Saturday, September 08, 2007

Roger Olson & the Omen

(Posted on behalf of Steve Hays.)

In my first response to Roger Olson,1 I treated him as an Arminian. And that's because he calls himself an Arminian. However, he's also expressed his sympathies with open theism. But open theism is a throwback to Socinianism.

So I'll now assume, whether in fact or for the sake of argument, that Olson is an open theist, and evaluate his critique of the Reformed theodicy in light of that position. Let's begin with a few definitions.

I. The Theological Options

1. Calvinism

i) God foreknows and foreordains the future; indeed, that God foreknows the future because he foreordained the future.

ii) Calvinism affirms that God is immutable and infallible.

iii) Traditionally, Calvinism affirms that God is impassible. He isn't affected by external events, and he isn't subject to the same range of emotions that we are.2

iv) Traditionally, Calvinism recognizes that some Scriptural depictions of God are anthropomorphic. Indeed, Scripture itself draws this distinction (e.g. Num 23:19; 1 Sam 15:19).

2. Arminianism

i) God foreknows the future, but he doesn't foreordain the future. It also affirms conditional election, contingent on foreseen faith.

In Arminianism, God cannot foreordain the future because his predestination would nullify libertarian freewill, and Arminian theology prioritizes libertarian freewill.

3. Socinianism

i) Socinianism or open theism denies that God even foreknows the future.

God knows all possible futures, but he doesn't know which future will eventuate. God must ask human beings what they're going to do or test them to find out what they will do. He is dependent on us for some of his information.

In open theism, God cannot foreknow the future because his prescience would nullify libertarian freedom, and open theism prioritizes libertarian freedom. Open theism takes the Arminian commitment to libertarian freewill to its logical extreme.

ii) Because open theism denies that God is omniscient (since he's ignorant of the future), God is fallible. Indeed, fallibility is the logical consequence of ignorance.3

God entertains false expectations about the future. God is genuinely surprised by the way some things turn out. God makes mistakes, which leads to divine regret for his shortsighted actions.

iii) Open theism denies that God is immutable. Rather, God often changes his mind in light of unforeseen circumstances.

iv) Open theism denies that God is impassible. God can be affected by external events. God not only knows what we feel, but he feels what we feel.

v) Open theism rejects the traditional, anthropomorphic interpretation of many passages in Scripture.

II. The Problem of Evil

Let's also define some components in the problem of evil.

A. There is a de jure aspect to the problem of evil:

1.According to the argument from evil, evil disproves the existence of an omnipotent, omniscient, and benevolent God if there is gratuitous evil in the world—gratuitous because it serves no purpose which would justify its occurrence.

2.The problem of evil also distinguishes between moral evil and natural evil.

A natural evil is not inherently evil. It may be a natural good. But it can be an evil to the victim if you happen to be at the wrong place at the wrong time.

3.A theodicy also has a twofold aspect:

i) To show that man is culpable for evil.

ii) To show that God is inculpable for evil.

B. There is a de facto aspect to the problem of evil.

Will good triumph over evil, or will evil triumph over good? Can God keep his promises?

III. The Consequentialist Argument

Let's also say something about the legitimacy and the limitations of a consequentialist argument. Olson is mounting a consequentialist argument against Calvinism. He's arguing that Calvinism is false because it leads to unacceptable consequences respecting our doctrine of God.

1.A consequentialist argument is a good argument if you deduce (by valid inference) an unacceptable conclusion given your opponent's operating premise. If he isn't prepared to carry his own position to its logical extreme, then you've proven your point.

2.A consequentialist argument is a good argument if the logical consequences of your opponent's position lead to global scepticism. In that event, his position is self-refuting.

3.A consequentialist argument is a good argument if you are answering your opponent on his own grounds. If he is mounting a consequentialist argument, then it's fair game to counter his argument with a consequentialist argument to the contrary.

4.Conversely, it is question-begging to merely rattle off some supposedly disagreeable consequences of your opponent's position and then exclaim that his position is wrong. To merely wag an accusatory finger at something you disapprove of is no way to disprove your opponent's position.

Now, let's evaluate his alternative theodicy under the assumption that Olson is an open theist. There is, of course, some overlap between Arminianism and Socinianism, but there are also some differences which impact their respective theodicean advantages or disadvantages.
What about God's character? Is God, then, the author of evil? Most Calvinists don't want to say it. But logic seems to demand it. If God plans something and renders it certain, how is he not culpable for it? Here is where things get murky.

Some Calvinists will say he's not guilty because he has a good intention for the event -- to bring good out of it, but the Bible expressly forbids doing evil for the sake of good.

Many conservative Christians wince at the idea that God is limited. But what if God limits himself so that much of what happens in the world is due to human finitude and fallenness? What if God is in charge but not in control? What if God wishes that things could be otherwise and someday will make all things perfect?

That seems more like the God of the Bible than the all-determining deity of Calvinism.

In this world, because of our ignorance and sinfulness, really bad things sometimes happen and people do really evil and wicked things. Not because God secretly plans and prods them, but because God has said to fallen, sinful people, "OK, not my will then, but thine be done -- for now."

And God says, "Pray because sometimes I can intervene to stop innocent suffering when people pray; that's one of my self-limitations. I don't want to do it all myself; I want your involvement and partnership in making this a better world."

It's a different picture of God than most conservative Christians grew up with, but it's the only one (so far as I can tell) that relieves God of responsibility for sin and evil and disaster and calamity.

The God of Calvinism scares me; I'm not sure how to distinguish him from the devil. If you've come under the influence of Calvinism, think about its ramifications for the character of God. God is great but also good. In light of all the evil and innocent suffering in the world, he must have limited himself.4
Keep in mind that I've already responded to some of these allegations in my previous reply. I'm not going to repeat myself.

1.How does open theism avoid saying that God is the "author of evil"? According to open theism, God permits things to happen without foreseeing the consequences. But isn't that, of itself, reckless and culpable? Isn't it blameworthy to put others at grave, unnecessary risk? To expose them to the possibility of gratuitous and irreparable harm?

Suppose I have a toddler. Suppose I don't close the bedroom windows before I go bed. It's hot, and I enjoy the cross draft. Suppose, when I wake up in the morning, the toddler is gone. He crawled out the window, wandered away during the night, and drowned in a nearby pond.

Will pleading ignorance of the outcome absolve me of blame? I didn't know that this would happen. Therefore, I'm innocent.

But isn't my ignorance culpable? Isn't that the very thing that implicates me in the death of my child? I should have anticipated that possibility, and taken precautions to childproof the house. Had I taken those elementary, preemptive actions, my child would still be alive.

According to Olson, bad things happen because we don't know any better. And a little child is a paradigm-case of someone who doesn't know any better. That's why little kids need adult supervision. And that's why it's the duty of grown-ups to look out for them. The kids have no sense of danger. And they have a limited ability to defend themselves or save themselves.

Isn't the God of open theism a very callous God? A God who shoves his children into the deep end of the pool and then stands by as they sink or swim.

A God who says to a suicidal teenager, I wish you wouldn't kill yourself. Really, I do. But it's your call. I'd never wrestle you to the ground and pry that gun from your fist, for that would violate the integrity of your unfettered freedom. Not my will, but thine be done. Bang!

Even if open theism doesn't make God the author of evil, it surely makes him the coauthor of evil.

2.Olson says it's wrong to do evil for the sake of good. Of course, that's a malicious caricature of Calvinism, but let's consider the alternative.

According to Olson, God allows evil for no good reason. How is that any improvement over the position he rejects? Assuming, for the same of argument, that it's wrong to co-opt evil as a means to a greater good, isn't it even worse to permit gratuitous evil—evil that serves no good purpose at all?

3.Open theism cannot ensure the triumph of good over evil, for open theism cannot ensure any specific outcome.

i) In open theism, God cannot keep his promises, because God can't make people do what he wants them to do. He can't guarantee that you won't commit apostasy after you get to heaven. After all, you retain your inalienable freedom, do you not?

The fact that, in this life, you decided to freely accept God's offer doesn't commit you to anything for all time. By definition, any decision you make in this life is bound to be pretty immature. Your personal experience is extremely limited. If God is free to change his mind, why shouldn't you be free to change your mind? If God in heaven can entertain regrets, why can't you entertain regrets even after you get to heaven? Including regrets about heaven itself? Eternity is a long time.

ii) And it's not simply that God can't keep his promises. You don't even know that those promises are his promises. In open theism, inspiration depends on the libertarian consent of the sacred author. So God can't guarantee that Matthew or Moses, Isaiah, John, Paul, or Luke (to name a few) were inspired.

4.Olson says he finds it hard to distinguish the God of Calvinism from the devil. Funny, since I'd say the same thing about the God of open theism.

i) According to open theism, God often doesn't know right from wrong. He doesn't know the right thing to do. That's why he regrets some of his decisions. A God who can't tell the difference between right and wrong bears a striking resemblance to the old serpent.

ii) According to open theism, God feels our pain. God changes. We change God. The world has an impact on God's character.

Now, if God can experience regret and disappointment, he can become bitter and cynical. Disappointment can have that effect on people. They become resentful and jaded. Easily or even clinically depressed. Suicidal and homicidal. The gunman who murders his wife and kids, or classmates, or coworkers before shooting himself in the head. The sniper who goes on a shooting spree, killing perfect strangers because he's mad at the world.

What assurance does open theism offer us that God won't get bored with human beings? Decide, on second thought, we're more trouble than we're worth? Decide it was a mistake to make us in the first place, and correct his mistake by wiping us out? Go on his own shooting rampage?

iii) Does God feel whatever we feel? If so, does God share the feelings of a child molester or psychotic killer?

Think of those fictional stories in which a homicide detective tries to get inside the mind of a serial killer in order to predict his next move and intercept him before he kills again. But as he identifies with the killer, in order to see the crime through his eyes, the detective is seduced by evil.

Or take the undercover cop who is corrupting by the lifestyle of the drug lords and Mafiosi he is trying to infiltrate. He started out as an idealistic young rookie, hoping to make the world a better place, but he's become disillusioned over the years. Lost his faith in humanity.

He started out with the best of intentions, but over time he becomes a dirty cop. Over time he mutates into the criminal element he used to police. He begins to perform hits for the Don. He will even murder a fellow policeman who threatens to expose him.

iv) When the Bible says that God is a jealous God, Calvinism construes this in anthropomorphic terms. But open theism eschews that approach.

So what would it mean to say that God is literally jealous? As we all know, jealousy can lurch from love to hate and murderous rage.

If we take the hermeneutical approach of open theism seriously, then God is very unpredictable. He's someone you would like to avoid at all cost—if only you could. Keep at a safe distance—the farther, the better. If you catch him in a bad mood, he'll dismember you like a troubled boy who vivisects the cat next door.

v) According to open theism, if you lack libertarian freedom, then you're no better than a robot? So, is God a libertarian agent? If not, does that make him a robot?

Assuming that God is a libertarian agent, wouldn't that have to include the power of contrary choice—the freedom to choose between good and evil?

The more I think about the God of open theism, the more the image of Damien forms in my mind. You remember Damien, don't you? You know—from The Omen?5

Damien is the Antichrist. The junior Antichrist.

Yet he starts out life as a fairly normal boy except for one thing—he's virtually omnipotent. He doesn't know at first who or what he is. He doesn't know, at first, what he's capable of doing. But when you magnify the mercurial and spiteful and vengeful moods of a child by virtual omnipotence, the path to self-discovery quickly takes a matricidal, fratricidal, homicidal turn.

What assurance can open theism offer us that it's God isn't a grade-school version of Damien, who will grow up some day to be the Antichrist, without a God to keep him in check—because they are now one and the same?

3 Open theism play semantic games with "omniscience," but I've skipping over those sophistries for the moment.
5 I'm referring to the classic version with Lee Remick and Gregory Peck.

God’s Statesman: The Life and Work of John Owen

God’s Statesman. The Life and Work of John Owen: Pastor, Educator, Theologian by Peter Toon

John Owen on Communication from God
by JI Packer

The hands-off theodicy

(Posted on behalf of Steve Hays.)

Roger Olson, in shadowboxing with John Piper, is using the recent bridge collapse in Minnesota to score points against Calvinism.1 Let's consider his arguments, such as they are:
A popular Christian band sings "There is a reason" for everything. They mean God renders everything certain and has a good purpose for whatever happens.
Olson disagrees with this sentiment. He cites it in order to express his disagreement. So Olson's alternative is to deny that God has a good purpose for whatever happens.

But how does such a denial solve the problem of evil? Doesn't that, in fact, concede the key premise in the argument from evil? That various evils occur in this world without any overarching rationale to justify their occurrence?
This theology is sweeping up thousands of impressionable young Christians. It provides a seemingly simple answer to the problem of evil. Even what we call evil is planned and rendered certain by God because it is necessary for a greater good.
This is a rather condescending view of young Christians. And if Arminianism rather than Calvinism were sweeping the field, would he be equally dismissive?
But wait. What about God's character? Is God, then, the author of evil?
Let's keep in mind that the author of evil is a metaphor. It is not a self-explanatory metaphor. And a metaphor is not an argument.

To deploy this against Calvinism, Olson needs to explain what he means by that metaphor, and he then needs to work it into an actual argument.
Most Calvinists don't want to say it. But logic seems to demand it.
It's true that many Calvinists have difficulty articulating a sufficiently nuanced formulation to finesse the problem of evil. But that's because Calvinism is not a philosophy. Calvinism didn't introduce evil into the world. And Calvinism didn't introduce the sovereignty of God into Scripture.

We play the hand that God has dealt us. We didn't make the deck, or shuffle the deck, or deal the deck. We are simply coming to terms with what God has told us about himself in his Word.

Although the Bible gives us the resources to address the problem of evil, it doesn't give us a ready-made verbal formula. For that matter, the "author of sin" is a manmade, extrascriptural phrase.
If God plans something and renders it certain, how is he not culpable for it?
Well, that's a valid question. But Olson is not the only one who can pose valid questions. How about this one:

If God merely allows an evil to occur which he could prevent, how is he not culpable for it?

You can raise parallel objections to the Arminian position. The Arminian has his own burden of proof to discharge.
Some Calvinists will say he's not guilty because he has a good intention for the event -- to bring good out of it, but the Bible expressly forbids doing evil for the sake of good.
I take it that Olson is alluding to Rom 3:8. Several problems with this appeal:

i) Rom 3:8 refers back to an ongoing discussion, which begins with Paul's quotation of Ps 51:4, in which the Psalmist (David) says that, in the providence of God, his sin was committed in order that God's justice might be manifested in his judgment of David.

ii) Throughout this pericope, Paul distinguishes between divine and human actions. God is not the evildoer in 3:8. The sinner is the evildoer.

For Olson to say that, according to Calvinism, God would be doing evil for the sake of good merely begs the question. Calvinism denies that God is doing evil by including evil in his plan for the world as a means to a greater good.

And Olson is citing Rom 3:8 out of context, since God is not the agent of evil in this verse. The sinner is. By contrast, God is the agent who brings good out of the sinner's evil. That is scarcely a trivial distinction.

iii) Olson also fails to distinguish between moral and natural evil. Rom 3:1-9 is talking about moral evil, not natural evil. What Paul is repudiating is the antinomian claim that we should indulge in sin if sin ultimately glorifies the ways of God.

Yet the bridge collapse seems to be more analogous to natural evil than moral evil. The bridge wasn't sinful. The bridge didn't sin against the commuters. And the commuters didn't sin against the bridge. It's fundamentally no different than if the bridge were to collapse in an earthquake.

iv) Let's take an example. Families sometimes drift apart. And family tragedies sometimes bring families back together. Say a family member is murdered. As a result, the survivors no longer take each over for granted. They make time for each other. They value the time they spend together. They make the most of the time they have. That's a good result of a heinous crime.

Does this let the murderer off the hook? Is he entitled to say, "Since things worked out for the best in the long run, I should be acquitted"?

That would be a completely illogical inference. For one thing, he didn't have the right to take the victim's life. For another thing, it didn't necessarily do the victim any good. Finally, he didn't intend to benefit anyone by his actions. That was an unforeseen consequence of a malicious deed.

v) Likewise, the sinner is still guilty for what he did, even if God has a good reason for what happened. He didn't intend to glorify God by his actions. He was sinning because sinning is pleasant.

vi) Finally, Paul does, indeed, present a teleological theodicy (Rom 9:17,22-23; 11:32; Gal 3:22). So Paul does, in fact, and quite explicitly, treat the fall, and attendant evils thereof, as a means to a higher end. And he's not the only author of Scripture to do so.
Many conservative Christians wince at the idea that God is limited. But what if God limits himself so that much of what happens in the world is due to human finitude and fallenness?
Finitude and fallenness are not interchangeable concepts, and they don't have the same theodicean value. It's one thing to say that we deserve whatever we get because we're fallen—quite another thing to say that we deserve whatever we get because we're finite.

There's nothing culpable about finitude. So why should we be liable to horrendous natural evils—or analogous events (like a bridge collapse)—merely because we're finite—especially if God is in a position to prevent these evils? How is that any sort of answer to the problem of evil?
What if God is in charge but not in control?
That distinction is far from self-explanatory. And even if it's valid in principle, how is this any solution to the problem of evil? If God doesn't take control of the situation, even though it lies within his power to do so, how does Olson acquit God of blame for the outcome?
What if God wishes that things could be otherwise?
What does this mean, exactly? Human beings wish that things could be otherwise because we can't make our wish come true. But how does God sincerely wish for an outcome he doesn't choose to bring about?

In what sense do I really wish to save a drowning child if I can't motivate myself to get out of my lawn chair and fish him out of the swimming pool?
And someday will make all things perfect?
How does that differ from the greater good defense? If God can make all things perfect tomorrow, why not today or yesterday? Is it because it's better, in the long run, to wait?

Why does Olson think that we live in a fallen world here and now, although God will make all things perfect in the future? Does he think that God has a good reason for postponing perfection?
In this world, because of our ignorance and sinfulness, really bad things sometimes happen and people do really evil and wicked things.
i) Once again, sin and ignorance are not interchangeable categories. Although there's such a thing as culpable ignorance, there's also such a thing as inculpable ignorance.

Didn't Olson say that we are finite? We are ignorant, in large part, because we are finite. This is irrespective of the fall. It's our natural condition. God is omniscient, we are not.

So how is it any solution to the problem of evil to say that really bad things sometimes happen to us because we're ignorant?

ii) And even more to the point—how does this apply to the concrete case of the bridge collapse? How does an Arminian theodicy specifically address that example? Remember, Olson is making that event a test case for his alternative theodicy.

So which factor is he attributing to the bridge collapse? Did it collapse because the designers or builders were finite and ignorant? Or because they were sinners? Did it collapse because the inspectors were finite and ignorant? Or because they were sinners. Did the victims die because they were finite and ignorant? Or because they were sinners?
Not because God secretly plans and prods them, but because God has said to fallen, sinful people, "OK, not my will then, but thine be done -- for now."
In what sense are these evils outside of God's plan? Is it like an unplanned pregnancy?

Olson is taking the fall for granted. But that only pushes the problem of evil one step back. Didn't the fall figure in God's plan for the world? Or was this an unforeseen contingency?

Couldn't (didn't?) God foresee that this would happen if he created this particular world? So wasn't he implementing one plan for the world rather than some other plan? Couldn't he have chosen to create a world in which the bridge didn't collapse?

Didn't he have a purpose in creating a world in which the bridge would collapse? Does it serve no purpose?

If an evil, whether natural or moral, serves no purpose, then that's the definition of gratuitous evil. The argument from evil is premised on the existence of gratuitous evil. Not evil in general. Not any kind of evil, but gratuitous evil. So Olson is conceding the key premise of the argument from evil.
And God says, "Pray because sometimes I can intervene to stop innocent suffering when people pray.
i) What does it mean to say that God sometimes can intervene? Does this mean that at other times, he can't intervene? Or that he won't?

ii) And how does that apply to the bridge collapse? Was he unable to intervene? In what respect was he unable to intervene? Or was he able to intervene, but unwilling? If the latter, then why, according to Olson, was he unwilling to intervene?
That's one of my [God's] self-limitations. I don't want to do it all myself; I want your involvement and partnership in making this a better world."
i) Well, in that case, why would God leave the bridge builders or designers or inspectors or commuters in a state of ignorance?

Why didn't he inform them the bridge suffered from a design flaw, or a loss of structural integrity, so that they could intervene to rectify the problem before disaster struck? How can they be his "partners" if the senior partner leaves the junior partners in the dark?

ii) In addition, if God limits himself because he doesn't want to do it all himself; because he want our involvement and partnership in making this a better world, then isn't this a version of the greater good defense? Isn't Olson tacitly admitting that God did have a good reason for permitting evil?

Notice how often he retreats into comfortable abstractions without bothering to show us how they apply to his test case. Olson floats these airy, pillowy platitudes without bothering to bring them down to earth.

And I can see why. For when we do apply them, they don't solve the problem he posed for them. Olson isn't following through with the implications of his own position.
It's a different picture of God than most conservative Christians grew up with, but it's the only one (so far as I can tell) that relieves God of responsibility for sin and evil and disaster and calamity.
A couple of problems:

i) He acts as if responsibility and culpability were synonymous concepts. How does that follow? Where's the supporting argument?

ii) It's not our job relieve God of responsibility. God isn't asking us to relieve him of responsibility. God isn't a subordinate whose commanding officer relieves him of duty and restricts him to quarters.
The God of Calvinism scares me; I'm not sure how to distinguish him from the devil.
Well, his reasoning is reversible. If Arminian theism is wrong, then, by his own logic, Arminianism is synonymous with Satanism. If Arminian theism is wrong, then, by his own logic, Olson is a devil-worshipper.
If you've come under the influence of Calvinism, think about its ramifications for the character of God. God is great but also good. In light of all the evil and innocent suffering in the world, he must have limited himself.
But this misses the point in two essential respects:

i) The atheist is blaming God precisely because God—to his way of thinking—limits himself. He is blaming God because God didn't intervene to prevent disaster and calamity. Rather than answering the objection, Olson is merely paraphrasing the original objection as if it were an answer to the argument from evil. But an atheist would say that Olson's "solution" to the problem of evil is the problem of evil. His answer is merely a restatement of the problem itself: a God who doesn't do what he could do to preempt or eliminate all the evil and innocent suffering in the world.

And Olson misses the point because he's debating Calvinism rather than atheism. But the argument from evil is an atheistic argument. And even if Olsen were successful in attacking the Reformed theodicy, that doesn't begin to show that his Arminian theodicy will fare any better. For the atheist will merely reassign Olson's solution to resume its place a premise for the argument from evil. God is too detached. Too passive. Too indifferent.

ii) Another one of Olson's elementary oversights is that the argument from evil is by no means limited to what God refrained from doing. To what God merely allowed to happen.

Rather, the atheist blames God, not simply for what he fails to prevent, but for what he actively perpetrates or promotes. The atheist is blaming God for various things he positively did (e.g. sending the Flood; visiting judgment on Sodom and Gomorrah; consigning the lost to everlasting hell) or commanded others to do (e.g. execute witches, Canaanites, sodomites, adulterers, Sabbath-breakers, juvenile delinquents).

Olson's critique of the Reformed theodicy is an abject failure at every level:

i) It's unscriptural.

ii) It's incoherent in principle.

iii) It's ineffectual in practice, since it fails to address the test case he himself proposed for it to solve.


Thursday, September 06, 2007

The Romney Syndrome

At one level, unless Romney is elected president, this post is pretty ephemeral. However, I’m using Romney to illustrate a larger point.

Although Romney is doing fairly well in certain primary states which he has assiduously courted with all the leisure time and money at his disposal, he hasn’t made any progress in narrowing the gap with Giuliani or a Johnny-come-lately like Thompson.

Mind you, his limited success in primary states is not to be underestimated. You don’t get nominated without winning primaries.

But why is he going nowhere in the national polls? Well, I can only speculate, but I think he suffers from three handicaps.

1.He’s Mormon. I suspect that a lot of Republicans are leery of voting for a member of a religious cult. I mean, would you cast your vote for Tom Cruise or John Travolta if they were running for high office?

2.He’s not a credible conservative. Sure, he’s now using all the right code words to reposition himself, but that’s the problem. When he was governor of Massachusetts, he governed as a liberal. (At least, that’s what I’ve read.).

That’s his track record. If you want to guess at how he could govern as president, the only frame of reference is his gubernatorial record.

Oh, and despite media myopia, his liberal positions weren’t limited to abortion.

Ironically, Romney has cast himself in the worst of both possible worlds, for he’s a liberal Mormon. So—on the one hand—he suffers the stigma of belonging to the one true Church of the Holy Underwear, while—on the other hand—he can’t cash in on the compensatory benefit of the family values image which Mormonism likes to project and promote for public consumption.

3.But I suspect there’s a final problem dogging Romney. He’s too princely. Indeed, he’s like the stereotypical candidate that Democrats prefer to run for the top office, viz., Wilson, FDR, Stevenson, JFK, Dukakis, Gore, Kerry, &c.

And this cuts against the grain of the American mythos or American Dream. By and large, modern-day Democrats are elitists and wannabe Europeans. As such, they’re out of touch with most Republicans and swing voters.

What I call the American mythos or American dream is dramatized by popular and perennial cinematic theme of the working class athlete or small town sports team that must overcome various obstacles to beat the system. There are many variations on this theme, but think of movies like Hoosiers, Breaking Away, Gladiator, Remember the Titans, Rudy, Rocky, Vision Quest, Friday Night Lights, Miracle, or The Longest Yard.

As long as it’s done with a certain freshness, most Americans never tire of the story of the underdog from the wrong side of the tracks who triumphs over adversity through sheer spunky determination.

If you wish to see Romney’s problem in graphic terms, just try to visualize him in Hoosiers or Friday Night Lights. It’s the difference between bubbly and beer, Mozart and blue grass.

Romney is a Northeastern liberal who strayed into the wrong party. He’s going to the rodeo in a tux and top hat.

As a result, there’s a discernible pattern to the way the parties win or lose. Democrats can sometimes win if they hold their nose and run a candidate who comes from humble origins, or they can win if their patrician candidate is able to conceal his aristocratic roots.

In terms of his background, Bush is just as preppy as Kerry. Two Ivy League plutocrats. But the problem is that Kerry sounded preppy while Bush sounded like a West Texas cowboy. Ever since JFK, is almost a fluke when a Democrat captures the White House.

Likewise, the eminently forgettable and soon-to-be forgotten John Edwards is a laughingstock precisely because of the lurid disconnect between his pitchfork oratory and his goldplated lavatory.

We can also draw the contrast at a religious rather than political level, and the parallel will hold. Just compare the Episcopalians with the Baptists.

Anglicans exude the Old World. The church where the kings and queens of England used to worship, along with the peers of the realm.

By contrast, the Baptist ethos is proudly and profoundly blue collar. And this, in turn, taps into a certain Biblical emphasis as well. In Evangelical, and especially, Reformed theology, there’s no room for putting on airs of spiritual superiority.

Catholic theology is patrician whereas Evangelical theology is proletarian. Having lost the patronage of the monarchy, Catholicism flirts with the dirt-poor rhetoric of liberation theology to conceal its patrician roots and aspirtions. The princess dresses up as a peasant—like a Halloween costume for Paris Hilton. But Catholic theology is irredeemably aristocratic.

You can see this in its hierarchical polity, as well as the cult of the saints, where the saints are a spiritual aristocracy, capped by Mary as the Queen of Heaven.

To some extent, every presidential election is a ritual drama in which one party projects upper class values while the other class projects working class values. Sometimes the lines are blurred in practice since the process is not that self-conscious, but each party has its own center of gravity, and its respective candidates generally gravitate in that direction.

It’s an interesting question what this is grounded in. I suppose it’s due, in part, to the fact, that Americans deposed the Royalists in the Revolutionary War. It’s also due, in part, to the fact that we’re a land of immigrants. So we value achieved status over ascribed status.

But I also suspect there’s a religious component that underwrites this bias. Indeed, I think the religious and sociological dynamics reinforce each other. Baptist religion tends to select for a certain social class, just as Episcopalian religion tends to select for a certain social class. And these, in turn, tend to cultivate and confirm that sociological attraction. So the initial appeal is able to build on itself—although that can also and eventually undermine its own appeal if—in the case of the Episcopalian church—it becomes so secularized and worldly that there’s no longer any reason to attend church in the first place.

Christian experience as a line of evidence

From Paul Helm:
[P]ersonal Christian experience is an important strand of evidence for the truth of the Christian faith. The question of how people are to be convinced of the truth of the Christian revelation, particularly if they come from a non-Christian background, has concerned theologians ever since the death of the apostles, and numerous proposals have been made. Some have said that the truth of the Christian revelation is established by human reason, while others have appealed to the historical credibility and trustworthiness of the revelation. Some have appealed to the authority of the church while still others have insisted that faith authenticates itself.

It would be rash to dismiss any of these lines of argument out of hand. A revelation that was manifestly logically incoherent could hardly be from the God of truth, nor could a revelation that claimed to reveal what has taken place in history retain credibility if it could be shown to be historically baseless. It could hardly be the case that Jesus Christ was crucified under Pontius Pilate if there never was such a man or if he had lived a hundred years earlier or later.

Among these various lines of evidence individual Christian experience has an important and an often underestimated place. It goes without saying that the experience of one person or of countless people cannot alter the truth. If Jesus Christ was not crucified then the existence of a million people who are convinced that He was crucified will not change history. Christianity is not true or even credible simply because countless people have believed that it is credible.

So personal experience cannot change history or objective truth of any kind. Yet one important feature of the Christian gospel is that it is not an abstract or theoretical set of doctrines or historical facts, but that it makes claims which hold good when put to the test in the everyday lives of people, of anyone. The diagnosis of human need in Scripture, the warnings about human plight before God, and the invitations to people to find forgiveness and new life in Christ, are found to hold true for all those who take these words seriously and who respond to them appropriately. Just as one way in which a doctor establishes his skill is in the making of accurate diagnoses, diagnoses which are found to hold good in fact, so the credibility of the gospel is to be established not only by rational argument or historical investigation, important as these are, but by the personal experience of its converting and liberating effects. For if the Christian gospel is true these effects will be found in human lives into which the gospel comes. And the fact that they are found to occur gives general credibility to the claims of the gospel. The fact that not every one finds the good news acceptable has an explanation (e.g. John 5:44), but whoever comes to Jesus will under no circumstances be turned away (John 6:35, 37).

In the third place Christian experience of God's grace is important as an evidence to others of the credibility and reality of what Christians profess to believe. This is a repeated theme of the New Testament. The reality of the truth is seen in changed lives. And the New Testament writers repeatedly draw attention to the inconsistency and hollowness of professing one thing and doing another (e.g. Matt. 23:13-28).

One Mother, many handlers

At 7:54 PM, Ben Douglass said...

Dear Jonathan,

Thank you for clarifying what you meant when you rejected "the notion of divine speech as caused human communication." That's enough for that issue.

Regarding anthropomorphism and biblical inerrancy, on the other hand, I still have reservations about your position.

We should be able to take every proposition in Scripture as if God Himself had uttered it, since He is the primary author of Scripture. God is just as free as we are to use analogical and metaphorical language, therefore, even if we predicate every proposition in Scripture to God as if He had uttered it in the first person, this should not necessitate seeing Genesis 3:8 as a literal, metaphysical description of God.

Also, your original statement implied that the sacred author of Genesis could have understood his anthropomorphisms as a literal description of God, as He is. This is not compatible with the Catholic doctrine of inspiration and inerrancy since the Holy Spirit affirms everything at least as far as the author does. The Spirit does not make a mental reservation and affirm a statement only to a limited extent which the human author affirmed to a fuller extent. Therefore, the sacred author must have understood his anthropomorphic language as analogical, not literal.

In Catholicism, Mother Church is like one of those rich old ladies who's gotten a little funny in the head. As a result, she has a stream of official spokesmen who vie with each other to interpret her "true" intentions.

“Mother” is bedridden. We never get to see her in the flesh. Indeed, no one has seen her—except for her official representatives—since she was rumored to have suffered a stroke and gone into a coma—back in the 2nd or 3rd century (no one quite remembers).

Instead, we witness a flurry of activity as lawyers, bedpans, and pizza boxes shuttle in and out of her bedroom. You never know how many friends and heirs you have until you're rich and senile!

The lawyers come and go on a daily basis with the latest edition of her will—duly notarized by one of her spokesmen.

Behind closed doors we hear a lot of yelling as official spokesmen haggle over the terms of her estate. The list of beneficiaries has a strange way of changing from one day to the next. But I can assure you that each spokesman is only acting in the best interests of “Mother.”

After the shouting dies down for a bit, a spokesman—you never know which one—emerges from the bedroom to announce her true intentions for the day—which may or may not bear any discernible resemblance to her true intentions from the day before, or the day after.

Wednesday, September 05, 2007

Explicit Biblical evidence for the papacy

Gene has drawn my attention to Dave Armstrong’s “Explicit Biblical Evidence for Indulgences.”

Let me begin by commending dear old Dave. I can think of no greater service he can render to the Protestant cause than by once more making Tetzel the posterboy for Catholicism.

It almost makes one suspect that this prolific apologist for Rome is really a Protestant plant.

However, I do think that dear old Dave labors under a fundamental misapprehension. Traditionally, Protestantism has never denied that Scripture explicitly witnesses to certain features of Roman Catholicism. Take the papacy as Exhibit A:


The Papacy is the Antichrist (1888)

Few Christians know that the anti-Protestant Futurist theory originated with a Spanish Jesuit by the name of Ribera, who, in 1585 published a Commentary on the Revelation, in which he laboured to turn aside the Protestant application of the Apocalyptic prophecies and symbols from the church of Rome. It is also not well known the anti-Protestant Praterite (preterist) theory came from the pen of a Spanish Jesuit, Alcasar of Seville, who in 1615 published a work having in view the same end as Ribera, viz, to set aside the commonly accepted Reformation view that the Roman Papacy is the Antichrist (adapted from Original Covenanter and Contending Witness magazine). This book demonstrates that the Pope is the Antichrist using Scripture, history and the Pope's own words. Or as Ian Paisley states: "It is the purpose of this book to demonstrate that the preaching of the Great Cloud of Witnesses of all ages in the Church is true and that the little horn is none other than the Dynasty of Rome's Popes and that therefore THE POPE IS THE ANTICHRIST." This view (the "continuous historical Protestant theory") stands in agreement with Luther, Calvin, Knox, the Westminster Divines, Owen, Ames, Spurgeon, Baxter, Matthew Henry, Jonathan Edwards, Cunningham, Ryle, Cotton, Brown, and virtually all of the other standard Protestant interpreters of the book of Revelation. Have you fallen for a Jesuit ruse or are you standing in the footsteps of the flock? Read this book and find out.


The Pope of Rome is Antichrist (1675, 1845 edition)

Calvin (on I John 2:18) writes, "Those that think that he (Antichrist) would be just one man, are dreaming! For Paul... plainly shows that it would be a body or a kingdom (II Thes. 2:3). He first foretells a falling away that would spread throughout the whole Church... Then he makes the head of this apostasy the adversary of Christ who would sit in God's temple and claim divinity and divine honours. Unless we deliberately want to err, let us learn to know Antichrist from Paul's description" (Cited in Nigel Lee, 666: Luther and Calvin's Doctrine of Antichrist: Antichrist in Scripture [Focus Christian Ministries, 1992], p. 58). Wilkinson's book takes the classic Protestant position, called "historicism;" held by Luther, Calvin, Knox, the Westminster Divines, and most other Protestants, until the Jesuit inspired "futurist" and "preterist" systems began to gain ground, when Reformation hermeneutics waned. Shows how Protestants prove that the Pope is that "Antichrist" and "man of sin" set forth in Scripture. Deals with the mystery of iniquity, the great apostasy, and practical applications of the doctrines examined.

Tom Ascol - Interview with the Baptist Center

Recommended reading.


Prejean suffers from a bad case of foot-in-mouth disease:

“But if we took the proposition as if God Himself had uttered the self-same proposition that the author did (which is how I take the notion of authority being asserted in sola scriptura), then absurdity would ensue, since God is clearly not affirming the literal proposition that he has thoughts, makes decisions, etc., which is contradicted by Isaiah 55:8.

How is that contradicted by Isaiah?

i) Let’s see how two Catholic translations render the Isaian passage:

“My dealings are higher than your dealings, my thoughts than your thoughts” (Knox Bible).

“My thoughts are not your thoughts, my ways not your ways…the heavens are as high above earth as my ways are above your says, my thoughts above your thoughts” (New Jerusalem Bible).

So, even if we confine ourselves to Roman Catholic versions of the Bible, how does Isaiah contradict the thesis that God literally has thoughts? It doesn’t.

Rather, it says that God’s thoughts are higher than our thoughts, which is quite different than saying that God has no thoughts at all.

ii) In addition, the distinction in Isaiah 58:7-8 is ethical rather than ontological. As one commentator explains:

“The third [interpretation] is that humans should turn from their sinful ways and thoughts because those are not God’s ways and thoughts…The third option must be the correct one. The repetition of ‘ways’ and ‘thoughts’ from v7 suggests that what is wrong with human ways and thoughts and requires one to turn away from them is that they ‘are not’ God’s thoughts and ways. This same point is made in Prov 16:1-3 (cf. Also Prov. 3:5-6; 21:2), using the same words. Our ways and thoughts have been perverted by original sin, and it is only as we turn from them to God and his mercy that we can ever have peace with him and live lives that will be truly productive,”

J. Oswalt, The Book of Isaiah, Chapters 40-66 (Eerdmans 1998), 445.

“Note the double chiasm in the arrangement of the two terms in vv7-9: (7) ways, thoughts (8) thoughts, ways, (9) ways, thoughts,” ibid. 445n52.

So Prejean’s prooftext doesn’t prove what he says it does. It is not setting up a metaphysical disjunction between human beings, who have thoughts and intentions—in contrast to God, who doesn’t have thoughts and intentions.

But, of course, that comes as no surprise. God’s Word means nothing to Prejean. The source of his theology lies elsewhere. Wherever he actually gets his theology, whether from Zubiri or George Lucas—he isn’t getting it from Scripture.

So his appeal to Scripture is just a bit of window-dressing to camouflage the extrascriptural source of his theology.

“I mean deterministically caused in the way I described, so that it is as if God Himself were dictating the sentence, effectively commandeering the human will.”

Prejean is like a compulsive gambler on a losing streak. He can’t bring himself to leave the table.

The Protestant alternative does not subscribe to a dictation theory of inspiration. There never was a dictation *theory*, only a dictation *metaphor*.

Rather, the standard theory, as represented by the Old Princeton school of theology (among other representatives), is the organic theory of inspiration, involving a concursus between the primary author (God) and the secondary author (the apostle, prophet, &c.).

The human will isn’t “commandeered” by God. Why should God commandeer his own handiwork? God is man’s Creator. God created the human will. He created the will of the apostle or prophet. So he doesn’t need to “commandeer” it—any more than Enzo Ferrari needs to commandeer the sports car he designed.

What we see in Prejean is self-reinforcing ignorance. He is to Catholic apologetics what Dawkins is to militant atheism. Just as Dawkins is too contemptuous of the opposing position to acquaint himself with the opposing position, Prejean is too contemptuous of Scripture to acquaint himself with Scripture, and too contemptuous of Protestant theology to acquaint himself with Protestant theology.

Dr. Kennedy goes home to be with the Lord

Dr. D. James Kennedy (1930-2007) went home to be with the Lord today.

Who speaks for Catholicism? Part MDCCXCIV

At 7:41 PM, Ben Douglass said...
Dear Jonathan,

You state: I have no doubt that "pre-philosophical" OT authors might have literally meant what they intended here [i.e., anthropomorphic descriptions of God which are not literally true]

No doubt? You ought to have certain knowledge to the contrary. The sacred authors cannot have intended any meaning in the text which is false, since according to the Catholic dogma of biblical inerrancy, everything the sacred authors affirm, state, or imply must be affirmed, stated, or implied by the Holy Spirit. God is the author of the entire Scripture, not just parts of it, so this leaves no room for obiter dicta.

Also, how can you maintain that "the notion of divine speech as caused human communication" is absurd? I offer two quotes, the first from Leo XIII's Providentissimus Deus, and the second from Benedict XV's Spiritus Paraclitus:

"For, by supernatural power, [God] so moved and impelled them to write-He was so present to them-that the things which He ordered, and those only, they, first, rightly understood, then willed faithfully to write down, and finally expressed in apt words and with infallible truth. Otherwise, it could not be said that He was the Author of the entire Scripture. Such has always been the persuasion of the Fathers. 'Therefore,' says St. Augustine, 'since they wrote the things which He showed and uttered to them, it cannot be pretended that He is not the writer; for His members executed what their Head dictated.' And St. Gregory the Great thus pronounces: 'Most superfluous it is to inquire who wrote these things-we loyally believe the Holy Ghost to be the Author of the book. He wrote it Who dictated it for writing; He wrote it Who inspired its execution.'"

"If we ask how we are to explain this power and action of God, the principal cause, on the sacred writers we shall find that St. Jerome in no wise differs from the common teaching of the Catholic Church. For he holds that God, through His grace, illumines the writer's mind regarding the particular truth which, 'in the person of God,' he is to set before men; he holds, moreover, that God moves the writer's will - nay, even impels it - to write; finally, that God abides with him unceasingly, in unique fashion, until his task is accomplished."

Epistemology in a Many-Worlds Scenario

Steve forwarded an article on to me that dealt in some aspects with a many-worlds scenario. Since I am not going to rebut that article specifically in this post, it’s not necessary to link to it. Suffice to say that it got me thinking about the nature of epistemology in a many-worlds scenario.

There are many ways to get to a many-worlds scenario. The most common currently is the idea of the multiverse, where the universe splits at every quantum decision. This was proposed as way of reconciling the seemingly contradictory data we get when conducting experiments such as the double-slit experiment. Or we can propose an infinite expansion of the universe where there will be pockets of individual universes within the multiverse (which is all the universes combined). These pockets are formed because space expands at a geometrical rate, and as such after a certain distance space expands faster than the speed of light, so an observer will never be able to observe what goes on after a certain distance. Each of these pockets form their own universes of observation, and in an infinite expansion there will be an infinite number of these.

Now there are many potential things we could talk about if we assume this theory is true—and indeed, if the theory is true, in an infinite number of alternate universes I did discuss those other aspects of the theory. Further, in some of those universes I actually will come to the exact opposite conclusions that I come to in this universe. After all, even if we have an infinite number of universes, we only have a finite amount of matter in each universe (which is the case because the expansion of the multiverse limits the amount of matter that can be observed in each universe, and since nothing travels through space faster than the speed of light, matter that is beyond the range of observation wouldn’t affect the individual universes). If we have a finite amount of matter in an infinite number of universes, the same universe will repeat itself, as will all other possible universes. Thus, in an infinite number of universes I am writing this post; in an infinite number of other universes, I am writing the exact opposite of this post. Finally, in an infinite number of other universes than the previous two, I did not even exist to write anything in the first place, etc.

This brings up an interesting question as to epistemology. Let’s just examine one particular aspect (again, assuming this theory is true): supernatural claims. There are an infinite number of worlds that exist wherein a burning bush appeared to Moses. (Note: even if Moses is a mythical figure in our universe, he must exist in an infinite number of other universes with the exact same result as recorded in Exodus.) Further, there are an infinite number of universes where someone named Jesus was crucified and rose again on the third day. (There are other universes where Jesus was crucified and rose on the second day, or the fourth day, etc. too).

Now here’s the thing: if there are an infinite number of universes where this occurred, how can we say that these events did not occur in this particular universe? In reality, since there would be universes where this did occur, and since there would also be universes where this did not occur yet where it is claimed that it did occur, then the epistemological question rears its head: how do we know which type of universe we are in?

This is brought to bear even more clearly when we consider quantum splits too. If there are an infinite number of universes, then there exist universes in which the quantum selection always yields the result expected by classical Newtonian physics. In other words, there must exist an infinite number of universes wherein photons going through a double-slit experiment will always land as they would if classical physics were correct. In such a world, no one would ever discover quantum mechanics. In fact, since quantum mechanics acts in that world identically to the world we get in Newtonian physics, then there would be no reason to say that QM is actually at work in that universe—even though QM is the reason that universe exists.

We can carry that further. There exist an infinite number of worlds that, up until this point in time, act exactly like ours, but which tomorrow will have such results as every subatomic particle in the Sun quantum-leaping to Pluto’s orbit. Now the question is: how do we know that our universe is not one of those universes where this will occur? We cannot use the “It’s very improbable that this will occur” excuse, because we have an infinite number of worlds to deal with—it will happen in an infinite number of worlds even as it does not happen in a different infinite number of worlds. It is impossible to use “odds” to determine whether or not it will happen in this particular universe without knowing which particular universe out of the infinite universes we are in.

The upshot of all this is that if the many-worlds idea is true, it is impossible to know anything at all. Ultimately, what you know is actually the result of a quantum split that did not occur in an infinite number of other universes. For the atheists, there are an infinite number of worlds where you are theists, and the reason you are an atheist in this world has nothing to do with reason—it has to do with the fact that in this world, the quantum split didn’t occur like it did in other worlds. The same is true of theists. The same is true for any belief, including the beliefs expressed in this post.

In short, if we use the many-worlds scenario to explain why something happens, we are cutting ourselves off from the ability to explain anything at all. Many-world scenarios cannot coexist with a scientific epistemology.

The Word of God

At 8:02 AM, Joseph said...

“I was only trying to trot out how everyone I've ever heard defend your position has actually done so.”

A couple of issues:

1.In my response to Prejean, I wasn’t defending the inspiration of Scripture. I’ve done that on many other occasions, but that was not my stated aim in response to Prejean. I was merely highlighting the consequences of his position.

Whether the denial of inerrancy is acceptable or not will depend on the theological commitments of the individual. If you’re a theological liberal, then you don’t have a problem with that consequence.

But it’s worth noting that Prejean can only defend Catholicism by attacking the inerrancy of Scripture.

2.Now let’s focus on your own statement. You were referring to the following “argument”:

“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..”

This, you say, is how everyone you’ve ever heard defend my position has actually done so.

By way of reply:

1.With all due respect, that tells me that your experience is pretty limited. You haven’t made an effort to acquaint yourself with standard Evangelical apologetics, even though that material is readily available.

2.The “argument” you trot out is a stock caricature of the Christian position by unbelievers. This is the way a militant atheist will typically caricature the Christian argument for the inspiration of Scripture. It’s not how a typical Christian apologist will defend the inspiration of Scripture.

3.Even on its own grounds, let’s consider the argument for a moment.

i) Instead of the Bible, let’s construct a parallel argument: Who wrote A Farewell to Arms? Earnest Hemingway. Why do you think Hemingway wrote A Farewell to Arms? Because it says so.

Would that be an example of sloppy reasoning? No.

If you were reading A Farewell to Arms, and a friend asked you who wrote it, you would say Earnest Hemingway. And if your friend asked you how you knew that, you would show him your copy of the book, which says that Hemingway was the author.

Is that an unreasonable answer to his question? No. Is it viciously circular to appeal to the title itself? No.

ii) Of course, this is not a compelling argument for authorship. It’s possible that the conventional attribution is false.

But if the publisher gives Hemingway as the author, that is prima facie grounds for believing that Hemingway is the author, is it not?

That, all by itself, is evidence for the authorship of the novel, and you wouldn’t have any reason to question that attribution unless you had evidence to the contrary.

Do you know for a fact that Hemingway wrote the novel because it says so? No. The ascription could be mistaken.

But, absent evidence to the contrary, it’s reasonable for you to believe that he wrote it simply because it says so.

And that’s because, to doubt his authorship, you’d have to assume some sort of conspiracy to palm off this novel as the work of Hemingway, even though the publishers were in a position to know better.

Now, conspiracies do occur. But you would need specific evidence to justify your belief in a conspiracy. Absent evidence of a conspiracy, it’s more reasonable to take the ascription at face value.

iii) If God intended to communicate with the human race, don’t you suppose that he would identify himself as the speaker? What would be the point of a divine communication if we didn’t know the source? If this was from God, but we didn’t know it was from God, then we would treat it like any other human communication.

Suppose the Bible never identified itself as the Word of God. Would we pay the same amount of attention to Scripture? No.

If it never said it was the Word of God, we would have no particular reason read it or consider it to be the Word of God. After all, there are far more books in the world than anyone has the time to read. So how do you choose? How do you know what’s important?

iv) Is a divine self-ascription sufficient reason to believe that a document is inspired by God? No.

But a divine self-ascription does make a document a candidate for divine revelation. We will judge it on that basis, whereas—if it never made such a claim in the first place—it wouldn’t even be a candidate for divine revelation.

So the self-witness of Scripture is quite germane to the overall case for the inspiration of Scripture. The self-witness of Scripture is not a sufficient reason to believe that Scripture is what it says it is, but it’s no more unreasonable to take that claim as your starting point than it is to begin with Hemingway as the stated author of A Farewell to Arms.

4.And how do we validate the claim? You say the only argument you’ve heard is a viciously circular argument: the Bible is the Word of God because the Bible says so. But that is not the standard argument for the inspiration of Scripture.

i) One argument is the traditional argument from prophecy. This has been around for centuries. It was used by the subapostolic fathers. Indeed, you find it in Scripture itself.

Have you never heard of this argument before? If so, you really need to get out more often, enlarge your social circle, and do some basic reading in the standard apologetic literature.

ii) Another popular argument of more recent origin is a stepwise argument. It basically goes like this:

a) The NT is a primary source of 1C history. It’s a collection of 1C documents that furnish a historical witness to certain 1C historical events.

As such, we can approach the NT the way we would any analogous source, like Tacitus or Josephus. You don’t have to believe that Tacitus or Josephus is divinely inspired to treat them as historical sources for the period they recount. You merely treat them as fairly reliable historians.

There is a prima facie presumption that they are accurate unless you have evidence to the contrary. They are writing about roughly contemporaneous people, places, and events. So they’re generally in a position to know what they’re talking about, and they generally have no motive to deceive.

b) In addition to the prima facie presumption, there is a lot of corroborative evidence for the NT from archeology.

c) The next step is to say, in light of (a)-(b), that the NT gives us a reliable account of who Jesus is, what he said, and what he did (or will do).

d) The next step is to point out that, among other things, Jesus made statements about the OT. He affirms the inspiration of the OT.

e) I’d add that the OT is a forward-looking book, so at this point you could also insert the argument from prophecy.

f) The final step is to point out that Jesus also affirmed the inspiration of the Apostles—beginning with the descent of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost.

Have you never heard of this argument? It’s been around since J. W. Montgomery—if not before—and widely popularized by his successors.

iii) Then there’s the argument from religious experience. Most Christians are not high-powered intellectuals. They don’t believe the Bible because they have a set of arguments for Scripture which they can whip out at a moment’s notice.

But they find the Bible compelling. They simply believe it. They can’t help themselves.

And—what is more—they also find the Bible true to their own experience. As they live according to Scripture, year in and year out, it comes true (so to speak) in their own life-experience—and the experience of fellow believers.

Moving along:

“Strictly speaking, the most serious error here seems to be equivocating the Bible and the Word of God. They are not the same. The Word of God is a person, and the Bible is a written record of that person.”

No, “strictly speaking,” you’re the one who’s equivocating here, not me.

i) It’s true that “the Word of God” is, among other things, a Christological title. But that is not it’s only referent. It also denotes the Bible.

You need to do some reading on the self-witness of Scripture. Here’s a good place to start:

The Bible is the Word of God because the Bible is, among other things, a record of God’s verbal self-revelation. Indeed, it’s an inspired record of divine revelation. Inspired at two levels: the record itself, as well as the recorded content.

ii) To say the Bible is a written record of Jesus is a considerable overstatement. The Bible contains many passages that are not a record of who Jesus is, or said, or did. Although the Bible is Christologically structured, the Bible is not all about Jesus all of the time. Do you think that Exod 21-22 is specifically about Jesus? Do you think that Deut 19-24 is specifically about Jesus?

There’s a mock piety, of the Harold Camping variety, that sees Jesus in every verse of Scripture. But this isn’t a properly Christ-honoring approach to Scripture. Every bush is not a burning bush. Sometimes a bush is just a bush.

Tuesday, September 04, 2007

Rational Non-Response Squid [sic]

Steve brought my attention to an atheist's linking to a post I wrote on the "Rational Response Fraud" [sic]. The context was answering the "Rational Responders'" questions for theists, and so this post of mine should have been linked to instead. Never mind that, though. (But, I do find it interesting that the atheist wrote this: "There's also Triablogue, if anyone cares (not that anyone should). They tried to take on the RRS." First, I did take on the RRS. To date, Sapient refuses a one-on-one, moderated public debate. Second, why is he telling people what they "should" care about? Can he reduce that normative statement into a descriptive one? Third, if no one "should care," then why link to my posts? "Hey guys, not that you should care, but I'm watching paint dry this weekend, want to come?" No, he's tacitly admitting that people should care, and responses should be dealt out, and so that's why he posts the link. Anyway, that was a rabbit trail...)

So, Steve caused me to think about the kids over at RRS; something I haven't done in many months. As I was thinking about them, and all their non-responses, a light turned on. I've been harsh in my labeling Sapient 'n the gang "irrational." In fact, they are exhibiting very rational behavior. By not-responding to my critiques, they are actually saving face and continue to project their image as "oh-so-rational." Sometimes, when facing superior strength (e.g., Poodle vs. Grizzly bear, Bambi vs. Godzilla, Tuvalu vs. The U.S.A.), the most rational thing to do is tuck tail and run. And so I owe the Rational Non-Response Squad, headed by Brian Insapient, an apology. Their actions, especially given evolutionary-type thinking, has been completely rational.

And so being the agreeable fellow that I am, showing how sincere my apology is, I thought I'd add to the list of dodges and hence allow the RRS to become even more rational by another non-response.

Under "Sapient's" file on the RRS discussion forums, he has placed this question at the top of the forum as a "sticky" so it will not fade away into RRS discussion forum history. He listened to his people when they said, "This deserves to be kept near the top of the list, too! What a great question." Oh really, let's be the judge of that.:

Most Christians claim that Jesus fulfilled the law of the Old Testiment and therefore they are no longer under it. They claim to now be under grace. If that true then why do you get so upset when someone tries to remove dispalys of the Ten Commandments form public places like courthouses or schools?

i) What's the Old "Testiment?"

ii) "Most Christians?" Didn't Jesus say, "5:17 "Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them."

iii) What does it mean to be "no longer under the law?"

iv) What does it mean to be "under grace?"

v) Apropos (iii) - (iv), shouldn't the interlocutor provide exegesis of the passages, or at least give meaning to the phrases "not under law" and "under grace" if he's going to show an "inconsistency?"

vi) Apparently they take "not under law but under grace" to mean "you can't get upset if someone remove[s] displays of the Ten Commandments from public places like courthouses or schools." Why? Who said the one contradicts the other?

vii) Why the switch from "most" and "they" to "you?" The "you" might not be part of the "most" or the "they?"

viii) Why is a Darwinian asking why people get upset? What kind of explanation do they want? They "get upset" because certain chemicals interact with other chemicals and then you see the appropriate output.

ix) What does the physicalist mean by saying "they get upset?" Isn't this a hold-over from folk-psychology? Indeed, since the RRS squad says that "theists" are "irrational" for believing things without having propositional evidence in their favor, then what is the RRS's propositional evidence in favor of attributing a "mind" to these Christians?

x) "Not under law, under grace" is found in Romans 6 (and some other places). This discussion comes on the heels of chapter 5 (obviously!) where Paul talks about justification by faith (really, you need to go back to Romans 1 to get the full picture). And this faith is a gift (Eph. 2:8), so it is all of grace. Thus we're talking about salvation.

xi) Apropos (x). Since "not being under law" is talking about not being justified by the law, which no one can be (Rom. 3:20), then we're dealing with soteriology. But, that the law is of no use to save, does not mean that it has no other uses. There could be private or civil uses of the law (not saying there necessarily are, so as to avoid side debates, I'm just pointing out the argument doesn't follow). Thus, saying that one is not justified by the law is not the same as saying that the law has, say, a role for how man ought to conduct his affairs. Therefore these Christians (whether they're right or wrong is another debate) may be upset that the standard of life and conduct is being removed and thus man is saying that he is not under God's law as a standard for living. In other words, the RRS has committed a category fallacy.

xii) Thus the boys (and girls) at RRS have, yet again, not even bothered to crack open some standard commentaries, engage the text of Scripture, or try to read and understand their opponent in the strongest light possible. That's called "attacking a straw man." But perhaps if you need to let some testosterone out, and real people are just to big a risk, or your face is too pretty to get bruised, then beating down a straw man will be the best way to release that excess testosterone. So, we see that we can view them in the best light and find a way for them to be "rational." Surely it is rational to get rid of extra testosterone so that you don't hold up a liquor store, or something like that.

And with that, I hope I have shown that I am sincere in my apology. I desire to allow the RRS to become even more rational by avoiding even more rebuttals to their "arguments" which would be sad, if they weren't so funny! :-)

Stay tuned for another round....

Some Lesser Known Evidence Relevant To Gospel Authorship (Part 4)

For some background information and an explanation of what this series of posts is about, see here . Part 2 of this series is here, and part 3 is here.

Irenaeus' Roman Source

"Claus Thornton has shown that this [a passage in Irenaeus about gospel authorship] is an earlier tradition, which must be taken seriously; as the geographical references and references to persons show, it is written throughout from a Roman perspective....As Thornton has demonstrated, it corresponds to the short notes about authors in the catalogues of ancient libraries, of the kind that we know, say, from the Museion in Alexandria. Presumably this information comes from the Roman church archive." (Martin Hengel, The Four Gospels And The One Gospel Of Jesus Christ [Harrisburg, Pennsylvania: Trinity Press International, 2000], pp. 35-36)

Irenaeus lived in Rome for a while, and he was in contact with the Roman church on other occasions, as his correspondence with the Roman bishop Victor illustrates.


"Other second-century writers who call the author of John's Gospel an apostle are the Valentinian teachers Ptolemy (Letter to Flora, apud Epiphanius, Panarion 33.3.6) and Theodotus (apud Clement of Alexandria, Excerpta ex Theodoto 7.3; 35.1; 41.3)." (Richard Bauckham, Jesus And The Eyewitnesses [Grand Rapids, Michigan: Eerdmans, 2006], n. 96 on p. 466)

Early Gospel Manuscripts

"As with the other gospels, no MSS which contain John’s Gospel affirm authorship by anyone other than John. Once again, as with the others, this is short of proof of Johannine authorship, but the unbroken stream suggests recognition (or at least acknowledgment) of Johannine authorship as early as the first quarter of the second century. Indeed, John’s Gospel is unique among the evangelists for two early papyri (P66 and P75, dated c. 200) attest to Johannine authorship. Since these two MSS were not closely related to each other, this common tradition must precede them by at least three or four generations of copying. Further, although B and P75 are closely related, textual studies have demonstrated that P75 is not the ancestor of B—in fact, B’s ancestor was, in many respects, more primitive than P75. Hence, the combined testimony of B and P75 on Johannine authorship points to a textual tradition which must be at least two generations earlier than P75. All of this is to say that from the beginning of the second century, the fourth gospel was strongly attached to the apostle John." (Daniel Wallace)

Tertullian's Expectation Of Titles

It's unlikely that Tertullian would have made the following criticism of Marcion if there hadn't been a long-standing practice of naming the gospels' authors by means of titles attached to the documents:

"Marcion, on the other hand, you must know, ascribes no author to his Gospel, as if it could not be allowed him to affix a title to that from which it was no crime (in his eyes) to subvert the very body. And here I might now make a stand, and contend that a work ought not to be recognised, which holds not its head erect, which exhibits no consistency, which gives no promise of credibility from the fulness of its title and the just profession of its author." (Against Marcion, 4:2)

Non-Christian Jews

"For they [non-Christian Jews] will not maintain that the acquaintances and pupils of Jesus Himself handed down His teaching contained in the Gospels without committing it to writing, and left His disciples without the memoirs of Jesus contained in their works." (Origen, Against Celsus, 2:13)

In conclusion, it should be noted that the examples I've given over these past few days are representative, not exhaustive. More examples could be cited. This lesser known evidence I've been discussing would have to be combined with the more commonly discussed evidence, and the result would be early and nearly unanimous testimony from sources representing a large variety of backgrounds, dispositions, and locations.

Who Was Muhammad?

Yesterday, I watched a debate between David Wood and Ali Ataie on the subject "Who Was Muhammad?". It occurred this past April at the University of California, Davis.

Though the debate was supposed to be about Muhammad, Ali Ataie spent a large portion of his time commenting on and asking questions about Christianity. Ataie, like other Muslims, seemed to apply a double standard in expecting people to judge Islam by the conclusions allegedly agreed upon by a majority of Muslim scholars while judging Christianity by a more liberal standard. He cited the agnostic scholar Bart Ehrman by name, for example. What do scholars such as Ehrman think of Muhammad and Islam? He also referred to the gospels as anonymous at one point, but referred to them as pseudonymous at another point. Much of what he said about the New Testament was the usual liberal speculation that gives implausibly little weight to external testimony and largely ignores conservative scholarship. Some of his conclusions about the Old Testament were similarly unreasonable. But the debate was supposed to be about Muhammad, not Jesus or Old Testament morality. And even if we accepted Ataie's assertions about which Muhammad traditions to accept and which to reject (though he never gave a good reason to do so), the fact would remain that Ataie failed to give any reason to consider Muhammad a prophet of God. Muhammad could have been a man of high moral character in many aspects of his life without having been the prophet Islam claims he was.

I think that the most significant part of the debate was Ataie's effort to argue for Muhammad's fulfillment of prophecy. David Wood effectively argued that the alleged references to Muhammad in the Old Testament are dubious. Wood's primary response to Ataie's argument for prophecy fulfillment occurred in the Rebuttal portion of the debate, and I don't think that Ataie ever recovered from it. Ataie later compared Muhammad's alleged fulfillment of prophecy to Jesus' alleged secondary fulfillment of Isaiah 7:14. But even if we accepted the concept that Jesus could only be said to have fulfilled Isaiah 7 in a secondary sense, with somebody else serving as the primary subject of the passage, Jesus also fulfilled prophecies in a primary sense. (See, for example, here, here, here, here, here, here, and here.) Presumably, Ataie would be focusing on the best arguments for Muhammad's fulfillment of prophecy. And if something comparable to a secondary fulfillment of Isaiah 7 is the best argument that can be made for Muhammad's fulfillment of prophecy, then we have no reason to conclude that the Muslim view of Muhammad is justified by prophecy fulfillment.

Ataie sometimes presented Wood with criticisms of Christianity that Wood wasn't well prepared to address, but the debate has to be judged primarily by the issue that was supposed to be debated. Whether David Wood was prepared to discuss what Paul taught about the role of women in the church, for example, isn't as relevant as whether Ali Ataie can make a convincing argument for Muhammad's fulfillment of prophecy or some other sort of validating miracle. Wood made some other good points during the course of the debate, but the highlights of the debate were his refutation of the argument for prophecy fulfillment and Ataie's failure to produce anything that would suggest that Muhammad was a prophet.

You can order the debate here.

Monday, September 03, 2007

The Best Laid Plans of Mice and Men....

The secularists in America have been trying to rid poor Americans of a "mind virus" known as "the God delusion" for quite some time now. The adults have already been infected; not much help for them. But the youth(!), yes, the youth can be saved. The plan was to "get religion - especially that nasty one called Christianity - out of the classrooms." Yes, that ought to do it.

[decades later....]

Religion is still around. America is an embarrassment to the secularist's cause. Look at all those other proper and civilized and scientific countries - like England, Spain, and many other European bastions of rationality. What are we doing wrong! Chaps like Dawkins and Hitchens laugh at us.

Perhaps Stephen Prothero (chair of the religious department at Boston University) knows? He begins his book, Religious Literacy: What Every American Needs to Know - And Doesn't, this way:

"A few years ago I was standing around the photocopier in Boston University's Department of Religion when a visiting professor from Austria offered a passing observation about American Undergraduates. They are very religious, he told me, but they know next to nothing about religion. Thanks to compulsory religious education (which in Austria begins in elementary schools), European students can name the twelve apostles and the Seven Deadly Sins, but they wouldn't be caught dead going to church or synagogue themselves. American students are just the opposite." (Prothero, Religious Literacy, 2007, p.1)

And so lo and behold the diabolical plans of the secular humanist has backfired. It appears that his goal to root out religion in America, by first removing it from the public institutions were the young and impressionable attend, has had the opposite effect. And so we can thank, in an ironic twist, the secular humanist, the atheist, and the anti-religionist for the failure to demolish the meme known as "The God Delusion" from the minds of the impressionable. It may well turn out, then, that the anti-God squad has actually been one of the main causes for continued belief in God. As they say, the best-laid plans of mice and men often go awry.

But there's a catch 22. The secularist also doesn't want the children to think. If reasoning about religion is allowed, then the enemy gets to fight too (in fact, some has observed that this is where the enemy is at home. Like a fish in water so goes a Christian apologist or philosopher in the reason-giving game). This was, of course, pointed out to young Wormwood. Says Screwtape,

By the very act of arguing, you awaken the patients reason; and once it is awake, who can foresee the result? Even if a particular train of thought can be twisted so as to end in our favour, you will find that you have been strengthening in your patient the fatal habit of attending to universal issues and withdrawing his attention from the stream of immediate sense experiences. Your business is to fix his attention on the stream. Teach him to call it "real life" and don't let him ask what he means by "real." (C.S. Lewis, the Screwtape Letters, 1961, p.8)

Not only have the secularists undermined their own mission by their own plan, they pay us a back-handed compliment by not wanting religious doctrine, history, or answers to ultimate questions, taught in public school. So, what's next on the agenda? Just how will they end religious belief? Send us all away perhaps?

Commentaries Sale

WTS Books is having a sale on some helpful commentaries.

Route 66

Hi Ed,

You have a habit of flinging prefab objections my way. These take two forms: they are either objections to positions I don't hold (e.g., Lewis on OT ethics), or else they're objections to positions I do hold, but have already responded to.

Fact is, I seriously doubt that there's any major objection to the Christian faith that hasn't crossed my desk at one time or another, which I haven't dispatched at one time or another—often on multiple occasions. As a Valley Girl might say, it’s a soooo last week!

It just reminds me that atheism hasn't had much new material since the days of Tom Paine or Voltaire. You know—like a washed-up comedian who's telling 20-year-old jokes in a greasy spoon along Route 66. Or those old Jerry Lewis telethons before they finally put him out to pasture.

Any time you want to engage the specifics of my actual position, we might have something to talk about. As it stands, your cut-n-paste criticisms of the Christian faith either miss my position by a mile or bounce off my force field.

-----Original Message-----

Sent: Thu, Aug 30 7:57 PM
Subject: "Creationists for genocide" & "The relativity of biblical ethics"

Religion professor Hector Avalos has recently composed a piece that is
attracting attention on the web. (I noticed that the fourm of Christians at
the American Scientific Affiliation is talking about it, which was how I
found out about it).

Catholic Deism

(Posted on behalf of Steve Hays.)

Prejean's latest reply:
Just in case anyone is speculating about my motives in the recent couple of posts re: Steve Hays, this is strictly a matter of ontological ground for knowledge. That's it. Hays's theory of knowledge is based on the nonsensical skepticism of idealism, as if dreams and hallucinations can somehow break the ontological connection between knowledge and reality, which destroys any sort of ground for knowledge. I'm sure I'll be called anti-Scripture and all that, but my point is simply that Hays's theory provides no basis for knowing that Scripture is the Word of God, and consequently, no basis for giving normative authority to the Word of God. Moreover, the object itself is not a suitable object for normative authority given the sort of authority (namely, divine authorship/endorsement) that he attributes to it.

I suspect some people might wonder why I am being so hard on the conclusions, and my point is simply that because he has no ground for knowledge, he has no basis for knowing when he is wrong either. He can invent whatever idealistic formal scheme he wants, and because formal consistency can't be proved or disproved within a system, he's insulated from any pushback that reality would give to his Scriptural conclusions. That's what comes of denying real knowledge. Certainly, Hays might just happen to be right about some theological conclusions, but the point is that he has no reason for believing even those. It is sheer fideism.
A couple of basic problems here:

i) Prejean is one of those debaters, of which there are a surprising number, who can't keep track of his own argument.

He said that "experience" is the criterion which enables us to distinguish between what is real and what is unreal. And that's the context in which I brought up dreams and hallucinations. I'm answering him on his own grounds.

When we dream, we have an experience of a dream. It's a genuine experience. When we hallucinate, we experience a hallucination. It's a genuine experience.

It is not a veridical experience of the real world, but it is a real experience, and as long as the percipient is in that altered state of consciousness, that's the way in which he does. Indeed, experience the world, however distorted that may be.

And that's a problem for Prejean's theory of knowledge. He is the one who appealed to experience as the broker. It is his theory of knowledge that results in scepticism, not mine.

Prejean talks like a radical empiricist. And radical empiricism has sceptical consequences. How does raw experience distinguish between reality and an illusion of reality? That's a question that arises from his own criterion. Where is his answer?

ii) Prejean also acts as if you can't know anything unless you have a theory of knowledge in your back pocket. And one of the problems with this internalist constraint on knowledge is that it signs its own death warrant. For unless we enjoyed some measure of pretheoretical knowledge, we wouldn't know enough to theorize about our pretheoretical knowledge.

Epistemology is not the source of knowledge. A theory of knowledge is not our source of knowledge. A theory of knowledge takes pretheoretical knowledge for granted, and then attempts to explain how much we know and how we know it.

iii) How many Catholic laymen have a theory of knowledge? Prejean can only deny knowledge to the Protestant by denying knowledge to any Roman Catholic who is not a professional epistemologist.

iv) Indeed, it's worse than that because, of course, there are many competing theories of knowledge. So, for him, you don't know anything unless you hit upon the correct theory of knowledge.

And there are rival theories of knowledge within Catholicism, as between, say, Franciscans and Dominicans—or the different versions of Thomism.

Moving along to his primary reply:
And I do genuinely feel sorry for Steve Hays, who has been aptly described as a "middle-aged seminarian."
Is this Prejean's cue for me to begin cracking lawyer jokes?

Here we see the contrast with Hays. I asked him what seems to be a reasonable question: justify the authority of Scripture with some compelling abductive or deductive argument. I presented an argument for why I thought that the notion of Scripture as some sort of self-authenticating authority was nonsense. Hays doesn't answer the argument (he simply accuses me of infidelity for denying Scripture as a self-authenticating authority). Hays doesn't answer the question either.
Several issues:

i) This is a debate over the rule of faith. Is sola Scriptura the rule of faith or the Magisterium?

The standard Catholic objection to sola Scriptura is not over the truth of Scripture, but the meaning of Scripture. Since Scripture is not self-explanatory, we need a divine teaching office to authoritatively interpret Scripture: otherwise, anarchy will ensue.

That's the stock argument. Indeed, Prejean himself is fond of using that argument.2

Alice in Wonderland is meaningful without being truthful. And there are true or false interpretations of fiction. Therefore, the hermeneutical question is distinct from the alethic question.

ii) There are various ways of arguing for the truth of Scripture. I myself have done so on many occasions.

But one thing we must avoid is to lay down a restrictive principle which would deny knowledge to broad classes of humanity—like Jews and proselytes. Did a Jew need a theory of knowledge to know that Scripture was true? Did a proselyte need a theory of knowledge to know that Scripture was true?

Did King David have a theory of knowledge? Did the Virgin Mary have a theory of knowledge? Did Mary Magdalene have a theory of knowledge? Did the Samaritan woman (Jn 4) have a theory of knowledge? Did Cornelius have a theory of knowledge? Did the Philippian jailor have a theory of knowledge?

Does Prejean's internalist constraint on knowledge allow God's people (e.g. Jews and proselytes), including the hoi polloi, to know that Scripture is true?

Or is such knowledge limited to Thomas Aquinas, Xavier Zubiri, and Jonathan Prejean?

iii) Here is one way in which a Catholic theologian answers Jonathan's query:
We should not, moreover, be afraid to affirm a high view of the historical value of the Bible—both the New Testament and the Old Testament...Kenneth Kitchen's book On the Reliability of the Old Testament should satisfy critics who are familiar with the state of academic research...N. T. Wright is a profound and prolific expositor of the historical content of the New Testament.3
In the endnotes, the same theologian also mentions a book by Walter Kaiser.4

So, in fielding the sort of question broached by Prejean, this Catholic theologian can do no better than refer his readers to the best in Evangelical scholarship on the historicity of Scripture. And who am I to take issue with his recommendations?

Perhaps, though, what is good enough for a Catholic theologian isn't good enough for a Catholic layman like Jonathan Prejean. Perhaps, in his eyes, Hahn is not properly grounded in natural theology or Catholic theological method. Which of them speaks for Catholicism at this juncture? Pope Prejean or Dr. Hahn?

I could repeat some of my own reasons as well (e.g. the argument from prophecy, the argument from religious experience), but for present purposes I'll stick with Hahn.
Then Hays didn't understand my argument in the first place. My point was that if the Jews had anthropomorphic beliefs in their writing, then sola scriptura entails that they will be normative.
Unfortunately, this statement is fatally ambiguous, for it could mean either of two different things:

i) Jewish writers were consciously anthropomorphic in some of their depictions of the divine, presenting God in human terms in the full awareness that their depictions were anthropomorphic.

ii) Jewish writers were unconsciously anthropomorphic in their depictions of God, presenting him in human terms which they took literally.

Sola Scriptura entails that whichever of these is correct is also normative. But it doesn't, of itself, favor one over the other. Prejean thinks that (ii) is correct, whereas I've argued for (i).
The assertion that Scripture served as a "rule of faith" foreclosed the possibility there could be legitimate hermeneutical disputes on matters of faith (since a rule by definition mus adjudicate them). So the attempt to create a category error by drawing a distinction between the rule of faith itself and the actual interpretations fails, because the rule itself collapses distinctions between the authority of the source and the authority of the interpretations.
This simply begs the question in favor of Catholicism. According to Catholicism, that may be what a rule of faith requires, but Prejean is now assuming the very point at issue.

Hence, he is making no effort to argue for the Catholic rule of faith. Rather, he is stipulating that his position is true by definition. Which is another way of saying that Prejean's rule of faith is a form of make-believe.

Sola Scriptura is like a traffic light. A traffic light tells you when to stop, go, or slow down. But a traffic light doesn't prevent a driver from running a red light. He is free to disregard the signals, although there a number of potentially deleterious consequences if he does so.

Some drivers respect traffic lights because they appreciate the need for traffic lights. Other drivers respect traffic lights because they fear the consequences if they run a red light, viz. an accident or a ticket.

Other drivers disregard traffic lights. Is a stoplight useless unless it actually prevents everyone from running a red light? Hardly.
Thus, we get back to my point; Jewish anthropomorphism is philosophically normative, even if there might be dispute (which ought to be definitively resolved by Scripture itself on Hays's account) as to what Jewish anthropomorphism itself entails.
No, on my account, sola Scriptura does not mean that interpretive issues ought to be definitively resolved by Scripture itself. Prejean pulled this out of his hat.

Not all interpretive questions are susceptible to definitive resolution. Some interpretive questions remain open questions. In other cases, some answers are far more plausible than others.

But sola Scriptura isn't predicated on the assumption that we can definitively resolve all interpretive questions by Scripture alone. Conversely, this doesn't mean that they are definitively resolvable, but by something other than Scripture alone (e.g. the Magisterium).

Sola Scriptura isn't predicated on a specific outcome. One of the problems with the high-church apriorism is that our high churchman assumes he already knows what a rule of faith is supposed to do. And by prejudging the answer, he comes up with the wrong answer. He's dictating when he ought to be listening and learning.
My point is that I am free to disregard Jewish anthropomorphism as being philosophically normative, because I'm not bound by the OT authors' philosophical conceptions.
Which means that Prejean regards these OT depictions as errant. He isn't bound by their depictions in spite of what the authors meant:
There's little difference in kind between taking statements analogizing God to a human in conduct than God to a human in body, which is why I say that these sorts of mistakes seem to be inherent in taking what people said too literally in terms of intent. 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.
I would simply note in passing that if you deny the inerrancy of Scripture, then there's no reason to stop with Scripture. If you deny that Scriptural assertions are inerrant, then you might as well deny that Magisterial assertions are inerrant.

Pius IX literally meant what he said about the Immaculate Conception, while Pius XII literally meant what he said about the Assumption, but original intent, even of the ex cathedra variety, lacks philosophical normativity.
I think Nielsen's argument would probably be correct if applied to the belief that God has real relations to people.
Fine. Let the admission stand—for all to see.
I'm not talking about the manner in which choices are made. I'm talking about the sort of being that God is. God doesn't choose among things; that would posit the existence of real things among which He chose, which would deny His aseity.
No it wouldn't. God is omnipotent. As such, there are any number of things he can do—not all of which he does. So he chooses from among the many things he can possibly do (since not all possibilities are compossible). This in no way infringes on God's aseity. To the contrary, it's an implication of his omnipotence.
Likewise, God doesn't promise in terms of creating a real relation with any created things, because God is not the sort of entity who could even possibly be in real relation to any created things.
To begin with, you have a rather abstruse definition of a promise. Did God make a covenant with Abraham? Did God communicate the terms of the covenant to Abraham? Will God honor the terms of his covenant?

A promise is simply a verbal assurance about a future event—that something will or will not take place. Does God will the future? Does God effect the future? Does God communicate to some people (like Abraham) what is going to happen?

If you reject all this as anthropomorphic, then how do you retranslate the covenant of Abraham (to take one example) in your own metaphysical categories? What does it literally amount to?
Literally, these things are not true. We describe them as such in order to explain what sort of relation we experience to God, but it clearly isn't a literal description, as if God chose from among His divine ideas and elected some of what He had created, for example. If we conceived those things as a literal description of God, we would be admitting absurdity.
What is absurd? That God has ideas? If so, why is that absurd?

Or that God chooses to objectify some of his ideas in time and space? If so, how is that absurd?
"Intentions" is another anthropomorphism. Far from failing to distinguish the two, I am pointing out that the relationship between the two is utterly asymmetric. We aren't even real enough for God to have "intentions" toward us.
i) If you want to get technical about it, the question is not, in the first place, whether God has intentions toward "us," but whether he has intentions towards himself by choosing to enact one scenario of which he is capable rather than another scenario of which he is capable.

ii) In what sense are we not "real enough" for God to have intentions towards us? We can be "real" in two different ways:

a) God's idea of us.

b) God's objectification of his idea of us.

iii) Even fictions can be the object of intentions. A novelist has intentions with respect to his fictional characters. They are what he intends them to be. They do whatever he intends them to do.

Notice how Prejean treats the Bible the way the Gnostics treated the Bible. The Gnostics didn't outright deny the Bible. Instead, they treated the Bible as if it was written in a code language, and they ran the Bible through their metaphysical grid, so that the meaning of Scripture was transmuted into Gnostic categories.

Prejean does the same thing. He has his metaphysical scheme, from some version of natural theology, and he launders the Bible in his vat of metaphysical dye until he's bleached out the original meaning and colored in what he's prepared to believe—apart from Scripture and in defiance of Scripture.
Second causes?" Care to justify that metaphysically?
Every birth is not a virgin birth.
And "facilitate?" Is it possible to make things easier for God?
Did I say God uses second cause to make things "easier" on himself? No.

But God doesn't create every tree ex nihilo. Rather, he creates a set of seed-bearing trees ex nihilo, while they, in turn, create other trees via ordinary providence.
First, the idea of divine speech IS inherently anthropomorphic. At least, Wolterstorff's notion of endorsement of illocutional acts seems to require that, which is why I believe his response to Barth's objection that only God can reveal Himself fails. Divine speech (in the sense of endorsement) isn't actually divine revelation.
Was I offering a running commentary on Wolterstorff? No. Rather, I gave my own account.
Second, you have to prove that God actually did these things; saying that he could doesn't prove that He ever did.
i) I didn't say he did these things. I'm taking my examples from Scripture. This is how the Bible describes the modalities of divine communication.

ii) Do I have to prove to you that God uses various media like angels, prophets, and visions to communicate his will?

If you're an atheist, and I'm trying to persuade you, then, yes, the onus would be on me. Are you an atheist, Jonathan Prejean?

iii) Or is the business about angels, prophets and visions in Scripture just another anthropomorphism which you launder in your vat of metaphysical dye?
Since you have no actual knowledge of any of these things, your assertion is worthless. Suppose that I think you're making it all up and nothing the Scripture describes actually happened. Prove that it did.
i) Prejean keeps piling on corroborative evidence to show that when an Evangelical gets into a debate with a Catholic, he must treat the Catholic as an atheist. I appreciate your concession, Jonathan, but that doesn't leave me with much to prove. If Catholicism is equivalent to atheism, then you've dynamited your position from within before I ever fired a shot.

ii) As usual, Prejean can't keep track of his own argument. The question at issue, as he himself has framed it, is whether the notion of divine speech is inherently anthropomorphic.

Suppose, for the sake of argument, that none of these Biblical examples actually happened. They'd still show that there's nothing inherently anthropomorphic about the notion of divine speech.

iii) Remember, that was his original challenge when I cited these verses. Now, having lost the first round, he is trying to change the scoreboard after the game is over and the players went home.

What he's now discussing is not whether verses draw a conceptual distinction between literal and anthropomorphic predication, but whether they were actually spoken by Moses or Samuel. Or whether there was a real person by the name of Daniel or Ezekiel who saw inspired dreams and visions.

When you answer Prejean on his own grounds, he shifts ground. Of course, two can play this game. Prove to me that Mary was immaculately conceived. Prove to me that Mary was assumed into heaven.

Since you have no actual knowledge of any of these things, your pious assertion is worthless. Suppose that I think you're making it all up and nothing the sacred tradition describes actually happened. Prove that it did.
Basically, unless you personally experience God doing some act, you have no cause for faith. I consider the notion that you can have faith in someone else's testimony philosophically absurd (and likewise, the notion of divine speech as caused human communication equally so).
i) Did you personally observe Pius IX compose Ineffabilis Deus? Did you witness Pius XII compose Munificentissimus Deus?

And even if, ex hypothesi, you did observe them do this, did you personally experience their unction? Did you experience their infallible charism?

ii) Given Prejean's statement, we can also discount the testimony of all the church fathers to apostolic tradition as untrustworthy.

And since their testimony regarding the Church is unreliable, we cannot appeal to the authority Church to ground their testimony in the authority of the Church. So he cannot bootstrap either one from the other. This is from a man who accuses Evangelicals of irrationality!
Evidently, Hays is happy to taunt people for failing to be an apologist, but when he has an opportunity to actually (gasp) argue for his beliefs, he says nothing. I've candidly made the distinction; I've flat out said that his view is absurd. His answer is that he won't take the time to defend it.
i) I've taken the time to defend the Bible on numerous occasions. I'm more than happy to compare my archives with Prejean's on that score.

ii) But it can also be helpful to highlight the grotesque alternative.
Of COURSE it's viciously circular when the reason for Scriptural authority is the matter in dispute. You can't take the conclusion for granted when you dispute the reasons, and since Catholics don't see Scripture as having authority outside the context of the Church, you can't take Scriptural authority for granted in your arguments. That's the whole point; you have to prove up the authority of Scripture. Of course we don't have faith in sola scriptura, and you haven't presented a single argument for why we should. In that respect, of course atheists and Catholics have in common that we don't agree with your reasons for granting authority to Scripture.
i) Once again, I've argued for sola Scriptura more times than I can count.

ii) Notice, by contrast, that Prejean is derelict in the very thing he accuses me of failing to do—although I've done so umpteen times. Where is his argument for Scripture? Where is his argument for the church?

iii) Prejean is also confounding faith in Scripture with faith in sola Scriptura. His problem is that he's equally faithless on either count.

iv) At the moment I'm merely arguing along the same lines as another Catholic theologian recently reasoned. As he put it:
Jump back a few chapters for a moment. Why did we exclusively use the language of reason and experience when preparing to witness to atheists? Why not let loose a storm of Scripture quotes? Quite simply because atheists and agnostics do not accept the authority of the Bible. So such testimony would be likely be fruitless. With nonbelievers we do better to use the common language of common sense. With non-Catholic Christians, however, Scripture itself can provide a common language and a common ground for meeting one another.5

We must begin from the Bible, because the New Testament is indisputably the most complete and reliable record of first-generation Christianity. It is our fail-safe starting point. We can fortify our biblical witness with the interpretations and confirmations of the generations immediately after the apostolic era, but we always return to the Bible—which always leads us in turn to the Church.6
So Hahn affirms everything that Prejean denies. For Hahn, the Bible is common ground between Catholics and Evangelicals, in contrast to atheists. We "must begin from the Bible." "It is our fail-safe starting-point."

He reasons from Scripture to the church—not vice versa.

Of course, Prejean is free to disagree with Hahn. Hahn is not the pope. But, then, neither is Prejean.

This is a fundamental problem in Catholic apologetics. Since Catholic apologetics is left unregulated by the Vatican, you keep bumping into different official versions of Catholic tradition. Sungenis v. Keating. McElhinney v. Armstrong. Hahn v. Matatics. And, all the while, they decry Evangelical "anarchy!"

iv) When you say that Catholics don't see Scripture as having authority outside the context of the Church, what does this circumlocution mean, exactly?

a) Are you saying that the Scripture, as the Word of God, has no authority in its own right? That it only has a delegated authority, arbitrarily assigned to it by the church?

Why would the Word of God have a merely delegated authority? Or do you deny that Scripture is the Word of God? If so, does traditional Catholic dogma share your denial?

b) Why does Catholicism appeal to Biblical prooftexts like Mt 16:18 or 1 Tim 3:15 if the Bible has no authority outside the church? Isn't the point of this appeal to validate the claims of Rome? But if the Bible has no authority outside the church, then the appeal is viciously circular.
But to be accused of being too dishonest to quote him in full when my remark followed a direct quote of the entire sentence.
What you did was to quote one sentence while omitting the succeeding, epexegetical sentence. You then did a little riff on the first sentence in which you drew forth the alleged implications of the first sentence in deliberate defiance of what I clearly meant given the qualifications I immediately introduced in the succeeding sentence.
Particularly when the accuser is someone who himself used a dishonest tu quoque argument against me and then lied about what Peter Geach said to justify it, is somewhat akin being lectured on the immorality of betrayal by Judas.
You're rewriting history. You originally fell into the popular fallacy of treating all tu quoque arguments as fallacious. I then quoted from Peter Geach, a Catholic philosopher and logician, to demonstrate your ignorance of logic.

You then had to scramble for some way to save face by pretending that you knew about this all along, even though it was no part of your original claim.
If they aren't, you should be able to give a perfectly good argument for them. I'll happily line up with Maritain and Garrigou-Lagrange, who take exactly that position based on act and potency.
And I could line up a preexisting literature on our intuitive knowledge of abstract objects like logical and mathematical truths from writers like Leibniz, Poincaré, Cohen, Gödel, Penrose, et al. And I could cite other paradigm-cases as well. However, this debate is far removed from the rule of faith.
You don't need preexisting categories if order is in the things themselves.
As writers like Hume pointed out a long time ago, basic categories like relations, causality, and necessity are not imprinted on the empirical phenomena themselves. So blank slate is unable to register the objective order of things.

However, this debate is far removed from the rule of faith. It's just a stalling tactic on your part.
Saying that there are "versions" of natural theology is like saying that there are "versions" of truth. There's only one reality; natural theology is simply the commitment that one can know things about God from it.
i) Wrong. Natural theology is a specific interpretation of what can be known about God from nature. And there are many competing interpretations. You have yet to state and justify which one you adopt, even though that is central to your gestalt.

You are confounding natural theology with natural revelation. There is only one natural revelation, but there are many natural theologies—for natural theology is a human interpretation of natural revelation. Natural revelation is embedded in reality in a way that natural theology is not.

ii) I don't deny natural revelation. And I don't deny that natural revelation can be explicated in some version of natural theology. But I'm not the one making natural theology the filter for Scripture. So you have more to prove than I do.
How does one decide among competing models in science? By whether they describe reality! Same thing here.
If we had direct access to reality, we wouldn't have competing models of science in the first place. So you're using one flimsy argument to prop up another flimsy argument.
My point is that natural theology isn't superimposed on anything. It's inherent in reality, so if Scripture is in reality, then Scripture abides by natural theology as well.
Wrong again. Natural theology isn't inherent in reality. At most, natural revelation is inherent in reality. But natural theology is a human interpretation of reality, and is further limited to that slice of reality conterminous with natural revelation. Natural theology is our interpretation of God's revelation in nature.

Natural revelation and special revelation intersect to some degree, but they don't coincide. And even where they do intersect, it hardly follows without further argument—conspicuously absent at your end—that natural theology is the lens through which we view special revelation.
The point was exactly that reality ISN'T one thing and revelation another. The point is that they can't conflict, because revelation is a part of reality. If revelation is a revelation about reality, then it better not conflict with reality.
But you don't allow revelation to tell you what reality is. Rather, you begin with your preconception of reality, and then proceed to muzzle revelation so that you only permit it to say whatever dovetails with your preconception of reality.
And the appeal to hallucinations to justify skepticism is the oldest trick in the book. In fact, hallucinations do tell you something about reality; they demonstrate the presence of hallucinogens, brain damage, unconscious perceptual processing, and the like. If you think dreams are the standard of reality (which would fit into that whole psychopolis nonsense), then that shows an error in your thinking, but it's hardly a basis for concluding that experience doesn't map onto reality.
i) As usual, Prejean is unable to follow his own argument. I'm not using hallucinations to justify scepticism. Rather, I'm answering Prejean on his own terms. He appealed to experience as his criterion. I'm citing hallucinations as a limiting case on such an appeal.

The problem is not with reality, but with our perception of reality. If experience is our only window onto reality, and that window is made of tinted glass rather than plain glass, then we don't perceive reality as it is in and of itself.

Dreams and hallucinations are genuine experiences. They are ways in which we experience the world. Does a hallucinatory experience map onto reality? Or does it distort our perception of reality? And yet it's a real experience. But is it a real experience of reality?

That's the problem with Prejean's criterion, for there's a difference between a real experience and an experience of reality—if, by the latter, we mean to perceive the world as it objectively exists.

Experience qua experience does not and cannot adjudicate between the two. Because the percipient qua percipient cannot crawl outside his own experience to compare his experience with what the world is like apart from experience.

ii) Now, there are certain ways to escape this conundrum, but Prejean has debarred himself from using the exits.

a) Some form of innate knowledge would give us a standard against which to compare or contrast our raw experience. But Prejean's radical empiricism excludes that option.

b) Special revelation would also supply an intersubjectival standard of comparison, since God knows the world apart from experience, and he can communicate some of his knowledge to us. But Prejean's subordination of special revelation to natural revelation excludes that option.
All of this actually supports my point. People were given rules and allowed to fail in order to demonstrate that human failure is possible even when God Himself is generous. None of that requires that the system was flawed by design. It simply means that it didn't force success. The larger point was that it wasn't even adequate for success (in terms of salvation), nor was it intended to be. It was intended to show what would actually be required for salvation and to show the inadequacy of people even to obey to obtain temporal blessings, leaving aside the spiritual question. But one would expect the new covenant to at least be workable in principle, which the Old Covenant was not.
i) None of this supports his point since the Catholic apologist is arguing for the necessity of a Magisterium to preclude "failure." But if, by his own admission, the old covenant was a divine institution, and if, by his own admission, the OT rule of faith was a calculated "failure" on God's part, then a Catholic apologist cannot infer the necessity of a magisterium from the outcome, where the magisterial safety-net is not in place. He cannot infer that sola Scriptura is not the true rule of faith given the consequences, since we have parallel consequences under the OT, using a God-given rule of faith.

ii) And we also have similar "failures" under the new covenant, viz. apostates, heretics, schismatics.

iii) I'd add that the NT does not articulate the Catholic rule of faith. There is no Catholic magisterium on display in the NT—which is why the Catholic apologist must resort to the development of doctrine.

The argument for the Catholic rule of faith was never anything more than a presumptive argument. It worked with the a priori assumption that God would not allow a certain outcome to ensue.

But the history of God's dealings with his people doesn't justify that presumption. To the contrary, divine precedent creates, if anything, a presumption to the contrary.
Obviously it wasn't meant to be the true rule of faith because it didn't even provide for eternal salvation.
So all the Jews were damned.
And again, I do not say that there cannot be apostates, heretics, and schismatics. What I say is that there must be something in which people who aren't apostates, heretics, and schismatics CAN have faith, a suitable object. My point is that sola scriptura doesn't even give a suitable object. It fails by definition.
So the Jews didn't have a suitable object of faith. Is Prejean a Catholic or a Marcionite?
I defined the object in terms of suitability for faith, not whether it produced uniformity among all those having faith in it.
Fine. But at that point you jettison the standard Catholic objection to sola Scriptura, which attacks it on consequentialist grounds precisely because it allegedly leads to disunity rather than unity.
The bit about "presents to the mind" just buys into the same conflict on knowledge. I don't believe you can know anything without a proximate object; there must be an actual thing in reality to present this to the mind…Otherwise, there's no external object to know.
Externally proximate in what sense? Are abstract objects proximate objects of knowledge? If not, how do you know about abstract objects?

And it won't do to ostensively point to concrete objects that exemplify concrete objects, for—to take one example—relations are inaudible, invisible, and intangible.

To borrow an illustration from Gassendi, we don't actually hear a clock strike four. We don't hear a series of tones. All we hear is a discrete tone, and another discrete tone, and another and another. The relation between these tones which forms a series isn't something we sense, but something we apprehend thanks to our innate grasp of numerical relations.
The OT believers might well have had a proximate object of faith, but it wasn't the Messiah.
But you just said that OT believers did not have a "suitable" object of faith. So are you now claiming that they had an unsuitable proximate object of faith?
Likewise, Christ isn't around bodily, so the only way to know Him is to encounter His action in something outside oneself.
So we can't come to know him by reading an inspired record of his person and work. We can't come to know him by reading the Gospels.

And Prejean is the one who accuses me of scepticism. Isn't that rich?
Obviously, you're not going to SAY that. I am, as you noted, arguing that you have implicitly said it. And while you have more to say, you haven't answered the premise or presented any argument against it.
I do present an argument in response to Joseph.
You simply used a nasty pejorative about my "contemptuous" view of Scripture.
I do more than that, but, yes, I'm also drawing the attention of Catholics and Protestants alike to what your Catholic view of the Scriptures amounts to. By your own admission you have no faith in God's Word. You don't regard the Word of God as a suitable object of faith.

You only have faith in your denomination. And you only believe the Bible to the degree that your denomination authorizes faith in Scripture. Your attitude towards the Word of God is worlds apart from Biblical piety itself.

I pick on you because you're very clever, and you tend to carry your points to their logical extreme. So you're a test case of the best case for Catholicism.

And what you end up illustrating is that Catholicism is like King Tut's sarcophagus. On the outside is this bejeweled, solid gold surface. But when we lift the lid and unwind the mummy, all we find is dust and decay.
If I believe that Christ is present in the Church, then I believe also that licenses me to accept by faith the Church's dogma whether or not it can be proved from natural theology.
And why do you believe that? Even if we were to grant traditional Catholic exegesis, since you reject testimony as a suitable object of faith, you reject the testimony of the Scriptures to Christ and the church alike. In that event, why believe that your denomination is a divine and dominical institution?

You can't very well ground Scripture in the external or proximate object of the church unless you have some independent reason for believing that your denomination is, indeed, the church that Jesus founded. And what would that be if not the witness of the NT (assuming traditional Catholic exegesis)? And if you fall back on the church fathers, the same objection applies.

If the Bible cannot license the church, because the church must license the Bible, then what "suitable," "proximate," and "external" object licenses your church? What is grounding your faith in the institutional church?
In all of the examples you gave, the individuals DID HAVE a justification for the authority of Scripture.
Wherein lay their justification?
Of course I made a claim stronger than the bare possibility of knowledge, because I think it quite obvious that plenty of people do have certain knowledge about the faith from the Church.
That's inadequate to your original claim. Sorry to keep reminding you of what you said and then holding you to your own words:
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.
The fact (for the sake of argument) that plenty of people do have certain knowledge about the faith from the Church tacitly grants that there are also plenty of people (including nominal or lapsed Catholics) who do not. So all the weak links remain in place at the concrete level of actually "arriving at theological truth."
Hays is confusing objective authority with subjective knowledge.
Except for the fact that "arriving at theological truth" is subjective knowledge. And having "certain knowledge about the faith" is subjective knowledge.

What's the value of having a chain without any objectively weak links if, as soon as you lower the chain into a real world situation and attach it to real men and women, it comes apart in practice due to so many subjectively weak links?

Prejean's church is a beautifully preserved museum piece which is only as good as the airtight display case. As soon as you remove it from its hermetically sealed objectivity, it begins to putrefy in the sunshine.
Sure. But natural theology can tell me that it's irrational to claim faith if Christ ISN'T acting in the Church.
Another category mistake. Natural theology tells you absolutely nothing about Christology or ecclesiology. That's the domain of revealed theology, not natural theology.
Which only highlights the point that truth is a matter of correspondence to reality, not meaning.
I appreciate your concession. Traditionally, the conflict with Rome was over the meaning of Scripture, not the truth of Scripture. The Catholic contention is that Protestants can't be sure of what the Bible means—absent the teaching office of the Magisterium.

You, however, have blurred the distinction between meaning and truth. After I point out that the meaning of a consciously fictitious work like Alice in Wonderland is irrespective of its real world correspondence, you're having to back down. One doesn't need natural theology to interpret a document.

Of course, Scripture is not fictitious, but I cited the fictional genre as a limiting case to illustrate the difference between meaning and truth, interpretation and verification.

Contrary, therefore, to your original argument, a Protestant can ascertain the meaning of Scripture without recourse to natural theology. Natural theology is not the prism through which we construe the sense of Scripture. Likewise, that's not the way we need to distinguish between literal depictions and anthropomorphic depictions.
I don't deny that there are right and wrong interpretation, but one thing to consider is that Scripture is believed by Catholics to have content that goes beyond authorial intent, so mundane techniques of identifying meaning would be inadequate anyway.
In other words, Catholicism is unable to get everything it needs to warrant its theological embellishments from honest exegesis of Scripture, so it must abandon the grammatico-historical method for allegorical substitutions and patently anachronistic reinterpretations of the text.
Establishing natural theology isn't required; it supervenes on the fact that we know things about reality, and some of the things we know about reality are about God.
So natural theology doesn't "superimpose," but it does "supervene." Uh-huh.
To be clear, I'm saying that you can't know what God SAID unless you heard Him say it. I don't think Biblical piety ever tells anyone to believe God without some proximate sign. Indeed, it seems to say quite the opposite. I've got a proximate object of faith (Christ in the Church), so I have warrant for believing the historical descriptions.
How does that follow in the least? If you can't know that God said something unless you actually heard him say it, then how can you know that Christ is present in the church unless you actually saw him there?

The church cannot furnish a proximate sign of Christ's presence unless you already know that your church evidences the presence of Christ. If the church is a sign of his presence, then where the church is, he is.

And how to you propose to verify your premise? Not by invoking the authority of the church, I trust, since that would be viciously circular. And not by appealing to the testimony of the NT, for you've already foreclosed that option.
I think that is exactly what Augustine meant when he said that he would not accept the authority of Scripture without the Church, so I doubt any of the Fathers would disagree.
A couple of problems:

i) All you've done is to push the question back a step. If you can't accept the authority of Scripture without the church, then how can you accept the authority of the church apart from Scripture?

ii) Is your appeal to Augustine and the other church fathers an argument from authority? If so, what suitable, external, and proximate object is grounding their testimony? Surely not the church—if you're invoking the church fathers to validate the authority of the church in the first place.

So which is prior to which? Does patristic testimony validate the church, or does the church validate patristic testimony?

As for Prejean's attempt to salvage Joseph's sorry argument, his remarks piggyback on other arguments I've already refuted in the course of my reply.
Objects of knowledge can be inherently credible. God can be inherently credible. But you have no way of knowing that God wrote Scripture, because you didn't see him do it. You might believe that he did, but you have know way of knowing it, either by knowledge or by faith (because you have no proximate object of faith). In a Church that provides a proximate object of faith, such belief is rational. Absent that object, it isn't.
And yet it's child's play to simply redirect your objection to the church itself. Have you ever seen a single pope—much less every pope—actually pen a single encyclical—much less every encyclical? Did you witness the Tridentine Fathers in deliberation?

And you can't very well fall back on the testimony of others, for you already dynamited that escape route by grounding testimony in the authority of the church—without which you deny that it's even rational to put your faith in testimony.


2 Another stock objection is that a Protestant cannot identify the canon of Scripture. I've dealt with that objection on many occasions.

3 S. Hahn, Reasons To Believe (Doubleday 2006), 74-75.

4 Ibid. 208n75.

5 S. Hahn, Reasons to Believe, 74.

6 Ibid. 75.