Friday, December 15, 2006

Prejean in a bind

“White is using this argument as either a defense against my argument or an attack against my consistency (the ‘or’ is inclusive; it could be both). If used as a defense against my argument, which certainly appears to be how it is being used, then it is simply fallacious. It can't logically be deployed for the purpose White is advancing it, because my being wrong doesn't have any implications for White's being wrong.”

The point is to pose a dilemma for the opponent. He can only stick to his position on pain of self-incrimination.

If the opponent admits that he was wrong, then he can’t deploy a wrong argument against the other side. So, if Prejean were wrong, that would have direct implications for the wrongness, or lack thereof, of White’s position—if the cases are parallel.

Of course, it’s unlikely that the opponent will admit he’s wrong. But in that event, before he can use that argument against Dr. White, he has to win the argument with his Orthodox disputants.

“If being advanced as a serious challenge to my consistency, then White must consider the argument both valid and sound (else it wouldn't actually demonstrate that inconsistency). If White is advancing an argument that he himself doesn't consider valid and sound as applied for the purpose you describe, then he would just be dishonest.”

Hardly. He would simply be raising the objection for the sake of argument. There’s nothing the least bit dishonest about that tactic. Rather, it takes the form of an internal critique. You don’t have to share your opponent’s assumptions to answer him on his own grounds.

“Ironically, in that case, it would be a legitimate use of Geach's tu quoque rationale against White to point out that he is using an argument which, if he conceded its validity, would be compel him to accept premises that conflict with other premises he holds.”

That is a complete misreading of Geach’s explanation. In his illustration of the foxhunter and the animal rights advocate, the foxhunter does not have to concede that the opposing position is cogent. To the contrary, he’s raising this objection for the sake of argument, on the assumption that the opposing position is false.

“I suspect that White is actually trying to render forth some sort of proverbial platitude like ‘If you attack people with fallacious arguments, then people will attack you with fallacious arguments.’"

No, the comparison is far more specific. Prejean contends that Reformed determinism entails monothelitism. Prejean’s Orthodox opponents contend that Scotist, Thomist, and Molinist versions of determinism entail monothelitism.

The common denominator is determinism, regardless of the particular version it takes.

“But the ‘make a conclusion in this field of theology, transport it over here and use it as a club to beat someone over the head’ fallacy is not in any logical textbook that I have ever seen.”

Actually, I believe that White treated that as a separate objection. One of the points of dispute is theological method.

Calvinism has direct Scriptural prooftexts for predestination. Prejean, as well as Perry and Daniel, act as if they can simply sidestep the direct exegetical evidence for Calvinism and negate its Biblical foundations by appeal to some inference-of-an-inference-of-an-inference from philosophical Christology.

“Even though this wasn't what White was doing, it's just irresponsible to use the same argument that is being used as a defeater against you without mounting a defense against it yourself, and most of the time, that will mean that your use of it against someone else would be inconsistent with your own defense. That is why tu quoque actually has some legitimate uses, because people are not always particularly careful about checking their own consistency. Neither you nor White have any responsible use of this argument unless you can show why it is unsound as applied to your view.”

A couple of basic errors in this reply:

i) It isn’t necessary to mount an independent argument every time if a preexisting argument is available.

ii) Moreover, it is not irresponsible to use the same argument against your opponent which he is using against you when he is subject to the very same criticism.

iii) Furthermore, this is not based on assumptions shared in common between White and Prejean, but Prejean and his Orthodox critics.

iv) It is also true that at some point we also need to show why it is unsound in application to our own view. But the initial countermove is hardly the only arrow in our quiver:

a) Both White and I have marshaled many direct arguments in support of Calvinism.

b) Both White and I have also marshaled many direct arguments in objection to Catholicism—and, in my case—in objection to Orthodoxy as well.

So it’s not as if our defense is limited to a tu quoque response.

c) In addition, both Prejean and his Orthodox critics are guilty of the very thing he falsely accuses us of.

For he acts as if raising his Christological objection automatically discharges him of any duty to respond to the exegetical arguments for Calvinism or against Catholicism. So he is using his Christological objection to deflect attention away from the exegetical debate because he knows he can’t win on exegetical grounds.

d) Apropos (c), the underlying issue remains the issue of theological method. Does philosophical theology trump exegetical theology?

That is what renders his argument unsound in objection to Calvinism. For his argument to have any traction, it would need to have a traceable basis in divine revelation. Otherwise, he doesn’t know what he’s talking about. You can’t do theology by stipulation.

“This requires a great deal more than a verbal adjustment, which is why God's freedom qua divine is never defined this way in Catholic theology, but rather in terms of ontological independence. Good and evil actions have different ontological status, so there's no such thing as a freedom to "choose" evil (evil is no power; it is simply the corruption of another power). Mutatis mutandis, the definition holds, but it's more than a mere verbal change.”

You used the word “libertarian” to define your own position. You took this word from contemporary philosophical action theory. That is where it derives its meaning.

i) If you wish to invest it with a nonstandard sense, then you need to explain your idiosyncratic usage the first time you first introduce the term to define your own position.

ii) No one said that evil is a power. Rather, evil is an object of power.

iii) To identify your own position as libertarian, only to deny that there is such a thing as the freedom to choose evil, is simply eccentric.

iv) Do you deny that it lies within God’s sheer omnipotence to do evil? Not whether he would, but whether, other attributes aside, he could.

If so, how do you redefine omnipotence?

“God's freedom pertains to potentia absoluta, which in turn pertains to ontological dependence. The notion that different possible worlds represent different potentia in God says that God varies from world to world, which is simply modal polytheism.”

Prejean suffers from reading incomprehension. What I said is that if divine freedom is defined in libertarian terms, then God is pure potentia rather than pure actus since his choices are thereby dissevered from his nature or moral character.

“Also, Hays's remark regarding God's goodness here proves that Hays has defined divine goodness solely in terms of the divine will.”

Prejean suffers from an unfortunate inability to distinguish between my own position and the position I oppose.

I do not define divine goodness solely in terms of the divine will. Rather, that’s an implication of the libertarian position he espouses. Libertarianism is inherently voluntaristic.

“Possible worlds again. This is just anthropomorphism.”

Actually, possible worlds flow from the Scholastic distinction between potentia ordinata and potentia absoluta, for God’s potentia absoluta is not exhausted by his potentia ordinata.

It also follows from certain counterfactual propositions in Scripture.

Strictly speaking, a possible world is a synonym for divine omnipotence (i.e. for what God can possibly do).

“The notion of God being "constrained" AT ALL shows that you don't have a coherent concept of what power is in the first place.”

i) More reading incomprehension. I didn’t say that he was “constrained.” Indeed, I said the opposite.

ii) However, unless one is a voluntarist, God’s choices are characterized by all his attributes. His will is not a sheer will. His omnipotence is inseparable from his other attributes. This is why he cannot do everything of which he is otherwise capable.

“It suffices for me to show that it is irrational and unjustified.”

Yes, it would suffice for Prejean to show that Reformed theology is, indeed, irrational and unjustified. So when is he going to show us rather than tell us?

“You're simply asserting two prima facie incompatible concepts without argument.”

You haven’t shown them to be prima facie incompatible.

“Given your metaphysical assumptions, I don't think it is possible for you to coherently affirm the existence of any of those distinctions.”

He doesn’t *think* it’s possible. And *why* he doesn’t think it’s possible he doesn’t say.

“But my Latin knowledge is close to nil, so I might have got an ending wrong somewhere.”

In that case, he can’t read the Latin Fathers in the original. What about his knowledge of Greek? Can he read the Greek Fathers in the original?

If not, then he has no mastery of the primary sources of patristic theology, in which case his triumphalist appeal to Nicene Orthodoxy and the like should be judged accordingly.


  1. I'm interested in reading a post conserning God's eternal decrees and His providential decrees.

  2. "Concerning"

  3. A fairly recent post discussing God's perceptive vs. decretive decrees can be found here:

  4. Might be a good time to brush up on the distinction between a premise and an argument.

    Also, I don't reply to Calvinist exegetical arguments because I don't accept the Calvinist position on Scriptural authority, and quite frankly, I don't know why anyone does. I recognize that there are smart people that buy it, but there are smart people who believe all sorts of things for no discernible reason. If I think the argument is based on a peculiar concept of Scriptural or Catholic authority that people are unlikely to accept barring some sort of personal motivation that isn't really subject to rational argumentation, then it's a waste of time responding to it. No one who will listen to me would listen to you in the first place. By and large, Calvinism just isn't an intellectual threat to Catholicism as I perceive it, as opposed to, say, Orthodoxy or liberalism among Catholics, which is where I spend the vast majority of by time. James White just happens to have personally rubbed a number of people the wrong way, and that's why his name keeps coming up.

  5. Or maybe it's because he keeps kickin' your butt...