Sunday, September 02, 2012

Bryan the trickster

Bryan Cross said,
August 28, 2012 at 8:03 pm
Jeff, (re: #575)

    the whole notion of “who is the highest authority” is a mistake whose outcome is radical skepticism towards objective truth and radical fideism towards the Church.

The Devil could have made the same claim to Adam and Eve regarding God. Liberals could make the same claim about the belief that Scripture is the highest authority in the Church.

Although Bryan is simply using this as an illustration, such that this is something of a side issue, I can't resist pointing out the irony. How many modern popes, bishops, Catholic theologians or Bible scholars still believe that Gen 2-3 records actual conversations between God, Adam, Eve, and Satan? So, as a matter of fact. I daresay most contemporary Catholics, including the hierarchy, don't think God actually spoke to Adam, or Satan actually spoke to Eve.

Bryan Cross said,
August 28, 2012 at 9:43 pm
Jeff, (re: #593)

    Your comments here, if true, would place Catholic claims to authority outside of the realm of possible falsification. That’s why your position is fideistic.

Again, see the link above in comment #591 on the motives of credibility. Also, I did a podcast in 2009 on this subject of falsifiability (see here), and there I distinguish between different senses of falsifiability. The Catholic Church’s claims to authority are not falsifiable in the first sense of the term, but they are in the second sense of the term, by the motives of credibility.

Again, see the podcast. Some of Jesus’ claims are not falsifiable in any sense of the term. So if you demand that everything be falsifiable, then you cannot follow Jesus (or you must pick and choose from His statements.)

No. I’m not attempting to rule your objections out of order unless you first assume my position. That would be begging the question. When I say that you are “begging the question,” I’m pointing out that you are presupposing your paradigm (or the standards belonging to your paradigm but not to mine) in criticizing the Catholic paradigm. But that does not mean that you must first assume my position. It means rather that your criticism of my paradigm gives us no reason to prefer one paradigm over the other, because it presupposes the truth of yours. To resolve a disagreement that is paradigmatic in nature, without begging the question, we have to step back and evaluate the competing paradigms by standards recognized within both paradigms.

This raises several issues:

i) It's true that not everything has to be falsifiable. However, even if your position is unfalsifiably true, you're not entitled to merely assert that. If you're going to claim that, then you must provide a supporting argument. That doesn't absolve you of the need to make a case for the unfalsifiability of your position.

ii) Bryan seems to be using paradigm in the Kuhnian sense (at least the popular interpretation of Kuhn), according to which competing paradigms are mutually incommensurable. Therefore, you can only evaluate them internally, based on their inner consistency or lack thereof. You can compare and contrast rival paradigms, but there's no independent standard by which to evaluate them.  But if that's what Bryan means, then there are two problems:

a) That, itself, is a very controversial claim. Bryan can't simply stipulate that that's how interpretive paradigms operate. He has to make a case for the claim that all standards are paradigm-dependent. That there are no external checks. No independent standards.

b) He also needs to demonstrate that his Kuhnian framework is, in fact, the "Catholic" framework. But if you study the history of Roman Catholic polemical theology, there's no one right way of arguing for the Catholic faith. Take Cardinal Dulles's classic monograph: A History of Apologetics (Ignatius Press, 2nd ed. 2005). Throughout the centuries there have been many different ways that Catholic polemicists have defended the claims of Rome. The Kuhnian approach is by no means the only approach or the official approach. Indeed, that's highly anachronistic.

iii) There's also some equivocation over the definition of an "interpretive paradigm." On the one hand, Michael Liccione defines the "Catholic interpretive paradigm" as what is necessary to bridge the gap between opinion and dogma.

By contrast, Bryan seems to be using the "Catholic interpretive paradigm" for whatever Rome (or the fathers) teaches. For instance, in comparing how the church fathers allegedly understand justification to the Reformed understanding, he casts that in "paradigmatic" terms. But even if (ex hypothesi) the church fathers have that understanding of justification, how is that an interpretive paradigm, rather than how they interpret the Bible? An interpretation of Scripture is not synonymous with an interpretive paradigm. Rather, a given interpretation would be the result of your operating interpretive paradigm, where the paradigm is the interpretive "lens" or filter. Using that lens will yield an interpretation consistent with your interpretive grid.

Bryan Cross said,
August 28, 2012 at 11:34 pm
Jeff, (re: #601)

    But are any RC claims to authority falsifiable?

If you mean ‘falsifiable’ in the second sense of the term, then yes. That is the role of the motives of credibility. See the link I provided in #591. The Church’s claim to divine authority is supported by the motives of credibility, just as Christ’s claim to divine authority is supported by motives of credibility. And just as by these motives of credibility Christ’s claim to divine authority was falsifiable in the second sense of the term, so by the Church’s motives of credibility her claim to divine authority is falsifiable in the second sense of the term.

    How would one even begin? What could count as a falsification? Nothing in Scripture could count, because Rome claims prior interpretive authority. Nothing in history or tradition could count (like, for example, the fact that half the church rejects Roman claims to authority), because Rome discounts as schismatic any source that does not accept Roman authority. All of our witnesses are left unable to speak by the terms of the debate, and no claim is subject to falsification. If no claim is subject to falsification, then no fact is evidential; merely conveniently consistent.

Regarding dogma, only those parts of the deposit referring to historical events or truths of natural theology and ethics knowable by the natural light of reason are falsifiable in the second sense of the term ‘falsifiable.’ That’s also true of Jesus’s words. The rest of dogma pertains to areas beyond the possible reach of human reason. We accept dogma on the divine authority of the Church. But we don’t simply leap to dogma, or believe in the authority of the Church on the basis of the authority of the Church. That would be fideistic and/or circular. Rather, we come to learn the divine authority of the Church through the motives of credibility. And the motives of credibility are falsifiable in the second sense of the term. Faith is not necessary to discover and grasp the motives of credibility. They are accessible in principle by the natural light of reason, and provide the evidence of the divine authority of Christ and His Church.

That's classic bootstrap methodology. You reason to an authority source using probable evidence. You then accept what the authority source teaches on the warrant of the authority source.

The obvious weakness with this approach is that your level of confidence in what the authority source teaches can never rise higher than your level of confidence in the authority source itself. If you arrive at your belief in the authority source through probabilistic reasoning, and that's it, then even if the authority source claims to be unfalsifiable, that claim is underdetermined by the evidence you used to foster belief in the authority source. The warrant for the claim of the authority source to be unfalsifiable can't exceed the warrant for believing that your source is, in fact, authoritative.

Bryan's argument is, indeed, implicitly and viciously circular. He's appealing to "motives" of credibility to establish the plausibility of his authority source. He can't then swing around and act as if the authority source as unfalsifiable. For that would be to forget what underlay his initial confidence. Hence, his position is falsifiable at both levels, for the upper level collapses onto the lower level.

He then attempts to draw a parallel with Christ's self-witness to his divine authority. That, however, is an argument from analogy minus the argument. He's positing a parallel, but he hasn't established a parallel. To say that we have to begin with motives of credibility when we assess the claims of Christ, and proceed from that starting point, begs the question. If he's going to use that methodology, he needs to present an argument for that methodology.

No comments:

Post a Comment