Wednesday, November 24, 2010

16 Atheists / Agnostics & Me: Sounds Like a Good Ratio! Further Adventures at an Atheist "Bible Study" Group With Former Christians Jon and "DagoodS"

Last night I attended for the third time an "atheist Bible study" group in metro Detroit led by Jon, a former evangelical and friendly fellow, with whom I have debated the Galileo issue. He has a blog called Prove Me Wrong. The first time I went there, several months back, I was invited as a guest speaker. It was simply a Q & A, "grill the apologist" session (due to my dislike of lecturing as my own method of communication), mostly devoted to the usual garden-variety questions about Catholicism. Jon later described the night as follows:

I run a bible study. It's for those interested in understanding the Bible from a secular perspective. We're mostly atheists but we do have some Christian participation. A couple of times instead of studying the Bible I've simply brought in a religious person. So once Roman Catholic apologist Dave Armstrong came. A lot of atheists regard Christian belief as extremely easy to debunk and I thought it would be fun to bring in someone that has thought through common objections and is able to turn it back on atheists. Make them exercise their brains a bit. We had a great time with Dave.

That time, there were eleven atheists and myself. It was the most enjoyable and challenging evening I have ever spent as an apologist in almost 30 years of apologetics. Several of the people said that I had won their respect, by simply showing up and being cordial and willing to answer their questions and do some back-and-forth. For their part (save for just one person who was later kicked out of their group) they were very cordial and friendly.

This is not the stereotypical "angry atheist" group (example: John Loftus' Debunking Christianity blog), with (irrational, self-contradictory) anger against God and Christianity upfront and dominating everything, complete with ubiquitous personal insults towards Christians. No; Jon, to his great credit, is trying to do something different, and to actually seek to better understand Christianity and Christian arguments and to have some real dialogue.

I went a second time and enjoyed some great discussion around a campfire (mostly with the guy who had given me the hardest time in the first meeting: insinuating that I was dishonest or ignorant or both). Then I invited Jon to my house to do a presentation on the nonexistence of Jesus (a position he holds tentatively). That went well, too, and Jon gave the following description of his experience:

I had the opportunity last Friday to sit down with some Catholics and just spend an evening discussing some of our disagreements. It was me along with another atheist (who I met for the first time) and a few Catholics. It was put together by Dave Armstrong. I really appreciate Dave. He's one of those people that is able to sit down and disagree with me strongly, but do it in a way that makes for productive and friendly dialogue. Not all Christians can do this, nor can all skeptics.

Apparently, Jon has a somewhat more favorable view towards my reasoning abilities these days, compared to 26 March 2010, when he wrote (I tease him about this):

As far as apologists go I kind of like Roman Catholics. Dave Armstrong may be extremely irrational. But he's always been fairly charitable.

Last night, the person doing the presentation was a guy who goes by "DagoodS": another former Christian who runs a blog called Thoughts From a Sandwich. He is an attorney; a very animated, thoughtful, academic type (the sort of person I particularly love talking to and learning from). He talked about how Christians defend the resurrection of Jesus; playing "Christian" most of the time. It was historiographically dense (with many "footnote" references to "what scholars today think"), interesting enough, and entertaining on its own level, but ultimately not to my own taste because it was a professorial-type lecture (complete with the white board and markers). It was like being in a graduate-level history class (or maybe a Unitarian Bible study). I want to dialogue (as is well-known to my readers by now), and that never occurred. We all have our preferences.

One of the few critiques I was able to get in at all had to do with the relentless, dogmatic presuppositional skepticism of atheists. DagoodS asked the group (17 including myself) how many believed that miracles occur. I was the only one to raise my hand. Then he asked how many believed that miracles might possibly occur. Jon raised his hand, and possibly one other. Only one or two even allowed the bare possibility. This exactly illustrated the point I was to make.

DagoodS was saying that it is more difficult to believe an extraordinary miracle or event than to believe in one that is more commonplace. True enough as far as it goes. But I said (paraphrasing), "you don't believe that any miracles are possible, not even this book raising itself an inch off the table, so it is pointless for you to say that it is hard to believe in a great miracle, when in fact you don't believe in any miracles whatsoever." No response. I always try to get at the person's presuppositions. That is my socratic method.

This being the case, for an atheist (ostensibly with an "open mind") to examine evidence for the Resurrection of Jesus, is almost a farcical enterprise from the start (at least from a Christian perspective) because they commence the analysis with the extremely hostile presuppositions of:

1) No miracles can occur in the nature of things.

2) #1 logically follows because, of course, under fundamental atheist presuppositions, there is no God to perform any miracle.

3) The New Testament documents are fundamentally untrustworthy and historically suspect, having been written by gullible, partisan Christians; particularly because, for most facts presented therein, there is not (leaving aside archaeological evidences) written secular corroborating evidence.

Some atheists (like Jon) even claim (or suspect) that Jesus didn't exist at all (making such a topic even more absurd and ludicrous (given that premise) than it already is in atheist eyes. Yet they think that such an examination of the Resurrection is an objective endeavor on their part, as if they will come to any other conclusion than the foregone one that they have already decided long since, upon the adoption of their atheism? And we are the ones who are constantly excoriated for being so "inflexible" and "dogmatic" and "closed-minded" to any other truths besides Christian ones?

The lecture went on for two hours in the library room where the group met, and then we went to a restaurant. Over there, I wasn't seated next to either Jon or DagoodS (there were about 13 people present), so further discussion with them wasn't possible. Instead I talked a lot about the problem of evil and God's supposed serious deficiencies, with a third person, with the person on the other side of me asking me intermittently about purgatory and limbo and indulgences.

I was able to get in at least one important point with Jon at the restaurant. He was making fun of the popes taking many centuries to decide the dogmatic question of the Immaculate Conception of Mary [1854]. So I noted (with some vigor) that people (not just atheists but also Protestants) are always criticizing popes (and the Church as a whole) for supposedly declaring things by fiat and with raw power, apart from rational deliberation and intellectual reflection (which is a myth), yet on the other hand, if they take centuries to let the Church reflect and ponder important issues (this example, Mary's Assumption [1950], papal infallibility [1870]), by not yet declaring something at the highest levels of authority, then they get blasted for being indecisive and wishy-washy and lacking authority.

It was a classic case of the Catholic Church always having to be criticized, even if there are simultaneous contradictory criticisms taking place. It's the amusing, ironic spectacle of people illogically falsely accusing us of being illogical. If we do one thing we are wrong and stupid and illogical because of thus-and-so. If we do the exact opposite and contrary of that, we are still wrong and stupid and illogical for reasons that utterly contradict those of the prior criticism. And so on and on it goes. The only thing that critics of Catholicism "know" is that the Catholic Church is always wrong. That is the bottom line. We seem to be everyone's favorite target and "whipping boy."

DagoodS' specialty (like that of many atheists of a certain sort; especially former Christians) is relentlessly trying to poke holes in the Bible and dredging up any conceivable so-called "contradiction" that he can find. It's the hyper-rationalistic, "can't see the forest for the trees" game. As I've often said, such a person approaches the Bible like a butcher approaches a hog. Their mind is already made up. If they go looking for errors and "contradictions" they will assuredly always "find" them.

And if a Christian spends the great deal of laborious, tedious time required to debunk and refute these in order to show how they are not, in fact, contradictions (as I and many others have done), they simply ignore that as of no consequence and go their merry way seeking out more of the same. It never ends. It's like a boat with a hundred holes in the bottom. The Christian painstakingly patches up the last one while the atheist on the other side of the boat merrily drills another one to patch. I'll play the game for a while and every now and then but it is never to be taken too seriously because it is, quite literally, just a game in the end.

I have actually debated DagoodS several times in the past on the Internet, and have critiqued his deconversion story (atheists invariably despise the unmitigated gall of a Christian daring to do that!):

Alleged Contradictions Regarding the Twelve Disciples of Jesus

Discussion With Atheists on Hell, the Argument From Desire, and God's Justice and Ours (+ Part Two)

Dialogue With Atheists on a Supposedly Sexist, Misogynist Bible and Christianity, and on Female Atheist Disdain for Christian Women as Abused "Sheep" [his words are in purple]
Critique of "DagoodS"' Deconversion Story Meets a Sudden Premature Death

Now that I have met the man, and had no chance to interact with him last night for more than 90 seconds, I may try to set aside some time in my busy schedule to debunk more of his skeptical excursions undertaken for the purpose of undermining the trustworthiness and inspiration of the Holy Bible. In all likelihood, judging from his past responses, any such replies will have no effect on him, but they can help Christians see the bankruptcy of atheist anti-biblical arguments, and those on the fence to avoid falling into the same errors of logic and fallacious worldviews built upon such errors.

And that is the whole goal of apologetics, and particularly the dialogical apologetics that I specialize in: to help people (by God's grace) avoid theological and philosophical errors and to be more confident in their Christian and Catholic beliefs, by understanding solid intellectual rationales for same. We remove obstacles and roadblocks. What the person will do with that information is a function of their minds and free wills and God's grace, and that is out of the apologist's hands.

Related Posts From Others

Atheism and Miracles: Is It Really About Evidence? (Stan Williams)

Dave Armstrong vs. the Atheists (Protestant apologist Cory Tucholski)

[features much participation of "DagoodS" in the combox, and my own as well, including lengthy discussions concerning what occurred at the atheist meeting dealt with in the post; what I was claiming and not claiming about his presentation, etc.]

Monday, November 22, 2010

"Emperor Pope Dave": Anti-Catholic Mocking Reaches New Sublime Heights of Stupefied, Fathomless Imbecility
"My first act as Pope Buford II is to infallibly declare that anti-Catholic Protestant polemicists are logically challenged, mediocre satirists!"

Things were starting to get boring. I thought these guys were a bit off their game. After all, I have been the subject of two caricatures from Bishop James White's rather talented caricaturist (on 4-22-04 and 1-13-05). And I was immortalized in an Eric "the Yellow" Svendsen work of art that satirized the National Inquirer and had "me" on the cover as an associate of Holocaust deniers. At least he had the sense to remove his -- without renouncing it, of course (ah, but I have preserved it in the archives for posterity).

Some nut a few years back created an entire blog that pretended to be from me, complete with mocking pictures of me riding a scooter and so forth. Frank "centuri0n" Turk put out his "Free Dave Armstrong" paraphernalia. I still want one for my birthday or for Christmas! Any takers? Gene M. "Troll" Bridges compared me directly to Fidel Castro, Iranian despot Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, and North Korean tyrant Kim Jong-il, complete with pictures.

Not to be topped, Steve "Whopper" Hays comrade Patrick Chan now has me put in my place (for my outrageous hubris in noting that Doctors of the Church can sometimes err!: something any properly catechized 12-year-old Catholic would know) as emperor, king, and pope, by clever photo-shopping. You can see one above, and the other two are just as ridiculous (one / two). See the entire post, Emperor Pope Dave (12-11-10). In case anyone is interested in the actual point of contention that was the cause of this latest outbreak of idiotic mockery, and how these nitwits again completely miss the rather simple logical observation that I made, see my initial combox remarks (one / two).

As icing on the cake of an already classic display of anti-Catholic ingenuity, we have "Turretinfan" (The Anonymous One) distorting one of my statements (as he almost always does; he has become a caricature of a caricature of a know-nothing anti-Catholic zealot). He wrote:

Bellarmine's words are, according to this blogger, "a perfect non sequitur."

What I actually wrote, was:

And we don't claim infallibility for Doctors of the Church, which is why this post is a perfect non sequitur.

Can you see the difference ("this post" and "Bellarmine's words" being two completely different things)? If you can, then marvel with me how this supposedly sophisticated, intelligent fellow cannot. I've long since ceased attempted substantive debate with these guys. One can readily see why! They offer little of substance in the first place, and even when they do do that on rare occasions, it is so shot-through with vicious self-contradiction that it is like trying to reinvent the wheel getting them up to speed and introduced to elementary logic and those stubborn things, "facts." Who has the patience? Alas, not I.

For related reading, see my collection of documentary papers and some counter-satires of my own on my "infamous" Anti-Catholicism Page:

How Anti-Catholics Often Argue (Massive Use of Ad Hominem, Personal Insult, Smear Tactics) / My Humorous, Satirical Retorts

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Geocentrism: Not at All an Infallible Dogma of the Catholic Church (David Palm and "Jordanes")


The following is from a series of posts by Catholic apologist and "reluctant traditionalist" David Palm, originally posted on the Catholic Answers forums in the thread "Catholic Heliocentrism" (September 2010). "Cassini" is a geocentrist. After the five asterisks below I have included some further helpful remarks by David Palm in a combox from my blog on the same general topic.

* * *

Cassini, I can certainly appreciate your desire to defend the Church's integrity, but I'm not sure you're seeing the full ramifications of what you're saying. You speak very generally of "they" and "them", without acknowledging that you are speaking of a whole succession of Popes and all the bishops in communion with them.

Over in another thread you explicitly admit that you believe that this “heresy” will harm the faith of the faithful. Is it really true, then, that the entire hierarchy themselves hold a heresy and allow it to spread unchecked for centuries without one word or action to check it? And this has been the status quo for centuries? Notice what happened to Pope Honorius I who, in reply to an heretical letter penned by Sergius the Patriarch of Constantinople, utilized the phrase "one will". Most scholars agree that he did not hold the heresy to which he was responding. But he was formally condemned by the Sixth Ecumenical Council and this condemnation was affirmed by Pope Leo II: "We anathematize the inventors of the new error, that is, Theodore, Sergius, ...and also Honorius, who did not attempt to sanctify this Apostolic Church with the teaching of Apostolic tradition, but by profane treachery permitted its purity to be polluted."

Here you tell us that not siding with the condemnation of Galileo will cause tremendous harm to the Church's credibility, indeed will undermine her claim to infallibility.

So then, what does siding with the pronouncements against Galileo do? For almost three hundred years now, not one word has been said by any bishop or any Pope in condemnation of this "formal heresy". This includes even the sainted Pius X and the beatified Pius IX and John XXIII. More than that, this "formal heresy" has been openly taught in Catholic grade schools, high schools, colleges, universities, and pontifical institutions. This "formal heresy" has been presented as established fact in numerous articles and books written by Catholics and for Catholics, many of which bear the Church's imprimatur and nihil obstat. It is believed by the vast majority of the Catholics of the world—that includes the world's bishops and priests, not to mention the Pope. The Magisterium has given the faithful not one hint that there is any problem whatsoever in believing this "formal heresy", let alone actively and repeatedly warn them away from it. More than that, a Pope has publicly apologized for the treatment of Galileo, which could do nothing but bolster the view that this belief is perfectly legitimate for the faithful to hold.

I’m not trying to put words in your mouth, but typically within the testosterone-drenched apologetics of those like Sungenis, the only reason anyone could possibly fail to teach openly against a "formal heresy" is if he's either a simpleton or a coward. Which again tars the entire Catholic magisterium for the past 300 years as either dupes or traitors.

It seems amazing to me that you would be willing to uphold the logical conclusion of your position, namely that all the Popes at least from Benedict XIV (1740) up through Benedict XVI (present), along with all the bishops in communion with them, have utterly failed to exercise the vigilance their office demands of them. According to your position they "did not attempt to sanctify this Apostolic Church with the teaching of Apostolic tradition, but by profane treachery permitted its purity to be polluted."

Now there are very good reasons not to hold that the motion of the earth is a "formal heresy". But the indefectibility of the Catholic Church is without a doubt a dogma of the faith. I see no way your position can be held in light of that dogma and thus, to be blunt, it seems to me that it is you who are flirting with heresy. GrannyH and others have demonstrated that it is relatively easy to harmonize the indefectibility of the Church with a mistake made by a theological commission, even one approved by the Pope. It is far easier to see that terrestrial motion is a matter of scientific belief and not a matter of faith and morals, to believe that a commission of theologians erred in their judgment of Galileo, than that the entire Church, hierarchy and faithful, have been plunged into this "formal heresy".

It would seem that those who hold this extreme position with respect to geocentrism are like a monkey grasping a pebble in a precious Ming vase, unwilling to give up his prize and willing instead to smash the jar in order to have it. Or perhaps more like a man who would burn down a whole building, with all the people in it, just to kill a rat.

I’d prefer simply to note again that the actions of the Church do make it clear that a rejection of geocentrism is not “formal heresy”. And I would point out again that you did not harmonize your view with the dogma of the indefectibility of the Church.

[Cassini] I thought the Church was protected by the Holy Ghost in such matters as papal decrees.

This, I believe, is the error which has caused so much difficulty. The Church has never taught that every papal decree is protected by the Holy Ghost. The Catholic Encyclopedia summarizes well the acts of the Congregation of the Index against Galileo:
Can it be said that either Paul V or Urban VIII so committed himself to the doctrine of geocentricism as to impose it upon the Church as an article of faith, and so to teach as pope what is now acknowledged to be untrue? That both these pontiffs were convinced anti-Copernicans cannot be doubted, nor that they believed the Copernican system to be unscriptural and desired its suppression. The question is, however, whether either of them condemned the doctrine ex cathedra. This, it is clear, they never did. 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. The pope and his assessors may have been wrong in such a judgment, but this does not alter the character of the pronouncement, or convert it into a decree ex cathedra.

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. (Galileo; my emphasis)
Another article spells out the distinction in authority between decrees from Roman Congregations approved in forma communi and in forma specifica:
As regards the doctrinal value of Decrees of the Holy Office it should be observed that canonists distinguish two kinds of approbation of an act of an inferior by a superior: first, approbation in common form (in forma communi), as it is sometimes called, which does not take from the act its nature and quality as an act of the inferior. Thus, for example, the decrees of a provincial council, although approved by the Congregation of the Council or by the Holy See, always remain provincial conciliar decrees. Secondly, specific approbation (in forma specifica), which takes from the act approved its character of an act of the inferior and makes it the act of a superior who approves it. This approbation is understood when, for example, the pope approves a Decree of the Holy Office ex certa scientia, motu proprio, or plenitudine suae potestatis.” (The Roman Congregations.)
Thus the 1616 decree from the Congregation of the Index may not be cited as creating a dogma binding on the universal Church for this was not only beyond the competence of the Congregation but also did not receive the papal confirmation that would be necessary.

It is for the Church to decide what is and is not taught infallibly by the universal and ordinary Magisterium. And I think it is very clear that the Church does not hold geocentrism to be infallibly taught by her own Magisterium. Here is an explicit indication of that from an encyclical from Benedict XV:
If the progress of science showed later that that conception of the world rested on no sure foundation, that the spheres imagined by our ancestors did not exist, that nature, the number and course of the planets and stars, are not indeed as they were then thought to be, still the fundamental principle remained that the universe, whatever be the order that sustains it in its parts, is the work of the creating and preserving sign of Omnipotent God, who moves and governs all, and whose glory risplende in una parte piu e meno altrove; and though this earth on which we live may not be the centre of the universe as at one time was thought, it was the scene of the original happiness of our first ancestors, witness of their unhappy fall, as too of the Redemption of mankind through the Passion and Death of Jesus Christ. (In Praeclara Summorum 4; my emphasis)
This encyclical proves, at the very least, that Catholics are perfectly free to reject geocentrism without any fear of being tainted by a “formal heresy”.

I have always been inspired by the humility of Bishop Karl Joseph von Hefele who opposed the definition of papal infallibility at the First Vatican Council. He was criticized afterwards for his submission to the definition:
It is true that I stood on the side of the opposition. But thereby I made use of my right; for the question was proposed for discussion. However, once the decision had been made, to tarry in the opposition party would have been inconsistent with my whole past. I would have set my own infallibility in the place of the infallibility of the Church (cited in the Karl Joseph von Hefele; my emphasis)
I would urge you, Cassini, to consider whether your present position really can be harmonized with the dogma of the Church's infallibility and be humble enough to relinquish your position in light of her teaching. The long and short of it is that this is an area in which the Church has given us freedom and we should not unnecessarily chain ourselves, especially if in doing so it would destroy (were that possible) the very Church that we love.

[Cassini] One also learned as a Catholic that no papal decree can be overturned without an act of abrogation, an explanation as to why the decree is being officially abandoned.

On a little more reflection, it seems to me that the answer to this is to be found in the distinction laid out by the canonists on papal approval of various acts of Congregations in forma communi and in forma specifica. The 1616 decree was approved by the Pope in forma communi and hence, if my own understanding is correct, the character of this decree remains that of a duly approved act of the Congregation itself, i.e. it was not a papal act per se. Hence such acts of Roman Congregations do not require an explicit papal abrogation.

This would also explain something you mentioned in another thread now unfortunately deleted, namely, that this decree does not show up in Denzinger. Was this part of the great conspiracy, as you said there, or does it admit of a less insidious explanation?

Again, don't have my Denzinger handy, but I suspect that there are many, many decrees of various Roman Congregations approved in forma communi that do not appear in Denzinger precisely because, lacking the fullest papal approbation, they do not lend to the theological topic at hand the sort of ecclesiastical authority that Denzinger normally documents. The acts of Roman Congregations approved in forma communi do not in themselves represent binding theological definitions. Decrees authorized in forma specifica would do so and I suspect that one will find those assiduously documented by Denzinger.

And as for the 1633 decree, it was about what was and was not to be on the Index which we all agree was a disciplinary matter that could be and was changed by later Popes, on any number of issues besides geocentrism.


I have just three main points and then what I can contribute to this discussion is pretty much tapped out. I want to clarify exactly what I’m saying here. I am arguing that no explanation of the movement of the heavenly bodies is de fide in the Catholic Church. I am arguing that the Church gives us freedom to explore these things and come to conclusions based on the best scientific evidence. I am asserting that the Catholic Church does not propose any one conclusion as a matter of faith, the denial of which is formal heresy.

I am not entering into the relative merits or lack thereof of any scientific theory. In my limited study I find that geocentrism, like “young earth creationism”, has certain major implausibilities which prevent me from embracing it. But I am not an expert and I am not addressing the scientific questions.

What concerns me is the assertion that geocentrism is de fide and that the denial of it is therefore “formal heresy”. This I think is fraught with theological difficulties.

Point #1: It Has Happened in the History of the Church that “It’s Not Infallible” is the Truthful and Correct Answer

Although Cassini denigrates the “but it’s not infallible” approach, the fact is that when one surveys Church history there are a few—a remarkably small number but still a few—instances in which one examines all the facts and has to conclude that what was said even in an official capacity was wrong, but that it was not proposed infallibly and so does not negate the Church’s claim.

The most famous of these is probably that of Pope Honorius. Gerry Matatics and Tim Staples in public debate argued that Honorius was not wrong and they were soundly defeated by a knowledgeable opponent. Robert Sungenis was all set to try the same approach, but Steve Ray and David Palm convinced him that the approach to the question taken by the famous patristic scholar Dom John Chapman was the correct one: “The Pope and the Council were in agreement as to the necessity of condemning Honorius, and they were certainly right in doing so under the circumstances” (Chapman, The Condemnation of Pope Honorius, p. 9). Chapman goes on to argue that, although this was indeed an official papal document and did address a doctrinal matter, Pope Honorius did not convene the Roman Synod, did not invoke the authority of St. Peter, did not do any of the things Popes of his day were wont to do when authoritatively addressing a doctrinal issue. He was wrong on a doctrinal matter, but he manifestly did not bind the Church to his error.

Point #2: The decrees against Galileo were from Roman Congregations, approved only in forma communi. They were not papal decrees and therefore, all the more, were not immune from error.

As I have already demonstrated, the 1616 and 1633 decrees concerning Galileo were not “papal decrees”. Period. They were issued by Roman congregations. A papal decree and a decree from a Roman congregation are two different things. No amount of cajoling can make one into the other. In fact, the Catholic Encyclopedia states that the 1633 decree “did not receive the pope’s signature”.

I had to smile when in another thread Cassini insisted that, “It was the Church itself that insisted the decree was papal, not I” and then stated, “Here the minutes of Galileo's 1633 trial to prove it” (my emphasis). So now not only the decree of a Roman congregation, but even its minutes represent the authentic and authoritative voice of the Church! I am quite certain that any number of instances could be cited from various Roman congregations, much less their minutes, which Cassini would be very happy indeed to agree are not de fide, are not to be simply equated with the voice of the Church.

The Catholic Encyclopedia points out that even non-Catholics scholars have reasonably conceded that the actions of these congregations in the Galileo case did not commit the whole Church to the positions taken:

Nor is this only an opinion of theologians; it is corroborated by writers whom none will accuse of any bias in favour of the papacy. Thus Professor Augustus De Morgan (Budget of Paradoxes) declares:
It is clear that the absurdity was the act of the Italian Inquisition, for the private and personal pleasure of the pope — who knew that the course he took could not convict him as pope — and not of the body which calls itself the Church.
And von Gebler ("Galileo Galilei"):
The Church never condemned it (the Copernican system) at all, for the Qualifiers of the Holy Office never mean the Church.
It may be added that Riceloll and other contemporaries of Galileo were permitted, after 1616, to declare that no anti-Copernican definition had issued from the supreme pontiff. (Galileo)

One additional decree that has been cited in this regard is Pope Alexander VII’s bull Speculatores Domus Israel which served as a preface to the republication of the Index. Here I think that Peter Dimond, despite his errant sedevacantist position, has provided an important insight. He points out that the Pope tells us explicitly what his purpose was in including the previous decrees in the republication of the Index:
Yet it is so far retained that the class to which each book belongs will be found cited where the book is named, and also the decree by which the book was originally prohibited, in order that the whole history of each case may be known. "For this purpose," pursues the Pontiff, "we have caused the Tridentine and Clementine Indices to be added to this general Index, and also all the relevant decrees up to the present time, (Dimond, “Examining the Theological Status of Geocentrism and Heliocentrism and the Devastating Problems this creates for Baptism of Desire Arguments”, p. 24, citing Roberts, The Pontifical Decrees Against the Movement of the Earth and the Ultramontane Defense of Them)
Dimond continues:
In promulgating this disciplinary measure, the pope did not infallibly declare that all must believe the things contained in those past decrees of the Holy Office, etc. which were attached to the Index. No, as Fr. Roberts says, Pope Alexander VII attached those other decrees “in order that the whole history of each case may be known.” To have lesser decrees attached to a disciplinary measure in order that the history of each case may be known is very different from solemnly declaring (to be believed by the universal Church) all the points contained in those decrees attached to the Index. I believe that this clearly shows that the bull of Pope Alexander VII was a disciplinary measure which did not infallibly promulgate the decrees attached to that disciplinary measure (Dimond, p. 25.)
And as MarianD rightly said in another thread (would that we had more catechumens like this!):
Papal bulls/decrees are simply the Pope writing a letter. It carries no weight of dogma or infallibility. They are, however, authoritative. That means that one shouldn't outright disobey it, but that doesn't mean that one can't argue against it. Arguing against a papal decree does NOT make one a non-Catholic, and the words contained within the Papal bull/decree are not infallible dogmas and are subject to change.
As it stands, of course, the Index that Alexander VII promulgated was duly modified and eventually abandoned entirely by his successors, demonstrating that this was a matter of discipline, not of doctrine.

The bottom line is that if the Popes of that day had wished to condemn directly with their authority, or to confirm a doctrine as de fide directly with their authority, for the whole Church, they were free and capable of doing so. They did not do so and I see in this the working of the Holy Spirit.

Point #3: The Contrary Position Cannot be Harmonized with the Dogma of the Church’s Indefectibility

Finally, I have already stated that I do not believe that Cassini’s is consonant with a dogma of the Faith, the indefectibility of the Church. Although he professes to be upholding the Church’s authority, surely it’s clear that his position destroys it.

Where on one view we have two Roman congregations, confirmed only in forma communi, erroneously branding a particular view as “formal heresy”, on the other view we have Pope after Pope and all the bishops in communion with them allowing greater and greater expression of this “formal heresy”. They have granted imprimaturs to books that teach this “formal heresy”. They have allowed this “formal heresy” to be taught in Catholic schools worldwide. It is explicitly allowed in a papal encyclical that this “formal heresy” may in fact be true (cf. Benedict XV’s In Praeclara Summorum 4, cited above), an ecumenical council deplored what happened in 1616 and 1633 (Gaudium et Spes 36, citing Vita e opere di Galileo Galilei in the footnote, making it clear what was in mind), and another Pope publicly apologized for it. My guess is that at this point Cassini would fall back on the “but it’s not infallible” argument that he derides in other contexts. But in this thread he has done exactly what I think has to be done if one insists that the 1616 and 1633 decrees established a de fide doctrine, namely, he has painted all of the Popes from Benedict XIV to Benedict XVI as traitor, dupes, and cowards.

What has actually happened is that the Church has officially adopted as her own the principles with regard to Scripture and science as laid out by St. Augustine (De Genesi ad Litteram 1:19–20; 2:9), reiterated by St. Thomas (Summa Theologica, First Part, Question 68), reiterated even by St. Robert Bellarmine (Letter to Foscarini, third point), and officially by Pope Leo XIII in Providentissimus Deus 19:
The unshrinking defense of the Holy Scripture, however, does not require that we should equally uphold all the opinions which each of the Fathers or the more recent interpreters have put forth in explaining it; for it may be that, in commenting on passages where physical matters occur, they have sometimes expressed the ideas of their own times, and thus made statements which in these days have been abandoned as incorrect. Hence, in their interpretations, we must carefully note what they lay down as belonging to faith, or as intimately connected with faith -- what they are unanimous in. For "in those things which do not come under the obligation of faith, the Saints were at liberty to hold divergent opinions, just as we ourselves are,"55 according to the saying of St. Thomas. And in another place he says most admirably: "When philosophers are agreed upon a point, and it is not contrary to our faith, it is safer, in my opinion, neither to lay down such a point as a dogma of faith, even though it is perhaps so presented by the philosophers, nor to reject it as against faith, lest we thus give to the wise of this world an occasion of despising our faith."56 The Catholic interpreter, although he should show that those facts of natural science which investigators affirm to be now quite certain are not contrary to the Scripture rightly explained, must nevertheless always bear in mind, that much which has been held and proved as certain has afterwards been called in question and rejected. And if writers on physics travel outside the boundaries of their own branch, and carry their erroneous teaching into the domain of philosophy, let them be handed over to philosophers for refutation.
Therefore I believe that the correct view is very simply that in this matter of “how the heavens go” we have freedom as Catholics. The contrary position, that geocentrism is proposed by the Church de fide, is itself an error that places the Catholic who holds it in a completely untenable position with regard to his own Church. It is, as I have said, the position of the man who would burn down a building, with all the people in it, to kill a rat.


I thank you for your reply and for your view that my view on this is worthy of interaction. I'm afraid my other responsibilities are such that I cannot sustain an extended debate on this. So below will have to be what I would consider my "closing arguments".

First I would note the continued assertion that in 1616 and 1633 we are dealing with "papal decrees". This I have already rejected, with the reasons given above. It's important, I think, because it addresses a point you have made many times, namely, that formal abrogation of these decrees is required. That remains an unproven assertion.

With regard to the 1616 decree from the Congregation of the Index and the Bull of Alexander VII in 1664 there can be no difficulty, since the Index was duly updated and eventually done away with altogether by subsequent Popes, which of course is their right.

With regard to the 1633 decree of the Holy Office (again, not a papal decree), it is claimed (in the Catholic Encyclopedia for instance) that this never even received the Pope's signature (although there can be no doubt that he supported it, of course.) (Emphasis is placed by some geocentrists on the allegation that no signed copy of Pius VII's approval of an imprimatur for Settele's can be produced. So it would seem that at least some consider this sort of argument to carry weight.) At most the 1633 decree can be said to be approved in forma communi and I have yet to see any evidence that decrees from a Roman congregation with that level of papal approval must be formally abrogated by a later Pope.

On the other side, I have pointed to one papal encyclical which clearly allows for the holding of what you are calling a "formal heresy" (Benedict XV's In Praeclara Summorum 4). And Pope Leo XIII's encyclical Providentissimus Deus (18-19), drawing upon St. Augustine and St. Thomas, gives the principles for the whole Church on which both the witness of the Fathers and the testimony of sacred Scripture are to be considered when there appears to be a conflict between Scripture and natural science. This was reiterated by Pius XII in his encylical Divino Afflante Spiritu 3, reaffirming the teaching of Providentissimus Deus and of St. Augustine and St. Thomas on this specific point.

Again, I must emphasize that what I am arguing here is that the Church give us freedom in this area. On the matter of "how the heavens go", Catholics are permitted to hold various views without any taint of "formal heresy".

Unless I see evidence to the contrary, the teaching of these two papal encyclicals represents the official teaching of the Church on this matter and their authority trumps that of the decree of a Roman congregation which lacks formal papal ratification.

* * * * *

The one thing I would emphasize from my postings at CAF is that there is no papal decree, no papal bull that condemns heliocentrism. These modern proponents of geocentrism like "johnmartin" manifestly exaggerate and misrepresent the level of authority of the documents generated during the Galileo controversy. And they do so with no seeming regard for the completely untenable position they put themselves into with respect to the Church's indefectibility. . . .

As has already been said here, it is the plain teaching of the Popes that these matters of "how the heavens go" are not part of the deposit of faith. It does not matter how many of the Fathers were or were not geocentrists, because their testimony on a matter that does not belong to the deposit of faith, while perhaps interesting, does not bind us as Catholics.

Here are some of the many examples in which the Fathers are wrong on details, even from a modern geocentrist perspective. Again, these should all count against establishing any sort of patristic consensus given the standards deployed elsewhere.

Augustine: "And yet, when it pleased Him who with sovereignty and supreme power regulates all He has created, a star conspicuous among the rest by its size and splendor changed its color, size, form, and, most wonderful of all, the order and law of its course!" (City of God, Book XXI, Ch 8) But the sun is NOT conspicuous for its size and splendor. There are billions of stars as big or bigger than it.

Clement of Rome: "The sun and moon, with the companies of the stars, roll on in harmony according to His command, within their prescribed limits, and without any deviation." (First Epistle to the Corinthians, Ch XX). Correct me if I'm wrong, but my understanding is that the moon's path DOES change and the distance to the earth DOES change. Do geocentrists deny this?

Gregory Nanzianzus: "The sun is extolled by David for its beauty, its greatness, its swift course, and its power, splendid as a bridegroom, majestic as a giant; while, from the extent of its circuit, it has such power that it equally sheds its light from one end of heaven to the other, and the heat thereof is in no wise lessened by distance. (Funeral Orations for St. Basil, 66). Try saying that while on Mercury vs. Pluto.

Gregory of Nyssa: "And how does earth below form the foundation of the whole, and what is it that keeps it firmly in its place? what is it that controls its downward tendency?" (Answer to Eunomius’ Second Book) There is nothing pulling the earth "down".

Gregory of Nyssa: "And when you look at the waning and waxing moon you are taught other truths by the visible figure of that heavenly body, viz. that it is in itself devoid of light, and that it revolves in the circle nearest to the earth" (On the Soul and Resurrection). Not a "circle", sorry. Geocentrists have for centuries had to admit that the orbits are ellipses.

Hippolytus: “But that the circle of the sun is twenty-seven times larger than the moon, and that the sun is situated in the highest (quarter of the firmament); whereas the orbs of the fixed stars in the lowest.” (Refutation of All Heresies, Bk V, Ch 22) Wrong twice.

Archelaus: “Then, again, the living Spirit created the luminaries, which are fragments of the soul" (Disputation with Manes, 22) The stars are "fragments of the soul"? Well, no, sorry.....St. Jerome thought the idea was idiotic.

Gregory of Nyssa: "when the body of heaven compassed all things round, and those bodies which are heavy and of downward tendency, the earth and the water, holding each other in, took the middle place of the universe" (On the Making of Man, 30, 1, 1) The earth is in the center of the universe because it's the heaviest? Well, no. And also, this is a purely pseudo-scientific reason for saying the earth is in the center rather than suggesting it was from Tradition. Sorry there, too

Basil: “the celestial bodies move in a circular course” (Nine Homilies of the Haxameron, Homily I ) No, they do not "move in a circular course". Again, they are ellipses. Geocentrists agree with that, do they not?

St. Cyril of Jerusalem states that the “firmament” is literally comprised of water. But modern geocentrists don’t believe that.

There are many more examples that could be cited, but I think this is sufficient to demonstrate the problem. According to a certain apologist's standards, if these witnesses can't get the details right then they simply cannot be said to form a unanimous witness.

* * *

I think it's worthwhile to look too at the various passages of Scripture that geocentrists advance in support. What's interesting is that although they claim to be taking them literally, it's not actually true. See a thread in which a fellow interacts with our "johnmartin"'s listing of various Scripture texts which he claims support geocentrism (the vast majority from the Psalms, poetry which "johnmartin" above said was worthless to establish anything and the backtracked, although he has not yet honestly admitted his blunder).

Sure, lots of passages of Scripture state that the sun rises/set or goes up/down. But geocentrists don't believe that it literally goes up and down, rather they say that it orbits around the earth. So they do not apply a literal hermeneutic--even they have to admit that it only appears to go up and down. Neither is there literally an enclosure somewhere for the sun (Psa 19:4) nor does the sun have legs with which to run (Psa 19:5).

Again, Pope Pius XII addressed this sort of language of the senses and specifically stated that we do not derive any scientific information from it, since the Holy Spirit did not intend to convey such. But it's worth noting that even geocentrists do not take this language literally, as they claim.

* * *

It is my understanding that there is only one truly papal text in this whole discussion, Alexander VII’s bull republishing the Index. But again, according to his own word he only included earlier documents in order to establish the history of the various matters. This is the only actual papal document of which I am aware. The 1616 and 1633 documents were from Roman congregations and neither was approved by the Pope in forma specifica.

I have said only that the decrees of Roman congregations approved in forma communi do not and cannot bind the universal Church to an irreformable, infallible doctrine. This is obvious even to honest inquirers outside the Church (as cited by the CE).

The Church does not teach geocentrism as a matter of faith. She never has. On the contrary, she has given us the direct principle—taught by the great Doctors Augustine and Thomas—that on matters of scientific inquiry, on “how the heavens go”, we are free to pursue these matters and come to varying conclusions. THAT is the teaching of the Church, as has been demonstrated here.

You admit that the Church has stopped teaching geocentrism as a part of the Faith. Good, I'm glad you admit that openly. Now, let’s look at the specific instances you cited. Let’s ask ourselves, has the Church stopped teaching THOSE things as part of the Faith?

* The evil of contraception. Still explicitly taught.
* The indissolubility of marriage. Still explicitly taught.
* The nature of and need for the Sacrament of Confession. Still explicitly taught.
* The grave sin of homosexual behavior. Still explicitly taught.
* Scriptural inerrancy. Still explicitly taught.
* The Virgin Birth. Still explicitly taught.
* The establishment of the Sacrament of Holy Orders by Christ Himself. Still explicitly taught.

*** Geocentrism. Not taught. Not even implicitly. Not only not taught, but every indication given that this is no part of the deposit of Faith, that Catholics are perfectly free to hold divergent views.

So, burden of proof is squarely on you to show how this could be reconciled with the dogma of the Indefectibility of the Church. I have already demonstrated how the matters surrounding the Galileo incident can be so harmonized.

Your interaction with the quote from Benedict XV made me smile. Imagine that he had said, “If subsequent study has shown that Jesus Christ really is St. Michael the Archangel” or that “the Blessed Virgin Mary really didn’t maintain a virginal state throughout her life” or that “the Sacrament of Holy Orders really was not established by Christ”, then the encyclical would have immediately been tagged, especially by the enemies of the Church, as containing an obvious nod to heresy. But nobody blinked an eye. Why? Because the Church does not teach geocentrism as a matter of Faith. She never has.

Viva la difference.

* * *

See further of David Palm's comments in one of my comboxes, regarding this same issue of geocentrism and the magisterium of the Catholic Church (in discussion with geocentrists):

[one / two / three / four / five / six / seven / eight / nine / ten / 11 / 12 / 13 / 14 / 15 / 16 / 17 / 18 / 19 / 20 / 21 / 22 / 23]

"Jordanes" has also made an eloquent, compelling case for the same position, in the same combox:

[one / two / three / four / five / six / seven / eight / nine / ten / 11 / 12 / 13 / 14 / 15 / 16 / 17 / 18 / 19 / 20 / 21 / 22 / 23 / 24 / 25 / 26 / 27 / 28 / 29 / 30 / 31 / 32 / 33 / 34 / 35 / 36 / 37 / 38]

Others in the same combox who made helpful, educational comments that I agree with include "Frank", "S", and "Adomnan." Their comments (and any more from David Palm and "Jordanes" after comment #403) can be located by searching their names in the three sections:

Comments 1-200
Comments 201-400
Comments 401 - ?

Friday, November 19, 2010

Robert Sungenis' Responses to Recent Critiques on This Blog Regarding God's Characteristics and Geocentrism (With My Replies)

Catholic "traditionalist" apologist Robert Sungenis wrote to me and ask that I post this. I am happy to oblige. See related papers:

Can God Change His Mind?: Dialogue With Bob Sungenis on God's Immutability, Omniscience, Atemporality, Simplicity, & Impassibility (Divine Emotions?)

Robert Sungenis' "Changeable God": More Documentation of His Erroneous Views (God Changing His Mind, Having Emotions, Being Bound to Time)

Geocentrism: Not at All an Infallible Dogma of the Catholic Church (David Palm)

Does the Church Support Robert Sungenis' Novel Theories? (Jonathan Field)

Jonathan Field vs. Robert Sungenis on the Latter's Errors Regarding the Theology of God, Part II

Profound Mysteries of the Faith (Like God's Timelessness) and Their Relationship To Reason
God's Immutability, Omniscience, Timelessness, & Impassibility / Anthropomorphism / Can God "Change His Mind"? Does God Have "Emotions"?

Church Fathers on the Immutability, Simplicity, Atemporality, and Impassibility of God

Biblical Evidence for Anthropopathism and God Condescending to Human Limitations of Understanding

* * *

What follows (black print) is from Robert Sungenis; my replies are in blue and in brackets.

* * * * *

First, I’ve only skimmed the immense dialogue taking place on this blog, and I do wish I had time to answer some of the questions that have been posed here. In lieu of my involvement, it looks like John Martin is quite capable of fielding most of the questions and objections, and I want to commend him for his efforts. John is from Australia, I believe, and we sent him the two volume set of Galileo Was Wrong: The Church Was Right a while ago. By the looks of what John has written on this blog, he is positive proof that someone can read the books, comprehend what is being said, and then ably defend our historic Catholic doctrine of geocentrism. I trust John will continue to do a good job.
Second, early in this blog dialogue, Mr. Armstrong tried to divert the discussion into one concerning the contention he has with me about God’s immutability, suggesting that this was more important than geocentrism.

[I wasn't trying to "divert" anything. I simply put up earlier dialogues that had been removed by gentleman's agreement. Since Bob wanted to start critiquing my views on Galileo, it was fair game to put back up what had always been a perfectly legitimate concern. It has always been my policy (at the same time) to not debate the issue of geocentrism. But God's immutability and other characteristics are topics that are infinitely more important than the issue of geocentrism and heliocentrism, because that is theology proper (the theology of God Himself), as opposed to scientific speculation, which is not directly a matter of Catholic dogma, apart from the basics of asserting that God created; there is a primal pair of human beings, God creates each soul supernaturally, etc.]

Mr. Armstrong is accusing me of not holding to the Church’s teaching that God is immutable. Allow me to take this opportunity to clear the air. I FIRMLY BELIEVE IN GOD’S IMMUTABILITY, AND I FIRMLY BELIEVE IN THE CHURCH’S TEACHING ON THIS SUBJECT.

[Yes, that's what Bob always says, but various positions about God and His actions that he takes directly contradict this assertion (as his former associate Ben Douglass has noted in the past). It is simply illogical thought to an extraordinary degree]

What, however, Mr. Armstrong has decided to conclude on his own is, because I also believe Scripture when it says that God changes his mind upon the repentance or appeasement from man (e.g., Amos 7:1-6; Exodus 32:9-14), that I am contradicting the Church’s doctrine of God’s immutability. My answer is, NO I AM NOT. I believe both the Church’s teaching on immutability and the Scripture’s teaching on God changing his mind upon the repentance of man. The two are not mutually exclusive and there is no Church teaching that says they are. The Church has simply not addressed the statements in Scripture that say God changes his mind. You can prove this for yourself. Here listed are all the places in Denzinger that the Church teaches on God’s immutability (254, 346, 428, 462, 463, 703, 1701, 1782, 321, 1784, 2184, 706, 1655, 72, 143, 144, 327, 344, 257, 429, 462, 1463). In none of these does the Church ever teach that God cannot change his mind, or that divine immutability forbids God to change his mind. Why? Because the Church never has and never will contradict the face value, literal words of Scripture. If you examine the citations in Denzinger you will see that immutability simply means that the essence or substance of God does not change, not that God cannot change his mind. We combine the two by simply noting that God’s immutability foresees that he will act one way or the other when confronted by the free will decisions of man, and the Church has never taught anything differently (cf. Catechism of the Catholic Church, para. 600). If, to the contrary, Mr. Armstrong can find any place in the official teachings of the Catholic Church which states that God, because he is immutable, cannot change his mind, then I will give him $1000 and retract my proposition. Note, we are not interested in Mr. Armstrong’s opinion, or the opinion of this or that theologian as to whether God’s immutability forbids him to change his mind. We are only interested in official Church teaching that says precisely that God’s immutability is mutually exclusive from God changing his mind and that the former will not allow the latter. The ball is in Mr. Armstrong’s court.
[it's all very simple: the doctrine of immutability (reiterated by the Church over and over, and de fide dogma) excludes all change whatever from God. God changing His mind is a change; therefore it cannot happen, according to the same doctrine. It also contradicts the notion of an omniscient God, as I have demonstrated. This is not rocket science (no pun intended). But if one gets into a habit of profoundly illogical thinking, as Bob has, then they will miss the obvious logical fact]
I would say, however, that Mr. Armstrong’s opening up this dialogue with a picture of Apollo 15 on the moon is, if not a “personal attack,” is very close to one, and definitely one that tries to poison the audience against me before they read what I have to say.

[it's not a personal attack; it is simply bringing to the fore a related, highly eccentric position, that is relevant in determining whether a person is trustworthy as an expert in scientific or specifically astronomical / cosmological matters. It's completely relevant]

It follows the usual demagoguery that has been used against me by Mr. Armstrong and my other ideological enemies on a continual basis, another one being the accusation that I am “anti-semitic,” which is a total falsehood. I am simply not afraid, and will not be intimidated, to speak against Jewish politics, religion and social mores.

[I haven't brought the Jewish issues that Bob is so incessantly concerned with into this at all. I've always avoided all of that controversy. From what I've seen, I think he is persistently wrong on that score, too, but since I haven't brought it up at all, it is irrelevant to the present discussion, and is, thus, a mere polemical diversion]

Be that as it may, as an American citizen, I do have the right, so says my government, to question, doubt or reject things that the American government says or does. It’s called “Freedom of Speech.” Hence, I do have the right to doubt whether the American government had the capability to send a man to the moon and bring him back to earth. I don’t have any question that the US could send a rocket to the moon, but sending a man and getting him back safely is another question altogether.

[sure: Bob can believe whatever he wants to believe. And we are free to believe that certain of his views are absurd, eccentric, and unworthy of acceptance. That's free speech too]

Hence, I think it is grossly misleading and totally unCatholic for Mr. Armstrong to poison the well by these antics.

[how is that the case by simply noting that he believes in such a thing? It's relevant to a consideration of whether one knows how to "do" science, to note that he believes that the moon landings were possibly not what they appeared to be. People need to know that. It is altogether relevant to the whole discussion. If a person is applying for a position as an English teacher and someone is brash and presumptuous enough to point out that the applicant is illiterate, that is not "poisoning the well"; it is, rather, an altogether relevant fact to consider as to qualification. It's a deal-breaker]

The only real and relevant question on this blog is: is Mr. Armstrong able to defend his staunch rejection of geocentric cosmology?

[whether I can or not; many others are able to do so, and I have appealed to them by linking to their analyses]

All the diversions of moon landings and God’s immutability are not going to answer that basic question. So, I would implore Mr. Armstrong to stay on topic and answer the questions put forth to him.

[again, immutability is not a diversion (it has nothing directly to do with whether geocentrism is true), but a separate problem in Bob's theology that needs to be addressed straight on. I have helped to put pressure on him. Hopefully others in much higher places will censure his opinions on these scores as they ought to be, lest unsuspecting readers get led astray into heresy regarding God's attributes]

Fourth, I see some discussion on this blog, mainly from Phil Vaz, that a few years ago Ken Cole gave an irrefutable proof for heliocentrism with his satellite trajectories. This is simply not the case, and if anyone would like to revisit this issue, I would happily oblige. Mark Wyatt at can be contacted about this. Mark gave the definitive proof against Cole’s thesis, and it was shortly after that that Cole took his website and his arguments down, and they have not been put up by Mr. Cole since, more than five years ago. It was easy to refute Mr. Cole’s arguments, since Mr. Wyatt showed what we have always known, i.e., any movements in the heliocentric system are identical to those in the geocentric system, since all the distances and proportions are exactly the same. The only difference between the two systems is what is used as the center.
Lastly, if Mr. Armstrong would like to have an open and public debate, at my expense, on either the subject of geocentrism or God’s immutability, I would most happily oblige. All he needs to do is give the word and we will set it up.
Robert Sungenis
[I have made all my arguments in the papers linked to above. Bob minimized and ignored them at the time of our initial exchange (January 2009), saying I wrote too much and it was merely my logic (exactly as he is doing now). So it is his choice whether he wants to interact now with the argumentation or not. No skin off my back or loss to me if he again declines. But I don't engage in public oral debates. I do serious written debate, which is infinitely superior to the other format, for my money (everyone is entitled to their opinion on methodology). If Bob wants to do a "James White" and refuse all written debates and imply that all who use and prefer that format are intellectual cowards, let him. It has no effect on my personal opinions as to how best to engage in serious discussion. I'm not influenced or swayed by name-calling and chest-puffing tactics]

* * *

Bob wrote a second reply that I received on 11-20-10. I will again make some response. I received two more replies from him on 11-22-10 that have also been incorporated. I have now asked Bob to please post anything further on his site.

* * *

I’m not going to spend much time responding to Dave, but I will address a few loose ends that I believe need to be clarified.

[As usual; Bob took a pass on discussing immutability issues in January 2009; and he chooses to do so again here, while chiding me for not taking up my valuable time to argue about whether the earth rotates or not, or is 10,000 years old, or the center of the universe, etc.]

Bob (11-22-10): Dave, I’ll discuss God’s immutability anytime you want, especially since you have made this an issue of my credibility. As for whether the earth rotates and is less than 10,000 years old, well, in case you didn’t notice, that’s what all the Fathers said, all the medievals, about a half dozen popes, and no one in the Catholic Church has officially rescinded that position. So if you think this is an “odd” and “eccentric” view, it’s only because you don’t realize how far away you are from the Tradition of the Church and that’s because you’ve made popular science your ultimate authority, not the Church.

Dave (11-22-10): [the last clause is sheer nonsense]

* * *

First, if, as Dave claims, he didn’t respond to my critique of the chapter in his book because he thought “geocentrism is a ludicrous position,” then why does he bother putting up what he believes are proofs of heliocentrism on his site (including the proof of the orbiting satellite taking pictures of a rotating earth), and inviting others to put up their proofs as well? Somehow, when it comes to Robert Sungenis directly challenging David Armstrong on these issues, David goes into the “No Mas” posture. I find that rather perplexing.

[Why in the world would it be thought that one person has to personally engage in dialogues or write about about absolutely anything and everything under the sun? We all make choices of what we will spend time doing. I posted arguments from others and I have allowed geocentrists to also make their case on my site. So where's the beef?]

Bob (11-22-10): The beef? Obviously it’s that you try to answer everyone else’s arguments but mine, Dave. Yes, you made a choice to answer them and not me. Yes, it was your choice. I’m only pointing out the contradiction in that logic.

Dave (11-22-10): [The only problem is that it is not a "contradiction" at all to simply decide to spend time doing one thing or another. A real contradiction would be saying, for example, that I will reply to absolutely every challenge and critique that I receive, and then not do so. Since I have never stated the former, it is not an issue of contradiction at all. As I have pointed out in a related combox, I have always had a policy of deciding that certain things are not worth the effort to reply to or debate. This happens to be one of Bob's obsessions, so that offends him, but that is not my problem. I'm not gonna change the policy that works best for me simply because he is dissatisfied with it. The fact is, that I don't "answer everyone else’s arguments". Bob's premise is wrong; therefore he falsely thinks contradiction is present in my policy. There are many dozens of critiques of my work from anti-Catholics that I ignore. There are additional ones from Catholic "traditionalists" and others that I have no time for, either]

* * *

Second, as for David Palm’s and Jordanes’ claim that Galileo and geocentrism are not “magisterial issues,” that’s quite an amazing statement. To me it is proof that they refuse to deal with the reality of the situation. How much more “magisterial” could it be? Pius V taught us geocentrism in the Tridentine Catechism; Paul V accepted the conclusion of his Sacred Congregation that heliocentrism was a “formal heresy” and told Galileo never to teach it again; and Urban VIII said the same under a canonical trial and commanded all his papal nuncios to prohibit the teaching of heliocentrism; and Alexander VII put Galileo, Kepler and Copernicus on the Index; and Benedict XIV kept them on the Index. Bellarmine staked his claim on the consensus of the Fathers, and Trent taught that when the Fathers are in consensus we must hold to their conclusions. Palm and Jordanes only WISH it was not magisterial.

[Right. Well, if Bob is so confident, then let him write more endless tomes responding to them, too, rather than merely taking potshots. And it won't be here; it will have to be on his site]

Bob (11-22-10): Dave, just answer the question. If you believe “Jordanes and Palm did such a good job in showing that Galileo and geocentrism was not magisterial,” then the burden is on you, not them, to defend their position. How can you defend it when we have a list of at least a half-dozen popes dealing with the issue directly and making decisions on it?

Dave (11-22-10): [They have made a good case. If they wish to defend it further, that is up to them, not me. Why Bob would think it is my burden to defend their arguments rather than theirs, is, I confess another mystery and curiosity of his thinking]

* * *

Third, Dave says concerning the issue of God’s immutability, the following conclusion: “it's all very simple: the doctrine of immutability (reiterated by the Church over and over, and de fide dogma) excludes all change whatever from God. God changing His mind is a change; therefore it cannot happen, according to the same doctrine. It also contradicts the notion of an omniscient God, as I have demonstrated. This is not rocket science (no pun intended). But if one gets into a habit of profoundly illogical thinking, as Bob has, then they will miss the obvious logical fact.”

Did I not say in my challenge to Dave that I wasn’t interested in his opinion?

[It's not even my "opinion"; it is a very simple application of classic deductive logic. The fact that Bob doesn't grasp this virtually self-evident truth is sadly indicative of the serious problems he has in his thinking, leading to a number of erroneous conclusions]

Bob (11-22-10):

Huummm. So here is Dave’s “deductive logic”:

Premise 1: Scripture says God is immutable;

Premise 2: Scripture also says God changes his mind;

Conclusion 1: Scripture’s statement in Premise #2 is false.

Ah, so we just proved that Scripture is errant. That’s what Dave’s “classic deductive logic” leads to.
Dave (11-22-10): [so ridiculous and silly, in light of my past statements, that it is its own refutation]

* * *

Unfortunately, he continues to ignore this request and thus we arrive at an impasse every time this subject comes up. Let me say it again. I’m not interested in Dave’s logic or what he thinks the magisterium believes. I’m only interested in the official and explicit teaching of the magisterium.

[Yes, exactly]

So here it is again: Does the magisterium, when it teaches on God’s immutability, say also that God cannot, therefore, change his mind as Scripture says he does in passages such as Amos 7:1-6 or Exodus 32:9-14?

[Absolutely; it follows inexorably from what the magisterium has definitively stated]

Bob (11-22-10): And where did the Church officially say: “Absolutely; it follows inexorably from what the magisterium has definitively stated”? Answer: Nowhere. It only follows in Dave’s head because Dave thinks he’s more logical than the clear propositions of Sacred Scripture.

Dave (11-22-10): [more of the same ridiculous and silly stuff]

* * *

This is not rocket science. The answer is a clear and unequivocal NO. If Dave believes otherwise, I’ve offered him $1000 to find such a statement from the Church but apparently he can’t find it, and thus he has to fall back on his own human “logic” for a defense.

[Right. Logic is what it is . . .]

Come, let us reason together.

[That would be nice, wouldn't it? But with Bob's trashing of logic, he has made it impossible from the get-go]

Bob (11-22-10): “Trashing of logic”? Hardly. I just recognize its limitations when we are dealing with an infinite, triune and incarnate God. My preferred “logic” is to take Scripture for what it says, even if my logic can’t explain it.

* * *

If we had to prove our Catholic faith only by what is logical to the human mind, we’d have to throw out the majority of our religion. Is it logical that three beings who are all God are actually one God? Is it logical that a being can be both God and man at the same time? Is it logical that a piece of bread only looks like bread but is actually God? We can add many more such examples. Human logic will only take us so far. We depend on faith for the rest.

[Great. That would explain many of Bob's eccentric positions on things, if he takes such a dim view of logic, as applied to theology, and adopts virtually a fideistic outlook]

Bob (11-22-10): So is Dave telling us that he can explain the Trinity, the Incarnation and the Real Presence by human logic? If so, then he is the first person in history to do so.

Dave (11-22-10): [As has often happened in these sorry, pitiful exchanges, Bob doesn't grasp my position. I had already stated last time: "I have no problem whatever accepting paradox and beliefs that ultimately go beyond man's comprehension (while not involving self-contradiction)."]

* * *

So if Scripture says God is immutable and also says God changes his mind, then the “logical” position, if you will, is to believe both; and the “illogical” conclusion is to make one proposition true and insist the other is false.

[I see; so God is immutable and is also mutable, too. Makes perfect sense in "Bob-logic" . . . ]

Bob (11-22-10): Don’t put words into my mouth, Dave. I did not say that God would be “mutable” if he changed his mind upon man’s repentance. The truth is, God would be mutable if he DID NOT change his mind, since God has already said that he would forgive man if man repents of his sin. If he reneged on the forgiveness, then he would be mutable. How’s that for logic? You didn’t realize that it cuts both ways, did you?

* * *

Incidentally, Dave’s “I won’t believe it unless it is acceptable to human logic” approach is precisely what led Luther and Calvin to their heretical views on absolute predestination, since they could not accept by human logic that God could predestine and predetermine all events and yet give man a free will.

[Not the point at all. Bob is completely out to sea. I'm not the one to explain elementary logic to him. I don't have the patience]

Bob (11-22-10): Ah, the “No Mas” argument again.

* * *

But the Catholic Church rejected the “logical” approach of Calvin and Luther and said that Scripture is true on both predestination and free will, regardless of whether we can “logically” explain it; and to this day the Catholic Church has not given an official explanation as to how the two can be joined together since her religion is not required to pass the human logic sniff test in order to be true.

[I have no problem whatever accepting paradox and beliefs that ultimately go beyond man's comprehension (while not involving self-contradiction). I have written about that many times. My epistemology is infinitely more complex and nuanced than Bob gives me credit for (largely following Blessed John Henry Cardinal Newman's thought in his Grammar of Assent). I do have a huge problem, however, with flat-out contradiction: of the sort that Bob wants to espouse on this matter. Biblical paradox and contradiction are two very different things]

Bob (11-22-10): So what Dave is telling us then, is that when Scripture says God is immutable and also says God changes his mind, then Scripture is giving us a contradiction? Perhaps the “contradiction” is in Dave’s hermeneutic.

* * *

Bob (11-22-10): Dave, take a good look at what you wrote in this present piece and you will see a lot of statements that could easily be viewed by someone as personal attacks. Take this one, for instance: [“Oh, there are plenty of "nuts" in the world who believe all manner of conspiracy theories. On that I heartily, happily agree with Bob! But it is rare to find so many such theories in any one place, such as one finds on Bob's site. It's almost encyclopedic when it comes to conspiracy theories”]. I suggest you stop projecting onto other people the very fault you have yourself.

Dave (11-22-10): [This is not a personal attack at all. The use of "nut" is rhetorical, because Bob was using it sarcastically, which is why I put it in quotes there. I was not calling him a nut at all. I was merely pointing out that conspiracy theories abound on Bob's site, which is not saying anything that he doesn't glory in himself by immersing himself in them. Anyone can search his site for "conspiracy" and related notions and see that]

. . . let me deal with this issue of the mirror on the moon. Somebody wrote in and said: “Has Sungenis not read his own book? "When a Lunar Laser Ranging experiment is performed, a laser beam is first aimed at the moon toward retro-reflectors placed on its surface previously by astronauts. The retro-reflectors have an ingenious design, which always reflects the captured beam exactly back along the path of the incoming ray. If any light beam strikes the reflector surface, it will return on the same path; there’s no deviation in direction, no correction angle. (Galileo Was Wrong, Vol. 1, p. 827). So, he uses data gained from mirrors placed on the moon by astronauts in order to prove geocentrism, but he doesn't really believe astronauts made it to the moon?”

The answer is simple. I didn’t write that section of the book. Dr. Bennett did. And it doesn’t come from page 827 since there is no page 827 in the book. If come from page 440.

[Ah; dissent in the ranks . . . geocentrists lack unity as to whether the moon landings really happened or not! A healthy diversity of opinion . . .]

Bob (11-22-10): No personal attack here, Dave? Ah huh.

Dave (11-22-10): [How in the world is that a "personal attack"? I was merely having some tongue-in-cheek fun with the fact that Bennett and Sungenis disagreed with each other]

* * *

And on the moon landing issue, Dave says: “how is that the case by simply noting that he believes in such a thing? It's relevant to a consideration of whether one knows how to ‘do’ science, to note that he believes that the moon landings were possibly not what they appeared to be. People need to know that. It is altogether relevant to the whole discussion. If a person is applying for a position as an English teacher and someone is brash and presumptuous enough to point out that the applicant is illiterate, that is not ‘poisoning the well’; it is, rather, an altogether relevant fact to consider as to qualification. It's a deal-breaker.”

RS: Yes, I guess this argument would have some impact if I was the only nut in the world who doubted the moon landings. You can check the Internet for yourself. Not only are there many people who have doubts, they have advanced degrees in science and photography to demonstrate their case. My Lord, if it were the case such that we had to accept everything our government told us without question, we Catholics would all be aborting our babies because the US government now tells us it’s OK.

[Oh, there are plenty of "nuts" in the world who believe all manner of conspiracy theories. On that I heartily, happily agree with Bob! But it is rare to find so many such theories in any one place, such as one finds on Bob's site. It's almost encyclopedic when it comes to conspiracy theories]

Bob (11-22-10): Really Dave? “encyclopedic”? [the original was a typo: "encyclopedia" -- so I changed Bob's word to reflect my original boo-boo] No personal attack intended? And you’re just an impeccably cool guy who always believes what he sees on the NEWS, right? You have no doubts, much less reject, anything your government tells you, right? Wow, what a wonderful world you live in. Gee, Dave, if that’s the case, I have this land in the Florida everglades you might be interested in…..

Dave (11-22-10): [Yes, really; many conspiracy theories are on Bob's site and discussed ad nauseum. How that fact leads him to think I supposedly have total trust in everything the US government does is also beyond me]

* * *

Be that as it may, let’s put the shoe on the other foot for a moment. On his website Dave was recently making the claim that we know the Earth rotates because cameras on satellites were taking time lapse photography of its rotation. Time and time again we pointed out to Dave that this illustration did not prove his case, since he couldn’t first prove that the satellite wasn’t rotating around the Earth by being carried in rotating space. But this went right over his head and he insisted that the satellite camera proved the Earth was rotating. So, by the same logic that Dave wouldn’t hire me as an English teacher if I was illiterate, I wouldn’t trust him to give any convincing arguments against geocentrism if he couldn’t even reason that a satellite taking pictures of the Earth does not prove that the Earth is rotating.

[I wasn't claiming any particular expertise myself in making arguments against geocentrism. So if I did indeed blow this argument (others may judge that), I did. Big wow. If so, it wouldn't prove anything one way or the other as to the entire issue at hand, since it doesn't rest on one measly little argument to begin with]

Bob (11-22-10): Right. So the next question is: what other proof do you have for heliocentrism, Dave? I would like to give you a “Big wow” if you could produce such a proof rather than the “No Mas” argument.

Dave (11-22-10): [I already declined to enter such a discussion. I am not hounded into discussions that I think are worthless by schoolyard tactics of taunting and chest-puffing]

* * *

Bob (11-22-10): Patience? Come on, Dave. How many blogs have you devoted to nothing more than attacking me since 2004?

Dave (11-22-10): [None that I am aware of. Again, Bob seems to have me mixed up with someone else]
Bob (11-22-10): And when I confront you directly you always retreat into the “No Mas” zone or claim you “lack patience.” The truth is, we have discovered that you have no magisterial statement that proves your case against me on the issue of God’s immutability, so perhaps you will be kind enough to retract your diatribe at the beginning of his blog that casts me as some inept theologian. And it looks like you will not proposition Jordanes or Palm to engage me in a debate on geocentrism, even though you were so confident that they had totally trounced my claims of the Magisterium’s involvement on the geocentric issue. C’est la vie. Thanks, Dave. I can now rest easier tonight. When you want to deal with me and the issues directly, you have my email address.

* * *

This is all I’m going to say. I’ll close by reiterating my challenge to Dave. (A) If he can find an official magisterial statement that says God cannot change his mind (e.g., Amos 7:1-6) because he is immutable, I’ll give him $1000 dollars. And (B) if he, or even Jordanes or Mr. Palm, want to have an open and public debate about geocentrism, I will arrange the debate at my expense. Just give me the word. I’m willing to put my money where my mouth is. Is Dave Armstrong, Jordanes or Mr. Palm?

[I have devoted enough time to all this. Given Bob's cluelessness even on something as simple as straightforward deductive logic, I have exhausted my own patience. More power to those who are willing to pursue such absurd "discussions" with him, where even logic itself is under direct assault]

* * *

I wrote to Bob on 11-22-10 (indented portions below) after receiving his latest reply, with his third response, incorporated above:

Hi Bob,

Okay, I'll do it [i.e., post it] one more time (and probably make a few more replies). I'll tack it on to the existing paper.

After this, though, it'd be better for you to post on your own site. I have both sides on mine: yours and that of your supporters such as johnmartin and Rick Delano. You have nothing of my recent stuff on your site, so no one would even know if and how I responded. Yet here you are asking me to post your words again on my site. I'm happy to do that, but after this you're on your own.

I've devoted far more than enough time to this. Again, we see that no true dialogue is taking place. You are unwilling.

Bob (11-22-10): I am more than willing, Dave. It is you who has demonstrated the "no mas" position on geocentrism, and you who continues to depend on your own logic rather than the Magisterium for the immutability issue. Bottom line: if you want to have a dialogue, I'll give you a dialogue. Start a thread on either subject on your blog, and I'll contribute to each of your responses.

Dave (11-22-10): [I have already made all the arguments about immutability issues in posts that have been on my site since January 2009. Bob took a pass then, and he continues to do so now, by making the silly, vapid "argument" that it is merely my own logic, rather than inexorable conclusions from clear magisterial statements. Someone else will have to do this debate with him now. I ain't interested. I have documented his errors on theology proper. That's been my role. Someone else will have to persuade him to cease and desist in promulgating these ideas]

Bob (11-22-10): . . . I only dealt with your erroneous [sic] about the Galileo affair. That's all. I only opened up a new discussion when I saw your pitiful treatment of the Galileo issue in a book store I just happened to be browsing one day.

Bob (11-22-10): . . . I only want the truth, Dave. If you have it, speak it. If not, I'm not interested.

Bob (11-22-10): I couldn't resist the temptation when you called your book the "One Minute Apologist" and spent what appeared to be exactly one minute on the Galileo issue, but then prided yourself on having answered all the important questions about it. The way I see it, Dave, is that you refuse to deal with the big questions on the Galileo issue and prefer to stuff it all in a box labeled "absurd and eccentric: no need to bother with this." God has given me something with which I intend on changing the world, and I'm not going away. The conference was just the start of what I and my associates are planning. You can either join us by supporting our Catholic tradition, or you can support the anti-biblical conclusions of status-quo science.

Dave (11-22-10): [Note the extreme disdain of anyone who disagrees with Bob: to do so is to not support "Catholic tradition" and to support "anti-biblical conclusions."]

Bob (11-22-10): Bottom line: If you want a dialogue, start one, and I will oblige. In the meantime, let's be gentlemen about it.

Dave (11-22-10): [I've always been a "gentleman" towards Bob. I have bent over backwards to be charitable to Bob. He happily admitted this in January 2009 when we made our gentleman's agreement and I removed public materials, even though I hadn't changed my mind on his serious theological errors. Rick DeLano concurred by saying that I had acted in a classy fashion, etc. I have all the e-mails. I do think he has very serious deficiencies in several areas of his thinking, and too-often manifested problems in understanding logic and how language (particularly biblical language) works. I was willing to discuss immutability in January 2009. Bob didn't want to and he has already offered the same evasive, condescending claptrap now in response to my arguments. Let him. I'm no longer interested. I have exposed and documented his errors. What he does now is up to him. If he seeks "dialogue" on this it will have to be with someone else, I'm afraid, because my patience (as well as any interest I may have once had) is altogether exhausted]