Saturday, March 25, 2006

Paul Owen: Ecumenace

Paul Owen is an ecumenist, or—should I say—ecumenace?

In this regard he reminds me of Paul Knitter, John Hick, and Winfred Cantwell Smith.

Not only does Owen regard Roman Catholics as true brothers in Christ, but he thinks that Mormons may be heaven-bound while Muslims worship the true God.

In order to be an ecumenist you must trivialize all the differences between one religious tradition and another.

Ecumenism is Hyper-Calvinism by another name. “We are going to save you whether you like it or not!”

One driving force behind ecumenism is the entrancing power of a modest metaphor. If, for example, the “body” is your controlling metaphor for the church, then schism reduces the church to an amputee. A schismatic is “rending” the body of Christ. Dante reserves a very special place in hell for schismatics.

But there are a couple of problems with this equation:

i) To begin with a metaphor is just that—a metaphor. And a metaphor cannot walk on all fours, as the saying goes.

Even if the “body” were the only metaphor used to illustrate the nature of the church, we shouldn’t allow ourselves to get carried away with a figure of speech.

For example, overemphasis on this metaphor can lead to a high-church polity. The body has to have a head, so the church must have an earthly head, and you can’t have a two-headed body: hence, the pope is the vicar of Christ.

Very picturesque and all.

But when a simile ceases to depict reality, and is mistaken for reality itself, you then have the makings of a mental ward.

ii) Another problem with this overemphasis is that Scripture employs a number of different metaphors to illustrate the variegated nature of the church: a body, a bride, a family, a flock, a mountain, a temple, and a vine.

Now, these varied images illustrate the multifaceted character of the church.

Organic metaphors are apt images of unity. A body. A vine.

But a family or a flock is a looser affinity.

Unlike body parts, family members can live apart. Then shall a man leave his father and mother and cleave unto his wife.

Grown children leave home. Siblings mature and move away.

They remain related. They share a family resemblance.

But they don’t live and die under the same roof, or abide under the same head-of-household.

There is, in fact, an inverse relation between their inward unity and their outward disparity.

Because they share a common bond in blood, they need no visible architecture to unite them. A religion of externals is the embalming fluid of a cadaverous faith.

As Shakespeare said, “When love begins to sicken and decay, it useth an enforcéd ceremony. There are no tricks in plain and simple faith.”

Where is the church? Where do you find God’s church on earth?

Follow the fingerpost: “They devoted themselves to the apostles’ doctrine, and fellowship, to the breaking of bread, and prayer” (Acts 2:42).

Wherever you find that kind unity, there you find the church.

Contrariwise, it is those who have no natural bond who lean on institutions to impose a semblance of unity.

On the face of it, there’s an odd contradiction in Owen’s ecumenical sympathies. Owen is far harsher in his characterization of fellow Christians (Baptists, Anabaptists, Lutherans, Presbyterians) than he is of Mormons and Muslims.

How can Owen make such magnanimous allowance for idolaters when he’s so hostile to all things Protestant?

Well, the ecumenist can tolerate a Protestant as long as he’s a nominal, conscience-stricken Protestant. A Protestant who beats his breast over the “tragedy” of the Reformation.

What the ecumenist cannot stand is the contented Protestant. The Protestant who has no hankering to return to the Roman fold. The Protestant who enjoys his independence, and takes pleasure his own traditions.

Not freedom for freedom’s sake, but freedom to serve his Lord, however, whenever, and wherever.

Such a man has moved on and made a life for himself. Has a family of his own. He’s not going to board his kids and send his wife to a nunnery so that he can move back in with Mother Church.

Unlike the high churchman, the Protestant is a potty-trained Christian. He no longer needs Mother Church to burp him or nurse him, change his diapers or dry his tears, tie his shoelaces or pat him on the head, read him a bedtime story and tuck him into bed.

To the discontented, nothing is more offensive than the sight of the contented.

The ecumenist takes the Erasmian view of the Reformation. The source of the problem was not the doctrine of Rome, but the corruption of the clergy. The only thing in need of reform was the moral tone of the church.

But to a Protestant, the outward decadence was not the disease, but only its symptom.

The ecumenist likes to point to the fact that for a brief time, right after the Reformation, there was a window of opportunity, a chance at reconciliation before both sides hardened and forever went their separate ways.

The ecumenist exhorts the contemporary Protestant to recover this longing for reunion. But that, again, is the Erasmian perspective.

And we can understand that first-generation Protestants felt like immigrants, torn between the old country, the country of their birth, and their adopted land.

But we, as great-great-grandchildren of the Reformers, have no such sentimental memories. This land is our land. This is our native air.

Owen’s animosity is due to the intransigent fact that true Evangelicals are irreconcilables. Our mere existence clutters his pan-ecumenical vision.

The ecumenist is laboring to pave a toll-free expressway to heaven, but our evangelical cottage stands on a parcel of land which lies smack dab in the middle of his blueprint.

He tries to buy us out, but like an obstinate retiree, we refuse to sell. It may not be much, but it’s our house. It’s bought and paid for. We burned the thirty-year mortgage. From the porch it commands a fine view of the Jordan River. Here we happily sit in our rocking chair to watch the stars and take in the breeze.

Owen offers us a dream home on higher ground. One of those mansions with the ten-car garage and two bathrooms for every bedroom. Along with two master bedrooms so that husband and wife will never need to see each other. Plus the tennis court, Olympic pool, stables, boathouse, and guesthouse the size of a…well…of a ten-car garage. Oh, and don’t forget the marble bidet with the gold-plated plumbing.

In other words, something on the order of St. Peter’s or the Archbishop’s residence in Vienna.

But we refuse to sell.

He threatens to indemnify us with solemn interdicts and Tridentine anathemas.

But we refuse to budge. Irreconcilables—that’s what we are.

Let him build his expressway around our cottage. A bend to the right or a bend to the left. Over us or under us. But through our property he will never go.

The Magnificent Wedge

The failing arguments for the justice of abortion are mounting high and ever-increasing. In Paul’s thread “Illogic of Pro-Choice“, we have several pro-abortion advocates coming from different angles with different arguments, all trying to scramble up a coherent statement in favor of the elimination of unborn human life. I’ve responded to one of the major arguments (exbeliever’s) in my article “Prioritizing Negative Commands,” to which, to my surprise, no one has yet to respond. You’ll find some other interesting things in this thread. You’ll find three recommendations to visit my blog on the part of “Vile Blasphemer” (Gee, I wonder what he thinks about Christianity…). Thanks, Mr. Vile! Yet, despite these recommendations, no one has come by to defend his assertions. The sad part is that these already-refuted statements are continually being assumed and asserted in Paul’s thread.

Anyway, I thought I would attempt to collect together the scraps left of the arguments from the abortion advocates and see if there are any more bubbles to burst. Up to bat today is “FrancestheMagnificent.” With a name like that, you can’t lose, can you? Swing, batta-batta-, swing! (Mr. Vile, I invite you to pull up a chair, bring some popcorn smothered in unhydrogenated olive oil margarine, and enjoy the show):

I know invoking slavery does wonders to rouse peoples’ emotions, but that issue is entirely irrelevant with respect to my argument.

FrancestheAmazing would have us believe that the central issue of this debate is not the definition of human life. This is a lie. As we saw in my last post, any attempted argument in favor of abortion that fails to focus on the definition of human life is a purposefully-distracting canard. We’ll soon be able to show that FrancestheWonderful’s argument, though sugar-coated and chock-full of non sequiturs, will always go back to his unjustified assumption that the unborn are not human (regardless of what he might tell us). FrancestheTerrific attempts to prove that abortion is not murder by, in essence, proving that the unborn are not human, yet his entire argument is based upon the assumption that the unborn are not human. He takes for granted what he needs to prove, and his begging of the question surely glares.

Let’s look at my argument one more time:

P1: A person owns that which grows in his/her body.

P2: A fetus grows in the mother’s body.

C1: The mother owns the fetus.

P3: A person may destroy what he/she owns.

P4: The mother owns the fetus.

C2: The mother may destroy the fetus.

Oh my, oh my. Several things:

1. Before I interact with this argument, let me remind you of some principles that were shown in my last post. Commands can be divided into two categories: positive and negative. If’ you’ll permit me to use the Bible simply as an example, the Bible gives us positive commands: “Do pray, do evangelize, do support your family,” and negative commands: “Do not murder, do not steal, do not commit adultery.” For perhaps no other reason than the fact that we are human, it is impossible to obey all of the positive commands at once. These commands, therefore, take prioritization (prioritizing absolutes: seems so paradoxical!). You must decide when, where and how you are going to obey them. Obviously, you are most likely unable to evangelize and pray at the same time. Christians, therefore, must decide when it is best to obey the commands and what commands have more relative priority than others.

But such is not the case with negative commands. Negative commands are commands that must be obeyed everywhere at all time. You cannot prioritize negative commands. There is not question concerning when, where or how you obey the command “Do not murder.” The answer is “All the time, everywhere, and by not murdering.” And you must obey all negative commands all of the time. The importance of this will become evident later in the discussion.

2. “A person owns that which grows in his/her body.” FrancestheOutstanding simply asserts this as if everyone will accept it. He gives us no reason to believe it. What is the difference between FrancestheBrilliant’s assertion and my asserting, “A person owns that which grows in his body, except if it is a human”? FrancestheSplendid would have us believe that the definition of humanity is irrelevant to this discussion. But it is, in fact, the very center of this discussion. In fact, my assertion would have much more historical and logical warrant. The Civil Rights movement tells us that the word human itself describes something which cannot be owned. So all it takes is to add a third propositions to FrancestheBravura’s statement and it self-destructs:

Does a person own that which grows in his/her body?

P1: A human grows in the mother’s body.

P2: A human cannot be owned.

C: Therefore, a person does not own everything which grows in his/her body.

Now, FrancestheGrand might disagree with proposition 2, or might call foul play in my use of the term “human” in proposition 1 (though he would have us believe that this is virtually irrelevant to the debate), but is there any less warrant to my syllogism than there is to FrancestheSuperb’s syllogism? Is this simply a debate of assertions and counter-assertions?

3. “A person may destroy what she owns / The mother owns the fetus / Therefore, The mother may destroy the fetus.” This second half of the argument is based upon the unjustified non-sequitur and unestablished premise in the first half of the argument. So we could really disregard this half. But let’s grant the first half just for the sake of an argument. Let’s grant that humans can be owned, and that the mother owns her unborn child. Does this then permit her to destroy it? Are we always allowed to destroy what we own when and however we want? This goes back to the impermissibility of prioritizing negative commands. It may be my right to destroy my property, but in fulfilling my right I am disallowed to disobey a negative command. For instance, my house is my property. I can blow up my house, can I not? But can I blow up my house at night while my family is still sleeping in bed? Which comes first: my right to destroy my property, or my obligation to obey negative commands all of the time? So, even if the mother owns her unborn child (which she does not; that has never been established), she is not free to deal with her property in a manner that would cause her to violate the negative command “Do not murder.”

4. The debate, naturally, then goes back to square one, where pro-life advocates have centered all along: the definition of human life. FrancestheDazzling might try to distract us with his unestablished propositions and non-sequitur conclusions, but we cannot be fooled. It is obvious, however, that abortion advocates believe that the burden of proof is on the pro-life advocate to establish that the unborn are human. While I believe this can be done, I also believe that the burden of proof, rather, lies on the abortion advocates to demonstrate that the like-offspring of humans, during the period between conception and birth, are less human than those after birth. Abortion advocates take this notion for granted, and they have never once demonstrated it. Rather, they have only wasted our time with arguments that are permeated with this hidden assumption. They act like they are going to prove something, but they merely assume it from the beginning and never attempt to demonstrate it.

My argument is inapplicable to slavery because I’ve yet to hear of a slave who was growing within the master’s body. The reason that the mother owns the fetus is because the fetus is growing within the mother’s body, and a person owns that which grows in his/her body.

Of course, we have already shown that FrancestheExceptional merely assumes that one automatically owns that which grows in his body. I have countered this assertion by simply asserting the opposite (”Since humans cannot be owned, one does not automatically own that which grows inside of him”). There is nothing that differentiates my assertion from his. He gives us no basis for accepting his.

So, yes, in that specific circumstance, a human can own another human.

FrancestheStupendous’ statement here (calling the fetus human) is the wedge that opens the door to a load of problems for his arguments. Even if a human can own another human, one cannot interact with his property in a manner that violates the negative command to not murder. It is no different than blowing up my house while my family is sleeping in it. Negative commands take infinite priority over my “rights.” Just imagine if I were to make this argument:

P1: I am free to do whatever I want with my property

P2: My AK-47 is my property

C: Therefore, I am free to shoot and kill FrancestheAstonishing with my AK-47.

Would FrancestheBreathtaking accept my conclusion? I hope not! Why? Because my “rights” can only be fulfilled within the parameters of my obedience to negative commands, here, again, the command “Do not murder.”

And poor FrancestheFantastic has left himself with no way out by calling the fetus “human” (this is why this piece of information is the fact that silences the debate). FrancestheColossal cannot object that the action is not “murder,” for if the fetus is a human being, and if the taking of the life of another human being is murder, then abortion is unequivocally murder.

Evan May.

The James Ossuary

Earlier this week, Christopher Price of the CADRE Comments blog posted an article on the latest developments surrounding the James Ossuary.



Jim Lippard said:


Your post is a bit heavy on the ad hominem and you have drawn inferences about my position and circumstances that aren't based on what I actually wrote. If you read the comments on my original post at the Secular Outpost, you'll see that my own answer to the survey question is "rarely" rather than "never."

So, to address your points in order, your claim in (i) that I assume without argument that torture is always wrong is mistaken. I neither said nor implied that--the most you can infer from what I wrote is that leaning in favor of widespread use of torture is less moral than opposition to most use of torture. For the record, I do think that torture is prima facie wrong, and as a public policy matter should be prohibited across the board. There are possible circumstances where the use of torture to obtain information may be the best possible course of action on utilitarian grounds, just as there are possible circumstances where murder or cannibalism may be the best possible course of action--but I don't think that calls for a revision of public policy to have anything other than an absolute prohibition on them. There is always the necessity defense in a court of law. I happen to think that the U.S. should abide by the 8th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, the Geneva Conventions, and UN Convention Against Torture (UNCAT) which the U.S. Senate ratified in 1994. What do you think?

In response to (ii), I agree that there are interrogation techniques that fall short of torture, which also have the added benefit of being more reliable--recipients of torture tend to say what they think their torturers want to hear. You say I don't bring my critical thinking skills to bear on a topic that I didn't even discuss.

In response to (iii), again you've fabricated a position for me to disagree with (i.e., you've engaged in the straw man fallacy). My actual position is that those who fall on the end of the spectrum of endorsing widespread use of torture are less moral than those who fall on the end of the spectrum of opposing most or all uses of torture. Likewise for murder.
3/25/2006 11:38 AM
Jim Lippard said:

To bring home a more specific example--Bush administration advisor John Yoo (who, along with Alberto Gonzales, was the primary architect of the Bush administration's position on torture) has said that the president has the authority to order that the child of a terrorist be tortured, by crushing his testicles, in order to get the terrorist to talk.

Do you think that such an action could be moral? I don't, and I think it not only should be but is illegal as well (I strongly disagree with the "unitary executive" arguments for expansive presidential powers that seem to have completely lost sight of the fact that the judiciary and legislature are supposed to have equal weight to the executive branch).

Also, you stated as a premise in your argument to the erroneous conclusion that I'm "intellectually isolated" in the sense of not having any non-like-minded friends that I have posted "many ill-informed or ill-reasoned posts." Which posts are you referring to, can you point out a few of the many, and possibly explain why you characterize them as such?

Finally, why didn't you link to the post on the Secular Outpost you are responding to? That reduced the likelihood that I (or other Secular Outpost readers) would see your comment. Fortunately, Sean Choi pointed it out, encouraging some cross-blog and cross-worldview interaction, which I welcome.


Let’s respond in order of importance, from the most trivial to the most serious.

i) I don’t hyperlink because I’m a Mac-user who employs Safari, a browser which Blogger doesn’t support when it comes to certain html-type refinements.

ii) As to intellectual isolation, Lippard’s own blog is rich with caricatures of those with whom he disagrees.

iii) As to the ad hominem charge, I chose to partly pitch my response at Lippard’s own level. His post was an ad hominem smear against Christians.

iv) Which brings us to the straw man charge. After he was challenged in the combox, he began to backpedal and caveat his position in various ways.

The inferences I drew from his original post were not a straw man argument. Rather, since, in his original post, he elected to stake out an unqualified claim, I drew the inferences which follow from the unqualified terms in which he himself chose to frame the issue.

v) But this presents a dilemma for Lippard. The reason his original post was so unqualified is that he needed to cast it in utterly simplistic terms to make it a successful hit-piece against Christians.

For as soon as he begins to admit to certain moral ambiguities and exceptions and borderline cases, the smear job loses its simplistic impact.

All that aside, since Lippard has now mounted a substantive reply, let’s run back through the substantive material:

“For the record, I do think that torture is prima facie wrong, and as a public policy matter should be prohibited across the board. There are possible circumstances where the use of torture to obtain information may be the best possible course of action on utilitarian grounds, just as there are possible circumstances where murder or cannibalism may be the best possible course of action--but I don't think that calls for a revision of public policy to have anything other than an absolute prohibition on them.”

i) Lippard fails to define “torture.”

ii) His position is a moral and legal muddle. He seems to believe that torture can be justified under certain circumstances, but even so, that it should be illegal. This doesn’t make any sense.

If there are licit exceptions, why should these exceptions not be codified?

iii) Whether “torture” is ever licit is, in my opinion, a qualitative rather than quantitative question. So I reject the way in which the question was framed.

iv) The fact that he also thinks that murder or cannibalism may be justified under certain circumstances sheds a very revealing light on secular ethics (pardon the oxymoron).

Given his outlook, who would you rather have with you in a lifeboat, James Lippard or Franklin Graham?

“ There is always the necessity defense in a court of law. I happen to think that the U.S. should abide by the 8th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, the Geneva Conventions, and UN Convention Against Torture (UNCAT) which the U.S. Senate ratified in 1994. What do you think?”

i) I’m not a lawyer, and even if I were a lawyer, that would not automatically make me a legal expert on the relevant area of law.

ii) I believe that laws ought to exist to protect the innocent from those who would do them harm. If we have laws which impede that function, they need to be repealed.

iii) As far as Constitutional law is concerned, I subscribe to original intent.

iv) The rationale behind the Geneva Conventions is that we will treat your POWs with respect if you treat our POWs with respect. If one party to the contract fails to keep up its end of the bargain, then the original rationale is moot.

v) This doesn’t mean that we should abuse detainees simply because we can. But those who don’t play by the laws of warfare are not entitled to its protections.

vi) The US should pull out of the UN.

vii) I don’t object to the idea of international treaties governing basic human rights.

“In response to (ii), I agree that there are interrogation techniques that fall short of torture, which also have the added benefit of being more reliable--recipients of torture tend to say what they think their torturers want to hear. You say I don't bring my critical thinking skills to bear on a topic that I didn't even discuss.”

i) You didn’t discuss the moral and practical nuances because you wanted to do a hatchet job on Christians, and nuance would get in the way.

ii) Reliability is a necessary (though insufficient) criterion.

“In response to (iii), again you've fabricated a position for me to disagree with (i.e., you've engaged in the straw man fallacy). My actual position is that those who fall on the end of the spectrum of endorsing widespread use of torture are less moral than those who fall on the end of the spectrum of opposing most or all uses of torture. Likewise for murder.

i) You mean your ex post facto position, after you were called on your cheat shot.

ii) That’s the easy way out. The hard-cases are never at the extreme end of the spectrum. Rather, it’s the borderline cases that present the hard-cases.

“To bring home a more specific example--Bush administration advisor John Yoo (who, along with Alberto Gonzales, was the primary architect of the Bush administration's position on torture) has said that the president has the authority to order that the child of a terrorist be tortured, by crushing his testicles, in order to get the terrorist to talk.”

Do you think that such an action could be moral?”

No, I don’t.

“I don't, and I think it not only should be but is illegal as well (I strongly disagree with the "unitary executive" arguments for expansive presidential powers that seem to have completely lost sight of the fact that the judiciary and legislature are supposed to have equal weight to the executive branch).”

Once again, I’m not qualified to comment on all the legal technicalities. However:

i) I notice that those who think that the judiciary should function as a check on the executive don’t seem to think there should be any check on the judiciary itself.

ii) There’s a difference between what is morally wrong and what is legally wrong. A common tactic, used here, is to taint a Bush official with the opprobrium of a morally odious example when he is merely offering a legal opinion.

Now to ask you a question: what is your case for secular ethics? What is your source and standard of moral norms?

Pastoral Advice from the Son of Encouragement

Thank you, Charles...

Attitude - Blessed Are The Flexible For They Shall Not Break

I woke up early today, excited over all I get to do
before the clock strikes midnight. I have
responsibilities to fulfill today. I amimportant. My job is to choose
what kind of day I am
going to have.

Today I can complain because the weather
is rainy or I can be thankful that the grass
is getting watered for free.

Today I can feel sad that I don't have more money
or I can be glad that my finances encourage me
to plan my purchases wisely and guideme away from waste.

Today I can gripe and grumble about my health
or I can rejoice that I am alive.

Today I can lament over all that my parents
didn't give me when I was growing
up or I can feel grateful that they
allowed me to be born.

Today I can complain and cry because roses have
thorns or I can celebrate that thorns have roses.

Today I can mourn my lack of friends or
I can excitedly embark upon a quest
to discover new relationships.

Today I can whine and whimper because
I have to go to work or I can shout
for joy because I have a job to do.

Today I can complain because I have to
go to school or eagerly open my
mind and fill it with rich new
tidbits of knowledge.

Today I can murmur dejectedly because
I have to do housework or I canfeel honored because the Lord
has provided shelter for
my mind, bodyand soul.

Today stretches ahead of me, waiting to be shaped.
And here I am, the human sculptor who
gets to do the shaping within the
borders of God's design.

What today will be like is up to me.
I get to choose what kind
of day I will have!

- Author Unknown (Inspiration Journal)

Romans 8:28, Philippians 4:4

Evangelicals And Petrine Primacy

Some of you may have read the exchanges Steve and I have had with a Catholic by the name of Ben on Al Kimel's Pontifications blog. In the course of that discussion, I mentioned a passage of scripture that doesn't receive much attention when discussing the doctrine of the papacy: Acts 15:7.

Many non-Roman-Catholic scholars, including Evangelical scholars, believe that Peter is the rock of Matthew 16 and believe in some sort of Petrine primacy. Often, Evangelicals will respond to Catholic arguments for the papacy by arguing against every form of Petrine primacy, even though Peter could have some type of primacy without being a Pope. I see no reasonable way to deny that Peter was the most prominent of the apostles in some contexts, just as other apostles were most prominent in other contexts. Instead of denying that Peter had any primacy, we ought to acknowledge the unique roles Peter had and ask whether any of them logically lead to the doctrine of the papacy. Since none of those unique roles do lead to a papacy, Petrine primacy can't be equated with a Petrine papacy.

In the New Testament record, Peter often asserts authority, and he sometimes describes his role in the early church. In addition to the role he describes in Acts 15:7, he tells us that he's an apostle, an elder, and an eyewitness of Christ's life, for example (1 Peter 1:1, 5:1, 2 Peter 1:1, 1:16). Peter wasn't trying to avoid asserting authority, nor was he trying to avoid discussing his role in the church. He did discuss such issues, but a papal office wasn't something he included.

Though Peter is most prominent among the apostles in the gospels, I see no reasonable way to deny that Paul becomes more prominent once he comes on the scene. And the earliest post-apostolic sources say more about Paul, and speak more highly about Paul, than they do about Peter. Terence Smith comments:

"there is an astonishing lack of reference to Peter among ecclesiastical authors of the first half of the second century. He is barely mentioned in the Apostolic Fathers, nor by Justin and the other Apologists" (cited in Robert Eno, The Rise of the Papacy [Wilmington, Delaware: Michael Glazier, 1990], p. 15)

Various types of Petrine primacy are often mentioned by sources from the third century onward, perhaps largely because the written apostolic records, especially the gospels, were becoming more prominent and oral tradition was becoming less prominent. But even among these later sources, we still see comments about other apostles having some sort of primacy. Origen, for example, comments:

"I do not know how Celsus should have forgotten or not have thought of saying something about Paul, the founder, after Jesus, of the Churches that are in Christ." (Against Celsus, 1:63)

Can you imagine what Roman Catholics would make of such a comment by Origen if the name of Paul was replaced with the name of Peter? But since Origen mentions Paul instead, most Catholics probably haven't ever heard of this passage before, nor would they think that it has implications for a Pauline papacy.

Modern Catholic apologists single out the patristic comments on Petrine primacy, so those passages receive a lot of attention while passages like the one above don't. But even if we were to focus only on the comments made about Peter, the fact remains that a Petrine primacy isn't equivalent to a Petrine papacy. The failure to rightly distinguish between the two is largely a result of Catholic apologists trying to equate the two, since there isn't any credible evidence that would take us from a primacy to a papacy.

Some modern Catholics recognize this problem, so they argue that the papacy is just one option among others. If you prefer the papacy to other forms of church government, perhaps because you think it's more effective at bringing about Christian unity, then you can follow the papacy as your personal preference. That sort of reasoning is radically different from what Catholics have traditionally argued. It doesn't lead us to the conclusion that the papacy is an institution established by Christ, one to which we're obligated to submit. A doctrine like the papacy isn't something you ought to put forward as one possible option among others. The claims the papacy makes and the perceptions people have had of the office go far beyond the sort of vague references to Petrine primacy and philosophical speculations that we see coming from so many modern Roman Catholic apologists.

Friday, March 24, 2006

Tortured logic

According to Jim Lippard of the Secular Outpost:

“Not surprisingly considering the content of the Bible, a Pew poll shows that 57% of those who are "secular" think that torture is never or only rarely acceptable, while only 42% of Catholics and 49% of white Protestants and white evangelicals feel that way. (I'm not sure why the poll only looked at white Protestants and evangelicals.)

The survey question was "Do you think the use of torture against suspected terrorists in order to gain important information can often be justified, sometimes be justified, rarely be justified, or never be justified?" The poll was taken of 2,006 adults between October 12-24, 2005.

I score this one as a point against the thesis that religious people are more moral than non-religious people.”

This is yet another example of the anti-intellectual bubble which the average atheist inhabits.

Clearly Lippard is intellectually isolated, not in the sense that he has no conversation partners, but in the sense that all his friends are like-minded individuals. If he were accustomed to intellectual competition, he’d never churn out so many ill-informed or ill-reasoned posts.

i) Notice how he assumes, without benefit of argument, that “torture” is always wrong. That’s the nice part of being a secular rationalist. You don’t have to give reasons for your rationalism.

Attitude trumps aptitude, platitude trumps exactitude, while turpitude trumps rectitude.

ii) He also doesn’t bring any critical thinking skills to bear on whether we should frame the issue of interrogation in terms of torture. Surely there’s a continuum here, is there not? There are many degrees and kinds of coercion.

In addition, if we capture a high-level terrorist, and he doesn’t want to talk, should we do absolutely nothing to extract actionable information from him?

If that’s the position of secular humanism, then secular humanism is one of those useless ideologies like pacifism which is incapable of meeting the challenges of a real world situation.

iii) Then there’s his position that belief in use of “torture” under any circumstances makes you a worse person than someone who rejects the use of “torture” under any circumstances.

So by that yardstick, individual Christians who reject the use of torture are better people than individual humanists to espouse the use of torture under certain circumstances.

Is that really where Lippard wants to go with this argument?

iv) Then he misstates the “thesis” that believers are more ethical than unbelievers.

But that’s not the thesis. The thesis, rather, is that unbelievers have no reason to be ethical.

This isn’t a question of whether unbelievers are more or less ethical than believers, but why they should be ethical, given their worldview.

I’ve done a few posts on the subject of “torture” as a means of interrogation. Unlike Lippard, I actually analyze the question and separate out one issue from another.

Readers may disagree with my conclusions, but there is an argument on the table.

Prioritizing Negative Commands

Exbeliever thinks he has an argument for abortion:

The term “murder” poisons the well

The term “fetus” poisons the well also. But why should I not consider abortion to be murder from the beginning of the discussion? Why should I abandon my beliefs, assume your beliefs, and then attempt to prove my beliefs? Why is the onus on the pro-life advocates to prove that the unborn are equally human, rather than the onus being on the pro-choice advocates to prove that they are not equally human? I mean, considering that the unborn are the biologically-like offspring of humans and remain so after birth, why should we start with the assumption that the period between conception and birth is subhuman rather than assuming that it is equally human with the burden of proof being on those who advocate otherwise?

so let’s take out the ambiguity of my statement (although I am a vegetarian), and state it:


M = the taking of innocent human life
W = an immoral action
a = abortion

(x)[Mx –> Wx]

So that, “If any action is the taking of innocent human life, then that action is an immoral action. Abortion is taking of innocent human life, therefore abortion is an immoral action.”

This is in and of itself true, but exbeliever has changed the reference point (from “murder” to “an immoral action.” Yes, murder is an immoral action, but so is disobeying your parents. Would exbeliever put these two things on the same effectual level?). We must remember that exbeliever is a secular humanist with secular humanist presuppositions when it comes to morality. For exbeliever, it is simply a matter of what is less immoral than something else. So why not simply put this in terms of the Christian presuppositions? “If any action is the taking of innocent human life, then that action is murder. Abortion is taking of innocent human life, therefore abortion is murder.”

Now, let’s consider a different argument. Let:

F = forcing someone to endure pain and suffering for the sake of another
W = an immoral action
c = forcing a woman to carry a child to term

(x)[Fx –> Wx]

So that, “For any action, if that action is forcing someone to endure pain and suffering for the sake of another, then that action is an immoral action. Forcing someone to carry a child to term is forcing someone to endure pain and suffering for the sake of another, therefore forcing someone to carry a child to term is an immoral action.”

This is extremely subjective. Who defines what “forcing someone to endure pain and suffering for the sake of another” means? Does this mean that fathers who need to sweat and work hard in order to support their families should not be “forced” to support their families? Can fathers kill their children and it not be considered murder?

You see, exbeliever likes to frame his argument apart from focusing on the centrality of the debate: the definition of human life. If the unborn child is human, then whether or not it “forces” the mother to endure pain is irrelevant. I wonder if prosecuting attorneys would agree with exbeliever’s principle that it is ok to take the life of another human if that human caused you to endure pain. Such an argument simply would not stand in the courts system. The only way, therefore, for exbeliever to make his case that abortion is not murder is to prove that the unborn are not humans. Exbeliever’s statements here are simply canards that are meant to distract us from the central issue of the debate, for exbeliever’s arguments depend upon the assumption that the unborn are not human.

Let me flesh that out for you a little.

Let’s say that your wife is playing with your son in your front yard. His soccer ball rolls into the street and as your wife runs out to get it a Porsche tops the hill. The driver of the Porsche swerves to avoid hitting your wife but, in doing so, hits a telephone poll. The driver staggers out of his car dazed, but not seriously injured. He starts frantically motioning toward the car and you see that the drivers young son is pinned inside the car.

Now, imagine that an ambulance comes and frees the child from the car. They see, however, that both of the child’s kidneys have been punctured and the child will die immediately if he doesn’t have a transplant. [At this point my lack of medical knowledge shines brightly through. The scenario is, of course, hypothetical.]

An EMT looks at your wife and grabs her. You yell, “What the hell are you doing to my wife?!” The EMT says, “We are going to take one of her kidneys and give it to the little boy.” The EMT pulls out a knife and starts to cut your wife.

The EMT’s action is immoral, correct? Your wife unintentionally caused the boy’s suffering, but it is wrong of the EMT to force her to endure pain and suffering for the sake of the other boy, even though it means his life.

This analogy fails terribly to represent the action of abortion. No, let’s put this in the proper perspective. The EMT arrives, sees the child pinned in the car, sees the wife standing over at the side, and thinks in his head “This child might cause the wife to need to donate a kidney. That would cause the wife to be uncomfortable.” So he goes over to the car and kills the child.

Is that a moral action, exbeliever? Maybe it is if the child isn’t human. But if the child is human, this action would be murder. So, let’s not distract ourselves with these red-herring analogies. Let’s focus on the central issue of the debate: the definition of human life.

…This brings up another issue. Are people morally required to be generous to the point of enduring pain and suffering for the sake of another?

This brings up another issue. Are people morally permitted to eliminate the life of another for fear of enduring pain and suffering for their sake?

In the above case, is your wife morally required to give her organs to save the child?

In the above case, is the EMT morally permitted to kill the child to spare the wife from having to decide whether or not she wants to donate her kidneys?

Are you morally required to give your money to every homeless person you see in need?

Are you morally permitted to kill homeless people because they might ask for money?

At some point your moral obligation to support your family or yourself takes precedent over your moral obligation to be generous.

At some point your moral obligation to not murder takes precedent over your personal comfort.

If I may detract into a theology discussion for just a moment, this is what is unique about the negative commands of God: “Do no murder, do not steal” etc. You see, Christians are called to give to the poor, to pray, to pursue Biblical fellowship, to engage in corporate worship, to support their families, etc. Obviously, you can’t pray and support your family at the same time. Therefore, God’s positive commands take a prioritization; you must decide when and how often you pray and when and how often you support your family. But this is not the case for God’s negative commands. It isn’t only completely physically possible, but it is morally required, that you obey all of God’s negative commands all of the time. You see, it may not be physically possible to obey the command to evangelize and to obey the command to support your family at the exact same time. But it is physically possible and morally required to obey the commands “Do not steal” and “Do not murder” at the same time.

Do you notice how exbeliever has changed the issue of abortion from a negative command to a positive command? He has changed the issue from “Do not murder” to the positive command “Be generous.” In other words, he tells us that it isn’t always possible to obey the command to be generous and to obey the command to support your families at the same time, and therefore it is not morally required. But this isn’t the case. There is no excuse for disobeying a negative command, for doing the action takes more energy than not doing the action.

Once again, the debate goes back to the definition of human life, for “Do not murder” applies to humans alone. One wonders, therefore, why exbeliever is distracting us all with these red herring arguments and wasting our time rather than focussing on where the actual issue lies.

This yields this argument:

P1: A person is not morally required to endure pain and suffering for the sake of another.

P2: Carrying a child to term requires a woman to endure pain and suffering for the sake of another.

C: Therefore a woman is not morally required to carry a child to term.

At this point, I think it should be clear that the issue of a woman’s reproductive freedoms is not settled by any one moral argument.

Exbeliever continues to transform a negative command into a positive command. We must update his syllogism:

P1: A person is not morally permitted to take the life of an innocent person.

P2: Carrying a child to term requires a woman to endure pain and suffering for the sake of another.

C: Therefore a woman is not morally permitted to eliminate the child’s life.

At this point I think it should be clear that the issue of a woman’s reproductive freedoms centers on the definition of human life.

The issue of a woman’s reproductive freedoms is an issue of competing moral claims. On the one hand, there is the moral claim of the pregnant woman. She does not want to endure the pain and suffering that carrying a child to term requires. On the other hand, there is the moral claim of an innocent child who deserves a chance to live. Whose moral claim should be respected?

Negative commands must be obeyed all of the time. Positive commands take prioritizing. We are not free to prioritize negative commands.

This is where our normative ethics may come into conflict. Normative ethics, however, rely on underlying meta-ethical beliefs. So, perhaps, we are creeping inevitably closer to a discussion of meta-ethics.

Then why have you been distracting us all along from the point?

I, obviously, respect the moral claim of the mother more than that of the unborn child.

I, obviously, respect the fact that negative commands cannot be prioritized.

Put another way, I will respect the wishes of an adult woman more than an unborn child’s.

Put another way, you think you can prioritize the command to not murder.

…This issue is about whether or not a woman has the freedom to make her own reproductive decisions.

This issue is about whether or not a woman has the freedom to prioritize murder. This issue is about what constitutes human life.

You are against a woman’s reproductive freedoms.

I’m against any “freedom” that removes the freedom of life from another. Murder cannot be prioritized.

You want her to reproduce on your time-table, not hers.

I want her to obey the command to not murder everywhere all the time. Such is the case with all negative commands. I want her to obey the command to not steal everywhere all the time. Do you not?

Second, if you want to decrease the number of abortions, you should work to decrease the number of unwanted pregnancies.

I think the church has made a great effort at that. But, to tell you the truth, the mentality in the mind of a girl that she can slip and get pregnant but later have an abortion is not much motivation to not become pregnant. The cause of abortion opposes the cause of decreasing unwanted (as in outside of marriage) pregnancies.

The fewer unwanted pregnancies, the fewer abortions.

The fewer abortions, the fewer unwanted pregnancies.

What if we could come up with technology that allows doctors to remove a foetus from the womb (with very little invasiveness) and grow the child in surrogate mothers, in an artificial environment, or keep the child in a suspended state of growth until the “mother” is ready to be a mother? This would be a very effective means of respecting the moral claims of both parties.

Well, such technology raises questions in the minds of Christians concerning a mother’s responsibility to parent her child, but such technology would certainly be a better alternative to abortion. But this is besides the point that murder cannot be prioritized. This is besides the point that the unborn are humans. Yes, you could change the technology and means so that it no longer involves murder, but the same mentality of abortion would be present. The same mentality that the unwanted are expendable would be present. The same mentality that my decisions in life should be driven by my own concerns and emotions would be present. People don’t simply need alternative technology. They need a heart change.

Evan May.

Faith & providence

Ben has offered yet another thoughtful reply in our ongoing dialogue.

“One more thing: though you don’t know me personally you were yet able to say something to me which has often been said to me by the people who actually do know me personally.

I am referring to your comment about my ‘Catholic conditioning’. Once again this is something I need to think about.”

I’m not necessary assuming that you’re a cradle Catholic. My point is simply that when you classify contraception, oral sex, and masturbation as “grave sins,” this is clearly a reflection of Catholic moral theology rather than natural law, per se, and so it cannot serve as a criterion for picking out the true church; rather, it takes the identity of the true church for granted.

Would the hypothetical “noble savage” or “virtuous pagan,” with nothing more than natural revelation to go by, share your moral valuation? Would Plato or Aristotle agree?

“I can’t say anything about this. I feel that I would need to leave this to Perry. He’s the one of the big guns, who can deal with something like that.”

Okay, but biblical ecclesiology is something you need to think through for yourself as well. By way of a rough outline, the concept of the NT church has its roots in the OT concept of a covenant community (“The congregation of the Lord”), dating back to Abraham. It even antedates the flood, for there was always a true religion, with a faithful following (Gen 4:26).

The synoptic Gospels have no systematic ecclesiology. In Matthew you have a couple of brief, if important, passages (16:18-19; 18:15-20).

John has some important things to say about the Christian community, such as the theological metaphor of the shepherd and the sheep (10:1-18), which, again, goes back to the OT.

And there’s a fair amount about the role of the Apostolate (14-16; 21).

The book of Acts discusses church planting and the phenomenology of church life (preaching, prayer, table fellowship). Apostles, prophets, elders, and deacons are also in view.

The closest thing to a systematic ecclesiology is to be found in Paul. He has a doctrine of the local church, consisting of house-churches.

He also has a doctrine of the universal church (in Ephesians), which is similar to the traditional distinction and ultimate identity between the church militant and the church triumphant. The same idea is present, in symbolic form, in the Book of Revelation.

Paul has a notion of church office in 1 Timothy and Titus.

Paul also has a number of theological metaphors for the church: a temple, a body, a bride, a plant, a family.

But by no process of strict inference are you going to get from there to the very specialized structures of Catholicism or Orthodoxy.

Roger Beckwith, the great evangelical Anglican scholar, as written a fine little book sifting the exegetical evidence and comparing that with subsequent developments. Cf.. Elders in Every City: The Origin & Role of the Ordained Ministry (Paternoster 2003).

“Not if a situation obtains, wherein there is warrant for believing that it is only either ‘sola ecclesia’ or ‘sola scriptura’ which can function as the appropriate mechanism (when it is construed in the relevant sense as my retooled argument will make clear below), for generating the infallible beliefs.

The possibilities in a), b) and c) are arguably unrealized because no Christian of today is arguably inspired in this way, nor made infallible in this way nor given an innate knowledge of Christian dogma.”

I agree. But in that event you will have to surrender your argument from antecedent probabilities.

“However, there does exist ‘dogma’ (in the sense of doctrinal constructions) and since I take it as self-evident that it would be normative for a person to become a Christian by way of his assenting to such ‘dogma’...”

This returns us to the same stalemate as before. It is normative for a person to become a Christian by assenting to revealed propositions regarding the object of saving faith.

In other words, to believe whatever the Bible says he must believe in order to be saved. The Bible expressly spells out a number of credal propositions. That’s a sufficient object of saving faith.

“…it would follow therefore that the assent of this person to such dogma would be susceptible of being described as either warranted or unwarranted (given the standpoint of the person himself). If it is therefore an ideal that such assent should be warranted rather than unwarranted (from the point of view of the person himself and from the point of view of every item of information which it would be possible for the person himself to validly lay claim to having), one could then plausibly assume that in the actual world (and in the absence of the possibilities envisaged in a), b) and c), and in the presence of positive warrant for it being the case either that ‘sola ecclesia’ is true or that ‘sola scriptura’ is true), that such a person has indeed been so placed as to believe that there are conditions under which his assent to dogma could be warranted and that these conditions would as such be fulfilled by his believing either ‘sola scriptura’ or ‘sola ecclesia’.”

Once again, I regard this probability calculus as a gratuitous accessory. If God has already shown us how he guides his people, or told us how he will direct his people (in his promises), then it’s both unnecessary and unhelpful to recast the issue in such hypothetical terms.

“They may not have needed to believe in the Trinity in the same way as I might need to believe in it, for it may never have been commended to them for their belief in the same way as I might find that it has been commended to me for my belief (I am here speaking of the specific formulation in which it might be commended to me for my belief); in any case, if none of them believed in ‘sola scriptura’ (at least in the sense in which an Evangelical does), then it is arguable that they didn’t formulate this doctrine by a reliance on the sort of theological method relied upon by Evangelicals to ‘find doctrine in scripture’.

So they did perhaps see the doctrine corroborated by scripture (in the same way as I might find that by deploying a certain geometrical theorem, it doesn’t contradict the geometrical axioms that I know, even if I cannot at the same time understand how it is that the said axioms can be made to yield the said theorem) but I can’t, for the life of me, believe that they ever read it off its pages as it were present within its pages in a formal sense; or that they otherwise derived it from scripture by the sort of theological method favored by Evangelicals.”

So are you saying that Nicene Orthodoxy is underdetermined by revelation? That the Nicene Fathers are claiming more for their Trinitarian dogma than they can evidence?

“How can you have warrant for believing that the final product can be successfully reversely engineered into a determinate set of parts, if your premises make it impossible for you to be sure of this, unless you are already able to perceive the whole as being already the sum of its discrete parts?”

As long as we have both relata (the raw data of Scripture and a theological construct), then we are in a position to compare the two—the whole with the parts.

We have a candidate for the whole which supplies one half of the basis of comparison, while we have the other half as well, in the raw data of Scripture.

“And if someone shows you a picture which he says is composed of the parts of the puzzle, then how can you be sure that what he is showing you is indeed what he says it is, unless you are able to see how it is that that picture has been built out of what has been claimed to be its discrete parts?”

By matching the picture to the discrete pieces.

“If you can only be sure of what the parts are by an immediate intuition, then you can’t be sure that what has been claimed to be a whole that has been made out of these parts, really has been made out of them, unless you can see how each piece has been fitted together with the others so as to make the whole.”

Any theological construct is somewhat arbitrary, not in the sense that the parts don’t go together, but in the sense that we could always enlarge the theological construct by adding other related parts to fuse a more comprehensive structuring of the raw data. One truth may be related to another truth in a variety of ways. So there are different ways of configuring the data. The boundaries are always fuzzy. What is central or circumferential is a matter of emphasis.

“My point is that if the object of my belief is a theological construct, then a position like ‘sola scriptura’ would typically oblige me to regard that belief as provisional, and as susceptible of being falsified in the event that there were to turn up a hermeneutical-exegetical argument purportedly demonstrating that that construct cannot be generated from the ‘matter’ of scripture; for if I do not believe myself to be in a position to be sure that no such argument can ever be made to turn up (not knowing how in the first place the said construct can be generated by the application of such arguments), then it would seem to follow that I would have to regard my belief in such a construct as provisional (given my admitted premises).”

Well, there are different ways of responding to this objection.

i) Are you saying that we are not warranted in what we believe unless we can rule out, in advance, every conceivable (or inconceivable) possibility that, if realized, would falsify our belief?

That’s a recipe for global scepticism.

ii) There is also a difference between what is allegedly possible and what is a live possibility. The onus is on the sceptic to show us what his hypothetical defeater amounts to, and how his hypothetical defeater is a genuine possibility, and not a merely imaginary postulate which he fantasized for no other purpose than as a blocking maneuver.

It is not my epistemic duty to shoot down an invisible target.

iii) Again, this objection could easily degenerate into vicious regress. How can you be so sure that you are sure? You may not detect any flaw in your argument. And I may not detect any flaw in your argument. But perhaps you and I are suffering from a mental block. We’re missing some subtle, indetectible flaw.

Once again, that’s a recipe for global sceptic ism. But, of course, there’s something oxymoronic about mounting an argument for scepticism in the first place, for an argument undercuts the possibility of scepticism while scepticism undercuts the possibility of an argument.

iv) As with Perry’s objection, the only way to answer the question is to conditionalize the answer.

If we have good reason to revise our exegesis, and if our belief was contingent on the old, faulty interpretation, then, indeed, our belief is revisable.

Is this a strength or a weakness of Protestant theological method?

Well, that depends on your viewpoint. From a Protestant perspective, the Catholic rule of faith locks you into a primitive error. If a mistake is made early in the progress of dogma, and that mistake is frozen in place by an ecumenical council or ex cathedra definition, then irreformability is a disadvantage rather than an advantage. Which is better—reformable or irreformable error?

On that view, the Protestant rule of faith is advantageous because Protestant doctrine is potentially self-correcting. We are in a position to catch a mistake, and rectify it instead of continuing to erect an ever more elaborate doctrinal edifice on this unstable foundation.

Tradition is always subject to Scripture. It’s a good thing when venerable tradition is revisable in light of superior of exegesis.

v) Incidentally, Perry’s objection works better for Orthodoxy than it does for Catholicism. Given the degree of internal development in Catholic dogma over the centuries, your tradition is subject to the same objection.

For even if you claim a fundamental continuity between past and present dogma, a modern-day Catholic will interpret the Tridentine anathemas (to take one example) very differently than the Tridentine Fathers had in mind.

vi) Whether the conditionality of Protestant doctrine is a benefit or deficit depends on whether you postulate a best-case scenario or a worst-case scenario.

To the Protestant Reformers, it was a good thing that we could turn the clock back on a cumulative process of error.

But you or Perry can postulate a worst-case scenario in which everything is up for grabs.

vii) But this doesn’t follow from our rule of faith, for hypothetical defeaters can be proposed for any rule of faith.

Rather, it follows from our doctrine of providence, or lack thereof. Absent a strong doctrine of providence, today we’re Trinitarians, tomorrow we’re Unitarians; today we Chalcedonians, tomorrow we’re Arians.

Ultimately, this is God’s world. What is possible is limited to what God has foreordained.

God is in control, we are not. So one can always imagine a worst-case scenario. But if that were to eventuate, it would not be because I had one rule of faith, and you had another. After all, I can just as easily imagine a worst-case scenario for your own rule of faith.

So it’s futile to speculate over contingencies beyond our control, for if, ex hypothesi, we have no control over the outcome, then there’s nothing we can do about it one way or the other. Such idle conjectures prove everything and nothing.

“I thought that this was why the Apostolic Succession was invoked as an argument against the Gnostics. Wasn’t it so invoked?”

Yes, but that was a shortcut. Not a principled argument.

“Wherein the persons in question would be obliged (by virtue of their having attained a certain level of intellectual sophistication) to believe in the relevant doctrinal constructions.”

I’m going to pick on this key element of Ben’s retooled syllogism.

I don’t deny that in the progress of dogma. A modern-day Christian may be held to a higher standard of profession than Justin or Origen. But that is based on better exegesis.

Thursday, March 23, 2006

Prepare to be Amazed

Stallwart defender of atheism, Aaron Kinney, is going to do some damage to Christology right before our eyes. Once the readers of T-blog see the clear, cogent, and profound reasoning of this paradigm of rationality, they will be amazed at how the Christian faith could have stood the test of time.

Aaron Kinney will show that it is IMPOSSIBLE that Jesus could be both fully God and fully man. I am dedicating the comments section in this post to the penetrating analysis we will be sure to see coming from Kinney.

So far Kiney has posted an almost unanswerable argument against Jesus' dual natures. To get this show started, I'll post his argument against the impossibility that Jesus is both fully God and fully man. Her writes,

"Let me give an example of why I think being 100% of two things at the same time is not possible: I am 100% Aaron Kinney. You are 100% Paul Manata. Could I be both 100% Aaron and 100% Paul at the same time? No. Or could I maybe be 100% Aaron and 100% Ford Mustang at the same time?"

Can any theologian worth his salt answer such devistating argumentation? Are thousands of years of Christology all but worthless? Mere chattle? Let's formalize his argument and then allow him to work from there:

P1: Aaron cannot be 100% Aaron and 100% Ford Mustang at the same time.

P2: Aaron cannot be 100% Aaron and 100% Paul at the same time


C1: Therefore, it is impossible that Jesus could be 100% God and 100% man at the same time.

Utterly amazing. Are the readers of T-blog speechless?

Like the freak-shows of old, clicking on the comments section will take you into a world where you will be shocked and amazed. Step right up, come one come all, and prepare to be amazed.

I now turn this over to Aaron Kinney. Ladies and gentlemen, you're in for a real treat.

Aaron, it's all yours:

Process of elimination

Ben, over at Pontifications, has written an intelligent and invective-free surrejoinder to my rejoinder.

It’s a pleasure to deal with such a nice opponent. It gives me a rare opportunity to be nicer than I would with an obnoxious opponent.

“In the NT there is evidence that God used that sort of apparatus to guide the nascent church.”

I don’t deny that you have an ecclesiastical apparatus in the NT. But it’s a far cry from Catholic or Orthodox ecclesiology.

“Perry seems to support this from what he says about councils in the book of Acts.”

Yes, and I already responded to that point when Perry first introduced it. So the ball is back in your court—and his.

“What I was saying was that Jason’s way of framing the issue ignores the distinction that Perry has repeatedly made, and that if this distinction is granted, then the conclusion would have to follow that an affirmation of a true concept (even if we may believe ourselves to be privy to an earlier affirmation of it which we take to be ‘unrevisable’), does not count as a specimen of divine teaching. Once again I am here drawing on Perry’s teaching.”

Far from ignoring Perry’s distinction, Jason and I have repeatedly criticized his distinction. So the ball is back in your court—and his.

“This begs the question against the Catholic position, since the Catholic position contends that the institution of the Catholic Church is an ‘actual dealing’ of God, and that this particular ‘dealing’ of God is described in Scripture.

Didn’t Christ tell St Peter that He would found His Church upon him?”

i) Each side has its respective burden of proof to discharge.

ii) Even if, for the sake of argument, we were to stipulate to the Catholic exegesis and appropriation of Mt 16:18-19, that would undercut the Catholic claim in another direction, for appeal to a prooftext like Mt 16 would then assume that the claims of the Catholic church depend on Biblical authorization for their theological warrant.

a)If that is so, then the authority of Scripture is prior to the authority of the Church.

b)In addition, the interpretation of Scripture would be prior to the church; otherwise, an appeal to a prooftext whose interpretation had to be authorized by the church would be viciously circular.

iii) I’ve addressed the particulars of the Catholic appeal to Mt 16 elsewhere.


5. From Peter to papacy—a bridge too far:

Mt 16:18 is the primary Petrine text. But a direct appeal to Mt 16:18 greatly obscures the number of steps that have to be interpolated in order to get us from Peter to the papacy. Let’s jot down just a few of these intervening steps:
a) The promise of Mt 16:18 has reference to "Peter."
b) The promise of Mt 16:18 has "exclusive" reference to Peter.
c) The promise of Mt 16:18 has reference to a Petrine "office."
d) This office is "perpetual"
e) Peter resided in "Rome"
f) Peter was the "bishop" of Rome
g) Peter was the "first" bishop of Rome
h) There was only "one" bishop at a time
i) Peter was not a bishop "anywhere else."
j) Peter "ordained" a successor
k) This ceremony "transferred" his official prerogatives to a successor.
l) The succession has remained "unbroken" up to the present day.

Lets go back and review each of these twelve separate steps:

(a) V18 may not even refer to Peter. "We can see that 'Petros' is not the "petra' on which Jesus will build his church…In accord with 7:24, which Matthew quotes here, the 'petra' consists of Jesus' teaching, i.e., the law of Christ. 'This rock' no longer poses the problem that 'this' is ill suits an address to Peter in which he is the rock. For that meaning the text would have read more naturally 'on you.' Instead, the demonstrative echoes 7:24; i.e., 'this rock' echoes 'these my words.' Only Matthew put the demonstrative with Jesus words, which the rock stood for in the following parable (7:24-27). His reusing it in 16:18 points away from Peter to those same words as the foundation of the church…Matthew's Jesus will build only on the firm bedrock of his law (cf. 5:19-20; 28:19), not on the loose stone Peter. Also, we no longer need to explain away the association of the church's foundation with Christ rather than Peter in Mt 21:42," R. Gundry, Matthew (Eerdmans 1994), 334.
(b) Is falsified by the power-sharing arrangement in Mt 18:17-18 & Jn 20:23.
(c) The conception of a Petrine office is borrowed from Roman bureaucratic categories (officium) and read back into this verse. The original promise is indexed to the person of Peter. There is no textual assertion or implication whatsoever to the effect that the promise is separable from the person of Peter.
(d) In 16:18, perpetuity is attributed to the Church, and not to a church office.
(e) There is some evidence that Peter paid a visit to Rome (cf. 1 Pet 5:13). There is some evidence that Peter also paid a visit to Corinth (cf. 1 Cor 1:12; 9:5).
(f) This commits a category mistake. An Apostle is not a bishop. Apostleship is a vocation, not an office, analogous to the prophetic calling. Or, if you prefer, it’s an extraordinary rather than ordinary office.
(g) The original Church of Rome was probably organized by Messianic Jews like Priscilla and Aquilla (cf. Acts 18:2; Rom 16:3). It wasn’t founded by Peter. Rather, it consisted of a number of house-churches (e.g. Rom 16; Hebrews) of Jewish or Gentile membership—or mixed company.
(h) NT polity was plural rather than monarchal. The Catholic claim is predicated on a strategic shift from a plurality of bishops (pastors/elders) presiding over a single (local) church—which was the NT model—to a single bishop presiding over a plurality of churches. And even after you go from (i) oligarchic to (ii) monarchal prelacy, you must then continue from monarchal prelacy to (iii) Roman primacy, from Roman primacy to (iv) papal primacy, and from papal primacy to (v) papal infallibility. So step (h) really breaks down into separate steps—none of which enjoys the slightest exegetical support.
(j) Peter also presided over the Diocese of Pontus-Bithynia (1 Pet 1:1). And according to tradition, Antioch was also a Petrine See (Apostolic Constitutions 7:46.).
(j)-(k) This suffers from at least three objections:
i) These assumptions are devoid of exegetical support. There is no internal warrant for the proposition that Peter ordained any successors.
ii) Even if he had, there is no exegetical evidence that the imposition of hands is identical with Holy Orders.
iii) Even if we went along with that identification, Popes are elected to papal office, they are not ordained to papal office. There is no separate or special sacrament of papal orders as over against priestly orders. If Peter ordained a candidate, that would just make him a pastor (or priest, if you prefer), not a Pope.
(l) This cannot be verified. What is more, events like the Great Schism falsify it in practice, if not in principle.

These are not petty objections. In order to get from Peter to the modern papacy you have to establish every exegetical and historical link in the chain. To my knowledge, I haven’t said anything here that a contemporary Catholic scholar or theologian would necessarily deny. They would simply fallback on a Newmanesque principle of dogmatic development to justify their position. But other issues aside, this admits that there is no straight-line deduction from Mt 16:18 to the papacy. What we have is, at best, a chain of possible inferences. It only takes one broken link anywhere up or down the line to destroy the argument. Moreover, only the very first link has any apparent hook in Mt 16:18. Except for (v), all the rest depend on tradition and dogma. Their traditional support is thin and equivocal while the dogmatic appeal is self-serving.


“Divine revelation is ‘irreformable’ itself on the Protestant’s own premises.”


“This being the case, it need not strike the Protestant as inherently unreasonable that there can be cases of the elucidation of such revelation, wherein the relevant elucidatory statements also partake of this property.”

i) This is not a question of what is reasonable. Many things are reasonable that are never true. There is more than one possible way that God could guide his people. Which option he has chosen to exercise cannot be inferred a priori.

So the pertinent question is what method God has revealed to us as his modus operandi.

ii) Elucidatory statements would only partake of this property of you subscribe to an open canon of continuous revelation. I deny that inspiration extends beyond the Apostolic age.

“Furthermore, if being a Christian would involve one in believing doctrines, then it is certainly necessary that there should be put in place a mechanism for infallibly generating the doctrines that are to be believed in.”

This is a classic case of assuming what you need to prove.

i) To begin with, if we are going to resort to a priori reasons, then there are various “mechanisms” God could put in place to guide his people.

a) He could directly inspire every Christian the same way he inspired the prophets and apostles.

b) He could control the flow of information in such a that we only believe what is true, and never believe what is false, because the only evidence we’re ever exposed to is one-sided evidence for a true proposition.

c) He could grant us an innate knowledge of Christian dogma.

As Jason has pointed out, your a priori argument, if taken to its logical extreme, goes well beyond either Orthodoxy or Catholicism.

ii) In addition, the object of saving faith are certain revealed propositions. It is certainly adequate to believe these propositions in their original form, although it is also adequate to believe these propositions as they are paraphrased in the secondary literature.

OT Jews believed the “raw data” of Moses and the Psalmists and prophets. NT Christians believed the “raw data” of the Apostles. The primary data is sufficient for saving faith.

Of course, as Jason pointed out, we interpret whatever we read, whether in the primary or secondary sources. We draw inferences from whatever we read, whether in the primary or secondary sources.

From a Reformed standpoint (speaking as a Calvinist), this is how it actually works. God has chosen those who will be saved. God regenerates the elect. One effect of regeneration is to make the regenerate receptive to the gospel. God exposes the elect to saving knowledge. This can take the form of preaching, Bible reading, an evangelical creed or liturgy, &c. Because the regenerate are predisposed to believe the gospel when exposed to the gospel, faith follows automatically.

“Why should we not? I don’t see the doctrine of the Trinity (replete with all its nuances), anywhere in the scriptures, even if I should nonetheless be persuaded that this doctrine does not fail to be in conformity with the conceptual content of Scripture?”

Several problems with this reply:

i) If you don’t see the doctrine of the Trinity in the Scripture, then how did the church fathers and church councils derive the doctrine of the Trinity? Did they not see it in Scripture as well?

ii) This disclaimer is something of a self-fulfilling prophecy. Because a Catholic is oriented to historical theology rather than exegetical theology, he hasn’t worked out a theological method for finding doctrine in Scripture since the end-result is delivered to him in prepackaged form by his church. He isn’t used to reverse engineering the final product by tracing it back to the primary sources. He has no hermeneutical strategy in place for finding doctrine in Scripture.

iii) For a Protestant, systematic theology is rather like a puzzle or model airplane. All the parts or pieces are there. But the puzzle or model airplane is not preassembled. You have to piece it together yourself.

This is something of an overstatement, for we also see how Bible writers interpret other Bible writers. In addition, there are books and blocks of Scripture devoted to a particular theological theme or set of interrelated doctrines.

iv) What “nuances” does Ben have in mind? Revelatory nuances? Or extra-revelatory nuances? From a Protestant perspective, extra-revelatory nuances (excepting for necessary implications) are not an article of faith.

v) The Trinity is a theological construct. By contrast, the form/matter framework is being used as a theological criterion or interpretive grid. That’s quite different.

That would be a case of imposing an alien criterion or extrinsic interpretive grid on the data. You end up with a screening device which has no revelatory warrant, but, instead, filters the content of revelation, coloring and allowing through only what its fine-mesh filter allows to go through.

This was the danger of Gnosticism. The Gnostics didn’t openly deny Biblical revelation. Instead, they had a hermeneutical scheme which treated Biblical categories as code language for Gnostic concepts.

“This distinction is valid in view of the fact that the knowledge of a system’s axioms does not necessarily yield the knowledge of the system’s various theorems (for a knower below a certain level of intellectual sophistication) and that is why a person can know the axioms of Euclidean geometry without knowing the various theorems that can be derived from them.”

This is far too abstract and generic to have any internal relation to the subject-matter at hand. Our methodology needs to be adapted to the specifics of the subject-matter.

“It doesn’t vary on Protestant premises in the relevant sense.

If I only lay claim to accepting that the Scriptures are ‘irreformable’, then why would the burden of proof not be on me to establish that I am reasonable in holding that a given doctrinal construct does not fail to reproduce (or at least does not fail to cohere with) the conceptual content of scripture?

What does a person’s ‘natural aptitude’ have to do with his obligation to carry such a burden of proof, when that obligation is generated by the fact that he has made a claim of a certain sort?”

i) To begin with, my distinction wasn’t predicated on the Protestant rule of faith, per se. Does Ben think that an ignorant Andean n peasant has the same intellectual duty to discharge as Karl Rahner or Joseph Ratzinger or Joseph Fitzmyer?

I’m making the banal point that our level of intellectual understanding will vary with our intellectual aptitude. We expect more of a theologian or Bible scholar than we do of the average layman.

ii) Ben is also operating with an internalist model of justification. It isn’t enough that I believe the right thing: I must be able to show you how I know that I believe the right thing.

I, for one, don’t regard this internalist constraint as a general condition for the justification of our beliefs.

What I would say, rather, is that (a) our beliefs must be capable of such justification, and that (b) someone must have met that condition.

Saving faith consists in objective, first-order beliefs, rather than subjective, second-order beliefs (a belief about the believer’s belief).

Now for a long quote from Ben:


Rather, my position is as follows:

1) Every utterance of scripture has a propositional content that is in principle accessible by us directly.

2) Every such utterance, when it is set forth in terms of its propositional content, is in principle open to being adapted as an axiom of a doctrinal construction.

3) Nevertheless the meaning of any such construction isn’t explicitly given in any such axiom, even if it is the case that, to an intelligence of the requisite order of sophistication, it will be apparent that a given set of such axioms would entail the truth of a given doctrinal construction.

4) The meaning of any such construction can be accessed by a person directly, in the same way that he can access the propositional content of a scriptural utterance.

5) Christians are required to believe in a set of doctrinal constructions.

6) ‘Sola scriptura’ entails belief in 1) and 2) and if 3) - 5) are to be taken as given, then the persons holding ‘sola scriptura’ will have to accept (if they are not to be judged as irrational) the burden of proof in demonstrating that the doctrinal constructions they believe in, follow logically from the relevant set of axioms (even when it will have been given that these persons will have accessed correctly the propositional content of scripture, so that the axioms in question do indeed embody the propositional content of the relevant scriptural utterances).

7) ‘Sola ecclesia’ entails belief in 1) – 5) and further entails the belief that the infallible church in question will always set forth doctrinal constructions that are true and are thus incapable of being falsified.

8) If I have warrant for believing in ‘sola ecclesia’, then I would be able reasonably to affirm that the doctrinal constructions produced by the infallible church are true, without my being required to accept the burden of proof specified in 6).

9) Since the object of a person’s belief as a Christian is the meaning of doctrinal constructions [as has been contended in 5], and since it is exceedingly difficult for most people to bear the burden of proof specified in 6) (even if all of the people in question were to be in possession of the knowledge of all of the relevant axioms), it would follow therefore (given that an infallible church cannot but commend to us for our belief true doctrinal constructions as contends, and that there should be an intention on the part of God that as many people as possible should become Christians on a reasonable basis) that it would be more probable than not that God would provide us with a warrant for believing in ‘sola ecclesia’ than that he should instead provide us only with a warrant for believing in ‘sola scriptura’. It must be reiterated here that what has been presupposed in this regard is an intention on the part of God that as many persons as possible should be induced to become Christians and that they should be induced to do so on a reasonable basis. It is true that this presupposition can be undercut by the Calvinist view that there is no such intention on the part of God (in the sense that on the Calvinist view it would be meaningless to speak of there being anyone whom God would have regenerated if it were to have been possible for God to regenerate him) , but then my point could still be made if this presupposition were to be replaced by this one, namely: ‘that there should be an intention on the part of God that most of the persons who comprise the set of elect persons should become Christians on a reasonable basis, where it is given the said set of elect persons comprises of a majority of people who cannot bear the burden of proof specified in 6) ’. It must also be noted that accessing the meaning of a doctrinal construction [which as 3) contends can be done by a person directly and immediately] is not the same as understanding how it is that the said construction logically derives from its constituent axioms, which is why it is the case that discharging the aforesaid burden of proof would involve not just doing the former but also doing the latter.

10) It is therefore probable that an infallible church exists given what has been said to be probable in 9) (which is that it is probable that there is warrant for believing in the existence of an infallible church).


The vulnerable items in this list are 5-7 & 9.


i) This goes to the old question of how much you need to believe in order to be saved. The way Ben puts it, you’d almost need to be a systematic theologian in order to be saved.

ii) This I deny. I deny, as a general proposition, that in order to be saved, you must not only believe in all of the revealed propositions of Scripture, but also believe in all the logical relations generated by and between the revealed propositions of Scripture. Even Karl Rahner or Thomas Aquinas wasn’t that smart.

iii) I’d add that most Evangelical traditions do subscribe to an educated clergy. God has given teachers to the church. Theology is not a zero-sum game where every born-again Christian has to begin from scratch.


i) This reiterates his internalism, which I’ve already argued against.

ii) I’d add that it’s very hard to square an internalist model of justification with the Catholic principle of implicit faith.

#7. No, 1-5, even if we assent to 1-5, do not “entail’ an infallible church, for there are other hypothetical mechanisms which could yield the very same result.

#9.Once again I reject the very idea of an a priori probabilistic argument for the Catholic rule of faith.

I don’t object to a priori arguments in philosophical theology. And I don’t object to probabilistic arguments in exegetical or historical theology.

But we do not infer the truth of how probably God guides his people from an a priori argument. Apriorism is relevant when dealing with universal truths of reason. It is not relevant when dealing with the contingencies and particularities of the historical process. You cannot probabilify historical knowledge in some axiomatic fashion.

There are many bare possibilities open to God, each with its own branching tree of coruscating consequences. You can only know what God will do by what God has done, by a record of his modus operandi, and/or his promises, in which he articulates a standing policy for the future.

“What it assumes rather is an obligation on the part of the relevant persons to resolve SOME of these moral dilemmas in one way or another.”

True, although the extent of our obligation is contingent on the extent to which God has obligated us to resolve a moral dilemma one way or another.

“(Because of the incidence of a specific a set of circumstances, such as would, for instance, be given by the situation of a young man who has been encouraged by his peers to engage in the sin of masturbation).”

And the way a young evangelical man would weigh whether masturbation is sinful or not is by the following:

1.Is there a specific proscription in Scripture against masturbation?

If “yes,” that’s as far as he may needs to go, although the Bible may sometimes give a specific reason for a particular prescription or proscription, and the reason may sometimes modify the force or duration of the injunction.

If “no,” then he must move to the next step:

2.Can the licit or illicit character of masturbation be inferred from general norm of Scripture or else from some analogous case law?

Same as above.

3.If “no,” then we’ve moved into the area of permissible conduct in which prudence is the primary consideration.

If the explicit or implicit teaching of Scripture doesn’t’ address a moral dilemma, then it’s a false dilemma because there may be more than one licit course of action.

It is illicit to choose evil, but it is not illicit to choose between better and best, or between alternative goods.

“It also assumes that these persons would be harder put to resolve these dilemmas if it were only open to them to believing in ‘sola scriptura’, than if it were instead open to them to believing in ‘sola ecclesia’; and thus that it is more probable than not that God would have placed at their disposal the requisite warrant for believing in ‘sola ecclesia’.”

No, what is more probable is that if we lack revelatory guidance on an issue, then this is a point of personal liberty. There is more than one right alternative.

“After all, if I believe myself to have been immediately vouchsafed by God the knowledge the masturbation is sinful (and if I also find that I am not aware as to how this knowledge can be derived from the moral axioms of which I believe myself otherwise to have been made aware and further believe that knowledge of this kind is extremely important but yet that the statement that ‘masturbation is a sin’ isn’t present in scripture in a formal sense,), then my situation could well provide me with a reason for believing that God might have put in place a reliable mechanism for generating formal knowledge of this kind.”

i) Now you’re moving into the realm of natural law. Given that masturbation is a cultural universal, this is a pretty lousy candidate for a natural law prohibition.

ii) I don’t deny the role of conscience. I don’t deny that we enjoy certain innate or native moral intuitions.

BTW, what’s the rate of masturbation among young Catholic men compared with their male Evangelical counterparts?

“1) An infallible church would pronounce contraception to be a grave sin against Christ on the basis of the sort of understanding of sexuality that would enable it : a) to affirm the true end of the institution of human sexuality and b) to classify oral sex and masturbation as being also grave sins against Christ.”

With all due respect, one could turn this around. Any church which pronounces oral sex, masturbation, and contraception to be grave sins against Jesus Christ is probably a fallible institution which calls into question the whole idea of ecclesiastical infallibility.

I’m not being facetious here. The fact that you classify oral sex, masturbation, and contraception as grave sins is a reflex result of your Catholic conditioning rather than an argument for the infallibility of the Catholic church.

“3) An infallible church has to have existed from, at the very least, the time of the gathering in the Cenacle which took place on the occasion of the first Pentecost.”

From a Protestant point of view, this is an overstatement based on an equivocation of terms. The NT church included certain infallible teachers. But the church qua church was not infallible.

And once the Apostolic age is behind us, there are no infallible members of the church. They laid the foundation.

“4) An infallible church has to be seen to be an organisation styling itself as a church by the majority of persons who presently comprise the educated public (and this because, the expanse of time between the time of Christ and the present, is so large as to make it all but certain that such a church will have been able to make its claim to be a church known to the majority of persons who should presently comprise the educated public).”

If I understand what he’s saying,, the claim is mistaken.

The reason that Catholicism and Orthodoxy boast the greatest membership is because they date to a time when your religious affiliation was determined by the head-of-state. If a pagan king converted to Catholicism, that entailed the mass conversion of all his royal subjects to Catholicism; if he converted to Islam or Buddhism or Orthodoxy, you had the same mass conversion to the state religion.

Combine a national church with infant baptism, and church membership is virtually conterminous with citizenship.

So we’re tabulating church members by toting up entire nationalities. Obviously you can rack up a huge figure in short order when you are counting national populations.

This owes almost everything to social conditioning and the available options, or lack thereof. And it’s not coincidental that where the linkage between church and state weakens, the membership rolls for the national church decline precipitously.

“But I want you both to know that Perry has looked at the book of Acts and he has found evidence in that book for the existence of ecumenical councils and the like (this is evident from what he says to Jason in his various responses to him), and so, as far as Perry is concerned, the scriptural record supports Perry’s teaching on the nature of the Church.”

And I want you to know that Jason and I have both responded to Perry’s argument.

You need to acknowledge an opponent’s response to an argument. And you either need to show what was wrong with his response, or else withdraw the objection.

If I don't mind, then you don't matter

John W. Loftus said:

“I'm sure you think that same way when it comes to Christianity, too. And yet the advancement of science has shoved aside a great deal of superstitious beliefs.”

This is a considerable overstatement.

It is true that science has shoved aside a great deal of superstition. And for that we may all be grateful.

ii) All this means is that science is good at what science is good at. Christians are not opposed to technology.

The proper subject matter of science is ordinary providence and empirical phenomena.

iii) However, science is incompetent to establish metascientific claims.

iv) In addition, what you think science is able to prove depends on your philosophy of science, viz., realism v. antirealism.

“It has replaced divinations, astrology, magic, prophecies, sorcerers, witchdoctors, talk of gods and goddesses, dreams from the gods, with meteorology, medicine, geology, astronomy, physics, chemistry, etc, etc.”

This is another overstatement.

i) You’re regurgitating the old sociological, bellicose model of Durkheim, Draper, and Alexander White, parroted ad nauseum by their contemporary sycophants (e.g. Dawkins), according to which there is a battle to the death between Christianity and modernity.

Once upon a time, Christians, in their prescientific innocence, believed all sorts of supernatural stuff-n-nonsense which modern man rightly finds incredible.

But instead of making a clean break with the nursery, Christians have chosen to reinterpret the Bible and jettison whatever dogmas have proven unduly inconvenient, in a sort of land-for-peace deal.

As a result, whenever science is on the march, Christianity is in retreat, fighting one losing battle after another, abandoning one outpost after another, in a series of rearguard maneuvers and guerrilla tactics as it surrenders territory inch-by-inch against the inexorable progress of science, taking its last stand in the inaccessible crannies of the God-of-the-gaps or the la-la land of sacred suprahistory.

ii) But this proud prediction has been proven false time and again. Rodney Stark, our leading sociologist of religion, used to buy into that armchair as well until he found it overwhelmed by a rising tide of demographics to the contrary.

iii) It is quite true that theological liberals have played the role assigned to them by Durkheim, Draper, and White. But that’s only one side of the story, and a rapidly shrinking side of the story.

Liberal churches are dead and dying churches. Such is the fate of the mainline denominations.

Bible-believing churches are growing churches.

iv) At a practical level, all of the old superstitious are alive and well. When you secularize a culture, the result is not to render it less religious, but only less Christian. The natives simply revert to pre-Christian religiosity.

Or else they introduce new, scientific superstitions like Darwinism, ufology, and Jungian psychology.

v) At a principled level, you’re deliberating mashing things together in a guilt-by-association tactic.

a) There are many charlatans who peddle their wares.

b) The Bible forbids the occult, not because it has no basis in fact, but because it does have a basis in fact. Christians still believe in the dark side.

c) What is more, Christians still believe in miracles.

“Even when it comes to prayer, modern Christians do not believe God can do as much because of the recognized laws of nature. The ancients didn't have a concept of the ordered laws of nature. God was controlling it all, like pulling on strings on puppets from just above the mountains. In their minds God would literally have no trouble moving a mountain. But the prayers of Christians today are very lame, precisely because of the advancement of science.”

i) The ancients, who had to live off the land, were more in touch with the rhythms of nature than are moderns who live and move from one climate-controlled environment to another.

ii) The Jews had a doctrine of providence. Miracles occur within a general framework of divine providence.

iii) Science does nothing to subtract from the possibility or actuality of miraculous events. Natural laws are descriptive, not prescriptive or proscriptive.

All you’ve done is to reify and deify natural law.

iv) Rank-and-file Jews and Christians pray the same way they’ve prayed for thousands of years. And God answers their prayers the same way he’s done for thousands of years.

“So, like pantheists who think that every waking moment of their lives and every experience they have ever had is maya, or an illusion, you believe that it's more plausible to think there is no material world, which denies every waking momment of our lives and every experience we have ever had, eh? I suppose then, it's more plausible that you have always been dreaming in a coma-like state, too! Travis, this isn't a refutation of anything, but a comparison, okay?”

i) You keep missing the point of idealism. Idealism is phenomenalogically equivalent to dualism. Your experience would be exactly the same either way. For Berkeley, the sensible world is just what it appears to be, nothing more and nothing less.

ii) You keep missing the point of materialism. According to materialism, we are zombies. We have no mental life. That’s an illusion. And that’s the whole point of eliminative materialism, a la Crick, Dawkins, Dennett, the Churchlands, et al.

John, you are still enslaved to folk psychology. Didn’t you know you were a zombie?

ii) Materialism and idealism are both half-truths, as obverse sides of the same dualistic coin. Therein lies both their intellectual force and their intellectual failure.

“Have you read either Daniel Dennett's Consciousness Explained, or Francis Crick's, The Astonishing Hypothesis: The Scientific Search for the Soul?”

i) One of your problems is that you don’t understand what you read. You have failed to absorb what a radical thesis they are really advancing.

ii) And have you ever read their many critics, a la BonJour, Chalmers, De Poe, Foster, Kim, Kripke, Moreland, Nagle, Paterson, Penrose, Plantinga, Reppert, Searle, Smythies, Swinburne, Taliaferro, Unger, Vallicella, &c.?