Sunday, January 17, 2010

A Response To Dave Armstrong

Dave Armstrong recently wrote four responses (here, here, here, and here) to an article I wrote in 2008. Others have already replied to Dave in the comments sections of those threads, and Steve Hays has written some responses here. I'll be adding some comments of my own in this post and in the coming days.

Dave replied to my article in light of some positive comments made about it by David Waltz, who recently announced his decision to leave Roman Catholicism. Dave opens his first response with some references to Cardinal Newman, and he accuses me of misrepresenting Newman's position on doctrinal development. But while David Waltz did make some comments about Newman and development of doctrine in the process of discussing his decision to leave Roman Catholicism, I didn't mention Newman in my 2008 article.

And Dave says that I "make an analogical argument with the canon issue" in that article, but, as I explain in the article's opening paragraph, I was responding to something I was asked about in an email. I wasn't addressing Newman or looking for "an analogical argument". The person who wrote me the email framed the issue in terms of the canon and church infallibility. As far as I recall, Newman never even came up in the discussion.

Furthermore, though I haven't read much from David Waltz regarding his decision to leave Catholicism, what I have read from him doesn't give me the impression that I had much to do with his decision. He did say some positive things about my article in 2008, but I'm not aware of any evidence that I had much of a role in his decision to leave Catholicism.

Dave repeatedly objects to a lack of documentation in my article, and he makes generalizations about how I don't support my arguments. Keep in mind, again, that I was posting portions of an email I had sent somebody. I wasn't writing in response to Dave or anybody else I was expecting to want the documentation Dave is now asking for. Let's say you're writing an email to a person who trusts your judgment on the matters being discussed. Or say you've already provided documentation in previous emails or previous posts, for example. You probably aren't going to provide documentation in anticipation of objections that will be raised by a third party who decides to enter the discussion more than a year later, a third party who enters the discussion without knowing much about the surrounding context. Dave doesn't know who I was corresponding with in my email. And he's ignoring other posts at the same blog, this one, in which I do argue for my positions and document them at length. I do sometimes summarize my positions without repeating the argumentation I've provided elsewhere, assume that my readers will share some of my beliefs going into the discussion, etc. But that's common practice, and Dave hasn't given us any reason to conclude that it's unacceptable.

In his second reply to me, Dave summarizes my approach and contrasts it with his:

"He has shown himself consistently shoddy with arguments and sources, as I have demonstrated time and again in my debates with him, and again now. The reader can see how I copiously document everything. I don't expect anyone to accept my bald word, as if I am any kind of expert, as Jason does."

And he made some other comments of a similar nature elsewhere in his posts. While Dave makes generalizations about how I don't support my arguments, I'd recommend that people consult my material on Roman Catholicism, the resurrection, or the infancy narratives, for example, and see if Dave's generalizations seem accurate. I would also recommend that people look at Dave's posts at his blog, here, and elsewhere and ask if it's true that he "copiously documents everything".

He also suggests that I've ignored issues that I don't address in the article he's responding to, even if the issues don't have much relevance or have been addressed by me elsewhere. For example, though my article begins with an explanation that I'm addressing "the Protestant New Testament canon", Dave writes in his second response to me:

"We also have a huge amount of patristic support for the Deuterocanon: the books that Protestants demoted from the Bible, but Jason conveniently omits that, because it doesn't fit with the playbook."

Or maybe I didn't address the subject because the person who emailed me didn't ask about it, but asked about the New Testament canon instead. I didn't choose what the emailer would ask me.

We have a large amount of material on the Old Testament canon in the archives here, including articles written by me. My series on the New Testament canon last year had an article that summarizes my position on the Old Testament, including what I think of patristic support for a larger canon.

But the point I'm focusing on here is that I was replying to an emailer. I'm not the one who framed the discussion, and I didn't intend my post to provide all of the documentation that any conceivable reader, like Dave Armstrong more than a year later, might want.

Though I think Dave's framing of the issues is misleading, I want to reply to what he goes on to argue in the remainder of his series. I'll be posting responses as I have time.

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