Friday, March 28, 2008

Christological Potpourri: Jesus' Soul, His Omnipresence, & "Worship" of the Father

The image on the right was painted by Ariel Agemian (1904-1963), born in Turkey, while living in France in 1935. He used the image on the Holy Shroud (the Turin Shroud) as his 'model'. The middle image is a composite of the Agemian portrait and the Shroud negative image. It was allegedly made in 1978 by NASA engineers at a time when they were involved in scientific investigations of the Shroud.

[ source ]

From the CHNI board. I'll paraphrase the initial questions in blue.

* * * * *

March 25

The Annunciation of the Blessed Virgin Mary

Commonly called Lady Day

from Butler's Lives of the Saints for March 25, page 674:
. . . the mystery of love and mercy promised to mankind thousands of years earlier, foretold by so many prophets, desired by so many saints, is accomplished upon earth. In that instant the Word of God becomes for ever united to manhood: the soul of Jesus Christ, produced from nothing, begins to enjoy God and to know all things, past, present and to come: at that moment God begins to have a worshipper who is infinite, and the world a mediator who is omnipotent: and to the working of this great mystery Mary alone is chosen to co-operate by her free assent.
Was Jesus in two (or all) places at once during His earthly life? Was He omnipresent?

According to the Church, in His human nature, Jesus was not omnipresent, but in His divine nature (that was always present alongside His human nature) He continued to be omnipresent. This is an aspect of the Hypostatic Union. In the Incarnation, Jesus took on human nature, but He retained His divine nature (which was necessarily the case, since God in His essence cannot change, and Jesus is God).

It gets extremely heavy, but here is how Catholic theologian Ludwig Ott describes this aspect of Christology, the communicatio idiomatum:
The human and the divine activities predicated of Christ in Holy Writ and in the Fathers may not be divided between persons or hypostases, the Man-Christ and the God-Logos, but must be attributed to the one Christ, the Logos become Flesh . . . It is the Divine Logos, who suffered in the flesh, was crucified, and rose again . . .

(Ludwig Ott, Fundamentals of Catholic Dogma, p. 144)

Christ's Divine and Human characteristics and activities are to be predicated of the one Word Incarnate. (De fide.)
As Christ's Divine Person subsists in two natures, and may be referred to either of those two natures, so human things can be asserted of the son of God and Divine things of the Son of Man.

[ . . .]

The nature of the Hypostatic Union is such that while on the one hand things pertaining to both the Divine and Human nature can be attributed to the person of Christ, on the other hand things specifically belonging to one nature cannot be predicated of the other nature [Lutherans fall into this error]. Since concrete terms (God, Son of God, Son of Man, Christ the Almighty) designate the Hypostasis and abstract terms (Godhead, humanity, omnipotence) the nature, the following rule may be laid down: communicatio idioamatum fit in concreto, non in abstracto. The communication of idioms is valid for concrete terms not for abstract ones. So, for example: The Son of Man died on the Cross; Jesus created the world. The rule is not valid if . . . the concrete term is limited to one nature. Thus it is false to say "Christ has suffered as God." "Christ created the world as a human being." It must also be observed that the essential parts of the human nature, body and soul are referred to the nature, whose parts they are. Thus it is false to say: "Christ's soul is omniscient," "Christ's body is ubiquitous."

Further, predication of idioms is valid in positive statements not in negative ones, as nothing may be denied to Christ which belongs to Him according to either nature. One, therefore, may not say: "The Son of God has not suffered," "Jesus is not almighty."

(Ott, pp. 160-161; italics added)
So Jesus has a soul? If so, where is His soul now?

In heaven at the right hand of God. Jesus continues to be one Divine Person (God the Son) with a human nature and a divine nature. He rose from the dead and possessed (unlike the Father or Holy Spirit) a glorified human body, that continues to exist forever. Along with His human nature and body is also human intellect and a human soul. The soul is a human thing: the immaterial and immortal part of a human being: the portion that continues when the body dies, and where our identity really lies. So when Christ took on human nature He also acquired a soul. God the Father doesn't have a soul, nor does God the Holy Spirit.

For more on this, see: Catholic Encyclopedia: "Knowledge of Christ".

How do Catholics distinguish between "soul" and "spirit"?

From Catholic Encyclopedia: "Spirit":
(Latin spiritus, spirare, "to breathe"; Gk. pneuma; Fr. esprit; Ger. Geist). As these names show, the principle of life was often represented under the figure of a breath of air. The breath is the most obvious symptom of life, its cessation the invariable mark of death; invisible and impalpable, it stands for the unseen mysterious force behind the vital processes. Accordingly we find the word "spirit" used in several different but allied senses: (1) as signifying aliving, intelligent, incorporeal being, such as the soul; (2) as the fiery essence or breath (the Stoic pneuma) which was supposed to be the universal vital force; (3) as signifying some refined form of bodily substance, a fluid believed to act as a medium between mind and the grosser matter of the body.

. . . In Theology, the uses of the word are various. In the New Testament, it signifies sometimes the soul of man (generally its highest part, e.g., "the spirit is willing"), sometimes the supernatural action of God in man, sometimes the Holy Ghost ("the Spirit of Truth Whom the world cannot receive"). The use of this term to signify the supernatural life of grace is the explanation of St. Paul's language about the spiritual and the carnal man and his enumeration of the three elements, spirit, soul, and body, . . .

(cf. Catholic Encyclopedia: "Soul")
Was Butler implying that Jesus Christ was created?

We mustn't ever say "creation of Jesus Christ." That is the Arian heresy (now held by Jehovah's Witnesses and Christadelphians) that reduces Jesus to a mere creature. What was created was Jesus' human body and soul and human intellect. That was the new thing: "God became man." The quote in Butler (above) was:
. . . the soul of Jesus Christ, produced from nothing . . .
God gained a worshiper at the Incarnation that He didn't have before? Huh?

The worship of Jesus towards His Father is a bit different insofar as this is one member of the Godhead paying homage to another, whereas our worship is that of the fundamentally and essentially lesser or inferior creature towards the infinite Creator (adoration). With Jesus and His Father, it is the relationship of subordination that Jesus willingly took on when He became man (Philippians 2:5-11: what is called the kenosis). In that sense he "worships" His Father, while at all times remaining equal to Him in essence.

Accordingly, I submit that this distinction may be the reason why I haven't been able to find anywhere in the New Testament where Jesus "worships" the Father (Greek: proskuneo), or "the Son worshiped the Father," etc. If anyone finds such a verse, please let me know. The Greek word (usually "worship" in English translation) is frequently applied to people worshiping Jesus or the Father.

But, of course, as an observant Jew, Jesus attended Temple and synagogue services and worshiped the Father insofar as the services involved that. One might say this was similar to His getting baptized, even though He had no sin to get rid of. It was more of a love relationship and the submission of Son to Father within the trinitarian Godhead, without implying inequality. Jesus also "submitted" to Mary and Joseph (Luke 2:51) and He certainly wasn't inferior to them.

See also: Catholic Encyclopedia: "Christian Worship".

Is it true and correct to assert that Jesus was not fully divine from eternity?

The heresy of Nestorianism claimed that Jesus grew in consciousness to figure out that He was God. This is in direct contradiction to the orthodox Christology of the Council of Chalcedon in 451, but it is very common in liberal theological circles and even (mostly unwittingly) in more orthodox Protestant realms.

The Butler quote merely stated that the soul of Jesus had a beginning; was created. That's perfectly orthodox and doesn't deny His divinity in the least. To say that Jesus was created, on the other hand, is the heresy of Arianism.

The Incarnation was something new, that had a starting-point in time. But the divinity of Jesus never had a beginning anymore than the divinity of God the Father or the Holy Spirit did. All three Persons are eternal, and God. The Hypostatic Union was the development in Christology that sought to explain the relationship of the Divine and Human Natures in Jesus. He acquired the latter but always possessed the former, from eternity.

Lots of folks today either don't understand these things or outright deny them. This is why we have the Church, to guide us into correct theology, because, as with a journey to another town, a mere foot in the wrong direction initially can lead to being 500 miles off-target later on.

* * *

Does 1 Corinthians 15:28 suggest worship of the Father from the Son?
When all things are subjected to him, then the Son himself will also be subjected to him who put all things under him, that God may be everything to every one.
(RSV, as throughout; Rheims / KJV: "all in all")
Also, Jesus says:
John 8:28–29 When you have lifted up the Son of man, then you will know that I am he, and that I do nothing on my own authority but speak thus as the Father taught me. And he who sent me is with me; he has not left me alone, for I always do what is pleasing to him.

John 10:30 I and the Father are one.

John 14:28 The Father is greater than I.
* * *

I'd still have to say, though, that those come under the general area of "submission" rather than worship per se. I would note, too, that we have the motif of Jesus submitting to the Father, but there are also indications of something roughly (but probably not quite) the opposite of that. You noted 1 Corinthians 15:28: "that God may be all in all" but there is also Colossians 3:11: ". . . Christ is all, and in all."

Note that the Jehovah's Witnesses distort this verse (1 Cor 15:28) and also John 14:28 to "prove" that Jesus was a created being and lesser than God. The following passages round out the "biblical picture" a bit:

John 16:15 All that the Father has is mine; therefore I said that he will take what is mine and declare it to you.

John 16:23-24 In that day you will ask nothing of me. Truly, truly, I say to you, if you ask anything of the Father, he will give it to you in my name. Hitherto you have asked nothing in my name; ask, and you will receive, that your joy may be full.

* * *

Orthodox Christology depends very much on how we phrase things (just like the old conciliar discussions of homoousion). As a human baby, Jesus did not understand all things. His human nature was limited and so He had to learn within that nature, like anyone else. But the Divine Nature was also present at all times, side-by-side with the human, and in the Divine Nature He did understand all things, being omniscient. And what is said of the Divine Nature can be said of Jesus the Person. It's tough to discuss because the categories (like the Holy Trinity) are foreign to our own experience. But we have no choice. This is how God has revealed Himself.

Explain how Jesus could be present in heaven as God while He was also present here on earth? This is difficult for us to grasp.

Jesus was a Spirit (the Logos / Word) before He became a man. He didn't cease to become a divine spirit when He became man, because God is a Spirit, and God is omniscient. On the other hand, Jesus' unique role in the Holy Trinity is to be a flesh-and-blood man, so in a sense He is "completed" at the Incarnation, and so I think we can say that the "whole Jesus" as He would be henceforth for eternity (in a glorified sense) was present on the earth when He was here with us, in the first century.

It's no more implausible or difficult to accept, I think, that Jesus could be bodily on the earth (as Messiah and God the Incarnate Son) and spiritually in heaven (as Logos) at the same time, as it is to believe that God can be three Persons simultaneously and remain one God, with the Son on earth praying to the Father in heaven (and both being the one God), the Father sending the Son, the Holy Spirit indwelling all believers, etc. It's another mystery, for sure, but no more so than what we are already familiar with.

Orthodox Christians emphasize that the entire Incarnation, and Jesus' entire life, death, Resurrection, and Ascension saves us, as opposed to Jesus' death on the cross alone, and that human nature is raised to partake in a sense in divine nature (theosis or divinization).

I love theosis, and have written about it. It's true that the East emphasizes this more, but it is contrary to nothing in Western Christianity, and the Catechism mentions it several times (#398, 460, 1129, 1265, 1812, 1988).

In fact, our emphasis on things like the Mediatorship of Mary could be defended by analogy on these grounds (as I have done). God makes us more like Him and so He chooses to distribute grace through Mary. That's because God has raised human beings (and especially the Blessed Virgin) to such a high state due to the Incarnation.

* * *

The citation from Ott is very abstract and heavy. I always have to read it several times myself to make sure I grasp it (as all truly good philosophy requires one to do). The key is the following portion:
As Christ's Divine Person subsists in two natures, and may be referred to either of those two natures, so human things can be asserted of the son of God and Divine things of the Son of Man.
To say, for example, "Jesus is omnipresent," is perfectly fine, because Jesus is the Person Who has the Two Natures. Whatever is true in either Nature can be said of the Divine Person, Jesus. A dim analogy would be our possessing both a body and a soul. What is true of either can be referred to us as a person:
"My (i.e., this person, Dave Armstrong's) soul cannot be physically harmed or destroyed."
"I (i.e., my body) can be physically harmed or killed."
When I say "I will live forever" that is primarily referring to my immaterial soul (though we will receive resurrection bodies too). If I say "I will die, just like every other person," then I am referring to the limitations of a physical body. Death, in fact, is literally the separation of soul and body. It is not the destruction of the soul (as in the false view of annihilation or denial of immortality of the soul). Therefore, death by definition must refer to only one part of us ceasing to exist (our body) but not the other part, the soul. But we generally simply say, "I will eventually die."
With Jesus it is a little more complex, because He is both God and Man, and He has a Divine Nature and a Human Nature side-by-side, and these are not identical. We can assert, "Jesus is omnipresent" because in His Divine Nature He is. We can also say "Jesus learned like a man" or "Jesus was in one place at one time while on the earth" because those statements are referring to His Human Nature (without saying it: it is the unspoken premise).
We can even say (somewhat surprisingly at first glance) that "God died." That is orthodox Catholic theology, because Jesus was God. God became Man, and this Divine Person and Man died (i.e., in His Human Nature). Therefore, God died.
What we can't do is confuse the natures with each other, and say something like "In His Human Nature, Jesus was omnipresent." That is untrue. We can't say, "Jesus as the Eternal Word / Logos before the Incarnation was spatially limited." He (as Logos) isn't in space at all, because He is a spirit. And as an eternal Spirit, He wasn't in time, either, so to even refer to "was" in this context is inaccurate (which is why Jesus said, "before Abraham was, I am" -- John 8:58).
The reasoning is also similar in the theology of Mary as Theotokos, or "Mother of God" or "God-bearer." We can say that because Jesus is God! Mary didn't just give birth to the Human Nature of Jesus, but to the Divine Person, Jesus. Therefore, we can assert that she was the Mother of God. She bore, of course (another unspoken, assumed premise) the incarnate God (as opposed to the eternal Spirit Who cannot be conceived and given birth to, being both Spirit and eternal and ungenerated), but He was still God.
As another way of looking at it, we don't describe human mothers in the following ways: "she gave birth to a soul" or "Sue gave birth to yet another human body at 4:03 AM today." We say, "Jane gave birth to a healthy baby boy, Bocephus, at 4:03 AM today." We say this, knowing that the soul is a direct creation of God. Birth is not creation, but procreation. Parents played a role in the physical bodies of their offspring (by genetics and reproduction) but not the souls. Yet we always refer to the person born, who is composed of both body and soul.
Thus, we could state, "Jane gave birth to Bocephus, who possesses an eternal soul made in the image of God."
Another (quite imperfect) analogy would be our struggle between "flesh" and "spirit." They are two parts of us that war against each other. We are fallen creatures and children of Adam, yet when regenerated we become children of God. When we're led by the Indwelling Spirit we are doing what we are created to do, but when led by the flesh or the devil, through concupiscence and temptation, we are following another spirit.
All these analogies are trying to show instances of one person who has more than one part. In Jesus' case (Two Natures or Hypostatic Union) they always work together and are harmonious, though distinct. The same applies to the distinction of Persons within the Holy Trinity.
Created human beings have a body and a soul, and a flesh and a spirit (in the spiritual sense). The huge and essential difference in our case is that we have internal conflict, whereas God does not. But the analogies help us to comprehend how Jesus could have both a Divine and Human Nature.
I love "analogical argument." I hope this has been helpful and not further confusing. It helps me, too, to better understand the Incarnation and the Hypostatic Union, even while I am writing.

Thursday, March 27, 2008

Brief Presentation of the Theistic Argument From Longing or Beauty

[ Source ]

I think the theist can make a strong, general appeal to beauty and aesthetics as an intrinsic part of the universe, and as necessary in their own way as breathing and brain waves. I would contend that there is a link between the beauty we perceive in the order and proportion, dramatic contrast, design, symmetry, color, etc., of creation, and the God Who lies behind all that.

In other words, it could be argued as a subset of the teleological argument for God (the argument from design). Plenty of atheists or non-Christian types have made statements along these lines. Albert Einstein (a sort of pantheist) comes to mind:
Everyone who is seriously involved in the pursuit of science becomes convinced that a spirit is manifest in the laws of the universe -- a spirit vastly superior to that of man . . . In this way the pursuit of science leads to a religious feeling of a special sort . . .

(To student Phyllis Right, who asked if scientists pray; January 24, 1936)

In view of such harmony in the cosmos which I, with my limited human mind, am able to recognize, there are yet people who say there is no God.

(to German anti-Nazi diplomat and author Hubertus zu Lowenstein around 1941)

Then there are the fanatical atheists . . . They are creatures who can't hear the music of the spheres.

(August 7, 1941)

My religiosity consists of a humble admiration of the infinitely superior spirit that reveals itself in the little that we can comprehend about the knowable world. That deeply emotional conviction of the presence of a superior reasoning power, which is revealed in the incomprehensible universe, forms my idea of God.

(To a banker in Colorado, 1927. Cited in the New York Times obituary, April 19, 1955)
I commented on these statements:
Now, I ask atheists: whence comes Einstein's "deeply felt conviction"? Is it a philosophical reason or the end result of a syllogism? He simply has it. It is an intuitive or instinctive feeling or "knowledge" or "sense of wonder at the incredible, mind-boggling marvels of the universe" in those who have it. Atheists don't possess this intuition, but my point is that it is not utterly implausible or unable to be held by even the most rigorous, "non-dogmatic" intellects, such as Einstein and Hume. And the atheist has to account for that fact somehow, it seems to me.
The other approach I would use is the "argument from longing." Many atheists feel this longing or deep yearning in the enjoyment of nature or a great cathedral. We can build on that and construct a persuasive argument from it that can be interesting to them and non-confrontational.

See an article about C.S. Lewis's version of the "argument from desire" and another fabulous piece on "Aesthetic Arguments for God." See also an interview with Peter Kreeft: "A Baptism of Imagination" and his treatment of the argument from desire.

Those are two possible ways to approach such subjects with atheists and agnostics (as good as any).

Related reading:

Dialogue With Atheists on the Evolution of the Eye, Irreducible Complexity, and Intelligent Design (Dave Armstrong vs. Steve Conifer)
Dialogue on Materialist Evolutionary Theory and Intelligent Design (including St. Augustine's and St. Thomas Aquinas' Views on Creation and Evolution) (Dave Armstrong vs. five agnostics)
Intelligent Design: Scientists' Observations

The Atheist's Boundless Faith in Deo-Atomism ("The Atom-as-God")

Was Skeptical Philosopher David Hume an Atheist? [Hume was actually a deist or "minimal theist" and espoused one version of the teleological argument (theistic argument from design) ]

Catholic Predestination, Molinism, and Thomism in a Nutshell

St. Thomas Aquinas

[ source ]

The Catholic teaching is neither Pelagian nor semi-Pelagian, though we are constantly falsely accused of this by Calvinists and even in the Lutheran confessions. Calvinists also unfairly accuse Arminian Protestants (including Lutherans) of semi-Pelagianism. Basically, many Calvinists (with their "either/or" mentality) collapse any position that holds to free will and predestination in paradox, as both true (like the Bible does), as Pelagian. It can't comprehend God predestining alongside human beings with free will. Its presuppositions don't allow that.

Nor can many Lutherans (who are Arminians) comprehend that Catholic soteriology is non-Pelagian, because we believe in things like merit, penance, and purgatory. They can't wrap their minds around those things as grace-caused and grace-soaked, and so they (in their own "official" confessions) accuse us of Pelagianism too. It's not true. I've written a lot about this issue:

A Primer on Semi-Pelagianism and Arminianism

Did the Council of Trent Teach That Man is Saved By His Own Works?

Dialogue on the Alleged Semi-Pelagianism of the Catholic Catechism

Soteriology and Creation (Man's Cooperation, Pelagianism, Nature and Grace) (with Reformed pastor Peter J. Leithart)

1 Corinthians 3:9 and Man's Cooperation With God

Is Catholic Soteriology Pelagian? (Reginald de Piperno) (+ Discussion)

Confessional Lutheran, Arminian, and Melanchthonian Soteriology Compared (Are Philip Melanchthon and Arminians Semi-Pelagians?)
Catholics break down into two camps on the predestination issue: Thomism and Molinism. Sometimes Thomists accuse Molinists of being semi-Pelagian, and Molinists accuse Thomists of being Calvinists in "predestination soteriology," but this is untrue as well, and the Church has stated that neither side can anathematize the other. Both choices are fully permissible. I myself am a Molinist. And I've engaged in extensive discussion of this issue:
Did God Harden Pharaoh's Heart? (Does God Positively Ordain Evil?) (vs. an atheist)

Supposed Contradiction Between 2 Samuel 24 and 1 Chronicles 21 (God or Satan as Cause?)

On the Alleged Contradictions of 2 Samuel 24, and 1 Chronicles 21 and 27 (vs. an atheist)

Reply to a Calvinist Critique Concerning the "Hardening of Pharaoh's Heart" (+ Discussion) (vs. Reformed apologist Colin Smith)

A Dialogue on the Nature of God's Foreknowledge and Sovereignty
(with Dr. Alex Pruss; now a Catholic philosopher)

Dialogue on Molinism (Speculations on How God Predestines) (vs. "JS": a Thomist)

Molinism, Middle Knowledge, and Predestination: Suarez, Congruism, and the Elegantly Ingenious Solution of Fr. William G. Most

Dialogue on Molinism and God's Mode of Predestination (+ Part II | Part III | Part IV) (vs. "JS")
Here are some basic papers about Catholics and predestination:

Do Catholics Believe in Predestination?

Catholic Predestination (Ludwig Ott)
St. Augustine did not reject human free will, as the Calvinists do. His is a distinct position from theirs. See: St. Augustine: Are Reformed Protestants or Catholics Closer Theologically to His Teaching?

The Church teaches that the elect saved are predestined (and this is true in both Thomism and Molinism). It teaches (just like Augustine and over against Calvinism) that we have a free will, too. But it denies that the damned are predestined to hell ("double predestination"). The saved persons choose to accept God's grace for salvation, entirely by God's grace. The damned choose to reject this grace, and so basically choose to separate themselves from God and go to hell for eternity. God doesn't predestine that, as Calvinism (and Martin Luther) teach. C.S. Lewis made an astute comment that "the doors of hell are locked on the inside."

Catholics are content to live with mystery and paradox. We don't feel the need to resolve every deep issue in theology, like Protestants often do, with their interminable internal controversies.
Molinism doesn't deny predestination and is not semi-Pelagian (nor is it officially required for any Catholic to believe in the first place).

How does anyone "choose God"? That's one of the big questions in the larger discussion. Molinism doesn't present any insuperable obstacle to this question. They choose in the same way they choose to sin or not sin at any given moment. If we seek God (and the very seeking is necessarily and always caused by God), He will give us the enabling grace to refrain from sin, and to follow Him as well, all the way to salvation. But we do make that choice, and this is presupposed in the Bible (and Catholic theology), along with the absolute necessity of grace and predestination of the elect.

What Trent teaches on salvation is perfectly compatible with either Molinism or Thomism. If the former were semi-Pelagian at all, the Church would have condemned it along with the ancient heresy. But it has not.

By and large, I consider that the practical, day-to-day Christian life and how to be a faithful Catholic are far more important in the scheme of things than highly abstract, intensely philosophical discussion of some of the greatest mysteries of the faith. Those usually generate far more heat than light. I've done some of it, too, as anyone can see, but the emphasis I place on it is very low in my priorities as a Catholic and general Christian apologist.

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

The Ghost of Martin Luther Interviews Bishop James White About Dastardly, Wascally Luther-Basher Dave Armstrong

WITTENBERG, GERMANY 22 September 2004
Reuters News Service, 11:05 AM EST

by Philip Grelankdon, mild-mannered reporter

The ghost of Martin Luther, the great Reformer of Christendom, founder of Lutheranism (and some say, of Protestantism) appeared suddenly today in the streets of Wittenberg, where he nailed his famous 95 Theses on the door of the local church, igniting the Protestant Reformation, restoring the gospel from the darkness of Pelagian Roman Catholicism, and the Bible from the ash-heaps (and chains) that the papists had consigned it to, in the dead language of Latin, in addition to (most importantly) spearheading the movement to allow clergy to marry and for Protestants to simply "appropriate" (biased papists ridiculously refer to this as "stealing") hundreds of Roman Catholic churches and monasteries for themselves (etc., etc.).

The occasion was the visit of Reformed Protestant apologist and Unvanquishable Debater Bishop James White, who was in town to do a bit of research in order to counter (someone has to do this "dirty work") the wascally Roman Catholic apologist Dave Armstrong, who is known far and wide on the Internet and in larger Christian apologetic circles as the most loud-mouthed, prolific, relentless Luther-basher (and even Luther-hater, according to several critics who pipe up now and then on Internet discussion boards).

Luther (never one to mince words) felt compelled to set the record straight on a few things, and to probe the mind of one who thinks of little else than to defend the great Reformer from all the aspersions, slanders, lies, half-truths, suppressed facts, distortions, twisted presentations, out-of-context quoting, inaccuracies, selective materials, false innuendoes, immoral insinuations, undocumented potshots, guilt-by-association, revisionist history, and various other unsavory and unethical tactics, methods, strategies, and modus operandi of folks of the ilk of (and typified by) Dave Armstrong.

On earth, Luther was not one who often listened to opposing viewpoints, but he has learned a few things in the afterlife, and now (it can't fail to strike one) listens much more carefully and examines views contrary to his own with considerably greater care, precision, and charity than he formerly did. He desired to conduct an interview with Bishop James White, to hear what the latter had to say. He was not, however, found to be lacking in his own many suggestions and arguments, by any means. Luther remains a feisty, passionate, charming, and likable character to this day.

Here is the interview in its entirety. It will be distributed throughout Germany in 16th-century retro tracts accompanied by vulgar cartoons of Dave Armstrong being worshiped by his followers as he rides into town atop a hideous dragon-like beast, carrying his 1912 propagandistic tracts, papers, and books, amidst all the pomp and pathetic pageantry worthy of a medieval pope at the height of his debauchery (further description of the cartoons might offend more sensitive readers with their delicate 21st-century sensibilities).

Martin Luther = ML ( [fictional] words in blue)

Bishop James White = JW ( [fictional] words in black)

[Dave Armstrong's -- actual -- words will be in red]

ML Good morning, James.

JW Dr. Luther! Merciful heavens! Is it really you?

ML Yes, I'm afraid so.

JW I can't tell you how thrilled I am to meet you! This is unbelievable. So you are here? It's not just a dream or one of those false Marian-like apparitions that I am experiencing?

ML Here I stand. I can do no other, because those of us in the afterlife are compelled to do some things that we cannot not do.

JW So you were saved, after all! Ha ha!! I can't wait to taunt my Roman Catholic enemies about this! [smiles broadly]

ML Yes, I was saved, but it is nothing, really, to be proud of. It's all grace; sola gratia.

JW So what's it like in heaven? I'm curious.

ML I don't know; I haven't gotten there yet.

JW What?!? I don't get it??!! [puzzled expression]

ML I'm in purgatory, still being purged of my many sins while on earth.

JW [speechless, and taken aback, looking extremely shocked; eventually recovering his composure]. Now why should I believe that? We are told that even if an angel of heaven appears to preach a gospel contrary to . . .

ML James! [eyes flash with indignation] Do you think my words are an "epistle of straw"? Get a grip!

JW Alright . . . [discombobulated]

ML I really am Martin Luther! There is a purgatory. Do you want me to use some extraordinarily crude gutter language to prove that I am me? I might have to get permission to do that, but I think they would let me, because it is for a good cause . . .

JW No. I suppose you are you. I don't wanna fight with you! There is a lot I wanna talk about. We'll have to let this purgatory thing slide for now, for the sake of peace. But please don't use gutter language. I never criticize you for that (I only criticize Armstrong and lie about his use of it), but my innocent ears can't bear to hear such things.

ML Sure.

JW Why do you want to talk to me, of all people? What an honor!

ML I want to find out more about your efforts to defend me and some of my beliefs and actions while on earth, and to discuss this Dave Armstrong guy.

JW Armstrong??!!! Come on, Dr. Luther, do we have to talk about him? He writes so much false stuff about you, and endless meaningless nonsense about all kinds of things.

ML I do appreciate the fact that your intention is to look out for me. I should have acted that way with many more of my Protestant brothers on earth, but unfortunately, I made so many of them enemies and "damned" so many to hell, that many opportunities for charity and further understanding were lost
[looks very regretful, with head down].

JW It's my pleasure, Dr. Luther. Don't feel bad. You are a great hero to many of us.

ML [embarrassed by the compliment] Please, call me Martin.

JW Okay, Martin. Well, you see, I am concerned about truth, just as you were (this is what I and many love about you the most). Roman Catholics (especially their apologists) often try to tear down this truth, and they go after you to try and make some "points" about Protestantism not being true.

ML Do they? Tell me more.

JW Martin, they are trying to paint you as this immoral, bad man. I try to explain to them that whatever your character was, that has no bearing on the lost truths you reintroduced to the Christian Church in the 16th century. Why can't they understand that? They're so hung up on saints, relics, and all that gibberish, that they miss the forest for the trees.

ML I thought that, too, while on earth; yes, but . . .

JW And Armstrong bothers me the most. He lies and has hatred, and writes tons and tons about you and people are starting to believe it! This is what must be opposed. We can't have a Catholic running around, educating people about you, because this is our heritage! And he distorts your opinions. I have taken it upon myself to correct him publicly, and expose these objectionable tactics.

ML You don't think he hates me?

JW I think so. He creates a picture of you as a very morally bankrupt person.

ML Well, I must say that I haven't seen this, in perusing his many papers about me. He gives me a hard time and offers many criticisms, but for the most part they are warranted, and not unreasonable at all, especially coming from a Catholic perspective. I don't see that he paints me as a "bad man." For example, he has written:

He was an undeniably courageous man and a passionately-committed Christian, but he was also a greatly-flawed man, and such persons often cause much harm in society, to the extent that they are culturally influential (as Luther obviously was) . . . My purpose is not (at ALL) to demonize Luther or make him out to be bad, evil, or the devil incarnate, but only to present a fuller historical picture (whatever the truth is: "positive" or "negative") and to make some criticisms where I think they are warranted (with the background support of historians on all sides). This doesn't amount to equating Luther with Attila the Hun, Vlad the Impaler, or Joseph Stalin; it is simply viewing him as a fallen, flawed man, as all of us are.
And -- believe it or not-- I (like many Catholics) do admire him in certain ways. I like his passion and boldness and apparent sincerity and good intentions (though thoroughly deluded and wrongheaded). He had a great devotion to the Virgin Mary and to the Eucharist.
I have never maintained that Luther was "evil" or essentially a "bad" man, nor have I ever denied his good intentions (I think I am being remarkably ecumenical in those respects). No one can find those sentiments on my website (if they do -- i.e., if I remember incorrectly --, I will promptly remove them).
I find Luther to be a fascinating (and oftentimes admirable, even quite charming) person.

I have no desire whatsoever to misrepresent him or run him down as an evil man, but simply to contrast his teaching with that of the Catholic Church (and to rejoice where agreement is present).

And (referring to some of Sir Arnold Lunn's opinions of me):
His appraisal of Luther, is, I think, quite charitable and fair, and not similar in tone and tenor to those authors who might reasonably be described as anti-Protestant and/or anti-Luther; -- those who are determined to defame and slander Luther at all costs, including any dispassionate concern for historical truth.
He agreed with Lunn's statement:
Those who have maintained that Luther himself was guilty of immorality have failed to prove their case.
Another bogus charge is that I "hate" Martin Luther. I do not, of course (quite the contrary: I admire him in many ways) and I have made that clear in several papers. I don't think he was an evil man and I don't question his sincerity or religious motivations. Beyond that, I have essentially defended him in several papers against false charges, . . .

In fact, in my recent exchange . . . about Luther's view of good works, I (in effect) defended Luther from the all-too-common charge that he denies the necessity of good works. I had already been doing that for years, . . . including in my first book, A Biblical Defense of Catholicism. On my blog recently, I did so again, in response to a Catholic who didn't understand some fine points of Luther's view. Furthermore, I often cite Luther favorably when he agrees with the Catholic position, as in several papers about his Mariology, and his views on the Eucharist and baptismal regeneration.

In my upcoming book, The Catholic Verses: 95 Bible Passages That Confound Protestants, I cite him at length in opposition to contraception and deliberately childless marriages (where he makes some marvelous and dead-on observations, with his characteristic passion and zeal and eloquence). When Luther is right about
something he is brilliantly right, and I happily regard him as my ally at those

Some people realize that I am doing this, and then I get accused of being hypocritical, since I disagree with Luther in one place and agree with himin another, as if this is somehow inexplicably improper. LOL You can't win for losing. Why can't these critics see that I am simply after the truth, wherever it lies? I think Luther got some things wrong and some things right. This is some incredible, incomprehensible phenomenon?

. . . The reason I write about Luther is obvious. If you don't get it, many others do. But that doesn't mean my interest is to bash Luther and lie about him. I'm simply trying to provide a bit of a Catholic viewpoint. All we hear is the Protestant side. It's called "balance" and "fairness" and "hearing both sides of the story." The truth is far more interesting than either the Protestant hagiographical or Catholic demonizing tendencies in dealing with Martin Luther. And that is what I am always after.

I would hope that I have grown in my twelve years of writing on these issues as a Catholic. I freely admit that my materials from the early 90s, right after my conversion, were far more polemical than I would write them today. Much of my writing about Luther on my site a few years back was from that period. I have since revised those several times, and even removed some of them (such as a general paper about Luther). And I have sought to utilize more primary sources, in part because of legitimate criticisms that I needed to do so, and in part because I was more interested and motivated to do extra research.

And yes, it is true that some folks may generalize and claim things about my work and opinions that are not true, or unduly exaggerated. One lady, for example, said that I "hated" Martin Luther. You can see that this is not true, judging from your opinion of this one paper. I think she could have seen it too, but a lot of people just see what they want to see.

ML I can find no fault in any of this. I think he is dead-on. However you characterize these words, Armstrong is not saying I am "very morally bankrupt." Where do you get that impression? You ought to do much more careful research. Some of your papers and You Tube commentaries would have received a C- for these shortcomings if you had been in my class!

JW Well, Martin; I don't think I'm that far off the mark . . .

ML We must be very careful in dealing with other people's opinions (believe me, I have learned this lesson the hard way), and give them the benefit of the doubt that they are sincere in their self-reports. Armstrong has written so much about me (so that he holds no "secrets"), and he has reiterated recently the fact that he has written some twenty papers in which he actually defends me against some common falsehoods or does not oppose my opinion. How could you miss statements like this?

JW I don't know. Maybe my opinion as to what Romanist bias would cause in a student of Luther (um, you!) caused me to overlook it?

ML Now that is an excellent observation!

JW [seeking to quickly change the subject] You had all that material in your memory?

ML Yes! You wouldn't believe how the afterlife concentrates and refines the mind. It's incredible. And it helps to prevent a lot of misunderstanding, because all of this knowledge is right there when you need it. On earth, you have to go read things to remember. Fortunately, Armstrong's writings are there, and he plainly gives his opinion. He's a lot like me in that way!
[wry smile]

JW We do get carried away sometimes on earth, I suppose, in our zeal to prove some point.

ML I was the all-time leading expert and practitioner of that! But I learned that the first responsibility of any criticism is to accurately represent one's opponent's viewpoint, and also not to speculate uncharitably on their state of mind or sincerity.

JW Even though Armstrong is not my brother in Christ. He still [haltingly and begrudgingly] deserves to have his works and words accurately portrayed.

ML What do you mean, he isn't your brother in Christ!?
[troubled look]

JW He's a Romanist!

ML So am I!

JW You're a Lutheran, aren't you?

ML I used to be, but now I am a Catholic (what you wrongly call "Romanist"). What a silly name of a church, anyway: "Lutheran." I didn't want people to follow me, but to follow Christ!

JW Why are you a Rom . . . er, Catholic now?!!!! This doesn't make any sense . . .

ML It makes all the sense in the world. Catholicism is true. Protestants possess a great deal of truth, but the Catholic Church possesses apostolic doctrine and Christian truth in its fullness. I only learned that when I got here. Some of us are late learners.

JW Wow! You mean you've renounced a lot of the stuff you preached on earth? The 95 Theses, Babylonian Captivity, Bondage of the Will, and all that?

ML Yes, of course. No errors and falsehoods are permitted in either purgatory or heaven. The game's over when you get here.

JW I don't know what to say. As with purgatory, we will have to avoid those subjects for now. I can't handle a Romanist Martin Luther . . . that's too bizarre to even process . . .


JW You have a great laugh! I heard that about you.

ML Thanks! LOLOL I had a great big mouth while on earth too! LOLOL It is extremely difficult to unlearn things in purgatory that one was so convinced were true, let me tell you . . .

JW Martin! Let's get back to Armstrong, and get away from this Roman Catholic stuff. I've had enough of that.

ML Okay. Why do you and so many anti-Catholics accuse Armstrong of misrepresenting my mistaken views of capital punishment for heresy?

JW He is always emphasizing that you want to kill everybody . . .

ML I didn't want to do that . . .

JW I know, but he says that you did, so I (and some of my cronies in my fan club) let him have it.

ML That's simply not true! Haven't you seen his paper on my views regarding the Peasants' Revolt?

JW No. I don't read Armstrong's papers because they have no substance or content. They're just meaningless verbiage.

ML Why?!

JW Dr. Luther, Dave Armstrong is causing great harm, because he is leading people astray, and into the falsehood of Roman Catholicism . . .

ML That's another topic. Armstrong quotes me scores of times, and my early views against violence and insurrection were made very clear in his paper on the Peasants' Revolt.
I was contradictory, of course, as usual, but he documented everything.

JW But he is always bashing you, saying negative things and making out that you were some sort of nutty, foul-mouthed scoundrel!

ML I was not perfect. I was always the first to admit that. I had a problem with my tongue. What I'm curious about, is that if I readily admitted this myself, why do you become so upset when a Catholic merely points out historical facts?

JW Okay. Maybe you're right. But it's just maddening to see Dave ranting and raving about you.

ML But this is inaccurate! He hasn't done that!

JW Yes he has!

ML Give me an example, then.

JW Well how about when he talked about you supposedly being an "irascible old man"?

ML I was! LOLOL There is nothing in what Dave has written that hasn't been written long since by scores of Protestant historians.
I wrote some terrible things in my last years: against the Jews, against Catholics and the Catholic Church, even against fellow Protestants. I will always regret that. Part of the reason was that I was a frustrated old man, with a lot of health problems (especially digestion: oh boy! I sure wish we had had Maalox when I was on earth!), But that doesn't excuse a lot of the garbage I wrote. Dave also noted these health problems in his earliest papers about me, but whatever excuses I had, doesn't negate Dave's point about the bad things I did do.

JW But Martin, come on! You know that you were frustrated because you weren't allowed to talk at Worms or anywhere else. They tried to shut you up.

ML Yes, but perhaps there is a time to shut up and to accept existing teaching? Who was I to question it and think I was almost some sort of prophet with all this truth, coming to earth to teach the Catholic Church what it should believe and not believe? For what reason should they have listened to me, if I contradicted what they had believed for 2000 years? Name me one.

JW You backed yourself up from the Bible! They can't do that.

ML I thought I did, but I was wrong. The things I emphasized that I am most proud of were doctrines that really were already traditionally Catholic, but simply less-practiced during that time, for many reasons: things like sola gratia and devotion to the Bible. Catholics loved the Bible in the Middle Ages. There is this stupid, &%^$-filled, lie (oops; there's my old bad habit of filthy talk again! sorry!) that I was the first to translate the Bible in German. This is a swinish, heathenish, turd from the devil! There were nineteen German translations of the Bible, between 1466 and my time. That movie about me lied like a drunken bartender about this. Those %$^#$%^$^'s; they ought to be damned!
Sorry, again! Some things take a lot of time to correct. My mouth and lack of charity are two of them! [sheepish grin]

JW [smiling affectionately at Luther] Well, Martin, I don't approve of your language. I once tried to smear Dave Armstrong by violating the confidence of private letters and spreading falsehoods about his vulgar, profane tongue and sending letters to a bunch of people. But despite that fault, can I consult you the next time I write a paper about Dave Armstrong?

ML No. I don't approve of your methods.
I came for a purpose, and hopefully, I have fulfilled it, and accomplished it. The final result, however, lies with you.

JW I do want to be more accurate in the future and to be fair to Dave and the Romanist Church (even though it preaches a false gospel and leads people to hell). If there is anything I have learned from this talk, it is that.

ML Great, James! But you don't need me to do that. You just have to do a little more reading and grant the benefit of the doubt. I'm preaching to myself!
[smiling in a self-deprecating manner] I failed miserably to do this during my stay on earth. Obviously, God is still working on me.

JW But please; this has been so helpful. Can't we talk again?

ML Not in this way. But don't despair. You can always ask me to pray for you (and I will, whether you ask or not), and you can ask the Blessed Virgin Mary, the Immaculate Queen of Heaven to intercede for you, since "the prayer of a righteous man availeth much," and she was sinless even before she went to heaven.

JW Martin! Here we go with that Romanist nonsense again . . .

ML But I taught most of that even when I was on the earth, silly!
[vanishes, with a huge, hearty laugh, heard for a long time fading away in the distance]

JW [shakes his head, smiles, ponders for a long time in amazement what just took place; then he wanders off to the local Wittenberg pub and then the library, to do more research on Dave Armstrong; now determined to read all his papers on Luther before starting his next critique, so that, next time, he doesn't get caught in several completely avoidable errors, logical shortcomings, and factual mistakes . . .]

Posted: 9-22-04. Revised slightly: 9-28-04. Major revision: 6 April 2008.

Monday, March 24, 2008

The World's Shortest Free Will Defense (FWD) Argument Against the Problem of Evil

Vladimir Lenin

I think the simplest way we mere mortals can understand these deep things is the following "chart":
1) With free will and free choice comes the necessary potentiality for evil choice.
2) The only way to absolutely avoid the evil choice altogether (even for an omnipotent being) is to eliminate all choice, and create mere robots or automatons.
3) #2 doesn't allow a free, loving relationship. It eliminates meaning and purpose, and creatures made in the image of God. It reduces human beings to animals.
4) Therefore, because of #3, God chose the option of #1, because love with the presence of evil also is better than a state of affairs with no evil but also no love and meaning among creatures.
For an in-depth treatment, see my longer paper, from my book Christian Worldview vs. Postmodernism, and other similar papers at my Philosophy, Science, and Christianity web page.

Garden Variety Atheist and Skeptical Objections to Christianity Briefly Answered

Famous atheist philosopher Bertrand Russell

This is based on a member at the CHNI forum recounting of her brother's objections (paraphrased here, in blue).

* * * * *

How can we really know what God is like?

By taking a look at Jesus. That'll give a very good idea of what God is like. If a skeptic thinks Jesus isn't God then he can start by explaining why He claimed the extraordinary things He did. It goes back to C.S. Lewis's "Lord, liar, or lunatic" scenario.

In order for God to know Himself, we had to be created?

That doesn't follow. God is in need of nothing. He created us so that we could have life. It was an act of love on His part, not of necessity at all. How would anyone know that God doesn't know Himself?! That notion is just pulled out of thin air, based on nothing.

If God is so good, then why is there so much suffering?

Because of free will. As to natural evil, that is also necessary for the world to be orderly, as I explained at length in a long paper of mine.

Why can't God just instantly fix all the injustices, outrages, and atrocities?

Because to do so would override human free will. But it will all be fixed in the end, after the end of the age. So God "fixes" it, but it is in His time, not ours. Human beings have the power to "fix" a great many evils in the world. Why do we always have to blame God for what we entirely caused? It's the Flip Wilson blame-shifting mentality of Adam and Eve again. "The serpent made me do it" / "The woman made me do it" / "God (rather than man) did it. Why did He do it??!!"

How do we know what things are evil and good in the first place?

Now that is a great point. We wouldn't if God hadn't already put the knowledge of good and evil in us. Animals have very little sense of that. It's because we're made in the image of God, and because God is love, and morality is grounded in Him, that we instinctively know what is right and wrong. We're quite capable of unlearning that, though. Women learn to think it is okay to kill their own children, for heaven's sake. What could be more unnatural and instinctively wrong than that? But they do because it's usually men involved (playing the role of the tempter and accuser, Satan) , exploiting and using them and making them feel isolated and alienated; along with wicked male-originated feminist ideology. I've long thought that if it weren't for irresponsible, selfish men, it would never occur to virtually any woman to have an abortion.

I'm only seeking, and trying to expand my thinking!

I hope so. We can tell by how a skeptic responds to the answers we try to give him. If he automatically blows off everything we say (especially if it is done with condescension and smirking) then it is a safe bet that he doesn't want to hear the answers and is in rebellion. If he listens with attentiveness and respects and actually interacts with us, then it's safe to say that he has an open mind, though he could possibly be simultaneously courteous and closed-minded.

How can we completely understand suffering and evil?

The philosophers and apologists have given it a shot, to explain it as best as is possible. The Bible mostly opts for the explanation in Job, which is less an explanation than a plea to trust God no matter what. Of course atheists and skeptics find that thoroughly unsatisfactory because they have no faith yet.

And how can we totally understand God?

We can't. Why would anyone think we can? That's why philosophy has to operate in steps. First we determine if belief in God is rational. If we conclude that it is, then we conclude that men cannot totally understand an infinite, omniscient, eternal God. That's a given. It's silly to think that we could. Most of what we have come to truly know about God has come from revelation, not philosophy. We're not totally autonomous because we're made in God's image and every person has some knowledge of God within (Romans 1). God has to give us grace to understand Him at all. The grace is already there prior to our attempts to reason about God and theology.

Skeptics like this should be given Pascal to read. It's really different. Perhaps they'd be interested in Peter Kreeft's running commentary on Pascal. It's an excellent book. If a skeptic or atheist or agnostic wants some very heavy philosophical "meat" about faith and reason, I highly recommend An Essay in Aid of a Grammar of Assent by John Henry Newman.

Thursday, March 20, 2008

What Is An "Evangelical"? Can Catholics be Described by the Broader Adjective [Lower-Case] "evangelical"?

Francis Schaeffer (1912-1984): virtual "patron saint" of modern (post-WWII) evangelicalism

My good friend Paul R. Hoffer, a regular on this board (and lifelong Catholic), asked an excellent question:

What is the definition of an "evangelical" Protestant? Aside from the denominational labels which are not an altogether accurate description of what an individual Protestant believes, is there something which distinguishes an "evangelical" from a "reformed" or "mainline" Protestant? Or is it more how one perceives the Holy Spirit working in their lives so a person can be both "evangelical" and a "Lutheran" or "evangelical" and "reformed Presbyterian or Baptist" let's say.

The reason that I ask this is that one sees these terms bandied about in the news or on others' blogs so often in so many different ways that the meaning of the word "evangelical" tends to get washed out or becomes so general so as to have no meaning and instead becomes merely a label.
It could be approached from many angles, but without getting too lengthy, I would reply as follows:

1) Centrality of a definite conversion experience (getting "saved"), after hearing the gospel, and repenting and dedicating one's whole life to God (radical discipleship). A sub-argument that occurs on this score is the nature of the gospel itself: many Calvinists, for example, collapse its meaning to their own distinctive of TULIP, but I have long argued that this is improper and unbiblical. The central aspect of the gospel is Jesus' life, death, Resurrection, and atonement on the cross, on our behalf, as Redeemer of the world, not a particular technical theory of soteriology.

2) Personal relationship with God and an active prayer life.

3) Transforming of one's life after getting saved (deep roots there in the Wesleyan / holiness tradition; i.e., sanctification).

4) Revivalism and high emphasis on evangelism and "witnessing" (sharing the gospel and one's spiritual discoveries and experience with others; giving "testimony" -- sometimes we would joke about these in self-effacing manner as "testiphonies").

5) Presupposition of the two pillars of the "Reformation: sola Scriptura and sola fide ("Scripture alone" and "faith alone"). Sola fide presupposes grace alone, which is shared with Catholics and Orthodox.

6) #5, by definition, entails no infallible Church or Tradition (since sola Scriptura means that Scripture is the "only infallible authority"). Thus, an evangelical, strictly defined, is a Protestant, though the description, more broadly defined, shares many key elements with Catholicism, and indeed, I would call myself an "evangelical Catholic" (more often, however, an "orthodox Catholic") because of common elements other than these two "solas".

7) Strong belief in the infallibility and inerrancy of Scripture.

8) Adherence to the "fundamentals of (Protestant) Christianity" (basically the Nicene Creed).

9) Relatively more attention to Reason and Faith and Christ and Culture, over against the anti-intellectualism of Fundamentalism. This is stressed to differing degrees in different camps: most notably among the Reformed (people like Francis Schaeffer and Charles Colson).

10) Being more traditionally-minded in a Protestant sense, doctrinally and morally, so that "evangelicals" can be found in most denominations, as the more "orthodox" wing.

11) Evangelicalism transcends denominations (which is why it often thrives in "para-church" organizations like Inter-Varsity or Focus on the Family). It is more like a movement, like it's half-sister, the charismatic movement. Often, if not usually, the movement of "evangelicalism" is regarded as far more important and self-defining than the denomination one happens to be in.

12) It is a wider category than Reformed vs. Arminian or Baptist vs. Presbyterian. It also incorporates different views of the sacraments and (somewhat) of the relative importance or authority of Church history. The agreement is on the "big tent" elements above, while there are differences in many other areas.

This much is fairly clear; however, many today use this label because it has a certain pride to it, without believing one or more of the requirements as understood in the post-WWII period, and theological ignorance is becoming more and more widespread, as I have often noted.

Usually the first things to go are the infallibility of Scripture and the usual sexual doctrines that are hard to follow (divorce, cohabitation, etc.). Hence, more conservative denominations such as the Southern Baptists or Missouri Synod Lutherans, are constantly engaged in in-fighting, to preserve the traditional denominational "orthodoxy" (or to redefine or "update" it, from the perspective of the so-called more "progressive" factions).

This compromising or "downgrading" of traditional distinctives of a denomination is precisely what inexorably leads to "mainline Protestantism" -- which today is essentially synonymous with "liberal" or "postmodernist" Protestantism. Large denominations start merging together (note all the large "United" denominations) because they no longer believe what they used to believe and have less things in common, in a sort of "lowest common denominator" sort of skeletal Christianity. They have no doctrinal reason to be separated any longer.

Because that process of secularization and compromise has been going on for some 200 years (from the emergence of modern liberal religion, after the French Revolution and so-called "Enlightenment"), this in turn gives the "evangelicals" who reject and rebel against that additional self-definition and self-conceptualization as the "faithful remnant," etc. And it leads to further splits, often for good reason (to preserve orthodoxy) but deleterious in the long run because there is no way to stop the incessant splintering of Protestantism and this ironically leads to further relativization of theology, defining of more and more doctrines as "secondary" and up for grabs (for the sake of peace), and the institutional chaos that was trying to be avoided in the first place.

It's a Pandora's Box, and there is no way to ultimately fix it (I must say, with all due respect to my esteemed Protestant brethren) than to become a Catholic, where all the problems that evangelicals are perpetually working through and never solving, have long been resolved, within the fullness of theological and spiritual truth that resides in the Catholic Church.

See also the discussion in the combox for a continuation and consideration of the "Catholic issue."

Richard Dawkins and Double Standards in the "Religion vs. Science" Mentality / Galileo Redux

Richard Dawkins

A Catholic commented in a thread devoted to a post of mine regarding Galileo:
I think the Church would not get into these types of situations or be the cause for such questions if she would stick to religion and religious topics and leave science to scientists.
I replied:

But you neglect to see that Galileo was being overly dogmatic and intruding into the theological realm. This is not simply a matter of the "Church" making a dumb mistake and overstepping its bounds. The "Church" (i.e., the magisterium) never spoke on the matter one way or the other (see the lengthy quotation in my post referred to above, from The Catholic Encyclopedia). Certain members of the Church held erroneous cosmological views. But so did Galileo in some respects too. Big wow. Folks made errors. No big deal. As I wrote in my treatment of the Galileo issue, in my book, The One-Minute Apologist:
But the scientist (though basically correct) was overconfident and quite obstinate in proclaiming his scientific theory as absolute truth, and this was a major concern. Accordingly, St. Robert Bellarmine, who was directly involved in the controversy, made it clear that heliocentrism was not irreversibly condemned, and also that a not-yet proven theory was not an unassailable fact. Bellarmine actually had the superior understanding of the nature of a scientific hypothesis. Galileo was scientifically fallible, too. He held that the entire universe revolved around the sun in circular (not elliptical) orbits, and that tides were caused by the rotation of the earth. True heliocentrism wasn’t conclusively proven until some 200 years later.
As in all my apologetics, and especially when about these "notorious" instances of Catholic error, I want the "whole story" to be known and understood, not just one-sided propaganda that seeks to discredit the Church first and foremost and ignores all of the relevant information.

We get the added bonus that the whole, real truth is invariably far more interesting than the self-interested, self-promoting myths and legends that are too often bandied about by academics and so-called "intelligentsia" (in this case, in the name of "science").

If anyone is overstepping the largely legitimate methodological boundaries of science and religion today, it is the subgroup of atheist, materialist scientists: folks like Richard Dawkins, who insist on stepping outside of their area of expertise and proclaiming dogmatically that there is no God. Dawkins as a scientist cannot say that, because science deals with matter (and God is Spirit, and the supernatural is outside the realm of science per se).

But he won't shut up about it because it makes him feel important and smarter-than-thou and sells lots of books and makes lots of $$$$$. He won't say (at least not very often, or loudly) that as a scientist he has no prerogative to speak about it, and that when he does so, he is doing it merely as a non-expert amateur philosopher: scarcely more qualified than you or I. That would be too honest and real and counter-productive.

So these guys transgress the boundaries all the time, and it's fine, but let a Catholic scientist like Michael Behe dare to say only that not all things can be explained by conventional evolution, and the sky falls down. That is bringing religion into science, and flat earth creationism and "Bible science," blah blah blah.

The double standard is wider than the Grand Canyon.

* * * * *

I refuse (as an apologist and enthusiastic student of the history of ideas) to let a complex issue like the Galileo affair be reduced to secular-inspired slogans. We owe much more than that to our Catholic forefathers who weren't nearly as "dumb" as they are so often made out to be.

As I see it, I am simply collecting all the relevant facts and presenting them, so that readers can have a more accurate picture of what actually happened. Like most people, I was spoon-fed the secular line that made out that the Church was this troglodyte, anti-intellectual, anti-scientific, know-nothing monster and Galileo and his cohorts were all open-minded, enlightened truth machines, persecuted as such by the reactionary Church.

The truth is far more complex than that, as I think I have shown in the few words that I devoted to the issue in my latest book, and in some longer papers. For one thing, Galileo remained an orthodox Catholic, and he was guilty of now-known scientific errors, too. St. Robert Bellarmine (no intellectual slouch) actually had a more accurate notion of scientific hypotheses and theories than Galileo did (by today's definitions and criteria). And that ain't just me saying that. As usual, I back myself up with the relevant sources (as much as possible, from non-Catholics). In this instance, it was well-known philosopher of science Thomas Kuhn:
Most of Galileo's opponents behaved more rationally. Like Bellarmine, they agreed that the phenomena were in the sky but denied that they proved Galileo's contentions. In this, of course, they were quite right. Though the telescope argued much, it proved nothing.
(The Copernican Revolution, New York: Random House / Vintage Books, 1957, p. 226)
Kuhn, in this same book, even defends, at length, the contributions and brilliance of the lifelong geocentrist Tycho Brahe (describing him as "the preeminent astronomical authority" of the second half of the 16th century, who had "immense prestige"), as I documented in a paper of mine.

Truth is stranger (and far more interesting) than fiction. It's not the case that the Catholics were (to use the caricatures and stereotypes constantly utilized by materialist scientists and other like-minded secularist academics) the anti-science dummies who were all geocentrists, and refused to look through Galileo's telescope, while the scientists were (to a person) the ultra-smart, forward-looking, inquisitive folks (gee, kinda like scientists today!), who were never geocentrists, and who would never, ever believe something as "unscientific" as astrology.

WRONG on all counts. One must look at individuals, and in the context of their time, and have some understanding of the intellectual milieu as well and a sense of the development of both science and theology over time. Kuhn understands this. The ones who truly study the matter on both "sides" with an open mind do, as a general rule.

What happened, happened. The Church is on record as having apologized for the errors that some high-ranking Catholics made, through Pope John Paul II and others. They had nothing whatever to do with infallibility. They were simple human errors, of a sort that many scientists and philosophers also made. I noted in my book chapter on Galileo that the Lutheran philosopher Leibniz: one of the most brilliant minds of all time, fought against Newton's theory of gravitation.

No one is denying that such errors occurred (last of all, me). But the fuller picture should also be discussed because of how the incident is used and exploited by secularists and non-Catholic Christian opponents of the Catholic Church.

My methodology is always the same regarding all these "scandals" in Catholic history: whether it be the Inquisition or the Crusades or the current sexual scandal. I don't deny the real wrongs and errors at all, but I put them in proper perspective and refuse to accept the nonsense that always makes the Catholic Church the Big Bad Boogeyman and ignores similar scandals in non-Catholic circles. I will not bow to intellectual double standards, ever.

Atheist scientists want to go back to the early 17th century and even then have to distort what happened and only present one side of it, when there are plenty of far more scandalous "skeletons" in their own closet (that we rarely hear about), and more recently, at that. We need only go back less than two hundred years to find stuff like phrenology, where the shape of a person's skull was thought (by mainstream science) to have a direct relationship to their intelligence. The science of, say, 1900, was shot through with racism: hardly a proud chapter in scientific history.

But Christians of two, three generations earlier, like William Wilberforce and the abolitionists were far more "progressive" on the race issue. Christians (not "progressive" scientists) are always on the cutting edge of societal progress, whether we look at slavery, or civil rights, or the fall of Soviet Communism (Pope John Paul II and Christians in Eastern Europe, and another "dumb guy": Ronald Reagan).

I have shown how Galileo himself and other scientists of his time like Kepler, were neck-deep in astrology.

Eugenics is another sad chapter in scientific history. We saw what the Nazis did with that. In America, we had sterilization of black men and suchlike. Remember, Germany was one of the most scientifically advanced societies then and now. But this was supposedly "good science". Margaret Sanger picked it up and institutionalized her racism in her group, Planned Parenthood, and indeed, this played the key role in promulgation of the immorality of contraception and later, of abortion itself. That's why the best Christian apologists of the period, like Chesterton and C.S. Lewis, wrote about these kinds of follies that were rampant within science. Lewis often satirized the tunnel vision materialist scientist of his time. Chesterton went after eugenics; both of them lambasted contraception, etc.

Many Protestant and Catholic Christians accept the typical secular line about Galileo. They may be persuaded by the secular intellectuals to think that the Catholics of former times were dumb, just as many academics think we're dumb today, too, just as the more anti-Catholic Protestants also do. We all must be vigilant to avoid being taken in by secularism and its ways of thought. It's a constant battle. But we have to be aware that we are doing it.

My perspective is that we should be critical of the information we get, and understand the presuppositions and biases of those who give it. Catholics have biases, too. Everyone does (as I've always stressed). That's exactly why I have constantly advocated hearing "both sides" of any issue and getting all the facts, and never relying on one account only, and why I am a huge advocate of dialogue and debate, because it is, in my opinion, the very best way to learn and to use one's mind to its potential.

My task as an apologist and amateur historian of ideas (that and development of doctrine are two of my very favorite areas of inquiry) has been to fight the stereotypes that are passed down by critics of Catholicism or of larger Christianity and to demonstrate on a popular level that there was much more complexity and nuance in play than is usually assumed because of uncritical acceptance of biased secular history.

I not only defend the Church's position (truly defend it, with reason, not just parrot or regurgitate it), but I interact with severe critics of it, and make arguments not only for why our position prevails, but why theirs fails and falls short, as well. This is critical thought and having the courage of one's convictions. In dialoguing, one is forced to look more closely at their own position, and I have posted some 400-450 dialogues and debates on my blog.

* * * * *

Further discussion, with questions from CHNI board members paraphrased and in blue:

Doesn't the discussion of (and in) the Galileo affair depend in large part on whether to literally interpret biblical passages about the movement of the sun?

A lot of it had to do with that, yes.

Has the Church actually defined this matter?

The problem had to do with literalizing what was intended as phenomenological language, or over-literalizing in some places, and how science and the Bible can be interpreted in harmony; respecting both areas of knowledge. It can be done. In a pre-scientific understanding, the sun going up and down would imply that the earth is not moving and the sun is.

The Church hasn't defined this (as far as I know) because it has nothing to do with faith and morals per se. The Church as a whole simply accepts heliocentrism based on scientific proofs of same. At the time of Galileo, there was quite respectable science (given the state of knowledge at that time) for geocentrism too (as I discussed, regarding Tycho Brahe, above), so believing such a thing was not as wacko and reactionary as is customarily made out today. The math involved in either system, as I understand it, was not even all that different. It's easy with hindsight to condemn our ancestors as dumbos, and to stand on the shoulders of giants. We can call those in the past mental midgets, but it doesn't follow. They made it possible for the knowledge we have today: scientific or otherwise.

A lot of the prevailing attitudes, I'm convinced, are based on a prior "chronological snobbery" (C.S. Lewis's delightful term) or disdain for the "age of faith" or the Middle Ages. G.K. Chesterton wrote about this:
There is something odd in the fact that when we reproduce the Middle Ages it is always some such rough and half-grotesque part of them that we reproduce . . . Why is it that we mainly remember the Middle Ages by absurd things? . . . Few modern people know what a mass of illuminating philosophy, delicate metaphysics, clear and dignified social morality exists in the serious scholastic writers of mediaeval times. But we seem to have grasped somehow that the ruder and more clownish elements in the Middle Ages have a human and poetical interest. We are delighted to know about the ignorance of mediaevalism; we are contented to be ignorant about its knowledge. When we talk of something mediaeval, we mean something quaint. We remember that alchemy was mediaeval, or that heraldry was mediaeval. We forget that Parliaments are mediaeval, that all our Universities are mediaeval, that city corporations are mediaeval, that gunpowder and printing are mediaeval, that half the things by which we now live, and to which we look for progress, are mediaeval.

("The True Middle Ages," The Illustrated London News, 14 July 1906)
Scientifically speaking, we can't say the earth is the center of anything, since it is just one planet in one solar system in one galaxy. I think we should say it is the spiritual center of the universe, as far as we know. And we can say that the universe is "theocentric."

If science disagrees with the Church, it is in error.

The Church, by and large, doesn't try to proclaim on scientific matters. It's more concerned with ethical situations that scientific advance has made matters of discussion, such as cloning or artificial insemination or birth control, or assisted suicide. There is no glaring conflict with science at present. The Church hasn't ruled out the possibility of evolution. It only says that there was a primal human pair, and that each soul is a special creation by God, and holds, of course, that God created the entire universe and all matter in it and that He continues to uphold it by His word of power, using the scientific laws of nature that He created to do so, mostly in a natural manner.

As it stands, Big Bang cosmology is quite consistent with the biblical account of creation. Current speculation of a cyclical or oscillating universe is sheer speculation. There is no proof of that whatsoever.

The Church only speaks authoritatively about matters of faith, and so we have to interpret the Galileo incident in that light, right?

Both sides (i.e., the parties) were at fault. Some in the Church were making false notions of biblical interpretation dogmas and "scientific," while Galileo was being unscientifically dogmatic in proclaiming as "proven" and "fact" his new theories, that were not yet proved by the criteria of science itself.

I believe firmly that revelation and science (and the logic, mathematics, and philosophy that lie behind science) are two harmonious forms of knowledge that do not conflict and that all truth is God's truth. I've seen nothing that causes an irreconcilable contradiction. Evolution doesn't do that. Relativity doesn't. Biochemistry, as far as I am concerned, leads to a quite appropriate conclusion of intelligent design, and ties into the traditional teleological (design) argument for God. I also agree with Galileo's statement that "the Church teaches us how to go to heaven, not how the heavens go."

If science conflicts with the Catholic faith, it is false, no?

Yes, but in practice sometimes it takes years for the scientific community to catch up with the knowledge of the Church. We've been saying the universe began in an instant from the beginning. Science figured this out and made it "orthodoxy" only in the last forty or so years (as the agnostic astronomer Robert Jastrow has noted). We've said all people were equal, while science was toying with phrenology and eugenics. Eventually they got it and got up to speed. The Catholic Copernicus advanced heliocentrism, with the blessing of the pope. Etc., etc.

For some folks to make out that the Church was somehow "anti-science" is an exercise in showing their own profound ignorance about the history of science and the relationship of Catholicism and Protestantism to it. Some Catholic individuals were on the wrong side of some particular scientific question, but that is true of scientists as well, so big wow. It's all part of the overall advancement of knowledge and science. Some folks are gonna be wrong.

My big beef is that every (non-dogmatic) Catholic mistake in history is trumpeted from the housetops and made far more than it was in historical context, while similar whoppers and embarrassing skeletons in the closet of science itself are rarely if ever heard about. And so, e.g., in secular treatments about Galileo, one rarely reads about how deeply he was into astrology. That doesn't fit the mold and the plan and the usual spin, so it is left out. The goal is to make Christians and the Church look like idiots, not to present what actually happened, and to explain all the relevant considerations. The goal in most secular presentation and public education (consciously or not) is propaganda, not true education, where a thing is analyzed properly and fairly.

I include all these relevant factors in my treatments of the subject, so people can have a well-rounded treatment that respects all sides, rather than trying to make one out as idiots and the other as selfless truth machines, along with anachronistic projection of current scientific approaches back to a time 500 years ago that was very different from today.

Galileo was right about the science (i.e., heliocentrism), but for (partially) the wrong reasons. The folks in the Church who condemned his theories were wrong, but for (partially) the right reasons.

The Church as the Church is not an organ of scientific inquiry. Even when dogmas proclaim something like creation, they don't explain the "how" but only state the bald fact that God created.

The Catholic theologians who claimed that Galileo didn't see what he saw in his telescope were out of bounds.

And these were the minority, which is itself caricatured, as I noted above, with a quote from Thomas Kuhn.

Scientists shouldn't get all angry about a caricature of actual Catholic teaching and action.

There are all kinds of distortions about the history of this affair. The Catholic Encyclopedia makes it clear that no dogmatic proclamations were involved:
As to the decree of 1616, we have seen that it was issued by the Congregation of the Index, which can raise no difficulty in regard of infallibility, this tribunal being absolutely incompetent to make a dogmatic decree. Nor is the case altered by the fact that the pope approved the Congregation's decision in forma communi, that is to say, to the extent needful for the purpose intended, namely to prohibit the circulation of writings which were judged harmful. . . . As to the second trial in 1633, this was concerned not so much with the doctrine as with the person of Galileo, and his manifest breach of contract in not abstaining from the active propaganda of Copernican doctrines. The sentence, passed upon him in consequence, clearly implied a condemnation of Copernicanism, but it made no formal decree on the subject, and did not receive the pope's signature.

When the Church defined that a soul is created at conception, was it trying to scientifically explain conception?

No. It's not trying to explain it, because that is a physical, scientific matter. As to the soul, that is non-material, and so science cannot speak authoritatively about it. Likewise, science can't say anything about the soul. The minute a scientist does so, he is acting as a theologian or philosopher or both, not as a scientist.

The Church in Galileo's time was concerned with the teaching that Man is the center of the universe, right?

Yes; but that in turn does not require geocentrism. I don't see how it makes any difference, but that was the notion that had been passed down, and was from Aristotelianism.

Does the universe somehow illustrate that man is at the center?

The Anthropic Principle might be said to be one argument in that regard, used today. Most scientists today don't want to do such a thing, and would relegate it to philosophy. I think, myself, that there is a borderline area between science, philosophy , and religion, where they all intersect, since science is itself derived from philosophy (empiricism) and presupposes metaphysical categories and existence and the trustworthiness of our senses for observation before it can get off the ground at all. Religion has many philosophical elements. Some philosophies are quasi-religious in either character or at least how they function in a person's life.

But there is very little intelligent discussion about these "border areas" today. Only a few who understand the different areas to a decent degree even try to do so. It's one of my big goals in my "general apologetics": to bridge the gaps of these areas which are seen to almost be mutually exclusive. They are, in a sense, methodologically, but not altogether, when closely scrutinized.

See related papers:

Dialogue on the Galileo Fiasco and Plea for Better Understanding of the Church's Error, Given the State of Scientific and Astronomical Knowledge in 1633

Why the Galileo Case Doesn't Disprove Catholic Infallibility, Rightly-Understood / Sola Scriptura Redux

"Science vs. Religion" Chronicles: 16th-17th Century Astronomers' Simultaneous Acceptance of Astrology (+ Part Two)

The Atheist's Boundless Faith in Deo-Atomism ("The Atom-as-God")
Dialogue With Atheists on the Evolution of the Eye, Irreducible Complexity, and Intelligent Design (Dave Armstrong vs. Steve Conifer)
Dialogue on Materialist Evolutionary Theory and Intelligent Design (including St. Augustine's and St. Thomas Aquinas' Views on Creation and Evolution) (Dave Armstrong vs. five agnostics)

See also my web page:

Philosophy, Science, and Christianity