Friday, August 31, 2007

How to do Catholic apologetics without doing Catholic apologetics

(Posted on behalf of Steve Hays.)

Jonathan Prejean has responded, sort of, to something I wrote.1

The paradoxical thing about Prejean is that he’s a Catholic apologist who never does Catholic apologetics. He never gets around to defending his own faith.

I suppose that there’s a roundabout logic to his roundaboutness. After all, if Catholicism is specifically indefensible, then it would be a suicide mission to vainly defend the specifics of your faith with specific arguments.

Prejean doesn’t offer historical or exegetical arguments for his faith since, if he ever got that down-to-earth, his arguments would fall prey to specific counterarguments.

In that respect he’s several steps ahead of other Catholic apologists like Hahn, Keating, and Armstrong. Realizing the futility of their approach, he tries to put as much distance as possible between his faith and supporting arguments specific to his faith.

His strategy is to dig a very deep moat, raise the drawbridge, retreat into the citadel of natural theology, and have an underground tunnel to Byzantium in case the citadel is overrun.

My earlier words will be in red, while his will be in blue:
"It's hardly a coincidence that Mormons view Jewish anthropomorphism as philosophically normative; that appears to be what sola scriptura entails."

i) This is a category mistake, since sola Scriptura doesn’t entail any particular interpretation of Scripture. Sola Scriptura is a rule of faith, not a hermeneutical prediction.

JP> It's not a category mistake; Hays simply hasn't responded to my argument that something can't possible serve as a formal rule unless it adjudicates exactly those sorts of hermeneutical disputes. That was the whole argument regarding formal authority.
It’s true that, in this case, I didn’t respond to his other argument ("that something can't possible serve as a formal rule unless it adjudicates exactly those sorts of hermeneutical disputes.")

And that’s because I was responding to a different argument of his. I didn’t respond to that argument here, because I was responding to this argument—on what sola Scriptura allegedly entails.

Notice that Prejean, instead of standing behind his argument, and explaining why his argument was not a category mistakes, simply issues a denial and then changes the subject.

So he has done nothing whatsoever to rebut the charge that his contention was a category mistake. Instead, he resorted to a bait-and-switch maneuver, swapping out the argument of his I did respond to, and swapping in another argument of his.

Incidentally, I do get around to responding to his other argument as well. Just not here.

I’m taking his arguments one a time. If he lacks confidence in his arguments, that’s his problem, not mine.
ii) Jews themselves don’t construe "Jewish anthropomorphism" as philosophically normative in the Mormon sense of taking these anthropomorphic passages literally. Simply put, Jewish theism is a world apart from Mormon theism.

JP> I don't disagree. But Protestants following them do take literally a large number of passages about God "electing," etc., that are philosophically absurd on a literal construction. Obviously, God doesn't literally choose among people.
This is an assertion in place of an argument—and a question-begging assertion at that.
iii) The Bible itself, in certain programmatic statements, distinguishes between a divine and human viewpoint (e.g. Num 23:19; 1 Sam 15:29). Therefore, since Scripture itself internalizes a distinction between literal and anthropomorphic depictions of the divine, one doesn’t need to ransack natural theology to draw this distinction—for Scripture already differentiates and prioritizes those alternating perspectives.

JP> The irony here is that the two passages are both anthropomorphic, treating God as if He were literally a human agent, speaking and promising. Obviously, these are figures of the impassibility of the divine nature; it would be silly to imagine God as a being that makes choices, elects, or takes action in time and is then bound to what He did "before."
i) Here he makes a gesture in the direction of explaining himself. Unfortunately, he continues to beg the question.

Indeed, he’s using the same argument that atheologians like Kai Nielsen frequently use to prove (to their own satisfaction) that a timeless, discarnate being cannot be a person or personal agent: hence, God does not exist.

Prejean is assuming, without benefit of argument, that "electing" is a temporal action. Ironically, Prejean is the one who is anthropomorphizing the godhead.

It is true that when human beings make choices, there is a temporal process of deliberation, as well as an interval between the mental resolve and its practical execution. But to say on this account that God cannot choose is to illicitly equate the essential nature of choice with an incidental mode of subsistence.

Prejean has offered no argument to show that choice is inherently temporal, such that there would be a time before God made a choice, and a time subsequent to his choice. Same thing with "promising." Where is Prejean’s actual argument that only a temporal agent can make a promise?

ii) Likewise, he fails to distinguish between a timeless cause and a temporal effect. God’s intentions are effected in time, without God himself acting in time. His intention is not, itself, temporal.

iii) On a related note, Prejean also fails to take into account the use of second causes to facilitate God’s will.

Is the idea of divine speech inherently anthropomorphic? No. Prejean is lifting this verse out of context. Indeed, this very chapter supplies the context.

Who is the speaker? Samuel. Samuel is a prophet. He is speaking on God’s behalf—as a mouthpiece for God Almighty.

So God uses human beings to communicate his message. There is nothing figurative about that predication or process. The prophets are divine spokesmen. Recipients of visions and auditions.

And God has other conduits to convey his message. He can speak through an angel. He can speak by means of a theophany. He can cause letters to be inscribed on stone.

Scripture doesn’t describe divine speech in anthropomorphic terms. Rather, it describes a number of different, but literal modes of divine speech.

When God inspires a prophet, he forms a set of verbalized thoughts in the mind of the prophet. This is divine speech because God inspired the words and sentences. We can predicate the speech to God because God inspired the words the prophet is uttering. There’s an exact match between what the prophet says and what the Lord caused him to say. Nothing the least bit figurative or anthropomorphic about that correspondence.

Prejean has a very crude, philosophically naïve, and Biblically uninformed idea of what divine speech amounts to. That’s because he disdains the Bible, so he doesn’t make any effort to even understand the nature of the claim.
I have no doubt that "pre-philosophical" OT authors might have literally meant what they intended here, but natural theology demands a hermeneutical principle that takes the literal sentiment for what it analogously symbolizes.
So he frankly admits that, from his standpoint, the OT authors were simply mistaken. They meant well. And they genuinely meant to attribute these mental states and actions to God. But they were wrong.

We know better. Natural theology has falsified their claims.

I’m not going to take the time, here and now, to argue with Prejean’s low view of Scripture. It’s sufficient to merely highlight his infidelity.

I appreciate the way in which he candidly distinguishes his Catholic faith from Bible-believing Evangelicalism. He presents the alternatives is refreshingly stark terms.
"I can't say that I see much merit in the more general suggestion of how Catholics should argue with Protestants. The primary refutation of sola scriptura is that it is absurd as a matter of natural theology and that its conclusions deny certain conclusions of natural theology."

i) So he doesn’t even entertain the self-witness of Scripture as a relevant consideration.

JP> From a normative perspective, that appeal would be viciously circular. Scripture might be obviously false if its self-witness were contradictory, but self-witness can't say anything positive about truth.
It would be viciously circular if I were arguing with an atheist. But when two professing Christians get into a debate, is it viciously circular to assume that both sides take the self-witness of Scripture as a given?

Historically, Catholicism does acknowledge the Bible to be the word of God. So, when I’m debating with a Catholic apologist, how is it viciously circular for me to take a doctrine for granted that we both share in common?

Or do we? It’s clear from Prejean’s reaction that Catholicism and atheism are interchangeable. Hence, it would be viciously circular to grant the identity of Scripture as the word of God when debating with a Catholic apologist. File that for future reference.

Once again, I appreciate Prejean’s frank infidelity. It’s a real time saver.
ii) How does he identify natural theology? Strictly speaking, there’s no such thing as natural theology. What we have, rather, is a bewildering variety of natural theologies.

JP> Strictly speaking, the claim that there is no such thing as natural theology would entail the claim that nothing at all can be known about God from existence.
Prejean is prevaricating. This is what I actually said, in full:
Strictly speaking, there’s no such thing as natural theology. What we have, rather, is a bewildering variety of natural theologies.
Notice that he quotes the first sentence, but omits the second sentence—which qualifies the force of the first sentence.

So what I actually said is that there’s no such thing as natural theology (singular) because what we have instead is a variety of competing models of natural theology.

But Prejean is too dishonest to quote me in full since that would ill-serve his purpose. Not that one must always quote someone in full, but when you partially quote someone in a way that deliberately leaves a false impression, then that is dishonest.

Which is fine with me. If Prejean can’t defend his position by honest methods, that’s a tacit admission that his position is indefensible.
Innate ideas are simply nonsense
Wow, how’s that for a closely-reasoned argument.
Representational indirect realism using innate ideas is incompatible with the hylomorphism required to justify alethic realism, Augustinian exemplarism, and any coherent account of Cartesian dualism.
i) Another assertion in lieu of an argument. In addition, I didn’t say that indirect realism uses innate idea. Indirect realism is a theory of perception. My immediate point is that some of our knowledge is innate, while some of our knowledge is acquired—via perception.

ii) At the same time, there is a relationship between the two modes of knowledge. Unless we were endowed with an innate classification system, we would be unable to classify raw sensory input. You can’t bootstrap a classification system. Without some preexisting categories to sort out the raw data, it remains a jumble. Some slots must already be in place to mentally organize, analyze, and synthesize the input.
But that simply goes to show that there are a lot of wrong conclusions that don't vitiate the correctness of natural theology generally.
Natural theology is not generally correct (or incorrect) since there’s no such thing as natural theology in general. To assess the correctness of natural theology, you must begin by selecting the correct version of natural theology.
JP> True. And most everyone was wrong about something. The good thing about continuity is that you can actually progress and get more things right.
Yes, if you have a criterion for continuity and progress. Yet he is citing natural theology as his criterion. But when you have a number of competing models, then it begs the question to cite natural theology as the criterion. What is his criterion to distinguish the correct version from the erroneous versions?
JP> Spoken like a true idealist! It's all about the "interpretive grid."
To the contrary, I’m addressing Prejean on his own grounds. He’s the one who is using natural theology as an interpretive grid which he superimposes on Scripture.

So, yes, the onus lies on him to specify and defend which version of natural theology functions as his interpretive grid.

But, as usual, his response is to indulge in evasive maneuvers. When you confront him on his own grounds, he pushes the eject button and parachutes out of his flaming plane.

If I were in his situation, I’d be tempted to do the same thing. But it would be even better not to put yourself in that situation in the first place.
Reality dictating knowledge? Pshaw! That might require that even Scripture have to be consistent with external knowledge before it could be affirmed as true. But in the idealist world of divine revelation, this is entirely opposite. Scripture tells you what is real, no matter what you know, because what's real is what's in your head. If God puts something in your head, that is more "ultimate" than your experience.
i) Once more, this reveals quite a lot about his view of divine revelation, does it not? Reality is one thing, and revelation is another.

ii) Of course, from a Christian standpoint, in contrast to Prejean’s, divine revelation is a revelation about reality.

iii) And what about his appeal to "experience"? Does "experience" distinguish what is real from what is unreal? Don’t we experience dreams? Isn’t a hallucination a real experience? I didn’t hallucinate that I was hallucinating.
"Nonsense on stilts" is, I believe, the apt historical description of that.
But you can dream about a pair of stilts. Or hallucinate. How does raw experience adjudicate between real stilts and your stilted dream or hallucination?
This is a purely a priori postulate. And one problem with this stipulation is that we find no precedent for his armchair postulate in the life of the old covenant community. God did not endow a definite set of individuals with the power to resolve doctrinal disputes. So why should we take Prejean’s dicta seriously?

JP> Indeed, I consider the old covenant community to be evidence that lack of a stable, formal authority is doomed to failure. Israel seems like an object lesson of the principle that I deductively derived (not a priori) from what struck me as reasonably descriptions of the operation of actual authorities (induced from actual knowledge). Every time that God gave them some sort of gift to help them stay on the straight and narrow, they spurned it. If that didn't show the need for the constant presence of God's authority, I don't know what would.
In what sense was the OT rule of faith a failure? What does it mean for something to fail?

i) Suppose your hard drive fails. We might chalk that up to a design defect. And the next model should correct for that failure.

ii) But suppose it’s one of those counterterrorist scenarios. The jihadis threaten to blow up New York unless we hand over a computer with sensitive military schematics.

And suppose the Pentagon gives into the demand, but with a catch. It builds a design flaw into the hard drive to ensure that the hard drive will fail. And this buys us time to track down the jihadis.

Was this a failure? The question is ambiguous. In this case, it was designed to fail—like planned obsolescence.

iii) And let’s remember the larger context of our debate. The high-church contention is that sola scripture is a false rule of faith because it "fails."

Yet Prejean just told us that the OT rule of faith was a "failure." Indeed, it was "doomed" to fail."

Does this mean the OT rule of faith was a false rule of faith? Does this mean that God did not institute or constitute the OT community of faith?

If the OT rule of faith "failed," that is not because it was flawed. To the contrary, if it failed, then it did so because it was designed to effect that particular outcome.

In fact, the OT rule of faith was a success. It succeeded in achieving the purpose that God meant for it.

iv) In addition, the word of God was never intended to yield a uniform result. The word of God serves more than one purpose. It is instrumental, both in preserving the elect and hardening the reprobate. It is also instrumental, up to a point, in restraining sin—even among the ungodly.
"My argument was essentially that, for anything to function as a binding authority, it must actually be able to bindingly resolve every dispute coming under the auspices of the formal system. That means, ultimately, that if any interpretation of any material authority can be disputed, there has to be some human authority that has the power to finally resolve it, even if that power isn't exercised. Otherwise, in the end, all you have is persuasive authority, and the hope that there is actually an answer to be had if reasonable people simply exercise their God-given reason."

i) Once again, since no such authority existed in God’s constitution of the old covenant community, why should we intuit the necessity of such an institution in the life of the new covenant community?

JP> Because the old covenant community didn't work. It was dysfunctional, and the new covenant has been held out as something better.
i) And why didn’t the old covenant work? Did it not work out because the old covenant was never meant to be the true rule of faith for God’s people, at that time and place?

Let’s review the church-argument once more:

a) The true rule of faith cannot fail.

b) Sola Scriptura is a failure.

c) Therefore, sola Scripture is not the true rule of faith.

Let’s transfer that argument to the OT. Is the Catholic or Orthodox apologist prepared to carry his argument to its logical extreme?

ii) Where does Prejean locate the superiority of the new covenant? There were apostates under the old covenant. There are apostates under the new covenant. There were schismatics under the old covenant. There are schismatics under the new covenant. There were heretics under the old covenant. There are heretics under the new covenant.

There is no doubt a sense in which the new covenant is better than the old covenant. But that’s not the issue. The issue is whether it is more "successful"—as the high churchman defines success.

And, of course, there’s also something to be said for defining success and failure in Biblical terms.
Formal authority pertains to the object of faith, so the distinction between the covenants is based on the new object, not a new disposition in the subject. The improved object of faith is the Son of God subsisting in His Body, the Church.
i) This assumes that the Messiah was not the object of faith in OT piety. But I’ll pass on that for now.

ii) More to the issue at hand, how does Prejean’s explanation militate against sola Scriptura as a rule of faith? If the dispensational improvement lies in a better object of faith, then that, of itself, does nothing to secure faith in the object of faith. A rule of faith doesn’t ingenerate faith in itself and by itself. Making Christ the object of faith doesn’t forestall "anarchy" or "chaos."

The rule of faith is objective to the believer. It presents the mind with something to believe. But whether you believe it or not depends on your subjective predisposition to believe it or not. Prejean’s rule of faith is an abject failure according to his very definition of success.
"The problem I see with sola scriptura in that regard is that there is no good cause for granting authority to Scripture in the first place, so there is never more than merely probable and rebuttable warrant for any particular conclusion drawn."

Well, I suppose we should at least commend Jonathan for his candid infidelity. For him, the Word of God has no intrinsic authority. For him, the Word of God has no inherent credibility. Whatever authority we credit to Scripture is a purely secondary and derivative authority which is conferred on Scripture by some extrinsic locus of authority.

JP> Pay very close attention here, because this is a direct admission that Hays's belief is fideistic and irrational, but it's easy to miss. Hays says that my denial of the Word of God having "intrinsic authority" and "inherent credibility" is infidelity. It follows then that fidelity requires admitting these things. But "intrinsic authority" and "inherent credibility" are meaningless, nonsense in the most basic meaning of the term. So Hays is saying that faith REQUIRES you to accept something that not only has not been proved but cannot possibly be proved, because it entails something that cannot be rationally believed. That's fideism in a nutshell
Only one problem: I never said what Prejean imputed to me. Prejean is the one who said that "intrinsic authority" and "inherent credibility" are meaningless, nonsense in the most basic meaning of the term.

So all he’s done is to draw a conclusion from his own premise, not mine. And, in that respect, his statement is another damning admission with respect to his contemptuous view of Scripture. I’ll have more to say about this at a later point.
How is Prejean’s view of Scripture any different than 18C Deism, a la Collins, Toland, Tindal, et al.?

JP> News flash: I'm Catholic. I believe that Christ is still around and active. They don't.
Okay, so his view of Christ is different. But that wasn’t the question. How does this make his view of Scripture any different?

Like Prejean, the English Deists also subordinated Scripture to natural theology. They were only prepared to believe as much of Christian doctrine as they could authorize via natural theology. Prejean is a methodological Deist. He has adopted the very same theological method as they did.
"And unlike the case of science, there's no good cause for thinking that exegesis of Scripture produces knowledge in the first place, because unlike science, its normative standards aren't justified by first principles."

So when the OT prophets interpret the Pentateuch, this exercise doesn’t yield knowledge. And when Jesus or the Apostles interpret the OT, this exercise doesn’t yield knowledge.

JP> For THEM it did, because they have a reason to accept Scriptural authority. You have no reason, so for you, it produces nothing.
See how Prejean is having to retreat from his original claim.
"One can do what conservative Evangelicals do, which is a bare, unjustified assertion of properties like inerrancy, wholeness, etc., of Scripture, which is effectively to conjure a normative authority out of nowhere."

Yes, to agree with God’s self-estimate regarding the divine authority of his word is "effectively to conjure a normative authority out of nowhere."

JP> If by "God's self-estimate" you mean your normative interpretation of Scripture, then yes, that's exactly what I mean. Viciously circular normative arguments by definition conjure a normative authority out of nowhere.
What I mean is how God views his own utterances in Scripture.
"Every allegedly divinely revealed conclusion is only as good as its weakest normative link, and there is not even a coherent way of defining what the normative principles are. Unless God has invested some definite class of people with formal divine authority (and there might be legitimate disputes of judgment as to who those people are, but one has to at least think that there are such people), the situation for arriving at theological truth outside of natural theology is hopeless."

Assuming, for the sake of argument, that "God has invested some definite class of people with formal divine authority," are there no weak links in the chain of transmission? Isn’t the dissemination of Catholic dogma a trickle down process?

JP> Hays is confusing objective authority with subjective knowledge. If there's no proper object of authority (in terms of a formal system), then you don't even get to the question of whether people can find it, because there's nothing to find.
Once again, Prejean refuses to stand behind his original argument. At best, his appeal to objective authority would only supply a necessary, but insufficient, condition of knowledge.

There is still a weak link in his chain (indeed, countless weak links) unless he can take the next step by showing how the Catholic rule of faith is able to suffice as a condition of knowledge.

Remember, there was more to his original claim than the bare possibility of knowledge. He made a claim about "arriving" at theological truth.

Prejean’s position is like saying, I’m deeply in debt, but I’ve got a million bucks in my safe. Unfortunately, I forgot the combination, so I can’t actually get to my money and pay my bills. But I’m "objectively" rich.

Or like saying, I’ve got a million bucks in a Swiss bank account, but I forgot my account number and I lost my ID.

Herein lies the vast superiority of the Catholic rule of faith.
Even if the chain of transmission is hooked into the extraordinary Magisterium at one end, as soon as the chain of transmission drops below the extraordinary Magisterium, then we’re back to a series of weak links. So, by Prejean’s own yardstick, the case for Catholic dogma is hopeless.

JP> Quite the contrary, because I believe in both natural theology and the presence of Christ in the Church, I believe that there is something out there to know. If there are screw ups in transmission, then there is some real thing to which we can turn to discern whether we've screwed up. And I would mark out one key difference between my view and Hays's view: without that external grounding in reality, competition is chaos.
i) One of the problems with this statement is that much of Christian doctrine is not confirmable by natural theology alone. Much of Christian doctrine deals with unique historical particulars or invisible realities. You can’t intuit Christian theology from the being of Being—or is it the Being of being?

ii) He’s not going to find the presence of Christ in the Church from natural theology. For that he is reliant, at best, on revealed theology.

iii) In addition, he’s implicitly operating with a correspondence theory of truth. Nothing wrong with that where it applies.

But bracketing Scripture in particular, and turning hermeneutics in general, correspondence is scarcely sufficient for doing exegesis—whether on Scripture or some uninspired text—since the meaning of one text in relation to another is more a matter of coherence rather than correspondence.

iv) Put another way, there’s a difference between establishing the meaning of a text, and establishing its veracity.

To some extent, correspondence may verify or falsify a text, but it doesn’t ascertain the meaning of the text—for the obvious reason that a false textual claim can still be meaningful. Indeed, it’s because the textual claim is meaningful apart from external corroboration that we can then test its assertions about the world in relation to the world.

For that matter, the fictional genre doesn’t even claim to be realistic. Is The Martian Chronicles grounded in reality? No.

Does this disconnect render The Martian Chronicles is unintelligible? No.

Same thing with the Divine Comedy or Lord of the Rings. Exegeting Dante or Tolkien or Bradbury doesn’t depend on how well grounded they happen to be in reality. There are right and wrong interpretations of Dante—irrespective of whether his science is right or wrong.
The reason that discussion and theory can produce answers is that reality is a forcing function on the method, and in Hays's idealism, there's no necessary correlation between knowledge and reality, because the most fundamental tenet of the whole system (Scriptural authority) comes out of nowhere. Knowledge can't depend on something internal to you, like some disposition toward Scripture, some "interpretive grid," and still be knowledge about reality.
The Bible makes self-referential claims as well as constantive claims. Prejean uses natural theology to verify or falsify the constantive claims, and then—in turn—uses the constantive claims, duly verified or falsified, to verify or falsify the self-referential claims.

Several problems:

i) He’s done nothing to establish natural theology.

ii) He’s done nothing to establish that natural theology should validate or invalidate revealed theology—as if natural theology is a source of knowledge, while revealed theology is not.

iii) He confuses interpretation with verification.

Now for the bottom line. In a different thread, Prejean went so far as to say that:
You can't rationally have faith in anything but divine acts, not accounts of divine acts, not description of divine acts.2
This exposes the depth of his infidelity. According to Prejean, you can’t have faith in what God says, but only in what he does.

Could anything be more at odds with Biblical piety? For Prejean, it’s irrational to take God at his word, to trust in his promises.

But what is Scripture if not, in large part, an account of divine deeds? It’s a running narrative of God’s creative, judicial, and redemptive deeds—from OT history through the Gospels and the Book of Acts.

Historical descriptions of what God has said and done. And yet, according to Prejean, this is not an object of faith. Only the raw events, and not the record of the events, is an object of faith.

Just in passing, I wonder how many of the church fathers or scholastic theologians would agree with him.

Now let’s finish with what one of Prejean’s commenters had to say:

Check out this classic:
**"The problem I see with sola scriptura in that regard is that there is no good cause for granting authority to Scripture in the first place, so there is never more than merely probable and rebuttable warrant for any particular conclusion drawn."**

"Well, I suppose we should at least commend Jonathan for his candid infidelity. For him, the Word of God has no intrinsic authority. For him, the Word of God has no inherent credibility. Whatever authority we credit to Scripture is a purely secondary and derivative authority which is conferred on Scripture by some extrinsic locus of authority."

WOW, good one Steve. My undergraduate philosophy professor used this (on the first day of class in an introductory course) as a textbook example of sloppy thinking among Christians. Why is the Bible the Word of God? Because it says so. Why trust the Bible? Because God wrote it. How do you know God wrote it? Because the Bible says so...etc...etc...etc...

What in the world can it mean for Scripture to have "intrinsic authority" or "inherent credibility?"

Several issues:

i) I’m sorry that Joseph’s philosophy prof. is so inept. I guess that Joseph attends the same school as Apolonio.

Be that as it may, notice that Joseph has simply substituted his own caricature for what I actually said. Did I say "Why is the Bible the Word of God? Because it says so. Why trust the Bible? Because God wrote it. How do you know God wrote it? Because the Bible says so...etc...etc...etc..."

No, that was not my argument. So, if you want a textbook example of Joseph’s sloppy thinking (of which his philosophy prof. is equally guilty), here is a blatant straw man argument.

ii) And that’s not the only textbook example of Joseph’s sloppy thinking (of which his philosophy prof. is equally guilty).

There’s such a thing as an argument from authority. That is a valid argument when two disputants share a common authority.

Now, if I were debating with an atheist, an appeal to the intrinsic authority of Scripture would beg the question. But, at least traditionally, Roman Catholics claim to honor the authority. Indeed, they get very irate with Protestants who routinely deny that Catholics honor the authority of Scripture.

Since I was debating a Catholic apologist rather than, say, Richard Dawkins, I didn’t start from scratch.

However, it’s apparent from the reaction of Joseph and Jonathan that Catholicism is synonymous with atheism. Therefore, when debating with a Catholic apologist, the Evangelical apologist must equate Catholicism with atheism, and mount a preliminary argument to establish the identity of the Bible as the Word of God.

iii) And here is still another textbook example of Joseph’s sloppy thinking. In the statement he quoted from me, I didn’t say that we should trust the Bible because God wrote it. I didn’t say we should trust the Bible. And I didn’t say that God wrote it.

Rather, all I did was to point out the consequences of Prejean’s position. And Joseph has done nothing at all to show that those consequences do not flow from Prejean’s position.

What I offered was a description of his implicit position rather than a value-judgment. I left it to the reader to judge the results.

I said that, for Prejean, Whatever authority we credit to Scripture is a purely secondary and derivative authority which is conferred on Scripture by some extrinsic locus of authority."

What has Joseph offered to overturn that characterization? Nothing.

iv) Finally, let’s finish with his statement: What in the world can it mean for Scripture to have "intrinsic authority" or "inherent credibility?"

Why does he think that’s such a hard question to answer?

a) God is the supreme authority figure. God has intrinsic authority. The Word of God partakes of God’s authority. It is authoritative because he is authoritative. It’s authoritative because it’s the word of an authority figure. Intrinsically authoritative because it’s identical with God’s will for what he intended to communicate.

b) As to the question of inherent credibility, is he challenging the notion in general, or only its application to Scripture?

If this is a general challenge, then it follows that the church lacks inherent credibility. And it also follows that natural theology lacks inherent credibility.

If nothing is inherently credible, then nothing can warrant belief in something which may be otherwise true, but lacks inherent credibility. Bad news for Catholicism.

If, however, his challenge is limited to Scripture, then why would he affirm that other things are inherently credible, but deny that Scripture is inherently credible?




  1. Funny,

    As I read the archives, I discovered that Orthodox's "ban" is from the entire Triablogue staff, not Gene alone.

    Of course, Orthodox is a chronic liar, so we shouldn't expect him to post the truth.

    I think the point is you don't need "inherent" credibility when you believe there is a historical and factual basis for the Church who proclaims the canon of scripture as authoritative successors to those who recorded the events therein.

    And where is the inherent credibility of "the Church," however defined, grounded?

  2. Orthodox is like Dimitri Fyodorovitch who keeps barging in on Grushenka after she's made it perfectly clear that she doesn't want him around.

    (To use an Orthodox reference, at least)


  3. Did I say "alone"? Protestants have a funny habit of inserting "alone" where it does not belong.

    You said the ban was "of Gene," not "of Triablogue." We can only go by what you say at any given time. Once again, Orthodox backs off his original statements.

    Sounds like inherent credibility to Steve is a burning in the bosom. Oh I feel it, don't you? LOL

    As I read the archives I've seen him argue for the Bible as the Word of God with atheists, so this is a straw man on your part - another lie.

    Since you seem to dispute the inherent credibility of the Word of God, I take it Orthodoxy is synonymous with atheism?

    I also see you didn't answer the question. What grounds the claims of "the Church?"

    How do you adjudicate which Church is the one true church if you deny the inherent credibility of Scripture? If you appeal to "the Church" then your appeal is viciously circular, for what authorizes the Church's claim?

  4. Who says IB is Protestant.

    For example, I might be Catholic, in which case, I say Rome, not your church is the one true church.

    See how your appeal is viciously circular? What grounds that claim?

    >Now what is this inherent credibility? Show that it exists from the foundational assumptions of protestants epistemology.

    Look in the archives. At least I make an attempt.

    >If a split occurs in the church we have to look to who left the previously agreed faith. Read St Vincent of Lerins.

    What grounds Vincent's statements?

    This is question begging. How do you adjudicate the answer to that?

    Where is the supporting argument?

  5. Ah, I see, Orthodox isn't interested in having a discussion, he's just interesting in shutting down discussion and cutting and pasting his deleted posts.

    Yes, that's very adult behavior - for a preschooler.

    In the real world, the claims of the Church are founded in the historical fact of its authority and succession from the Church the apostles founded.

    How do you know what Church that is if not from Scripture? Where does Scripture name the Orthodox Church? Rome makes the same claim, how do you judge between them? How do I know Vincent was right?

  6. I wonder how Prejean reconciles his natural theology with 1 Corinthians 1:18-2:16?

    Of course, I can probably guess that he just dismisses the Biblical witness altogether.

  7. Gene,

    If you're reading this, I noticed that you had quoted a few church fathers giving Calvinistic interpretations of John 6 and other texts.

    Where did you find those (i.e. references please)?

  8. Several are listed in Putting Amazing Back Into Grace by Horton.

    There are several on justification by faith alone that Jason has put together. Here's a sample:

    Roman Catholic apologists often cite church fathers advocating some form of salvation through works, even when the form the church father advocated contradicts Roman Catholic teaching. Though many of the church fathers did refer to *some* type of salvation through works, they were sometimes inconsistent on the issue. They would refer to salvation through works in one place, but refer to salvation being through faith alone, even using the words "faith alone", elsewhere.

    John Chrysostom is an example. He wrote that "by faith alone He saved us" (Homilies on Ephesians, 5, vv. 13-15), and he repeatedly affirmed salvation through faith alone elsewhere. For example:

    "But after saying that 'it was excluded,' he shows also, how. How then does he say it was excluded? 'By what law? of works? Nay, but by the law of faith.' See he calls the faith also a law delighting to keep to the names, and so allay the seeming novelty. But what is the 'law of faith?' It is, being saved by grace. Here he shows God's power, in that He has not only saved, but has even justified, and led them to boasting, and this too without needing works, but looking for faith only." (Homilies on Romans, 7, v. 27)

    "Attend to this, ye who come to baptism at the close of life, for we indeed pray that after baptism ye may have also this deportment, but thou art seeking and doing thy utmost to depart without it. For, what though thou be justified: yet is it of faith only. But we pray that thou shouldest have as well the confidence that cometh of good works" (Homilies on Second Corinthians, 2:8, vv. 10-11)

    "They said that he who kept not the Law was cursed, but he proves that he who kept it was cursed, and he who kept it not, blessed. Again, they said that he who adhered to Faith alone was cursed, but he shows that he who adhered to Faith alone is blessed." (Commentary on Galatians, 3, v. 8)

    Chrysostom was inconsistent, however, referring to the "water" of John 3:5 as baptism, for example (Homilies on the Gospel of John, 25:2). Though Roman Catholic apologists often criticize Martin Luther for using the words "faith alone" in his translation of Romans 3:28, church fathers who lived hundreds of years earlier also used that terminology when discussing numerous passages of scripture on the subject of justification. Roman Catholic translations of the Bible predating Luther's used such terminology. Not all of the church fathers were consistent on this issue, but they did at least understand the concept of salvation through faith alone and sometimes advocated it.

    John Chrysostom comments on Romans 10:18-19:

    "'Yes, verily, their sound went into all the earth, and their words unto the ends of the world.' What do you say? he means. They have not heard? Why the whole world, and the ends of the earth, have heard. And have you, amongst whom the heralds abode such a long time, and of whose land they were, not heard? Now can this ever be? Sure if the ends of the world heard, much more must you. Then again another objection. Ver. 19. 'But I say, Did not Israel know?' For what if they heard, he means, but did not know what was said, nor understand that these were the persons sent? Are they not to be forgiven for their ignorance? By no means." (Homilies on Romans, 18, vv. 18-19)

    I keep some quotes on file too, like these:

    How about this one: "To believe is not ours, or in our power, but the Spirit's who is in us and abides in us." (Athanasius' Creed)

    Or this one: The victory lies in the will of God, not thine own. To overcome is not in our power." (Lactantius)

    " Who is this: When He says, "No man can come to Me," He breaks the proud liberty of free will; for man can desire nothing, and in vain he endeavors...Where is the proud boasting of free will?...We pray in vain if it is in our own will. Why should men pray for that from the Lord which they have in the power of their own free will? (Jerome)

    "God has hath completed the number which He before determined with Himself, all those who are written, or ordained unto eternal life...being predestined indeed according to the love of the Father that we would belong to Him forever." (Irenaeus)

    "If you died in unbelief, Christ did not die for you." (Anselm)

    "Since only the elect are saved, it may be accepted that Christ did not come to save all and did not die on the cross for all." (Remigius)

  9. I guess that Joseph attends the same school as Apolonio.

    LOL ...right. So tell me, which philosophers do you have in mind? Hawthorne (now partime)? Parfit (part time)? J. King? Lepore? (I think we may get Jaegwon Kim part time, we're not sure) Sider? (although we lost him)

    Here are some of the philosophers that taught me:

    Ernie Sosa, Al Goldman, Jason Stanley, Frank Arntzenius, Steve Stich, Peter Klein, Ruth Chang, R. Bolton, S. Feldman...this year I will have a class with Alan Code and do a paper with Dean Zimmerman. Sorry, but you must be an idiot if you think those are not top-rated philosophers. You might not agree with a lot of their conclusions but they are still pretty good. Go ask Plantinga what they think of the philosophers here in Rutgers. Ask him if Sosa and Goldman are no good. Go ask Alston about Rutgers. In fact, Alston said that he learned most about epistemology from the person he hired, Goldman. Go ask van Inwagen. Oh, right, they're stupid too right? Go ask Audi, Nagel, Boghossian, Elga, Foley, Kvanvig, C. Wright, Stump, Rosen, Zagzebski, Greco, etc. Yawn.

  10. I just read the first paragraphs, but the arguments against divine choice are truly bizarre, as they contradict Catholic theology. Catholic theologians are huge on divine freedom, and Catholic dogma is deliberately ambiguous on election.

  11. Has anyone ever told you that it's really, really bad form to make each sentence its own paragraph? It makes this nearly unreadable.

  12. "Has anyone ever told you that it's really, really bad form to make each sentence its own paragraph? It makes this nearly unreadable."

    I actually enjoy this style for portions of a blog entry. Short and sweet is not always bad.