Wednesday, September 07, 2011

Fallible infallibilism

One standard type of argument in Christian apologetics is to infer that if Scripture is reliable on those occasions where it can be corroborated, then this creates the presumption that it’s reliable on other occasions when it can’t be corroborated. If a man is accurate whenever you can verify his claims, then he’s trustworthy in general.

After all, it’s something of a coincidence that corroborative evidence survives. For the survival of corroborative evidence is a fairly random, hit-n-miss affair. A writer couldn’t predict what corroborative evidence would survive, then make sure his testable claims were accurate while fibbing the rest of the time. Given the haphazard nature of the corroborative evidence, if a writer is accurate on just those occasions when we happen to have corroboration, then it’s unlikely that he would be inaccurate on just those occasions when we don’t have corroboration.

Mind you, corroboration isn’t always a straightforward process. For instance, it can be complicated to correlate textual place names with extratextual sites:

The most basic problem is that in a great many cases several names are possibilities for a particular site. On the other hand, there may be several candidates for a name that has been historically recorded…On the other side of the issue, there are tells that could be the remains of any number of historical sites. J. Currid, Doing Archaeology in the Land of the Bible (Baker 1999), 57.

Yet Catholic epologists deploy the opposite argument. Take Munificentissimus Deus. They take the position that infallibility only extends to the formal definition. To the dogma, and not the pope’s supporting arguments. On this view, the historical and exegetical arguments of Pius XII could be balderdash, but his sheer declaration of the Assumption is selectively shielded from error.

Put another way, all of the pope’s testable claims could be dead wrong, but when he happens to make an untestable claim (the assumption of Mary), that particular claim is true. It’s like saying that even though a man is a chronic proven liar, he’s suddenly credible whenever he happens to make unfalsifiable statements. 


  1. What's really bad is that people who ought to know better, just simply set aside all the rules to make an exception about this.

    Where this really hurts is, as in your post right above this, we "hear the word of the Lord". People who might be inclined to listen for the word of the Lord, are sullied by such claims as this one that claim to be authentically Christian, but which really are just so much special pleading that it's obvious.

    And they want no part of this kind of papal twisting of the rules. So they throw out all of Christianity because of things like this.

  2. Apparently the fact that Caiaphas told the Sanhedrin "It is expedient that one man die for the people" is - according to the Catholic Encylcopaedia - evidence in favour of Papal Infallibility. No, really. Because it shows that the chief priest of whatever infallible ecclesiastical community is God's licensed salvation provider for the relevant dispensation is capable of speaking truthfully even when (a) he is a villain, (b) he means his words in quite a different sense from the sense in which they are later found to be true. No word on whether Caiaphas understood his statement to be infallible, or whether he threatened that any who should dared express their dissent with it would suffer in their own persons the due penalties prescribed by law. (Debating Catholic apologists is like playing Scrabble against someone who has an inexhaustible supply of blank tiles.)