Monday, September 03, 2007

Catholic Deism

(Posted on behalf of Steve Hays.)

Prejean's latest reply:
Just in case anyone is speculating about my motives in the recent couple of posts re: Steve Hays, this is strictly a matter of ontological ground for knowledge. That's it. Hays's theory of knowledge is based on the nonsensical skepticism of idealism, as if dreams and hallucinations can somehow break the ontological connection between knowledge and reality, which destroys any sort of ground for knowledge. I'm sure I'll be called anti-Scripture and all that, but my point is simply that Hays's theory provides no basis for knowing that Scripture is the Word of God, and consequently, no basis for giving normative authority to the Word of God. Moreover, the object itself is not a suitable object for normative authority given the sort of authority (namely, divine authorship/endorsement) that he attributes to it.

I suspect some people might wonder why I am being so hard on the conclusions, and my point is simply that because he has no ground for knowledge, he has no basis for knowing when he is wrong either. He can invent whatever idealistic formal scheme he wants, and because formal consistency can't be proved or disproved within a system, he's insulated from any pushback that reality would give to his Scriptural conclusions. That's what comes of denying real knowledge. Certainly, Hays might just happen to be right about some theological conclusions, but the point is that he has no reason for believing even those. It is sheer fideism.
A couple of basic problems here:

i) Prejean is one of those debaters, of which there are a surprising number, who can't keep track of his own argument.

He said that "experience" is the criterion which enables us to distinguish between what is real and what is unreal. And that's the context in which I brought up dreams and hallucinations. I'm answering him on his own grounds.

When we dream, we have an experience of a dream. It's a genuine experience. When we hallucinate, we experience a hallucination. It's a genuine experience.

It is not a veridical experience of the real world, but it is a real experience, and as long as the percipient is in that altered state of consciousness, that's the way in which he does. Indeed, experience the world, however distorted that may be.

And that's a problem for Prejean's theory of knowledge. He is the one who appealed to experience as the broker. It is his theory of knowledge that results in scepticism, not mine.

Prejean talks like a radical empiricist. And radical empiricism has sceptical consequences. How does raw experience distinguish between reality and an illusion of reality? That's a question that arises from his own criterion. Where is his answer?

ii) Prejean also acts as if you can't know anything unless you have a theory of knowledge in your back pocket. And one of the problems with this internalist constraint on knowledge is that it signs its own death warrant. For unless we enjoyed some measure of pretheoretical knowledge, we wouldn't know enough to theorize about our pretheoretical knowledge.

Epistemology is not the source of knowledge. A theory of knowledge is not our source of knowledge. A theory of knowledge takes pretheoretical knowledge for granted, and then attempts to explain how much we know and how we know it.

iii) How many Catholic laymen have a theory of knowledge? Prejean can only deny knowledge to the Protestant by denying knowledge to any Roman Catholic who is not a professional epistemologist.

iv) Indeed, it's worse than that because, of course, there are many competing theories of knowledge. So, for him, you don't know anything unless you hit upon the correct theory of knowledge.

And there are rival theories of knowledge within Catholicism, as between, say, Franciscans and Dominicans—or the different versions of Thomism.

Moving along to his primary reply:
And I do genuinely feel sorry for Steve Hays, who has been aptly described as a "middle-aged seminarian."
Is this Prejean's cue for me to begin cracking lawyer jokes?

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.
Several issues:

i) This is a debate over the rule of faith. Is sola Scriptura the rule of faith or the Magisterium?

The standard Catholic objection to sola Scriptura is not over the truth of Scripture, but the meaning of Scripture. Since Scripture is not self-explanatory, we need a divine teaching office to authoritatively interpret Scripture: otherwise, anarchy will ensue.

That's the stock argument. Indeed, Prejean himself is fond of using that argument.2

Alice in Wonderland is meaningful without being truthful. And there are true or false interpretations of fiction. Therefore, the hermeneutical question is distinct from the alethic question.

ii) There are various ways of arguing for the truth of Scripture. I myself have done so on many occasions.

But one thing we must avoid is to lay down a restrictive principle which would deny knowledge to broad classes of humanity—like Jews and proselytes. Did a Jew need a theory of knowledge to know that Scripture was true? Did a proselyte need a theory of knowledge to know that Scripture was true?

Did King David have a theory of knowledge? Did the Virgin Mary have a theory of knowledge? Did Mary Magdalene have a theory of knowledge? Did the Samaritan woman (Jn 4) have a theory of knowledge? Did Cornelius have a theory of knowledge? Did the Philippian jailor have a theory of knowledge?

Does Prejean's internalist constraint on knowledge allow God's people (e.g. Jews and proselytes), including the hoi polloi, to know that Scripture is true?

Or is such knowledge limited to Thomas Aquinas, Xavier Zubiri, and Jonathan Prejean?

iii) Here is one way in which a Catholic theologian answers Jonathan's query:
We should not, moreover, be afraid to affirm a high view of the historical value of the Bible—both the New Testament and the Old Testament...Kenneth Kitchen's book On the Reliability of the Old Testament should satisfy critics who are familiar with the state of academic research...N. T. Wright is a profound and prolific expositor of the historical content of the New Testament.3
In the endnotes, the same theologian also mentions a book by Walter Kaiser.4

So, in fielding the sort of question broached by Prejean, this Catholic theologian can do no better than refer his readers to the best in Evangelical scholarship on the historicity of Scripture. And who am I to take issue with his recommendations?

Perhaps, though, what is good enough for a Catholic theologian isn't good enough for a Catholic layman like Jonathan Prejean. Perhaps, in his eyes, Hahn is not properly grounded in natural theology or Catholic theological method. Which of them speaks for Catholicism at this juncture? Pope Prejean or Dr. Hahn?

I could repeat some of my own reasons as well (e.g. the argument from prophecy, the argument from religious experience), but for present purposes I'll stick with Hahn.
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.
Unfortunately, this statement is fatally ambiguous, for it could mean either of two different things:

i) Jewish writers were consciously anthropomorphic in some of their depictions of the divine, presenting God in human terms in the full awareness that their depictions were anthropomorphic.

ii) Jewish writers were unconsciously anthropomorphic in their depictions of God, presenting him in human terms which they took literally.

Sola Scriptura entails that whichever of these is correct is also normative. But it doesn't, of itself, favor one over the other. Prejean thinks that (ii) is correct, whereas I've argued for (i).
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.
This simply begs the question in favor of Catholicism. According to Catholicism, that may be what a rule of faith requires, but Prejean is now assuming the very point at issue.

Hence, he is making no effort to argue for the Catholic rule of faith. Rather, he is stipulating that his position is true by definition. Which is another way of saying that Prejean's rule of faith is a form of make-believe.

Sola Scriptura is like a traffic light. A traffic light tells you when to stop, go, or slow down. But a traffic light doesn't prevent a driver from running a red light. He is free to disregard the signals, although there a number of potentially deleterious consequences if he does so.

Some drivers respect traffic lights because they appreciate the need for traffic lights. Other drivers respect traffic lights because they fear the consequences if they run a red light, viz. an accident or a ticket.

Other drivers disregard traffic lights. Is a stoplight useless unless it actually prevents everyone from running a red light? Hardly.
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.
No, on my account, sola Scriptura does not mean that interpretive issues ought to be definitively resolved by Scripture itself. Prejean pulled this out of his hat.

Not all interpretive questions are susceptible to definitive resolution. Some interpretive questions remain open questions. In other cases, some answers are far more plausible than others.

But sola Scriptura isn't predicated on the assumption that we can definitively resolve all interpretive questions by Scripture alone. Conversely, this doesn't mean that they are definitively resolvable, but by something other than Scripture alone (e.g. the Magisterium).

Sola Scriptura isn't predicated on a specific outcome. One of the problems with the high-church apriorism is that our high churchman assumes he already knows what a rule of faith is supposed to do. And by prejudging the answer, he comes up with the wrong answer. He's dictating when he ought to be listening and learning.
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.
Which means that Prejean regards these OT depictions as errant. He isn't bound by their depictions in spite of what the authors meant:
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 would simply note in passing that if you deny the inerrancy of Scripture, then there's no reason to stop with Scripture. If you deny that Scriptural assertions are inerrant, then you might as well deny that Magisterial assertions are inerrant.

Pius IX literally meant what he said about the Immaculate Conception, while Pius XII literally meant what he said about the Assumption, but original intent, even of the ex cathedra variety, lacks philosophical normativity.
I think Nielsen's argument would probably be correct if applied to the belief that God has real relations to people.
Fine. Let the admission stand—for all to see.
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.
No it wouldn't. God is omnipotent. As such, there are any number of things he can do—not all of which he does. So he chooses from among the many things he can possibly do (since not all possibilities are compossible). This in no way infringes on God's aseity. To the contrary, it's an implication of his omnipotence.
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.
To begin with, you have a rather abstruse definition of a promise. Did God make a covenant with Abraham? Did God communicate the terms of the covenant to Abraham? Will God honor the terms of his covenant?

A promise is simply a verbal assurance about a future event—that something will or will not take place. Does God will the future? Does God effect the future? Does God communicate to some people (like Abraham) what is going to happen?

If you reject all this as anthropomorphic, then how do you retranslate the covenant of Abraham (to take one example) in your own metaphysical categories? What does it literally amount to?
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.
What is absurd? That God has ideas? If so, why is that absurd?

Or that God chooses to objectify some of his ideas in time and space? If so, how is that absurd?
"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.
i) If you want to get technical about it, the question is not, in the first place, whether God has intentions toward "us," but whether he has intentions towards himself by choosing to enact one scenario of which he is capable rather than another scenario of which he is capable.

ii) In what sense are we not "real enough" for God to have intentions towards us? We can be "real" in two different ways:

a) God's idea of us.

b) God's objectification of his idea of us.

iii) Even fictions can be the object of intentions. A novelist has intentions with respect to his fictional characters. They are what he intends them to be. They do whatever he intends them to do.

Notice how Prejean treats the Bible the way the Gnostics treated the Bible. The Gnostics didn't outright deny the Bible. Instead, they treated the Bible as if it was written in a code language, and they ran the Bible through their metaphysical grid, so that the meaning of Scripture was transmuted into Gnostic categories.

Prejean does the same thing. He has his metaphysical scheme, from some version of natural theology, and he launders the Bible in his vat of metaphysical dye until he's bleached out the original meaning and colored in what he's prepared to believe—apart from Scripture and in defiance of Scripture.
Second causes?" Care to justify that metaphysically?
Every birth is not a virgin birth.
And "facilitate?" Is it possible to make things easier for God?
Did I say God uses second cause to make things "easier" on himself? No.

But God doesn't create every tree ex nihilo. Rather, he creates a set of seed-bearing trees ex nihilo, while they, in turn, create other trees via ordinary providence.
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.
Was I offering a running commentary on Wolterstorff? No. Rather, I gave my own account.
Second, you have to prove that God actually did these things; saying that he could doesn't prove that He ever did.
i) I didn't say he did these things. I'm taking my examples from Scripture. This is how the Bible describes the modalities of divine communication.

ii) Do I have to prove to you that God uses various media like angels, prophets, and visions to communicate his will?

If you're an atheist, and I'm trying to persuade you, then, yes, the onus would be on me. Are you an atheist, Jonathan Prejean?

iii) Or is the business about angels, prophets and visions in Scripture just another anthropomorphism which you launder in your vat of metaphysical dye?
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.
i) Prejean keeps piling on corroborative evidence to show that when an Evangelical gets into a debate with a Catholic, he must treat the Catholic as an atheist. I appreciate your concession, Jonathan, but that doesn't leave me with much to prove. If Catholicism is equivalent to atheism, then you've dynamited your position from within before I ever fired a shot.

ii) As usual, Prejean can't keep track of his own argument. The question at issue, as he himself has framed it, is whether the notion of divine speech is inherently anthropomorphic.

Suppose, for the sake of argument, that none of these Biblical examples actually happened. They'd still show that there's nothing inherently anthropomorphic about the notion of divine speech.

iii) Remember, that was his original challenge when I cited these verses. Now, having lost the first round, he is trying to change the scoreboard after the game is over and the players went home.

What he's now discussing is not whether verses draw a conceptual distinction between literal and anthropomorphic predication, but whether they were actually spoken by Moses or Samuel. Or whether there was a real person by the name of Daniel or Ezekiel who saw inspired dreams and visions.

When you answer Prejean on his own grounds, he shifts ground. Of course, two can play this game. Prove to me that Mary was immaculately conceived. Prove to me that Mary was assumed into heaven.

Since you have no actual knowledge of any of these things, your pious assertion is worthless. Suppose that I think you're making it all up and nothing the sacred tradition describes actually happened. Prove that it did.
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).
i) Did you personally observe Pius IX compose Ineffabilis Deus? Did you witness Pius XII compose Munificentissimus Deus?

And even if, ex hypothesi, you did observe them do this, did you personally experience their unction? Did you experience their infallible charism?

ii) Given Prejean's statement, we can also discount the testimony of all the church fathers to apostolic tradition as untrustworthy.

And since their testimony regarding the Church is unreliable, we cannot appeal to the authority Church to ground their testimony in the authority of the Church. So he cannot bootstrap either one from the other. This is from a man who accuses Evangelicals of irrationality!
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.
i) I've taken the time to defend the Bible on numerous occasions. I'm more than happy to compare my archives with Prejean's on that score.

ii) But it can also be helpful to highlight the grotesque alternative.
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.
i) Once again, I've argued for sola Scriptura more times than I can count.

ii) Notice, by contrast, that Prejean is derelict in the very thing he accuses me of failing to do—although I've done so umpteen times. Where is his argument for Scripture? Where is his argument for the church?

iii) Prejean is also confounding faith in Scripture with faith in sola Scriptura. His problem is that he's equally faithless on either count.

iv) At the moment I'm merely arguing along the same lines as another Catholic theologian recently reasoned. As he put it:
Jump back a few chapters for a moment. Why did we exclusively use the language of reason and experience when preparing to witness to atheists? Why not let loose a storm of Scripture quotes? Quite simply because atheists and agnostics do not accept the authority of the Bible. So such testimony would be likely be fruitless. With nonbelievers we do better to use the common language of common sense. With non-Catholic Christians, however, Scripture itself can provide a common language and a common ground for meeting one another.5

We must begin from the Bible, because the New Testament is indisputably the most complete and reliable record of first-generation Christianity. It is our fail-safe starting point. We can fortify our biblical witness with the interpretations and confirmations of the generations immediately after the apostolic era, but we always return to the Bible—which always leads us in turn to the Church.6
So Hahn affirms everything that Prejean denies. For Hahn, the Bible is common ground between Catholics and Evangelicals, in contrast to atheists. We "must begin from the Bible." "It is our fail-safe starting-point."

He reasons from Scripture to the church—not vice versa.

Of course, Prejean is free to disagree with Hahn. Hahn is not the pope. But, then, neither is Prejean.

This is a fundamental problem in Catholic apologetics. Since Catholic apologetics is left unregulated by the Vatican, you keep bumping into different official versions of Catholic tradition. Sungenis v. Keating. McElhinney v. Armstrong. Hahn v. Matatics. And, all the while, they decry Evangelical "anarchy!"

iv) When you say that Catholics don't see Scripture as having authority outside the context of the Church, what does this circumlocution mean, exactly?

a) Are you saying that the Scripture, as the Word of God, has no authority in its own right? That it only has a delegated authority, arbitrarily assigned to it by the church?

Why would the Word of God have a merely delegated authority? Or do you deny that Scripture is the Word of God? If so, does traditional Catholic dogma share your denial?

b) Why does Catholicism appeal to Biblical prooftexts like Mt 16:18 or 1 Tim 3:15 if the Bible has no authority outside the church? Isn't the point of this appeal to validate the claims of Rome? But if the Bible has no authority outside the church, then the appeal is viciously circular.
But to be accused of being too dishonest to quote him in full when my remark followed a direct quote of the entire sentence.
What you did was to quote one sentence while omitting the succeeding, epexegetical sentence. You then did a little riff on the first sentence in which you drew forth the alleged implications of the first sentence in deliberate defiance of what I clearly meant given the qualifications I immediately introduced in the succeeding 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.
You're rewriting history. You originally fell into the popular fallacy of treating all tu quoque arguments as fallacious. I then quoted from Peter Geach, a Catholic philosopher and logician, to demonstrate your ignorance of logic.

You then had to scramble for some way to save face by pretending that you knew about this all along, even though it was no part of your original claim.
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.
And I could line up a preexisting literature on our intuitive knowledge of abstract objects like logical and mathematical truths from writers like Leibniz, Poincaré, Cohen, Gödel, Penrose, et al. And I could cite other paradigm-cases as well. However, this debate is far removed from the rule of faith.
You don't need preexisting categories if order is in the things themselves.
As writers like Hume pointed out a long time ago, basic categories like relations, causality, and necessity are not imprinted on the empirical phenomena themselves. So blank slate is unable to register the objective order of things.

However, this debate is far removed from the rule of faith. It's just a stalling tactic on your part.
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.
i) Wrong. Natural theology is a specific interpretation of what can be known about God from nature. And there are many competing interpretations. You have yet to state and justify which one you adopt, even though that is central to your gestalt.

You are confounding natural theology with natural revelation. There is only one natural revelation, but there are many natural theologies—for natural theology is a human interpretation of natural revelation. Natural revelation is embedded in reality in a way that natural theology is not.

ii) I don't deny natural revelation. And I don't deny that natural revelation can be explicated in some version of natural theology. But I'm not the one making natural theology the filter for Scripture. So you have more to prove than I do.
How does one decide among competing models in science? By whether they describe reality! Same thing here.
If we had direct access to reality, we wouldn't have competing models of science in the first place. So you're using one flimsy argument to prop up another flimsy argument.
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.
Wrong again. Natural theology isn't inherent in reality. At most, natural revelation is inherent in reality. But natural theology is a human interpretation of reality, and is further limited to that slice of reality conterminous with natural revelation. Natural theology is our interpretation of God's revelation in nature.

Natural revelation and special revelation intersect to some degree, but they don't coincide. And even where they do intersect, it hardly follows without further argument—conspicuously absent at your end—that natural theology is the lens through which we view special revelation.
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.
But you don't allow revelation to tell you what reality is. Rather, you begin with your preconception of reality, and then proceed to muzzle revelation so that you only permit it to say whatever dovetails with your preconception of 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.
i) As usual, Prejean is unable to follow his own argument. I'm not using hallucinations to justify scepticism. Rather, I'm answering Prejean on his own terms. He appealed to experience as his criterion. I'm citing hallucinations as a limiting case on such an appeal.

The problem is not with reality, but with our perception of reality. If experience is our only window onto reality, and that window is made of tinted glass rather than plain glass, then we don't perceive reality as it is in and of itself.

Dreams and hallucinations are genuine experiences. They are ways in which we experience the world. Does a hallucinatory experience map onto reality? Or does it distort our perception of reality? And yet it's a real experience. But is it a real experience of reality?

That's the problem with Prejean's criterion, for there's a difference between a real experience and an experience of reality—if, by the latter, we mean to perceive the world as it objectively exists.

Experience qua experience does not and cannot adjudicate between the two. Because the percipient qua percipient cannot crawl outside his own experience to compare his experience with what the world is like apart from experience.

ii) Now, there are certain ways to escape this conundrum, but Prejean has debarred himself from using the exits.

a) Some form of innate knowledge would give us a standard against which to compare or contrast our raw experience. But Prejean's radical empiricism excludes that option.

b) Special revelation would also supply an intersubjectival standard of comparison, since God knows the world apart from experience, and he can communicate some of his knowledge to us. But Prejean's subordination of special revelation to natural revelation excludes that option.
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) None of this supports his point since the Catholic apologist is arguing for the necessity of a Magisterium to preclude "failure." But if, by his own admission, the old covenant was a divine institution, and if, by his own admission, the OT rule of faith was a calculated "failure" on God's part, then a Catholic apologist cannot infer the necessity of a magisterium from the outcome, where the magisterial safety-net is not in place. He cannot infer that sola Scriptura is not the true rule of faith given the consequences, since we have parallel consequences under the OT, using a God-given rule of faith.

ii) And we also have similar "failures" under the new covenant, viz. apostates, heretics, schismatics.

iii) I'd add that the NT does not articulate the Catholic rule of faith. There is no Catholic magisterium on display in the NT—which is why the Catholic apologist must resort to the development of doctrine.

The argument for the Catholic rule of faith was never anything more than a presumptive argument. It worked with the a priori assumption that God would not allow a certain outcome to ensue.

But the history of God's dealings with his people doesn't justify that presumption. To the contrary, divine precedent creates, if anything, a presumption to the contrary.
Obviously it wasn't meant to be the true rule of faith because it didn't even provide for eternal salvation.
So all the Jews were damned.
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.
So the Jews didn't have a suitable object of faith. Is Prejean a Catholic or a Marcionite?
I defined the object in terms of suitability for faith, not whether it produced uniformity among all those having faith in it.
Fine. But at that point you jettison the standard Catholic objection to sola Scriptura, which attacks it on consequentialist grounds precisely because it allegedly leads to disunity rather than unity.
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…Otherwise, there's no external object to know.
Externally proximate in what sense? Are abstract objects proximate objects of knowledge? If not, how do you know about abstract objects?

And it won't do to ostensively point to concrete objects that exemplify concrete objects, for—to take one example—relations are inaudible, invisible, and intangible.

To borrow an illustration from Gassendi, we don't actually hear a clock strike four. We don't hear a series of tones. All we hear is a discrete tone, and another discrete tone, and another and another. The relation between these tones which forms a series isn't something we sense, but something we apprehend thanks to our innate grasp of numerical relations.
The OT believers might well have had a proximate object of faith, but it wasn't the Messiah.
But you just said that OT believers did not have a "suitable" object of faith. So are you now claiming that they had an unsuitable proximate object of faith?
Likewise, Christ isn't around bodily, so the only way to know Him is to encounter His action in something outside oneself.
So we can't come to know him by reading an inspired record of his person and work. We can't come to know him by reading the Gospels.

And Prejean is the one who accuses me of scepticism. Isn't that rich?
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.
I do present an argument in response to Joseph.
You simply used a nasty pejorative about my "contemptuous" view of Scripture.
I do more than that, but, yes, I'm also drawing the attention of Catholics and Protestants alike to what your Catholic view of the Scriptures amounts to. By your own admission you have no faith in God's Word. You don't regard the Word of God as a suitable object of faith.

You only have faith in your denomination. And you only believe the Bible to the degree that your denomination authorizes faith in Scripture. Your attitude towards the Word of God is worlds apart from Biblical piety itself.

I pick on you because you're very clever, and you tend to carry your points to their logical extreme. So you're a test case of the best case for Catholicism.

And what you end up illustrating is that Catholicism is like King Tut's sarcophagus. On the outside is this bejeweled, solid gold surface. But when we lift the lid and unwind the mummy, all we find is dust and decay.
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.
And why do you believe that? Even if we were to grant traditional Catholic exegesis, since you reject testimony as a suitable object of faith, you reject the testimony of the Scriptures to Christ and the church alike. In that event, why believe that your denomination is a divine and dominical institution?

You can't very well ground Scripture in the external or proximate object of the church unless you have some independent reason for believing that your denomination is, indeed, the church that Jesus founded. And what would that be if not the witness of the NT (assuming traditional Catholic exegesis)? And if you fall back on the church fathers, the same objection applies.

If the Bible cannot license the church, because the church must license the Bible, then what "suitable," "proximate," and "external" object licenses your church? What is grounding your faith in the institutional church?
In all of the examples you gave, the individuals DID HAVE a justification for the authority of Scripture.
Wherein lay their justification?
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.
That's inadequate to your original claim. Sorry to keep reminding you of what you said and then holding you to your own words:
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.
The fact (for the sake of argument) that plenty of people do have certain knowledge about the faith from the Church tacitly grants that there are also plenty of people (including nominal or lapsed Catholics) who do not. So all the weak links remain in place at the concrete level of actually "arriving at theological truth."
Hays is confusing objective authority with subjective knowledge.
Except for the fact that "arriving at theological truth" is subjective knowledge. And having "certain knowledge about the faith" is subjective knowledge.

What's the value of having a chain without any objectively weak links if, as soon as you lower the chain into a real world situation and attach it to real men and women, it comes apart in practice due to so many subjectively weak links?

Prejean's church is a beautifully preserved museum piece which is only as good as the airtight display case. As soon as you remove it from its hermetically sealed objectivity, it begins to putrefy in the sunshine.
Sure. But natural theology can tell me that it's irrational to claim faith if Christ ISN'T acting in the Church.
Another category mistake. Natural theology tells you absolutely nothing about Christology or ecclesiology. That's the domain of revealed theology, not natural theology.
Which only highlights the point that truth is a matter of correspondence to reality, not meaning.
I appreciate your concession. Traditionally, the conflict with Rome was over the meaning of Scripture, not the truth of Scripture. The Catholic contention is that Protestants can't be sure of what the Bible means—absent the teaching office of the Magisterium.

You, however, have blurred the distinction between meaning and truth. After I point out that the meaning of a consciously fictitious work like Alice in Wonderland is irrespective of its real world correspondence, you're having to back down. One doesn't need natural theology to interpret a document.

Of course, Scripture is not fictitious, but I cited the fictional genre as a limiting case to illustrate the difference between meaning and truth, interpretation and verification.

Contrary, therefore, to your original argument, a Protestant can ascertain the meaning of Scripture without recourse to natural theology. Natural theology is not the prism through which we construe the sense of Scripture. Likewise, that's not the way we need to distinguish between literal depictions and anthropomorphic depictions.
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.
In other words, Catholicism is unable to get everything it needs to warrant its theological embellishments from honest exegesis of Scripture, so it must abandon the grammatico-historical method for allegorical substitutions and patently anachronistic reinterpretations of the text.
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.
So natural theology doesn't "superimpose," but it does "supervene." Uh-huh.
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.
How does that follow in the least? If you can't know that God said something unless you actually heard him say it, then how can you know that Christ is present in the church unless you actually saw him there?

The church cannot furnish a proximate sign of Christ's presence unless you already know that your church evidences the presence of Christ. If the church is a sign of his presence, then where the church is, he is.

And how to you propose to verify your premise? Not by invoking the authority of the church, I trust, since that would be viciously circular. And not by appealing to the testimony of the NT, for you've already foreclosed that option.
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.
A couple of problems:

i) All you've done is to push the question back a step. If you can't accept the authority of Scripture without the church, then how can you accept the authority of the church apart from Scripture?

ii) Is your appeal to Augustine and the other church fathers an argument from authority? If so, what suitable, external, and proximate object is grounding their testimony? Surely not the church—if you're invoking the church fathers to validate the authority of the church in the first place.

So which is prior to which? Does patristic testimony validate the church, or does the church validate patristic testimony?

As for Prejean's attempt to salvage Joseph's sorry argument, his remarks piggyback on other arguments I've already refuted in the course of my reply.
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.
And yet it's child's play to simply redirect your objection to the church itself. Have you ever seen a single pope—much less every pope—actually pen a single encyclical—much less every encyclical? Did you witness the Tridentine Fathers in deliberation?

And you can't very well fall back on the testimony of others, for you already dynamited that escape route by grounding testimony in the authority of the church—without which you deny that it's even rational to put your faith in testimony.


2 Another stock objection is that a Protestant cannot identify the canon of Scripture. I've dealt with that objection on many occasions.

3 S. Hahn, Reasons To Believe (Doubleday 2006), 74-75.

4 Ibid. 208n75.

5 S. Hahn, Reasons to Believe, 74.

6 Ibid. 75.


  1. No, seriously, why do you double-space after nearly every sentence? I enjoy your writing, but your strange formatting means only a small portion fits on my screen.

  2. Josh S said:

    No, seriously, why do you double-space after nearly every sentence? I enjoy your writing, but your strange formatting means only a small portion fits on my screen.

    Hm, that's interesting.

    I don't know what you mean by "small portion" exactly, but considering that this was a lengthy post, I would tend to doubt most people's monitors would be able to accommodate a sizable let alone "large" portion of the post at any one time anyway.

    But, assuming this is a legitimate technical problem, are you sure it's due to the (as you suggest) frequent double-spacing and/or "strange formatting"? If so, for starters, would you mind please answering the following questions:

    1. What precisely do you find "strange" about the "formatting"?

    2. What operating system do you run?

    3. What is your screen resolution set to?

    4. What web browser do you normally use to read Triablogue?

    BTW, I'm asking these questions because I'm the one who posted this on behalf of Steve, and it'd hopefully help me resolve any problems readers like yourself might have viewing the posts.

    Cool, thanks.

  3. Josh,

    Speaking for myself, I sometimes do this because I'm posting in an outline form:



    That sort of thing.

    Also, in the blogger screen I get (using Firefox and MS XP here), I try to preview the text before I publish, and, no matter how you do it, the only way to get the text to separate and remain legible in terms of the flow, is sometimes to double space, particularly if I've composed in a text editor beforehand and am importing to Blogger.

  4. Steve,

    Could you point me to the place where you dealt with Nielson's impossibility argument.


  5. saint and sinner said...
    Steve,__Could you point me to the place where you dealt with Nielson's impossibility argument.__Thanks.


    I haven’t dealt with it directly, and it’s been a while since I’ve read Nielsen’s argument, but as I recall, it goes something like this:

    According to Nielsen there are two basic versions of theism.

    1. There’s the mythological, anthropomorphic version. This version is meaningful, but false.

    He would identify this version with Biblical theism.

    2. Then there’s the philosophical version of God as a timeless, discarnate agent. This version is meaningless because it cannot be verified or falsified.

    He would identify this version with classical Christian theism (e.g. Boethius, Anselm, Aquinas).

    His objection goes back to a particular theory of meaning and language, with roots in logical positivism, verificationism and the verification principle.

    So it’s not a distinctive objection to Christian theism. Rather, it applies a particular theory of knowledge to Christian theism. As such, the objection is only as good as the epistemology that underwrites it.

    For some online evaluations: