Wednesday, August 28, 2019

Driving a wedge between reason and authority

A convert to Catholic attempted to rebut my post:

He calls his site Triablogue, for optimistic reasons known to him alone. 

I didn't name the blog. Ryan MacReyolds did. 

His latest screed is entitled “Catholic apologetics is self-destructive”which must explain why it’s been around since Justin Martyr.

News flash: Justin Martyr wasn't Roman Catholic. 

At this point I am curious. Have Protestant apologists given up on sola scriptura? Maybe I’ve been otherwise engaged in recent years and missed the news. But I thought that the authority of Bibleand just the Bible, that’s it, sirwas one of the pillars of the Protestant Reformation. We judge everything by the authority of those seventy-three sixty-six books. Every doctrine must be found there or it’s just a vile tradition of men. Have Protestants given this up now? I only ask questions.

Mr. Hays goes on: “Notice how often a Catholic apologist reframes an issue in terms of authority … Human reason is so untrustworthy that we need the pope to play referee.”

Well, yes and no. I don’t really need to pull out Proverbs 14:12 here. If Mr. Hays and I are in an argument about sola scriptura, it’s fair for me to point out that the Bible must be interpreted and how does he know his interpretation is right? The meaning is not just there; the Bible does not interpret itself, Westminster notwithstanding. After all, Protestants differ even among themselves about many key verses. If that were not so, Arminians and Calvinists could not both be Protestant. That’s how unreliable “the Bible alone” is.

But that does not mean that Catholics have abandoned, or even given small importance to, “human reason.”...Does Mr. Hays have reason to believe that the Orthodox behave like Calvinist bloggers and make stuff up as they go?

Mr. Hays has a lot to explain when he cites Aquinas’s appeal to reason on the Real Presence. Aquinas was Catholic, sir.

All these objections suffer from the same confusion. I don't erect a dichotomy between reason and authority. Rather, that's what Catholic apologists typically do. Catholic apologists have resorted to skepticism since the Counter-Reformation:

And it remains a fixture of Catholic apologetics right up to our own day. Take my recent exchange with Michael Liccione:

Or take Ed Feser's essay, "The God of a Philosopher," in the recent Faith and Reason anthology, edited by Besong and Fuqua. Unlike Catholic apologists, I don't impugn the general competence of reason. Likewise, I'm not the one who says communication is so ambiguous that we require the pope to play referee. 

The strategy of Catholic apologists generates a dilemma. They can't tear down reason to attack the Protestant faith, then turn right around and appeal to the same untrustworthy faculty to defend Catholicism. 

And it’s a caricature to say that the pope plays referee all the time between warring Catholics. Not in my experience. First of all, Catholics don’t have that kind of hotline to the Vatican. Half the time, we can’t even get the local bishop to pay us any mind. Second, too many Catholics these days are full of pride and hiss like feral cats at anything the pope says. Pope Francis Derangement Syndrome is a real problem. But Catholics don’t send the pope an email every time Boodle and Coodle get in an argument about Luke 22:36 and the second amendment. The pope’s role as teacher of the whole Church is more about preserving the unity of the faith than answering every question that comes up.

I appreciate Alt's frank admission regarding the general uselessness of a living teaching office. I wish him success in persuading his fellow Catholics to share his dim view regarding the general uselessness of a living teaching office. 

And here, dear reader, is where the false dichotomy emerges. To give evidence at all means that the evidence has some authority, in your view.

Now he's resorting to his own homespun redefinitions. 

Apart from not knowing the meaning of “hiatus”—incongruity is closer to Mr. Hays’ meaning...

I'm using "hiatus" the same way dictionaries do: "a rift, break, gap, hole, discontinuity, where something is missing". An apt descriptor for how the dogma of transubstantiation drives a wedge between appearance and reality. 

no Catholic apologist I know defends, say, the Marian dogmas by telling us that the Church teaches the Marian dogmas and stopping there…In a similar way, when Pope St. John Paul II wrote in defense of the teaching that the priesthood is restricted to men (Ordinatio Sacerdotalis), he didn’t say “the Church has always taught this” and stop there. He explained why the Church has always taught it…And when Pope St. Paul VI reiterated the ban on artificial contraception (Humanae Vitae), he gave several arguments from reason, including an appeal to natural law.

i) He has yet to wrap his head around what the actual argument is. Catholic apologists constantly assert that human reason is so unreliable, interpretation is so unreliable, that we need the pope to play referee. They deploy Pyrrhonian skepticism to create an opening for the argument from authority (i.e. the magisterium) as the necessary backup. When, however, they do an about-face and appeal to the same discredited reason to prop up Catholic dogmas, the contradiction is blatant. 

ii) Yes, popes attempt to defend their dogmas by appeal to reason, but that's a throwaway maneuver because when it fails to persuade, they fall back on the fideism of naked ecclesiastical authority. 

…and simply use logic, you are appealing to the authority of some logical formula…One can not possibly argue anything at all if there weren’t first an agreement about what counts as proof. That’s what authority is.

Once again, we're treated to Alt's idiosyncratic redefinition of standard terms and concepts. 

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