Scripture any different?Like Prejean, the English Deists also subordinated Scripture to natural theology. They were only prepared to believe as much of Christian doctrine as they could authorize via natural theology. Prejean is a methodological Deist. He has adopted the very same theological method as they did.

If I believe that Christ is present in the Church, then I believe also that licenses me to accept by faith the Church's dogma whether or not it can be proved from natural theology. That distinguishes me from deism. We share the belief that no Christian dogma can conflict with natural theology.

See how Prejean is having to retreat from his original claim.
What I mean is how God views his own utterances in Scripture.
Once again, Prejean refuses to stand behind his original argument.

My argument was always that sola scriptura cannot justify knowledge from Scripture, because it can't justify the authority of Scripture. In all of the examples you gave, the individuals DID HAVE a justification for the authority of Scripture. It's not a change in my argument; it's consistently saying that your view lacks a justification that other views have.

At best, his appeal to objective authority would only supply a necessary, but insufficient, condition of knowledge. There is still a weak link in his chain (indeed, countless weak links) unless he can take the next step by showing how the Catholic rule of faith is able to suffice as a condition of knowledge. Remember, there was more to his original claim than the bare possibility of knowledge. He made a claim about "arriving" at theological truth. Prejean’s position is like saying, I’m deeply in debt, but I’ve got a million bucks in my safe. Unfortunately, I forgot the combination, so I can’t actually get to my money and pay my bills. But I’m "objectively" rich. Or like saying, I’ve got a million bucks in a Swiss bank account, but I forgot my account number and I lost my ID. Herein lies the vast superiority of the Catholic rule of faith.

Of course I made a claim stronger than the bare possibility of knowledge, because I think it quite obvious that plenty of people do have certain knowledge about the faith from the Church. Even the people who aren't rich aren't broke either. But outside the Church, to the extent they have anything, it's only because they've borrowed from the Church, and the paucity of even that loan is pretty pathetic. They have no proximate object of faith, so they can only stumble about based on hearsay, holding most theological opinion as merely probable rather than the certain knowledge of faith.

i) One of the problems with this statement is that much of Christian doctrine is not confirmable by natural theology alone. Much of Christian doctrine deals with unique historical particulars or invisible realities. You can’t intuit Christian theology from the being of Being—or is it the Being of being? ii) He’s not going to find the presence of Christ in the Church from natural theology. For that he is reliant, at best, on revealed theology.

Sure. But natural theology can tell me that it's irrational to claim faith if Christ ISN'T acting in the Church. Natural theology can tell me that faith without a proximate object can't deliver certain knowledge.

i) One of the problems with this statement is that much of Christian doctrine is not confirmable by natural theology alone. Much of Christian doctrine deals with unique historical particulars or invisible realities. You can’t intuit Christian theology from the being of Being—or is it the Being of being? ii) He’s not going to find the presence of Christ in the Church from natural theology. For that he is reliant, at best, on revealed theology. For that matter, the fictional genre doesn’t even claim to be realistic. Is The Martian Chronicles grounded in reality? No.Does this disconnect render The Martian Chronicles is unintelligible? No.Same thing with the Divine Comedy or Lord of the Rings. Exegeting Dante or Tolkien or Bradbury doesn’t depend on how well grounded they happen to be in reality. There are right and wrong interpretations of Dante—irrespective of whether his science is right or wrong.

Which only highlights the point that truth is a matter of correspondence to reality, not meaning. I don't deny that there are right and wrong interpretation, but one thing to consider is that Scripture is believed by Catholics to have content that goes beyond authorial intent, so mundane techniques of identifying meaning would be inadequate anyway.

The Bible makes self-referential claims as well as constantive claims. Prejean uses natural theology to verify or falsify the constantive claims, and then—in turn—uses the constantive claims, duly verified or falsified, to verify or falsify the self-referential claims.Several problems:i) He’s done nothing to establish natural theology.ii) He’s done nothing to establish that natural theology should validate or invalidate revealed theology—as if natural theology is a source of knowledge, while revealed theology is not.iii) He confuses interpretation with verification.

On the contrary, my point is that one can't conclude anything about the truth of Scripture apart from verification either of the facts or its authority. Establishing natural theology isn't required; it supervenes on the fact that we know things about reality, and some of the things we know about reality are about God.

Now for the bottom line. In a different thread, Prejean went so far as to say that:
You can't rationally have faith in anything but divine acts, not accounts of divine acts, not description of divine acts.
This exposes the depth of his infidelity. According to Prejean, you can’t have faith in what God says, but only in what he does.Could anything be more at odds with Biblical piety? For Prejean, it’s irrational to take God at his word, to trust in his promises. But what is Scripture if not, in large part, an account of divine deeds? It’s a running narrative of God’s creative, judicial, and redemptive deeds—from OT history through the Gospels and the Book of Acts.Historical descriptions of what God has said and done. And yet, according to Prejean, this is not an object of faith. Only the raw events, and not the record of the events, is an object of faith. Just in passing, I wonder how many of the church fathers or scholastic theologians would agree with him.

To be clear, I'm saying that you can't know what God SAID unless you heard Him say it. I don't think Biblical piety ever tells anyone to believe God without some proximate sign. Indeed, it seems to say quite the opposite. I've got a proximate object of faith (Christ in the Church), so I have warrant for believing the historical descriptions. On account of my knowledge in faith, I can trust the rest. I think that is exactly what Augustine meant when he said that he would not accept the authority of Scripture without the Church, so I doubt any of the Fathers would disagree.

To defend my commenter:
i) I’m sorry that Joseph’s philosophy prof. is so inept. I guess that Joseph attends the same school as Apolonio.

It's not Joseph's fault that "inherent authority" is an oxymoron, and his philosophy professor was good enough to point it out. Insulting Tier One universities doesn't do much for one's intellectual credibility, not that this matters for the veracity of your argument.

Be that as it may, notice that Joseph has simply substituted his own caricature for what I actually said. Did I say "Why is the Bible the Word of God? Because it says so. Why trust the Bible? Because God wrote it. How do you know God wrote it? Because the Bible says so...etc...etc...etc..."No, that was not my argument. So, if you want a textbook example of Joseph’s sloppy thinking (of which his philosophy prof. is equally guilty), here is a blatant straw man argument.

OK, to be fair, Joseph was only dealing with an argument that is logically equivalent to your argument, not your actual argument. I suppose that he should have demonstrated explicitly that your argument and the one he was critiquing are the same as a matter of courtesy.

ii) And that’s not the only textbook example of Joseph’s sloppy thinking (of which his philosophy prof. is equally guilty).There’s such a thing as an argument from authority. That is a valid argument when two disputants share a common authority.Now, if I were debating with an atheist, an appeal to the intrinsic authority of Scripture would beg the question. But, at least traditionally, Roman Catholics claim to honor the authority. Indeed, they get very irate with Protestants who routinely deny that Catholics honor the authority of Scripture.Since I was debating a Catholic apologist rather than, say, Richard Dawkins, I didn’t start from scratch.

But you logically should have, because when two disputants don't share a common authority for the same reasons, it's fallacious to appeal to the authority.

However, it’s apparent from the reaction of Joseph and Jonathan that Catholicism is synonymous with atheism. Therefore, when debating with a Catholic apologist, the Evangelical apologist must equate Catholicism with atheism, and mount a preliminary argument to establish the identity of the Bible as the Word of God.

It's not synonymous with atheism. Atheism and Catholicism have in common that we don't accept your justification of Scripture. Atheism and Catholicism also have in common that we don't accept Islam. How that makes atheism synonymous with Catholicism is beyond me.

iii) And here is still another textbook example of Joseph’s sloppy thinking. In the statement he quoted from me, I didn’t say that we should trust the Bible because God wrote it. I didn’t say we should trust the Bible. And I didn’t say that God wrote it.Rather, all I did was to point out the consequences of Prejean’s position. And Joseph has done nothing at all to show that those consequences do not flow from Prejean’s position. What I offered was a description of his implicit position rather than a value-judgment. I left it to the reader to judge the results.I said that, for Prejean, Whatever authority we credit to Scripture is a purely secondary and derivative authority which is conferred on Scripture by some extrinsic locus of authority."What has Joseph offered to overturn that characterization? Nothing.

Except for that part of accusing me of "candid infidelity." That's a judgment, not merely a consequence of my position. And presumably, it is intended to be justified by the conclusion of your position. Joseph's point was that if your argument is "purely secondary and derivative authority" -> "infidelity," then by contraposition, "fidelity" -> "not purely secondary and derivative authority." If "inherent authority" is nonsense, then there is no logical position different from "purely secondary and derivative authority," meaning that "fidelity" is illogical. Sure looks to me like you made the very argument Joseph critiqued.

iv) Finally, let’s finish with his statement: What in the world can it mean for Scripture to have "intrinsic authority" or "inherent credibility?"Why does he think that’s such a hard question to answer? a) God is the supreme authority figure. God has intrinsic authority. The Word of God partakes of God’s authority. It is authoritative because he is authoritative. It’s authoritative because it’s the word of an authority figure. Intrinsically authoritative because it’s identical with God’s will for what he intended to communicate.b) As to the question of inherent credibility, is he challenging the notion in general, or only its application to Scripture?If this is a general challenge, then it follows that the church lacks inherent credibility. And it also follows that natural theology lacks inherent credibility.If nothing is inherently credible, then nothing can warrant belief in something which may be otherwise true, but lacks inherent credibility. Bad news for Catholicism.If, however, his challenge is limited to Scripture, then why would he affirm that other things are inherently credible, but deny that Scripture is inherently credible?

Objects of knowledge can be inherently credible. God can be inherently credible. But you have no way of knowing that God wrote Scripture, because you didn't see him do it. You might believe that he did, but you have know way of knowing it, either by knowledge or by faith (because you have no proximate object of faith). In a Church that provides a proximate object of faith, such belief is rational. Absent that object, it isn't.

Thursday, August 30, 2007

I just don't know what to make of this

I use a few anti-Catholic websites as a kind of tide marker for the intellectual (such as it is) state of anti-Catholicism. I do that because I think that it's important as a Catholic to know what sorts of arguments are out there, even bad ones, because I am liable to come across people in the process of sharing my faith who have bought into arguments that at least sound good. There are plenty of good-sounding arguments that are false, and that's just a product of truth-seeking being hard work, particularly in a fallen world. Unfortunately, few people are even willing to engage in the effort, and most people are willing to settle for what sounds reasonable without ever bothering to check whether it is real.

What seems very odd to me is that anti-Catholics appear to have more or less given up even the pretense of trying to fight Catholicism on intellectual terms. The whole response lately appears to be majoring on minors, responding to some or another nitpicky argument made by some or another apologist and acting as if the real issue is whether that particular apologist is credible, not what the truth of the matter is. Steve Ray diagnosed the problem in James White perfectly:
"He has yet to even form a coherent sentence as to why he believes in the New Testament Canon. Central tenet of his being, and he has no reason for it."

That's more or less the situation. Anti-Catholicism has all its eggs in one basket: that the authority of Scripture licenses their rejection of Catholicism. One would think that would require a compelling abductive or deductive argument for Scriptural authority, lest the appeal to Scripture be rendered viciously circular. I don't even know how there could be any other way that a belief could be rational.

I had made some remarks to that effect in an earlier post, not directed at anyone in particular, but questioning the rationality of sola scriptura on natural theological grounds. Oddly enough, Steve Hays "responded." I use the scare quotes because it doesn't seem to be a response at all. It seems to be an admission that, based on natural theology (which is simply the notion that one can have certain knowledge of God through the science of metaphysics, being as being), Protestantism has no justification. And it seems to me that if a Protestant is going to admit that, then he is implicitly admitting that he will never be able to answer Catholicism rationally.

My earlier words are in blue; Hays's comments are in red:

“It's hardly a coincidence that Mormons view Jewish anthropomorphism as philosophically normative; that appears to be what sola scriptura entails.”

i) This is a category mistake, since sola Scriptura doesn’t entail any particular interpretation of Scripture. Sola Scriptura is a rule of faith, not a hermeneutical prediction.

JP> It's not a category mistake; Hays simply hasn't responded to my argument that something can't possible serve as a formal rule unless it adjudicates exactly those sorts of hermeneutical disputes. That was the whole argument regarding formal authority.

ii) Jews themselves don’t construe “Jewish anthropomorphism” as philosophically normative in the Mormon sense of taking these anthropomorphic passages literally. Simply put, Jewish theism is a world apart from Mormon theism.

JP> I don't disagree. But Protestants following them do take literally a large number of passages about God "electing," etc., that are philosophically absurd on a literal construction. Obviously, God doesn't literally choose among people.

iii) The Bible itself, in certain programmatic statements, distinguishes between a divine and human viewpoint (e.g. Num 23:19; 1 Sam 15:29). Therefore, since Scripture itself internalizes a distinction between literal and anthropomorphic depictions of the divine, one doesn’t need to ransack natural theology to draw this distinction—for Scripture already differentiates and prioritizes those alternating perspectives.

JP> The irony here is that the two passages are both anthropomorphic, treating God as if He were literally a human agent, speaking and promising. Obviously, these are figures of the impassibility of the divine nature; it would be silly to imagine God as a being that makes choices, elects, or takes action in time and is then bound to what He did "before." That doesn't mean that the figure is unhelpful, because it is analogous in some way, but we can't take it too literally as if God were a "personal God" relating to humans like they relate to one another. There's little difference in kind between taking statements analogizing God to a human in conduct than God to a human in body, which is why I say that these sorts of mistakes seem to be inherent in taking what people said too literally in terms of intent. I have no doubt that "pre-philosophical" OT authors might have literally meant what they intended here, but natural theology demands a hermeneutical principle that takes the literal sentiment for what it analogously symbolizes.

“I can't say that I see much merit in the more general suggestion of how Catholics should argue with Protestants. The primary refutation of sola scriptura is that it is absurd as a matter of natural theology and that its conclusions deny certain conclusions of natural theology.”

i) So he doesn’t even entertain the self-witness of Scripture as a relevant consideration.

JP> From a normative perspective, that appeal would be viciously circular. Scripture might be obviously false if its self-witness were contradictory, but self-witness can't say anything positive about truth.

ii) How does he identify natural theology? Strictly speaking, there’s no such thing as natural theology. What we have, rather, is a bewildering variety of natural theologies.

JP> Strictly speaking, the claim that there is no such thing as natural theology would entail the claim that nothing at all can be known about God from existence. That's so obviously false that I'll assume that Hays isn't speaking strictly, but instead means that there is a bewildering variety of conclusions of natural theology.

I note that the number of possible conclusions hasn't stopped Hays from drawing them; he claims "In philosophy, I’m an Augustinian exemplarist. I’m a Cartesian dualist. I’m an alethic realist, but scientific antirealist. I believe in innate ideas, sense knowledge (I'm an indirect realist), and the primacy of divine revelation in Scripture." Granted, several of those conclusions are obviously wrong and even self-contradictory (e.g., innate ideas are simply nonsense, representational indirect realism using innate ideas is incompatible with the hylomorphism required to justify alethic realism, Augustinian exemplarism, and any coherent account of Cartesian dualism). But that simply goes to show that there are a lot of wrong conclusions that don't vitiate the correctness of natural theology generally. For example, idealism has been bad metaphysics for as long as there have been philosophers, but the most brilliant minds in history keep falling for it; see, e.g., Parminides, Plato, Plotinus, Kant, Berkeley. Indeed, Hays himself seems to have adopted something like a Berkeleyan psychopolis account of Heaven despite its absurdities, so why not?

Outside of Christianity, there are different versions of natural theology in Greek philosophy, Indian philosophy, Islamic philosophy, process theology, and so on.

JP> There's a nice book by Jacques Maritain called An Introduction to Philosophy that charts all of the screw-ups of every major philosophy that isn't Aristotelian, including all of the ones mentioned here. Natural theology just means that there is an answer to find, not that people wont screw up in finding it.

There are heretical forms of natural theology, like Erigena’s synthesis.

JP> Yep. People make mistakes.

Within Catholicism, there are different versions of natural theology in Augustine, Anselm, Aquinas, Scotus, and so on.

JP> True. And most everyone was wrong about something. The good thing about continuity is that you can actually progress and get more things right.

There are also varieties of Thomism, such as Neothomism, transcendental Thomism, existential Thomism, analytical Thomism, &c.

JP> True. Some are more right than others. See Ronald McCamy's collection of Maritain's arguments against transcendental Thomism, for example.

So, before Prejean can deploy natural theology as an interpretive grid through which to filter and validate the propositions of Scripture, he needs to isolate, identify, and defend the one true version of natural theology he is using. We look forward to his detailed argument.

JP> Spoken like a true idealist! It's all about the "interpretive grid." Reality dictating knowledge? Pshaw! That might require that even Scripture have to be consistent with external knowledge before it could be affirmed as true. But in the idealist world of divine revelation, this is entirely opposite. Scripture tells you what is real, no matter what you know, because what's real is what's in your head. If God puts something in your head, that is more "ultimate" than your experience. "Nonsense on stilts" is, I believe, the apt historical description of that.

“That is a good and sufficient reason for presuming that ANY form of divine revelation also includes the appointment of definite individuals with the power to resolve these matters.”

This is a purely a priori postulate. And one problem with this stipulation is that we find no precedent for his armchair postulate in the life of the old covenant community. God did not endow a definite set of individuals with the power to resolve doctrinal disputes. So why should we take Prejean’s dicta seriously?

JP> Indeed, I consider the old covenant community to be evidence that lack of a stable, formal authority is doomed to failure. Israel seems like an object lesson of the principle that I deductively derived (not a priori) from what struck me as reasonably descriptions of the operation of actual authorities (induced from actual knowledge). Every time that God gave them some sort of gift to help them stay on the straight and narrow, they spurned it. If that didn't show the need for the constant presence of God's authority, I don't know what would.

“My argument was essentially that, for anything to function as a binding authority, it must actually be able to bindingly resolve every dispute coming under the auspices of the formal system. That means, ultimately, that if any interpretation of any material authority can be disputed, there has to be some human authority that has the power to finally resolve it, even if that power isn't exercised. Otherwise, in the end, all you have is persuasive authority, and the hope that there is actually an answer to be had if reasonable people simply exercise their God-given reason.”

i) Once again, since no such authority existed in God’s constitution of the old covenant community, why should we intuit the necessity of such an institution in the life of the new covenant community?

JP> Because the old covenant community didn't work. It was dysfunctional, and the new covenant has been held out as something better.

ii) And it won’t do to invoke a dispensational disjunction along the lines of Isa 54:13, Jer 31:33, Ezk 36:27, for—at most—that would signal a decentralization of religious authority rather than a concentration of authority in a single individual or subset of elite individuals.

JP> Hays's magisterial pronouncement that "it won't do" could certainly benefit by an argument. As it is, he's jumped to the conclusion that the writing of the law on people's hearts has anything to do with formal authority. I certainly wouldn't be inclined to take the concept as literally. Moreover, formal authority pertains to the object of faith, so the distinction between the covenants is based on the new object, not a new disposition in the subject. The improved object of faith is the Son of God subsisting in His Body, the Church. I suppose that in that respect, I do think it involves "concentration of authority," in that it puts all faith in one person: Christ Himself, and individuals only insofar as they are His members. But I fail to see how the cited passages militate against that sort of centralization.

“The problem I see with sola scriptura in that regard is that there is no good cause for granting authority to Scripture in the first place, so there is never more than merely probable and rebuttable warrant for any particular conclusion drawn.”

Well, I suppose we should at least commend Jonathan for his candid infidelity. For him, the Word of God has no intrinsic authority. For him, the Word of God has no inherent credibility. Whatever authority we credit to Scripture is a purely secondary and derivative authority which is conferred on Scripture by some extrinsic locus of authority.

JP> Pay very close attention here, because this is a direct admission that Hays's belief is fideistic and irrational, but it's easy to miss. Hays says that my denial of the Word of God having "intrinsic authority" and "inherent credibility" is infidelity. It follows then that fidelity requires admitting these things. But "intrinsic authority" and "inherent credibility" are meaningless, nonsense in the most basic meaning of the term. So Hays is saying that faith REQUIRES you to accept something that not only has not been proved but cannot possibly be proved, because it entails something that cannot be rationally believed. That's fideism in a nutshell

How is Prejean’s view of Scripture any different than 18C Deism, a la Collins, Toland, Tindal, et al.?

JP> News flash: I'm Catholic. I believe that Christ is still around and active. They don't.

“And unlike the case of science, there's no good cause for thinking that exegesis of Scripture produces knowledge in the first place, because unlike science, its normative standards aren't justified by first principles.”

So when the OT prophets interpret the Pentateuch, this exercise doesn’t yield knowledge. And when Jesus or the Apostles interpret the OT, this exercise doesn’t yield knowledge.

JP> For THEM it did, because they have a reason to accept Scriptural authority. You have no reason, so for you, it produces nothing.

Likewise, when the church fathers or Aquinas exegete Scripture, this exercise doesn’t yield knowledge.

JP> For HIM it did, because he had a reason to accept Scriptural authority. For you, it doesn't.

“I don't see any reason to think that Scripture can function even as a persuasive authority.”

Once again, I deeply appreciate Prejean’s frank admission that Catholicism and infidelity are synonymous.

JP> Once again, I appreciate Hays's frank admission of irrational fideism.

“One can do what conservative Evangelicals do, which is a bare, unjustified assertion of properties like inerrancy, wholeness, etc., of Scripture, which is effectively to conjure a normative authority out of nowhere.”

Yes, to agree with God’s self-estimate regarding the divine authority of his word is “effectively to conjure a normative authority out of nowhere.”

JP> If by "God's self-estimate" you mean your normative interpretation of Scripture, then yes, that's exactly what I mean. Viciously circular normative arguments by definition conjure a normative authority out of nowhere.

“Every allegedly divinely revealed conclusion is only as good as its weakest normative link, and there is not even a coherent way of defining what the normative principles are. Unless God has invested some definite class of people with formal divine authority (and there might be legitimate disputes of judgment as to who those people are, but one has to at least think that there are such people), the situation for arriving at theological truth outside of natural theology is hopeless.”

Assuming, for the sake of argument, that “God has invested some definite class of people with formal divine authority,” are there no weak links in the chain of transmission? Isn’t the dissemination of Catholic dogma a trickle down process?

JP> Hays is confusing objective authority with subjective knowledge. If there's no proper object of authority (in terms of a formal system), then you don't even get to the question of whether people can find it, because there's nothing to find. Hays analogized Orthodoxy to a leaky house and says that he prefers his own. My rejoinder is that Hays doesn't even have a house, only an irrational belief that he isn't being soaked by the rain, accusing those who point out that he is wet of infidelity.

Even if the chain of transmission is hooked into the extraordinary Magisterium at one end, as soon as the chain of transmission drops below the extraordinary Magisterium, then we’re back to a series of weak links. So, by Prejean’s own yardstick, the case for Catholic dogma is hopeless.

JP> Quite the contrary, because I believe in both natural theology and the presence of Christ in the Church, I believe that there is something out there to know. If there are screw ups in transmission, then there is some real thing to which we can turn to discern whether we've screwed up. And I would mark out one key difference between my view and Hays's view: without that external grounding in reality, competition is chaos. The reason that discussion and theory can produce answers is that reality is a forcing function on the method, and in Hays's idealism, there's no necessary correlation between knowledge and reality, because the most fundamental tenet of the whole system (Scriptural authority) comes out of nowhere. Knowledge can't depend on something internal to you, like some disposition toward Scripture, some "interpretive grid," and still be knowledge about reality.

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

More from the mailbag

Raymond Maxwell Spiotta has quite a list of intriguing filioque and Palamism questions that I will answer as best I can. Sorry it took so long, Raymond, but you ask hard questions! On the first issue:

1.) Please define "Hypostatic Procession/Origination," both in Latin & Greek terms.

JP> It's hard to delineate them in this way, because for Latin theology, it seems to me that causality is a question of what the substance is and how it got to be that way. Consequently, I think it just isn't possible to separate the origin of hypostasis and the origin of ousia in this way without rendering the concept senseless. What distinguishes the Son from the Father, for example, is not that one is the origin of hypostasis while the other is the (proximate) source of ousia. What distinguishes the two is that the Father is the source of the Holy Spirit in one way and the Son is the source of the Holy Spirit in another way. I suppose the way to look at this is that Latin theology sees multiple ways to be a source of the same thing, so that both the Father and the Son are the source of the Holy Spirit's substance (both hypostasis and ousia) but in different ways.

2.) Does the Son play a part in originating the Hypostasis of the Holy Spirit, as one might think given Florence's asseveration that the Holy Spirit has "his essence and his subsistent being from the Father together with the Son"? I've seen arguments made that the Latin Filioque need only imply a flow of ousia to the Holy Spirit from the Son, and I've also seen such anti-Western polemicists as T.R. Valentine admit the possibility of such a Filioque. How would the two concepts differ, and what are my reasons for limiting the scope of Latin dogma to the latter concept?

JP> The differences are basically what I outlined above, and I don't think the Latin dogma can be made to fit the Greek separation. Historically, the Latin dogma was based on an Aristotelian concept of existence (substance), and there's no way to coherently limit the Latin belief given that understanding of causality. To put it another way, I can't think of any way to separate the two in a manner that wouldn't have made Boethius gag.

3.) I've been interacting with a Catholic apologist on the meaning of the phrase in the Florentine Defnition, "cause, according to the Greeks." He has asserted:


"Now, ... When Florence says that the Greeks admitted that the Son is also the "cause" of the Spirit, they were NOT saying that the Greeks called the Son an "aition" of the Spirit. Indeed, they were NOT saying that the Greeks DIRECTLY STATED that the Son is a "cause" at all --that is, Florence was NOT claiming that the Greeks USED THE WORD "cause" to describe the Son in regard to the Spirit.. Rather, speaking as good Scholastics (and largely insensitive to Byzantine sensibilities), all that Florence meant was that the Greek fathers supported the Scholastic understanding that the Son, along with the Father, is the "cause" of the Spirit. The Council's statement is a totally Latin / Scholastic expression, which pays no heed to the Patristic language of Greek theology. It is speaking in the "Latin-ese" of the medieval Western Church. So, the idea of an "aition" is not even being considered in the statement. This is not what is meant by "cause.""


Do you think there is anything going for this interpretation of the Council's words? It seems to me there isn't - that what the Fathers meant by "cause, according to the Greeks" is, pretty self-evidently, Aition - but I don't know.

JP> It seems to be a pretty good read of the Council as far as I can tell. I don't think it was remotely a comment on what the Greeks actually believed or an attempt to equate the Latin concept with what the Greeks believed, or if it was, then it was clearly mistaken. I don't think it was anything other than an attempt to point out what the Latins meant when they used the term, not what the Greeks meant by it. And what the two meant was clearly different.

On Palamism

1.) Is there any possible parallel between the Latin formulation of 'absolutedivine simplicity,' where the diversified 'attributes' of God are to beunderstood as only conceptually diversified perceptions of the unitas essentiae,and the Byzantine understanding of the Uncreated Energy as being 'indivisiblydivided?' At present I've yet to discover how the basic Augustinian idea ofGod's Essence's equivalent identification by 'Goodness,' 'Wisdom,' 'Power,' &c.can be reconciled with the Basilian account (e.g. "When all these highattributes have been enumerated, are they all names of one essence?"). Mightthe Byzantines & Latins be able simultaneously to embrace their respectivetheological conceptions with an equal degree of metaphysical rectitude, and ifso, could you do some of the grunt work for us who are new at this, and map outsomething of a basic vocabulary and chart some terminological correspondences?

JP> In my opinion, it's extremely difficult. The way that one would do it is to investigate the idea of power to see if there is common ground. In the Eastern account, powers are signs of nature, and the divine nature is characterized by the indivisibly divided power. In the Western account, power is a matter of degree of perfection, ranging from a mere vestige of the Trinitarian power to the pure act of the Trinity. What I'm having a very difficult time doing is to see how to explain that the indivisible division of Eastern divine simplicity is literally the same thing as the infinite power of Western divine simplicity.

The oneness part is easy to understand, but in the Eastern view, this is a unity of a collection of real things. When the Westerns use terms like Wisdom and Love, they are intended to connote infinite degree, not separate kinds of things (as if the Trinity were simply separate powers or energies of the divine essence). Thus, in the psychological analogy, separating the faculties is not intended to connote a number of real "things" as it would be in the East. Likewise, the relations of opposition aren't intended to convey the sort of opposition between disparate things as they would be in Eastern dialectic. In fact, it is quite the opposite; it is intended to show identity by the fact that they are poles of the same infinite degree. What shows unity in the Western account is precisely what shows improper separation in the Eastern account. But the fundamental indivisible division in the East sounds like improper division of the infinite in Western ears. Apart from each side just realizing that they are talking about entirely different metaphysical issues, I don't know how to reconcile them.

2.) If one even can, how would one express the Augustinian/Scholastic idea ofthe Beatific Vision in Palamite terms? Obviously, the distinction is stark inWestern thought between our mode of knowing God now and in the eschaton, whereasI don't see the distinction put as strongly by Byzantium. Is there any elementof Palamite thought that might approximate this distinction? Also, if God's'Essence' can be known only hereafter, and if God is esse/essential pure andsimple, how is the Westerner to circumvent the objections of the Oriental inclaiming that he can have no real knowledge of God in this life?

To be honest, I think this is just a difference between Platonic and Aristotelian intellection. The sort of identity between knower and known in Platonism is just plain opposed to the identity claimed in (Western) Aristotelianism. The Western account is of a supernatural cognitive faculty (faith) that perceives the spiritual in a certain kind of way and of a sort of intellectual vision that produces a different sort of identity in Heaven (even then, though, it is possession of the divine essence as end, a sort of sure eternal progress and an intuition of one's infinite capacity, not a comprehensive intellectual grasp of the divine essence). Again, I don't really know how one can explain that the Western claim isn't what the East thinks it is. Part of it is that they think Western Aristotelianism is identical with some Middle Platonist/Peripatetic syntheses, an assumption that I consider unrealiable.

Hope that helps, and sorry I took so long.

Sunday, August 26, 2007

Principles of Catholic apologetics

The following reproduces a response I gave on Energetic Procession:

It seems that Sungenis noted the same monothelitism in White's position, and the creatio ex nihilo point is another one that I had in mind when I pointed out that White is granting too much to Mormonism. He's more or less a sitting duck for the arguments of Blake Ostler (note that the linked article is direct evidence of an LDS apologist making the very same argument you suggest could be made by open theists). It's hardly a coincidence that Mormons view Jewish anthropomorphism as philosophically normative; that appears to be what sola scriptura entails.

I can't say that I see much merit in the more general suggestion of how Catholics should argue with Protestants. The primary refutation of sola scriptura is that it is absurd as a matter of natural theology and that its conclusions deny certain conclusions of natural theology. The filioque is not a matter of natural theology. The arguments for the filioque merely show that it is consistent with reason, not that the filioque is true (which is why it's a misrepresentation of the Western filioque to confuse it with the dialectically based philosophical argument).

Sure, it might demonstrate inconsistency in the methodology to show that Protestants accept things that they oughtn't, but the Catholic concern is primarily the acceptance of truth, natural or revealed, so our goal is to demonstrate contradictions with what is real, not general internal critiques of someone's methodology. We care far more about people being wrong than why they are wrong. I couldn't care less what someone's "worldview" is, because reality renders one's "worldview" irrelevant for matters of metaphysics and natural theology. Reality is what it is, and everyone knows it regardless of their private conceptions.

The fact that intelligent people disagree simply demonstrates the human capacity to conceive of the unreal, which is precisely why demonstrating internal inconsistency is a wild goose chase (one that I thought Godel would have ended by demonstrating its hopelessness). The only thing that demonstrates truth or falsity is denial of actual knowledge about reality, period. Conversely, if one is willing to accept a contradiction, one can be consistent in proving all sorts of untrue things, so the problem is not inconsistency, but untruth. Since Protestants lack formed faith (hence, knowledge of most revealed truths), all I can do is show a denial of what they know or should know by natural reason or that an argument from natural reason that they make is invalid or unsound. Beyond that, I simply have to wait on the grace of God.

For that same reason, I find the reliance of historical Protestant confessions or other Christian confessions equally fruitless. Because Protestant faith is typically unformed, I have no idea whether they actually believe any of those propositions by faith, and I suspect that in most cases, they believe things inconsistent with them. So why would I make an argument based on their belief on the filioque when I honestly think that they don't believe it (or at least, don't believe it according to any coherent concept)?

I'm amenable to the suggestion that the denial of any doctrine of faith (including the Assumption) by someone who hasn't even justified his own argument for selecting doctrines of faith is absurd. But it seems a great deal more straightforward simply to point out that he started from a contradiction, such as holding Scripture as the ultimate epistemological authority.

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Just what's the problem with private judgment?

Dr. Edwin Tait, a thoughtful Protestant coming from an excellent theology school at Duke University, asks the question:

What I'm trying to drive at here is that high-church Protestants like myself see the tradition's role as being one of guidance rather than shedding additional light. Tradition steers people away from false interpretations and points the way toward true ones. It's kind of like saying "hot" and "cold" to someone playing hide-and-seek. What I'd like to see on this board--but rarely do--is a Catholic response to this understanding of tradition. Just how is it insufficient from the Catholic perspective?

I think that's a very fair question, so I set out to give a Catholic answer. I reproduce the more detailed response I gave later in the thread:
---------BEGIN QUOTED RESPONSE--------------

I didn't say anything about dogmatic certainty. That is your addition. By "shedding light" I mean simply that Scripture teaches certain things, and these things can be ascertained by reading Scripture.

That is, in fact, all I mean by dogmatic certainty, and I gather it is also all that is meant by formal sufficiency. I mean that you are certain that some particular proposition is theological truth. My point is that you can't be certain that Scripture teaches theological truth. You would merely have some probable opinion that some particular thing that Scripture teaches is true.

However, it is astronomically improbable that a single human being could come to all the right conclusions (I am not talking about being certain that one's conclusions are right, which I do not think is important) simply by reading Scripture.

My difficulty is that you haven't actually shown that a human being can come to ANY of the right conclusions, because you haven't shown that interpretation of Scripture gives certain theological conclusions.

God could overrule this difficulty of interpretation by inspiring each individual believer to understand Scripture correctly--but God clearly has not chosen to do this.

We agree on that much. But for someone who makes such an admission, it is irrational for that person to think that his reading of Scripture will reveal theological truth. In other words, you've just presented a valid and sound argument for why your interpretation of Scripture can't produce certain theological truth.

JP>> You've just begged the question in terms of formal sufficiency; when you say "additional," the immediate response is "additional to what?"

Additional to Scripture?

Scripture is a book, paper and ink, not theological truth. That might seem pedantic, but it's an important distinction, because some agent has to apply a rule to generate formal propositions from Scripture.

Jonathan, I'm embarrassed to admit this, but I'm not completely sure what you mean by "formal content" and "proximate object."

Sorry. I've been reading too much Aristotelico-Thomist literature lately. Let's go back to the definition of faith. Faith is a supernatural cognitive faculty establishing a real relation between a person and another real entity (the proximate object; see and also Newman's Grammar of Assent). In that respect, it's like knowledge, which creates a real identity between the knower and the known, so I will use the term "faither" and "faithed" like "knower" and "known" to emphasize the analogy.

When you have certain knowledge of theological truth, it's because you have "faithed" the object of truth, much as when you have certain knowledge about anything it is because you have known that thing. That certain knowledge is the formal content of your knowledge or faith. Here's the problem...

If I understand you correctly, then I would say that I get my rule from the consensus of the Church and have no problem admitting this.

That won't work, because the "consensus of the Church" is just like one's "interpretation of Scripture." It is an intentional being; it is a concept that your mind creates based on what it knows. Unless God Himself miraculously put that concept in your head, there is no way that such a thing can be the proximate object of faith, which requires a real relation between the "faither" and an external object. In Catholicism, however, the Church is a real entity; it really subsists in the Catholic Church, and it is a real object of faith. So when you say that you have faith in the Catholic Church, it's because there is a real thing "faithed" by you personally. That's the importance of apostolic succession; it creates and sustains a persistent and real object of faith. Denial of that principle is why Anglican orders are considered invalid in Catholicism.

Scripture could conceivably be a proximate object of faith, but you'd have to be arguing that God was really subsisting in every copy of Scripture, effectively substantiating the charge of Bibliolatry. As it is, the only proper proximate object of faith in Protestantism is baptism, because it is the only knowable divine act left (God's spiritual presence among two or three gathered being real but not certainly knowable). And most Protestants deny baptismal regeneration so that they don't even accept that. Orthodoxy, by contrast, has real proximate objects of faith in a significant degree. But it lacks the unity and completeness of the Catholic Church to form a true subsistence, a completely self-existing entity identified with Christ (John 17, see also, which is what allows it to serve as the true proximate object of faith. Protestantism and Orthodoxy depend on this subsistence for their reality, which is why the spiritual realities in those bodies are not self-subsistent entities but rather accidents in the metaphysical sense.

Because Protestantism has no external object of faith, Protestant faith is necessarily confused, irrational, and circular, effectively a faith in one's own mental disposition. That's the "private judgment" peril of which we Catholics so often speak; it is an attempt to judge theological truth with no real and certain basis. Basically, we believe your faith has no object, so while you actually have the faculty of faith (given in baptism), it isn't actually being directed to anything other than yourself. It's the theological equivalent to Descartes, denying the knowability of everything but himself, and it's wrong for the same reason.
----------END QUOTED RESPONSE-------------------

It occurred to me that the discussion above might also be helpful to illuminate the recent post by Fr. Patrick on Energetic Procession. I think the above quote from Tractate 108 on John also provides some insight in to St. Augustine's view of Christ and the Church. The unity of the Church, for Augustine, IS Christ Himself (cf. the Bride as wholly joined to Her spouse), and it appears to me that he has in mind derivative functions both for individuals and for local churches, in that they are identical to Christ in some respect as members, but that Christ Himself only subsists in the wholeness of the Church. That is why I theorize that he believes that Sacraments are valid even outside the confines of the Church (N.B., this metaphysical distinction between subsistence and simply existence would be difficult to grasp in Platonic/Neoplatonic terms, which is why I expect that the Eastern Fathers would be at best confused by it). If there is some definite real but not subsistent member-function, then the member does not cease to function derivatively even when it ceases to manifest its inherent unity. But only the Catholic Church is subsistent unity, because only She manifests unity in all Her functions and is a self-sustaining unity; the unity in all other churches is merely an accidental unity between particular functions received derivatively from the subsistence of the Church. This also helps to explain the gross misunderstanding that some Protestants have of the Catholic Church, betraying massive confusion on the underlying metaphysical and theological concepts.

(P.S., After re-reading that thread last linked, it might be overly charitable to say that there is simply confusion about the object of faith, because David King appears to have severe difficulties even in using the natural faculty of reason given the numerous errors in logic displayed there; see also these comments (e.g., de facto excommunication is an oxymoron, infallibility is obviously possible for created entities). On the Pseudo-Isidorean Decretals as substantially reproducing an existing belief, making them essentially a non-factor in the concept of papal authority contra the now-rebutted assertions of Dollinger et al., see Ulrich Horst. Perhaps this thread would be a better example of the inability of Protestants to comprehend the need for a proximate object of faith. Note that the questions "of the atheist" in that thread are valid and sound arguments for the irrationality of Protestant faith; pointing out that atheists also make these arguments does not actually answer them).

Thursday, August 09, 2007

From Jimmy Akin's combox re: James White

The post can be found here.

You seem to have missed the point as badly as White.

Not one word about the essence of Mr Whites point, which really was a simple one.
The point seems to be proven, namely that Beckwith all those years ago, and I will assume the man was reasonably intelligent even then, was unable to grasp what is so plainly stated in Trent, that even 20 years later, the man is able to draw such sharp contrasts to his previous reading of that material.
Listen folks, maybe you all have met these so called Protestants that would not know one end of a sentence to the next, but surely Beckwith was not one of them!

Then White failed to grasp the simple point that it isn't reading Trent but grasping the underlying philosophical concepts that is the problem. Note Dr. Beckwith's explicit statement: "My reading was both prejudiced and meaningful. It was shaped by my Lutheran professors and my lack of philosophical sophistication." And there are very few Protestants who are expert in Aristotelian philosophy and practically none who are conversant in St. Thomas. Indeed, many Protestants rely on the Reformers for their interpretation of both St. Thomas and the Fathers, which modern scholarship has consistently shown to be erroneous. Given the paucity of Protestant expertise on this subject, it is unsurprising that (1) Protestants read texts all the time without understanding them and (2) Protestants who become conversant in these texts have a suspiciously high rate of conversion to Catholicism. James White is clearly not an expert on Aristotelico-Thomism; indeed, I think it is fair to say that he has practically no knowledge on the subject, despite being able to read Greek. Someone who lacks this knowledge is not even competent to exegete most Catholic theological texts, which routinely use terms like "formal sufficiency" and "efficient cause" that have narrow technical meanings.

Take, for example, Trent on justification:
Of this Justification the causes are these: the final cause indeed is the glory of God and of Jesus Christ, and life everlasting; while the efficient cause is a merciful God who washes and sanctifies gratuitously, signing, and anointing with the holy Spirit of promise, who is the pledge of our inheritance; but the meritorious cause is His most beloved only-begotten, our Lord Jesus Christ, who, when we were enemies, for the exceeding charity wherewith he loved us, merited Justification for us by His most holy Passion on the wood of the cross, and made satisfaction for us unto God the Father; the instrumental cause is the sacrament of baptism, which is the sacrament of faith, without which (faith) no man was ever justified; lastly, the alone formal cause is the justice of God, not that whereby He Himself is just, but that whereby He maketh us just, that, to wit, with which we being endowed by Him, are renewed in the spirit of our mind, and we are not only reputed, but are truly called, and are, just, receiving justice within us, each one according to his own measure, which the Holy Ghost distributes to every one as He wills, and according to each one's proper disposition and co-operation.

Now, if you actually know what "efficient cause" means, this statement directly contradicts your statement:
"And if that is not enough, the most important issue that James was getting at, and has always been the issue with Trent, is not that Grace etc is necessary as Trent teaches, but the issue is 'sufficiency.' Is Grace alone, by faith Alone in Christ alone Sufficient for the saving of the soul and Justification?"

In fact, this was NOT the issue, and people who have studied this issue in detail know for certain that it was not the issue. For a study by an actual scholar on the subject (as contrasted with White), see Christopher Malloy's study Engrafted in Christ, for example. So what you say here is just wrong, period. There's no debate on it; "efficient cause" means the agent's power to cause the effect is sufficient, regardless of instrumentality. Nobody whom the merciful God wishes to justify and anoint with the Holy Spirit is not justified. Nor is there any difference between initial justification and recovery of justification in this regard (see Chs. XIII-XIV). You are wrong as a historical matter, and the reason that you are wrong is that you don't know what an efficient cause or a formal cause is. And given the number of Protestants who know Aristotle and St. Thomas well enough to form a scholarly opinion on the matter, it is unlikely that this error will ever be corrected.

That means that White has made the same mistake, by his own admission, for EIGHTEEN YEARS. This is practically the paragon case for Ralph Waldo Emerson's "foolish consistency" that is "the hobgoblin of little minds, adored by little statesmen and philosophers and divines." Consistency in error, particularly consistency in foolish error resoluting from lack of study, is not a virtue but a vice, and that is the point of Jimmy's (2). You yourself have mindlessly followed White, who is incompetent on basic matters of Catholic theology, without checking the matter yourself, which is little better. Dr. Beckwith, a genuinely great mind, was not attached to foolish consistency when his studies revealed an error. But White, a little mind if there ever was one, prides himself on consistency with himself more than consistency with the truth. If you cannot decide which example to follow, then God help you, because reason clearly can't.


While I'm thinking about it, I noticed once again that every time anyone converts, White seems to make much of "the best" Protestant arguments for Scriptural authority being those given by William Goode, William Whitaker, and George Salmon, asking whether the person has read any of these. I have no idea why White is impressed with any of these arguments, other than their habit of misrepresenting Catholic dogma almost as badly as White himself does. However, anybody who wants to read them can read them on the Internet Archive: Whitaker, Goode (vol. 1, vol. 2, vol. 3), and Salmon. Of the three, Whitaker is far and away the most reasonable, although prone to uncharitable misrepresentation of Bellarmine and the Jesuits. Goode and Salmon are what you expect from their age, both in terms of writing style and mindless anti-Catholic hostility. The former irritates me even when reading Newman, although many fans of 19th century English literature doubtless consider Newman's prose excellent. The latter will doubtless make it difficult reading for Catholics, but if you feel the need to slog through these works, you have been warned.