Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Prejean on the run

Prejean’s latest reply is a typical specimen of how he performs under pressure. He makes a sweeping, unguarded claim. When that is shot down, he introduces some face-saving distinctions which were absent from his original post, and the pretends that his opponent is at fault for failing to take his retrofitted argument into account in his previous response.

Needless to say, I respond to what people say when they say it. I appreciate Prejean’s need to do a patch-up job on his earlier performance, but I’m not responsible for the inadequacies of his earlier performance.

I’d add that Prejean is a repetitious writer, so I won’t respond to every redundancy.

Moving along:

“For the purposes of rational argumentation, ‘Catholicism’ is whatever this particular Catholic believes.”

No, for purposes of rational argumentation, Catholicism is whatever a professing Catholic is supposed to believe. If his actual beliefs are in conflict with what he’s supposed to believe, then it’s fair game to point that out.

“What often causes confusion is the use of certain labels in the form of a synecdoche. This is a conventional linguistic device that uses some generic label in place of a more specific characteristic.”

Wow! He knows what a synecdoche is. Very impressive. In his next reply I expect he will also flaunt his command of the multiplication tables.

“A responsible participant in reasonable dialogue can never deliberately make an argument that he considers to be not valid, not sound, or not directed toward a true conclusion.”

To the contrary, there’s nothing irresponsible about using an argument you yourself regard as unsound as long as it is sound *for your opponent* given *his* intellectual commitments—in contradistinction to your own.

The only issue is what you’re trying to accomplish by that maneuver. It would be irresponsible to use an unsound argument to prove your own position. It is not irresponsible to use an unsound argument to disprove the opponent’s position as long as it would be sound for him.

“I am doing no such thing, and in fact, Hays admits that I am doing no such thing by pointing to the fact that the argument isn't directed at showing the falsity of monothelitism.”

To the contrary, this is exactly what Prejean is doing, and it’s his modus operandi. He can never win an argument on exegetical grounds, so he tries to win an argument on tactical grounds through guilt-by-association. Whenever he gets into a debate over Calvinism, he attempts to discredit Calvinism as a whole by tarring it with the odium of Nestorianism.

“Two important things to note here. First, Hays admits that you have to consider the argument valid and sound by the admission that the counterargument trades on ‘the logical structure of Prejean's own argument.’ That is an admission by Hays that White could not have the legitimate ad hominem use of the argument against me that Hays was urging, because White by his own admission considered the argument fallacious (defective in its logical structure).”

I make no such admission. It doesn’t have to be valid and sound for me, only for my opponent.

Prejean’s problem is that he fails to distinguish between the argument and the function of the argument. An argument needn’t to be sound, in and of itself, for me to put it to use as a sound argument against my opponent as long as it is sound for him. That’s the point. There’s the argument in and of itself (e.g. determinism [allegedly] entails monothelitism), and then there’s the purpose it serves as *part* of an ad hominem argument (ex hypothesi, Catholicism would be guilty of the same).

“Second, to avoid sophistry, the argument would have to be directed at a premise in particular, and more specifically, it would have to be directed at a premise that the proponent of the argument considered untrue.”

No, it doesn’t. As I said before, I, in principle, could be a monothelite and still turn Prejean’s argument against him in order to discredit Catholicism as a whole, even if I didn’t regard the implication of monothelitism as essentially problematic. For Catholicism being what it is, it cannot sanction heresy in particular and still be a true church in general, even if its other dogmas were true.

And, conversely, even if I thought monothelitism was not heretical, yet as long as Catholicism regards monothelitism as heretical, and I regard other Catholic dogmas as false, I could honestly use Prejean’s argument to invalidate Catholicism.

I am, in fact, a dyothelite. But I wouldn’t have to be to exploit his argument.

“The purpose of any "internal critique" can't be to show inconsistency generally; it MUST be directed at using the inconsistency to change some particular belief. It would be sophistical (not aimed at producing true belief) to simply point out a dilemma without the goal of forcing a choice between the two premises.”

Which is what I’m doing. I’m not taking issue with monothelitism. I’m not attempting to argue anyone out of monothelitism.

What I’m taking issue with is the alleged connection between theological determinism and monothelitism.

I can use a bad argument to produce a true belief. For the bad argument is my opponent’s own argument. And the point of turning his argument against him is to show what a bad argument it is.

This is not a direct argument for a true belief, but an indirect argument for a true belief.

"’Exploring the options’ can't include asserting an argument that you consider to be fallacious or unsound or leading to an untrue conclusion.”

Untrue with reference to what? It’s untrue to conclude that Prejean has a good argument against Calvinism. It’s not untrue to conclude that Prejean has an argument that boomerangs on Catholicism.
“And pointing to the application against someone else's position as a defense of your own is the fallacious use of tu quoque.”

As I already noted, I’m using the ad hominem argument as part of a cumulative argument. You make your case, in part, through process of elimination.

“It would appear that if you accept Perry's argument that all of these other positions entail the same sort of determinism as Calvinist determinism, then any sort of defense that would excuse the argument from applying to you would apply mutatis mutandis to Catholicism.”

Wrong! This is the issue: Prejean thinks that Reformed determinism entails monothelitism. Perry thinks that determinism generally entails monothelitism.(At least that’s what I take him to mean.) Catholicism does regard certain forms of theological determinism as orthodox, viz. Scotism, Thomism, Molinism.

This doesn’t mean that it necessarily regards any one of these is correct. But they are not heretical.

If, then, Prejean shares a key assumption in common with Perry, and if, however, he artificially limits the force of that assumption to Calvinism when, in fact, it would implicate his own communion as well, then he’s impaled himself on the horns of a dilemma. So which horn will he relinquish?

“Note the fallacy of the Accident. Certainly, I can think that Scotus, Suarez, Molina, Cajetan, et al. made mistakes. They're human, after all. That doesn't make them heretics. If it turns out in the mature reflection of the Church that some ideas can't be reconciled with Catholic doctrine, then those views will be labeled erroneous. This is hardly unusual. Epiphanius's views on icons are considered wrong; Augustine's opinion on infants being damnable for original sin has been rejected; Thomas Aquinas's view on the impossibility of the immaculate conception was wrong; numerous Fathers belief that Mary sinned is wrong. They're no more morally culpable for these errors than they were for not knowing the atomic number of uranium; the state of theological inquiry had not reached the level of sophistication to analyze them meaningfully. In the meantime, there is nothing wrong with numerous Catholics having different and even conflicting opinions as to the viability of certain speculative doctrines of various authors. That's why, on matters in which legitimate theological diversity is allowed, anyone attacking Catholicism must attack all of the legitimate alternatives.”

This is where Prejean’s special pleading goes into overdrive. Note the screaming double standard. If Reformed determinism entails monothelitism, then Calvinism is guilty of heresy.

If, however, broad swaths of Catholic tradition entail monothelitism, that is merely an innocent mistake.

For Prejean, “mature reflection” implicates Calvinism, but the parallel argument lets Catholicism off the hook.

I asked: “From what version or representative of Catholic (or Orthodox) natural theology is Prejean getting his information?”

To which he answered: “All of them. Divine impassibility and unchangeability are dogmatic in both East and West.”

For this claim to be true, two things would need to be true:

i) Orthodox natural theology teaches divine immutability and impassibility.

ii) Natural theology, whether Catholic or Orthodox, teaches dogma.

I don’t believe that Daniel Jones would agree with this. I wonder if Perry would either.

“But the analytic framework in which that distinction becomes coherent requires a certain ontological view or reality, and particularly, of evil as a privation.”

The distinction between potentia ordinata and potentia absoluta doesn’t depend on a particular ontology of evil. For this is not, of itself, a distinction between good and evil, as if the only things that God didn’t choose to instantiate are evil things. There would be other goods which God did not instantiate. Lesser goods. Alternative goods. For certain goods are incommensurable.

“I don't understand what it means to say that 'God has beliefs.' Are beliefs something other than God? If not, then what sense does it make to say that He has them.”

I *have* thoughts. Are my thoughts independent of my mind? No.

But if you prefer, God believes various things.

“Literal election strikes me as similarly nonsensical.”

“Strikes” you as nonsensical. Where’s the argument?

“No. It isn't necessary to have a fully-developed rational theology in order to believe. The Jewish people were prone to anthropomorphic thinking, even when they got beyond their primitive philosophical roots, and it isn't illegitimate to express views in a way that is understandable to the audience. At the same time, we've got a couple of thousand years of intervening experience on what is and is not entailed by the existence of an Incarnate God, so that excuse is not really available to us. We have to respond to our surroundings as well.”

i) The immediate question at issue is not whether you think OT Jews needed natural theology to *believe* the Bible. Rather, did they need natural theology to understand the Bible?

Put another way, did the authors of Scripture write with the intention of being understood by their target audience?

Was the original audience to whom the Scriptures were addressed capable of correctly understanding what was revealed therein?

Apparently you think we can only understand the Bible 2000 years after the fact.

ii) Or to put it yet another way, according to you we can’t understand from Scripture itself what is literal and what is anthropomorphic. We can only draw that distinction extrascripturally some 2000 years fact.

The *language* of Scripture is understandable to the original audience, but the original audience is incapable of grasping what it literally denotes. Is that it?

The Bible was comprehensible in the sense of being meaningful, but it was incomprehensible in the sense of being referentially opaque. Is that your claim?

iii) Apropos (i)-(ii), will your 21C Catholic theology be just as anthropomorphic to a 41C theologian as 1C Biblical theology is to a 21 Catholic like yourself?

Is 21C Catholic theology meaningful to you, but referentially opaque in relation to the way it will appear in another thousand years or so?

“Not so much. None of that is dogmatic in Catholicism; it is in Calvinism.”

The question is not whether Scotism, Molinism, and Banezian Thomism enjoy dogmatic status in Catholicism. The question, rather, is whether these are implicitly heretical.

“Even if Thomism entailed the results of Calvinism, the fact that Thomism is directed at preserving the dogmas of the Church, even if it turns out that it cannot do so coherently, distinguishes it from open rebellion.”

I see. So as long as heresy is directed at preserving Catholic dogma, it gets a slap on the wrist. Time off for good behavior?


  1. Steve, do you have a job?

    A life?

    How can anyone put so many words to paper and ever leave their computer?

    All that hate speech takes dedication!

  2. ) Orthodox natural theology teaches divine immutability and impassibility.

    ii) Natural theology, whether Catholic or Orthodox, teaches dogma.

    I don’t believe that Daniel Jones would agree with this. I wonder if Perry would either.

    While the Orthodox have a docrine of impassibility and immutability, it isn't derived from Natural Theology.I don't think the Orthodox have anything like the project of Natural theology. For starters, they don't consider theology a science.

    So while the terms of impassibility for instance are common between east and west, their content is not, and not even commensurable as far as I can see.

    Despite the limitations put on it or its outright rejection due to total depravity in the Reformed tradition, I think there are large swaths of natural theology in Reformed systematics. Reading Proclus, Plotinus, and some Aristotle along with Hodge, Turretin, et al I think reveals it in areas of impassibility, divine simplicity, God's lack of potency, etc.

  3. Perry sez:
    While the Orthodox have a docrine of impassibility and immutability, it isn't derived from Natural Theology.I don't think the Orthodox have anything like the project of Natural theology. For starters, they don't consider theology a science.

    So while the terms of impassibility for instance are common between east and west, their content is not, and not even commensurable as far as I can see.

    That would be about the size of the disagreement. Seems like there are productive discussions going on elsewhere, so I'll let that play out.

    M. Triabloguer-in Chief:
    You've got me totally wrong if you think I won't charge Catholics with material heresy. If the argument sticks against Calvinism, there's no reason why it can't stick against Catholics. Alas, I think all possibility of discussing the matter with you is
    at an end.