Tuesday, January 08, 2013

A Challenge to Michael Liccione

Michael Liccione said in a comment to me:

it is incumbent on anyone debating said question to argue, on grounds independent of the particular biblical interpretations he adopts, that his IP [“interpretive paradigm”, or hermeneutic] has a principled distinction between divine revelation and human theological opinion, so that by deploying it, he at least has an argument that his particular interpretations are reliable expressions of divine revelation, not just opinions. But if you deny that you or anybody else enjoys the gift of infallibility, and thus admit that you could be wrong, you have no way of making that argument.

In this comment, he further challenged:

For several years now, I’ve been waiting for you to engage the essentially philosophical issue I’ve posed for you. If and when you do, our discussions might move forward.

These “philosophical issues” are outlined this article, in sections IV and V. What follows is my direct response to his “philosophical issues”. Stay tuned.

Michael Liccione (372), you wrote this in another comment thread:

I'm saying: "The reason why you have no [basis for making a principled distinction between divine revelation and human opinion] is that you see [certain churchs' claim to be divinely commissioned through apostolic succession] as merely as one more opinion on an epistemic par with others."

I’ve added the [square brackets] there to set off the nature of your claim.

There are all kinds of things balled up here, and no doubt they are clarified in other places. I just haven’t had the opportunity to look at them all in one place. If some of my questions below get answered some place, I'll be happy to look in other places.

You have challenged me to respond to the philosophical questions you have, and so here I am.

The first thing to ask is the question, What is “divine revelation”? I’m going to assume for the sake of discussion that we believe in the same God, and so proving “who” God is shouldn’t be much of an issue. Although, we may disagree on “what God would do, or how he would do things in any given situation”.

In that way, we certainly differ even on what is “divine revelation”. In this respect, your citation of Dei Verbum should be analyzed.

Also, we need to look at the definition of the word “church”. We need to arrive at an adequate definition of “church”.

What is “a church”? What is “the church”?

What specifically was this “divine commission?” How do you know specifically what it was? When did it occur? If it was an “epistemologically superior” claim, how is it that certain individuals walked away from that claim without a full and complete understanding of it? After all, Christ is God. Did he just leave them with “hints” that they forgot to pass along? Or the promise that (John 16:13) that the Holy Spirit would come in and “fill in the gaps” later?

Then, Here is what we are dealing with when we say “epistemology”. What are the necessary and sufficient conditions of knowledge? What are its sources?

How is it that the mere “claim to be divinely commissioned” entails “epistemological superiority”? What are the limits of that?

Mike, according to your account, the specific claim, by some churches “to be divinely commissioned through apostolic succession” is a claim that’s epistemologically superior to the claim that other churches make.

You say in this article,

if said claims are true, then there is a principled as opposed to an ad hoc way to distinguish the formal, proximate object of faith from fallible human opinions about how to identify it in the sources. And that is the way in which the Catholic can distinguish the assent of faith from that of opinion.”

But so what? The claim itself does not bear the kind of entailment that is placed on it. Where is the entailment that “there is a principle as opposed to an ad hoc way” to “distinguish the formal, proximate object of faith from fallible human opinions”.

There is, in fact, no entailment that there be “a formal proximate object of faith”. There may well be instances in which “faith” and “human opinion” not only coincide, but coincide in a fairly co-extensive way.

As I asked, when you call the Liccione kids off the street, “get out of the traffic or your could get hurt”, there is no entailment that you define “the formal proximate object” of your entire family set of rules, in order to make that particular command authoritative.

And second, if you say, “come to your own Birthday Party”, there is similarly no entailment for a “formal proximate object” to make “the good news” of a Birthday Party any less clear in the child’s mind.

I say these things in defense of the “Protestant IP”. If God can speak to Adam, and if Eve can misunderstand, and God permits this [there is no entailment for a “formal, proximate object of faith”], then God can speak through a larger Scripture, and still, there is no entailment for a “formal proximate object of faith” in the church age, either.

Neither you nor your colleagues has done an adequate job of explaining this [and in fact, I think you go beyond what Roman Catholicism actually claims in this; your own claims do not fully coincide with official Roman Catholic claims].

Here, too, are areas where I think that neither you nor any of your colleagues here has done an adequate job of explaining things:

1. If the Roman Catholic Church makes some claim to “divine institution”, then, it assumes upon itself a burden of proof to show clearly and explicitly where this “divine institution” occurred, how it applies to (a) Rome and (b) the papacy, and again, it must do so explicitly, and show why anyone might be thus bound by it. Not to do so clearly and explicitly is grounds for rejection of the claim.

Note that this “burden of proof” is not fulfilled by showing, as you seem to do, that the Roman Catholic claim is neater, tidier, than “the Protestant IP”. That may make it seem more secure for those who are seeking epistemological security. But God does not seem to supply such security.

If He does, I don’t see it, and you need to show it to me.

2. This particular burden of proof, on the part of the Roman Catholic Church, means that Keith Mathison’s very long article examining (and rejecting) those claimswas a worthwhile exercise.

If the Roman Catholic explanations in support of this “divine institution” do not hold up to scrutiny [of the Scriptural kind or the historical kind, or in fact, of any kind of scrutiny that we can place upon it], then no amount of perceived confusion in the Protestant world can fix those claims to authority. And yet, the shape of the argument coming from this side is “Protestantism is in a disarray, therefore Roman Catholic claims are correct”.

What you seem to do in this article is to put the “epistemological claims” of Protestants and [some subset of Roman Catholics, but not the official Roman Catholic Church] on the table, side-by-side. Such a side-by-side comparison may constitute an apparent act of “fairness”. But this is no way to prove the validity of Roman Catholic claims.

3. The claim here is that the mere “claim to be divinely commissioned through apostolic succession” is somehow epistemologically superior to other claims.

But I’ve seen this “claim” in practice. And the “practice” is that, when there is an “apparent contradiction” in Roman claims, the “apparent contradiction” exists only in my mind; it does not exist in reality”. Thus, there is always an explanation [or an excuse] offered. The Roman Magisterium is always right in everything it says.

I refuse to engage in this kind of make-believe, in defense of an institution that has so clearly been corrupt in the history of its existence, at every level. Christ’s claim “you can tell a tree by its fruit” is a guarantee of a kind of epistemological “test” that can be made against a “tree”. It is no accident that Newman’s comparison (and Bryan’s comparison) involves a “tree” with “branches”.

We can understand the “Roman Catholic” tree by the “fruit” that it produces – as evidence of corruption.

This whole “interpretive paradigm” thing is not much more than a fancy, “grown-up” way of saying “I’m taking my marbles and going home”.

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