Saturday, September 17, 2005

Theology on the fly

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He's basically arguing here that the orthodox concept of "person" is inherently modalistic, which is insane; it would leave the Trinity as an incoherent antinomy between modalism and tri-theism. But the reason they can't get their heads around the concept of "person" (which is what this would require) is that they can't conceive of "person" except in anthropomorphic terms, even though equating divine personhood with human personhood generates an absurd tri-theism.

http://p090.ezboard.com/fgregsdiscussionboardgodtalk.showMessage?topicID=4147.topic&index=40

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Because Prejean just isn’t up to the task of answering the real arguments, he is now taking refuge in straw man arguments.

No one is equating divine personhood with human personhood. A person of the Godhead differs in fundamental respects from a human person, just as a theanthropic consciousness is not the same as a merely human or merely divine mind.

On the one hand, revelation assigns personal traits to divine subjects (Christ, the Trinity)—traits we designate as personal precisely because they are analogous with human experience.

On the other hand, revelation also assigns to divine subjects certain attributes which are disanalogous with human experience, viz. omnipotence, omniscience, eternality, triunity.

In framing our doctrine of God and Christ, we make full allowance for the revealed discontinuities as well as the revealed continuities.

The same interpretive methods disclose both the analogous and disanalogous attributions. No arbitrary gear-shifting to the silly putty exegesis of the allegorical method is required.

All this is quite different from Prejean’s merely made-up distinctions and fictitious definitions—superimposed upon the inkblot of a selective and opportunistic allegorism.

7 comments:

  1. He's basically arguing here that the orthodox concept of "person" is inherently modalistic, which is insane; it would leave the Trinity as an incoherent antinomy between modalism and tri-theism. But the reason they can't get their heads around the concept of "person" (which is what this would require) is that they can't conceive of "person" except in anthropomorphic terms, even though equating divine personhood with human personhood generates an absurd tri-theism.

    http://p090.ezboard.com/fgregsdiscussionboardgodtalk.showMessage?topicID=4147.topic&index=40

    ***END-QUOTE***

    Because Prejean just isn’t up to the task of answering the real arguments, he is now taking refuge in straw man arguments.
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    Its hard to avoid the conclusion that this may be all he has to offer on these issues. He's either unwilling or unable to engage in serious exegesis or conceptual analysis, so he traffics in vagaries and unexplicated isms. He has a penchant for overstating a case he hasn't made, and he does so (as is now becoming evident), for the sole purpose of vilifying and marginalizing the opposition.

    He descends quickly into exageration and overstatement in labeling the very act of suspicion of nicene dogma and its implications for our shared sovereignty-aseity intuitions as "insane". But clearly this is too strong given that a natural prima facie argument can be provided in support of that suspicion.

    On the most natural understanding of "subordinationism", as a robust metaphysical thesis that the divine persons do not share all (intuitively) great-making properties, nicene orthodoxy is at least *apparently* subordinationist because: (1) *being autotheos* seems to be a great-making property, and (2) the monogenes clause of Nicea naturally suggests that one of the divine persons exemplifies this property whereas the others don't.

    Whether this reasoning is sound or not is a question for sober discussion and analysis. Since both the sovereignty-aseity intuitions that motivate the inference, and the inference itself are plausible and valid, it will not do to simply dismiss this piece of reasoning with an auto-epithet. The responsible and competent defender of nicean dogma will (a) tackle the argument head-on by explicitly denying one or more its premises, (b) provide an exegetical or philosophical justification for the denial, and (c) express that denial without a retreat into early medieval soup-'n-sludge theological prose.

    As for certain individuals not being able to get their heads around concepts like personhood; there are lots of reasons one might not be able to get their head around a concept, and not all of them are due to a cognitive deficiency of the one unable to do so. The inability could arise as easily from the vapid semantic contributions of one's interlocutor (nudge, nudge) as it could from a lack of intellectual acuity or historical erudition.

    Prejean can turn from the choir and advance the discussion only when he comes out of his bunker and into the light, rolls up his sleeves, and puts his theological cards on the table.

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  2. "He's either unwilling or unable to engage in serious exegesis or conceptual analysis, so he traffics in vagaries and unexplicated isms."

    One could make easily apply the same description to Hays's series on hesychasm, on free will, and on Orthodoxy, none of which engage in "serious exegesis or conceptual analysis." But regarding my own case, I don't think anyone who follows the discussions on Pontifications or Energetic Procession thinks so. Either I have multiple personalities, or there is a reason for being dismissive in these instances when I am not otherwise. You can make your own judgments on that matter, and I don't particularly care what your opinion ends up being, since I have no particular reason to care what you think about me.

    "He has a penchant for overstating a case he hasn't made, and he does so (as is now becoming evident), for the sole purpose of vilifying and marginalizing the opposition."

    No. It's actually the reverse. I didn't (and still don't) see where the "opposition," as you call it, has made a sufficient case for being anything other than marginal, although that hasn't stopped them from attempting to dishonestly score rhetorical points at my expense. Other than having become personally irritated at such tactics, which was the reason (at least later) for vilification, I don't see any use in attempting to convince them or anyone who adopts their reasoning. People believe all sorts of silly things, but not all of them are worth attempting to engage in reasonable discussion to resolve them. The fact that you are willing to accept the same thing from Hays without drawing the same conclusions about his competence gives me a rather dim view of how reasonable you are about the subject.

    "But clearly this is too strong given that a natural prima facie argument can be provided in support of that suspicion."

    It's obviously a question of taste as to how "natural" that argument is. I, for one, think anyone who can't see that subordination deals with nature and not person simply doesn't understand patristic Christology well enough to discuss the subject in the first place. The fact that you've couched them in terms like "most naturally" and "intuitively great-making" does nothing to assuage my concerns in that regard. Indeed, this seems to be the same silly and thoughtless rhetoric used by Hays and Engwer.

    "Since both the sovereignty-aseity intuitions that motivate the inference, and the inference itself are plausible and valid, it will not do to simply dismiss this piece of reasoning with an auto-epithet."

    I think you've simply used the word "intuitions" to count your opinion, which I have no reason to think of as coherent and good reason to think of as incoherent, as arguments. You haven't actually presented an argument for your understanding being "plausible," and if one considers your allegedly self-evident propositions ridiculous, as I do (viz., God as a collection of "great-making" properties strikes me as nonsensical on its face), then the "sober" thing to do would be to either explain your intuition or to leave off the discussion. Surely, you can't think that your opinion that something is "intuitive" is reason for me to take it seriously.

    "The responsible and competent defender of nicean dogma will (a) tackle the argument head-on by explicitly denying one or more its premises, (b) provide an exegetical or philosophical justification for the denial, and (c) express that denial without a retreat into early medieval soup-'n-sludge theological prose."

    What "argument?" The fact that this is simply an argument from premises that you consider intuitive doesn't make it so. Maybe I'll choose to present my own argument for why your position is incoherent on its face, but I certainly don't see anything that would trigger an obligation from an "honest and competent defender" to answer they argument with anything other than a gratuitous denial of the gratuitous assertion. And regarding the rest, patristic theology isn't medieval, and many people consider it normatively binding, so what you've said here is no better (and no more accurate) than an unbeliever's dismissal of Christians relying on Scriptural evidence. Come to think of it, your entire line of reasoning sounds like a fundamentalist demanding to be taken seriously for simply presenting an opinion.

    "As for certain individuals not being able to get their heads around concepts like personhood; there are lots of reasons one might not be able to get their head around a concept, and not all of them are due to a cognitive deficiency of the one unable to do so."

    Of course, one wonders how qualified one is to express an opinion about someone else without even being able to understand that person's opinion. If you can't understand science, you oughtn't express opinions on a quantum physicist's opinion about superstrings. Similarly, if you don't understand Christian philosophy or patristic Christology well enough to get your head around the concepts, the prudent course of action would be to listen and learn before speaking.

    "The inability could arise as easily from the vapid semantic contributions of one's interlocutor (nudge, nudge) as it could from a lack of intellectual acuity or historical erudition."

    Oddly, I don't have any problem communicating with people who are sincere about listening. Perhaps this has something to do with thinking some people are not honestly interested in listening anyway.

    "Prejean can turn from the choir and advance the discussion only when he comes out of his bunker and into the light, rolls up his sleeves, and puts his theological cards on the table."

    I have no desire to engage in a discussion of any kind with dishonest people. In places where there are honest dialogue partners, my discussions are just fine, even with those who disagree with me. As I said before, if you actually care about honest discussion, you would locate places where honest discussion takes place. The fact that you have been willing to give a pass to Hays only strengthens my conclusion that you aren't. Which means I can conveniently note for the record that you aren't worth my time either.

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  3. For the record, I believe that when the backwater biblicist speaks of great-making properties and the sovereignty-aseity intuitions, he is alluding to Plantinga's discussion of such things as the modal version of the ontological argument and his Does God Have a Nature? This takes for granted the supporting arguments in the course of Plantinga's exposition and evaluation.

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  4. I'd also add, as I've said before, that vague references to "discussions on Pontifications or Energetic Procession" hardly fills the bill. If Prejean has specific arguments on record, he can hyperlink the specific URLs for his arguments.

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  5. "I [Prejean], for one, think anyone who can't see that subordination deals with nature and not person simply doesn't understand patristic Christology well enough to discuss the subject in the first place."

    Several unresolved problems:

    i)How does he know for a fact that subordination applies to the nature rather than the person? What is his source of information? Is this a deliverance of revelation? Where is it found?

    ii)How does that distinction rescue his position from modalism? Insert argument here_____.

    iii)Since he is confident of his own understanding of patristic Christology, why doesn't he deploy his understanding to prove his point?

    iv)To have a right understanding of the church fathers doesn't mean that the church fathers were right. Where is the next step of the argument?

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  6. Observant readers will note again that Prejean makes no attempt to be argumentative, even when handed an argument with a big bull's-eye painted on it. Evidently, its just not his thing. Instead, he chooses to clown and amuse with his wind-up lawyer-doll routine, which suits the purposes of this blog fine, since it further reveals him as an incapable and inconsequential polemicist.

    So while his latest foray doesn't merit much by way of argumentative rebuttal, there's no reason to follow his lead into silence, since most of his theological and philosophical gesturing (insofar as its intelligible) can be met head-on.

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    But regarding my own case, I don't think anyone who follows the discussions on Pontifications or Energetic Procession thinks so.
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    Perhaps, but so what? This sort of insular bootstrapping with likeminded individuals does not constitute an argument for the lucidity of one's own theological thinking. The fact that you even recommend these blogs suggests that you're out of touch with the methodological principles and expectations that are de rigueur for serious academia when it comes to doctrinal and conceptual analysis.

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    It's obviously a question of taste as to how "natural" that argument is. I, for one, think anyone who can't see that subordination deals with nature and not person simply doesn't understand patristic Christology well enough to discuss the subject in the first place.
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    First, notice how Prejean shows no discomfort expressing his thoughts in this sort of minimalist mud-speak. The clumsiness of philosopical expression exhibited here is common among "intellectuals" of this stripe. Some intellectual traditions just don't get around to argument prolegomena, or instructing their impressionable and glossy-eyed adherents how to think and speak well.

    But no matter, this needn't hinder the fun. What does this even mean exactly: "subordination deals with nature and not person"? What sort of "dealing", pertaining, or having-to-do-with is supposed to be relevant here, exactly? Do you mean to *deny* my definition of subordination as a relation that takes *persons* as its relata, and that it takes some *other* objects instead? Or do you mean to deny that subordination is a relational notion at all? No clues are provided.

    Presumably, your enigmatic attempt at correction "subordination deals with nature and not person" means something like this: Subordinationist theism entails that some divine person a has nature x, and some divine person b has nature y, and x is subordinate to y. While this is the most natural rendering of your words, (assuming you actually meant to disagree with me that subordination is a relation between a and b), this characterization has the unfortunate consequence of being a piece of sheer confusion.

    Natures do not enter into the subordination relation. They just aren't the right *kind* of object to function as relata for that relation. This can be seen most obviously from common usage of such expressions. Most people are able to make pretty good sense of the idea that some *person* is subordinate to another person (with regard to some some class of properties had by one and not the other), or that a sergeant is subordinate to a colonel, or even that a child is subordinate to its parent, but it makes no obvious sense to say that something had by Bob is subordinate to something had by John; ie, that Bob's elbow is subordinate to John's shin, or that Tim's favorite number is subordinate to Socrates' wisdom, or that Kim's nature is subordinate to Christine's nature. There's no relevant dependence relation between these respective kinds of entities that could make this latter set of propositions express truths.

    So a nature is no more capable of being subordinate to another nature, then the color green is capable of being saltier than the pythagorean theorem. The alternative here is a simple category error.

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    The fact that you've couched them in terms like "most naturally" and "intuitively great-making" does nothing to assuage my concerns in that regard. Indeed, this seems to be the same silly and thoughtless rhetoric used by Hays and Engwer.
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    Speaking of silly and thoughtless rhetoric. This screed against the intuitive force of these premises is misplaced and irrelevant (as is the demand for an "argument" that such propositions really do seem to be true to large numbers of theists). Intuition is determined by polling and introspective testimonial, not philosophical argument. Nor is the appropriate response to some proposition many people find intuitively plausible "Hey!, Thats *not* intuitive!"

    Perhap you're under the mistaken impression that because you supposedly take some other proposition to be intuitive, and since the propositions you take to be intuitive are in some way contrary to the ones I've specified as being intuitive, that therefore the propositions I've specified are not intuitive and worth dealing with. But this doesn't follow. There are lots of propositions that have a good deal of intuitive heft that are not logically compatible with one another. The idea when such cases arise is to pit such beliefs the beliefs against each other in various ways, and retain those that, all things considered, have the greater intuitive warrant, and the least deleterious affect on our pretheoretic belief set.

    In anycase, you're giving at least three premises the broad-brush treatment here. One is left to guess whether this is principled disagreement on your part, or just a bunker mentality towards theological opposition. You're being predictably daft and presumptuous in supposing that the view that these premises are intuitive is a corollary of nicene denial. I haven't tipped my hand on that issue one way or the other, since its not relevant to the *fact* that your soapboxing dismissal of the alternatives is capricious and unwarranted.

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    You haven't actually presented an argument for your understanding being "plausible," and if one considers your allegedly self-evident propositions ridiculous, as I do. (viz., God as a collection of "great-making" properties strikes me as nonsensical on its face), then the "sober" thing to do would be to either explain your intuition or to leave off the discussion. Surely, you can't think that your opinion that something is "intuitive" is reason for me to take it seriously.
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    This response now suggests that you lack even the basic interpretive skills for identifying which propositions are being contended for, let alone understanding them sufficiently to know when to stick them with the "ridiculous" or "non-intuitive" labels. This isn't supposed to be difficult either. Unlike the company you keep, I'm not trying to glory in opacity, or peddle snake-oil profundities. These premises mean only and exactly what they appear to mean. Namely, that divine persons do in fact exemplify a certain class of properties. But by no stretch of the imagination is this to be read as the claim that such persons just *are* a class of properties.

    Would any reasonably competent english speaker infer from the fact that Sister Martha admirably exemplifys the Seven Virtues, that therefore Martha is really identical to that set of properties? That contrary to popular belief, Sister Martha isn't a person at all, but some abstract mathematical or set-theoretic object? If this is what passes for reasoning and interpretation in Prejean's world, its no wonder he sulks in the shadows. That is where such nonsense belongs.

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    And regarding the rest, patristic theology isn't medieval, and many people consider it normatively binding, so what you've said here is no better (and no more accurate) than an unbeliever's dismissal of Christians relying on Scriptural evidence. Come to think of it, your entire line of reasoning sounds like a fundamentalist demanding to be taken seriously for simply presenting an opinion.
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    Much like the fundamentalism he intends to decry, Prejean just assumes he's entitled to a free pass on these dialogical matters. The principled requirement for a degree clarity, rigor, and semantic preamble when disputing doctrinal truth is not so much the damands of fundamentalism seeking relevance, as it is an uncontroversial and necessary prerequisite for any attempt at substantial exposition or argument. Moreover, the requirement is obvious and uncontroversially accepted by everyone in serious academia, as noted a bit earlier. But then, Prejean doesn't align himself with serious academia on matters of analysis, so he feels no compunction to either fall in line or turn down the volume of his unbridled vitriol.

    But here we stumble across an amusing irony. His attempt to mount the soapbox and play the role of the ivory tower scholar is ill-suited to him, since he locates himself within an doctrinal and expository tradition that has, as yet, gained no mainstream acceptance or reputation for reliable thinking or philosophical competence through the usual avenues. (ie, through major peer reviewed publications with quality control strictures enforced to sift substance from unlaced verbiage and nonsense).

    So ironically, its not my position that signals fundamentalism and a struggle for relevance and credibility, but his own.

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    Of course, one wonders how qualified one is to express an opinion about someone else without even being able to understand that person's opinion. If you can't understand science, you oughtn't express opinions on a quantum physicist's opinion about superstrings. Similarly, if you don't understand Christian philosophy or patristic Christology well enough to get your head around the concepts, the prudent course of action would be to listen and learn before speaking.
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    This is unobjectionable, to a point. The Principle of Charitable Interpretation mandates that we extend a patient ear to allow ideas to be heard, and a strongest case to be made. But there are practical limits to this proceedure. When cerain individuals, or philosophical traditions that have no established reputation for competence on which they speak, we're well within our rights to pull the plug on them after a time.

    Sometimes we don't understand an individual because we've been inattentive. Other times we don't understand an individual because they speciously use singular terms like "The patristic understanding of x" to denote some unspecified element in a wide panoply of divergent, ill-defined, half-comprehended views and concepts. Other times we don't understand an individual because we come to realize that there literally *is nothing to understand* in what they are saying, and they've been faking it all along. Perhaps Prejean thinks there's no such thing as junk-science or junk-theology.

    With regard to "The patristic understanding of person" that is supposedly central to the vindication of the nicene trinitarianism from subordinationist implications, Prejean needs to drop the inappropriate use of singular terms, affix the indefinite article to the term "patristic understanding" and explicitly state (a) the necessary and sufficient conditions on personhood common to a relevant portion of patristic testimony on Nicean dogma, or, if this is too tall an order to fill (b) provide at least one necessary or one sufficient condition on personhood that is relevant to nicean dogma, that allows his readers to know what he intends to mean by his use of the term "person". But Prejean doesn't want to play, he wants to defer to bibliography and retreat into the safety of his bubble, so we needn't hold our breath for clarifications.

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    I have no desire to engage in a discussion of any kind with dishonest people. In places where there are honest dialogue partners, my discussions are just fine, even with those who disagree with me. As I said before, if you actually care about honest discussion, you would locate places where honest discussion takes place.
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    No desire, or no ability? Or need I ask? I think the answer here is already clear enough, from the substance of your most recent attempts at response.

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    The fact that you have been willing to give a pass to Hays only strengthens my conclusion that you aren't. Which means I can conveniently note for the record that you aren't worth my time either.
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    Given that I'm now "not worth your time", and your Armstrongian or Enloean reputation for sticking to your commitments, doesn't this mean I can expect as many responses to these post of mine as I feel like coaxing out of you?

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  7. For the record, I believe that when the backwater biblicist speaks of great-making properties and the sovereignty-aseity intuitions, he is alluding to Plantinga's discussion of such things as the modal version of the ontological argument and his Does God Have a Nature? This takes for granted the supporting arguments in the course of Plantinga's exposition and evaluation.
    # posted by steve : 9/18/2005 5:40 PM
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    You're correct that Plantinga often uses this terminology, though my own use is generic, rather than indepted to any of the particulars of his work. Substitute "divine properties" for "great-making properties" if you prefer (assuming there's no ambiguity which subset of generic divine properties is relevant to an exalted or high christian view of deity). Likewise, substitute, "exaltedness", "anselmian", or "non-dependence" intutions for "sovereignty-aseity intuitions".

    I don't offer arguments for these notions; since I merely presuppose that they are shared concepts among christians. The reason I invoke them is to identify a criterion that will provide a congenial definition of ontological subordination (as opposed to weaker notions of subordination, like the economic trinity).

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