Wednesday, January 17, 2018

Shooting a werewolf

I recently watched a dialogue between Bishop Barron and W. L. Craig:

It was moderated by two philosophers. It was all very chummy. Nowadays, most Catholic apologists are laymen, usually evangelical converts to Rome, so Barron is quite exceptional in that regard. 

1. I don't object to Catholics and Protestants sharing the same stage. The problem is that Craig only agreed to participate with the understanding that this wasn't a debate over Catholicism/Protestantism. Instead, Craig and Barron both gave answers to the same questions, as if they share the same basic theological vision. For instance, they answered questions about evangelism, but Catholicism and evangelicalism have divergent views regarding the nature of salvation. So it gave the misimpression that they were sharing different tips on how to evangelize, as if it's just a question of technique, while disregarding the fact that in some fundamental ways, Roman Catholicism and evangelicalism are two different religions. There was a running equivocation throughout most of the dialogue as though Craig and Barron are spokesmen for the same basic position.  

Likewise, Barron said Catholics and evangelicals should join forces to oppose the primary threat: the secular progressive agenda. Yet contemporary Catholicism has undergone extensive secularization, and that process continues apace. Likewise, the contemporary church of Rome is sometimes on the wrong side of the culture wars these days. In many respects, it's view of "social justice" overlaps with the Democrat platform. 

What is Catholic evangelism winning them to? What does Catholicism stand for anymore? Hard to say. It's clear what Tridentine Catholicism represents. It's clear what the anti-modernism of Pius IX and Leo XIII represents. But post-Vatican II theology is like a scene in a horror flick where a lycanthrope is shot in the process of transitioning from human to werewolf. Because it dies at that point, it's frozen in a transitional stage: half human and half werewolf. 

Likewise, contemporary Catholicism increasingly resembles a mainline denomination. Contemporary Catholicism is highly eclectic and pluralistic. At present, what does it even mean to be Catholic? 

2. Craig's apathy or even hostility towards Catholic/Protestant debate is odd. He's a professional Christian apologist. Well, what does a Christian apologist defend? Presumably, he defends his own understanding of the Christian faith. Christian apologetics should defend the content of systematic theology. And that varies depending on your theological tradition. A Christian apologist can't avoid defending his own viewpoint. And that viewpoint will conflict with opposing theological perspectives. 

Even C. S. Lewis wasn't really defending "mere Christianity". Rather, he was defending his low Anglican theology. Making a case for what he believed to be essential.  

3. Barron made some telling observations about the state of Catholicism in America. Six lapsed Catholics for every one convert. Likewise, 55% of cradle Catholics now identify as Nones. 

4. Around the 44-47 min. mark, Craig said there are textual indications that Gen 1 was not intended to be "a literal consecutive 24-hour day week." From this he inferred that Gen 1 "really doesn't tell you anything about how God created lifeforms on this planet." Once you reject a literal 24-hour day creation week, then "all bets are off on how God brought about biological complexity". His reservations about evolution are scientific rather than theological.

i) That certainly explains his nonchalance regarding the creation/evolution debate. Nevertheless:

ii) He blurs chronology with literality, as if these are equivalent or mutually inclusive. But how does it follow that an account which isn't "consecutive" isn't literal? Those are two different things. 

iii) Apropos (ii), I'm struck by Craig's non sequitur. How does his conclusion derive from the premise? How would it follow from the assumption that Gen 1 isn't strictly sequential that it really doesn't tell you anything about how God created lifeforms on this planet?

To take a comparison, the narratives of Matthew and Luke aren't strictly sequential. For instance, they clump some of Christ's teaching material topically rather than chronologically. Does it follow that since their narratives aren't consistently sequential, they really don't tell you anything about the historical Jesus? Does it follow that if Gospel pericopes aren't necessarily in consecutive order, the Gospels aren't to be taken literally? How does Craig's premise yield his conclusion? 

iv) And what about Gen 2? Does he think that has any bearing on the debate about human evolution? Evidently not, although he doesn't explain why.

v) In addition, he fails to even register prima facie tensions between evolution and Christian theism. One point of conflict, which crops up in David Raup, William Provine, Stephen Jay Gould et al., is the aimless nature of the evolutionary process. The existence of man is an unintended byproduct of biological evolution. And the fortuity of man's existence is reinforced by the phenomenon of mass extinction, due to haphazard conditions. 

On this interpretation, the existence of the human race is not the goal of the evolutionary process, but an unplanned outcome of hit-or-miss developments. Every time you roll the dice, you're likely to get a different result. Natural selection is utterly indifferent to the human existence, survival, and flourishing. 

Perhaps Craig has a response, but as it stands, he acts as though he's completely unaware of the theological problems which evolution poses. 

Moreover, even if the development of humans was inevitable (a la Simon Conway-Morris), that doesn't mean the end-result was divinely intended. If you experiment with enough combinations, you can open a safe through dumb luck. Given sufficient time, you will randomly hit on the right combination. But that process didn't have man in mind. 

5. In fairness, Craig did make a number of good points along the way. Even Barron made some good points along the way. But the dialogue exposes Craig's tunnel vision. 


  1. The official video is currently only available on Facebook.

    However, I uploaded an unofficial copy of the video on YouTube in case some people don't have access to Facebook.

  2. On creation/evolution, I was at an apologetics conference last fall, on a panel discussion, and apropos of very little (as I recall it) one of the panelists made an impassioned statement that as apologists we must not allow "non-essential" matters to become central or important and to take up our time and attention. I don't remember his exact words, but he was very emphatic, and it got "Amens" and so forth.

    And I thought immediately that he was probably thinking of YEC/OEC, but I also immediately thought that it was very probable (though I never asked) that he would lump the existence of the historical Adam and the issue of human naturalistic-to-all-appearances evolution into that same category of "non-essentials." And they really are not. Whether or not God intended mankind and was directly involved in the making of man, including man's *body* and its *intended purposes*, is crucial for all sorts of issues, including even the homosexuality and transgender debate. It's seemed sad to me for a long time that Roman Catholics, who have this robust history of defending the Natural Law, have such blinkers on when it comes to the intersection between the origin of mankind and the natural law. How do you get the normativity of biblical human sexuality "baked into" our physical nature if our physical nature itself is, to appearances, the result of purely chance processes (with a soul put into it at the very end by God like a cherry on top) and if physically identical hominids were running around mating like animals and that was no problem?

    Anyway, it seems that some Protestants have the same blind spot.

    1. I agree with you, Lydia. Evolution, as defined by the mainstream, is anti-Christian *by definition.* Many Christians don’t want to pick a fight with the mainstream, and many evolutionists don’t want to pick a fight with the still-relatively-powerful evangelical Christianity, so there is a de-facto conspiracy of sorts to pretend that there is no antithesis. But when there is confusion, the status quo wins, and the current status quo endorse anti-Christian evolution.

      To be as fair as possible to Craig, his strategy has always been to minimize side issues and concentrate on making creation and the Resurrection as plausible as possible. But evolution is a snare about which Christians must be warned. At best, Craig leaves that to others.

  3. Steve what do you mean by Catholicism having become securalized? How can a religion become secular? If it does it ceases to be a religion right? I assume you mean the Church of Rome has become liberal and progressive (aka modernist).

  4. Steve - thanks for your observations on the Craig/Barron discussion. I usually think Craig has a clear purpose in these things, but on this discussion I couldn't fathom what Craig was trying to accomplish, if anything. It was as if he just needed some extra income, or had to be there for some hidden reason.

    Also, I just listened to John Lennox' take on Gen. 1 - I wonder if more and more professional thinkers are trying to promote a consensus in their "scientific interpretation."