Monday, October 01, 2007

Anti-Catholic Critique of The Catholic Verses Looming ("Saint and Sinner") / White's Inability to Grasp the Very Purpose & Nature of the Book

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"Saint and Sinner" in a characteristically pensive pose

Yet another anonymous anti-Catholic Calvinist, presuppositionalist, and young earth creationist (very similar in those regards to "Turretinfan" and to a lesser extent, Steve Hays) wants to take a crack at one of my books and its various arguments. I guess I should be honored. I'm trying to avoid most of these anti-Catholics, who usually offer very little by way of rational argument, and much fallacy, nonsense, and sophistry, and my first instinct was to avoid this one.

But my general policy has been to defend my books when they are seriously critiqued (even though the description of "seriously" is often highly doubtful once one sees the sort of reasoning anti-Catholics habitually bring to the table). I am willing to play along at least for now, but if intelligent discussion is completely impossible (which is a very real possibility, since it has happened virtually every time I have tried to dialogue with anti-Catholics), then I will probably split (and will inevitably be accused of inability and cowardice if I do: mark my words).

Whatever I do, it remains true that James White, the king of the anti-Catholics, is always given a pass and never accused of inability when he systematically ignores serious critiques of his work, from myself alone, let alone others. If he chooses not to respond to a critique (or to my two challenges to engage in debate in his chat room), it's because his critics are idiots. If I choose to not respond to some anti-Catholic screed, it is because I am supposedly an idiot and a coward. See how it works (the Catholic is always at fault, any way you look at it)? Very convenient double standard there, isn't it?

What does "Saint & Sinner" (henceforth known as "S&S") offer us in his introductory post? Well, lots of sweeping negative statements and claims but no arguments as of yet. That's alright; if he claims he will produce arguments in due course, then there is a sense in which one can make vigorous claims (I have done that in this very post, too) that they intend to back up as the critique proceeds. Here is what we have so far:

The Eisegeted Verses, An Introduction [title of post]

It took S&S two words to start in with the sweeping insults. For those unfamiliar with this technical theological term eisegesis, it means, literally "reading into" the Bible (i.e., one's own preconceived biases), as opposed to the proper procedure of exegesis ("reading out of" Scripture). The implication, then, before even beginning the study, is that all my biblical arguments are worthless.

And indeed, a presuppositionalist Calvinist (especially an anti-Catholic one) would almost have to take that approach. I don't expect S&S or any Protestant, to agree with my reasoning and conclusions, of course, but this takes it a step further, from honest disagreements about biblical passages to almost a suggestion of deliberate dishonesty as well as incompetence. This is standard anti-Catholic modus operandi: not the slightest charity or benefit of the doubt extended to Catholics, since, you see, we aren't even Christians.

S&S, like most anti-Catholics, has no doubt read James White's ridiculous screeds against my work. My alleged utter incompetence and complete inability to exegete Scripture is a common theme in White's rants. S&S apes his master well. But we must be patient and at least see what he can come up with.

As I’ve begun to read through Mr. Armstrong’s book, I’ve noticed several fallacies in his attempt at exegesis of the Biblical text. It’s not that I haven’t noticed many of these errors before in my past dialogues with Roman Catholics. It’s just that when Mr. Armstrong tries to give a commentary on these verses, the underlying presuppositions and exegetical errors come bubbling to the surface.

S&S then gives a lengthy annotated laundry list of all these fallacies he thinks he sees in my arguments (but without specific reference to me in most of his commentary):
1) anachronism

2) straw man

3) false antithesis

4) straw man + false antithesis

5) equivocation

6) Text Isolation: ". . . an extremely common fallacy in Roman Catholic apologetics, and Dave Armstrong uses it on the majority of the verses that he cites. Thus, we will see this often."

7) Over-extended conclusion

8) infinite regress

9) superficial reading
S&S writes in the combox about this list:

I've begun to read through DA's work and have already found many of these errors. So, I'm not "poisoning the well".

I've already seen fallacies a-d [#1-4], I've seen him commit e [#5] on the internet (with that exact example), 90% of the texts he cites in TCV commits f [#6], every RC apologist I ever read/heard/conversed with has committed g [#7] (with that exact example), and he commits h [#8] and g [#7] in TCV.

So, yes, he has committed all of those, and that will be shown in later posts.

Best wishes to S&S. Fire away! Let's see how much firepower he has or if it is all blanks or worse, shots that not only have no power at all against an "enemy", but blows up in his face, too.

I think it would be well worth it also, at this juncture, to clarify exactly what the intention of that book was. It is not biblical commentary per se (though it heavily touches upon that due to its subject matter), but something a bit different, and, I think, unique in Catholic apologetic literature (it was initially the conception of my publisher that was presented to me).

James White didn't seem to understand this, either, in his critique / hit piece against the book, that ended up in pure personal insult, so that I ceased interacting with his "review" at a certain point, disgusted that he couldn't stay on topic (and of course I was -- you guessed it! -- accused of inability and cowardice because I got tired of the mudfest).

If I explain it to S&S upfront, perhaps he can avoid embarrassing himself as White did, and his review can have something to do with my book and not what he falsely fancies my book to be. White, in fact, in a recent hit piece, er, "review" of my latest book, The One-Minute Apologist, engaged in a gross caricature of my actual argument in one section. When corrected, he fled for the hills, as always.

If S&S does the same it is, of course, an instance of the straw man fallacy that he himself decries. But it's very common for anti-Catholics to go after arguments I didn't even make (just recently I have demonstrated several examples of this annoying tendency). My critics in those instances never correctly understood the opposing (my) argument in the first place. It could happen again. I'll surely point it out if it does.

But anyway, when that exchange was still remotely rational, I tried vainly to explain to Bishop White (his words in green) what the purpose of the book actually was:
And the first thing to note about Armstrong's work at this point should have a rather familiar ring to it if you have been following the Dave Hunt series: there is no meaningful exegesis offered to substantiate these grand claims by Armstrong. Examine pp. 38-40 for yourself, and you will find no discussion of grammar, lexicography, syntax, or anything else relevant to meaningful exegesis.

I make no pretense of being a professional Bible scholar. My book is strictly popular apologetics. But even an amateur exegete like me can (like Balaam's ass) point out lousy, irrelevant "arguments" from "professional" exegetes like John Calvin (a primary purpose of the book).

. . . He cites my comments from The Roman Catholic Controversy in this section rather extensively. So, I wondered if he would attempt to respond to the exegesis of 2 Thessaloninans 2:15 that I offered in the same work. I would expect that at least the substance of that section would have to be refuted for Armstrong to feel he had at all proven his case.

Why does White in particular have to be refuted to prove my case? The book was mostly about historic Protestant exegesis. Most folks would think Calvin is a bit more important and influential historically than White, so I dealt with him. White dealt in depth with the issue of "Moses' Seat," so I cited him thusly, in that section.

. . . I dealt with Calvin's "exegesis," and White has totally ignored that, so he is simply not critiquing my book thus far.

Now, if the standard of being "confounded" involves presenting a compelling, exegetically sound, contextually derived interpretation of a passage resulting in a clear vindication of the Roman Catholic reading . . .

The book was not primarily exegetical; rather, it was designed to show the shortcomings and inadequacies of Protestant commentary when it comes to these passages. One can point out holes in an opposing position without (technically) engaging in the same thing (exegesis proper). If, for example, someone made a simple logical error in an extremely complicated theory in physics that I knew nothing whatsoever about, it would still be rational and acceptable for me to point it out. I made all this very clear in my Introduction, which can be read online. Once White figures out my goal and purpose in the book, perhaps his critiques will have some relevance and not descend into straw men and non sequiturs. As it is, he hasn't made a single extended argument against any particular argument of mine in this section.

* * *

(though it is not referred to in his new book, which is especially interesting regarding the 24 page chapter on James 2:14-24 that Armstrong neglects in his book),

Again, White strangely assumes that I always have to deal with his arguments, when my purpose was mainly to examine historic Protestant commentary, from major figures in its history (or does White claim to be that?).

. . . My book is about how Protestants rationalize, special plead, avoid, obfuscate, etc. regarding biblical verses which (from our perspective) suggest some distinctive in Catholic theology. White's aim above, on the other hand, is to exegete a passage which he considers a strong proof text for Protestantism. Apples and oranges. Perhaps a future book of mine can be devoted to showing how Protestant proof texts are utterly inadequate and able to be sufficiently refuted from a Catholic point of view and dismissed (sounds like a fun project to me). But that time is not now, in the context of the ongoing critique of my book,. . .

* * *

The book pretends to "confound" Protestants with biblical passages, remember? I did not choose the title, Mr. Armstrong did.

Technically, I am not trying to "confound" anyone. It is the Bible which gives Protestants difficulty. I'm merely documenting exegetical bankruptcy, confusion, or irrationality.

And the only way to do that is to provide a meaningful interpretation of those passages.

That's logically distinct from critiquing Protestant exegesis. Biblical evidence for Catholicism is dealt with in my first two books.

. . . Armstrong also informs us that he doesn't read my books. That's OK. If he wishes to remain ignorant of the exegetical arguments presented against his position, I have no reason to encourage him to do otherwise.

This book is about failed Protestant attempts to refute Catholic biblical prooftexts. White has yet to deal with those.

* * *

Once again, in citing Phil. 3:10 and Rom. 8:17, Armstrong does not consider it necessary to actually handle the verses, establish context, meaning, anything exegetical.

This gets back to the nature and purpose of the book; already-discussed.

. . . Hence, to seriously suggest that he is "confounding" Protestants on the basis of Bible passages, Dave Armstrong would have to wrestle with a presentation such as Lightfoot's, . . .

White can go on all day citing commentators I didn't deal with. But my purpose was to show the bias and irrationality so often present in John Calvin's and other influential Protestant commentators (not to engage in full-fledged exegesis, for which I'm not qualified).

. . . For obviously, a Protestant can read 2 Corinthians 4:10 and say, "Yes, I die to sin daily, not sacramentally or partially so that I remain imperfect (as in Roman theology), but as the result of the perfect standing that is mine in the righteousness of Christ the Holy Spirit works within me to conform me to the image of Christ and by so doing brings the reality of my union with Christ in His death so that His life will be ever more seen in me." How have I been "confounded" in this passage?

A true critique of what I was doing here would have to deal with Calvin's and Barnes' commentary. A presentation of one Protestant perspective on it and an examination of Protestant dealings with Catholic proof texts are two different things. I'm doing the latter; White the former. Never the twain shall meet.

[I then cited some virulently anti-Catholic insults from Calvin and my response; see them in the original paper of this portion of the discussion]

. . . We see that he follows his master Calvin in this tendency to personal attack at the expense of rational argument. Now, I want to know: how is the above to be regarded as "biblical exegesis"? And if Calvin can lie about Catholics and urge readers to hate them, why is it that I can't even critique tendencies in Protestant exegetical circles? If White claims I am not doing exegesis (even when I reiterate endlessly that this was not my primary purpose), why doesn't he criticize Calvin for failing to do so when he is supposed to be doing so?!

[see the Introduction of the book for a clear, succinct statement of its purpose and methodology]
As always with Bishop White, the discussion never got anywhere because it wasn't a real discussion or dialogue in the first place (it never is with him; I have tried for 12 years to no avail). His only aim and goal is to make a fool out of me and utterly discredit my work. He didn't give a fig about what my actual purpose was in the book, or my specific arguments. He simply spread his own agenda. I proved it again and again. Hopefully, S&S can do far better than that. His introduction doesn't give me much hope that he will, but I'm willing to wait and see what he can offer; it it actually deals with my real arguments, or only straw men, as in White's analysis of both books of mine that he has "reviewed".

I'll be more than happy to dismantle fallacious and misguided critiques of this sort, but if it happens over and over, almost certainly I will tire of it if he doesn't accept correction, as in White's case. I'm not gonna sit here and constantly explain that my critic is attacking an argument that I never made and vainly protest against mythical fallacies that I supposedly committed (my arguments not being rightly understood). That gets old yesterday, and I have no patience for it at all anymore. But that's what I fully expect to see.

As I often say, no one would be more pleasantly surprised than myself, to see something different for a change from an anti-Catholic who thinks the universe is 6,000-10,000 years old (and that no orthodox Christian interpretation of the inspired revelation in the Bible could possibly suggest otherwise) and that Catholics aren't Christians. With that degree of astonishingly irrational baggage going in, one learns to set the bar of expectations pretty low.

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