Sunday, January 06, 2013

Michael Liccione, Blatantly Dishonest

What follows is an exchange that shows Michael Liccione to be blatantly dishonest.

Before I published this, I privately offered him an opportunity to modify his statement. He declined.

This is an excellent example of how the bright lights at Called-to-Confusion do business:

@ Michael Liccione, in #278, you claimed that my use of Tertullian is “an argument from silence”, and you even falsely reported that it was a fallacy, withholding that the instance in which I used it met the conditions making the argument a valid one.

In 258, I gave this citation from R.P.C. Hanson, “Tradition in the Early Church” (pgs 258–259):

Tertullian can write a long treatise of sixty-three chapters On the Resurrection of the Dead, mentioning and discussing the Resurrection of Jesus Christ, the raising of Lazarus, the translation without death of Enoch and of Elijah, the returning from the dead of Moses for the Transfiguration, and even the preservation from what was humanly speaking certain death of the three young men in the fiery furnace and of Jonah in the whale’s belly. He does not once even slightly mention, he does not once remotely and uncertainly hint at, the resurrection or corporeal assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary Tertullian quite clearly, like all his contemporaries and predecessors, had never heard of this story.

Hanson prefaces this statement by saying “If the dogma of the corporeal assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary involves the belief in an historical fact (as well, of course, as the interpretation of fact), in some manner analogous to the dependence of the doctrine of the resurrection of Christ upon historical fact, then it can have no support whatever in the tradition of the Church of this period. If it is a fact, it is a fact wholly unknown to the writers of the second and third centuries.”

And I made the further statement, And yet, the “infallible Magisterium” of the 20th century knows enough about this event to include this non-event in the “formal proximate object of faith”. There is now no question [for Roman Catholics, this historical non-event was to be now] a true event. Even though, as my source says, “this idea first made its appearance in the fifth-century Coptic Christianity under marked Gnostic influence.”

You then, in #278 dismissed this as “the fallacy of argumentam ad silencium”, with a wave of your philosophy-teaching hand, but you failed to mention that arguments from silence are not always a logical fallacy, and that my citation of Hanson meets the conditions by which this is a valid argument.

According to Gilbert Garraghan (A Guide to Historical Method, 1946, p. 149), in order to be valid, the argument from silence must fulfill two conditions: the writer[s] whose silence is invoked would certainly have known about it; [and] knowing it, he would under the circumstances certainly have made mention of it. When these two conditions are fulfilled, the argument from silence proves its point with moral certainty.

As to the first condition, Tertullian was certainly one of the most prolific writers of the second and third centuries. We know very little about the early church that he did not know. Tertullian is an author whose works Bryan accepts (see his comment #14, for example).

And Tertullian certainly knows who Mary was, as the mother of Christ. Tertullian.org gives this summary of the ways that Tertullian mentioned Mary:

Tertullian is orthodox on the virgin birth. He does not maintain the later ideas of Mary ever-virgin, but believes that Christ had a normal birth, and that his brothers were his brothers, and not his cousins as later Fathers were to maintain. Helvidius later invoked this statement by Tertullian as an authority, but was denied by Jerome curtly in the words “As to Tertullian, I have nothing else to say except that he was not a man of the church”.

If Mary were held with any kind of esteem during the period when Tertullian lived and worked, he certainly would have known about it. And yet there is no mention of Mary in his works.

Second, Tertullian’s clear intention was to describe every instance [“sixty three chapters”!] instance “On the Resurrection of the Dead”, certainly provided a comprehensive overview in every other person who came close to a near-death experience and was revived, mentioning a large number of individuals, both from the Old Testament (Enoch, Elijah, Daniel and Jonah) and from recent memory (Jesus and Lazarus). That fulfills the first condition.

Thus, the so called argumentam ad silencium that I presented (via Hanson) was not a fallacy, but a valid argument. Under those conditions, we can certainly say that “the Assumption of Mary”, as it appeared in later Gnostic works, was certainly a non-event in history.

Hanson’s work is still a standard monograph on the topic of tradition in the early church. His argument did not get laughed out of town, but it met with all scholarly controls and I have seen this work quoted heartily by other respected authors.

You don’t mind to flash your credentials when it suits your purposes. You said in 293, “I teach logic and critical thinking; I know what a circular argument is and is not.”

But here you are, making the assertion (one of several) that the information I present is somehow fallacious, when it is not.

We have two choices here, that you were either ignorant of your own profession or blatantly dishonest. The first is to say, you really didn’t know how there can be a “valid” argument from silence. But for you, the “professor”, it seems unlikely that you were unaware of this option.

The second is more sinister: that you purposely withheld information for the purpose of giving people here the wrong impression about what I am saying.

This second alternative certainly seems more plausible. It is an illustration of a technique called “mental reservation”. I have written about it in a number of different places.

I’m asking you now if you’d like to make a public retraction. If not, I’m sure your readers would be interested in learning about this facet of how you go about in your profession of insulting some and fooling others in the defense of “Holy Mother Church”.

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