Saturday, July 27, 2019

By what standard?

A trailer by the Founders ministry is getting a lot of buzz:

I'll make a few comments on the trailer, then make some comments on the backlash:

A. I wonder if the title was inspired by the title of an old book by Greg Bahnsen.

B. Some of the critics of the SBC infiltration are currently employed at SBC seminaries, so they are to be saluted for their courage. They are taking a risk by implicitly criticizing the boss. 

C. I agree with everything Ascol says in the trailer. 

D. Rod Martin misframes the issue by casting it in terms of guilt, regret, and forgiveness. On the one hand the white slave masters, Klansmen and other suchlike died impenitent. On the  other hand, the younger generation isn't complicit in that to begin with, so there's nothing to forgive.  

E. There's a clip of James Merritt. I believe he's the father of homosexual activist Jonathan Merritt. 

F. SBTS prez Al Mohler tweeted that he's "alarmed at how some respected SBC leaders are represented".

Ironically, that reinforces the image of self-important leaders who maintain a system of cronyism. 

G. SWBTS prez Adam Greenway's tweet conveys the same blue wall of silence: "I will not…be part of any agenda seeking to divide Southern Baptists unnecessarily".

H. For his part, MBTS prez Jason Allen tweeted: "This trailer is either a click-bait promo piece or it foreshadows a movie that's uncharitable & unhelpful". 

The problem is that SBC leaders have been accused of positively facilitating the infiltration of identity politics into the SBC generally and SBC seminaries in particular. They can't be trusted to solve the problem if they actively support it. 

There's nothing wrong with a grassroots movement in the SBC  to oppose identity politics. The SBC isn't supposed to be the Church of Rome, where the hierarchy makes all the key decisions. It's not insubordinate for SBC laymen or pastors to challenge policies promoted by the SBC Mandarins. 

I. SEBTS prez Danny Akin had the most substantive response to date. Among other things, he said: 

I sat down with an interview for what I understood to be a discussion about the authority of Scripture for an upcoming documentary…Today I was disappointed to see the trailer for that documentary. What I saw was edited footage that I believe to be misleading, which misrepresents important issues and what leaders in the SBC actually affirm…I have requested that my association with and contribution to this film be removed.   

That raises some ethical issues:

1. Was he interviewed under false pretenses? Since Ascol does think it's about the authority of Scripture, it wasn't conducted under false pretenses from his perspective.

2. Perhaps, though, the objection is that he was interviewed under false pretenses in the sense that Akin wasn't apprised of the use to which his statements would be put. In principle that could happen in one of two ways:

i) He was not informed about the use to which his statements would be put.

ii He was misinformed about the use to which his statements would be put.

3. (ii) is ethically more serious than (i). Mind you, there are exceptional situations in which I subterfuge justifiable. Take the sting operation on Planned Parenthood. Undercover investigators interviewed PP employs under false pretenses because that was the only way to make them own up to their activities behind-the-scenes. 

4. Regarding (i), an interviewer might not be forthcoming about his agenda because, if he told the prospective interviewee what the purpose of the interview was, the interviewee back out or refuse to give straight answers. Is the interviewer to blame? Or is it blameworthy that the interviewee won't give honest answers about what's going on if the interviewer tips his hand, forcing the interviewer to be vague about his intentions to make the interviewee drop his guard and level with the interviewer? I'd say it reflects poorly on the interviewee if the interviewer must be stealthy to get information which the interviewee shouldn't be hiding from public scrutiny. Is it the interview or the interviewee who ought to be more forthright? 

5. Even assuming (ex hypothesi) that the interview was conducted under false pretenses, that doesn't mean the quotes misrepresent the position of the interviewee. I'd add that Russell Moore and Matt Chandler are target rich spokesmen. They could be quoted more fully, and that would be just as damning or more so. 

6. Of course the trailer uses edited footage. It's a trailer. By definition, that consists of teasers and excerpts. That by itself doesn't mean the quotes were taken out of context. 

7. Is it wrong to put someone's statements to a use they didn't intend or approve of? Not necessarily. Once you said something you lose control of what you said. Now it's out there. You can't turn the clock back. You can't obligate people to act like you never said it. The moment you say it, it's out of your hands. People can now do with it whatever they wish, whether or not their intentions mesh with yours. The fact that the four SBC seminary presidents are so preemptively defensive is revealing. 

I kissed marriage and Christianity goodbye

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My heart is full of gratitude. I wish you could see all the messages people sent me after the announcement of my divorce. They are expressions of love though they are saddened or even strongly disapprove of the decision.⁣⁣ ⁣⁣ I am learning that no group has the market cornered on grace. This week I’ve received grace from Christians, atheists, evangelicals, exvangelicals, straight people, LGBTQ people, and everyone in-between. Of course there have also been strong words of rebuke from religious people. While not always pleasant, I know they are seeking to love me. (There have also been spiteful, hateful comments that angered and hurt me.)⁣⁣ ⁣⁣ The information that was left out of our announcement is that I have undergone a massive shift in regard to my faith in Jesus. The popular phrase for this is “deconstruction,” the biblical phrase is “falling away.” By all the measurements that I have for defining a Christian, I am not a Christian. Many people tell me that there is a different way to practice faith and I want to remain open to this, but I’m not there now.⁣⁣ ⁣⁣ Martin Luther said that the entire life of believers should be repentance. There’s beauty in that sentiment regardless of your view of God. I have lived in repentance for the past several years—repenting of my self-righteousness, my fear-based approach to life, the teaching of my books, my views of women in the church, and my approach to parenting to name a few. But I specifically want to add to this list now: to the LGBTQ+ community, I want to say that I am sorry for the views that I taught in my books and as a pastor regarding sexuality. I regret standing against marriage equality, for not affirming you and your place in the church, and for any ways that my writing and speaking contributed to a culture of exclusion and bigotry. I hope you can forgive me.⁣⁣ ⁣⁣ To my Christians friends, I am grateful for your prayers. Don’t take it personally if I don’t immediately return calls. I can’t join in your mourning. I don’t view this moment negatively. I feel very much alive, and awake, and surprisingly hopeful. I believe with my sister Julian that, “All shall be well, and all manner of thing shall be well.”

A post shared by Joshua Harris (@harrisjosh) on

1. Josh Harris made the announcement about no longer being a Christian after he made an announcement that he and his wife are "separating" from one another. Here he explicitly says it's a "divorce".

Friday, July 26, 2019

Are Arabs secularizing?

From exile to Eden

There are various introductions to Roman Catholicism. Cardinal Ratzinger wrote a modern classic. More recently are entries by Robert Barron and Thomas Joseph White. Barron's book was based on the script for his 10-part documentary film. Ratzinger uses the framework of the Apostles' creed. White's organization owes more to systematic theology. Barron uses the Incarnation as a unifying principle–plus Catholic art as well as thumbnail biographies of notable Catholics. 

This raises the question of how a Protestant might write an introduction to the evangelical faith. How would we present the alternative? There are different approaches. You could take the approach of systematic theology. You could take the approach of historical theology and church history. Another possibility is to take a more existential approach. I don't have time to write a whole book, but here's a sketch:

Each of us is on a journey. We were born in exile. Our progenitors were banished from the garden. We lost the tree of life. We face into death. 

We came from God. Some of us are on a journey back to God, while others are on a journey away from God.

We were born at sea. Born aboard a ship. There were passengers before we were born. There will be passengers after we disembark. We don't end with the same passengers with whom we began. Some passengers disembark at the harbor of heaven while others disembark at the port of hell. 

God is interpersonal by nature. One God in three persons, who mirror one another. The inmost circle of reality. But God shares his beatitude by making creatures are able to enjoy the gift of life. The inmost circle of the Triune God ripples out in concentric circles of creation. Like our Creator, we are social beings. 

We are creatures of time and space while our Maker exists above and beyond time or space. The Son left the inmost circle of the Triune fellowship to invade the outermost circle of his alienated creation. Like a child separated from his parents by the dislocation of war, we grew up never knowing our Creator. Like an estranged child who meets his father for the first time, we see in Jesus the face of our Maker. 

Every now and then, miracles break into our world to remind us of another, greater, better world beyond our fleeting, dying world. Not miracles enough to transform our world, but sufficient to point beyond our world, like flashes of lightning that illuminate trail and the distant destination. A sign, special providence, or answered prayer to renew our hope. Sometimes we walk in twilight. Sometimes we walk in darkness. But when we despair, when we feel utterly forlorn, a flash of lightning shows the way forward.  

There is darkness without and darkness within. We need redemption and renewal to enlighten the darkness within. Revelation to illuminate the trail ahead as well as redemption and renewal to illuminate our darkened hearts. 

Darkness is otiose. It creates nothing. Left to itself, darkness remains darkness. It has no spark. To irradiate the moral darkness of our hearts, the match must come from something–or Someone–outside ourselves. 

The Fall was Adam's error, but it wasn't Heaven's error. There are children of light born to children of darkness. Children of the dawn whose existence emerges from children of the night. That was God's plan all along. In the world to come, the sons of dawn will praise the wisdom that brought them about and brought them out. In the beginning, God separated the light from the darkness. And he continues to do so throughout church history. And he will do so at the Consummation of all things. 

Thoughts without a thinker

The self in Buddhism

  1. The soul aka self doesn't exist in Buddhism. Only the non-self exists - the anatman. To my knowledge, that's the case in all major schools of Buddhism, viz. Theravada Buddhism, Mahayana Buddhism, Zen Buddhism, and Tibetan Buddhism.

  2. What is perceived to be the "self" in Buddhism consists of a collection of states or a bundle of perceptions. These are like psychological states or perceptions. We can simply call them "aggregates". These aggregates are known as khandhas.

  3. There are five khandhas: form/body, sensations, perceptions, mentations/cogitations, and awareness. These aggregates or khandhas are the entirety of what constitutes the self, but the reality is there is no "self". Afaik, it's not even that the whole is greater than the sum of its parts, but that the whole is the sum of its parts.

  4. Indeed, modern Buddhists often use the ship of Theseus to illustrate how the self doesn't really exist despite its aggregates or khandhas. We're atoms in motion, but these atoms in motion are constantly being replaced by other atoms in motion.

  5. Suffering is caused by one being attached to or clinging onto (tanha) these aggregates. Suffering is extinguished (nirvana) when attachment (tanha) to these aggregates (khandhas) is relinquished.


Catholicism: A Journey to the Heart of Fantasia

In this post I'll comment on some representative passages in Robert Barron's Catholicism: A Journey to the Heart of the Faith (2011). I already commented on one section:

I believe Barron has a virtual following second only to Pope Francis. That may be due in part to the theological vacuum in the hierarchy. So few bishops seem to be believers, even by Catholic standards. In addition, he has a certain charisma. A prissy, sissy, fussy, fusty old biddy like Cardinal Burke lacks the common touch and popular appeal. 

Barron is an eloquent, seductive mythmaker. His biblical prooftexts for Catholicism detach the text from the original meaning, and reattachment it to "development". Once theology is cut off from the sacred text, it takes on a life of its own, in ever-bolder flights of fantasy. The exercise has a snowball effect, as seminal errors accumulate and magnify. No longer constrained by the reality of revelation, it goes wherever imagination takes it. In some ways, Barron's book is a throwback to Chateaubriand's The Genius of Christianity. An apologetic heavy on aesthetics. Catholicism is too pretty not to be true!

Thursday, July 25, 2019

Boccaccio's argument for the Catholic faith

There are three basic problems with the argument:

i) Why couldn't a Muslim redeploy the same argument to defend Islam? Despite all the corruption, Islam has flourished for centuries. 

ii) Pruss sees continuity through rose-tinted glasses. Many observers see a dramatic lack of diachronic consistency in Catholic teaching over the centuries. 

iii) It's spiritually pernicious and morally subversive to turn pervasive corruption into evidence for the true religion. The more evil it is, the truer it is. That's diabolically clever. 

BTW, the combox has some interesting exchanges.

Suspicions of something more

The following is an excerpt is from the philosopher Thomas Morris' essay "Suspicions of Something More" in God and the Philosophers (pp 16-17):

Mr. Rogers

I recently asked Prof. John Frame about Fred Rogers in light of the upcoming film with Tom Hanks. Prof. Frame's reply is below. (He kindly gave me permission to post it.)

Well, no, I never met Fred Rogers, though he was a big star on Pittsburgh TV—first "The Children's Corner," and then "Mr. Rogers' Neighborhood."

By 1963 I had basically left the Presbyterian Church, USA. I did work in my home church (which was PCUSA at the time, now EPC) in 1965-66, after I graduated from WTS in 1964. But by the end of the decade I was OPC. In any case, Rogers was part of the liberal wing of Pittsburgh Seminary and of the PCUSA.

Being at PTS from 1960-63, he would have known some friends of mine. He would have known RC Sproul. He would have studied with John Gerstner and Bob Kelley, possibly Addison Leitch; so he would have gotten at least a taste of Reformed evangelicalism. But he never moved in conservative evangelical circles, so far as I know.

He has always fascinated me. After I moved to Orlando, I discovered Rogers was a graduate of Rollins College, a liberal arts school in the Orlando area. His name often appeared in the Orlando press. A couple years ago, my wife and I saw the documentary about him. I do hope to see the new movie with Tom Hanks.

His theology, whatever it was, was largely concealed in his shows. He had the view that you should never raise issues of violence or even agitation when you talk to children. He evidently thought that the more rowdy shows like "Howdy Doody" were not good for kids. I always disagreed. I think that a certain amount of rowdiness is good fun, and I think kids should be exposed to the dark side of things. But I was always glad that we had Mr. Rogers to show us that there was an alternate way of thinking and living. I don't know to what extent the Bible entered his world view. Some of his emphases resonate with Scripture and some don't.

Wednesday, July 24, 2019

Turning to Catholicism-5

This is the fifth and final installment in my review of Faith and Reason: Philosophers Explain Their Turn to Catholicism. Before commenting on excerpts, I'll make some general observations:

1. The format of the book is conversion testimonies. I assume the reason for the format is to make it more sales-worthy. Personal interest stories have popular appeal. But the format is a weakness:

i) You can plug anything into that format. Conversion from Christianity to atheism or atheism to Christianity or Islam to Christianity or Christianity to Islam or Calvinism to Arminianism or Arminianism to Calvinism, and so on and so forth. The convert comes to see the light, regardless of where he began or where he ended. So there's something relativistic about the format.

ii) Having for work through an autobiographical narrative is inefficient. Cut to the chase. I just want to hear their reasons for why they are Catholic. Cut the dead wood. 

iii) But the greatest weakness of that format, given the philosophical slant of the book, is that what matters is the quality of their justification for Roman Catholicism: not the reasons they had for becoming Catholic but the reasons they have for being Catholic. The reasons that trigger conversion may not reflect a more mature assessment. Over the years, you may retain your position, but improve on or replace your initial reasons. 

iv) Perhaps, though, their current reasons are identical with the reasons they had for converting. But that's a problem if you bill yourself as a philosopher. It's like the teenage atheist who, based on his vast research, concludes that Christianity is bunk, and maintains that position for the rest of his life based on that juvenile understaning. 

There are converts who engage in critical self-reflection up to the moment of conversion, but once they convert they don't cease critical self-reflection. They don't engage in ongoing critical self-reflection That's more understandable for the average layman, although many layman would benefit from being more reflective, but it's inexcusable for trained philosophers. 

2. An unintended takeaway of the book is that having a doctorate in philosophy doesn't make you a smart person. The amount of intellectual flabbiness on display in this book is startling. 

Before philosophy became a profession, the only qualification to be a philosopher was an analytical mind, a high capacity for abstract reason. Now it's about credentials. Degree programs. Buttering up mentors. Checking all the boxes for the philosophical fads du jour. 

In general, the most gifted thinkers in any discipline are intellectual mavericks who have difficulty fitting in because they buck the system. They challenge the received wisdom. Ironically, that makes them poor students. They think outside the textbook. By the same token they tend to be poor teachers because they operate on their own wavelength. 

The difference between a philosopher and a philosophy prof. is like the difference between a physicist and a physics prof. Most physics profs. aren't physicists. They simply teach physics. They lack the probing, creative intelligence required to push the boundaries. 

3. The way contributors to this book discount historical evidence that runs counter to Catholic claims parallels atheists who filter reported miracles through methodological naturalism. The Catholic contributors ultimately fall back on their a priori argument for Catholicism. God must have done it our way because the alternative has untoward consequences. It stands to reason that this is how God did it. Like methodological atheists, they install a screen so that counterevidence is never allowed to get through. 

4. Because, with the partial exception of Bryan Cross's Kuhnian argument, the book repeats the same dogeared, flashcard arguments for Catholicism that Catholic apologists always use, I don't really need to comment on the specifics. I've been over this ground many times before. But to give people who haven't read the book a sample, I'll comment on some representative statements. In addition, I sometimes find something new to say even when commenting on a familiar issue. 

Quantum transubstantiation

Our Episcopal church in Waco used leavened bread for communion. One day, the bread was particularly dry, and so it was crumbling as people were receiving communion with crumbs falling on the ground. People ignored the crumbs that were accumulating on the ground; some crumbs may have even been walked on by people. The crumbs remained there until the end of the service. After the service, Lindsay, a friend of ours, and I went up and picked up the crumbs. We weren't sure if Christ was really present in the full sense at that point, but we thought that if he was, then just leaving him on the ground to be walked on was irreverent. From this experience, I could see that the Anglican and Episcopal lack of clarity on the nature of the eucharist had important practical ramifications. I was, for that reason, attracted to the Catholic Church's claim that God has provided a clear teaching on the presence of Christ in the Eucharist and a corresponding clear standard for how the Eucharist should be treated. Faith and Reason: Philosophers Explain Their Turn to Catholicism 
(Ignatius 2019), 237. 

Although he uses that as an argument for Catholicism, it generates a conundrum for transubstantiation. It isn't just a 1-1 match between Jesus and the wafer, but Jesus and each particle composing the wafer. By that logic, how far down does the fissioning process extend?

Wafer = Jesus

Crumbs = Jesus

Molecules = Jesus

Atoms = Jesus

Quarks = Jesus

"Our Lady of Guadalupe"

1. I've done a couple of posts on Fatima:

Now I'd like to revisit the issue of Marian apparitions using a different example. Recently I was reading Bishop Barron's Catholicism: A Journey to the Heart of the Faith (2011). At some point I may comment the whole book, but for now I'll focus on one thing. On pp108-13, Barron rehearses the story of Mary appearing to Juan Diego, then provides evidence for the authenticity of the apparition. 

Assuming that Barron's information is accurate, I agree with him that this was a supernatural event. It defies naturalistic explanation. The evidence he offers is quite impressive. Indeed, more impressive than Fatima. 

Admittedly, I haven't researched the issue, in part because my own position doesn't require me to debunk it, and in part because I'm not sure the Internet has good sources to investigate a claim like that. (By "debunk," I mean a naturalistic explanation.)

2. However, I can concede all that without it shifting me even slightly in the direction of Catholicism. Why? 

To begin with, not all supernatural events are from God. The locus classicus is Deut 13:1-5. That principle or prediction is reaffirmed no fewer than three times in the NT: Mt 24:24 (par. Mk 13:22), 2 Thes 2:9, & Rev 13:13-15. We also have similar statements by St. Paul (Gal 1:8; 2 Cor 11:14). 

3. But I'd like to anticipate an objection. What if I'm wrong? If I attribute a Marian apparition to the dark side when, in fact, it's genuine, am I committed the unforgivable sin (Mt 12:31-32, par. Mk 3:28-29; Lk 12:10)?

i) One response is that it's quite a stretch to extend that to Marian apparitions. I'm not attributing the miracles of Jesus to the dark side. 

ii) However, a Catholic apologist might respond that my attitude is analogous to the unforgivable sin, which concerns the general principle of attributing divine miracles to the dark side. 

iii)  Okay, so what about that?Unlike the Jewish leaders, I didn't witness the purported apparition with my own eyes. So my epistemic position is different from theirs.

iv) In addition, motivation makes a difference. The Jewish leaders were motivated by malice and ill-will. That's very different from an innocent mistake. 

v) For that matter, doubting a Marian apparition doesn't require you to ascribe the apparition to the dark side. You can simply suspend judgment. You make allowance for the possibility that it emanates from the dark side. By contrast, the Jewish leaders didn't withhold judgment regarding Jesus. 

vi) Apropos (v), even the Catholic church takes the position that purported private revelations lack the obligatory status of public revelation–from what I've read. 

vii) God can't intend us to be so spooked by the threat of the unforgivable sin that we nullify repeated warnings about occult miracles. It would be quite coup for the Devil and the Antichrist if we had to credit every messenger with miraculous signs because we dare not consider the possibility that it had its source in evil spirits. 

There are so many candidates. What if I'm wrong about Muhammad? What if I'm wrong about Swedenborg? What if I'm wrong about purported Mormon miracles? What if I'm wrong about Marian apparitions? We can't very well credit them all. And God can't intend the specter of the unforgivable sin to be a gun to our head so that we never take the occult into consideration. How else can we rule out false prophets or the Antichrist? 

viii) Moreover, Catholics hardly have a monopoly on purported miracles and apparitions. As Barron knows, Latin American Pentecostals have made major inroads into Catholicism in South and Central America. Non-Catholics, including Protestants experienced purported miracles, angelic apparitions, grief apparitions, crisis apparitions, and visions of Jesus.  

ix) Finally, you'd expect pre-Columbian Mexico to be a hotbed of evil spirits, with all the witchcraft and human sacrifice. So it wouldn't be surprising of an evil spirit appeared to Juan Diego. Once again, it isn't necessary to take a firm position on that. We can treat that as a live option. 

4. But I'd like to anticipate another objection. Barron says the apparition had beneficial results. The mass conversion of Aztecs to Catholicism. And the dissolution of the Aztec religion. 

i) To begin with, that's not all of a piece. The dissolution of the Aztec religion was a salutary result. But pilgrims making the journey to her shrine on their knees (p111) is only a good thing from a Catholic viewpoint. 

ii) But if the apparition is not of God, why would God allow it? Because God is the kind of God who brings good out of evil. He permits the evil of the apparition, and the religious delusion that spawns, but he mitigates the evil. 

Suppose an evil spirit appeared to Juan Diego. The evil spirit has malevolent intentions. But God thwarts that by using the apparition to abolish the atrocity of the Aztec religion. Think of how God manipulates Balaam. Or how the Devil engineers the Crucifixion, only to that that explode in his face. 

5. The cult of Mary

i) When I read about Marian apparitions, even one as well-attested as Juan Diego, I can't blank out the fact that from my study, Catholicism has been falsified by multiple lines of evidence. 

ii) Regarding the cult of Mary in particular, that has no justification in Scripture or historical evidence. We see a legend growing right before our eyes. And the cult of Mary massively diverts devotion away from Jesus to "Mary". And not the historical Mary, but a theological construct based on folk theology and post hoc rationalizations. 

Tuesday, July 23, 2019

Turning to Catholicism-4

This is the fourth installment in my review of Faith and Reason: Philosophers Explain Their Turn to Catholicism. Here's I comment on some statements by Ed Feser in his chapter: 

If you are going to insist that Jesus was God in the flesh, that is going to have implications for what you say about his mother–such as whether she, functioning as essentially the tabernacle of God–could have been stained by sin (46).

i) Just in passing, shouldn't Feser say that Jesus is God in the flesh rather than was God in the flesh? Why the past tense?

ii) More to the point, even assuming that during her pregnancy, Mary was the tabernacle of God, why can't she be stained by sin? Does he think that if the vessel is stained, it will stain the contents of the vessel–figuratively speaking? Was Jesus stained by sin through contact with sinners during his earthly existence? 

Would it not be more accurate to say that Jesus is immune to sin? If anything, sinners don't defile Jesus; rather, Jesus purifies sinners. Some diseases are transmitted by touch. But Jesus has the healing touch. Rather than the sinner's touch infecting Jesus, his touch cures the sinner. 

A divine revelation is of no effect unless one can know both what counts as part of the revelation, and whether one has properly understood it. I came to see that the Protestant doctrine of sola scriptura makes such knowledge impossible. A book cannot interpret itself, and it cannot even tell you what counts as part of the book. For even if there were some passage in it that said, "Here is a list of the materials that should be counted as part of this book," that would only raise the further question of how we can know that that passage should really be counted as part of the book. Obviously, to answer that question, we could not appeal to the book itself without begging the question (49).

i) I take it that he's alluding to the question of how to establish the canon. I've responded to that objection on multiple occasions. Since it's not a new objection, and I have nothing new to say in response, I'll let that pass.

ii) But consider the bolded statement. That falls under the purview of textual criticism. If our best MSS contain a passage, there's a presumption that the passage is original to the text–unless there's some positive evidence that it's a scribal interpolation. That's not a question to be answered a priori, but based on principles of textual criticism. This is a problem when philosophers act as though evidentiary questions can be settled through abstract, armchair postulates. 

iii) Apropos (ii), how do we know that the statements attributed to Feser in chap. 1 were penned by him rather than a ghostwriter? But the burden of proof is on the skeptic in that regard. Is it really begging the question to say we think Feser wrote it because that's what the book says? In theory, the book might be a hoax, but is the onus on the reader to prove otherwise? 

iv) It's simplistic to say a book cannot interpret itself. Since a book is an inanimate object, there's a sense in which it can't interpret itself. But that's very one-sided. Unless he's a deceiver, an author is writing to be understood. The trail is strewn with clues to guide the reader. Sometimes a book includes editorial asides that speak directly to the reader. Likewise, some parts of a book may provide clues to interpret other parts of a book. That's a standard interpretive procedure. 

…the institution cannot function unless there is some chief executive with authority to break any deadlock…Without such an institutional authority, whether to accept something as part of divine revelation, and how to interpret revelation, ultimately seem arbitrary, subjective, and fideistic… (49-50).

But had Catholicism really preserved the teaching of the early Church whole and undefiled? My study of the development of doctrine convinced me that it had (51).

What a hoot! You gotta wonder if this was written before or after Feser went ape over Pope Francis reversing Catholic tradition on the death penalty. For instance:

Feser was gung-ho for a "chief executive with authority to break any deadlock"–right up to the moment when his position on capital punishment collided with Pope Francis. Now that Francis has rewritten the Catechism, Feser's entire argument lies in shambles. He could try to salvage his argument by claiming that the Catechism is just a fallible document. But the whole point of the Catechism is to do the sorting for the laity so that they don't have to decide for themselves which traditions are authoritative in contrast to reformable teaching. In defiance of the pope, Feser takes it upon himself to sift tradition to his own satisfaction.  

Turning to Catholicism-3

This is the third installment in my review of Faith and Reason: Philosophers Explain Their Turn to Catholicism. Several contributors use variations on the same argument. For instance, Ed Feser says:

A book is merely the expression of the thoughts of the person who wrote the book. In order to know for sure what he intended as part of the book and what he meant by it, you have to ask him. Or you might ask someone who knows him, or someone he has given authority to represent him. The point is that you have to be able to ask, and you can't literally ask a book anything. You can only ask, and get answers from, something personal rather than impersonal…Now, when Christ was on earth, he could obviously be asked by his disciples about his revelation. After he departed, these disciples themselves could do the job for others who had questions. Unless these disciples themselves left successors, in each succeeding generation, with the authority to do the same, those later generations would be unable to get an answer to the question of what is truly part of Christ's revelation and how to understand it…Where these persons disagree, the institution cannot function unless there is some chief executive with authority to break any deadlock. In short, divine revelation, to be effective, requires something like apostolic succession and a papacy–that is, of course, exactly what Catholicism maintains…Without such an institutional authority, whether to accept something as part of divine revelation, and how to interpret revelation, ultimately seem arbitrary, subjective, and fideistic… (49-50).

While Cutter says:

A living teaching authority is also, I think, a practical necessity for the spiritual life of the individual believer…If the Catholic Church did not have divine authority, then there was no hope of gaining firm knowledge of much of anything in theology. I felt that if the Church of Rome could not be trusted, then the whole Christian theological project was hopelessly under-constrained (95; cf. 107-08; 230). 

i) That's a standard Catholic tactic. It goes back to the Pyrrhonian skepticism of Counter-Reformation apologists. But such radical hermeneutical skepticism boomerangs on the Catholic apologist. To begin with, that makes it impossible to provide epistemic warrant for conversion to Catholicism. Take Catholic prooftexts from the Bible and the church fathers. But if interpreting a text is so hopelessly subjective and arbitrary, then the prooftexts can't be used to establish a "living teaching authority" in the first place. So conversion to Rome can never be justified. 

ii) Apropos (i), how do Cutter and Feser know that Jesus founded a church? How do they know what he meant? How do they know he even existed? Given their radical doubt about communication, they can't appeal to the NT or the church fathers. They can't appeal to documentary evidence, since that must be interpreted. So what's their source of information? What's their frame of reference? 

iii) Likewise, it isn't possible on their view to compare the Catholic alternative to Protestant theology. For instance, you can't compare and contrast Tridentine theology to the Westminster Confession if you think interpreting a text is so hopelessly subjective and arbitrary. 

iv) By the same token, where does that leave The Catechism of the Catholic Church, or papal encyclicals? How many Catholic laymen can grill the pope what a particular sentence means in the Catechism or some papal encyclical? 

v) Feser seems awfully confident about his grasp of Aquinas. Did he step into a time machine and consult Aquinas in person? Did he consult Reginald of Piperno? 

vi) Feser is utterly convinced that Pope Francis is wrong about capital punishment. Feser is sure he can interpret church tradition regarding capital punishment independently of the pope and in defiance of the pope. 

vii) How can a reader evaluate Hume's objections to miracles and theistic proofs given their radical hermeneutical skepticism? How can a Catholic apologist or prospective convert understand and evaluate Newman's Essay on the Development of Christian Doctrine if a reader must be able to ask the author what he meant? 

viii) The reason we have a Bible, the reason some things were committed to writing, was to provide a permanent record for posterity in the absence of Jesus, the apostles, and OT prophets. Since we didn't live by then, that's our referent point.

ix) In addition, some NT epistles were written with the express purpose of resolving a doctrinal dispute–in the absence of the writer. Imagine of the opponents of St. John or St. Paul resorted to the impious skepticism of Cutter and Feser? "That's just a text! It could mean anything! Unless I can personally quiz St. John (or St. Paul), I'm entitled to disregard their letter!"

Turning to Catholicism-2

This is the second installment in my review of Faith and Reason: Philosophers Explain Their Turn to Catholicism:

1. One question is what's the motivation to read this book? Why would a Catholic or Protestant or wavering Catholic or wavering Protestant or atheist or None to pick up this book? What, if anything, sets it apart from so many other books for Catholicism?

Presumably, the selling-point of the book is that all the contributors are trained philosophers. So the question is whether the arguments from Catholicism get better the higher up you go. When you move up the ladder from Catholic Answers to Catholics with doctorates in philosophy, do you find new and better arguments? Do they provide a more rigorous formulation of stock a regiments? Do they provide arguments that are different from the stock arguments for Catholicism? 

When it comes to the chapters by Feser, Budziszewski, Cutter, Judisch, Kreeft, Gage, and the Clevelands, the answer is no. They recycle all the boilerplate arguments you encounter in Catholic apologists who are not trained philosophers. 

The only exception is Bryan Cross, who offers an argument that's a variation on Kuhn's incommensurable paradigms. Vogler's chapter has no discernible argument for Catholicism–while the chapter by Koons is a narrowly framed comparison and contrast between Catholic and Lutheran theology. So that has no relevance to any reader who's not Lutheran, who doesn't use Lutheran theology as reference point.

The upshot, then, is that a reader gets nothing from this book that he can't find in the Catholic Answers apologetic. Except for Bryan Cross's unconventional argument, this book doesn't pose any new challenges to the Protestant faith. It doesn't improve on the standard fare that dime-a-dozen Catholic apologists churn out every year. It doesn't expose you to different arguments, or more sophisticated versions of traditional arguments. Instead, this is standard fare, marketed as "philosophers". 

Ironically, then, the book is counterproductive. It's just another cliché-ridden case for Catholicism. The Catholic Answers apologetic is as good as it gets. Catholic philosophers have nothing to add to that. For Protestant readers already familiar with the hackneyed arguments for Catholicism, this is déjà vu. In that regard the book is an unwitting vindication of the Protestant faith. The contributors to this book don't have an ace in the hole. If a Protestant reader has answers to routine Catholic objections, then he will have the same response to what these contributors serve up. How often can you reheat leftovers before they become unsafe to eat?  

2. The other thing I have to say is that some of the contributors find the doctrine of the real presence to be emotionally compelling. At that level, there's nothing to refute because it isn't based on  reason, evidence, or exegesis, but felt-needs. Some people are drawn to Catholicism for temperamental reasons. People are wired differently. Some people have a deep yearning for things that other people don't yearn for. It's a personal, subjective preference–which is quite ironic given how Catholics attack Protestant "individualism". 

Soopa! Soopa!

My favorite living chemist, James Tour:

September 3, 1993, at 6:00 AM in the hotel room on the edge of campus, I was on my knees reading the Scriptures and in prayer concerning the lecture that I was to deliver. I was a newly tenured Professor of Organic Chemistry at a major east coast university and I had been invited to give a lecture at Purdue University’s Department of Chemistry on the subject of molecular electronics.

As was my daily practice, I was reading the Bible precisely where I left off the day before, and that morning, I was in Matthew chapter 21. I always start reading in Genesis chapter 1 and then continue through Revelation chapter 22, and when I am done, I start again. I don’t read rapidly. In fact, I read the Bible slowly and deliberately. It can take 2-3 years for me to complete the Bible at the daily pace that I read. But that’s just fine with me, and I suspect it’s also okay with God. God speaks to me almost every day from the pages of that book. And that morning I read,

And Jesus answered and said to them, “Truly I say to you, if you have faith and do not doubt, you will not only do what was done to the fig tree, but even if you say to this mountain, ‘Be taken up and cast into the sea,’ it will happen.” (Matthew 21:21)

I responded to God saying, “Lord, you are raising my faith through this passage. So I pray that the chemistry seminar that I give today will be the best seminar that has ever been given in that department. The very best.” Then it occurred to me, How would I know if it is the best seminar that has ever been given in that department? So I said, “Lord, that department is probably 100 years old, so how will I know if it really is the best?” In light of the scripture that I had just read, I sensed that I should ask for some sign to know the level of quality of the seminar – a mountain of sorts, being cast into the sea. Then I said, “Lord, if it is the best seminar, I pray that Professor Negishi says that it was a super seminar.” s

Professor Negishi was the advisor for my Ph.D. research work that I completed several years earlier. He had never said that any of my work was super. On the contrary, when I was a graduate student in his research group, whenever I had done something that I thought was really good, he would face his palm downward and move his open hand horizontally in from of his belt buckle and say, “Pretty good, for your level.” I never seemed to get above his belt buckle. Therefore I was emphatic, “Lord, make it the best seminar, and confirm it by Professor Negishi saying that it was a super seminar.”

Before I ever give a seminar or a lecture, whether it be in my academic line of work such as a university chemistry lecture, or a Sunday school class exposition, I always pray and ask God to permit the Holy Spirit to overflow through my life. I cry, “Lord, blow them away through me. Hit them with the power of the Holy Spirit!” Yes, I find this equally important in the academic lectures that I administer. And it is always a delight to see God blow the socks off a bunch of unbelieving scientists and their students who think that they have the keys to the knowledge of life. As far as I’m concerned, there’s never a dull moment in service to Jesus in my secular line of work. And He certainly did not disappoint me on that day.

When I completed my seminar that afternoon, I knew that God had anointed and He had blessed. As soon as I concluded and thanked the audience for their attendance, Professor Negishi, who was sitting in the front row of the lecture hall, rose to his feet, raised his arm, pointed his index finger in the air and cried in his Japanese accent, “Soopa! Soopa!” Indeed, God had confirmed it! And I bowed my heart for a moment and quietly thanked Jesus before answering the audience’s questions.

As those in attendance were filing out, I walked over to 82-year-old Professor H. C. Brown, the recipient of the Nobel Prize in Chemistry in 1979. Professor Negishi had studied under the tutelage of Professor Brown, and due to the common academic lineage, Brown and I were also well acquainted. He was on the third row’s aisle seat, his common location. I extended my hand to shake his and I said, “Thank you for attending the seminar today.” While still holding my hand he said, “That was the best seminar I have ever seen in my life.” I replied, “That’s kind of you to say.” In a typical Nobel Laureate fashion, Professor Brown scolded, “I’m not saying it to be kind. I really mean it!” I again bowed my heart and praised God who fulfills His word in the lives of His children.

Indeed, the Lord confirmed His word that day as He has done for me many times through my simple practice of daily reading and meditating upon the words written in the Bible. Could that work for others? Yes! A thousand times, yes! How do I know? Because it is so written in the Bible. It’s God’s promise.

Every word of God proves true! (Proverbs 30:5a, ESV)

Tour's entire series of meditations Faith of a Scientist: The Impact of the Bible Upon a Christian Professor are well worth reading.