Saturday, April 30, 2005

If at first you don't succeed...

For some odd reason, Dave Armstrong has seen fit to reissue his original charade. Odd, I say, for if he really felt that his “challenge” had been so utterly devastating the first time around, there would scarcely been any need to reissue the “challenge.” Evidently, then, he is suffering from self-doubts about his initial performance—which is why he has decided to try, try again—with a rehash of the original “challenge.”

Now, being the agreeable guy that I am, I would be more than happy to meet Mr. Armstrong half-way by affirming that his self-doubts on this particular score are, indeed, well-founded; but I rather suspect, from past experience, that my best efforts to accommodate him would be badly mistreated.

So I guess, instead of attempting to find common ground, I must once again disagree with his assessment.

What he is pleased to call his “challenge” came down to this: in lieu of defending Catholicism—which, you might suppose, is not such an unreasonable demand to make of a Catholic apologist—he preferred to defend himself. In particular, he preferred to defend his right not to defend his church.

The excuse he gave for changing the subject is that he had made a resolution not to debate “anti-Catholics.” As it turns out, this resolution has remarkable powers of duality. You see, when he excuses his refusal to debate the substantive issues with an “anti-Catholic,” he appeals to his resolution as though this little promise to himself were absolutely binding on his conscience. But when he defends himself against the charge of oath-breaking, he is suddenly at great pains to point out that a mere resolution, as distinguished from an oath, is, after all, a very relative thing, subject to all manner of provisos. So there seems to be two classes of “anti-Catholics” with whom he refuses to debate—those whom he will not debate because he is bound by his resolution, and those whom he will not debate because he is not bound by his resolution.

Upon reflection, I can see how this excuse might prompt him to consider the need for a supplementary rationale. This was his so-called “Socratic Examination,” which consisted in a series of loaded and leading questions, designed to impale the unsuspecting on the horns a logical dilemma.

But his misrepresentations notwithstanding, any reader is free to compare the full text of his “Socratic Examination” with the full text of my “Catholic Sophistry,” and see for himself that I did, indeed, respond to his questionnaire.

Armstrong’s problem is not that I didn’t answer him, but that I didn’t answer him on his own tendentious terms. Rather, I demonstrated that his “Socratic” questions were question-begging questions.

Yes, it was a purely logical challenge. It only suffered from two minor deficiencies: (i) it was purely logical scam to divert attention away from all the concrete, substantive issues; (ii) it was a logical fallacy—“airtight” in the way that any viciously circular argument is “airtight.”

And that was the point all along: to construct an argument that was sealed off from direct contact with all the hard, corrosive evidence against Roman Catholicism.

But except for the obstinate fact that both horns of his dilemma were broken, it was a charming little ruse. Junk bonds pay no debts.

Let us get back to the big questions. Is fallen man lost and hell-bound apart from the gospel? If so, what is the gospel? Calvinism gives one answer, while Catholicism gives another. Indeed, Catholicism gives more than one answer—depending on the period in question.

For Armstrong to shuffle this off into a logical game, and a fallacious game at that, in order to underwrite a highly elastic and self-important “resolution,” is intellectually, morally, and spiritually frivolous in the extreme.

For some reason, Armstrong would rather play dodge-ball than defend his church. And since I don’t deem his church to be worth the effort either, that is something else we can agree on.

But if, at any time, Armstrong would like to drop the harlequinade and engage the real issues, then that is one challenge and the only challenge I am more than happy to meet.

And when I talk about the “substantive” issues in the conflict with Rome, I have in mind at least three things:

1. Is Tridentine theology contrary to Scripture?

2. How does a “conservative” Catholic defend liberal positions staked out by the modern magisterium and its deputies?

3. How does a “conservative” Catholic reconcile the hardline positions of Florence, Lateran IV or Trent with the incipient modernism of Vatican II and post-Vatican II theology?


  1. Steve --

    Armstrong's a champ. He's never been beaten.

    He says.

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