Thursday, May 22, 2008

The Red Queen

"Well, in our country," said Alice, still panting a little, "you'd generally get to somewhere else — if you run very fast for a long time, as we've been doing."

"A slow sort of country!" said the Queen. "Now, here, you see, it takes all the running you can do, to keep in the same place. If you want to get somewhere else, you must run at least twice as fast as that!"

Speaking of which:

“I am wondering if the following type of analysis might be helpful.”

It isn’t.

“1.Suppose I were to argue as follows. Given the fact that Calvinism violates my conception of what it is for God to be good, I ought to accept it only if it can be established biblically beyond a reasonable doubt. “

The major premise is nonsensical. Reppert’s intuitive preconception of divine goodness is irrelevant to the meaning of a text. Since this is not a hermeneutical principle, there is no extraneous burden of proof to overcome. To see this, suppose we were to apply Reppert’s reasoning to any other text:

“Suppose I were to argue as follows. Given the fact that Homeric mythology violates my conception of what it is for Zeus to be good, I ought to accept it only if it can be established Iliadically beyond a reasonable doubt. “

No one would accept the application of Reppert’s burden of proof to the Iliad, or any other text. Why apply a different standard to the Bible?

Well, I suppose Reppert could say the following: “Since the Iliad is fiction, the Iliad could very well violate my conception of what it is for God to be good, but we hold the Bible to a higher standard.”

In other words, the Iliad could teach a false doctrine of God because the Iliad is fictitious, whereas the Bible can’t teach a false doctrine of God. It can only teach a true doctrine of God. For the Bible, unlike the Iliad, is inspired.

But if that’s the case, then Reppert must be prepared to adjust his intuitive preconception to the Bible. So, either way, he has backed himself into a dilemma.

If, on the one hand, he treats the Bible as falsifiable, then he can’t say that a Calvinistic interpretation must discharge some extraneous burden of proof.

If, on the other hand, the teaching of Scripture is bound to be true, then it must be in a position to correct Reppert’s preconception.

“Probably, Calvinism cannot be established biblically beyond a reasonable doubt.”

And how does he verify the minor premise?

“1 can be objected to by saying that my belief concerning what it is for God to be good is based on a mere ‘intuition’ or gut feeling. But of course, to my mind, it is central to retaining a reasonably strong analogy between divine goodness and human goodness. I think Calvinists leave the analogy far too weak.”

Reppert has done nothing whatsoever to advance the argument. Indeed, he hasn’t even given us an argument here. Like the Red Queen, he’s just running in place. He’s asserting that the analogy is far too weak.

“But one of the main reasons I have for accepting Christianity and not Islam is the moral superiority of the God of Christianity to Allah.”

And, as usual, he’s repeated himself, although I’ve already responded to this illustration. There is more than one way to skin a cat. More than one way to falsify Islam.

“Scripture teaches plenty of things beyond reasonable doubt…But predestination? That strikes me as a judgment call at best. “

Based on what? His exegesis of Scripture?

“But notice that in this argument all I am doing is using my conception of divine goodness to impose a strong burden of proof on theologies that undermine it.”

It’s illicit to treat his preconception of divine goodness as a hermeneutical burden of proof. That’s hermeneutically irrelevant to the meaning of a text. He wouldn’t apply that to Homer. Or Dante. Or Blake. They could well conflict with his preconception of divine goodness. There is no prima facie presumption to the contrary.

His argument acquires its specious plausibility because he consciously or unconsciously smuggles the notion of inspiration into the Bible, such that Scripture couldn’t speak falsely of God. But once he makes that concession, then he must be prepared to yield to the authority of Scripture.

“In doing so I am certainly not rejecting inerrancy. It seems that some people are suggesting that in order to be a good Christian I have to commit myself not only to Scripture's inerrancy.”

Reppert is now rewriting the history of this thread. Manata and I weren’t the ones who originally questioned his commitment to inerrancy. He’s the one who floated that proposition as an escape clause to evade Reformed exegesis. Reppert likes to float a number of escape clauses to evade Reformed exegesis.

“I don't think I'm going to dedicate my life to examining this question biblically. It seem highly unlikely antecedently that it is the case.”

So all the business about the “burden of proof,” “a judgment call at best,” “beyond a reasonable doubt” and so on was just a charade.

“Am I sticking my head in the sand?”

Yes. There’s a name for that: Struthio camelus.

“No, I am adjusting my belief system as evidence comes in, like a good Bayesian.”

No, you’re deliberating turning a blind eye to only probative evidence there is. How would we know if predestination is true or false? The only direct evidence would come from divine revelation.

“Am I not open to the teaching of Scripture?”

Obviously not. You’ve decided what is antecedently likely or unlikely, and so, based on that assessment, you don’t even crack the covers of Holy Writ to confirm or disconfirm your precious intuition.

Reppert practices a special brand of Christianity using earplugs and eye patches.

“Do I have no clue what it means to be a Christian?”

When you walk around with earplugs and eye patches, it can have that desensitizing effect.

“It could have taught Calvinism beyond a reasonable doubt. It doesn't.”

Reppert is to Calvinism what Dawkins is to Christianity. They don’t know because they don’t believe, and they don’t believe because they don’t know. A perfect circle of self-reinforcing prejudice.


  1. But the initial presumption can surely be overcome. But one has to begin with what one finds plausible and adjust from there. That's what everyone does.


    “But the initial presumption can surely be overcome. But one has to begin with what one finds plausible and adjust from there. That's what everyone does.”

    You suffer from a chronic mental block. Let me spell it out for you one more time:

    1.Plausibility would only be a relevant hermeneutical factor if you assume the Bible is true. In that case, there might some presumption between the plausible interpretation and the true interpretation.

    If, however, you assume the Bible is true, then the Bible must be in a position to correct your preconceptions. If the Bible is true, then when push comes to shove, your preconceptions have to give way.

    2.If, on the other hand, you think your preconception should override the Bible, and adjudicate between various revelation claims, viz. the Bible, the Koran, the Book of Mormon, then there’s no presumption that the plausible interpretation must be the correct interpretation. For your operating assumption is now that the book in question may be false. It that case, it could well be full of patent absurdities, just like the Iliad.

    Do you get the argument, now? It would be nice if for once in this long debate you could practice the philosophical virtue of critical detachment.