Saturday, October 23, 2010

Firing into the bushes

Over at his surrendering to error blog, Ben has offered a scattershot reply to my recent response.

“If Hays is appealing to natural theology, then why not appeal to the actual arguments from natural theology?”

i) I’m not appealing to natural theology. I’m appealing to natural revelation. Although natural revelation forms the basis of natural theology, the two are not synonymous.

ii) As far as natural theology is concerned, if Ben is curious about the arguments for natural theology, why doesn’t he read The Blackwell Companion to Natural Theology?

I have 24 hours in a day, just like Ben. It’s hardly incumbent on me to do for him what he can do for himself.

iii) In addition, Ben isn’t paying attention to the nature of the argument. TCD alleges that Christian faith is delusional. So that goes to the issue of defensive apologetics, not offensive apologetics. I don’t need to make a positive case for Christian theism to rebut TCD. For that’s not how the argument was framed.

This is not about convincing unbelievers to become believers. Rather, this is about whether or not Christians are justified in what they believe. At that level, the argument from religious experience would suffice–although other arguments are certainly available.

“And if those arguments actually work, he has the means to pass Loftus' OTF.”

Why should I play with the casino’s loaded dice? That would be a pretty dumb thing to do.

The OTF is just a juvenile dare, the way adolescent boys taunt each other to perform dangerous stunts. To cave into that type of peer pressure is a mark of emotional weakness. I don’t live for Ben’s approval.

“In addition, it seems Hays is saying that natural theology (in the form of the natural world) innately stimulates the human mind to theological intuitions…”

Once again, Ben is too ignorant to know the difference between natural revelation and natural theology. Natural revelation doesn’t entail innate knowledge, although that’s one model of natural revelation. But it could be inferential knowledge.

“…then he has to deal with the fact that it's not going to seem that way to everyone.”

That’s hardly incompatible with natural revelation. A universal revelation doesn’t imply universal belief. For the mind must be predisposed to believe revealed truth.

“Notice his flagrant hypocrisy in his post, ‘Surrender to error:’"

Even if I were a hypocrite, the charge of hypocrisy, from the lips of an atheist, has no sting. Since atheism can’t underwrite moral realism, there’s nothing wrong with being hypocritical–from a secular standpoint.

Ben resorts to moral disapprobation despite a worldview in which there is nothing to back that up.

“That's in the very same tiny little paragraph! How is it not equally irresponsible to indulge in the premise that Hays knows unbelievers are suppressing their theological tacit knowledge? In the same post, Hays knows all about the mental states of every human ever born.”

i) Once more, even if my objection were hypocritical, that does nothing to salvage Ben’s argument. How would Ben be in any position to posit that all Christians are Christian because they inherited their faith? He doesn’t offer polling data. And even if he did, that would just be a miniscule sampling.

ii) I’m in a position to say what I did because I have a different source of information than Ben does: divine revelation.

“How do we know that Hays isn't suppressing his tacit knowledge that Christianity is intellectually indefensible?”

How does Ben know he’s not a brain-in-a-vat?

“Last time I checked, the future keeps becoming the present.”

Which is how you can verify or falsify a prediction: in retrospect.

“Anyway, the scenario I had in mind was from my own experience. Years ago I actually had a couple dreams that seemed to correspond to the events of the following day. Should I believe that I was really dreaming about the future or that those dreams just so happened to correlate?”

Why not?

“If it happened every night for a month and was rather specific, I think I'd have a case.”

That’s rather arbitrary.

“I'm sure a dream about the future could come in the form of many literary genres. However the more obscure and representational, the more difficult to peg down as ‘real.’

Take Joseph’s dream about the famine.

“When did I appeal to my explicitly atheist experiences and/or atheist intuitions to justify atheism in this post (or anywhere else for that matter)?”

That’s unresponsive to what I wrote. And, needless to say, there’s no such thing as an “explicit atheist experience”–as analogous to religious experience.

“I don't have a problem using Hays' version of ‘subjective’ and ‘objective’ since I'm not trying to win an argument with overly simplistic semantics. Even from our subjective frame of reference that we cannot escape, there is still a spectrum of more objective than not. If we are fair and we treat the experiences of others as just as legitimate as our own...”

Let’s see. Ben uses the bathroom. That’s just as “legitimate” as my experience of eating a cheeseburger. See how fair I am?

“…and attempt to sort out the world from that vantage point…”

Raw experience doesn’t enable us to “sort out the world.” You also need some criteria.

“…it should be clear that using ‘tacit knowledge’ of the natural theology variety is a dirty OVERLY subjective way to establish credibility in the world just like I said.”

That’s just a question-begging denial.

“The fruit of this is evident in a heavily confused religious world forever struggling to get along with reality.”

Needless to say, the phenomenon of religious confusion is hardly an undercutter or defeater for Biblical theism, for the Bible has an explanation for that phenomenon.

“Does Hays honestly believe there are no superstitious people in the world even if Christianity is true?”

Sure. Some of the most superstitious people I know are atheists.

“If Hays doesn't want to take responsibility for all the superstitions and barbarisms in the Bible he probably doesn't apply, so be it. That certainly doesn't hurt Loftus' argument.”

i) Of course, that’s a loaded question.

ii) It’s also equivocal. The fact that Scripture records cases of barbarism and superstitious doesn’t make the Scriptural record barbarous or superstitious.

iii) No, I don’t take responsibility for the Bible. I didn’t write it.

iv) I do take responsibility for my faith in Scripture.

v) ”Barbarism” is a moral value-judgment. But Loftus and other contributors to TCD are moral relativists.

So, yes, it hurts his argument to use a self-contradictory argument.

“I don't think I automatically discounted the appeal, but I did point out each party needs to raise their standards accordingly since mutually exclusive propositions are getting in via similar means. There's plenty of research that strongly suggest we should be distrusting of our memories.”

That’s ironic considering Ben’s subsequent appeal to his “deconversion story.” Now he’s given me permission to discount his deconversion story, since that is only as good as Ben’s untrustworthy memory of his deconversion process.

“This just begs the question of whether or not it really is true that a ‘self-authenticating’ inner feeling associated with a religion actually has been instigated by a supernatural agent.”

Once again, Ben can’t follow the argument. I was responding to Loftus’ blanket rejection of self-authenticating experience. It’s sufficient for me to point out that Loftus fails to draw an elementary distinction between true and false claims about one’s experience.

“Hays isn't saying anything that helpful here. Loftus' basic point remains that Christians should just as readily dismiss their own subjective feelings as compelling evidence since it is obviously so ubiquitous to many conflicting religious positions.“

This assumes that most religionists even claim to have a distinctive religious experience. But take Islam. It’s all about external conformity to sharia law. You don’t have to believe it. You only have to keep up appearances.

“Confronting others challenges our untested assumptions. Religious people apparently need their assumptions to remain untested, because their God apparently has only provided them subjective means of persuasion.”

Once again, Ben is unable to follow the argument. I’m responding to TCD on its own terms. A subjective experience can be a perfectly valid reason to believe something. I remember some of the dreams I had. The fact that I remember those dreams is sufficient reason to believe I had them. Yes, it’s possible that I misremembered a dream, but it would be irrational for me to automatically doubt my memory. If I memories were systematically unreliable, then we could never test them against some external check, since we couldn’t trust our recollection of the external check.

“Nevermind that people can have conflicting ‘self-authenticating’ mental experiences or that many forms of delusion (even of the non-religious varieties) are quite self-authenticating.”

True to his philosophical naïveté, Ben fails to distinguish between a self-authenticating experience, and the interpretation of a self-authenticating experience. Needless to say, one can’t have contradictory self-authenticating experiences. But that’s way too subtle for Ben.

“The irony is that if Hays manages to give good reasons to not take what he thinks is the OTF, he's necessarily passed the actual OTF. The only other option is for Hays to be continually hammered on his solipsistic standards. And I am eager to oblige. :)”

Among other problems, the OTF poses trick questions–questions which presuppose methodological atheism.

“If atheism is the only credible deal available, you take the deal. If you want to be a cry-baby about reality, that's your problem. And you are entitled. No one is stopping you from checking out.”

i) Here Ben must resort to the language of shame. He’s trying to shame the Christian into performing the OTF stunt.

But the problem with that tactic is that atheism is a shameless position. Since atheism fails to underwrite moral realism, there’s nothing that anyone anywhere should ever feel ashamed of. So his schoolyard taunt falls flat under its own dead weight.

ii) In addition, Ben resorts to bullying rhetoric because he has no counterargument. Since atheism is unable to warrant epistemic duties, we have no obligation to give atheism the time of day. Atheism disqualifies itself from the competition of ideas.

“Hays seems to have confused atheism with Biblical Christianity, since the idea of most of my friends and family and most humans ever born would burn in hell for all eternity doesn't strike me as the Disney ending Hays claims he needs to be motivated in life.”

Aside from the fact that Scripture doesn’t assign percentiles to the saints and the damned, that does nothing to counter my point. If you had every conceivable pleasure in this life, but knew you’d wind up in hell when you die, that would constantly gnaw away at your capacity for enjoyment. So Ben’s counterexample unwittingly confirms my original point.

“If I had to randomly choose for everyone which worldview was true, I'd pick atheism. At least people would have a decent chance at a decent life that doesn't have a high probability of being absolutely horrible for all eternity.”

That’s like a serial killer who murders all his friends, then complains about how lonely he is.

Atheists go to hell while Christians go to heaven. So how does the existence of hell tip the scales in favor of atheism? How do you avoid going to hell by becoming an atheist? You don’t. Just the opposite.

“Of course, Christians will be dishonest and just ignore the horrible parts of their own worldview. I think Jesus had something to say about that though.”

i) Since I’ve discussed hell on multiple occasions, Ben will need to try that line on somebody else.

ii) Likewise, the charge of “dishonesty” is toothless on the lips of an atheist. If there are no objective moral norms, then why be honest?

Ben isn’t sincere about his atheism. He wants the moral license that comes with atheism, but he also wants to moralize about others.

“Let's assume Hays means more than an appeal to his subjective preferences though. Erroneously presuming there is an objective basis for epistemic duties that doesn't actually exist doesn't do much for supporting epistemic duties either. Hence, if I take Christianity seriously, I'd presumably be obligated to be intellectually honest with what I know and what I can prove. If I know I don't know that God exists and Biblical Christianity requires that I do know (despite Hays' ignorant assertions to the contrary), obviously I can't be a Christian even if epistemic duties cannot be justified outside of that context.”

Ben misses the dilemma of atheism. If Christianity can ground epistemic duties, while atheism cannot, then there can be no epistemic duty to even consider atheism. If God didn’t exist, there would be no obligation to deny his existence.

“Meanwhile, as an atheist, I take epistemic responsibilities seriously because I will be living in the meantime and error can lead to much unnecessary suffering.”

Actually, believing that life is meaningless (a la atheism) is a recipe for much gratuitous suffering.

“If I care about virtually any problem in life at any level, getting epistemology right is the right tool for the job. This is obvious even if it doesn't happen to cure Hays' subjective depression. In the case of my blog here, taking the time to do something like a comprehensive review of TCD is my contribution of good will to everyone else who may be currently struggling through difficult epistemic problems brought on by living in this religious culture. I don't expect Christians necessarily to sympathize.”

His contribution is foolish on secular grounds as well as Christian grounds.

“However, I'm not the one at every turn here making excuses for why I don't take my beliefs to a sufficient level of critical thinking to justify them them against the beliefs of others.“

That’s just a throwaway line. Ben pays lipservice to scepticism, but then he acts as if he can rise above it. But if he’s going to invoke undercutters like social conditioning, then any effort on his part to distance himself from social conditioning would, itself, be a socially conditioned maneuver. So he isn’t really escaping his social conditioning. Rather, he’s taking a socially conditioned exit which circles back into social conditioning.

“Hays points out that Loftus slightly misrepresents what he said turning his ‘good reason’ into ‘assumption,’ but it seems Hays is just assuming he doesn't need to defend his tacit knowledge…”

I don’t owe Loftus a spiritual autobiography. The onus is not on me. Loftus is the one who presumes to make sweeping claims about the psychotic mindset of each and every Christian. He doesn’t share the first-person perspective of perfect strangers to offer an informed opinion about their mental state.

“When Hays meets someone with different intuitions he apparently has no argument. He doesn't have the tools to take his beliefs to the next level of credibility.”

i) I don’t have to take it to the next level since that’s not the level at which TCD is pitched.

ii) And at this risk of stating the obvious, it’s not as if I don’t defend Christianity on a regular basis.

“So should we start suspecting that the lack of interest in applying actual arguments to pass the OTF is really just an offensive apologetic farce not to validate Loftus' OTF? Is Hays really saying he's keeping all the good arguments for the Christians? haha Suit yourself. That's your own intellectual integrity on the line there and it just makes it look like you really, really, really, really just want to assert your conclusion and not have to present any defensible reasons for someone to take Christianity seriously beyond being inundated by all the subjective things talked about in part 1 of TCD. Good luck with that strategy.”

i) Ben keeps treating the OTF as a given, even though I and others (e.g. Reppert, Manata) have executed the OTF six different ways. How many times to do we have to kill it before it’s good and dead? One coup de grâce will do.

ii) Likewise, the line about “intellectual integrity” is just more of his hollow, bullying rhetoric. But intellectual integrity is only an intellectual virtue in a world with virtues. If there are no duties in general, then there are no epistemic duties in particular.

Ben acts as if I should let him skip over this step so that he can proceed to the next step. But there’s no reason to go to the next step unless and until he can justify epistemic duties.

iii) On a related note is his egotistic conceit in imagining that I need Ben to affirm me. As if I can’t survive his disesteem. But I was doing just fine before he was ever born.

iv) And, once again, he’s too wrapped up in his own little world to remember the nature of the argument in the TCD. That’s not about persuading atheists to embrace Christianity. Rather, that’s a question of whether Christians are warranted (rather than delusional) in their Christian faith. I don’t have to marshal all of the good arguments for Christianity to rebut that type of allegation. Rather, it’s a question of whether the contributors to the TCD are in a position to say my Christian faith is delusional. Since, however, they don’t have access to my life experience, their allegation is grossly underdetermined by the evidence.

v) Keep in mind, too, that I’ve presented specific, detailed responses to TCD. It’s not as if the current issue that Ben is obsessing over is the only arrow in my quiver. We’re discussing a narrow issue because Ben is fixated on a narrow issue.

Richard's Latest Unscholarly Comments

If anybody is interested, Richard has posted again in the thread here. His latest post is more of the same. He unsuccessfully tries to defend some false claims he had made about Papias. The same Richard who said there was no historiography in the earliest centuries of church history, dated Luke's gospel to the middle of the second century, repeatedly misspelled terms like "ante-Nicene" and "Origen", repeatedly refuses to give evidence for his claims when asked, etc. is upset that I haven't engaged in "dialogue" that's acceptable by the standards of "the guild". Apparently, the scholarly standard is to behave the way Richard has behaved.

Friday, October 22, 2010

In excelsis

Arminians frequently assail Calvinism because its doctrine of divine providence conflicts with their kinder, gentler view of God. By way of contrast, Brian Godawa offers this analysis of Revelation:

In this apocalyptic prophecy we read of a huge demonic spectacle of genetically mutated monsters chasing and tormenting screaming people (9:1–11); armies of bizarre beasts wreaking death and destruction on the masses (9:13–18); a demonic dragon chasing a woman with the intent to eat her child (12:3–4); a seven-headed amphibious Hydra with horns that blasphemes God and draws pagan idol worship from everyone on earth (13:1–10); massive famines (6:8); gross outbreaks of rotting sores covering people’s bodies (16:2); plagues of demonic insects torturing populations (9:1–11); fire-breathing Griffon-like creatures (9:17); supernatural warfare of angels and demons (12:7); the dragging of rotting corpses through the streets while people party over them (11:7–13); rivers and seas of blood (14:20; 16:3); a blaspheming harlot doing the deed with kings and merchants (17:1-5) who then turn on her, strip her naked, burn her with fire, and cannibalize her (17:16); more famines, pestilence, and plagues (18:8); and when the good guys win, there is a mighty feast of vultures scavenging the flesh of kings and commanders in victory (19:17–18). And I might add, this all gives glory to God in the highest.

Triperspectivalism in a nutshell

A friend of mine, who used to be one of Frame's TAs, and is currently teaching at SEBTS, shared this with me:

In any case of knowledge there is going to be:

-- belief. But this is an existential matter, and subject to various
subjective, psychological realities.

-- truth. But this is a situational matter, involving a correspondence
to reality as it really is.

-- justification, or rationality, or warrant, or reliability, or [fill
in the blank] positive epistemic status of some sort. But this is a
matter of epistemic norms.

So just in terms of an everyday, garden-variety instance of knowledge, there will always be a threefold perspective on what is required for that bit of knowledge to be knowledge.

I always saw Frame's TP not as revolutionary, but as a helpful, pedagogical reminder of the various conditions for knowledge, a reminder that encourages us to be balanced when we comment upon what it takes to have knowledge. What Frame says in TP is at the heart of any basic epistemology of the analysis of knowledge. If you leave one of the perspectives out, you simply don't have knowledge. This is uncontroversial to me. Knowledge isn't 'all about truth' or 'all about belief' or 'all about norm'. It's about all three, at the same time, and it can't be anything less than that.

Lyin' Bryan

I'm posting some comments I left over at Green Baggins:

steve hays said,
October 19, 2010 at 11:44 am

Bryan Cross said,

“The solution to sin is grace, by which the law is written upon our hearts, and through the Holy Spirit we receive agape poured into our hearts, by which the law is fulfilled in us, as St. Paul says repeatedly. (Rom 5:5, 13:8, 13:10, Gal 5:14) That is what was promised in the prophets Jer 31:31ff. The solution to sin is not destroying or abolishing the law, but, by the infused grace of Christ won for us upon the cross, fulfilling the royal law. This is the power of the gospel, for all who believe. The person who says that he knows Christ, but disobeys Christ’s laws, is a liar. (1 John 2:4) Anyone who abides in Him, does not sin. (1 John 3:6) Anyone born of God “does not commit sin”. (1 John 3:9) He who does not love, does not know God. (1 John 4:8) How do we love? ‘For this is the love of God, that we keep His commandments. And His commandments are not burdensome. For whatever is born of God overcomes the world.’ (1 John 5:4) But anyone who is born of God does not sin. (1 John 5:18) That’s the good news, that we are not left in our sins, but by the grace won for us by Christ, made alive in Christ, and raised up with Him, empowered by His divine life to live in newness of life, not in the darkness, but in the light.”

Notice that Bryan isn’t quoting from any infallible magisterial interpretations of his prooftexts. He treats Scripture as perspicuous. And he relies on his private interpretation from start to finish.

“When you say that the way to get the right answer is ‘by asking the right people,’ what you mean by ‘right people’ is those who agree with your general interpretation of Scripture concerning what you think is essential.”

Actually, it means we agree with whoever has the best exegetical argument for his interpretation.

“In addition, if you think the Scripture is sufficiently clear to answer the Catholic-Protestant question, then you would have no reason to direct Rebecca to seek the counsel of ‘the right people.’ You would point her only to Scripture. Only if you think the Scripture is not sufficiently clear to answer the Catholic-Protestant question, would you have some reason to direct her to the guidance and counsel of ‘the right people’ [i.e. those holding your general interpretation of Scripture, concerning what you think is essential]. But if you think Scripture is not sufficiently clear to answer the Catholic-Protestant question, then it is epistemically unjustified to set up your own general interpretation of Scripture as the standard for who gets to count as one of the ‘right people’ to consult to answer the question.”

i) Bryan is confounding perspicuity and sufficiency. Moreover, he’s caricaturing what these positions claim. For instance, the Westminster Confession gives carefully nuanced formulations, viz. “All things in Scripture are not alike plain in themselves, nor alike clear unto all; yet those things which are necessary to be known, believed, and observed, for salvation, are so clearly propounded and opened in some place of Scripture or other, that not only the learned, but the unlearned, in a due use of the ordinary means, may attain unto a sufficient understanding of them.”

ii) This is not “setting up our interpretation as the standard of comparison,” as if that was an appeal to authority. Rather, it’s a matter of going with the best exegetical argument.

If Bryan doesn’t think it’s possible to evaluate arguments, then why is he arguing for Roman Catholicism?

“The reason that what you call the ‘real criterion’ cannot be the ‘real criterion’ is that you choose such persons based on their general agreement with your own interpretation of Scripture regarding what are the essentials. That is why, if such a person happened to be Catholic, you would not direct them to their local priest or bishop to answer the Catholic-Protestant question.”

To the contrary, this isn’t a Catholic/Protestant issue, per se. Catholic scholars like Joseph Fitzmyer and Luke Timothy Johnson can do good exegesis as well.

Of course, a Roman bishop has a vested interest in his denomination, so, by definition, his answers will direct the questioner to Roman Catholicism. But that’s not the same thing as hermeneutics.

“It is also why, if you come to think differently about how Scripture is to be intepreted, you are free to move to a different ‘church,’ and find different ‘subordinate authorities.’ If these ‘subordinate authorities’ were subordinate only to something other than you, they could be genuine authorities over you.

Like a Mormon or Jehovah’s Witness who, as a result of his personal Bible study, rejects the cult he was raised in and converts to Christianity.

On Bryan’s totalitarian ecclesiology, how would a cult-member ever be justified in leaving the cult?

“And this shows where the authority really lies, in the individual.”

Bryan has often been corrected on this equivocation, but he repeats the same equivocation since Bryan is a demagogue, not a truth-seeker.

His equivocation fails to draw an elementary distinction between the individual as the ultimate source of value-judgments and the individual as the ultimate standard of value judgments.

“Of course from the Catholic point of view, the Catholic Church does and has always taught the Apostles’ doctrine, and it is the Protestant positions that deviate from the true Apostolic doctrine. But, mere question-begging assertions won’t get us any closer to agreement concerning the truth.”

Then why did Bryan just beg the question?

“If a subordinate authority teaches something that contradicts what God says, we cannot follow that subordinate authority (at least in that teaching). But that’s very different from placing one’s own interpretation of what God said above that of those persons God divinely authorized to teach and interpret what God said.”

Which boils down to Bryan’s personal assessment.

“The Sanhedrin had religious authority under the Old Covenant, but under the New Covenant the Apostles had greater authority than did the Sanhedrin.”

By the line of reasoning, the OT prophets were insubordinate whenever they challenged the corrupt religious establishment.

“So the actions of the Apostles are not a green light to place our own interpretation of Scripture above that of the Apostles or their successors. (That would be rebellion.)”

Then the church of Rome is rebellious whenever she places her interpretation of Scripture above that of the Apostles.

“But the gospel that St. Paul and the others had preached was not defined as ‘my personal interpretation of Scripture.’”

There is nothing wrong with “my personal interpretation of Scripture” as long as my interpretation corresponds to the meaning of Scripture. The only salient distinction is between right and wrong interpretations, and not whether it’s “my personal interpretation.”

“To see whether someone was teaching a novel teaching, one would compare the message in question to the teaching universally received from the Apostles throughout the whole universal Church.”

The church of Rome is just a local church with delusions of grandeur. Just one denomination among many.

“The claim you make here is based on your misinterpretation of Gal 1:8….St. Paul is not advocating the authoritative supremacy of private interpretation of Scripture…The duty to submit to present interpretive authority…”

Notice how dogmatic Bryan becomes when he presumes to impose his private interpretation of Gal 1:8 on his interlocutors. And also notice that Bryan doesn’t cite any “interpretive authority” for his interpretation of Gal 1:8.

Bryan doesn’t argue in good faith. He makes no effort to be intellectually consistent.

“Of course human beings cannot but make judgments using our own cognitive faculties. That’s not the issue, nor has anyone ever denied that we cannot but use our own cognitive faculties to make judgments. The issue is interpretive authority.”

And why is interpretive authority the issue? Because Bryan *says* that’s the issue? Why should we acquiesce to the way he wishes to frame the issue?

“If Christ established in His Church an organ to provide authoritative teaching and interpretation of the Apostolic deposit, then we ought to submit to that authoritative teaching and interpretation on account of the divine authority of that organ.”

Of course, that’s all hypothetical. And a Mormon would make the same claim about the LDS church.

“If we do not acknowledge an interpretive authority higher than ourselves, then we are not only the judge of what Scripture means, we are also then treating ourselves and our own reason and judgment as the standard for what is the right interpretation of Scripture and the Apostolic deposit. The Catholic stance, by contrast, is not to treat our own interpretation of Scripture as the standard for what is the right interpretation of Scripture, but to submit to the interpretation of those having divinely established interpretive authority.”

Which only pushes the question back a step. By what prior authority or standard does Bryan judge the Roman church to be his “interpretive authority” or standard?

“We test the spirits not against our own personal interpretation of Scripture, but against what the whole Church received and believed from the Apostles, and handed down faithfully throughout the whole Church throughout the generations.”

Of course, that’s circular and deceptive. Bryan’s theology selects for what he considers to be the “whole Church.” Bryan’s theology selects for what he considers to be “handed down faithfully.” Bryan constantly camouflages his private judgment under these circumlocutions.

“No, because there is a principled way of distinguishing popes from anti-popes…”

And what way would that be? Not by consulting the pope.

“So long as the Church knew that each ordained bishop was being ordained by validly ordained bishops, there is no break in the succession, even if for some persons at the time, there was doubt concerning who was the actual pope.”

How does Bryan verify valid ordination? Isn’t one of the necessary conditions for valid ordination a right intention on the part of the officiate and the ordinand? How does Bryan verify what the officiate and the ordinand intended? Is he telepathic?

“The Church is one, because Christ is one. Is Christ divided? No. Is the Church divided? No, because it is His Body, and He is not divided.”

That gets carried away with one Biblical metaphor for the church. But the “body” is not the only metaphor for the church. A flock of sheep is another metaphor for the church. Clearly, though, a flock is a looser aggregate than a body.

“And the fact that schism is not always bilateral, applies in the visible Church Christ founded, because the one to whom He entrusted the keys of the Kingdom (Mt 16), represents Him. Those who separate from the successor of St. Peter, separate from Christ.”

Mt 16 says nothing about Peter’s “successors.”

“That’s why St. Peter (and his successors) can never be in a schism or faction…”

What about the possibility of a heretical pope?

“But the Docetic notion is that the Church is invisible, not a real visible Body, and therefore all hold the keys, and every [visible] schism is a schism within the Church, with each person still remaining a member of the [invisible] Body. But the Catholic doctrine, by contrast, is that the Church is visible, and therefore the unity that is a mark of the Church — one of the four marks mentioned in the Creed — is necessarily a visible unity, just as my physical body must have visible unity in order to remain one living body.”

i) By that logic, a visible church must also have visible keys. What do the keys look like, Bryan? Are they made of brass? Silver?

ii) According to the Catholic dogma of the Real Presence, the communion elements transubstantiate into the true body and blood of Christ. Yet that’s invisible to the communicant.

Bryan’s wooden handling of metaphors isn’t even consistent with Catholic dogma.

“A little proof-texting is a dangerous thing. A person could use that same verse to claim that baptism is unnecessary, or that the Church is unnecessary. If you want to understand more fully what all is involved in receiving Jesus [besides praying a sinner's prayer], then recall that Jesus also said, ‘He who listens to you listens to Me, and he who rejects you, rejects Me’ (Luke 10:16).”

And isn’t Bryan’s citation of Lk 10:16 “a little prooftexting”? Why does Bryan indulge in dangerous prooftexting?

“You may then find yourself to be fighting against God, trying to destroy the visible Catholic Church that men much greater than yourself have been unable to destroy for 2,000 years.”

Imagine a cult leader using that type of threatening language to intimidate cult members.

steve hays said,
October 21, 2010 at 2:38 pm

Jeff Cagle said,

“The ECFs argued fearlessly from the Scripture directly, and argued for the unity of the Church around its adherence to the basics of the faith as expressed in what we now call the Apostle’s Creed. Modern Rome claims that direct arguments from the Scripture are meaningless, and that the unity of the Church is loyalty to a man, not loyalty to a creed.”

Bryan Cross said,

“No, the Catholic Church has never claimed that any argument from Scripture is meaningless.”

i) First of all, notice Bryan’s bait-and-switch. Cagle didn’t say “any” argument from Scripture, but “direct” arguments from Scripture.

ii) In support of Cagle’s contention, take this recent admission by Michael Liccione:

“As a Catholic, I’d say that of course the Catholic doctrine of the papacy cannot be ‘demonstrated and sustained’ just by ‘Scripture itself,’ even though it is supported by Scripture when Scripture is interpreted in a certain way. Indeed, from what Vatican II said, we may infer that no article of faith can simply be ‘demonstrated’ by Scripture; for ‘Scripture, Tradition, and the teaching authority of the Church are so linked…that none can stand without the others’ (Dei Verbum §10).”

steve hays said,
October 21, 2010 at 2:46 pm

Bryan Cross said,

“When you make claims like, ‘Modern Rome claims that direct arguments from the Scripture are meaningless,’ and that for Catholics ‘the unity of the Church is loyalty to a man, not loyalty to a creed’ you are criticizing a straw man of Catholic doctrine, and thus show yourself not to understand Catholic doctrine; otherwise you would avoid such strawmen. (The only alternative explanation is that you know they are false statements, and yet you say them anyway — but I assume, based on what I know of your character from our prior discussions, that you would never do such a thing.)”

i) Actually, there’s third alternative explanation: Cagle was evaluating Catholic claims by his own standard rather than Catholic standards. Cagle’s characterization would only be a straw man if he were attempting to reproduce Catholicism’s self-understanding.

But there’s nothing inherently out of line about judging a belief-system by standards outside the belief-system. It’s not as if Bryan limits himself to evaluating Calvinism or Evangelicalism on its own terms. And Christians are certainly entitled to evaluate Mormonism or Islam by Christian standards rather than Mormon or Muslim standards (to take two handy examples).

ii) BTW, Bryan is hardly an expert on Catholic teaching. He’s not a Catholic theologian, or priest, or bishop, or pontiff. He’s just a vain, loudmouthed convert.

TurretinFan said,
October 21, 2010 at 2:50 pm

There’s a fourth possibility. Bryan is not accurately representing the Roman position, while Jeff is. I think that’s probably implicit in Steve’s (ii), but I just want to point it out. Bryan’s false dichotomy has missed at least two other options.

steve hays said,
October 21, 2010 at 3:17 pm

Yes, Cagle is simply drawing out the logical implications of Rome’s position.

There are many situations where you have fault-lines within a belief-system, especially a false belief-system. Although a theological tradition may not explicitly affirm or deny something, it may implicitly affirm or deny something even if it sometimes says otherwise.

I’d also add, at the risk of stating the obvious (which one must always do when dealing with individuals like Bryan who argue in bad faith), that it really does matter in Roman Catholicism what your credentials are. That’s why Hans Küng and Uta Ranke-Heinemann both lost their ecclesiastical license to teach Catholic theology.

Bryan is a Roman Catholic on paper, but in practice he’s a functional Plymouth Brethren. He keeps elevating himself as a spokesman for Catholic theology when he has no institutional standing to do so.

steve hays said,
October 21, 2010 at 7:06 pm

Bryan Cross said,

“I don’t expect you to assume the truth of Catholic teaching when you evaluate it. But, it seems to me that there is no point in criticizing Catholic teaching from a standpoint in which it is already assumed to be false. In such a case, the prior assumptions are doing all the work, and you should just let your criticism lie there. Otherwise it seems to me to be a question-begging endeavor.”

i) How does Bryan evaluate atheism or Mormonism or Islam? Does he suspend his Christian faith when he evaluates atheism? Does he become an honorary atheist when he evaluates atheism?

ii) It would only be question begging to assume Romanism is false if the critic were unable and unwilling to justify his prior assumptions.

“So, it evaluates Catholic doctrine from a starting point that presupposes the falsity of the Catholic Church. Well, then what’s the point? I mean, what’s the point of evaluating Catholic doctrine, if you’ve already decided that it is false.”

Isn’t that obvious? The point is to give the supporting arguments for one’s negative evaluation.

“That’s not a fair evaluation, and, I would add, not a truth-seeking evaluation, because it begs the question.”

Does Bryan take that approach to, let us say, Scientology? Should we be open to the truth of Scientology? What about Satanism?

“The problem is not with the “direct argument from Scripture” but with the historically naïve (from our point of view) idea that no one has been reading and studying this book night and day for the last two thousand years…”

As a matter of fact, no one has been reading the Bible for the last 2000 years. This is where Bryan lapses into his customary, fallacious personification of the church.

BTW, why make the 1C AD the starting point? What about Jewish readers of the Scriptures?

“…doesn’t understand the historical and communal dimension of Sacred Scripture as a text that has always been embedded in a community and understood from within that community.”

The “community” for the OT text was the OT community, while the community for the NT text was the NT community–not the community of the church fathers.

“It is a community’s book, and that community is two-thousand years old.”

Here’s the fairy tale that Bryan is fond of telling himself and others. But it’s not something you’d get from reading what the OT has to say about the OT community, or the NT has to say about the NT community.

It disregards the degree to which Scripture can stand in opposition to the community. For instance, various letters of the NT are written to Christian communities to confront them, to challenge them, to restore them. Same thing with the OT prophets.

Such Scriptures are not under lock-and-key of the communities to which they are addressed. If that were the case, the errant communities would simply domesticate the message. But the Scriptures stand over and above the communities to which they minister. They stand in potential judgment of said communities.

“For us, the Creed was taught infallibly, by the protection of the Holy Spirit. So, the pope ain’t ever going against the Creed, never. Can’t happen. If he were (though he cannot) to do so, he would ipso facto become a heretic.”

Can Bryan cite any official statement of Catholic theology which precludes the possibility of a heretical pope?

“No pope (or council) has the authority to negate or deny any article of the Creed, as it has always been understood. The Creed doesn’t just have a ‘present interpretation.’ From the fourth century the Church has always carried an understanding of her own Creed, and it is that understanding to which the pope must always be faithful. A pope or council could give further elucidation to the Creed, but that further elucidation could never contradict or negate how it has always been understood.”

The obvious problem with that statement is that Bryan can’t go behind the pope to compare and contrast the present pope’s understanding with tradition, much less the Nicene Fathers. So Bryan’s statement is a disguised tautology which is consistent with any papal understanding or contrary understanding of the Creed. As Pius IX said, “I am tradition” (“La tradizione son’ io!").

Bryan’s sidekick, Michael Liccione is far more forthcoming than Bryan about the ramifications of this position. As he recently said:

“First, even if one just follows whoever is pope, it does not follow that what the pope teaches is the only ‘rational interpretation of tradition.’ Often, in fact, it isn’t—and I say that as an orthodox Catholic faithful to Rome. The debate among Catholic theologians about the birth-control pill in the 1960s is a very good illustration of what I mean. It was not being settled by argument alone; indeed, I believe it could not have been; in the end, the dispute had to be settled by an exercise of papal authority. One of the major reasons why the Magisterium in general is necessary is that reason alone often doesn’t suffice to determine how “tradition” must be interpreted.”

steve hays said,
October 21, 2010 at 7:27 pm

Tom Riello said,

“Are we to think that God would leave such a matter up for grabs?”

i) From a Reformed standpoint, nothing is up for grabs. Sola scriptura doesn’t exist in a vacuum. It operates in tandem with the providence of God.

ii) But to play along with your usage, even though I don’t think that’s the best way of framing the issue, wasn’t 1C Judaism ‘up for grabs?” Wasn’t 1C Judaism factionalized into a diversity of splinter-groups? And didn’t most 1C Jews make the wrong call regarding their promised Messiah?

This is the problem I have with Catholic apriorism. You begin with your preconception of what God would or would not allow, which doesn’t bear much resemblance to the kinds of things that actually happen in God’s world.

What was and is and is to come

I’m going to expand on something I said recently.

Rev 1:1-3

1The revelation of Jesus Christ, which God gave him to show to his servants the things that must soon take place. He made it known by sending his angel to his servant John, 2 who bore witness to the word of God and to the testimony of Jesus Christ, even to all that he saw. 3 Blessed is the one who reads aloud the words of this prophecy, and blessed are those who hear, and who keep what is written in it, for the time is near.

Liberals seize on statements like this to prove that John entertained a false expectation regarding the imminent return of Christ.

However, that’s simplistic. One problem is that it artificially isolates statements like this from other kinds of statements. Take this verse:

Rev 1:19

19 Write therefore the things that you have seen, those that are and those that are to take place after this.

Scholars different on how to render this verse, and how to distribute the temporal referents, but the larger point is how the narrative in Revelation ought not be confined to future events.

Here’s a specific instance:

Rev 2:13

13"'I know where you dwell, where Satan’s throne is. Yet you hold fast my name, and you did not deny my faith even in the days of Antipas my faithful witness, who was killed among you, where Satan dwells.

Clearly John didn’t think that was going to happen anytime soon, for he’s describing a past event. And 2:13 ties in with this verse:

Rev 1:9

9I, John, your brother and partner in the tribulation and the kingdom and the patient endurance that are in Jesus, was on the island called Patmos on account of the word of God and the testimony of Jesus.

This describes a present event. John is suffering for the faith, and Christians like Antipas have already suffered for the faith.

To take this passage:

Rev 12

1And a great sign appeared in heaven: a woman clothed with the sun, with the moon under her feet, and on her head a crown of twelve stars. 2She was pregnant and was crying out in birth pains and the agony of giving birth. 3And another sign appeared in heaven: behold, a great red dragon, with seven heads and ten horns, and on his heads seven diadems. 4His tail swept down a third of the stars of heaven and cast them to the earth. And the dragon stood before the woman who was about to give birth, so that when she bore her child he might devour it. 5She gave birth to a male child, one who is to rule all the nations with a rod of iron, but her child was caught up to God and to his throne, 6and the woman fled into the wilderness, where she has a place prepared by God, in which she is to be nourished for 1,260 days.

7Now war arose in heaven, Michael and his angels fighting against the dragon. And the dragon and his angels fought back, 8but he was defeated, and there was no longer any place for them in heaven. 9And the great dragon was thrown down, that ancient serpent, who is called the devil and Satan, the deceiver of the whole world— he was thrown down to the earth, and his angels were thrown down with him. 10And I heard a loud voice in heaven, saying, "Now the salvation and the power and the kingdom of our God and the authority of his Christ have come, for the accuser of our brothers has been thrown down, who accuses them day and night before our God. 11And they have conquered him by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony, for they loved not their lives even unto death. 12Therefore, rejoice, O heavens and you who dwell in them! But woe to you, O earth and sea, for the devil has come down to you in great wrath, because he knows that his time is short!"
13And when the dragon saw that he had been thrown down to the earth, he pursued the woman who had given birth to the male child. 14But the woman was given the two wings of the great eagle so that she might fly from the serpent into the wilderness, to the place where she is to be nourished for a time, and times, and half a time. 15The serpent poured water like a river out of his mouth after the woman, to sweep her away with a flood. 16But the earth came to the help of the woman, and the earth opened its mouth and swallowed the river that the dragon had poured from his mouth. 17Then the dragon became furious with the woman and went off to make war on the rest of her offspring, on those who keep the commandments of God and hold to the testimony of Jesus. And he stood on the sand of the sea.

Clearly John doesn’t mean the time is near for all these events, since some of these events lie in the past. Take his little allegory about the life of Christ, from the Incarnation to the Ascension.

Indeed, this passage ranges along a temporal continuum, from past events, through present persecution, into the indefinite future.

Examples like this should forewarn us against applying time-markers like “soon” or “near” to the totality of events narrated in Revelation. For Revelation is backward-looking as well as forward-looking. And it also has an eye on contemporary developments.

One other point I’d make is that Revelation has a cyclical as well as linear view of history. To some extent, history repeats itself. And that is underscored by the recapitulatory parallelism we find in the narrative. Cf. Bauckham, The Climax of Prophecy, chap. 1.

On that account it would be simplistic to reduce John’s futuristic vision to a monolithic event. For there’s a certain periodicity in his view of history. History has a destination, but it doesn’t take the shortest route.

Choosing To Become Catholic In A State Founded By Revolution

Roman Catholics often fail to apply their arguments about church authority consistently. I gave some examples in a recent thread started by Matthew Schultz.

We often see Catholics suggest that it's unacceptable to follow an authority that wasn't handed down in unbroken succession or an authority that you chose to submit to, for instance. If the authority can't trace itself back far enough, or you chose which authority to submit to, then what's the significance of submitting to that authority?

Think about how Catholics do the same things in their own lives. Many state authorities originated through revolution, the exploration of uninhabited parts of the world, or some other means that didn't involve an unbroken succession going to back to some figure who already had state authority or was in submission to higher state authorities. Yet, Catholics who live in such parts of the world submit to those government entities today. And Catholics often choose to become Catholic. They also often choose which local Catholic church to attend.

Make An Effort To Encourage

People often set aside time for studying the Bible, praying, and doing other work associated with living the Christian life. Do you set aside time to encourage people? We live in a highly apathetic, trivialized, and secularized society. There isn't much appreciation for the work done by those who serve in the local church or who are involved in evangelism, prayer, or other such work elsewhere. If a hundred people benefit from the work a Christian does, often only one or two of them, or none at all, will express any appreciation. Often, people who work in Christian ministry hear more from those who disapprove of their work than they hear from those who approve of it. You should regularly make an effort to encourage people who have benefited you in some manner. That's also true of non-Christians who have helped you, but it should especially be true of other Christians. Regularly set aside time to encourage people. You'll probably do it far more often if you think of it as something you should regularly set aside time to do.

No hurry

The story is told of three apprentice devils being trained by Satan. ‘What are you going to try today?’ asks the leader.

The first apprentice replies, ‘I’m going to tell them there is no God.’

‘Well,’ says Satan, ‘you can try. A few fools will believe you. But the universe shouts the existence of God. There is evidence all around and you’ll not do very well. Indeed, even in the secular twenty-first century you may find your self witnessing the slow death of atheism. Any other ideas?’

The second apprentice tries this: ‘I’m going to tell them there’s no judgment.’

‘That’s a better idea,’ says Satan. ‘You will persuade more people of that, especially some of the clergy. But human beings have a gut sense of accountability, that actions have consequences. They know what it is to feel guilty even when there therapists tell them not to. So I think you’ll find it an uphill struggle. Anyone else have an idea?’

The third apprentice pipes up, ‘I’m going to tell them there’s no hurry.’

‘Brilliant,’ says Satan. ‘That is just what you want to say. You will have great success. Let them listen to the word of God and whisper in their ears, “This is good stuff. One day you ought to do something about this. But tomorrow will do.”’
(Christopher Ash, The Priority of Preaching, p 65)

HT: Charles Sebold.

Godward Godawa

Some might be interested in reading the following articles from Christian screenwriter and director Brian Godawa (PDF):

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Why Study Historical Theology?

Here's a post by TurretinFan that makes some good points about the importance of historical theology. The degree to which individual Christians should study the subject varies from one context to another, but all of us should be concerned about it to some degree.

Fake fair-play

As a mopping up operation, I’ll respond to a general claim by Ben, from his surrender to error blog. He begins by quoting me:

“...if you have good reason to believe that your own position is correct, then, by definition, a contrary position is wrong. Everybody does that.”

He then says:

“Oh do they? Someone sounds a tad defensive. Some of us are actually open to renegotiating our positions in confrontation with other people. We actually enjoy and appreciate keeping those doors in our minds open, because we know how easily mistaken human knowledge is due to things like confirmation bias.”

There are two obvious problems with his faux humility:

i) His counterexample is not a true counterexample. Those who “renegotiate” their positions are still judging the options by what they believe to be right or wrong. They are simply judging the options by a different set of beliefs than they used to. But no one is, or even could be, open-minded about everything. And some of the most dogmatic men in the world are guys who keep changing their positions every few years.

Notice, for example, that Ben is quite close-minded about the existence of confirmation bias. He takes for granted the reality of confirmation bias.

ii) And, of course, Ben is a militant atheist. Yes, he goes through the motions of appearing to be fair and equitable by penalizing Christians and atheists alike, but I can’t help noticing that however many red cards he may issue to the home team, the scoreboard always favors atheism at the end of the game. That’s why team members make poor umpires.

Surrender to error

I see that Ben, over at his surrender to error blog, attempted to comment on my comments a while back. But his very first step is a misstep. He begins by quoting my statement that “You have to begin with tacit knowledge. Due to natural revelation and common grace, God conserves a certain amount of tacit knowledge, which can function as a pretheoretical criterion. And that, in turn, can function in conjunction with formal criteria. In the revelation of Scripture, God confirms our tacit knowledge. God grounds our tacit knowledge. And God reveals other criteria.”

He then opines:

“So, Steve Hays can't be an agnostic, because God has magically granted him knowledge he is unable to impart to anyone else as a starting position? Perhaps he can't transmit this knowledge in fully convincing form as it appears to him, but wouldn't it be nice if he would explain what that knowledge is supposed to be, the extent of it, and when it set in his mind in his life? Then, he could explain to us how he reasonably deals with competing naturalistic explanations for that special knowledge. Perhaps he could do so without asserting his conclusion or special pleading in context of other religious people who have other brands of special God knowledge, or just other people who attain firm intuitive arbitrary convictions about a whole lot of other random things. But that would be asking him to pass an OTTK (an ‘outsider test for tacit knowledge’), wouldn't it? Perhaps his God knowledge says he doesn't have to do that? Well, why in the world should anyone believe, you, Steve!??! Why are you even doing apologetics?!!? Stop blogging and go home and pray for God to do a magic trick in our brains! *sigh*”

This involves such a blatant misreading of what I actually said that you have to wonder how he could achieve such a level of incompetence.

i) Did I define the tacit knowledge as “special knowledge” that can’t be imparted to anyone else? No. I indexed this tacit knowledge to common grace and natural revelation. Perhaps Ben is so ignorant of standard nomenclature that he doesn’t even grasp the meaning of key terms.

ii) There’s nothing esoteric about what I said. You have variants on this noetic model in Calvin, Newman, Polanyi, Basil Mitchell, and Plantinga. Michael Sudduth has also reviewed the history of this noetic model in A Reformed Objection to Natural Theology.

Again, though, perhaps Ben is so ignorant of the relevant literature that he imagines I said something idiosyncratic.

“And suppose one confirms their experience with a less trustworthy newspaper like a tabloid? And the reason we discount the more trustworthy newspaper is because the less trustworthy one validates our experience? The circularity and special pleading set in.”

Of course, that’s hypothetical. Ben would need to furnish concrete examples and supporting arguments to apply that analogy to the case at hand.

“Yet we all have analogous experiences since we dream ourselves. If you are going to make a categorically different claim like, ‘My dreams tell the future’ (or is actually a divine internet link up to the netherworld) there's an epistemic battle to be waged there and the same evidence of merely having that experience isn't good enough.”

That’s a rather odd criticism since it isn’t all that difficult to see how we’d go about confirming or disconfirming an ostensible dream about the future.

“You also have to show that your experience rigorously corresponds to reality or you don't really have that great a reason to believe in it yourself.”

That’s deceptively simple:

i) Since we don’t have access to reality apart from our experience, it’s not as if we can directly compare our experience with reality. At best we can compare a particular experience to other types of experience.

ii) To take Ben’s own example, why would a dream about the future have to “rigorously” correspond to the future? Why couldn’t a dream about the future be allegorical?

“The analogy of dreams is a case in point. Obviously our brains are capable of creating all sorts of experiences that have nothing to do with the rest of reality.”

True, but of course we have to rely on our same brains to compare a dream to reality.

“Why are theists like Hays so trusting?”

To the contrary, Ben is the one who comes across as hopelessly gullible, given his philosophical naïveté.

“Plenty of apostates have had ‘religious experiences’ they don't think they could justify in an epistemically responsible way.”

I don’t deny that apostates can have veridical religious experiences. Since God is the ultimate source of every human experience, there’s a generic sense in which religious experience is unavoidable. Likewise, Lucifer had religious experiences. So did the Pharisees who witnessed the miracles of Christ. The ill-fated Exodus-generation had religious experiences.

The fact that apostates have subsequently defected from the faith is hardly evidence that none of them had veridical religious experiences. People can turn their back on the truth. Happens every day.

“So far, from what I know, his claim to divine tacit Christian knowledge doesn't mean anything to me.”

i) But, of course, I didn’t appeal to “tacit Christian knowledge.” Natural revelation and common grace aren’t uniquely Christian. Just the opposite. How do we account for Ben’s incomprehensible incomprehension?

ii) Moreover, the fact that it doesn’t mean anything to Ben doesn’t mean anything to me. Some people are just unreasonable. Indeed, Ben supplies an object lesson.

“Since he can't do that it seems likely that the rest of TCD will be about showing how Hays' epistemology cannot be demonstrated apart from his tacit Christian knowledge.”

But, of course, I didn’t invoke “tacit Christian knowledge.” Ben stumbled right out of the starting gate, and his misreading has hobbled him as he continues to build on his initial, strategic misreading.

“It makes sense to me that perhaps a god could give Christians a jump start in the direction of the correct worldview…”

No. God jump-starts everyone.

“People in this world do have strong a-rational positive reactions to all sorts of ideas. The brain is capable of manifesting all sorts of anomalous experiences whether there is a spiritual realm or not.”

If that cuts against theism, then it cuts against atheism with equal force.

“To use means that are indistinguishable from that makes it a dirty subjective way to establish credibility in this world.”

We can only access the objective via the subjective. We can’t step outside of our minds and senses to enjoy unmediated knowledge of the external world.

“The epistemic necessity of God acting directly in the mind in terms of getting Christians into the ballpark of correct beliefs…”

He keeps repeating the same initial blunder.

“But if it can't and Christians can be found to disregard a parade of hits to credibility via their subjective experiences…”

Once again, that’s all hypothetical. Where’s the argument?

“Does Hays honestly believe there are no superstitious people in the world even if Christianity is true?”

i) That’s irrelevant to the OTF. Even if most folks were superstitious, that assessment reflects the viewpoint of someone with a different insider perspective. So it doesn’t escape its own reference frame.

ii) And, of course, Loftus applies that tendentious characterization (“superstitious”) to all Christians, and not just a subset of superstitious Christians.

“Perhaps Hays bites the bullet on every superstition and barbarism recorded in the Bible and actively lives them out in his life (or has an amazing excuse for how none of them apply to modern Christians)?”

It’s ironic that Ben makes so much of the OTF even though he’s unable to actually follow the argument. The question at issue is simply one of consistency. Loftus makes no effort to apply his own test consistently. He merely uses that as a ruse to camouflage his prejudice.

“So no matter how much lip service a religious person may pay to technicalities, the ball of subjective probability is already rolling in their minds in favor of their religious convictions.”

Of course, we could turn that around: So no matter how much lip service an irreligious person may pay to technicalities, the ball of subjective probability is already rolling in their minds in favor of their irreligious convictions.

“And rather than taking all the easily verifiable earthly evidence at face value and coming to the best straight forward conclusion (that religious people are merely rationalizing their subjective investment in their particular brand of religion), they grant the things unseen way too much credit.”

A big fat question-begging assertion.

“The thresholds of disconfirmation of each hypothesis are set differently simply because of the inherent psychological affinity for a particular kind of conclusion over another…The OTF is designed to set those standards equally so that we take each story on its own merits rather than demanding mountains of amazingly absolute evidence to disprove the undesired conclusion.”

It’s funny to see how unbelievers like Ben never more clearly betray their unconscious insider bias than when they pose as disinterested outsiders. Needless to say, anyone who presumes to take the OTF will plug his own “inherent psychological affinities” into the test, thereby skewing the test results.

“Unfortunately, being objective like this basically means Christians would have to emotionally divorce their cosmic spiritual husband to even be able to properly contemplate such an idea.”

I think of God as my heavenly father, not my husband. But perhaps Ben is subconsciously revealing something about his own orientation.

“Some can think hypothetically, but others probably just can't do it any justice. That's being a traitor right? An infidel!”

Actually, it’s quite possible to betray someone who merits your loyalty. That’s nothing to mock.

“If you are standing in a room full of spiritual brides of different gods…”

Maybe Ben is a cross-dresser, but speaking for myself, I really can’t imagine myself in bridal attire. If Ben is alluding to the bridal metaphor in Scripture, that’s a corporate metaphor for the church at large, and not a self-image of Christian men.

“And everyone claiming various flavors of ‘god(s) perceptions,’ ‘tacit knowledge,’ and ‘self-authenticating inner spiritual witnesses’ with all the psychological bias that implies, that's not reasonable at all.”

i) Unless Ben denies the possibility of tacit knowledge or self-authenticating mental states, why should we automatically discount that appeal?

ii) Likewise, Ben’s dismissive attitude makes no more sense than saying that if some men misremember, then I should distrust my own memories.

“This just begs the question of whether or not it really is true that a ‘self-authenticating’ inner feeling associated with a religion actually has been instigated by a supernatural agent.”

And it begs the question to automatically discount all such appeals.

Ben and Loftus are both looking for intellectual shortcuts to evade inconvenient lines of evidence.

“Agnosticism easily passes the outsider test thus negating Hays' first ground.”

Agnosticism hardly represents a neutral frame of reference. If God exists, then everything is ultimately dependent on God’s existence. If God does not exist, then nothing is dependent on God’s existence. You can’t bracket a proposition with global implications and leave everything else intact.

“If a Christian ‘really knows’ Christianity is true, then it should be no trouble to step out of belief hypothetically and simply argue your way back into it.”

Step outside of the truth, then measure the truth by the yardstick of falsehood. Yes, that sounds really promising.

“Presumably you have to do this as a Christian for professed agnostics anyway. You have to make a convincing case that leads someone from ignorance to intellectual conviction that your Christian worldview corresponds to reality.”

I don’t require the agnostic to step outside of the truth. Rather, he needs to open his eyes to the truth that’s all around him. An agnostic is already in the truth–he simply shuts his eyes to the truth.

“Is Hays willing to ask the question whether a Christian should take their self-authenticating witness of the Holy Spirit as a given or not?”

By definition, a self-authenticating experience is a given.

“We do ask for humility given the landscape of conflicting and failed rationality, and we do ask for people to argue from agnosticism square one and justify all of their assumptions consistently in ways that cannot be defensively applied to any unverifiable assertion.”

Agnosticism is hardly “square one.” Rather, it occupies the far end of the spectrum, on the other side. Again, it’s funny to see how oblivious Ben and Loftus are to their own insider perspective.

“The ‘hidden assumption’ isn't so hidden since if we took the OTF at face value, it would be gullibility to simply pronounce your culture's inherited religion as the absolute truth.”

This assumes that one simply inherits his faith.

“Is it okay to be skeptical about the far reaching claims of religion in context of all the other cultural lab experiments that have generated contrary claims?”

That’s too vague to merit of a response.

“Pick a belief. Let's talk about it, Steve. What ordinary beliefs do we not have in common that would impact the OTF?”

Take the way in which atheism undermines epistemic duties.

“So Hays is really going to argue for the ‘We can't be too sure that most people have carefully thought through their inherited worldview’ thesis?”

It would be irresponsible to indulge in sweeping statements one way or the others. Moreover, people don’t have to have a consciously articulated worldview to have a reliable worldview. Back to tacit knowledge. The problem is the way in which unbelievers suppress tacit knowledge.

“Loftus does actually assume the falsity of atheism (‘strong atheism’ or a positive case against the existence of God) from the outset of an OTF investigation, because he continually says the default position is agnosticism.”

There is not reason to treat agnosticism as the default position unless you take the position that there’s no evidence for God’s existence, or insufficient evidence, or evidence to the contrary. But whichever one you stake out, that’s hardly a neutral starting-point. Rather, that takes for granted some substantive and quite contentious claims about the state of the evidence.

Ben is cheating. Loftus is cheating.

“In a proper meritocracy we treat all religious texts the same in the sense that each of them is judged by their actual contents and cultural context without favoritism.”

Which is something I do.

“That doesn't help the rest of us though who are looking at Hays' divine tacit knowledge through the skeptical lens of mutual knowledge (cultural influences, psychological gimmicks, cognitive biases, and double standards that humans are afflicted with) presented in Part 1 of TCD.”

But, of course, if cultural influences, psychological gimmicks, cognitive biases, &c., furnish good reason to be skeptical of theism, then they furnish equal reason to be skeptical of atheism, agnosticism, &c.

“Hays is still guilty of just not getting more into his personal history with this special knowledge and why anyone else should take it seriously. Hays points out that Loftus slightly misrepresents what he said turning his ‘good reason’ into ‘assumption,’ but it seems Hays is just assuming he doesn't need to defend his special knowledge and that Loftus isn't misrepresenting his actual position after all.

Actually, Ben is guilty of illiterate reading skills.

“It's logically possible that aliens could implant a belief in our brains that corresponds to the truth that we never learned from actual experience or reasoning. It's also possible that God, if he existed, could do something similar. I don't think anyone here would argue with that. However, that possibility is tantamount to claiming you've been brainwashed by aliens. Any beliefs or knowledge might have been inserted in our brains by any unknown agent which is not obligated to properly represent itself and so without further means of verification we can't take that knowledge very seriously. Where's the trust? Your brain has been tinkered with and the entity responsible is a no-show. This is especially evident when we confront mutually exclusive claims to such magically imparted knowledge. We can't just assume that knowledge is legit and find any lame argument that corresponds to it correct and any lame argument against it incorrect. And that's just what Loftus pointed out.”

Once more, it’s striking to see how blind infidels like Ben are to the doubled-edged implications of these sceptical thought-experiments. Ex hypothesi, the OTF could just as easily be part of the alien programming.

For all his pretensions to be a freethinker and rationalist, Ben’s consistent and persistent philosophical naïveté is almost entertaining to “outsiders” like myself.

“I've been blogging as a non-believer for 5 years, and I make a clear distinction between what decoverted me and what I believe now. There's no reason to conflate the two, and the latter is simply what further prevents me from reconverting to Christianity.”

That would be unfortunate if true. However, he’s not the first man or the last man to willfully walk into a dark, windowless room that locks behind him. And that’s hardly an inducement to the rest of us to go through the same door.

“Even if Loftus is a flagrant liar, the entire enterprise of Christian apologetics is about catering to struggling Christians with intellectual difficulties.”

i) Yet that’s scarcely the situation of hardened apostates like Ben or Loftus.

ii) Moreover, it fails to distinguish between offensive and defensive apologetics.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Gordon Fee on Revelation

“The content of what ‘God gave him to show his servants’ has to do with ‘what must soon take place’ [Rev 1:1], a clause that anticipates the content of the rest of the book. Unfortunately, this brief clause has also served as the source of a considerable number of speculations about the end times. But as the narrative that will soon unfold makes relatively clear, this phrase has less to do with the End as such, and mostly to do with the somber events awaiting the churches of John’s day. Himself an exile on Patmos, what John had come to see clearly as awaiting a new generation of believers was the church’s coming collision with the Empire over who should rightly be proclaimed as ‘Lord and Savior’–the Roman emperors or the humble Galilean whom they had crucified, but who their followers asserted had been raised from the dead,” G. Fee, Revelation (NCCS 2011), 2-3.

“In the final sentence John further describes this word/testimony as ‘the words of this prophecy,’ language which, because of its primary meaning in English as ‘the foretelling or prediction of what is to come,’ can be misleading when used in the New Testament. To be sure, there is a future aspect to this ‘prophecy,’ but it is primarily a word spoken into the present situation of the seven churches; and its primary urgency is not about the final future event (recorded in chs. 20-22), but the near future for John and his readers. What makes John a truly Christian prophet is that from his position at the end of the first Christian century he clearly recognizes that the church and state are on a deadly collision course, wherein the church will suffer in the near future, but will know Christ’s triumph at the end (the ‘real’ future). Thus at the outset John uses apocalyptic language that is intended to merge what is seen with what is said. That is, for him this was a ‘seen’ word; but to communicate it to the church it had to become a written word, ‘the testimony’ that Jesus Christ gave by way of one vision following another,” ibid. 3-4.

“This reading/hearing phenomenon is made urgent by the final clause, ‘because the time is near’ [1:3], which has created a different kind of urgency for later readers. But what John almost certainly intended is that pending difficulties that the recipients of this Revelation were about to experience already stood at the door for them–as the unfolding of subsequent second-and third-century history actually bore out,” ibid. 4.

“Although the word ‘soon’ [22:6] can be ambiguous in some settings, John seems to be referring not the final events, about which he has just written, but to those that will soon overtake the believers in Asia Minor to whom John is writing…Here is a word (‘near’) [22:10] that has tended to fall on bad days among later interpreters, who tend to read it in light of what has most recently preceded (19:11-20:15 plus the eschatological pictures of 21:1-22:5). But in light of the whole book, that seems to be a misreading. What is near are the events prophesied throughout the book, that in light of what followers of the Slain Lamb are currently experiencing at the hands of the Empire, matters for them are going to continue to get worse, far worse, before God makes them better,” ibid. 308-10.

The Historical Nature Of Early Christianity (Part 3)

Julius Africanus argues that the genealogies of Jesus in Matthew and Luke are consistent with each other, and he cites historical witnesses to that effect (Letter To Aristides, 5). He comments that he's going to provide "the true history of these matters" (1). Regarding the darkness at the time of Jesus' crucifixion, Julius comments that the event is recorded in a history written by Thallus (see fragment 18:1 from his Chronography here). Tertullian and Jerome also appeal to non-Christian sources for corroboration of the darkness. If those Christians thought the gospel accounts of the darkness were fictional, why would they be appealing to non-Christian sources, non-fictional sources like a book of history and government records, for corroboration?

Origen refers to "the history recorded in the Gospels" and refers to how enemies of Christianity interpreted Jesus' birth in Bethlehem in the same historical manner as he does:

"With respect to the birth of Jesus in Bethlehem, if any one desires, after the prophecy of Micah and after the history recorded in the Gospels by the disciples of Jesus, to have additional evidence from other sources, let him know that, in conformity with the narrative in the Gospel regarding His birth, there is shown at Bethlehem the cave where He was born, and the manger in the cave where He was wrapped in swaddling-clothes. And this sight is greatly talked of in surrounding places, even among the enemies of the faith, it being said that in this cave was born that Jesus who is worshipped and reverenced by the Christians." (Against Celsus, 1:51)

Origen often refers to his own historical interpretation of the New Testament in his treatise Against Celsus, and he frequently refers to corroboration of that view from non-Christian sources. Celsus wants a reliable historical witness to support the gospels' account of the descent of the dove at Jesus' baptism (1:41), and Origen's reply discusses what's involved in "substantiating...historical fact" (1:42) and "historical probability" (1:44). Origen notes that Celsus is arguing that the gospel account is "fictitious" (1:43). Notice that Celsus thinks he's arguing against Christianity by charging the gospels with fiction, and Origen thinks that he as a Christian should defend the historicity of the account.

Like other early Christians, Origen contrasts pagan myths that are fictional and the New Testament accounts of Jesus' life that are supported by "much evidence" (1:67). Pagan mythology is to be rejected as unhistorical, whereas the New Testament's presentation of Jesus is supported by the testimony of eyewitnesses and their willingness to suffer for their testimony (3:23).

There are many other such passages in Against Celsus and elsewhere in early Christian literature. Robert Wilken is correct:

"The question of the mythological and legendary character of the Gospels did not first arise in modern times. The historical reliability of the accounts of Jesus' life was already an issue for Christian thinkers in the second century....The question of faith and history, so much a part of modern theological discourse since the Enlightenment, was also a significant part of the debate between pagans and Christians in the ancient world....Already in the second century, however, Celsus devoted part of his True Doctrine to a critical examination of the accounts of Jesus' life, and Porphyry paid even greater attention to the literary and historical analysis of the Scriptures....The primary issue in the debate over the Bible was whether the Scriptures could be considered a reliable source for the words and events they record....Pagan critics realized that the claims of the new movement [Christianity] rested upon a credible historical portrait of Jesus. Christian theologians in the early church, in contrast to medieval thinkers who began their investigations on the basis of what they received from authoritative tradition, were forced to defend the historical claims they made about the person of Jesus. What was said about Jesus could not be based solely on the memory of the Christian community or its own self-understanding." (The Christians As The Romans Saw Them [New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 1984], pp. 112, 147, 203)

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

To the Incorrigible Primates at Triablogue

At variegated times, when apposite, I deign to lower my standards sufficiently to mingle with lesser-minded plebes, such as the denizens that constitute the lesser hoi poi currently inhabiting Harvard, and periodically even those of the diminutive statute bestowed by Princeton’s inferior scholarship--who it must be admitted are generally the most pitiable of the upper class. Professor Robert Weinhart and Dr. Michele Hardins, both of whom I permitted to instruct me for a few semesters at Yale, were keen observers of the paucity of education in the other so-called Ivy League institutions that, since I had not seen fit to step foot in their halls, were of obvious insignificance in the grand scheme of universal acumen; yet despite their counsel to the contrary, I occasionally must exercise a particularly masochistic bent in my own philosophy, which compels me to point out the errors and flaws of such insane individuals such as these dupes from the inferior neighborhoods of Cambridge or Princeton, whereupon it becomes incumbent upon me to take up my keyboard and troll blogs looking for people with whom an honest disagreement can be fanned into an ego-stroking self-aggrandizing love affair with my id.

This brings me to the current subject of my discourse, viz. you. Despite not having attained even a lesser Ivy League status, though doubtless you yet believe yourself to be highly educated, such a delusion cannot go unchallenged, for it is obvious to all that you are not only wrong, but, to stoop to such a low level as to quote such a lesser human being as Alexander Pope, you know not enough even to “act well your part.” You believe yourself capable of rising up the academic ladder by a sheer sense of intellectual fortitude, as if academia was interested in knowledge! I would pity you, but such a waste of emotions on a cretin such as yourself would only leave me vacuous and empty, like a corpuscle drained of pus after a sunny afternoon’s stroll. But since Lord Byron advised in Don Juan to “Begin with the beginning” I feel the subject has necessitated a response which, though it be wasted upon the likes of you, may yet serve some purpose in the nihilistic void of eternity.

Though I labor long, arduous hours with little reward, I shall put up with you a trifle more and allow you to bask in the glory that is my wisdom yet a little while longer. Though it pains me to reduce myself to such a level, I will humbly do so in the vain hope that you will inevitably fall to your knees before me, bow down and worship Zod. This hope need not be in vain—you merely need acknowledge your superior, kneel and kiss the hand of friendship I extend so mercifully toward you. Though you earned not my consideration, I will yet give you of the excess bounty of my intellect.

I know you have these feeble theories based on these so-called scholars whom I never studied under (how, then, could they be true “scholars”?). You claim these fools are wise when all they do is spout what you want them to say. Have you so little knowledge that you do not understand? If I do not say it, it must not be true. For Dr. Walter Schriekenhöser gave an assembly I had the fortune and good breeding to have attended, in Yale’s prestigious Kauff A. Teria Hall, where the honorable doctor of metaphysics informed us via his customary wit and charisma that a little knowledge need not be a dangerous thing at all, unless such little knowledge is bound—and here I quote him directly—“in the sulci of a true believer’s parasitic mental paradigm.”

Since I grasp intuitively that you are too obtuse to attain proper enlightenment of this statement, bozo, it means that since you’re a Christian you’re incapable of rational thought. Therefore, let your betters do the thinking and keep your mouth shut. It is unbecoming of you to question royalty.



Richard Contradicts Himself

See the comments section of the thread here.

In addition to his contradictions in the thread above, notice the contrast between what he said about "dialogue", being "mutually edifying", etc. in our initial discussion and what he's doing now. Here's what he said earlier:

I have been rather saddened, I must admit, by your seeming lack of congeniality in the discussion. I understand that you disagree with me thus far, but you seem to go further in imagining that my positions are obsurd or grossly misusing the data. Do you really think that is the case? Do you see how my being in dialogue with such an individual immediately downgrades the quality of the discussion?...

I am more than capable of responding to each and every one of your rejoinders, and I am sure you are aware of that by now, but I do not find discussion with you for the aforesaid reasons, to be mutually edifying or on a proper footing. Best of luck to you. (source)

But now:

More cowardly "gatling gun" rhetoric, instead of informative discourse. Jason, you have little idea about my position or its relation to the data. That would take work on your part and character. Since when are laziness, misrepresenation, and arrogance Christian virtues?

If you want to interact with my position, then ask questions that unpack that position. Instead you just fire off your amatuer assault on strawmen congratulating yourself on how airtight your positions must be. Pathetic. (source)



“Do you honestly believe that one Young Earth creationist ancient historian, Noel Weeks, who writes for ‘Answers in Genesis’ is on par with the scholars I mentioned in my blog reply (and in my chapter) whose specialties are ANE cosmologies?”

I could easily turn that question around. Is a guy who contributes to The Christian Delusion on par with a man of his credentials?

You cite AiG as a guilt-by-association tactic. But AiG is a mixed bag. Ken Ham is no expert. But then, Ken Ham operates at the same level as Ed Babinski or Paul Tobin.

On the other hand, some contributors to AiG have impressive credentials.

“The three-tier view was held for thousands of years in both Egypt and Mesopotamia. It's visible in ancient Egyptian and Mesopotamian writings and the Bible, and visible in creation myths, creation-related passages, and implied in other passages that do not directly discuss cosmology.”

There’s nothing mythological about the triple-decker imagery in Scripture. Rather, it simply involves the banal observation that the atmosphere is higher than the dry land, while the dry land is higher than the submarine domain:

Deut 4:17-18:

...or like any animal on earth or any bird that flies in the air, or like any creature that moves along the ground or any fish in the waters below.

The Historical Nature Of Early Christianity (Part 2)

Oskar Skarsaune, a professor of church history who has specialized in the study of Justin Martyr, writes:

"Justin counters this by implying that the Gospel accounts are historically reliable in the ordinary way of such accounts. The gospels were written by Jesus' disciples or their successors, who faithfully and reliably remembered what Jesus had said and done. There is nothing more to it, and nothing more is needed. Justin evidently sees considerable argumentative value in the fact that these Memoirs [the gospels] were put into writing at an early stage, by Jesus' closest disciples, the apostles, or by their immediate followers. We therefore do not have to rely on oral tradition only, transmitted through a large number of intermediary transmitters....The biblical prophecies are shown to be divinely inspired by the fact that what they predicted in advance actually happened." (in Sara Parvis and Paul Foster, edd., Justin Martyr And His Worlds [Minneapolis, Minnesota: Fortress Press, 2007], p. 73)

In Justin's Dialogue With Trypho, we see his Jewish opponents corroborating some of the gospels' claims about Jesus, without any indication that a fictional genre is being addressed. For example:

"you [non-Christian Jews] have sent chosen and ordained men throughout all the world to proclaim that a godless and lawless heresy had sprung from one Jesus, a Galilæan deceiver, whom we crucified, but his disciples stole him by night from the tomb, where he was laid when unfastened from the cross, and now deceive men by asserting that he has risen from the dead and ascended to heaven." (108)

Justin repeatedly challenges Trypho by citing Jesus' uniqueness in human history: His virgin birth (66), the fact that there had been no Jewish prophet since Jesus (87), etc. But if the virgin-born prophet of Christianity was just a fictional figure, and Jews could duplicate the Christian accomplishment by writing their own fiction anytime they wanted to, what would be the significance of Justin's argument? You can imagine the dialogue:

Justin: "No other man was born of a virgin."

Trypho: "Give me something to write with and I'll change that."

Justin also thought there was a public record, which he calls "the registers of the taxing made under Cyrenius" (First Apology, 34) that corroborated Jesus' birth in Bethlehem. The record he refers to might be the gospel of Luke, but his wording seems to be an unlikely way of describing a document that says so little of Quirinius. It seems more likely that he's referring to government records of the census. Multiple other sources refer to such a record as well. Why would people who thought things like Jesus' birth in Bethlehem and the census of Luke 2 were fictional appeal to government records for corroboration?

Irenaeus frequently appeals to common evidential concepts, like the earliness of a source (e.g., Clement of Rome in Against Heresies, 3:3:3) and diversity of witnesses (e.g., churches throughout the world in Against Heresies, 1:10:1). Eric Osborn, a scholar who specialized in the study of the early church, noted Irenaeus' appeal to such common evidential standards in many places (Irenaeus Of Lyons [New York: Cambridge University Press, 2005], pp. 6, 23, 127-128, 199, 203). The patristic scholar John McGuckin refers to such standards put forward by Irenaeus as "commonsense rules" (The Westminster Handbook To Patristic Theology [Louisville, Kentucky: Westminster John Knox Press, 2004], p. 185). Irenaeus was concerned about historical evidence and often appealed to it when arguing for his understanding of Christianity.

Regarding the gospel of Matthew, Irenaeus writes:

"The Gospel according to Matthew was written to the Jews. For they laid particular stress upon the fact that Christ should be of the seed of David. Matthew also, who had a still greater desire to establish this point, took particular pains to afford them convincing proof that Christ is of the seed of David; and therefore he commences with an account of His genealogy." (Fragments, 29)

Notice the concern for evidence and the agreement with a traditional Jewish view of the historical fulfillment of prophecy.

Concerning the "we" passages in Acts, in which the author seems to have been present with Paul, Ireaneus writes:

"As Luke was present at all these occurrences, he carefully noted them down in writing, so that he cannot be convicted of falsehood or boastfulness, because all these particulars proved both that he was senior to all those who now teach otherwise, and that he was not ignorant of the truth." (Against Heresies, 3:14:1)

How could Luke have been present at these events with Paul if Acts is a work of fiction written in a later generation? If Acts had been written in Irenaeus' lifetime, as some argue, how likely is it that he and so many others around the same time would be so wrong about the book's origin and wrong in the same way? And Irenaeus' comments about Acts have implications for the gospel of Luke, since the two documents have the same author.