Thursday, June 28, 2007

Dialogue With a Reformed Baptist Presuppositionalist, Round Three (vs. John Knight)

See Part One and Part Two. John's words will be in blue; his older words in green and my older words in purple.

* * * * *

At the same time, the presuppositionalist offers the unbeliever the benefits which flow from acknowledging the fear of the Lord as the beginning of knowledge, wisdom, & understanding. He points to the riches of knowledge that are to be found in Jesus Christ. As Augustine put it, “Without belief there is no understanding.”

How does one have a discussion at all with someone, if one requires them to accept one’s own conclusion in the first place? That would mean that there is no rational discussion to be had at all, because in effect one is required to say, “you have to be a Christian [my position] before we can even begin this discussion.” So the situation reduces to blind faith from the outset, since the Christian cannot discuss anything with the atheist until the atheist first becomes a Christian (or, adopts Christian presuppositions, which amounts to the same thing, in terms of the discussion at hand).

When we look at Bahnsen’s debates, or those of some others, we can see from the example of very good presuppositionalist debaters that this interpretation of the Van Tillian approach is misguided. The approach is emphatically not to say, “You must accept my presuppositions before I will even talk to you.”

Rather, the approach is to show the unbeliever two things: (1) Unbelief leads to ignorance & irrationality.

I've been doing that for years, so we agree on that.

(2) The Christian world-view provides a foundation for knowledge. In other words: “Premise A leads to ignorance & logical contradiction. Premise B leads to logical coherence & empirical knowledge.” The actual work of demonstrating the cases is, of course, non-trivial.


*** CLICK ON "Tolle, lege!" immediately below to finish this article ***

Dave distinguishes between two propositions:

1) Whoever does math, logic, science, language, and makes moral claims is ultimately relying on the inherent knowledge and presuppositions that God gave them [ability to reason, senses, presupposing basic tenets of knowledge and existence of ourselves and the universe, assuming the general “uniformitarianism” and predictability of life and nature, etc.], whether aware of it or not.

2) Whoever does math, logic, science, language, and makes moral claims must deliberately, consciously adopt overtly Christian presuppositions before it is even possible to do these things.

Agreed. That is exactly the distinction that Bahnsen, Frame & others make.

Excellent. Then we do agree on that, too.

The very idea of “presuppositional apologetics” is to force the unbeliever — through reason & example — to acknowledge that he implicitly relies on Christian presuppositions when using math, science, language, moral claims, and so on. This approach depends on showing the unbeliever the implications of his false world-view — logical contradiction & ignorance — in contrast to the implications of the Christian world-view.

If by that you mean something like the above, then I agree. Perhaps this particular dispute, then, turns on clarifying definitions and how terms and concepts are being used and applied. Doesn't mean there are no differences, but it is good to see this commonality. But then again, I myself am not strictly an "evidentialist". I draw from the insights of several different schools of thought in apologetics.

Paul even equates philosophy with “empty deception” when that philosophy is “according to the tradition of men, according to the elementary principles of the world, rather than according to Christ.” (Col 2:8,9) Their speculations “futile” — that is, their theories & philosophies are pointless, useless, ineffectual. (Romans 1:21)

Oftentimes, yes. But not always; else why would Paul bother to cite two pagans in his Sermon on Mars Hill?

I would argue that Paul could quote pagan philosophers because those pagan philosophers had (unknowingly) relied on Christian presuppositions in order to attain those insights. Paul turns it back on them showing how their insights contradict their premises. For example, Paul highlights the altar to “the Unknown God,” with its inherent contradiction between ignorance of this unknown god & sufficient knowledge to properly honor him.

Very interesting . . .

The problem for the pagan is that, whatever insights he may have, he cannot justify them on pagan grounds. In that sense, his speculations are futile, unable to rationally justify his knowledge-claims.


* * *

If you tried to doubt everything you would not get as far as doubting anything. The game of doubting itself presupposes certainty.

~ Ludwig Wittgenstein

As the foregoing examples show, evidence does not speak for itself. It must be interpreted within a framework. This framework (or paradigm [Kuhn] or world-view [Kant] or language-game [Wittgenstein] or web of belief [Quine]) evaluates the evidence & gives it weight & meaning. Different frameworks reach different conclusions. How can we know which conclusion is correct? Obviously, we can only know which conclusion is correct if we know which framework is correct, but how can we make that determination?

Obviously, an atheist can criticize Asatru on atheistic grounds & find that it fails the epistemological criteria of his atheistic world-view. An Asatruar can evaluate Christianity & find it wanting on Odinistic grounds. A Christian can examine atheism & reject it as false, contradicting Christian truths. Such are arguments are both circular & pointless.

To say that atheism is true because it can reject theistic religions on the basis of atheistic criteria is not satisfactory in any way. Christianity is coherent on Christian grounds; does that fact in itself prove that Christianity is true? How then do we resolve a conflict of world-views?

First, let's take a closer look at the evaluative frameworks that we use to judge evidence. Such a framework includes -- indeed, it hinges on -- ideas that are granted "revisionary immunity," core beliefs that are held to be true under all circumstances, which will not be revised no matter what the evidence. Such beliefs are necessary, for all judgments depend on them. Judgments turn on these core beliefs -- as it were like hinges on which those turn.

I agree, pretty much.

Ludwig Wittgenstein, the most important language philosopher of the 20th Century, called such beliefs "indubitables." There are certain propositions in any language game or system of beliefs in order even to have an intelligible doubt. He made numerous observations of this sort:
One cannot make experiments if there are not some things that one does not doubt.
That is to say, the questions that we raise and our doubts depend on the fact that some propositions are exempt from doubt, are as it were like hinges on which those turn. That is to say, it belongs to the logic of our scientific investigations that certain things are indeed not doubted.

Doubting and non-doubting behavior. There is the first only if there is the second.
If I wanted to doubt whether this was my hand, how could I avoid doubting whether the word "hand" has any meaning? So that is something I seem to know after all. But more correctly: The fact that I use the word "hand" and all the other words in my sentence without a second thought, indeed that I should stand before the abyss if I wanted so much as to try doubting their meanings -- shows that absence of doubt belongs to the essence of the language-game, that the question "How do I know" drags out the language-game, or else does away with it.

Knowledge is in the end based on acknowledgement. Our knowledge forms an enormous system. And only within this system has a particular bit the value we give it. Certain propositions seem to underlie all questions and all thinking. Doesn't the whole language-game rest on this kind of certainty? Or: isn't this "certainty" (already) presupposed in the language-game? Namely by virtue of the fact that one is not playing the game, or is playing it wrong, if one does not recognize objects with certainty.

Something must be taught us as a foundation. When a child learns language it learns at the same time what is to be investigated and what not. Doubt itself rests only on what is beyond doubt. A doubt without an end is not even a doubt. The child learns by believing the adult. Doubt comes after belief. If you are not certain of any fact, you cannot be certain of the meaning of your words either. If you tried to doubt everything you would not get as far as doubting anything. The game of doubting itself presupposes certainty.
These reflections make it clear that one must begin with a set of core beliefs in order to make judgments possible. If I say, "That is a red barn," the statement presupposes that I know what "red" means & what a "barn" might be, among other things. To evaluate my claim, you must also know what the words mean -- as well as the grammar of the sentence. Even to doubt my claim requires that you take something for granted. "A doubt without an end is not even a doubt."

These insights, like those of Polanyi, Kuhn, Plantinga & others, revealed the failure of the Enlightenment project to establish human knowledge on neutral ground, on a blank slate. The Enlightenment presupposed that objective knowledge required neutral grounds -- and failed as a result.

Reasoning, then, does not begin with a blank slate. "Knowledge is in the end based on acknowledgement." We cannot begin reasoning, doubting & evaluating without a foundation taken to be true. We cannot argue without presupposing the truth of certain statements.

However, as we have seen, there is no agreement over which propositions should be regarded core beliefs or foundational truths. This turns out to be a problem for at least two reasons:

I think this is all great insight. I would also recommend Cardinal Newman's Grammar of Assent, that takes the same general approach to epistemology.

All knowledge, all reasoning, all judgment takes place within some framework. (LW: "Our knowledge forms an enormous system. And only within this system has a particular bit the value we give it.") And each system depends on certain core propositions. Some of these propositions may not be held explicitly -- they may be what Michael Polanyi called "tacit rules" but they form the basis of all our judgments.

However, there is obviously no agreement over which propositions should be regarded core beliefs or foundational truths. This lack of agreement turns out to be a problem for at least two reasons.

First, differences in identifying these core beliefs can alter the arrow of falsification, even among people who seem to share the same beliefs. Suppose that Burz & Kugash both believe that Sauron is a god & that the gods are immortal. Following the War of the Ring, they encounter convincing evidence that Sauron is dead. (A giant red eyeball on a pike, perhaps.)
"Agggk," says Burz, "Sauron is no god."

"Blasphemer!" replies Kugash, "All this proves is that some gods die."
So, even if we consider just two beliefs, it is unclear which proposition is falsified. (This problem undermines Popperian falsificationism.) In practice, people actually hold innumerable interconnected beliefs, and may reject or revise one of several beliefs in the face disconfirming evidence.

According to W.V.O. Quine, those beliefs that are less central to a "web of belief" are most subject to rejection or revision. Beliefs which are closer to the core in one's web of belief have more connections to other beliefs. Altering or removing those beliefs would have a larger impact on the web of belief, implying a larger shock to one's world-view. This tendency to revise beliefs that are less central to one's world-view Quine summarized as his "maxim of minimum mutilation."

One can see evidence of this tendency at work in areas relevant to our discussion. Over the last 50 or 60 years, theories of terrestrial, undirected abiogenesis have had a nasty habit of failing. (For example, I don't think anyone has offered an adequate answer for the problem of AMP synthesis.) One reaction to these difficulties might to abandon the naturalistic assumptions of such a model & embrace some variety of theism. Another would be to posit aliens who seeded the rest of the universe with life. The latter position was actually adopted by Francis Crick (who won the Nobel Prize for discovering the double-helix structure of DNA) though he later recanted.

Second, the lack of agreement in core beliefs means that evidence is subject to evaluation by standards that vary from one world-view to the next. Differences in core beliefs include disagreements in epistemology (the theory of knowledge) as well as disagreements in metaphysics (the theory of reality) & ethics.

One may consider, for example, the differences between G.W.F. Hegel & David Hume. Hegel represents a strain of thought that emphasizes continuity & unity, in which statements are merely provisional. Logical analysis means interacting a thesis with an antithesis, an interaction that is resolved in a synthesis, moving us from one unstable equilibrium to a new & higher level of unstable equilibrium.

Hume, of course, is a more familiar figure, representing a strain of thought with a discreteness orientation that emphasizes contrast. Logical progress involves a once-for-all sorting of propositions in which claims are determined to be "consistent" or else "contradictory."

But now imagine that we resurrect Hume & Hegel so that they can sort out their differences. How will they go about it? The problem, of course, is that they can't even agree on how to resolve their dispute. Hume complains that Hegel doesn't make clear distinctions ("I don't even know what you're saying") while Hegel complains that Hume "falsifies the whole" by focusing on just a little piece of the truth.

The poor guys can't even agree on which metaphors to use. Hegel is constantly comparing things to a bud which becomes a blossom which becomes a flower. Hume, on the other hand, pictures the universe as a billiards table, with discrete object interacting with another discrete object.

Other divisions are just as deep. A conversation between, for example, Immanuel Kant & Soren Kierkegaard would quickly bog down. Kant would complain that Kierkegaard was to involved & couldn't be detached enough to answer the question. Kierkegaard would reply that Kant was a mere spectator & could not really understand the question because he didn't experience it. Conceptually, neither would speak in a language the other could understand.

The conflicts between these different world-views cannot be settled in the same way that we settle questions about the price of eggs at the grocery store. The parties to the debate cannot even agree on the standards to use in answering simple questions. The debate between the Christian & the atheist threatens to devolve into that kind of stalemate.

Is there another way to answer the question?

I can't find anything where we would disagree significantly enough to make a comment!

“We know more than we can tell.”

~Michael Polanyi

“Our knowledge forms an enormous system. And only within this system has a particular bit the value we give it.”

~Ludwig Wittgenstein

In Part One, I observed that, despite claims to the contrary, there is an abundance of evidence for the existence of God. However, theists & atheists disagree on how to evaluate the evidence. As an example, I argued that the Big Bang is evidence for the existence of God — but only within a more or less theistic world-view. The presuppositions of the committed atheist cause him to insist that non-theistic explanations should be preferred.

I disagree here. I think that both theist and atheist can utilize science as we know it to determine that the Big Bang makes it just as rational and plausible to believe in God as to not do so. It can't absolutely prove there is a God, but it can bring one to a place to see that this belief is a better explanation for the universe than any other: and that based on science alone before one even gets to philosophy per se.

I further developed this theme with the examples of Intelligent Design. Life on Earth displays evidence of design or not based on one’s presuppositions. Atheists presuppose a world without design & interpret individual cases in light of that governing presupposition. Christians & believing Jews presuppose a world guided according to a larger purpose, and interpret individual cases accordingly.

I would say (because I love both these arguments and consider them powerful theistic evidences) that the atheist explanation of design is thoroughly incoherent and makes no sense. It is implausible in the extreme, and normally if we feel that way about an argument then we should be very cautious in our claims about it. Thus, the atheist, lacking any plausible alternative explanation of Design, ought to be honest with himself (from his own presuppositions of naturalistic science, etc.) and admit that the theistic explanation is at the very least no less rational or plausible than what he believes. This is how I apply these arguments in my own apologetic. And I have debated both scientists and professional philosophers in these areas.

Likewise, atheists reject historical accounts of the Resurrection of Jesus as inaccurate or unreliable or fanciful because they believe that no reliable account could record a clear evidence of a man rising from the dead. Given their presuppositions, men do not rise from the dead.

Exactly. Their premise is anti-supernaturalism (that being the case; obviously they would reject the Resurrection out of hand). They rule out the miraculous before they begin. And so one must attack their premise and show that it is untenable.

On Christian presuppositions, there is no reason that God should not raise men from the dead when it suits his purpose. The historical evidence thus confirms the divine role & power of Jesus of Nazareth — on Christian presuppositions.


In Part Two, I tried to explain these differences of interpretation in terms of conflicting set of presuppositions. In particular, I highlighted the necessary nature of presuppositions. All reasoning, even all doubting, begins with presuppositions. The idea that we shouldn’t presuppose anything turns out to be a misguided presupposition.

I couldn't agree more. Like I said, as a Socratic in method, I very much resonate with this emphasis, because the Socratic is constantly critiquing premises in opponents.

In Part Three, I argued that all world-views, atheist or not, are insulated against empirical falsification, since beliefs on the outer fringes of the web of belief can be sacrificed to preserve core presuppositions. Moreover, disagreements between world-views face the challenge arising from radically different standards of proof & knowledge.


So, where exactly does that leave us? Presuppositions are necessary to thought, reason, doubt, & argumentation, manifesting themselves at the outset of our inquiries. They shape our interpretation of empirical data, & guide our choice of questions, analogies, & modes of proof. Conversation across radically different world-views is akin to two people speaking completely different languages.

Is there no possibility of discourse? I want to suggest that there is a rational way to resolve these differences…

As seen, I agree with most of this. I think our differences would come down to mostly disagreement on the place of natural theology and the traditional theistic arguments.

Thanks for the input. What you have presented is great food for thought for my readers.

Saturday, June 23, 2007

Biblical Evidence (Suggested by Protestants Like Jonathan Edwards) For Saints in Heaven Being Aware of Earthly Events

Anti-Catholic Baptist apologist James White has sought to deny that saints ion heaven are aware of earthly happenings, by denying that Hebrews 12:1 ("surrounded by a cloud of witnesses") has anything to do with this notion, and dismissing any contention that the souls who pray under the altar (Revelation 6:9-10) are aware of what happens on earth. I have responded to him already. In his latest "reply" to my new book, The One-Minute Apologist, White reiterates, in his comment on Revelation 6:9-10 (bolding added):
These are martyrs "who had been slain because of the word of God, and because of the testimony which they had maintained." It is easy to see the role these play in the text: the Christians to which the book is being sent by God are undergoing just this kind of persecution. Their cry to God is simple: how long will justice be delayed in avenging their deaths? The response is that they are given white robes (evidently they didn't need a trip through purgatory before being pure), and they are told to wait a little while longer. There was a certain number of martyrs yet to be made (hard to read this without seeing God's sovereignty, for, "blessed in the sight of God is the death of His saints"), and they are to wait until that time is completed.

Now, this is the contextual meaning of the passage. Where does Hahn, and by extension, Armstrong, get all the rest of these assertions? Where is the evidence that these souls have knowledge of current events on earth? Where is the evidence that they have communication with anyone on earth? They are not aware of events on earth; and to say they have "foreknowledge" of the future is to say nothing more than they know God is just and will punish sin, which, of course, means we all have foreknowledge of the very same kind. They are informed about the fact that there will be more martyrs, they do not have this information naturally (which they would have known were they observing events on earth).

. . . Ironically, the Roman Catholic apologist, who so often refers to "private interpretation" as all you can have as a Protestant, has nothing more himself, in fact. And when we examine his use of Scripture, we find it strained, even tortured, and anything but compelling.
Today I have found some interesting material that would contradict this understanding, from various Protestants. Well-known Protestant activist and prolific author Randy Alcorn, for example, writes with great insight on this question:

6. In heaven, we will be aware of at least some of what is happening on earth.
Another controversial concept, yet again the Bible confirms it:
a. The martyrs in heaven appear to know what is still happening on earth (Rev. 6:9-11).
b. When Babylon is brought down, an angel points to events happening on earth and says "Rejoice over her, O heaven! Rejoice, saints and apostles and prophets! God has judged her for the way she treated you" (Rev. 18:20). Since he specifically addresses them, the clear implication is that the saints in heaven are watching and listening to what is happening on earth.
c. There is "the roar of a great multitude in heaven shouting Hallelujah" and praising God for specific events of judgment that have just taken place (Rev. 19:1-5). Again, the saints in heaven are clearly observing what is happening on earth.
d. When heaven's saints return with Christ to set up his millennial kingdom (Rev. 19:11-14), it seems strange to think they would have been ignorant of the culmination of human history taking place on earth. The picture of saints in heaven blissfully unaware of what is transpiring on earth, where God and his angels (and they themselves) are about to return for the ultimate battle in the history of the universe, after which Christ will be crowned king, contradicts clear indications in the context. But even apart from such indications, this notion of heavenly ignorance seems ludicrous.
e. When brought back to earth from heaven, Samuel was aware of what Saul had been doing and what he'd failed to do on earth (1 Sam. 28:18). Unless he was specially "briefed" on this, it follows he must have been already aware of it.
f. When called from heaven to the transfiguration on earth, Moses and Elijah talked with Jesus about his death about to happen in Jerusalem (Luke 9:31). They seem aware of the context they stepped into, of what was transpiring on earth.
g. Hebrews 12:1 tells us to "run the race marked out for us," creating the mental picture of the Greek competitions which were watched intently by throngs of engrossed fans, sitting high up in the ancient stadiums. The "great cloud of witnesses" he speaks of are clearly the saints who've gone before us, whose accomplishments (some of them recorded in the previous chapter) on the playing field are now past. The imagery seems to suggest those saints, the spiritual "athletes" of old, are now watching us and cheering us on from the stands of heaven. (The witnesses are said to "surround" us, not merely to have preceded us.)
h. The unfolding drama of redemption, awaiting Christ's return, is currently happening on earth. Earth is center court, center stage, awaiting the consummation of Christ's return and the setting up of his kingdom. Logically, this seems a compelling reason to think those in heaven might see what is happening on the earth. If in heaven we will be concerned with what God is concerned with, and his focus is on the spiritual battle on earth, why would we not witness his works there?
i. Christ, in heaven, watches closely what transpires on earth, especially in the lives of God's people (Rev. 2-3). If the Sovereign God's attentions are on earth, why wouldn't those of his heavenly subjects be? When a great war is transpiring, is anyone in the home country uninformed and unaware of it? When a great drama is taking place, do those who know the writer, producer and cast-and have great interest in the outcome-refrain from watching?
j. Angels saw Christ on earth (1 Tim. 3:16). There are clear indications angels know what is happening on earth (Luke 1:26; 1 Cor. 11:10). If angels, why not saints? Don't the people of God in heaven have as much vested interests in the spiritual events happening on earth as do angels?
k. Christ said "there will be more rejoicing in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine who do not need to" (Luke 15:7). Similarly, "there is rejoicing in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents" (Luke 15:10). Who is doing this rejoicing in heaven, in the presence of angels? Doesn't it logically include the saints in heaven, who would of all people appreciate the joy and wonder of human conversion? (If they rejoice over conversions happening on earth, then obviously they must be aware of what is happening on earth.)
7. In heaven, saints will pray to God and ask things of him, and perhaps intercede for those on earth.
a. Christ, the God-man, is in heaven interceding for people on earth (Rom. 8:34). In at least one case, then, a person who has died and gone to heaven is now praying for those on earth. The martyrs in heaven in Rev. 6:10 pray to God, asking him to take specific action on earth. They are praying for God's justice on the earth, which may have intercessory implications for their brethren now suffering on earth. The sense of connection and loyalty to and concern for the body of Christ of which saints in heaven are part with the saints on earth, would likely be enhanced by being in heaven, not eliminated by it (Eph. 3:15). In any case, we know these are saints who have died, now in God's presence, actively praying concerning what is happening on earth.
b. Prayer is simply talking to God. Angels can talk to God, and therefore angels pray. We will communicate with God in heaven, and therefore we will pray in heaven, presumably more than we do now, not less. Our prayers will be effective given our righteous state (James 5:16).
c. The burden of proof lies on those who would argue saints in heaven cannot or do not pray for those on earth. On what biblical basis would we conclude this?
Rev. 5:8 speaks of the "prayers of the saints" in a context that may include saints in heaven, not just on earth. In any case, if saints are allowed to see some of what transpires on earth, and clearly they are, then it would seem strange for them not to intercede for them. (While we are not told angels pray for people, neither are we told they do not.)
It's a question of assumptions. If we assume heaven is a place of ignorance of or disinterest in earth, then we will naturally assume those in heaven couldn't or wouldn't pray for people here. In contrast, if we believe it is a place of interest in and observation of God's program and people on earth, and where the saints and angels talk to God, then we would naturally assume they do pray to God for those on earth. This is my assumption.
("Rethinking Our Beliefs About Heaven"; see his related article, entitled Awareness in Heaven of Events on Earth?)
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James White loves the great American Protestant theologian Jonathan Edwards (1703-1758). For example:

Getting to Know Jonathan Edwards

When I was in seminary I had the wonderful opportunity of writing a paper on the theology of Jonathan Edwards on the sovereignty of God. It was one of the most exciting studies I did at that time. The "Edwards" field is huge, with many modern writers and speakers addressing the topic.

. . . brilliant, godly, Scripturally sound men like Edwards, or Spurgeon, or Warfield . . . [ link ]

I think this represents a scandalous lack of understanding of the deeper, more meaningful works of Calvin, Edwards, the entire body of the Puritans, Bunyan, Spurgeon, Warfield and any number of modern writers. [ link ]

Is it not very clear that the reason we produce Spurgeons and Edwards and Bunyans and the like is because we have a fundamentally different view of Scripture? [ link ]

Men like Spurgeon and Edwards and Warfield and Machen and Sproul, defenders of the Trinity, the deity of Christ, the crucifixion . . . [ link ]

The gospel preached by the Reformers, the gospel of Paul preached wit h such power by men like Edwards and Spurgeon. [ link ]

I feel like reading some Edwards or Spurgeon or something just to wash my mental mouth out . . . [ link ]
But Jonathan Edwards would wholeheartedly agree with me on this general point of awareness of saints in heaven, of the earth, and disagree with James White:
There can be no doubt but that the saints in heaven shall see the flourishing and prosperity of the church on earth; for how can they avoid it, when they shall be with the King himself, whose kingdom this church is, and who as King manages all those affairs? Shall the royal family be kept in ignorance of the success of the affairs of the kingdom?

. . . doubtless they are not ignorant of the flourishing of the church here on earth.

. . . why should their knowledge of the affairs of Christ's kingdom on earth cease, as soon as Christ was ascended?

The saints in heaven are under infinitely greater advantages to take the pleasure of beholding how Christ's kingdom flourishes than if they were here upon earth . . . They can see the wise connection of one event with another . . .

(Works of Jonathan Edwards, Vol. VIII, pp. 540-541)
White can dismiss, if he likes, my exegetical and theological arguments as the raving of an unregenerate, ignorant Catholic apostate (that's what he thinks of me), but surely he can't dismiss Jonathan Edwards so easily.

My Biblical Passages Supporting Communion of Saints: Anti-Catholics Again Show a Dense Inability to Grasp Elementary Logic as Applied to Exegesis


"Mr. Incredible": one of the logical and exegetical giants that populate
anti-Catholic Douglas Mabry's Gojira's Stomping Ground blog.

I never cease to be amazed by anti-Catholic tunnel vision and irrationality. These people frequently miss the most elementary logical and exegetical distinctions, but then turn around and accuse Catholics of the stupidity that is actually descriptive of what they are doing, since their very response literally proves that they failed to grasp the argument made by the Catholic in the first place.

Recently I showed that this was very much the case with even the renowned anti-Catholic apologist James White (whose anti-Catholic polemics are supposedly so invulnerable and unanswerable), who (deliberately or not) distorted my arguments for invocation of saints and presented a pathetic caricature of my very argument to mock and "refute." He was guilty of basic, fundamental logical errors.

In an even more striking and humorous instance of the same shortcoming, Douglas Mabry (aka "Gojira") -- quite possibly -- based on circumstantial evidence -- the author of the notorious "fake blog" done in my name a few years back -- and some of his friends committed the same basic mistakes in reviewing my response to White. I suggest that in the future they try a bit harder to understand and grasp opponents' actual argument before setting out to mock it and making fools of themselves.

But if an anti-Catholic insists on making himself look ridiculous (by no means an infrequent event), I can do little or nothing to stop it except to write posts like this exposing their manifest follies, in dim hopes that they will benefit from reflection on their mistakes and learn their lesson.

First of all, as a preliminary, let me explain again the logical structure of biblical arguments in favor of the communion of saints and invocation of the saints in heaven. I did some of this in my response to White because he often couldn't comprehend exactly what I was arguing for with a
particular argument and often confused my method and purpose, in his rush to show how supposedly "unbiblical" my arguments were, and how allegedly (logically) circular:
1. We ought to pray for each other (much biblical proof).

2. The prayer of a righteous man has great power in its effects (James 5:16-18).

3. Therefore it makes eminent sense to ask more righteous people to pray for us (implied in same passage).

4. Dead saints are more alive than we ourselves are (e.g., Mt 22:32).

5. Dead saints are aware of what happens on the earth (Heb 12:1 etc.), and indeed, are portrayed as praying for us in heaven (Rev 6:9-10).

6. Dead saints are exceptionally, if not wholly, righteous and holy, since they have been delivered from sin and are present with God (21:27, 22:14).

7. Therefore, it is perfectly sensible and wise to ask them to pray on our behalf to God.
In my refutation of White's "review" of my book, The One-Minute Apologist (section on communion of saints), a closely related issue came up that often does in such criticisms: whether God desires contact at all between those on earth and those in heaven (a larger category than simply invocation of the saints). This is a presuppositional issue that is related to invocation of the saints. The mini-argument would run as follows:
A. God desires contact between those in heaven and those on earth (this is a prior, or hidden assumption lying behind #7 above).

B. A is a necessary prerequisite for the notion of invocation or intercession of the saints. In other words, if A is untrue, then B also will be, since B is a sub-group or subset of A.
Note, then, that to support A with biblical examples, as I did, is not at all the same as supporting the full-blown doctrine of the invocation of the saints. Far from it. It is only supporting the necessary prior premise or antecedent premise. This is a fundamental logical distinction. James White expressly denied A above, in these words:
[T]he prohibition of contact with the dead is specifically in the context of people living on earth seeking to have contact with those who have "passed from this world"! This kind of argumentation leaves the prohibition of contact with the dead meaningless and undefined.
This can be annihilated with one biblical example, from St. Peter, who contacted the dead when He raised Tabitha, saying, "Tabitha, rise" (Acts 9:36-41). Who was he talking to? Well, Tabitha, of course: a dead person! You can't get much more straightforward and plain than that. Therefore, the Bible offers explicit proof that we can have contact with the dead in a certain sense, essentially different from necromancy, use of mediums, and so forth. The opposite argument against invocation of saints, then, from this perspective, is as follows:
X. God prohibits and forbids all contact between those in heaven and those on earth (passages against necromancy, occult arts, etc. are advanced as proof of this).

Y. X is a necessary prerequisite for the notion of invocation or intercession of the saints. Therefore, because X is untrue, Y is also untrue, since Y is a sub-group or subset of X. Case closed; there is no invocation of the saints, according to the Bible.
Besides the Tabitha example, I provided many more in my response, that would utterly contradict and overthrow the claim (White's claim, and that of most Protestants) of X:
A) 1 Samuel 28:12,14-15 (Samuel): the prophet Samuel appeared to King Saul to prophesy his death. The current consensus among biblical commentators (e.g., The New Bible Commentary, The Wycliffe Bible Commentary) is that it was indeed Samuel the prophet, not an impersonating demon (since it happened during a sort of seance with the so-called "witch or medium of Endor"). This was the view of, e.g., St. Justin Martyr, Origen, and St. Augustine, among others. Ecclesiasticus (Sirach) 6:19-20 reinforces the latter interpretation: "Samuel . . . after he had fallen asleep he prophesied and revealed to the king his death, and lifted up his voice out of the earth in prophecy, to blot out the wickedness of the people."

B) Matthew 17:1-3 (the Transfiguration: Moses and Elijah): . . . Jesus took with him Peter and James and John his brother, and led them up a high mountain apart. And he was transfigured before them, and his face shone like the sun, and his garments became white as light. And behold, there appeared to them Moses and Elijah, talking with him. (see also Mark 9:4 and Luke 9:30-31)

C) Matthew 27:52-53 (raised bodies after the crucifixion): . . . the tombs also were opened, and many bodies of the saints who had fallen asleep were raised, and coming out of the tombs after his resurrection they went into the holy city and appeared to many.

D) Revelation 11:3,6 (the "Two Witnesses"): And I will grant my two witnesses power to prophesy for one thousand two hundred and sixty days . . . they have power to shut the sky, that no rain may fall . . . and they have power over the waters to turn them into blood, and to smite the earth with every plague . . .

These two witnesses are killed (11:7-9), were raised after "three and a half days" and "stood up on their feet" (11:11), and then "went up to heaven in a cloud" (11:12). Many Church Fathers thought these two were Enoch and Elijah, because both of them didn't die; thus this would explain their dying after this appearance on earth. Some Protestant commentators think the two witnesses are Moses and Elijah, because of the parallel to the Transfiguration, and also similarities with the plagues of Egypt and the fact that Elijah also stopped the rain for three-and-a-half years (James 5:17).

We must conclude based on the above passages that contact between heaven and earth is God's will; otherwise He wouldn't have permitted it in these instances. The Catholic belief in more interconnection between heaven and earth cannot be ruled out as "unbiblical". One has to try other arguments to refute our beliefs in this regard.
With that background in mind, let's now examine how some anti-Catholics butcher my arguments, misrepresent them, and engage in a classic, downright quixotic example of flailing away against mere straw men:

First, let's take a look at a post ("A Quick Reply to the One Minute Man") from Douglas Mabry himself, who cites my biblical evidence of A-D above:

[in response to my refutation of White's "review"] Let’s take a quick look at his first. His major problem here is question begging. He is assuming something he actually didn’t offer any evidence of, which, of course, is building a case for invoking the intercession of the saints.

Nope. Absolutely not. I'm not question-begging in the slightest. I'm simply producing biblical data that contradicts the assertion of proposition X above (as opposed to trying to prove the whole notion of invocation of saints from this one passage and other related ones). X claims that God doesn't desire any contact between heaven and earth. The example of Samuel appearing contradicts that. I make my intention for this argument very clear in the way I introduced it:
But White is assuming here something that is quite unbiblical itself: the notion that God wants us to have no contact at all with those who have died. Why would he think this? I provided much evidence to the contrary in one of my papers:
So I guess Mabry suffers from poor reading comprehension and logical acumen, since I plainly laid it all out for the reader but he missed it.

What he does offer is if this was actually Samuel or not. That, however, is not the primary importance he should be concerning himself with in regards to this passage.

To the contrary, it is supremely important, because if a Protestant attempts to claim that this was not Samuel, but only an impersonating demon, then my argument (i.e., my actual one, not Mabry's twisted caricature) would be undercut. Therefore, it is relevant to establish that it was literally Samuel the prophet, appearing to Saul.

He first needs to establish whether or not it is even ok for Saul to seek the consultation of the dead or not. Consulting the dead is condemned in the Law, as is witchcraft and necromancy.

I don't need to "establish that because I already believe it. I condemned the occultic sort of "consultation of the dead" in the very section of my book that White was critiquing, that I cited in my reply under consideration. It's not at issue. What Catholics are saying is that not all "contact with the dead, or those in heaven" is of the same nature as this prohibited sort. Anti-Catholics usually assume that the occultic type of "contact" is a category that takes in all conceivable contact whatsoever. But it is not.

Dave Armstrong is either unaware of, or completely disregards, the witness of the Law in this matter. It does not take a brain surgeon to see that. In fact, that would be the first thing that anyone remotely familiar with the scriptures would point out.

This is where the humorous and dense, obtuse nature of this critique starts to become quite apparent (and it only gets worse, folks), since I dealt with this very thing in the same reply that Mabry is critiquing. So now he is mocking me for being a fool and an idiot because I supposedly am "unaware of" the very thing that I expressly address and condemn in the same paper! A curious methodology indeed . . . One is forced, then, to conclude either that:
1) Douglas Mabry did not read my reply in its entirety,


2) Douglas Mabry is deliberately lying about me when he writes asinine things like this that are disconnected from reality.
As I always extend the benefit of charity, I opt for #1: Mabry doesn't bother to read what he is critiquing (which is silly and absurd enough, of course). Here is what I cited from my book again, since Mabry obviously missed it the first time around:
A Protestant Might Further Object:

It is not clear how these Catholic practices are any different from the séances, magic, witchcraft, and necromancy forbidden by the Bible. When you come down to it, Catholics are still messing around with dead spirits.

The One-Minute Apologist Says:

Catholics fully agree that these things are prohibited, but deny that the Communion of Saints is a practice included at all in those condemnations.

The difference is in the source of the supernatural power and the intention. When a Christian on earth asks a saint to pray for him (directly supported by the biblical indications above), God is the one whose power makes the relationship between departed and living members of the Body of Christ possible. The medium in a séance, on the other hand, is trying to use her own occultic powers to “conjure up” the dead -- opening up the very real possibility of demonic counterfeit. Catholics aren’t “conjuring” anyone; we’re simply asking great departed saints to pray for us. If they are aware of the earth, then God can also make it possible for them to “hear” and heed our prayer requests. If this weren’t the case, then saints and angels in heaven wouldn’t be portrayed as they are in Scripture: intensely active and still involved in earthly affairs.

(p. 121)
Merely introducing this passage in the way Armstrong has is as desperate as it is humorous.

I'm willing to let readers make their own decision whether the humor and desperation here originates with me or with Doug Mabry.

Comments under this post are equally dense and obtuse and out to sea:

"Scribe": Dave Armstrong's "One Minute" apologies are more like light years of sychophantic [sic] discourses . . . it is funny how Dave tries to impose a methodological prescription out of wicked King Saul's reprehensible act of necromancy...that brother is "reaching".

Gordan illustrates the same exact logical fallacy I have highlighted above:
On the Mount of Transfiguration, the most that is proved is that Moses and Elijah are "alive to God" as you said in the post. Again, the question is begged: if the old saints are alive, heck, it must be okay to pray to them. But nothing could be plainer: this passage says not a scribble at all about praying to saints. It doesn't even hint at it.

Exactly! DUH!!!!! Never said that it did . . . see the above explanations of how the larger biblical argument works, and the function and scope of this particular sub-argument.

Emboldened by Mabry's profound critique, "Mr. Incredible" (see photo above) writes a guest post that is likewise filled with marvels of illogical thinking. He cites my use of the Mount of Transfiguration passage, then Gordan's comment on it, and writes:
Amen. One would be hard pressed to find anywhere in the text where either Moses or Elijah spoke anything at all to Peter, John, or James.

That's irrelevant to my argument, which had to do solely with "contact between heaven and earth". But even if the point were relevant, in my other three references to similar events, there is much communication: Samuel talks to Saul, the Two Witnesses in Revelation preach and testify, and the bodies raised from the dead after the Crucifixion "appeared to many" (and it is quite reasonable to assume they spoke and communicated, rather than just walking around like a bunch of deaf and dumb zombies or Frankenstein).

And of course, the opposite is true as well -- you do not see either Peter, John or James approaching Moses or Elijah. It is kind of a
Duh thing to build a case for prayers to the saints using this passage when Peter, John, or James didn't actually asked [sic] anything or converse with Moses or Elijah to begin with.

See my logical explanation at the beginning of my post. It's passing ridiculous and ludicrous to accuse me of making stupid "duh" arguments, when the person making the charge doesn't have a clue as to what I was actually arguing for in this instance. Again, we have dirt-poor reading and logical prowess exhibited in spades (pun half-intended).

Scribe then returns for another shot in the dark. He goes after my use of Matthew 27:52-53 (dead bodies rising and walking around):

How one can extrapolate any form of prescription as a modus operandi for communion with the dead from this passage is beyond me.

Me too! Shows the same stupefaction in elementary logical matters . . . There is nothing like a person who is, in fact, ignorant and/or grossly misinformed about something, thinking he is wiser than someone else whom he mistakenly portrays as an ignoramus and mocks and pillories, with condescension. It's equal parts sad and hilarious, as so much of anti-Catholicism.

One would have to foist upon it a prejudicial theological bias foreign to its contextual basis.

Indeed one would if they were to actually argue as the caricature presented here suggests.

[omitted comment having nothing particularly to do with my argument]

Bottom line: this verse has nothing to with Armstrong's eisegetical assertions that would posit a position in favor of his view...

All it has to do with is a refutation of assertion X, noted above. No more, no less.

Armstrong ultimately butchers the Matthew 27:52,53 to arrive at a conclusion that is simply not there . . .

Is that so? Repetition is a great teacher. So let's now go over for the third time what I claimed for the text, and ask whether this was unreasonable or controversial to the slightest degree:

My claim for the passage I cite:

"But White is assuming here something that is quite unbiblical itself: the notion that God wants us to have no contact at all with those who have died."

Passage cited as counter-evidence for White's denial and evidence for my assertion:

Matthew 27:52-53: . . . the tombs also were opened, and many bodies of the saints who had fallen asleep were raised, and coming out of the tombs after his resurrection they went into the holy city and appeared to many.
Perhaps these critics can tell me: how does Matthew 27:52-53 contradict in the slightest the claim I actually made for it (as opposed to the imaginary, mythical things these guys wrongly believe that I made)? I don't see how it is even arguable. About all that White and these anti-Catholic cronies of his might be able to do with this is sophistically argue that God doesn't want us to seek contact with dead saints, but does, however, initiate such contact Himself in extraordinary instances and situations (i.e., to somehow distinguish the two as completely different in essence, with one being "bad" and the other "good").

But that breaks down, too, because Peter deliberately initiated contact with the dead Tabitha, when he talked to her and told her to rise from the dead. That is not rebuked anywhere in the Bible (where, alas, was James White to rebuke Pope Peter when he needed to be rebuked and upbraided for his "unbiblical" practices?).

And it is implausible anyway to say that, on the one hand, God doesn't want us to contact the dead, when it is a plain fact that He Himself caused it to happen on at least four occasions, exactly the sort of "contact" that is (morally) indistinguishable from instances of our initiating contact. In other words, the following association of propositions and events do not exactly fit together with all that much coherence:
1. God wants no one to initiate contact with dead saints.

1A. Yet He sent the dead Samuel to rebuke Saul for his sins.

1B. Yet He sent Moses and Elijah to meet with Jesus on a mountain, in plain sight of Peter, James, and John.

1C. Yet He allowed dead bodies of the departed to resurrect and walk around Jerusalem appearing to many after the Crucifixion.

1D. Yet He will send at the end of the age the Two Witnesses referred to in Revelation (thought by many commentators to be either Moses and Elijah or Enoch and Elijah) to talk to many people for three-and-a-half years (!!!).
This is, technically, an argument from plausibility, not absolutely necessary logical connections (imagine how our anti-Catholic friends will distort this if I don't spell it out from the outset), but it still has considerable force. I would say that if #1 above were indeed true, as White and Mabry and anti-Catholics assume and assert, it would be (arguably or speculatively) implausible for God to allow 1A, 1B, 1C, and 1D to occur, as they send a message quite arguably at odds with proposition #1.

To illustrate by analogy, it would be like saying, as a parent, "children shouldn't seek to have ice cream, because that is an altogether evil thing, and therefore forbidden by parents." But then the same parent gives the children ice cream twice a week. Would it really make sense to claim that it was evil for the children to seek an "evil" thing, while the parents themselves provide the "evil" thing themselves, that they told the children never to seek, on grounds that it was wicked to do so? Is that not a radically mixed message, and a bit incoherent?

Likewise, in the present case. Therefore, there is an indirect relation between these events and invocation of saints. But I only claim as much as I originally did: this biblical evidence unarguably, indisputably disproves the claim that God wants no such contact or communication at all.

--no different than the Charismatics misinterpretation and appropriation of the book of Acts to spuriously support their wild-eyed conceptions about the function of the Holy Spirit.

This is no argument, but merely a poor attempt at guilt-by-association.

More can be touched on regarding my misgivings concerning the interpretation offered by Armstrong but this is supposed to be a "quick reply" to Mr. Armstrong. ;-)

I'm sure much more could be written. But will it make any sense at all? That's the obvious question, having seen the atrocious, pathetic "arguments" offered thus far. I struggled with whether I should give these "critiques" the dignity of any reply at all, but they were such classic cases of anti-Catholic lack of comprehension of Catholic arguments, and thoroughly illogical thinking, that I simply couldn't resist.

Watch to see if our misguided anti-Catholic friends respond any further. Will they attempt to wiggle out of the trap they have set for themselves by logic (that I simply pointed out) and make a counter-argument to truly overcome mine, or will they simply mock and yuck it up amongst themselves, in back-slapping ignorant bliss, and pretend that nothing I have argued makes any more sense than their gibberish? You know which scenario I think is far more likely. :-)

I would urge my readers, though, not to just laugh at how lousy these "arguments" are (no one can fault you for doing that!), but to also incorporate the analysis of these "logical whoppers" into your approach when you run across anti-Catholics in the future. Always be on the lookout for these basic errors. What may appear to have some strength at first can quickly be turned around and shown to be completely fallacious and illogical.

* * *
These people frequently miss the most elementary logical and exegetical distinctions, but then turn around and accuse Catholics of the stupidity that is actually descriptive of what they are doing, . . .
One would be hard pressed to find just where I had called Catholics stupid. My reply, as well as those that followed, were directly to one person. This is Dave making a smoke screen by use of dishonesty. Can he point to any one place where I said Catholics are stupid?

Sure, I'd be happy to:

Dave Armstrong is either unaware of, or completely disregards, the witness of the Law in this matter. It does not take a brain surgeon to see that. In fact, that would be the first thing that anyone remotely familiar with the scriptures would point out.
Now, as usual with anti-Catholics, one must become legalistic and nitpickingly ridiculous to even waste one's time playing these word games. Like the JW who thinks he has a great argument by noting that the word "Trinity" isn't in the Bible, Doug thinks that because he didn't use the word stupid, I am being dishonest in describing what he wrote with regard to myself in that way. But the remark above qualifies quite nicely: I'm so stupid I don't even know that the Bible condemns necromancy (even though I noted that in the same entry in my book that White criticized, and cited those words).

"It does not take a brain surgeon to see that."
In other words, this is a sarcastic way of saying that anyone with any brains at all would know it (i.e., assuming that I am "
remotely familiar with the scriptures"), so if I (allegedly) don't, well now, that makes me pretty stupid, doesn't it?, and it follows that I am not up on biblical teaching to the most elementary degree. Yet Doug objects to my describing these words as calling me "stupid" and indeed, accuses me of "dishonesty" in so arguing.
Indeed, I have taken a couple of rebukes (and rightly so) for being infantile in trashing Mr. Armstrong, but unless he is vain enough to equate himself as the totality of all Catholics, his dishonest antics are of an infantile level that I have not even descended.

Doesn't take long for anti-Catholics to locate nefarious motives and unsavory methods in any Catholic reply to their asinine nonsense.

This is how cunning Dave is.

Yes, gotta watch us clever, devious, "jesuitical" Catholics!

. . . and after naming me stupid in about three different ways . . .

In describing how you have densely mischaracterized and misunderstood my argument and have engaged in name-calling and claimed that I am being dishonest, I would describe that as "stupid" any day of the week, because sin is the stupidest thing one can do. I make no bones about calling that stupid, but you try to deny what you really think about Catholics (and myself as one of that species), and if I call you on it, then you immediately claim I am dishonest.

Get a life. I do admit that I was stupid to even respond to your puerile inanities in the first place, but I suppose there is some value in showing a typical example of anti-Catholic "argument."

* * *

And here is Doug's reply, amply confirming my opinion that it was foolish to deal with him at all (what else is new with anti-Catholics? Is it ever otherwise?):

What stupendious [sic], unrefutable [sic] response has Mr. Armstrong given my reply? Well, he simply has a meltdown: [then he cites my two paragraphs above as proof-positive of my supposed "meltdown"]

Monday, June 18, 2007

Lutheranism, Catholic "Absolute" Authority, and Private Judgment

From the comboxes of a post on Josh S.'s Lutheran blog:

Josh S.: The problem with absolute submission to an institution . . .

Who is in "absolute submission"? If Catholic Church dogma all of a sudden proclaims that sodomy is fine (as the Episcopalians have done), I'm out of here tomorrow. If contraception becomes fine and dandy, I'll leave [because that was a central reason that led me to be here in the first place]. It the Trinity is dumped, I'll split pronto. Etc., etc.

That's not absolute at all. But I stay (based on many many reasons; not least of which are biblical ones) because I believe it is the One True Church that truly preserves (because of the supernatural help of the Holy Spirit) the fullness of the apostolic deposit in a way that no other Christian body does. Because that is the case (as we believe) those things do not and will not happen (so we believe ultimately in faith, but firmly based on past precedent).

But if they do change [speaking merely hypothetically and philosophically now], the claim will be wrong, and I'd be one of the first to admit it. The fact that it never has in 2000 years is one of the amazing things that helped me decide to become a Catholic. But it is strongly based on reason; the very opposite of blind faith.

The religious freedom issue [alluded to in Josh's comments] is a long and very complex one. But it is not only our problem; it is yours, too. Setting aside the infallibility thing, you don't get off the hook, because now you have people (the "Reformers") who claimed to be especially guided by God; almost quasi-prophetic, yet they repeated the same errors of killing other Christians.

To me that is every bit as problematic as what you (wrongly) believe our problems to be, because it brings into question the very calling and mission of these so-called "reformers" who claimed to be so knowledgeable over against Catholic tradition, yet couldn't even figure out that it was wrong to drown an Anabaptist or burn a Servetus. So you say, "well. they got that wrong; so what?" But if they could get that wrong, how can we be sure all the innovations and novelties they also introduced are not wrong as well?

It's a long discussion, and I don't have time to really get into it in the depth it deserves, but I wanted to make some comment, anyway.

Someone said this attitude was scarcely different from Luther's. It's rather simple. In that instance, Luther (and even more so, Melanchthon) redefined (and more than that, changed) by completely arbitrary fiat and with no authority whatsoever what had been passed down through history and believed by the Church. He claimed this was patristic belief but it is easy to demonstrate that it was not. Luther was saying:
"If the Church doesn't conform to my [ultimately arbitrary], groundless revision of what it has always taught on soteriology (cuz I got a direct line to God and unique insight on biblical evidences), then I am outta here."
But my (the Catholic) view is completely different:
"if the Catholic Church changes a doctrine that had always been authoritatively taught (and this, able to be demonstrated through historiography), and starts pronouncing evil good (as many Protestants do with divorce, almost all with contraception, and the Anglicans and others with sodomy), then I shall conclude that she is not what she claims to be, and promptly leave."
Luther simply couldn't demonstrate (hardly even tried) that his novel soteriology was the heritage of the early Church, let alone uninterrupted succession, whereas I can easily demonstrate that all Christians opposed contraception as grave evil before 1930, that the early Church was quite opposed to remarriage after divorce, and did not teach a host of 16th century Lutheran novelties, etc.

All I'm doing is what the Fathers did: appealing to apostolic succession (in effect, history). I'm applying St. Vincent's dictum: "everywhere, always, by all" or however it goes. The same exact source where that famous line comes from (Commonitorium) is also the most explicit patristic witness to the development of doctrine. Cardinal Newman began his analysis right there.

At that point, it isn't all that difficult to determine what Church has continued an unbroken line of apostolic succession (with development presupposed, as St. Vincent, St. Augustine and others assume).

It's the very opposite of private judgment. The Catholic accepts the claim that the Catholic Church carries on the ancient apostolic succession and sacred Tradition in its fullness. I was received into the Church in 1991. I didn't have everything worked out to a tee back then. But I knew enough to accept in faith that the Catholic Church was the One True Church, and to accept its authority. That's not Luther's private judgment at all.

The Catholic who accepts this in faith can then proceed to do apologetics and give much more full historiographical justification for what he believes. But again, that is not Luther's method. Luther feels he can judge all by himself whether Catholic teaching is wrong. I don't do that. I accept it (in faith, with much reason) for what it is.

Nevertheless, I can imagine a hypothetical where the Catholic Church could be hypothetically shown to be not what it claims to be. Reversing the stance on contraception (the liberal renegade priests and theologians were hoping and praying for that in 1968) or women priests or adopting Open Theism any number of things of that nature would be a deal-breaker and I would be in the place that many devout traditionalist Anglicans are today, trying to figure out how their beloved church could have sunk so low as to sanction extremely serious, soul-destroying sin.

That's not "Protestant"; it's simply being in reality (epistemological or otherwise), just as St. Paul said "if Jesus is not raised from the dead we are of all men most to be pitied." He didn't think that this was the reality any more than I think it is reality that the Catholic Church will fall away from the fullness of truth and start compromising with the world, as virtually all Protestants do in one way or another. But he and I can "theorize" about such things as possible in some conceivable world.

My measuring-rod is that of the Church Fathers. If I am a "Protestant", so are they, but of course that is ludicrous. You [Lutherans] haven't demonstrated that Lutheran teaching is that of the Fathers, over against the Catholic Church. You lose every time you try to make that argument.

Perhaps that is one reason that Lutheran apologists are as rare as pro-life Democrats? It becomes too much of a hassle to war against demonstrable historical truths and so you simply retreat back to fideism, quietism, and "proclamation" and mere polemics?

James White claims I never was a Protestant (when I certainly was one: from 1958 to 1991) and then someone else on this list claimed that I am one "in effect" now (when I am a 100% Catholic, who believes everything that the Church teaches authoritatively).

See how much fun apologetics can be? More fun than a human being should be allowed to have . . . LOL

It remains true, in any event, that no Lutheran (or anyone else) can provide sufficient biblical proof for sola Scriptura. It just ain't there. I have debated this several dozen times. You can't find it. You have to deduce. And how about the canon? Where is that in Scripture? The canon is a developing doctrine, that depends on Church authority and tradition to get off the ground at all.

Catholic-Lutheran Dialogue on Corpus Christi (Eucharistic Processions and Adoration)

The image “” cannot be displayed, because it contains errors.

This initially came about as a result of Lutheran Josh S.'s post, The Lutheran Case Against Corpus Christi. But discussion began under a follow-up post.

Color codes:

Rev. William Weedon: blue
Tom R.: purple
Rev. Paul T. McCain: green
John H.: orange
Josh S.: red

Note that the Lutherans in 17th century Magdeburg DID continue to observe Corpus Christi - in the sense that the Divine Service on the Thursday after Trinity shared the same readings and almost the exact same sequence hymn as the Roman Catholics. But of course with the Lutherans there was no procession with half the Sacrament or other such tomfoolery. Instead, I'd be willing to bet, there was preaching against the Roman practices that ran contrary to the Words of the Lord and instead an exulting in what those words give us: the Lord's true body and blood for us Christians to eat and drink under the form of bread and wine for the forgiveness of our sins. Whether or not such a feast is worthy of being revived among Lutherans today or not - that is a question Lutherans can and should engage and discuss. What is beyond dispute is that it continued in some form among Lutherans long after the Reformation and into the age of Lutheran Orthodoxy.

Why is it considered "tomfoolery" simply because we believe that Jesus is present in the Eucharist longer than you do? It seems to me that is something where reasonable people can disagree. I don't speak in such terms of the Lutheran view of the Eucharist; I simply disagree with it, while also rejoicing in the similarities between us.

I am much more likely to be severely critical of the Reformed notions of the Eucharist, because I consider it incoherent philosophical mumbo-jumbo. But see, that is because that is a major disagreement: they deny the Real Presence. But you guys don't.

It's a relatively minor disagreement between us (we largely agree on the "majors" of Real Presence).

The tomfoolery is not in regard to questions of duration (about which Lutherans have some honest disagreements among themselves), but to a use of the Sacrament for which it was not instituted. Our blessed Lord gave us His most precious body and blood and commanded: "eat and drink for the forgiveness of sins" not "divide and process through the streets."

I'm moderately agnostic on whether the bread and wine remain the Lord's body and blood after the Supper has ended. My understanding is the Lutheran position is that it's better to ensure nothing is left over ("take, eat") than to start asking questions about the nature of any "leftovers".

I just completed reading again the Smalcald Articles and what the Formula of Concord has to say about the Lord's Supper. Dynamite stuff that.

Reserving the Blessed Sacrament, the Most Venerable Sacrament of the Altar, as it is described in the and hokum.

The Lord gave it to us to eat and to drink, not to tuck away somewhere to "adore" it outside of its instituted use. Much pastoral wisdom there.

There, I said something about Corpus Christi festivals in Lutheran churches.

Where is sola Scriptura in the deposit of faith? The best apologists for that false doctrine (e.g., Keith Mathison) will even concede that it is an inference and not a direct teaching of Scripture (I think Keith said that; I'd have to check again for sure).

Where is the canon of Scripture in the apostolic deposit?

Where is the Chalcedonian definition of the Two Natures of Christ in the apostolic deposit? Did not the Church have to make quite significant inferences and deductions and elaborate "speculation" on the simpler kernel of Jesus' divinity that was received in the deposit?

I'm sure I could think of other examples, but this suffices.

It seems to me that a Lutheran must concede that there were legitimate developments and "inferences" made, in application of the received doctrines and revelation.

Granting that this is the case (as I contend you must), then your burden is to establish that liturgical practice is somehow an entirely different category, whereby no "inference" or development of practice or diversity of allowable practice is allowed. Josh wrote: "God gives promises with his own mouth; we do not deduce them."

Is that so? Where, then, is the canon of Scripture from God's "own mouth", or sola Scriptura, or (for that matter) Jesus "in, with, and under" the elements, as you guys believe, or the Two Natures or refutations of Monophysitism or Monotheletism?

That would be extremely interesting for me to see how you would argue that. I hope someone does.

Josh wrote: "Further, God is deadly serious about inventing worship that seems right to us without his command and promise."

I see. So, then, tell me: how do you view all the differences in liturgical practice among Lutherans (e.g., the closed communion controversy)? Do you get all upset and outraged that the next Lutheran denomination over has departed from God's instructions? I don't believe it is absolutely uniform. So why don't you loosen up a bit and allow diversity of worship?

If that objection collapses, then you are left with the merely "quantitative" arguments based on duration of the Real Presence (and two of you have acknowledged that there are inter-Lutheran disagreements on that).

Therefore, if these Lutheran differences exist, it seems to me that the Catholic approach is only a bit further along on the continuum: we believe Jesus is present for a longer period and that it is appropriate, therefore, to worship and adore Him in processions, etc.

On what basis, then (in this second scenario) is there an objection, let alone describing it as "tomfoolery" or "hokum" or far worse mocking, denigrating terms that I'm sure Luther and others have uttered through the years?

Why can't we just respectfully disagree? Something like, "my Catholic brethren differ from us in this regard but we respect their belief as an alternative vision of eucharistic adoration that we don't ourselves hold. They are worshiping consistently and reverently according to their conception of how the Real Presence works out in practice. Their desire is to worship Jesus, and surely we can't object to that, though we disagree with this particular method and conception of eucharistic worship".

Would that put anyone out, to have that sort of tolerant, ecumenical attitude about it, while not compromising one's own belief in the slightest?

Do you, as a Catholic, believe that Christ is present when an ordained Lutheran pastor holds up a Eucharistic host and recites the words "This is my body"? Or is there just a layman in a white robe holding a piece of bread?

The latter, due to the absence of apostolic succession and hence, [fully sacramental] ordination. That doesn't mean we would mock what goes on there, as you guys do our eucharistic adoration and sacrifice of the mass. We think there is a great deal of value in the piety of sincere beliefs and reverence, and Luther's view on the Eucharist is pretty good. But the succession question is key to why we ultimately have to dissent from believing that Jesus is truly present, as He is in the Orthodox and Catholic liturgies.

Since the Word of God provides us with the instruction of our Lord about the use of the Holy Sacrament - that we are to eat and drink His body and blood and thus proclaim His death until He comes - and says nothing about parading around town with the most sacred species, I will stick to calling it tomfoolery, which it is, and ask my dear Roman brother to please consider that it is not out of malice that we reject such a practice and speak against it, but out of faithfulness to the revealed Word and love for the Blessed Sacrament.

I appreciate that disclaimer. Nor is it out of malice that I hold the view that the Real Presence isn't "real" in Lutheran services, based on our beliefs. But I can't imagine making fun of a rite that adherents believe to be much as we believe our Mass to be. I respect that. It's a sincerely held error, and God looks at the heart. Lutherans are at church to worship Jesus, just as we are.

Sunday, June 17, 2007

Bill Cork's Catholic-to-Adventist Conversion: If You Have No Reason to Stay in a Communion, or to Join Another, Why Stay (or Leave?)

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Dr. William Cork

Josh S. (Lutheran) had written about Bill Cork's odyssey on his blog:

It's interesting. [link to original sermon] The last few paragraphs are especially interesting. I kinda wondered why he would switch from RC-ism to SDA-ism, but I guess it makes sense if his wife and kids were SDA the whole time. I think the phenomenon of such radical theological shift is really fascinating and makes me appreciate Luther that much more. I think that when so much doctrine is put forward almost entirely on the premise, "trust us," when you stop trusting the guys in charge, nearly every doctrine falls, including biblical doctrines like baptismal regeneration and the Real Presence. Chemnitz has some interesting remarks to this effect on the lack of Scripture proofs in Trents statements on infant baptism.
I replied:
This is precisely what can happen, of course, when one ditches apologetics and doesn't incorporate it into his belief-system. If you don't understand why you believe what you believe, then all it takes is a few difficulties or disappointments or a bit of adversity (or family conflicts) and it can all come crashing down like the proverbial house built on a foundation of sand.

I wasn't the slightest bit surprised by this news about Bill Cork because I had seen how he was trashing apologetics: the very thing that could have been a great aid to prevent him from returning back to where he was. In other words, if you have no reasons for why you are in a certain place, then there is no reason to stay there! It's as simple as that.

It's common sense, really: if you trash the very enterprise that is dedicated to giving a rational defense, then obviously you must not think that it can be defended at all, and so therefore, you leave yourself wide open.

This dynamic applies to any Christian body, not just to Catholics. In fact, I saw on this very blog where you wrote that Lutherans don't really do apologetics; they simply proclaim. If you want to go that route, then don't be surprised if you see folks leaving Lutheranism, since Lutheranism has deliberately, consciously shunned the apologetic enterprise. If Lutherans must simply accept the whole thing with blind faith and check their mind at the door, then what else would you expect?

Some folks will have sufficient faith, but others who aren't so blessed will be dissuaded by skepticism and outside influences.
Then I read Cork's testimony and replied at greater length:

* * *

Yep; I read Cork's sermon and found exactly what I expected to find: postmodernist mush:

1) No reasons given for why he left Adventism in the first place, other than the natural rebelliousness and cynicism of a 21-year-old ("I was not only over my head theologically, but was beginning to get a big head on my shoulders, too . . . I can laugh now at my attitude in those days.").

2) Refreshingly, he did, at least, have a decent reason to leave a liberal ELCA church (sanctioning of homosexuality). But one needs no apologetics to know this because it is an intuitive moral question that is ingrained in all of us.

3) No reasons given for why he became Catholic in the first place other than friendly Franciscans and the "beauty and love of many of its members, and by its rich traditions of prayer and spirituality."

I'm glad he met some loving Catholics, but this stuff can be found anywhere. You want family values and squeaky clean morals? The Mormons do great at that. If you want nice people, the Methodists will do (having been raised Methodist and with both parents and all four grandparents Methodist, I can say that). You want traditions of prayer and spirituality? The Orthodox can do that; even the Anglicans, with their glorious Book of Common Prayer. Pentecostals have great committed prayer (and experience, if that is your thing); Mennonites have a great spiritual tradition and understand simple living. Lutherans and Anglicans have pretty church buildings and an appreciation of art and music. Reformed are good at culture and Baptists at evangelism and missions. Etc. etc. None of this is any compelling reason to choose one truth claim over another. Yet this is all he has given us. He apparently had no theological clue as to why he left Adventism and none for why he adopted Catholicism.

And people are surprised that he decided to make another change?

This guy could be a director of religious education, did evangelism, and was a campus minister and didn't even have an elementary understanding of the apologetic, biblical basis for his beliefs?

4) At length Cork concluded: "Many Catholic teachings have no other foundation than the Church’s claim to teach with authority: purgatory, Marian dogmas, saints, indulgences, the papacy, etc. These are not Bible doctrines."

Good grief. How in the Hades does a guy become a Catholic, teach, become involved in extensive lay ministry for thirteen years and not even have the slightest awareness of the abundant biblical apologetics to be had for all these doctrines??!!

So he was sitting there teaching all this stuff, while at the same time believing that the Church gave no biblical reasons whatsoever for the beliefs? This is incomprehensible to me. When I was an evangelical, I sought to understand the apologetic for that (broad) position; when I was considering Catholicism, I extensively studied the apologetic for Catholicism and critiques of Protestantism. I could no more convert to another belief-system without having abundant reasons for doing so than water could cease to be wet.

But in our postmodernist era, reasons in matters of religion count for little or nothing. It's all subjectivism and private religion. Reason leads to division and fights (so the pomo mentality goes), so let's just make religion a private matter of taste . . .

This is fundamental. One may agree or disagree with the defenses given, but at least people ought to make some attempt to become familiar with the arguments that Catholics give on these things, from the Bible. My own apostolate specializes in that. But I am only one of many Catholic apologists.

Cork, however, didn't do that. He simply concluded that the Catholic Church supposedly requires everyone to believe these things with no biblical rationale whatsoever, as if it is sheer blind faith.

For heaven's sake, just in my writing alone, he could have found dozens upon dozens of biblical arguments in favor of all these doctrines. I would have been happy to send him any of my books for free, if he would just read them with an open mind and see the arguments that a Catholic gives.

But if you "diss" apologetics, this is the sort of ludicrous, head-in-the-sand attitude that you develop. Far better to understand the apologetic / biblical arguments of your own communion and reject them; say they are woefully inadequate or inferior to alternatives (and hopefully understand those properly too), but to pretend they aren't even there is truly astounding.

And so we see that it took very little to send Cork back to his former allegiance. He had a loving wife who had always been SDA, and that is always a strong motivator to a man (I understand that), but it is no theological reason. It's not a rational basis for rejecting one belief-system and adopting another. And so, how does he become an Adventist again? By pure non-rational subjectivism:
Eventually the scales fell from my eyes and I asked, “How did I get here?”

Like the Prodigal Son, I looked up and realized, maybe I can go home.

And that’s when an old professor at AUC, Rick Trott, said, “Come home.”

That’s when I was here at this church, for a concert by my little brother, and Roy Chin stood in this spot and looked me in the eye and said, “Come home.”

How many times do we hear that invitation in Scripture? Come home. Turn around. Be converted.
I could just as well become a Hare Krishna or a Muslim with this amount of reasoning involved.

Cork then got "re-baptized." So an educated man like himself was somehow led to believe that Catholic baptism isn't valid anymore? On what basis does he do so? What did he teach about baptism all those years when he was involved in Catholic education? He must have taught his charges something about baptism and these other doctrines. What was it? Did he just tell them to "trust the Church"?

What few reasons Cork did offer for his change had to do with sin: as if it were monopolized by the Catholic Church (patristic anti-Semitism, the crusades, and the recent sexual scandal).

Jesus was already scathingly criticizing the young churches (see the book of Revelation). Does Cork think he has found the perfect church, where no sin can be found? This is no reason to leave one belief-system and join another (on the grounds that one is filled with sin and the other is supposedly completely different).

He objects to anti-Semitism from 1600 years ago in the Fathers, yet he can stomach the rampant anti-Catholic bigotry that is present in SDA? That's odd.

I could write more about it, but that is my general response. I contend that (at least from the data offered in this sermon) Bill Cork had insufficient reasons to leave SDA in the first place; had insufficient reasons to become a Catholic; had insufficient reasons to forsake the Catholic Church, and insufficient reasons to become SDA again. And this is a highly educated man.

In this age, folks can make such changes and not be expected to give any reasons at all (I am being general below; not implying that Bill Cork would necessarily say any of these things):
"hey, it just felt right"

"God told me to leave SDA/become Catholic / leave Catholicism / join SDA again"

"it's my personal business"

"I had no reason to be a Catholic, so why not rather be an SDA for no reason, since my wife is already there?"
None of this will do. This is more than just a Catholic apologist defending Catholic beliefs. This is a general principle of incorporating a rational understanding into religious belief; of loving God with our minds as well as with all our heart, soul, and strength. It's a matter of the biblical command to know what we believe (1 Peter 3:15) and to contend earnestly for it (Jude 3).

Now, again, it may be that there were some apologetic reasons in play in his journey, somewhere (I don't deny that any exist, period, and would be happy to interact with these, should Dr. Cork wish to do so). But I have seen none mentioned in this sermon / testimony. So why should anyone be surprised that the man has been tossed to and fro, and for no particular compelling reasons at each junction where he switched trains? This is to be fully expected. If he has no reason to be SDA this time around, then it is entirely possible that he could leave again for no reason and join something else for no reason because he has no reason to stay.