Saturday, January 26, 2013

“True truth” vs “infallible, epistemological certainty”

Addressing Benjamin Keil’s comment #296:

I’m glad to see you admit what I suspected was implicit in your position all along: That you aren’t 100% certain of any given theological doctrine (including, one imagines, trinitarianism, two sacraments vs. seven, sola scriptura, etc). You are, as you put it, 99.999% certain of these things, and if being 99.999% certain that James is part of the canon cuts the mustard for you, well, at least we know where you stand….

I’ll leave to others to dispute the other more substantive claims you make, but I did want to point out that it’s absolutely nothing like “Protestantism gives you 99.999% confidence as a theological methodology and Catholicism offers 100% certainty, so why strain at gnats over that last .0001%?” (my summary, not a direct quote). Instead, it’s going to be more like “Catholicism, if true, offers 100% confidence in the correctness of its theological doctrines and if false offers 0% confidence. Protestantism, if true, always must offer less than 100% confidence and probably a lot less, and if false also offers 0% confidence”. Once you look at the math like we did above (we hit ~77% probability with only 3 propositions, each of which we assigned at least a 90% probability of being true), the probability of correctness that Protestantism can offer to a systematic theology, even if Protestantism is true, is a heckuva lot smaller than you were making it out to be.

I’ve described in my previous comment, or, if it didn’t get published, here, and here, why I think the 99.999% [or whatever that number becomes] is far more sufficient than your “100% confidence” level.

Certainly, based on conservative Protestant methodologies, our knowledge level will never, ever fall to 0% [which is a danger if Rome is “false”, but because we know “true truth”, will always have value.]

As I described it in a private email:

What Michael Liccione’s “IP” enables him to do set up a chain of deductions by which, if any one premise can’t be “ruled out by logical deduction”, then they can say X is “not inconsistent with Roman Catholic Doctrine”. This is how their argument for “authority” works.

You remember “must-see TV” – Roman Catholic dogma has a long string of “must have” things happen in order for the Roman Catholic authority structure to be true (Peter as first pope, recognized authority through the lineage that they give). If the probability that any one of them (or even most of them) is .001%, but if you haven't ruled it out by logical deduction (which can’t be done in a historical context, just as you can’t completely rule out the existence of Blue Men on Mars by logical deduction), then they claim, “It’s true because Rome says it’s true”.

I’ve argued strenuously from an analysis of leadership structures in first century Palestine and the Roman “household” community and Clement and Hermas relating how “presbyters” and “episcopoi” were interchangeable, how Hermas chided a council of elders that presided over the church of 2nd century Rome – all that, and others – that more than confirm that the story they present just absolutely cannot have been true, from a historical perspective.

However, there is no way to totally exclude any of these “must-have” points. If you do, they’ll say “it’s an argument from silence”. (What went un-responded to was my citation of R.P.C. Hanson citing Tertullian to the effect that the Assumption of Mary never occurred because if it did, Tertullian would certainly have known about it.

All they need is that .001% possibility, occasioned by the fact that “you can’t rule it out 100%”, and thus, because Rome made it a dogma, and because it hasn't been ruled out by logical deduction, “it must be the way Rome says it was” (see Bryan's comments about why “apparent contradictions” are never “actual contradictions” according to the Catholic “IP”).

This strain of thought, by which they claim their authority, is totally separate from the historical doctrinal efforts in councils, such as the Trinity, Christology, etc.

There are really two kinds of development, and these have been thoroughly documented.

First, no doubt there are historical “developments” such as the increase in understanding that led to the doctrines of the Trinity. Even though there was historical development, YOU CAN prove the Trinity from the Scriptures. Steve Hays has done so. He never contends for anything that's not Scriptural, and the Trinity is a cornerstone of his (“Biblicist” – or “solo Scriptura) theology.

The line of thinking on Roman authority, however, from the first century through the definitions of 1854, 1870, and 1950, however, were all done in a both a biblical and historical vacuum. [Actually, we know how “papal infallibility” developed]. But YOU CAN NOT prove any of these three things from the Scriptures. That is what I mean by “vacuum”.

But they conflate the two. Roman Catholics will say “development occurred with the Trinity, it must have occurred in the same way with the papacy”. in an exercise of logical fallacy, they conflate the two types of development.

This is “the shape” of what they stand on. The authority is invisible and non-existent, but you can’t rule any step out by logical deduction, and so they take credit for the whole thing.

The Protestant hermeneutic, the “grammatical historical method”, seeks to start at the beginning, to understand who the people are (the writers, the various audiences) – to understand “what they knew and when they knew it”, and yes, to build an inductive case, which never claims 100% perfection, but as I said above, I will hold with that 99.999% figure. There is no “epistemological crisis”.

So the churches of the Reformation build their case from actual Scripture and history, this practice, not being “logical deduction”, does not give the ability to claim “100% certainty”. But I say, “so what”?

We know what we know with a great deal of certainty, and we know it from based on the “hermeneutical methods” provided by the various disciplines, whether from historical studies or language or other forms of Old and New Testament scholarship.

Roman Catholics know things (a) that cannot be falsified, and (b) on the basis of an assertion of authority from Rome.

So far as I remember, that “appeal to authority” is a logical fallacy, is it not?

1 comment:

  1. I would think Rome's magisterial track record for consistency would be a certain indicator of considerably less than 100% accuracy. (Either that or they have the market on some kind of extreme dispensationalism where some eternal truth is only temporary.) But even if Protestant theological divergences are greater, our certainty doesn't rest in our conclusions, but our premises. How can anyone know the infalliblilty of the Roman Magisterium unless they can infallibly discern the scriptures and reach that conclusion on an individual level. Otherwise they know the Magisterium is infallible only because the Magisterium says so.

    Protestants know the Bible is infallible, not simply because the Bible says so, but because we have the Holy Spirit who makes the scriptures clear to us in the course of our sanctification. Ideally, divergent understandings of scripture would converge over time as we submit to his correction, although we know this only happens marginally.