Saturday, January 09, 2010

Truth & popularity

One objection to sola Scriptura which we sometimes run across takes the form of a question: if sola Scriptura is true, then why aren’t more Christians Protestant? I suppose we could generalize the question by asking, If Protestantism is true, then why aren’t more Christians Protestant?

The underlying assumption is a direct correction between truth and popularity.

But in a fallen world, why would we expect truth to be popular? Indeed, in a fallen world, shouldn’t we expect falsehood to be popular?

For example, Biblical prophets are notoriously unpopular. Would it be reasonable to ask, If what Isaiah and Jeremiah said is true, then why didn’t more Israelites believe them?

Likewise, if what Jesus said is true, then why didn’t more Jews believe him?

For that matter, the Catholic objection can be easily turned right back on itself. If Humanae Vitae is true, then why do so many Catholics practice artificial birth control? Why do so many Catholics flout their church’s teaching on abortion?

For that matter, if Catholicism is true, why have traditionally Catholic countries in Europe become so secularized?

Also, at the risk of stating the obvious, truth may have little to do with what people believe. For one thing, people are born into communities. Over a lifetime, they frequently relocate from one community to another, viz. from the nuclear family to high school to college, &c.

Because human existence is a communal existence, we have a natural tendency to assimilate to community standards, be it the family in which we were raised, the schools we attended, the business we work at, the town we live in, &c.

Friday, January 08, 2010


Godismyjudge said...


While your rejection of 'eternal generation' or 'eternal procession' conflicts more directly with other aspects of the Nicene creed, it also conflicts with the consubstantiality of the Father and the Son. For example:

"Consubstantiality" describes the relationship among the Divine persons of the Christian Trinity and connotes that God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit are "of one being" in that the Son is "generated" ("born" or "begotten") "before all ages" or "eternally" of the Father's own being, from which the Spirit also eternally "proceeds."

But you have rejected the connotation.

Setting such a connotation aside, I don't see how you can consistently affirm consubstatntiatlity and reject eternal procession. The idea that the Father and Son share an essence that is numerically one and simple (i.e. not just two things with identical properties) seems in conflict with the idea that three persons can have that essence of themselves.

So what do you make of passages like Eph 1:3?

1. I don’t regard Wikipedia as the gold standard of theological discourse.

2. ”Consubstantial” simply means “of one and the same substance or essence” (OED).

3. At a minimum, the purpose of the homoousios clause was to exclude the notion that the Son is merely of “like essence” with the Father, rather than identical essence.

4. From what I’ve read, there’s a scholarly dispute over the more specialized question of whether homoousios was also meant to denote generic identity or numeric identity.

5. You confuse the semantic question of what the word or concept means with philosophical question of how the Trinitarian persons can be consubstantial. That’s not a semantic question. Rather, that’s a question for philosophical theology. A Christian can affirm the consubstantiality of the Trinitarian persons without having to endorse any particular explanation.

6. I don’t have to explain how the Trinitarian persons are consubstantial to affirm their consubstantiality. I certainly don’t require a philosophical explanation or justification for my affirmation. Rather, it’s sufficient for me to affirm their consubstantiality in case I have exegetical warrant for the full divinity of the Father, Son, and Spirit.

7. Sexual metaphors like “generation” as well as kinematic metaphors like “procession,” don’t begin to explain the way in which the persons of the Godhead are consubstantial.

i) For one thing, a metaphor is, by definition, figurative rather than literal.

ii) For another thing, a metaphor posits an analogy between one thing and another.

iii) Apropos (i-ii), you need to delimit the intended scope of the metaphor to isolate and identify the literal comparison.

8. How do you decipher these metaphors? Do you think they stand for a source of origin and/or mode of origin? Do you think the Father caused the Son and the Spirit to be?

If so, then that reduces the Son and the Spirit to the level of a creature. It also suggests some form of pantheism, like Neoplatonic emanationism. Or else it treats the Son and the Spirit as contingent beings whom the Father wills into being.

That’s a self-defeating way to affirm the full divinity of the Son and the Spirit.

9. If your objective is to preserve numerical identity of the Father and Son, then “generation” undermines your objective since what is begotten shares the same specific nature as the begetter, but not the same numerical nature. Both the begetter and the begotten are property-instances of a generic quality. They concretely exemplify an abstract exemplar, which stands over and above them.

If you’re going to make an exception in the case of the Trinity, then that betrays the inherent limitations of the metaphor. And you need to show why your exception isn’t an ad hoc restriction on the controlling metaphor.

10. The Bible doesn’t explain how the Trinitarian persons are consubstantial. And I doubt we could even grasp the explanation.

11. The best that philosophical theology can do is to offer analogies. And that can be useful as far as it goes. But even in that respect, we can come up with better analogies than generation and procession to illustrate the consubstantiality of the Trinitarian persons. As I’ve said in the past, I think the principle of symmetry is a better analogy.

12. Your effort to contrast two things that share an essence which is numerically one and simple over against two things with identical properties is decidedly unclear. For if two things share identical properties, then they are really one thing rather than two, according to Leibniz’ law (i.e. the identity of indiscernibles).

13. I don’t think the Trinitarian persons have the same essence “of themselves,” as if each person is the “source” of his own essence (if that’s what you mean), for sourcehood is inapplicable to a divine mode of subsistence.

14. Since you seem to think Eph 1:3 is in tension with my position, it’s up to you to spell out why you deem that to be so.

Theological chicken


“My point was not to say that an Arian reading of Scripture is superior or equal to the orthodox view. It isn't. What I was saying is that I can see how someone could read Scripture that way and not be irrational in doing so.”

i) No. You made a much stronger claim than that. You said “What Bryan is saying is really uncontroversial: the Arian reading of Scripture is not obviously irrational. It is, of course, heretical. But that does not mean that a fully informed person of good will, with knowledge of the languages, could not have come up with the Arian reading of Scripture” (660).

ii) Moreover, you were coming to Bryan’s defense, and he said, among other things, that “The Arians were able to affirm all the verses that you cite. In addition, Scripture itself does not specify which verses are the hermeneutical standard for interpreting other verses. This is why Scripture alone was not sufficient to resolve the Arian controversy” (654).

iii) On top of that we have Liccione’s statements, such as “What I do hold is that, in the absence of appeal to church authority, there is no way to establish it as de fide rather than merely as one rationally defensible opinion among others. I could generalize the same point to many other theological positions that either have been or are controversial. This is why I am a Catholic not a Protestant. As I read church history, Protestantism of whatever variety has no way, even in principle, to distinguish consistently between propositions that call for the assent of divine faith and propositions expressing plausible opinions which might well turn out to be wrong” (667).

And you left a subsequent comment (677) in which you signaled your agreement with Liccione.

iv) So there’s a common pattern here. You three are trying to play a game of chicken with Evangelicals. You introduce the deity of Christ as a wedge issue or pressure point to leverage our assent to the Magisterium. You then argue that, on the basis of Scripture alone, the Arian interpretation is plausible or rationally defensible such that Scripture alone is inadequate to fend of a heretical Christology like Arianism. You then double-dare the Protestant to choose between the Catholic rule of faith or the Protestant rule of faith. He can only stand by sola Scriptura on pain of admitting Arianism as a valid interpretation of NT Christology.

v) That’s the dilemma you’re trying to pose for Protestants. However, there’s a catch. For your argument, if it is a genuine dilemma, cuts both ways inasmuch as it requires the Catholic apologist to make the exegetical case for the Arians. To concede the legitimacy of their reading, within the hermeneutical constraints of sola Scriptura.

Of course, you think that you can blink before your dragster sails over the cliff by invoking the Magisterium as a deus ex machina to override the "plausible" or "rationally defensible" Arian interpretation of Scripture. But before you get to that point you have to form an opportunistic alliance with the Arians and their modern counterparts.

That tactic makes Catholic apologists Jehovah's Witnesses just under the surface. The only thing that restrains you from becoming cult-members is the makeshift barricade of the Magisterium. Like pushing a wardrobe against the bedroom door as a tornado approaches the house.

vi) If you now want to climb down from that self-defeating perch, you’re free to do so. But if you retract that argument, you thereby forfeit your objection to sola Scriptura.

“It is sometimes difficult to do--and I am certainly guilty of having violated this precept throughout my life--but my rule of thumb in reading others is to always read the person in the most charitable way possible. That is, to read the person in a way that suggests a stronger argument than if I read the person in a less than charitable way…So, in the spirit of the principle of charity I suggest above, I assume the mistake was the consequence of hurrying to make a point without being careful.”

Your idea of “charity” is to coax your target into lowering its shields so that you can fire your Romulan disrupters on the unarmed ship. No doubt it would make things easier for you if only your opponents unilaterally disarmed while you fire away with impunity. Well, that’s not going to happen.

You’re not entitled to the benefit of the doubt. We’re under no obligation to be gullible for your benefit.

You’re a stereotypical cage-phase convert/revert. It isn’t enough for you to walk away from Evangelicalism. No, you’ve come back with your matches and gasoline to burn the house down so that no one else will be victimized the same way you were, when you, too, were just another deluded adherent of sola Scriptura.

Fine. That’s your prerogative. And we reserve the right to defend our home.

Thursday, January 07, 2010

Brit Hume

Christianity Today interviews Brit Hume.

Once Upon an A Priori

Before I comment on Michael Liccione’s latest remarks, I’d like to make a general observation. I don’t think it’s coincidental that Bryan Cross, Francis Beckwith, and Michael Liccione are all philosophy majors. That, of itself, is by no means a bad thing. Philosophical aptitude and philosophical training can be very useful in theology.

However, there’s a problem when you take a philosophical orientation as your theological point of departure. When that’s your starting point, than that’s an abstract starting point. It’s not a starting-pointed grounded in the actual history of God’s providential dealings with the covenant community.

As a result, guys like Liccione aren’t describing anything real. They aren’t describing the life-experience of the covenant community from within, in terms of how the Lord has demonstrably chosen, in word and deed, to govern his people. What we’re getting instead is a hypothetical model of how they’d like the church to be. A utopian theory.

It’s a lovely exercise in make-believe–a pleasant diversion–but it has no tangible connection with OT history, NT history, or church history. Rather, it’s a philosophical hagiographon.

On a related note, this orientation tends to generate a vicious cycle. If you dismiss sola scriptura out of hand because you think it’s antecedently unlikely, then you have no incentive to study the Bible with an eye to discovering (among other things) how God actually administers the covenant community. Having decided in advance that sola Scriptura sows untoward consequences, you don’t look to Bible history for your model of God’s special providence.

So you end up with a perfect circle as you smoothly reason from your a priori premise to your foregone conclusion. Your pristine syllogism is uncontaminated by grubby contact with the real world situation. You never have to take a shower or wash your hands.

Moving along:

“Now the question at issue between us is how to identify the propositionally expressible content of divine revelation so that we can have justified certainty about what that content is.”

i) Since the Bible itself is a propositional revelation, that’s a rather odd way of framing the issue. He makes it sound as though the Bible is a primarily nonpropositional, and the challenge is to convert the nonpropositional content of Scripture into dogmatic propositions.

ii) Now, I don’t have any particular problem with sometimes trying to re-express the propositional content of Scripture. That’s something we do in creeds, confessions, sermons, commentaries, and so forth. But it’s not as though we’re putting the content of Scripture into proposition form for the very first time. For the most part, the content of Scripture is already expressed in propositional form.

iii) Perhaps, though, he doesn’t regard Scripture, per se, as essentially revelatory. Maybe he thinks the revelatory content of Scripture is buried in some occasional statements here and there, overlaid by many other statements which don’t count as revelation. So the challenge is to dig out the revelatory statements from the nonrevelatory statements. Is that his point? Is a Catholic theologian like an archeologist who must excavate the Bible to unearth the revelatory statements buried beneath all of the nonrevelatory statements?

“That question belongs to the subject matter of theology not physics. And in theology, what settles any particular instance of that question is not a process of experimentation which either confirms or disconfirms a mathematically expressed hypothesis. When reason is employed to settle such questions, the reasoning relies for its premises on sources taken as authorities: Scripture and Tradition. Disputes arise in the first place because there is disagreement about precisely what the relevant, propositionally expressible data drawn from those authorities actually mean.”

That’s one source of theological disputes, but hardly the only source. For example, disputes may arise from willful resistance to unwelcome truths.

“Second, the aim of theological reasoning is to identify the content of divine revelation as an object for the assent of divine faith, by taking a particular construal of the data as one intended by a God who, we agree, can no more deceive than be deceived. Such a God, precisely as Revealer, is infallible. Accordingly, we can be sure that a particular construal of the data in the agreed-upon sources truly expresses divine revelation just in case we can be sure that it accurately expresses what God intends for us to understand through those data. And since we can be sure that what is divinely revealed has ipso facto been set forth infallibly, we can be sure that a particular construal of the sources is divinely revealed just in case we can be sure it has been set forth infallibly. That is why, given the widespread dissensus about such construals, there has to be a way of adjudicating irreformably, and thus infallibly, among them, if the corresponding data are to function as objects of divine faith rather than human opinion.”

i) Of course, the assumption here is that God’s inscripturated word is insufficient by itself to clearly express God’s intentions. Hence, we need some mechanism, over and above Scripture, to identify God’s intentions.

But let’s go back to my example of 1 John. John wrote a pastoral letter, probably to the church of Ephesus, to resolve a crisis in the life of that congregation. John dealt with that crisis by letter because he was either unable or unwilling to deal with it in person.

So the letter itself is designed to adjudicate the crisis–without further recourse to the apostle John. That’s the point of writing a pastoral letter like 1 John. It deals with a crisis by letter when the writer is otherwise occupied or unavailable.

ii) Keep in mind, too, that there are certain benefits to having a written record. Suppose the church of Ephesus had 50 adult members. If John spoke in person, then left, you’d end up with 50 different recollections of what he said. Some recollections would be more accurate than others. But it’s hard to correct one recollection in reference to other. You can compare them, but which ones set the standard?

So it’s obviously useful to have one documentary source, in his own words, which preserves his message. That constitutes an objective reference point which everyone shares in common.

iii) Liccione talks about differing interpretations (“widespread dissensus about such construals”), yet that fails to distinguish between an honest difference of opinion and a willful difference of opinion. For example, I seriously doubt that John’s opponents assented to 1 John. Although it was largely about them, it wasn’t for their benefit. Their acceptance wasn’t expected or required.

“That is what the Magisterium, as the Catholic Church understands it, is for. Otherwise we are left only with fallible human opinons about how to interpret the sources; and since there would be no generally accepted means for adjudicating among them, such opinions are not nearly as helpful as fallible but well-confirmed hypotheses in physics.”

i) Keep in mind that fallible human opinions are under the providential control of God. These are not autonomous variables. An infallible God can work his will through fallible human opinions.

For one thing, to be fallible is not to be in error. Fallibility creates the possibility of error, but it doesn’t create the presumption of error in any particular case. God can guide his church by making sure enough of the faithful are right enough of the time from one generation to the next. That keeps it moving in the right direction.

ii) In the situation of 1 John, where’s the Magisterial adjudicator? Perhaps Liccione would say that John himself plays that role.

And it’s possible that a member of the Ephesian church could contact John with some follow-up questions. But keep in mind that 1 John, itself, was intended to adjudicate the crisis. That’s the chosen instrument which he employed to resolve this particular crisis. That’s the concrete expression of the Johannine “magisterium” (as it were). Not something over and above his letter.

If he thought that was inadequate to deal with the situation, he wouldn’t write a letter in the first place.

“If, as I’ve already argued in this comment, an infallible authority is necessary to adjudicate with the requisite definitiveness among competing interpretations of the sources…”

Yet this assumes that a book of Scripture, like 1 John, lacks the “requisite definitiveness” to do what’s necessary. But is that what John thought of his own letter? Did he think 1 John was unsatisfactory in its own right to accomplish the goal he assigned to it?

I’m using 1 John to illustrate my point. But I could also use Galatians or Hebrews to make the same point.

Put yourself in the position of the recipient. If the courier arrived with 1 John in hand, would it be appropriate for you to respond by saying, “Sorry, but that’s inadequate! What we really need is some mechanism over and above John’s letter to address the crisis!”?

Continuing with Liccione:

“It seems to me, as it did to Newman and has to many others, that for the Christian inquirer striving to decide whether to be Catholic or Protestant, the salient question to consider is which approach to doctrine is best suited to settling hermeneutical disputes as they arise over time.”

And it seems to me that for the Christian inquirer striving to decide whether to be Catholic or Protestant, the salient question to consider is which approach is rooted in divine precedent. Put yourself in the sandals of a 1C Christian. Even in the age of public revelation we still see Apostles and other NT authors resolving disputes through the written word. Written words which are, in fact, NT Scriptures.

“But Protestantism rejects, on principle, the very idea that any visible authority can do the adjudicating definitively and infallibly.”

i) I don’t think we reject that as a matter of principle. But that’s a paper theory. Whatever its hypothetical merits, there’s no reason to think it’s true.

ii) Indeed, the church of Rome certainly doesn’t give the appearance of being either infallible or indefectible. Rather, it bears a striking resemblance a shortsighted, uninspired, institution that often makes the wrong call, then has to hastily improvise after the fact to repair the damage as best it can.

iii) For that matter, why is a fallible layman like Michael Liccione lecturing us on the necessity of the Magisterium? If the Magisterium is so indispensable, why does it keep delegating the spadework to fallible flunkies and functionaries Liccione? Is the Magisterium tongue-tied?

The Reformed Objection to Natural Theology

After years of eager anticipation, The Reformed Objection to Natural Theology by Michael Sudduth is finally out. Hot off the presses! You can purchase it either through the publisher or Amazon.

Catholics and Jehovah's Witnesses Together: The Christian Mission in the Third Millennium

I. Introduction

We are Roman Catholics and Jehovah's Witnesses who have been led through prayer, study, and discussion to common convictions about Christian faith and mission. This statement cannot speak officially for our communities. It does intend to speak responsibly from our communities and to our communities. In this statement we address what we have discovered both about our unity and about our differences. We are aware that our experience reflects the distinctive circumstances and opportunities of Catholics and Jehovah's Witnesses living together in North America. At the same time, we believe that what we have discovered and resolved is pertinent to the relationship between Catholics and Jehovah's Witnesses in other parts of the world. We therefore commend this statement to their prayerful consideration.

As the Second Millennium draws to a close, the Christian mission in world history faces a moment of daunting opportunity and responsibility. If in the merciful and mysterious ways of God the Second Coming is delayed, we enter upon a Third Millennium that could be, in the words of Charles Taze Russell, "a springtime of world missions." (The Watchtower Announcing Jehovah's Kingdom)

As Christ is one, so the Christian mission is one. That one mission can be and should be advanced in diverse ways. Legitimate diversity, however, should not be confused with existing divisions between Christians that obscure the one Christ and hinder the one mission. There is a necessary connection between the visible unity of Christians and the mission of the one Christ. We together pray for the fulfillment of the prayer of Our Lord: "May they all be one; as you, Father, are in me, and I in you, so also may they be in us, that the one, may believe that you sent me." (John 17) We together, Catholics and Jehovah's Witnesses, confess our sins against the unity that Christ intends for all his disciples.

While we are gratefully aware of ongoing efforts to address tensions among these communities, the shameful reality is that, in many places around the world, the scandal of conflict between Christians obscures the scandal of the cross, thus crippling the one mission of the one Christ.

The mission that we embrace together is the necessary consequence of the faith that we affirm together.

II. We Affirm Together

Jesus Christ is Lord.

Unless he's the Archangel Michael.

Either affirmation is rationally defensible.

That is the first and final affirmation and counter-affirmation that Christians make about all of reality.

It's plausible to believe in God, the Father almighty, creator of heaven and earth.

It's plausible to believe in Jesus Christ, his only Son, our Lord.

It's also plausible to believe in Jesus Christ, the first creature.

A fully informed person of good will, with knowledge of the languages, could affirm either reading of Scripture.

III. Signatories

Bryan Cross
Francis Beckwith
Michael Liccione

Wednesday, January 06, 2010

Name that heretic!

Who made the following statement?

"A fully informed person of good will, with knowledge of the languages, could come up with the Arian reading of Scripture."

a) Dan Brown
b) Raymond Brown
c) Rudolf Bultmann
d) Bart Ehrman
e) Bertrand Russell
f) Charles Taze Russell
g) David Hume
h) Hans Küng
i) John Song
j) Madalyn Murray O'Hair
k) Robert Ingersoll
l) Deepak Chopra
m) B. B. Warfield
n) Kenneth Copeland
o) Francis Beckwith

"That's why I'm Catholic"

Michael Liccione

“I accept the doctrine of infallibility as the Church teaches it because there seems to me no other way to distinguish consistently between propositions calling for the assent of divine faith and propositions expressing plausible opinions or interpretations that might turn out to be wrong. Without the authority of a visible body identifiable as ‘the’ Church, all we have is an ongoing debate about what the data of Scripture and Tradition mean and whose opinions they best support. Of course, even within the Catholic Church there is much ongoing theological debate, and thus room for various opinions. But thank God that’s not all there is. That’s why I’m Catholic.”

And, of course, that’s what the argument for Catholicism eventually and inevitably boils down to. After all the spooftexting and selective appeals to church history, the last-ditch appeal is the a priori argument for the necessity of an infallible teacher.

But to take one example, there was a celebrated debate between Hillel and Shamai over the grounds for divorce. Question: what Jewish pope adjudicated that dispute? Answer: none.

Ultimately, Catholicism begins and ends with a preconceived ideal: one that doesn’t correspond to God’s actual administration of the world.

Atheism Feedback Response 1-6-10

The following response is from a reader from Ottawa Canada named Gerry who responded to my article titled, "Creationist Kooks Offer Debate Challenge", though his response was to the article as it was hosted on my church blog site. Gerry believes that creationists have it all wrong and men like Richard Dawkins have it right since creationism is a faith claim and having faith is contrary to "science". I'll post my response to Gerry as it may prove helpful to some. My comments will be interspersed in black font between his blue.

Hi Gerry,

You said,

I’m sorry folks, but Richard Dawkins and his companions are right. Science is, very simply, based on measurable, verifiable evidence. Religious beliefs are not.

As Christian creationists, we agree that observational science is based upon "measurable, verifiable evidence"; that is one reason why we have rejected neo-Darwinian evolution as a legitimate scientific model for the origin of life. For instance, the Bible, our fundamental source of authority about the history of the universe tells us that God created each individual organism with the ability to reproduce after its kind. That is exactly what we see today and the technical name we give it is "biological variation through natural selection". It goes without saying that selection pressure combined with point mutations in any organism, whether in nature or in the lab, can cause them to exhibit great variation. Creationists expect this much, as it is both Scriptural and scientific. However, the Bible does not teach that we should expect primordial soup to turn into Aunt Polly nor has observational science ever clearly shown one organism turning into a fundamentally different kind of organism, either in nature, the lab, or in the fossil record. As a matter of fact, non-Christian Hubert Yockey made the following telling comment about the "faith" of an evolutionist,
The origin of life by chance in a primeval soup is impossible in probability in the same way that a perpetual machine is in probability. The extremely small probabilities calculated in this chapter are not discouraging to true believers … [however] A practical person must conclude that life didn’t happen by chance. [Hubert Yockey, Information Theory and Molecular Biology, Cambridge University Press, 1992, p. 257. Bolded emphasis mine - DSS]
There is no evidence whatsoever that bacteria turned into baseball players over eons of time. Creationists believe that speciation of organisms occurs through natural selection and point mutations working on the genetic information that is already present in the DNA of an organism and that this gives rise to the great diversity among the kinds of organisms. Creationists expect this much and good scientific investigation always proves this to be the case. Dogs remain dogs and will never turn into non-dogs no matter what selection pressure is placed upon them. This is because the genetic information needed to make them into a "non-dog" isn't in their DNA and never will be because natural selection combined with point mutations never creates the new genetic information necessary for Neo-Darwinian theory to occur in the first place. Dr. Lee Spetner, a highly qualified scientist who taught information theory at Johns Hopkins University said this about point mutations and natural selection adding new genetic information to organisms,
. . . But in all the reading I've done in the life-sciences literature, I've never found a mutation that added information. [Lee Spetner, Not By Chance, (The Judaica Press, Brooklyn, New York, 1997), 131-132.]

All point mutations that have been studied on the molecular level turn out to reduce the genetic information and not to increase it. [Ibid, 138]

The NDT [neo-Darwinian theory] is supposed to explain how information of life has been built up by evolution. The essential biological difference between a human and a bacterium is in the information they contain. All other biological differences follow from that. The human genome has much more information than does the bacterial genome. Information cannot be built up by mutations that lose it. A business can't make money by losing it a little at a time. [Ibid, p. 143, Bolded emphasis mine - DSS]
Information scientist Dr. Werner Gitt in answering the question "Can new information originate through mutations?" said this,
. . . this idea is central in representations of evolution, but mutations can only cause changes in existing information. There can be no increase in information, and in general the results are injurious. New blueprints for new functions or new organs cannot arise; mutations cannot be the source of new (creative) information. [Werner Gitt, In the Beginning Was Information, (Bielefeld, Germany: CLV, 1997), 127.]
He goes on to say,
A code system is always the result of a mental process (it requires an intelligent origin or inventor) . . . . It should be emphasized that matter as such is unable to generate any code. All experiences indicate that a thinking being voluntarily exercising his own free will, cognition, and creativity, is required. [Ibid., 64-67.]

There is no known natural law through which matter can give rise to information, neither is any physical process or material phenomenon known that can do this. [Ibid., 79.]

. . . there is no known law of nature, no known process and no known sequence of events which can cause information to originate by itself in matter. [Ibid., 107.]
Thus, bacteria still remain bacteria and humans still remain humans. Great variety is possible in the same kind of organism, but to argue that genetic variation proves that all organisms came from goo via a rock and that rock came from a big bang which came from nothing is simply a fairy tale of the highest degree. This is why we believe that it takes great faith to believe in the "faith" of naturalism. However, as said earlier, the Bible tells us that living organisms will bring forth after their kinds and that is exactly what we see in nature. See these articles for specific details:

Is evolution 'scientific'?

Refuting Evolution 1

Refuting Evolution 2

You said,

Religious beliefs are based on faith and faith is whatever individuals wish it to be.

This is the classic "faith vs. reason" fallacy. We do not reason to have faith, we have faith first in order to correctly reason. Everybody does this (see more on this below). It appears that you are assuming that the only way people can know things are through "measurable, verifiable evidence". When you arbitrarily assume that people can only know things through the five senses in order to conclude that this is the basis for all knowledge, then you are committing the logical fallacy of circular reasoning. Your argument goes something like this:

P1 - If we can only know things through empirical means, then creationists are wrong.

P2 - We can only know things through empirical means.

C - Therefore, creationists are wrong.

The problem with you argument is that it is not only subtly circular, but premise two is patently false. As hinted at earlier, everyone begins with a set of beliefs about the world that cannot be empirically "proved" or shown to be true through scientific investigation (i.e., laws of logic, concepts, etc.). Thus everyone, including the atheist, begins with some type of "faith" claim if "faith" is defined by you as an idea that is not based on "measurable, verifiable evidence" gained through the procedural methods of science.

For example, do you know that the proposition "empiricism is the only way we can have knowledge" itself be known through empirical investigation? Can you "measure" and "verify" the existence of the concept of empiricism in a test tube or a petri dish? How about the laws of logic? Can you measure the law of non-contradiction or burn the logical law known as Modus Tollens? Have you ever served up the Law of Identity to your friends in a wine glass? You cannot do any of these things because things like the laws of logic and concepts are abstract, immaterial concepts and laws that are not subject to investigation through the five senses. Christian creation scientists agree that some knowledge can be gained through empirical investigation, but not all knowledge. They agree with God, the immaterial, invisible Creator of all things, that all that exists is not made up of matter; there are material and immaterial things that exist. But if you are an ardent naturalistic materialist, then you have no category for immaterial things like logic or concepts. Here's an example of how the worldview of naturalistic materialism refutes itself by using the very things it denies that exists:

Syllogism One:

1. Concepts are immaterial.
2. But some versions of materialism (like yours) hold that anything that exists is material.
3. Our concepts are not material things.
4. Therefore, concepts do not exist.
5. Our concepts of "logic" are immaterial.
6. Therefore, in some versions of materialism (like yours), "logic" does not exist.

Syllogism Two:

1. Material things are extended in space.

2. Our concepts of "logic" are not extended in space.

3. Therefore, our concepts of "logic" are non-material.

4. Some versions of materialism (like yours) posit that no non-material entities exist.

5. Therefore, assuming some versions of materialism (like yours), concepts of "logic" do not exist.

Gerry, if you are a naturalistic materialist, you have no basis for using logical law because your worldview doesn't provide the category needed to have immaterial things like logic, concepts, etc. When you assume the constancy and utility of logic to argue against the Bible your own worldview undermines the very logic you use to attack the Bible. Worse yet, the very laws of logic you are using to argue against creationism are themselves only explainable within the Christian worldview held to by the creationist!

This is why we believe that it takes great faith to believe the religion of naturalism.

The question really should be, "What does the Bible say about this?" and "which 'faith' makes the most sense out of reality as a whole?" It certainly cannot be atheistic, naturalistic materialism; for such a worldview refutes itself as demonstrated above.

All ideas begin with hypotheses and they remain hypothetical until hard, verifiable evidence is presented to prove or disprove them.

This idea itself (empiricism) is not subject to "hard, verifiable evidence"; thus your assertion refutes itself.

Until proven, all ideas, including religious beliefs, remain nothing more than hopes, dreams, and wishful thinking.

If this is applied to your empiricism, then they too can be considered a pipe dream on your own standards since the immaterial, abstract concept of "empiricism" cannot itself by empirically proven. The Christian faith is not based upon wishful thinking or "believing what you know ain't true", but instead is based on the historical testimony of God working in history as recorded in the Bible. Christians do have "faith in faith", but faith in God's self-attesting, infallible testimony as contained in the 66 books of the Bible.

If the Bible was not true, you could not prove anything whatsoever. Thus, the truth of the Bible provides the necessary preconditions for proving anything. This is why intellectually self-conscious Christians accept the Bible as their ultimate presuppositional starting point. Without God's truth, you are left in a spiritual and intellectual quagmire of self-contradictory folly and unbelief. It's no wonder the Apostle Paul said,
So this I say, and affirm together with the Lord, that you walk no longer just as the Gentiles also walk, in the futility of their mind, 18 being darkened in their understanding, excluded from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them, because of the hardness of their heart; (Ephesians 4:17-18)
Religious believers fervently want the universe and its contents to have been created and guided by a god and, come what may, it must be so.

This proves nothing and is a mere assertion. This could easily be reversed to say, "Religious unbelievers fervently want the universe and its contents to not have been created and guided by a god and, come what may, it must be so." This certainly sounds like Dawkins to me!

I would correct your assertion to say this, "Christian creationists know that the universe was created because God has testified of His creative power through His creation (Romans 1:19-25), and His written word, the Bible. Since His written word is the highest authority to which mankind can turn to in order to determine man's origin, purpose, and meaning in life and for the meaning to the universe, any rejection of God's word will lead to spiritual and intellectual futility, confusion, and the undermining of science itself because the truth of God's being and God's word provides the necessary preconditions for the intelligibility of reality."

Professor Dawkins’ refusal to debate creationists is based on your inability to offer measurable scientific evidence to buttress your arguments.

But this misses the point of my original article. My point was that Dawkins was contradicting himself by refusing to debate PhD level creation scientists. In his own book he heartily affirmed that we need to be "open to debate" religious concepts to show the folly of them. He never said that we shouldn't debate religious concepts because they don't have any evidential value. Again, he affirmed the exact opposite here, "
Yet when you look at it rationally there is no reason why those ideas shouldn't be as open to debate as any other, except that we have agreed somehow between us that they shouldn't be." [Richard Dawkins, The God Delusion, 20-21. Bold mine for emphasis - DSS]

When your evidence is examined scientifically – as it was in the Dover Area School District trial - it turns out to be nothing more than pseudo-science supported by faith, a property that, itself, can be neither examined nor measured.

Yet when you reject creation for naturalistic materialism you reject the basis for evaluating any evidence whatsoever. We will leave it to our readers to determine whether naturalistic materialism has indeed provided the philosophical "cash value" needed to prove anything in the first place. For more about the Dover Area School District situation, see here.

Gentlemen, merely believing something is true does not make it so.

We agree. That's why it is necessary to hold the claims of Neo-Darwinian theory to scientific scrutiny, especially when it contradicts the plain teaching of the Creator who was there, knows all things, and tells us how He did it and it has no evidence to support it.

Faith, no matter how powerful the conviction or how intense the sensation, is not evidence of truth.

The problem is that when you say things like this, you undermine your own "faith" position. As said above, everybody begins with some type of "faith" (i.e., beliefs that cannot be proven through empirical investigation), the question is, "Which 'faith' comports with reality without contradicting itself or the Bible?"

Evidence is evidence of truth.

Ignoring the fact that this is a tautology, the facts do not speak for themselves. Creation scientists and evolutionary scientists are working with the same evidence. Their conclusions differ greatly because they come to the evidence with different presuppositions that make up their antithetical worldviews. They interpret that evidence through their already presupposed worldview. Thus, evidence must be interpreted and the interpretation of the evidence will be dependent upon the worldview of the interpreter. Again, the questions are, "What does the Bible say about this?" and "Which 'faith' makes the most sense out of reality as a whole without contradicting itself or undermining the basis for 'proof' and 'rationality" to begin with?"

Religious beliefs vary from age to age, from culture to culture, from town to town, and from church to church.

It is irrelevant whether religious beliefs vary under different conditions. What is relevant is whether those views are true or not.

Science remains constant in all places and at all times.

If by "science" you mean that scientific theory never changes then tell that to Copernicus, Louis Pasteur, or Gregor Mendel, all of whom were Christians and creationists. They had the audacity to come up with new scientific theories based upon clear evidence that contradicted the prevailing theories of their time. See also Thomas Kuhn's The Structure of Scientific Revolutions.

If by "science" you are referring to the laws of nature occurring in a uniform way if conditions remain the same, then I agree. However, I reject the philosophical principle of uniformitarianism for reasons mentioned in this article. See also "The Biblical Roots of Modern Science".

The truth of the word of god depends entirely on where and when you were born.

Not according to the life of Abram, Moses, and thousands of others that were reared in pagan environments (i.e., Genesis 11:31-12:3; Exo. 3:1ff; Eph. 2:1ff). The truth of the word of God getting to me or anybody else depends entirely upon His sovereign, monergistic work of regeneration (cf. John 3).

The constants that define the universe remain the same no matter where in the universe you happen to be.

Again, I agree that the laws of nature remain constant throughout the universe insofar as conditions remain the same, I just want to know why you believe that if there is no God sustaining it (cf. Gen. 8:22)?

What could possibly be more god-like than that?

Only God, the One Who made all things and by Whom all things exist (Romans 11:36; Colossians 1:15-17). We are not pantheists, we do not give worship and adoration to the creation, for such would be idolatry. This is a fundamental spiritual error that all naturalistic materialists commit. Either you will worship the Creator God or you will worship His creation. He told you so:

For they [the unbeliever] exchanged the truth of God for the lie, and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever. Amen. (Romans 1:25)

Guys, the gods you believe in really are a delusion.

Gerry, worshiping the universe and rejecting the gospel of Jesus Christ will land you in Hell on the day of judgment. Please repent of your atheism, idolatry, and intellectual autonomy and submit yourself to the Creator and Savior Jesus Christ. It is only in Him that you can avoid committing spiritual and intellectual suicide (Colossians 2:3). Anything other than this is truly a strong delusion (2 Thessalonians 2:11).

Gerry Ottawa, Canada

Dusman Greensboro, NC

Word & sacrament

Fr Alvin Kimel January 6th, 2010 10:19 am :
Dear Andrew,

I fear that my previous must have been unclear, for I clearly do not believe that baptism (or any the sacraments of the Church) are merely symbolic representations of salvation. Clearly baptism is a symbolic action, but I learned long ago during my Anglican catechetical lessons that sacraments effect what they symbolize. Or as the old Prayer Book Catechism puts it: a sacrament is “an outward and visible sign of an inward and spiritual grace given unto us; ordained by Christ himself, as a means whereby we receive the same, and a pledge to assure us thereof.”

With others I have argued that baptism is a work of God. Let me suggest another way of looking at it: baptism is the Word of God, a word that is both audible and visible, verbal and embodied. “The word comes to the element,” writes St Augustine; and so there is a sacrament, that is a sort of visible word.” Every sacrament is a divine word that accomplishes what it promises: “So shall my word be that goeth forth out of my mouth: it shall not return unto me void, but it shall accomplish that which I please, and it shall prosper in the thing whereto I sent it” (Isaiah 55:11).

Baptism, therefore, is not just a symbolic pouring of water that points us away from itself to something else: it is God speaking to us now and God accomplishing what he speaks. And this is the solution to the problem of faith with which you are struggling. Precisely because baptism is divine Word, spoken to us directly and personally in the form of first-person discourse, it summons us to faith, bestows faith, and sustains faith. The fact that it is a word spoken to us in the form of symbolic action involving material elements does not alter its character as divine Word. Baptism is the gospel simultaneously proclaimed and enacted.

Again I ask you to put aside the question of justification and focus instead on baptism and our union with Christ. Catholics, Orthodox, Lutherans, and Anglicans believe that baptism sacramentally but effectually effects union with the risen Christ and his mystical body the Church. We see this clearly taught in the New Testament and confirmed in the ancient baptismal liturgies of the Church, as well as the writings of the Church Fathers. Can you concede this belief as at least a plausible and reasonable reading of the New Testament? I do not ask you to agree with it. I simply ask whether you can see how the baptismal texts in the New Testament might be interpreted in this way.

Several problems:

1.In the high-church tradition, sacramental grace is resistible grace. In the Presbyterian tradition, by contrast, the sacraments are efficacious only and always for the elect.

So you have a tradeoff which parallels limited/unlimited atonement. A tradeoff between the conferral of resistible grace for many (or all), and the conferral of irresistible grace for some. Either a lesser benefit for more, or a greater benefit for fewer.

For the moment, I’m not discussing the verity of either position. Just comparing their theoretical advantages and disadvantages.

The obvious problem for Kimel’s is that if sacramental grace is resistible grace, then the fact that you’re a baptized Catholic and regular communicant says nothing one way or the other about your eternal fate. You could go to confession on Saturday, be in state of grace for Sunday Mass, commit mortal sin on Monday, die in a traffic accident on Tuesday and go to hell.

Indeed, Catholicism denies the assurance of salvation as well as the perseverance of the saints. So what does a “high” view of the sacraments about to?

2.It’s true that a symbol may be more than a symbol. It’s also true that a symbol may be nothing more than a symbol. You can’t infer from the sign itself whether there is a causal link or equipollent correspondence between the sign and the significate. So you need some argument over and above the symbol if you’re going to treat the symbol as an efficacious means of grace.

3.Where does the NT ever indicate that baptism “bestows faith”? Normally, faith is a precondition of baptism.

4.To use Augustine’s theory of the sacraments to gloss Isaiah 55:11 is a good example of just how far Catholics have drifted from their Scriptural moorings.

5.If Baptism effects union with Christ, then Christ is far and away the most profligate divorcé in human history, since ever so many baptized men and women are eventually severed from Christ.

Bravely bold Sir Robin rode forth from Camelot

Methinks that this seemeth to be a cross between Prince Valiant and Monty Python and the Holy Grail. I doth look forward to the movie version:


Andrew wroteon January 4, 2010 at 11:04pm

To the Reader

ALTHOUGH I do not rank myself amongst the most
Learned and Eloquent; yet (shunning the Stain of In
gratitude, and moved by Fidelity and Piety;) I cannot
but think myself obliged, (would to God my Ability to
do it, were equal to my good Will!) to defend my
Mother, the Spouse of Christ: Which, though it be a
Subject more copiously handled by others ; nevertheless
I account it as much my own Duty, as his who is the
most learned, by my utmost Endeavours, to defend the
Church, and to oppose myself to the poisonous Shafts of
the Enemy that fights against her : Which this Juncture
of Time, and the present State of Things, require at my
Hand. For before, when none did assault, it was not
necessary to resist; but now when the Enemy, (and the
most wicked Enemy imaginable,) is risen up, who, by
the Instigation of the Devil, under Pretext of Charity,
and stimulated by Anger and Hatred, spews out the
Poison of Vipers against the Church, and Catholic
Faith; it is necessary that every Servant of Christ, of
what Age, Sex, or Order soever, should rise against this
common Enemy of the Christian Faith; that those,
whose Power avails not, yet may testify their good Will
by their cheerful Endeavours.

It is now therefore convenient, that we arm ourselves
with a two-fold Armour : the one Celestial, and the other
Terrestrial. With a celestial Armour; That he, who,
by a feigned and dissembled Charity, destroys others,
and perishes himself, being gained by true Charity,
may also gain others ; and that he who fights by a false
Doctrine, may be conquered by true Doctrine

With a
terrestrial; that, if he be so obstinately malicious, as to
neglect holy Councils, and despise God ‘s Reproofs, he
may be constrained by due Punishments; that he who
will not do Good, may leave off doing Mischief;* and
he that did Harm by the Word of Malice, may do Good
by the Example, of his Punishments. What Plague so
pernicious did ever invade the Flock of Christ? What
Serpent so venemous has crept in, as he who writ of the
Babylonian Captivity of the Church; who wrests Holy
Scripture by his own Sense, against the Sacraments of
Christ; abolishes the ecclesiastical Rites and Cere
monies left by the Fathers; undervalues the holy and
antient Interpreters of Scripture, unless they concur
with his Sentiments ; calls the most Holy See of Rome,
Babylon, and the Pope s Authority, Tyranny; esteems
the most wholesome Decrees of the Universal Church
to be Captivity; and turns the Name of the most Holy
Bishop of Rome, to that of Antichrist ? O that detest
able Trumpeter of Pride, Calumnies and Schisms!
What an infernal Wolf is he, who seeks to disperse the
Flock of Christ ?f What a great Member of the Devil
is he,:): who endeavours to tear the Christian Members of
Christ from their Head ?

How infectious is his Soul, who revives these detest
able Opinions and buried Schisms; adds new ones to
the old, brings to Light (Cerberus-like, from Hell) the
Heresies which ought to lie in eternal Darkness; and
esteems himself worthy to govern all Things by his own
Word, opposed against the Judgments of all the
Antients; nay also to ruin the Church of God! Of
whose Malice I know not what to say. For I think
neither Tongue nor Pen can express the Greatness of it.
Wherefore, before I exhort, pray, and beseech, through
the Name of Christ (which we will profess) all Chris
tians, who are willing to look upon, and read Luther s
Works, especially the Babylonian Captivity, (if he be
Author of it) to do it warily, and very judicially ; that,
as Virgil said, lie gathered Gold out of the Dross of
Ennius; so they may also gather good Things out of
Evil : And if any Thing please them, let them not be so
taken with it, as to suck the Poison with the Honey;
for it is better to want both, than to swallow both. To
hinder which, I wish the Author may Repent, be con
verted, and live;* and, in Imitation of St. Augustine,
(whose Rule he professed) correct his Books, filled with
Malice, and revoke his Errors. If Luther refuses this,
it will shortly come to pass, if Christian Princes do
their Duty, that these Errors, and himself,
if he perseveres therein, may be burned in the Fire. In the mean
while, we thought it fit to discover to the Readers some
chief Heads or Chapters in the Babylonian Captivity,
which have the most Venom in them, by which it will
appear, very clearly, with what exulcerated Mind he
began this Work ; pretending the public Good, but writ
ing Nothing but malicious Inventions.

We need not seek any foreign Testimonies for
proving what we have said; for Luther (fearing that
any one should go up and down in Search of such,) dis
covers himself, and his Mind, of his own Accord, in his
very Beginning. For who should doubt of what he
aimed at, when he reads this one Sentence of his ?
*Ezech. xxxiii. 11.

The Resurrection Body And Appearances

William Lane Craig's January 4 Reasonable Faith Podcast (scroll to the bottom section of the screen) has a helpful discussion of the appearance to more than five hundred in 1 Corinthians 15, how Jesus' physical body could exist in a non-physical Heaven, and some other issues related to the resurrection.

Tuesday, January 05, 2010

The friend of my enemy

Before I respond to the specifics of Francis Beckwith’s latest salvo against the Protestant rule of faith, I have to say I’m struck by the dichotomy between Manhattan Declaration, with its Kumbaya rhetoric about Catholics and Protestants, over against the scorched-earth rhetoric we often encounter at Called to Communion or Return to Rome. When they want our signature, we’re all one big happy family–but you only have to turn to the Catholic blogosphere to see what they really think of us.

“What is being played-out here on this blog is the legacy of nominalism and Enlightenment epistemology, both of which focus on the thinking self as the locus and meaning of my encounter with the world (assuming there is one). Thus, short of a pure, clear and distinct idea–e.g., a sola scriptura untouched by man or church–it could all very well be a ruse of Descartes’ evil demon”

i) That’s a vicious and malicious caricature of sola Scriptura. Beckwith is a competent philosopher and bioethicist, but as Catholic apologist he’s just another rabid demagogue. It’s like seeing 28 Days Later when the Rage virus kicks in.

ii) And, of course, we’re treated to the usual trope about the “nominalist” antecedents to Protestantism. Well, wasn’t Biel a Catholic theologian? Conversely, wasn’t Calvin an opponent of the Sorbbonists?

“This is why, by the way, various versions of the Cartesian circle keep popping up in the combox. The Protestant wants his indubitable starting point, but he’s trapped in an appalling loop.”

It doesn’t have to be indubitable, although that would be a swell bonus point. It only needs to be the proper starting point.

“If he appeals to sola scriptura that requires a book consisting of over 5 dozen books. But the book appears in time, and not all at once, but incrementally.”

And a Catholic appeals to “the Church.” Yet the church appears in time, and not all at once, but incrementally. So is the Catholic also caught in a Cartesian circle or time-loop?

“And this requires someone to sift through the competing texts, to determine which of them belongs in the book…”

Notice that Beckwith is reading from the same script as Dan Brown and Bart Ehrman. At this point he becomes an enemy of the faith.

And that’s typical, isn’t it? After all, who is opposing the Dan Browns and Bart Ehrmans? It’s mainly Protestant scholars and apologists like Craig Keener, Dan Wallace, Darrell Bock, Charles Hill, Craig Evans, Nicholas Perrin, Michael Kruger, James White, William Craig Lane, Timothy Paul Jones, &c.

But while they’re carefully and laboriously correcting these calculated historical falsehoods, along comes a newbie Catholic revert like Beckwith to resuscitate the same deceptive and destructive propaganda.

…since the book itself does not yet exist as a whole.”

Not to mention the further fact that the church does not yet exist as a whole. Indeed, unlike the Bible, which was complete 2000 years ago, the church is still a work in progress.

“…the whole does not contain in any of its parts the list of what books should be in the book.”

Of course, that’s simple-minded. For one thing it overlooks the pervasive phenomenon of intertextuality in Scripture.

“But suppose you finally figure out what the whole book should look like. Where do you go from there? Numerous questions arise: Is it appropriate with the book’s purpose to translate it into various languages? After all, things get lost in translation.”

Given the fact that Bible writers frequently quote individuals in a different language than they originally spoke, that question answers itself.

“What happens when the book does not specifically address a question that pertains to Christ’s commands to love God and neighbor?”

i) It wouldn’t have to specifically address a question to implicitly address a question.

ii) And where it’s silent, we can use reason. Beckwith, perhaps through self-reinforcing ignorance, is caricaturing sola Scriptura.

“For example, what do we do with folks that deny Christ and want back into the Church.”

Read 1 John for starters.

“The Bible does not mention cloning, abortion, euthanasia, or necrophilia. Are those permitted?”

i) The Bible doesn’t mention abortion? Ever read Exod 21:22-25?

ii) In addition, the Bible gives us a combination of general norms as well as case-laws which we can apply, singly or jointly (as need be), to analogous situations.

“What about more theological doctrines? Is social trinitarianism permissible? It seems inconsistent with Nicea. But if the Arians were supported by politically motivated leaders, perhaps Constantine, who convened the first Nicean council, was just as bad. And what about Nestorianism? Chalcedon rejects it. But it does not reduce to Arianism and is not necessarily inconsistent with the Nicean creed.”

What about making NT Christology our reference point?

“And what about eternal damnation? If God was reconciling the world to himself through Christ, perhaps the whole world will eventually be saved and the ‘eternal’ in ‘eternal damnation’ is an adjective of quality and not quantity?”

Considering the fact that I’ve reviewed all the major books I know of defending universalism, as well as having debated a number of prominent universalists, that example leaves me profoundly unimpressed.

Beckwith has simply given up trying. What is worse, he’s trying to recruit others to share his defeatist view of God’s word.

“I was at ETS during the debates about the Openness of God dispute and the attempt to remove Boyd, Pinnock, and Sanders from the society. What a mess. These gentlemen all believed in sola scriptura, and so what the debate degenerated into was a proof-texting war, with each side marshaling its case against the other.”

i) You have a parallel “mess” in historical theology. Opposing sides can prooftext from their favorite traditions, church fathers, &c.

ii) What about a Catholic process philosopher like Nicholas Rescher? Why is open theism out of bounds, but process theology is not?

Arian wolves in papal vestments

[Michael Liccione] Like many Reformed types I’ve debated before, you have misunderstood my position. I do not hold that Nicene orthodoxy has no basis in Scripture or that it is not rationally defensible in scriptural or other terms. What I do hold is that, in the absence of appeal to church authority, there is no way to establish it as de fide rather than merely as one rationally defensible opinion among others. I could generalize the same point to many other theological positions that either have been or are controversial. 
This is why I am a Catholic not a Protestant. As I read church history, Protestantism of whatever variety has no way, even in principle, to distinguish consistently between propositions that call for the assent of divine faith and propositions expressing plausible opinions which might well turn out to be wrong.

This sort of argument is commonplace among Catholic apologists. I only bring it up once again because Liccione is several notches above the average Catholic epologist, so it’s instructive to see what the cream of the crop have to say.

Is this a good reason to be Catholic rather than Protestant?

i) He seems to take the position that whether or not we interpret NT Christology in Arian terms or orthodox terms comes down to an arbitrary choice between equally plausible or rationally defensible positions. And it says something about Catholic psychology that Catholics find that comparison at all persuasive.

It’s also revealing when they think that’s a selling point for Catholicism in debating Protestants. Speaking for myself, what this reveals to me is that even sophisticated Catholics like Liccione have no more theological discernment than little old ladies passing out Watch Tower tracts on the street corner. Now, if that’s how the balance of the argument appears to Liccione, then it’s quite possible that he’s better off in the church of Rome than the Kingdom hall.

Still, it reminds me of a serial killer who turns himself into the authorities, pleading with them to lock him up before he kills again. Sorry, but I just can’t see how claiming that the interpretation of a Jehovah’s Witness is just as plausible or rationally defensible as the orthodox interpretation does much for your credibility. The only message this sends is that Catholics ought to be Catholic because their theological judgment is no better than a cult member’s.

Okay, who am I to take issue with their dismal self-assessment? That, however, is not a very compelling motive for me to be Catholic.

ii) And that’s not the only problem with his argument. As we know from the NT, the apostles had to deal with false teachers. Seems to me that their opponents could make excellent use of Liccione’s argument.

Take John’s opponents in 1 John. He writes a letter to the church of Ephesus to squash the heretical views of the false teachers who were bleeding away some of the Ephesian church members.

But imagine one of the false teachers patiently explaining to a wavering church member that 1 John is subject to more than one rationally defensible interpretation. Yes, it’s plausible to interpret 1 John as condemning Docetism and antinomianism, but it’s no less plausible to interpret 1 John as commending Arian Christology.

So even though 1 John was written with the express purpose of authoritatively settling a theological controversy, it does not, in fact, command our assent.

What if Liccione were a member of the Ephesian church in receipt of 1 John? What would he say to the false teachers? “You have your interpretation and I have mine, which may or may not differ from yours.”

For Liccione’s 1C counterpart in Asia Minor, 1 John would resolve nothing at all. The members of the Ephesian church couldn’t appeal to 1 John for reliable guidance.

As far as Liccione’s concerned, the apostle John wasted his time writing 1 John–just as St. Paul wasted his time writing Galatians. In Liccione’s mind, their letters have no functional authority. For him, 1 John would be dead on arrival.

And that’s a graphic example of just how far removed the Catholic mindset is from the outlook of the NT church.

Catholicism does have such a way, and has followed it consistently. I defend that assertion rationally by arguing, case by case, that there is no instance of doctrinal development in which theological propositions which end up being rejected had still managed to satisfy the Church’s stated criteria for infallible teaching.

i) To begin with, I don’t see how that exercise is any more certain than the uncertainties which he attributes to the exegesis of Scripture. Why is the interpretation of Scripture reducible to a variety of rationally defensible opinions, but the interpretation of dogma is exempt from the same pluralism?

ii) And even if, for the sake of argument, we were to credit his claim, a basic problem with the theory of development is that one’s understanding of de fide teaching, as well as the teaching to be understood, ranges along a sliding scale depending on when you happen to be born. For although you can view the past in light of the present, but you can’t very well view the present in light of the future.

Pedal justification

Jason Engwer’s recent post on justification by foot-washing raises some pressing questions in sacramental podiatry. Not every form of foot-washing is justificatory. Many forms of foot-washing are either invalid or at least irregular. Valid administration of foot-washing must address a number of key questions:

1. What type of water should the celebrant use? Hot water or cold water? Holy water or profane water? Spring water? Artesian water? Mineral water? Salt water? Fluoridated water?

2. Which foot is washed? The right foot or the left foot?

3. If the pedal candidate is an amputee, will a prosthetic foot be an adequate alternative?

If not, then is the foot-washing of desire sufficient? Does the pedibus flaminis correspond to the baptismus flaminis?

And what about the foot-washing of blood? Does the pedibum sanguinis correspond to the baptismum sanguinis?

4. How do we verify pedal succession all the way back to the exemplary foot? Is there an exemplary slipper to test the various pedal claimants (i.e. the Cinderella criterion)?

5. Which foot is the one true foot? Whose foot supplies the pedal exemplar? Must it be a Petrine foot? Will a Johannine foot suffice?

6. Which church is the rightful heir to the one, holy, catholic, and apostolic foot?

Monday, January 04, 2010

Promises, promises!

Fr Alvin Kimel

“I suggest that the Bible does not in fact function as that external Word upon which your faith relies.”

Well, I suppose we should commend Fr. Kimel for being so candid about the Catholic view of Scripture. For him, Christian faith can rely on the Scriptures. Instead, Christian faith must rely on the sacraments and the words of the priest.

“The Bible is not an external Word in the direct personal way that either preaching or sacrament is.”

What about mass baptism? Is that direct and personal?

What about an open air mass in which the Pope speaks to hundreds of thousands of strangers?

What about a televised papal mass in which he speaks to a live audience numbering in the millions?

What about a televised mass by a now-deceased pontiff?

“None of the biblical books were written personally to you or to me.”

i) True. But the Bible contains categorical statements for the benefit of posterity.

ii) For that matter, the Rosary wasn’t written personally to you or me. So does this mean, according to Kimel, that Catholics who pray the Rosary can’t directly and personally appropriate the Rosary?

“We may read them AS IF they are first- and second-person discourse addressed directly to us–and we are not wrong to do so–but in fact they were written for people who lived and died 2,000 years ago.”

What about church fathers? Papal encyclicals? And conciliar decrees?

“A complex interpretive step has to occur to transform the general promises of salvation found in the Scripture into promises spoken to us directly and personally.”

I’m not sure how much complexity is involved in the personal appropriation of, say, Jn 3:16. And even if that were complex, is it any more so than reciting the Rosary?

“There is a world of difference between reading about Jesus in the gospels or reading the salvation promises spoken by Paul to the church in Rome and hearing the preacher speak directly to me ‘Christ died for YOU’ or the priest declaring to me in the confessional ‘I absolve YOU from all your sins: in the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.’”

Yes, indeed, there’s a world of difference. Unlike the word of God, a Catholic priest has no right to give a listener that assurance. Has no right to absolve anyone of sin.

“This is why Scripture cannot function as an external Word in the same way that baptism and the other sacraments can. Baptism gets done to me and becomes an inescapable item in my history.”

So does getting a tattoo. How is that relevant?

“I am reminded of an episode of ‘All in the Family.’ Archie Bunker wants Michael and Gloria to get their baby baptized. Michael refuses. Archie retorts, ‘What’s the matter, you were baptized, weren’t you.’ ‘Yes,’ Michael says, ‘but I renounce my baptism.’ Archie, being the astute theologian that he is, replies, ‘You can’t do that. You can renounce your belly button, but it’s still there.’ At some point in time, God claimed me as his own and spoke to me his baptismal Word of salvation.”

i) Of course, that simply begs the question of whether Catholic sacramentology is true. Where’s the argument?

ii) But there’s another problem. How does Kimel know that baptism is efficacious?

In this very thread we’ve had Catholics who try to prooftext the efficacy of baptism from certain baptismal promises in Scripture. And let’s suppose, for the sake of argument, that the Catholic interpretation is correct.

Yet if Kimel’s objection is sound, then their extrapolation is fallacious. Catholics can’t directly and personally appropriate the baptismal promises of Scripture. For the baptismal promises weren’t spoken to them individually.

“There is nothing impersonal or mechanical about the sacramental life.”

I’m sure that Mafiosi who attend Mass would be cheered by that statement.

Do Modern Versions Change Key Doctrines?

A friend had recently sent me an article that claimed that the modern Greek texts and English translations alter key doctrines that are present in the King James/Textus Receptus. Of course, that assertion is not new, and much has been written on the subject. But because I did not want my friend to be deceived by this type of argumentation, I wrote a response. I've posted it here in case readers of this blog would benefit from it as well.

Given that we were recently charged with "cosmic sophistry" for noting the spurious nature of Mark 16:9-20, this discussion of the textual information is relevant.

Sunday, January 03, 2010

Born from above

Andrew Preslar

“The question is whether it is a work in some sense specifically proscribed as being a means of initial salvation.”

i) Of course, that’s a prejudicial way of framing the question, since it subdivides salvation into “initial” salvation and (I guess) “final” salvation.

That, of itself, might not be a problem unless we play one off against the other.

i) Moreover, the terminology is sloppy. The precise point at issue is not the relation of works to salvation, but works to justification. Specifically, the Pauline definition of works in relation to the Pauline definition of justification.

ii) Also, even though an NT author may not use specifically Pauline terminology, he may have the equivalent concept. If, say, forgiveness is proffered on the basis of faith in Jesus.

“James 2 gives us an example of external and socially verifiable works (which are not, of course, the only kinds of good works), but these are not in that context excluded from justification (quite the opposite).”

Once again, that’s a sloppy comparison. It evinces the indifference of Catholics to the word of God when they refuse to draw basic distinctions.

Yes, works are justificatory in the Jacobean sense of “works” and “justification.”

This doesn’t mean we can substitute Jacobean usage for Pauline usage, as if these are interchangeable terms and concepts.

“In Galatians and Romans, the kinds of works that are explicitly excluded as a means of initial justification are the ‘works of the law’ (specifically circumcision) and works that demand a commensurate wage as a matter of strict justice (Romans 4). Baptism does not appear to be anything of the kind. Christian baptism is not part of the law. It is nowhere recommended as a means of earning a wage.”

i) Notice how he smuggles in the implicit wedge between “initial” justification and (presumably) “final” justification, or perhaps progressive justification, which may or may not terminate in final justification. If he’s going to introduce that dichotomy into his analysis, then he needs to present an exegetical argument.

ii) He is also conflating the issue of whether baptism is a work in NT theology with the issue of whether baptism functions as work in Catholic theology. Even if baptism is not a work in NT doctrine and practice, this hardly means baptism can’t be a work (in the Pauline sense) in Catholic doctrine and practice.

The question at issue is not simply one of what significance Paul (or some other NT writer) ascribes to baptism, but what significance Catholic theology ascribes to baptism.

iii) Apropos (ii), let’s not forget the central role of merit in Catholic theology.

“Since baptism is not disqualified merely because of its use of matter, and since it is unreasonable to consider baptism a proscribed work, that interpretive dispostion whereby salvation-like ‘baptism’ passages must refer to something other than baptism and / or something other than initial salvation, is driven to seek grounds in the timing of baptism relative to inward faith in the cases of those who did not receive the gift of baptism before making an intentional act of faith.”

i) The timing is one obstancle, but not the only obstacle.

ii) No one is arguing that baptism is a prescribed work in NT doctrine and practice. The question at issue is whether it becomes a prescribed work when its original significance is rerouted to Catholic doctrine and practice.

iii) It isn’t simply a question of whether “salvation-like” baptismal passages “must” be given a different import. One doesn’t have to take such a strong position, although that’s available.

It’s sufficient to question the underlying presumption. If, for example, baptism (or communion) is simply meant to function as a token of salvation, or some aspect thereof (i.e. forgiveness), then we’d still have “salvation-like” passages, for that’s the nature of symbolic predication. If you say Jesus is the “vine,” then you attribute vine-like properties to Jesus. Yet those are figurative properties of a figurative vine. They have a real world analogue, but the botanical metaphor itself is entirely inefficacious.

“I maintain that (1) some of the gifts given in baptism can be enjoyed through inward faith prior to baptism, and (2) the sacraments of the New Covenant can be discussed and even celebrated prior to Pentecost. As to (1): Some events in Scripture have a proleptic aspect. The entire Church dispensation is often understood as a present enjoyment of that which is yet to come (i.e., the eschaton). So it is entirely commensurate with biblical thought patterns to understand some gifts of initial salvation as enjoyed (already) by inward faith and conferred (not yet) by baptism.”

i) It’s true that the benefits of the atonement can retroactive for God’s people, viz. OT saints. Likewise, the OT sacrificial system prefigured the atonement of Christ.
But what this means is that OT rites are simply forward-pointing signs. They didn’t actually confer remission of sins. Rather, they were just symbolic placeholders. So that sort of thing undercuts his argument.
ii) To my knowledge, the already/not yet rubric is normally applied to distinguish the church age from the final state. It’s not applied within the church age itself.

iii) Of course a new covenant sacrament can be “discussed” prior to Pentecost. That’s not the issue. The issue is whether it is discussed in passages like Jn 3:5.

iv) Likewise, yes, in principle, a new covenant sacrament could be celebrated before Pentecost. But the interpretation of any specific verse requires specific textual and contextual evidence. These abstractions don’t move the ball.

“We do not know exactly when the sacrament of Christian baptism was instituted, but it is reasonable to suppose that Our Lord, who is in himself the substance of the New Covenant, could have conferred this gift, or commissioned his disciples to confer this gift, at any time after his own baptism.”

We can “suppose” many things. And Jesus “could” have done many things. But we must interpret the Johannine narrative according to the narrative clues which John has put at our disposal.

That’s how he expects the reader to understand his narrative. An author has to supply the reader with the necessary information. And that’s also how the author controls the interpretative process. He guides the reader by the choice of information he supplies. And John is very deliberate about his selection criteria (20:30-31).

“Also consider that Our Lord gave his disciples ‘my Blood which is poured out for many’ even though his Blood had not yet been poured out.”

Which is one reason that many Christians reject the real presence as hopelessly anachronistic. Giving his disciples the communion elements before the event it signifies thereby precludes the bread and wine from being his “true” body and blood. It can’t be shed blood before the bloodshed. So, once more, Preslar’s illustration undermines his argument.

When Preslar gives these supporting illustrations, his illustrations take for granted the same interpretation as he places on his prooftexts. He has yet to furnish an independent argument for his hermeneutical filter. Rather, he filters everything through the same presumptive filter. Each supporting argument begs the same question in the same way. The same parts in different configurations.

“Thus, the baptisms performed by the disciples in John 3 could have been Christian baptisms. I am not entirely sure if there is a definite teaching on when, after Jesus’ baptism, we first find Christian baptisms.”

Actually, the Fourth Gospel is conspicuously silent on the institution of Christian baptism. So it’s not as if you can even read that back into the account. John’s Gospel doesn’t furnish a (Christian) baptismal reference-point from which you can either work forward or backward.

Part of responsible exegesis is to practice studied ignorance. Even if you happen to know more than the text indicates, you shouldn’t normally intrude that extraneous viewpoint into the narrative viewpoint. You need to move within the referential world of the narrative.

“Our Lord’s conversation with Nicodemus does not necessarily indicate that he expected him to pick up on the reference to the sacrament of baptism.”

So it’s a veiled reference to baptism, which he wasn’t expected to recognize, even though he’s upbraided for his failure to grasp the true meaning of this enigmatic statement.

“(But remember that Our Lord’s discourses, mediated through the evangelists, are intended for more than a single audience).”

i) I’m not sure what that’s supposed to mean. Is this a real conversation between two real speakers? Does it accurately reproduce the gist of what they actually said to one another? Or does Preslar think that John is concocting a fictitious, allegorical dialogue about baptism_which he backdates and puts on the lips of Jesus and Nicodemus?

ii) John’s Christian audience has a responsibility to take the original setting into account. If we can, so can they.

“Rather, Nicodemus’ question ‘How can this be?’ expresses incredulity at the very possibility of rebirth, not about the instrumental cause of rebirth.”

He’s incredulous about the possibility of physical rebirth. And that’s because he fails to detect the figurative import of Jesus’ imagery (i.e. spiritual rebirth). He doesn’t get the metaphor. So that undercuts sacramental realism.

“In this case, Jesus is indicating that Nicodemus should have been aware of the necessity (hence, possibility) of rebirth in order to enter the Kingdom of God.”

But Preslar doesn’t think that water-baptism is a necessary precondition of salvation. Therefore, his interpretation either proves too much or too little.

“The specific mode of rebirth is alluded to in John 3 and the OT passages from which Jesus draws, but it is not explicitly revealed to Israel before the coming of Christ.”

i) Preslar is now assuming that OT passages foreshadow the institution of a new ceremony, rather than foreshadowing the event which the ceremony signifies. But why would we make that assumption?

ii) And, of course, he interprets the “mode” of rebirth in Catholic terms (“the sacrament”). But that begs the question. What if the mode of rebirth is not a ceremony, but the immediate action of the Holy Spirit, of which baptism is a concrete, picturesque metaphor? An object lesson or enacted parable?