Saturday, March 10, 2007

My PalTalk Runaround With Anti-Catholic Apologist Matt Slick

[originally uploaded on 2 September 2003]

On 28 August 2003 I engaged in a more or less spontaneous, spur-of-the-moment "debate" (as others describe it; not me) with Calvinist apologist Matt Slick on PalTalk: an increasingly-popular Internet venue which allows people to talk (with a microphone) to others in the Internet room, much like a teleconference. The discussion was not recorded, so we are left with people's impressions of the nature and import of what occurred. A while back, I participated in an equally frustrating and futile written exchange with Matt: "Apostate" Churches, Deceptive Catholics, and Desperate Judgment Day Pleas. His words will be in blue.

* * * * *

Matt Slick
Fri Aug-29-03 04:01 AM
#9300, "DaveA and I spoke for quite a while."

I'll be nice . . . it was... "interesting."

Matt Slick
Fri Aug-29-03 08:15 PM
#77673, "RE: Hooray for your side."

. . . I responded repeatedly to as many of the scriptures he cited... I repeatedly quoted scriptures that he never responded to. I addressed his authority issue and asked questions about authority.
There was a time when he started to attack me personally (though subtle). I was disappointed.

Matt Slick
Fri Aug-29-03 08:55 PM
#77685, "RE: Hi Matt, you did great, and I am afraid Dave was frustrated"

I suspected there was technical difficulties and I commented about that trying to give him the benefit of the doubt. Anyway, there are many issues worth discussing and I can only hope that he is not putting his faith in the catholic church or membership in it. Salvation is found in Jesus. The scriptures ARE that by which we judge whether or not the catholic church is true.

It's only fair that people hear my account of the non-recorded encounter . . .

First of all, as to my being "nervous" or "uncomfortable" with oral "debates" or PalTalk: that's not quite true. I wasn't nervous at all, as I have been on national radio several times now and have occasionally spoken live to groups. To the extent that I want to do "oral" teaching at all, it is as a conversationalist, not as a lecturer. I did street evangelism all through the 80s. That has always been my style for as long as I can remember. I'm a Socratic, interested in dialogue, not "mutual monologue."

What I was "uncomfortable" with was the tendency of such rooms to quickly degenerate into 101 topics at once and preaching and talking past each other, as opposed to conversations or (my own great preference) SOCRATIC conversations, where one person asks a brief question in critique of the others' viewpoint, gets a short answer with perhaps a counter-critique back, and so on and so forth. That is my methodology in person. I am not a "preacher" or storyteller or "lecturer," but a conversationalist.

Matt, of course, is a preacher and lecturer, and this is how he has cultivated the gifts that God has given him. Those things are great too, and there are times and places for them, but it simply doesn't work in the context of PalTalk and Protestant-Catholic discussion, because sermons are intended as one-way, not exchanges.

So basically how the discussion went was that Matt would come on and "preach" for ten, sometimes 15 minutes. In those 10-15 minutes he would often introduce 5, 6, 7 other topics, and ask questions, and wander off into non sequiturs and unrelated material. Then he would expect me to answer each point, as if anyone can do such a thing, no matter how knowledgeable they might be (and he repeatedly chided me for not doing what is practically impossible to do in that context).

Constructive conversation must limit its subject matter, or else it is almost useless. The night proceeded exactly as I suspected it would, and I was as frustrated as I knew I would be if it went like that -- NOT because Matt was allegedly "winning" or "getting the better of me" but because it is an absurd and fruitless way to engage complex topics. I have answered everything that Matt threw out dozens of times in my papers. Nothing he came up with is at all new or difficult to answer (not in the slightest), but it takes some time and effort to answer fully and adequately, and one simply can't do that in a spontaneous, unplanned, unprepared "debate." I do it in my writing, which anyone is welcome to consult if they are truly interested in seeing how a Catholic apologist thoroughly answers Protestant objections (with -- in my case -- a strong emphasis always on biblical argumentation).

Furthermore, there was a theologically ultra-liberal universalist in the room who was almost as wordy as Matt was. He would talk for another 10 minutes at a time, denying anything and everything Christian (relentlessly skeptical of the Bible, calling Paul a bigot, denying the Trinity and the Incarnation, etc.), which added nothing to a supposed "Catholic-Protestant" discussion. Thus, I would be sitting there listening to Matt going on and on for 10-15 minutes, then the liberal, and oftentimes other anti-Catholic Protestants ranting and raving (one suggested that Catholicism had the "spirit of Ichabod," whatever in the world THAT is) and then it was my turn to "answer" all the foregoing. That's not my style, and the methodology stinks in general, in my opinion. If I want a sermon I can go to a Baptist church or read some Spurgeon, Wesley, Jonathan Edwards, or John Henry Newman. I was trying to have a CONVERSATION.

I had no notes, took no notes (not one word) and had no Bible in front of me, and made absolutely no preparation. I was out in the woods, at a campground. I tried to cut-and-paste some stuff from my website but I felt that it was boring the audience because it was slow and I was trying to immediately find the best quote. Then later I found out that long quotes could not be posted anyway. No topic was prearranged beforehand, as opposed to the usual procedure in virtually all real debates. The Protestants were most interested in the papacy, whereas I was interested in discussing sola Scriptura and authority issues and the internal incoherence of Protestantism on that score. Plus, this was my second night ever on PalTalk, whereas Matt has been doing it and other oral presentations for years.

I said while "on the air" that I was interested in conversation, not in hearing sermons. For the most part, no real conversation took place, and it was a canned, artificial, highly frustrating (for a Socratic debater like me) nearly-pointless exercise in futility. Matt obviously thinks he "won" this farcical so-called "debate." My opinion, on the other hand, is that no debate took place. A few things were discussed, and some valid, debatable points made here and there, but it was not a debate by any stretch of the imagination. I didn't intend it to be in the first place, anyway. I do my debates in writing, and have a longstanding aversion to oral "debates", as I wrote about several years ago in my paper: "Good Discussion": The Preferability of Socratic Back-and-Forth Dialogue Over "Mutual Monologue".

Now, as to the actual content, and how "well" I or Matt did; I will now summarize my opinion on the matter. No question, I will be biased in my account, just as Matt is biased in his. This is precisely why I have written dialogues on my website. People can read what ACTUALLY happened, and hear each side's own words, rather than hear two biased, partisan reports of what happened.

Matt refused to engage in a written debate with me in this forum [CARM] on justification, citing my writing and argumentative style, and tossing in a few personal insults about my supposed intellectual dishonesty as well. But that is all recorded on my website (to my knowledge it is not linked on Matt's), so people can see what happened THAT time. He wanted only a PalTalk situation. Note that I was willing to engage him in his preferred venue and format, much as I oppose this type of discourse as futile and fruitless. But he is unwilling to engage in a serious written exchange, as is so often the case with anti-Catholics (more on that below).

It started out with a friendly, thoughtful person asking me to give the Catholic rationale for the papacy. I did this at length, citing several biblical arguments about Peter and the Petrine primacy, which is where we base our view. This person complimented me for my response and didn't offer any real counter-reply. He pressed the issue of infallibility and how and where we got THAT from Scripture. I cited a paper by a friend of mine, on my site, which provided exactly that biblical case. At that point I threw my objection out to the Protestants: how is it that they can have authority and a sure knowledge of the truth in their system?

This is what became the primary point of contention between Matt and I. I eventually boiled my query down to a simple question: on what basis -- by what criterion -- does a person discover truth within the Protestant system, seeing that all parties in that system appeal to the Bible, yet cannot agree on a host of issues? I asked Matt why I should believe his view of baptism (Presbyterian: infant, non-regenerative), over against that of Martin Luther (infant, regenerative) and Reformed Baptist James White (adult, non-regenerative)? He said that one should not consult people but the Bible. That was his first "answer" to my question. He later fleshed out a second one: the Bible teaches that disagreements are fine and dandy and to be expected (thus, they pose no difficulty for the Protestant position and the obvious contradictory diversity within it).

The basis he gave for this belief was Romans 14. This became his general principle for contending that doctrinal diversity on so-called "secondary issues" was altogether permissible, according to the Bible. Well, I knew a little bit about what was in Romans 14, so I asked Matt to tell me what doctrines were discussed in that chapter, which would allow him to conclude that such divisions and divergences were acceptable? The only thing I recall him saying was the Sabbath issue, or the day of worship. I replied that this was irrelevant to our discussion since Protestants and Catholics agree on that, and that pretty much the only dissenters are Seventh-Day Adventists. If I recall correctly, he gave me no other doctrine discussed in Romans 14, though he kept repeatedly referring to the chapter as a justification for Protestant de facto relativism in many doctrines (what he calls allowable and fully-expected "diversity").

There is a good reason Matt didn't give any more examples from Romans 14: it deals only with quite "undoctrinal" matters, such as what we should eat or not eat (14:2-3, 14-17), and esteeming one day above another (14:5). That is all that is there! Yet Matt appeals to this passage in defense of his notion that things like baptism and the Eucharist are entirely matters of individual discretion and diversity, and that no one should be troubled by the fact that Protestants can't agree amongst themselves. This is hardly a compelling biblical argument. I think it is special pleading of the worst sort, myself. I cited several verses about baptismal regeneration, but they may not have appeared, as too lengthy. If they did, they were ignored, but I'll give Matt the benefit of the doubt, that the paste was too long, like a later one I tried.

His other defense was to say that it doesn't matter what Luther and White thought about baptism; all that was important was that one should follow the Bible as he sees fit. But of course (quite obviously), this begs the crucial, relevant question and tries to do an end run around it, as if it has been answered, when in fact no such thing has occurred. I shall now show the logical fallacy involved here:

1. I ask, "how can a person seeking Christian truth about (for example) baptism, arrive at it within a Protestant framework, seeing that you, Luther, and James White all appeal to the Bible, yet cannot agree on the nature and practice of baptism?"

2. Matt replies: "don't go to people, go to the Bible."

3. But this answer simply begs the question, since obviously all these folks have gone to the Bible and that solution has not worked. A person has no assurance or certainty in the Protestant system. They can only "go to the Bible" themselves and perhaps come up with another doctrinal version of baptism to add to the list. I was asking how a person could arrive at TRUTH. One either believes there is one truth on baptism (whatever it is) or they adopt a relativist or indifferentist position, where contradictories are fine or where the doctrine is so minor that it doesn't matter what opinion one holds concerning it.

4. I then challenged Matt: "why should I accept your word as a biblical expert over Luther's?"

5. Matt replied (as I recall, anyway) that I should not take anyone's word, but go to the Bible, and that differences don't matter, according to Romans 14 (the fallacy of that appeal has been shown above).

6. I responded that at least Luther and Calvin had the courage of their convictions and would take a stand. When Luther found out that Zwingli denied the Real Presence in the Eucharist, he immediately concluded that he was damned and out of the Church. The early Protestants were not doctrinal relativists, but believed that there was one truth and each party fought for their own brand. In that sense they were much more like Catholics than present-day Protestants, who are willing to relegate whole categories of theology up for grabs as "secondary" and not important enough to fight about.

7. Matt objected strenuously that he was not a relativist, and asked me to ask one of his fellow CARM administrators whether he was a relativist or not (as if that has any relevance to anything: I was critiquing his view). I replied that this was his burden to show otherwise, not hers.

And so on and so forth. The long and the short of it was that Matt offered nothing in the way of defending the Protestant principle of authority. He didn't understand the force of the logical and epistemological objection (Matt Slick vs. White vs. Luther) at all. He didn't get it. He wrongly assumed (as is so often the case) that I was making a silly argument to the effect that Protestants think their leaders are infallible. But I was doing no such thing. My inquiry was "how does a seeker find truth and certainty within the Protestant system?" Baptism was only one test case of many that could be pursued.

Meanwhile, Matt (squirming under my Socratic questioning) kept trying to switch the topic back over to the papacy (another Protestant tactic, old as the hills: if you can't answer a hard question, immediately bring up Mary or the pope, hoping that your Catholic debate partner will forget what he was talking about). But I had already answered calmly and at length those basic questions. He kept claiming that I hadn't answered. I kept claiming that he hadn't answered my question.

At length I decided I would answer his question (i.e., again, since I had already done so, but he seemed unaware of that), whether he answered mine or not. So when he asked me why I should believe the pope and the Catholic Church have authority, I answered (as best I can recall) that "I believe it in faith because the Catholic Church is the most harmonious with Christian doctrine as seen down through history, and with the Bible."

Now, Matt had a field day with this. But he didn't answer or critique it itself. Rather, he decided to distort and twist what I said (and this one I put in writing, to amuse and occupy myself during one of his endless sermons) and construct a self-serving straw man that would be easy for him to mock and dismiss. He latched onto my point that one must have faith and tried to imply that I couldn't give any rational reasons for this faith; that it was a blind faith and based on little else. Then he made the superbly compelling argument that because I had mentioned the Bible last in the sentence, that this somehow proved that I was relegating it to a place of very minor importance (!!!). Later on, he denied that I believed I could give any reason at all; it was strictly faith.

This was severely offensive to me, not only in its insulting, condescending tone and nature and how Matt carried on like a triumphant peacock strutting around, but also because it is so manifestly false, given the emphasis of my ministry, which is defending Catholicism from the Bible and showing the biblical support for it. I pointed out that the name of my website was Biblical Evidence for Catholicism. I didn't mention my first (published) book, but I had intended to: it is entitled A Biblical Defense of Catholicism. My second (published) book is entitled More Biblical Evidence for Catholicism. So obviously I am offering SOME reasons (agree or disagree) beyond blind faith for Catholic beliefs, seeing that I write entire books about the biblical basis of Catholicism, name my website accordingly, and spend most of my time offering not only biblical justifications but also historical ones.

Quite disgusted, I stated during my next time talking that Matt was welcome to try to refute any of my papers. I challenged him repeatedly to do so if he thought he had the better biblical arguments. I noted that he opted out of our earlier exchange on CARM and refused to do a written debate (the topic would have been faith alone / justification). I offered (as always) to put all his words in such a debate on my website, as is my standard custom and methodology.

Matt replied (again, as I recall, as with all of this) that he was not interested in dealing with my papers. He didn't have enough time and he saw that it wasn't worth the effort, based on my performance in PalTalk. If I'm wrong, he can always prove it by offering point-by-point critiques of any of my papers.

I then was interested in hearing Matt's opinion on some sentiments on faith and works by four prominent Protestants. This is where we had some technical problems. I posted the entire quote three times and it seemed that Matt was ignoring it. That frustrated me to no end and I became very angry indeed, and walked away from the computer for about 5 minutes to preserve my sanity. It turns out that we later noticed the screen said "the above was not posted due to lengthiness." We had not noticed that before, but in any event that incident was my fault or no one's fault, not Matt's fault. I cited C.S. Lewis and A.W. Tozer. Matt pretty much agreed with their statements. But then I cited Dietrich Bonhoeffer. He didn't agree with him, and started talking about the need to see the context. Here is the quote:

Good works then are ordained for the sake of salvation, but they are in the end those which God himself works within us. They are his gift, but it is our task to walk in them at every moment of our lives.
I brought this up because Matt has stated that all Protestants believe in faith alone, and that anyone who denies it denies the gospel and is not a Christian. I was pressing him to conclude (by his own interior logic and theology) that people like Bonhoeffer were not Christians. And if they weren't, I challenged him to be honest and courageous and consistent enough to read THEM out of the faith just like he so readily does with his Catholic brothers and sisters.

That was pretty much the substance of what occurred, by my account, admittedly biased, as one would expect -- but I do have a very excellent memory for detail, especially of arguments, because I have done this for so many years. Beyond that, I would like to render my serious objection to two other tactics Matt constantly used. He compared Catholic views to that of Mormons and Jehovah's Witnesses, as if there is no gigantic difference between Catholicism and those heretical cults.

The other annoying thing he resorted to all night, over and over, was to psychoanalyze me and the response I had yet to give. He would ask several questions during one of his sermons and then he would go on for another 5 minutes or so informing me and the audience of how "Dave won't or can't answer this because of a, b, c, d," "he is scared to do so because of e, f, g, h," etc., etc. Several times I felt compelled to shout out, "will you just cease and desist and let me ANSWER, for heaven's sake, rather than analyzing what you THINK my answer will be and what I know and don't know and what resolution of your pseudo-problem you think I can or cannot offer????!!!!"

But of course he had the mike and I couldn't do that. Once I got the microphone back about 15 minutes later (after the universalist apostate had chimed in with his irrelevant, off-topic sermon), the moment was lost . . . but it is extremely frustrating to be treated in such a condescending, rude fashion, I can assure everyone.

If anyone thinks this was a "debate," and that Matt succeeded in "winning" or "disproving" anything about Catholicism or my own orthodox Catholic viewpoints, they are welcome to feel that way, but sorry, I don't see it. I maintain that this was a farce, just as I predicted it would be. My offer remains for Matt to critique any of my papers point-by-point or do a debate at CARM like the one I did with Jason Engwer. If I ever do PalTalk again (I highly doubt it), there better be strict rules, prearranged topics and formats, and it must also be recorded, so I don't have to waste a night writing out my fond recollections of what happened.

And yes, I will be making a new paper of this and other relevant comments, from Matt and others. I think it is a highly revealing and informative thing to see how an anti-Catholic Protestant apologist acts and argues, when confronted (in a "live" situation) with a Catholic apologist thoroughly familiar with both his views and the usual, nearly ubiquitous anti-Catholic tactics, rhetoric, and polemical ploys.

(written 9:00 - 11:30 PM, Saturday 30 August 2003)

Matt Slick
Mon Sep-01-03 03:22 PM
#78454, "Now hold on a second. This is wrong..."

. . . logically and ethically objectional tactics? Are you saying that I was illogical and unethical? If so, then, Dave, you further disappoint me. I demonstrated logic and ethics. I was polite with you and it was YOU who attacked me personally. I used logical arguments repeatedly and tackled what I saw was illogic on your part. I pointed out the issue of your authority problem and the "make yourself pope" issue you raised, the equivocation, etc., Come on. This is not right.

. . . I like oral debates because I call my opponent on his errors right there. When I do written debates, invariably my opponent doesn't address some key points. Each has its advantages and disadvantages.

. . . Dave, that was uncalled for you [to] imply I was illogical and unethical above. Why should I do a written debate with someone who makes such goofs? Perhaps the oral form of discussion is far more out of your element than I first observed.

Dave Armstrong
Mon Sep-01-03 04:40 PM
#78477, "Matt, you're welcome to interact with . . ."

. . . my lengthy interpretation and account of what occurred. Write your own account if you like. That would be fair to observers of this fiasco. Instead of a record of the exchange itself (which would be much preferable), then we would at least have a record of both participants' interpretation of it. Better than nothing . . . Perhaps then we could attain to the level of real conversation and accomplish something constructive.

Until such time as you persuade me otherwise about what happened, I retain my opinion, for reasons explained at length in that long post. Thus far, you have offered no arguments which could persuade anyone concerning the events of that night, but simply more assertions (which are not arguments, because no chain of reasoning is offered).

This is what happens when exchanges are not recorded. People started saying that I gave no answers, etc. "garland" in particular, claimed that I "had only 'feeling' and 'strong belief' but no credible evidence" and that I was "unable to show any Biblical backing for [my] unique beliefs" and that I "had no Biblical evidence for unique doctrines". This is simply untrue and contrary to plain facts of what happened, so I felt I had to at least give my side of it, and now we have this silly controversy, and competing memories of what went down that night.

It's one thing to disagree with the opponents' argument; quite another to start denying that he offered any argument at all (agree or disagree); falsely charge that he levied personal attacks, and make out like he opted for only blind faith and no rational and/or biblical evidences for his position. This is what you yourself did during the discussion, and what you stated after, and what garland merely repeated. And that is -- absolutely -- both illogical and unethical. So I stand by that charge of your conduct in discussion.

Whether that is a "personal attack" as construed by yourself or the rules of this board is another matter; in any event, it is my firm conviction that it is the truth. If you had simply stuck to the issues and not insisted upon falsely characterizing my position and second-guessing me all night, ridiculously telling me (and the audience, ad nauseum) what I supposedly couldn't answer, or what I would do next, then we wouldn't be having this discussion in the first place.

. . . I'm delighted to see that you are willing to do a written debate at some point in the future. Good for you. But I also see that you are already preparing an "out" for refusal ("Why should I do a written debate with someone who makes such goofs?"). It won't work. People see through that. Whatever you think of me personally, or my "convoluted" writing style, or your belief that my "position must be developed and maintained by word games/twists in order to sound legit," people see that you need to defend your beliefs, not just rail on and on and engage in ad hominem attack, in order to avoid doing so.

So I hope you will follow through with your willingness to do a written debate, and not opt for the evasive tactic of leaving on the grounds of the "disappointing" performance of your opponent. People aren't dumb. They can see through that. They'll accept the legitimate reason of lack of time, but not self-serving attacks on the other as a reason to refuse debate.

Matt Slick
Mon Sep-01-03 03:31 PM
#78457, "Perhaps you are right."

Perhaps I am not as charitable to the Catholics as I should be.

But, I do not consider official roman catholic theology to be christian. I consider it to be anti-christ. Now you may not like that and I cannot help that. But I am being honest with you. From what I see in Scripture and from what I have studied in Roman Catholicism, Roman Catholicism is apostate in regards to the issue of soteriology . ..

Matt Slick
Mon Sep-01-03 03:39 PM
#78464, "RE: I find this very curious about Matt. Maybe u can splain"

. . . My honest opinion of Roman Catholicism is that it is the greatest religious source, except for maybe Islam, for the damnation of souls. Yes, I should read more about it, but to dive in again to Roman Catholicism is like diving into an ocean. Once you're in you really have to do a lot of work.

The rift between us will never be solved. I am too anchored in Scripture and you are too anchored in your traditions. I subject your traditions, your magisterium, your pope, etc., to the Scriptures to the best of my ability and I am obligated to follow the Word of God to the best I can see it. Right or wrong, that is what I do.

You may or may not be a Christian, I don't know. But official Roman Catholic theology regarding the doctrine of salvation is so errant, and so foreign to Scripture, that Roman Catholicism cannot be considered Christian. Therefore, I always assumed that every Roman Catholic I speak to is someone who needs the real and biblical gospel of salvation.

Anyway, we can arrange a written debate later when I have time . . .

Matt Slick
Mon Sep-01-03 05:53 PM
#78589, "sorry, less impressed now..."

You really try hard to see things the way you want to.

If you want me to debate you sometime in the future, I suggest you not burn your bridges first.

Look, you're [sic] debating skills leave a little to be desired and you're [sic] subtle mockery and personal attacks on paltalk were unfortunate. I called you on them there and now you try and make things look different than they were.

In my opinion, you are simply trying to save face since you got cornered on paltalk. You're trying to make me look bad. Whatever.

You've already misrepresented what I have said and what happened there.

Others who were there were catching what was happening as well as I. People PM'd me and commented about how you avoided many of the points I raised and how you said I didn't answer your questions when I repeatedly did so.

Been there; done that before with people . . .

Dave Armstrong
Tue Sep-02-03 05:44 AM
#78693, "Your right. You're non-arguments in a non-debate "cornered" me nt"

Dave Armstrong
Tue Sep-02-03 05:53 AM
#78696, "And I have some oceanfront property in Kansas to sell you too nt"

Matt Slick
Tue Sep-02-03 05:06 PM
#78747, "RE: Your right. You're non-arguments in a non-debate"

non arguments? what is a non argument when you and I were arguing (though friendly) back and forth, point by point? Are you saying that all my arguments and points were all illogical, incoherant, and don't even qualify as an argument? You see, this kind of statement from you lessens your credibility with me.

Dave Armstrong
Tue Sep-02-03 05:26 PM
#78752, "You have little credibility, in my opinion , given your personal attacks. nt"

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