Wednesday, October 30, 2019

What makes a problem a problem?

A stock objection to the Protestant faith is that sola scriptura is a problem for Protestants because it generates "pervasive interpretive pluralism". There are endless variations on that objection. 

Let's take a comparison: there are idealist strands in Buddhism and Hinduism. On that view, the problem of evil is illusory is the sense that moral and natural evil (or what we ordinarily take to be natural evil) only exist in the mind. Which means, moreover, that they only exist in individual minds. Hence, it's possible to make evil disappear through the right kind of psychological conditioning. 

It's like dreamers who suffer from chronic nightmares. Nightmares only exist in the mind. Moreover, they only exist in the mind of each dreamer. I don't experience your nightmare. Your nightmare can't hurt me. 

So, from their frame of reference, evil isn't a problem for Indian idealism. It's only a problem for physicalists and dualists who lack enlightenment. 

Of course, that only works if metaphysical idealism is true. But if, to the contrary, evil exists outside the mind as well as inside the mind, if evil is external to individuals, then evil isn't a problem for dualists and physicalists; rather, it's a problem for everybody. The problem isn't embedded in a particular philosophy but in reality. 

By the same token, Catholic apologists and theologians think "pervasive interpretive pluralism" is a problem for the Protestant faith. But like Indian idealism, it's only a problem for our position if there's an alternative. If God instituted a living teaching office, and that's located in the Catholic church, then "pervasive interpretive pluralism" is a problem for the Protestant faith.

But what if that frame of reference doesn't exist? What if God never instituted a living teaching office? Then the point of contrast is chimerical. Catholicism becomes just one more competing interpretion in the mix of "pervasive interpretive pluralism". 

In that event, even if you think "pervasive interpretive pluralism" is still a problem, it's not a problem for Protestants but a problem for everybody. It's not a problem internal to Protestant theology but a problem embedded in reality. So it does nothing to discredit Protestant theology because everyone is in the same boat. 

In that regard, Catholic apologists and theologians have it backwards. They shouldn't be starting with the alleged problem of "pervasive interpretive pluralism", because that's only a problem for Protestants provided that there's a living teaching office located in the Catholic church. If, however, that point of contrast is chimeerical, then "pervasive interpretive pluralism" is either a problem for everybody or a problem for nobody in particular. 

Just like it's backwards to say evil is a problem for dualists but not for Indian idealists. It may not be a problem if metaphysical idealism is true, but there's where the argument must be engaged. Is that assumption correct?  

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