Monday, March 01, 2004

Dialoguing With Dr. James White (Oral vs. Written)

[To an anti-Catholic inquirer],

Thanks for your reply, but I must say you did not interact with the many different points I made about the inferiority of live debates vs. written ones and other aspects of this whole discussion. So I have no idea why you disagree with my reasoning. You have merely given yours in a bit more detail. That's fine in and of itself, but let's call it what it is: it was not a response to my reasoning. You still haven't said a single word about White's comparison of myself and Catholic answers with Jack Chick, or about Sproul and MacArthur not wanting to do live debates with Catholics. You don't change my mind by completely overlooking my arguments. They have to be dealt with before I can change my mind (if it is warranted).

And so it has always been where it concerns Bishop White. He won't reply and those who think highly of him don't seem to have a clue why he acts the way he does, either. But you brought up many of these questions, so I responded. It never gets resolved . . . it's one of those weird things in life you just shake your head at after a while and then move on to other projects.

No, dialoging with James White is not impossible.

Maybe not technically, but practically speaking, and in the sense of what a true dialogue is (at least according to my definition -- which was my primary sense), it is. Socrates believed (and I fully agree) that for a constructive dialogue to occur it is almost necessary for the persons to have mutual respect and to even be friends, if possible. White personally despises me (he has made no bones about it) and has less than no respect for the Catholic position. Hence, dialogue with him is impossible. It can never achieve its goal.

You really could call him up and present your list of his “often ludicrous and self-defeating arguments.”

I oppose this on principle, as explained. I'm not interested in making him look like a fool in public. That's not my goal. That's what he longs to do to Catholics on his show and in his debates, but I don't share that outlook towards my theological opponents. I see these things as two brothers having a hearty disagreement, not a cosmic battle of Good vs. Evil or Christianity vs. idolatry and Heresy.

I for one, would be very interested in hearing this show, and I think I can safely say many Catholics and many Protestants would listen to it, as I know you have quite a fan base (I run across people referencing your site often).

How many people listening has no bearing whatsoever on positions taken on ethical and intellectual principle. If I didn't have this principle and I thought one person was listening who might be positively affected, then I would do it.

Dave, I think dismissing James White as espousing “sophistry and Catholic-bashing” and “rhetorical and sophistical techniques” sounds more like avoidance,

You're entitled to your opinion, as I am to mine. I've been dealing with this man for nine years, and you don't know one-tenth of the sort of things he has publicly stated about me (and about many others). My opinion is directly based on my own long, sad experience with him.

I’m sure that if you were to listen to James White debate the pro-gay-advocate Barry Lynn on the topic of homosexuality, you would not accuse James White of “rhetorical and sophistical techniques.” If you were to listen to James White debate Greg Stafford on Jehovah’s Witness doctrine, you would not accuse him of “sophistry and Jehovah’s Witness-bashing.” If you were to listen to James White’s series where he debated a bunch of atheists, you would be pleased at the particular method of logic he utilizes in proving the meaninglessness and sinfulness of atheism.

With those groups, he doesn't have to use sophistry, rhetoric, and all the other tricks that he utilizes with Catholics because there he is operating on correct first principles, and his opponents really are what he says they are (sexually-immoral, cultists, and disbelievers in God). Therefore, I'm sure he does a great job, and I have already said as much, to a personal friend of James who I also am getting to know.

But with Catholics, he starts with the absurd premise that we aren't Christians. and then it goes from bad to worse. He won't deal with the bedrock issues that are underneath his erroneous opinions. That's why (one reason, I believe) he chooses to ignore me, because I go right to those premises, per my usual socratic methodology. He doesn't want that because (in my opinion) I think he knows that his premises cannot withstand scrutiny where it comes to Catholicism.

However, it seems that even though James White has proven in many non-Roman Catholic contexts that his knowledge, skill and zeal for truth are impeccable,

It's not "knowledge" when you can't even figure out that Catholicism is a Christian belief-system, and when your own explicit opinions reduce to a state of affairs where neither St. Augustine nor Martin Luther can be Christians. You may think that is clear thinking; I think it is ludicrous and ridiculous.

somehow on the topic of Roman Catholicism we’re all supposed to find Dr. White to be a sneaky-unscrupulous-anti-catholic-master-of-deception.

But you have no objection to White comparing Karl Keating and Jimmy Akin and I to Jack Chick?

Whatever I thought of him, it would still be his intellectual duty to defend his viewpoint when challenged. He can't keep going around for another nine years comparing me to Jack Chick and completely ignoring critiques of his statements and arguments, and then challenging me to a live debate every year. That just won't wash.

Sorry Dave, while this falls within the realm of probability, I think your comments are driven more by your devout emotional commitment to your church.

It has nothing to do with that (this particular issue is much more one of intellect rather than faith), and it has everything to do with White's lamentable modus operandi.

I do though admit you are correct that if you were to call the DL that “White controls those environments.” Indeed, we both know a key to winning a debate is controlling the context.

I'm not interested in "controlling" or "winning," but in truth. I'm happy (in fact, utterly delighted) to "lose" a debate if by so doing I have arrived at more truth in the process. Thus, I was glad to be thoroughly "beaten in argument" by Cardinal Newman in 1990, when I read his Essay on the Development of Christian Doctrine.

In fact, I’ve always thought that your long “web-dialogs” on your web site are a method of controlling the context. BTW, I do not mean this as an insult; take it only as my observation.

It's not so much an insult as it is a groundless accusation. Let me repeat this for the zillionth time: there are different ways to edit. I am as fair as I can possibly be to my opponent. People object to breaking up paragraphs for the purpose of presenting a dialogue format. But that is overcome by my color-coding, which enables the reader to read one color and get all the context they want.

Occasionally things are omitted, but only if they are off-subject or repetitive, etc., and always with fairness to my opponent. People complain about me getting the last word, but I base the dialogues on rounds: each one consisting of my opponent making his argument, and my reply.

People don't seem to realize, either, that it is not in my interest to make people mad or to make them look like fools on my website. I want the best opponents I can possibly find. I want to work together with dialogue partners, often giving them the last word or happily changing things they are upset about. Eric Svendsen, e.g., claimed that I was dishonest in one of our dialogues. I wrote him back offering to do whatever he felt to make the dialogue agreeable to him. He ignored it (if you want details, I have my old letter).

Lastly, I always say I will include someone's e-mail if someone wants to write and get their edit. I include the URL if the discussion was from a discussion board. I don't see what else I can do. If someone doesn't like my editing, fine. Let them edit the discussion how they want, put it on their website where they have to pay for server space (as I do, courteously including several megabytes of my opponents' words), and I will gladly link to it.

You are being honest and frank; so am I: I am sick and tired of this accusation that I am screwing around with my opponents' words dishonestly or to present them in a negative light, when in fact I bend over backwards to be as fair as possible and oftentimes it is the other guy who is being completely disagreeable and refusing to work together. Furthermore, I give then the opportunity to present an opposing viewpoint on my website, yet so many times this is not appreciated, and instead I become a living dart board for a million complaints about my alleged "unfairness" and "editing." Lately, when this comes up I promptly remove the other guys' words. If they don't want to be heard on my website (which is read by many many thousands), that's fine with me. Why should I bother to be so fair to them if all they can do is moan and groan about it?

I link to your web-papers on our posted dialogues. People can go read them if they think I have butchered 'em, and then write to me and make a cogent argument.

If you really believe your church is “true,” and Dr. White is as bad as you say he is, why not rely on God like the people in the Bible? Go into the arena of ideas, even if it’s not a context you can control, and rely on God like David against Goliath, or Moses against the Pharaoh.

That would hold for White, too. If he thinks that the written medium is stacked in my favor, or that it gives me a chance to manipulate his words on my website, then let him rely on God and make his own edit on his website and expose my ignorance and dishonesty to the world. God gave us a brain to think through issues. I've thought for many hours about what constitutes good discussion. Nothing you have said even remotely affects my reasoning, because you are mostly ignoring it.

I think you may have missed it on this blog when I somewhat jokingly said I even had a hard time reading my own long papers. I don’t mind long papers too much, what I find tedious are long written debates and dialogs.

I'm the opposite: I don't care much for mutual monologues. You wanna monologue here about White, whereas I am trying to make my point through various arguments. So it's two ships passing in the night. You keep defending White's tactics and I will keep refuting his reasoning. If he wants to ignore that, let him. He will only further harm his reputation which is already very low among Catholics and even many ecumenical Protestants (as mine is very low in circles due to incessant gossip and lying about me in various chat rooms and boards -- some of which I know you have witnessed personally). But if he responds, he could gain a lot of respect for himself.

The live medium is a better vehicle for discussion and debate- the issues are brought into focus- the tedium is cut out.

I disagree thoroughly, and I have explained why.

BTW, I am also quite fond of time restraints as well in debate. So, no I am not “quite the conflicted personality” you imagine.

Good! I just wish you would directly reply to my reasoning. That would be fun and helpful.

God bless,


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