Wednesday, October 26, 2005

The Squire of Gothos

Jonathan Prejean has responded to what I and others have said in the latest thread:

“Sure. Apply epistemic charity, assume that I am a thinking and rational person, and interpret what I say accordingly.”

“Epistemic charity”? Yeah, right. Here’s a sample of Prejean’s legendary epistemic charity from the very same day:

“…how ignorant he is, a la Engwer. He isn't actually capable of understanding, as far as I can tell. Just doesn't have the chops to read scholarly material and follow the arguments. I don't know whether that's lack of training (he has a mere bachelor's degree in English, which is hardly an analytical field anyway) or whether he's just stupid.”

Yes, Prejean is Mr. Epistemic Charity incarnate.

Moving along:


In context, it was quite obvious that I was speaking of God revealing Himself ENTIRELY through text. Which means that the following:
"Then he says that God *does* reveal himself through text, as long as that revelation is in combination with other things."

And, BTW, notice that Hays did exactly the same thing:
"So what we needed was a whole different model of revelation. A form of revelation which is ontologically of a piece with the Incarnation.

This would be opposed to textual revelation. Not a supplement to textual revelation. But a whole different genus of divine revelation."

Did I say this? No.


This is, alas, where we have to repeat ourselves:


On Oct 22, Prejean said:


As such, I consider it highly improbable, considering Who is revealed, that God would reveal Himself through text. He could do so, no doubt, but it would be a bit perverse from a presuppositional standpoint to reveal something by a method that by definition is inadequate to the task, rather like Picasso attempting to convey his artistic vision in a typed page. Requiring that much direct intervention, that much identification between the individual's volition and the Holy Spirit, strikes me as little better than appealing to private revelation. Rather than positing such a thoroughly inadequate means of revelation supplemented by such drastic intervention, I would think that it would be far more aesthetic to conclude that God did not Incarnate Himself meaninglessly, and that His ongoing revelation is (ontologically) of one kind with His Incarnation. This leads to a fundamentally Christological and Eucharistic hermeneutic, unique to Scripture. Hence, the distaste for "private judgment," which more or less presumes a presuppositionally inadequate form of revelation that must be supplemented by God's direct personal revelation of Himself.


Oct 24, said:

No. It's a case of God revealing Himself through a combination of text, faith, natural theology, mystagogy, community, subsequent historical development, and a host of other factors. Why that is so difficult to comprehend, I have no idea. It's only people who claim epistemic reliability based on a single source who have to worry about vicious circularity. It's that whole (solely) or (independently) that gets read into "through text" that I find objectionable. I can't discern any good reason to think that (solely) or (independently) is warranted. Certainly, the fact that it is the only written record of apostolic teaching doesn't cut it.

Quite a few problems to sort out:

1.The implication of his 10/22 statement is that the principle of textual revelation was “thoroughly inadequate.” It necessitated too much direct divine intervention to supplement its deficiencies.

Textual revelation was inadequate, not merely as a matter of degree, but a matter of kind. It’s like trying to communicate what was distinctive to one medium (painting) to another medium (the written word).

So what we needed was a whole different model of revelation. A form of revelation which is ontologically of a piece with the Incarnation.

This would be opposed to textual revelation. Not a supplement to textual revelation. But a whole different genus of divine revelation.

Now, we can certainly classify the Incarnation as a revelatory event, but by that same token, it would belong to the category of event-media rather than word media.

And one would suppose, given Prejean’s theological commitments, that an extension along the same lines would be related to the Mass and sacramental grace. Presumably, too, this has something to do with the Incarnational dimension of Byzantine epistemology.

One source of unclarity lies in Prejean's effort to fuse two divergent theological traditions--each with its own history of internal development.

For Prejean, this has more aesthetic appeal, which he treats as a theological criterion of truth. So much for his 10/22 statement.

2.But in his 10/4 statement, he substitutes a multiple-source theory of revelation, which includes textual revelation, but in combination with a host of other sources and criteria.

a) Prejean is shifting ground. He now is supplementing textual revelation with a host of other factors.


Notice, once again, that I built my interpretation directly on his own words and the way that he set up the original contrast.

What he now does is to simply deny my interpretation without explaining his own words, without explaining why he set up the contrast in the first place if that is not what he meant.

I didn’t merely assert an interpretation of his words. I presented an argument for my interpretation based on the logical ramifications of what he said. He has done nothing here to reconcile his own logic. How does his Incarnational model of revelation, which he originally opposed to textual revelation, what with its excessive interventionism and all, now harmonize with his multiple-source theory of revelation?

Moving along:


My point, which is the same as it has been all along, is that text as an exclusive medium is absurdly counter-intuitive. In fact, Hays even owns up to how ridiculous it is when he says:
"A multiple-source theory of revelation would have less aesthetic appeal that a single-source theory. A multiple-source theory is messy, cumbersome, complicated, and inelegant. How do you prioritize the various factors?

Conversely, a single-source model of revelation would be more elegant than a multiple-source theory of revelation. Hence, Prejean’s aesthetic criterion ought to favor the Protestant rule of faith."

This is completely irrational; he's saying that more information is a bad thing from an aesthetic standpoint. The beauty of simplicity owes itself to the COMPLEXITY of what it explains, not the SIMPLICITY of what it explains. If Hays had actually studied a hard science, maybe he'd realize how incredibly stupid anyone with scientific training ought to find this statement. If things weren't hard to explain, simplicity wouldn't be a virtue; it would be a consequence!


Prejean stumbles quite a few times in the course of this reply:

i) He’s introducing a new concept—the concept of complexity. He didn’t discuss this before, and the concept was not implicit in what he did say.

Prejean is now having to shore up the deficiencies in his previous statement while screaming into a megaphone to cover up the screeching sound of spinning wheels and burning rubber as he slams his car into reverse.

We comment on what people say at the time. We are hardly responsible for his hasty patch-up job when his attempts to shift the blame because we didn’t take into consideration various addenda which he is now trying to backdate.

ii) Theology is not one of the hard sciences, so the analogy is flawed.

iii) How many of the Popes have advanced degrees in a hard science? Does that disqualify them from office?

iv) It’s not as though Prejean is another Penrose or Witten or Feynman.

v) Yes, more information is a good thing. But to say that does nothing to harmonize a multiple-source theory of revelation with the superior economy of an Incarnational model of revelation.

vi) This also assumes that “mystagogy, community, subsequent historical development,” do, indeed, supply us with addition, pertinent information—an appeal which merely begs the question in his favor.

vii) Having more potential sources of information also generates more potential sources of conflict. By what criterion/criteria do you distinguish information from misinformation? Hence, a multiple-source theory of revelation necessitates a priority-structure in a way that a single-source theory of revelation does not.

This is a problem of Prejean’s own making, which he dodges instead of facing head-on.

viii) We have yet to get to Prejean’s biggest blunder, where he confounds the complexity of the source of knowledge with the complexity of the object of knowledge, as if these were interchangeable.

Remember, the original issue as he himself chose to frame the original issue was the superior economy of an Incarnational model of revelation as over against the interventionist model of textual revelation.

The issue here was not the object of knowledge—not the internal complexity of the object—but the source and standard of knowledge.

The question at issue was not the simplicity/complexity of what it explains, but the simplicity/complexity of what does the explaining. This is Prejean’s trademark bait-and-switch tactic when he gets himself snagged in a self-contradiction.

Moving along:


What's incredible is that Hays even actually ADMITTED that he hadn't made an argument here:
"It is, rather, predicated on the fact that Sola Scriptura is simply the only rule of faith which God has assigned to the church. Whether it affords certainty or degrees of high probability is not the basis of the claim."

I interpret Scripture with Scripture because Scripture is the only rule of faith which God provided to the Church, according to Scripture, which is the rule of faith...

Single-source revelation is viciously circular. There's no way around it.


i) Prejean is evidently hoping that the reader will forget the original context of the comment. Prejean misrepresented the argument for sola Scriptura. What he said was: “It's only people who claim epistemic reliability based on a single source.”

That is not how sola Scriptura is grounded. I don’t need to make an argument for sola Scriptura to correct a misstatement of what the argument consists in. All I was doing, and needed to do at this preliminary juncture, was to rectify Prejean’s misstatement of the opposing position. Argument presupposes accurate definitions.

Moving along:


See Hays's "argument" here:
"Whether they’re highly reliable or fraught with uncertainty, the senses are the only possible source of sense knowledge. That’s the claim."

This actually proves exactly the OPPOSITE of what Hays claims; if you lack a REASON to believe sense information counts as "knowledge," the fact of sensing can't give it to you. All this proves is that Hays isn't even thinking about the grounds of knowledge, which once again, is not an argument.


And what reason would that be? An empirical reason or non-empirical reason?

Prejean is simply proving my point. If we lack a reason for believing that sense information counts as knowledge, then we have no alternative to the senses to acquire knowledge of sensibilia. At that point the sensible world would not be an object of knowledge. It’s either this or nothing—at least for purposes of the immediate illustration.

Moving along: “My point was actually exactly the OPPOSITE of what you are saying; it should have been quite obvious that I MEANT "solely" or "independently" in my original statement, at least if the reader wasn't either malevolent or stupid.”

“Malevolent.” “Stupid.” “Nitwits” (see below). “Doesn’t have the chops.”

It’s difficult to have a halfway intelligent conversation with a man who throws a cosmic temper tantrum every time you subject his claims to rational scrutiny. Prejean keeps behaving like Trelane in that old Star Trek episode.

It makes me feel for the poor old house-servants who had to tend to the whims of the aristocracy. The little princeling wants strawberry shortcake for desert. “What! How dare you tell me that strawberries are out of season! Off with your head!”

Moving along:


My point is the same that I have been meaning all along: the notion that Scripture can interpret Scripture is ridiculously counter-intuitive, the sort of absurd nonsense that no one would believe without an absolutely compelling argument. Ordinarily, one would not assume such a thing, so it is the extremely high burden of anyone making such an implausible claim that it is even possible. Thus, anyone who believes in "letting revelation define revelation" is unreasonable by default absent making such an argument, because it is practically the definition of vicious circularity. My point is that anyone who believes something that ridiculous without an argument is beyond reason, because they obviously don't have the critical thinking capacity to question the ridiculous.


More confusion worse confounded.

i) Neither I nor JD nor Jason has ever said that the interpretation of Scripture is limited to Scripture. Prejean has a pretty short memory. Remember how Jason and I argued ad nauseum for the grammatico-historical method? Extra-scriptural sources are relevant to the interpretation of Scripture as long as they’re from the relevant time and place. How many times did we go over this ground with Jonathan? But he’s so blinkered by his ideological blinders that he’s incapable of registering basic information no matter how often we stick it right under his nose.

ii) At the same time, Josephus is not our rule of faith. The fact that Josephus and other period historians or archeological data supplies useful background material in interpreting the Bible doesn’t elevate the background material to a rule of faith.

The minutes of the Westminster Assembly are useful for interpreting the Westminster Confession. But the Confession, and not the minutes, is the doctrinal standard (for Presbos).

iii) However, it is Prejean’s own position which is “ridiculously counterintuitive.” The Bible is, among other things, the record of a literary tradition. It is perfectly proper to interpret a literary tradition within the tradition itself. That, indeed, is the natural point of departure. Likewise, it is perfectly proper to interpret Dante or James Joyce or Henry James by a comparative study of their very own writings.

What is more logical, if you want to know how Joyce uses a word, than to do a concordance search of all the occurrences of that word in Joyce’s oeuvres?

iv) This isn’t a vicious circle, but virtuous circule. Poor little Prejean doesn’t know the difference between a circular argument and a definition or description.

A definition or description is supposed to be circular. It is supposed to reproduce, in summary form, the object under review. It is not supposed to be independent of the subject-matter. It if were, it would be inaccurate.

iv) Scholars like Warfield have documented at length the Bible’s own claim to be a verbal revelation from God. That is nothing more or less than an inductive summary of what the Bible has to say about itself. If you want to know what the Bible has to say about itself, you consult the Bible. Nothing viciously circular about that procedure. If you want to understand the Shakespearean character of Othello, the first place to go is Shakespeare’s play by that very name.

v) What would be viciously circular is to argue that Scripture is verbally inspired simply because it claims to be verbally inspired. You need more than the claim to prove the claim. But without the claim, you have nothing to prove in the first place. So, yes, an Evangelical gets his doctrine of Scripture from Scripture, rather than getting his doctrine of Scripture from Spiderman or Bikini magazine.

vi) But while we’re on the subject of informal fallacies, all that Prejean has done, in his appeal to tradition and community and development and so on, is to substitute a vicious regress for vicious circularity.

Moving along:


It's like astrology or any other ridiculously counter-intuitive premise that one has no reason to believe. Now, if you can come up with some compelling argument for WHY you let Scripture interpret Scripture, I might give you a pass, but I've certainly never seen one. But the fact that you don't even have sufficient epistemic charity to have a reasonable discussion means I'm not flailing around with you anymore. And since, as usual, new Triablogue nitwits who interact with me have proved to be just as irrational as Hays, that's all for me. I've gotta say that you and Hays have reached new depths before; now an admission of irrationality actually somehow turns into a virtue. You've got the cult mentality down pat; you'd be good Gnostics.


This is vintage Prejean. Like a losing poker player, he overturns the card table and stomps out of the room.

What Prejean needs at this point is not a compelling argument but a pacifier—a silver-plated pacifier to go with his silver spoon.

Moving along to another critic:


Are you all actually really arguing that you know what Prejean meant by his own words better than he himself does? It appears to me that you are arguing with the author of a text and claiming that your analysis of that text provides you with a better knowledge of his original intent than he himself has. You then have to allege dishonesty or inconsistancy on his part when it turns out the meaning you believed to be most probable is not what the author himself claims he intended to communicate.

Wouldn't it be more sensible to just acknowledge that words at best give an estimate of a persons thoughts and that through dialouge you know realise that you misinterpreted his words? You can then criticize what he actually believes rather than the words he used to communicate that belief.

I thought it was quite obvious that the statement he made on October 22 was criticizing the idea that God would reveal himself solely through text, but maybe I'm wrong. If you thought otherwise, you now have the author himself there to correct you. Allege all the ambiguity you want of the original statement, but to go beyond that suggests to me that you value the form of language over and above its substance.

If you appear incapable of intepreting a text written in your own native language and in your own historical period, with the author himself there to assist you on its meaning, are you expecting others to believe that you're any more capable of interpreting a 1800+ year old text, written in two foreign lanuages, authored by God himself?

Perhaps that's why he doesn't take you seriously?


i) As to choosing between dishonesty and inconsistency, these are not mutually exclusive explanations.

ii) Be that as it may, you are trying to impose on me a restriction which I don’t find you imposing on Prejean. People are quite capable of being logically inconsistent, and the charge of logical inconsistency is perfectly legit long as it’s backed up by direct quotes and analysis of what those quotes entail.

iii) Yes, Prejean is in a very good position to explain himself. What he has chosen to do, however, is not to explain his own words, but to simply deny my interpretation. He did nothing to interact with my specific argument. He did nothing to harmonize his various statements.

All he did was to repeat himself—and to repeat only one part of what he said without attempting to reconcile that with the rest of what he said.

So if he, as the world authority on his own meaning, shows himself incapable of harmonizing his various statements on the subject, then that serves to confirm rather than disconfirm my original interpretation.

iv) I did not allege ambiguity, but contradiction. The problem with Prejean is not that he was unclear, but that he clearly articulated two clearly contradictory views of revelation.

v) BTW, this is not my first run-in with Prejean. So I’m quite accustomed to his modus operandi.


  1. Quoth Napoleon: "Never interrupt the enemy when he is making a mistake." Honestly, I don't think I could make a better case FOR my position than Hays has made here. Just wanted to say thanks to patch and TJW, people with whom, to my knowledge, I have no relationship who just happened to stumble by and realize the incredible injustice in failing even to attempt to reconcile my statements, even though (as both of these commenters recognized) such a reconciliation is quite obvious to anyone who makes the least effort to identify it. Evidently, the supposedly clairvoyance on which I am supposedly relying in expecting people to anticipate the clarifications I make is quite common. I had no idea there were so many psychics wandering around!

    And remember, these are the guys who want intelligent design in your kids' science classes. Fight the dumbocratization of America: just say "no" to Evangelical Christianity.

  2. Prejean's hostility towards the ID-movement is very revealing as well.

  3. "Prejean's hostility towards the ID-movement is very revealing as well."

    Just to make it abundantly clear, I completely agree. My antipathy for the "ID movement" and my antipathy for Evangelical theology go hand in hand with my antipathy for all manner of quackery and pseudo-science. Only difference is that astrologers and feng shui practitioners rarely try to impose their _sharia_ on us, unlike the Rutherford Institute and the Christian Reconstructionists. Better being subject to dhimmitude through force (or better yet, martyred) than a voluntary compromise with that faction.

  4. We're waiting to see if Jonathan is willing to make good on his martyr-complex. Perhaps he'd like to set a deadline so that we can verify his bona fides.

  5. Al Qaeda sets that time table, not me. Fortunately, the Miers debacle is a pretty strong rebuke for substituting Evangelical credentials for actual qualifications, which strikes me as a pretty good sign that the theonomy clan is on the wane.

  6. I'm happy to take the side of Phillip Johnson, Michael Behe, Bill Dembski, Dennis Prager, and the ACLJ while Jonathan takes the side of Darwkins, Daniel Dennett, Barry Lynn, Ralph Neas, Alan Dershowitz and the ACLU.

  7. Oh, and while we're on the subject of Islam, let's not forget that it was the 4th Crusade, sponsored by Prejean's denomination, along with the Nestorian controversy, which alienated key military allies of the Byzantine Empire, thereby weakening the Byzantine empire to the point where it was easy pickings for the Muslims. So it's his theological tradition, not mine, that delivered the E. Roman Empire and E. Europe into the hands of the Muslims, thereby giving the jihadis a strategic foothold.