Saturday, May 09, 2009

The Catholic conundrum

James Swan did a recent post entitled “Catholics Need Catholic Answers, But Will Settle for Protestant Answers.”

Among other things, he said “One would think, the alleged ‘true’ church would have her top scholars working on such a project, or perhaps the Pope could say something infallible to help out. If Rome has done a detailed response to Ehrman, I'm not aware of it. However, what I found interesting was the authorities listed in the thread for a response to Ehrman were Protestant. It is ironic that the only authorities suggested on Catholic Answers were Protestant.”

I’d like to add a couple of supplementary observations:

1.One reason that Catholics have to default to Evangelical scholarship on issues like this is that while Catholic apologists are generally quite conservative, Catholic Bible scholars are generally quite liberal. And, of course, that's sanctioned by the Magisterium.

2.But there’s another reason that goes to an even deeper dilemma. Erhman’s argument against the NT canon is structurally parallel to the Catholic argument for the NT canon. It’s as if the Catholic apologist occupies one universe while his alter-ego occupies a parallel universe.

Ehrman contends that the NT canon represents an arbitrary anthology of Christian writings. The books of the NT canon are not inherently or exclusively canonical. Rather, some books were included which could just as well have been excluded, while other books were excluded which could just as well have been included. It was the Catholic authorities who imposed this miscellaneous collection on Christendom. Absent the Catholic authorities, this is not the canon which Christians, if left to their own devices, would come up with all by themselves.

Now, if you think about it, it would be nearly impossible for a Catholic apologist to critique this representation. For that’s exactly how Catholic apologists argue for the canon. Put another way, that’s exactly how Catholic apologists attack the basis of the Protestant canon.

A Catholic apologist would therefore find it very hard to distinguish his own argument from Ehrman’s argument. Find it very hard to refute Ehrman’s argument without refuting his own argument.

So it’s safer to say nothing at all. A Catholic apologist can only win the argument with Ehrman by losing the argument with Catholicism. When faced with a conundrum like that, silence is the only option.

Neotheism and anthropomorphism

Traditionally, Christian theologians regard certain Biblical descriptions of God as anthropomorphic. Neotheism (or open theism) treats this appeal as special pleading–at least when it’s applied to neotheistic prooftexts.

Now it’s true that a philosophical theologian can begin with an essentially philosophical model of God, and then reinterpret Biblical descriptions accordingly. However, the identification of anthropomorphic usage in Scripture is by no means the result of superimposing an extrascriptural view of God onto Scripture. To the contrary, anthropomorphic usage is an idiomatic feature of Scriptural usage. So this is not a category which is generated by the relation between Scripture and extrascriptural concerns. While that’s a possible source of anthropomorphic interpretations, the operating category is intrinsic to Scriptural usage–as I’ll be documenting shortly.

Moreover, anthropomorphic language isn’t limited to God-talk. Furthermore, anthropomorphic language isn’t restricted to the ascription of human properties to superhuman or subhuman entities. In reference to God-talk, anthropomorphic language is just a special case of a universal phenomenon. So, once again, it’s not as if this was concocted by theologians to save appearances.

Anthropomorphic usage is a special type of metaphorical usage, which is–in turn–a special type of analogical usage. In every analogy there is an element of disanalogy. An analogy is a controlled comparison. The trick is to isolate the analogous element from the incidental features which accompany the picturesque metaphor.

In picture language, you have to draw a picture: otherwise, it wouldn’t be picture language. Hang together. Form a coherent image. But that doesn’t mean every picturesque detail is significant.

The anthropomorphic depictions of God in Scripture are meaningful. But we must take care in how we pinpoint the meaning. It we made no allowance for anthropomorphic usage, the God of Scripture would be a metamorphic being–by turns humanoid, bestial, or inanimate. Not only does that go far beyond orthodox theism, but far beyond open theism or even Mormonism.

Open theism arbitrarily demarcates the literal from the anthropomorphic. If anything, open theism is guilty of special pleading.

To illustrate my points, I’ll quote some passages from a classic treatment of anthropomorphic usage in Scripture.

“But in a broader sense anthropomorphism is commonly used to cover any attribution of human characteristics to that which is not human…Problems of theological language look very different as soon as we recognize that anthropomorphism is not confined to religion,” G. B. Caird, The Language and Imagery of Scripture (Eerdmans 1996), 172.

“In all languages a considerable portion of the word stock of daily speech is supplied by the metaphorical usage of words which literally connote parts of the human body: the eye of the needle, a tongue of land, the mouth of a river, the neck of a bottle, the shoulder of a road, the belly of a ship, the foot of a mountain,” ibid. 172-73.

“Such idiomatic phrases occur also in Hebrew and Greek, but with variations: where we say ‘face of the land,’ Hebrew says ‘eye of the land’ (Exod 10:5); where we say ‘tongue of land,’ Hebrew says ‘tongue of sea’ (Isa 11:15); and for ‘edge of the sword,’ Hebrew uses ‘mouth of the sword’ (Num 21:24),” ibid. 173n3.

“Only captious pedantry or childish humor will find it necessary to remark that the eye of a needle cannot see or a tongue of land speak. In fable, myth and strip cartoon animals are portrayed acting as though they were human beings (cf. Dan 8:3ff.; 2 Esdr. 11:1ff.; Rev 5:6ff.). By what might seem to be a converse process, the names of animals may be applied to a description of character to human beings–lion (2 Tim 4:17), fox (Lk 13:32), pig (2 Pet 2:22), snake (Gen 3:1; Mt 10:16); but, since the animals in question rarely possess the assumed qualities, this may be more plausibly understood as another example of the projection of human characteristics on to animals. The personification of the inanimate (e.g. Gen 37:9; Isa 10:15) and of the abstract (e.g. Wisd. 18:14ff.; Prov 8:1ff.) belong in this category, as does the personification of Nature [Ps 77:16; 96:11-12], commonly but misleadingly called ‘the pathetic fallacy’,” ibid 173.

“Thus anthropomorphism in all its variety is the commonest source of metaphor, and in it we can observe both the cognitive and the expressive aspects of language at work. The human body, senses and personality are the objects with which we have the most direct, first-hand acquaintance, and the cognitive principle of proceeding from the known to the unknown makes it natural for human beings to see the rest of the world in the light of that experience. But the continuing popularity of such usage is undoubtedly due to its vividness and the power of its appeal to the imagination,” ibid. 173-74.

“The same two principles govern the usage of anthropomorphic imagery in reference to God…The only choice open to us, therefore, is whether we derive our metaphors from the human realm or from the non-human, and it is important to note that the biblical writers use both kinds. There are frequent images drawn from inanimate nature. God is a sun (Ps 84:11; cf. Rev 1:16), his voice like a mighty torrent (Ezk 43:2; cf. Rev 1:16) or like thunder (Ps 29:3; cf. Rev 14:2), his spirit like the wind (Jn 3:8), his justice like the deep ocean (Ps 36:6)…He is a rock (Deut 32:15), a spring (Jer 2:13), a devouring fire (Deut 4:24). Somewhat less frequently we find animal imagery. God descends on Israel like a lion, panther, leopard or bear (Hos 5:14; 17:7-8; Lam 3:10), but also carries them on eagle’s wings (Exod 19:6) or protects them like nestlings (Ps 17:8; Lk 13:34),” ibid. 174.

“For all that, by far the greater proportion of the biblical language which refers to God is anthropomorphic. At the simplest level God is said to have head, face, eyes, eyelids, ears, nostrils, mouth, voice, arm, hand, palm, fingers, foot, heart, bosom, bowels…Here as always we must remember that vividness of expression is not the same as literality. There are explicit denials that God has a body of flesh (Isa 31:3), even though he is envisaged as having one,” ibid. 174-75.

“Far more important is the terminology of divine actions and attitudes, of which it would be difficult, if not impossible, to provide a complete catalogue. God sees and hears, speaks and answers, calls and whistles, punishes and rewards, wounds and heals, opposes and supports, fights, preserves and rescues, guides and guards, makes and unmakes, plans and fulfills, appoints and sends. He displays love, pity, patience, generosity, justice, mercy, jealousy, anger, regret, hatred, pleasure and score. He is potter, builder, farmer, shepherd, hero, warrior, doctor, judge, king, husband and father. Whatever may have been the case with their hearers or readers, the biblical writers at least were alert to the possible abuses of such language and at pains to guard against them. God is not like mankind, subject to vacillation and weakness (1 Sam 15:29; Isa 55:8; Hos 11:9; Mal 3:6),” ibid. 175.

Rage, rage against the dying light

As in time past we felt no distress when the advancing Punic hosts
were threatening Rome on every side, when the whole earth, rocked
by the terrifying tumult of war, shudderingly quaked beneath the
coasts of high heaven, while the entire human race was doubtful into
whose possession the sovereignty of the land and the sea was
destined to fall; so, when we are no more, when body and soul, upon
whose union our being depends, are divorced, you may be sure that
nothing at all will have the power to affect us or awaken sensation in
us, who shall not then exist—not even if the earth be confounded
with the sea, and the sea with the sky.

Life is granted to no one for permanent ownership, to all on lease.
Look back now and consider how the bygone ages of eternity that
elapsed before our birth were nothing to us. Here, then, is a mirror in
which nature shows us the time to come after our death. Do you see
anything fearful in it? Do you perceive anything grim? Does it not
appear more peaceful than the deepest sleep?


This is the standard secular argument against the fear of death. We run across popular variations on this theme in modern atheistic literature. What are we to make of this claim?

1.Some unbelievers taunt Christians who fear death or avoid premature death. They point out that when Christians are diagnosed with cancer (to take one example), the Christian will seek medical care rather than resign himself to death by cancer. Yet Christians are supposed to believe in heaven. Isn’t heaven better than anything we have on earth?

Therefore, when the turf meets the surf, Christians don’t really believe in heaven. So goes the argument.

I’ve addressed this allegation before, so I won’t repeat myself here. For now I wish to make a different point:

When the average unbeliever is diagnosed with cancer, he also seeks medical care. Yet, according to Lucretius, an atheist has nothing to fear from death.

If, therefore, the Christian response to a life-threatening situation is inconsistent, so is the atheistic response to a life-threatening situation.

2.There are also a couple of flaws in the symmetry argument. To begin with, postmortem oblivion is significantly disanalogous to prenatal oblivion.

In the case of postmortem oblivion, death robs you of an experience you had. Life is a cumulative experience. A series of formative or memorable events. One thing builds on another.

But, according to physicalism, death washes all that away in a single wave.

So there’s a fundamental asymmetry between the two states.

In addition, what about prenatal oblivion? To be denied the opportunity to exist is not a trivial or inconsequential deprivation. It may not be the same thing as losing something you actually had, but it does entail the possible loss of a great good. And that’s a genuine deprivation.

Suppose my wife dies of cancer. That’s a loss to me, as well as to her. An actual loss.

But suppose I can’t marry the woman I love. That, too, is a great deprivation.

To the extent that both states are analogous, that parallel actually undercuts the argument of Lucretius.

3.Finally, I think it is possible for an unbeliever to view death as a relief. An unbeliever has a different view of death because he has a different view of life.

To a Christian, this world is a fallen world. It’s a mix of good and evil. But a better world awaits us.

To an atheist, by contrast, this world is all there is. It will never get any better. If it’s full of pain and suffering and disappointment, that’s just a fact of life. That’s the nature of things.

So an atheist may well get to the point where he finds life very tedious. It ceases to be fulfilling. Even if he’s had the best of what a fallen world can offer, what a fallen world can offer is ultimately unsatisfying. It palls.

A Christian can feel the same way, but from a different perspective.

Friday, May 08, 2009

Oblivion: thumbs up or thumbs down?

Roger Ebert recently posted something on his blog regarding his impending demise. In his post, his repairs to the standard secular bromide about how death is no big deal–even a relief–using an argument that’s been kicking around since the days of Lucretius.

What’s striking about this is not the banality or unoriginality of his argument. What’s striking, rather, is that in a movie review from a just few years before, he heaped scorn on precisely that superficial view of mortality and oblivion.

Oblivion: Thumbs Up!

I know it is coming, and I do not fear it, because I believe there is nothing on the other side of death to fear. I hope to be spared as much pain as possible on the approach path. I was perfectly content before I was born, and I think of death as the same state. What I am grateful for is the gift of intelligence, and for life, love, wonder, and laughter. You can't say it wasn't interesting. My lifetime's memories are what I have brought home from the trip. I will require them for eternity no more than that little souvenir of the Eiffel Tower I brought home from Paris.

But certainly, some readers have informed me, it is a tragic and dreary business to go into death without faith. I don't feel that way. "Faith" is neutral. All depends on what is believed in. I have no desire to live forever. The concept frightens me.

So within that reality, someday I will certainly die. I am 66, have had cancer, will die sooner than most of those reading this. That is in the nature of things.

What I expect will most probably happen is that my body will fail, my mind will cease to function, and that will be that.

I believe that if, at the end of it all, according to our abilities, we have done something to make others a little happier, and something to make ourselves a little happier, that is about the best we can do.

Oblivion: Thumbs Down!

"Tuck Everlasting" is based on a novel well known to middle school students but not to me, about a romance between two teenagers, one of whom is 104. It contains a lesson: "Do not fear death--but rather the unlived life."

These are the Tucks. Mae and Angus, Mom and Dad, are played by Sissy Spacek and William Hurt. Years ago, they drank from the spring and have become immortal. "The spring stops you right where you are," Winnie is told, and that's why Jesse has been 17 for all these years.

The movie oozes with that kind of self-conscious piety that sometimes comes with the territory when award-winning young people's books are filmed ("Harry Potter" is an exception). The characters seem to lack ordinary human instincts and behave according to their archetypal requirements.

The movie is too impressed with its own solemn insights to work up much entertainment value; is too much fable to be convincing as life…Even its lesson is questionable. Is it better to live fully for a finite time than to be stuck in eternity? The injunction to live life fully need not come with a time limit. That's why the outcome of the romance is so unsatisfactory. I dare not reveal what happens, except to say that it need not happen, that the explanation for it is logically porous, and that many a young girl has sacrificed more for her love. Besides, just because you're 17 forever doesn't mean life loses all delight. You can get rid of that horse and carriage and buy a motorcycle.

The New Testament Canon And Church Authority

A commenter by the name of David wrote the following about my discussion of the New Testament canon in the church fathers:

You're basing this all off the writings of those whom later history would see as the true church or catholic church or whatever term you might want to use. Later history approved of these folks, so it preserved their writings and continued that lineage. If the writings of the non-"orthodox" church groups were taken into account, the view could be very different.

So you have to sit in the lap of a "catholic" church, in order to slap its face....

Origen and Tertullian were in the catholic church, which is the point. They are a witness to that tradition, and not any of the many other "Christian" groups that existed at the time.

And the lap he is sitting in, is the idea that there was one catholic church which was the ark of truth. If or where that ark may continue today is another separate question. But those fathers appealed to the practice of that church, over and above other "Christian" groups, as decisive in the Canon.

For Jason to then appeal to the unity of _only_ people in that one religious community, whose self-proclaimed foundation was apostolic succession, whilst denying that very foundation that gave them an objective differentiator from those other groups, is to do what I said: to sit in a catholic lap to slap a catholic face.

Now if you want to deny the existence of an apostolic succession through to today, then don't pretend to appeal to a consensus of fathers whose commonality was that very belief in one catholic church. You're going to have to instead throw in every weird heretical, gnostic, marcionite and whatever group into the mix.

Below is my response to David, for the sake of those who aren't following the original thread.


Aside from the fact that you're making assertions that you don't even attempt to support, you're misrepresenting my position and you're raising objections we've addressed in previous threads.

In my last post in this series on the canon, which I've linked above, I cited the example of Donatist agreement with the twenty-seven-book canon. I haven't just appealed to the church fathers or those who are generally considered part of the mainstream of the ancient church. In other threads, I've discussed corroboration of the authorship, and thus by implication canonicity, of some of the New Testament books by various heretical and non-Christian individuals and groups. See, for example, here and the post here along with the other posts linked within it. I've often discussed corroboration of the New Testament canon from heretical and non-Christian sources, and I intend to discuss that issue again later in this series. I neither said nor suggested that this post you're responding to represents the entirety of my case for the New Testament canon.

You write:

"And the lap he is sitting in, is the idea that there was one catholic church which was the ark of truth."

Where did I say that I'm "sitting in that lap"? I appeal to the testimony of the fathers and other people you consider part of the "one catholic church" as one line of evidence among others. Even if we limit ourselves to those sources from what you call the "catholic church" for the moment, I don't accept their testimony just because they were part of a church that was "the ark of truth". Their participation in the church, which I don't define as you define it, has some relevance, but these sources are credible for other reasons as well. A person can be credible for more than one reason. A Christian of the second century, for example, can be credible to me because he's a Christian, but also because of other factors, such as when he lived, what sources he had access to, etc.

Steve's citation of Tertullian and Origen is correct, and your response to his comments needs to be argued, not just asserted. As a Montanist, Tertullian was a critic of what Roman Catholics and others would consider the catholic church of that day. Though Tertullian and Origen had some supporters among mainstream Christians, they also had some critics who sometimes referred to them as schismatics or heretics. For example, Jerome writes of Tertullian, "Of Tertullian I say no more than that he did not belong to the Church." (The Perpetual Virginity Of Mary, Against Helvidius, 19) Regarding Origen's treatment by some of his critics, I give some examples here. In light of your claim that "Later history approved of these folks, so it preserved their writings", you may want to take note of the comments, in that post I just linked, concerning the condemnation and destruction of Origen's writings.

Similar observations could be made about other fathers. Hippolytus wrote of a Roman bishop, Callistus, and those who followed him:

"The impostor Callistus, having ventured on such opinions, established a school of theology in antagonism to the Church, adopting the foregoing system of instruction. And he first invented the device of conniving with men in regard of their indulgence in sensual pleasures, saying that all had their sins forgiven by himself. For he who is in the habit of attending the congregation of any one else, and is called a Christian, should he commit any transgression; the sin, they say, is not reckoned unto him, provided only he hurries off and attaches himself to the school of Callistus. And many persons were gratified with his regulation, as being stricken in conscience, and at the same time having been rejected by numerous sects; while also some of them, in accordance with our condemnatory sentence, had been by us forcibly ejected from the Church....And withal, after such audacious acts, they, lost to all shame, attempt to call themselves a Catholic Church!" (The Refutation Of All Heresies, 9:7)

In that same section of the work cited above, Hippolytus tells us that Callistus used the analogy of Noah's ark that you're appealing to: "he affirmed that the ark of Noe was made for a symbol of the Church, in which were both dogs, and wolves, and ravens, and all things clean and unclean; and so he alleges that the case should stand in like manner with the Church" (The Refutation Of All Heresies, 9:7). He rejects Callistus' definition of how the church is like the ark. Men like Hippolytus and Callistus can agree that there's one church, and agree that the church is comparable to Noah's ark in some manner, for example, without considering each other part of the same church and without agreeing with every implication you're drawing from their ecclesiology.

For another example, read Cyprian's Letter 74 to see how much unity Firmilian thought he had with the Roman bishop Stephen.

It's possible to classify all of these men as Christians and as part of the same hierarchical church, but not by using their standards. And if you can accept some of their standards on such issues while rejecting other standards they held, why can't we do the same?

You tell us that Tertullian and Origen "are a witness to that tradition", the tradition of the catholic church as you define it. But they, and others, like Irenaeus, were also witnesses to the beliefs of other individuals and other groups. As Augustine refers to Donatist agreement with the mainstream New Testament canon, so also men like Irenaeus, Tertullian, and Origen refer to corroboration of various parts of the New Testament canon by heretics and non-Christians. The church fathers aren't just witnesses to mainstream church tradition. They're also witnesses to less popular opinions within the church and the beliefs of those outside the church. Even when they witness to mainstream church tradition, one doesn't have to agree with everything that church believed, or even consider himself part of that church, in order to accept that testimony as historical evidence. I can accept the testimony of Roman Catholic individuals regarding the authorship of a Roman Catholic document, such as a papal decree, without agreeing with all that Roman Catholicism teaches and without being a Roman Catholic myself. Must you be an atheist to accept the testimony of an atheist regarding a historical issue, such as who authored a particular document?

I've addressed apostolic succession and other issues pertaining to the identity of the ancient church elsewhere. You tell us that "those fathers appealed to the practice of that church, over and above other 'Christian' groups, as decisive in the Canon", but different fathers defined the church in different ways, the fathers cited other lines of evidence for the canon as well, and I haven't denied that the church has been involved in the canonical process.

Furthermore, it's not as though every source I've cited makes the appeal to the church that you're attributing to them. Rather, you're referring to what some patristic sources said about some of the evidence for the canon, and you're reading your definition of terms like "church" into what they said, in addition to assuming that they were correct and that I must agree with them on that issue in order to accept their testimony on another issue. If Origen makes a comment along the lines of what you're attributing to the fathers, why should I believe that he's defining the church as you define it, that other fathers, like Justin Martyr and Jerome, agreed with him, and that I must accept his assessment on that issue in order to accept his testimony on other issues related to the canon?

Many of the sources who give us evidence for the canon advocated some form of apostolic succession. But not all of them did. And those who did defined the concept of apostolic succession in a variety of ways. Not everybody who advocated some type of apostolic succession claimed that it was foundational in the manner you're claiming it is. Even if a given source did so, I can consider him credible on some matters without considering him credible about everything. We're all selective in what we do and don't believe in historical sources. Bart Ehrman can believe Clement of Rome's and Irenaeus' testimony about the Pauline authorship of 1 Corinthians without also accepting their beliefs about apostolic succession. Non-Christian scholars frequently accept the testimony of ancient Christians pertaining to issues relevant to the canon, as well as other issues, without agreeing with those sources about apostolic succession and other matters.

The secular solipsist

One of the oddities about modern atheism is the neglect of W. V. Quine. Quine was undoubtedly the most important secular philosopher of the 20C. By that I don’t mean the most important 20C philosopher who happened to be a secularist–as if secularism were incidental to his work. No, secularism was central to his work.

His entire philosophy is a research programme in atheism. A thoroughgoing attempt to secularize ontology and epistemology.

Even The Secular Web, which has a big online library of modern and historical atheists, has nothing on Quine. Why is that?

I can think of a couple of reasons. Quine doesn’t use specifically atheistic language. He doesn’t explicitly attack Christianity or theism. Unlike Russell or Mackie or Flew, his atheistic agenda is far more subtle. So subtle, indeed, that he’s invisible to the average atheist!

On a related note, he’s a dry, technical writer. He lacks the rhetorical zingers or picturesque parables that you get from secular popularizers. He lacks their hortatory, moralistic, inspirational style.

All of which goes to show how the average atheist is fundamentally anti-intellectual. They don’t read Quine because he’s boring. They’d rather be entertained. That’s why the clownish potboilers of Hitchens and Dawkins are bestsellers, while Quine gathers dust on numbered shelves of the college library.

However, if you want to see what a rigorously atheistic worldview looks like, read Quine. And if you do read Quine–especially late Quine, when he was putting the finishes touches on his philosophy–what do you find?

Ironically, Quine begins with hard science, which endeavors to reduce everything to a third-person description, only to end up with a highly internalized and ultimately projective viewpoint–where the input is the output. His epistemology is so circular and skeptical, while the resultant ontology is so subjective and attenuated, that his outlook is practically indistinguishable from solipsism.

“It would address the question of how we, physical denizens of the physical world, can have projected our scientific theory of that whole world from our meager contacts with it; from the mere impacts of rays and particles on our surfaces and a few odds and ends such as the strain of walking uphill,” From Stimulus to Science (Harvard 1999), ibid. 16.

“There is a puzzle here. Global stimuli are private: each is a temporally ordered set of some one individual’s receptors. Their perceptual similarity, in part innate and in part modeled by experience, is private as well. Whence then this coordination of behavior across the tribe?” ibid. 20.

“The sensory atomist was motivated, I say, by his appreciation that any information about the world is channeled to us through the sensory surfaces of our bodies; but this motivation remained obscure to him. It was obscured by his concern to justify our knowledge of the external world. The justification would be vitiated by circularity if sensory surfaces and external impacts on nerve endings had to be appealed to at the outset of the justification,” Confessions of a Confirmed Extensionist and Other Essays (Harvard 2008), 328.

“There is much clarity to be gained by dropping the project of justifying our knowledge of the external world but continuing to investigate the relation of that knowledge to its sensory evidence. Obscurity about the nature of the given, or epistemic priority, is then dissipated by talking frankly of the triggering of nerve endings. We then find ourselves engaged in an internal question within the framework of natural science. There are these impacts of molecules and light rays upon our sensory receptors, and there is all this output on our part of scientific discourse about sticks, stones, planets, numbers, molecules, light rays, and, indeed, sensory receptors; and then we pose the problem of linking that input causally and logically to that output,” ibid. 328.

“Much as I admire [David] Lewis’s reduction, however, it is not for me. My own line is a yet more sweeping structuralism, applying to concrete and abstract objects indiscriminately. I base it, paradoxically as this may seem, on a naturalistic approach to epistemology. Natural science tells us that our ongoing cognitive access to the world around us is limited to meager channels. There is the triggering of our sensory receptors by the impact of molecules and light rays. Also there is the difference in muscular effort sensed in walking up or down hill. What more? Even the notion of a cat, let alone a class or number, is a human artifact, rooted in innate predisposition and cultural tradition. The very notion of an object at all, concrete or abstract, is a human contribution, a feature of our inherited apparatus for organizing the amorphous welter of neural input,” ibid. 402-03.

“The conclusion is that there can be no evidence for one ontology as over against another, so long anyway as we can express a one-to-one correlation between them. Save the structure and you save all. Certainly we are dependent on a familiar ontology of middle-sized bodies for the inception of reification, on the part both of the individual and of the race; but once we have an ontology, we can change it with impunity,” ibid. 405.

“This global ontological structuralism may seem abruptly at odds with realism, let alone naturalism. It would seem even to undermine the ground on which I rested it: my talk of impacts of light rays and molecules on nerve endings. Are these rays, molecules, and nerve endings themselves not disqualified now as mere figments of an empty structure?” ibid. 405.

“Naturalism itself is what saves the situation. Naturalism looks only to natural science, however, fallible, for an account of what there is and what what there is does. Science ventures its tentative answers in man-made concepts, perforce, couched in man-made language, but we can ask no better. The very notion of object, or of one and many, is indeed as parochially human as the parts of speech; to ask what reality is really like, however, apart from human categories, is self-stultifying. It is like asking how long the Nile really is, apart from parochial matters of miles or meters. Positivists were right in branding such metaphysics as meaningless,” ibid. 405.

“So far as evidence goes, then, our ontology is neutral. Nor let us imagine beyond it some inaccessible reality. The very terms ‘thing’ and ‘exist’ and ‘real,’ after all, make no sense apart from human conceptualization. Asking after the thing in itself apart from human conceptualization, is like asking how long the Nile really is, apart from our parochial miles or kilometers,” ibid. 416.

“So it seems best for present purposes to construe the subject’s stimulus on a given occasion simply as his global neural intake on that occasion. But I shall refer to it only as neural intake, not stimulus, for other notions of stimulus are wanted in other studies, particularly where different subjects are to get the same stimulus. Neural intake is private, for subjects do not share receptors,” ibid. 463-64.

“But in contrast to the privacy of neural intakes, and the privacy of their perceptual similarity, observation sentences and their semantics are a public matter, since the child has to learn these from her elders. Her learning then depends indeed both on the public currency of the observation sentences and on a preestablished harmony of people’s private scales of perceptual similarity,” ibid. 464.

“These reflections on ontology are a salutary reminder that the ultimate data of science are limited to our neural intake, and that the very notion of object, concrete or abstract, is of our own making, along with the rest of natural science and mathematics,” ibid. 471.

Logicality & paradoxicality

Christian theologians often invoke the category of “paradox” in Christian theology. Unbelievers regard that appeal as special pleading. From their standpoint, certain Christian doctrines are contradictory, and any appeal to paradox to justify such doctrines can only be ad hoc.

However, there’s an obvious problem with that objection. It’s not as if Christian theology has a monopoly on paradox. Paradox crops up in logic, science, philosophy, and mathematics. That being the case, why would Christian theology be any exception?

In addition, Gordon Clark and his followers reject theological paradox because, according to them, once we make allowance for paradox, we can no longer distinguish an actual contradiction from a merely apparent contradiction.

However, there are a couple of problems with that objection. One problem is that it’s a purely pragmatic objection. It substitutes hand-waving for a principled resolution to the widespread phenomenon of paradox in various fields of knowledge. A rationalist can’t very well content himself with a purely pragmatic objection to a logical paradox.

And even at a pragmatic level, the allegation is dubious, as James Anderson has attempted to demonstrate.

A preliminary question we need to ask ourselves is whether humanly insoluble paradoxes are antecedently impossible or even improbable. With that question in mind, I’d like to quote from two standard monographs on paradox.

“Paradoxes are serious. Unlike party puzzles and teasers, which are also fun, paradoxes raise serious problems. Historically, they are associated with crises in thought and with revolutionary advances. To grapple with them is not merely to engage in an intellectual game, but is to come to grips with key issues. In this book, I report some famous paradoxes and indicate how one might respond to them. These responses lead into some rather deep waters,” R. M. Sainsbury, Paradoxes (Cambridge, 2nd. ed., 2002), 1.

“This is what I understand by a paradox: an apparently unacceptable conclusion derived by apparently acceptable reasoning from apparently acceptable premises. Appearances have to deceive, since the acceptable cannot lead by acceptable steps to the unacceptable. So, generally, we have a choice: either the conclusion is not really unacceptable, or else the starting point, or the reasoning, has some non-obvious flaw. Paradoxes come in degrees, depending on how well appearance camouflages reality,” ibid. 1.

“The deeper the paradox, the more controversial is the question of how one should respond to it…This means that there is severe and unresolved disagreement about how one should deal with them. In many cases, though certainly not all (not, for example, in the case of the Liar), I have a definite view; but I must emphasize that, although I naturally think my own view is correct, other and greater men have held views that are diametrically opposed. To get a feel for how controversial some of the issues are, I suggest examining the bibliographical notes at the ends of chapters,” ibid. 2.

“However, logic alone will not help us to choose how a conflict of inconsistency should be resolved. It does no more than tell us that we must forego one of the claims, but affords no hint as to which one…Which route shall we choose? Here we are simply at sea–unless and until we have some further guidance,” N. Rescher, Paradoxes (Open Court 2001), 11.

“Unfortunately, life being what it is, we cannot always get away with accepting the plausible outright because actual truth is something more selective and demanding than mere plausibility, seeing that plausibilities–unlike truths–can conflict both with truths and with one another,” ibid. 17.

“’Paradoxes,’ one student of the subject writes, ‘are self-enclosed statements with no external reference point from which to take a bearing upon the paradox itself.’ And this is true enough. For those paradoxical inconsistencies themselves afford no resources for their resolution–mere logical analysis of their assertoric content is no way out. To resolve paradoxes we need an external vantage point–a means of assessing the cognitive viability of the mutually incompatible theses that are involved, something about which those propositions themselves do not inform us,” ibid. 30.

“A fundamental fact of paradox theory–of aporetics–is that every paradox is resolvable in principle by abandoning commitments. For if we dismiss (and thus withhold endorsement from) sufficiently many of the theses that constitute the aporetic cluster at issue there will no longer be an inconsistency among our actual commitments. However, even the best available resolution may well be an indecisive one that leaves us confronting a disjunctive plurality of alternatives no particular one of which can be preferentially justified in the circumstances,” ibid. 37.

“Some paradoxes do not admit of a decisive resolution…It is clear, however, that ‘undecidable’ paradoxes of such a sort–where no particular resolution can be privileged on the basis of general principles–are distinctly more deeply paradoxical than their simpler compeers where a decisive resolution can be achieve,” ibid. 65-70.

Epistemic Virtues Bureau

In all seriousness, Victor Reppert posted a quote from Mark Driscoll and asked, "Is this where Calvinism leads?" Here's the totality of his post:

A Seattle Calvinist mega-minister, Mark Driscoll, had this to say to his flock: "If the resurrection didn’t literally happen, there’s no reason for us to be here. If the resurrection didn’t literally happen, there are parties to be had, there are women to be had, there are guns to shoot, there are people to shoot."

Great shaking of the head.
Now, putting aside the question as to how Reppert identifies "Calvinists," why does he wonder if this is where Calvinism leads? And, what is he shaking his head about?

I have heard, quite literally, hundreds of Arminian and evangelical Christians make very similar claims.

So, what in Driscoll is problematic? Is it that he claims the Christian faith is worthless without an actual resurrection? So worthless, in fact, that we may as well eat, drink, and be merry, for tomorrow we die (there being no resurrection of the dead)?

If this is what Reppert is objecting to, will he then post a blog titled, "Is this where Pauline thought leads?" I'm specifically referring to these claim:

I Cor. 15:

13 If there is no resurrection of the dead, then not even Christ has been raised. 14And if Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless and so is your faith.


29 Now if there is no resurrection, ... 32 "Let us eat and drink, for tomorrow we die."

Will Victor "shake his head" at Paul?

So, it looks like Driscoll is right on here.

Now, the only other claim Victor could be shaking his head about is the "people to shoot" claim.

Now, there's two ways to interpret this. The first way is that Driscoll is claiming that if Christianity is false people will act like monsters. Similar to the claim that if God doesn't exist people would be as bad as they could be.

I disagree with this claim (indeed, it's opposite is true: If the Christian story is true, people will act like moral monsters). That's not how the moral argument should be phrased. However, it's not as if these kinds of statements are unique to Calvinism. Anyone who has cracked open a philosophy of religion book that covers the moral argument will note that these kinds of statements are repudiated as not being an expression of the moral argument for God's existence. It is clear that these authors don't have only Calvinists in mind. So why is Reppert using this to attack Calvinism?

A second interpretation is that Driscoll is making a point in a provocative way; namely, there is no moral justification you can give me by which I shouldn't kill people if Christianity is false.

Now, this isn't the best way to put things, and we might argue that a god could still exist if Christianity is false so morality would still be grounded (however, I don't think that argument is good for other reasons irrelevant to this post, and I'd also bring in claims of internal rationality to support Driscoll's conclusion)), but we can't really fault Driscoll for giving a more traditional moral argument.

That Victor sinks to these levels is just sad. I wish there were something for philosophers like the BBB or the Bar. For if there were, I'd report Reppert. Perhaps someone should start something like, I dunno, the Epistemic Virtues Bureau, EVB.

A cross-examination of a "contextual examination" of 1 Cor 10:13

An Arminian marsupial has responded to a previous post of mine:

Let’s address his major contentions:

Since Steve based his entire argumentation on two quotes, (one from a commentary that actually supports our view and undermines his own, and one from a popular Calvinist book promoting inevitable perseverance), which apparently qualifies as the “detail work.”

i) Needless to say, my entire argument isn’t based on two quotes. Indeed, it’s foolhardy for Ben to level that allegation since I can easily call his bluff.

ii) Apropos (i), the level of my argument was pitched at the level of Ben’s original post. That doesn’t mean I don’t have more in reserve.

iii) It’s very ironic to see Ben dismiss one of my sources on the grounds that this is a “popular” work which doesn’t qualify as a detailed analysis.

a) On the one hand, Schreiner’s book is a 337-page monograph (plus index) on the specific issue of apostasy and perseverance.

b) On the other hand, Ben feels free to quote from a number of popular-level commentaries on 1 Corinthians, e.g. Blomberg, Bruce, Calvin, Henry, Mare, Morris, Jamieson-Fausset-Brown.

He only quotes from two scholarly commentaries on 1 Cor (Barrett, Thiselton). Witherington’s commentary is a mid-level commentary.

c) And since he brings it up, how should we rank commentaries on 1 Corinthians? At present, the major commentaries on 1 Cor are by Fitzmyer, Garland, and Thiselton. Fee’s commentary is still an important commentary, but it’s been overtaken by later commentaries.

What is especially interesting is that one of the quotes Steve furnishes us with to support his conclusion that this verse is “talking about the specific temptation to deny one’s faith” actually undermines his conclusion and supports ours,

“The noun ekbasis, ‘way out,’ certainly could mean the latter, the eschatological trial, but Christians may also rely on God for the ekbasis of lesser struggles throughout the course of life. In this context, Paul seems to be thinking primarily of trials involving idol meat or seduction to idolatry,” J. Fitzmyer, 1 Corinthians (Yale 2008), 389. (emphasis mine)

As I pointed out in my original post, idolatry is a paradigm-case of apostasy in Biblical theology.

Anyway, let’s examine Steve’s assertion that I have turned the passage inside out in an attempt to prooftext libertarian free will, and that the passage actually undermines my conclusions. He quotes a few people who say that the issue at hand is idolatry, and then draws the conclusion that this idolatry could only refer to absolute apostasy (finally denying the faith). Well, where in the text did he come to that conclusion? The passage never says anything about repudiating faith, nor does it mention apostasy. We are not permitted to ignore context and draw ideas from other portions of Scripture and read them into this text, remember?

I quoted Fitzmyer and Schreiner on the context. Ben is also driving an unscriptural wedge between apostasy and idolatry. But when OT Jews commit idolatry, that’s an act of apostasy. That makes them covenant-breakers. Likewise, if a new covenant believer is guilty of idolatry, that’s a breach of covenant.

It’s not an act of apostasy for a pagan to commit idolatry, since a pagan was never a member of the covenant community. But in the case of Jews and Christians, idolatry implies apostasy.

And I’m not the only one to make that linkage (as we shall see).

Steve has really painted himself into a tight spot. He has not suggested that apostasy can merely be included among the temptations that Christians may face as described in this passage, but insisted that apostasy is the sole temptation being described here by Paul. He has also suggested that idolatry, in this context, can only possibly equal a denial of faith.

In verses 1-9, Paul speaks of numerous instances of sins that the Israelites committed during their desert wanderings. Let’s examine some of these verses and see what we find…So we have heeded Steve’s plea to focus on context and found that the context offers nothing of a necessary correlation between idolatry and outright apostasy as Steve claims. We have also found no reason to understand “temptation” in verse 13 as an exclusive reference to denying the faith. Rather, the context covers a wide range of sinful behaviors that can be avoided through God’s faithfulness and power.

Two problems:

i) The question at issue is not whether Ben happens to see idolatrous apostasy in these passages. The real question is whether Paul is citing these passages to illustrate that particular sin. How does Paul understand these passages? How does Paul deploy these passages to support his conclusion?

ii) Apropos (i), let’s quote from two major commentators on the preceding verses (leading up to and including 10:13). Incidentally, I don’t think that either Fitzmyer or Garland is a card-carrying Calvinist. Fitzmyer is a liberal Jesuit, while I think Garland is Arminian.

“He [Paul] emphasizes God’s categorical intolerance of Israel’s idolatry and Israel’s worst sin in making the golden calf and offering sacrifice to the idol…He has in mind a metaphorical harlotry (Num 25:1-9; Rev 2:14,21)…He alludes to Num 25:1-9, which recounts the people having sexual relations with the women of Moab and then being invited to sacrifice to their gods,” D. Garland, 1 Corinthians, 460-62.

“The litany of Israel’s sins in Ps 105LXX (106 MT and Eng.) provides the best backdrop for understanding the reference to the grumbling…’grumbling’ (Ps 105:25/1 Cor 10:10), ‘committing fornication,’ as a figurative reference to idolatry (Ps 105:39/1 Cor 10:7)…The psalm also lists idolatry (Ps 105:19,28,36-39/1 Cor 10:7,14) and eating idol food (Ps 105:28) in its condemnation of Israel’s apostasy,” ibid. 464.

‘In Rom 11:11-12, however, ‘stumbling’ and ‘falling’ refer to ‘the loss of salvation, not just occasional slips,” ibid. 466.

“Avoiding all overt associations with idolatry would invite hostility, especially when one was a guest at the home of a religiously minded host who offered food that had been sanctified by an idol…The social problems created for Christians who abandoned idolatry are described in 1 Pet 4:3-4…Withdrawing from all idolatrous functions would scuttle any ambitions for social advancement, impair patron/client relations, fuel ostracism, and damage economic partnerships,” ibid. 468.

“Paul warns the Corinthians about the danger of idol worship…Paul now alludes to Exod 32:1-6…Aaron consented and took their gold rings to fashion them into a molten calf…This was the classic incident in the Exodus from Egypt when the grumbling Israelites became idolaters. Their grumbling and craving had led even to such idolatry. To emphasize the seriousness of such craving Paul quotes the OT verse about idolatry, which is the only explicit OT quotation in this passage,” J. Fitzmyer, 1 Corinthians, 385.

“The idolatrous worship of the Israelites took the form not only of a banquet, in which Israel ate (probably quail and manna) and drank water (from the rock), but also of a sport or dance in which they reveled before the golden calf that they were worshipping,” ibid. 385-86.

“He [Paul’ alludes to another OT incident of idolatry, that at Shittim, where Israelites are said to have played the harlot with daughters of Moab, who invited them to the sacrifices of their gods,” ibid. 386.

Nowhere does 1 Cor. 10:13 guarantee that the Christian will endure temptation or take the way of escape provided by God, whether this “temptation” is an exclusive reference to apostasy, as Steve believes, or to sin any number of ways (as the context bears out). In short, Steve has inferred “something from the text that simply isn’t there”. We might even venture to say that “his interpretation doesn’t begin to represent a close reading of the text or context.”

This is what Paul says:

“No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation he will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it.”

And this is what Paul would say if he were Arminian:

“No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man. Unfortunately, God can’t intervene to stop you from falling. Divine interference would violate the Libertarian Prime Directive. Whether you resist temptation or succumb to temptation depends on your willpower. Good luck!”

“[Thiselton] Hence Paul rebukes the notion that those who are accustomed to taking part in cultic meals are victimized. They see themselves as those who . . . ‘have no choice but to . . .’ (748)

“[Thiselton] Against the claim that ‘the strong’ are so siezed by pressure that they have no choice, Paul replies that God always provides his people with a choice: the situation brings a temptation; but alongside the temptation God will also provide an exit path . . . they can be assured that they will be provided with an exit path, which will both provide a positive (and better) alternative and take away their alibi” (748).

[Ben] *These comments by Thistleton are especially significant in that he essentially draws the same conclusions concerning the reality of choice in this passage as I did in the initial post that Steve criticized.

i) That’s hardly the point Paul is making. And it doesn’t even follow from Thiselton’s own comments.

Paul isn’t saying that God has given the Corinthians a choice to either commit idolatry or avoid idolatry. Paul’s point is about freedom from something, not freedom to do one thing or another. Despite social pressure, the Corinthians Christians will not be forced to commit idolatry. Idolatry is not one of their God-given choices. To the contrary, freedom from idolatry is their God-given choice.

ii) I’d add that classic Arminians are in no position to talk about the “reality of choice,” defined in libertarian terms. Given their theological precommitments to divine foreknowledge and conditional election, Arminians can’t logically subscribe to libertarian freedom.

A way forward

Some Christians come from terrible homes. As a result, they are alienated from other family members. After they become Christians, what should they do about this? What helpful advice can the church offer in this situation?

I suspect that, in many cases, the church is offering counterproductive advice. There’s a tendency to fall back on facile slogans about love, forgiveness, and reconciliation. But I also suspect that, in many cases, that only makes the situation worse. That contributes to the feeling of alienation.

To begin with, some people are impossible to deal with. Irascible and irrational. Totally unreasonable. They get on your nerves. They go out of the way to be antisocial. You can’t get along with them because they can’t get along with anyone else.

A working relationship is a two-way street. It can’t move along in just one direction. Say you have a parent or sibling like that.

This, in turn, can spill over into other relationships. Other family members may take sides. By taking sides, they force you to choose.

There are many different variations on this theme. I’m sure we can all think of some examples from our own observation–involving friends or relatives or classmates.

To deal with the situation, some people move away. Put some physical distance between themselves and the source of the problem. Try to start a life of their own. Make new friends. Start a family.

And there are circumstances in which I think that may be a necessary step. People sometimes have to put some space between themselves and the source of the problem to preserve their own emotional wellbeing. They can’t be constantly immersed in same emotionally destructive environment.

They need some time to themselves. Some alternative relationships. They need to insulate themselves from the situation, and cultivate some emotional compensations.

However, that, of itself, may be insufficient. For a person who comes out of that pressure cooker environment may also have a lot of pent up rage and resentment. And this spills over into other relationships.

To vary the metaphor, he’s a power keg. One little slight, one cross word, one mild criticism–which may be pretty trivial, considered in isolation–is just like striking a match. And that’s because it’s piled atop years of accumulated kindling, drenched in kerosene. It only takes one spark to go up in flames.

So he needs to develop a coping mechanism if he’s to move forward with his life. Be a good spouse and parent. Find happiness in life.

What practical strategy can we offer? At this stage, talking about love, forgiveness, and reconciliation can be counterproductive. It’s like telling someone who’s upset to “calm down.” If someone is upset, then telling him to calm down is not a very good way of calming him down. To the contrary, it’s just irritating. It aggravates the situation.

To begin with, there’s not much point talking about forgiveness and reconciliation if one of the interested parties is defiant.

As for love, it’s important to keep in mind that, in Scriptural usage, love is generally an action rather than an emotion. What you do, not what you feel.

And that’s a practical distinction. It’s possible to do things for a person without doing things with a person. You can do things for a person at a distance. Do things which are beneficial for them, without being directly involved in their life.

You can keep tabs on how they’re doing–say, from a friend of the family. Find out what their needs are. Then do something helpful.

Doing is a biblical way of showing love. Doing little things, now and then, here and there, is an incremental way of overcoming rage and resentment. Even if the offending party dies impenitent, you’re not saddled with guilt–because you know you were trying to act in his best interests.

You can also use your independence as a beachhead to maintain some level of contact, while limiting your contacts. Even if every conversation turns out to be just another source of aggravation, you’ve developed a coping mechanism which allows you absorb that encounter.

I also suspect that people with this background are a bit like recovering alcoholics. They may occasionally relapse. Have bad days as well as good days. The point, though, is to make progress, even if you have the occasional setback.

In a fallen world, some relationships are irreparably broken. Try as we might, we may be unable to fix every situation involving next-of-kin.

The church needs to offer people realistic, Bible-based solutions, and not utopian advice.

Thursday, May 07, 2009

Arminian adversus Arminian

God isn't mumbling crazy impossibilities, heresy, or idle threats into the air to keep us secure. His warnings are true and their consequences are real, for His word is truth (John 17:17). One need only look at the admonitions in scripture to see what the apostles taught concerning security in Christ.

Between we have all manor of views, so I will just share my own. Perseverance is necessary for salvation. God preserves His people through middle knowledge, such that we can, but will not fall away. God, knowing how we will choose in various circumstances, puts us only in those circumstances that keep us in the faith. Breaking the Law of Moses could never causes us to loose our salvation, but unbelief could. But God keeps us from unbelief.

CIA Refusing to Interrogate al Qaeda

"CIA Refusing to Interrogate al Qaeda" by Jeremy Pierce

Macho hymns

"Men want 'macho' hymns, fewer flowers and less dancing in church"

Conditional election and apostasy

On the one hand, Arminians subscribe to conditional election. God has chosen who will be saved on the basis of foreseen faith.

On the other hand, Arminians believe it’s possible for a regenerate Christian to lose his salvation. They cite Arminian prooftexts for apostasy, like Heb 6.

But are these two Arminian doctrines mutually consistent? Even assuming we operate with conditional election rather than unconditional elect, if God has chosen who will be saved on the basis of foreseen faith, then is it possible for the elect to lose their salvation? If conditional election is correct, then is it possible for the elect to either be saved or not be saved?

The same question applies, not only to apostasy, but to conversion. Is it possible for the elect to either believe the Gospel or disbelieve the Gospel? If God has chosen who will be saved on the basis of foreseen faith, then how is a contrary outcome still in play?

How do Arminians interpret Heb 6 in light of conditional election? To whom does it apply? To the elect? But how is that a live possibility given conditional election?

Similar questions arise if you shift to Molinism. In Molinism, there’s a possible world in which Billy is saved, and another possible world in which Billy is damned. A possible world in which Billy perseveres to the end, and another possible world in which Billy commits apostasy.

But the actual world represents only one of those possibilities. If God instantiates the possible world in which Billy commits apostasy, then is Billy still at liberty to do otherwise in the real world?

Arminian Calvinism

Arminians like to trot out various prooftexts which, to their own way of thinking, imply or presume human choice–defined as the freedom to do otherwise.

They then castigate Calvinists for disregarding the “plain sense” of Scripture (or words to that effect). We do this because we allegedly begin with our a priori commitment to predestination, which we then impose on the Scriptural data.

The funny thing about this allegation is that Arminians are actually in a parallel situation. While they don’t believe in divine foreordination, they do believe in divine foreknowledge.

Now, even though foreknowledge doesn’t actually determine the future, foreknowledge does assume the future is determinate. If God knows the future, then the future cannot be otherwise.

Therefore, an Arminian really can’t take any of his own prooftexts at face value (i.e. what he takes to be the “plain sense”). Since God foreknows what the agent will do, the agent lacks “real” freedom (as the Arminian defines it). The agent’s freedom is “illusory” (as the Arminian defines it).

Some Arminians have shifted to Molinism. But that move simply relocates the problem. In the actual world, an agent doesn’t have the freedom to do otherwise. Rather, the actual world (or world-segment) represents only one human choice–the one that God instantiated, to the exclusion of other possible choices.

Only an open theist can consistently interpret Arminian prooftexts to establish libertarian freedom.

The Frolicsome Father

The one true church has another sex scandal on its hands–this time involving Fr. Albert Cutié. Unlike the priestly abuse scandal, this case is far more mundane.

It does, however, draw attention to the mutual hypocrisy within Catholicism. One the one hand, the priesthood tries to hold the laity to unscriptural and (therefore) unrealistic standards of sexual conduct. On the other hand, the laity returns the favor by trying to hold the priesthood to unscriptural and (therefore) unrealistic standards of sexual conduct.

Both sides could do themselves a big favor by simply ditching the unscriptural and (therefore) unrealistic standards of sexual conduct. For the status quo inevitably leads to a vicious cycle of mutual incrimination and recrimination.

The problem of induction

One of the stock objections to sense knowledge which Scripturalists like to raise is the problem of induction. Can we infer the future from the past? Can we predict the future in light of the past? Does the future resemble the past?

The objection goes back to Hume: can enumerative induction justify a universal inference? On the face of it, the answer is no, since the breadth of the inference is underdetermined by the breadth of the evidence.

To take a stock example, if I observe 999 black ravens in a row, that doesn’t mean the 1000th raven I observe will be black.

What are we to make of this objection? I’ll make three brief points:

1.While enumerative induction illustrates the limitations of sense knowledge, it doesn’t begin to demonstrate the impossibility of sense knowledge.

If I observe 999 black ravens, then I’ve learned something: observation has taught me that at least 999 ravens are black.

That doesn’t tell me that all ravens are black, or even that most ravens are black. But it does tell me that some ravels are black. I know something, as a result of observation, that I wouldn’t know absent such observation.

2.I’m typing this sentence on a computer keyboard. I believe that if I depress a particular key, it will probably produce a particular letter. Likewise, I believe that if I depress certain keys in a certain order, it will probably produce a particular sequence of letters.

Why is that? Well, it’s partly a result of experience. In my experience, when I depress a particular key, it produces a particular letter.

But there’s more to it than bare experience. My computer keyboard was designed to function in a particular way. It was designed so that, if I depress a particular key, it will produce a particular letter. It was designed so that, if I depress certain keys in a certain order, it will produce a particular sequence of letters.

My experience of using the keyboard is essentially confirmatory. Before I use the keyboard for the first time, I don’t know if the keyboard suffers from a design flaw. Using it is a way of testing it. Does it do what it was designed to do?

It is, of course, possible for the keyboard to malfunction. It’s possible that in a random number of cases, a keystroke won’t yield the corresponding letter.

However, even in the case of malfunction, that presupposes an underlying design. Proper function.

Unless my keyboard suffers from a design flaw, it’s basically reliable. Indeed, highly reliable.

It’s not totally reliable. It can wear out. Or need to be repaired.

But it’s sufficiently reliable that I can make plans for the future based on my keyboard. I can plan to write something tomorrow, using my keyboard. And most of the time, my confidence is well-placed.

This is analogous to sensory perception or memory. The senses sometimes deceive us. Memories sometimes fail us. But our memories and perceptions are sufficiently reliable that we can use them to plan for the future.

Sometimes our plans fall through. But that’s quite different from a dream world which is so mutable and unpredictable that you can’t make any successful plans.

To a great extent, it’s possible to successfully plan for the future on the basis of induction. For induction, like using my computer keyboard for the first time, need not be the ultimate source of our belief in natural patterns. Rather, it’s confirmatory. Observation is a way to recognize natural patterns. To recognize design.

3.Hume was a secularist. So he doesn’t have anything else to go by beyond induction itself. But in a Christian worldview, the future generally resembles the past because it was designed that way. The reason for causal correlations is that God designed nature such that certain prior events correspond to certain posterior events. If I depress a particular key, that triggers a corresponding outcome.

For a Christian, enumerative induction is grounded in the principle of divine design. God’s plan for the world. Inferences about the future aren’t limited to past samples. They also derive from our belief in a God whomade the world to function in a fairly predictable way. Hence, the past is a generally reliable guide to the future.

This doesn’t even require a particular theory of causation. It doesn’t matter whether or not a particular action actually causes a particular effect. It’s sufficient that God has designed the natural world in such a way that these correlations generally obtain.

There are, of course, exceptions to the rule. Miracles.

But that doesn’t prevent us from successfully planning for the future most of the time. It’s not like a dream world where there’s no connection between what went before and what happens afterwards.

And even miracles are purposeful events. These are not random anomalies.

Christians don’t draw a universal inference from enumerative induction. We only draw a general inference from enumerative induction. And the generality of the inference isn’t based on induction alone.

We don’t subscribe to the uniformity of nature. Rather, we subscribe to ordinary providence (which allows for miracles).

We don’t believe in natural regularities simply because we observe them. Rather, we believe in them because that’s the kind of world which God made for us to inhabit.

The Significance Of Other New Testament Canons


CNT = Bruce Metzger, The Canon Of The New Testament (New York: Oxford University Press, 1997)

FGO = Martin Hengel, The Four Gospels And The One Gospel Of Jesus Christ (Harrisburg, Pennsylvania: Trinity Press International, 2000)

INT = D.A. Carson and Douglas Moo, An Introduction To The New Testament (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan, 2005)

TCD = Lee McDonald and James Sanders, edd., The Canon Debate (Peabody, Massachusetts: Hendrickson Publishers, 2002)

The large majority of the earliest Christians whose writings are extant haven't left us a record of every book they considered scripture. We can identify a portion of their canon, but not its entirety. Martin Hengel observes that "of the second-century Christian writings known to us by title, around 85% have been lost. The real loss must be substantially higher." (FGO, 55) And we wouldn't expect the early Christians to discuss the full extent of their canon in the vast majority of the contexts in which they wrote.

In a recent post, I argued that Athanasius' twenty-seven-book New Testament was held by some of his contemporaries and by some before his time. Origen is the earliest source I'm aware of who advocates the twenty-seven-book canon in the records extant to us. Though Athanasius' Festal Letter 39 from the middle of the fourth century is often cited as the first reference to the twenty-seven-book canon, the evidence suggests that it was advocated at least more than a century earlier. Thus, the plausibility is increased that the twenty-seven-book canon was among the New Testament canons held by the many ante-Nicene sources who haven't left us a record of the full extent of their canon of scripture. Since we only have a partial record of the canon of most of the earliest sources, how close does the portion of their canon we know about come to the twenty-seven-book collection?

Even if a source is known to have held some other canon, it's important to know how different it was. It would be one thing if the earliest Christians had something like a five-book or eight-book collection of scripture. It would be something else if they had a twenty- or twenty-five-book canon, which would fall short of our twenty-seven-book canon by a much smaller margin. When critics of Christianity, or of Evangelicalism in particular, tell us that some Christians held a different canon, it's important to know how different those other canons were. The closer they come to the twenty-seven-book canon, the less significant the objection that's being raised.

Harry Gamble writes:

"It is recognized by all that (1) by the end of the second century the four gospels, the letters of Paul, and 1 Peter and 1 John had acquired very broad use and high authority in almost all regions of early is widely recognized today that Paul's letters were consistently known and used throughout the second century, and by the late second century had become fully and universally established as apostolic scriptures....both the Gospels and the Pauline Letters were shaped into firm collections during the second century" (TCD, 271, 286-287)

Those nineteen documents are nearly identical to the twenty Eusebius refers to as undisputed in his Church History (3:25), which he composed in the late third and early fourth centuries. He writes that his assessment of the documents is derived from "the tradition of the church" (3:25), and he appeals to how the documents were received in earlier generations, so he isn't just describing the state of the canon in his day.

In the research of Franz Stuhlhofer, we have further corroboration of this near agreement between the scholarly consensus Gamble refers to and Eusebius:

"First, drawing on the work of Stuhlhofer, Barton counts the number of times the New Testament (and other) books are actually cited by the Fathers in proportion to each book's length. He discovers there are three clear groups: those New Testament books that are quoted frequently (viz., the four gospels and the major Pauline letters), those quoted less frequently (the rest of the New Testament), and books that are scarcely quoted at all (viz., those that were excluded from the canon). In other words, there is a sharp demarcation in actual frequency of usage between the New Testament books and all other claimants: actual usage was establishing the canon." (INT, 733-734)

Whether we go with Gamble's nineteen books or Eusebius' twenty books, we have the large majority of the New Testament, more than two-thirds of it. But there are problems with how both Gamble and Eusebius arrive at their numbers. Both suggest that the number could be higher.

Eusebius changed his view of Revelation over the years (INT, n. 20 on 734), and he described the book and its acceptance as scripture by the church in different ways in different places in his writings. He'll acknowledge that Revelation could be classified as one of the widely accepted books of the New Testament, but will go on shortly afterward to comment that it could be placed in a lesser category as well (Church History, 3:25). As D.A. Carson and Douglas Moo note, Revelation seems to have been "almost universally recognized as Scripture in the second century" (INT, n. 20 on 734). Its more disputed status later shouldn't prevent us from including it among the widely accepted books in earlier generations. Gamble notes the early widespread acceptance of Revelation and acknowledges that the disputed status of the book that people often refer to arose later in church history (TCD, 289). If we add Revelation to the lists of Gamble and Eusebius, we have twenty and twenty-one books, respectively, that were widely received early on.

Gamble excludes Acts, but not because the evidence is contrary to Eusebius' inclusion of Acts among the undisputed books. Rather, he believes that "The early history of Acts is largely obscure and needs further investigation." (TCD, 288) But Eusebius had access to a lot of sources no longer extant. The relatively few sources who comment on the canonicity of Acts in the earliest generations, such as Irenaeus, are supportive of what Eusebius reports, and, as Gamble notes (TCD, 288), Acts is a companion piece to the gospel of Luke. It seems unlikely that Luke would be so widely accepted without a similar acceptance of Acts. I see no reason to not include Acts among the books widely accepted as canonical early on.

The history of Hebrews is similar to that of Revelation. It was widely accepted in both the West and East early on, but became more controversial later. The later disputed status of the book, referred to by Eusebius and others, shouldn't prevent us from including it among the books widely accepted as canonical early on. Gamble acknowledges some of the sources who accepted the book in early generations (TCD, 289), but neglects to mention others, gives no evidence of any significant early opposition to the document, and seems to read later opposition to the book among some in the West into the earlier generations, without any justification that I can perceive from anything Gamble says. Hebrews ought to be included among the books widely accepted in the ante-Nicene era.

That leaves us with five others: James, 2 Peter, 2 John, 3 John, and Jude. They all seem to have been less widely accepted early on, but I'm not aware of any reason to conclude that any of them were rejected by the majority in the earliest centuries. Rather, their widespread acceptance in the post-Nicene era, accompanied by some attestation earlier, suggests that they were accepted by a majority even in the ante-Nicene era, though a smaller majority than the other twenty-two books had.

Gamble argues that many people in the early centuries of the church included some books that aren't part of the twenty-seven-book canon we have today. He cites The Shepherd Of Hermas as his primary example, though he also mentions others:

"More widely popular than either of these [First Clement and The Epistle Of Barnabas], however, was the Shepherd of Hermas, which was fully acknowledged as scripture by Irenaeus (Haer. 4.20.2), Clement of Alexandria (Strom. 1.17.29, 2.1.9, 12), and Tertullian (Or. 16). Its strong representation among early Christian papyri discovered in Egypt probably reflects its popularity....the esteem and use attaching to them [documents like First Clement, The Epistle Of Barnabas, The Shepherd Of Hermas, and The Didache] was appreciably earlier, more continuous, and more widespread than to many of the writings that were finally accepted in the canon, including Hebrews, 2 Peter, James, and 2 and 3 John....If the scope of the canon had been determined in the second century, it seems likely that they would have found a place in it." (TCD, 289-290)

Notice, first of all, that Gamble only cites three patristic references to the scriptural status of The Shepherd Of Hermas, which is his primary example. Yet, he doesn't include books like Hebrews and Revelation among those widely accepted early on, even though both had much more early attestation and less opposition. And he even includes Hebrews among the documents that allegedly weren't as well attested as The Shepherd Of Hermas.

Second, notice Gamble's failure to interact with the early opposition to the canonicity of the documents he cites, even though he refers to their "more continuous" acceptance. As Everett Ferguson points out later in the same book in which Gamble wrote those comments (TCD, n. 60 on 308), Tertullian tells us that The Shepherd Of Hermas was excluded from the canon of the Christians of his day (On Modesty, 10). Tertullian's view of the document changed. Gamble cites Tertullian's earlier positive assessment without commenting on his later negative assessment, an assessment Tertullian tells us was shared by the Christians of that era in general. Tertullian's comments are corroborated by Origen, who tells us that The Shepherd Of Hermas wasn't generally accepted by the churches (CNT, 188). The dating of the Muratorian Canon is disputed, but most scholars place it in the second century, and it, too, rejects The Shepherd Of Hermas (CNT, 307). Apparently, the book was accepted only by a minority. I'm not aware of any early source who gives as negative an assessment of any of the books in our twenty-seven-book canon as Tertullian gives us for The Shepherd Of Hermas. Where does an early source tell us that Hebrews, 2 Peter, or Revelation, for example, has been as widely rejected as Tertullian claims The Shepherd Of Hermas has been? I don't know of any such source. Tertullian goes on, in the same document, to refer to Hebrews as more widely accepted among the churches than The Shepherd Of Hermas (On Modesty, 20). Gamble's analysis of The Shepherd Of Hermas is far off the mark, and it's his primary example.

Similar observations can be made about the other documents Gamble cites. Clement of Alexandria would often speak highly of non-canonical documents in one place, but then qualify those comments elsewhere. I've written about that tendency in Clement in another article. To cite an example involving one of the documents Gamble mentions, Clement referred to The Epistle Of Barnabas as inspired and wrote a commentary on it, yet in other passages he criticized the document (CNT, 134 and n. 43 on 134). Though Jerome thought highly of The Epistle Of Barnabas, he refers to it as "reckoned among the apocrypha" (Lives Of Illustrious Men, 6), apparently a reference to a general rejection of the document. Etc. Gamble gives a positive assessment of these documents that he doesn't sufficiently support, and he doesn't interact with the evidence against his assessment.

It seems that twenty-two of the twenty-seven New Testament documents were widely accepted during the ante-Nicene era, five were accepted by a smaller majority, and documents like The Shepherd Of Hermas and The Epistle Of Barnabas were accepted only by a minority. Bruce Metzger discusses which books were accepted by the writers of that era in the documents that are extant, and he concludes that there are twenty-two in Irenaeus (CNT, 155), twenty-three in Tertullian (160), twenty-two and sometimes more in Clement of Alexandria (134-135), twenty-two in Hippolytus (150), etc. The numbers could be higher. Men like Irenaeus and Tertullian don't tell us the full extent of their canon. As Metzger explains, the absence of a reference to a document like 2 or 3 John in Tertullian, for example, doesn't have much significance, since it would be easy for somebody to not cite such a short and unoriginal document, yet consider it scripture (160).

Lee McDonald lists the New Testaments of seventeen fourth-century sources (TCD, 592-595). Almost all of them contain twenty or more of the twenty-seven books.

Most of the New Testament canons that differ from the twenty-seven-book canon don't differ by much. Books like 2 and 3 John significantly increase the percentage of books that were disputed, but they don't make much of a difference in the textual length or theological content of the canon.

And the high number of books in so many of the early canons suggests that it's plausible that the twenty-seven-book canon was held by some Christians even earlier than Origen. If our incomplete knowledge of the canon of men like Clement of Alexandria and Tertullian leads us to the conclusion that they accepted twenty-two or more of the twenty-seven books, then our twenty-seven-book canon isn't too far off, and it may have already been present.

Wednesday, May 06, 2009

Hearing a broken record


“Fellas, I think you are starting to sound like a broken record.”

That’s because we’re responding to a broken record.

“It seems like charity requires that at some point you should grant their assertions and steer around the topography they have laid out.”

Grant their assertions? Surely you jest. If they make a string of unjustifiable assertions, I’m not going to grant their assertions.

“Granted, Clark and his followers are coy about laying out certain elements listed above explicitly; but this is my best effort to put into words what seems to be going on with the replies they give.”

Is this a statement of your own position? Or is this an attempt to improve on the conventional formulation of Scripturalism so that we can evaluate the strongest version of Scripturalism?

“But simply beating the dead horse of "you can't know this and therefore cannot talk about it" seems unhelpful.”

I disagree. It’s the Scripturalist who has put the issue of what is knowable front and center. Limiting knowledge to what you can account for is central to the Scripturalist claim. Limiting knowledge to what’s deducible from Scripture is central to the Scripturalist claim.

It’s quite helpful to point out that the Scripturalist can’t make good on his central claims. I’m not going to let him off the hook just to be charitable. For one thing, that would be rather patronizing. No, I’ll hold him to his claims.

I’m happy to interact with your working draft of Scripturalism on its own terms. But I don’t regard that as supplanting the formulations of Gerety or Robbins.

1. A system of thought is a system of propositions.
2. Logic is the transcendental structure of thought; it cannot be denied without denying thought itself. We think, and thus, think logically, because that is the structure of God's mind, and we are made in his image.
3. A system of thought must include axioms.
4. Our set of axioms is, the propositions contained in the Bible.
5. No proposition can be known to be true by empirical verification.
6. The propositions in the Bible can be known because the sensory stimulation "reminds" us of propositions that are planted in our minds directly by God (Plato, Augustine).
7. Beyond this, it is necessary to form beliefs based on sensory stimulation, and assert those beliefs to live as a human.
8. The beliefs in (7) do not rise to the level of certainty, per (5).
9. The mark of the beliefs in (7) is (a) they have the form of propositions, but (b) though not "known" to be true, they can be uttered in terms of a principle of sincerity and integrity, and when so uttered, function as true propositions; i.e. the mark of this class of proposition is how such propositions function ethically as utterances of responsible agents. In terms of that ethic, syllogisms can be formed that mingle (i) propositions known to be true and (ii) propositions not known to be true, but which are uttered with sincerity, and which may be taken to function as propositions known to be true with that caveat.
10. The statements 1-9 are verified either by the internal testimony of the Holy Spirit, or are necessary and inescapable deliverances of thought.

Let’s run back through these:

#2.Two problems:

i) That assertion sidesteps the question of how a Scripturalist can know that God exists. He must account for that truth-claim.

ii) Likewise, appeal to the imago Dei is a tacit appeal to Scriptural teaching on the imago Dei. That sidesteps the question of how a Scripturalist can know Scripture–given his constraints on what is knowable.

#3.Two problems:

i) When you say a system of truth must include axioms, is that claim deducible from Scripture?

ii) Wouldn’t an axiomatic model fall prey to conventional objections to classical foundationalism?

#4.What about logical axioms? An axiomatic system can’t get very far without logical axioms. Are they supplied by Scripture. Or do they constitute extrascriptural axioms?

#5.Two problems:

i) Does Scripture say no propositions can be empirically verified?

ii) What’s the supporting argument for the claim that no propositions can be empirically verified?

#6. Two problems:

i) Does Scripture tell us that Biblical propositions are knowable because sensory simulation reminds us of innate propositions?

ii) Wouldn’t this form of divine illumination render Biblical revelation superfluous? Who needs a historic, verbal revelation if we enjoy innate knowledge equivalent to the content of Scripture?

#8.Why should we accept this denial?

#9.Although they can’t be known to be true, they function as if they were known to be true? Isn’t that a form of fideism? Are sincere falsehoods ethically obligatory?

#10.Two problems:

i) An appeal to the witness of the Spirit involves a tacit appeal to Scriptural teaching on the person and work of the Spirit. So that sidesteps the question of how a Scripturalist can identify the witness of the Spirit.

ii) Are the deliverances of reason an additional source of knowledge, apart from Scripture?

So who's afraid of da big bad wolf?

Sean Gerety has written another huffy-puffy post in reply to Manata and me:

Let’s see how he does:

“(For anyone interested in seeing a couple of heavyweights battle it out, and someone who presented a serious challenge to Clark’s Scripturalism, may I recommend, Revelation and Epistemology, by George Mavrodes, and, more importantly, Clark’s reply to Mavrodes).”

Why is Sean referring us to the writings of Clark and Mavrodes? Reading what they wrote would involve sensory perception. But Sean assures us that sense knowledge is a contradiction in terms. If, therefore, we can’t know what they wrote by reading them, what’s the point of reading them?

“In the case of Manata, his entire attack consisted of arguing, in one form or another, that if I can’t know Manata is a man, since I cannot infer him from Scripture, then I can’t know Manata sinned against Clark and Robbins when he portrayed them as crank dealers on his blog.”

Manata didn’t portray them as crack dealers. Rather, he used a metaphorical analogy.

However, for all Gerety knows, Clark and Robbins really were crack dealers. By his own admission, Gerety’s beliefs about Clark and Robbins are reducible to opinion at best and ignorance at worse.

“As we’ve seen in the first round, Mananta’s argument has no weight as he continues to blindly ignore the biblical imperatives against false witness and slander... Yet, instead of submitting to the clear teaching of Scripture in his sin against Clark and Robbins…”

How does Sean know what Scripture teaches? He can’t know what Scripture teaches by reading Scripture, for sense knowledge is a contradiction in terms. At best he can only opine what Scripture teaches.

He then quotes something from Robbins:

[Your] objection is of the same ilk as those who say, How can I obey the Ten Commandments if I don’t know who my wife is. Well, GHC [Gordon H. Clark] gave one answer to that question, and I gave another many years ago, but since Clark critics are reluctant to take the trouble to acquaint himself with what Clark or I have written, let me repeat myself.

The statements and commands in Scripture apply to all our thoughts, whether they rise to the level of knowledge or not. We are to bring every thought into captivity to Christ, that is, into captivity to Scripture.

I distinguish–as the Bible and Plato do–between three noetic states: knowledge, opinion, and ignorance. Perhaps you do not so distinguish. But why would you not distinguish between knowledge and opinion, or knowledge and ignorance? It seems to me that a refusal or failure to distinguish between these three states can lead only to greater confusion.

Knowledge is always true. One cannot know that 2 + 2 = 5. Opinions may be true or false. Ignorance is neither true nor false. What distinguishes a true opinion from knowledge is an account of that opinion: It is giving reasons. Sudduth dared me to provide any passage of Scripture that so defines knowledge. It seems to me that there are many. For example, “Be ready to give a reason….” “To the Law and to the testimony: If they speak not according to that Word, there is no light in them.” “In Christ are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge.” All, not some. Hidden, not available to discovery by men. The Scripture is both the content and the account on knowledge.

In the strict sense no one in the twentieth century knows that he is a man, for he has not deduced it from the Bible. (Now perhaps such a deduction is possible, and I would be open to an argument on that point.) It is an opinion we hold. You do not know that you are a man. Your opinion may be true, but unless you can show me the argument, it does not rise to the level of knowledge. If you claim to know that you are a man, please show me the argument. Please do not water down, dilute, or make ambiguous the definition of the word “knowledge.” Don’t blur it with opinion. Don’t bother citing immediate “self-knowledge” or some such notion, for the Scriptures explicitly say: “The heart is deceitful above all things and desperately wicked. Who can know it?” What you take to be easily come by, the Scripture says is impossible. Why should anyone believe you rather than Scripture?

So if we have the opinion that we are men, then the syllogism I provided [all men are sinners, ___ is a man, therefore ____ is a sinner] is neither absurd nor irrelevant; it is right on target. We may or may not be correct in our opinion, but if we have that opinion, if you have that opinion, you are required to believe that you are a sinner.

There are several problems with this statement:

i) According to the Scripturalist, knowledge is limited to those things either set down in Scripture or deduced therefrom. So where does Scripture explicitly or implicitly teach that a man can’t know who his wife is? Where does Scripture say or imply you can’t know that you’re a man?

A homosexual apologist like Mel White, Andrew Sullivan, or Barney Frank might find it very convenient to adopt a Scripturalist epistemology:

“In Rom 1, Paul says it’s wrong for a man to have sex with another man, or a woman to have sex with another woman. But that’s purely hypothetical since I can never know if I’m a man or a woman!”

Perhaps Gerety should join the staff of Soulforce.

ii) Sean/Robbins try to get around this by the following line of argument:

a) The injunctions of Scripture apply to all our beliefs

b) That includes true and false beliefs

c) The injunctions of Scripture apply to false beliefs

d) Therefore, even my false beliefs become divine imperatives.

Now that’s a fascinating claim. Suppose I’m high on LSD. In my hallucinogenic state I mistake my dog for my wife. Therefore, according to Robbins/Gerety, I’m required to have sex with my dog to discharge my conjugal duties.

iii) This is based on their appeal to 2 Cor 10:5: “We destroy arguments and every lofty opinion raised against the knowledge of God, and take every thought captive to obey Christ.”

Sean and Robbins take 2 Cor 10:5 to mean, not that we ought to correct our false beliefs in light of the Bible, but that we should simply plug our false beliefs into the injunctions of Scripture.

iv) Robbins says “what distinguishes a true opinion from knowledge is an account of that opinion: It is giving reasons.”

But Robbins also says knowledge is limited to those things either set down in Scripture or deduced therefrom.

Very well, then, let’s apply Robbins’ Scripturalist epistemology to Robbins’ definition of knowledge. Where does Scripture either say or imply that what distinguishes a true opinion from knowledge is an account of that opinion: It is giving reasons? Did Robbins deduce that particular definition of knowledge from the Bible?

It’s incumbent on Sean to show us, by necessary implication from Scripture where Scripture limits knowledge to an opinion supplemented by an account thereof. Does Scripture say or imply that you can’t know anything unless you can give reasons for your beliefs?

v) And what about the syllogism? Validity is a logical concept. Inference is a logical process. Where did Robbins acquire his knowledge of logic? According to Scripturalism, Scripture is the only source of knowledge.

Did Robbins learn the laws of logic from Scripture? Did Sean learn the laws of logic from Scripture? According to Sean, the whole counsel of God, concerning all things necessary for his own glory, man’s salvation, faith, and life, is either expressly set down in scripture, or by good and necessary consequence may be deduced from scripture.

But that’s not the same thing as learning deduction from Scripture. Rather, that’s a case of bringing your powers of deduction to Scripture. Unless you already knew how to draw inferences, you couldn’t recognize a necessary consequence of Scriptural teaching.

Does this mean that Sean’s knowledge of logic is innate? But if Sean has innate knowledge of logic, then Scripture is not the only source of knowledge. For in that event, Sean knows something he didn’t learn from Scripture. Ditto: Robbins.

vi) Finally, notice that Sean always trots out the same three or four quotes from Robbins. That’s his only fallback. He has nothing else in reserve. Once you shoot that down, he’s defenseless.

Sean then quotes a passage from Bahnsen:

We have already noted above that for someone to know a proposition, at least two conditions must be met: the person must believe the proposition in question, and the proposition must be true. However, even this is an inadequate analysis of knowledge. At first sight, it might seem that if we believe what is in fact true, then we have knowledge; but on further reflection, to define knowledge as true belief proves to be too broad … Beliefs that are arbitrarily adopted or based upon faulty grounds, even when they turn out to be true, do not qualify as instances of “knowledge.”

What is the additional ingredient, besides being correct, that a belief must have in order to count as knowledge? It must be substantiated, supported, or justified by evidence. Knowledge is true belief held on adequate grounds, rafter than held fallaciously or haphazardly. To put it traditionally, knowledge is justified, true belief.

It should be noted here that by “justified” we mean that the person actually has sound reasons (good evidence), not simply that he thinks his evidence is good or sufficient in light of the pool of information available to him.

Sean then says: “Both Van Til and Clark maintained that knowledge, for it to be properly given that name, needs to be accounted for; it needs to be justified.”

Needless to say, this interpretation is quite illiterate. In the passage that Sean just quoted, Bahnsen doesn’t say knowledge must be justified. Rather, Bahnsen says belief must be justified.

“While I’m certainly no expert on ‘Reformed Epistemology,’ and have only recently started to slug through Plantinga’s Warranted Christian Belief.”

Why would Sean bother to read Plantinga’s book? The act of reading involves sensory perception. But Sean assures us that sense knowledge is a contradiction in terms. So what’s the point?

“Now, compare the views of the above Reformed giants with the gnats on Triablogue. These men are not even remotely interested in epistemology in the sense that Van Til, Bahnsen and Clark understood the term. These men are interested in something exceedingly more paltry, but exceedingly easier to obtain. The game these men are playing is so-called ‘Reformed Epistemology,’ which is neither particularly Reformed or even epistemological. Rather than defining knowledge as a justified true belief, what these men call knowledge is something called ‘warrant.’ Now, to what degree do sub-Vantilians like Manata and Hays embrace the sophism of so-called ‘Reformed Epistemology’ I really can’t say.”

But if he really can’t say, then his prior claim that we are playing the game of Reformed Epistemology is an ignorant claim. Ignorant by his own admission.

“However, this is precisely how these men can claim to be ‘rational’ for believing the Scriptures contain insoluble paradoxes (a contradiction by any other name), that are hopefully, or so we are told, resolved in the Godhead.”

i) Once again, he hasn’t begun to show that my position on theological paradox is dependent on Reformed Epistemology.

ii) This is my actual position: It’s rational to believe whatever God reveals. The fact that God reveals something ipso facto makes that a rational object of belief. If God reveals a paradox, then it’s rational to believe the paradox–because it’s rational to believe whatever God reveals.

This doesn’t commitment me to the proposition that God reveals paradoxical truths. Maybe he does and maybe he doesn’t. That’s not something we can know in advance of revelation. But if he did, it would be rational to believe them.

“Of course, if ‘warrant’ can be obtained for believing Van Til’s irrational and self-refuting doctrine of Scripture, which is just more sophistry, almost anything can obtain ‘warrant’ and be magically raised to the level of knowledge. Who needs the three noetic states of knowledge, opinion, and ignorance when ‘warrant’ can magically transform virtually any class of opinions or beliefs into knowledge.”

I don’t have a problem with distinguishing between knowledge, opinion, and ignorance. Indeed, I’m more than happy to apply that threefold rubric to Scripturalism. If I wanted to illustrate opinion and ignorance in contradistinction to knowledge, I can’t think of a better object lesson than Sean Gerety.

“To their shame, sub-Vantilians like Manata and Hays have abandoned the antithesis in the field of epistemology. Today everyone from Logical Postitivsts, Behaviorists, Evolutionists, Animists, Hindus, and Islamic Jihadists, Necromancers, and assorted Atheists can obtain ‘warrant,’ profess to be “rational,” and be said to possess “knowledge,” even if evidently Great Pumpkin worshipers might have a rougher go of it.”

Where did Sean deduce the existence of Hindus, Darwinians, jihadis, &c., from Scripture?

“Consider the following. I had wondered what really is Manata’s objection to Scripturalism? That what we call knowledge is limited to those things either set down in Scripture or deduced therefrom? That Scripture is both the content and the account on knowledge? Wow, what horrible things for Christians to believe! “

Yes, that is a horrible thing for Christians to believe. If it were true that all knowledge is limited to Scripture, then you couldn’t know the Bible, and you couldn’t know the world to which the Bible refers.

“Admittedly, I have no idea what Hays means by ‘sense knowledge?’ It appears to be a contradiction in terms.”

The sentence that “sense knowledge appears to be a contradiction in terms” is, itself, a sensory object. It involves the use of visual markers (letters) to convey information. If sense knowledge is a contradiction in terms, then Sean’s sensory statement that sense knowledge is a contradiction in terms is, itself, a contradiction in terms. So his denial is self-refuting.

“As should be obvious, pressing Hays or even his tag-team buddy Manata to account for ‘sense knowledge,’ not to mention how they know they are men, or even that Manata is man — i.e., to ask them to account for the very things they’ve repeatedly challenged me to account for — would be pointless.”

i) Where does the Bible say that we must account for sense knowledge?

ii) I don’t have to explain how I know I’m a man. That was a minor premise in a syllogism by Robbins and Gerety. The burden of proof lies squarely on their shoulders to account for the minor premises of their own syllogism. Otherwise, even if the conclusion were valid, there’s no reason to believe the conclusion is true.

“Plantinga evidently did not heed Paul’s warning to Timothy: ‘O Timothy, guard what has been entrusted to you, avoiding worldly and empty chatter and the opposing arguments of what is falsely called “knowledge”– which some have professed and thus gone astray from the faith”’(1 Timothy 6:20,21).”

“So much for Peter’s argument in Acts 4:12; ‘And there is salvation in no one else; for there is no other name under heaven that has been given among men, by which we must be saved.’ Peter must have been one of those first century xenophobic conservative Christians. After all, who needs the ‘sine qua non of faith,’ even the Lord Jesus Christ alone, when we have Tillich, some ancient Buddhist canon, and the Tao te Ching.”

Several problems:

i) Where did Sean deduce the existence of Tillich, the Buddhist canon, or the Tao te Ching” from Scripture?

ii) Sean likes to quote Scripture, but he fails to give an account of how he knows Scripture. Sean constantly talks about accounting for belief, but he never gets around to actually giving an account for his beliefs. Long on assertion, short on argumentation.

iii) I’ve already given some reasons for why a Scripturalist can’t know Scripture. Now I’ll give another reason. Sean quotes some statements by Peter and Paul from the English Bible. But that’s a problem for Scripturalism. Gordon Clark rejects representational theories of perception. For example:

“The ‘correspondence theory of knowledge’ faces the insuperable objection that it disallows any knowledge of reality at all. Whatever reality may be, whether individuals like trees and rocks, or Platonic Ideas, or whatever, this theory provides us only with pictures of them. The object of knowledge is therefore a representation and not the reality itself. Since the mind contains only the picture and never the ‘thing,’ there is no possibility of knowing whether the representation is similar to the object or not. To recognize a similarity between two things, they must be compared, and hence both must be in the mind. But if the reality is in the mind, the picture with its similarity is useless. If the reality is not in the mind, the picture, so far as we know, is a picture of nothing. There is hardly any objection to empiricism more fundamental than this one,” Language and Theology, 29.

How is that a problem for Scripturalism? Here’s the problem:

God inspired Peter and Paul to entertain certain true concepts. However, barring telepathy, we can’t read their minds.

Therefore, the only way for them to transmit their concepts is to communicate their concepts through the medium of inspired words. That’s a form of symbolic discourse–where words represent concepts.

But, of course, the reader can’t go back and compare the words to the concepts, since we lack direct access to the minds of Peter and Paul. All we have are the linguistic tokens of their concepts. According to Clark, we don’t know if the words match the concepts.

Moreover, Sean is quoting from the English Bible. In that case, the English words must correspond to the Greek words.

Perhaps Sean would say we can compare English versions with the original Greek and Hebrew. But that exercise doesn’t eliminate the representational element.

How did he learn Greek and Hebrew? By reading Greek–English or Hebrew–English grammars? But that only pushes the problem back a step.

Suppose he grew up in a home where Greek or Hebrew were his mother tongue. But he only learned Greek and Hebrew by associating certain vocables with certain ostensible objects. So we haven’t eliminated the representational component.

“Seeing that ‘warrant’ has freed Hays from having to justify virtually any knowledge claim, much less his claim to “sense knowledge, it’s not surprsing that he’s left punching the wind.”

Once again, this is simply illiterate. Did I say that knowledge-claims require no justification. No. I said that knowledge requires no justification. On the other hand, I also said that some knowledge-claims may need to be justified.

“Hays’ assertion notwithstanding, and all the RE prattle he might dress it up with, it seems to me that ‘sense knowledge’ would be quite impossible. Given that only propositions can be either true or false and sensations, whatever they may be, are non-propositional, I have no idea how anyone might advance the idea of ‘sense knowledge?’ Could Hays, like Van Til before him, appeal to the methods of science as a means for arriving at this ‘sense knowledge?’ He could, but then he would have to overcome the logical objections raised by Clark in his treatise, The Philosophy of Science and Belief in God, not to mention the objections of men like Bertrand Russell, Karl Popper and others.”

i) Notice how Sean begins the paragraph by denying that sense knowledge is possible. Then, in order to bolster his denial, he ends this paragraph by referring us to sensory objects: the writings of Clark, Popper, and Russell! For someone who prides himself on his rationality, Sean can’t even think straight.

ii) One can form propositional beliefs on the basis of sensory experience. Sean typed his post on computer keyboard. He has learned from experience that if he depresses a particular key, it will produce a particular letter. He has also learned that if he depresses certain keys in a certain order, it will produce a certain sequence of letters.

He also believes that this will happen because his computer keyboard was designed to operate that way.

Likewise, a Christian believes that God designed the world such that some things ordinarily correspond to other things.

“Now, admittedly, perhaps some Divines did hold to a belief in ‘sense knowledge’ as Hays claims, but it certainly didn’t carry any weight in comparison to the Scripture.”

Notice that he’s having to backpeddle from his original claim. The question at issue is not how the Westminster Divines rated the various sources of knowledge. Rather, the question at issue is whether the Westminster Divines limited all knowledge to the Bible. Sean is trying to change the subject to save face.

“I’m not sure if Hays’ ‘sense knowledge’ qualifies as a ‘new revelation of the Spirit’ or a ‘tradition of men’ or something else entirely, but they did stress that the whole counsel of God, and not just part, is either set down or deduced from Scripture and that this covers all things, and not just some things, pertaining to God’s glory, our salvation, the things we should believe (i.e., faith), and, quite frankly, life in general, so I have no idea what role would be left for Hays’ paltry and oxymoronic ‘sense knowledge’? I guess the Confession writers forgot to include Chapter XXXIV; On Superfluous Knowledge So Called.”

What role is left for sense knowledge? Let’s see:

i) The Bible contains various descriptions of the sensible world, including statements about how Christians should relate to the sensible world. For example, don’t commit adultery. Is it superfluous to the Decalogue whether or not you can know if the woman you’re having sex with is your wife or another man’s wife? Or maybe your dog?

ii) There is also the question of how the Bible itself can be an object of knowledge? If sense knowledge is a contradiction in terms, then how do we know what the Bible teaches? Not from reading it or hearing it.

iii) On a related issue, if the Bible is the only source of knowledge, then our knowledge of logic must derive from Scripture alone. But how can we deduce anything from Scripture unless we have a working knowledge of logic?

“Evidently Hays seems to think the Confession writers were endorsing some sort of natural theology by their use of the phrase ‘light of nature.’ After all, Romans 1:19,20, a favorite passage of Evidentalists and natural theologians everywhere, is cited as a proof text for this portion of the Confession…Rather than a means to arrive at truth, Van Til makes clear that the light of nature, or man’s own natural endowment as God’s creature created in His image confronts man ‘within his own constitution.’ Rather than man coming to a knowledge of the truth by observing nature, man instead ‘concocts his scheme of things in order by means of it to suppress the truth,’ not come to know it. Consequently, it would seem Hays is very wrong about what the Confession is teaching here and wants to hang his entire sensate and empirical overcoat on a very slender nail.”

Is Sean really that dense? The question at issue is not what Van Til happened to think, but what the Westminster Divines happened to think. The question at issue is not the interpretation of Rom 1:19-20, but the interpretation of WCF 1:6.

“Again, notice the sophistry involved here. Hays provides no account demonstrating how he knows Clark, Robbins, or Manata are ‘real people’.”

i) I don’t need to since I didn’t accuse Manata of libeling Clark or Robbins. The onus lies on Sean, not me.

ii) Where does Scripture say or imply that I need to demonstrate how I know my father or mother or sister or brother or wife or son or daughter is a real person?

“Yet, as mentioned in Round One, it doesn’t matter whether or not I know if Clark, Robbins, or Manata are ‘real people.’ It doesn’t matter if Manata or Tom Bombadil or whoever he might be is a ‘real person.’ The question is, does Manata express any interest in complying with Biblical commands not to slander?”

i) How does Sean happen to know what the Bible commands? I’m waiting for him to give an account.

ii) Where does Scripture say that you can slander a fictitious person?

“He does not. Manata maintains he did not sin in writing his diatribe characterizing Clark as the Pablo Escobar of epistemology.”

i) Sean doesn’t know that. At best that’s an opinionated claim, and at worst that’s an ignorant claim.

ii) Moreover, Sean has no way to distinguish an opinionated claim from an ignorant claim. Sean can’t claim that some opinions are probably true, while others are probably false. For an opinion, as he defines it, falls short of knowledge. And as Gordon Clark once observed: “A proposition can be probable and known to be probable, only if it resembles or approximates the truth. A person who does not know what is true cannot know what approximates it,” Three Types of Religious Philosophy, 31.

Therefore, Sean’s allegation is not better than ignorance.

I said:

“To my knowledge, Robbins avoided participation in a Presbyterian accountability system. Indeed, he was arguably schismatic. So in what sense was he, much less is he, Manata’s elder or superior?”

To which Gerety responds:

“Clearly, Hays’ knowledge is not to be trusted and if ‘warranted’ it merely demonstrates the uselessness of the entire RE enterprise. Both Clark and Robbins were ordained elders in Reformed denominations. Robbins was also ordained to preach in the PCA. Robbins left the PCA due to its failure to take any action against those Vantilians who continue to teach a false gospel of the Federal Vision in the PCA. You can read his reasons for leaving the PCA here. Robbins did what any Christian ought to do when they are part of a denomination that continues to permit the teaching of a false gospel along side the one true Gospel. So, in his ignorance, Hays joins Manata in his libel of his elder Dr. Robbins, this time falsely accusing him of being a ‘schismatic’.”

Several problems:

i) In responding to my statement (that Robbins avoided participation in a Presbyterian accountability system, which made him schismatic), Gerety admits that Robbins broke with the PCA. He also evades the question of whether Robbins then put himself under the care of another Reformed denomination. To what ecclesiastical body was Robbins answerable?

So how can Robbins be Manata’s ruling elder if Robbins is no longer in the chain-of-command?

iv) The PCA has church courts. An appellate process. It takes a while to adjudicate a controversy like the Federal Vision. In due time, the PCA ruled against the Federal Vision.

If Robbins was ordained (licensed?) to preach in the PCA, then he was a signatory to the PCA appellate process. It was therefore wrong of him not to let the process run its course. Had the PCA ruled in favor of the Federal Vision, then, and only then, would he be justified in leaving the PCA for another Reformed denomination.

iii) Moreover, there’s the little matter of ecclesiastical jurisdiction. It’s not as if a ruling elder in one Presbyterian denomination automatically exercises authority over members of another Presbyterian denomination.

iii) Furthermore, there’s a logistical impediment: Robbins is dead. In what sense is a dead man Manata’s ruling elder? Is Sean advancing a necromantic theory of Presbyterian eldership? On his theory of Presbyterian polity, does the séance take the place of the session?

“As for Clark, he was a member of various Reformed denominations throughout his life. He was an ordained Minister in the Presbyterian Church and later in the OPC, and was one of the OPC’s orignial founders along with Gresham Machen. After the Clark/Van Til Controversy in the OPC, and after Van Til and his associates refused to submit to the discipline of the church and repent of their unprovoked and unprecedented attack on Clark (see any pattern here), and after they launched similar attacks against Clark’s defenders, particularly Floyd Hamilton, Clark left for the United Presbyterian Church of North America and later to the Reformed Presbyterian Church. I guess in Hays’ mind Clark was a ‘schismatic’ too and not Van Til and his associates who continued to disrupt the peace of the church after their failed attempt to defrock Clark. Perhaps it would do Hays some good to get his facts straight before barking in the future.”

i) Notice that in my original comment I said nothing about Clark’s churchmanship. Instead, I confined myself to Robbins.

ii) For the record, I actually agree with the minority report, signed by William Young (among others).

iii) In what sense is Gordon Clark Manata’s ruling elder? Clark is dead. Moreover, he died in 1985. I seriously doubt that Manata was a communicant member of a Reformed denomination in 1985 or earlier. If so, he would have been a very precocious member! What is more, I seriously doubt that Manata was ever a member of the Reformed Presbyterian Church.

How does Clark exercise his ruling eldership over Manata from beyond the grave? Is Gerety his medium? Does he light a votive candle to Gordon Clark or pray to Robbins to intercede for Manata?

Gerety is playing fast and loose with Presbyterian polity and ecclesiology.

“But, as Clark would say, a Biblcal paradox is nothing more than ‘a charley-horse between the ears that can only be eliminated by vigorous rational massage’.”

Yes, that’s what Clark would say. Why would a Scripturalist care what he said? Isn’t the important question what Scripture says? Where does Scripture say that a Biblical paradox is nothing more than “‘a charley-horse between the ears that can only be eliminated by vigorous rational massage”?

As always, Sean honors Scripturalism with his lips, but his heart is far from it.

“By contrast, if one accepts the irrationalism of Van Til and his followers, a Biblical paradox is a charley-horse between the ears that can never be eliminated and any attempt to do so is a sinful failure to ‘think in submission to Scripture’ and to acknowledge the Creator/creature distinction.”

I have never taken the position that any attempt to harmonize a Biblical paradox is sinful. I don’t think that’s Manata’s position either. Or Dr. Anderson’s.

“Despite his assurances to the contrary, Hays seems to take the typical Vantilian approach to paradox and insists that while the paradox remains insoluble for us (evidently due to God’s own equivocation), we are to have faith there is no paradox for God.”

I allow for the possibility of a humanly insoluble paradox. The human subject of knowledge is less complex than the extramental object of knowledge–God, reality as a whole.