Saturday, August 16, 2008

Antecedent probabilities


"My goodness, you think this is worthy of a response?"

My goodness, you think your response is worthy of a response?

“I'll just point out a few areas of total sillyness:

Which is irrelevant because the Apostolic teaching, even for a protestant, is not limited to what is found in the OT.”

I see you lack the attention span to follow a train of reasoning. I was responding to Bryan's argument that "the Church has never existed without her teaching authority, and without the oral tradition in the form of the preaching of the Apostles."

If Catholics claim that Christians were never bereft of the Church, then Protestants can counterclaim that Christians were never bereft of the Scriptures.

"And in your world, scripture means whatever STEVE says it means. But we're not told how this is different."

Once again, you're unable to follow the bouncing ball. Parity won’t win you’re the argument. The point at issue is whether the Catholic rule of faith is superior to the Protestant rule of faith. If, in fact, our position has the same consequences as yours, and vice versa, then you lose the argument. The lack of a difference undermines your position, not ours. Try to pay attention.

I don't claim that "individualism" is a problem for my position (i.e. "scripture means whatever STEVE says it means"). That's problematic on your grounds, not mine.

It's sufficient for my apologetics purposes to construct parallel arguments. It's insufficient for your purposes to deploy the same tactic—since your position isn't making comparable claims. Rather, it's making superior claims. Are you capable of absorbing that elementary distinction?

"That's like saying that because Paul interprets Genesis, therefore Paul is a higher authority than Genesis, and Paul's teaching and interpretation was not subject to the higher court of the Law and the Prophets. Of course, that is silliness."

Now you're confusing ontology and epistemology. Even if, a la Catholicism, Scripture is the highest intrinsic authority, if the only access to Scripture is via the Magisterium, then you can't distinguish the ontological authority of Scripture from the epistemic authority of the Magisterium. At that point the Magisterium has greater functional authority than Scripture. Try not to be so slow on the uptake.

"Which makes this whole discussion irrelevant, since we cannot empart internal light or prayer via the internet."

As usual, you miss the point. Bryan Cross was attacking a straw man. He caricatured perspicuity. I merely quoted a major Reformed theologian to correct him. It's quite relevant to the discussion if Bryan is attacking sola Scriptura via the perspicuity of Scripture, but then proceeds to mischaracterize the perspicuity of Scripture. In that event he's aiming at the wrong target.

You're habitually unable to keep track of the argument. Here's a little tip for you: my comments were pegged to Bryan's comments. Try to apply yourself to keep that comparison in mind.

"Too silly to dignify with a response."

Why? In Catholic theology, the Eucharist is a means of grace. Going to Mass is a primary means by which a Catholic remains in a state of grace (as over against dying in a state of mortal sin).

"Yeah... and? Neither side is disputing scriptura. It is the sola part which is at issue."

Try not to be so terminally dense. I already addressed that claim in response to Bryan. On paper, Catholicism honors the authority of Scripture, but in practice Magisterial authority supplants and subverts Biblical authority.

“So... the Magisterium has never quoted a commentary? Quite a bold claim that needs to be proven. How is Steve different to the Magisterium again?”

Gene was responding to your claim that "in your world, scripture means whatever STEVE says"—as if the Protestant position is reducible to me and my Bible.

"All of it presumably, since they read the bible like you and me. What parts of scripture has STEVE interpreted?"

i) Once again, you miss the point. Even if the Magisterium had interpreted the whole Bible, if the Magisterium keeps that interpretation to itself, then it's not teaching the laity what Scripture means in all those cases.

ii) And you keep resorting to the tu quoque tactic, which is self-defeating when Catholicism lays claim to epistemic superiority, not epistemic parity.

"How is this a response that makes STEVE different to the Magisterium?"

My you're obtuse. Once again, parity doesn't win the argument for Catholicism. Catholicism and Protestantism are making asymmetrical claims. I construct parallel arguments because that would undermine the Catholic claim to epistemic superiority. For you to construct parallel counterarguments, on analogy with my response, only succeeds in *reinforcing* the case against Catholicism rather than *rebutting* the case against Catholicism. Thanks for constantly corroborating my objections to Roman Catholicism. That’s very accommodating of you.

"That's like saying that every possible belief system must be on an epistemological par because they all have to be filtered through one's own ears and brain. If you want to believe that, hello absolute relativism."

Bryan's whole argument for Catholicism and against Protestantism is based on interpretive authority. But if, in fact, their respective authority sources must be filtered through the private interpretation of each individual, whether Catholic or Protestant, then that epistemic parallel directly undercuts his epistemological argument. Try to remember that we're responding to Bryan's own argument. If you can't remember that for longer than 3 minutes, write it down. I should have to keep reminding you of the Catholic argument.

"How is this different to STEVE again? He defines what scripture is for STEVE and he defines what it means to STEVE. So I guess there is no hope that STEVE could be subject to scripture, right?"

Gene was responding to your earlier contention that "that's like saying that because Paul interprets Genesis, therefore Paul is a higher authority than Genesis, and Paul's teaching and interpretation was not subject to the higher court of the Law and the Prophets. Of course, that is silliness."

i) As a matter of fact, Paul was not subject to a higher, OT court of appeal. One Bible writer can't overrule another Bible writer. So, if we play along with your own logic, then you admit that the Magisterium isn't accountable to the higher court of Scripture.

ii) In addition, JJ must define what the Magisterium is for JJ and define what it means to JJ. Therefore, the right of private judgment is inescapable. That's an argument for the Protestant position, JJ. Conceding that point is a concession to the Protestant position, JJ.

Every time you try to disagree with Gene and me, you end up agreeing with Gene and me. It's very gratifying when a Catholic commenter is so eager to confirm our case against Catholicism. That's real progress. Good to know that interfaith dialogue is so productive.

"I wasn't the one who claimed that internal light is needed to interpret scripture. If its internal light that we need, shut up now and let those with internal light bask in it. But if its commentary we need, then an infallible one is on an epistemologically higher plane than protestant fallible ones. Here I guess is where you will equivocate on whether we need commentaries or not."

i) Now you're committing the very same blunder as Bryan. You're attacking a simplistic caricature of perspicuity. In the very quote you're selectively alluding to, Turretin cites several qualifications on the perspicuity of Scripture. You have arbitrarily narrowed his list of qualifications down to just one. This is what he said: “Perspicuity does not exclude the means necessary for interpretation (i.e. the internal light of the Spirit, attention of mind, the voice and ministry of the church, sermons and commentaries, prayer and watchfulness). For we hold these means not only to be useful, but also necessary ordinarily,” Turretin, Institutes, 1:144.

Notice that he specifically and explicitly includes commentaries in his definition.

ii) What's your problem, JJ? Do you suffer from short-term memory loss? Is that your problem? If so, you could refresh your faulty memory by reading the original quote. You should also book an appointment with a neurologist.

iii) Or do you find it necessary to take refuge in dissimulation when debating a Protestant? You have to misrepresent what Turretin actually said to make your case. Is that it?

iv) No doubt an infallible commentary is on an epistemologically higher plane than a fallible one. Where has the Magisterium produced an infallible commentary on the Bible?

v) BTW, the NT is an infallible commentary on the OT. So Protestants do have access to infallible commentaries. Whenever NT writers (or later OT writers) comment on the OT, that's an infallible commentary. Whenever inspired speakers within the NT narrative (or OT narrative) comment on on the OT, that’s also an infallible commentary on the OT.

"And we've yet to hear why we should care. I'm sure everyone is quite aware of the existence of the OT. But we're also aware that the oral teaching exceeded the OT. Thus the apostles were not practitioners of sola scriptura."

It's the Pharisees who believed in the oral Torah. Thus the Pharisees were not practitioners of sola scriptura. And, of course, that was a bone of contention between Jesus and the Pharisees.

So you’re admitting that you use the same theological method as the Pharisees. Fine. You're welcome to the Pharisees. I'll take Jesus.

"Much of the oral tradition is the traditional understanding of scripture. Things like what the eucharist means, who should be baptised, how the church should be run and so forth. I'm sure you know full well the Catholic position on these things."

You only know about that tradition because it was written down at some point. You also need to show that what you call oral tradition is the same thing as apostolic tradition.

"The same way you can know Genesis through to Revelation is prophetic."

That's an evasion rather than an answer. How do you trace an oral tradition back to the Apostles? How do you double-check each link in the chain?

"So who gives a rip that protestants quote commentaries?"

Catholic Bible scholars who quote Protestant commentators give a rip. Next question.

"Who claimed there is a list or we need a list?"

So you admit that you don't know what the Magisterium says about the meaning of Scripture, and—what's more—you don't even need to know what the Magisterium says. Fine. Protestants would be the first to agree with you.

"Functionally it is identical, because Steve never goes against Steve's interpretation."

Functionally it is identical, because JJ never goes against JJ's interpretation.

"If so, then a magisterium which clarifies what the bible is unclear about, would put Catholics on a higher plane than protestants."

You just admitted you don't have a list or need a list. So how does your nonexistent list of Magisterial clarifications put Catholics on a higher plane that Protestants?

"And there's a substantial agreement I would say between the Church fathers in their exegesis. Funny how you always want to play that down and play up protestant agreement."

"Substantial" agreement? Funny how you ditch the unanimous consent of the fathers for merely substantial agreement. Now you’re moving on a lower plane.

"John made a further distinction - that of a _living_ interpreter. There is a fundamental advantage of having a living teacher compared to teaching yourself. That's why we still have schools, and not just books."

You're still tumbling down the bottomless pit of an infinite regress. It's still up to you to interpret every utterance of the living teacher.

"That why the eunuch said 'how can I understand unless someone guides me?'"

i) So you're going to universalize Acts 8:31 and then apply that to the Catholic vis-à-vis the Magisterium? Does this mean every Catholic is paired off with his very own Magisterium—like having your own guardian angel or personal trainer? Do you get to interview the Magisterium whenever you have a question? Do you have the pope's cellphone number?

If Acts 8:31 is a Catholic prooftext, then it disproves Catholicism. Thanks for saving Gene and me the effort.

ii) Are you interpreting Acts 8:31 with or without the Magisterium?

iii) Apropos (ii), where can we find the infallible Magisterial interpretation of Acts 8:31?

"What have I said which would lead you to ask such a question? Would you be happy if an agnostic asked you this question because of your committment to biblical inerrency?"

So you're dodging Gene's question because you can't answer it.

"Clearly, a rule of faith with an infallible interpreter to resolve disputes is better than a rule of faith with nobody to resolve. That's why we have courts, and appellate courts, and not just everybody or every local court making up their own mind."

How does an appellate process illustrate infallibility? If the verdict was subject to appeal, then the verdict wasn't infallible, now was it?

"If you want to concede that STEVE cannot be subject to scripture, then we can proceed."

You're comparing the incomparable. Appealing to the Magisterium is an argument from authority. The Magisterium will justify its interpretation of Scripture by invoking its own unappellable authority. By contrast, a Protestant commentator will justify his interpretation of Scripture by reason and evidence—which is equally accessible to the reader.

"The Jewish priesthood (call them a magisterium if you like) must have been carrying out their basic functions correctly, since God put them in charge with the responsibility over the temple to carry out their priestly duties for the people. If you want to say that the Jews as individuals were at liberty to abandon the Levites and set up a brand new priesthood if they weren't happy with the preaching of the priests, then you would be at odds with biblical history."

i) Obviously you haven't bothered to read biblical history, where Israel commits national apostasy, including and abetted by a corrupt religious establishment.

ii) Moreover, you haven't shown us where there was an infallible teaching office in ancient Israel.

iii) Furthermore, you ducked Gene's question about how Catholics got along for all those centuries without the official canon of Scripture promulgated by Trent.

"And the way you understand this concept and apply it here makes this blog and discussion obsolete."

How does it make the discussion obsolete?

"We believe God guides his church throughout history and yet we have a low view of providence? Ha!"

You limit the way in which God is allowed to guide his church.

"I think the issue is not whether I can point to a particular commentary which is infallible, but rather that the Church is infallible and the documents it produces, as a whole, considering its various writers, can point you to the Church's infallible understanding."

Point us to the infallible list of the infallible ecclesial pronouncements.

"On the other hand a commentary of a schismatic or heretic is simply one opinion versus another, at least as likely to point one away from the truth as towards it."

Only if you assume that all opinions are equal. If so, that nullifies your own opinion about the merits of Roman Catholicism.

"We have to limit our analysis of antecedent probabilities to exclude those which are clearly not true."

Fine. The claims of the Catholic Magisterium are clearly not true. That was quick.

"It's no use saying that the antecedent probability is that God would only ever create polka-dotted dragons, when clearly we are not polka-dotted dragons. To introduce absurd possibilities to argue against potentially true probabilities, is a bad argument."

i) The idea that God would inspire every individual is not *antecedently* absurd. You've abandoned the argument from antecedent probabilities. You're now excluding certain possibilities on a posteriori grounds.

ii) You posit unity as the goal. Applied to antecedent probabilities, there are antecedently more probable methods of achieving unity than the Magisterium. The Magisterium is a very inefficient mechanism for achieving unity. It didn't prevent the Reformation. Or modernism. Or dissention over Vatican II.

"That would only seem probable if it was a system which seemed to work. However it has never worked in keeping Christians united."

i) I didn't argue whether or not private judgment was antecedently "probable." I'm posing a factual question. How can you prejudge God's will in that matter?

ii) The Magisterium hasn't succeeded in keeping Christians united. So your Catholic criterion falsifies the Catholic Magisterium.

iii) If God wants all Christians to be united, then what aren't all Christians united? If unity is God's goal, when why didn't God simply create like-minded Christians, and refrain from creating heretics or schismatics?

"So maybe there will be a Vatican III if the church considers the points of dispute significant enough to warrant clarification."

i) In which case, Vatican II failed to achieve unity. Indeed, there was far more Catholic unity before Vatican II. Vatican II generated disunity.

ii) And, of course, different Catholic theologians would also offer differing interpretations of Vatican III.

"To claim we don't need councils to clarify things, because people might misinterpret councils would be to say we don't need Paul's commentary on Genesis, because someone might misinterpret Paul. The fact is, having Paul is better than not having Paul, even though Paul can be misinterpreted. If we didn't have Paul's interpretation, Christianity would be considerably impoverished."

You constantly play into our hands. Parallel arguments don't help *your* position—they help *our* position. Bryan is the one who cast the issue in terms of interpretive authority. If Catholics can, and do, misinterpret councils, then your rule of faith confers no epistemic advantage. You must still fall back on fallible, private interpretation.

"In this highly improbable science fiction scenario…"

Thought-experiments were never meant to be "probable." Their cogency doesn't depend on their probability.

"If we assume that his memories are a valid reason for knowing his surroundings aren't real, and that his memories can't have been interfered with, then the proposition has been proven by the memories. It might be difficult to transfer the proof to someone else because of the technological problem of proving what is in your brain, but it would be adequately proven to oneself. But if the memories are not a valid reason to believe because they may have been faked, then the person can't know what they think they know at all. The normal rules of proof or evidence are as applicable as in any other scenario." So this argument is not a valid one against someone thinking their interpretation is correct but being wrong."

Irrelevant. I'm dealing with the case of someone whose interpretation was correct. The hypothetical objection that he’d believe he was right even if he was wrong has no force if, in fact, he got it right.

"Luke wasn't there to witness many events he records either, but relied on an existing ecclesiastical tradition to obtain his information."

No, he relied on the testimony of eyewitness informants. That's hardly synonymous with "ecclesiastical tradition."

"In the same way the church has always taught that the truth subsists in those ecclesiastical bodies with succession from the apostles."

i) You’re shifting from secondhand information to third, forth, fifth, sixthhand…information. That's hardly comparable to Luke's epistemic situation.

ii) Moreover, Luke is inspired. Apostolic succession is not.

"This is not an entirely historical question, just like not everything Luke wrote is entirely historical, some of it is theological. Whether the church subsists in those bodies with succession is not something an historian is likely to address."

i) Whether y succeeded x is an irreducibly historical question. Either that event took place or it didn't. Succession, if true, would involve a historical process. Where's the commensurate historical evidence?

ii) There is, indeed, more to apostolic succession than public events. There's also the claim that ordination transfers an invisible charism from one successor to the next. That renders the claim completely unverifiable, even if you could document every historical link in the chain.

"How this establishes a blinkered Catholic view of divine guidance we are not told. Given that the number of people in the world who have a generally Catholic worldview exceeds by orders of magnitude those who hold to the style of Christianity found on this blog, and given that the Catholic worldview puts great emphasis on this fact, I would think Catholics are the ones with a high regard for divine providence."

Muslims would appreciate your numerical criterion.

Friday, August 15, 2008

The One True...

Bryan Cross poses the following question for Protestants: “Does not even nature teach you that a visible body needs a visible head? If so, then does grace therefore destroy nature, or does grace build upon nature?”

As you can see from his trenchant question, Mr. Cross is a formidable logician. No wonder he’s pursuing a doctorate in philosophy.

But I’d note in passing that his inexorable logic doesn’t stop with that particular example. So before I attempt to answer his question, I’d like to ask him a parallel question:

Even nature teaches me that every body as a rectum. Therefore, what part of the Catholic Magisterium corresponds to the One True Rectum?

Thus Saith the Evan!

I strolled into the Hanging Gardens of Babylon today looking for some low hanging fruit. As always, the garden was full, so I picked this piece. The serpents there told me it would be good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was desirable to make one wise. So, I sampled it, and had to spit it out immediately. Unfortunately, there may be those who fall prey to the serpents, so I thought I'd post a notice about it.

Evan thinks he's found some historical information that overturns the authenticity of what he calls "the Greek Gospels" and proves that "orthodoxy" is a late development.

Let's take a look and see how good his history is today...

Jesus is reported in the Greek gospels to have lived and died in Galilee and Palestine (possibly with a sojourn to Egypt). Jesus is reported to have died in Jerusalem, the religious and ceremonial center of Palestine.

So it would make sense to find out what the first strain of Christianity was in Palestine, see what they believed, and compare it to current orthodoxy. It would be even more important if these beliefs differed in substantial ways from current orthodoxy, and even more important if they differed on points of contention that are central to current orthodoxy. Finally, it would be very important to determine how long this form of belief persisted in Jerusalem, and what eventually caused it to die out.
Fair enough

Now, it seems obvious to me that legends flourish on distance, translation and lack of contradiction from credible sources. So it would be a critical piece of the puzzle if we saw the story we have of Jesus becoming progressively more legendary as it spreads away from Jerusalem and as it is spread to people who are outside of the Aramaic/Hebrew-reading Semitic populations of the Levant.
Okay, I'll let this slide for now.

Luckily, we have such a group. They are variously called the Ebionites or the Nazarenes

Evan, you really need to take a course in Church history and, I dunno, read the Bible.

1. The Bible talks about Nazarenes in Acts 24:

1After five days the high priest Ananias came down with some elders, with an attorney named Tertullus, and they brought charges to the governor against Paul.

2After Paul had been summoned, Tertullus began to accuse him, saying to the governor, "Since we have through you attained much peace, and since by your providence reforms are being carried out for this nation,

3we acknowledge this in every way and everywhere, most excellent Felix, with all thankfulness.

4"But, that I may not weary you any further, I beg you to grant us, by your kindness, a brief hearing.

5"For we have found this man a real pest and a fellow who stirs up dissension among all the Jews throughout the world, and a ringleader of the sect of the Nazarenes.

Evan, are you going to seriously argue that Paul would have been put on trial for not believing the doctrines that he articulates in his letters? The Ebionites of the Subapostolic period (the period from which you are getting your information on them) were a version of the Judaizers. Paul wrote against them, not in favor of them. So, if you're going to equate Nazarenes and Ebionites in the period prior to 70 AD, you've got a problem. This must be quite the conundrum for you. Was Paul put on trial for not believing that Jesus was divine, for not believing in the virgin birth, etc? Why would the Jewish leaders have a problem with Paul and say he was a leader of a sect that rejected the very things that they themselves rejected and that adhered to the same sorts of Jewish practices they accepted? Do you actually think about what you write or are your fingers autonomous with respect to your higher cortical functions?

Or, will you argue that the text is simply in error? Where is the supporting argument?

Or, will you argue that the designation "Nazarenes" at that time had come to denote what we call "orthodoxy" today and the Ebionites (as you portray them) were first? If so, then where's the documentation?

2. EBIONITES. This designation was at first, like "Nazarenes," a common name for all Christians, as Epiphanius (d. 403) testifies (Adv. Haer., xxix. 1). It is derived from the Hebrew [Hebrew text omitted] "poor," and was not given, as Origen supposes, in reference to their low views of Christ, but to their own poverty. This poverty, especially characteristic of the Christians of Jerusalem, evoked from the Pagan and Jewish world the contemptuous appellation of "the poor." Minutius Felix says, "That we are called the poor is not our disgrace, but our glory" (Octav., 36). Subsequently its application was limited to Jewish Christians. "The Jews who accept Christ are called Ebionites," writes Origen (c. Cels., II. 1). Then, when a portion of the Jewish Church became separate and heretical, the designation was used exclusively of it. Later in the fourth century Epiphanius, Jerome, and others use it of a separate party within the Jewish Church distinct from the Nazarenes. This outline of history proves that Tertullian was wrong when he derived the term from a pretended founder of the sect called Ebion.

The notices in the early fathers are fragmentary, and at times seem to be contradictory on account of the double application of the term, now to Jewish Christianity as a whole, now only to a party within it. The New Testament knows of no sects in the Jewish Church, but indicates the existence of different tendencies. At the Council of Jerusalem a legalistic and Judaizing spirit manifested itself, which was in antagonism to the spirit of Paul, and was shown in the Judaiziug teachings which did so much mischief in the Galatian churches. But it was not until after the destruction of Jerusalem, and the founding of Aelia Capitolina by Hadrian, in 134, that Jewish Christianity became a distinct school, gradually becoming more and more heretical till it separated into the two sects of Ebionites proper and Nazarenes. The latter still held to Paul as an apostle, and, while they kept the law themselves, did not demand its observance of the Gentile Christians. The former held the observance of the law to be obligatory upon all Christians alike, and rejected Paul as an apostate. This was the state of affairs at the time of Justin Martyr (Dial. c. Tryph., 47). Irenaeus, who does not mention this party division, describes the Ebionites as stubbornly clinging to the law, as rejecting the apostle Paul as an apostate, and all the Gospels except Matthew. He further notices a christological heresy. Denying Christ's birth from the Virgin, they regarded him as a mere man. Origen (c. Cels., V. 61) distinguishes between two branches of Ebionites, - those who denied and those who accepted the miraculous birth. Here he distinction between Nazarenes and the Ebionites proper becomes apparent. In the later fathers, as Jerome, Epiphanius, etc., the notices are more frequent; but nothing is added to our knowledge except that the [p.685] Ebionites were chiliasts (Jerome ad. Esdr., 35, 1). In Epiphanius' day (d. 403) they dwelt principally in the regions along the Dead Sea, but also in Rome and Cyprus. The disintegration of Jewish Christianity was consummated by the introduction of Gnostic philosophy, of Greek culture, as also, perhaps, of Oriental theosophy. See the art. ELKESAITES.

G. Uhlhorn, "EBIONITES," Philip Schaff, ed., A Religious Encyclopaedia or Dictionary of Biblical, Historical, Doctrinal, and Practical Theology, 3rd edn., Vol. 2. Toronto, New York & London: Funk & Wagnalls Company, 1894. pp.684-685.
My commentary to make it easy for Evan, since he seems to suffer from reading incomprehension:

1. Yes, at first, these names were interchangeable for all Palestinian Christians.
2. But later, they came to be used to distinguish between two sects.
3. Ebionites in the latter sense (that discussed in the sources you quote later) are not Nazarenes/Ebionites in the former sense. This basic error renders your entire article false. Good job! If this is the best you can do, Evan, it makes our job here that much easier.

[a] The Nazarenes. These were Jewish Christians who adopted the tenets of the Christian religion. They used only the Hebrew Gospel of Matthew, but at the same time recognized Paul as a true apostle. In distinction from other Jewish sects they believed in the divinity and the virgin birth of Jesus. And while they bound themselves in practice to a strict observance of the law, they did not demand this of Gentile Christians. “They were”, as Seeberg says, “really Jewish Christians, whereas the two following groups were only Christian Jews.”

Evan then quotes from the Subapostolic period:

And the (Ebionaeans allege) that they themselves also, when in like manner they fulfil (the law), are able to become Christs; for they assert that our Lord Himself was a man in a like sense with all (the rest of the human family).

—Hippolytus of Rome, Refutation of All Heresies 7.22

The ancients quite properly called these men Ebionites, because they held poor and mean opinions concerning Christ. For they considered him a plain and common man, who was justified only because of his superior virtue, and who was the fruit of the intercourse of a man with Mary.

—Eusebius, Ecclesiastical History, Chp. 27

As to these translators it should be stated that Symmachus was an Ebionite. But the heresy of the Ebionites, as it is called, asserts that Christ was the son of Joseph and Mary, considering him a mere man

—Nicene Fathers, The Translator Symmachus, Chp. 17

For since they wish Jesus to be in reality a man, as I have said before, Christ came in him having descended in the form of a dove and was joined to him (as already we have found among other heresies also), and became the Christ from God above, but Jesus was born from the seed of man and woman.

They say that the Christ is the True Prophet and that the Christ is son of God by spiritual progress and a union which came to him by a lifting up from above; but they say that the prophets are prophets through their own intelligence and not from truth. Him alone they wish to be both prophet and man, and son of God and Christ, and mere man, as we have mentioned before, but because of excellence of life he came to be called the Son of God.

—Epiphanius of Salamis, Panarion 30.14.4-5 and 18.5-9

Vain also are the Ebionites, who do not receive by faith into their soul the union of God and man, but who remain in the old leaven of [the natural] birth, and who do not choose to understand that the Holy Ghost came upon Mary, and the power of the Most High did overshadow her: wherefore also what was generated is a holy thing, and the Son of the Most High God the Father of all, who effected the incarnation of this being, and showed forth a new [kind of] generation; that as by the former generation we inherited death, so by this new generation we might inherit life. Therefore do these men reject the commixture of the heavenly wine, and wish it to be water of the world only, not receiving God so as to have union with Him, but they remain in that Adam who had been conquered and was expelled from Paradise: not considering that as, at the beginning of our formation in Adam, that breath of life which proceeded from God, having been united to what had been fashioned, animated the man, and manifested him as a being endowed with reason; so also, in [the times of] the end, the Word of the Father and the Spirit of God, having become united with the ancient substance of Adam's formation, rendered man living and perfect, receptive of the perfect Father, in order that as in the natural [Adam] we all were dead, so in the spiritual we may all be made alive. For never at any time did Adam escape the harms of God, to whom the Father speaking, said, "Let Us make man in Our image, after Our likeness." And for this reason in the last times (fine), not by the will of the flesh, nor by the will of man, but by the good pleasure of the Father, His hands formed a living man, in order that Adam might be created [again] after the image and likeness of God.

—Ireneaus, Against Heresies 5.1.3

Evan needs to date his material. Eusebius is writing when and about whom? Ireneaus is writing when and about whom? Hippolytus wrote when and about whom? etc.

These are references to Ebionites after 70 AD and from the Subapostolic era. So, are these Ebionites in the former sense or the latter sense?

Evan also omits something important from Epiphanius. He should have read the section before the one from which he quoted:
"For this group did not name themselves after Christ or with Jesus' own name, but "Nazoraeans." However, at that time all Christians were called Nazoraeans in the same way. " (Epiphanius, Panarion 29)

"But these sectarians... did not call themselves Christians--but "Nazarenes," ... However they are simply complete Jews. They use not o­nly the New Testament but the Old Testament as well, as the Jews do... They have no different ideas, but confess everything exactly as the Law proclaims it and in the Jewish fashion - except for their belief in Messiah, if you please! For they acknowledge both the resurrection of the dead and the divine creation of all things, and declare that God is o­ne, and that his son is Jesus the Christ. They are trained to a nicety in Hebrew. For among them the entire Law, the Prophets, and the... Writings... are read in Hebrew, as they surely are by the Jews. They are different from the Jews, and different from Christians, o­nly in the following. They disagree with Jews because they have come to faith in Christ; but since they are still fettered by the Law - circumcision, the Sabbath, and the rest - they are not in accord with Christians.... they are nothing but Jews.... They have the Good News according to Matthew in its entirety in Hebrew. For it is clear that they still preserve this, in the Hebrew alphabet, as it was originally written. (Epiphanius; Panarion 29)
This is all available at Google Books.

From this we know (a) that "Nazarenes" in the first century referred to all Palestinian Christians, and (b) later on there was a separation between those known as Nazarenes and those known as Ebionites, which confirms what I've been writing above.

What shines clearly through this is that the doctrine of the trinity could not possibly have been the understanding of the Christians who supposedly lived the closest in time and space to the actual time of the legendary Jesus.
Big problem...the earliest source that Evan is quoting wrote ca. 175 AD, so it's fallacious to draw inferences about what those to whom the name is attributed a century or more beforehand.

Also here's a little something from Justin Martyr:


And Trypho again inquired, "But if some one, knowing that this is so, after he recognises that this man is Christ, and has believed in and obeys Him, wishes, however, to observe these [institutions], will he be saved?"

I said, "In my opinion, Trypho, such an one will be saved, if he does not strive in every way to persuade other men,--I mean those Gentiles who have been circumcised from error by Christ, to observe the same things as himself, telling them that they will not be saved unless they do so. This you did yourself at the commencement of the discourse, when you declared that I would not be saved unless I observe these institutions."

Then he replied, "Why then have you said, 'In my opinion, such an one will be saved,' unless there are some who affirm that such will not be saved?"

"There are such people, Trypho," I answered; "and these do not venture to have any intercourse with or to extend hospitality to such persons; but I do not agree with them. But if some, through weak-mindedness, wish to observe such institutions as were given by Moses, from which they expect some virtue, but which we believe were appointed by reason of the hardness of the people's hearts, along with their hope in this Christ, and [wish to perform] the eternal and natural acts of righteousness and piety, yet choose to live with the Christians and the faithful, as I said before, not inducing them either to be circumcised like themselves, or to keep the Sabbath, or to observe any other such ceremonies, then I hold that we ought to join ourselves to such, and associate with them in all things as kinsmen and brethren. But if, Trypho," I continued, "some of your race, who say they believe in this Christ, compel those Gentiles who believe in this Christ to live in all respects according to the law given by Moses, or choose not to associate so intimately with them, I in like manner do not approve of them. But I believe that even those, who have been persuaded by them to observe the legal dispensation along with their confession of God in Christ, shall probably be saved. And I hold, further, that such as have confessed and known this man to be Christ, yet who have gone back from some cause to the legal dispensation, and have denied that this man is Christ, and have repented not before death, shall by no means be saved. Further, I hold that those of the seed of Abraham who live according to the law, and do not believe in this Christ before death, shall likewise not be saved, and especially those who have anathematized and do anathematize this very Christ in the synagogues, and everything by which they might obtain salvation and escape the vengeance of fire. For the goodness and the loving-kindness of God, and His boundless riches, hold righteous and sinless the man who, as Ezekiel tells, repents of sins; and reckons sinful, unrighteous, and impious the man who fails away from piety and righteousness to unrighteousness and ungodliness. Wherefore also our Lord Jesus Christ said, 'In whatsoever things I shall take you, in these I shall judge you.' "

(Dialogue with Trypho the Jew 47).

Justin distinguished two sorts of Jewish Christians, those who observed the Mosaic Law but did not require its' observance of all others, and those who maintained that this observance was necessary for salvation. Justin would fellowship with the former, but not with the latter. Justin is drawing a distinction between the Nazarenes and the Ebionites in his day. So, we can know from this that, the Ebionites/Nazarenes of the first sort had now split off from each other by this time into what we can distinguish as Nazarenes (orthodox) and Ebionites (unorthodox). One group represented the original Palestinian group (Nazarenes) and the other the Judaizers (Ebionites) that arose ca. 50 AD. Justin is writing ca. 150 ad.
So the Christians who state that it's impossible to imagine people dying for their faith on the basis of a legend are failing to understand that the legend didn't exist for the Christians in Palestine. Specifically the Ebionites are said to have rejected the virgin birth, the divinity of Jesus, and his resurrection in a physical body, in addition to their acceptance of the Jewish laws as binding.
The Ebionites of the latter type, Evan, did deny the virgin birth and the divinity of Christ, if, by the divinity of Christ you mean what orthodox Christians affirmed. However, they also held to a Cerinthian view of Christ. In other words, they distinguished between Jesus and Christ through an adoptionist view of his divinity. Cerinthus taught that Jesus, the offspring of Joseph and Mary, received Christ at his baptism as a divine power or spirit revealing the unknown Father. This Christ left Jesus before the passion and the resurrection. Ebionism is one of the versions of Gnosticism (and thus why Iranaeus wrote against them).

After posting an irrelevant map (to support his pagan copycat theory), Evan concludes:

1. The earliest Palestinian Christians did not believe in the divinity of Christ, his virgin birth, or his bodily resurrection.

2. They persisted in this belief for a very long time (even possibly until they Muslim conquest, when they may have converted to Islam).

3. The orthodox beliefs we consider central to Christianity today could not have been the beliefs that early Christian martyrs had (if there were early Christian martyrs), unless we postulate that God allowed heretics to dominate the Christian church in the most sacred place to it from the very beginning of the religion
My commentary...

1. The earliest Palestinian Christians were Nazarenes/Ebionites of the first type, not Ebionites holding beliefs like those reported in the Subapostolic period.

2. Those of the second type did persist in this for a very long time, but they were a small sect.

3. Ergo, the final conclusion is flawed...all because Evan doesn't actually do proper research. Why bother, right?

4. And as matter of fact, we can see that the Judaizers of the First Century are the very ones who turn into Ebionites of the second order later on. That's what the conflict that the Jerusalem Council recorded in Acts was meant to address. Paul wrote more than one letter about this. John did as well. So the existence of Ebionitish heretics is evidence for, not against, the reliability of the text of the NT, Evan, and therefore for, not against, orthodox beliefs about Christ antedating the origin of this group.

So, now, Evan, you've placed yourself in the position of having to argue that the Ebionites (in the manner you portrayed them) were first and that what we know as orthodoxy was a later development and the writings against the Judaizer heresy in the Bible are writing against what the "first Christians" actually believed (since you think that they were Ebionites - as you portray them - themselves). Further, Evan, you've alleged that the stories of the "legendary" Jesus in the "Greek Gospels" are late by a great deal, but Paul's letters begin in the 50's, Evan, and Galatians is dated as early as the close of the first missionary journey (ca. 50) to Paul's imprisonment (ca. 60) AD. Even if you try to date the Gospels late, you still have to contend with Paul, who is an earlier source. Further, you'll now have to explain the Jerusalem Council in Acts. Is your argument going to be that Luke purposefully misrepresented the council in order to make it look like "orthodoxy" a later development according to you won out? If so, you'll need to document that claim too - and with something more than speculation.

You're digging yourself now into a very big hole. I wonder, how deep will you go?

Quick, somebody, remind me why this guy is writing at DC? Is this really the best sort of argumentation they can muster?

Anti-Catholics, &c.

Dave Armstrong suffers from OCD on the subject of “anti-Catholics.” Since he’s so fixated on this subject, I think the least we could do is to improve on his simplistic classification scheme. If he’s going to assign various people to religious pigeonholes, I’d suggest he employ a more nuanced taxonomy. For example:

Catholic, anybody Dave agrees with.
Anti-Catholic, 1. anybody Dave disagrees with. 2. anybody who hurts Dave’s feelings. 3. anybody Dave is afraid to debate.
Anti-Anti-Catholic, somebody more Catholic than the pope. Usually an evangelical convert to Rome (e.g. Dave Armstrong). Double negation for emphasis.
Anti-Anti-Anti-Catholic, a Reformed blogger. Triple negation for emphasis.
Ante-Catholic, a Traditionalist Catholic (e.g. Archbishop Lefebvre).
Ante-Ante-Catholic, a Sedevacantist (e.g. Gerry Matatics).
Ante-Ante-Ante-Catholic, a Conclavist (e.g. Pope Michael I).
Lapsed Catholic, 1. a Catholic who’s ceased to practice the faith. 2. a Catholic who slips and falls on holy water (e.g. Francis Cardinal George).
Anti-Ante-Lapsed Catholic, an evangelical who became a Sedevacantist who became a Byzantine who became an Eastern rite Catholic (e.g. Jay Dyer).
Anti-Broccolist, a Broccoli bigot. Somebody who suffers from a gustatory animus towards Brassica oleracea botrytis. Usually associated with ex-presidents.
Cultural Catholic, a politician from Massachusetts. Usually a presidential candidate.
Cafeteria Catholic, 1. a Catholic who picks and chooses what to believe. 2. a Catholic gourmand (e.g. Pavarotti, Tetrazzini).
Good Catholic, anybody who buys a miracle hot tub from Dave.
Papist, a term employed to push Dave’s buttons.
Romanist, another term employed to push Dave’s buttons.

Secular hagiographa

Thus far I’ve been sitting out the debate over T-stone’s post on “Xavier and the Evolution of Legendary Miracles”:

In the course of his post, he makes some of the following claims:

I regularly encounter pseudo-skepticism -- reflexive doubt in response to criticism of credulous belief -- on the question of how the legend of Jesus could have developed in the period between Jesus' death and the writing of the synoptic gospels. Many Christians just don't see how or why such fantastic inventions arose from the crushing disappointment of the crucifixion of the man they supposed the Messiah (assuming here, arguendo, the historicity of Jesus and his crucifixion by the Romans at around the time commonly supposed)? "Why would these people die for a lie?" goes a common retort.

(And indeed, this is precisely the kind of narrative we might expect as a later bit of legendary embellishment)…the tendency to mythologize and embellish real people and events …in which he details the progression and development of legends -- miraculous legends -- about Xavier in the aftermath of his death.

Notice the paradigm he’s using: “evolution,” “progression,” “development,” “later embellishment.”

He also quotes Andrew Dickson White to illustrate and corroborate his thesis.

Let’s now remark on the utter ineptitude of T-stone’s argument:

i) There’s his charming gullibility in the use of White. If he’d done a modicum of research, he’d know that White is not a reliable historian. His work is riddled with historical blunders:

Ironically, T-stone is guilty of the very thing he faults Christians for. In his secular credulity and naïveté, he piously hands down the urban legends popularized by White.

Nothing better illustrates the deficit of critical thinking skills than T-stone’s uncritical use of White.

ii) Catholic hagiographa deliberately parallel Biblical miracles. That’s not a folkloric embellishment. Rather, pious fraud is integral to the hagiographic genre. The saints are expected to perform thaumaturgical feats. That’s what makes this “inspirational” literature.

But that doesn’t begin to cast doubt on the historicity of the Biblical exemplars, for Catholic hagiographa are inherently derivative and imitative.

iii) T-stone fails to distinguish between someone who acquires a numinous reputation because he’s already famous, and someone who becomes famous because he acquired a numinous reputation.

Jesus isn’t Elvis. Jesus and his Apostles didn’t start out as 1C celebrities who later acquired a numinous reputation. They became celebrities because of their of their numinous reputation (as miracle-workers, or associates of a miracle-worker).

iv) A numinous reputation doesn’t require any legendary embellishment over time. A man (or woman) can acquire that reputation in his own lifetime. Take the case of Padre Pio, the celebrated stigmatic. He became famous in his own lifetime. And this is regardless of whether you think his reputation was bogus or genuine.

Indeed, T-stone later tweaks his original paradigm by admitting that “For most, and possibly all of the miraculous accounts given later, there doesn't even seem to be the "seed" used for later embellishment, but a kind of ex nihilo creation of a miraculum vitae for Xavier.”

But if most or even all of the miracles attributed to Xavier are spontaneous ascriptions rather than later legendary embellishments, then his paradigm-case doesn’t fit his paradigm. He has to abandon his evolutionary framework the moment it makes contact with the very example he chose to illustrate his theory.

v) To say the miracles of Christ are “fantastic inventions” simply begs the question against miracles. If you presume that reported miracles are fantastic inventions, then you’ll have to concoct an alternative explanation to account for these reports. But that is predicated on the very thing you need to prove in the first place: miracles don’t happen; ergo, there must be some naturalistic explanation for all reported miracles.

vi) Notice the desperate attempt to parallel “the crab returning Xavier's crucifix resonating with Paul's miraculous survival of the viper's bite on Malta in Acts.”

The fact that T-stone must resort to such strained analogies betrays the weakness of his hand.

vii) Reported miracles in church history don’t cast any doubt on reported miracles in Bible history. For one thing, why should we dismiss all reported miracles in church history? Some are better attested than others.

In his post, T-stone didn’t begin with the evidence. He began with his preconceived theory, which he imposed on the evidence—in spite of the evidence. He’s giving us a splendid specimen of secular hagiographa. The only difference is that he prefers impious fraud (White) to pious fraud (Xavier).

Longman on China

Prof. Tremper Longman III shares some thoughts and comments on his recent trip to China.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

The Rules of Chess

“I see you’ve come back.”

“Yes, Mike. It happens every day after work. Amazing, isn’t it?” Larry stretched and glanced over at the chessboard that Mike had set up. “Another game? You can’t be serious.”

“Indeed I am,” Mike responded.

“But I beat you six times in a row yesterday, and they were all Scholar’s Mates.”

“No you didn’t. And your use of the term ‘Scholar’ there is pejorative.”

“That’s the name of the move.”

“You’re just blustering and pretending to be an intellectual elite.”

Larry sighed. “Look, Mike, I just got back from work. I’m tired. I don’t want to play a game of chess right now.”

“Because you’re a coward and you know you lost.”

“No, it’s because I don’t feel like trouncing you again.”

“You know, you’ve got a real attitude. You didn’t come anywhere near beating me. I beat you each time.”

“When I checkmate you, I win. Not you.”

“Your claims of checkmate were unverifiable. I could still move.”

“Moving the king six spaces is not a legal move, Mike.”

Mike put his hands on his hips. “Oh really? Says who?”

“It’s the rules of chess.”

“Oh, the mysterious magic rules of chess. How convenient for you that they just happen to benefit you, huh?”

“They’re the rules—”

“I can’t see them.”


“I can’t see them. They don’t exist. You believe in this mythical thing you call ‘rules’ that you’ve never seen with your own eyes.”

“You’ve got to be kidding me.”

“You know what, Larry? You have a serious problem here. You have to win at all costs.”

Larry rolled his eyes. “Correct me if I’m wrong, but isn’t the object of a game of chess to, you know, win?”

“Yes. But not at all costs.”

“I don’t win at all costs. I win by playing a good offense and a good defense. Yours doesn’t measure up.”

“You really ought to check your elitist tendencies.”

“‘Check’ them. That’s a clever pun.”


“Never mind, Mike. It was obviously an accidental pun. I should have guessed it, as poorly as you play chess.”

“Now listen here, Larry. Just because you declared yourself the winner by invoking some mystery magic ‘rule’ that floats invisibly up in the air somewhere watching over us while we play a game of chess does not mean that you play chess better than me.”

“Of course not. Rather, it’s my continual slaughtering of your defense and capturing your king that shows my chess skill trumps yours.”

“Such violent metaphors! I’ll bet you beat your wife!”

Larry looked at Mike. “Okaaaaaay.”

Mike stood and gestured angrily at Larry. “I’m not going to stand for this anymore!” He stormed out of the room.

Larry sighed and soon forgot it. Tomorrow was Saturday and he planned to sleep in. Unfortunately, he was woken at eight in the morning by a knock at the door.

“Are you Lawrence Adams?” the man at the door asked.

“Yes,” Larry said, rubbing the sleep from his eyes.

“Get him!”

Before Larry could react, he was thrown to the floor. “What are you doing?”

“Dr. Graves has informed us you’re a threat to yourself.” Larry’s arms were pushed into the straightjacket.


“That’s right,” Mike said, entering behind the men. “It’s in my report.”

“He’s a psychology PhD,” the man restraining Larry provided helpfully.

“And I’ve made my report. Larry, you exhibit all the symptoms of a disease known as Mania. You have a narcissistic flair or ‘grandiosity’ to your personality. You are quite intolerant of others. Indeed, you have an ego-centric paradigm that means you simply lack the ability to consider the thoughts and feelings of those around you. It’s all about your thoughts and feelings. Sadly, no facts, reasoning, or logic will change you. On the contrary, arguing with you simply increases your mania, and for that I apologize. I have been provoking, perhaps envoking (I’m not sure which word to use) your illness by playing chess with you.

“The fact is, Larry, when you say, ‘I and those who play chess like me are better at chess than you’ then that’s the first sign that we’re dealing with some mental illness, and we must react with appropriate humanity. That’s why you will be taken back to my asylum and given shock treatments from now on.

“Don’t worry. I’m sure after just a few months of those shock treatments you’ll be able to play chess just as well as I can, and then you can reintegrate into society.”

Mike watched as Larry was dragged out of the house proclaiming his innocence. It was sad. The insane never realize they’re not crazy.

Did Peter And Paul Believe In A Physical Resurrection?

Some of you may be interested in continuing to read the thread at Debunking Christianity on Francis Xavier. Some Christians and non-Christians are still posting there. And I've just posted another reply to some of Jon Curry's comments in that thread. See here. I address the evidence that Peter and Paul believed in a physical resurrection, Curry's claims about early Christian "purging" and "censorship" of documents, and some other issues.

Kant & Catholicism

I’m doing a mopping up operation on Bryan Cross.

“Authority and interpretation are not the same thing.”

I agree, which is why it’s fallacious for Bryan to cast all interpretive issues in authoritarian terms.

“The person who submits his interpretation to the judgment of the magisterium of the Church must, of course, interpret the words in the magisterium's judgment, but being under the authority of the magisterium means that if necessary, he submits even his interpretation of the magisterium's judgment to the magisterium.”

i) But that’s regressive. If he submits his interpretation of the magisterium to the magisterium, and the magisterium comments on his interpretation of the magisterium, then he must interpret the magisterial commentary on his interpretation of the magisterium. So Bryan has merely pushed the original conundrum back a step. He has failed to solve the problem he posed for himself.

ii) In addition, his hypothetical is a paper theory since, as a matter of fact, the magisterium doesn’t begin to comment on every Catholic’s interpretation of magisterial teaching. Hence, as a practical matter, almost every Catholic is thrown back on his own, “individualistic” resources.

What fraction of a fraction of a billion Catholics submits its interpretation to the Magisterium? And is the Magisterium in a position to respond? Obviously not. Only a handful of high-profile Catholics ever receives magisterial scrutiny.

So Bryan’s argument is falls flat, both in principle and practice.

Here's the dilemma. If each individual has equal interpretive authority, then the very notion that one's own interpretation of Scripture is authoritative for all other persons violates Kant's categorical imperative: “Act only according to that maxim whereby you can at the same time will that it should become a universal law.’ The maxim, ‘All others should submit to my interpretation of Scripture’, if universalized [i.e. made a maxim that each person could live by], would make hash of the notions of authority and submission. Each person's interpretation would be authoritative for all others, thus entailing that no person's interpretation would be authoritative for others.

Several problems:

i) The right of private judgment doesn’t imply that “each individual has equal interpretative authority.”

ii) Why cast interpretive issues in authoritarian terms to begin with?

iii) Why should we agree with Kant’s categorical imperative? Here’s the problem:

One of the first major challenges to Kant's reasoning came from the Swiss philosopher Benjamin Constant, who asserted that since truth telling must be universal, according to Kant's theories, one must (if asked) tell a known murderer the location of his prey. This challenge occurred while Kant was still alive, and his response was the essay On a Supposed Right to Tell Lies from Benevolent Motives (sometimes translated On a Supposed Right to Lie because of Philanthropic Concerns). In this reply, Kant agreed with Constant's inference, that from Kant's premises one must infer a moral duty to be truthful to a murderer.

Kant denied that such an inference indicates any weakness in his premises: telling the truth to the murderer is required because moral actions do not derive their worth from the expected consequences. He claimed that because lying to the murderer would treat him as a mere means to another end, the lie denies the rationality of another person, and therefore denies the possibility of there being free rational action at all. This lie results in a contradiction in conceivability and therefore the lie is in conflict with duty.

Now, as you can see, Kant stuck to his guns. Yet the problem with Kant’s contention is that his ethical system appeals to our moral intuitions. But as Constant pointed out, it’s easy to come up with a counterintuitive example. At that point, Kant’s intuitive appeal loses all plausibility.

If Bryan is a Kantian deontologist, then he has his work cut out for him. He can’t merely assume the truth of Kant’s categorical imperative. He will have to argue the point.

“But if some people have more interpretive authority than others, then on what grounds do they have more ecclesial/interpretive authority? If the answer is that their interpretation of Scripture agrees with one's own interpretation of Scripture, then again the illusion of authority is exposed.”

Questions like this should answer themselves. Dropping his tendentious authoritarian shtick, the interpretation of some people commands more respect than others because some people are right and others are wrong. Likewise, some people offer more reasonable interpretations than others.

And if Bryan objects to that explanation, then I will reinterpret his objection to agree with my explanation. And he can’t take issue with my reinterpretation of his objection since he has no magisterial interpretation to correct my interpretation of his objection. He’s just a lowly layman like me. He’s not a one-man ecumenical council, or the pope speaking ex cathedra.


Catholics disapprove of the so-called right of private judgment. As I’ve often said, I don’t care for that expression, but since I didn’t write the theological lexicon, I’ll go along with conventional usage.

So why do Catholics disapprove of private judgment? It can be difficult to zero in on their precise objection.

1.At one level, they disapprove because private judgment leads to a diversity of opinion. And they regard that consequence as unacceptable. But why is that unacceptable?

There’s a sense in which this isn’t unacceptable to God. After all, this is God’s world. He chose to create a world in which diverse opinions exist. So that clearly serves a purpose in the divine scheme of things.

There’s a sense in which God doesn’t approve of everything that happens. He approves of everything as a means to an end, but he doesn’t approve of everything in and of itself.

Still, God could have made everyone think alike if he wanted to. Catholics have a pragmatic argument for the Magisterium. They think it’s antecedently probable that God would install a divine teaching office in his church.

But even if we go along with this pragmatic justification, there are far more efficient ways of corralling the sheep. What if God created Johnny Mnemonic sheep? Every sheep could know the same thing through a direct, instantaneous upload of information.

So even if you think that arguing from antecedent probabilities is a valid methodology, antecedent probabilities don’t select for the Magisterium.

2.Catholics also disapprove of private judgment because it’s individualistic. Every man becomes his own interpreter.

Oftentimes a Catholic will simply describe private judgment, and leave it at that, as if the mere description constitutes a refutation: “Sola scriptura makes every man his own interpreter!” Case closed!

But that doesn’t rise to the level of an argument. Catholics never stop to ask themselves whether, as a matter of fact, that may indeed be the way in which God has arranged his affairs. What if God intends every man to be his own interpreter?

3.On the face of it, it’s hard to see how we can avoid that consequence. It’s not as though Catholicism can avoid that consequence. For example, just consider all the commentaries which various Catholic theologians have written on Vatican II. Consider how different theologians offer differing interpretations of Vatican II.

In fact, sometimes two popes offer differing interpretations of Vatican II. Or sometimes the same theologian or the same pope will offering differing interpretations of Vatican II in the course of his career. His own understanding of the document evolves over time:

Indeed, Benedict XVI goes so far as to accuse Vatican II of teaching heresy (the Pelagian heresy, to be precise). Yet Vatican II was an ecumenical council. An exercise of the extraordinary magisterium. This is the sort of thing that’s suppose to resolve open questions, not open a host of additional questions—or ratify an ancient heresy.

Every time the Magisterium answers an old question, that raises new questions. Every answer is a launch pad for another question. “What does the answer mean?” “What does the answer imply?” “What’s the scope of the answer?”

4.Sometimes the objection seems to be that whenever two men disagree about something, you can’t know which man is right. You think you’re right, but your opponent thinks that he is right, so the mere fact that you think you’re right doesn’t make you right. And since you’re the one who’s doing the thinking, you can’t escape your own conviction—even if your conviction is erroneous.

That’s a complicated issue. But if that’s a problem, then Catholicism is hardly exempt. After all, two men may disagree about Catholicism. A Catholic will disagree with a Protestant.

But if the mere phenomenon of disagreement justifies scepticism, then you can hardly appeal to such disagreements as an argument for the Catholic Magisterium—since the Magisterium is, itself, an object of disagreement.

5.This objection also fails to distinguish between proof and knowledge. When someone says, “How can you know your own interpretation is right? Even if you were wrong, you’d mistakenly believe you were right,” he’s confusing two different issues.

It’s often possible to know something without being able to prove it. Take those science fiction scenarios in which a character is abducted and then immersed in a virtual simulation. The simulation may be very realistic. Yet the character knows this isn’t real because he remembers his past. And this is not the life he led. And yet, from within the simulation, he can’t prove that his experience is illusory.

He knows the simulation is illusory. But since the entire simulation is illusory, the simulation itself furnishes no clue regarding its illusory character. He can’t point to any evidence within the simulation to show that it’s just a simulation. The illusion is perfect. No computer glitches. No incongruities. A seamless illusion.

However, there are times in which knowledge does depend on proof. I experience my own memories, but I don’t experience the distant past. Take a historical claim like apostolic succession. That requires historical evidence. I wasn’t there.

And it’s worse than that, for even if I were there, I can’t discern the validity of ordination. The validity of ordination turns on certain indetectible conditions, like the intent of the officiate and the intent of the ordinand.

6.There is also the question of responsibility. I’m not responsible for proving the impossible. We can concoct ingenious thought experiments in which the human subject is imprisoned within some intractable delusion. So what? If it’s inescapable, then it’s futile to even raise the conundrum.

And there’s something deceptive about the deception. If you’re conscious of a self-delusion, then you’re thinking outside the self-delusion. So you’re not deluded by the delusion after all.

7. Finally, Catholicism suffers from a very blinkered view of divine guidance. You don’t need a complete set of verbal instructions for you do to do the right thing.

Consider the lives of Joseph and Daniel in the OT. God didn’t reveal to them his “perfect plan” for their lives. God didn’t give them a daily itinerary and say, “This is what you need to do today to fulfill my perfect plan for your life.”

Rather, through a series of unlikely events, God maneuvered them into positions of power. He put them exactly where he wanted them without telling them what to do every step of the way.

And that applies, not only at the behavioral level, but the doxastic level as well. When and where you live is going to affect what you believe. God can make someone believe something based on the epistemic environment he puts him in. Depending on what he wants them to believe, he will put them in the corresponding environment.

Jesus said to the Samaritan woman, “You worship what you don’t know; we worship what we know, for salvation comes from the Jews” (Jn 4:22).

The Jews were right and the Samaritans were wrong. What made the difference? Ethnicity. Geography. An “accident” of birth. Same thing the heathen (Eph 2:11-22).

And who’s responsible for when and where we’re born? God is (Ps 139:13-16; Acts 17:26).

God guides his people into the truth through providential events as well as revelatory words. Mute guidance as well as verbal direction.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

To ban or not to ban?

Our comments’ policy has come under attack. I’ll make a few general observations before addressing the specifics.

Most every blog ends up banning some commenters because some commenters abuse their privileges.

Indeed, many blogs don’t even allow comments to avoid having to moderate the meta.

Of course, the person who’s banned will naturally disagree with the policy. How many convicts admit their guilt? “You’ve got the wrong man, officer. It was the one-armed man!” If you were to interview the prison population, you’d discover that nobody behind bars is guilty. They were all railroaded in a gross miscarriage of justice. The only men behind bars are innocent men.

DC also bans commenters whenever it sees fit. Loftus defends this policy on the grounds that he only bans a commenter when it’s justified. But, of course, every blog administrator will make the very same claim. What blog admin is going to say that he unfairly banned someone?

Sorry, Loftus, but you can’t be a character witness at your own trial.

Tblog comes in for two contradictory criticisms. On the one hand, if we spend a lot of time critiquing an opponent’s position, he complains that we don’t have a real life. We’re chained to our keyboard.

On the other hand, other commenters complain if we’re not on call 24/7 to respond to their very latest comment.

Well, you can’t have it both ways.

Commenters are on probation. We give them a lot of rope. If you go through the archives, you seen that those who eventually got the ax were first allowed to comment for months on end. They were ultimately banned for their incorrigible behavior.

You don’t get to have the last word on our blog. We can’t make an open-ended commitment to an open-ended debate with an irrational troll—month after month and year after year. If you start repeating yourself, or become evasive, or make no effort to be consistent, or habitually misrepresent our position, then you’re wasting our time. We’re not paid to entertain you.

If you want to have the last word, start your own blog. It’s a free country.

Sometimes a houseguest outstays his welcome. You know the type. Invites himself to stay a week. After a week, extends his stay another week (without asking your permission). Then extends his stay indefinitely. Raids the fridge without ever going to the store to restock the fridge. Co-ops your TV and telephone. Plays loud music. Invites his friends over to your house to throw a party. Expects you to wash his dishes and do his laundry.

He then regards it as a grave injustice when he comes back from a walk to find his luggage on the porch with the door locked. What kind of friend are you to treat him that way?

Moving to the specifics:

Touchstone said...

“Jon,__Yeah, the Triabloggers are cowards. Easier to deal with uncomfortable criticism by huffing, puffing and banning.”

Ironically, it’s this is the sort of flagrant misrepresentation that got T-stone banned in the first place. What he says here is an outright lie. If you go through the archives you’ll see that various Tbloggers sunk enormous amounts of time in answering him point-by-point.

John W. Loftus said...

“Jon, Touchstone and I have all been banned from Triablogue (me, with regard to Paul Manata's specific postings), not because we were belligerent or offensive or rude, but because they hate apostates and skeptical questioners, just like their Calvinist God does, or so they claim.”

This is demonstrably false since many commenters are apostates or sceptical questioners, but few are ever banned.

With respect to Manata, Loftus chose to drag Manata’s family into the public arena. Not surprisingly, Manata zapped him. I’d do the same thing under the same circumstances. If Loftus is too sociopathic to realize that he was crossing the line with that tactic, then it’s his funeral. I’ll send flowers.

“Evan's posts were simply deleted from Triablogue.”

That’s a complete and utter lie. You only have to check out a number of posts, such as the following, to see that they are loaded with Evan’s intact comments:

I deleted one irrelevant little comment by Evan. When he repeated the same irrelevant comment, I repeated the process.

Loftus isn’t even a good liar. If you’re going be a liar, at least be clever about it. Don’t make claims that are so easily falsified by the public record.

And if you're asking Touchstone to answer you, then I think it behoves you to state below that he can comment here.”

He can comment at DC if he wants to. He has his own platform. And he ran a couple of his own blogs in the past. It’s not as if he lacks a public forum in which to respond.

“None of the T-bloggers are banned from DC.”

Even if that were true, so what? What would I post a comment DC? I have my own blog.

“Oh, one last thing. I challenge Triabloguers to consider the respectful way we at DC treat our opponents to the way you treat yours.”

Here’s a recent example of how respectfully one of their opponents was treated at DC. I’m giving a cleaned up version:

Ty said...


you're an a**hole.

On your f***ing website you wrote, "My views on this section ar fairly liberal" in refering to your views of the canonical gospels. I was merely quoting your website and you write me back about your own words the following bullsh**, "No it' not. Real liberals tell me I'm neo Orthodox."

Well, f*** you and the horse you road in on. Debate is about honest intellectual discussion, not the bullsh** you're tyring to pass off as debate.

why don't you go to college, take some literure clases and ask the teacher how to read?

Again, you're an a**hole.

Lessons from Summer

Next Monday, where I live, school starts. Summer is unofficially over. Yeah, right, tell that to the weather. I mean, where exactly in NC are the portals to hell still open? :D

So, what are some things I learned on Summer Vacation?

1. It's good to look up long lost friends. I've been in contact with a friend in Atlanta for a couple of years now. He's seriously addicted to drugs; I've offered to fetch him and bring him back to his family up here, but he won't do it. On the other hand, I've been praying for him since I found him last year. God has moved...

He's now living in a real apartment. Considering he'd lost everything and was living in the no-tell motel for a weekly fee, that's a good thing. He has a job now too, and he has a roommate that helps out. Also, a local church is ministering to them and helping them move along the road to recovery. I assume, since the church isn't liberal or anything really unorthodox in their beliefs, they are sharing the Gospel with them too. Mark seems open. His roommate doesn't, but we all hope that will change.

Pray for Mark and his roommate. Pray God will open their hearts. They each have a long way to go. They are living in a safer place now, well safer than the "notel," but they could do better. The last time I visited, I saw that Mark had circled the name of an addiction recovery program in the area. Winter may be hard for them, as Mark walks several miles to work right now because gas is, you know, a zillion bucks a gallon.

2. Apropos 1, it's easy to blog. It's harder to minister face-to-face. Guys, and Gals, get out of your safety zone. Find somebody to whom you can minister. If that means you take a blogging vacation, do it. It's totally worth it. Granted, your work on a blog can affect many people, and you don't often know who, but on the other hand, it's a good thing to get out of the house and off the computer and give arms and legs to the Gospel - not just your intellect and fingers.

3. Learn to do online evangelism and apologetics in locations other than the blogs. You know, a lot of the Village Atheists don't bother reading what we write here and elsewhere. The same for many Mormons and others. Find someplace other than the blogs and places like the CARM boards to write.

Two of my favorites are (1) and (2) I'd encourage the other nerds here, and you know who you are, to join one or both of these and interact apologetically and evangelistically in the Misc Forum and The Neutral Zone (you have to sign up and check a box in your CP to see that one) in the former, and The Tenth Planet in the latter. There are lots of atheists and skeptics at Trekbbs (not mention Arminians and others with whom you can debate theology) and lots of Mormons and atheists at OG. At both, Christians are a distinct minority. You'll have to filter out the mockery, but if you can interact with some of the people we have on our blogs, you'll be more than able to handle that.

If you have any other suggestions for such places, please post them in the combox here.

4. Go to the Gym. One of the reasons I've not posted much in the past few months is because I decided to dedicate this year to the body. It's not just a matter of being out of shape or vanity (okay, well, yeah, I'll confess a little vanity is involved, I mean, to look as good as I do it takes lots and lots of maintenance ;) ), but because in the past 2 years, I've had two surguries around my ear, removing most of one of them because of a cancer tumor that was touching the skull when they opened up my head, and then last year, I had a terrible back injury and could barely walk from February to late September/early October. Ergo, I decided at the end of last year that I would get myself back into the gym and get myself in shape. It's also an exercise in self-discipline. I recommend you try it. Your body is God's temple, and there is a unity between your soul and your body. I've known too many Christians who get all spiritual and intellectual and act like it's okay to let the body go. Look, I'm not saying, "if you've got it flaunt it" (like the girl last night who almost wore a pair of shorts), but I am saying, "You'd better hold onto it as long as you can." Stay healthy. You don't have to get as buffed as I am ;), but you'd better exercise, particularly if, like me you live with chronic illness. I need the lean body mass in order to survive, literally.

5. The Gym can also be a good place for evangelism and apologetics. Just last night, I overheard two students at a local university discussing canonics and the differences between the Protestant and Catholic rules of faith. Now, don't you know that the next time I see them, I'll find a way to open up a discussion with them.

6. If your grandparents are still living, collect their stories before they are gone. My Grandma is 88, soon to turn 89. She's losing her memory. This year, I've been sitting with her while when my grandfather has to leave the house for a substantial length of time. I've heard more about her childhood than she has ever chosen to disclose before. I plan to pass as many of these stories down to the next generation in my family as I possibly can. This, by the way, is the way we honor our parents.

7. Finally, it doesn't hurt to let your hair down and go dancing. (Okay, so I'm bald, anyway, but...). "Back in the day" I used to love to get lost in the music on a dancefloor all by myself. I plan to do that again after Labor Day. Why? Because I think this song in particular is a lot of fun, and I want to dance to it. So call me shallow...get over it.

8. The new Battlestar Galactica really is the best show nobody is watching. Okay, so I'm a nerd, I admit it, but this series really has gotten my attention. If you've not watched, I recommend renting the first season from Netflix to get started. Next January, the last half of Season 4 ends, and with it, the series. Watch it.

A Complex Sleight of Hand

T-Stone has written in defense of Dawkin’s idea that theists proposing Intelligent Design would need to have a God who was more complex than the universe is. Important to this discussion is the following point T-Stone raises:

A 1,000 x 1,000 pixel grid of random pixels, on the other hand, isn't as pretty to look at as a rendering of the Mandelbrot set, but it is much more complex -- maximally complex, as it turns out (which is part of why it's not as appealing aesthetically as a fractal image!). It's counterintuitive to people who don't work with information theory and algorithmic complexity, but its a fact of the domain: randomness is the theoretical maximum for measured complexity. You can't get any more complex than purely random. In a random grid of pixels, we cannot guess anything about any pixels at all. In a rendering of Sierpinski triangles, or the Mandelbrot or Julia set, as soon as we see one level of rendering, prior to any recursion, we no everything about the rest of image, and can reproduce the fractal to any depth of detail without the original program.
Unfortunately for T-Stone, if he paid attention to what he has written here he’d see that he’s soundly refuted Dawkins. After all, if maximal randomness is equivalent to maximal complexity, then it is easy for me to write a program that will generate completely random output. In other words, it is easy for me—a person who is not maximally complex—to produce a program with output that is maximally complex. Thus, if we want to play T-Stone’s game and use complexity in this sense, then Dawkin’s argument must be surrendered.

If I can make a program that is more complex than I am, then God can create a universe that is more complex than He is.

FWIW, I disagree with T-Stone’s version of information and complexity. And despite what his post would lead you to believe, the idea that “maximal randomness = maximal complexity” is not true for all information theories. And in fact, if I were to use T-Stone’s definition of complexity then I would ask him to explain not why there is so much complexity in the universe, but rather why there is so little complexity. If complexity = randomness, then it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to realize that there’s a lot of the universe that is not random, and therefore there is a lot of this universe that is not complex. Under his information theory, randomness is the default. We do not need to explain random data. We do need to explain structured and ordered data. Therefore, we do not need to explain complexity; we need to explain non-complexity.

T-Stone is just giving a sleight of hand here. It would be like a mathematician saying "a > b" and having T-Stone say, "The greater than sign is inverted with the less than sign, therefore 'a > b' means 'a is less than b'."

But as soon as he engages in his sleight of hand, we respond: "If the greater than sign is inverted with the less than sign, then 'a > b' is no longer true, rather 'a < b' is."

Inverting the operator without inverting the operands does not refute the original expression.

The virtues of cowardice

Touchstone said...

“Jon,__Yeah, the Triabloggers are cowards.”

I’ll have more to say about banning shortly, but for now let’s play along with T-stone’s accusation for the sake of argument. Suppose we are cowards. What then?

From the standpoint of secular ethics, what’s so bad about cowardice, anyway? Surely there are times when cowardice is a form of self-preservation. It confers a survival advantage on the individual.

It may be brave for a caveman to attack a Saber-tooth tiger, but it’s also fool-hardly. Or suppose I go hunting with one of my hunter-gatherer comrades. And we’re pursued by a Saber-tooth tiger. Suppose I cut my comrade’s Achilles’ tendon. That way, the Saber-tooth tiger will let me escape while he is busy killing and consuming my hamstrung comrade.

Is that cowardly of me? Sure, but courage is for fools. From an atheistic standpoint, why should I put valor ahead of survival?

T-stone is one of these chic yuppie unbelievers who pretends that you can disbelieve in God while keeping your conventional morality intact. But if atheism is true, then morality doesn’t matter, and heroic virtues like bravery are foolish concessions to social convention.

T-stone says he lost a daughter in childbirth. The death of a child is a parent’s worst nightmare. Yet, by becoming an atheist, he renders her life and death utterly meaningless.

From a secular standpoint, a mindless process has programmed us to value our offspring. We’re expendable vehicles to transmit our genetic information.

From a secular standpoint, the lifecycle is like the automated ghost town in The Martian Chronicles. The machinery continues to cook three squares a day for the extinct inhabitants.

Likewise, in Darwinism, you have a means without a goal. There’s no reason for human beings to exist in the first place. And, eventually, the human race will become extinct.

Yet we’re programmed to keep reproducing ourselves, just as the automated ghost town is programmed to keep cooking three squares a day.

If T-stone is serious about atheism, then he needs to drop the quaint, moralistic rhetoric. He loves his wife, but that’s nothing more than brain chemistry, by the blind chemist of natural selection. He loves his kids, but that’s nothing more than brain chemistry, by the blind chemist of natural selection.

He will live, die, and rot. His wife will live, die and rot, His kids will live, die, and rot. From nothing to nothing.

Like your average atheist, he can’t stand to stare his despairing worldview in the face, so he deadens the pain with the bubble-gummy bromide of social activism: “to build a life of virtue, making my little part of the world a better, more just, happier, and humane place for my kids, their grandkids, and all they will share their world with.”

T-stone is one of those insufferable men who combines dogmatism with instability. He heaps contempt on anyone who doesn’t rubberstamp his current position, and when he ditches that position, he pours contempt on everyone who held the very position he just vacated.

He’s gone the full spectrum from young-earth creationism to old-earth creationism to theistic evolution to deistic evolution to naturalistic evolution. A perennial dogmatist who’s perennially shifting his dogmatic opinions.

He used to attack us because we were the wrong kind of Christian. We weren’t his kind of Christian. On his previously blog he identified himself as “an evangelical Christian, and an avid student of science — a would be physicist, truth be told. As a Christian, I’m committed to the authority of the Bible as God’s special revelation to man.”

Now, however, we’re treated to statements like “Many Christians just don't see how or why such fantastic inventions arose from the crushing disappointment of the crucifixion of the man they supposed the Messiah (assuming here, arguendo, the historicity of Jesus and his crucifixion by the Romans at around the time commonly supposed)?”

My question to T-stone is this: how many times can you be a fool, by your own admission, and still think you have the right to lecture anyone else on the latest phase of your superior wisdom?

Et tu quoque, Brute?

From time to time it’s necessary to give some of our commenters a remedial course in the art of argumentation. For example:

1.Some commentators can’t grasp the nature of an internal critique. An internal critique is where I argue with an opponent or opposing position on his own grounds. I play by his rules for the sake of argument. I apply his standard to his own position.

For some odd reason, there are always a certain number of commenters who think that when you do this, an adequate response is to point out that you’re not being consistent. That you’re guilty of the very same thing. Perhaps this is related to the popular obsession with hypocrisy.

But that’s irrelevant to an internal critique. I don’t have to be consistent with your standard. The fact that you’re inconsistent with your standard doesn’t mean that I have to be consistent with your standard. I only have to be consistent with my standard. If your standard isn’t my standard, then there’s no reason for me to be consistent with your standard. Since I don’t agree with your yardstick, I don’t need to measure up to your yardstick. If you come up short, that’s a problem for you. If I come up short, that’s not a problem for me.

The tu quoque response is only irrelevant if both sides are making comparable claims.

2.Some commenters also forget that poking holes in my boat doesn’t plug the leaks in your own boat. There’s nothing wrong with trying to poke holes in your opponent’s position. But that’s no substitute for defending your own position. While you busy yourself by poking holes in my boat, your own boat is taking on water.

If I point out that Catholicism is a sinking ship, and your only response is to point out that Protestantism is sinking fast as well, then even if your point was well taken, that won’t save you from the sharks.

Now, at Triablogue, we operate at all levels. We argue against your position, and we also respond to your counterarguments. We present positive arguments for our own position, and we respond to your objections.

We don’t necessarily do everything at once, and we don’t necessarily repeat everything we’ve said in the past when a novice pops up. But at one time or another, we’ve covered all our bases.